Cognitive Dissonance!

(The Contraditory Beliefs of Fundamentalism)
From: Conceptual

The phrase "cognitive dissonance" is making the rounds among progressives these days to describe just exactly how this country could even think about reelecting the Chimperor. Fundamentalists are the very personification of that cognitive dissonance. In fact, their influence must be destroyed if our democracy is to survive. Under our constitution -- including freedom of speech and religion -- the only legitimate way to destroy their influence is to discredit it beyond all repair in the public's mind. But first, to understand why their influence must be destroyed, you have to understand what they're about. 

Consider just a few observations from your daily life. You are reading these words using a computer monitor that probably has a cathode ray tube firing electrons at a phosphorous target. Without our understanding of quantum physics, you wouldn't be reading this. The communication signals between my computer and yours very likely travel some of the distance through space, bouncing off a communications satellite in geosychronous orbit. That satellite was placed in orbit thanks to the laws of physics postulated by one Isaac Newton 300 years ago, as modified slightly by one Albert Einstein right at a hundred years ago. [For those of you wondering, the Special Theory of Relativity was first published in 1905.]

Also in orbit around the earth is the Hubble Space Telescope, which has taken photographs of galaxies which are 12,000,000,000 light years from the earth. A light year is around 6,000,000,000,000 -- that's six trillion -- miles. Which means that those galaxies are some 72,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 miles away. That's 72 thousand million million million miles away. In other words, the universe is a big fucking place, and we are a very tiny part of it. 

We also pretty well know how long our sun has been around -- four and a half billion years. We know this because we actually know quite a bit about the thermonuclear reaction that fires it We know how much hydrogen it has relative to helium -- which is what that thermonuclear reaction creates -- so that we can tell using the rate of consumption of its fuel how long it's been around, and how long it's likely to last. As to how we know the mechanics of this thermonuclear reaction, that's simple. We have the technology to create the very same thermonuclear reaction that fires the sun, right here on earth. In fact, a single Trident nuclear submarine carries enough thermonuclear warheads to pretty much destroy the world. So we can have a high level of confidence in our knowledge of how old the sun is, since we recreate it's basic process. 

Closer to home, we can look around at our own geology. We can look things like mountains, and figure out just how the hell they got there. We notice, for example, that those mountains contain things like seashells -- suggesting that those mountains were seabeds at one point. Fundamentalists say that is evidence of Noah's flood. Unfortunately the known life cycle of clams and oysters throws cold water on that theory. Forty days and forty nights of rain, followed by six months of flood wouldn't be enough to grow clams and oysters, and then bury them deep in sedimentary rock. Oh, and the volume of water necessary to inundate all of the continents in their entirety would fill up the Atlantic Ocean. I don't think forty days and forty nights is quite long enough to dump that much rain. 

Then of course, there are the bones of those rather large lizards who used to live here, but don't anymore. They are found in some of that sedimentary rock in the mountains, suggesting they were here a mighty long time ago. In light of what we know, by virtue of recreating the thermonuclear reaction that drives the sun, concluding that the earth has been around as long as the sun has, and that gee whiz, long extinct creatures used to live on it, isn't a stretch in my view. In fact, given the astounding photographs from the Hubble Space Telescope, and the wonders of quantum mechanics and both Newtonian and Einsteinian mechanics that give you tangible beneifts you can reach out and touch, it's pretty clear to me that the earth has been around one hell of a lot longer than six thousand years, and took longer to whip up and populate with life than a mere six days. 

And that is just looking at some rather obvious empirical evidence. It is at the level of "pure reason" that the Genesis story falls apart -- at least in so far as its "literal truth" is concerned. Consider a few simple claims made by religious fundamentalists. God is omniscient, they tell us. He knows everything. He is also omnipresent -- everywhere that is. Yet in the Genesis story of the fall of humanity, God was off somewhere while Eve was being tempted. Perhaps he stepped into a back corner of the Garden of Eden to take a whiz. When he came back, he was calling for Adam and Eve, and actually had to look for them. This from an "omniscient" god, who should have known where they were, indeed should have been right there with them. He should have been watching the serpent tempt Eve -- allowing it to happen, whatever implications that might have.

In short, something's got to give. Either God was neither omniscient nor omnipresent, or the Genesis story is inaccurate. Either way, the fundamentalists are wrong about one or the other of their fundamental beliefs. I'll leave it to them to figure out which one. The point is that I have found a logical inconsistency that wipes out at least one of their major beliefs -- just three pages into the first book of their bible. 

