Saturday, September 8, 2007

Cognitive Dissonance

Since I've just spent the morning in a church-sponsored Bible-reading seminar and the afternoon in a presentation by the Washington Area Secular Humanists on the twin topics of religious freedom and separation of church and state, it's a perfect evening to bring up the topic of Cognitive Dissonance, the disparity between what you can see is true and what you're expected to believe.

As we observe the universe, we perceive regularity at the most basic level. All electrons (as far as we know) have the same unit charge, the speed of light in a vacuum is constant, physical laws appear to be unchanging, logic always works, and so forth. This strongly suggests, to me at least, that the universe must be the result of a body of absolute truth of some sort, of which only a small portion is currently known.

But in the Christian religion, we are asked to ignore all this, and accept the utterly preposterous and totally unsupportable contention that the universe was just magically zapped into existence by the capricious whimsy of some sort of invisible sky-zombie named God. The method used by this God is held to be a sacred mystery we're not supposed to ask about.

Without the slightest evidence that such a God even exists, we've conjectured his detailed anatomy. He's presumed to have the form of an impossibly convoluted three-headed mini-pantheon called a "Holy Trinity" consisting of a "Father", a "Son", and a "Holy Spirit". The precise arrangement of these parts is disputed. Some denominations insist that the Holy Spirit "proceeds" from both the Father and the Son, and others say no, only from the Father and not the Son. Nobody has ever conducted an observation to watch the Holy Spirit proceeding so we'd know which is true. And then there are controversies over whether the "Substances" of the Father and the Son are alike, the same, similar, or different. No one has been able to analyze these "substances" so we'd know which is true. There are many other controversies over even more trivial and utterly unprovable details.

From this point on, the doctrine just gets weirder and weirder. Since nobody has ever detected the slightest evidence of this unlikely monstrosity, we've conjectured that he must live in some unchartable yonder realm called "Heaven" but he's really omnipresent. He's also omnipotent except that we can pretend to boss him around by reciting mystic incantations at our own belly buttons in a strangely useless ritual called "Prayer".

Different denominations have different attitudes toward the combination of careful observation and rigorous logic generally referred to as the Scientific Method, but all agree on insisting that there is a Higher Truth that's beyond the scope of mere science, and that higher truth can only be perceived by standing in ranks and chanting mystic incantations in four-part harmony while merrily vestmented dignitaries stroll down the aisle carrying awkward ceremonial gadgets.

Is it any wonder that our religion has never contributed anything of major value to the world?

To me, religion has only two saving graces. First, we at least pay lip service to the Golden Rule, although most of us have no idea that we plagiarized it from non-religious moral philosophies of about the eleventh or twelfth century BC or earlier. Second, we have a nice fellowship of friendly people as long as you're careful to avoid participating in the crybaby contests sponsored by the resident drama queens of the congregation.

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