Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A New Religion

I've been thinking about starting a new religion. I want it to be a success, and I haven't had any visits from angels, spirits, deities, or other religion-founding sources, so I guess I'm on my own. I've thus been forced to think about what the requirements for a good religion might be, and I've come up with a few:
Doctrine: Of course, you've got to have a doctrine. What the doctrine is really doesn't matter much. What does matter is that the doctrine has to be a mix of how-to-live-a-good-life advice with some really hard-to-believe tenets. I mean, if a religion were based on science, it wouldn't be a religion; it would be science. Now a lot of doctrinal points that are hard to swallow are already taken (virgin birth, earth 6000 years old, day of the sabbath really important), so I can either go ahead and use someone else's doctrine or invent my own. Best would be to invent my own. I can borrow from science fiction, I guess. The number of outlandish doctrines should be kept to a manageable number -- three is a good one, I think. And remember, the emphasis should be on the outlandish, but there should be enough of the live-a-good-life that the membership can actually exist on the planet. Remember what happened to the Shakers and the Jonestown group.
A Conduit: The best religions have a pipeline to deity. Religions that rely on sacred texts alone tend to splinter and to fight with each other. A charismatic leader, on the other hand, can shift doctrine to suit the needs of a changing world. He (or she) can get a revelation that we all need to eat more broccoli, and voila! the church is healthier. The leader also becomes a magnet for new converts. Let's face it, a leader with lots of ethos beats sound doctrine every time.
Rigor: Those religions which demand a lot of their people seem to thrive. From those to whom much is given, much is required (That's a quote but I don't know if I got it right; hence no quotation marks). People don't value something that's free. So, in my religion I will require both money and time. The money because even religious leaders need Ferraris, and the time because it keeps people occupied and out of trouble.
Isolation: Not total isolation, the way some religions separate themselves from the "world," but a degree of separation. One of the best ways to do this is to teach your people to distrust anything that is printed, broadcast, aired, said, written, or mimed by any "unapproved" source. This has two benefits. First, it can be used to keep believers away from annoying counter arguments and from science in general. Second, it creates a category of sin, which means that curious people will also be feeling guilty about it.
Sin: The concept of sin is a wonderful one for religions. Let's face it; you can't have a religion without sin if you want to survive. Sins don't exist naturally. That is, there is no such thing as a sin in nature. In nature, there are acts and there are consequences. So, both sin and law are inventions. The neat thing about sin is that it isn't subject to the will of the people, the way laws can be. If the religious leader says, "This is a sin," then it's a sin. End of story.
A mark: Really good religions have something about them that tells non-believers who they are. Best is some item of clothing that is an announcement. A hat, a hairstyle, a tattoo -- these are all nice. This gives the members of the congregation a sense that they are set apart from (translation: better than) other people.
Just six simple things, and you're on your way to world domination.

Monday, August 22, 2011


I've been thinking about faith lately. The Apostle Paul said, "Faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen." Which sounds kind of neat, except that when you examine it closely, it ends up not meaning much. Exactly what is "the substance of things hoped for?" The other half, "the evidence of things not seen" makes a little more sense, except that I'd say that the evidence of things not seen is -- evidence. We can't see the back side of the moon, but we accept that it's there, based on, what? Faith. No, I'd say that we have faith based on evidence.
And yet the idea of evidence-based faith runs counter to most religious thought today. One religious leader said, "Faith precedes the miracle," which I interpret to mean, if you believe hard enough, it will come into being. Kind of a twist on the "If you build it they will come" mantra from otherworldly movies like "Field of Dreams."
So, I'd like to posit that there are three types of faith.
Faith A is faith that you have because of the evidence. What the Greeks called "logos." When my doctor told me I had blockage of the cardiac artery and showed me the X-ray, I believed. I had faith. Some people differentiate between knowledge and faith, but that's a false dichotomy. If you believe because of the evidence, you have Faith A. In a court case, both sides present evidence, and one side engenders more faith than the other. Then you get a verdict.
Faith B is a faith that you have in the absence of evidence. This is what most people think of as faith, and perhaps what Paul had when he started his maundering definition. I believe in God, or Jesus, or Buddha, or Mohamed, or Zoroaster, or astrology or the Tarot, or tea leaves, even though there is no real evidence that the information is true.
Faith C is a faith that you have in spite of the evidence. The belief that the earth is 6,000 years old, for instance, or that God created a certain number of animal species which has remained constant, that there was a world-wide flood -- you get the picture. This faith is the scary one. It's one thing to believe in a 6,000 year-old earth when all you have to go on is some old texts, but it's quite another when you can walk out in your back yard and see the folding in the earth that took place a good sight longer ago than a measly six grand years. In order to keep your belief, you have to reject not only the accumulated evidence, but pretty much rational thought itself. The work that people will go through to explain away data is awesome. One person explained to me in solemn detail how the layers in the earth's crust were the effect of a giant earthquake that shook things up and made them naturally sort themselves out into layer. Sir William of Occam is twirling in his grave.

