Originally printed in Maximum Rock’N’Roll #172 1997
Something I’ve found disconcerting in recent years is the rampant failure by the consortium of "New Age" and other "alternative" organizations to support their claims. This phenomenon appears to be accelerating of late with the advent of psychic hotlines, new religious cults and other fringe groups. Publications by "mystic" and "psychic" writers are frequently best sellers while the coteries of skeptics produce few commercial triumphs. Moreover, many of the rare eminent voices of reason, such as Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov, are no longer with us, while the next corteges, including Richard Dawkins, have an ever expanding crop of drivel to contend with. TV shows such as the X Files and Strange Universe prevail, and an increasing number of otherwise rational people succumb to the allure of pseudo-science as the institution of logic collapses.
A frighteningly large percent of the population believes in "psychics" while a frighteningly small percent don’t understand the implications relativity and quantum mechanics hold for the practical world, and most have no notion as to their nature. Case in point: I had a San Francisco "psychic" tell me that "Quantum mechanics" gives credence to metaphysics. I responded with photocopied scholarly articles from respected science magazines, and countered that he must be basing his argument on fringe pseudo-science books. It turned out that’s exactly what he was doing. We debated a little further, for maybe half an hour, before I came to realize he had never actually read the "Quantum Electrodynamics" theory. This bears out the skeptic adage "A mystic is someone who wants to understand the workings of the universe, but is too lazy to study physics."
The breakdown in a skeptical system of checks and balances, long revered by the scientific community, has filtered into all parts of society. An exponential increase of information erupting from the internet appears to have pacified people’s ability to rationally evaluate the comparative merits of conflicting data. Instead, feel-good nuggets tailored for their belief systems are being embraced and the rest discarded regardless of the source. One unfortunate outcome of this phenomenon seems to be the dumbing down of legitimate movements such as women’s rights, and environmentalist communities. Why do so many women today feel that equality and respect is somehow tied to dancing around in the woods burning sage, worshiping pagan goddesses and psychically "healing" each other? Is belief in implausible "new age" themes now a prerequisite of a vegetarian diet? Taking a radical position on one issue doesn’t compel conformity with like-minded individuals on others. Consensus born axioms bear precious little semblance to existential truths!
Even the historically skeptical punk community has been infiltrated to some degree by the flake virus. The latest incarnation of this is the belief in UFO cover-up conspiracies with a small but growing number of fanzines devoting space to the subject. The presumption is that a government repeatedly deceiving the public in the past, must invariably do so in perpetuity, no matter where the facts lead. Examination of punks’ initial skeptical legacy shows not only a rejection of hippie ideals, frequently including elements of eastern religion combined with astral travel type mumbo jumbo, but also a healthy mistrust of dogma from the establishment: "Do you want to make tea at the BBC?" - The Clash ("Career Opportunities"), and authority: "I’m tired of fucking phonies, that’s right I’m tired of you. Oh no, no, no, no, no, no, Mr. Suit" - Wire ("Mr. Suit"). The anarchy in the early punk movement was often less of a call for an absence of political authority and more of an assault on society’s propaganda. "When I put on my make-up, the pretty little mask’s not me. That’s the way a girl should be in a consumer society" - Xray Spex ("Art-i-ficial"). I lament the demise of the poignant lyrics of the past replaced by "Kill the cops" or "Fuck the government," and the gradual erosion of free thought in favor of conformity. (Complaints about UK Subs lyrics please address to Mr. C. Harper).
For a moment we saw very clearly; certainly we weren’t pulled in by the Hare Krishnas, as a fringe of today’s punks (or hardcore) have been. In fact, rather than being fooled by religion, metaphysics, and mainstream propaganda, we exposed these things for the nonsense they are. Keep punk a bastion of skepticism!
- Nicky Garratt 1997
Hey there, I wrote to you about chemistry as agent of social warfare while ago, and I noticed something else on the zine page that I'd like comment on: the anti religious sentiment. I'm not going to shout you down from a pulpit or anything, but I think that we Christians have a lot more intelligence that many give us credit for.
