Recently, despite the lockdown many churches in my country decided to perform the Easter ceremonies. All around the world one of the institutions that has been most stubborn in accepting the lockdown has been the religious ones.
- In France a priest apologised after after officials confirmed that around 2,500 of his parishioners have contracted coronavirus. At least 17 have died.
- In Virginia, an evangelical pastor died of COVID-19 just weeks after proudly showing off how packed his Virginia church was — and vowing to keep preaching “unless I’m in jail or the hospital.
- In Korea most cases of coronavirus have been linked to a church that has coincidentally banned health masks. Famous patient 31 was also part of that church.
Why is that though? Is religion always destined to fight science? Many people say no. We used to say that nowadays religion is not opposed to knowledge and that knowledge and faith can co-exist, but here we are again, visiting a similar boxring.
I think it can be summarised to the following. That preacher in Virginia said ““I am essential,” he said when he decided to keep his church open, “I’m a preacher — I talk to God!”.
I am essential. This hits the nail on the head for why the churches aren’t closing. They want to feel essential and insist that they are; that they are special and different not just from other businesses but other religions as well. In the process, they make a global problem all about them.
You are going to wonder: Engineers, musicians, economologists, mathematicians, chemists, programmers, plumbers, bakerers no one can go to work and they can all make arguments about how they are essential to the well-being of society. They just accepted that right now there is something more important than then. Why is the church causing all that ruckus?
I will make an argument that religion has decided to die on that hill for the following reasons:
- There is a natural competition: Religion, science and art, all claim to ease human suffering, provide happiness or be places where humans are looking for answers.
- Religion acts like money as they are both faith based systems. Science and art is for religion the equivalent of counterfeit money, therefore it cannot easily tolerate them.
I will also make an attempt to identify against science due to core differences in their core DNA, as well as philosophies in life.
Modern science is based on the Latin injunction ignoramus – ‘we do not know’. It assumes that we don’t know everything. It’s the willingness to admit ignorance. Even more critically, it accepts that the things that we think we know could be proven wrong as we gain more knowledge. No concept, idea or theory is sacred and beyond challenge.
One difference between religion and science is that science assumes humankind does not know the answers to many of life’s biggest questions. Religion, however, assumes that the important stuff is already known.
This is of the core distinction between religion and science. Science believes in progress, religion believes that we are already there. Science wants to explore, religion wants to stay home. Science is looking for answers in data, religion in the wisdom of a supreme being. Science believes (pun intended) that opinions should be scrutinised, current theories should be challenged and that people’s authority adds nothing: It’s only data that matters. Everything is accepted only after proof has been presented. Religion has at its core that the gospel shouldn’t be challenged, no proof is required only faith and it’s all based on the unchallenged authority of people who speak on behalf of God.
Pay attention, religion doesn’t say that we know everything. It claims that we already know everything we need to know. The rest is either out of limits or no concern of ours. It doesn’t matter whether your discovery directly contradicts the existence of God. Your sin is that by looking for more answers, you declare the gospel inadequate. Does it make sense now why religion was so adamantly against, phenomenally, innocent claims like Galileo’s? You want to say that Earth is round and not at the centre of the universe? This is not included in the gospels, are you saying you are better than them?
Okay, fine. There are definitely points of contest. However, people don’t have to look for answers in only one place. Science may not include God, but certainly does not contradict him. The fact that silver has value doesn’t make gold have any less value. Why can’t we all just get along? The problem with religion is that it doesn’t act like a rare mineral, but it acts more like money and science, as well as art, is equivalent to counterfeit money: It threatens all money.
Money, money, money
Take a money bill out of your pocket and have a look at it. How much do you think is actually worth? Right answer is nothing. Money has value only because we believe it has value. From one point of view, you may call it a giant conspiracy.
Religion is remarkably similar to money. It is important, because we believe it is important. They are both self-referencing systems. A church is a church, because we believe it is a church. It’s what makes us see a priest talking to god, instead of an old man talking to an empty room in archaic rhymes. If there is no faith there is no magic. Take a christian to a budhist temple. They may appreciate the intricacies of Asian art, take photos in front of a Bhuda, may even feel a sense of peace due to the tranquility that usually resides within these temples. However, they will not feel any of the devoutness or sanctity they feel in a christian temple. They will have respect, but no venerance.
Basically, all they will see is a nice place to have a lunch break, not a holy site. The faith is not there and thus the magic is gone.
There is a priest and a dentist who are friends going together in latin classes. One day on their way back home they time travel to Rome of emperor Tiberius in 20AD. The dentist was on his way to propose so he has an engagement ring in their pocket and the priest has some money. After the initial sock, they realise that at least they can speak the language thanks to their Latin classes and they try to make a living.
