The Dehumanizing Religion of “Progress”

Can a political ideology be a religion? I suggested in my post entry that people who are willing to countenance the murder of their political adversaries in pursuit of a glorious cause are in fact not engaged in politics at all: they are members of a religious cult. But how can a belief system be styled “religious” if acknowledges no deliberate agency in cosmic affairs other than the human? If it recognizes no spiritual reality but only the material version, if it accepts no afterlife other than the bequest of technical learning that allows one’s grandchildren to live longer and better… then where is the religion?

Let me try to state this “faith” as fair-mindedly as I can. Jules Romains, a French novelist whose most successful works were penned almost a century ago and about whom I’ve written quite a lot, authored a manifesto early in his career for a movement he called “unanism”. I can bring its general terms to mind without too much effort–and it’s about as eloquent an expression of the progressivist vision as I have ever seen.

The unanimist (or exponent of “one spirit uniting us all”) sees the human race as fulfilling a kind of destiny into which it has stumbled, but which is now its grand and inescapable calling. We might have continued living in trees and caves… but we didn’t; and once we evolved the ability to manipulate our environment and to organize our societies, we became permanently endowed with the power to perfect ourselves. Diseases could be conquered; violent weather events could be mitigated; hunger could be minimized through agricultural innovation and social discipline; crime could be bred out of us slowly through education; even the inevitable degeneration of our planetary home as the solar system entropically wears out could be averted if only we might reverse certain forces, travel to a new solar system, or create one ex nihilo out of our genius.

In a sense, we would live forever; and individuals might quite literally live for thousands of years with the help of nano-technology and cybernetics. Yet that failing, our species–our human collective–would bear our vision and our values undyingly into the future. And in that certainty within each of us that our efforts had laid one more brick onto the great ascending wall, we would partake of a kind of eternity, even though our personal consciousness would have been terminated somewhere along the way.

If this is not a religion rivaling others on earth today–if it is not, indeed, the dominant religion of the Western political and economic elite and of our educational institutions–then I can’t think why it should not be so. Its faithful may protest, “But the system you have outlined has nothing of the irrational about it! Religion clings to belief in invisible spirits flitting about behind the scenes: this is all science and reason!” No, actually: it’s not. The most basic assumption that we have some high duty or other to continue evolving has no empirical basis whatever. Where would this duty come from? If it was always in our genetic material, then some mysterious Creator must have put it there; but if we just happened to beat dolphins and crows out in the battle to survive, then our “mission” would be to continue surviving and thriving at the expense of anything in our way. We might build spaceships in the future–but we would do so to keep from getting fried when the Sun explodes–not “to boldly go where no man has gone before” (splitting infinitives and dropping sexist referents along the way).

Finally, the whole “grand’ enterprise would end up an exercise in futility–an instance of what the deconstructionists liked to call “postponement”. No matter how many solar systems we might create or colonize, all suns all throughout the cosmos must eventually burn out; or if the universe’s matter collapses upon itself and re-ignites, then we and everything belonging to us or stemming from us must all likewise be melted down utterly. So where is the omega in this quest for perfection if not in a fantasy to which no materialist has a right?

Yet the votaries of progress are willing to kill people who get in their way right here, right now–or at least to crack jokes about such murders and shrug. “Small loss… no big deal.” About the only thing that can make people forget their common humanity to this degree and morph into the glassy-eyed nightmare-robots of a sci-fi flick is cultic fanaticism. Naturally, the fanatic resents his faith being labeled a faith, a belief system, because… because it’s true, damn you!

 

The Fanatical Cultists Among Us

There’s a good chance that people aspiring to murder those who disagree with them about politics are, among other things, fanatical cultists. We tend not to view them as such because they espouse no traditional religion, and indeed often profess atheism; but an immovable conviction in the existence of a universe that bears no resemblance to the realities before us isn’t just metaphysical in nature, but fanatically so.

