It’s not what you believe; it’s what you do with those beliefs that counts
The discussion on my recent climate change post has one side saying “expert consensus” and the other side saying “facts.” Let me state something very important here: An expert consensus is not a fact. Experts used to think the sun revolved around the earth (wrong), that bad air caused disease (wrong), that spicy food and stress caused ulcers (wrong), that autistic people are mentally retarded because their mothers didn’t love them (oh, so wrong), etc. Experts are wrong, all the time.
This is a touchy subject for me today because Mr. Bookworm was very upset that I didn’t like the song “I Believe,” from the play “The Book of Mormon,” which song was performed at the Tony Awards last night. He assured me that the critics raved about it (and it certainly won a lot of awards), and was completely disconcerted to learn that my opinion differed from the experts’.
I thought the song was sophomoric and mean-spirited. I say this knowing that Trey Parker and Matt Stone, of South Park fame, wrote the book, and knowing that those two are irreverent about everything. Because they are equal opportunity offenders, they’re hypocrites, and that gives them something of a pass. (It was still sophomoric, but it wasn’t unfair by their lights.)
It’s the others, though, who bug me. The others are the ones who write the reviews and sit in the Tony Awards audience cheering wildly for Vanessa Redgrave, whose never met a mass murderer she hasn’t admired. They’re also the ones who rave about the song and the play, not because either song or play are especially clever or witty, but because its focus on the Mormons’ belief system makes the others feel smug and superior.
I’ve got a message for all those other ones — all belief systems seem bizarre to non-believers. What matters for non-believers is how the believers choose to use their belief system as a guide for living their lives. The important question is whether people, whether believers or not, live better or worse lives because of a specific religious system.
For example, the Jews have this peculiar idea that they are bound to a single “God.” This God, for better or worse (and, for the Jews, usually worse), has designated the Jews as his Chosen People, and expects them to conform to all sorts of rules, ranging from eating specific foods and saying specific prayers, to having these peculiar ideas about morality, justice and the worth of the individual. Wackos, every one of them.
And then there are the Christians who actually believe that some guy was the son of that Jewish “God,” and that he not only died for their sins, but that he was actually (get this!) resurrected. In following this crazy fairy tale, Christians feel have kooky ideas about redemption, grace, morality, forgiveness, and the worth of the individual. They’re nut jobs.
Hindus, not content with one or two “Gods” believe in dozens of them, many of whom are highly decorative, including the multi-armed one. They also believe in reincarnation, vegetarianism, meditation and being peaceful. I ask you — Who would want those peaceful vegetarians as neighbors? More nut jobs.
The Mormons don’t get a pass either. Piggy backing on the Christian Bible, they’ve added on all sorts of life after death theories, and planets, not to mention some interesting anthropology and ancient history. In the pursuit of these stories, they’re incredibly hard-working, clean-living, family-oriented and moral. They also have this weird habit of proselytizing using verbal persuasion, not swords. Shame on them!
Muslims think that this one guy, sitting alone in the middle of nowhere, was the ultimate Prophet of the original Jewish “God,” and that everything he says is binding law on his followers. These people, in honor of their myth, embrace a combination of daily prayers and dietary restrictions, not to mention killing or enslaving Jews, Christians, Americans and gays, with a little misogyny on the side.
And then there are the Leftists. They believe that one world government (made up of ideologically proper people, of course) or, failing that, a really big government at home, can solve all the world’s ills, by making all people equal.
They also believe that some people are more equal than others. In a constantly jostling hierarchy of the oppressed, people with dark skin jostle for position with people who are female, who try to elbow out people of creative sexual orientation. All of them are flummoxed when a dark skinned female of creative sexual orientation walks into the room. It helps if she has a limp. This would merely be silly if their beliefs didn’t mean that they bend the power of their Big Government to place handicaps on non-dark, non-female, non-creative gender people (i.e., straight white men) in order to help those dark skinned people, females, creative gender types, and handicapped people who have figured out that they’ll get the best spoils if they worship at the Big Government altar.
Big Government worship also includes the belief that nuclear power is incredibly dangerous, but organic, unpasteurized foods are good, even thought organic, unpasteurized foods have killed or injured more people than nuclear power plants. By the way, in making this statement, I’m not just counting the recent E. Coli sprouts scare, but all the other “whole” foods problems, including Odwalla’s juice debacle some years ago, and the ongoing deaths of children who live in places too poor to pasteurize or who have parents who are flakes.
Big Government worship has some other peculiar practices. It’s okay to kill a baby, but not to cut a foreskin. It’s okay to kill a baby, but not to kill a violent murderer after due process. It’s okay to bankrupt thousands of people, but not to diminish a lizard habitat. It’s okay to support a radical, violent, antisemitic theocracy, because it’s not capitalist and the people are brown; but it’s wrong to support an open democracy, that extends full civil rights to all races, all religions, all sexes and all creative sexual orientations, because the people are less brown and are Jewish.
Although a non-believer myself, I nevertheless deeply respect religion. I wish I could be religious (it would be Jewish, if I was), but you can’t force faith. From the outside looking in, many religious beliefs seem anything but believable. That’s okay. Faith is not concerned with rationality, nor should it be. That’s why it’s faith. But faith should be deeply concerned with morality, decency, justice, and freedom. Under that rubric, I know which faiths I prefer. I bet you do too.
Cross-posted at Bookworm Room