Saturday, February 26, 2005

Post Number Two: Common Sense Is Your Worst Enemy

Of Common Sense as the Opium of the Peoples, and of why I don't believe in God.

Warning: the following posts is highly critical of Religion, Catholicism, Activist believers and the Church. Be aware of this before reading further.

I do not believe in God.

This simple statement is often cause of major concern for some people. Italy hosts a small enclave known as "the Vatican", the last remnants of a once larger nation, ruled by a man called Pope. What is a Pope? In purely political terms, a Pope is the absolute leader of a theocracy, and there happens to be only one absolute theocracy in the world: the Vatican. The Pope of the Vatican is also the leader of a Religion called Roman Christian Catholicism. There are many sects of Christian Religion, and they generally differ from each other in a number of ways. The Catholic version of Christianity is the most common Religion of Italy. According to geographical maps, Catholics are most commonly found in other countries like France, Spain, Portugal, and especially Ireland and Poland. Catholic Priests have been very active in Africa and South America too. In fact, one of the core beliefs of the Catholic version of Christianism is that non-Catholic believers should be converted to Catholicism.
The Church has been very effective in converting people to its Religion, but not to the same degree everywhere in the world. Italy is one of the countries where the Catholic Church had the greatest influence on the society; in present-day Italy, a majority of the population is Catholic, and although only about half the people actually attends the Mass on Sundays, a belief in God is still widely spread and usually taken for granted.
As being in contrast with the cultural mainstream seems to me my trademark, there should be little wonder that I do not believe in God, but still some people look at my "lack of faith" as something odd and very peculiar.
I can assure everybody here that a lot of people does not believe in God. Really. Personally I know some really cool, charming and witty girls that happen not to believe in any God or Religion whatsoever. I don't know why each non-believer has chosen not to believe, but I know why I have. This post will mainly address the problems of faith, Religion, and belief.

