There are idols in the world. The dark, churlish lurkers, the bright and shiny golden calves, the multi-headed monstrosities of ancient times; unambiguously different yet they all share the same origin: made by the hands of humans.
It is almost impossible to express the reason for this type of work. Why do people create gods to worship? Why do they prostrate themselves, proselytize, and pray to entities that have no corporeal essence, no actual physicality? Ask a conventionally religious person and they will tell you that those who worship idols are deluded, satanic, misguided, and perhaps even evil.
But what does a conventionally religious person believe that elevates their system above a cargo cult, or Mithraists, or run-of-the mill pagans? Do we as humans ascribe more value to religions that have more followers versus those that have fewer? It appears to me that we do. However, all religions, all sanctified belief systems, started out as cults. Idol worshippers. They had to have. Someone at some point in time thought up the mythology that supported their proscriptions and energized their priesthoods. Here is a thought experiment that might have led to this need for religion:
Before what is called “recorded” history, tribes of proto-humans wandered across the African plains eking out a living on roots, nuts, berries, and providential proteins from deceased animals and insects. The hierarchy of the tribe was encapsulated in either a matriarchy or a patriarchy. There is evidence to support the idea that tribes existed as both simultaneously, separated only by distance. These early humans may have been able to speak (maybe not) but some form of early communication had to exist as our large brains precluded purely genetic programming from running the show.
Once the ability to communicate complex concepts evolved, our ancestors must have attempted to explain the nature of their universe. Sensory experience would have been deeply mysterious. The rising of the sun, the appearance of thousands of bright points of light in the dark of night, the passage of time and the rotation of seasons, the trauma of death and joy of birth; each fragrant flower blooming in spring would’ve been seen as an inscrutable miracle. To explain things transitionary tales must have been established. “The tribe is led by the oldest male, perhaps a version of the oldest male antelope guides his herd.” Eventually through memetic evolution, the idea of an elder antelope begins to permeate other tribes, over time the elder antelope is ascribed abilities that exceed average antelope capabilities, e.g. “the great antelope not only leaps, but can fly high into the sky overlooking his territory.” Eventually a belief system had evolved to explain “miraculous” occurrences as evidence of the antelope god’s existence. Antelopes become sacred. The myth of the prior supernatural antelope events circulate, and the extended tribe(s) accepts them as truth.
Given a couple of hundred generations of mutation, the elder antelope becomes a being similar to the ancient Egyptian river-goddess, Satet. Who worships Satet today? Who looks upon the flow of the mighty Nile and thanks the wisdom and power of Satet for her providence and generosity? No one. In fact, the people that inhabit the Nile river delta now would be at grave risk for expressing any belief in what the faith majority of the area would call “idolatry.”
I use this thought experiment to accentuate the current standing of religion and its perception in the world. I am from what is called the West. I am an American, from a nation founded on purely secular terms. There is no state religion, and while there is a majority of the population that is Christian, there is nothing that forces us to choose any one system over another. I was raised in the Seventh Day Adventist branch of Christianity, a millennialist doomsday cult. I saw the absolute worst in the form of hypocritical people who felt their way was the only way. All others were apostate and doomed to “hell.” When I was old enough to think for myself I fled far away. I became a freethinker, I studied science and wondered about our place in the universe that has been revealed by it. I question the epistemological basis of human religion…and I have been maligned for it. The sanctimoniousness of religion has found fertile new ground in popular culture. Especially in the victimhood, Social Justice Warrior branch of the culture.
There is a trope that appears to be common now across college campuses in the West, namely the proposition of “politically correct” speech. This term is one created to rectify verbal and figurative language which is perceived to have the potential to cause harm. I personally see no problem with addressing the historical bias against women by dropping pronouns where they don’t belong, namely “manned spaceflight” or in terms like ‘spokesman, mailman,’ and other gendered titles as they are lingual antiques that no longer serve our needs. However, there is currently something happening which is unusual and in many way threatening to Western culture’s most profound contribution: Freedom of speech.
