Another one bites the dust

Another one bites the dust

by G. Padilla

To professor M. Paluszny, who once gave me, as a gift, the rebirth of skepticism.

Dear reader: I have recently found an article by D. Dennet, published at the Wall Street Journal; and an answer, by D. Linker, at The Week. This note is intended to be an answer to both.

The key question for Mr. Linker is if the future of Christianity in the US is bleak. I agree with the short answer: not necessarily. If the belief on the existence of only one God and one way to pray constitutes a source of intrinsic intolerance; then I would be not so happy. But if, as Mr. Linker points out, what we see is a retreat of Catholicism and Protestantism, and at the same time a more or less proportional increase of Evangelical Protestantism; then those who have more primitive beliefs and are the growing ones. Something similar is happening in muslim countries, this is one of the reasons of struggles between the different branches of Islam.

Ancient monotheism used to live in minority, a situation that helped to elaborate the theology of the “God’s remainder”: The fewer we are, the more orthodox we become. We prosecute heresy. We ask our believers to teach the faith to their children. We practice proselitism (“propaganda fide”). After having ruled an important part of the world for centuries, Islam and Christianity (particularly Catholicism) are not quite used to be a minority, specially not everywhere. A growing population of nones (non affiliated to a particular religion) says, with some probability, that in the future to be a none might just be normal. If religions were just a “resident evil” waiting for any kind of plague that makes them grow again; then to consider religion as “not important at all” might not be so wise. Recall Jorge de Burgos, the old blind monk in Umberto Eco’s “Il nomme della rosa”, killing everyone who dares to read the first pages of a lost book of Aristotle (the “Comedy”). Laughter is particularly subversive but, in order to laugh, you must know what the joke is about. Sadly, the same new generations which are more likely nones, also spend more time on Youtube than Wikipedia.

I feel tempted to make a joke about the “religious thinking”. Isn’t this an oxymoron, anyway? (Ok, I did it, sorry). And, yet, I think it over again. According to A. Damasio (I will simplify a lifetime research in a couple of lines), thinking is a neuronal activity which involves our last evolutionary phases along the million years we have been feeling, i.e. translating perceptions and biochemichal signals into brain “maps”; like the last thin coating of colour over a steel-reinforced concrete wall.

I stand for what modernity has given to us: democracy, illustration, the universal declaration of human rights, political secularism, technological and scientific progress (or, at least, the idea of it). Nevertheless; a rigid rationalism can be as fanatic and blind as some religions, at some historic moments, have been. The XXth century gave us plenty of examples, some of them were related to religious conflicts, as Armenia or Darfur. But no religion made what Nazism did in Auschwitz-Birkenau, Khmer-rouges in Cambodia, Milosevic’s army in Bosnia, nor the MDP in Rwanda. Following H. Arendt, a feature of totalitarianism is the significant collective moral loss it leads to, also called the “banality of evil”.

A key to recover our individual ethical self-guidance is to make the exercise of reconnecting thoughts and feelings. That is, in other words, what the Poet described:

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you (…)

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;

If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim…”

In order to connect feelings and thoughts, not only science (“rigid rationalism”) is needed. We need religion; so yes, Mr. Linker and I agree a little, again.

Here is where we desagree: A single boy/girl constitutes the personality structure, first by imitation, and later by challenging the constituted personalities he/she lives with. To a certain extent, the same happens to the entire society. We need arts, literature, poetry, history, metaphysics, mythology, ancient tales and the memories of our ancestors. We need limits, rules, totems and taboo. We need religion as we need a father: sometimes we follow them; others, we break/kill them. That’s how we connect feelings and thoughts, and how our individual ethical convictions, one day, will make sense. Metaphysics are different of religion. It is possible to find ethical roots in secular arguments. Asking if everything happens for a reason might, also, be the start of a scientific thinking, or a phenomenological approach. Existentialism neither forces nor excludes any particular religious thought. You can pick Kierkegaard, Jaspers, Marcel, Sartre or anyone else.

I also do not agree with a simplified scope which identifies the future of Christianity (or any other particular religion) with the “future of religion”, as a human need and activity. This kind of reduction can only be accepted by a particular believer: one who might, at a particular moment, consent the elimination of other creeds.

Being an atheist is not the same that being an anti-theist. It makes no sense to say an atheist (or a none) is God-hater”. If he/she’s not interested on religions, why should hate them? It’s also sad to read that, through the religious thinking is how “…potential religion maintains a more powerful grip”…on souls. It’s clear that providential words might betray everyone.

Misery and calamities might help some religions or some religious leaders (the kind I use to keep away) to increase the number of believers/followers. I remember J. I. Cabrujas, a venezuelan writer who, 15 years ago, when asked about the result of a poll for the former venezuelan social democratic party AD, said: To grow up is one thing; to fatten is another stuff.

Whenever a so-called religious leader says that your suffering is “meant to be” so you can learn something he/she is ready to teach you; just send him/her to the ____________ (fill in with your favorite distant place). Remember: None of us is at the center of the universe. Shit doesn’t happen to you (him/her, me, us); it just happens. Finally: Internet, science and technology are very fragile firewalls. They have also been used to spread fundamentalism, xenophobia and intolerance. It would be reductionist and self-indulgent to let the Nature with the responsability of building new ethical, moral and religious values.

Believers, atheists or “nones”, it is our responsibility as individuals, to tell religious leaders that we expect from them exactly the opposite: tolerance, dialogue, inclusion.


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