This I Believe

by

There was a time in human history when Steve Martin was the funniest man alive.  Sadly, that time has passed

I believe in rainbows and puppy dogs and fairy tales.
And I believe in the family – Mom and Dad and Grandma.. and Uncle Tom, who waves his penis.
And I believe 8 of the 10 Commandments.
And I believe in going to church every Sunday, unless there’s a game on.
And I believe that sex is one of the most beautiful, wholesome and natural things.. that money can buy.
And I believe it’s derogatory to refer to a woman’s breasts as "boobs", "jugs", "winnebagos" or "golden bozos".. and that you should only refer to them as "hooters".
And I believe you should put a woman on a pedestal.. high enough so you can look up her dress.
And I believe in equality, equality for everyone.. no matter how stupid they are, or how much better
I am than they are.
And, people say I’m crazy for believing this, but I believe that robots are stealing my luggage.
And I believe I made a mistake when I bought a 30-story 1-bedroom apartment.
And I believe the Battle of the Network Stars should be fought with guns.
And I believe that Ronald Reagan can make this country what it once was – an arctic region covered with ice.
And, lastly, I believe that of all the evils on this earth, there is nothing worse than the music you’re listening to right now. That’s what I believe.

He did that bit as the opening monologue for SNL back in 1980.  

NPR has revived the This I Believe franchise, and currently has folks get on the air and state their, well, beliefs.   Two particular essays in that series have the makings of a great debate.

Penn Jillette and William F. Buckley

I would pay money to see those two get up and verbally spar over the existence of God.  Back in the day, Buckley used to run debates on PBS that were not only amusing (for a debate), but illuminating.  And Penn is, well, he’s Penn Fucking Jillette. 

Penn lays out his position as:  Believing there’s no God stops me from being solipsistic. I can read ideas from all different people from all different cultures. Without God, we can agree on reality, and I can keep learning where I’m wrong. We can all keep adjusting, so we can really communicate. I don’t travel in circles where people say, "I have faith, I believe this in my heart and nothing you can say or do can shake my faith." That’s just a long-winded religious way to say, "shut up," or another two words that the FCC likes less. But all obscenity is less insulting than, "How I was brought up and my imaginary friend means more to me than anything you can ever say or do." So, believing there is no God lets me be proven wrong and that’s always fun. It means I’m learning something.

Bill Buckley counters succinctly with:   It has more than once reminded me that skepticism about life and nature is most often expressed by those who take it for granted that belief is an indulgence of the superstitious — indeed their opiate, to quote a historical cosmologist most profoundly dead. Granted, that to look up at the stars comes close to compelling disbelief — how can such a chance arrangement be other than an elaboration — near infinite — of natural impulses? Yes, on the other hand, who is to say that the arrangement of the stars is more easily traceable to nature, than to nature’s molder?

Those two points of view bring us to the latest brouhaha amongst our local blog community.  The current war of words over Dan the Baptist and his daughter’s demonization of Harry Potter, and Kitty’s denunciation of such blasphemy.  The whole argument degenerates into the usual batch of claim and counterclaim.  Kitty had her post up, but due to either technical difficulties or God’s Will, it crashed her site and disappeared apparently into the ether.

Which ever way you want to fall into that argument, Penn’s words are right on the money that any attempt to convince someone who believes a fictional teenage boy is  a prime example of Satan’s handiwork otherwise, will fall upon deaf ears.

All of that brings me to Sam Harris.  He’s written a book called  The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and The End of Reason.   Late one night, I turned on C-SPAN as I was going to bed.  Why?  Because, it was C-SPAN and I needed to go to sleep.  Sam was doing one of those bookstore/lecture deals that C-SPAN covers.  As I’m drifting off, I hear: Another problem with religious moderation is that it is theologically bankrupt. It is not like if we just read the books more closely, we would discover all these reasons to be moderate. I’ve got news for you. I’ve read the books. God is not a moderate. What you find in these books—there is no place in the books where God says, “When you get the new world and you develop your three branches of government and you have a civil society, you can just jettison all the barbarism I recommended in the first books.” These books really are engines of fundamentalism. They are engines of intolerance. There really is a wrathful Jesus in the New Testament waiting to be found in 2nd Thessalonians and in Revelation where exactly the Jesus we have in the left behind series of novels that 60 million people have bought. You know, the Jesus of just fiery wrath who is going to throw people into the pit. That is there to be discovered. Nowhere in the book does it say that that’s bogus.

