The Children’s Bible in a Nutshell
In the beginning, which occurred near the start, there was nothing but God, darkness, and some gas. The Bible says, ‘The Lord thy God is one’, but I think He must be a lot older than that.
Anyway, God said, ‘Give me a light!’ and someone did.
Then God made the world.
He split the Adam and made Eve. Adam and Eve were naked, but they weren’t embarrassed because mirrors hadn’t been invented yet.
Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating one bad apple, so they were driven from the Garden of Eden…..Not sure what they were driven in though, because they didn’t have cars.
Adam and Eve had a son, Cain, who hated his brother as long as he was Abel.
Pretty soon all of the early people died off, except for Methuselah, who lived to be like a million or something.
One of the next important people was Noah, who was a good guy, but one of his kids was kind of a Ham. Noah built a large boat and put his family and some animals on it.
He asked some other people to join him, but they said they would have to take a rain check.
After Noah came Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jacob was more famous than his brother, Esau, because Esau sold Jacob his birthmark in exchange for some pot roast.
Jacob had a son named Joseph who wore a really loud sports coat.
Another important Bible guy is Moses, whose real name was Charlton Heston. Moses led the Israel Lights out of Egypt and away from the evil Pharaoh after God sent ten plagues on Pharaoh’s people.
These plagues included frogs, mice, lice, bowels, and no cable.
God fed the Israel Lights every day with manicotti. Then he gave them His Top Ten Commandments. These include: don’t lie, cheat, smoke, dance, or covet your neighbour’s stuff.
Oh, yeah, I just thought of one more: Humour thy father and thy mother.
One of Moses’ best helpers was Joshua who was the first Bible guy to use spies. Joshua fought the battle of Geritol and the fence fell over on the town.
After Joshua came David. He got to be king by killing a giant with a slingshot. He had a son named Solomon who had about 300 wives and 500 porcupines.
My teacher says he was wise, but that doesn’t sound very wise to me.
After Solomon there were a bunch of major league prophets. One of these was Jonah, who was swallowed by a big whale and then got barfed up on the shore.
There were also some minor league prophets, but I guess we don’t have to worry about them.
After the Old Testament came the New Testament. Jesus is the star of The New. He was born in Bethlehem in a barn.
(I wish I had been born in a barn too, because my mom is always saying to me, ‘Close the door! Were you born in a barn?’ It would be nice to say, ‘As a matter of fact, I was.’)
During His life, Jesus had many arguments with sinners like the Pharisees and the Democrats.
Jesus also had twelve opossums.
The worst one was Judas Asparagus. Judas was so evil that they named a terrible vegetable after him.
Jesus was a great man. He healed many leopards and even preached to some Germans on the Mount.
But the Democrats and all those guys put Jesus on trial before Pontius the Pilot. Pilot didn’t stick up for Jesus. He just washed his hands instead.
Anyways, Jesus died for our sins, then came back to life again. He went up to Heaven but will be back at the end of the Aluminum. His return is foretold in the book of Revolution.
We’re pretty sure this kid is going to be on the next committee to translate the Bible.
Actually, he grew up and worked on the Systematic Theology Project.
Herbert Armstrong was smug. He had an explanation for everything. He believed that God personally revealed everything really important to him. He was a gnostic. He wrote booklets: Does God Exist, Seven Proofs God Exists, The Proof of the Bible. He was cock sure. At the same time he was so arrogant that he claimed that everybody who did not agree with him was wrong. He left the Church of God Seventh Day because he thought he was so much more brilliant and smart than they were because he had absorbed and knew all the secret knowledge of Greenbury George Rupurt and they didn’t. That made him superior to them. He considered himself a qualified teacher. He claimed he was the first one in over 1900 years to bring the really really true gospel to the world. Everybody else was a failure. He claimed that science didn’t have the answers. He did. There are just a few little things wrong with his world view:
- He claimed that British Israelism was the Key to Prophecy but it has been disproved scientifically by DNA evidence and made him a spectacularly failed false prophet as a result;
- He claimed to have reestablished the true church from an unbroken line from the time of the original apostles but it has been proved that his church history was histrionics and total fantasy which not even the Church of God Seventh Day supports;
- He prophesied over the radio on the World Tomorrow Broadcast during World War II that the United States and Britain would lose the war to the Germans (this caused the United States Government some heartburn and his broadcast was suspended for a time);
- He predicted that the Great Tribulation would begin in 1972 and his church would be taken to a place of safety;
- He predicted that Christ would return in 1975;
- His claim that he brought the true gospel to the world has proven problematic;
- His Proof of the Bible uses prophecies of the Old Testament to prove the entire Bible true, even though some of the referenced prophecies have failed;
- His Seven Proofs God Exists claims that the existence of God can be proved because He is the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe.
