Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2 bits - Ken Kesey on the function of the artist ...

[...] from Shakespeare [...] get an audience [...] he went around in front of them and he'd grab them by the ears and he'd say,
— you listen to me!
That's what the artists have to do. There in public. Otherwise you'll be watching MTV and reading Ditmer's guide and drinking CocaCola. As I've often told Ginsberg, you can't blame the president for the state of the country. It's always the poet's fault. You can't expect politicians to come up with a vision. They don't have it in them. The poets have to come up with a vision and they have to turn it on so that it sparks ... and catches on.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

What's the job [...] of the writer in contemporary America?
Right now.
Hmm. I'm not sure.
But here I'll give you an example[...]

You're gonna be walking along one day and suddenly there's gonna be a light. You're gonna look across the street, and on the corner over there, God is gonna be standing there.
And you're gonna know it's God because it's gonna have this beautiful curly hair that sticks up through his halo like Jesus. He's got little slitty eyes like Buddha. He's got a lot of swords in his belt like Mohammed.

And he's saying:
— Come . . . . to me.
— Come across the street to me.
— O, come to me.
— I will have the muses whisper in your ear. You will be the greatest writer. You will be better than Shakespeare.
— They will have melon breasts and blackberry nipples.
— Come to me.
— All you have to do is say my praises.

The writers job is to say:
— Fuck you, God! Fuck you!
— Fuck you! Fuck you!

'Cause nobody else is going to say it. Our politicians aren't going to say it. Nobody but the writer is going to say it. There's a time in history when it's time to praise God, but now is not the time. Now is the time to say:
— Fuck you!
— I don't care who your daddy was! Fuck you.

... and get back our job of writing.

24th October 1989
at a Reality Club presentation

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Philip Wylie on religions


It will be said that, for a man so intent on morals, I have been hard on the church. I would be harder; I would do away with it. This institution, this school for hypocrites and university of ignorance, has resisted attacks from myriad sane and decent quarters since the time it was divinely guided by a witchman with a drum and until the reign of the current Pope. Men of enormous good will, and hope, too--even men within the church, like Emerson--have shaken every timber of its moribund architecture. Yet it does not fall. It has a sinister viability. The church is like the Hydra that guards Hell’s Gate: whenever a successful cut is made at it, a head falls, whereupon two replace it. Let a dissenter penetrate some ignominious churchly superstition and so deprive the parent body of members and behold, one-two-ten denominations are founded on the objection.

Perhaps the old legend--the old archetype--is worth laboring a little farther. Hercules found, when he finally slew the serpent, that if the wounds were cauterized, they seized to breed the devilish double-domes. Some cautery is needed today, some fire of truth, some means of burning away the fission in the serpent's cells.

The church (as I have indicated earlier in this essay), almost any church and nearly every church, is a foundation designed to maintain a particular body of legends. According to the Jungian hypothesis, legends are the tangible forms which instinct takes in man, an inherent property of him and the inherent property of his subjectivity, generating themselves spontaneously in all places and at all times, peopled by resembling characters and telling parallel tales. So this viability of churches is explained by any sect and every sect. Instinctual man is under the necessity of giving some expressed form or other to the opposing forces from which consciousness has gradually emerged.

Out of their mysterious compulsions--will to live and wish to die, urge to procreate and dread of succession--even those island people I imagined as reared without benefit of man would slowly invent legends and archetypes. And until more analytical men discovered what it was they all were doing--how they were merely articulating their animal natures in the very attempt to deny them (by claims of being heroes and owning gods and possessing immortal shades) --the transcendental effort would constantly obscure their true transcendental possibilities. Their “shades” --their souls--would remain but shadows of egos which had taken on the garment of some godliness or other and thereby cast into darkness all view of the eternal time of instinct.

