Posted by: Jim | November 16, 2004

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Religion, Part 2: The Math of Religion

Here is the part where I answer the question, “Has the whole country gone insane?”

And I do it by mixing two of your favorite subjects: math and religion. Now, before you make a mad mouse-dash for a link to somewhere … ANYWHERE else … relax. I was an English major, so none or my mathematical theorems get any more complex than 5th grade math.

Mathematical statement #1: A negative times a positive is always a negative.

My first reaction to this is “Well that’s just completely pessimistic.” But in a recent conversation about Bert, my friend and I carried this mathematical principle forward into the philosophical world. That is … when an unreasonable person attempts to debate with a reasonable person, the unreasonable person always wins (or, they at least think they do).

I know many fine, intelligent people who devoutly follow a particular faith. These people have a more challenging task than non-religious people at justifying their world view without resorting to “because God says so” arguments. This is due to the very nature of faith. Faith means that you believe in something that you can’t prove. This can result in some mental gymnastics to create a world view that still makes sense in the real world that can be proven.

These fine, intelligent people, however, are not the problem. The problem liess with those who have abandoned their critical reasoning skills (because they failed to satisfy), and embraced an irrational world view that is based fundamentally on abstract, unprovable principles.

Those people are the source of the problem. Those are the Christians who have told me many times that my “intellect” gets in the way of my faith. To this I can only chuckle. And weep.

More and more of the people I talk to in the United States are sliding down the slope of irrationality. People are not listening to facts any more. They are reacting out of fear and reaching for an abstraction out of sheer desperation. So I ask myself … how is it that so many people can have so thoroughly abandoned their reason? What is making them so desperate?

Mathematical Statement #2: f-w=D

f = Fear
w = Wisdom
D = Desperation

To which you may respond, WTF? How far will Jim sink to expose his pseudo-intellectuality? You may be right, but STFU. I’m talking here.

Anyway, the F (in the formula) is easy enough to understand. We all got F’d on 9/11. Fear was visited upon even the wisest among us because you can’t argue with irrationality. (See Mathematical Statement #1.)

But by “Wisdom”, which I’m applying in a completely secular way, I mean a few things:

1. Honesty
2. Restraint
3. Dedication to humanistic principles
4. The desire to understand
5. etc.

Wisdom is what keeps us from becoming desperate. We all have a modicum of wisdom, but when the amount of fear we suffer from eclipses our thimble full of wisdom, it causes people to run in circles like their hair is on fire. When people become desperate, the cry out

“What do we want? Answers!
“When do we want them? Now!

And in the answer vacuum that our complicated world has become, people turn to an irrational answer: religion.

Note: I am not saying that everyone who has turned to religion has done so out of desperation. I am also not saying that all desperate people turn to religion for answers. There are other irrational responses. Some of them get drunk. Some put their head in the sand. Some climb the clock tower with a sniper rifle.

So this has been a long post which can be summarized this way: Americans did not have the wisdom to deal with the fears that beset them. Many are responding irrationally.

As Charles MacKay said in “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds” in 1841: (pardon my paraphrasing) “Men go crazy in groups, but regain their sanity one at a time.”

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