Aliens, clones, French journalists, oh my! For those still unaware, Clonaid recently announced that two cloned humans have been born. The first was claimed to have been born on December 27th and the other just after New Years. Clonaid is a ‘scientific’ company started by the Raelians, a ‘religious’ group who believe that the human race originated when an alien race cloned themselves in order to populate the Earth. Started by a French journalist named Rael who claimed to meet with a short alien visitor named “Yahweh” in 1973, the Raelians are looking to build an embassy for the alien race whom, the Raelians claim, want to help lead our planet in world-wide cooperation and acceptance through the “Raelian Revolution.”
What is going on here? It seems to me that the Raelians are using manipulation to gain attention and converts, something disturbing yet not particularly unique. They tell us that if the embassy is built—an expensive project in need of donations—the world will be ushered into a new peaceful era. This appeal to some utopian future promised by a powerful being should seem familiar to you, as it is a common theme in religion.
A further manipulation comes in the form of offering answers to some difficult questions concerning our origins, purpose, and solutions to global problems. The hopeful future and easy answers that they offer us—available only if we join them—is reminiscent of the many promises of wisdom or “truth” from other greater sources, available if we were to join them.
As far as their originality is concerned, they are not unlike a host of other new-age pseudo-religious movements that have infiltrated the internet, bookstores, and sci-fi in recent decades. Most of these pseudo-religious movements try to meld old religious images, names, and stories with pseudo-scientific ideas. As religion is continuously faced with science this seems an inevitable cultural process, yet is often problematic.
The same pattern exists here. Consider the Raelians’ use of Judeo-Christian mythology in using the name “Yahweh” as the name for the alien ambassador (from the Hebrew YHWH, one name for God in the Hebrew scriptures). Also consider that the alien race is known as the “Elohim,” the original Hebrew word used in the beginning of Genesis. And while this word is mistranslated in most modern Bibles as “God” while ‘elohim’ is plural, the website for the Raelians problematically translates it as “those who came from the sky.”
We shouldn’t be too harsh as critics here, because even our beloved Christianity has utilized similar methods in its formative years, as well as the Mormons more recently and the Hebrews thousands of years ago, when they utilized Sumerian and Babylonian myths to create stories about their YHWH. But perhaps it is fair to say that, given the contemporary level of understanding of the history of religion, we can hold the Raelians at greater fault because humanity should have learned from its errors in the past—do they really think people are that gullible?
The Raelians want to build an embassy for the return of the Elohim in order to start the new era. Many Christians believe that the temple in
‘Straight is the gate, and narrow is the way,…and few there be that find it.’ When a modern religion forgets this saying, it is suffering from an atavistic relapse into primitive barbarism. It is appealing to the psychology of the herd, away from the intuitions of the few.
This is a quote from the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, from his Religion in the Making. To some it might sound like a promotional phrase from a local Christian organization, in that it might be interpreted such that it demonstrates how so many seem to miss God’s word, and only the few will accept it. But, knowing Whitehead a little better than that, I can say that it means something quite different.
Whitehead’s use of the term “few” is interesting and perhaps misleading. He does not mean that few will attain or choose this straight and narrow, but rather that few will comprehend the complexity in order to navigate it. The issue of religion in all of its philosophical, psychological, and sociological factors is much too complex to be comprehended in simplistic dogma handed to us as the “truth.” Thus any religious group that gives answers to the difficult questions of life in a way that hordes of college students can understand and try to follow has severely, I believe, oversimplified the matter, and acts as a stumbling block to true wisdom.
For those that would respond by saying that it is through belief that we will understand, I say bunk. Socrates is credited with saying “I know that I know nothing,” which made him wise in the eyes of many both ancient and contemporary. Many of those you will find preaching the “Word” today might claim a similar ignorance in saying that we only have the wisdom of man, while there is a wisdom of God available to those who choose to accept it.
