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Faith, Fundamentalism, and Practicality

                                                                                                        Earth Manifesto Insights

                                                                                                              Dr. Tiffany B. Twain  

                                                                                                             November 2005

"We make our destinies by the gods we choose."

                                                                   --- Virgil          

Humankind naturally wonders at the mysteries of reality and existence.  Our human consciousness is characterized by strong spiritual drives.  We have a need to understand our lives, and find purpose in them.  We manifest a strong "will to believe", so we tend to seek simplistic explanations of the world.  Our modern minds are still swayed by fear, hope, and superstition, so ancient religious doctrines and philosophies strongly influence our cultures.

Throughout recorded history, religions have provided people with explanations, guidance, hope, identification, reassurance, self-justification, and meaning in their lives.  It is true that established religions have been responsible for some of the most fervent idealism, powerful convictions, noble architecture, and artistic accomplishments of humanity.  Yet religions have also contributed mightily to much of history's worst oppression, conflict, intolerance, hate, stupid conformity, psychic numbing, torture, murder, holy wars, pogroms, Crusades, Inquisitions and terrorism.

Fundamentalism is not about religion.  It is about power and domination.  It is an evangelical disguise for the justification of imposing controlling doctrine on others.  It is about dogmatic certainties, obedience, and absolutes.  It denies truth, nuances, scientific understandings, and opposing views.  It is concerned with getting money, achieving power and engineering society to conform to its often parochial and puritanical worldviews.  It unfairly embraces authoritarianism and violence in order to achieve these ends.

Faith is about beliefs and convictions.  It is not about reason and understanding.  It is about dogma, "sacred scriptures", and simplistic perspective, not truth or clarity of thought or a deep appreciation for the sublime complexity of existence.  Faith does not recognize the relativity of the real world, the validity in other points of view, or the insights contained in the context of other frames of reference.  Practicality, on the other hand, is about realism, consensus, fairness, and democracy.

"I do not feel obligated to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense,

   reason, and intellect has intended us to forego their use."

                                                                                        --- Galileo Galilei

It becomes increasingly clear year after year that the world needs a new God, one that loves and demands respect for all of Creation, not just true believers, and not just humankind.  We need a God who loves peace, and whose intentions cannot be perverted into jihad terrorism against innocent civilians.  We need a God who is opposed to brutal violence, mercilessness, war, destruction, arrogance, dominance, patriarchal overlordship, hate, reactionary politics, discrimination against women and gay people, authoritarian Strict Father extremism, and convictions of conflict-causing ethnocentric superiority.

A study of the nine principal religions in the world today shows a wide range of beliefs.  Creation myths generally fall into one of two camps: (1) the world essentially always has been, and always will be, and it undergoes changes in accordance with fixed physical laws;  or, (2) the world was created about 6,000 years ago, and in the unknown future it will end.  Neither of these simplistic explanations, grounded in prehistoric ignorance, corresponds to our best modern understandings of the way the Universe has evolved.

There are numerically more adherents in the world to Creationist dogmas, which are posited by Judeo-Christian-Islamic religions than to Eastern philosophical traditions.  The doctrine that the Universe was created relatively recently is challenged by the near certainty that the Johnny-come-lately human race is not actually the central purpose of the Universe's existence.  The Universe does not revolve around our being, no matter how wishfully and fervently we believe otherwise, just as the Sun does not revolve around the Earth no matter how apparent that may once have seemed.  The extensive evidence has grown to be overwhelmingly clear:  the Universe is vast beyond imagination, and it has existed for an unfathomably long period of time.

Faith in God is an anthropocentric curiosity.  It represents a predisposition for us to choose a primitive "certainty" over better informed, more realistic, and more enlightened knowledge.  Explaining the inexplicable Beginning by presupposing an Intelligent Designer Being is quite illogical and presumptuous;  how, after all, was "He" created?

"Nothing is more dangerous than a dogmatic worldview --- nothing more constraining, more blinding to innovation, more destructive of openness to novelty."