The love and the fear of gods, the adoration and the dread, our fundamental qualities of the interior man--his “religious nature”--blind to itself until his insight becomes pure enough, or scientific enough--if you prefer--to scorch away his old ego and the public estimate of man's importances. In the legendary, the religious patterns, forms themselves are all possessive. Until a man sees that agony and glory, the reasons and the emotions of living, the panoply of his own evolution and of the blazing universe by truth discovered repose in his instinct, the instinct will possess the man and he will generally seek a repository for it. Each church is such a repository; each religion therefore must contain the exalted and the cruel, the noble and the vicious, the pure ideal and the heathen applications. And if a somewhat reasonable man be argued out of one church, he generally must needs join another. He is but converted back and forth among archetypes. He eschews this sect because he has discovered it is too ritualistic, primitive, incredible or barbaric; he has debunked it; then he accepts a new faith which is more up-to-date but no less irrational in that it closes his mind some other way. Or, he wearies of pure reason’s syllogisms, of being a modern man without a god, and the instinctual core of him responds to the drumming of organs and choirs and the holding up of symbols which are not anti-septic but venerable; he is “convinced” by the strength of very real instinctual impressions; and then your liberal atheist is suddenly become a Roman Catholic.

The “need for God” is real to the vanity. It is a need of gods. Of names to put on instincts and on patterns--of a legendary to quiet the questions asked by the mind of the aspiring or the downcast nerves. Why do I do this? Why did I refuse? Why do I feel angry when I should be at peace--happy, when I should be ashamed? The “I” demands descriptions and definitions; these must be commensurate not only with the interior pressures but with whatever altitude of regard “I” has for itself. That is why rich people own such enormous gods. Who else needs or could temple them adequately or support delegated authority enough--the requisite priesthood? The unlonely poor have still small voices. And associations of people organize empires for their gods--states within states--supported by contribution everywhere in the earth-- and their gods can thunder loud enough to quake governments. This gives them all, rich or poor, a collective arrogance in the ego that is great enough to hold instincts everywhere in check, or stasis, or seeming balance, sometimes for generation after generation.

The godmen fear the atheist who, somehow peacefully and with a good demeanor, takes a small, solitary stand in the cosmos without assistance of one of their societies. But most, they fear the individual whose private authenticity has found them out—whose up-winging wisdom commences to descry there fettered situation and to detect in the heavens the more-enveloping pattern and to live in liberty by itself. The man of God and the soaring man are both ruled by instinct; one knows, the others do not. So it becomes the necessary self protective instinct of the mass to try to shoot down this individual. Wherever, in society, any process starts which might tend to undo the blunder of forebears who crept down from trees and slunk through the bushes with dangling arms--whenever there is a sign that the instinct of some man or men is about to investigate itself--the churches unite against the event, be it in pamphlet, a nudist colony, or science itself. For the sake of the peace of mind of all who are compelled, that which compels them must somehow be kept in shadow, where they deem their shades to be--and rightly. This is the explanation of persecution, office of churches, and the so-called will of God.

Since the churches the repository of instinct, it becomes administrator of it--and the archetypal theorem's established again by the shortest search for proof of this in any holy apparatus. One finds among naked savages, and the nearly-as-naked savages on Park Avenue in New York City, that religion owns and controls all human biological procedure. When a man is born, the church must baptize him. When he is adolescent, the church must confirm the baptism. When he mates, the church must marry him. When he reproduces, the church must be handed the offspring, that the cycle start again. If he would put his wife away from himself, the church must assent--or refuse to assent. If he sins, the church must forgive him. If he is sick, the church must take the advantages of comfort. If he is dying, the church must supply prayers and unctions. And when he dies, the church must bury him. Each of these steps costs money. A benediction will stoop to extort a farthing. And after a man is dead, the church expects a portion of his estate. Some churches put a posthumous levy on the entrance of Heaven. The sumptuousness of these offices is scaled by price; there is every class of baptism, wedding and funeral--even two-pants suits for the dead, one to wear in the church and a more durable pair evidently needed for a head start on eternity, in the grave. Though here, I do believe, it is the mortician who exploits the human vanity.

