Saturday, May 23, 2020

A Revelation

A religious believer, objecting to the prohibition of religious gatherings during the epidemic, lied about the matter.  Referring to religious services, this person wrote: "They’re not essential businesses, they’re essential, period. That’s our first amendment right as Americans. Liquor stores, bars, restaurants, are considered essential but churches and other houses of worship aren’t? The left is the true enemy of the people."

Bars and restaurants are not "considered essential": they were among the first businesses to be closed, for the same reason communal worship was prohibited: because they are places where people gather in close proximity, breathing on each other and exchanging microbes, then go out and spread them to others.  I admit I was surprised to find that liquor stores were allowed to open, but they were also regulated.  The ones in my town offered only curbside pickup, and of course you could also buy alcoholic beverages at grocery stores.

Further, worship was not banned altogether.  Churches could, for example, continue to broadcast services over the radio and other media, as they've done for many years.  Communal worship is important in Christianity as in most religions, but it can be done virtually, or as Christians call it, "in the Spirit."  Public health concerns -- not just for worshipers but for outsiders whom the worshipers would put at risk -- take precedence in an epidemic.

This is not what I'd call esoteric knowledge, and this person could hardly be unaware of it, so it's fair to say they were lying.  I asked rhetorically, not for the first time, why religious believers find it necessary to lie so much.  Then I corrected myself: believers don't need to lie, they enjoy it.

And then something occurred to me.  People in general love to lie, not just religious believers.  The blogger at Fake Buddha Quotes has noticed that many people prefer inauthentic quotations from the Buddha to genuine ones, and I've observed the same on Facebook and elsewhere: many people, liberal and conservative, progressive and leftwing, are consistent in posting quotations that are not the actual words of the celebrities they quote, and only rarely do they post genuine ones.  I don't think it's a conscious decision, but they do seem to be drawn to the bogus.  I agree, then, with the Christian claim that men loved lies better than truth, but Christians are not in a position to cast the first stone. This pattern can also be seen in electoral campaigns, where it's a prominent feature, but it turns up to some extent everywhere. because human beings in general love to lie.

Revealed religion is something we humans invented in large part as a safe space for lies: a domain where lying is expected, enjoyable, and communally shared.  (I say "revealed religion" because the old gods weren't much concerned about doctrine, just proper ritual.)  Paradoxically, though, sects must then put limits on the lying, limiting it to authorized persons only, with some lies at least temporarily ruled out of order.  That still leaves a lot of wiggle room.

This problem is prominent in Christian history because of Christianity's schismatic tendencies.  Jesus taught his falsehoods "in the Spirit," attacking other Jewish teachers and sects, and promised his immediate followers that the Spirit would also speak through them. The apostle Paul, like other early teachers, took this promise and ran with it.  But it very quickly became clear that the Spirit wasn't telling all believers the same thing.  This is most visible in Paul's letter to the Galatians, but it turns up throughout the New Testament: Christian leaders accusing others of false teaching, and being accused of false teaching in turn.

To this day the mutual accusations are hurled back and forth: those so-called "Christians" over there aren't real Christians!  Thanks to the Biblical and historical illiteracy of most Christians, it almost always emerges that whatever the false Christians teach is straight out of the New Testament, though they too embroider, invent, and selectively omit biblical teachings.  It's entertaining, and luckily neither lot can do more nowadays than vilify the others, in that spirit of Christian love that they tout as the core of their faith.