Have we lost the ability to learn?

While I have been searching for a topic that heralds the return of spring, or at least something interesting on the science front, current events present their own topics that require broader examination. Though numerous pundits and bloggers are offering their own take on things, I would feel remiss if I sat back and ignored them myself.

The violence in Afghanistan over the burning of a qur’an is receiving all sorts of debate here in the States, not the least of which being whether some nitwit pastor of a podunk church in Florida deserves some portion of the blame. Let me be clear: he doesn’t. He was simply making a grandstand play for attention because he had nothing of any real importance to say regarding his own religion – you might as well try to blame Perez Hilton for, well, anything.

One could even blame the media for parading his actions into world exposure, but this, too, is like kicking a puppy for wetting on the carpet. It’s the media – they haven’t known what news is since 1974. You can’t blame them for making money off of the feeble-minded trailer-park denizens that still pay attention to their attempts to stir controversy. Somebody out there, and it appears to be a lot of somebody, thinks there’s some value in the refrigerator art that we get in lieu of decent information.

The only ones to blame are the members of the mob, the ones who gave any credit whatsoever to the encouragements of the posturing mullah and stormed the UN headquarters. The ones who couldn’t see the “lookitme!” cries (from both sides) for exactly what they were – pointless handwaving. The ones who never considered that a book is just paper with ink on it, springing from the same mass-production methods as newspapers, as children’s books, as toilet paper. The ones too stupid to think on their own, and somehow proud of this fact.

Or, perhaps, not proud at all, but actually ashamed – just too juvenile to admit it to themselves, much less others. Instead, defensively, they violently asserted their “rights” to be stupid as long as plenty of others did the same – this many people can’t be wrong, can they? I’ve been asked that myself far too many times to count, with absolutely no one ever accepting the simple answer, “Yes, they most certainly can.” How much more proof is needed than this?

What we need to recognize is that this is what happens in a theocratic state – what happens when we think that religion deserves some place among the laws of the country and the power of its citizens. And yes, I said “we” – human beings, the lot of us. I’m not stupid enough to think this is an aspect of islam any more than it’s an aspect of christianity or even buddhism. They all have their own admonishments for peace, against violence, but this has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with what the practitioners get up to when they feel they are “right.” Religion is not a force for good, it is a bastion of authority, and always has been. Seriously, we can’t look at the ideas of omniscience and omnipotence and see that these are intended as ultimate argument halters? Let’s not be naïve.

The only reason that anyone encourages religious “rights” and rules, anti-blasphemy laws and the inclusion of creation myths in the classroom, is because they know that such things cannot stand up on their own merits, on the very simple concept that they’re better. That they should self-evidently work, like gravity and electricity, or even like freedom and equality. We have countless people throughout the world crying for the protection of their precious little mythologies not because they’re such good systems, but precisely because they suck so badly that too many people simply can’t buy it.

Think I made a contradiction with that last sentence? That’s because you’re thinking that the blanket terms “christianity” or “islam” mean everyone has the same beliefs and structure within. Now consider it in the terms of how baptists view catholics, and how well sunni and shi’ites get along. Ponder why any town actually needs seventeen “christian” churches within three square miles of one another. New churches spring up faster than options at Starbucks.

Our founding fathers, those that drew up the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, at least knew what the fuck “history” was, and made an astounding effort to try and prevent the huge mistakes of the past. The tenets of these documents are not up to voter acceptance, not up to mob rule, precisely because they could only protect the voters and the mobs by remaining out of their hands. Politicians and military officers and police officers swear to uphold them because, without them, we are far too likely to repeat the same stupid behavior of cultures long past. The separation of church and state exists to make the distinction between those that rely on mindless assertions, and those that have to make things work despite the vagaries of the populace and their flavor of the day religions. One has historical fact behind it; the other denies history, science, physical laws, human nature, and common sense in favor of, “because I said so.” While our culture has been steadily moving away from raising our children with such inane and worthless assertions, it still seems acceptable to many adults. You’ll pardon me if I call that hypocritical and asinine.