Let’s examine that last point for a moment. Ahmed Farag Ali at Benha University and coauthor Saurya Das at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, have shown in a paper published in Physics Letters B that the Big Bang singularity can be resolved by their new model in which the universe has no beginning and no end. The new theory works better than the current Big Bang Theory — it solves a lot of problems and the Math is better. If this model is true, then God did not create the universe and He certainly doesn’t sustain it, because it has no beginning or end. What this would do to the idea of the existence of God is unclear. What role would He have? Was He a product of the universe at some point? Could God be an Emergent Property? Is He an advanced Being with highly advanced technology humanity would never be able to understand? Did He create life? Or did He sort of shepherd circumstances to make life appear? Is He really The Designer He was claimed to be in the Booklet? Is God The Lawgiver or are the laws of physics eternal, making God a sort of glorified Hall Monitor? The other problem with this is that the Bible may be terribly unreliable, since many of the books in it seem to be forged. There are at least 40 gospels floating around — it’s a little difficult to claim that you are bringing the one and only true gospel since there are so many of them. How could it really be a reliable guide to exactly who and what God is? And did Jesus actually exist? Historians of the time don’t seem to have mentioned him.
Not to worry.
Armstrongists are assured in their own minds that Herbert Armstrong had all the answers. They claim that they have the answers because they believe what Herbert Armstrong said. They have special revelation from God through Herbert Armstrong.
On the other hand, they point out that Science doesn’t have all the answers. Therefore, they conclude, science is worthless and people should listen to them, particularly when their views don’t agree with the scientists because the Armstrongists claim special knowledge from God and scientists have doubt. Certainly, atheists who depend upon science are just plain wrong. The Armstrongists are supremely confident that they are right. They are smug.
Here is an example from Banned by HWA!:
Apparently Armstrongists know everything except how to use apostrophes. And maybe capitals.
Perhaps we can put things into perspective with a quote from Tony Reno over at Quora:
First, I know other people are going to correct the OP and point out that atheists don’t need to believe in science, but for the sake of my answer, since I’m an atheists who does, let me take it from my point of view.
Imagine my car is stalling on the highway, and I don’t know why. I take my car into the local mechanic. He’s got a small shop, but he’s my friend. He’s fixed several of my cars in the past and I trust him. I ask him to find the problem.
He starts working on it, takes the engine apart, runs diagnostics. About this time the local pastor comes in to visit. My mechanic comes out and says, “It’s not the spark plugs, not the wiring.”
I ask? “Do you know what it is yet?”
Mechanic: Not yet.
Pastor: I know what it is.
Mechanic, rolls his eyes.
Me: Really. What is it?
Pastor: God doesn’t want your car to run.
Me: I think I’ll let the mechanic work on it a bit longer.
Mechanic comes back after a while: Well it’s not the fuel line. The coil seems ok too.
Pastor: I told you what it was already. I don’t know why you keep working on it.
Me: Pastor, are you going to fix my car?
Pastor: Well no. I’m just letting you know that God doesn’t want it to run.
Me: Pastor, if you are not going to fix my car, would you please shut up and let the mechanic do his job.
You see, religious people don’t care if I learn what I need to. To them, “God did it,” is all they care about.
Me, I actually want to know the answer. I care about it. I might not need that particular car to run, but I still care about the answer.
When the pastor says he knows the answer he’s totally discounting the work the mechanic has already done. The pastor doesn’t care that the mechanic has done tests and knows things. The pastor is only trying to look smug and important, pretending he has that secret knowledge that the mechanic didn’t have.
But did the pastor know that the spark plugs were fine? Did the pastor know that the wiring was fine? Did he know the coil was fine? No, the pastor didn’t know any of those things.
The pastor is sitting up there with his clean hands and his smug answers and is making a mockery of the years of study and the dirty hard exacting work that the mechanic is doing to find things out.