This is a Christian nation, where Sabbath is holiday, the property of churches is not assessed, untaxed donations to God (up to ten percent of income) are permitted by the revenue collector, money bears the name of the Lord, the witness to crime is sworn on the Bible, most violations of the Ten Commandments are punishable by law, and statesmen say grace. Yet there are enough different kinds of Christian churches here to convince any Buddhist or any worshiper of Baal or any Martian that the Christians themselves have no idea what Christianity means or what it intends that they should do.

It is generally asserted that Christians are monotheists but it is hardly possible to find a sect, as I have said elsewhere, which has not split its God into parts and sexes; some, in the person of saints, have as many holy characters as all the other pagans, heathens and idolaters. The clergy produces on-demand definitions of the gods to fit most purses and points of view. In many Christian churches the gods and their symbols are intellectualizations nowadays; but in some, they are still plaster, like any Hindu frieze. In all of them, a cruel creed of crucifixion (and a process of psychological resurrection which may lift the animal some few steps in instinctual awareness and is real to that extent) is offered in counterbalance to the American world and its main excesses. A little psychic pain at Easter, if not every Sunday, compensates the conscience for another year of the hundred and fifty in which we have nervously enjoyed an American Spree.

Half of the nation has little or nothing to do with churches and assumes that “religious freedom” implies freedom of their irreligiousness. It does not. America tolerates all churches. But no church tolerates unchurchliness; because of that, the free mind of the nation is disenfranchised without knowing it. We are enslaved by religions even when we will have none of them. They are one when one of them is criticized. Indeed, the pressure of sanity against them today is driving their sects toward physical reunion.

Liberty--the room for honesty--is everywhere a confining chamber, the theory but not much a practice, a condition believed to exist hugely until its measurements are examined. The intolerant churches have compressed it. Or they have kept it from expanding. This is an incessant catastrophe; it has given the churches their power-- swelled up religious pride where freedom ought to grow--and slain conscience everywhere in the name of Christ. Challenge of the fact is labeled hellish automatically (and, lately, ”communist”). Millions of Christians do not just rage defensively at honest men, but weep in the pity of piety for them, which is the more appealing instinct and attracts new sentimentalists to the altar--for a blindfolding or, more generally, for having the last of their weak sight put out. By now, every industry and profession and nearly every classroom in America has been corrupted to this purpose of the churches: to keep liberty from becoming extensive.

It is possible, in the United States of America, to publish such an essay as this in a book. And that is the outside dimension of the room here for freedom. As a book, it will be stolen from libraries by persons who disagree with what it says--which is not a service to truth but the very exercise of fear and an act of panic. Angered men, who do not like to have their natures or the etiology of their God disclosed, may attempt to confiscate this book by purchase from local stores or to have it banned from State courts. They have done as much before. People may throw copies of it on bonfires--as they have other books--and this, too, is a ritual of assuagement.

But I could not express such thoughts as these on the American radio or by motion pictures or printed in the newspapers or get them published in the magazines. No business has sponsored an atheist on the air--its gross would drop too suddenly and too much. Theoretically, the atheist has as much “right” to argue as the Baptist. Actually, he has no opportunity. The “good” people in our society choke him. For justice, they have absolute contempt. They already “know” that they are “right” and will not hear anything further or permit the public to listen to a syllable of dissent!

In the dominions-- the immense realms--where the church administers instinct, this perfidious circumstance has driven what we know so far away from what we pretend that we are all disoriented, whether we profess God and sit in the Sunday bench, or mock even at morals, and tee off every Sunday morning with a ritualistic oath in warrant of an imperial irresponsibility for man. We have gone insane. We are all mad.

The use of reason has provided us with a world which only reason can use. But not priest or scientist or any layman betwixt them can expose our secrets, separate the collisions, and assembled the schisms, to see what the use ought to be, or to be becoming. The instincts are confused on all sides. The codes that were sufficient for Jerusalem and Rome and Venice-high in for all the artisans and handworkers of time--have become irrelevant or manifestly in error. The new codes of communal association or corporate state breed frenzy. The original incentive of easy riches expires with the gutting of our continent. Nothing suffices. But no one is allowed by the churches to consult with the people on any moral matter in other-than-churchly terms. Examples are endless.