It’s amazing to me that we don’t even have to have a knowledge of history to see what’s happening in places like Afghanistan right this very moment, and still cannot see the implications. Religious authority is not concerning itself with proper conduct, and cannot handle the tiniest bit of questioning – they are proudly demonstrating this to anyone with two brain cells to rub together. Someone can make the case that Afghan citizens have simply had enough of US involvement, and receive no argument from me. But that’s not what the protests and violence are all about, is it? The mobs are not acting on some US-provoked incident in Afghanistan that’s a symptom of the problem and unrest, or on a new UN resolution. They acted on the provocation of their precious little fairy tales, and by relying on the authority of both the mullah and the mob, rather than applying their brains for just the tiniest of seconds and realizing that the book they held in their hands was not gone at all (not to mention how many more get destroyed every time a bomb goes off someplace.) They’re reacting because someone can actually call it a fairy tale and they have no good response for this. Yeah, please tell me that’s providing peace and comfort to the masses. Please tell me the theocratic state is making things so much better.

And for some reason, we have numerous dipwads in this country that want to do the same here. Anyone that thinks christianity is somehow different is obligated (and openly invited) to explain how.

By all means, we really do need to be teaching religion to schoolchildren – they need to know this shit. Our founding fathers certainly did, nearly two and a half centuries previously. Hey, I’ll be happy to do it myself, and can one-up the idiots crowing for “teaching the controversy” across our country right now – I won’t show any bias towards any religious denomination or sect in the slightest. Seriously, I’d love to do this.

I’m sure anyone reading can imagine how scary that sounds to many, but the real question is, “Why?” It couldn’t possibly be because I could sell this faster and more effectively than any religion named, could it?

7 comments to Have we lost the ability to learn?

  • dragonmum

    Ok, I’ll try breaking it into pieces & see which ones get through…

    Dude, how many times have I told you not to underestimate the stupidity of the human race? >:P I can’t wait until we get back! Nik’s got awesome photos & we got to see “The Book of Mormon”. Al, if you never see another Broadway musical, you’ve got to see this one!!! I’m sure it’ll make it to us eventually, but it’s only been open 2 weeks, so it’ll be awhile. It’s totally what you’re about…

  • dragonmum

    There is quite a gap between thinkers & believers; I’m not sure it’s any larger than it ever was. We simply have media to amplify the effect. Remember, while our founding dead white guys were contemplating their ideal humanist government & Deist values, the “common people” were still hunting for witches. A public education system doesn’t make anyone smarter, nor, in the US, was it meant to develop thinking skills – beyond those needed to be a good follower. Literacy allows people to write down their crazy ideas; media allows them to broadcast them quickly to a wide audience.

    Your arguments are almost identical to my dd, Nuri’s, rants. She thinks one of the most important changes to our school system should be a thorough steeping in the US Constitution – which, of course, would require grounding in history, world governments & current events. She has plenty of other ideas, which also include the education about religions & other social belief systems/ organizational structures.

  • dragonmum

    However, you have a couple facts wrong. Once again, you’ve fallen prey to ye old sweeping generalization monster.(Doesn’t that give you nightmares?)

    Now, you make the wave-the-red-flag-at-me mistake of lumping Buddhism in with “deist” religions. Remember, Buddhists are atheists; just a different flavor. Your average Buddhist could care less what religion you practice. They will not discriminate because you disagree with them, nor will they use their religion to dominate others. There has never been a Buddhist theocratic state. Ain’t what it’s about. No Buddhist has ever killed anyone in the name of their religion. Not that Buddhists are always against killing. It would be pretty stupid to physically threaten a Buddhist monk. He would, however, do his best to disable you without hurting you.

    • Al Denelsbeck

      Once again, you’ve fallen prey to ye old sweeping generalization monster.

      Well, it does say “Rants” down there in the tags… ;-)

      No Buddhist has ever killed anyone in the name of their religion.

      Actually, while I consider buddhism among the more mellow examples of ideologies/religions, there are exceptions – and that may be all that they are, but still not honestly ignorable either. See the comments to “Missing the Forest,” as well as this article on buddhist nationalism.

  • dragonmum

    The “no establishment” clause wasn’t meant to keep religious people from running the government; there’s not supposed to be a litmus test in order to run for or hold office. The founding grandpas wanted to prevent a state religion.

