TF: The Illuminati

TF: The Illuminati February 1, 2010

So I'm reading a painstakingly thorough work of investigative journalism when suddenly, in Chapter 6, our friend Tim LaHaye makes a surprising and pivotal cameo appearance.

The book I'm reading is Selling Satan: The Evangelical Media and the Mike Warnke Scandal, by Mike Hertenstein and Jon Trott. It expands on the reporting the duo did for Cornerstone magazine in the early 1990s, exposing as a hoax the "Satanism" stories of best-selling Christian-brand author and speaker Warnke, who was swindling millions with his odd combination of "Christian comedy" and grotesque tales of his supposed pre-conversion life as a high priest of Satan.

The authors do a commendably thorough job of debunking and refuting Warnke's claims. Their earnest, devout perspective makes that debunking even more thorough as it requires them to take agonizing pains to avoid bearing false witness or a lack of charity. You'll rarely encounter muckraking conducted with such sorrowful reluctance or such genuine lamentation over every bit of dirty laundry uncovered.

And their case against Warnke is further strengthened, oddly, by the authors' apparent willingness to accept his initial claims as not just possible but plausible. They share the same predisposition that Warnke exploited in his consumer-followers — a religiously based inclination to believe that there really might be an international conspiracy of Satan-worshippers conducting Black Masses and blood rituals while infiltrating the highest levels of government, media and finance. The authors don't start where I might have — by pointing out that no such global satanist conspiracy does or even could exist, but instead they focus primarily on the specific question of whether or not Mike Warnke, as an individual, was really a part of it.

My interest in the Warnke saga is different from Hertenstein and Trott's. They were primarily interested in the question of whether or not Warnke was telling the truth. I'm much more interested in the question of why so many people were so eager and enthusiastic to embrace his lies. As H&T note themselves, those lies were transparent and obvious to anyone who wasn't previously inclined to want to believe them:

Formidable chronological problems exist in [Warnke's alleged memoir] The Satan Seller, totally apart from the historical investigative research which appears in this book. These discrepancies could have been uncovered by anyone else in the past 20 years … with minimal research. But nobody took the time to do the math.

"Formidable chronological problems," in that paragraph, is a euphemism for "clumsy, obvious and flagrant lying." This is what fascinates me. Mike Warnke's success as a lying con artist was not due to his skill as a snakeoil salesman. It was due to his stumbling across an audience desperately eager to spend its money on snakeoil.

Just absorb that for a moment. Warnke was selling a vision of the world that was much, much worse than the reality his audience seemed to be living in. He offered them sordid, Satan-haunted tales of mass torture, rape and human sacrifice routinely occurring in a larger context in which freedom and democracy were merely illusions. And his audience, in turn, ate it up.

Given a choice, they preferred the nightmare. Even though choosing to believe the nightmare required the strain of actively pretending to overlook Warnke's "formidable chronological problems" and demonstrably ridiculous claims.

That astonishes me. I can't quite grasp it. I can understand enduring the strain and the dissonance it requires to pretend to believe a comforting lie, one that offered some illusory solace that might seem worth the price of self-deception. But what on earth motivates millions of people to prefer a horrifying lie that makes the world out to be even worse that it is? Why do millions of people respond to such tales of satanic conspiracies and bloody rituals as though they were reassuring?

Those are the questions that led me to read Selling Satan. And I've got a pile of similar titles on deck — including Warnke's The Satan Seller, Lauren Stratford's Satan's Underground and Jeffrey S. Victor's Satanic Panic: The Creation of a Contemporary Legend.

My fascination with this question is driven, in part, by my attempt to understand the popularity of things like the Tea Party "movement," or the popularity of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh — mendacious peddlers of a politicized version of Warnke's snakeoil.

I had regarded this interest as something wholly separate from my hobby here of dissecting the sublime awfulness of the Left Behind books, but that neat distinction was called into question in Chapter 6 of Selling Satan, as Hertenstein and Trott recount their conversation with none other than Tim LaHaye, who described his encounter with a young Mike Warnke and the way that encounter came to shape and inform the lies Warnke was selling.

During their short stay in San Diego, Mike and [first wife] Sue visited Scott Memorial Baptist Church, pastored by Tim LaHaye, who would later become a well-known evangelical author. Mike Warnke's version of what happened at that meeting was included in The Satan Seller:

I had already told him [LaHaye] I had been to an occult conference. "There were some weird guys that seemed to be the real backers of the whole thing. … I heard the word Illuminati. …"

But Tim LaHaye remembered it differently. "The conversation really wasn't like he put it in his book," said Dr. LaHaye. "I brought up the term Illuminati first. I had been reading a book on the subject called Pawns in the Game, and I tried testing him to see if he really knew anything about it. He didn't seem to have ever heard the word before."

This is delicious. Warnke's shtick up to this point had involved a smallish, parochial version of satanism. His stories up to then had been focused only on the B-movie scenarios of black-robed rituals and bacchanalia in his insular little imaginary "coven." LaHaye's quizzing introduced him to a whole new realm of material with which to embellish his ex-satanist testimony.

After failing the "test" in his conversation with LaHaye, Warnke began reading up on this Illuminati stuff, incorporating the larger mythology into his account. The single "coven" he had described began to be recast as but one branch office of a global satanic conspiracy of puppet-masters secretly running the world.