Do you think the mechanic deserves that kind of treatment?
Pastor: Oh, I know you’ve looked really hard. But you didn’t find the answer. That’s because I already know the answer. No, I didn’t look at the engine. No I didn’t study the instruments. No I didn’t get my hands dirty. No I didn’t run any tests. But none of that matters. I know the answer. God doesn’t want the car to run. That’s your answer.
And you wonder why mechanics might be angry with you? You wonder why car owners might be angry?
Not every atheist is angry, because, as I’m sure people have pointed out, not every atheist cares. But those of us who do care about the car, those of us who appreciate the years of study that went into the mechanic’s discipline, those of us who appreciate the fact that the mechanic is willing to get his hands dirty, take the engine apart, check the instruments out, those who appreciate that these jobs aren’t easy, we wish …
I know it’s a lot to ask …
But we wish you’d quit acting so smug and sure of yourself.
We wish you’d realize that you aren’t fixing the cars.
We wish you’d realize that you aren’t even looking at the engine, much less rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty.
We wish you’d appreciate the hard work that is happening.
We wish you’d realize that even though you don’t really care about the right answers, some of us do.
We wish you’d get out of the way and let the mechanic do his job.
Does that not make any sense as to why the smug behavior of claiming that you know what’s wrong with the car when you are not even offering something that will fix the car, just making a pronouncement, doesn’t go over well? You don’t care what’s wrong with the car. You just want to seem smarter than the mechanic, but unlike the mechanic, you aren’t willing to get your hands dirty and look at the engine.
And in case you are thinking that there are no broken cars involved, you don’t know how science works. Many modern medical instruments come from studies in physics, from detector technology used in studying stars. Science actually gets somewhere. A pastor sitting back and saying, “God doesn’t want your car to work,” is just getting in the way.
It is clear it’s even worse with doctors.
Herbert Armstrong wrote The Proof of the Bible in 1958 (no one can be quite sure if he plagiarized the material or who he might have plagiarized it from). Unfortunately, the so-called “proofs” are all based on Old Testament Prophecies — touted by him to be absolute proof because they were fulfilled, thus “proving” the Bible. Now those of us who have our own copy and have studied Pseudoscience and Extraordinary Claims of the Paranormal: A Critical Thinker’s Toolkit by Johathan C. Smith can spot the problems with The Proof of the Bible almost instantly. We won’t bore you with the disproved theory that Tyre was actually not destroyed — it still exists. No, we ask you to skip forward to page 22 and read the section Why Egypt is a Weak Nation. Herbert Armstrong quotes Ezekiel 29:15-16 where he makes a point that Egypt will be the basest of kingdoms! How did he do? How did the Bible do on this one?
It’s hard to get our arms around this because, really, the statement is pretty vague. Nevertheless, let’s use a commonly agreed upon measure of a country’s viability and ranking by selecting the List of Countries by GDP (PPP). Data from the World Bank ranking Gross Domestic Product for the years 2005-2013 rank Egypt #25 out of 179 countries with a GDP of $910 Billion. That’s fairly respectable. Of course, the United States, China, India, Japan, Germany, Russia, Brazil, France, United Kingdom are ranked at the top above Egypt as you might have suspected. What’s interesting though, is the nations ranked below Egypt: Countries such as Netherlands, South Africa, Columbia, Venezuela, Philippines, United Arab Emirates, Switzerland (who knew?), Iraq (Iraq?), Sweden and Switzerland. The most interesting one, though is… wait for it… Israel! Israel was ranked at #54 with a GDP of $264 Billion.
So if Egypt is the basest of nations, are we to assume that Israel, the specially selected country chosen by God, is even more base? If you use the objective measurement of Gross Domestic Product, the answer is obviously, yes. So much for Herbert Armstrong’s Bible Prophecy (not that he wasn’t a huge failure in this department anyway). The Proof of the Bible is no such thing. And not to put to fine a point on it, The Proof of the Bible doesn’t even begin to address the New Testament, it’s provenance and the questions about such books as II Peter, the gospels and Revelation being forged: The Proof is more than a little thin — it’s only about a small part of the Old Testament and a few prophecies given there — it does not address the Big Picture at all.