                                                                                                --- Stephen Jay Gould          

Religious institutions from time immemorial have collaborated with powerful people in government to effectively co-opt natural and virtuous spiritual urgings.  This manipulative control of the populace exploits cultivated ignorance, denial, delusion, traditionalism, fears, divisive social policies, and intolerance of others.  Churches worldwide tend towards a "conservatism" that opposes open-mindedness and clear understandings and progressive adaptations to change.  They support patriarchal authoritarian leadership, regressive social policies, discrimination, puritanical perspectives towards sexuality, and anti-democratic governance.  Established religious institutions often help governments treat their citizens unfairly or repressively.  And, to the detriment of society, political leaders often manipulate religious believers to gain their support for retrogressive policies and wars of aggression.

Religion and politics make curious and suspicious bedfellows.  They both embrace simplistic ideologies.  They both oppose more realistic understandings.  And they both manipulate people in order to control and dominate them for their own narrow purposes.

Religion has been used throughout history as a kind of numbing opiate for the people, a reassuring propaganda that begins its indoctrination with innocents, catechizing children with its stories of mythological beings, heroes, villains, intimidation, and hopeful fables.  Religious orthodoxy channels the human spirit into reason-denying faith and unyielding doctrines.  Religious establishments tend to foster ignorance and harbor discrimination.  This unfortunately plays into the hands of the power-hungry and reactionary political right wing.

Fundamentalism in politics and religion subverts healthy humanistic spiritual drives that emphasize compassion, charity, and caring for the downtrodden.  These impulses tend to manipulate and transform our spiritual desires for peace and love and community into ruthless power-obsessed struggles for ascendancy, domination, self-righteousness, fire-and-brimstone bigotry, and Manichean dogmas that dangerously assert that we are Good and all those who oppose us are Evil.

Fundamentalists also seek self-justification for such anti-humanitarian actions as terrorism and preemptive warfare.  The "War on Terror" is being used by the powers-that-be to advance corporate interests, war profiteering, pork barrel spending, economic exploitation, anti-democratic abuses of power, anti-egalitarianism, aggressive militarism, dangerous nationalism, "patriotic" obedience, and sink-or-swim social Darwinism.

The symbolic struggle between Good and Evil is used to figuratively paint conflicts black or white.  Such over-simplifications do not help mitigate conflicts that afflict our societies and our interpersonal relationships.  It becomes harder to find common ground when we judge, blame, denigrate, and vilify opposing viewpoints and people.  

There is no absolute right or wrong, virtue or sin, Good or Evil. All ethical distinctions like this are relative, similar to the relativity of Einstein's theories and quantum physics.  A fascinating way to better understand the foundations of opposing worldviews is to gain perspective on the contrasting ideas of Strict Father discipline compared to Nurturing Mother empathy, as clarified in the Soliloquy entitled "Incisive Insight" on Page 15 of the original Earth Manifesto (see Part Seven).

Our leaders use clever spin to try to persuade people that their doctrinaire worldviews are right.  All of history's powerful ideas have had their own utilitarian value, but when doctrines begin to have a too much of a negative impact --- when their utility diminishes too much, and when the unintended consequences of their tenets begin to threaten the social well-being, and when the cultivation of ignorance contributes to harmful outcomes --- then we must think for ourselves and begin the transformation to more wholesome beliefs, understandings, and behaviors.

Now is the time to reevaluate dominant religious and political worldviews.  Establishments of Islamic and Catholic religions, in particular, are anti-progressive, and they threaten world peace and ecological sanity with their self-serving justifications and aggressive struggles for dominion and supremacy.  We must move forward, beyond the stubborn dogmas, self-righteous certainties, violent conflicts, and authoritarianism that are collectively causing great harm to people and adversely affecting the prospects of future generations.

