Tuesday, March 22, 2016

"Don't you dare disbelieve!"

We have already seen many ways in which faith opposes reason. (cf. here.) Thus we can say with certainty that a culture which predominantly adheres to faith is a culture inherently opposed to reason. It is because the vast majority of cultures throughout human history have, to one degree or another, set faith as a guiding virtue, that a culture which adheres to reason has been such a rarity.

One of the Enlightenment’s most valuable gifts to the world, a gift which has been rejected by most of it, is the concept of the separation of church and state. The development of this concept is testimony to the brilliant wisdom of America’s founders, a wisdom that has been taken for granted, distorted beyond recognition and trampled through a long series of Terminator-style assaults on individual liberty.

Ayn Rand stressed the fact, overlooked as it has been by the vast majority of history’s sages, that faith and force are corollaries. Epistemologically speaking, affirmations based on faith are the polar opposite of recognitions of truth based on facts. Where recognitions of truth based on facts can be supported by pointing to those facts on which they are based, affirmations based on faith have no such recourse to objective substantiation. Affirmations based on faith, then, must be enforced by those who have appointed themselves into positions of authority and who have access to some means of force, which – history shows – the more consistent authoritarians will not hesitate to use.

Thus, in order to make Winston Smith confess that 2 plus 2 equals 5, O’Brien had to send waves of pain through Winston’s body as he was strapped to the plank rack. In other words, force had to be used. Why? Because it’s not true that 2 plus 2 equals 5, so rational persuasion could never work. And in spite of successfully forcing Winston to confess that 2 + 2 = 5, O’Brien still didn’t believe that Winston really believed that 2 + 2 = 5. Even O’Brien knew that force doesn’t convince people of falsehoods. But the use of force is very effective in rendering people obedient.

But religion does not rely primarily on this kind of force; its chief means does not literally appeal to the stick. Physical aggression can be overcome by the use of retaliatory force, given the opportunity and the will to do so. Rather, religion predominantly appeals to the stick psychologically. The difference here is the difference between a physical sanction and a psychological sanction, as George H. Smith explains in his book Atheism: The Case Against God (pp. 172-173):
Physical sanctions are usually uncomplicated and easy to detect, whereas psychological sanctions are often complex and subtle, which explains why they are rarely identified.  
A psychological sanction is a moral term that is used for the purpose of psychological intimidation, which is intended to motivate compliance with rules. Moral terms, when used in this fashion, function as psychological cue-words—words used to trigger emotions, rather than convey information.  
A physical sanction, if successful, causes the emotion of fear. A psychological sanction, if successful, causes the emotion of guilt. A man motivated by fear may still retain an element of rebelliousness, of determination to strike back given the opportunity. A man motivated by guilt, however, is a man with a broken spirit; he will obey the rules without question. A guilt-ridden man is the perfect subject for religious morality, and this is why psychological sanctions have been extremely effective in accomplishing their purpose.
This is where religion’s threat of eternal damnation and imagery of an all-seeing angry god come in so handy: once a person begins to fear that supernatural claims are true (for, since he has abandoned reason as his standard of epistemology, he has no defense against supernatural claims), he will inevitably fear that the threats of supernatural fatalism may very well be true as well. And once this compounding fear has fixed itself in the believer’s mind, he will become religiously domitable. He becomes an emasculated mind, a broken spirit, ready to sacrifice his values just as he has already sacrificed his greatest value – namely his rational mind.

And religion has well enough seen to the production of philosophical attacks on reason. For example, in Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith: Dei Filius, so declares the First Vatican Council:
We define, therefore, that every assertion contrary to a truth of enlightened faith is utterly false. Furthermore, the Church, which, together with the Apostolic office of teaching, has received a charge to guard the deposit of faith, derives from God the right and the duty of proscribing false science, lest any should be deceived by philosophy and empty falsehoods (Col. 2:8). Therefore, all faithful Christians are not only forbidden to defend, as legitimate conclusions of science, such opinions as are known to be contrary to the doctrines of faith, especially if they have been condemned by the Church, but are altogether bound to account them as errors which put on the fallacious appearance of truth.
Reason, then, is to be held forever suspect, for it has the power to lead any mind astray from religious dogma. And that’s not good when the authorities in charge get behind the commandment “don’t you dare disbelieve!”

