An Extract From
The Tyranny of Faith
By John Lash
[Religious people] are moved by emotions rooted in their faith, and they have reasons relating to their deepest, most cherished beliefs concerning God, humanity, and the world. Obviously, the strength of their faith does not permit them to put any of these factors in question. At a moment such as this [the death of a pope], faith prevails. Faith leads. Faith decides how people will act by a power all its own.
Let's define faith, not merely as the power invested in beliefs, but as the power invested in unquestioned beliefs. It could as well be said: the power derived from unquestioned beliefs. The dynamic of faith is particularly difficult to grasp, because it seems to have an almost magical ability to grant power to those who give power to it. This is called the placebo effect. It works with many things, from medicines to mantras. The efficacy of a placebo lies in a feedback loop: it gives power to those who give it power. For instance, taking the Host at Mass gives power to those who give it power. To those who give it no power, it is totally ineffectual.
However, the placebo effect does not consist just in this two-way exchange. There is a trick involved: the returning power of the placebo (be it an object, such as the Host, or an idea, such as transubstantiation) appears to be independent of the power granted to it in the first place. What really makes the feedback effective, and tends to quell any doubting or critical observation, is the way it conceals the uneven nature of the exchange. Those who receive the Host in Catholic mass, believing in the independent power of the Host, get back far more through their faith than they give. Or so it appears.
But the appearance here is deceiving.
We are not yet at the core dynamic of the placebo effect. There is another layer of dissimulation at work. The placebo effect makes it appear as if believers get more than they give (first level of dissimilation), but in reality believers give more than they realize (the second, deeper level of dissimilation). The placebo effect is wonderful, and really works, otherwise there would not be so many deeply religious people in the world, but what goes without comment is the depth of the investment that must be made to get a convincing return.
People can give away what is most precious in their humanity, that which belongs to each of us in the unsounded depths of human potential, without knowing what they are losing, or even that they are losing anything at all. The returning effect of their faith fills the void left by the evacuation within, but never fills it completely, for the power rendered to the placebo always exceeds the power that comes back from it. The second dissimulation conceals the huge inegality that makes the exchange work so effectively. The inability to see this double-dissimulating dynamic, and measure its toll upon the human spirit, is the immense, unspeakable tragedy of human faith.
The Abrahamic religions have existed since 600 BCE (Judaism, following the codification of the Torah under King Josiah), 33 CE (Christianity, founded on the fable of the god-man, Jesus Christ) and 600 CE (Islam, founded on a book attributed to a male "prophet" whose authority exceeds all others), and humanity is not getting any better for them. The trajectory of these 2600 years is one long jagged plunge into terror and destruction. Whatever good has been achieved in the name of these religions (and may well have been achieved without them, if we believe in the basic goodness of humanity — more below) has been massively overruled by the behavioral insanity demonstrated all through the ages by believers, behavior that is now culminating in the threat of a global holocaust, eagerly awaited, and perhaps deliberately precipitated, by a great number of the faithful.
© 2005 John Lash
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Comment by Peter Meyer:
It is not just in the Abrahamic religions that faith rules the minds of believers, preventing the full realization of their spiritual potential. There are Buddhist texts in which the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, advises his listeners not to accept anything on faith, but to examine all doctrines critically and to test all practices before committing oneself to them. But where Buddhism has become institutionalized, where an organization exists whose function is to "preserve" the teachings, this admonition by Shakyamuni Buddha is conveniently forgotten. In Tibetan Buddhism, in particular, it is said that the most important thing is faith, faith in the efficacy of the Buddha and the Buddhist teachings (and teachers) to reveal a path leading to freedom from suffering. In all schools of Tibetan Buddhism the practitioner is advised to look upon their main teacher as an embodiment of the Buddha (or, more abstractly, of Buddha-ness, a.k.a. Enlightenment). Faith in the teacher naturally extends to faith in the teachings (and one may demonstrate, to oneself and to others, one's faith by performing 100,000 prostrations and certain other practices each 100,000 times). So a recognition of the pernicious effects of unquestioned belief in the doctrines of the Abrahamic religions should not prevent one from recognizing the pernicious effects of unquestioned belief in the doctrines of other religions, including one's own (if one is still a believer).
This being said, however, there is still a huge difference between faith in the alleged beneficial effects of, say, "meditation" practices, and faith in such absurdities as that Jesus Christ sacrificed himself for us, and by being tortured and killed thereby "redeemed" us — or at least such of us as "have faith", "our sins washed away by the Blood of the Lamb" (so that a psychotic "God" will not condemn us to suffer torment in Hell for all eternity). This sort of "faith" is a form of insanity, a pathological mental illness, and the world is currently experiencing the deleterious effects of 2000 years of this insanity, with possibly fatal consequences for the entire human species, unless this insanity can be revealed to sufficient numbers of people for what it is: an embrace of the death of the human spirit, aptly symbolized by a tortured and dying god nailed to a wooden cross.
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