Faith, Knowledge & Politics
The other night I saw a documentary with two distinguished academics who lectured in academic circles throughout the Western world, including an Islamic university as well, I believe.
There were two beautiful old armchairs on the stage in the changing impressive halls and the audience was the local elite scientists and academics. Those beautifully decorated halls attracted an attentive audience, because it was quite entertaining listening to.
It was very professional debaters, the two elderly men. They had the words and the topics in their power of speech, and they were experienced in traveling around with their talk show. It is also more fun to watch two gentlemen play up to each other than to follow a lecture but not disagreeing on the subject, they had wit and quickness of repartee to offer, so people did not feel they were cheated by a boring experience. It was obvious that the audience was quite on their side, and they applauded at the right places when the two pensioners had pointed out a funny punch line on the value of knowledge.
A recurring theme was the relationship to faith towards which they naturally were quite skeptical. The broadcast called 'You must not believe, you have to know' offered a not surprising view from academically trained intellectuals within natural science.
God knows that believers have a hard time these days, but on the other hand, they always have. In a way, faith thrives best under adversity. There were also quotes from the two fellers’ appearances in public gatherings, and in several places, there were protesters who showed their dislike to their overly preoccupied presentation.
Unfortunately for the protesters the ideas of so-called Intelligent Design is indeed rather embarrassing. One should not from the side of believers try to confront scientists on their own turf, that is not where the game is played. The mythological content of Confessions is not that important and sticking to it can easily become pathetic.
In essence, what made me annoyed and uneasy was not the opposing views, but the two academics’ campaign on science. In a way, it is not necessary. The exact sciences has already won that game by a longshot.
It also made a mixed impression on me with the whole presentation and the environments. The talk show stars were traveling from one luxurious convention hall to the next with nothing spared. This extravaganza was not intelligent design, but it was impressive and it must have cost a bundle. They moved about in wealthy exclusive circles.
It also became clear to me that these men had not been missing anything in this world. They belonged undoubtedly to academic rich families having an abundant life. They had been able to secure their lives in an environment that also had been able to protect them from external threats. A bell jar of security and in a sense, self-sufficiency. The Western world's center for well-being and equality guaranteed fulfillment of needs.
In fact, it was precisely in this environment, the major scientific breakthroughs had occurred. Among people who also had their existence ensured and were able to use their time thinking up big revolutionary ideas that ended up putting them on a pedestal of research excellence. Of course quite deservedly, belonging to an upper class of the time and having the skills to do so.
However, I had hoped that the broadcast had tried to give an indication of the reason for the different philosophies, but it would then have to be some other time in a different program. There were reports in the broadcast with the academic duo confronting people from the circle of believers, but they spoke as always in different directions.
I favor the idea that God did not create Man but that the opposite is true. The craving for elevated guidance has existed for all time and still does. The spiritual need can neither be ignored nor be explained by logic. We are in a different ballgame. The challenge here is not about the privileged life and thoughts of a self-confident upper class, but quite the opposite.
The most common among ordinary people is a lack of fulfillment of needs and threats of death. The majority of people in the world still live a life on the edge of starvation and oppression.
In Bangladesh, 8-10 year-old children are walking from the brick factory to the storage area in unhealthy stone dust with bricks on their heads. The older, the more bricks at a time. This way, they earn just enough to support themselves and maybe some small children at home. The many children's work is the condition of the family’s survival. In a pinch, you have to put one of the children up for adoption, and some of them come to live a secure life in the West and can thirty years later in a TV program find their poor mother who had to give up the child for the others to survive.
Elsewhere, people are tormented in every way from other interest groups wanting to decide over the place where they live and take over the land and collect the tax revenue. There are civil wars in many places, and if things get really bad different groups eventually kill each other in massacres because a minority clan for too long has been in power and suppressed some other tribes to which the majority of the population belongs. In Africa, these things happen all the time.
What can you do when you sit there being threatened from all sides and in no way has control over your life? Then it comes natural to put your fate in the hands of divine protection, like some kind of deity who maybe can get to help you or at least be supposed to know that you are having problems, so you do not perish in secret. You might even turn yourself into a personal terror bomb and believe in a better life after this.
Here hope becomes the defining element in life. Maybe you will not achieve the benefit of improved conditions on your own, but your children might perhaps. The hope is the most important, if only of a higher regulatory power being aware of your suffering and perhaps will do something about it. Experience eventually often show that, but it can be far off in time.
Where I am going with all this is that there are other things important to people at ground level or further down than thinking that one ought to know and not to believe. You know very well you are oppressed and that you feel miserable, but it is not enough to help you to get out of that situation. You must resort to something higher, something spiritual, something religious.