But how is our “flawed” human wisdom to recognize divine wisdom without a divine point of view on our parts? This would not be a problem for a theoretical God-man, but it is a serious problem for any fully human receiver of that message to be able to recognize that the messenger or the message is legitimate without access to the divine wisdom in question. (Can anyone say circular reasoning?)
Our wisdom is indeed limited, and we each have much to learn in order to understand the vast universe. But this reasoning is not sufficient to conclude that our wisdom is so inferior that we should capitulate to dogmas and doctrines about the universe that offer a simplistic solution to difficult issues. The fact is that most people will never understand the world or themselves sufficiently in order to approach religious notions with serious comprehension. Yet some will. It is for the more rare mind that the social and psychological constructions of religion become clear. Many others, the “herd,” adhere to simplistic ideologies and beliefs in place of truly comprehensive understanding of religion.
Religion in our culture has become so watered down, so common, that even someone uneducated in critical thinking, religious history, and philosophy can claim the supremacy of the “Word.” This is not to say that religion is without merit or significance, as there is much to religious thinking that is wonderfully deep and philosophical. Unfortunately, most are unable to appreciate this. And when they do appreciate it they utilize religion’s philosophical depth in order to argue that the simplistic notions epiphenomenal to this depth to are valid in themselves. In other words, they use the wisdom hidden behind the superficial myths to validate the myth.
As a Zen master once said, once you have used the finger to point out the moon, you no longer have use for the finger. So, if you find something useful and wise in the depths of religious traditions, wonderful. My suggestion is to throw away the simplistic dogmas that are promulgated as a lure for the masses in order to truly understand what is important in religious thought for the pursuit and love of wisdom. After all, the few are so few only because the masses don’t try hard enough, don’t care, or are too defensive or stubborn about their beliefs to challenge them.
Valentine’s Day is now past, and I’m sure many had a wonderful time with their significant others while some were left alone or with friends. Alone on Valentine’s Day, kind of sad isn’t it? Many people find the idea of being alone to be distressing, as if it were a kind of sign of some kind of personal failure. I don’t see it this way at all. Having someone you care about as a part of your life as a lover, friend, etc is rewarding and a source of joy, but sometimes people enter into these kinds of relationships for the wrong reasons.
As I understand it, a relationship with another person should not be a matter of filling a gap in your life so much as appreciating the strength, beauty, and minds of others. Yet, many people feel the need to be with someone in such a way that they will begin or perpetuate a relationship out of a fear of being alone. This desire to be with someone else can often be strong enough that they will continue the relationship despite problems. And in many cases this is good, as it would also be erroneous to discontinue a relationship at the first sign of discontent. What I am trying to get at is when people stay in often physically or emotionally abusive relationships because the alternative, being single, seems worse. Now, I am not going to get into cliché rhetoric about having respect for yourself and not taking that kind of crap from people, as newspapers are already full of stereotypical advice-givers who will tell you what you want to hear.
Instead I’m going to talk about the value of solitude, even
in succeeding in relationships. The
My thesis here put simply is to say that the more comfortable you are with yourself as single, the more likely you are to enter into a healthy and rewarding relationship for both people (or more than two; not everyone practices one-on-one monogamy). Too often people enter relationships just to be in a relationship. And because they have not successfully matured to the point that they really understand what they want and so forth, problems often arise that are avoidable.
Often people want to be with someone (whether it be to satisfy sexual desires, emotional needs, etc), but do not want all of the attachments or responsibilities that come along with it. In itself, that is not the problem. Not wanting to deal with the often circus-like acts of relationships might even be wise for most. The problem is that people who don’t want the circus end up going to one anyway, while something else would be far better for them.
But be careful, because the alternative can be equally as dangerous and indicative of emotional issues. Avoiding relationships and the emotive and psychological intimacy is often a sign of other problems that can also be resolved through better knowledge of self.
