Rational Religion

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How Did the King Capture Truth?


For the moment, I will pause to inspect the long and ignominious history of autocratic rule, which has cursed the human species since long before history was first written down.  


Grant me the premise that autocracy is impossible unless most of the Ruled are True Believers in the premise that the autocrat has the right - even the duty - to rule. 


Until just about the present century, no one individual or small cabal had the physical means to compel large numbers of adamantly dissenting subjects to obey.   From Alexander thru the Kings of England to Napoleon and Hitler, the ruling autocrat's power sprang solely from his (or her, there were Cleopatra and Elizabeth I) ability to inspire belief in his or her person. 


Of course, all these powerful people had in their favor a tremendous public relations structure based upon such overwhelming emotional elements as national pride, patriotism, religion and perceived personal interest; most of which they had inherited along with their position in society.  


Many of history's autocrats did very little, personally, to perpetuate their power.  They came by it by birth and did little more than just keep the wheel turning until time and the real universe removed them from the scene.  If this sort of bare-necessity stewardship went on for more than a few generations, however, the autocracy usually disappeared, unless it was especially isolated. 


Competing monarchies and dictatorships are extremely Darwinian.  Good kingdoms and bad kingdoms may endure; weak or perfunctory ones seldom.


Back to the notion of the equal value of belief systems:  I reiterate! They are of equal value only to the individuals who successfully use them as an emotional and intellectual interface with the rest of the Universe. 


The moment they become instruments of physical, intellectual or emotional coercion towards any other person or group of persons, their value becomes negative.  They become, by definition, criminal; encroaching upon and limiting the rights of others. 


One of the cardinal sins of World Communism's brief fling of influence over nearly half of the species was its codification of Atheism as an instrument of policy.  


With national governments and whole societies charged with eliminating "superstition," these socialistic states became at least as tyrannical as Inquisition Catholicism.  (Worse, because five hundred years of intellectual progress made the crime that much less supportable on the grounds of ignorance.)


As soon as codified suppression of metaphysical worship was abolished, huge percentages of the subject populations returned to their traditional ceremonies.


Churches, mosques and synagogues which had been, for decades, warehouses, "museums," or simply abandoned to decay, were restored as houses of worship; or new very similar ones were built upon the historical plots of land. 


This despite the fact that most of the mature believers at the time of the Great Revolution in the second decade of the 20th Century, AND their children, were dead and gone by the time of counter-revolution in the last decades of that century.


(It is now apparent that the same "recidivism" is taking place in Viet Nam.  Viet Cong fighters of the '60s whom one would suppose to be as devoted anti-religionists as they were warriors, are back to observing millennia-old Buddhist festivals and ceremonies; evidently with the approval or at least the studied inattention of the "authorities.")


Not every ex-Soviet whose ancestors had been Russian Orthodox, Muslim, or Whatever, returned to the "faith of their fathers."  To a great many people, whose parents had been simply afraid to indoctrinate them too strongly into the ancestral faith, all that old stuff looks pretty illogical.  They remain, if not atheists, at least agnostic. 


This is not, per se, a good thing. 


Atheism and Agnosticism can be fairly corrosive if they don't come with an ethical matrix.  People who don't believe in much of anything have few constraints upon their behavior, plus grounds to justify to themselves a great deal more of that behavior than is good for them or (especially) for the rest of us.


Yet the spectacle of entire societies having been forcibly "atheized" - and then abandoned to their own devices - underlines a huge ethical dilemma. 


If all are to be granted their freedom to believe, and celebrate that belief, as they wish; and if their freedom to do these things ends at the physical boundaries of each their own individual skins…


What do we do with the thorny question of their "right" to indoctrinate their offspring? 


Do children "belong" to their parents?   Do they "belong" to their community?    What are the limits of parental or community authority in deciding what the individual child shall believe?


The answers are not easy and they certainly aren't universal.  Witness the fact that certain children, despite the most assiduous attempts to indoctrinate them and compel their obedience to various doctrines, will simply have none of it; or so little of it as to make them unfit or uncomfortable members of their society.  


Many of these, of course, are simply criminal personalities. 


Others are the landmarks; the beacons of human cultural evolution. 


The difference is in their ethical depth and proficiency, and it's often damned hard to discern the distinction in real time.