H&T describe how LaHaye's inadvertent advice is what really enabled Warnke to make the leap from small-time fabulist to mass-market con artist:

In retrospect, if Mike had not added the international conspiracy link to his tale, it might never have left San Bernardino. He would probably never have … become an ex-satanic star. The Illuminati myth was the booster rocket propelling Warnke's story, and it seems only fitting that Warnke's story further popularized the conspiratorial mind-set spreading like an epidemic among evangelicals by the 1980s.

Warnke's new-and-improved, Illuminati-illuminated version of his supposed life as a satanic high priest, H&T write, also led to his presenting his audience with a world in which they could ignore:

… the nature of evil as a banal mystery, profoundly meaningless … Instead it was a grand chess game with Christian and Satanist scooting about the board, a cartoon version of the demonic which left actual evil, a personal as well as corporate matter, virtually untouch
ed.

This image of a cartoony chess ga
me between good and evil will seem familiar to anyone who has read LaHaye's Left Behind series.

But apart from the significance of his influence on Mike Warnke's tapestry of lies, notice what else we learn here about Tim LaHaye. When this young man approached him claiming experience with Satan-worship and the occult, LaHaye's first instinct was to quiz him to see if he was for real. "So you think you know something about Satan-worship, kid? What can you tell me about the Illuminati?"

LaHaye simply assumed, matter-of-factly, that anyone who really worshipped Satan would surely know all about the Illuminati and their secretive cabal running the world from behind the scenes. In LaHaye's mind, this was the truth of the matter. He dismissed the young Warnke as a poser because he didn't seem to know enough about the real satanists and their real international conspiracy of demonic Jewish financiers.

This is what Tim LaHaye believes.

Does this mean that LaHaye is, in fact, stark, raving mad?

It seems hard to see any way not to answer "Yes."

Tim LaHaye clearly believes in things that sane people do not, cannot and will not believe in. Sane people, unlike LaHaye, reject nonsensical theories about the Illuminati because those theories contradict a host of facts they know to be true. For most sane people, casting aside a whole host of truths in exchange for an obvious and ugly lie is not a reasonable choice.

And let's take a moment to reflect on the extreme ugliness of the ugly lie Tim LaHaye has chosen to believe. He cites — as authoritative — the book Pawns in the Game. H&T provide some helpful background on that book and its author (who also wrote, The Devil's Poison: The Truth About the Fluoridation Conspiracy):

William Guy Carr's Pawns in the Game (1958), claimed that all history should be seen through the lens of an Illuminati conspiracy orchestrated by the devil himself through a small band of human agents. …

Carr offered a step-by-step history of the Jewish plotters which was most unflattering. His history explained that Christ was crucified by the Illuminati who used "false priests and elders in their pay" … referring to them as "the Synagogue of Satan." … Carr also suggested that Hitler was an innocent victim of the Illuminati. …

Carr also lent credence to the rabidly anti-Semitic, allegedly Illuminati-authored Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion: "The document details the plan by which a small group of international financiers have used, and still use, Communism, Zionism and all other agencies they can control … to further their own secret totalitarian ambition."

Crazy, stupid, ugly and racist. And integral to Tim LaHaye's understanding of the world.

This Illuminati insanity isn't some superfluous thread that can be separated from LaHaye's supposedly literal, supposedly biblical prophecy schemes. It's woven throughout his whole vision. Yank out this thread and the whole thing — the End Times Check List, the Antichrist secretary-general, the OWG with its OWC, OWL and OWR — unravels.

LaHaye's premillennial dispensationalism is not, as he claims, based on a literal reading of Daniel and Revelation. It is based, in part, on a literal reading of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. It is based on lies based on lies based on lies.


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  • Fraser

    CaryB, you win a perverted and diseased Internet!
    Tricksteron: “She was a 16th century Polish-Ukrainian mercenary whose sister was Roxalana (actual historical figure) the number 1 concubine of Suleiman the Magnificent, appeared in only one story (Shadow of the Vulture about Suleiman’s seige of Vienna) and dressed, as I recall fairly realistically for the time, place and her profession (mercenary) and no, she did not have that idiotic vow as regards her virginity.”
    As originally portrayed, Marvel’s Red Sonja’s demand for a man good enough to beat her was more a matter of taste than a vow of chastity. The vow to the goddess mess came in a lot later (even after the infamous chain bikini).

  • Joshua

    K. Chen:
    It can get tricky to tell the difference between paradox and error, mystery and nonsense though, can’t it?
    Yes, absolutely. I think that’s true of every faith except J’s. Certainly the Zen Buddhists have been having a good go at it for centuries.
    No one ever said the universe and its great mysteries were simple. At least not while I was listening.

  • Fraser

    Another reason for the sense of persecution is the idea that America is a Christian nation: Sure, all religions are “equal” and everybody has the right to their faith, but obviously Christianity is supposed to be more equal than every other faith. And for a long time, of course, it was——a lot of court cases in the last century justified mandatory Protestant prayers in school on the grounds teaching people Protestant ways was the same as teaching them to be American——which makes the realization that we have Muslims in Congress, and all these other holidays getting celebrated at Christmas that much more unsettling, I think.

  • Tricksterson

    CaryB: Have an Internet. Satan said you earned it.

  • lonespark

    It can get tricky to tell the difference between paradox and error, mystery and nonsense though, can’t it
    Sometimes. But we gotta train ourselves to find the paradox in the luggage. Yeah.