Personally, I find something compelling about the attitude of the legendary Don Juan, who believed that the true passion and love for a woman was spent after one night, and that to try to perpetuate that passion was inauthentic. Thus, he believed that he genuinely loved each woman he was with, and lived a passionately and intensely. Now, I’m not suggesting that we all become Don Juan-like in our relationships with others, but only that we be authentic ourselves. However, you cannot be authentic without knowledge of self. In a world full of people who know their deeper motives and biases, acting authentic will result in better social interactions in general, as well as help us develop better interpersonal relationships.
I’m not so sure that education is about attaining answers so much as learning how to think well. However, humans are often more concerned with giving answers and finding conclusions that we forget that there is something more important than that; the process. The human tendency to desire conclusions is intimately tied to the dogmatism that infests various aspects of culture. Because of this we often want answers so much that we often accept ones that will not hold up to close scrutiny, mostly because the conclusion is desirable or the alternative is undesirable. I don’t think we should not allow the desirability of conclusions define our belief-systems.
With the advent of modernity and the later development of “postmodern” notions of deconstruction and so forth, we began to understand that method and perspective are of optimal importance in the pursuit of knowledge. We have to understand how we attain answers to help avoid errors in thinking. So, in order to help with our collective search for knowledge, I thought I would point out some common errors in thinking that I notice among those with whom I converse and read.
A good place to start is with the false choice. This logical error says that we are forced between two (or more) alternatives to a problem. A common one is that either it is true that God gave us moral laws to follow or that there is no basis for morality and we might as well forget about ethical concerns altogether. The fact is that the possibilities in the field of ethics are so complex that it is clear that this and similar dichotomies are just silly. In many cases the solution is some combination of the choices, but sometimes the solution could be unlike either choice.
Unknown answers to questions might be unlike anything else we know. The unknown is just that, unknown. Many cultural institutions have proposed answers to questions, and so it might often seem that we have to choose from these given answers to attain the “truth” of the matter. Thus, people tend to accept answers that are traditionally or commonly accepted rather than trying to observe the complexities of the factors involved and trying to come to a deeper and perhaps alien understanding.
A key to maintaining a good method in the quest for understanding is being careful with assumptions. What you assume is what you ultimately conclude, and if we always assumed correctly we would usually be correct in our estimations of the universe. However, most of us stumble on the block of our premises about the nature of the world and attain false conclusions hence.
I find it is often the case that our problem in coming to false conclusions is not so much in our ability to utilize reason and logic so much as in sloppy assumptions. That is, we often are not making too many mistakes in our conclusions based on the premises given. In other words our reasoning is often sound but nonetheless false. Soundness is a logical term meaning that given certain assumptions or premises, the conclusion makes sense logically. But if the premises are incorrect, it does not matter if the logic is sound or not. For example, consider the following. 1) We are sinful beings, 2) Without redemption we are in danger of eternal damnation; therefore we should accept the free gift of salvation from a divine redeemer. This is somewhat sound, but if 1 or 2 are not true, then the conclusion may simply be nonsense.
There are many more examples of bad habits of thought, but I have a space-limitation I am working with here. The essential point is that we are human beings who make mistakes in thinking. We have to be very aware of our assumptions about the world and how they affect what we believe and how we act. I suggest that instead of being so covetous of answers and conclusions, we learn to enjoy the state of ignorance that comes with being human. Oh, and don’t assume that our ignorance is somehow evidence of a higher knowledge we should capitulate to. Just accept that when it comes to certain things conclusions may not come, but the quest is worthwhile if done well.
Immanuel Kant told us that we should never use persons as a means towards some other end. However, people are sometimes willing to deceive and manipulate so long as they think they are helping others attain some “greater” end. After years of observation during my college experiences, I have concluded that fundamentalist Christianity, spreading like a virus among college students, feeds off of a false sense of depreciation, “sinfulness,” and depravity of the human spirit to achieve its ends. And whether the Christians themselves realize it or not (some do) they are manipulating the many forms of insecurity people have in order to convince them that they need divine strength and redemption. What often results is a tradition of deception passed from missionary to convert like the dark side of the force being passed from Sith to Sith.