Birth control. Here is a discovery of our biology as fundamental of the learning of the art of fire. It means we must decide in our minds concerning what churches profess to own. Do the radio networks explain it and discuss it, as it revolutionizes man?

Evolution. Is this great discovery of human origin--the only proper introduction to learning--the schoolboy's first course?

Ethnology. Here is the science of tolerance among men, for it proves they are one--not cousins--but the same blood. Where Phoenicia mined tin, Semites bred with the natives. Where the Iberians halted, they brought the Negro stream, through African Moors, and Spanish Moors, with whom they'd lived. Each snobbish Anglo-Saxon may be part a Jew and part a colored man. Has this inexorable circumstance been made clear to every moppet old enough to clutch the Star-Spangled Banner? And does he also know what a torrent of Asia beats in his veins?

A book could be written of the mere lists of truths some men know that all should know, which it is forbidden to speak about in the presence of the general public.

Who forbids it? The church.

The gods and their arrogant servants, the men of God.

It is a pea-soup world. Truth hacks a hole, goes on, and the fog fingers of self-assessed virtue close up the place. The minister intones. The flabby lips of the priest moisten with a smile. The density is restored. The Republic's safe behind its clerical cloak, safe in the arms of Jesus-- that sad and terrible new erotic who have so little insight into himself, such giant ego, and yet such an intuition of the archetypes.

Ye shall know the truth.

Love one another.

Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.

Suffer little children to come unto me . . . for of such is the kingdom of heaven.

The kingdom of God is within you.

The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed.

For whoever hath, to him shall be given . . . but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

Even the words of this man, spoken two ignorant thousand years ago, burn like the phrase at Belshazzar’s feast on the walls of every standing church today. These Christians have had that long to add to wisdom and every century they have moved a little farther away from it.

You cannot, today, even mention the sanctified repositories by name in the free press and the other free media of this great, free nation. The right of simple criticism is stopped up. The right to ridicule lies beyond editorial thought. Whatever it is that half the citizens ponder with their free minds, it cannot be constellated or directed toward an inquiry on churches or the correction of a church. England is freer. The English name names and assert critique, lambaste, enjoy the public literature of a liberty that has been murdered here.

You will find--for example--that ninety-odd percent of your fellows in this republic hold the late Mary Baker Eddy to have been part abomination and part fool, a quack in the science of applied psychology, a fat Coué; and yet, were have you seen or heard of a man allowed to dissect the sophistries of Christian Scientists in the public prints? It is tabu. It is a fruitful forest our tribe is not allowed to enter.

The objection to the Church of Rome is also mighty. This House of God has existed for a thousand years on the bodies of exploited human beings. In symbols and rituals it contains just enough awareness of instinct to bury deliberately continents and ages of the human mind. Its mechanics give it an access to that kingdom of heaven which is the human child, and it understands archetypes enough so to indoctrinate him that even though he forgets the experience he will respond to it the rest of his days and beg extreme supreme unction to ready himself even for a gangster's funeral. Freud explained it. Freud's patients, like Catholics, had been bent to their shape in the years of infancy. So with most crooked personalities. Instinct-- instinct. What ways it turns and how man holds the mold!

Wherever in the nation the Roman Catholic Church is able to grasp the public instinct, freedom dies, a tyranny is set up over the citizens to conform with the spiritual and temporal tyranny of this church, and cathedrals flourish while the people grow poor. A night of ignorance is walled around them like a sheepfold. The clergy fleshes up. Science is extinguished as a light among the laity and handed over to the Jesuits who have so employed it that their name of Jesus is a synonym for intrigue. Wherever truth of science interferes with hierachy, it can be rationalized or set aside or put out again.

That the church may seize the human conscience from the man, the Catholic confessional is held. And that the drive of sex may be channeled for the uses of popes and cardinals and bishops, the fear-engendering, worship-provoking symbol of chastity is kept incarnate in living men and women--in priests and nuns--who walk among the contemporary people wearing the garments of their death, the evidence they have married God and Church.

