While driving to work earlier today, a radio talk show host was engaged in a give-and-take with a listener who called in to defend the slogan “in god we trust” on U.S. paper currency. The host invoked the separation of church and state language upon which the United States was founded, and extrapolated that point into other general aspects of alluding to a god, any god, as being a simple matter of belief that should not spill into government and political matters.
The caller, adamant in his belief that there is, indeed, a god, found no problem with religion mixing with government/politics. Furthermore, the caller insisted that he “knows” there is a god, one god, and embraced his monotheistic stance over and over. The host tried to get the man to explain how he “knows” there is a god, to which, of course, the retort was simply that he knows because he believes it’s true. “How do you know?” asked the host, several times, of course assured in the impossibility of the caller providing any verifiable proofs to back the assertion. The caller’s tone became more and more forceful in the face of each “How do you know?” at which time I had to park and get on with my day.
Listening to this exchange was, for me, a mix of absurdity–and alarm. The caller has every right to believe whatever he wants to believe. That’s not absurd. Anyone can believe anything. Whether or not what one believes can be elevated beyond personal opinion, however, is quite another matter. “How do you know?” simply asks for evidence, circumstantial if nothing else, but preferably irrefutable, tangible, undeniable proof. If such can be provided then some degree of logical reasoning is in play, and the opinion is more than simply personal. Whatever proof provided which goes directly to the assertion boosts the credibility of the belief, possibly all the way to the kind of fact that cannot be dismissed.
Well, empirical scientific methodology certainly strives to provide factual conclusions. Some researcher in a lab or on a field study doesn’t simply make assumptions without testing a hypothesis. Seeing can be believing, or it can be a matter of misinterpreting the data, physical, numerical or otherwise. Science is rigorously empirical, not a matter of “believing is seeing”. Quite the opposite. Some facts are immutable, intransigent, rock-solid. Other “facts” go up in smoke, shift in the wind, dissipate, disappear. Here today, gone tomorrow. They can be remembered, photographed, filmed, sound recorded, noted in a logbook, but at some point–poof!–they head to one graveyard or another. They are now history. Studying history is examining a graveyard full of deceased facts.
Where is your blogger heading here? Well, back to our caller who “knows” there is a god. My short-term amusement in listening to such people make fools of themselves is quickly replaced buy a factual matter, and this fact is frightening: A lot of people believe in nonsense made up of assumptions, innuendo, inferences, and convolutions that lead to pretzel logic conclusions. And religion, once released from an inner sense of deeply personal belief and faith, and with which such can come personal comfort, solace, courage, commitment and strength of character, but now sent out into the open, proselytized, promoted, organized, communally ritualized, given a formal, shared sense of certitude and righteousness, inherently becomes exclusive. Dogmatic. Possibly dangerous.
That caller and his kind can vote and support candidates at all levels of government who also are overt broadband “believers” and then peddle an imaginary currency that slogans “In god we Thrust”. Then it may become an ill-informed ideology iterated within the political sausage-making legislative bodies, local, statewide or national. Feel free to talk about subjects such as gay marriage, stem cell research or contraception, but just don’t vote yes on any of them because…well, you know why. In this country, in some outposts where the tooth fairy theory thrives, Creationism is required curriculum as counterpoint to science’s approach to evolution, geology and astronomical calculation. There’s the warning that when a flesh and blood devil comes along he/she will be wrapped in the U.S. flag and carrying a Bible. But local state and national isn’t the limitation on the tooth fairy’s turf. It goes quite international, too.
There’s plenty of global religious exclusivity. All in the name of another “I know because I believe” mantra. Or more likely just an excuse for radical actions, oppression, ethnic and religious persecutions. Someone once wrote, “never has so much blood been shed than for that of the kingdom of god.” It’s an inter-faith, multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-cultural spilling of the precious red stuff by many true believers who “know” they have the right god and conversely anyone who disagrees is wrong. Again, it’s fine to believe in god, but not advisable to insist you know you have the best god, the right god, the true god, even if you can’t provide any means of evidence that elevates that personal opinion to fact.
So, if you have a little tike whose time has come to start shedding the first of two sets of teeth we all are programmed to get, then slip that dislodged bit of enamel under that sweetheart’s pillow and kiss him or her nighty-nite, and in stealth mode then replace it with some paper currency (and its allusion to a god in whom it trusts) and let them have their merry moment. Eventually they’ll have a nice chunk of change for their futures. Of course they’ll eventually realize the pillow bit was all charade, though buying into the nonsense was fun at the time. It’s just that there are so many other “tooth fairy” claims out there. If only people could just keep such beliefs to themselves.