In your editorial about mysticism, I think it's a mistake to group a belief in Jesus with a belief in numerology. I don't believe in the literal truth of the old testament, but I think the system of morals and values is without flaw. One frequent criticism of Christianity is its belief in solely heterosexual relationships. I believe this. However, I also believe in the explicit statements Christ made about judgement of others. And I'm not talking about this post-modern "I'm okay, you're okay" philosophy of life. The lack of morality my biggest criticism of the punk scene. Jesus said verbatim: "Judge not, lest ye be judged." I think we have duty to tell people when they're doing something wrong, but damning people is absolutely forbidden. It's not our place to say who is saved versus who is not. This is self-deification of the Falwell and Robertson school. My biggest problem with atheism is that it frequently degrades into amorality. You're too intelligent to have fallen in with this idea, but I know a great many who have. The kind of Bacchanalian bullshit you see at shows sometimes stems from this "punk" idea of "I've rejected all social convention, so all moral conventions are negated as well. Self-pleasure at the moment is the highest truth." This is the underlying principle behind drugs, sex, fucking over your friends, et cetera. When there's no God to "police," so to speak, then the id takes over. It's a very Freudian, Lord-of-the-flies concept. I can't explain "faith," I can only say that it does not arise from ignorance. I've studied the ideas of evolution, astrophysics, and your favorite, quantum electrodynamics (albeit not in very much depth, for QED.) Also, when I speak of faith, I'm not talking about dogma. You come to faith through a Godly experience, and you come to dogma "because my parents said so." I've always been highly skeptical of anything I'm told, and I was skeptical of Christianity for quite a long time, probably for the same reasons you are. You know what did it for me? I work at an urban indigent-care clinic sometimes, and I repeatedly see people in horrible pain who are never going to improve. These so-called irrecoverables frequently hold on to a belief in Jesus, and it sustains them. I saw a lady with horrible, dehabilitatingly severe form of a syndrome called labyrinthitis, which affects your balance, and causes you to throw yourself to the floor at random moments, frequently causing extremely severe injury. When I offered to pray for this poor woman, she grasped my hand and said "oh, Jesus, Jesus; he's kept me." That's not ignorance; no indeed, that's something else entirely. Well, I apologize for the poor form of this rant, it just kind of spilled out. I just think you perhaps should reexamine Christianity as a religion. Yours, - Chuck (my name's not really Charlie. I just dislike the name Chuck)
Thanks for writing, I'm always up to debate "The Lord." The lepers in India also hold on to their faith to pull them through each day, but their faith is in Ganish or one of the many Hindu gods, unless of course they were perhaps born in the Punjab to a Muslim family then it would be faith in Allah. As vast regions believe in the same religion, it is logical that if you were born in Thailand you would be Buddhist - it's not logical then that this represents an existential truth, is it? Anyway, I would like to pick up on a couple of points:
Your claim that "faith does not arise from ignorance" is unsupported. The two are clearly unconnected. I would argue that on a Pacific island where natives would pray to a volcano they are exercising their faith in the god of the volcano. Did they come to their faith by enlightenment or ignorance? I see no difference between them and the monolithic western religions. Both at some time concocted a story to attempt to explain the world and the sky. Those stories have long since been overtaken by knowledge. The volcano is a release valve for immense pressures building inside the Earth. The Earth is orbiting around the sun which along with the other celestial bodies are members of the Milky Way Galaxy, one of countless others spread unevenly forming super structures so huge there is no terrestrial reference. It is not a flat plane. It's evident that religion's attempt to rationalize nature is obsolete, yet by tradition, not knowledge, millions hang onto the last vestige - the only thing that can't be challenged, "Faith." Should the modern Island dweller maintain that a giant lives in the volcano even after studying geology? Then why hold on to god when it's an idea whose time has passed?
The Idea that "atheism frequently degrades into amorality" is a strange one. I can find no evidence of this. Consider the current wars: Middle East - Jews at war with Muslims; Northern Island - Catholics at war with Protestants; Eastern Europe - Muslims at war with Christians and on and on . . . Don't forget the Catholic Church all but endorsed Hitler's rise to power, as his armies marched under the symbology of the Holy Roman Empire! This is not as surprising as you might think. Hitler himself was a Roman Catholic, yet admired Martin Luther (who openly endorsed killing Jews). In "Mein Kampf" Hitler states that he believes he's doing the creator's work in regard to fighting Jews.
It is true that Communist states can be viewed as atheist states although if you accept that, you must also accept that its central pillar is fair distribution of wealth! This is in sharp contrast to the highly religious areas like South America where wealth is in the hands of a few while others starve. In studying the "Ideas" of evolution as you put it, you must realize that "Ideas" is a poor choice of words as, anyone who has even grazed the surface will discover that evolution an irrefutable fact - at least as incontrovertible as the Earth being round. (another "fact" the Bible is at odds with.)