Very quickly they realise that thanks to their classes they can speak the language and they try to make a living. Soon, they realise a discrepancy in their ability to adapt to the new environment. The dentist’s engagement ring is made out of gold and a diamond, he is able to sell it for a hefty sum of drachmas. With that he opens up shop. Even though he lacks his tools, he is still able to offer his services. On a more basic level, but still it’s worlds ahead compared to what Athenians had available to them at the time.
The priest has more of an uphill battle. He has US dollars in his pocket. In 2020 they are the most powerful currency in 480 BC it’s just paper. He tries to preach but with very limited success. People already have their religion and the idea of a single God seems plain ridiculous. He doesn’t really manage and to cope he tries to ask for tax exemptions and for the government to pay his salary but he is met with laughter: Who is this charlatan speaking nonsense about something called christianity? Having a profession doesn’t mean you are forsaking your duties as a citizen – Athenians take these things seriously.
This is an example of how certain things have value, because they are rare or because they alleviate pain among others. Take religion out of context though and you are not left with much.
One fake money and ALL money loses value.
The thing with money is that there can be only one: You can’t have more in a country. Otherwise, it erodes the faith we have in our currency and, remember, money is all based on faith. Without it, all you are holding in your pocket are pieces of paper with complicated patterns.
One of the most severely punishable offences is making counterfeit money. It’s one of the few ones that you get punished whether you are rich or poor. States don’t joke around with that. Stealing money, just means money changes hands in an illegal way. The money is still there. Making counterfeit money though, means potentially all money could lose its value.
That’s the key: Money can’t afford to allow the existence of other money. It’s not euclidean geometry which has no issues with non-euclidean geometry, or statistics not having friction with jazz music, painters getting along fine with photographers. All of the above have merit on their own. Money doesn’t. It’s all based on faith and just like religion it cannot afford to make compromises.
Hang on you will say: There is not one type of currency in the world. There are around 150 countries that give or take each have its own money. How do different currencies co-exist? Short answer is that they don’t co-exist. Not really:
- From the point of view of the average citizen – remember this is a faith based system – each country acts as its own separate bubble, where the currency is not really challenged. Just like a Christian pastor in Dakota, is not really bothered by a Muslim Imam of Cairo. They don’t compete over the same congregation.
- On the international level, these different faiths recognise the superiority of one currency supreme: The US dollar. So, it’s not like they are co-existing; it’s more like you worship Hermes, I worship Athena, but we all recognise the authority of Zeus. There is no religious equivalent to that since religions don’t have to trade, but if it did , there would be a similar pecking order.
Just like for governments money should come only from official authority, religion claims that knowledge should only come from the gospel. If anyone can print money, then our trust in them starts eroding, money stops being special, the line between currency and pretty paper becomes dangerously thin. So, there can be only one…
In the end is all about beating the competition
Hang on you will say. Can’t all this be resolved if religion simply reduced its portfolio? Nowadays there is still value in messages about compassion, empathy and communication. Humanity’s needs for a moral compass hasn’t really changed. Can’t religion say something like: I am here to give spiritual guidance and leave the material questions for the rest.
Well, it’s not that simple:If you have made claims that you have all the answers and nothing else is important, then anything else is a challenge to your authority and, let’s be honest, to your income.
Furthemore, how would you present changes in the dogma? You have already written yourself into a corner by claiming holy origin to your gospel. What happened, God sent a follow-up? And in the end what would be your motive? If people are looking elsewhere for answers, it also means they are spending money in other places. Money that could have spent on you?
In the end it comes down to money and power. Beating the competition. When the Taliban invaded Pakistan they banned music, TV, dancing and education. Anything that can potentially ease mankind’s suffering or make them think about other things is a distraction. A potential competition.
There is this old greek movie, where a doctor arrives in a remote village where, up until then, a woman who was something of a local witch has set up shop. There is a natural conflict between them, even though in theory there shouldn’t. However, each recognises its natural competition.
Hipppocrates scoring 1-0
Since this text started about Coronavirus, we can wrap it up with Coronavirus. This pandemic signified a huge milestone for mankind. For the first time in its history, all humanity globally turned to doctors for its saving. The vast majority of governments declared that churches should close, but hospitals should remain open. After millenia of litanies, exorcism and prayers this is a big step forward for humanity.
In the past, the best minds of the day worked on finding ways to give meaning to death. Today, our best minds work on preventing death. It took quite a long time but it seems that humanity finally realised that the ones who can save them are the ones dressed in white, not the ones dressed in black. Just like in the movies. It also means that after many, many centuries, that guy from Kos island scored Hippocrates scored a much, much deserved point.