Friday, July 15, 2011

Miscellaneous Aside II. The Unintended Consequences of Assuming that a Free People will also have Free Minds

Thomas Jefferson, who once wrote, “Almighty God has created the mind free!” also coined the phrase, “A wall of separation between Church and State." This ‘wall’, established as law in the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution, was a radical departure from the prevailing European tradition of officially endorsed and enforced versions of Christianity. What Jefferson, Franklin, Payne, Madison, and others could not have foreseen were the consequences of essentially creating an “ideological free market” where religious entrepreneurs and various salesmen of the sacred could thrive. In the several centuries that followed our Nation's founding, egoists and charlatans gifted with the power of oratory (and no mean insight into the human condition) have filled that vacuum with a greater diversity of religious innovations, hocus-pocus, denominations, sects, and thought-control than any other nation in human history. In that same period of time, the religions of Western Europe have dimmed and largely faded into insignificance, having lost the power to persuade modern people to believe in things which could never be proven, and can no longer be defended.

An instructive parallel can be found in the failure of the former Soviet economy when compared to the economic boom of American capitalism during the 20th century. As any good capitalists can tell you, a controlled economy suppresses initiative, entrepreneurship, and creativity. Likewise, a controlled religious thought system. Having no competition, the established churches of Europe not only failed to enthuse, but went so far as to actively suppressed new and inspiring ideas, as well as their creators (i.e. heretics), frequently "on pain of death." Conversely, the ideological free market created by the wall of separation between church and state in America selected for orators and thinkers capable of capturing the minds of the simple as well as their pocketbooks. From Mormonism to Scientology, any well formulated nonsense which somehow resonated with the psychic yearnings of the gullible became a movement, to the profit of its creator.

An inevitable outcome of any widely embraced thought system (rational or irrational) is the indoctrination of future generations which inescapably follows. For better or worse, any idea implanted by parents during the early stages of a child’s development will put down roots which can only be modified or extracted with sustained, deliberate effort. When indoctrinated beliefs happen to be attached to the status of an individuals ‘eternal soul’ in the ‘next life’, successful modification (if possible at all) will likely be cathartic.

As religious belief/faith diminished in importance in the European mind, ideas which were antithetical to an emerging scientific understanding of the world had lost their power to sustain indefensible irrational beliefs. Not so in America. The hocus-pocus wrought by generations of charlatans (culminating in the modern Televangelist) have breed an arrogant irrationality which now scoffs at the possibility of climate change while extolling the virtues of trickle-down economics. That this arrogant irrationality has been organized into a political force does not bode well for our collective ability to chart a sustainable course into the future we will have to share.

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