By this point, you should be able to see why the likes of me are a major league pain in the ass to the likes of Jerry Falwell. I'm a thinking man, as well as being educated into the basic facts and the underlying world-view of science. I believe that the universe and everything in it has more or less fixed properties, that can be understood with our minds, and tested with empirical methods. I believe the best tool to understand the universe is our reason. Faith actually has a place in our knowledge. I've never seen an electron. In the end, an "electron" is a theoretical construct -- a set of mathematical equations. But those equations predict a pattern of certain observable phenomena. So far, we have observed just what the equations tell us we should. Hence, the computer screen humming along just fine in front of you. So my faith in the existence of electrons is backed up with both reason and observation. It isn't blind. That faith will be modified as new evidence, and new thinking requires me to modify it.

Faith and reason can get along together just fine, so long as faith is intelligent. The faith of fundamentalists is anything but. Fundamentalists such as Jerry Falwell believe in things for which there is zero evidence. They believe in things for which there is an ocean of contrary evidence. They also believe things that defy that thing known as "common sense." Finally they believe in things that are logically contradictory to the point that they simply can't be true. They are forever on the defensive from assholes like me who are rude enough to point these things out to them. Still they persist, many of them becoming outright enemies to the entire worldview of modern science, and the most fundamental principles of reason -- principles presumably given to us by none other than the Almighty, himself.

Thus, do fundamentalist christians reject rationality itself. They have placed themselves at odds with the very foundation of modern science, technology and the culture on which it is based -- even as they watch their televisions, work on their computers, and otherwise make use of technology that would never be possible using their frankly medieval system of thinking. Not only are their beliefs a morass of contradiction, their very existences are. And we know why -- because they tell us incessantly. Fear. Specifically, fundamentalists fear the fires of hell, believing they are compelled by the threat of eternal punishment to accept realities that their own minds and experience ought to tell them are patently false. 

At bottom, the entire fundamentalist worldview is a cosmic order built on fear and intimidation. Let us consider that worldview, examining its basic fundamentals in the light of the reason the good Lord sought fit to endow us with, but the fundamentalists feel compelled to reject. Let's just lay out some of the core principles.

We have already discussed the mutually exclusive beliefs that God is omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, and the bible is the unerring literal truth. .According to them, God is also perfectly just. God is loving. In fact, "he so loved the world, he gave his only begotten son, and whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life." Let's take a closer at that "love" and "justice" -- as the fundamentalists conceive it.

Human beings are created in the image and likeness of God, and . . .

. . . they are sinful and evil. Say what??? Does that mean God is sinful and evil? 

Apparently not. It seems that the first humans were disobedient. God put them in paradise, and right smack in the middle of paradise he put the "tree of knowledge." He told them they could eat the fruit of any other tree in the garden, except for that one. Then he stepped out for a little while -- notwithstanding his omnipresence. Then a serpent showed up to tempt Eve with the fruit of the tree God left right smack in the middle of the garden. Mind you, God doesn't want human beings eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge, which raises the question of why exactly it was he put the god damn thing in there to start with. It's like leaving your .357 on the dining room table, then leaving your child in the house while you run to the grocery store, telling little Adam, 'play with anything you like, but leave the .357 alone.'" Yeah right. You can absolutely depend on little Adam to mind. Imagine such a parent coming home and being shocked -- shocked -- to find out little Adam played with the gun and shot his little friend, Eve. According to the fundamentalists, God hasn't got as much sense as your average parent, who knows better than the leave things lying around you don't want your children playing with. 

The fundamentalists' perfectly just and perfectly loving God isn't through. Having left the "forbidden fruit" right in the middle of the Garden of Eden, God apparently left the back gate open, so that the serpent -- paradise's version of Eddie Haskell -- could wander in and put ideas into the Eve's head. The serpent did this, by the way, in the absence of that "omnipresent" god, and apparently without God's knowledge -- even though God knows everything. The omnipotent God -- the one who can do anything -- apparently didn't see fit to boot the serpent out of the garden on his ear, before the damage was done. Which completely overlooks the question of why God created the serpent to start with.

Let's get down to the obvious question, fundamentalists never ask. Whose fuck up was this? According to the fundamentalists, it was all Eve's fault. God bears no responsibility for creating a situation that made it all but certain that Adam and Eve were going to eat that forbidden fruit. Having set them up to fail, God's infinite justice requires punishment. His infinite wrath has been invoked, because his creatures disobeyed him. Mind you, he created the very possibility of disobedience -- just another fuck up he can't possibility own up to. You see, he's "perfect," so it has to be somebody else's fault. Funny how that sounds just like the mental gymnastics of conservatives, when caught in a contradiction. They never admit to their mistakes, either.