Some of the ministers in the Armstrongist churches seem to have realized that no one can actually prove the Bible is true and may believe the information from Theologians, such as David Fitzgerald at Skepticon 3 “Examining the Existence of a Historical Jesus”:
Byker Bob wrote, over at Banned!:
Many groups over the millennia have taught the sabbath, the holy days, clean meats, the ten commandments, and either a tithe or voluntary giving of a generally recommended percentage of 10% as God’s basic standard.
People have been happy, they’ve lived exemplary lives, and they have raised fine families in peace and tranquility under those customs. Whether they are New or Old Covenant, whether certain facts are known or unknown that would make it possible or impossible to still observe those tenets, and whether the act of teaching them is the way of identifying “God’s True Church” rather than love, faith, and other Christian fruits, has been the subject of ongoing unresolvable debate for many years. Still, a once a week “special date with God” would certainly not harm self, or others, in and of itself.
What elevated Herbert W. Armstrong’s church and his heirs into cultic status was the addition of an extrabiblical theory (which can actually be disproven using the Bible, let alone archaeology, history, linguistics, and genetics) based on British Israelism and German Assyrianism. This was compounded by Armstrong’s pretentiousness in claiming to know something that Jesus said could not be known, I.e, when the end would come. Now, that is all cultic “gnosticism”, but it doesn’t yet rise to the label “toxic”.
Toxicity entered through Herbert using the apocalypse of Revelation, bolstered by the prophecies of Daniel, asserting that these would occur during our lifetime, applying it all to civilizations initiated by Anglo-Saxon gentiles, and leaving anyone from his primary broadcast audience who wanted to be spared and protected from these with the sole alternatives of joining his church movement, or suffering the brunt of the tribulation. It was a black and white ultimatum. He then introduced another bit of speculation, that the churches enumerated in Revelation were actually eras, thus branding anyone more liberal or conservative than himself who actually taught the same doctrines as “Sardis” or “Laodicean”. Some over the years have considered all of this intimidation to be special, privileged truth, while in the face of continued failure of the root prophecies, and witnessing horrible fruits, others have seen it as blatant, deliberate, false entrapment.
The final and worst toxicity came from Herbert’s doctrine of “government from the top down” (rather than the power of Jesus Christ converting and transforming one Christian heart at a time from the bottom-up), thus opening the door for all of the cruel, arbitrary, “our way or the highway” enforcement practiced in original WCG and the ACOG splinters. Basically, this is the “we OWN you” doctrine, making the leaders of these groups the gatekeepers to the so-called “place of safety” and supposedly to the kingdom itself. Members in good standing do not question their gatekeepers’ authority!
I have no problem with the people who think that the New Covenant is simply the Infusion of Jesus into the Old Covenant. But, I have a huge problem with the people who would contaminate all of that with the various ingredients that Herbert W. Armstrong added as his own modifiers to that. The use of a special set of Armstrong gnosticism, combined with totalitarian enforcement, is what makes the ACOGs toxic. That is in no way spiritual guidance.
Unfortunately, most of the Armstrongist churches have resorted to tactics which make them look more like George Orwell’s 1984 than a church.
Now no one needs to give up the Bible. It can still be used for inspiration. In fact, in some segments of the Armstrongist community, there are those who actually seem to be fine with the fact that the Bible might not be the inspired Word of God, absolute, with Authority. It is a growing community and there are some prominent leaders out there directing the charge. One such group is the Church of God Big Sandy, led by David Havir who is, in turn, supported by Dixon Cartwright and The Journal. Dixon Cartwright has declared that he does not believe in British Israelism: He responded to the PT Article, The Journal is Cursed! by saying:
Yes, the aspects of Armstrongism that I judge to be silly I try to be above it all, as you put it. You can say false prophet all you like, I don’t care. But I don’t think terms like that are appropriate for a journalist to use (except in quoting other people) because those are terms for Bible scholars and farmer theologians and church members. I don’t think Herbert Armstrong was a prophet, therefore I don’t think he could have been a true or false prophet. Just as I tried to remove myself from the Bible fray when I wrote my canon articles (because one cannot prove or disprove the validity of the Bible in the usual conservative-Christian sense by arguing from within the Bible), I think it’s advisable for a newspaper not to report from inside the Bible. Interesting you guys are always talking about British Israelism. I am not a British Israelist, but I don’t think BI is any weirder than certain important doctrines of mainstream Christianity.