If you believe that everyone deserves state-of-the-art health care and that politicians who stand in that initiative’s way should be executed as murderers, then you’re a fanatical cultist. What you desire is a real-world impossibility. We must all die in the flesh of something someday, and most of us—alas—will be ill on many days along the way to our last one. It’s the human condition. Miracle drugs may come along occasionally, but they are so expensive to concoct in their early stages that not everyone can afford them. A triage of some sort is inevitable. Maybe it shouldn’t be based on degree of wealth… but should it be based on degree of poverty? Maybe the young should go first—but is it not more sane to appeal to the community for charitable donations that a child might be saved than to legislate that the older guy has to get the ticket to the next world?

You’re not living in any world possible within our given dimensions if you refuse to weigh any of these questions, plug your ears, and keep droning, “All for everyone! All for everyone!”

If you believe that anyone who opposes the complete disarming of society is an accomplice to every murder that occurs and hence deserves execution himself, then you are a fanatical cultist. If only cops have guns, then Black Bart can drop a brick on a bypassing cop, steal his revolver, and inaugurate an irresistible crime wave. If you disarm even the cops, then the brick itself becomes a highly effective assault weapon… or a pitchfork or baseball bat or steak knife. A 98-pound female can currently chase off a 250-pound male just by waving her Smith and Wesson. Once we return to the Stone Age, her assailant will not need any weapon at all to do with her as he pleases. Your insistence that things would not degenerate to this point is childish and, beyond a certain point, lunatic. A responsible adult has no right to walk around with a kindergartener’s estimate of human nature. Your lunacy is probably attributable to a cultic belief system… which makes you yourself a potentially dangerous quantity in any society that allows you to vote.

If you say that anyone who obstructs the complete dissolution of national borders is impeding beleaguered people from finding food, shelter, and freedom and hence deserves to be executed as a passive mass-murderer, then consider yourself a fanatical cultist. Among other things, we must consider what diseases an alien population might introduce among us if not screened. Particularly in societies that offer an extensive net of social services, we must realize that thousands will rush our cities to gain access to free food, free police protection, free education, free medical attention, and so forth. Such resources are not inexhaustible; on the contrary, they must be doled out very carefully to those most in need and in a manner that encourages eventual self-sufficiency. Along with the poor and oppressed, as well, a criminal element will be sure to cross any unenforced border to a wealthier community. The situation is a goldmine for evil-doers: gather loot where it proliferates, then skip back across to another territory that will not pursue criminal acts committed “over there”.

If, in spite of all these liabilities, you really believe that we can and must exist as one big happy family in one great house—and that naysayers should be shot like mad dogs because of the obstacle they pose to “real progress”—then you are seriously delusional and a menace to yourself and others. You are a fanatical cultist who has no use for the world as it was made and must ever be.

How many of these are out there, I wonder? And why are we preoccupied with ISIS when our own society is nourishing a variety of fanaticism at least as dangerous and—now, it seems—homicidal?

 

On the Absurdity of “Gender Multiplicity”

Cogar leat, as the Irish used to say: “a whisper with you.” If gender is now to be considered mere cultural conditioning (like the preference for trousers or a kilt) rather than biological hardwiring, then why are we as a culture expected to tolerate all genders? I can put on a tie if it offends the group into which I seek acceptance for me to have an open collar. Why, then, should we not expect people to desist from, say, transgender behavior if it isn’t part of our broader culture? People eat stray cats and dogs in some parts of the world, but we don’t. If your puppy wanders off and ends up on my table, do you have a right to be upset with me? I should think so, in the context of the culture that we’re supposed to share! Do you have a right to sit in a restaurant without having to listen to people all around you slurp, burp, and smack their lips? Inasmuch as our cultural context disapproves of such behavior, I should say, “Yes, absolutely!”

So why should I be expected to tolerate without a whimper the teaching to my children of promiscuous sexual practices or a complete comfort with homosexual marriage? To the extent that the educational establishment has ever been able to construct a rational case for imposing such a curriculum upon us, it has done so on the assumption that sexual behaviors are dictates of nature rather than free choices—and that persecuting someone for being attracted to the same gender is as unfair as persecution of redheads or people of short stature. (Personally, I would strongly contest that restricting the definition of marriage constitutes persecution, any more than the limited opportunities for employment as jockeys indicate a persecution of six-footers… but let that pass for now.)