It just keeps getting better. What does the infinitely just god do with his disobedient creatures -- the one's who have fallen into a state of fundamental, metaphysical, immutable sin and evil. Does he snuff them out, toss them into the cosmic dumpster, and head back to the drawing board? Oh hell no. He sends these fundamentally flawed "evil" creatures forth from the Garden of Eden and tells them "be fruitful and multiply." Yeah, that makes sense. Two creatures have made you infinitely angry, and summoned forth your need for infinite justice. So you send them out to propagate -- thus infinitely multiplying your need for "perfect justice." 

The progeny of Adam and Eve didn't waste any time, either. One of their two sons promptly wasted the other one in a rage of jealousy. As the history of the twentieth century attests, things have only gotten worse. So here's the skinny. God created the circumstances of our fall, was infinitely angry when we did what any idiot could have predicted, and then compounded the problem by leaving us around to reproduce billions of sinful, evil, "fallen" brothers and sisters. Having done all of that, he is eternally hacked off about all of the carnage we create in the world -- carnage he apparently never saw coming. Exactly what kind of dumbass is the god of the fundamentalists imagination? I ask again. Whose fuck-up was this? 

Now, the fundamentalists tell us that God loves us -- notwithstanding his eternal wrath and need for justice. So he's going to save us -- or at least some of us. We are all his creatures, mind you. We are all descendents of Eve -- imperfect sinful creatures, eternally stained by her initial disobedience. That would be eating the forbidden fruit, God carelessly left lying around. Unfortunately, only some of us get rescued from this hell on earth, none of us created but were born into. 

Not only that, but the mechanism for our salvation is entirely arbitrary. God sends his son down to earth, to live in a remote corner of the Roman Empire. All you have to do to get back on God's good side -- remember, this shit pit we all live in is your fault, not his -- is "believe." Now of course, having been fruitful and multiplied, there are a substantial numbers of us who live in corners of the earth that are thousands of miles distant from that remote corner of the Roman Empire. They've never heard of Jesus. God's answer to those folks is simple. Tough shit. 

That shit, by the way, is plenty tough. You see, the "just" punishment for your sinfulness -- the sinfulness you inherited from Eve for eating fruit God left lying around -- is to burn forever in the lake of fire. Have you ever burned yourself for even a second? Multiply that by eternity. That's how pissed off God is at you. Never mind that he set things up that way. He put the forbidden fruit right smack in the middle of the garden of eden. He created the serpent, and let him into the garden. He wandered off and left Adam and Eve unsupervised. When they eternally and ontologically corrupted themselves, he sent them out to create billions of corrupted copies of themselves -- creating a whole world full of sin and evil. And who has to pay for this hopelessly fucked up mess by burning forever in the lake of fire? You do. What a guy that fundamentalist god is. Doesn't this whole cosmology just have "justice" written all over it?

One conclusion can be drawn from the cosmology of the fundamentalists. God is a hapless dolt, who has created a world that is a hopelessly fucked up mess. He is also a snivelling coward, refusing to take responsibility for the mess he created. Instead, he has passed the buck to you and I who had the misfortune to be born into this hopelessly fucked up mess. Even his effort at fixing it is half-assed, leaving 75% of us to roast in hell, because the "patch" relies on highly unreliable human communication to spread the word. As for those New Guinea headhunters who didn't get the "heads up" on their one way journey to hell, well they're just shit out of luck. 

Of course, there is an alternative explanation. God could indeed be omniscient -- intelligence at its purest. In that case, the situation we humans find ourselves in -- eternally corrupted by the original sin of Eve -- wasn't a fuck up at all. It was God's intent. He knew Eve would eat that fruit. He knew that all of her descendents would be stained with sin, and would commit all manner of abomination. He could have reached into her head and fixed the "bug" right then. But he didn't. He deliberately and purposefully allowed the infection to spread over all the earth. Instead of making the Gospel as self-evident a proposition as say, the cummutative principle of addition -- one any idiot can understand -- and establishing secure means to save ourselves that are guaranteed to reach every one affected, he deliberately created an imperfect system.

He gave us minds with which to reason. But he doesn't like it when we use that reason. In short, he has intentionally placed us in a hopeless situation, and then demanded unreasoned blind belief as the price tag for "salvation" from this hell of his own creation. Just to make the whole thing interesting, he threatens you with burning forever if you don't throw away your god-given reason -- which he apparently endowed you with just to make your job all that much more difficult. Instead of ruling his creation with reason, the fundamentalist god has created a universe of raw, arbitrary power. There are no ethics in that universe. Only politics. Believe in Jesus and join the team, and god will bring you up to heaven to "praise and glorify his name." Apparently, God has something of a self-esteem problem -- as well he should. He is a hopeless narcissist, who has basically created this whole sham in order to have a small herd of terrified and docile supplicants, bowing and scraping before his throne in eternal gratitude for not being thrown into that lake of fire. Absolute power corrupts absolutely we are told, and one need only look at the awful metaphysical terror God inflicts on his "children" to understand what infinite corruption is created when one's power is infinite.