  • Lee Ratner

    I think that a lot of “Christians” feel “persecuted in the United States has to with the loss of privilege that White Protestants previously had. Until relatively recently separation of religion and state was more theoretical than actual in many places. In large swaths of the country public schools were essentially de facto Protestant schools complete with Protestant prayer and learning from the King James translation of the Bible. The first school voucher debate involved American Catholics arguing that taxes should fund Catholic schools to because they saw the public schools as being Protestant schools. This slowly changed in the more religiously diverse parts of America but in other parts like the South and rural West not so much. When the Supreme Court finally outlawed school prayer because Jews moved into Nassau County, New York, it pissed a lot of people off. They began to view themselves as “persecuted.” This was especially true because society was changing in other ways they did not like.
    It seems that a lot of the problems facing America are happening because the South was forced to accept racial equality and separation of religion and state. Since they lost on the social issues, they seem determined to win on economic issues.

  • Satan said you earned it.
    How about one with some shiny red enamel?

  • K.Chen

    No one ever said the universe and its great mysteries were simple. At least not while I was listening.

    Lucky you. I’ve been to some pretty mediocre churches in my life.

  • Joshua

    K. Chen:

    No one ever said the universe and its great mysteries were simple. At least not while I was listening.

    Lucky you. I’ve been to some pretty mediocre churches in my life.
    The trick is selective listening. There’s a lot of bad public speaking in churches.

  • Lee Ratner: While your explanation has some truth in it, it fails to reckon with the explicit acceptance of separation of church and state in most RTC churches’ bodies of teaching.
    To resolve the paradox, one needs only understand that RTC churches never meant quite the same thing by “separation of church and state” as secularists in the first place. Such separation was agreed to because we thought of it as a transitional phase. Consider the alternative phrase “separation of science and state”. I trust that you don’t want the government interfering in the process of scientific discovery; but neither would you want it to ignore scientific knowledge in its policy-making. Science is something that should be kept free of political concerns so that it can develop toward the “one true set of theories describing the universe”, not so that the current set of theories can be preserved indefinitely or so that it can have no influence at all on government.
    Proto-RTCs all believed that Christianity was the true faith, but they were divided into many different opinions on exactly what understanding of Christianity was correct. What they wanted from freedom of religion was to compete on a fair set of terms–and eventually, one faction would win out. It makes sense to start the players of a game on an equal footing; it makes no sense to keep them equal indefinitely. Sooner or later, the game should end in a victory for someone. Preventing the use of force or laws to impose faith on someone was a way to ensure that conversion proceeded by persuasion, and persuasion by the use of rational argument.
    Non-Christian religions were disadvantaged initially not because the system was stacked against them, but because (within American society) their “hypotheses” were already considered disproven. Trying to even the field for them would have been like trying to even the field for phlogiston or the flat earth. Any proponent of such an idea should have to overcome centuries of counterarguments.
    All of the churches that agreed to this fully expected that one of them (most likely themselves, but possibly some other church) would be victorious. When that happened, they would vote to impose their own laws with an easy majority, maybe even unanimity, and no one would care. Then secularists suddenly decided to interpret the rules in a way that put everyone back at the starting line and kept them there forever. You can call that “removal of privilege” if you want; we call it “violating the rules of discourse”. We were ahead, not because we stacked the system to favor us, but because we were outcompeting you.

  • Joshua

    Mabus:
    So, that, uh, didn’t really work out as planned, then?

  • Launcifer

    I think that a lot of “Christians” feel “persecuted in the United States has to with the loss of privilege that White Protestants previously had.

    I wonder if part of it isn’t also the idea that a substantial proportion of immigrants to the United States simply were persecuted. The British treated the Irish fairly appallingly, after all. The Europeans in general weren’t particularly nice to the Jews. African Americans weren’t treated well by the other African tribes who kidnapped them – and it only got worse from there. Then there’s the indigenous American tribes.
    Add to that the first Christians in America felt persecuted, which was initially the case, though perhaps the feeling continued when certain dissenters realised that even avowed puritans like Cromwell weren’t as willing to disavow elements of Anglican doctrine on the basis of inherent Catholicism as they were, followed by the Great Ejection following the Restoration and, well, you have a recipe for a group of people to feel persecuted when that’s not entirely the case. I’d be amused to ponder the notion that the initial surge of Christians into the Americas owes the roots of faith in Anabaptism, mind. I doubt many American Christians would be happy with that particular notion.
    Anyway, if you marry the innate persecution complex to a few genuine instances of persecution, to a whole continent full of people who were genuinely persecuted and then start allowing the latter group all the rights and privileges of the former, then I’m not entirely surprised that the former group begins to whine about imagined persecution. It’s in the make-up, as it were, plus they’ve seen firsthand that “it” works. The intimation that the Christians themselves might see the persecution of others as somehow exaggerated is wholly intentional. If Christians were losing their right to religious freedom in hopes that the loss might benefit other social groupings, then I might have some sympathy, but that’s not the case. It seems to me that the Christians are losing some dimly-perceived and non-existent right to social hegemony, which is something entirely different.
    This has been your 3am Launcie ramble for this week. Do not pass go (but feel free to pass me a beer). Do not collect £200.