I myself am a big believer in having a faith. I will defend everyone's right to have any conviction, which can increase ones quality of life, but in the strict understanding that it will not stand in the way of the fulfillment of other people's quality of life. The moment it reduces others' opportunities to experience a better life or preserve the hope that it will happen, my good will gets replaced by skepticism and resistance.
Therefore, I prefer one's relationship to the spiritual kept on a very personal level being a matter between oneself and the guidance in which you have confidence. At that level, that mechanism works smoothly and has my full support.
The problem only comes when a small group get together to share a particular view of the spiritual, and it always happens. You do not like to be alone with your opinion, because imagine if you were wrong? There's just no factual basis, which may prove what is right and what is wrong, as is the case with science. That's why it's called faith.
Here comes the danger into play if the importance of a spiritual belief comes from the fact that many people are involved to share it. The next step must then be to expand the number of members you share your opinion with, as a way to get a feeling that what you believe get to be experienced as even stronger.
The next step is that you come across some who have a slightly different view of some details of the Foundation of Faith, such as for example Suni Muslims and Shiite Muslims. They can in no way compromise, and for some reason they are oddly enough always neighbors.
It is a crucial point that in some places Shiites hold power and dominate other believers, such as the Suni Muslims. They sit on top of administration and feather their nests with corruption and nepotism. That obviously creates hatred of the oppressed with a slightly different conviction. In the neighboring country, it may well be the opposite. At one point, they get to fight, of course, and the spiritual element has just become an extra point of argument. During World War I, the Germans said 'Gott mit Uns' but the opponents said something similar.
Thereby the personal spiritual confession surpasses and becomes a support of a given materialistic division of the benefits of life. Religion has become means in distribution of political power. The spiritual content is now a tool with which to beat other people over the head. In this, the spiritual argument seems to be a strong weapon.
Now, many may now realize that religion in this way is an unpleasant invention. From being a need to support the individual hopes of improving the conditions of life, it has become a political power basis of the masses. This bastion earlier abused by the Papal Church urged Luther to sound the alarm and strike a blow for an alternative, the Protestant church in fact taking its name from the protest theme.
In Luther's time, this riot could carry, because there was political agreement in Northern Europe that The Vatican had too much political power. Luther had the time with him as the right man in the right place used by the German Princes and other opponents of the Papal Church to break away from its abuse of power, also on the non-spiritual level.
This is where the two quaint academic pensioners from the beginning of this article gets their room for maneuvering on their level. When spirituality end up being clasped by self-appointed power-hungry administrators, each of which will make all peoples their disciples, then these churches loose the very reason of their existence, an approach that may not even have been appropriate in the first place?
One of the worst examples of the mixing of religion and power politics we find in the conflict between Zionists and Palestinians. I am deliberately not saying Jews, because almost half of the Jews in Israel are actually committed to finding a peaceful solution to the issue of the West Bank, but the Zionists and their fundamentalist followers have a narrow majority in the Knesset, which they still use to oppress Palestinians, even now when they have accepted Israel's right to exist.
Every time there is talk of resuming negotiations on a settlement of the issue of the West Bank, there is no mistake, that the Israeli government a few weeks in advance present plans to expand settlements on the West Bank. You deliberately put out poison to destroy the peace process. They do clearly not want any clarification of the conflict, and the longer you can procrastinate, the harder it is to get to a solution. You are in power and you will not let go of it. There is then an additional detail, that population growth is higher among Palestinians than Israelis, so how would that in time affect the situation?
I usually make the point that if you could defend political interests by referring to thousand year ancient writings, one would not have anything but war in the world. What kind of logic is it to refer to outdated ideas of a Promised Land, whose relevance has no value on Earth in our time? Nevertheless, Zionists have managed to capitalize on the collective bad conscience of the Western world on top of Hitler's holocaust. Palestine was not after the war an independent country, it was a British Mandate, which the British did not mind giving up. Extremely militant Jewish terrorist groups then managed to suppress the local residents and conquer Israel and even get it recognized by the world community as a legitimate nation state. Well done, I must say.
After the Six-Day War Israel captured the West Bank, which they still unlawfully possess. How is it possible? The answer is money. In New York, there is an extremely influential Jewish lobby, which provides in suppressing all initiatives from the U.S. towards working for minor conflicts with the Palestinians. The Palestinians have unfortunately not an equal exorbitant influential lobby in the U.S. to support their side of the conflict.
One might naively think that a people like the Jewish who above all should know how it feels to be suppressed, just might be thought to be more tolerant when it came to the oppression of other groups and then avoid it, but it is not so. The Zionists do not just administer the West Bank, in countless situations they humiliate and degrade deliberately Palestinians and harass them away from places where they have lived for centuries. Ancient olive groves get removed with bulldozers so the Israelis can get a security zone around their high concrete walls. It is abhorrent.