Another vulnerability open to this manipulation is unfamiliarity with new things and lack of self-esteem. At the beginning of a semester, when religious organizations are looking for new members, the first thing missionaries will ask is often “are you a freshman?” Freshmen are often easy targets whose insecurities missionaries can manipulate by offering them the security of their perception of “truth.” If the Christian group is initially successful in gaining their interest, it is not long before a freshman’s life is surrounded by a group of fellow Christians; a “support network.” Soon, Christianity surrounds everything in their life as the comfortable habit as they become slowly acculturated.
Another common story is when someone finds their life sunk in alcohol, drugs, sex, pornography, etc, which can make a person feel powerless, depressed, and guilty. The Christian missionary can exploit this feeling into the belief that we are innately depraved, sinful, and unable to gain strength except through divine help. If converted, the subsequent change in strength, attitude, etc then seems miraculous, but isn’t. If a person decides to surface the zeal for conversion and is suddenly blessed (sic) with a group of supporting people (Christian or otherwise), it is no surprise that they are going to find (God’s) strength. It’s like calling it a miracle when joining a poetry club finds you poems.
Most Christians will not deny my examples above. In fact, they will tell you these stories of conversion (and there are many more than what I have illustrated here) willfully and gladly; emphasizing the help that “God” has given them. However, a friend recently told me that he read an article written by a converted Christian that he said he could have used as an anti-Christian argument for atheists, unaltered. (Cf. the WCU Rampage, for example)
What? —How can the stories admitted to and held proudly by Christian converts act as further proof against Christianity by non-Christians? It’s through an alternative view of the human spirit. The deception utilized by missionaries is our sinful and depraved nature in need of salvation, which is used to manipulate people who have insecurities, depressions, or crises that weaken them. Christians sense this depression and self-depreciation like sharks sensing blood in the water. Many non-Christians recognize no sinful or depraved nature, thus we know that we have the ability to change of our own power (and do). And yes, sometimes non-Christians need a “support network,” we just don’t attribute the received strength to Jesus.
As I hinted at above, some missionaries know that they are utilizing these methods of conversion. Some will even justify such acts using the car-bomb analogy; If you knew that a person was in a car that was going to explode, you would be justified in doing just about anything to get them out, right? Well, many Christians think that we are in danger of eternal damnation so any means of converting others is justified, even if it is dishonest and deceitful. Honestly, it does not even matter if Christianity is true or not concerning this point. Christians who utilize this deception (they themselves are deceived) are not worthy of a great deal of neither trust nor respect. Indeed, WWJD?
Perhaps the motivation for this deceit is some justification of the missionary’s own self-deception, received by their own deceiver-missionary. It’s time to stop this tradition of manipulation and realize that we are not depraved and sinful beings. Don’t believe the hype.
I repent for my past transgressions; I have come to see the power and love of my savior, Jesus Christ. For so long I tried to show Christianity to be false by philosophy—human folly! Today I am reborn in Christ.
For so long I tried to avoid God by reading books and studying philosophy, psychology, sociology, and religious history. I’ve come to realize that this was mere human foolishness, an attempt to avoid accepting God’s Word.
At first I had tried to
study the Bible through the eyes of Satan.
I thought that Paul was wrong to try to bring this message of the Son of
God to the Gentiles because I thought that it was a Jewish message of political
and spiritual revolution, in part against
But now I see I was simply trying to see what I wanted to see in order to justify my avoidance of God’s simple Truth. It is much easier to accept this free gift of eternal salvation instead of suffering the existential angst, relativism, and hard work of study that was involved in all of this human wisdom, this foolishness of this temporary and sinful existence.
