After sipping thoughtfully from his honey-lemon-ginseng green tea, emerod cocked his head and asked, “Paul, what’s really bothering you?”
Paul sighed and grimaced, then absentmindedly stroked his graying beard. “Well, I just don’t think they’re getting it. And it’s not just them—I don’t think anyone’s getting it. It’s depressing.”
“You’re not talking about cephalopod mating behavior, are you?” emerod snorted. Paul glared. Nodding his head, emerod said, “You’re talking about God.”
“Yeah!” Paul exclaimed. “What makes them think that God is talking to them? They’re crazy! If there were some organizing principle of the universe, something that created and ordered it, that you could call a ‘god’, it wouldn’t talk to people and it wouldn’t listen to them. It wouldn’t care if they are worried or sick or dying, or who they are sleeping with, or what kind of cracker they eat in church. That’s all just to get people to line up and get their pockets picked by the priest.”
“It sounds like what bothers you most is the idea of God’s rhetoric,” emerod said gently while picking at the crumbs on his plate.
“What do you mean by that?” Paul frowned, before swigging from his bottle of Molson.
“Well, it’s like this,” emerod said while looking straight at Paul. “You’re afraid that people who say they speak with God, or who say that God speaks to them through the Bible, will attribute God’s authority to whatever they say. Obviously, whoever created life and ordered the universe would have a lot of authoritative knowledge. Wouldn’t you agree with that?”
“Yeah, I guess so. If there were such a being. . . .”
“It would have ultimate authority. . . ,” emerod interrupted.
“But it still wouldn’t care about whatever humans were doing!” Paul interjected.
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves by questioning motivations. The question is, how would people know that a particular claim comes from God? How do they recognize ultimate authority? I think that what bothers you most about religious claims is the way they rely on a particular cultural warrant.”
“What do you mean?” Paul asked, his eyes narrowing.
“Well,” emerod continued, “religious claims use certain language or symbols, certain objects, or certain activities to establish a warrant or commonality between the person making the claim and the listener. These things are strongest in establishing trust when they have very deep and specific cultural significance for the individual, or even more for a group.”
“Yes, I see,” Paul nodded. “That’s how they trick them into not thinking. They play on sentimentality. . . .”
“No,” emerod shook his head, “that isn’t the point. The point is that the commonality is specific, concrete, material, and meaningful. The meaning reaches beyond the word or the object and makes the worshipper consider a greater order, and a deeper order, and a longer-term plan. There is a connection between shared, objective experiential reality; personal identity and memory; and a broad, universal order. And this connection occurs in the mind of the worshipper, in all the worshippers at once.”
“OK,” Paul said blankly.
“Your claims, on the other hand, are fundamentally different,” emerod said, nodding toward Paul. “Generally, you have no cultural connection with the listener, if you are talking about science. Science is supposed to be divorced from cultural context. Atheism, likewise, denies all cultural context, except perhaps a resentment toward religious authority figures. Any artifacts you have are by definition meaningless, because if they have any intrinsic meaning attached to them, they are useless for science. Am I wrong?”
“Well,” Paul said, “I don’t know. Maybe not.”
“The only things that matter are the ideals of Science, or Reason, or the Enlightened Society. Humanity has to come to scientific atheism as a context-free, idealized, undifferentiated mass of automatons.”
“I don’t like the word ‘automaton’. . .” Paul began.
“If they don’t have free will, they are automatons,” emerod said flatly.
“Whatever. You make determinism sound like a bad thing,” Paul muttered.
“So, since Science is given as the ultimate authority in knowledge, and atheism explicitly rejects any other ultimate authority, you’re left with bringing them to accept that. You could rely on their natural reason. . . .”
“They’re too stupid,” Paul noted. “At least, most of them are.”
“So, you could try utilizing cultural artifacts,” emerod suggested.
“I don’t want to trivialize Science,” Paul said, incredulously. “Besides, I’ve done it, and it usually doesn’t work for long.”
“Well, the bottom line is that you want them to follow the dictates of science in everything, but especially in the authority of knowledge itself. So, you have to establish authority explicitly and without compromise. Their past prejudices and sentiments have to be squashed, and their personal beliefs have to be extracted like rotten teeth. Nothing can be left to chance if you want to purify their thinking. This will become especially apparent when they have children, and they bring them up to think freely and clearly, without any religious ideas, giving all their loyalty and devotion to Science and to serving the Earth. After a few more generations, all of humanity will be thinking with one mind, one idealized, harmonious whole devoted to the love of a perfect Science.”