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Virtually all mystical thought systems claim to represent Truth. But where does Truth really come from, and what is the relationship with all of those different mystical thought systems?
If you ignore the alleged divine authorship of each holy book, and attribute the true authorship to some theme and variation on "divine inspiration," the answer is that each holy book which is the basis of a widely believed mystical thought system is, itself, a product of rational thought. In a way, each such holy book is a sort of a snapshot of the mystical beliefs which some given group of people decided is true at some given point in time. For example, when the Jewish Pentateuch was first set down on paper in roughly 1200 b. c., it was simply a set of rules for life which expressed a view on how to survive as a civilized people in that time. The books of Buddha are similarly a set of rules of life for those who would seek "enlightenment" by following the path of the Buddha. There is a strong fundamentalist movement in the Islamic states which seeks to have people adhere to only Islamic laws, which laws derive themselves directly from the language of the Koran, as opposed to some other source of civil law, such as a legislature.
The bottom line on this seems to be that rational thought can produce either mystic thought systems or scientific thought systems, and each calls itself "Truth."
But, if the source of all "Truth" is rational thought, then of what validity is mystic thought, which has no basis in scientific knowledge? The best answer seems to be that "nature abhors a vacuum,"10 and one of the manifestations of this is that when mankind is incapable of providing a scientific answer to a philosophical question that confronts all people, mankind responds by using its rational thought process to invent a mystical answer. In other words, if you can't find an answer, then simply make one up that seems to fit all of the facts which are presently known. At least you will have provided an answer to the demanding populace, and maybe they will then let you alone long enough to get some real thinking done.
Virtually all of the primitive gods which we have studied began as beings which were associated with some sort of natural phenomena. Throughout all of history, people have had various Sun gods, Moon gods, fire gods, volcano gods, weather gods of various types, and so forth. Each of these gods was invented in order to create a mystical explanation for their associated natural phenomena because the scientific explanation, which we know today, was beyond the capabilities of the technology of the particular culture in question. That much is easy for us to say, because it is always easy to make fun of, and discard any rational basis for, the gods which are revered by somebody else.
What becomes much more difficult for us, and for many of us, thoroughly impossible, is to take the next logical step and see our own religious system as merely yet another attempt to explain away the unexplainable. We all contemplate the question of: "what happens to people when they die?" Nobody knows the real answer unless they die, and once they're dead, they can't return to tell us the truth of the matter.11 Again, "nature abhors a vacuum," and so mankind invents an answer which pleases: there is this really pleasant place where we go after death, so long as we live according to the rules of our society. In other words, the civil authorities have good reason to encourage belief in certain religions because the believers in those religions tend to be law abiding people. That sounds pretty rational, doesn't it? But isn't the story of Heaven really just a grown-up version of Santa Claus?
Of course it is. But just as kids are eager to believe in Santa Claus, until they are old enough to pick up the clues to the real truth, each of us is eager to believe in Heaven. No rational being wants to die; self preservation is really one of our most basic instincts. Suicide is always viewed as a psychological illness or an escape from a greater evil of unending physical illness which will certainly lead to death.
Why can't we see the Truth for ourselves? Well, for one reason, there aren't any super-adults living in our households to give us hints that Heaven is no more real than is Santa Claus, and there aren't any such super-adults to admit the Truth once we begin to have suspicions about what the real Truth is. Besides, it is all too comforting to those of us who are left behind by any particular dear departed individual to console ourselves and one another that said dear departed has gone on to a "better place," or is "with God."
As rational thinkers, we each know that we have the ability to think either Truth or a Lie. Only the depraved among us seek to live a Lie, so the rational thinkers seek Truth. But how do we discern the difference between a Lie and Truth? Particularly, how do we draw this line when there is nobody around to give us hints or tell us when we have found the "right" answer?
There are basically two ways to know the Truth. The first is scientific method, and the second is Faith. We know that scientific method produces all of the Truth which we find useful in our every day lives. Empirically, we have grown to trust scientific method because it produces so many useful results.12 On the other hand, Faith is fickle. It may be useful for a while, to fill in the vacuum of our thoughts, but sooner or later, it fails us, usually in a time of great need. Furthermore, when it comes into conflict with science, its usefulness evaporates.13
We are presently living through one of the great debates between Science and Faith, which is taking the form of the dispute over the teaching of Creationism and/or Evolution in our schools. To a scientifically trained people, this debate seems nonsensical. Faith MUST yield to science.14 Nonetheless, the debate rages on, because Faith is nothing if not strength in the face of adversity. The ignorant scream that they are being denied their religious freedom, when they are, in fact, merely choosing to stick their heads in the sand and ignore scientific evidence.
It is clear that Faith does not provide real Truth, but only a simulacrum of Truth. A rational being must discard Faith as a source of Truth, and rely solely upon scientific method. To do otherwise is to enslave our minds with mysticism.