Let's be frank. Some people believe in God because everyone else does. It's like being part of a group, and humans are born with the need to belong to a party of some sort. Being a non-believer means to be an outcast, with all the dire consequences this might bring upon you. If you have read my first post, you should infer that I repute this kind of homologated religion downright annoying. It implies that a person hasn't even wondered why he cares so much about God. Such people normally shrug off at any inquisitive interlocutor and make no effort at trying to understand what's behind their own behavior.
"Why do you believe in God?"
"Oh well, why not?" or "Mum told me God is Good" or even "Everybody does!" are not acceptable answers. And to be precise, such answers aren't (should not be) acceptable by the Church either. It's a pity that more often than not the Ministers of God are more concerned with the number of their parishioners rather than with their convinction.
In the same way, it is equally annoying to receive the same answers from non-believers. There has to be a specific reason to be a believer or otherwise. The lack of a reason is precisely what gives me that sense of intolerable unease that I refer to as "unbearable lightness of being".
It is necessary for any believer of non believer alike, if one cares to provide one's self with a reason, to stop for a moment and erase whatever has been up to now accepted on the basis of common sense. Common sense is your Worst Enemy. I cannot overstate this sentence. Common sense is what the majority of people gets accustomed to accept because at a certain point of somebody's life, it appeared quite obvious that things were in a certain way. It appears quite obvious that a shiny yellow metal is gold but more often than not it isn't. It appears quite obvious that men and chimps are different but in fact they share 97% of the genetic pool. It appears quite obvious that your neighbor is a good fellow, but normally this is what people say before learning that their neighbor is a serial killer.
Common sense is a nice way to define Intellectual Laziness. It is much simpler to take for granted what appears to be superficially obvious than digging into a matter in depth and perhaps discover than what seemed so natural is actually the other way round. The majority of people, needless to say, are Intellectually Lazy. It is not their fault, in general. Every society works hard to achieve the result of suppressing the working of the individual mind, because inquisitive minds are extremely dangerous. They challenge the commonly shared beliefs, and consequently challenge those in charge. And I would like to remind the reader that those in charge happen to really enjoy being in charge (of you). Really. They like it, they love to pull your strings like a puppet and make you do whatever they want, like spending your hard gained money on fancy gadgets you won't ever need, work without questioning your life conditions and, why not, believe in what they tell you to believe. Those in charge of you get a lot in terms of wealth, power, and self-esteem thanks to the fact that you do not question them. Medieval Kings in Europe stated their right to rule derived from the Will of God and to stress this point they let the Pope crown them (incidentally the Pope gained quite a deal of power over who was supposed to rule whom thanks to this habit). It was common sense that induced most of the population to believe the word of the King, and it was in the interest of the king to let it stay this way.
Common sense is your worst enemy.
If you believe in God and you don't know why, you are affected by common sense.
Now, the first thing a person should normally do is to erase his mind completely. Most philosophers commit a serious mistake when they fail to do so. If you talk to a philosopher (one of my friends has a Ph.D in Philosophy) you might notice that he has a reason for everything, (which is good), but for some strange mishap, no two philosophers seem to think in the same way. How comes? If rational thinking is objective, and if the philospher is trying to be rational, shouldn't he be led to the same conclusions of every other philosopher? Logics are, well, logic, they cannot lead to various different results depending on who's using them. Unless, of course, they are not objective. Now, it is my strong convinction that many philosphers start off from something they assume true. They actually already know where they want their reasoning to lead them, and then build their entire philosophies as a monumental justification of something they would hold true nonetheless, although they use the newly acquired motivations to uphold their convinction more effectively in a debate. In this sense, I consider philosphers weak reasoners, in the sense that their beautifully constructed arguments carry little objective weight: their conclusions were drawn beforehand, and all the machinations of their minds, regardless of the charm they possess, would never lead a philosopher to disbelief his original tenets.
A philospher of this kind is not Intellectually Lazy, but his conclusion are subjective. This fails to excite me, for I perceive that there is an objective Truth in things and that philosophers completely miss it.
So, the first step is to get rid of what you deem right. Take for granted that what seems right could actually be completely wrong. Maybe you think it's right because the society wants you to believe so. Maybe it's ultimately wrong. If you start off from what you already believe you won't get rid of Common Sense, which is the enemy we are trying to fight off.
Once upon a time, I was a believer. Really. I believed in God, prayed in the morning and thought Jesus died and resurrected from the dead. I also believed in Satan as the embodiment of evil, and I believed many other fanciful things I won't mention here. So, I can assure you all that I am not like any philospher who tries to justify his beliefs a posteriori.
Like many others in this country, at a certain point I asked myself, "Why do I believe in God?"
I had no answer that could satisfy me. Remember how I cannot tolerate Lightness. I do not shrug off at such questions.
I wondered for example, how could there be so many religions in the world, if the Catholic Roman was the only true one. According to the local priest, the difference between the Catholic Religion and any other religion (including all other Christianisms) is that Catholicism is inspired by God himself, while others lack this enlightment. Personally I never saw God in the act of inspiring Catholicism so this answer was quite dissatisfying. According to the priests, anyway, the answers were to be found in a book called "Bible". I took this book and read it through.
