12/21/2004: Thought for the Day:
Religion is a very Faustian bargain that man has made with himself.
Believers in religion get maybe the warmest, softest security blanket that man has ever devised: denial of mortality, interwoven with the illusion of deeper meaning. For believers, our brief, usually futile existence is just a prelude. It doesn't matter if our time on Earth is nasty, brutish, and short, because there will be *eternal* life after we die--and a life of peace and joy, not endless, pointless toil and misery. Further, religion assures the believer that his life actually MATTERS to god, and that there is a deeper meaning to the universe, things happen for a reason, not simply by chance.
The downside of the bargain is that it requires you to play by rules that are frequently at odds with fully enjoying mortal life (one of the things Pascal's wager fails to take into account). Some people have even bought the notion that we are REQUIRED to suffer in life to achieve the afterlife. Or that we are required to kill others.
Acceptance of religion usually also means that you have to live your life in constant fear of committing some obscure transgression that will send you to eternal suffering instead of eternal peace. That's a pretty nasty sword to be hanging over your head your whole life. And since religion frequently includes the notion of a evil being who tries to trick you into going to hell, you can never really know if you're doing the right thing. Imagine the conflict a devout Jew at the time of Jesus must have faced: this guy is saying god is making a new covenant with "his people" and the old one is null and void. Is this the real deal, or a lie?
But it seems to me that in actual practice, religion seems to be a pretty lousy bargain for a lot of people, because even many religious people seem to have the same fear of death as non-religious people do. Believers threatened with imminent death will scream and cry and beg for their lives just like they didn't believe that they were about to go to eternal bliss. The Pope rides around in a bullet-proof car. Dubya, who has Jesus at the top of his speed-dial list, uses tighter Secret Service protection than any president in history. So WTF, why do people buy into this bullshit?
--Dave Palmer [SKEPTIC mail list]
Len on 12.21.04 @ 09:42 AM CST