    As a result, religious beliefs or church membership are not supposed to keep anyone from getting elected, even if they are a L00N. They waste time and $ crafting legislation in an attempt to limit rights of others.

    Once again, the Supreme Court has to ask, How many times do we have to say You Can’t Do That?

  • dragonmum

    People should keep their noses all out of other people’s religious beliefs, unless politely asked to butt in. Part of the education of our children should be the constitutional definition of religion: “The Supreme Court has interpreted religion to mean a sincere and meaningful belief that occupies in the life of its possessor a place parallel to the place held by God in the lives of other persons. The religion or religious concept need not include belief in the existence of God or a supreme being to be within the scope of the First Amendment”.

    Most of the conflicts we see are actually among entities that are better defined as churches then religions. The IRS has a pretty good legal definition of “church”:

    1. A distinct legal existence
    2. A recognized creed and form of worship
    3. A definite and distinct ecclesiastical government
    4. A formal code of doctrine and discipline
    5. A distinct religious history
    6. A membership not associated with any other church or denomination
    7. An organization of ordained ministers
    8. Ordained ministers selected after completing prescribed studies
    9. A literature of its own
    10. Established places of worship
    11. Regular congregations
    12. Regular religious services
    13. Sunday schools for religious instruction of the young
    14. Schools for the preparation of its ministers.

    This is, I think, the place where people confuse “Christians” with “Baptists” or “Episcopalians” and “Muslims” with “Sunnis” or “Sheas”. The equivalent word would be “sect”, I think. Without the understanding that many churches can take a supposedly similar belief & morph it into so many differing interpretations – and what the differences among those churches are – Christians, Muslims & Flying-Spaghetti-Monsterians will continue to be looked at as monolithic blocks, rather than gatherings of loosely related groups, often agreeing on a few core values.

    Here’s my gross over-simplification: Think of the concept of religion like Candy. Various religions are types of candy: jelly beans, chocolates, marshmallows, etc. Churches are varieties withing that type – dark chocolate, milk chocolate, almond joy….(if you feel like a nut…). I prefer dark chocolate with caramel; you might like Dr. Pepper-flavored Jelly Bellies. I really, really don’t like chocolate & peanut butter mixed, but it’s still a variety of chocolate.

    I would never say Sarah Palin isn’t a Christian, anymore than I’d say a poop-flavored jelly bean isn’t a jelly bean, just because I find it unpalatable & think it would be best flushed down the toilet…

    • Al Denelsbeck

      People should keep their noses all out of other people’s religious beliefs, unless politely asked to butt in.

      I’ve said it before, I’m quite fine with religion being a personal thing, like a preference for a certain kind of music. I just don’t want to be forced to listen to it, and find such a thing to be a denial of freedom. But let’s face it – one of the key issues is this crossover between, “This is my right to believe,” and, “This is ultimate authority.” Such attitudes seem to flipflop instantaneously as it suits the practitioner.

      Most of the conflicts we see are actually among entities that are better defined as churches then religions.

      I’m kind of split on whether making this distinction is worth the effort or not. Since I’m coming at it from a standpoint of critical-thinking, I find credence given to any supernatural ideology whatsoever to be an exceptionally poor practice. I do, for instance, make the effort to say things like “religious folk” rather than “religion,” to try and avoid confusing individual actions or interpretations with actual tenets, but the distinctions become so ephemeral it isn’t worth spending much time on – one person may consider themselves a true christian, while another denies this because they do not practice humility or some such.

      When situations such as the Afghan violence come up, however, it’s not me that’s assigning religion to the mess – it’s undeniably present. There may be plenty of protests from muslims about this not being representative of islam, but if I ask the people actually committing the violence, would they agree? If there isn’t even internal consistency, I’m really not going to get drawn into it.

      The point I made in the post is really, “people doing stupid shit.” We really need to be trying to reduce this as much as possible. When religion encourages attitudes and actions based on uncritical acceptance of assumptions and assertions (and a little alliteration,) it’s a major contributor. Not the only one, and maybe not even the biggest, if you consider the tendencies of the human mind and evolved traits, but guilty all the same. It’s a damn stupid thing to base any form of government on.