the assumption of responsibility for the welfare of the world
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All native religions that I have encountered are to some extent flawed, in more than merely their attachment to this world. Some are certainly farther from the truth than others. It is not possible, though, to categorize them in any clear way; they diverge from the truth in degrees, and fall along a spectrum. In principle, all belief sets are equal, and the individual beliefs must be judged as true or not true. But in any case, there is no justification for categorizing religions based on the number of believers, especially when the clear implication is that those religions which are popular and attract many believers are legitimate, and those that have attracted few (typically because they have not existed for a sufficiently-long period of time) are illegitimate, degenerate ― in other words, cults. A cult in the current usage by believers in mainline religions (even if members of new and miniscule splinter sects) can only be taken as a new and small religion that the labeller disapproves of. Few would dare to categorize one of the major religions as a cult, but it has been known to happen, specifically by adherents of evangelical protestant Christianity. Beyond that, there seems to be no reluctance on the part of purportedly-objective sources ― reporters ― against the use of the ‘cult’ label for any of the minor or new religions. The smallest religion that seems to have a permanent exemption from the label is Judaism, due obviously to its status as parent to the world’s largest religion, and protected partner in the so-called Judeochristian culture. Anything smaller, and much that is larger, is clearly not a worthy religion.
So it is that individuals who abandon their Christian beliefs for the ancient religions of Africa or Europe are taken as brainwashed and held in need of deprogramming. Never mind that Christianity and الاسلام ’al-’Islām were relative latecomers, and would once have had the same status, relatively. Never mind that there is nothing especially believable about Christianity or الاسلام ’al-’Islām. The great problem is the assumption that any person whose beliefs do not fall in line with the majority’s was indoctrinated, and that nothing of the kind takes place in the perpetuation of the majority’s religion. But what is indoctrination? It is, by the only definition available to my understanding, an attempt by those who have beliefs to inculcate those beliefs in one who does not have those beliefs, especially when the latter individual has no specific beliefs. It would certainly apply to the process of raising children. This is not an evil process. To the extent that we believe what we believe, that we take it as true, that we recognize that children must learn something and would prefer them to learn the truth, it is wholly appropriate that we teach these beliefs to our children. Whenever there is a case when someone who is not a child seems not to have specific beliefs on some matter, it is hardly reprehensible to share our beliefs with that person, and if it should happen that the person, for its own reasons, decides that those beliefs are true, then it is possible to say that indoctrination has taken place. And at the extreme, if we are in fact devoted to the truth, and naturally devoted to our particular version of the truth, it is a matter of service to that truth to share it even with those who already have specific beliefs, and if they are committed to the truth and thus open-minded, and eventually decide that we were correct and their previous views were not the truth, then that too may be indoctrination. And what is the harm? The truth is the truth. Either we know the truth, or we do not.
If we accept the principle, and are open-minded, and at least consider the possibility that we do not yet know the full truth, then we must also give reasonable consideration to new beliefs. If a religion has been in existence (from a public perspective) for a short time, and is not yet established among millions and millions of humans, it still may be a better version of reality than we have heard. In any case, some persons have decided that it is better for them. And if they were not raised to the beliefs, then we have a better reason to suppose that they have examined these new beliefs critically than we do to suppose that individuals who were raised to a mainline religion have examined its tenets critically. In fact, I am well convinced that most who maintain the beliefs with which they were brought up have not examined any of them at all. These religions are not particularly sensible or logical. They are, even, explicitly maintained by the idea of faith.
Under the doctrine of faith, a person is not required, encouraged, or even allowed to examine its beliefs. The founders have done that already; the examination is finished. The individual is not spiritually qualified to make the analysis. The gods have sanctioned the religion, and to question it, to attempt to understand it (and risk apostasy), is blasphemous. There are severe punishments, socially and spiritually, in the present and in the afterlife, for infidels, and to analyze the religion is to approach infidelity. Faith is the only acceptable stance. The beliefs must be taken as presented; they are not supposed to make sense. Is it any wonder that they don’t?
The usual term in mainstream society for the acceptance of beliefs without critical understanding, when referring to beliefs outside of the mainstream, is ‘superstition’. Superstitions are the weeds of the spiritual world. What we like is a plant; what we dislike is a weed. When we believe without thinking, it is faith; when others do, it is superstition. When we share our beliefs with the young, it is education; when others do, it is indoctrination. What we believe is a religion; what the outcasts of society believe is a cult. Those who toss around the characterization of ‘cult’ are doing so out of the highest hypocrisy. They are virtually all programmed, deluded, brainwashed themselves. They cannot tell you why their own beliefs are true; they have simply never doubted it. They cannot tell you what is wrong with alternative beliefs, other than their obvious difference from the truth, understood as whatever they were taught from the moment of birth, long before they were capable of rubbing two thoughts together, long before they could judge a thing as true or not. This is ignorance. And to attack what is different in ignorance is bigotry. All those who value thought and truth should take the word ‘cult’ as a term of pure hate, of malicious attack, and refuse to give credit to it. It is irrelevant that I do not believe in the religion itself. To attack the principle of reason with a term of hate is to attack me and my kind. I take it personally. Why doesn’t everyone?
Heavengate: Richard Lingeman and Edward Sorel on the same point, more amusingly
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