Saturday, September 11, 2010

Sanity and Rationalism

Michael Moore just posted to his blog in support of the Cordoba Initiative, and has committed to match other people's donations up to $10,000. I made a donation myself.

The first comment to Moore's post, though, just boggled my mind:
Can I just point out that all religions are 'made up' - I actually believe stupidity on this scale should be made an offense and punishable by locking up in a mental hospital.
The world would be an awesome place without all these horrible religious people everywhere,
Why let these people build a mosque? They believe in some made up tooth-fairy-santa-clause-style tosh - I mean, THEY ACTUALLY BELIEVE IT!!!!!! Those are some dangerous people to have walking around the streets don't you think - all religious people I mean. I just can't fathom it!
Yup yup, I agree (and have insisted on the point) that all religions are made up by human beings. But from there the commenter goes batshit crazy, claiming "stupidity" to be a criminal "offense" that should be "punishable by locking up in a mental hospital." Well, he's honest enough on that point -- that commitment to a mental hospital too often is simply a form of incarceration -- but it gives his game away: he's just a religious nut hiding behind legalistic and medico-scientific terminology. The confusion of crime and mental illness here is very common; you can see it when someone spits out "sick" at another someone whose sexual behavior or mode of dress bothers him, or when gay people and their allies use "homophobia" as a moral judgment. "Homophobia" is theoretically an illness, and you can't judge a sick person morally -- though you can administer electroshock to them, or lobotomize them, or drug them into submission and lock them away for the rest of their lives in an institution. So much better than religious intolerance, isn't it?

How would the world be different, let alone "awesome" without all "these horrible religious people everywhere"? Religion, I repeat, is made up by human beings. If religious imagery and belief disappeared tonight, people would simply find new language to rationalize and justify their behavior. There's no need for concepts like "heretic" or "infidel" when you have "stupidity", criminal "offense", and "punishment." By using the barely secularized notion of punishment, this commenter showed how religious he still is.

Aside from that, the commenter has not given any good reason why the Cordoba Center should not be built. First, he joins the legions of frothers who forget that the Center will not only be a "mosque" but a community center open to all. If you must have a prayer room in a building dedicated primarily to other purposes, better something like the Cordoba Center than something like the Pentagon, whose primary purpose is the organization of aggression and mass murder. Second, what is wrong with "tooth-fairy-santa-clause[sic]-style tosh"? Again, better that than the Mordor-Sauron tosh of the Pentagon, but let me take the commenter literally. If someone wanted to build a multimillion-dollar community center dedicated to the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus, and furnishing the same range of services proposed by the Cordoba Center, how would that be (in the commenter's word) "dangerous"? Silly, yes, but also socially useful. Would the commenter rant like this about computer nerds who study Elvish, Klingon, or Navi? Much of what human beings do is silly, fanciful, nonrational or even irrational. For example: from a "rationalist" point of view, sex without reproduction in mind, whether heterosexual or homosexual, is silly, undignified, degrading, animalistic -- which is why the medical profession and the biological sciences have mostly just carried over the worst, most irrational "religious" ideas about sex and medicalized them.

Far more dangerous is the commenter's readiness to incarcerate people for believing silly, false things. That's utterly at odds with the whole "Enlightenment" project that was supposed to put an end to the bloody-minded intolerance of Religion, but so far hasn't done so. On the contrary.