A Joke by the Gods
There are many arguments by religious people today in defense of the idea of what is sacred and what is not. Many of the people who profess to believe in god are convinced that they have a very close, personal relationship with their creator; some are not as convinced of this proposition, and allow the idea of god or spirits to enter their lives only when every other means has failed. For those whose lives are focused around religion, their beliefs and ideas about society or government will have the influence of the doctrines of their church, temple, or synagogue. Their support or opposition to one social movement may primarily be motivated by their religious ideals. For example, there is the Temperance Movement, which sought to acquire prohibition. It was almost exclusively a religious movement. Once Women's Suffrage became a popular call of social justice, the churches adopted some ideas of equality for women. I already covered the topic of general religious influence on moral or social ideas, in the essay The Religious Rule, which proved to be a bit overly thorough. This essay is an examination of the same topic, but with different ideas and a different end. I know that I've talked about it before, and I briefly answered the arguments in many essays. The argument I am going to address here is the argument of nature. That is to say, what is or is not natural. The need for me to address this topic in my other writings is obvious. Many of my pieces are taken from the standpoint of an anti-religious, anti-church position. Since many churches support one thing or another, often on the simple claim of "what is natural," I've always had to address the issue. But, in this piece, I take a slightly more in depth study of the matter.
Christian Fundamentalists of our day are guilty of using the argument "it is natural" or "it is unnatural" in a number of social issues. When it comes to abortion, homosexuality and alternative or non-monogamous sexualities, euthanasia, or stem cell research and cloning, many Christians take the oppositional position. And, a good part of the time, we will always hear that recurring echo of nature. What is natural is always associated with good, sometimes substituted for it, just the way what is unnatural is always associated with the bad and harmful. Never are these associations justified. They are all just assumed. The conclusion to these assumed ideas, however, results in some rather oppressive and socially unhealthy policy, influenced by religious followers. It should also be noted, that on these issues, as far as what is natural or unnatural, the religious followers call themselves the final judges. Many of them take for granted society's preconceived ideas about what is natural or unnatural. When we think of the way nature operates, for instance, we are familiar with all aspects of it: the sustaining of life and its reproduction. Since homosexuality does not sustain the end of reproduction, many people will confess that it must be unnatural. However, not all people go so far as to say, that since it is unnatural, it must be prohibited and suppressed. But, then again, there are many followers of the unseen who neither believe that homosexuality is unnatural or that it should be banned.
However, as I stated above, your standard advocate of Christian policy in government, either through school prayer or banning abortion, always reserves themselves as the final judge of what is natural or unnatural. Those insatiable lynch mobs that are known to murdering blacks, atheists, homosexuals, and "the impure" never sought to understand what is natural or unnatural, or why it is deserving of such a title. Today's Fundamentalists of Christian ideology have not taken on this quest, either. In their speeches, they will make a thousand references to what is or is not natural -- not once, do I recall, ever hearing a satisfactory definition of the term. I have heard attempts from some believers, but they only proved to be better with blindly following than with debate and argument. But, that is my question. What is natural? And what is unnatural? I already stated what society has concluded on these questions: there's just a vague association of the natural with sustaining life and its reproduction, and little more that is definitive.
Are the tools which humans craft natural? Are buildings, technology, science, and all the other marvels of innovation unnatural? If one were to classify homosexuality as unnatural, simply because it doesn't appear to serve any end in nature, then why isn't the bulk of what we do considered unnatural? And how come these enemies of a new vision of sexuality are not opposed to every technological advancement? After all, these creations of our mind and hands are not a part of any ecosystem on this planet. They appear nowhere on this world, except in our own secluded society of humanity. I imagine most responses would sound something like this: "While these things that we create and maintain are not occurring anywhere in nature, they still are natural. All other organisms seek an end that satisfies their interests. Predators hunt, prey avoid those who would eat them, and all organisms enter the world of the living with the desire or plan to reproduce. Humans, in like fashion, seek to obtain their ends, like any other species. However, we simply go about it at a more advanced pace than any other organism on this planet." And, such an argument would definitely have some merit to it. After all, it is common to find some primates using tools, such as bludgeons and clubs. Many birds also build structures, many of them sharing a fair comparison to human construction. What initially sounded alien and foreign to nature, our technology, actually appears regularly in our animal counterparts. It must be admitted, that the progress of political ideas and organizational structure of human society is a type of technology. And, it must similarly be confessed, that animals oftentimes organize themselves in to groups, in order to accomplish a task that wouldn't be possible without cooperation.