At other times I thought that I had found that people became Christians because they were depressed or afraid of life; that they simply wanted an easy fix to the scary and uncertain aspects of this world. I didn’t realize how easy it would be to accept Jesus into my heart and to find the hope and faith that comes while walking with Christ. Now I can forget about the problems of metaphysics, ethics in a nihilistic existence, and other silly philosophical questions that only divert my attention from the loving warmth of God.
I thought, after many years of studying religion and avoiding God, that I knew better than those who had simply studied God’s Word. I thought it was silly when those who didn’t learn human philosophy, logic, or rational argumentation tried to tell me I was deceived by human wisdom, and that I would be sorry when I was not accepted into Heaven. But now I know that they only meant to seek Christ because it provided them with the hope of God’s love and redemption. I found that he stopped looking because he found the truth. Now I see it is silly for those people who reject God and will try to show that I am merely ignoring philosophical problems in order to find an easy short-cut to comfort. Well, I’ll tell them that I’m comfortable, no longer feeling distressed or insecure about the world because I have God behind me.
But now I also realize that this is only the first step and that walking with Christ is going to be a difficult task. I am going to have to be careful to not allow my friends, those who have not yet found God, to temp me back to sin—all to often do we who love God backslide into sin! Perhaps the hardest thing will be to not backslide into that dark and nihilist perspective where I thought that God was a constructed metaphysical ideal created through the wishful thinking of those who were afraid to face the unpleasant with the pleasant in life. Perhaps I should stop using these big philosophical words so I won’t be reminded of these sinful thoughts. It would be much better to use nice joyful words, like love, faith, hope, family, etc. That way I can avoid thinking about all those things that made me question—I mean avoid—God.
I studied enough human philosophy to know that we cannot have certainty about any belief anyway, so no proof is necessary for my faith. You cannot tell me that I don’t feel God’s love! If you felt God’s love as I do, then you would not doubt it either. Never mind that I can’t prove to you that it is God’s love and not simply my feeling good because ignorance is bliss…wait a minute, I’m doing it again…damned philosophy!
Well, I obviously have some walking with God to practice, so enjoy your April Fool’s day!
A couple of weeks ago I wrote a column that got some attention, as two letters were written to the Quad in response. It appears that either I lacked the appropriate clarity or the two letter-writers need to work on their reading comprehension skills. In all likelihood, it is probably some gray area in between.
Yes, Mr. Maalouf, I did consider that that “people turn to Christ because they actually DO want to change their lives,” but my point was that pointing out that Jesus said “sin no more” is irrelevant, as you are essentially assuming the existence of sin in the first place.
If one becomes Christian in order to get through a difficult time, depression, etc, then as a tool for social improvement, Christianity is ok. But the fact that becoming Christian makes you a better person does not make Christianity the truth. No matter how good a “life in Christ” makes you feel, this good feeling will not address whether the theology and metaphysical beliefs involved are even valid; the fact that something makes you feel good does not make it true. The “feel good” message of Christianity is a distraction from the work you actually put into improving yourself.
No, Mr. Stigora, my logic does not collapse on itself. Your criticism was based upon the notion that I was doing the same thing that I was charging the Christian missionaries with; this is not the case. What I was trying to do was illuminate a trend in people, specifically Christians (but is not limited to them), that causes them to make the illogical jump from our having insecurities to our being essentially sinful beings.
As Mr. Maalouf admits, we all have insecurities. My point was that we should not allow people to convince us of (or perpetuate within us) the idea that human beings are inherently sinful and unable to help ourselves out of problems. My reasons for questioning this are too complex to sufficiently discuss here, but I feel compelled to ask why it is that you (anyone to whom the question applies) believe that human beings are essentially sinful and in need of religion to help you in your life? What kind of personality would need to believe such a thing?
My point was not that “struggles in life are exploited as a means of guilt by Christian missionaries,” but that missionaries may themselves be deceived by self-depreciation and an apparent sinfulness within, and thus they unconsciously (perhaps consciously) pass on this notion to people who are more prone to suggestion because of their insecurities and weaknesses. And once the Christian “support network” surrounds them (which is not bad in itself, friends are good) and they have a comfortable pocket of Christianity around them, then healing and improving themselves becomes easier—but, once again, it does not make the message true! This logic collapses on itself.