It seems likely that David Havir and others at the CoGBS hold the same disbelief. Since the staff of The Journal has ties to the United Church of God an International Association, it is also likely that many of the ministers in the UC Gaia also tacitly realize that British Israelism is a dead issue, although, behind the scenes they still have a United States and British Commonwealth in Prophecy, they have backpedaled the issue and don’t promote the booklet actively. Certainly, Dennis Luker was moving United in another direction away from Armstrong during his tenure as President. In addition, “False Prophet” and “Heresy” are irrelevant terms, as Dixon Cartwrite wrote over at Otagosh:
To Black Ops: You do not understand where I’m coming from. I pick up from Gavin and his little comments now and then that he pretty much does. “False prophet”? Interesting that you still are tuned in to the concept of false prophet. That strikes me as a religious and conservative-theological way of thinking that I try not to do anymore. It’s like saying someone’s a heretic. For a person trying to stay above the fray, some of those concepts make little sense. People obviously have strong religious convictions, and I think that can be an objective statement. But lamentations about false prophets and heretics and interpretations of Scripture and doctrine are not. –Dixon C.
This would make absolutely no sense at all in the highly conservative pragmatic Biblical based world of Herbert Armstrong and the Radio Church of God. But if it is rooted in venue of high concept religious abstract fuzzy thinking of modern Christian Theology, it makes perfect sense. The Bible is not absolute — it’s just used for inspiration to pad out sermons and written material. No, what’s really important is the social group. Dixon Cartwright has validated this.
Now if you take a look at the Church of God Big Sandy, you can clearly grasp the concept. Youth Day includes the activities of the Boy Scouts of America chapter at Big Sandy during Sabbath services. The Journal reports on all the personal items of interest (as well as doing the Boomer thing of allowing everyone to have their say and go their way). People can believe whatever they want to and even have discussions about it as long as they don’t get too loud or pushy. As long as it doesn’t threaten the group in any way, it’s allowed — this gives people the Byker Bob standard, acknowledging that as long as the environment isn’t toxic and works for the group, it’s (mostly) OK. In this case, the Bible is just a prop and has no real relevance and neither does doctrine, heresy, false prophets, prophecy. In fact, the ministers could all be humanist atheists (and they may well be) and it would make no difference: The social group is together and everybody’s OK. Of course, some of the more retentive types soaked and locked into the ultra conservative arcane religious beliefs espoused by Herbert Armstrong haven’t got the memo (clueless, deliberately excluded from being able to understand what’s going on) but that’s OK too — there’s a safe place for them to hold their superstitious delusions.
Now it is the case that for the sake of the social group, there are still some unique Armstrongist things. The biggest of these is the so-called Feast of Tabernacles. There is no such thing, of course, because there is no Temple, no Levite priests (no matter how Herbert Armstrong tried to make his hirelings into them), no altar, no animal sacrifices… well, OK, sometimes they do have a barbeque at the “Feast” but you know what we mean. The “Feast of Tabernacles” allows people to get together for social activities, meet friends, make new friends, eat, drink and be merry, have a generally fun time. People can have the best of everything (up to a point) more than they can have any other time of the year. The physical rituals help bind the community together, and that’s all good. There are also all those Christmas / New Year socials for various social activities. With this approach, there’s absolutely no conflict with “Feasts of the Lord” because if it benefits the social group, there’s nothing wrong with it. They do it because they can. [Note: United recently published in The Good News that it is OK for the elderly and those with medical problems to eat and drink on the Day of Atonement, meaning that those “Festivals” aren’t as much an obstacle any more for those who don’t really want to keep them fully and it also means that it was just fine for Herbert Armstrong to have a cup of coffee and a donut on the Day of Atonement to “keep up his strength”. Nothing’s all that sacred any more.]
This is real freedom!
So now, people can whine about false prophets. Irrelevant. People can whine about heresy. Irrelevant. People can get all bent out of shape about doctrine and a million things associated with it, particularly the calendar. Irrelevant. British Israelism. Irrelevant. The Bible can go poof! No problem. Gee, about now, Joe Tkach probably wishes he had the idea back in the day with the Worldwide Church of God: Just allow people to have their local church buildings and build a local social community and people would be happy and it would all be good. None of this mucking about trying to change absolutely everything Herbert Armstrong stood for as a vendetta. Just let the people do what they want to do anyway, and sit back and collect the dough. Wouldn’t it have been so much easier? This is a successful business model that really works! It’s all good as long as the music’s good! After all, it’s just a social club.
