The Baystate Objectivist

The Baystate Objectivist

Sunday, December 20, 2009

On Reason

Versus Religion

Me, Jordan Williams and Micheline at the Haymarket in 2005.

Regular readers know that while I strive to be a very spiritual person, I've never seen any human religion that any self-respecting deity would have anything to do with. While going through some ancient emails recently, I came across this interesting message from my friend Jordan Williams, referring to a piece I wrote about the dangers posed by those who replace reason with unproven religious dogma. Unfortunately, no complete version of my original essay is known to exist, although there is a long quote from it included in Williams' email. It also features a fascinating first hand account of a rock concert riot in downtown Springfield.

From: William, Jordan R
Sent: Monday, May 23, 2005 10:11 PM

Hi Tom,

I must say I'm impressed by some of the great thoughts expressed in your most recent essay. As you so often do, you wrote about a difficult topic with great clarity. I especially appreciated the following passages:

"Anyone who abandons reason, whether it's the local Sunday school teacher or Osama Bin Ladin, is potentially dangerous. Bin Ladin is more aggressively dangerous because he has made his irrational religious beliefs central to his entire world view, while the Sunday school teacher is likely to be more harmless because she has compartmentalized her faith into a small activity.

"But history has shown that even a harmless Sunday school teacher can be transformed into an agent of evil quite quickly under the right circumstances. Observe any religious war or persecution you can think of and you can see that even the mildly religious can be inspired to engage in a whole host of bigoted, science defying and humanity crippling behavior when threatened in the right way or under the thrall of an evil religious leader. Once someone has abandoned reason and their own senses as their standard of judging reality, anything becomes possible, with the emphasis on those possibilities that are the most destructive.

"The wisest people try to accept the mysteries of creation without trying to make up or latch onto other people's explanations that are unprovable, no matter how uncomfortable those uncertainties may make us feel at times. It is often hard to accept things like death, our own and the death of those closest to us, without the comfort of imagining that we are somehow immortal, even though no evidence in the natural world supports that belief.

"It is hard to see terrible catastrophes and senseless tragedy, to see good people suffer and bad ones prosper, and accept that there is no one judging what is happening (except we humans) and that no cosmic justice rights such wrongs (that is our responsibility.)

"It is difficult to stand before the awesome majesty of the universe and confront the eternal questions, "What is it and what makes it go?" and to have the courage and the honesty to reply, "I don't know." In the meantime, I may not know what life is all about, but I'm gonna sure love living until I find out."

You are so right. You call to mind what people like Hitler and Mao and Stalin could accomplish when they controlled the major inputs to thought - and especially when they institutionalize such thought at a formative age. It is when reason is abandoned and the focus is on faith that Rwanda style slaughters become possible. Mass violence can be very exciting, as I learned once when I got caught up in a mob of concert goers in downtown Springfield.

It was around 1978 at a Jethro Tull concert at the Springfield Civic Center when several dozen of us guys, drunk and stoned, somehow mobbed up. I can't even tell you exactly what started it. I was not one of the ringleaders, but I have to admit that I was encouraging, even hoping for, more mayhem. We went rampaging through downtown, lighting fires, damaging cars and throwing bottles. It was VERY exciting! In all it probably lasted about 15 minutes, but it seemed much longer in our excited frenzy. I shudder to think of the carnage we would have been capable of as a group had it not been for the arrival of a baton swinging contingent of Springfield's finest. Once a few of us got hit by those nightsticks, we quickly reverted back to the generally well-behaved middle-class kids we were before the meelee broke out.

What's scary is that I honestly don't know who that person was, with my face and my name, in that mob. Thinking about it retrospectively, I'm frightened to think what it is like when evangelical fervor and/or racial/ethnic hatred is added to the mix. It isn't hard for me to imagine how mass murder could've seemed like great fun for we crazed youths.



P.S. I leave for Paris on Friday with "my aristocratic whore" Micheline (she likes the title) to watch the French Open, visit Versailles and stuff. We are also taking the TGV train (over 200 mph) to Brussels which should be a kick. I'll send a few pics when I return.

From Today's Wall Street Journal

"After a nearly century-long struggle we are on the cusp of making health-care reform a reality in the United States of America," Mr. Obama said on Saturday. He's forced to claim the mandate of "history" because he can't claim the mandate of voters. Some 51% of the public is now opposed, according to National Journal's composite of all health polling. The more people know about ObamaCare, the more unpopular it becomes....

Never in our memory has so unpopular a bill been on the verge of passing Congress, never has social and economic legislation of this magnitude been forced through on a purely partisan vote, and never has a party exhibited more sheer political willfulness that is reckless even for Washington, or had more warning about the consequences of its actions.

Paolo's World

We didn't get much snow here in the Valley this weekend, but in New York City it got so blizzardy that the people of New York City reacted with a big old fashioned snowball fight! Northampton to New York transplant Paolo Mastrangelo describes the scene in pictures and video on his blog.

Check out the action here.

XMass Stuff

Former Valley newsman Jim Polito seems to taking his Santa shtick a bit over the top.

Radio dude Monte Belmonte's Christmas video features cute kids and a touch of psychedelia.

Today's Music Video

People what have you done?


Paolo Mastrangelo said...

Hey Tommy,
thanks for the shout!

For clarification, Janette Sadik-Khan, the city’s transportation commissioner, closed this section of Broadway for the full summer season, to fight traffic congestion and open up public space. It was temporary, with the possibility of becoming permanent. It was not without controversy, but was a wild success beyond expectations. The avenue was jamp packed with people everyday, and citizens and tourists raved about it. Here is but on photo of what that looked like:

I'm not sure, but I think it is now permanent.

Also, the photos in your post are not mine, lest anyone think they were. They came from Flickr user thisisalexking1:

Anonymous said...

Hey Tom,

Not that anyone needs any encouragement, but if a true revolution is about to happen, and I'm part of the "opposition," ah, speaking solely for meself, "good timimg," with "good reason." But I shouldn't be listening to the voices in me head. This one's "anonymous." Nudge' nudge,wink,wink. No what mean, no what I mean?"

Anonymous said...


Tom said...

Well, shows I haven't been in New York in a while.

Anon, the revolution welcomes recruits from all walks of life.

jim said...

You call to mind what people like "Hitler and Mao and Stalin could accomplish when they controlled the major inputs to thought - and especially when they institutionalize such thought at a formative age".
I would just as soon believe any of the above lunatics over an idiot who preaches that two people of the same sex can get married, they are just as twisted, but in a different vein. LMFAO