Friday, February 26, 2010

A Modest Proposal for Preventing Religious Wars and Exterminations

Before Reading it is important to know some background. The following essay is based upon A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift. It is satirical.

A quick look into the history of violence brings the inquirer to a wretched conclusion: the greatest, most terrible violent acts of men are not caused by power, greed, or difference in political ideals, but by conflicting religions. There was the Holy Inquisition, where heretics, Jews, and Muslims were often burned alive, the massacres of Indian Independence in 1947, where over a million Hindus and Muslims were killed and ten to twenty million people were moved from their homes and the separate nations of India and Pakistan were established, the ongoing conflict in Northern Ireland between Protestants and Catholics, and the Crusades between the Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land. These are just the tip of the iceberg. Pages upon pages can be filled with the names, dates, and number of people murdered.

In order to fight a war effectively, each army must be united under a cause. Nothing unites people better than religion. If all people had the same religion, not only would religious wars and exterminations cease to exist, people would be united when solving social, political, and economic problems. However, there are countless barriers to a unified religion. People speak different languages; therefore, when religious doctrines get translated from language to language over and over again, the beliefs and teachings get lost in the translation. People also come from different places, geographically, making the parable of the mustard seed nonsensical to someone who lives in a place without mustard trees. Furthermore, people are firmly rooted in their own belief system, making massive conversion difficult.

Surely, the greatest minds in history have looked upon the idea of conversion to a single religion as complete and total folly, a fool’s errand, a waste of time. This is not so. Total conversion to a single religion would be the greatest accomplishment in the history of mankind. Perhaps it can be done.

First of all, the universal religion must be completely new. If any existing religion were used, the people who believed before the mass conversion would consider themselves superior, thereby creating disharmony, which cannot be allowed. This new religion should be easily adaptable to every culture in the world as well as every language. Ideally, the foundations for the new religion should already exist in every culture and language worldwide. Secondly, the new religion should include beliefs from different existing religions to make conversion easier. However, it should not be too similar to any existing belief, so as to avoid the aforementioned disharmony. People get pompous when they feel they are right and others are wrong. Creating a religious melting pot is easy enough, finding the correct balance of beliefs from different existing religions will prove more difficult.

Thirdly, the religion should be based on reason supplemented by faith. A religion based on reason can be proven, thus eliminating any skeptics or heretics. The presence of faith allows for different people to experience the religion in their own unique way. Speaking of which, the religion should be able to grow and evolve. It is unwise to make a religion too static. Overtime, certain acceptable practices and beliefs become less acceptable, for example, slavery, men’s superiority over women, and religious sacrifices. With these three principles in mind, a universal religion can be contemplated, and even formed. Here, I would like to take the opportunity to offer my own humble creation, a new religion, created with the above principles in mind.

In order to satisfy the first principle, the religion is based upon Mathematics. Mathematics exists in every human culture. The Laws of Mathematics are uniform across oceans, languages, and religions. The value of two is constant whether it is written as two, dos, duex, due, zuei, II, and so on. The angles of a triangle add up to 180 degrees regardless of language, location, and culture. This makes Mathematics the ideal basis of a universal religion.

The toughest part of organizing a new religion is the balance of the second principle. How can existing beliefs be represented in a new religion based upon Mathematics? First of all, most beliefs are two sides of the same coin. Monotheism and polytheism can be combined in pantheism, the belief in one God manifest in everything. This is easily adaptable to Mathematism, a possible name for this suggested universal religion. The laws of nature are written in Mathematics. If God is manifested in everything, then God is the underlying cause of everything. God is every law of nature discovered and undiscovered. Therefore, Mathematics is the way humans interpret the Will of God. The flexibility of Mathematism makes it ideal for balancing the second principle. For instance, Christians believe God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. This is true in Mathematism too. God is all-powerful because His natural laws dictate how the universe functions. God knows all because God is every natural law, whether it has been discovered or not. Lastly, God is everywhere because everything is part of God. However, the way Mathematism says God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent also satisfies philosophers, atheists, trandscentalists, Deists, and Pagans. Mathematism also satisfies the third principle. Mathematics is reason based. Mathematicians do not say the area of a triangle is half the base multiplied by the height because they have faith in the formula. They have proven the formula through logic and reason. However, Mathematism does involve certain amounts of faith too. Mathematicians have faith the digits of pi are endless and will never repeat, but they cannot prove it. Mathematicians have faith in the existence of infinity, even though infinity cannot be measured or counted.

Mathematism is quite a beautiful concept. It satisfies all three principles a universal religion should possess. Its properties in regard to the second principle are especially extraordinary. I strongly recommend complete conversion of the world’s population to Mathematism, or a similar universal religion, to end the hideous problem of religious wars and exterminations.


Tay Darramont said...

This was a great essay with many astute observations and fascinating insights. In fact, a religion similar to your idea of Mathematism has been invented before. It was called deism. Deism was created during the European Enlightenment in the eighteenth century and championed by many of the philosophes of that time period, most notably Voltaire. Deism, and indeed much of the Enlightenment, was primarily a reaction to Europe's terrible religious wars of the preceding century.

