An arrow in each instant doesn't move

yet the path from bow to target's smooth

An instant is caught

Beyond time and thought

As presence in eternity will prove


The so-called war on terror is only a surface manifestation of a much deeper battle, one that has been going on for thousands of years. Only in the past few hundred years, however, has it come to involve more than the occasional skirmish and more than a very small minority of humanity. In a memorable phrase, it has been called the War Against Sleep. That is, against the comfortable unconsciousness produced by mindless adherence to a belief system.

On one side in this war are fundamentalists of all stripe. As far as mindless belief goes, there is little difference between the Islamic terrorist who murders the infidel, the anti-abortion fanatic who bombs abortion clinics, and any other fanatical who kills in the name of one ideology or another. The actual beliefs are not important—the distinguishing feature is the absolute possession of the mind by a belief. Nor is this confined to religious and political beliefs—there are prominent scientists who are fanatical believers in the absolute power of science.

There is a well-known psychological truism: ignorance produces fear and fear is hidden behind a belief that will be defended with a force proportional to the underlying fear. In sociology, it is known that when a cultural group feels threatened by a politically and economically more powerful culture, the immediate response is a hardening of attitudes and a turn to fundamentalism. It is no accident or coincidence that the Christian right in America and Islamic fundamentalists in the Middle East both portray themselves as victims, under attack by a godless secular society. Indeed, it could have been predicted that the very success of science and the secular Western culture would provoke this reaction among those to whom the very existence of alternative ways of thought appears as a threat. The fundamentalist, unlike the moderate, is unable to see that diversity is enriching and that the fact that one way of living is of value does not mean that other ways are not.

And this brings up the final and most telling point—the distinction between belief and faith. True faith does not require belief. It faces underlying fears and transcends them through love. It is a feeling and an attitude that requires no defense, no support from a social body, and no explanation.

Faith allows a person to face the world with an open mind, accepting the transitory nature of things and the fact that which may appear as a fixed and immutable truth at one time may, at a later time, be seen as a rather quaint story. It is the very antithesis of the sleep induced by mindless belief. People of good faith do not need to fight over differences in belief because they realize that beliefs are only our limited human attempt to make some sense of the natural and social worlds and, as such, are always open to further discussion and revision.  

This realization goes with a sense of humility—we are only human and with our limited human forms of thought and understanding cannot hope to grasp the absolute nature of existence. And if this is so, the task is not to try and enforce some fixed belief system, insisting that it is absolute; rather, it is to engage in the continual effort to adapt beliefs to current reality using the best tools that we have. Anybody who proclaims that their doctrine, whatever it may be, is absolute truth is demonstrating the ultimate form of arrogance.

Religious fundamentalists who attempt to force their dogma on others may claim to be acting in defense of their faith—they are really showing that they lack faith and are only possession by belief.


On political correctness (Oct. 27, 2017)

Those of a progressive political bent often fall for the scam of "political correctness," presented as a need to act and speak in certain ways in order to avoid offending marginalized peoples. This is a misuse of the term. In a democratic society, there is only one legitimate definition of what it means to be politically correct: To make an effort to be informed on the issues, to think about them and form an opinion that one is willing to defend in public debate, and to vote in accord with ones conclusions following on such debate.