Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Spread of Ignorance

Two articles were brought to my attention recently, and they give me good reason to refocus on the Beyond the Veil manifesto.

One is a book review of Susan Jacoby's "The Age of American Unreason" at . It explores the anti-intellectual backlash taking place in America today, including how that has led to an increase in religious fundamentalism. The second is a story from the Chicago Tribune dealing with American Christian fundamentalist groups that are actively exporting Creationism and anti-evolution teachings to Europe. Through heavy spending, they are making inroads into changing the intellectual climate of that continent. An interesting point from this story: the Council of Europe was able to prevent a Muslim fundamentalist creationist text from being placed in some public schools, but they do not seem to be having the same success against the American economic backing that is pushing Christian fundamentalist texts.

I do not believe the ignorance that is taking hold in America is only a result of a retreat into religious dogma. Religion and myth are excellent personal retreats for anyone that can find meaning in soul searching and the contemplation that have marked the beauty of these realms for so many years. However, personal is the key word here. Whereas myth has retained a personal connection to those interested in it, religion has always had those who exploit beliefs for personal gains in power and wealth. When religion stops being personal and becomes forced ideology, zealously proclaimed as one true way for all the world's people to follow, we have a problem.

Why do so many people want everyone to only believe what they believe? The ignorance discussed in Jacoby's book is actually encouraged by those pushing fundamentalist ideology. We are not a free society, welcoming new ideas and innovations. We are a scared society, aware our way of life may be on a tipping scale downward. We have lived well off of others for a long time. But now that we may be seeing an ultimate end to our excessive wealth that is beyond the rest of the world's means, we retreat into ideology that we hope will preserve our lifestyle.

Instead of collectively facing our challenges, too many of us take the easy way of banding together against change. Our nation has a collective lack of interest in science and art, the truly great achievements of the human race. Our scientists, artists and teachers are ignored by a majority of people, and they lose out in competition with business, money and fame. We lack an interest in exploration, in science that pushes to discover the wonders of the universe, including how our own world functions. A truly religious person wants to know these things, to know the beauty of the intricacy of creation.

In the same vein, we lack an interest in the creations of artists, who seek to explain our place in that natural world. By ignoring science and art, we take refuge in a religion and use it to try to hold on to a way of life that we hope we can perpetuate forever. But when we ignore others and other ways of seeing and believing, we are doomed to failure.

As the Tribune article shows, with American wealth and economic policies spreading globally, the same lack of interest in scientific and artistic ideas may also spread. The world may grow in its concern only for material goods, the way of thinking that led to America's predominant economic place in the world. More is better has been the American motto and has quickly become the same for the world's rich and powerful.

Economics is a human construction. The natural world is not. It can only be explained by the process of hypothesis, experimentation, and conclusion. This leads to new hypotheses and starts the cycle all over. Science explains how the world works and opens new doors that fill us with wonder and assurance, if we can accept always having another question as being assured.

Religion should be personal. There is no one way for every person to feel about the world, so religion should not be forced on people. Why can't everyone's right to believe what they want be accepted by all? Myth and art, the stuff of our dreams and inner thoughts, is how we deal with the world and express our place in it. Doesn't religion belong in this category? So, if someone gets reassurance from belief that death leads to a better place, who are we to criticize that? However, if someone else believes that death is just that, death and removal from this world, leading them to believe the only thing that matters is how they live their life while they still have it, why does the religious person criticize that?

The individual right to different beliefs should be the most cherished right we hold. Religion has no place in the public sphere because every religion is valid. No one should want, or be able, to legalize religion. But lack of knowledge and the spread of ignorance are leading to more and more confrontations between religions. Is this the world we want to live in, wherein our own personal beliefs and hopes are put ahead of everyone elses beliefs and hopes? Do we really want a system of capitalism for our most dearly held inner beliefs?


Sharon Bodnar said...

Joe, this post was very powerful.

Sharon Bodnar said...

Excellent post, well said.