The Bible is a collection of various books that tell a story, as seen from the point of view of a Middle-Eastern people called "the Jews". According to what the priests said, this story was the Word of God, and it contained the ultimate Truth. This is a brief summary of the ultimate Truths contained in the Bible.
God created Adam and Eve from clay and blowed a soul in their body. He considered the two human beings the best achievement of his entire creation and gave them the garden of Eden, a land of peace and joy they had the right to live into. Nonetheless Eve, inspired by a snake. disobeyed God's only order (not to eat a certain fruit from a certain tree) and she even had the nerve to induce Adam to commit the same Sin. As a consequence to this disobedience God cursed Adam and Eve and all his descendants for eternity. Then humans moved on to live on an imperfect land only to be later wiped off by a Deluge, when God's wrath fall upon Earth and killed every single living being with the sole exception of Noah, his sons, and a number of animals. Among other Truths contained in the Bible I like to remember:
1. The rain of fire on two cities that disobeyed the rule of God (that is, they enjoyed sex)
2. The turning of a woman into a statue of salt for watching the above mentioned slaughter
3. The siege of a city (Jericho) whose mighty walls were toppled by Joshua (with the help of God) and whose entire population was slaughtered (including animals and trees) by order of God
4. The story of Job, a man plagued by all known and unknown diseases, left alone in a desert by God for Him to witness how a man reduced to a wreck would still pay his tribute to the Only True God
5. The story of Moses and the Jews, enslaved by the Egyptians in the face of God who plagued Egypt with locusts, frogs, blood, and finally by killing the children. On this occasion God ordered Moses to kill a number of lambs and use their blood to mark the doors of Jews, so that the Angel of Death would recognize them and spare their life while he was on a killing spree through the Egyptian kingdom.
6. The story of Babel, a place where humans meant to build a tower tall enough to reach the kingdom of God. Apparently God was quite sure they were going to succeed since he chose to confuse their languages and prevent them from continuing their job
...and so on.
Is it me, or there is something wrong here? God the Almighty, the embodiment of Good, the all-loving God that creates the Universe is described in the Bible basically as indulging in genocide and massacre of children with the same non-chalance displayed by a kid killing ants.
Then there was this Jesus Christ person. Now, he seemed to speak another language. No more slaughtering, no more sacrifice and lots of love. Incidentally Jesus Christ never mentioned any of the characteristic dogmata of the Catholic church. In fact, Jesus protested doing business in the Temple, saved the life of a prostitute, and never really chastised anyone. Hello? Is it me again, or there is a number of Christian activists out there that are not doing much to save prostitutes, but criminalize abortion and advocate death penalty? Death penalty? They reconcile the word of Jesus Christ with Death penalty? Really amazing.
My most obvious conclusion was that the Bible is one of the many similar books we find in every culture, in many ways quite worse than many. It's gross, full of violence and blood, genocide and slaughter. It's obviously written by someone who was accustomed to violence, and probably this is no wonder since life in the Middle East was quite harsh. It's quite harsh even now after all.
Anyway there was no hint in the Bible that made me think it was written by God, or that it contained any Truth. I could as well have taken the epic of Gilgamesh and state it contains the ultimate Truth. There's no reason to believe that the Bible should be inspired by God and the Coran shouldn't. Why the Bible and not the Edda (an Icelandic myth of Viking origin)? Why not the Veda? Why not the Shinto tradition, or the Aztech myth? Why not the Roman and Greek gods after all? They weren't so inclined to genocide at least.
So, I do not believe in God, certainly not in the God of the Bible, and having no reason to believe in any other specific God in particular, I abstain from believing. I find this the healthiest choice. I have some sympathy for the nordic myth and I like to carry the Hammer of Thor (Mjölnir) hung to my neck, but it's more of a fanciful habit than a religious belief.
Later in my life I have turned my attention to Buddhism. Now, this particular set of beliefs is very resonant with my inner self, although I see no reason to believe in reincarnation.
Among the things the Dalai Lama have said, there is one I am quite in agreement with. I will now try to paraphrase it. A true Religion is not a set of dogmata and exterior habits, but a subjective expression of the inner "spiritual" needs of a human being, because it happens that for some reason, most humans (not all of them) feel a call to spirituality. In this sense, each human being has a peculiar subjective need, because we are born unique, despite the efforts put out by the society to suppress this uniqueness. Some religions are particularly resonant with the needs of a specific person, while another might turn out more suitable for someone else. But the ultimate purpose of a religion is that of fulfilling the needs of a specific believer. As such, it exists within the person and not without. I am now very tolerant with the beliefs of my religious peers, as long as I perceive them as their own. On converse, I am very aware that religion is a powerful tool that can be misused by malevolent men (usually dressed in black) to control people, and deprive them of their right to think.
In my future posts, I will also address themes like Euthanasia, Abortion, Death Penalty, Sex, and even Human Cloning. In all cases I will never resort to Religion, in particular not to the Christian Religion. While a human being has the right to choose not to abort a child for his own religious beliefs, I scorn at those dictators and fascists that preposterously have the arrogance to force their own subjective, irrational religious opinion upon others, and in particular I will accept no attempt made by any such bigots to strip me and the rest of society of our right to think and act freely, unfettered by their intellectual laziness, by their arrogance, and most of all by the arrogance of a supernational association known as "Catholic Church", which I consider but a cluster of brain-washers that never really cared to read and learn the word of the man on the cross they display in their churches. A man who once saved the life of a prostitute.