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tuppennyprofet - at - aol - dot - com
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Why I am Doing This
(Aside from gratuitous megalomania)
Surveying the highlights of Western philosophic and scientific thought, the notion becomes inescapable that a great deal of it has become irrelevant.
The world which existed during our celebrated Enlightenment of the 17 Century - and which gave rise to all the arguments and proofs in favor of Scientific Rationalism; and against it - is no longer extant.
That world depended upon a Western European domination of the globe; largely as a result of aggressive exploration and conquest set in motion a couple of centuries before. The Muslim Threat to the Judeo-Christian ideologies of Europe - which was so real and dangerous from about the Ninth Century through the Fifteenth - had been put down and effectively marginalized.
The Far East and India, beset by peculiar intellectual impediments of their own, never even figured into the equation; except as "exotic" or "mysterious" knots of occasional wisdom or insight to be stumbled upon by certain less-jingoistic Western scholars, and exhibited as curiosities.
The only conflicting patterns of thought which remained were strictly "in-house;" disputes within the box defined by Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, the Bacons, Copernicus, Bruno, Galileo and Newton.
By happy (?) historical accident, this intellectual stew led to the emergence of Scientific Method, which, starting oh so slowly but gathering steam by the decade, serendipitously proved to be the best tool ever invented by humanity with which to explore the physical universe.
That physical universe had remained, for practically the entire length and breadth of human inquiry, as distant as the stars and as opaque as the surface of the sea. We could see neither very far nor very deeply into the environment which housed our bodies and ruled our lives.
Because we had evolved a central nervous system both curious and megalomaniacal, we simply could not stand to admit our ignorance. So we leaped to a great many historical conclusions on the basis of superficial -- and most often highly misleading - evidence.
But, entering the 20th Century, the Judeo-Christian world (with considerable historical assistance from the Golden Age of Islam, the Chinese, and other unwitting lenders of expertise) had produced a Science and an intellectual tradition upon which most of the shiny and complex technology of the planet is based.
As long as the West, with its technology, could dominate the aspirations and even the thinking of most of the rest of the world, we Westerners could pretend that Our Way was the Right Way; with little fear of contradiction.
Entering the 21st Century, Western patterns of thought are no longer as dominant, sociopoliticoeconomically.
It becomes manifest that by sheer weight of human numbers, Our Way is not even the Majority Way.
Our most cherished and fundamental socio-political beliefs are challenged on a hundred fronts by people who have eagerly borrowed our technology without succumbing to the persuasiveness of our fundamental conclusions: about individuality; about freedom; about the role of women in society; about the use of violence in the cause of Belief; about the nature of the gods, and the definitions of humanity.
It is vitally IMPORTANT to inspect the quality and mechanics of these competing belief systems. It will not do simply to grant them all an equal ecumenical place at the head table on the basis of their antiquity, their number of adherents, or their historical efficaciousness for their believers.
"Live and let live," doesn't work with people and ideologies which by definition do not believe that Our Way deserves to exist in the same world as Their Way.
As long as these people were relatively few, or relatively powerless, The West could safely ignore them most of the time. If one didn't go into their territory, or managed to avoid acting too boorishly colonial while visiting their enclaves, one could live out one's life without confronting their enmity, or dealing with their convictions.
Admittedly, a lot of what The West has become is neither very admirable nor deserving of preservation. But most of that has come about as an unintended by-product of the best of what we are.
Free speech means that some people will inevitably say things which anger, frighten or disgust us.
Freedom for everybody means that a lot of people will take advantage of the system; and of their fellow-citizens. Many people will indulge themselves too freely in the less-defensible aspects of sex, economics, recreation and the quest for power.
A lot of these things will even threaten our personal liberty, our freedom and our well-being. So we pass laws to try to limit their negative effects, and in the process find ourselves in danger of imperiling the very liberties we are trying to protect.
It is like walking a razor's edge to maintain a free and open society of human beings, but we have gotten fairly good at it. Our society is the envy and even the model for most of the rest of the world.