  • hapax

    Mabus, I’ll agree that in some senses you have a very good point, and I’ve always argued that individuals should be allowed to — and in fact, should be encouraged to — use their religious convictions or lack thereof when forming policy positions. And I certainly haven’t seen any hindrance of religious figures and institutions in having a voice in policy disputes, nor of political figures consulting religious authorities (Was not Obama at a National Prayer Breakfast this morning? Will he not meet with the Dalai Lama later this month?)
    My objections to this understanding of the “separation of church and state” are twofold:
    The first is, as a practical matter, organized religion has a spectacularly crappy record of keeping anything like a “fair” playing field. Almost every religious viewpoint that has managed to gain even a toehold of dominance in the political institutions has used it first and foremost not to promote its viewpoint, but to shut out its rivals. You simply cannot say that “non-Christian religions were disadvantaged initially not because the system was stacked against them, but because (within American society) their “hypotheses” were already considered disproven” in the face of centuries of implicit and even explicit “religious tests” for access not just to public office, but to most aspects of public life (e.g. prayers in the schools, swearing on the Bible for jury duty, etc.) In this context, it’s not unreasonable for the Courts to declare, “Okay, if you can’t play fair, you don’t get to play at all.”
    Second, I am really really uncomfortable with formalizing recognition of the fact that, in all honesty, ALL of our rights and laws and liberties depend upon consensus agreement to a subjective, unprovable ethos. If you get right down to it, why should majority vote count? Why should “fairness” count? What’s to stop me from coming to your house, bashing you on the head, and stealing your stuff?
    Nothing but our mutual agreement that some things just ain’t right*, and that enough people agree on what they are that we can punish them as don’t.
    And one of the things that we have agreed upon is that the majority doesn’t get to mess with certain beliefs and actions of the minority — even a hypothetical minority which may not, in fact, currently exist. Your proposed “When that happened, they would vote to impose their own laws with an easy majority, maybe even unanimity, and no one would care” poses a direct threat to that fundamental rule.
    Shorter version — secularism doesn’t “reinterpret the rules”; it just gives equal weight to ones you don’t like.
    *Yes, I am aware of the various schools of ethical utilitarianism, the greatest happiness of the greatest number, and so forth. But on what absolute basis do we decide that promoting “happiness” is something that our society should do?

  • There’s another reason for that perception that hasn’t been covered yet. Remember the social situation that the first Christians lived in. They were persecuted by the Roman authorities at regular intervals for the first few centuries, with the lions and the torture and the being called atheists. Jesus said to them in the gospels they’ll be persecuted.

    Actually, just as a random note, Christians were never rounded up to be forced into gladiatorial matches. Definitely persecuted, though.

    but neither would you want it to ignore scientific knowledge in its policy-making.

    True, but I also wouldn’t want laws that imposed a certain view of the universe of people, be it scientific or otherwise.
    Politicians are free to propose laws based on their own faith or what a church asks them to do, what they cannot do is claim one religious faith is the official one or try to impose a faith on someone.
    So the example kinda breaks down, because I am for “separation of science and state” in mostly the sense meant by “separation of church and state”.
    However, since science and religion are not exact parallels there are some differences, such as science being taught in schools (they’d end up as somewhat pointless, otherwise.)
    I’m also not sure I agree that separation of church and state was supposed to mean “All Christians are equal”, given the number of agnostics, atheists, and deists involved in adding that particular part.

  • Lori

    @Mabus: So RTCs explicitly intended to undermine protection of minority rights by wining an internecine feud and somehow people standing up for those minority rights are the ones who “violated the rules of discourse”? Because seriously, there is no way that any religious subgroup was ever going to gain unanimity, so there was never going to be any possibility for RTCs to get their way without running roughshod other minority rights.
    I’m certainly not going to feel bad about the fact that the RTCs were defeated in the their attempt to treat one of the foundations of American equality as a temporary speed bump on the way to RTC domination.

  • Bugmaster

    It can get tricky to tell the difference between paradox and error, mystery and nonsense though, can’t it?

    From where I stand, they all sound like the same thing: sloppy thinking.

  • Bugmaster

    Well, that’s a tricky one, what with the unfalsifiability of it all

    If you believe that the core tenets of your faith are unfalsifiable, then, by definition, there is no evidence (visions notwithstanding) that could ever convince you that your faith is wrong.
    That’s why I’m pretty glad that those sneaky secularists have instituted a wall of separation between church and state. Total certainty in the tenets of one’s worldview, combined with a built-in inability to convince anyone else that your tenets are correct, makes for a pretty powerful chilling effect on discourse and progress.

  • When that happened, they would vote to impose their own laws with an easy majority, maybe even unanimity, and no one would care. Then secularists suddenly decided to interpret the rules in a way that put everyone back at the starting line and kept them there forever.
    I would argue that secularists had it right the first time and that the churches you describe simply never grasped the rationale behind keeping government from taking sides among the competing religions. The idea is to keep laws in a “neutral zone” where no religion gets to call the shots. I’ve heard a few RTCs describe secularism as another belief system competing with religions. As for the agenda of such churches, I would give my life to prevent any one religion from dictating my nation’s laws.

  • So RTCs explicitly intended to undermine protection of minority rights by wining an internecine feud and somehow people standing up for those minority rights are the ones who “violated the rules of discourse”?
    That’s the problem, the failure of those churches to recognize the principle of individual conscience and individual religious freedom. When any one religion writes a nation’s laws, those things cannot exist.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    Although now that I think of it, shouldn’t we have a similar word for racism ?
    The Whitocracy? Honkyism?”

    Apartheid? Or does that imply official segregation?

  • Anonymous

    Ahem. South Africa, prior to the ’90s. Did apartheid amuse and amaze you?