Well, live and learn.
And yet… it’s hard to know what to call these fun folks — Unarmstrongists, perhaps?
We do believe that those who have rejected British Israelism should be praised, it’s just that we would have hoped they would have been more obvious and public about it.
These days there are accounts of atheists yearning for a social group. They’d like to have something like a church, just without the religious nonsense that goes along with it. They’d like to socialize with get togethers, pot lucks, conventions, all without having to argue that the Bible is so much superstition. They need to take a page out of the book of these former Armstrongists. They could learn a thing or two.
Make no mistake: Most of those such as Roderick Meredith, David Pack, Gerald Flurry, Ronald Weinland claim to obey God and believe the Bible but prove by their behavior that they don’t.
In 1974, just before I left the WCG, I picked up a book called “EarthWalk” by Philip Slater. I had never had such an eye opening experience before that time. “EarthWalk” was one of the most profound books I’ve ever read.
Recently, I was reading from his blog, http://philipslater.wordpress.com and discovered the essay on the trap of purity. It is related to much we have discovered when we left the CoGs. A part of that is quoted below:
“But all cultures have safety valves that help release the tensions created by this twisting of our genetic makeup. Cultures survive only when they’re impure–when they accumulate inconsistencies and contradictions like lichen on a rock.
Medieval Europe, for example, had a Feast of Fools, during which nobles and peasants exchanged roles, priests were the butt of practical jokes, and all the usual taboos and rules of deference to one’s superiors were abolished for a day. Similarly, the Japanese have a tradition that anything said while drunk must have no repercussions in their daily lives. Since people are more complex than any system of ideas, these contradictions and inconsistencies are necessary for a culture to survive. As Mumford put it:
‘This tendency toward laxity, corruption, and disorder is the only thing that enables a system to escape self-asphyxiation.’ Some early Christian leaders, like Paul, portrayed celibacy as the highest good. But if this principle had been enforced for everyone the Catholic Church would have disappeared like the Shakers, who never reproduced themselves. Mumford attributes the longevity of the Catholic Church to its ability to absorb contradictory traditions:
“It is not the purity of Roman Catholic doctrine that has kept that Church alive and enabled it to flourish even in a scientific age but just the opposite.”
It survived, he says, because of the many ideas and practices ‘seeping in from other systems of thought and other cultures,’ especially that of the Greeks, and later, of science. Not to mention the pagan elements (Santa Claus, Christmas trees, Easter eggs) incorporated into the Christian religion as it swept through Europe.”
Slater’s description above opens up the idea that cultures cannot survive by being totally “pure”. By focusing exclusively on perfect obedience to a set of rules or laws, they eventually go extinct from lack of adaptation. Slater brings out a parallel to this idea in “EarthWalk”:
“There is a cybernetic law that states that the more probable a message is, the less information it provides. The information contained in a message, for example, decreases with its repetition”.
What we see, then, is a comparison between the “probability” of a message, and the “purity” of a message. By emphasizing the purity of a message, that is, the “truth” of an unchanging nature, we increase its probability, but we reduce the information it contains for useful adaptation to the world around us. If any “message(Catholicism, Mormonism, any ‘ism’)” is repeated to the point that we cannot accept variation, we will lose our ability to adapt to necessary change.
If you compare this to my last essay regarding genes and the “Cambrian Explosion”, you will notice a parallel between the action of genes and the need for “purity” in any social system.
What Richard Dawkins calls the “genetic replicative algorithm” is an action by which genes perfectly copy themselves from generation to generation by controlling as much of their environment as possible, to avoid change. That is, the genes select a process of “purity” to ensure that no alterations occur in their replicative process. If the “memes” of a culture are extensions of the genes, then we can easily see the evolutionary connection between a culture seeking “purity” and the gene pool seeking to avoid change and thus control its replicative environment.
What we see in both the culture or religion, and the process of genetic replication, is that “information”, that which lacks predictability, is a threat to both genes and cultures. This means that cultures, as extension of the genes, will seek to minimize choice, or options that threaten the reproductive integrity of the culture.