What other proof of instinct do you need?

Only a little while ago, this organism proclaimed (in the Vatican's own press) that a world horrified by the atomic bomb was a world which would at last understand why the Roman Catholic Church had fought science through the centuries. These words of the church's own confession of its central crime.

I know, good reader, my own hazard here, of being called anti-Catholic, or an anti-Christian Scientist, if there be such a term. I know it will be said that I am inconsistent to attack intolerance and speak against sects in the same arguments. I know that it will be said I have seemed to defend Jews while I assailed Protestants. These are the tags of entrenched bigotry by which they dislodge the judgment even of those who strive to be fair-minded. But remember how I began this chapter.

I am against no man on earth, but in a passion for the gain of understanding in every man.

I am against no special church, but all churches, because they employ the instinct of man above all else to maintain themselves, and because they do not preach or even pretend to own the morality of the Jesus they profess. And they do not even vaguely comprehend the overwhelming meaning of his institutions.

I am not an agnostic or an atheist--one who thinks the truth is unknowable or protests there is no God. My sense of truth in the matter is different; I acknowledge there is validity--however savagely distorted--in all these gods.

And I am against the distortion.

Let me be plainer. To every man who believes he knows the True God: I am against his God. For of each God, and then make the gods that render us mad to destroy us--the various Christ-Gods and all the antithetical gods that Christians fear and deplore (and court in secret) --Mammon, for example, and Venus.

Idols in the mind are identical with mud idols and merely look better to people were slightly aware they have minds. But we have at long last learned enough to be done with this one more appalling institution in man's story-- the peonage of the conscience--the church.

Let us make a place in the news of our society, then, for the exposition--lest present scourges, and the eternal advocacy of the idolaters, demolish that small chamber from which our bravest forebears intended such mighty liberties to come for. These Christians! They are at the wheels of every war. They are at the helm of monopoly. They lie in labor's dirtiest ditches. The American mom belongs to Jesus. As statesmen, a trade away humanity through the centuries like strings of beads and barrels of vegetables. These shining Christians! Their holy gleam, on close inspection, proves almost always to be the phosphore of putrescence.

Every man of honesty knows that we human beings are in the primary school of truth: we have barely learned how to learn. What we can find out concerning the nature of Nature, of the universe and of ourselves will inevitably show how stupid and overweaning are the Beliefs of this day. We should hold them ready, always, for surrender. That is bravery. That is greatness. To be foresworn to a dogma is to be shackled and it is also to be made the own worst enemy of one's self, for the part of the mind able to learn more, whenever it stands in the presence of new truth, will hate the part that is pledged to learn no more--even though both parts maintain the bond of the obscene loyalty. This is the thickness of thieves and the fierce, compulsory fealty of conspirators. The man steals from an self and conspires against himself and hence from the whole world when he says, “I know it all”--especially concerning God. If what men have claimed for God were the truth, the world would have been different long ago. So I oppose the claim. To the sincerely reverent, the somewhat honest, this opposition will seem painful. I am sorry. To the hypocrites-- the religionistic professionals--it will be infuriating. I am unmoved. My own pain to reach these conclusions was long and unexpressible; in the description of them my heart holds the steadiest good cheer and only the intellect is sometimes moved to anger as it speaks to the reader for liberty of the mind and equally against all anarchy and all tyranny.

The churches have dug the public habits full of channels to divert all civilized contemplation of themselves. When one churches taken to task, they say that all are being defiled and every Holy Name of God as well. Religious criticism from outside the church, they hold an expression of ignorance and the shameful occupation. It is a Sign of Communism, or anything else the majority despises: a sign of neurosis or sexual perversion. It is, the churches add, a violation of the Constitution, which grants men the right to worship as they please--a vicious national act, un-American in fact and intent. This habitual translation of the Constitution as a red-white-and-blue curtain over religious affairs is their favorite; it influences the most weak minds and has most deprived the nation of the fresh air of reality, fact, truth, and the equal rights of free speech that would oppose bigotry. For the Constitution gives no minority the power to interfere with the individual or his honorable opinions or his press or his legislature.