    “I never cease to be amused and amazed when a majority socioeconomic group claim to be repressed by a minority, when all facts indicate otherwise.”
    I didn’t think I had to add the bolded part but then I assumed all people here had working minds and were capable of reasonable interpretation rather than trying cutesy little moves like that post of yours.

  • Pius Thicknesse

    And that was me. *curses form filloutage*

  • Andrew Glasgow

    Many modern Christians read the Bible in a straightforward manner with little thought for differences in culture and historical situation. So, Jesus says to a bunch of 1st C Christians, “You will be persecuted!” and a 21st C Christian reads it and starts looking for persecution. Cos the Bible says it, so end of story. It’s just a matter of finding it…

    And, of course, in so doing they completely devalue the real, terrible persecution that the early Christians suffered, and the real, not-quite-as-terrible-but-still-bad persecution that Christians in the situation you describe in Pakistan, by claiming that not being able to force creationism into public schools and not being able to bash gays without consequences is — OMG! — just as bad as getting thrown to the lions!

  • Brad

    @Firedrake: If alternate-fundamentalist-Firedrake starts a campaign against the satanic works of H. Beam Piper, the suckers who follow Firedrakeology won’t contribute because they’ve never heard of it.
    What do you have against Little Fuzzy?

  • K.Chen

    It can get tricky to tell the difference between paradox and error, mystery and nonsense though, can’t it?
    From where I stand, they all sound like the same thing: sloppy thinking.

    I’ve heard that before, and I understand it, but I’m telling you, for people on my end of the sliding scale, that just seems like a prescription for an impoverished life. I’m honestly not sure if there is a way to explain it, but I assure you, there are plenty of intelligent, thoughtful, careful thinkers who have embraced the paradoxes and mysteries in religion in general, and Christianity in specific.

  • Bugmaster

    I’m honestly not sure if there is a way to explain it, but I assure you, there are plenty of intelligent, thoughtful, careful thinkers who have embraced the paradoxes and mysteries in religion in general, and Christianity in specific.

    As far as I understand, there really isn’t any way to explain it. If you have a particular brand of faith, then a particular set of “paradoxes and mysteries” take on a deep and fulfilling meaning. If you have some other kind of faith, then those mysteries all seem nonsensical, but others sparkle with enlightenment. If you have no faith at all, then it all looks like sloppy thinking, and you try to solve as many mysteries as you can before the day is out.
    I’m not saying that all theists are thoughtless or careless (though many are, what with being human and all). It’s possible to have faith and embrace the paradoxes and the mysteries at the same time. As far as I can tell, most people achieve this by picking the kinds of paradoxes and mysteries that do not interfere with their daily life or work. So, for example, if you’re a car salesman, you treat cars as perfectly mundane, but you might consider stars mysterious and magical. If you’re an astrophysicist, you may still consider stars mysterious and magical, but you put those feelings on the back burner while you calculate their absorption spectra. Most of the time, such an approach works reasonably well.
    There are a few problems with it, though.
    Firstly, as I mentioned previously, it compels the theists to pronounce deep, meaningful, and spiritually fulfilling truths that sound either nonsensical or downright untrue to anyone who doesn’t share their particular brand of faith. There’s absolutely no way to get such truths across the faith divide, because faith cannot be communicated. So, you’ve got all these different groups of people, passionately speaking what sounds like nonsense at each other, with no possibility of reconciliation. That’s not good.
    Secondly, once you’ve designated certain topics as paradoxical and mysterious, you cut off your ability to study them. This applies to plain old natural phenomena such as lightning or rainbows, as well as to trickier human concepts such as love or justice. Now, obviously most of the discoveries that de-mystified some of these concepts came (historically) from theists; but, in order to develop a working theory of what causes rainbows (just to pick an arbitrary example), the theist must first get past that hurdle of treating rainbows as a beautiful ineffable paradox. Things get even worse when the answers eliminate the questions altogether; for example, the answer to the question “what’s on the underside of the world” is, “you’ve got it all wrong in a big way”. Of course, many mysteries and paradoxes deal entirely with internal matters of faith (which are incomprehensible to non-theists)… many, but not all.
    Those are some of the reasons why I would like to see religion wane in importance in our society. This way, theists can contemplate the Buddha nature or the many names of God, and the rest of us can figure out what makes rainbows tick or whether gay people deserve to be loved — all without shouting at one another.

  • Bugmaster

    Sorry, when I said, “It’s possible to have faith and embrace the paradoxes and the mysteries at the same time”, I meant “It’s possible to be thoughtful and careful and embrace the paradoxes and the mysteries at the same time”, or maybe “It’s possible to be thoughtful and careful and have faith at the same time”, whichever you prefer…

  • K.Chen

    @bugmaster
    I think we could do with a little less religion in our science, and some more science in our politics, but I think society would be far worse off without religion in totality. You have the prime the pump somehow.
    Religion is at its best, not when it guides people to an answer, but when it gives people a reason to seek an answer. Some of the mysteries aren’t unique to any particular faith. An honest grappling with free will is difficult no matter what your beliefs on theism are. Religion isn’t about navel gazing – it is, in a real way, about knowledge. About seeking truth, a living breathing truth. Christianity in particular I think, its ultimately a religion about relationships. The relationship between the believer and God, the believer and the fellow believer, the believer and family, the non believer, society at large, and the relationship between the believer and the believer’s self.
    That probably didn’t make a whole lot of sense, so let me try something simpler. The problem is not religion, its people. We have to become more mature about how we handle religion, but we’d be far worse off without it.