I applaud those that do continue to ask the difficult questions about their beliefs (and many do), but am disconcerted by the fact that they very often know very little about the history of the development of their religious notions, as well as the metaphysical problems that question even the possibility of some of them.
People try to say that Christianity is the “truth,” and “religion” is flawed because it is human-made; there is no good basis for this distinction. Christianity is as subject to human hands as any other ideology, and saying otherwise is simply an attempt to avoid the question of its truth. Also, people try to argue that the “human folly” of philosophy and logic do not apply to God’s truth. Once again, this idea is on very thin ice. Why would you accept any message as the Truth without any possibility of substantiating or disproving it—would you accept a scientific theory that could not be tested?
Finally, I would like to thank those who I talked to at the Crusade for Christ meeting last Thursday for their welcoming attitude. One thing I like about Christians is that they are generally very warm and friendly people. I wonder, however, if anyone else at that meeting noticed the subtle manipulation, as discussed in my controversial column, used by the guest speaker that night?
Why do people want the plaque of the Ten Commandments to remain on the courthouse? For some, the fact that it is a historical part of the building is the primary reason. But I think that for many others the issue has nothing to do with historical or legal concerns, but with a religious one.
This issue is a Constitutional concern, and we should separate our religious affiliations from our opinions of the plaque’s fate. It matters not if one believes that the Ten commandments are God’s laws, that our secular laws either are or should be based on the Commandments, and it does not matter if it is a piece of history.
Some people argue that because many of the founding fathers were Christian and believed in the 10 Commandments, the plaque is justified in being on the courthouse. This is irrelevant; despite the Founding Fathers’ religious beliefs (which varied) they created the first amendment to the Constitution for a reason. Whatever this reason may be, it seems to me that they were able to separate their individual faiths in view of allowing a secular system of laws to help protect a nation where people are free to practice whatever religion they believe in. Putting Biblical scripture on a courthouse does not seem particularly conducive to this end, as it adds a sense of discrimination against those who are not Jewish or Christian, especially atheists.
The historical argument fails on two counts; the first is that it has not been there for all of building’s history, and the second is that if it is determined that it’s being there is unconstitutional, then that simply means that it should have never been put in the first place, and therefore should not remain up.
The plaque was not on the
courthouse when the building was first built.
It was placed there in the 1920’s, perhaps in part as a reaction to the
Communist revolution in
The Constitution should, I think, trump historical concerns. Unless you could show that putting up the plaque for the first time now would be constitutional, it does not matter if it’s been up for 82 years. The only way the historical argument would be valid, I think, would be if the plaque had been put up before the ratification of the Constitution.
I am of the opinion that the plaque should be removed, but this opinion is based on an, admittedly, limited understanding of the Constitutional issue. One reason for my having this opinion is that it was the initial judicial decision; the reason this debate is going on still is that the decision is in appeal. But I do believe that this initial decision was the correct one, and unless political pressures come from certain areas for the wrong reasons (that being the religious affiliations of people in this county), the decision should hold up.
My intention here is to demonstrate that we, as Americans, need to separate religious affiliations from this issue. Would we feel differently if the plaque were from the Koran or the Hindu Code of Manu? If so, then perhaps we are not being as objective as we should.
This issue touches on larger issues of national
religious identity. A related issue is
whether this is a Christian nation or not.
The Christian Right is undoubtedly very influential; even our President
is openly supportive of Christian organizations within the
I’m graduating next week with my MA in philosophy, so this will be my last column in the Quad. Thanks to everyone who read this column regularly, especially those who I have heard from over the last year. Good luck to everyone else graduating this year. Keep challenging yourself and the world around you, or start. It’s been fun.