If the new doctrine of the educational elite has now abandoned that moral premise (i.e., that our sexual habits are in fact forced upon us by an irresistible genetic program), then why should we any longer be required to be lectured and schooled in matters of taste and preference? If you as a teacher insist that my child not only be allowed to belch, but that he accept that behavior in others and even wag his finger at me if I show disapproval, then you’re not teaching “diversity” or “tolerance”: you’re imposing one set of cultural values—your own—upon another culture that rejects them. You are manifesting an intolerance of my culture and demanding that my divergent ways fall into lockstep behind yours. You’re not just a dictator: you’re a pious hypocrite.

For the record, I believe that a very few people probably have, indeed, been dealt a bad hand by Mother Nature and cannot relate to the opposite sex in a manner that will give them access to the joys and comforts of family life. I regard them with commiseration, for Mother Nature has shortchanged most of us in one way or another. As old Seneca says, Nulli attigit impune nasci: “No one has entered this life without some shortcoming.”

I’m just as convinced, however, that the vast majority of people who are wrestling with their sexuality today are refugees from the sexual revolution that has raged since I was young. Heterosexual dating has grown so carnivorous that many flee the opposite sex; and as for family, our “Where’s mine?” culture of egocentrism as so undermined the ethic of self-sacrifice that only bad examples of conjugal life and bad experiences with it seem to surround us.

From some elevated perch in the high towers crowning the impenetrable citadels of politics and education, a few perverted and corrupt minds are smiling at all this and devising new ways to promote it. The fragmentation of gender into a million pieces, as a mere “cultural construct”, is one of those ways. The more we are uprooted from the significant relationships natural to human beings, the more we become putty in their squalid, ambitious hands.

 

Except for People

Just got in from checking on my garden. The sweet potatoes are starting to send their leave up out of the ground—it happens literally over night. My bell peppers are doing much better now that I’ve transplanted them from the raised, boxed garden with its rich soil into more sandy terrain; they just didn’t take to the high-rent district! My goji bush is exploding; an odd little tree that I think (and hope) has sprung from a jujube seed continues to thrive; and the ever-screwball butternut squash have actually volunteered this spring (after I had given up on them after so many years of wasted time) and are producing plump gourds that, by all lessons of the past, just shouldn’t be there!

One can usually make peace with Nature. If things aren’t growing, there’s a reason, and one may be able to figure it out with a lot of patience—though it would have been even better to have preserved some of that ancestral wisdom which we’ve trashed along with Grandma’s sewing machine. Many times, I have the thought that a large part of our postmodern malaise is owed to our having ruptured our bonds with the soil and the seasons. Life and death, health and sickness, the stages leading to maturity, the rain that must fall so that the sun may give further life… even the electricity released by violent thunderstorms, I suspect, must be balancing out something in the atmosphere that would prove toxic if the weather were forced to be “peaceful”.

Yet all I hear and see in the human world is irksome whining about natural limitation (e.g., our paltry two genders), arrogant rejecting of cycle in favor of strict linear progression (e.g., our looming immortality as human/robot hybrids), and tasteless self-insulating in childish fantasies (e.g., the newly released Wonder Woman—and should she have hair under her arms, or not?). Plants can talk to you through how they look: my bell peppers told me that they preferred the sand when I saw them putting out new green leaves. Their language always makes sense. It’s about sun, and water, and survival, and supplying the next generation. People, in contrast, just don’t make any sense at all to me any more. Their audible language is much easier to assemble—but its message, the combined product of its words, is gibberish.

As I was walking back inside, I had the kind of thought that isn’t typical of me these days—and it came to me so powerfully that I was actually saying it out loud: “God, the world is beautiful… except for people. Except for people.” Yeah, that last part is typical “me”, I suppose, as I’ve now become; but I sometimes forget how Edenic life on this planet can be if you can just escape the clamoring, yammering apes in clothes. The alternative is well worth seeking out.