  • redcrow

    CaryB, slashfic in the morning is exactly what I need to feel better (at least emotionally). Even though I kinda prefer Marx/Engels pairing…
    Bugmaster, it won’t ruin *my* day. First, I’m not that shallow. Second, even if I *were* shallow – you mean, Wikipedia doesn’t have young Volodya Ulyanov’s pics?
    *clicks the link*
    Why, it does! And he’s not that bad-looking, either.

  • Bugmaster

    Religion is at its best, not when it guides people to an answer, but when it gives people a reason to seek an answer. Some of the mysteries aren’t unique to any particular faith.

    Clearly, it is possible to have a “reason to seek an answer” without religion, seeing as atheists do exist, and they do seek answers quite often.
    In addition, there’s a wide variety of religions out there, besides various flavors of Christianity — Wicca, Islam, Buddhism, paganism of all sorts, pantheism, Shinto, even Scientology… Some of these religions stimulate their followers to seek answers; some stimulate their followers to seek entirely different kinds of answers, some just want money, and some advise the followers to cultivate total detachment from the world, questions and answers included. More on this in a minute:

    An honest grappling with free will is difficult no matter what your beliefs on theism are. Religion isn’t about navel gazing – it is, in a real way, about knowledge. About seeking truth, a living breathing truth.

    As I said in my previous post, there are concepts that can only be appreciated by a person who possesses a very specific flavor of faith. For example, from my point of view, the notion of “free will” is rather trivial and uninteresting, and “a living breathing truth” is a nonsensical concept. I also use the word “relationship” in a very different way than a typical Christian uses the term.
    I am willing to defend my views on purely objective grounds (i.e., using only the concepts that both of us share), but I’m doomed to failure by definition, since you have faith and I don’t. I am not alone in this, however. Talk to a Buddhist, or a Hindu, or a Wiccan, or a pantheist, or even to an adherent of something more esoteric like Satanism (surely, there’s at least one believer in it out there somewhere), and you’ll get a very different description of what the words “truth”, “relationship with a god”, “free will”, or even “prayer” mean. You will also get very different prescriptions on how the believer should relate to his god(s), society at large, and his very self. Many of these answers will sound incorrect to you, and some will sound completely nonsensical and/or incomprehensible.
    That’s not really problematic, in and of itself. If I contemplate detachment from the Wheel of Karma, and meanwhile you seek a deeper relationship with your God, we’ll both end up happy and fulfilled in our lives (well, technically, I’d end up neutral and balanced, but you get my point). The problems crop up when you try to share some of that “real knowledge” that you procured through your faith; further problems occur when you use such knowledge to formulate public policy. All of a sudden, you have completely cut off any possibility of studying where rainbows come from, or what love is — since you believe, quite sincerely and without malice, that you already have the right answer — and you’re trying to tell everyone else how to properly look at a rainbow or which neighbours of theirs are fit to be loved.
    Even that, by itself, would not be a problem, if you could only explain your ideas to everyone, debate them, and convince them of their living truth — or maybe even become convinced in return. But, since your ideas are based on faith, this is impossible, and now is the time when the problems start piling up in a big way.
    That’s why I’d prefer it if religion stayed in the background, sort of like various superstitions and nail polish preferences and whatnot. This way, we can give a much higher preference to those truths, ideas, and policies that we are actually able to discuss in a productive way. And, of course, it would become much easier to discover all kinds of nifty new things, such as galaxies or neurobiology.

  • Bugmaster

    Even though I kinda prefer Marx/Engels pairing

    Bah ! Too easy. Marx/Lenin is not bad, but how about Engels/Krupskaya, or even Krupskaya/Uliyanova ? Bam !

  • Mark Z.

    Bugmaster: Secondly, once you’ve designated certain topics as paradoxical and mysterious, you cut off your ability to study them. This applies to plain old natural phenomena such as lightning or rainbows, as well as to trickier human concepts such as love or justice. Now, obviously most of the discoveries that de-mystified some of these concepts came (historically) from theists; but, in order to develop a working theory of what causes rainbows (just to pick an arbitrary example), the theist must first get past that hurdle of treating rainbows as a beautiful ineffable paradox.
    I’m not sure that the problem you’re describing happens in the real world. As you said, many of these concepts have been studied very effectively by theists. The man who figured out how rainbows work was an apocalyptic Christian sorcerer. This didn’t seem to stop him from studying observable reality.
    Can you cite an example of a scientist saying “I’m not going to study this question because I think it’s an ineffable mystery”?[1]
    [1] This is not the same as, and should not be confused with, “I’m not going to study this question because I think the methods used to study it are unethical”, e.g. stem cell research or animal experimentation. Also distinct is “because I think the results would be used for evil purposes.”

