Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Why the faiths are conservative re: new ideas

Why the faiths are conservative regarding new ideas

Regular readers know that I am always watching the news or looking up topics of personal interest to me with one ear and one eye ready to receive an idea of an important topic or “case study” to discuss with you. Yesterday I got an idea of how to pull together and explain something that many find puzzling and that, as a result, has led them away from the orthodoxy of the Abrahamic faiths (Jewish, Catholic, Muslim). It is one of the primary reasons for the freefall that humans are in right now, one that must stop.

Many feel that, for example, the Catholic Church refuses to move with the times regarding ideas of science, also known as “progress,” and “spirituality,” also known as, well, heresy. Using the Catholic Church as an example it is alternately ridiculed, with the poster child for that being its condemnation of Galileo, and outright hated, for its perceived opposition to “medical procedures,” such as cloning, euthanasia, abortion, embryonic research. These same modern people who don’t understand and who criticize or at the very least have their faith diluted would also feel the same way about Islam and Orthodox Judaism and their equivalent conservatism, except of course the critics come from Christian heritage and thus marginalize the faith of the Muslims and Orthodox Jews (and certainly because of political correctness would think twice about taking on either group). So the Catholic Church is not only “fair game” to moderns who genuinely misunderstand and thus mock and hate, but it is also the last bulwark for western society against humans continuing their freefall and grave error.

When one asks the Catholic Church why yes to something and why no to something they cite scripture, doctrine and tradition. It is at that point that moderns shut their ears, roll their eyes and say, “Well, that is all out of date.” If the critics are kind they allow that maybe such rules and restrictions were “once valid” but are no longer. But here is the problem and I’ll give it to you in a series of specific examples so you can best understand. The problem is that humans never make the right decision when they first encounter a new idea or a new discovery and sometimes that error lasts with terrible results for decades and even centuries.

I want to first address myself to the most extreme of the liberals and peace activists who might be reading this. You and your cause for peace are the primary example I can cite. How many of you think that humans have ever made a good decision as the result of a new discovery in weapons? I think you would be the first to agree, due to your positions, that no great humanitarian breakthrough was ever achieved by the invention of the spear, sword, gun, cannon, bomb or missile. Put aside for the moment what conservatives will reply, which is that guns allowed people to hunt game and thus feed more people because one can equally argue in theory that this resulted in quick extinction of wild species and did not aid either agriculture or domestic animal husbandry. One can argue that weapons allowed defense against aggressors. But who had the weapons first? The aggressors are always the first to use weapons; not the defenders.

This is why the Bible states that humans must look forward to the time when metal is not used in swords, but in plows and pruning hooks. This is an example of where if anyone had gone to the Church for guidance as weapons are being developed, the Church would have been the first to question it and cite scripture. Notice how even in the bloody times of the Old Testament, the faithful fought with primitive weapons and no where are technology advances praised, even in the cause of conquering Canaan. Rather, the faithful won by their faith in God, their determination and zeal, and also through clever leadership and tactics. Yet they fell to the stronger Babylon, a military might, in time. So because the powers that be that develop weaponry never came to the Catholic Church for their “blessing,” we lack what would have been a shining example of what I am talking about, which is to see that the Church resists “progress” that it thinks will slip out of the control of human hands.

It is now easier to understand why the Church resisted-but no where near as much as they have been demonized-new understandings of the solar system. In fact it was a Catholic deacon Copernicus who was primary in this understanding and he was never censored. But the Galileo example is used to the point of nausea and so let me address it head on. If you read the Bible from front to end-the whole text-you will see that it is filled with praise and glory regarding the heavenly bodies, the stars, the moon, the sun, the sky itself and planets that moved (though at that time they did not understand that was what they were). However, there is a vast difference between the praise the Bible heaps on the planets and what humans are tempted to do. In the Bible it is understood that the heavens are not only the glory of God’s creation and to only be praised accordingly, but they are also practical gifts. All three of the faiths used a lunar based calendar and the moon is praised in the Bible and the Qur’an for its giving of light and a timetable for humans. Thus the scriptures, written in pastoral and agricultural times, are the first to admire the practicality of the warmth and light of the sun, the light and clock of the moon, and the beauty of the stars in determining the seasons by which humans live.

