In a couple of my previous ZNet Commentaries I referred to “believers”, people who, for various reasons, have to pretend that they are religious believers, and I mentioned that in a future Commentary I could explain my views on “believers”. I had planned to do that in a month or so from today. Then, in the May 26-27, ’07 issue of the “International Herald Tribune” there was an op-ed article by David Brooks, with the title “The Catholic boom”, about people that he calls “quasi-religious”. Mr. Brooks’ article “prompted” me to write the article on “believers”, that follows, today; two days after reading his piece.
Brooks describes “quasi-religious” people as people who “attend services, but they are bored much of the time. They read the Bible, but find large parts of it odd and irrelevant. They find themselves inextricably bound to their faith, but think some of the people who define it are nuts”.
Nine years ago, I contributed an article with the title “Religion and ‘Believers’ ” to “Democracy and Nature”, the international journal of politics and ecology, (Vol. 4, No. 2/3, winter 1998-99). The article begins by posing an assumption, “the assumption that humans innately have the potential to think rationally. If this assumption is correct, then the text that follows could arguably also be correct. If the assumption is wrong, then there is no need for this text, or any other text on religion, for that matter”.
Then I tried to “examine the impact of mostly the Christian religion on humanity, which for 2,000 years had and still has enormous powers of all kinds.” So, I proceeded to survey the core of this religion; the Resurrection, the Revelation, the Salvation, etc.
“The foundation of the Christian religion is the ‘fact’ of the Resurrection,…,the rising of Christ from the dead,…,Paul the Apostle, confirms this view very candidly. He writes:
But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. (1 Corinthians 15:13-14, King James Version, KJV)”
[Parenthesis: Even Aristophanes, the Athenian playwright, in the play "The Frogs" (ca. 405 BC) had something to say on the matter of resurrection and made Dionysus say of Hermes and of Hermes's father, that performing resurrections was a family profession. One should not forget that Hermes was the God of commerce, eloquence, invention, travel and theft!]
Thus, on the basis of our original assumption of the innateness of rationality in humans, it is reasonable to ask: do people really believe in the resurrection, the salvation, etc? Also, if they do not, then why do they profess to “believe”?
On the first question: Ordinary people may not have heard about… 6,000-year old earth, etc, but they have heard since early childhood that Jesus rose from the dead. That much they have heard. However, is it possible that people in their, even rare moments of lucidity, with the faculty of (the assumed) rational thinking functioning, really believe this thing to be true? No matter how successfully they have internalized this belief, can one exclude these moments of lucidity? The logical conclusion is that they do not believe this [the resurrection, etc] to be true.Could it be that this is what Brooks means when he writes that the “quasi-religious… find large parts of [the Bible] odd and irrelevant” or that “the people who define [their faith] are nuts”?
Now, suppose that an individual tries to persuade, say his neighbors, that he believes that humans can rise from the dead, e.g. after a car accident. Evidently, he would be considered insane and possibly dangerous. He would probably lose his job. If the same individual says that he believes in the Resurrection of Christ he is respected as a sane, pious, upright person and is honored by his neighbors, the Church and the community, not to mention the state and the corporation, that he might be employed by.
On the second question, why people profess to be “believers” (or “quasi-religious”, according to Brooks), let us try to list and analyze the possible reasons that make people to be “believers”:
Let us start at the top; the elite of the corporate world. These people are proud of their rationality, and they have powers of all kinds that give them many more opportunities for lucid thinking than the general population. Actually, they will not tolerate irrational thinking at the top levels of their corporations and they try to rear their children (and future heirs) as rationally thinking individuals. For example, they advise their daughters, and possibly help them, to have an abortion, if need be.Of course, they profess to be pious “believers”. At that level of society even the above brief analysis of the elites’ “believer” status is redundant. Their cynicism is all too obvious.
A little below the corporate level we find the politicians (actually the front of the corporate elites). No need to dwell on the fact that no politician can survive for one minute as a politician if he were to admit that he does not believe in God, to wit that he is simply a “believer”.
[Note: Is there a single person on earth who believes that W. Bush is a believer and not a "believer"? Of course, he can claim that he is following strictly the dictums of Jesus who said to the twelve apostles:
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. (Matthew 10:34-35, KJV)
It seems that Jesus "came" to earth in vain. I do not think that W. is "at variance" against his mother, Barbara, about Iraq and about the "sword". End of note.]
