2012-09-19

There must always be... a Lich King

After having contemplated religion for a couple decades, I've come to a tentative conclusion about religion and the state. This conclusion may sound surprising.

I'll put it like this:
  • I'm atheist.
  • I think the overall effects of faith are harmful.
  • Separation of church and state makes the problem worse.
This is not to say I want religion to run countries. Not at all. Quite the opposite.

In order to control irrational and fundamentalist tendencies, countries have to run their religions.

Consider the following graphic:




Out of 11 countries in this graphic where support for evolution is over 75%, the following have, or have until recently had, a state religion:

CountryChurchOfficial Until
IcelandLutheran Evangelical Churchcontinuing
DenmarkChurch of Denmark (Lutheran)continuing
SwedenChurch of Sweden (Lutheran)2000
EnglandChurch of England (Anglican)continuing
NorwayChurch of Norway (Lutheran)2012

One could possibly also count the following as relatively recent departures:

ItalyRoman Catholic Church1984
SpainRoman Catholic Church1978

Altogether, from six to eight countries out of eleven with the highest support for evolution have recently had an official state religion; three of them continue to have one.

Contrast this with the United States, where there hasn't been an official state religion since colonial times. Yet, in this most advanced post-industrial economy, support for evolution is at a lackluster 50%, or worse.

Some years ago, in Warcraft, there was a villain named Arthas Menethil. He was a human prince from Lordaeron, who journeyed north to lead a war against the undead scourge. In the process, he was corrupted by the leader of the undead, the Lich King Ner'Zhul. He became a death knight in his service, returned to Lordaeron with an undead army, slew his father - the human king - and eventually fused with Ner'Zhul, becoming the new Lich King.

In World of Warcraft, a group of players defeats this Lich King - Arthas, at which point the ghost of Arthas's father warns about the following:

Terenas Menethil II:

Without its master's command, the restless Scourge will become an even greater threat to this world.

Control must be maintained. There must always be... a Lich King.

Or, for a shorter version:





In the most successful cases - in the countries enumerated above - a state religion can be the control that's needed.

State religion can also be very harmful. In the case of oppressive theocracies, such as Iran, religion is everywhere. No one can escape the Supreme Leader's doctrines. There can be no dancing, no music, and no playing most video games, either.

However, in many successful countries, a state religion contributes to checks and balances that can keep religious people reasonably sane, and prevent fundamentalism from running rampant. There's an "official insanity", a relatively mild one, which prevents more harmful insanities from taking root.

The US, with its separation of church and state, has no such checks and balances. Separation prevents the state from reigning in religion. But religious voters, and their leaders, are free to exert control over the state. Extremist religious beliefs in the US are rampant, and represent a mighty and destructive force in politics.

Over the past 60 years, the situation in the US has become worse in this regard, not better. In the past 12 years, religious extremism has played a crucial role in events that are coming closer and closer to destroying the country, and have inflicted damage on the world.

Being religious is a form of willful partial insanity. People who are partially insane need guidance from people who appear religious, and might well be, but are also responsible and sane. Without such guidance, they receive it from people who are not. Insanity runs rampant, until it becomes a threat to peace, prosperity, and progress.

That's what's happening to the US. Religious sentiment is being used by the selfish and unscrupulous as a political tool, with devastating consequences. Meanwhile, separation of church and state is preventing sane, responsible people from acting.

4 comments:

Boris Kolar said...

Recent science looks more promising than any religion. It puts you in the role of the almighty:
http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20227044.200-avoid-a-future-cataclysm-forget-the-past.html

denis bider said...

Unfortunately, most of that article is behind a pay wall :-)

I've mostly stopped reading New Scientist because it consists of a small percentage of science, and a large percentage of hypothetical fluff.

In the event that each of us is the "god" of their subjective universe, that of course is wonderful. But in case the logic behind that has faults, we should invest into backup :)

verbatim said...

I agree that religions are becoming a serious threat and that we have more and more laws based on religious views. But I don't think that your direction of causality is correct because even in case of state religions people are slowly moving toward USA views.

I mainly see the following problems:
- religious people group themselves and as a team they achieve greater power. Sane people act as individuals,
- bad constitutional protections of liberties,
- passive people, having a lot of free time and nothing to do with it. So they become very susceptible to propaganda, like healers, human energy, religions, bankers, rich people etc.

Religions are really confusing me. All the money we spend on education and cheap access to knowledge and we are still going in wrong direction.

denis bider said...

Consider this:

- In the evolution vs. literal creationism debate, the Catholic Pope says evidence is clearly in favor of evolution.

- Literal creationism is much less of an issue in Catholic countries than it is in the US.

People are influenced by authorities, so having a positive, constructive authority is important.

Constructive authority > no authority > destructive authority.