Conflicts between opposing religious fundamentalisms are having an expensive and dangerous impact on the world.  There is a destructive tendency for self-righteousness to contribute to misguided and vindictive attacks on the symptoms of problems, rather than their causes.  Great injustices afflict our societies, contributing significantly to social malaise.  Dysfunctional conflicts are causes in part by the triumph of materialistic thinking, crony capitalism, greed, and merciless competition over broader philosophies that value fairness and human rights and more far-sighted social and environmental initiatives.

One of the principal virtues of our humanity is a modicum of self-discipline, as well as a responsibility to our communities and society at large.  It is socially irresponsible for our leaders to ever-more-aggressively use misleading rhetoric, deceptive spin, distorted science, manipulative divisiveness, and religious fundamentalism to realign public policy in favor of giant corporations and rich people and the political right wing, particularly when these initiatives come at the expense of the well-being of the majority of people, of our children, and of future generations.  It is morally irresponsible to use the belief in a God to pursue repressive actions and policies, to imprison or kill people, to stimulate fear, to divide people, to justify wars or terrorism, to enshrine intolerance, and to advance reactionary domestic political policies.

Established religions must become more relevant and more flexible.  They must adapt to include more clear understandings of the profoundly amazing nature and complexity of existence.  They need to find better ways of honoring the critical importance of peaceful coexistence, sustainability, ecosystem health, and protections of biodiversity.  They must also cultivate a practical tolerance of those who believe differently than they do, rather than acting with ethnocentric superiority and hostility towards others.  They must stop trying to prevent people from looking and thinking about greater truths than those embodied in narrow dogmas.  As John Fowles says in his great treatise The Aristos, "All the old religions cause a barbarous waste of moral energy;  they are like ramshackle water mills on a river that could serve hydro-electric dynamos."

Humanity has an increasingly great need for its old religions to progress, and to reflect greater respect and appreciation for the natural world.  Change is accelerating in human societies here in the 21st Century, and we must be nimble to adapt to this change in the most positive ways possible.  We must not be collectively reactionary, intolerant and violent.  We cannot afford to have our societies become more fearful, indifferent, alienated, hyper-partisan, unfair, shamefully hypocritical, and shortsighted.

Ecological understandings herald a new age of great truths.  These truths tell us that everything is interconnected and interdependent.  We cannot allow avarice, orthodoxy, blind belief, stubbornness, or arrogance to tear apart the vital basics of life, or to destroy the healthy balance of nature.  We do not have much control over many of the circumstances that we encounter;  yet we must make the best of whatever comes our way.  We must become more vigilant and aware.  We must recognize the choices that we do have, and develop greater responsibilities and more accessible institutions for influencing outcomes.  We must do this as individuals, as citizens, as employees, as owners, as leaders, as followers, as communities, and as a thinking species.

Our societies must adapt to rapidly changing circumstances associated with such problems as population growth, urbanization, suburban sprawl, unsustainable development, resource depletion, global warming, increasing waste and pollution, and the inadvertent assault on our beautiful Water Planet's biodiversity.

Voltaire once wisely observed, “Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.”  We must be more comfortable with not knowing the ultimate mysteries of the Universe.  We must strive with an open mind to better understand deep mysteries, rather than desperately taking a leap into the dark by professing that there are absolute truths like those supposedly revealed by ancient "sacred" scriptures.  Doubt may make us feel rather insecure, but we cannot submissively accept dangerous over-simplifications and improbable ideas as representing the whole and untainted truth.

All of the thousands of deities that mankind has invented in the history of religious beliefs are arguably anthropocentric projections of our human hopes and fears onto the world.  Yet these projections are not actual truths.  Religious scriptures contain ideas that are mythological, and as such they reveal interesting and profound Rorschach-Ink-Blot-like truths about our human nature.  But they do not reveal "divine" truths about the world.  To believe that the Earth is flat, after all, does not change the true nature of the planet’s actual more-or-less spherical shape.