But certainly not all of it.
We are under attack by small, well-organized, often well-financed groups of zealots (some within our own geographical borders) who see Our Way as universally corrosive and a mortal threat to Their Way.
We will not defeat them, permanently, by frontal assault; or simply killing as many of them as possible; because their ranks will be continually replenished from a great reservoir of people who do not generally approve of their methods, or even their aims, but who share many of their convictions.
We will not defeat them, at all, by confronting them with OUR convictions because convictions are not the basis for fruitful interaction among human beings.
Convictions close the mind and shut off meaningful dialog.
All the World, not just The West, needs a different way of approaching belief and anchoring the centers of its 6-billion-odd-and-counting individual souls.
We can no longer indulge - if we are to survive and be free - in Tradition, Dogma and Conviction. These will only serve to hold us together in groups big enough to destroy one another; and ourselves.
WE need something to believe in which will not encourage us to take gratuitous whacks at one another; some mental state which can hold our individual psyches together intellectually and emotionally without so consuming us that we cannot entertain alternative or even opposing viewpoints; which is malleable in the face of changing Universal conditions and evolving information.
I have not studied the Koran, having long since despaired of finding any new universal verities in the Judeo-Christian scriptures which are at least an analog if not in large part a source of that treatise. But judging from the often acrimonious diversity of thought among the scholars and believers who have studied it, I can safely surmise that The Prophet's great work suffers from the fundamental weakness of all human wisdom:
Independent of the specifics of that wisdom, its application depends entirely upon the historical practices and individual mindsets of the human beings who apply it.
And the engines of those mindsets are the twin Blind Brutes of the human psyche; Tradition and Dogma; fueled by Conviction, or the inability of most human minds to entertain any thoughts not derived from the same traditions and dogma which created those minds.
There is an old Catholic joke; at least it was told to me by a Catholic (an Irish one). I have "updated" it to conform with current history, 2004.
Father Padraic, after a lifetime of service to his small Irish parish, in the year 2000 is sent as a reward by his parishioners on a pilgrimage to Rome. Granted, with a number of other visiting clerics, an audience with the Pope, Padraic is singled out by the Holy Father for a personal interview, which goes like this:
"What is your name, My Son?"
"Father Padraic Colm, Your Holiness; Your Grace."
'"That's...Irish, isn't it?"
"Indeed, it is! Your Worship; Your Holiness."
"And what is your ministry?"
"I've had a little parish in Cork for the past 35 years, Your Grace; Your Worship."
"Cork? Isn't that in the North of Ireland, My Son?"
"It's in the South of Ireland, you dumb Polack!'
Just as the politico-social attitudes of rural Ireland might trump the powerful religious aura of the Pope, Judeo-Christians whose Commandment says, "Thou Shalt Not Kill" have never had a great deal of difficulty finding exceptions to that rule; on the grounds of self-defense, punishment or simply finding other human beings inconveniently in the way.
Now, it is true that "Thou salt not kill!" is an impossibly simplistic and generalized stricture (In order to stay alive for more than a few weeks human beings predictably have to kill something to eat...I mean, even you Vegans. You demise a lot of plants). But even in its usual more narrowly construed meaning ("Don't kill other human beings") it serves mostly to illustrate the futility of trying to combat dogmatic traditions with other dogmatic traditions.
Mostly, what that does is start holy wars.
Not because I think it will do much good; the powers of Tradition, Dogma and Conviction - and their seductive handmaiden, Ignorance - are so great and so fitted to the raw human psyche.
But because every individual voice crying in the emotional, intellectual, superstitious wilderness is one less voice calling us to the funeral of our species;
I offer the Rational Religion.
Even if its specific precepts do not strike chords in many of my fellow-creatures, perhaps the techniques and attitudes herein may seem compelling enough to prompt a few stray souls to question their Traditions, Dogmas and Convictions enough to lower the flashpoint of their corner of society.
Whatever its influence, it will have to be enough; because that is the nature of a Universe with Human Beings in it.