I personally am tired of being constantly told to compromise my Christian values to accommodate others. These beliefs I will never compromise and you should not either.
-- Posted at the We the People (a.k.a. I Am Curious Theocrat) blog
A stubborn unwillingness to compromise on questions that have tended to result historically in people cutting each other’s throats (or worse) in the name of their own unknowable “god” strikes me as mightily totalitarian in nature.
Then again, I’m just one of those contrarian communistic freethinking threats to human decency … and damned proud of it.
Certainly I’m not the first person to place a tattered bookmark in my cherished copy of Christopher Hitchens’ "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything," make an espresso, and proceed to the computer to search for images of Francisco Goya’s "Los Caprichos" series of 18th-century etchings.
That’s because in chapter 14, Hitchens specifically refers to Plate 43 of Goya’s series. It is called The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, and shows a "man in defenseless slumber … hag-ridden by bats, owls and other haunters of the darkness."
The author’s actual point in citing this effective visual aid is to take a view contrary to that of the etching’s originally intended symbolic properties, namely, to offer that human reason always is the subject of fear and distrust when viewed through the distorted lens of man’s religious impulse, and that human reason is derided accordingly throughout mankind’s damaging religious experience.
Damaging? Of course. Just ask the “heretic” who was burned for believing what science in time confirmed.
One aspect of my upbringing for which I’m eternally grateful was the near complete absence of religious instruction. There was an old book in the house about the lives of the saints, and it included some fairly frightening scary drawings depicting the various ways that these saints were tortured and scourged, though they were not to Goya’s level of artistic proficiency. I recall another volume of illustrated children’s Bible stories, and of course a Bible itself, presumably awarded my parents on their wedding day, and duly ignored by my father forever after.
Beyond these three seldom consulted sources, there was nothing else on the topic of religion, and I was permitted to grow to maturity with the luxury of making up my own mind absent indoctrination. When I became immersed in philosophy as my degree choice in college, it merely confirmed what I already suspected all along.
Hitchens reminds us that Blaise Pascal is famous for supporting belief in god by means of a wager, or more appropriately, a conscious effort to cover the spread: If you believe in god and god exists, you win. If you believe in god and god doesn’t exist … well, what does it matter, anyway?
Bertrand Russell is equally famous for refuting this wager by positing that if, after he died, he unexpectedly met a god of one sort or another, he would chide the "supreme being" for providing insufficient evidence. Hitchens follows suit by stating his own version of Russell’s words.
My own reply: Imponderable Sir, I presume from some if not all of your many reputations that you might prefer honest and convinced unbelief to the hypocritical and self-interested affectation of faith or the smoking tributes of bloody altars. But I would not count on it.
I wouldn’t, either. It’s interesting to me that in some measure, Goya was right, and my own personal demons spring from my reliance on reason. But that’s encouraging, because it means that reason, properly applied, can scatter and dispel them.
There is no other choice, is there? Here is an excerpt from Hitchens as he summarizes his case.
Religion has run out of justifications. Thanks to the telescope and the microscope, it no longer offers an explanation of anything important. Where once it used to be able, by its total command of a worldview, to prevent the emergence of rivals, it can now only impede and retard – or try to turn back – the measurable advances that we have made. Sometimes, true, it will artfully concede them. But this is to offer itself the choice between irrelevance and obstruction, impotence or outright reaction, and, given this choice, it is programmed to select the worse of the two.
Enjoy a beautiful Sunday, and I promise that the next installment of the Yugoslav travelogue is coming very soon.