However, upon discovering this redefinition of terms, one might feasibly have a better chance to defend things like abortion and homosexuality. We understand, for example, that when a primate uses a club as a weapon, he is advanced beyond the technology of those other species that are below him; yet, of course, we consider the primate still primitive compared to our science. Just as an ape might use some technology with a club, so do humans use technology that is not ordinary to the other species. Therefore, one might say that homosexuality, abortion, and other activities are therefore just an advanced form of technology, which the other species of the planet are ignorant of. Just as the primate is ignorant of computer systems and electronics, just as the zebra is ignorant of the bludgeon, all other animals are ignorant of our advanced sexual relationships and our ability to control all aspects of the human body. All of this line of thought, of course, is based on the premise that our chief end in all technological advances is to improve the happiness of all people. Some religions will say that all moral guidance is based solely on what god insists; of course, if those religions want to sound logical in the face of a people more educated and humane than those of two thousand years ago, the will of god will generally be somewhat pleasing to human desires. Since the chief end of our science is to improve our condition on this planet, one might argue that abortion is moral, because it removes a life that would otherwise have been in pain, and creates the potential for a life that would have a good upbringing and life potential. It is also inarguable that homosexuality and open relationships are an advancement like any other type of technology. Given the freedom of choice, many people feel that homosexuality or other non-traditional sexual relationships are what satisfy them most; in one word, it is an advancement, not unlike any other.
Let's assume, for the sake of the argument, that even with this reasoning, someone is still opposed to everything their religious leaders call unnatural. It is not uncommon for people to have an opposition to technology. In fact, it almost seems like the idea of deserting society and living a peaceful hermit lifestyle is found in the underground of every culture, from the Buddhist monks to our admirers of Thoreau. Sensibly, these hermit subcultures tend to have an anti-technology trend, which is similar to the anti-unnatural trend we find in many major religions. There is the Jehovah Witnesses, for example, who do not accept blood transfusions, on a religious principle that it is against god's will, or, what some of them have called "unnatural." Many of the orthodox religions responded to the introduction of modern medical technology with fear and contempt. Besides having opposition to certain life-saving medicine, as being unnatural to the body, we are all also aware that the churches were opposed to a new, passionate music style, Jazz. But, the life-saving ability of medicines was eventually valued more important than the scripture that called it unholy. Today, most of our churches support medicinal use of chemicals to treat any ailment, mental or physical, while very few still oppose it. However, the churches still oppose the idea of recreational drug use as a beneficial and even useful habit. We will always find the churches on the fringes of the conservative side. Their measurement of human life is always based on the prejudices and fears of the ancestors who wrote their religious text. It is that mindset which will find the most handicaps. The Amish are a great example. They have a strict discipline system based on their religion, and because of their faith, they have moral qualms with the usage of cars and other advanced technology.
There are so many religions. Just as they each present to us a different face for spiritual beliefs, they each present us with a different admiration or suspicion in regards to technology. Again, to them, it is the battle of the natural versus the unnatural, of good over evil. The question at hand, then, is at what point do we ascribe the word natural, and at what point do we ascribe the word unnatural? Using the Amish as an example again, we can see that they are in favor of certain technologies. They wear clothes and shoes, they work and live in houses, and they have techniques for farming and the skills of artisans. However, they are against the use of cars, electricity, the steam engine, and many other sophisticated aspects of our science. They have marked a point in technological development that is ideal. They have idolized the era of European peasants in the 1500's, where gunpowder technology was being born and technology was little more than simple tools. Everything that happened after this period, all of the inventions that came after the year 1500, are considered by the Amish as heretical, blasphemous, and indecent to god. And, all the technology that occurred before this year, they consider to be primitive. Of course, this is a simplification. I'm not quite sure at what point along the timeline of human innovations that they decide is ideal, but 1500 seems like a good guess.