But the American churches do not hesitate--whenever other measures seem inadequate--to resort to blackmail, extortion, intimidation of free men, threat of assault in the pocketbook--all brands of Godly robbery. And so dear has property become to Americans that those who do not kneel to a creed, do kneel to property--kneel--and crawl when it is invoked by sanctimonious dastards. We will withdraw our advertising, the churches say to the editor. We will refuse en masse to subscribe. If you say anything about us that is not for us, we will boycott you. Print this praise we have written of ourselves. Cut out that speech. It happens every day to the Free Press: the hinting minister--the smiling, apologetic priest--the little talk--and the crime against man's completed in the name of God. I've seen it enough times in the managing editor's office and I have watched it originate in the churches to which I once belonged.

What dirty citizens such people make!

What cowards they are--for their own sakes which they call the sake of Christ.

Because of them, the radio is neuter.

Because of them, the motion picture industries maintain an office headed by some man of prominence check each foot of film against the avalanche of each day's bigotries--how long a skirt may be, how deep a neck this year, how wide a dancer may swing her hips for the Mormons, what double meaning some obscure theology might find in the dialogue, the date when Methodists rescind a taboo on the word screwy, the forbidden chuckle about bishops and all moral significances--that virtue triumph, that never a man or woman lie together unmarried with pleasure and sans punishment, death preferred--and so on and on and on to the outermost reaches of every filthy, sick imagination that has exalted itself in vice for the glory of God.

In sex, especially, and “sex morals”, the churches clench the dominion.

When life and death are not problems of the immediate moment, the problem of man and woman is greatest--as Freud found, and as I have said here, and as every asylum keeper knows. All that man does and is--his family, seen toward ancestors and progeny, the art of himself and his arts--has flowed from the duality of sex since the protoplasm remembereth not when. Thus, if the church cannot order and command the archetypes that represent the myriad opposites in sexuality, the church cannot endure. So its principal energy--its organizational libido--is directed to this end in ten thousand disguises and also by such psychological stratagems as I have already cited: the voluntary self-castration of a holy class of men and women for example--a violence upon life proportionate to the violence of sex instinct itself and cunningly intended to interfere with every private inkling of independence and of real purity, so that the individual will commit himself to the church, awed by this evidence of what seems inhuman might.

Ah! The dreadful crosses Ego invents to spare itself from the sight of instinct!

The church has such a necessity of possessing the public attitudes towards sex that hardly any thought foreign to any religious system is allowed a good expression and in this sense we could call ourselves a Roman Catholic nation, or Methodist, since what offends these is carefully concealed from all. Churchly control of the rules for sex behavior is of such ecclesiastical importance that its exercise has cost the general intelligence all common touch with morals. “Morals” mean sex morals to the masses, and not ethics. That fact provides many incidental conveniences to the church, for it can set up exact rules of sex biology, administer them immaculately, and divided the rest of ethics to suit property--allowing the secret, cheatful doctrines of business holy ascent, and confining virtue to certain alms, the support of arrogant meddling by missionaries, tithes for a new edifice, endowment of parochial schools, and the like.

Morals confused--sometimes unconsciously, but more often deliberately, methodically! Morals without reference to any knowledge that has appeared in the world since Babylon!

In the last half-century, the science of sexuality has been originated. At the same time, our technical society has found various means to prevent conception and has learned ways both to inhibit and to cure venereal disease. The sex instinct is now beginning to be understood. The physical fears--exploited by churches since the Stone Age--are banished. Everything that man knew about his sexual nature is changed and all he has done this subject to revision. The crisis in morals is more desperate here than elsewhere for this is the center of ordinary rally. Dilemma blazes in our promiscuous conduct; yet the brains and integrity of our society are not allowed to be brought to bear upon it--for impartial, public discussion is all but tabu.