In fact the Earth is not round as was first surmised, in fact it turned out to be an ovoid. But wait, that was wrong also - it's actually egg shaped. Wait! No, it has deviations on its surface . . . Well, just as we have refined the "fact" that the Earth is Roundish, so are we refining the state of evolutionary knowledge. 99.99% of scientists in the field agree that evolution is a fact. The argument comes with the details. Richard Leaky and Donald Johannson didn't lock horns on the "fact" of evolution, rather whether "Lucy" was heir to the lineage or not.
In addition, it seems the vast majority of the "Criminal Element" are religious. I'm not interested in or motivated by such books, but an acquaintance of mine showed me a book on mass murders and the bulk of them believe in god or even believed they were doing his work! But let's examine morals. What are they? I can't understand why homosexuality is considered immoral - after all, it is hurting no one. (Of course, one hotbed of homosexuality and pedofile is the Church itself ). Yet, Christians condone murderous acts such as killing animals (although, according to the Gnostics, there were many references to choosing a vegetarian diet, which have been removed). Having viewed the dead sea scrolls I know first hand that not all the old teachings were reproduced in the bible. To kill an innocent animal is moral yet to show love for a member of the same sex is not?
"Self-pleasure at the moment is the highest truth" is by no means the exclusive territory of atheists. Indeed I believe that religion is, if not a form of self-pleasure, a self-relief. Instead of facing a problem, you can get a quick fix and feel better by thinking god will take care of it.
The central thrust of what I'm saying is your religion does not have a patent on morality. I think the reverse is true. Christians have no room to talk. I believe one must put good into a society to reside in a place of good. If you want to live in a blue room, don't paint it red! This is logical. Real morality is logical. As for values, Jesus said his mother meant nothing to him and in regard to the coming kingdom of god, preached that it will turn brother against brother, sister against sister, man against wife, etc . . . How true. - Nicky Garratt January 1999
Dear Nicky, You're quite an intelligent debater, and I do think you have quite a lot of valid points. However, I believe you have mistook some of my positions. First, I believe in evolution. I believe that the earth is round. I do not believe the earth was created in 168 hours. I do NOT believe in the "seed of life" being random. I have studied the debate over the origins of life, and the only thing that I consistently think is, "these guys are really reaching." The current theories are all contain severe inconsistencies. Now, I do not doubt that life arose out of a broth of some kind; I just think it amazingly unlikely that nitrogenous bases could form randomly, let alone merge into RNA. Second, I'm not sure I agree entirely with your point about being born into a Christian or Buddhist or Muslim environment. I was not born into such an environment; my faith was self-spurned. Kierkegaard has written a number of treatises on religion, and one of his main theses was the movement towards individual faith, and away from group faith in the nineteenth century. The gist of it was that environment was no longer grounds for belief; one had to come to it individually, now that various cultures are extremely interlinked. American children are brought up with a mix of Deist, Jewish, Christian, and Atheist beliefs, and must choose between them. This isn't easy. Have you ever read Lord of the Flies, Heart of Darkness, or the works of Freud? My point is that once the superego is removed, the id has a chance to go ape shit. Now come on; you've never seen anyone that decides they don't believe in anything, so they can DO anything, with impunity? I don't know, maybe it's just a Savannah, Georgia thing, but I doubt that. It is very possible to maintain a moral center without a belief in a God, as long as you're an atheist for the right reasons (which I believe you are.) However, a lot of people (at least in Savannah) are atheists because they're too lazy to think, so they just grab whatever grants them the most hedonistic freedoms. Here's a rarely-quoted bible verse that I don't think Robertson et al wants you to know about: "The scribe said unto him, Well Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he. And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbor as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly (understandingly,) he said unto him. Thou art not far from the kingdom of God." Now what I gather from this is that God wants you to recognize that there's only one of Him, and to love your neighbor, regardless of whatever religious rites you carry out, be they Christian, Jewish, or Muslim. That wasn't really related, I just felt like interjecting it. I'm straightedge, I'm just not a vegetarian. Why? Because I think I would have an awful lot of trouble explaining to an emaciated African woman why she shouldn't consume the cows and birds that her tribe has survived on for four thousand years. I think life is inherently very brutal; people die animals die. I wish animals didn't have to die in slaughterhouses; I wish all meat was Kosher. But that's the way it is. I think I'll worry about people being slaughtered in Kosovo before I put any serious effort into preventing cows from dying. I think you must be quite a thoughtful, intelligent person, so please let's keep this on a civil and respectful level. I respect your views, I just don't necessarily agree with them. Yours,, - Chuck
