I heard a couple of opinions this past week that gave me pause. One was from a news program on a BBC station. The story was about a particular sect that performed exorcisms on children who were misbehaving. The practice looked very much like abuse—probably was, by every definition. There were interviews with young people who had suffered through such practices in their childhood. It was a particular story, a particular sect. Rare. Uncommon. Almost unheard of, which I guess is what made it interesting enough for a news story.
One of the news commentators at the end of the story said, “And that’s why religion is so dangerous.”
The other item was from an online seminar, generally about positive thinking. But it lost me when the interviewee said that, because some Muslims are violent terrorists, that is why organized religion is a bad thing.
People are entitled to their opinions. Even when they’re wrong. But they don’t get credit for being logical when they’re not.
Mistakes in a tiny portion of a particular, uncommon, obscure religion do not mean that all religions and religious people are in the wrong.
And evil among a small but scary portion of a worldwide religion (which is not even what you’d call “organized” in the sense we use it for religion) does not negate the good among all the other religions in the world.
Logic is math. So let’s set up the problem.
Let’s call the set of all religions R. And we’ll label the particular sect S. S is part of the set of R. S does not make up all of R, only a very small portion. S is always R. But R is rarely S. It is therefore inaccurate at best to say, if S is bad, then all R is bad.
For a non-math analogy, you might look at sorting apples. Every now and then you find a bad apple. You can cull it and toss it. Or you can say, “Because there’s a bad apple in the basket, all apples are bad, and we should throw out the whole basket.” If you choose the latter, then you never get to enjoy the basketful of good apples.
While we’re reasoning together, let’s ask the question, Do we need religion?
I believe we do—as an essential element in civilization. Civilization requires a critical mass of people who honor God, life, family, honesty, and property—those are the basic categories covered in the Ten Commandments, and are pretty easily agreed to by any civilized people.
Honoring God is essential for comprehending where our rights as human beings come from. If we do not have any inherent right to life, liberty, and property, which God has granted us, then we have only what the current tyranny—benevolent or, more likely, malevolent—deigns to grant us.
Without God, there are no rights. Government should be for the express purpose of protecting those rights, and leave everything else to the free people.
You can live a moral life among moral people even as a nonbeliever. Still, we need a critical mass purposely living lives dedicated to good, in order to have a thriving civilization.
I won’t solve the God versus reason debate here, in a blog post. But I do believe it is more reasonable to believe in God than not to.
Christianity and science are opposed… but only in the same sense as that which my thumb and forefinger are opposed—and between them I can grasp anything.—Sir William Bragg, Nobel Prize for Physics (1915)
I will claim that religion—the search for truth and the earnest striving toward goodness—is more likely to yield civilization than the random whims of self-dedicated individuals.
I got to take a look at civilization—and civilizations past—this past week. I was in London. My first trip there. I spent a lot of time doing tourist things: sight-seeing, going to museums. And I’m fascinated by the various appearances of beauty in art and architecture.
While the Spherical Model talks about Civilization, Freedom, and Prosperity—the northern hemisphere goal—as a destination, in actual life, we find pockets of the good often surrounded by the decay of tyranny, poverty, and savagery. But where we find beauty, historically it’s likely to connect to a time when people were thinking, reasoning, and seeking the Good.
I was in the British Museum, and the Rosetta Stone is one of the first exhibits to draw you in. Photos were difficult, because of the glass surround and the lights causing reflections. But that got me thinking about writing in general. I love seeing the various examples of ancient writing. Some of it was mundane, such as a receipt for goods. Others were more monumental, such as describing the life and battles of various royalty. It’s miraculous when it has survived. Writing is probably a necessity for civilization, for passing along information and thinking.
I was looking at ancient Assyrian and Egyptian works, and then there was a doorway into the Greek room. It was like walking into light, or enlightenment. The art was more realistic, less stiff, more for the purpose of beauty than other purposes, such as honoring or impressing through monument, although many were depictions of either eminent people or their gods and mythological beings.
Since we can also read the philosophy and thinking from this time period, it’s not surprising we keep looking back to this particular civilization.
I was interested in the dates, because some very accurate, detailed art happened very long ago, in various places.
When you study art from early Renaissance through the 19th Century, you see a progression from stiff to more lifelike, better perspective, more natural movement and accurate nature. But, while it is a progression, it isn’t always continuous. There were times when art was lifelike, with the grace and movement we recognize as beauty, long before this latest millennium.
The Tower of London was one of my favorite sites. There’s so much contrast there. The artisanship and art that went into armor, weapons, and displays—like the carved horses in the Parade of Kings—are pretty amazing. And then you can visit the dungeon torture chamber. There’s a pub nearby called the Hung, Drawn, and Quartered, named after that practice. Beheadings were common—we saw the location—and heads were put on pikes along London Bridge. The savage seemed quite content next to the civilized and beautiful.
We toured the Globe Theater, which is a relatively new reproduction of Shakespeare’s theater. The original was built on “the wrong side of the river,” where plenty of uncivilized behavior took place. And boisterous crowds packed in, in Shakespeare’s day, to watch, and call out loudly and participate from the audience. Food and drinks were sold during the show, like we see today at baseball games. And yet the beauty of the plays themselves lets us know, people could write and think and understand long before internet and keyboards were available to help out.
We saw churches, but they tend to be old—very old, and picturesque. And some of them definitely worth exploring for their history and beauty. We toured St. Paul’s Cathedral—which is where the song “Feed the Birds” comes up in Mary Poppins. A church has stood on that site for 1300 years. That’s about a millennium longer than anything built in the US.
The final few days we stayed near Kensington Park, and walking the neighborhood there revealed a number of churches—all old. One was a synagogue, also old. Some churches had long since been turned into other uses. There seems to be a reverence for the past, and the history, even though maybe not so much for God in current daily lives.
There’s so much about the city that tells of longtime civilization. It’s not forgotten.
There’s still some traditional special feeling about royalty, but in general the class system has moved toward the egalitarianism we have in America. I think that is our influence for good.
People there are from everywhere. I heard more languages than I could identify, just about everywhere we went. And a lot of African and Indian accents (and others) among the variations of British. I enjoy that variety. I noticed no racism—except in news stories that seemed to try to bring it up more than necessary. (I’ve seen that in our media as well.)
People in London seem to me generally good, friendly. Helpful when I was lost on the underground. It is goodness in people that is key. Even with decay around, a people whose hearts long for goodness, truth, and beauty, civilization hangs on. I’m glad it’s still there for visitors like me.