Science Envy, Religion Envy

I’ve noticed a weird kind of science envy in American Christianity as well as various New Age and occult circles. There’s creationism which tries to use science to kinda disprove scientific consensus. There’s incredible abuses of quantum physics by, well, what seems to be 50% of anyone writing on religion or spirituality. There’s a lot of “science” in the same way that someone cosplaying is actually the character.

Too many people want the dignity, applicability, and detail science around their complex spiritual experiences and faith. Or, without that, they want to discredit it. Meanwhile science would like more grant money, thanks.

On the other hand, there’s what we’ve seen break apart various atheist and skeptic groups – a fanaticism that borders on, well, religion. That need to disprove but not prove. The smugly sure atheists who seemed to have driven people from atheism. Atheists embracing bigotry that religious groups promote (oft anti-Islam). Assorted YouTube and TikTok bros that we’ve seen come and go (but not go enough) over the years. There’s a lot of religion among these supposedly scientific types.

Too many people want the surety and breadth of religion, the sense of utter rightness. Religion can’t truly deliver that, and science still wants its grant money as there’s actual shit to do.

Having been all over the religion map, I’ve wondered about this phenomena, of supposedly religious people wanting science to back them, and so-called scientific types being no different than religious fanatics. I’m sure you’ve seen this as well, and I’ve had conversations about it with friends.

Now I could go into my own take on this – and perhaps will, but I think it’s important to address the core. How is it religious types want to have the validity of science (or undermine it) and “scientific” types want the surety of religion? Because of power-hungry assholes.

That’s it.

If you’re a power hungry asshole that uses religion, then you can’t have science get in the way, you have to hijack it, destroy it, or preferably both. Science is a rival to you. Also since you’re all about power any rational thought or analysis is your enemy.

If you’re a power hungry asshole that uses “science” (I have to keep putting it in quotes), then science is not enough. Science is a mix of cooperation and argumentation, half freeform concert, half thunderdome fight with pillows. It’s not the kind of thing that will anoint a king or a messiah, but you can pretend to be one and claim you’re the Most Rational. So you do what you can to try to anoint yourself Brain Pope or whatever, and end up looking pretty religious (and perhaps unconsciously duplicate religion).

What is perhaps saddest is how much of religion and science gets defined by these various battles and personalities and grifters. Forget religion versus science, let’s try to diminish the amount of and power of assholes first.


Trees, Taoism, and Bigots

Recently I saw a certain member of a religious group refer to non-religious people as a social burden. I won’t name names, but the man says he’s Catholic. He belongs to a league of similar followers. Figure it out yourself.

Anyway, this culty creep’s opinion is actually very revealing. He states people who are not religious – and his form of religion – are a burden. He’s pretty damn close to the Nazi idea of “useless eater,” which tells me he’s not just awful, he’s probably afraid of demographic changes towards the non-religious in America. He wants to classify people not like him as a burden, as “not useful.”

Well, not useful to him, because a lot of religious organizations are just about turning people into tools so the bigwigs end up in power. Calling someone “useless” or a “burden” says outright that people should be “useful” to others, like a tool. It also is close enough to saying “non-useful” people should be eliminated.

This reminds me of Taoist tales of trees, and why “usefulness” is highly overrated. In Taoist lore I’ve encountered multiple tales of trees that are relevant to how people view each other. Let’s go into the two I’m familiar with, both of which I encountered in some form in the Chuang Tzu but have heard other variants.

First up is the tale of a carpenter and his apprentice. Seeing a tree, the carpenter comments how absolutely useless the tree is to he, the carpenter, so twisted and knotted and so on he couldn’t do anything with it. After they returned home, the spirit of the tree came to the carpenter and notes that it grew to be so old just because it was useless. The carpenter told his apprentice the experience.

I love this story because it notes that being useful means people may not just use you but use you up – but being useless may mean you live long.

The second tale involves a weird tree which is also useless due to it’s wood (sometimes it has giant useless leaves or huge but foul and inedible nuts). However one of the characters notes that the tree is actually quite useful – you plant it and you get lots of shade. Other stories may include parts of the tree – the weird leaves make great umbrellas, or the nut shells are big enough to use as a small boat.

I like this story because it notes that sometimes just leaving something alone may let you enjoy it as well. The tree is “useful” because you don’t try to use it.

These are great stories because they make you ask what is the use of usefulness? If it kills you off, what good is it? If just being is good, you’re valued but not used. We’d all be better off appreciating whats there (and less likely to destroy it).

I’m all for social cohesion and social responsibility. But turning people into tools, trying to constantly rank who’s “useful” means no cohesion, no responsibility, and eventually no society. We need to appreciate uselessness.

It also disarms people like the aforementioned bigots. It reminds us when someone starts talking how “useless” people are, how they’re “a burden” they’re not caring about people. They want us to be their tools.

Also, they’re assholes.


Getting a Handle On The Messiahs

I live in Silicon Valley, which as we’ve seen, has spawned people with Messiah Complexes. There’s always someone out there ready to save the world with their new solution or idea – you can check the marketing materials. And if you think you know who I’m talking about, you’re probably wrong by the odds – because we’ve got a lot of them.

I also move in spiritual and political spaces. There’s plenty of messiahs there to, ready to tell you how to save your soul and save the world., sometimes at the same time It’s the same old gig we’ve seen for thousands of years, really. Oh, and once again if you think you know who I’m taking about you’re probably wrong because of, again, the odds.

Now you may think I’m going to talk about grifters and opportunists. I am, tangentially, but I’m also talking self-proclaimed Messiahs in general. Because Messianism goes pathological if it didn’t start that way.

Think about what it takes to think you’re a Messiah. You have to believe that you are the one or a small amount of the ones who will save the planet. You have to know that it’s up to you to do everything, that you’re the linchpin of human history. You have to think you’re really special, if not touched by God or his/her immediate stand-in.

Know what you also have to believe? That everyone else is useless without you.

To be a Messiah is to know you’re special and by contrast everyone else is lesser. A Messiah may not say it, may not think it, but they must believe everyone else is lost without them. I don’t’ buy the superiority of these Messiahs, but it seems obvious many of them didn’t just buy it, they got a subscription.

In fact, to be a Messiah, you need other people to be worse than you. Messiahs are nothing without someone to save. To be the savior is to need people who need saving, and without that a Messiah means nothing. If your identity is bound up in being a Messiah, then other people automatically get a downgrade in your book.

What of those people who don’t think they need you? To many a Messiah, they’re the enemy, the disbeliever, the opponent of humanity. To get in the way of the Great Savior by not believing in them shakes up the entire Messiah’s belief system.

Being a Savior needs the saved, and needs someone to explain why the salvation isn’t happening.

This is a pretty toxic mix. You have to believe people are worse and that you’re the best or better. I also am pretty damn sure many a self-proclaimed Messiah started with the dislike of other people or increased self-regard, and then built up from there. I imagine many an honest, sincere Messiah even lost their metaphysical marbles confronting all of these psychodynamics.

Even a potential benevolent Messiah risks getting pretty goddamn pathological. I’m sure in this day and age many of the mass-media Messianic Maniacs started pathological and only went up from there – or down, depending on your viewpoint.

So no, I don’t trust Messiahs. I trust people, folks as messy as I am, hands dirty, getting busy just trying to get things done. There’s lots of those, working every day. Some of them may be legitimate Messiahs . . .

. . . but you’d never know it. And maybe it’s better that way for all of us.