Deism was based on scientific principles in much the same way that Mathematism is based on mathematical ones. Deists believed in three basic principles:

1. The existence of a God could be justified by the existence and complexity of the universe;

2. The mathematical, scientific nature of the universe (the fact that it obeyed natural laws) proved that this God was just and rational, and therefore the afterlife operated essentially on a karma system;

3. The best way to worship this rational, scientific God was through scientific study and the ideal moral code was one of just, fair, tolerant treatment of others.

Voltaire summed up the deists' principles in the following quote: "The great name of Deist, which is not sufficiently revered, is the only name one ought to take. The only gospel one ought to read is the great book of Nature, written by the hand of God and sealed with his seal. The only religion that ought to be professed is the religion of worshiping God and being a good man."

The deists hoped, like you, that their religion would become widespread and end religious conflicts and intolerance everywhere. Unfortunately, it didn't catch on, and most people today haven't even heard of it.

So, in conclusion, you're not alone- there are others out there with the same aims as you. Personally, I think that both Mathematism and deism are great ideas.

Just some food for thought.


Gabriel Gethin said...

Deism is fun. It comes up in my US history class, how the Enlightenment influenced writers and thinkers of the American Revolution. If I remember correctly, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, among others, were all Deists. Personally, I think Deism makes the most sense of all religions. However, people tend to enjoy the concept of heaven and hell, divine intervention, and Biblical teachings.

Tay Darramont said...

Yes, I agree. The idea of divine intervention gives people a sense of security. It's more comfortable than the idea of a deistic "divine watchmaker" who created the world, set in motion, and left. Miracles and biblical teachings are something concrete for people to believe in, and heaven and hell are effective incentives for social morality. So although deism makes a lot of sense, conventional religion is more convenient for society (except when it leads to wars, etc.)

Gabriel Gethin said...

What bothers me is how people take it so seriously. They sacrifice their own needs and beliefs to the Church. I know a girl who passed out because she was fasting during Lent. It's great how strong your faith is, but you're hurting yourself. Plus, religion promotes conformity, submitting to a Higher Power. I'm more of a individualist, free-thinker, etc. Nevertheless, "To each his own." "Whatever floats your boat." If religion gives you the ability to lead a better life (by your own personal definition of better) than it's beneficial to you.

Tay Darramont said...

Despite the fact that Nietzsche was a bit crazy (ok, more than a bit), he had some good ideas. I think "religion of sheep" was one of his more astute observations. He disliked religion primarily because it encouraged meek obedience rather than celebrating individuality and the strengths of humanity. One of the dangers of religion is that it can lull people into complacency, make them believe that anything said by a religious authority is true. Hence, we have fanatics who will kill because they believe God wants them to.

However, I agree with you that religion can be a force for morality and personal enlightenment if it is tempered with a healthy dose of actual thought. Religion should go hand-in-hand with philosophy, and school should expose students to a wide range of beliefs so that they can learn to evaluate the benefits of each, rather than blindly following one.

Gabriel Gethin said...

The tough part about that, there's so many religions. Not to mention the multitude of denominations of Christianity: orthodox, catholic, protestant, etc. It'd be painful to study them all. Personally, I prefer philosophy to religion.

They serve a similar purpose, in some regards at least. Philosophy, at its core, is the answering of unanswerable questions. Once a definite answer arises, the topic ceases to be philosophy. For example, psychology was once philosophy. Now it belongs to its own category. Religion attempts to provide answers to the unanswerable questions as well. The main difference? Philosophy answers with reason. Religion answers with faith.

This brings me to my second objection to teaching religion and philosophy to everyone. To be a good philosopher, one must learn to doubt. Doubt is the antithesis of faith. Therefore, religion breaks down after learning philosophy.

Tay Darramont said...

Personally, I agree with everything you've said. However, not everyone is inclined to use reason to answer the unanswerable. Religion is a part of our world that isn't going away any time soon. To this end, I think that everyone needs to be taught about religion. Not taught religion- in fact I think it's better for people to be able to choose their own religion, or lack thereof, rather than being pushed into a certain one by their parents. That can easily degenerate into a repressive theocracy.

Anyway, being taught about religion is very different from being taught religion. An ideal religion class doesn't need to go over every single sect of every single religion on the planet, and not with an insane amount of depth, but it should cover the major ones, with an emphasis on how religion contributes to conflicts. This sort of a class would help to develop tolerance of other cultures and understanding of the roots of many current annd historical conflicts. I propose making a class like this a one-semester high school requirement, perhaps in place of the ridiculously simple technology class I had to take back when I was a freshman.

And yes, to be a good philosopher, one must learn to doubt. But shouldn't one learn to doubt in order to be a good believer as well? Doubt doesn't destroy everyone's faith. There are many believers who emerge from periods of doubt with their faith strengthened. Exposing everyone to philosophy, and therefore doubt, will help people to choose beliefs that make sense to them.

Gabriel Gethin said...

Our world's problems would certainly be easier to solve if everyone thought as rationally as you, Tay.

Tay Darramont said...

And the same to you, Gabriel. I thank you for this enlightening and intelligent discussion.