Friday, May 25, 2012

Seneca's Adage

Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.

- Seneca
I've been trying to ignore for several days the news about the pastor who is calling for caging gay people behind an electric fence until, since they can't reproduce, they all die off.  Then I saw technoblix youtube commentary on this, and since he's one of the youtube vloggers that I respect and who often voices my own opinions on things, I realize that I do not wish to keep quiet.

I don't agree with Christopher Hitchens that religion poisons everything, but I do think it poisons many things.  I recenly read the news of Pakistani parents who murdered their own daughter over her Westernized lifestyle.  They asfixiated her right in front of their other daughter. These types of killings happen, apparently, all the time, and they're called HONOR killings.  A daughter may try to choose her own husband, or the clothes that she will wear.  Or she may seek emancipation.  Or simply speak her mind, or talk to the wrong guy.  And the honorable thing to do, these people believe, is to murder her.  Never mind the ties of blood and affection.

Carl Marx said religion is the opium of the masses, but some religions are so inhumane that they're more like crack.  I concur that the Bible orders the genocide of, among many other groups, gay people.
If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them.  
- Leviticus 20:13
I concur that the Bible IS homophobic, inhumane, anti-woman and generally hostile, and if that's what the Bible says, then that's what it says, and this is a testimony of the questionable caliber of character and of the agenda of its authors.

What I question is the intelligence of modern people who attribute moral authority to the primitive, superstitious, animal-sacrificing savages who authored the Levite code. Should we not be more civilized than that?

The idea that today the extinction of gays is being preached from pulpits in America should make us all repulsed and embarrassed of the credulity and ignorance that plagues America.

There's a funny picture that recently went viral of a guy who tatooed the other verse in the Levite code that speaks against homosexuality (18:22) on his arm, unaware that Leviticus 19:28 forbids tatoos.  It also says that women who menstruate are obligated to sacrifice two innocent doves ... every month until they reach menopause.  No one pays importance to this and there is ample consensus that these verses are irrelevant and obscure, but that's precisely one of my points, the other being that these verses have no moralizing value and, in fact, are mostly amoral or immoral.

Deuteronomy 22:19 tells us what the price of a woman is, in case we should want to sell our daughters or sisters. It's 100 pieces of silver.  Biblical laws treat women as commodities, objects that men may own, purchase or sell. This is why the commandment that says Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife continues with or his ass, or his oxen, etc.  The so-called sacred institution of marriage, in its origin, was a property deed.   Women were the property.  Not too different, as we see even in the Ten Commandments, from cattle.

I hope I have adressed, by these examples, how religion is true to the ignorant and false to the wise.  I couldn't end this article without adressing some of the many ways in which religions are useful to the powerful.  I wish to honor the memory of Seneca properly, as I feel that this is the most important point he was making.

Religion was useful to the powerful from the beginning, when the Levites wrote in the Levite code the instructions for every Jew to pay them a tenth of their salary and to surrender to them the firstborn of every animal that was fit to eat.  Christian churches to this day still deduct the tithe even from their poorest members and are able to amass great wealth and power.

But religion is also useful to those who hold office and to the true corporate powers whose puppets they are.  One recent case, during the Bush regime, was the prevalence of propaganda that benefited the oil cartel and the war profiteers in the guise of apocalyptic imagery drawn from the Bible, just as the Islamic tradition has been used by imams to advance military strategies in muslim countries.

The need to make supernatural claims to legitimize a war should have raised many questions about its legitimacy from the beginning.  During the war in Iraq, and in preparation for it, numerous end-of-days Christian preachers cited supposed Biblical prophecies that had to be fulfilled in order for Christ to return.  These prophecies were invariably filled with military imagery from the Old Testament and made frequent references to Babylon, where the modern state of Iraq is found today.  The war in Iraq was sold to the believers as an inevitable part of God's plan.

As he was preparing to invade Iraq, Bush even made a reference to the fact that he was carrying out a crusade in the Middle East - many of us think that he could not have found a more inappropriate word, but he was not speaking to many of us.  He used that word to appeal to the religious base within his audience.

The crusades were, of course, also inspired by the Bible and also useful to the powers that governed Europe during the Dark Ages, all of whom served the Roman Church.  Even the sacraments were for sale.  Indulgences were paid to the priests by those who could afford it for the forgiveness of sins.  Medieval religious folk were made puppets of the powerful by the same religion that turned the powerful into puppets of Rome.

No tribute of money was as heinous as the tribute of human lives that were taken when the Crusaders arrived in Jerusalem.  It is said that, in service to the Pope, there were rivers of blood and mountains of corpses of Muslim, Jewish and even Christian Arabs when the Crusaders took the city, since they had no clear way of distinguishing between them.

And in more recent times religion gave us, again, immoral incentives (by way of salvific theology) to carry out the theft of land in the Americas from people who had inhabited it for an estimated 14,000 years, then the occasional act of genocide of the natives, and then to enslave the Africans that were brought here.  Here again the Levite code (Lev. 25:44-46) acts as a property deed that allows humans to be commodified.  For if God ordered slavery, how can slavery be immoral?

Religion is, indeed, useful to the powerful.  Things that are immoral are moralized, legitimized, and even dignified through the trappings of faith.  Credulity, we can attest again and again if we scan through history, makes people docile and so easy to manipulate that they are willing to betray their own interests, their own families and wellbeings, and even give their lives for the interests of their ruling classes.

And so we should be careful and indignant whenever religious claims are used to legitimize public policy, foreign policy, or any other attempt to legitimize what immediately looks like a distorted view of human interests to anyone who has use of reason.

Please, help to keep America secular and protect your mind by staying educated and free from superstition. Seneca wasn't just speaking as a philosopher when he gave us his adage.  It's still relevant because in every age, we have had to deal with abuses of power and, almost invariably, with the religious pretenses that so often elevate these abuses to a level beyond reproach.  Seneca was giving us a warning.

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