A recent post by Godless in Dixie blogger Neil Carter got me to thinking yet again about one of my most annoying pet peeves about religion — its conceit that what people feel is true emotionally within themselves must also be true externally.
Yet, there’s zero provable evidence for such a sense.
For example, fervent Pentecostals (Christians who curiously “speak in tongues”) often claim that the “Holy Spirit” is alive within them, driving them to behave in certain ways. In other words, it’s not them that’s doing it, independently, but an effect caused by a more powerful external reality.
Of course, in the real world, there is zero compelling evidence that invisible divinities of any kind actually exist other than as imaginings in human minds, much less, enter our bodies from some unlocatable somewhere else somehow, causing us to act in specific ways. Like those invisible “demons” purportedly inhabiting young girls in the infamous American “Salem Witch Trials” incident in the 17th century.
Which turned out to be simple viral hysteria whipped up by he girls themselves, worried about personal sins they were concealing. They started accusing people to divert attention. In the end 150 accused “witches” were arbitrarily and wrongly identified and 19 hung. The governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, where Salem was located, later denigrated the community for this crime against humanity based on religious nonsense and human prejudice
Yet, there are tongue-talkers galore still in writhing America today convinced that such ghostly apparitions have taken up residence and absolute sovereignty within them.
Why do so many rational people accept this kind of unequivocal nonsense as not only possible but probable, even inevitable? They do because of tradition, because of the intellectual echo chambers within which church congregations continually communally embrace traditional irrationalities, and because of human nature’s powerful tendency to agree with those in their “in” group and reject anything seeming in conflict. And because we Homo sapiens folk tend to “go” first with our feelings, not our reason.
So in so-called “charismtic” churches where Pentacostals — members of the world’s fastest growing Christian sect — sway and jabber, you don’t hear fellow worshippers saying things like, “Fred, what the hell are you saying! Nobody can even understand you.” No, like a contact high, people speak in tongues virally, like an infectious disease. All in. All “understanding.”
This kind of magical thinking, unfortunately, is not marooned in religion. Human beings also tend to get all jacked-up emotionally and spout nonsense when they think they’re “in love.” I’m not talking about the real kind of love, where feelings of warmth, intimacy and trusting familiarity grow slowly in long, close human relationships. I’m talking about that instantaneous Romantic tornado of “love at first sight,” which more accurately should be called “lust at first sight.”But human beings tend to misinterpret feelings that primal-lust chemicals bathe us with in romantic attraction as something that will last forever. A sense that by the intercession of some invisible, Cupid-like sprite, we are able at a glance to know that a particular person is not only the most sexually attractive person for us in the whole world but someone who will be a permanently compatible, lifelong soulmate.
Right. We all know how many times that works out as we imagine (e.g., the roughly 50 percent divorce rate).
In fact, our emotions lie to us all the time. You could say (and scientific studies do say) that the tendency is encoded in our DNA for ancient, once-practical purposes now long forgotten. Like the tendency to imagine beings where there are none.
The American divorce rate (although dropping a bit) is solid evidence of the fundamental disconnect between emotion and the practical material realities of relationships in general, much less in matrimony.
This includes feelings (and widely shared assumptions) that a omnibenevolent being directs our lives and is utterly incapable of allowing suffering or evil (and could have precluded them if he wanted). Yet, we humans chronically suffer and endure evil and have for eons.
So, to a rational person, divinities thus really seem feeble in the real world. But the faithful have an answer: If you don’t believe, if you don’t feel it, you can’t know what you’re dismissing.
“The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.”
But it’s a dodge. Just believing something causes a feeling you’re experiencing is not proof that that’s actually the cause. The real cause could be a psychosis. An unsound assumption. A lazy guess. An invention enhanced by intoxicating or disorienting substances. The feeling itself is probably real (unless faked), but the cause could be anything at all. Anything but divine intervention, which we can safely assume is always a fairy tale.
It reminds me of the old Late Night with David Letterman show’s “Is It Anything?” segment. The silly, obscure incidents presented in the sketches were completely inconclusive regarding their “meaning,” if any, so there was really no way other than random, pointless guessing to determine what they might represent.
That’s how I feel about epiphanies and other religious feelings. They certainly don’t prove the existence of an all-powerful being ruling our lives. But they absolutely prove that we are slaves to our emotions, and very irrationally inventive in our interpretations of them.
Therefore, if you only feel something, be wary. It’s not God talking to you, but, as usual, your reptilian brain.