Please don't mistake my accented words as uncivil, that's not my intent - I enjoy constructive debate - I have just finished a series of debates with the Jehovah's Witnesses in which they, not I, got bent out of shape, but that's another story. You're right about the atheist "Crazy's," but they are the same people who use an excuse to be unsocial. You're also right about the Bible encouraging love between neighbors. My view is somewhat different, however. It seems you are far from being a fundamentalist - that's good, or debating is pointless. (The Witnesses are adamant that Noah's ark happened verbatim - even though God told them to take enough animal feed for ten months. Ridiculous of course because you couldn't fit that amount of food in the ark, a single pair of African elephants would consume 90 tons. A pair of Indian elephants somewhat less, but still that's say 150 tons - just for the elephants. Now add the hippos, cows, water buffalo, bison, horses - and of course it would take a team of a thousand botanists a thousand years to collect the millions of different species. Plus, many of the sea creatures would not survive the influx of fresh water. Besides, where would the water come from to flood the whole earth and where did it go to afterwards?) Anyway, that's not your position, but all a Christian can know about God is from the "teachings" of the bible, or some paranormal intervention. Assuming God is not talking to you directly, and assuming you are a Christian in the classic sense, then you have to deal with the bible's contradictions. You quote a bible passage in support of non aggression - contradictions? "Do you think I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division; for henceforth in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided, father against son, and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law" LUKE 12:51-53 (RSV).
In regard to evolutionists "reaching" I, of course, disagree. When a strata of earth known to be millions of years old, (Known by means of potassium argon dating, pig bone comparisons dating and a myriad of other tests crossing dozens of scientific disciplines.) contains bones of a humanoid clearly more highly developed than any living primate other than homo sapiens, then it's religion that is "reaching" to explain the evidence. The usual defense is to attack science. For these discoveries to be completely wrong, however, we must abandon not one but multiple branches of science. Isn't it odd that the church doesn't seem to attack science in the matter of television sets, or the plausibility of genetic engineering, or computers, or space travel . . . etc.? All of these are self-evident. They work. Yet as soon as the very same learning is applied to a field which threatens the credibility of the church, the rhetoric becomes hostile. Suddenly science is "reaching."
If the Bible is your template for living then why is the old testament littered with copies of earlier Secular or non Biblical works; Noah's Flood - Epic of Gilgamesh, Resurrection - Egyptian Book of the Dead. And, if it is a sacred book guided by God (according to Revelations to be taken literally), why would God include stupid errors like "the earth is immovable" (1 Chron. 16:30. Psalm 93:1, 96:10 and 104:5). "The earth is supported by great pillars" (1 Sam 2:8 & Micah 6:2) etc.
My two biggest problems are these:
1) You feel atheists will become savages or something like that (yes, I read "Lord of The Flies") and the only indicator you have given me is the fact that some Punks are belligerent (I also would add that is usually for shock value). The evidence for Christians going bad is overwhelming. Let's see: the KKK; Christian support of slavery in southern USA; seven devastating crusades against the Islamic empire in the middle ages; thousands of pagan woman killed as witches during the middle ages; persecution of Galileo for his belief in the Copernican theory by the Inquisition (Pope John Paul 2 lifted the condemnation in 1993 but still does not admit the church was wrong) and numerous religious wars currently raging around the world. Hardly a balance of virtues.
2) I find it hard to believe a smart guy (I assume) like you would make a statement like - "I'm just not a vegetarian. Why? Because I think I would have an awful lot of trouble explaining to an emaciated African woman why she shouldn't consume the cows and birds that her tribe has survived on for four thousand years. I think life is inherently very brutal; people die, animals die. I wish animals didn't have to die in slaughterhouses; I wish all meat was Kosher." Just stop and think of the logic of that. Let's say we were talking about cannibalism. Would you say "How can I explain to a warrior in Borneo why he shouldn't eat his enemies and be doing it yourself?" You can't police the sins of the world. You have to start with yourself. Every time you don't eat a fish or chicken, that's less demand and a step toward a cruelty free society. There are many things acceptable in other societies not so in ours like Political execution, female enslavement, female genital mutilation. Does that mean it's okay for us? And why if you stopped (indirectly) murdering animals, would you have to explain that to anyone, least of all a woman in Africa? Something to think about? - Nicky Garratt April 1999