What is immediately realized from this is that religion is a process developed naturally in evolution, and, while it serves purposes of survival in environments with little change, it threatens the life of species in environments with what economist/futurist Robert Theobald called the “Rapids of Change”.
Religion, as generally recognized, is nothing more than a cultural evolutionary strategy to reduce stress within a culture by reducing its options. The more “purity” maintained in a culture, the less uncertainty it experiences, and therefore less stress.
Slater has shown a link between genetic replication and the strategy by which cultures avoid uncertainty, by pointing out the basic law of information theory. The more probable a message, the less information it contains. The more “religious” a person is, therefore, the more adept he or she becomes at strategies that avoid constant change. This suggests that religion is merely a useful evolutionary strategy. Once we become aligned with a “universal truth”, we are inclined to seek out those who agree with that truth. “Purity” can only succeed if it proselytizes. Slater continues below:
“Cultural systems force living things into boxes. Inconsistencies create air-holes that allow these living things to breathe. Every cultural system must have contradictions in order for its participants to remain human, because human beings are inconsistent and have contradictory needs. We’re active and passive, organized and impulsive, aggressive and gentle, cooperative and competitive. Yet every cultural system tends to suppress some part of that complex humanity.
So when a culture changes, it eases the process if parts of the older tradition survive, even when–especially when–they contradict the values of the new one. Vestiges of the joyful celebrations of life and nature that characterized pagan cultures softened the impact of the death-oriented, otherworldly Christianity that was imposed on Europeans during the Dark Ages. Easter eggs, a pagan fertility symbol, helped Christians feel that there might, after all, be something to be said for life here on earth.
Healthy cultures are packrats. They don’t throw away anything. They keep odds and ends of customs that contradict their dominant values.”
Slater has again pointed out another parallel of cultures and genes. Once a culture is “informed” with inconsistencies and aberrations, it isolates them often by putting them in jail, placing them in therapy, putting them in mental institutions, or ways that isolate the aberration, but maintains the “information” provided by the aberration or inconsistency. Organisms have this same tendency by incorporating what used to be called “junk DNA”, which, as Dr Sharon Moalem points out, are actually former viral DNA, which the organism uses for future reference. This DNA provides a kind of “database” which the organism can use in many ways, from “jumping genes” that randomly populate newly formed brains, allowing greater individuality, to reference of the viral DNA to create defenses against new viral infections.
In that same sense, cultures act as “packrats”, storing inconsistencies and aberrations as a “database” to study and identify the nature of each behavior, just as the immune system “tags’ and identifies each new viral invader and neutralizes it in the body.
Slater then makes comparisons to more modern cultures:
“Communist bureaucracies could not have functioned at all without the system of official bribery carried over from Czarist days, and capitalists who are most dogmatic about free markets are the first to seek government subsidies and try to control prices through collusion. Ceremonious Brits adore making fun of pomposity, and materialistic Americans are addicted to sentimental movies proclaiming that the best things in life are free. In 1635 the intensely utilitarian Dutch went mad over tulips–the most useless of plants–paying astronomical sums for a single bloom and almost destroying their economy. And while the early 1950s were notoriously obsessed with planning for future success, the most popular song was “Che Sera, Sera.”
When an old cultural system begins to give way to a new one its inconsistencies come under attack. There is an increase in fundamentalism–a call for ideological purity. These are seen as attempts to shore up the old system, but they actually weaken it further.”
In Jewish history, the Jews were faced with this same problem. They were allegedly commanded to obey the laws of God perfectly, and avoid the “leavening” of other nations. That is, they were not to be “informed” by the inconsistencies and paganism which other nations offered. How could the Jews successfully live among other cultures if they were not permitted to conquer and control those cultures? If they truly had the covenant with God at Sinai, why wouldn’t God have led them to victory over all other cultures, so they could enforce their truth on the world?
The reason, assuming there was a God who did so, is stated above. Had Israel been successful and enforced “God’s law” all over the earth, the very purity by which Israel was forced to live would actually destroy the evolutionary ability to adapt and grow with their environment! Israel’s “success” could not have depended on the conquest of other nations and a world ruling kingdom, since that very success would have doomed them to eventual extinction!
