Mar 30 2007

Gravitation toward exlusiveness

 Arthur C. Clarke came to mind when reading your post.  Whether or not this has anything to do with your thesis is probably open to debate, but I think you will find Clarke’s comments entertaining if not enlightening…

The quote that made me think of Sir Clarke:  “Sometimes I think we’re alone in the universe, and sometimes I think we’re not. In either case the idea is quite staggering.”

Of UFOs:  “They tell us absolutely nothing about intelligence elsewhere in the universe, but they do prove how rare it is on Earth.”

Clarke once attempted to write a six word story as part of a Wired Magazine article but wrote ten words instead:  “God said, ‘Cancel Program GENESIS.’ The universe ceased to exist.”
That last bit is a reminder that random web-surfing will take you on strange journeys.  That 10-word story comes from http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.11/sixwords.html and includes these jewels of brevity:

Computer, did we bring batteries? Computer?  (Eileen Gunn)

We went solar; sun went nova.  (Ken MacLeod)

TIME MACHINE REACHES FUTURE!!! … nobody there …  (Harry Harrison)

Weeping, Bush misheard Cheney’s deathbed advice.  (Gregory Maguire)

Parallel universe. Bush, destitute, joins army.  (Steven Meretzky)

Anyway, back to your notion that religion gravitates towards exclusivity…  I’d suggest that at least some religions mitigate a natural human tendency to continuously break apart societies into smaller and smaller units for any number of non-religious reasons:  geography, skin color, language, clan or familial bonds, and affinity to others based on perceived similarities of beauty, athleticism, disease, affluence, etc.

During its first two centuries, the rapid spread of Christianity through every racial, ethnic, economic and social strata of the Roman Empire, from Persia to the British Isles, is an example of a religion that defied a society institutionally fractured into any number of highly exclusive factions:  citizen vs. non-citizen, free vs. slave, rich vs. poor, occupier vs. occupied, royalty vs. commoner, priest vs. layman, etc., etc.  Two thousand years later, clouded by the hubris of thinking we’re now a lot smarter than people used to be, we tend to forget how remarkable that first explosive growth was before it, too, became a behemoth institutional hierarchy.  There may be other examples, such as Islam and Communism and Televised Pop Culture, that tend to meld disparate folk into one society, but probably none as revolutionary as Christianity’s early years.

It’s easy to blame religion for everything that’s wrong with the world today, but that’s a bit like fixating on a knight’s shiny suit of armor and forgetting that there’s a man inside who animates it, or like focusing on a screen door and not seeing the landscape beyond.  In my opinion, when there’s something wrong with a religion, the problem lies more with its devotees than with the object of their devotion, but before this post ventures too far into the metaphysical, let me conclude with one last quote from Arthur C. Clarke.  I like its sentiment, but would have to add atheists, agnostics, and passionately anti-religion scientists to Clarke’s pantheon of friends:

“Finally, I would like to assure my many Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, and Muslim friends that I am sincerely happy that the religion which Chance has given you has contributed to your peace of mind (and often, as Western medical science now reluctantly admits, to your physical well-being). Perhaps it is better to be un-sane and happy, than sane and un-happy. But it is the best of all to be sane and happy. Whether our descendants can achieve that goal will be the greatest challenge of the future. Indeed, it may well decide whether we have any future.”

Permanent link to this article: http://levantium.com/2007/03/30/gravitation-toward-exlusiveness/

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