 

Postscript: Questions About Catholicism

I don’t need to say that I have had many Catholic friends, and I won’t say that I’ve had more (of the few good friends I’ve ever known) than a random sampling of the American public could possibly account for. I also understand that, while my Catholic friends share many of my own reservations about “the Church”, they don’t necessarily like to hear me review them item by item. That’s human nature. As a Texan by birth and a Southerner by lineage, I’m painfully aware of the foibles and limitations of both groups… but I can get a little irked when I have to listen to an outsider mock a drawl or reduce the Civil War’s causes to racism.

Just let me add this, then, to my previous comments. A professor of physics at Tulane named Frank Tipler wrote a book titled The Physics of Christianity that I lately read… well, kind of read. The degree of physics in the early going seemed rather ostentatious to me and was way over my head; but the point where I actually couldn’t make myself continue (for pride kept me trudging through the formulas that I pretended to half-understand) was somewhere later, where suggestions about the Christian faith—these from a devout man who’s obviously more intelligent than I’ll ever dream of being—began to depress me deeply.

Professor Tipler, you can’t seriously believe that God’s plan for the salvation of the soul is being accomplished by digital technology—that our minds and personalities will be overwritten to chips that can be transferred to an indefinite series of corporeal residences—no, you don’t truly believe that such is the eternity promised in the Gospels, do you? Is that really… it? No higher revelation of the ends of goodness? No reunion with spirits from centuries ago whose creations have awakened us? No admission to such beauty and order as even the Milky Way can only imply in the dullest manner?

I had heard before that parthenogenesis can naturally occur and, apparently, does in an almost infinitesimal number of cases. If the Holy Spirit’s fertilizing a human egg turns out to be a metaphor for a freakish but entirely explicable reproductive anomaly, then… then there’s really no role for the supernatural to play, is there?

And indeed, Professor Tipler, you argue repeatedly that miracles are merely rare occurrences rather than physically impossible ones. But the universe’s very birth from nothing is a physical impossibility, from the standpoint of human reason (I didn’t understand your case to the contrary). If our faith cannot assert that ultimate reality contains events and powers inconceivable to our temporal intelligence, then for what do we need faith?

To me personally, this one is especially obnoxious: that Jesus retained his purity because, thanks to biological parthenogenesis, he was born as sterile as a mule. Do you not grasp, Professor—you whose mind encloses so many mathematical truths that leave me at the starting gate—that a eunuch can incur no moral credit for having mastered sexual impulses? If a sage or spiritual guru never feels anger because he has undergone a lobotomy or never knows fear because he has destroyed his sight and hearing, then he’s no teacher at all and has mastered nothing.

In a Catholic context, I’ve noticed that certain behaviors tend to receive more attention than the state of mind in which they are performed. Frank Tipler, a very devout Catholic, represents some of my greatest apprehensions on this score. He has explained (at least to his own satisfaction) a universe whose physical laws permit the fulfillment of every biblical promise in terms we can understand (or might understand if we were gifted physicists). In his zeal to defend God’s realm, the Professor seems to me to have exiled God from that realm and redefined its parameters to suit the human hand and footstep.

Just as excusing the utopian crusade to create permanent peace all over the earth could well lead to a dystopian, Orwellian hell, so the project of envisioning the life of the soul through computer chips and the abstemious discipline of moral guide through hormonal privation is… well, horribly depressing. It’s cultic. It makes me want to weep for so much intelligence so abused.

The Lights Dim on Boyhood’s Last Hour

For Mother’s Day, I can’t do better than post the photo that I took with my iPad on Friday night. My son was excused from attending his college graduation on Saturday so that he could represent CCU in a tournament. That tourney was a story unto itself, and I’ll tell it later; but as the field cleared at 9:30 on Friday evening and the groundskeeper warned us that he would shortly kill the lights, I realized that I needed a shot with whatever device I could operate.

