Chaotic Reflections On Heresy
by Fred Reed: Random
Thoughts Regarding Machismo, If Any
I find myself
wondering why the ruling classes of America are so grindingly antagonistic
to religion. I understand having no interest in religion. I do not
understand the animosity.
One might say,
The worlds religions are so many, so internally inconsistent
and contradictory of each other, and so dependent on assertions
which seem to me not to be factual, that I cannot believe any of
them. The position is neither unreasonable nor rabid. One
holding it might go about his affairs, leaving others to believe
as they chose. He might respect the faith of others without sharing
it, might regard religions as harmless and colorful folklore, might
indeed regard them as socially beneficent.
In the Unites
States, though, we see something very different: an aggressive hostility
to religion, a desire to extirpate it and, though no one quite says
this, to punish its practitioners. A curious witch-hunt continues
in which people seem to look for any trace of religion so that they
can root it out. I would call it vengeful, except that I do not
know for what it might be revenge.
Why? The explanations
given do not make sense. A store whose sign says Merry Christmas
is a threat to nothing, just as a nativity scene can offend only
one who is looking very hard for something to offend him. The stridency
of the evolutionists seems overblown, since a mention of the theory
of intelligent design in the high schools would hardly lead to the
closing of departments of biochemistry.
that the Ten Commandments on the wall of a courthouse will lead
to an established religion is palpable nonsense. Constitutional
piety doesnt wash either. If nativity scenes contravene the
Constitution, why was this not noticed by anyone, assuredly including
the authors, until at least 1950?
(I am reminded
of the old joke about the high school that issued a boy a condom,
and expelled him when he was discovered praying for a chance to
A common reading
is that the sciences have become a sort of secular religion, with
the Big Bang replacing Genesis, and evolution as a sort of deanthropomorphized
god chivying humanity onward and upward. There is a large element
of this, yes. The self-righteous intolerance directed by disciples
of evolution against religion assuredly resembles the intolerance
of religion against heresy. Does this explain the anger of the rooters-out?
Is it partly that believers in America tend to be Southern or Catholic,
both of which are regarded as politically inappropriate conditions?
Why have the
sciences achieved such power over the popular mind? Obvious answers
are that they work spectacularly within their ambit, that they produce
wondrous gadgets, that they are swathed in incomprehensible runes
such as triple integrals or tensors dripping with sub- and superscripts,
and have resounding incantations like pentaerythritol tetranitrate.
I wonder whether
something else is not involved. Today most of us live in profound
isolation from the natural world. People in large cities can go
for decades without seeing the stars. Should they drive through
the countryside, it will be in a closed automobile with the air-conditioning
running. On a trip to the beach, the sand will be overrun by hordes
of people, half of them on whining jet skis.
We exist utterly
in a manmade cocoon, as much as desert termites in their mud towers.
This, I think, profoundly alters our inner landscapes. Live in the
rolling hills around Austin, say, as they were before they were
turned into suburbs, with the wind soughing through the empty expanse
and low vegetation stretching into the distance, the stars hanging
low and close in the night, and you get a sense of mans smallness
in the scheme of nature, of the transitoriness of life, a suspicion
that there may perhaps be more things in heaven and earth. It makes
for reflection of a sort that throughout history has turned toward
People no longer
live in large wild settings, but amid malls and freeways. The ancients
believed that the earth was the center of the cosmos. We believe
that we are. There is little to suggest otherwise in manicured suburbs
and cities where the sirens will be howling at all hours. It is
an empty world that begets philosophically empty thinking.
sense of being small in a large universe, and perhaps not even very
important, the question arises, Is this all there is?
and the answer appears to be Yes. Without the awe and
wonder and mystery of a larger cosmos, existence reduces to blowing
smog, competitive acquisition of consumer goods, and vapid television
with laugh tracks. We focus on efficiency, production, and the material
because they are all we have. It is not particularly satisfying,
and so we are not particularly satisfied.
I suspect that
the decline of religion stems less from the advance of scientific
knowledge than from the difficulty of discerning the transcendent
in a parking lot. Certainly the scientific has generally replaced
the religious mode of thought, even in people who believe themselves
to be Christians. For example, it is amusing to hear them saying
that the parting of the Red Sea refers to diminution of water by
a wind in what was essentially a swamp. That is, God is all-powerful,
but only to the extent that he behaves consistently with the prevailing
Yet note the
decline of even non-religious contemplation of such matters as meaning
and purpose, right and wrong, ultimate good, and so on. It is not
that people behave worse without faith, but that they cannot explain
why they do not. The use of the sciences as a substitute for belief
in God or gods has produced a religion that cannot ask the questions
central to religion. It has also made discussion of such questions
a cause for eliminating the offender from the guest list for the
next cocktail party.
But this does
not answer the question of why the hostile stalking of religion
that pervades the ranks of the educated and influential in the United
States. In almost all times and places, disbelief and secularism
have existed, yes. Few educated Romans actually believed in Jupiter
the Lightning Chucker. There have been Cathars and Wiccans and Manicheans
and innumerable agnostics. Yet, so far as I know, only communism
and Americanism (is that the word, perhaps?) have tried to eradicate
separation of church and state, and yet a bus driver can display
a crucifix without upsetting anyone. I do not know how many Thais
are believing Buddhists. Certainly Buddhist symbols are visible
everywhere, and it doesnt seem to have engendered disaster.
Why the angry rejection in the US? I will get email telling me that
it is a Jewish plot, like everything else, but in fact it is the
default attitude of the educated. Why? Who cares?
is author of Nekkid
in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well, A
Brass Pole in Bangkok: A Thing I Aspire to Bem, Curmudgeing
Through Paradise: Reports from a Fractal Dung Beetle, Au
Phuc Dup and Nowhere to Go: The Only Really True Book About Viet
Nam, and A
Grand Adventure: Wisdom's Price-Along with Bits and Pieces about
Mexico. Visit his
© 2012 Fred Reed
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