Descending to the next step of the social ladder we meet the people who make a living out of religion, professionals like priests, Popes, Metropolitan bishops, mullahs, etc. It seems that for people it is instinctive to seek jobs that offer sufficient rewards for the least possible effort. So, the religious professionals very “cleverly” choose a job that has as a basic task a few hours of work each Sunday, and the rewards are sufficient for a comfortable life.
Historically the religious professionals were (directly or indirectly) part of the political authority; any kind of authority. Being close to authority is an additional reward and a strong incentive for the “clever” choice. Another important motive for a young man to choose the cassock is the “rich” sexual life of the clergy. “Ask any minister who has to fight lonely women off with a stick” (Stanley L.Moore, repeating the words of a friend who is a minister). Also, one has only to check the scandals in the US for the last few years (Boston, New York, etc).
So, the conclusion is that the mass of the religious professionals as rational beings are “believers”, again for their own cynical reasons.
A step down the ladder leads one to the intellectual community (the academics, the authors, the journalists, etc). Here again, there is the need for a choice to secure a living. A choice that takes into account that any overt indication of being an atheist leads to trouble and very uncomfortable situations. Therefore, the solution of “believer” brings some material relief and possibly some discomfort in the conscience.
On the next step down the ladder, stands the vast mass of the population that includes the middle, the lower middle and the working classes. This mass of humanity to simply survive, that is to have a job, has to conform to the dictates of the elites. They have to live in the real world. And in spite of the indoctrination in the family, the school, the (inevitable) church,etc they are rational humans that have to “believe” in “ghosts”, because they know that otherwise they will have a rather difficult life.
Finally we reach the bottom rung of the ladder: the poor, women, the very poor and the blacks.
For the poor, who are almost crushed in the misery of their poverty, any serious thoughts about religion is a “luxury”. Whether they believe or ‘believe” is irrelevant. These people are disposable.
Statistically women constitute about 50 % of any given population. The Bible is a “manual” for the humiliation, the debasement, and finally of the dehumanization of women, that is half of the human race. Yet, all over the world women seem to be more “religious” than men. Why then this paradox of the humiliated woman willingly accepting the humiliation?
Twenty-five centuries ago the Greek sophist Critias said that “religion was invented to frighten men into” doing certain things. Thus, the main reason that seems to make women accept their humiliation, is the terror instilled by the Christian religion in them. They feel the intense need to be considered socially acceptable by being ardent “believers” in the prevailing faith and have the protection of this faith.
Women will be free of this intellectual dishonesty of having to be “believers”, only when there is a change in the barbarous, male-dominated present social system. When women will judge that it is time for them to openly express their atheistic and anarchistic ideas, that will be a sign that social change is on its way.
The very poor include those that are close to the lumpen condition (homeless, etc) and the prisoners. To ask people, that find themselves living as lumpen, to talk about religion is a “blasphemy” to them as individuals.
Prisoners have been included in this group, as their life resembles that of the very poor. However, their case is quite different from that of the very poor and is also very instructive. It seems that most of them become “believers” in front of the parole boards, for obvious reasons. This observation could be considered as a sufficiently accurate picture of the “believer” situation in the general population. It seems that prisons are the right places to find God and to be born again!
How blacks became religious “believers” in America and in Africa is a story of barbarity. St. Peter’s instructions about slaves are extremely revealing:
Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. (1 Peter 2:18 KJV)
For the word “froward” the Oxford English Dictionary offers the senses of: “perverse”, “hard to please”, and “evilly-disposed”. The original Greek word is “diestramenous”, that is “perverse” or “warped”. Peter’s advice does not sound very “reasonable”.
In a Christiano-economic context, black slaves in America, being human, and therefore rational, turned into “believers” and exploited at the utmost any chances offered by religion to survive. Little by little the American blacks, as part of the poor, the very poor, and the prisoners move away from the role of the Christian “believer”, either to cynicism and indifference or to Black Nationalism by joining the Black Muslims, again in the role of the “believer”. As for American black women, even more than their white sisters they have been striving to become “socially acceptable”, by being “believers”.
This was a very short overview of my 1988-99 article on “believers”. A basically “dishonest” attitude mostly forced on powerless humans by the powerful, religious or secular.
Now, Brooks urges people (especially the students) “to be the least believing member of one of the more observant sects. Participate in the organized religion, but be a friendly dissident inside”. That is, be dishonest and a hypocrite! A not unexpected advice from a religious (or is it “quasi-religious”) person.