There are true horrors on the planet, true evils perpetrated by people upon other people. Murder, rape and sexual violence, genocide, infanticide, the terror of nations building nuclear weapons enough to destroy human civilization in an orgy of fire. We, the self-same human race, have done horrible things. But we have also done incredible, monumental things that benefit our species. Through science, the heroic efforts of modern medicine to wipe out disease, the invention of electrical power generation to light homes in the dark, vehicles to transport food and people across vast distances, genetic engineering to bolster the supply of food, satellite communications to link distant peoples with each other, all to foster a global civilization. The internet alone must be considered the most important contribution to civilization since Guttenberg popularized the mass printing of books. Nowhere and nowhen has the access to knowledge been so simple and so free.
Through the spread of knowledge, through the sharing of ideas; that is how the Western world created its wonders. Barbarity often went hand in hand with this knowledge and greed wiped out other civilizations and toppled empires. We of the Western world have much to be sorry for. And we are. But not all of the planet’s issues fall on the shoulders of Europe and America. Our peoples have worked to ameliorate the destruction and are striving in many respects to fix what we have broken. One united world can only be created through technology and adaptation. Western values can allow for this.
However, many members of this current generation no longer see the West as working to make a better world. They see a corrupt, racist patriarchy run entirely by whites for the benefit of whites. They see conspiracies everywhere, from the genomic modification of our food to the footprints on the moon. Many (though not a majority) see criticism of religion as a form of racism. They see the existence of traditional gender identities as grossly wrong and have invented new terms for sexual identity and preferences that seek to eliminate the old words. They have a strange obsession with the created verb “privileging” meaning to enjoy special rights due to the color of your skin, or your lack of physical or mental handicaps. Even the concept of neurodiversity, which as I understand it encapsulates any deviation from neurological baseline, has been used as a banner to accept abhorrent sexual deviancies such as believing oneself to be a anthropomorphic cartoon animal and engaging in intercourse while dressed as one.
There is a phrase circulating now which I like – “the coddling of the American mind.” It’s the title of this article from the Atlantic: The Coddling of the American Mind
Terrifying in its implications, American students are actively avoiding things that might in any context cause them to feel “uncomfortable.” Terms such as microaggression and triggering have been coopted from therapeutic fields to explicate normal human interaction has a series of one-on-one attacks. Theoretically, anything I say or do can be considered offensive to someone else, therefore my speech must be limited to prevent the offense. Opinions are no longer given respect, ideologies are promulgated that actually work to undermine freedom of speech by implying the speaker is racist, homophobic, Islamophobic, or any currently fashionable phobia they can apply to them. Men and women who have survived actual trauma, for example ex-Muslims or survivors of rape, are prevented from speaking at colleges in the US and UK because their words may hurt someone’s feelings!
An entire generation is actively working to undermine free expression to their own detriment.
As an example, I love Twitter and spend much too much time on the site. I have made friends and have been able to interact with individuals that I would not be able to in my “real” life. It is an amazing platform for discussion and it has created an art-form out of 140 letter, hyper-succinct statements. One of my personal heroes, Dr Richard Dawkins, frequently posts on Twitter; often to talk about news of the day, discoveries in evolutionary science, or on religion. His statements on religion, especially Islam, bring him constant statements from people (who for some reason follow him) implying that he is a gratuitous sexist, racist Islamophobe. No. He is making comments about religion, something we should consider on par with commenting about politics or your favorite color. Religion is not sacred in the sense that we should not be allowed to discuss it. Mentioning the fact, I repeat – the verifiable FACT, that the recent Paris terrorist attacks were done by faithful Muslims, becomes tantamount to insult.
The good doctor has had character assassinations performed on him almost daily. He of course does not need defenders, he does that admirably on his own. But I must stand up and say that the reason many hate him is that he consistently tells the truth! We know that the “truth” is often times strictly limited to the Torah, the Bible, and the Koran. I do not believe it is. These books are multi-generational meme collections that teach us to fear, to hate, and to ignore reality. The rational world we have fought for so long to build and maintain is under assault from those that take these memes seriously.
We are living in a world on a knife’s edge, where the balance can be tipped in the direction of rationality, or a quick descent back into a medieval world. A world where language is censored, belief in religion is enforced by law, where darkness invades the last candle lit libraries of independent thought.
You see, there are idols in the world, but they are not golden. They are the faiths of our forbearers, they are the misapplied virtues of liberalism that have been perverted to silence voices, they are the phony caliphates, they are the white-robbed priests of the Vatican, they are the mewling doomsayers of the Seventh Day Adventists, they are promises of reward without work. They gather livid and angry at the gates of tomorrow, and they are waiting to be worshipped.