The handmaiden of any system of mystic thought is intolerance for any other system of thought, mystic or otherwise. Thus, the enemies of mystic thought are Tolerance and Truth. Both will tend to devalue the mystic thought system.
Even in those rare cases where you have a mystical thought system which preaches tolerance, the act of adopting an attitude of tolerance will allow intolerant minority sects to flourish, thus gradually increasing the overall level of intolerance in the society as a whole. We see this pattern today in both India (with Hinduism) and the United States (with Protestantism) today.
But the fundamental nature of any mystical thought system is that the head mystic dreams up this system of thought, which must then be adhered to without question by all subsequent believers, "or else!" While the usual threat of "or else" is some sort of punishment inflicted after death, once the mystics are in power, history clearly shows that they do not hesitate to inflict "divine retribution" in the here and now (i. e., Hypatia, the Inquisition, etc.).
What all mystical thought systems amount to is a form of slavery. You either believe wholeheartedly in the mystical thought system, which makes you a slave to the chief mystic, or you do not. The consequences for any unbelievers are many and varied. Some can initiate schisms, thereby starting their own mystic thought systems. This is what principally occurred during the Reformation, when a series of clerics formed their own Protestant denominations out of their utter revulsion at what the Roman Catholic Church had become over the centuries. Others can simply change their affiliation, moving from one religious denomination to another. But when an intolerant mystical thought system is also in control of the civil government, the fate of unbelievers can be tremendously cruel. The story of Shadrach in the furnace of Babylon is a case in point. Shadrach had a choice: either renounce his God, thereby enslaving himself to the Babylonian Gods, or else die in the furnace, thereby illustrating his slavery to his own mystical thought system (and also martyring himself in the process).
The bottom line on mystical thought systems is that to adhere to one enslaves you to those who founded and control that mystical thought system. If you seek to become a believer, you seek to take on the load of all of the baggage which accompanies the entire mystical thought system, including all of the obligations associated therewith.
Thus, most Christian sects require you to worship on Sunday and contribute a ten percent tithe, or some similar concept. Each has a set of rules for how to live your life, which rules are strangely silent about goals and objectives, other than to achieve the right to live in Heaven after you die. However, the many sects of Christianity are distinguished by a multitude of differing opinions on even these most basic obligations. The Seventh Day Adventists worship on Saturday; most "modern day" churches have abandoned tithing as a requirement, holding it up as an example for the most committed to follow; and there are many variations on how one becomes entitled to go to Heaven after death.
If you choose any of the other major religions, you are enslaving yourself to a different set of beliefs, but you are no less a slave for so long as you seek to be a believer. More and more religions are involving themselves in political action, requiring their believers to slavishly vote or otherwise act to enforce the will of those in control of the religion or mystical belief system.15
But each religion is fundamentally based on Faith,16 and as we saw above, Faith is a discredited method for achieving knowledge of the Truth. Only scientific method yields real knowledge of the Truth, and there is no aspect of science which naturally requires a person to go against his or her own will to slavishly support a group joined only by Faith. The laws of science need no policemen. If someone figures out a way to "break" the speed law defined by Einstein's Theory of Relativity,17 that person will be a great hero for all mankind, not some sort of cosmic "criminal." If we rely upon our "Faith" that the law cannot be broken, we would persecute any who even try. But if we allow free scientific inquiry to prevail, avoiding a slavish devotion to Faith, then greatness may be achieved.