However, right in the scripture next to the praise of the heavenly bodies is stern warning not to use them for occult purposes, for fortunetelling and witchcraft. This is because it is God’s word, obviously, but why is it God’s word and why would God have such a warning? Again, it is the reason that humans never use such “discoveries” for the correct purposes. The Church was fine with people looking through these new optics called telescopes and as I said, Copernicus himself was of the Church. The problem is that during centuries that was rife with astrology and occult beliefs, the Church is very cautious about new “discoveries” that seem to challenge humanity’s responsibilities and purview and God’s realm. So long as the earth remained the center of the solar system and all the rest was put there due to God’s mercy in creation and his gift of practical goodness of light, heat and time management for humans, God’s word was easier to understand and follow. However, once people started talking about the sun being the “center” of everything, the Church as a body understood to its core what it has known about humans since the beginning: “Oh, oh.” The Church realized that human nature being what it is, new discoveries are never chalked up to even more glory and understanding of God; they are seized upon by power brokers, both occult and secular.

This is why the knee jerk reflexive position of the Church is to deny and stall with certain scientific discoveries. Astronomy is a particularly important example through the centuries because it not only seemed to make confusing what the Bible teaches (not that the Bible is a science text but the idea the sun is put there for the benefit of humans by God) but there is always the occult temptation of astrology: to actually benefit and harm people according to godless “rules.” This is also why the Church is rightfully cautious about new sources of "spirituality." For example, the Freemason organization was at one point in good standing and acceptable to the Church. However, it was easy to see where a fraternal interest in mysteries such as numbers, the universe, architecture and other solid interests took a turn to the arcane and the occult. That is the problem: when humans succumb to the subtle temptation of ego, where they view themselves as mini-wizards because like Saurman in the "Lord of the Rings" they get to close to the objects of their study. They stop being students and admirers of God's creation and start thinking they are the one who "really" understand and "wield" the power. When organizations cross that line that is why and when you see the Church disapprove of the faithfuls' participation... they see it not in terms as a "rival" to their "old fashioned" ways but recognize another of the countless times humans fall into the temptation of their own discoveries into harmful usage for both the faithful and everyone else.

So in this generation we have the great crisis of eroding value of life by humans versus what is life affirming doctrine by the Catholic Church. This battlefield is called “medicine.” The Catholic Church is portrayed as being unkind opponents to “medical advances” to “save lives.” (Though obviously an abortion never saved the life of the aborted baby), but I will confine my comments to embryonic research and so forth. Let’s look at how great human history in the ethical use of new discoveries of “medicine” by looking at three examples. The first example is the discovery of tobacco. Native Americans cultivated tobacco for ritual use, not for habitual smoking in recreation. Humans quickly latched onto tobacco for recreational use and became addicted for generations. That would not be a good example of a bad use of a medical discovery in and of itself except for one little detail. As recently as the 1940s and 1950s humans marketed cigarette smoking to the public as “healthy,” as a health improving and promoting activity. Three hundred years after the discovery of tobacco as a product for smoking humans were increasing their pushing of it as a health remedy, rather than recognizing at all its dangers. Those of you old enough to remember can recall along side me how many years of battle it has taken to get public recognition that no only were cigarettes not adding to one’s health but they were the source of much of the illness in the population at large and cutting lives drastically short. So tobacco is an obvious example of why humans never seem to get the big “discoveries” right.