  • Firstly, as I mentioned previously, it compels the theists to pronounce deep, meaningful, and spiritually fulfilling truths that sound either nonsensical or downright untrue to anyone who doesn’t share their particular brand of faith.
    That exclusivity is a big part of the problem, especially when cases when it’s paired with absolutism.
    Secondly, once you’ve designated certain topics as paradoxical and mysterious, you cut off your ability to study them. This applies to plain old natural phenomena such as lightning or rainbows, as well as to trickier human concepts such as love or justice.
    Again, good point. That approach is anti-knowledge.
    Religion is at its best, not when it guides people to an answer, but when it gives people a reason to seek an answer. Some of the mysteries aren’t unique to any particular faith. An honest grappling with free will is difficult no matter what your beliefs on theism are. Religion isn’t about navel gazing – it is, in a real way, about knowledge. Christianity in particular I think, its ultimately a religion about relationships.
    Would you clarify what you mean by “an answer”? Another part of the problem is that many religions claim the existence of a single Truth or Answer. That’s no different from claiming the existence of a mountain or a star or a black hole, because the claim implies that truth can exist outside the human mind. I’ve long felt that religion should be about the individual deciding the meaning and purpose of his life, and I oppose any attempts by any person or ideology (religious or secular) to decide another person’s meaning or purpose. That deciding may have some resemblance to your point about relationships in Christianity – my objection is to the idea that people should have a certain type of relationship. Which leads to Bugmaster’s next point…
    The problems crop up when you try to share some of that “real knowledge” that you procured through your faith; further problems occur when you use such knowledge to formulate public policy. All of a sudden, you have completely cut off any possibility of studying where rainbows come from, or what love is — since you believe, quite sincerely and without malice, that you already have the right answer — and you’re trying to tell everyone else how to properly look at a rainbow or which neighbours of theirs are fit to be loved.
    Excellent. I would add that faith that gods exist is no different in principle than faith that a tree or mountain exists. It doesn’t matter that the former is untestable and unfalsifiable, because both amount to claims about the universe. I’m challenging the notion that faith alone with no empirical testing can produce knowledge about the universe – that sounds very much like the claim by some Christians that one has to have faith in order to understand the Bible.

  • Anton Mates

    Mabus,

    Consider the alternative phrase “separation of science and state”. I trust that you don’t want the government interfering in the process of scientific discovery; but neither would you want it to ignore scientific knowledge in its policy-making. Science is something that should be kept free of political concerns so that it can develop toward the “one true set of theories describing the universe”, not so that the current set of theories can be preserved indefinitely or so that it can have no influence at all on government.

    Actually, I don’t think that most people–certainly not most practicing scientists–are at all supportive of the separation of science and state, even in that limited sense.
    The government funds science, evaluates its quality, and publicizes the results. Even private research universities and businesses get a ton of funding from the NSF, NIH, etc., and that money comes with strings attached. Political concerns very definitely shape how science is conducted and reported, as well as what research questions are investigated in the first place.
    Which is fine by me. Of course there are any number of things the government could do which would be harmful to the progress of science, and it often does them, and then we have to complain. And detailed micromanagement would be undesirable. But generally speaking, I think there’s much more unanimity about how “proper” science works among scientists and science advocates than there has ever been about how “proper” religion works among believers–even among Christians in particular. Hence, there’s much more comfort with the government stepping in to finance and steer (on a very broad level) the former enterprise.
    There’s much less of a separation between science and state in the US than there is between religion and state even in a relatively intolerant European nation like, say, Greece. I think most Americans are pretty comfortable with that, though I’ve never done a survey.
    Bugmaster,

    Now, obviously most of the discoveries that de-mystified some of these concepts came (historically) from theists; but, in order to develop a working theory of what causes rainbows (just to pick an arbitrary example), the theist must first get past that hurdle of treating rainbows as a beautiful ineffable paradox.

    Which a bunch of theists did, both Muslim and Christian in that particular case. Have you any evidence that they would have gotten there faster or more easily if they’d been atheists?

  • Which a bunch of theists did, both Muslim and Christian in that particular case. Have you any evidence that they would have gotten there faster or more easily if they’d been atheists?
    “Beautiful ineffable paradox” is not quite accurate. The problem was the argument from incredulity, where people made the leap from mystery to assume that the cause had to be miraculous.

  • Lee Ratner

    Mabus’ response to my post was fascinating and revealing and also very sick. It was kind of wrong to. Actually it was very wrong. It was not the secularists who were the driving force behind separation of religion and state but my people the Jews. America’s separation of religion and state provided something that the Jews never had in over a thousand years, a state where they would not be strangers. Since America had no official religion, Jewish Americans could be just as American as any Protestant. The case that ended school prayer was brought by Jewish parents in Nassau County of all places. Separation of religion and state is important to more people than secularists.
    Second, our understanding of separation of religion and state is more in line with the thought of the Founders than Mabus’ understanding. George Washington wrote a letter to the Touro Synagogue of Rhode Island supporting my definition. The same goes for Thomas Jefferson and every other Founder. They interpreted the separation to be very strict. The Proto-RTC had no power over this process and only got lucky in imposing their Protestant ways for so long. If this continued, America would have devolved interfaith rioting.
    Third, it shows that debating on why RTCs feel persecuting is something of red herring. The reason why they feel persecuted is not important. What is important is that they are doing a lot of damage because of their false feelings of persecution. What is necessary is finding a way to neutralize them and prevent them from doing evil.

  • Anton Mates

    The problem was the argument from incredulity, where people made the leap from mystery to assume that the cause had to be miraculous.

    But these people didn’t. They hammered out the laws of condensation and refraction and came up with an entirely unmiraculous and testable cause.
    And then, I’m sure, they said, “How wonderful it is that God has created a universe with such laws that produce things like rainbows!” And I recall very well that you have a problem with that bit. :-) Still, the science got done.

  • Caravelle

    Mabus :

    I trust that you don’t want the government interfering in the process of scientific discovery

    Actually, given the government funds most of it (and should, since private companies have little incentive to pay for fundamental research) most of us non-libertarians very much want the government “interfering” in the process of scientific discovery.