Where this discussion has arrived is the conclusion that Faith is only useful for filling in gaps in our knowledge which we cannot presently fill by using scientific method. Once we have recognized that fundamental Truth, the conclusion presents itself: "Faith" is simply another way of saying "I don't know, but it seems to work."
Thus, if there is some answer which scientific method cannot presently provide, the Truth is best served by simply stating: "I don't know."18 If pressed, we might answer truthfully that, while science is presently incapable of providing an answer to the particular question that is bothersome, our knowledge is expanding every day at a truly prodigious rate, and thus there is no reason to believe that we will not eventually find out the Truth. In the meantime, we should not be overly concerned about what lurks within these gaps in our knowledge. Empirically, intelligent mankind has existed for many thousands of years, and our predecessors for many millions of years, without the answers to those particular questions, and thus we have no reason to fear that which we presently do not know.
As Carl Sagan points out in the last episode of his Cosmos television series, all that we have discovered about our Universe to date shows that we live in a Universe of strict cause and effect relationships. Things simply do not happen for no good reason at all. There is no arbitrary and capricious force acting anywhere in the known Universe. If we do not know the "Why?" of some particular event, this is due to our lack of scientific knowledge, ability, or inquiry on that subject. Thus, there are no true "acts of God" in our Universe. No God causes earthquakes, fires, floods, and so forth, and particularly, no God causes these things particularly to bedevil some identifiable person or group of people.
Increasingly, people are discovering how little difference there is between many so-called "mainstream" religions, such as Christianity, and numerous so-called "cults," including many nature worship religions, and even witchcraft. All religions are the great enemies of science, and vice versa. Religion teaches that events have supernatural causes and effects, while science teaches that there are NO supernatural causes or effects. They cannot both be right; one of them MUST be wrong. You must either believe that science reaches the results it does due to delusions planted by the gods, and that those delusions reconcile the results of science with the mystical beliefs of the religions, or else you must believe that only science produces Truth, and religions are filled with delusions. In other words, you must choose to believe in either "Science" or "Faith." Even though many have tried (and pretty much failed) over the ages, in the here-and-now, you really cannot believe in both.
This is the true conflict in our here and now: there is nothing which occurs in the affairs of mankind which does not occur as a consequence of identifiable causes and effects. Thus, there is no need for "Faith" to cause or prevent the occurrence of any such event(s). We are therefore free to discard "Faith" as a necessary component of our belief system.
Discarding Faith frees science to pursue Truth. Discarding mystic thought frees mankind to develop rational rules for life, based upon scientific principles, which will allow mankind to live in peace for long periods of time.19 Discarding both frees mankind from preconceived thought patterns which have no basis in Truth, and which thus enslave each of us to the ill conceived notions of our predecessors.
Once we focus on using scientific method to find Truth, discarding our religious prejudices as part of the bargain, then mankind will be truly free, thus fulfilling the alleged prophesy of Jesus: "you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."20

10 See: Benedict [Baruch] de Spinoza (1632-1677), Ethics, 1677, Part I, proposition, 15:note.

11 At least there is no convincing scientific evidence of any such returns. Reincarnation is a subject for a significant amount of controlled scientific study.

12 I would assert that any failures to produce useful results have been due to a failure to properly follow scientific method for a given end result, as opposed to a failure of scientific method itself.

13 The Roman Catholic Church oppressed many scientists for their science, including Galileo.

14 As our scientific capabilities expand, the need for Faith contracts. There is less and less of the unknowable which must be "filled in" by Faith alone. Evolution is a scientific fact.

15 I speak here not only of our own Christian Coalition, but also of the fundamentalist Islamic movements which press for Islamic law governments, and any other similar movements. The Orthodox Jews strongly influenced the 1996 election in Israel, and religious parties gained seats.

16 Even the word "Faith" is also the name of what it means to be a religion. A "religion" is a "Faith." Thus, the terms are nearly synonymous, at least in this context.

17 No object may be accelerated beyond the speed of light relative to any other object. This law is self enforcing because, as the relative speed of the object increases, so does the mass, and thus any given force which accelerates the object has less of an effect on the relative speed of the object. This occurs because speed is directly proportional to the accelerating force which is acting on the object, but inversely proportional to the mass of the object being accelerated.

18 For religious subjects, the name of this belief system is "agnosticism."

19 Most wars have some substantial origin in religious intolerance. Think of Bosnia, for example.

20 John 8:32.

Copyright 1994-1999 by the Agnostic Church

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