08 July 2020

Familiar absurdities

Imagine you're walking down the street, minding your own business, and a stranger walks up to you and points disapprovingly at the belt you're wearing.  "You know belts are against the law, don't you?"  You naturally stare at him in bafflement.  "Yes, they are," he insists.  "You can get a year in jail for wearing a belt."

"I don't believe there's any such law," you scoff.

"That's foolish of you," he insists.  "You're going to end up going to jail for a year.  You've already worn the belt; you've already broken the law.  There's only one way out."

By now you're getting just slightly nervous, so you ask, "And what's that?"

"Well," he explains, "a long time ago another guy got sent to prison for something he didn't do.  And because that was so wrong, the courts decided that from then on, people who commit crimes could get out of going to jail for them -- so long as they believe that this guy went to prison back then."

By now you're figuring this person is totally nuts.  "That's ridiculous.  No sane court would do things that way."

"Oh, there's one other thing," the stranger says, pulling a thick wad of paper out of his pocket.  "That guy who went to prison had a long list of things he didn't like people to do, and you need to promise you'll never do any of them for the rest of your life.  Then you can get out of going to jail for wearing that belt, because he went to prison all those years ago."  He pushes the wad of paper toward you.

You don't take it.  "Look, just go away," you demand.  "I don't believe you can go to jail for wearing a belt, I don't believe you can get out of it just because some other guy years ago was wrongly imprisoned, and I don't see why I should care about all these things that guy didn't like people doing.  None of it makes any sense."

"But," he replies, "it's a year in jail if you don't believe me and do what I say.  Do you really want to take that risk?"

o o o o o

This story is obviously ridiculous, but as I'm sure all readers noticed, it has the same basic "logic" as the central myth of a religion which is dominant in large areas of the world.  We don't see the absurdities of the Christian scheme of salvation because it's familiar and we tend not to analyze it.  We don't see the fundamental immorality of it either, for the same reason.  Not only are most religious taboos stupid (being gay, trimming your beard, working on Sunday, etc. don't harm anyone else and there is thus no legitimate reason to prohibit them), but if you really have done something seriously wrong that you deserve to be punished for, it is neither logical nor moral that you could escape punishment because Jesus was unjustly killed 2,000 years ago.

There are many such absurdities which we don't see as such simply because they are familiar.  If somebody told you that he, by reciting certain words in Dutch over a candy bar, could transform that candy bar into the actual flesh of Captain Kirk from Star Trek, you would figure he was either bullshitting you or suffering from delusions.  Yet it is one of the central dogmas of the world's largest Christian sect that if a child molester recites certain words in Latin over a piece of bread, that bread is "transubstantiated" into the flesh of Jesus.  A talking rabbit luring a girl down a rabbit hole immediately marks Alice in Wonderland as a fantasy tale, but a talking snake tempting a woman to eat a piece of fruit (with even more dire consequences) is a "spiritual belief", supposedly entitled to respect even if one does not share it.

Perhaps this is why, for many people, the road to escape from religion starts with learning about some religion other than their own.  It's easy to see that unfamiliar nonsense is nonsense, and this leads to taking a fresh look at the familiar nonsense.

It also helps explain why so few non-religious people nowadays become religious, compared with the much larger numbers of religious people abandoning religion.  Yes, people who were brought up believing this stuff tend to keep doing so out of inertia, but to start believing in it when you previously didn't?  The mental contortions involved are almost beyond imagining.


Blogger Hot guys said...

It really is ridiculous, I imagined bunny from the photo in one of the roles. 🙂

08 July, 2020 02:41  
Blogger Sixpence Notthewiser said...

You should see the faces people make when I mention there are some flaws with their mythologies. They're baffled when I point out that they would consider somebody crazy if they mention they pray to Zeus or that they believe Thor exists. They don't see their beliefs being as outlandish as the beliefs of others.
Cognitive dissonance, am I right?


08 July, 2020 04:15  
Anonymous Ole Phat Stu said...

As Ricky Gervais has pointed out, if you disbelieve in the 2999 other gods,
and Atheist me disbelieves in 3000, then you are almost as Atheist as I am.
So why not go the whole way?

08 July, 2020 05:09  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

As I was reading this, my first thought was, that it sounded like the Jesus story stuff {:-) ... which I found later at the bottom was

08 July, 2020 05:53  
Blogger Debra She Who Seeks said...

Good analogies!

08 July, 2020 08:01  
Blogger Ami said...

It's easy to see how crazy religion is.
Not so simple to figure out why it's not obvious to everyone else.

Having been raised in churches and religion, it wasn't easy to get away, but just one little doubt started the process.

It's a noble calling to start small bits of religious doubt in others.

08 July, 2020 09:17  
Blogger Mike said...

The inertia that has built up over the millennia is almost impossible to stop.

08 July, 2020 10:13  
Blogger Tommykey said...

My go to response to theists is when they make some pronouncement about God that they replace God with leprechauns, and then they will get some understanding to how they sound to atheists such as myself when they talk about God.

08 July, 2020 10:33  
Anonymous Cop Car said...

World History class in 1952: Rose McMaster, teacher - I learned that, until really recently, the Japanese emperor actually believed that he was descended from the Shinto god. He was a living god. I reasoned that if he could have been taught to believe that, we other people could likewise be taught to believe anything. Suddenly, religion made no sense to me. I've not looked back.

08 July, 2020 14:40  
Blogger Victor said...

All of these religions suck.
They're stupid!

Everyone knows the world sits in the back of a giant turtle.

And what's THAT turtle standing on, you ask?
Why, the back of another turtle, silly!
"It's turtles ALL the way down!!!"

By Victor. AKA: c u n d gulag.
'Night, ALL!

08 July, 2020 19:55  
Blogger dellgirl said...

I have nothing new or meaningful to add to the conversation. Just saying hi, stopping in to see what's new with you and to show my face. I hope you had a nice week, wishing you a wonderful weekend!

Stay Safe, my friend!

09 July, 2020 19:13  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Hot: And yet, until a few generations ago you could be killed for pointing out that it was a silly story.

Sixpence: That's what happens when people get inculcated with religion as small children, so they go through life without ever really examining it.

Ole: True, although many fundies believe pagan gods do exist but are demons leading people astray.

Ranch: Yep, it's a cheap knock-off.

Debra: Thanks!

Ami: And I do what I can to follow that calling.

Mike: We're making progress, though -- sometimes quite fast. Look at Ireland.

Tommykey: Good point. It's all just fairy-tale beings.

Cop Car: It's pretty bad when the people in charge of the scam start believing their own bullshit.

Victor: Heretic! It sits on the back of a tortoise, you turtle-ist.

Dellgirl: Thanks for stopping by!

10 July, 2020 02:20  

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