“I have often wondered, that persons who make a boast of professing the Christian religion, namely, love, joy, peace, temperance, and charity to all men, should quarrel with such rancorous animosity, and display daily towards one another such bitter hatred, that this, rather than the virtues they claim, is the readiest criterion of their faith.” Wrote Baruch Spinoza (1632 – 1677) in Theological-Political Treatise.
When one misconception is permitted to enter into one’s world view, it becomes possible to build a whole reality of falsehood upon that point. “Inasmuch as people defend their cause, by miracles, that is by ignorance, which is the source of all malice, they turn a faith, which may be true, into superstition. The superstition is then engendered, preserved, and fostered by fear.”
The first quote set my teeth ajar, on first reading, and so I was ruminating. The reason is strange; I knew it was true enough about Christians, although the Western news these days has been mostly aimed at Muslims fighting one another, but it was the Christians who have had massive wars over details of their respective variations on their religions, so obscure they are unresolvable by debate. The Philosophers Squared article on Montesquieu ends with, “Monotheism is the most evil idea ever created by man.” With the former Roman polytheism everyone just accepted everyone else’s idea of god as their personal belief and thus there were as many gods as there were people, plus however many more gods that one cared to create. My question was, why do people fight so bitterly over questions that have no verifiable answers?
The problem seems to be with deep “belief,” and that goes back to early formal Christianity and St. Augustine (354 – 430) with his anti-science idea, “Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.” With that idea ingrained and hardened into doctrine for seven centuries of the Dark Ages the unchallengeable doctrine of the church became absolute, and rational thinking and proofs by experiments with observable and testable nature became considered foolish, and then an evil to be destroyed. Many years later, St. Anselm (1034 – 1109) proclaimed, “Unless I believe, I will not understand,” and then Duns Scotus (c. 1266 – 1308) declared, “Those who deny the existence of contingency should be tortured.” What he was referring to was doctrinal belief, and soon came the Inquisition to verify the depth of belief with torture.
Cosimo de Medici (1389 – 1464) founded the Platonic Academy of Florence, which is reputed to have had major impact on the creation of the intellectual life of our modern world. This school found and translated the works of the Classic Greek and Roman scholars. It has taken five centuries to even approach the clear mindedness and good sense of the Classic Greeks and Romans. Their philosophies of Stoicism and Epicureanism had been vilified and even to this day they are words with unpleasant connotations. Perhaps Aristotle (384 – 322 BC) said it best, The least deviation from truth will be multiplied later. St. Augustine’s untestable idea opened the doors of imagination wide open to error. “Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.”
Unfortunately one need only turn on TV to see and hear the most preposterous ideas founded on invisible baseless assumptions glorified by hordes of slack-jawed followers. I support free speech by everyone, but …
Foolish speech based on fantasy must always be challenged with honest speech based on reality.