The Jews, therefore, offered an interesting solution: while maintaining the “purity” of their holy text, the Torah, they began to record a system of rules and laws(Mishna, Gemora, and Talmud) which allowed them to adapt to the cultures and societies around them, even incorporating various ideas from those cultures, while maintaining the “purity” of the Torah only by giving it “lip service”, the very thing which Jesus had allegedly condemned in his ministry. “Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men(Mark 7:7)”.
In genetic systems, there are the “germ cells” which maintain the “purity” of sexual reproduction. These cells are not altered by viruses. The basic information necessary for sexual reproduction is passed on, and the organism maintains its identity in a species. The somatic cells, however, are influenced by viruses, and can be altered by the “information” provided by viral DNA. The Jews had maintained the “germ cell” purity of the Torah, but had created an adaptive “somatic cell” system composed of the Talmud, which allowed them to adapt to the “cultural DNA” of other civilizations.
Christianity and Islam followed much the same model, by creating a “DNA” of print, allowed by Gutenberg’s printing press, which passed on the basic replicative information of the “germ cell”, while allowing for the constant speciation and splintering of interpretation of various religions, until we have thousands of religions that provide for constant adaptability in the West today.
The main difference, however, is that individuals can read either Bible or Koran for themselves, creating even more individualist diversity for competition and adaptation among systems. Notice what Slater proposes as a result of this “informing” process:
“The Protestant Reformation in Europe was an attempt to ‘purify’ the Catholic Church of its contradictions and compromises with paganism. It sought to suppress the cult of the Virgin Mary and reestablish the supremacy of the Father–to make Christianity a more perfectly patriarchal religion and de-sacralize ‘Mother’ Nature.
The result of this new purity was to weaken popular commitment to Christianity altogether. Atheism and secular humanism grew rapidly, and European churches never again held the sway over public life they’d once had.
The power of kings, which in medieval times was limited by the nobles and hedged about by custom, reached a peak under the reign of France’s Louis XIV, who detached the nobles from their land base and brought them to Versailles. As continued by Louis XV and Louis XVI, it was the purest form of monarchy that ever existed in Western Europe, and for that very reason was the beginning of the end.
Centralized power achieved an even purer form in the 20th century dictator. The dictator had no limitations at all–no concerns about legitimacy, no traditional obligations attached to the role, no restrictions based on custom. The dictator was authoritarian power at its absolute purest, and hence an unmistakable symptom of its decadence. Nazi Germany’s Third Reich–the purest and most perfect expression of Control Culture that ever existed–lasted only twelve years. And today the former Axis powers are three of the most vital democracies in the world.
The purest forms of a social system always appear as it decays. Often, when a system is ailing, its believers try to strip away its contradictions, leaving a system that is more pure, more rigid, and hence more fragile. Mao Zedong couldn’t tolerate the “laxity, corruption, and disorder” in Chinese communism. By launching the Cultural Revolution–trying to strip away all traditional values and entrepreneurism–he smothered the system and opened the door to capitalistic and democratic reforms.
In a viable culture, customs, ideas, and myths may fall into disuse, but they’re never thrown out. Cleaning out the cultural attic means junking the counterpoise that keeps the whole structure from getting too one-sided and collapsing.
The ‘purification’ efforts of fundamentalist ideologues are symptomatic of terminal illness. Radical leftists in the past have often crippled themselves through the same egoistic devotion to ideological purity, preferring to go down with the ship singing “nearer to the left than thee” rather than share a lifeboat with conservatives and compromising liberals.
Mumford’s “laxity, corruption, and disorder” is an ironic phrase, but it’s the way contradictions are viewed by ideologues. Purists believe they’re trying to ‘revive’ or ‘revitalize’ a system when they call for a return to ‘basic values’ or ‘fundamental principles’, but since it’s the “laxity, corruption, and disorder” that protect a system from self-asphyxiation, they’re in effect smothering it. They’re more committed to the idea of the system than the compromised reality. They’re not only willing to go down with the ship, they’re willing to sink it to prove their devotion.
Slater has correctly analyzed the problem, but the “neoconservatives” and the evangelicals are trying desperately to “return” to a purity which the United States never possessed, nor was it born of such ideas. The “original intent” of the founders was basic to the paradigm examined above: for those who chose, the Bible could be used as the “germ cell” of future security, but the nation grew and prospered on its “laxity and disorder”.