The second is one that is less well known by young people today, but it involves radioactivity. When radioactivity was discovered, it was actually viewed as, yes, you guessed it, a medical advance, and I don’t mean its use in diagnostic x-rays and so forth. Look back in the history and you will find that humans quickly decided that radiating each other promoted good health. People were given doses of radiation as tonics, not for the targeted use that it now has, with the greater safety controls. Just like tobacco people immediately thought that radiating each other with radioactive particles would somehow give them “better health” and “cure illnesses.”

How could people be so stupid? Well, consider this. During the time of the discovery of radioactivity there were people, mostly British, who flocked to Egypt because they were fascinated with the culture and discoveries and mystique. And what did they do? They decided to dig up the bodies of mummified people, grind it up into dust, and take it as-you guessed it-health tonics. Yes, at the turn of the century wealthy people ground up and ate the remains of mummies. It’s not like someone told them, “Hey, mummies have a lot of vitamin Xyz so it is good for you.” Humans all on their own make the most terrible and scarily occult decisions imaginable. All of it comes back to the temptation, just as in the Garden of Eden, to “become like God” and control life. It is not so long after this that a few decades later someone had a close encounter of the wrong type, probably as bush meat, with monkeys or apes in Africa and HIV/Aids made the jump from the simian blood stream to humans. That is why the Bible has such a long list of unclean animals. Look at the example of the prohibition from eating birds of prey such as falcons and eagles. Look at the worry today about avian flu jumping from birds to humans from wild bird populations, just as HIV/Aids did from simians. Everyone knows that is the reason pork is prohibited, because of the dangers of poorly cooked pork and the disease (remember swine flu?)

Thus the holy scriptures are far from being naive or backwards and if anything HIV/Aids, swine, avian flu and "mad cow disease" demonstrate why God prohibited certain foods and food preparation practices. As another example, one point of pride of the Qur’an is that it reveals the existence of atomic matter, for example, over a thousand years before atoms were “discovered” by humans. Scripture is neither ignorant of science or naive. Today we have astronomers studying “what kind of sun is needed to support planets that could support life.” Yet the Church is mocked and demonized because the Bible teaches that the sun is a gift from God to humans to do what? I can’t hear you? The sun is a gift by God to humans to support human life.

Here is another example of how humans just can’t seem to get it right. How good did humans do when they “discovered” electroshock therapy for use in psychiatry? I mean, does anyone want to watch a rerun of “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest?” I know what I am talking about because my former father in law was, way before I met him, given electroshock therapy. It was brutal, it was scarring and while it supposedly “cured” one ailment to use the expression “the operation succeeded but the patient died” would be quite appropriate. I’m told that nowadays they call it something different and that it “really works” for “certain patients,” and I knew one such patient in the hospital where I interned. But let me tell you, if there is not an early warning poster child of a horrible misuse of a medical “breakthrough” I don’t know what a better one is.

Look at how ridiculous humans are at even trying to identify the great “curative foods.” One year coffee is bad and the next year coffee is good. We can all list the “good foods” and “good vitamins” and the “bad foods” and the “bad additives,” but wait a minute, can we? Can we really do that? Is not vitamin C the greatest thing one year, then discovered to cause heart problems if taken over a certain dose the next year, and then the year after that it is great again with no mention of the heart problems? And do we not see headlines “Vitamin C does not cure cancer” as if anyone with a brain ever thought that it did? But humans, like eating the mummy dust a mere one hundred years ago, want to make themselves gods and goddesses. They think that there are magic answers (found in science, of course) to all medical and spiritual “problems.” And now we find that we don’t even mind pushing around the cells of a human embryo in a laboratory and call that being “advanced” and “kind” and “being a humanitarian.” Yet those who discover ways to accomplish the same without being ethically challenged are marginalized, unfunded, not given publicity, and told “Well, yes, but your cure won’t be in time to save that celebrity with Parkinson's disease.”

That, my friends, as my end of year message for what has been another year of the downfall of humanity, is the reason the Orthodox Jews, the Muslims and the Catholic Church are the bastions of caution about “discoveries” and “breakthroughs” in “medicine” and “spirituality.”