Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Shield of Skepticism (The Danger is Fanaticism, Servility, Credulity)

"In the affairs of this world, men are saved not by faith, but by the lack of it."
Benjamin Franklin

It has been said as a rule that those selling the advice often profit more than those buying the advice. This can be applied to some financial advisers but all you have to do is go to the televangelist church parking lots and see the preachers expensive cars versus the flocks vehicles. The poor giving to the rich for misleading advice is part of society. When it comes to prosperity tv preachers, get rich schemes and books, or those in positions of self proclaimed authority this is often the case and it is why the shield of skepticism and doubt combined with the sword of reason and free inquiry are the weapons to fight off this lazy numb servitude to the superfluous and sophomoric pushers of false status. Who benefits? The saying goes, “it all depends on whose ox is being gored.”

The advice of authority or those who claim authority usually benefits those in authority. Obey my law, pay me, give me, trust me, and somehow all this servitude will benefit you. The divine right of kings, the pope is infallible, the teacher never makes mistakes and other platitudes based on titles are empty without the respect of reason and common sense. The shield of skepticism is of more value than the shield of faith because one gives you the protection against charlatans, con artists, demagogues and authoritarians of all stripes and the other makes you more likely to become a victim of the former and succumb to these vultures who feast on the naive and the gullible. In a world such as ours skepticism is a virtue and faith is a vice.

The Pope's comments:

Even in our own lifetime, we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live. I also recall the regime’s attitude to Christian pastors and religious who spoke the truth in love, opposed the Nazis and paid for that opposition with their lives. As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a "reductive vision of the person and his destiny"... Let it not obscure the Christian foundation that underpins its freedoms; and may that patrimony, which has always served the nation well

The Nazi regime also hated academics and intellectuals...Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Voltaire, Einstein...are these Skeptics of Christianity Nazis in waiting? Was Socrates, Epicurus, Lucretius,Democritus and Democratic Athens blessed by the Church?
There is a problem with generalizations and ignoring the ambiguities and complexities of history as the Pope does here. It was not Nazi Atheism that was the problem it was the Nazi thirst for power and those willing to worship power. That impulse is universal in humans and is also in the history of the Church.

It's what the Philosopher Bertrand Russell called "The cruel thirst for worship."

The Church is made of humans of course...humans that carry the same weaknesses of any other group. It is not atheism that is the problem but the lack of vigilant skepticism of human power whatever the form. The Nazis were not all Atheists by any extent some of the Nazis were Catholic and when one studies the rise of Fascism in Catholic Italy in the 20's with Mussolini the Authoritarianism and anti-communism of the Church helped out Fascism. Hitler was inspired by Fascist Italy. If you want to connect atheism and Nazism you would also have to connect the Church to Fascism. Is that the kind of generalization the Pope wants?
Who supported Franco and Fascist Spain? Franco was raised a devote Catholic. There is much literature on Anti-Semitism and some of its roots can be traced to Christian reactionaries towards Jews. Shall one blame Christianity for the Holocaust on that variable alone?
Shall one generalize all priests as pedophiles? The horrors of World War II cannot be laid at atheists in general. Humans and their will to power and lack of skepticism is the problem and that includes the Church as well.
It reminds one of the Tea Party types and their distrust of Big Government only. As if government is the only form of abuse. History has a warning for Big Church and Big Business as well.
On Christianity and the English people again it is a more complex history. It is not always a good influence considering the religious wars and corruption that is part of the history. To be steeped in history is to go beyond Christianity and to study the philosophy and democracy of Greece. As well as the Republic of Pagan Rome. Democracy came from Ancient Pagan Greece.

"What Athens was in miniature America will be in magnitude. The one was the wonder of the ancient world; the other is becoming the admiration of the present."
Thomas Paine, Rights of Man

The Pagan Roman Republic was an inspiration for the American Experiment. George Washington was the Roman leader Cincinnatus not the King of a theocratic State.The Renaissance was inspired by Pagan Greek and Roman ideas. Christianity cannot claim it was the only influence in the Western world. There are deeper roots that are in Ancient Greece and Rome that the Church had nothing to do with. The Catholic Church would appreciate that people do not generalize the Church and is seen with complexity and not demonized as pedophiles and crusaders. But the Church should have some reciprocity and not be simplistic and ignore history's complexity with its criticisms of atheism. Skepticism of human power whatever the claim whether divine or secular is important in keeping a vigilant guard of human liberty.

"What influence, in fact, have ecclesiastical establishments had on society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the civil authority; on many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wish to subvert the public liberty may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate it, needs them not."

James Madison, American President & a Constitutional Founding Father

"In fact it is comfortable to see the standard of reason at length erected, after so many ages during which the human mind has been held in vassalage by kings, priests, and nobles."
Thomas Jefferson letter to James Madison, December 16, 1786

"In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot.... they have perverted the purest religion ever preached to man into mystery and jargon, unintelligible to all mankind"
- March 17, 1814

"As you say of yourself, I too am an Epicurian. I consider the genuine (not the imputed) doctrines of Epicurus as containing everything rational in moral philosophy which Greece and Rome have left us."
-Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Short, Oct. 31, 1819

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