But when religion and the state join forces, then naturally the aggressive use of state-sanctioned physical force is inevitable.

Consider the fate of the individuals mentioned in this article, Saudi man gets 10 years and 2,000 lashes for atheist tweets:
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — A court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced a man to 10 years in prison and 2,000 lashes for expressing his atheism in hundreds of Twitter posts.  
Al-Watan online daily said Saturday that religious police in charge of monitoring social networks found more than 600 tweets denying the existence of God, ridiculing Quranic verses, accusing all prophets of lies and saying their teachings fueled hostilities.  
It says the 28-year-old man admitted to being an atheist and refused to repent, saying that what he wrote reflected his own beliefs and that he had the right to express them. The report did not name the man.  
The court also fined him 20,000 riyals, about $5,300.  
In November 2015, Saudi Arabia also sentenced a Palestinian poet, Ashraf Fayadh, to death after he allegedly renounced the Muslim faith. His death sentence was commuted to eight years in prison and 800 lashes in February 2016, according to Amnesty International.  
Saudi Arabia follows a strict interpretation of Islamic law. In 2014, Human Rights Watch criticized the country's new terrorism laws, which appear to criminalize the promulgation of "atheist thought in any form."  
"Saudi authorities have never tolerated criticism of their policies, but these recent laws and regulations turn almost any critical expression or independent association into crimes of terrorism," Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
Such benevolent regimes! If only we here in America could be as inclusive and sensitive to the plights of minorities as our Arab neighbors…

Doesn’t it seem odd, when things like this are happening in the world – and going on virtually without any check to right them, to find world leaders lecturing Americans to change their behavior? For example, under-baked Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau recently told 60 Minutes that "it might be nice if they [Americans] paid a little more attention to the world,” explaining that "I think we sometimes like to think that, you know, Americans will pay attention to us from time to time, too."

I don’t see why Trudeau would care about what the average American pays attention to. Is he running around and saying similar things about Malawians, Uzbeks, Burmese or Peruvians? Doesn’t Trudeau think that “it might be nice,” you know, if Cypriots paid more attention to Canada from time to time? Why single out Americans? Could it be that Americans are by comparison to the rest of the world much more prosperous and generous? Is Trudeau’s suggestion really code for “I wish Americans would get out their checkbook and start writing more checks to us”? After all, I highly doubt he’s intending his comments to refer to couch potatoes foodstamping their way to nowhere.

Religion has many faces, many variations, many forms. While America has embraced the concept of the separation of church and state, it has successfully compensated for the loss of this alliance by taking over the schooling of America’s children. Frankly, how is the public school system fundamentally different from an intertwining of church and state?

Another form, which has virtually all of western nations firmly clutched in its grips, is the religion of political correctness ("don't you dare disbelieve... climate change, utopian Scandinavian socialism, white privilege, multiculturalism, fossil fuels bad, man's inherent guilt..."). This is what gives license to folks like Trudeau: they want to criticize America into submission through a barrage of snarky comments and sneering asides. He does not praise America for its successes; rather, he’s essentially condemning America for its successes in a backhanded way. In fact, however, feigning the neglected child of the chilly north only makes him look weak, like a beggar, hoping for another dose of freebies. Yet his badgering pleas are most likely met with cheers and applause from his obsequious groupies who hope to be on the receiving end of some state-forced distribution of resources in exchange for their loyalty. It is precisely in this way that the cycle of sacrifice comes full circle: loyalty to the state which uses its force to extract wealth from those who create it while breeding an underclass of entitled dependents. And they want it on a worldwide scale.

Most of the world has already been steeped in mysticism for millennia. But the lights are in fact going out in the West. And since the only antidote is reason, the west needs a Second Renaissance, another rebirth of reason. If it doesn’t happen here, where can it happen?

by Dawson Bethrick

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