Here, in all these churches, these religions, is the collective parallel for the process by which the individual falls blind prey to his own instinct. He imports to his ego every advantage that can be seized or mirrored from objectivity, to be convinced that he is not an animal but more than an animal--and he exports, by the act, all awareness of archetypal opposition, all contact with time and truth. The groups of the godly build their gods to shield the fact that they are animals. They eschew the reason in their heads and the dignities in their hearts, as the price. They will not treat with Nature evenly; Nature is too honest for them--as pure virtuousness and naught else--so they must forever lie. But they cannot be forgiven any longer on the grounds that they know not what they do.

It is possible, now, for them to know.

An Essay on Morals

Friday, April 18, 2008

closing remarks . . .

The following are the closing remarks of Jeffrey Shallit during a recent debate with Kirk Durston.


We live in exciting and dangerous times. Exciting because today we understand so much more about the world than we ever have before. We live in an immense cosmos 13.7 billion years old — I feel like Carl Sagan—a cosmos that's made up of an enormous number of fundamental particles. The particles come together and form about a hundred chemical elements that make up everything in this room and everything in your bodies. We live in a solar system that came into being from the ashes of dead starts 4.5 billion years ago. Earth, our home, orbits a sun that warms us through the reactions of nuclear fusion. —he sun is a mass of incandescent gas— and will continue to do so for billions of years. All life is intimately related. Isn't that great?
Having descended from a single life form that rose about three billion years ago. We and the apes share a common ancestor that lived in Africa about 5 million years ago. All people are truly brothers and sisters, sharing the same genetic heritage.

Now, we know these things.
How do we know them?
We know them not because of prayer, or religious revelation, or sacred texts, or meditation, or sacrificing of goats, or altered states of consciousness. We know these because generations of scientists weren't afraid to question the dogmas of their previous generations. Sometimes losing their lives or their liberties in the process. Our scientific picture of the universe is now far grander and subtler than that anything conceived by the authors of the Old Testament, the New Testament, or the Quran. And there's so much more waiting to be discovered.

But, we live in dangerous times too. We're now confronted with threats more serious than ever before. The threat of global climate change, bringing significant disruption to our lives, hangs over us. The plague of AIDS, threatens to wipe out the entire continent of Africa. Nuclear proliferation brings the specter of mass destruction, or a dirty bomb that could render a major city unlivable for hundreds or thousands of years. Faced with these threats, what does fundamentalist religion really offer? My opponent offers us the absurd and grotesque image of a supposed-created of the universe, the inventor of everything that ever was or will be, unwilling to aid us with these threats, these significant threats to our survival, but ready to subdue aggressive bulls or bring rabbits back to life for the cost of a brief prayer.

The fundamentalist God is one that is obsessively and intrusively concerned with our sex lives, but apparently unwilling to allow us to perform experiments on stem-cells to make life better for sufferers of disease.

I am a provisional non-theist, someone who has not yet been convinced by the arguments for the existence of gods of Christians, Jews , or Muslims, but I'm not the enemy of theists. On the contrary, if yours is a theism that is willing to acknowledge that your conception of God might be wrong, that your belief in a supreme being doesn't create any obligation on the part of non-believers, that your holy books are human artifacts that may be read metaphorically or might contain errors, that we should behave charitably toward our fellow humans because it's the right thing to do and not because of threats of eternal torment, then you are my brothers and sisters. Let us go and solve our problems by reasoning together without relying on the dogmas of past ages. But if your sect is the enemy of rationalism, if it requires that evolution be false or homosexuals be stoned or shunned, forbidden to teach elementary school or adopt children, if you agree with Martin Luther that a lie that serves the church is ethically acceptable or, as my opponent admitted here at the University of Waterloo, just a few months ago, that genocide is perfectly okay, if God wills it, that it's perfectly okay to kill me and everyone in this room if God told him to do it—and he was sure.

Then you're part of the problem, not part of the solution.

So the question remains, will we remain as children, consoled by the false promises of fundamentalist religion, slavishly adhering to dogma blindly following the prejudices and bigotry of past ages, or will we go forward together as adults to stand on our own, ready to face the future with reason and courage?

Let's all pray we make the right choice.

Thursday, October 25th, 2007