If the god of the fundamentalists isn't simply a simpering dolt, he is -- far from being good and just -- an unimaginably twisted and sick bastard. Imagine being a parent of four children. You whisper to one of those children, "go tell your brothers and sisters that if they don't worship me as a god, I'm going to burn the house down with them in it." One of those children believes it. Another one doesn't, and the last child never gets the word -- because the first child forget to tell her about it. True to your word, you save the first two, and burn the other two alive. Anyone out there have a problem taking that parent and promptly putting them on the end of a rope? That's the god of the fundamentalists -- the one they "praise and worship" with such doe eyed devotion.

Here's the thing. They don't have a problem in the world with this cosmology. You point these things out to them, they are quite stoic about the whole thing. "Oh well. That's what the bible says. That's just how it is." In fact, they have absolutely no sense of the cosmic injustice of the whole thing. They are mindless, unthinking, callous animals, breaking their own private deal with the cosmic power structure. They're just saving their own skins. To hell with everybody else. 

As for the political world -- the one we create here -- we should not be surprised that the "earthly kingdom" these assholes create mirrors the cosmic kingdom. They are largely indifferent to the suffering of other human beings. They're just looking out for themselves. In a sense, the fundamentalist cosmology of "believe, or else" is perfectly suited to the soulless American middle class. Suck up to the boss, and get a ticket to affluence. Everyone else can live life as a corporate serf. As for poverty, hunger, ignorance, disease and war, the boss doesn't give a shit about that stuff. Hell, he helps create it. So the fundamentalists don't care either. Instead they worry about the trifling sins the boss has become fixated on. Has the US killed 100,000 civilians in Iraq, in a war based on bogus intelligence, if not outright lies? Did tens of thousands of children die last week from malnutrition, filthy drinking water or preventable diseases? Did some of those children march off to work in sweatshops owned by American capitalists? Are people who are seeking to improve these awful conditions gunned down every single day by right-wing hoodlums who will countenance limitless human misery for the sake of their own privileges? None of that bothers God the least little bit. Instead, a man sucking another man's dick is what really gets God's goat. That is what he just can't tolerate. He's not going to punish America for the 100,000 civilians killed in Iraq, or the 50,000 people killed by the CIA backed Pinochet regime, or the 2,000,000 Vietnamese killed by American bombs and bullets, or the mass of landless impoverished brown people exploited by American corporations. Instead, he's going to punish America, because some of our citizens look at nekked pictures in Penthouse, or buy beer on Sunday. Jesus spoke of those who "strain at gnats and swallow camels." Now you know what he meant.

How do you like the picture so far, of these soulless cretans who call themselves "righteous?" By now you should understand their militant hostility to reason. Look at the job I just did on them, applying just a little basic logic to their bizarre cosmology. For them to continue their insouciant lives, in blissful ignorance of the misery others suffer to pay for them, they can't allow the least glimmer of rationality to intrude. So they don't.

Meanwhile, the Republican fascists are hard at work perpetuating the willful ignorance of what is apparently a majority of the American public. The superstition and fear of our christian fundamentalist is but the tight inner core of a much broader and pervasive ignorance, rampant in today's America. The fundamentalists merely provide the paradigm model, showing the rest of "Middle America" how to turn away from what their eyes show them, and their God-given rational minds would teach them -- if they could stand to listen. The entire ethos of Republican America is just an earthly version of the fundamentalist cosmology. Get yours -- your place in heaven, that is. To hell with everybody else. And don't ask too many impertinent questions. The corporate master might give you a dose of divine wrath. Just swallow whatever propaganda he's peddling this week. Whatever you do, don't allow reason or evidence to intrude on your godly thoughts.

Now you know why the fundamentalist worldview has survived the wretched Middle Ages that spawned it. It is tailor made for the grooming of mindless corporate drones. It will come in handy, when the corporate fascists complete their work of reestablishing feudalism. It teaches the new industrial serfs the one lesson they need to learn, and learn quick. Don't question the arbitrary and ruthless power of the lord. Instead, tell him how "good" and "just" he is. That same absurd cosmology of fear and intimidation, likewise has no place among intelligent, rational human beings who govern themselves, and wish to live as free people. Fundamentalists are the enemies of freedom, democracy and reason itself. 

It is high time we treated them as such.