Friday, August 19, 2011

What's it all about?

About the creation of the world, two alternative hypotheses.
First, everything in the world could have been created with humans in mind. That is, the world is a setting for whatever happens to us. This is the viewpoint of a great many religions. What that means is that a certain locust, which sleeps in the ground for 17 years, emerging to eat, mate, and go back into the ground, was fashioned with humanity in mind. This is not to mention things like duckbilled platypuses, octopi, camels, tse-tse flies, mountain goats, and perhaps Sasquatch itself.
So, one muses, "Why?" What could God have possibly had in mind when He created this intriguing mishmash of stuff? The answer from religionists is invariably a variation on one of two themes: "There are some things that man was not meant to know," and "God doesn't think like we do." Both of these answers mean the same thing - "Beats me. Let's blame God," and are simply not acceptable answers for a complex variety of reasons.
Second, none of the things in the world have been created with humans in mind. This strikes me as a much more sensible alternative, because it not only satisfies the demands of Occam's razor, being the simplest explanation that fits the data, but it also doesn't lead to innumerable questions such as why those strange undersea fissure tubes were created.
Notice that this doesn't say anything at all about the presence/absence of a creator, though it is clear that option two doesn't need a creator. Another reason to prefer it.
There is a third option, actually, that the world and everything in it were created for some beings other than humans. This is the Douglas Adams interpretation, and frankly, it makes as much sense as the first option.

Monday, August 15, 2011


Much is in the news lately about marriage. Exactly whom can one marry? Can a guy marry a guy, a doll marry a doll, a man marry two women, or a woman marry two men?
My question is, "Why not?" Most arguments against non-traditional marriages (though polygamy is certainly traditional, isn't it?) are one of two types:
1. Marriage is ordained of God to be between a man and a woman.
2. Non traditional marriages would wreck the institution. I mean, what would happen if a gay couple married and then decided to separate?
Argument number one is simply not so. Religious texts seem to support a rather more open idea of marriage. One in which, if you're a king, you can have 1000 wives and concubines, or as in the case of more recent times, 27. All the fulminations against anything but one man one woman are all fairly recent, and in fact, God hasn't commented on it at all, at least not to me.
Marriage has until recently been about property rights and bloodlines and inheritances. If you were the Duke of Omnium, you needed to know who was yours so you could decide who got the money and who had to go into the priesthood. Nobody cared about the lower orders; they weren't much more than animals anyway, and if they married, why, jumping over a broomstick was good enough for them. It's only recently, in fact, that love has even entered into the occasion.
Argument number two is bogus also. How can we wreck something that is in shambles anyway? When two younguns get married, it's with a 50/50 expectation that they'll be divorced before it's all over. I suspect that statistics among gay couples are certainly no worse, and probably better.
We might even speculate on when marriage began. Currently, the earliest true human is believed to be a woman, puckishly named "Eve," who lived 800,000 years ago, give or take,
Was she married? Certainly not (who would perform the ceremony?). What about her offspring. Nope also.
So, when did marriage enter the picture? I'd guess, shooting from the hip, that it was about the time that two ideas emerged: property and clergy. Which would mean that for most of the time we've been human, there hasn't been such a thing as marriage.
It would be scary and tragic if the same flowering of humanity that gave us Lascaux also gave us marriage.