Ancient holy books written by fallible men many centuries ago are NOT literally true.  Fundamentalist believers are in denial of better modern understandings.  We cannot continue to allow our societies to be hijacked by religious extremists.  History shows us that terrible conflicts are often caused by religious ethnocentricity and dogmas that justify any means to accomplish their selfish ends.

As the world becomes increasingly crowded, we cannot let ancient religious doctrine fuel the natural conflicts that are being caused by increasing numbers of people competing for finite amounts of land and fresh water and minerals and fossil fuels and forests and fisheries.  We must insist that our religious institutions evolve.  We cannot accept the radical "conservatism" of religious fundamentalism.

Life can be beautiful, wonderful, blissful, rich and fulfilling.  Each individual life also encompasses an unknowable amount of suffering and tragedy in its span from birth until death.  Some people are more fortunate than others in health, heritage, material circumstance, and positivity of attitude.  But we are all on a similar path together, from birth to death, and in a grand sense we all share the same journey, so we should strive to create a more empathetic society and greater environmental justice and a sustainable economy.  We should also make our societies fairer, and make sure we responsibly maintain a healthier stewardship of nature.

Let us find belonging, fulfillment, and purpose in these goals.  There are many common interests that we all share.  We all have a common humanity.  Let everyone have the freedom to believe in whatever God they like, but let us make sure that these beliefs are not forced on others.  Let us reject destructive initiatives that cause greater suffering, injustice, inequities, and socially irresponsible profits at the public expense.  Let us mitigate our negative environmental impacts that harm other denizens of Earth.

The purpose of our lives is ironically largely what we choose to make of them, and our choices that most truly reflect our humanity are those that are consistent with the wholesomeness and well-being of society.

Our souls cry out for healthy community --- and for sensible, reasonable, rational, responsible, and fair responses to the challenges of today and the greater challenges that the human race will encounter tomorrow.  We must not lose sight of the things that are truly the most important in life!

Creationism cannot be allowed to grow more influential here in the 21st Century.  It represents a grave threat to world peace due to the unyielding conflicts it creates in its presumption of superiority and evangelical self-righteousness.  The persistence of Creationist ideas is strikingly odd, because the thinness of the creationist argument is remarkable.  It rejects scientific understandings of the formation of the solar system, and of the ages-old physical evolution of planet Earth as revealed by astronomy, geology, mountain building, angular unconformities in sedimentary rocks, extensive evidence of the effects of erosion, and tectonic plate movements that cause earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions.

Creationism is a myopic, short-term triumph of very primitive and improbable myths over far more reasonable modern understandings.  It is simplistic wishful thinking.  It is a reflection of insecure human yearnings for positive things like significance, thanksgiving, hope, certainty, salvation, exaltation, sublimity, and immortality.  It is a naïve and superstitious denial of factual reality.  It relies on ancient writings, doctrines, sacred scriptures and improbable fundamentalist interpretations that are far too absurdly centered on the exaggerated self-significance of the human race and those in control.  

Creationism aggressively defends rudimentary and poorly informed geocentric Flat-Earth-Society-like sensibilities rather than respect for scientific findings and an intelligent awareness of the great age and profound scope of the Universe.  It represents an extraordinary lack of sophistication and closed-mindedness in the face of overwhelming and awe-inspiring knowledge of natural explanations for physical processes.

Religious doctrines have much in common with Greek mythology.  They make divine claims that cannot seriously be accepted as literal truth.  It seems obvious that human beings in every culture have created gods as reflections of themselves, and that there is not some Almighty father God who created mankind in ‘His’ own image.

I find it absurd, for instance, to suppose that the Biblical account of a Great Flood is true as an explanation of the thousands of distinct layers of sedimentary rock worldwide.  Sedimentary rock is the result of the deposition of sediments and the processes of lithification over long periods of time, not one big worldwide flood.  Any naturalist can observe that such sedimentary rock layers have undergone extreme transformations and deformations.  Revealingly, there is dramatic evidence of the actual way that sedimentary rocks like limestone and sandstone are formed in the ancient fossilized life forms that are found arrayed in ordered sequences, from the most primitive in the deeper, older layers of rock to the more modern kinds of life in the layers of more recent formation.  