As I started out to say, the core of spirituality is the individual's relationship to a spiritual power. It does not need a church-related administration to be valid, on the contrary. It works the best when you as an individual send out your prayer. Man is a social individual, so for many people it may be attractive to go into a church and attend services together with other members of the congregation. As long as they are not killing or beating others over the head with their only true faith this is of course also tolerable.
The Danish National Church has fortunately not been seriously hurt in poor treatment of other ethnic groups. Even Foreign Missions work in development countries seems to have happened in an acceptable way. That’s the way to do things. As an offer and not a demand.
When Muslims do not dare to change their faith for fear of reprisals, then you will for that reason alone come to sense some uncomfortable underlying conditions that you do not feel good about within our culture, not to mention their hard-line conservative sociopolitical beliefs about women's rights.
Fatwa curses against Salman Rushdie and others because of expressing a different view, just demonstrates the sad fact that Islam has set itself as the chief judge about all spiritual activity going on in the area they physically dominate. Another intolerable effect of an administration on religious needs.
Then I abstain entirely by commenting on the infamous affair about the Muhammad cartoons. There internal conflicts channeled into a mutual revenge against a supposed enemy abroad. We have unfortunately seen this often in international History.
I nourish a special aversion against the Catholic Church because it has for too long been allowed to practice a top-heavy administration where a reasonable adjustment has not been allowed to be introduced. This is really a prime example on complete self-sufficiency, but that is to be expected from privileged old men who choose a new pope from among their midst on a regular basis.
It should teach that bunch of old men a good deal that the former pope as the first in centuries chose to leave voluntarily. He must certainly have been more remorseful than he would admit publicly. I should be very much mistaken if it did not have a lot to do with the fossilized structure of the papal church, which many people today feel quite unreasonably outdated.
What else can you also expect from a structure in which there are only old men in the management and that they must not have anything to do with the opposite sex on an intimate basis? Celibacy is indeed created by the Devil. It is furthermore inevitable that this system act as a magnet to those who have nothing to lose on that account, homosexuals and pedophiles. Of those, there are plenty in the Catholic priesthood. Peace be with homosexuals, but the pedophiles the church also protect collectively.
When a pedophile priest’s excesses cannot be hidden anymore, he is just moved somewhere else where he can start all over. At one point, some of the abused children's parents ventured to come forward with their story, and if it got too much attention in the press, the Catholic Church offered a monetary compensation in order to silence them.
It was earlier to a large part accepted by the parents, but then came the turn to the abused children, who now themselves had become adults. They did not accept bribes to be silent. Their stories featured in movies and TV shows gave the Catholic Church the deserved blame, which may have contributed to the previous Pope taking his shepherd's staff and leaving, of course, with the demand that he did not tell anything from the corridors of power at the Papal State.
A friend of mine worked in the summer of 1968 in Haarlem in New York. Here is the worst slum districts that really dominate poor people who have nowhere else to stay. It belongs to a large part to City Bank, and who owns City Bank? The Vatican does.
As for myself, I am a pantheist. It is the opinion that God lives in nature, meaning that Divine protection depends on the nature and its cohesion. Such a belief purged of all sorts of mythological debris I can totally agree with. I even consider it humanity's only salvation. Only to the extent that we in the future will come to realize that we are part of the overall ecological system on earth, we may be able to survive. Right now, we are relentlessly working against the balance of Earth towards our more or less rapid mutual destruction.
However, we should not think nature as deity can change things anymore. We humans have become the new gods, and hence we have contracted us the responsibility to think of the Earth as a common heritage that we must protect and not just exploit. This responsibility is thwarted daily by the capitalist dogma of everything must expand. That ideology is unhappy with zero growth. Still, we have only this one globe, which is now fully involved in our dangerously development experiment.
The other day I heard leading capitalists concluding that maybe we should start thinking more about our common Earth. The reason given was that they had made some statistical projections that capitalism would have serious problems with 'growth' in the future if we did not change our ways and began to think in more sustainable patterns. To think it has finally come to that revelation with capitalists. Well, you live and learn.
If that is the concern for the future of capitalism, which might be what helps the necessary change to take place, then it is okay with me. Perhaps globalization then will end up getting a reasonable aim, increasing the necessary common sense of responsibility for the future of our planet, for that is what is needed.
I have written a horror vision on the subject. It is a book called 'Collapse'. It is into translation into English right now. It will be published in Danish in the autumn of 2014.
‘The Unbelievers’, Lawrence Krauss & Richard Dawkins, directed by Gus Holwerda, USA, 2013, Documentary.