  • Lee Ratner

    Governmental funding of science has led to the discover of teflon of all things, so government funding of science can lead to consumer products. I’d say that this makes government funding of science a good thing.

  • redcrow

    >>>how about Engels/Krupskaya
    Erm… I have some favourite het pairings, but it’s definitely not one of them.
    >>>or even Krupskaya/Uliyanova
    That’s better. I’m all for it.

  • Fraser

    At the time the Constitution was drafted, it was quite common for towns or states to tax the public and give money to whatever the majority church was. This was a subject for heated debate: Some churchs were in favor of it, or in favor of it in states where they had the upper hand, some small sects were consistently against it. And Jefferson considered his greatest achievement to be the elimination of that tax program in Virginia.
    So undoubtedly a lot of Christians did see “support for the majority church” as consistent with “freedom of religion,” but many did not. And I doubt the 18th century perception has much to do with current RTC attitudes in any case.

  • lonespark

    it compels the theists to pronounce deep, meaningful, and spiritually fulfilling truths that sound either nonsensical or downright untrue to anyone who doesn’t share their particular brand of faith.
    I’m not sure that’s true in all cases. Rather that “it compels” it’s more like “it can lead.” And it really, really doesn’t compel anyone to feel they ought to try to make pronouncements about Truth and Meaning to others.
    So, you’ve got all these different groups of people, passionately speaking what sounds like nonsense at each other, with no possibility of reconciliation.
    That happens to me every Super Bowl, but it doesn’t trouble my sleep.
    Secondly, once you’ve designated certain topics as paradoxical and mysterious, you cut off your ability to study them.
    No, you really, really don’t. I mean, I guess that’s true for some people, but you have a lot of work to do to convince me that those people were interested in, or capable of, really probing those things through study in the first place. I don’t see any evidence nontheists are overall better or more passionate scientific thinkers.
    but, in order to develop a working theory of what causes rainbows (just to pick an arbitrary example), the theist must first get past that hurdle of treating rainbows as a beautiful ineffable paradox.
    I’m not sure rainbows are a very good example for that. I don’t know all the folklore associated with them, but I think of 1. Heimdall 2. Iris 3. A promise to Moses. I’m not sure how any of those conceptions would lead to viewing rainbows as an ineffable paradox? A rainbow can certainly symbolize some sort of paradox between, say, wrath and love or something, but how does that keep anyone from studying it? And are they going to crushed and disappointed that they can’t physically observe Midgard’s Warder? Or are they going to view myths as truths beyond nature, like people generally do?

  • Ursula L

    Can you cite an example of a scientist saying “I’m not going to study this question because I think it’s an ineffable mystery”?
    Young Earth Creationists.
    Absolutely reject the evidence in the world, in favor of a self-contradictory Biblical explanation of the origins of the world. Some self-identify as scientists. Many wish their beliefs to be taught as science, in addition to or instead of evidence based explanations of the origins of the universe. Any discrepancies between the world and the story are treated as a mystery, and any modification or interpretation of the story based on contradictory evidence is rejected.

  • lonespark

    Ok, so what proof do we have that YECs, absent their religious beliefs, would be out there on the forefront of science?
    They absolutely should not be allowed to impose their beliefs on any of us, and it harms the children of that community to be without broader educational foundations. But YEC isn’t the same as “religious belief” in general.
    Plus, I thought we were looking for an example of scientist or historical equivalent stopping their research, not never starting.

  • Tricksterson

    Mabus: So it never occured to you that atheists, agnostics and non-Christians might want a seat at the table? how dare we want to be considered people too?!? Well, waah, waah nanny boo bo. Pardon me if my heart doesn’t bleed for you?

  • Tonio

    But these people didn’t. They hammered out the laws of condensation and refraction and came up with an entirely unmiraculous and testable cause…And then, I’m sure, they said, “How wonderful it is that God has created a universe with such laws that produce things like rainbows!” And I recall very well that you have a problem with that bit. :-) Still, the science got done.
    Some of them could have been speaking metaphorically, but my issue is with the literal claim of gods creating universes and physical laws. It takes the causal chain and tries to attach a link that is neither testable nor falsifiable. No matter what the intentions of the scientists involved, postulating gods as creators of universes and physical laws amounts to proposing hypotheses about how those things came to be. Elsewhere I’ve had believers say that science is only about the how and not about the why. But “why” is simply a restatement of “how.”

  • lonespark

    But “why” is simply a restatement of “how.”
    What?

  • Tonio

    Lonespark, I should clarify that the restatement is about attaching god-causes to events. When such believers talk about the “why” of an event in the universe, they appear to mean that their gods caused the event to happen for some purpose that may never be known. If true, the statement is really a “how” and not a “why.”

  • Socks of Sullenness

    No matter what the intentions of the scientists involved, postulating gods as creators of universes and physical laws amounts to proposing hypotheses about how those things came to be.
    Other than that it would prove not to be testable or even stand up to rigorous examination, I’m not too worried about what people propose at hypotheses… Isn’t that the stage where out-there ideas can be put to the question? By scientists. I’d be more worried if those in charge of – say – nuclear reactors took it as a proven fact. A real literal fact, not a metaphorical fact.

  • Tonio

    Socks, the issue is that “Gods created the universe” is billed as being factual or indisputable, not as being a proposed hypothesis for questioning even though it amounts to one. You’re right that some claims of literal fact are of greater practical concern than others. I was talking about a general principle behind making claims about the universe.