Creationism represents a refusal to reason clearly.  It denies the obvious fact that while ecosystem change is continuous, all of the species of life that have avoided extinction are almost perfectly adapted to the natural conditions and ranges in which they exist.  In other words, the process of evolution is confirmed by a study of the fossil record and the near perfect adaptation of surviving species to the habitats in which they are found.

The Church dominated "thought" for 1000 years during the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages.  It severely persecuted heresies to its control-oriented doctrines.  Then the Renaissance and the Enlightenment Ages arrived, and they were followed by great advances in scientific understandings and far more sophisticated perspectives on natural processes and truer, less superstitious explanations of cause and effect.  Valuable modern insights and knowledge upset established religious doctrines of revealed "truths".  Conservative factions within religious establishments are fighting back in reaction, but they are essentially acting to defend beliefs that are not credible.  Many of these beliefs have consequences that are harmful to society and the environment, so they will be forced to yield to more intelligent understandings.

The true context of our existence inspires wonder and awe.  We now know that the Earth is not the center of the Universe.  It is a planet orbiting the Sun, one of hundreds of billions of stars in the spiral cluster of stars that we call the Milky Way galaxy.  And the Milky Way is just one of hundreds of billions of other galaxies that we can see hurtling through apparently infinite space over unfathomable eons of time.  The Universe was clearly not created for recent-arrival humanity by a jealous God who craves adulation and who actually physically intervenes in our lives!

Science, of course, requires a context of ethics, just as religion without science is blind.  But virtue and the awareness of right action should best be established independent of some authoritarian father figure God, and of myths about Heaven and damnation and hellfire.  Our societies have many stresses and civil ills, yet we arguably cannot afford to have morality and obedience to laws dependent on an ancient code of Christian or Islamic commandments or parochial beliefs in religious doctrines.  

Human morality must be more in tune with our consciences, rules of law, and the live-and-let-live Golden Rule that honors fairness and true justice.  As cultures change in which religions were born, faith in their doctrines becomes an impediment to adaptive survival, so the religions must evolve and transform.  Powerful resistance to change cannot be allowed to prevent us from adapting intelligently to change, for change comes as inevitably as the seasons.

In the Very Big Picture, we must strive for moderation.  We must marginalize extremism.  The world population is on track to grow from 6 billion to 9 billion in the first half of this century.  Simultaneously, the remaining 50% of the planet's oil and natural gas resources will be steadily depleted.  The competition for land and food and water and minerals and raw materials will greatly intensify, resulting in increasingly calamitous conflicts.  In this context, all doctrines that proclaim self-righteous ethnocentric superiority threaten peaceful coexistence, and hence our species' survival.  

Economic doctrines that foster ever-greater disparities between the rich and the poor threaten social stability and international security.  Profligate consumerism and the production of great quantities of wastes and toxins must become more balanced by implementing more committed initiatives that emphasize conservation, environmental cleanup, and public land protections.

And the world must find ways to mitigate conflicts between peoples and to prevent aggressive militarism.  Wars and outrageous weapons spending programs worldwide combine to inflict enormous damage on the environment, polluting the land and seas and the atmosphere.  They kill innocent people, spread poisons, and release radioactive wastes.  They squander valuable resources and create onerous debt.  In addition to damaging natural ecosystems, war diminishes economic vitality, physical infrastructure, and social order.  Mankind must somehow mitigate the motives for war.  We must find ways to improve cooperation and diplomacy to achieve a more peaceful coexistence.

These are not easy tasks.  But the challenges are clear, and we are all responsible to a greater or lesser degree.  Let us have faith in our power to improve society;  where there is a will, there is a way, as they say.  And it is our obligation to find the way!  Help!

                                                                                                    --- Dr. Tiffany Twain