What did he say?  That’s so weird.  I just had this conversation with my Mom and it made her upset.  I closed my eyes again and heard:

 It’s really not an accident that people like St. Thomas Aquinas or St. Augustine, really people who are still taught as the great lights of the western tradition. In Aquinas’ case, he thought heretics should be killed outright. In Augustine’s case, he thought they should be tortured. Augustine’s arguments for the use of torture laid the foundations for the Inquisition. This is not an accident and it’s perfectly reasonable. We have this idea that the fact that we were burning heretics alive for five centuries in Europe, this represented some kind of departure—a civilizational departure into psychopathology. It didn’t. It is perfectly reasonable to do this if you believe the books. The heretic next door, given certain beliefs, is far more dangerous than the child molester next door. The heretic can say something to your child that will damn his soul for all time. Religious moderates lose touch with the fact that it’s possible to believe this.

Holy Shit!  This is getting interesting.  I sit up and watch some more:

If you were going to draw your to-do list out of a book like Leviticus, you would make Mullah Omar of the Taliban look like Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It paints a vision of life so needlessly horrible, so subversive of the basic project of creating a sustainable society where human happiness is even possible, that we effectively have edited the Bible. Even fundamentalists have.

But it’s important to point out that nobody ever says that these passages are immoral. The idea that you find that a woman is not a virgin on her wedding night and you stone her to death. You stone homosexuals to death. If your kids talk back to you, you stone them to death. If you go into a town and you see someone praying to a foreign god, you kill him, you kill his family. You kill everyone in the town. These are not metaphors. These are not analogies for some spiritual struggle within. These are explicit directives to kill people for theological crimes.

No one ever says this is immoral. Christians just say, “We don’t have to do this anymore because Jesus brought us the doctrine of grace.” Incidentally, Jesus also said that every jot and every tittle of the law has to be fulfilled. So the inquisitors of the Middle Ages had a rationale for practicing this kind of law. I can assure you that St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas had read the Sermon on the Mount. They managed to square the ministry of Jesus with their impulses to kill people for thought crimes.

This guy has been reading my mail! 

 The problem of faith really is that is a conversation stopper. As long as you don’t have to give reasons for what you believe, you have effectively immunized yourself against the power of human conversation. I mean, you hear religious people say things like, “There is nothing you can say that will change my mind.” Just imagine that said in medicine. If there is nothing that can be said that will change your mind, if there is no evidence or argument that can be adduced, that proves that you are not taking any state of the world into account in your beliefs.

Christ!  That’s what Penn said the other day!

If you have an appendicitis, you better hope that you’re near a Western hospital with a Western-trained surgeon. You don’t want to see your acupuncturist. Maybe there are some things that Eastern medicine is better for, but generally speaking, Western medicine is the only medicine we have. (Incidentally, if you do get an appendicitis, you might consider this idea that you’ve been intelligently designed. If ever there were a reductio ad absurdum of intelligent design, it’s the appendix.)

Man, you are blowing my mind.   I must be overtired.    I finally went to sleep and dreamed of winning lottery tickets and million dollar Craftsman-style houses on a mountain creek.

So what do I believe?  A little bit of all of the above.  I don’t have the answers, I don’t want to have the answers, and if I did I wouldn’t tell you.  I certainly wouldn’t tell Mom.  I hate to make her cry. 

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4 Responses to “This I Believe”

  1. Exador Says:

    One of the fundemental problems with fundementalism (get it?) is that they fail to believe that religion can evolve. Why can’t it? Because then it would be a product of mankind, and not the true word of God.Brilliant post, by the way.

  2. Peptodismal Says:

    And you got what passes for your morality from where soul captain? Is it 5000 years of oral tradition that keeps you from preying, or is it something self-formulated out of the ether? Hey, you’re the top of the food chain, go for it! Just a tumbling tumbleweed, ain’t got no roots.Coming soon to a theater near you,"God Wars". filmed with billions of extras, See fanatic zombies attack the confused and wishywashy in a titantic struggle for the rule of mankind. Filmed in Secularvision. You’ll laugh your head off.Where was I?

  3. Sarcastro Says:

    My morality springs not from fear of an unseasonably hot afterlife, but from the fear of the swift hand of justice in this life.The only thing keeping me from cheating in darts with you Pepto, is not that your invisible buddy may be watching, but that you might be watching.

  4. Peptodismal Says:

    Be the dart.Ommmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

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