The result was worse than amateurish. The two light towers obscured the figures in the middle–and I was too dumb to see it happening. On the other hand… upon reflection, I really love this photo. God must have smiled on my incompetence, because I couldn’t have created anything half so wistful if I’d tried. Think of it. This young man has lived for baseball since he was a six-year-old boy–and when he takes off his uniform tonight, he’ll never put on another. His sainted mom has collected some of her gray hairs from being dragged all over the lower forty-eight to tournaments… and now, as the lights await the final switch, she has cheered her boy’s last pitches. Yes, the faces are cast in a shadow–as they should be. They and all the hundreds of other figures who played on and cheered around those many green fields (did I write hundreds? no, thousands!) are slipping away into the mystical Land of Youth. They will not revisit our world again, or only as ghosts or in dreams.

The game did not go well, either for our team or for my boy, in particular. Balls just barely fell in or rolled through that might have been snatched and turned to outs with a little more luck or skill. That, too, was entirely appropriate. Baseball is a cruel game. It always finds a way to break your heart. Like life, its ultimate lessons are those of failures and missed opportunities. So why grieve that we shall have no such heartache ever again? I don’t know. Maybe because to live free of failure at last, safely out of its reach, is to have no life at all.

So the final lights are out, for the final time. Goodbye, my little boy–my big boy! I wish I’d been smart enough to teach you more about the game, and sooner… for I, too, failed. Oh, the man I see in that uniform is a great success: I’m not ignoring or diminishing that. But… my boy is gone! Just let me grieve his passing now and then, when I see a ghost.

Denver, Where Pygmies Play on a Sleeping Giant

Sorry, but  I don’t like Denver.  Don’t think I ever will.  I just attended my son’s graduation from a college there, and… and, as on every previous visit, I spent my stay feeling as though I were being watched–as though a huge hand were about to descend upon me from the sky, like a giant’s absent-mindedly swatting a gnat.  The Rockies themselves are not so very near as all that–less near than the Franklin Mountains to El Paso; but they throw down foul weather at all hours of the day with practically no warning.  One minute, it’s sun and big blue sky; then I strangely get that sense of being watched or stalked, I look over my shoulder, a huge black cloud comes spiraling in over my head, and lightning starts to flicker.

I’m never comfortable in places where the weather has no rhythm, but strikes like a rattler from behind a rock.  On Monday of this past week, we were about to take a hike when a hailstorm trapped us in the car for half an hour (as blue sky mocked us in the distance).

Of course, the city is full of rich Yankee-doodles in search of a scenic retirement spot and yuppie leftists seeking refuge from the political debacle they’ve created on the West Coast.  Same story as Austin, Santa Fe, and Phoenix.  As Tacitus would say, they make a desert and call it peace: or, to be precise, they descend upon a sublime natural setting, proceed to litter it with the unsightly sprawl ignited by their dollars, and then busy themselves with trying to legislate the squalor out of existence.  Such insane hubris–such arrogant self-absorption!  It’s the kind of mindset that draws thousands and thousands of unemployed, low-skilled migrants into a metropolis locally declared to be a “sanctuary city”, then piously denounces all the sudden car traffic and trashy curbside development.

The nouveau elite bring no sense of self-awareness or of practicality to anything they do.  They just spend their wad on nice digs, then encumber the rest of the community with contradictory regulations.  All the comforts of living the life of the haute bourgeoisie, all the feel-good sanctimony of forcing others to live by “higher standards”… this class of person makes me as nervous as unpredictable weather.

My wife wanted me to see the outdoor amphitheater at Red Rocks.  I saw it, all right.  I saw yuppified hippies walking their precious canines and buying tickets for the next concert, hiking and peddling for their all-important health (in expensive gear) on a Monday morning when normal people have to work, holding hands or locked in tighter embrace if paired as a single sex (heterosexuals almost never put on such public displays)… and I also saw mammoth stacks of brittle sandstone hurled cockeyed out of the earth by quakes, their inevitable destiny written at their base in the form of gargantuan fallen boulders.  If one of those walls should give way during a performance…

Human beings should leave places like this alone.  Instead, they swarm them to display some exhibitionist “love of nature”.  They run all over them like Lilliputians showing their mightiness on Gulliver’s sleeping face–or, in this case, advertising their superior sensitivity to the “green lifestyle”.  And, in both cases, an incredible small-mindedness peeks through.

Leave the mountain gods alone!