With this beautiful example of the Amish, I think the question still begs. At what point in the history of technological innovation are we to call the ideal age? The Christians of today, the zealots and evangelists, those enemies of abortion, stem cell research, and cloning, they are all advocates of the moral, legal, and technological climate that existed between 1920 and 1930. Perhaps the churches and religious institutions of fifty years in the future will adopt a less oppressive ideology about humanity, such as the one that is the current of today's society. So, the question then needs to be answered: "At what point along the timeline of innovation are we to stop and adopt as our current thoughts on politics, ethics, science, and technology? What argument is there to say that we ought to use the cultural lifestyle of 1300 or the scientific wisdom of 1990 or the religious ideas of 600?" The question is loaded. If someone tries to answer to defend one time era over another, they are obviously guilty of poor reasoning. There is no evidence to say what era is "natural" or what era is "unnatural." There was once a time in the history of human civilization where clothing was considered an amazingly useful technology. At that time, was humanity living naturally or unnaturally? What about the moment in history where mankind started to farm and lived in cities? Or, what about the moment where the first homo sapiens appeared on the planet, evolved from a common relative of apes, chimpanzees, and other primates? At what point, in our history, are we going to stop, and say that the people then were living naturally, or unnaturally? There is no answer.
Of course, we will always hear attempts at this answer. There are conservatives today who favor a combination of modern technology with the political and ethical ideals of the 1500's -- even if that meant racism, slavery, and feudalism. And, again, there are liberals today who favor the modern ideologies of the people, their ideas on civil liberties, their ideas on freedom and peace, who would prefer the technology of 800 B.C. -- living a simple existence, as a means of happiness and enlightenment. We will always find admirers of certain generations, lovers of times gone and past. There are those who fantasize about the 1800's and the birth of romantic literature, just as there are those who would have loved to contribute to the development of the Enlightenment, or to contribute to intellectual awakening of the Renaissance. These arguments are most likely to take the form of secret murmurings of the heart and mind, as it is impossible to live in the past. However, the arguments that stem from a person's choice of which time in history is most desirable are all based on the premise of happiness. That is to say, if we were to pick a moment in the past to live in, we would choose the one that made us most happy. We can simply the ideas we've been dealing with, then. The question is not what time era we should choose to live in; the question is what kind of living conditions and society would be most likely to create prosperity and justice for all people? What society should we build that will most satisfy this longing of happiness?
This question, and the new train of thought that it develops, is the end of the debate. We cannot choose any time era, because no moment in humanity's history has any innate reason for it to be the place that we live. And when we see suggestions on which time we should choose, they're based on the question of making us happy -- which is the new debate. Did I make any logical fallacies in the arguments I presented? Well, I think I can justly compare political and social ideas to other types of innovation; as such ideas are always altering to fit the new emotions, thoughts, and prejudices of the world's next generation. The only reason I brought up this point of view, as far as ideas go, is because it relates to the original question I had: why should we view one thing as natural and another as unnatural? People generally consider the antiquated things in the world as natural, and the recent things in the world as unnatural. It's an inaccurate assumption used by many Christians. The fact remains, though: there is no reason to say that one thing is unnatural or natural. The existence of the human species was an innovation of evolution itself. Those who say it is natural, also call the car unnatural, even though the car was simply the end result of evolution's natural processes: a species that rises to the top of the technology chain above all other creatures.
Is human life sacred? That might be the last question. Since there is no argument of what is natural, unnatural, or (hopefully) supernatural, then there should also be no use of the term sacred, simply that implies a type of natural connotation. When it comes to abortion, homosexuality, or the other social issues, we find the crusaders of the natural order in constant conflict. This is, of course, in despite of the seemingly awkward contradiction that many of them are pro-nuclear armament, pro-Neo-Imperialism, pro-war, and anti-animal rights. It would seem, in fact, that the religious leaders are more concerned in abolishing the unnatural heretics, the homosexuals, the Atheists, the non-believers, the drug advocates, and every leftist fringe group. The existence of billions of miserable lives has never been the source of their crusades. Many churches and religious associations are content to congregate for communal worship and study. They are peaceable, and their right of association should always be respected. But, there are always those churches and religious groups that are affiliated for the sole sake of mobilizing their pew holders to violence and coercion. In any of these conflicts, of what is natural, or unnatural, or sacred, or blasphemous, we must step back, and ask some final questions: who suffers and how much pain are they in? And, is there any reasonable argument for not adopting a social system that would eliminate their pain? The argument, that is to say, the case for Anarchist Communism, has been made in other pieces.