"We're still here... that's not news."
--Scott Simon, NPR's Weekend Edition, 21 May 2011
I should say at the outset that, some time ago (like, maybe six or seven months), I gave up broadcast television. I decided that I was paying some bureaucracy too much money to watch advertisements and C.S.I. So, to save money, I had my cable service disconnected. To that effect, I may be somewhat less informed about things than I have been in the past.
Right, that having been said, did you know that, back in 1994, some devoutly religious guy with a radio station, a calculator, and way too much time on his hands came up with the exact date of Doomsday. The day when the faithful would ascend to Heaven and the rest of Humanity would continue suffering, or some such thing.
Hey, guess what? That day was May the 21st, 2011.
Hey, guess what else? We're all still here. Quelle surprise, n'est-ce pas? Well, everyone except the 125,000 people who die of all conceivable causes everyday.
The point being that this guy with the radio station, the calculator, and such grand amounts of free time as to make one's teeth hurt, managed to convince thousands of other religious people of his conclusion. Mind you, this conclusion came after he failed to accurately predict that Doomsday would come in November of 1994. Nevertheless, people all over America began to believe that the world would end nine hours and forty-seven minutes ago. Pamphlets were distributed, posters were put up, billboards were created, caravans of the devout travelled to a particular area so it would be easier, presumably, for God to find them. In at least one extreme case, a man used a polished silver dagger to kill his family and himself in advance of the End of Times.
Dateline: 2358 hours, 20 May 2011. Anxiety sets in. Bible verses are read. Emergency baptisms are performed.
Dateline: 2359 hours, 20 May 2011. Anticipation amongst the faithful reaches a fever pitch. Some cultists ingest tablets of potassium ferrocyanate.
Dateline: 0000 hours, 21 May 2011. A moment of, "Wait. What?"
Dateline: 0001 hours, 21 May 2011. People start wondering, "Maybe Jesus forgot to reset his watch for Daylight Savings Time?"
Dateline: 0100 hours, 21 May 2011. People start to realise that nothing is happening. The consensus? "Our prayers saved us!"
I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate just how farcical organised religion is. There are so many hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people who are taught by a few confidence artists that the words printed in a single (albeit very old) epic novel are to be taken as the Absolute Truth. For this reason, these confidence-men have the masses in their pockets -- if they say something is going to happen because it has been "ordained" or it's part of "God's Will" or "God's Plan", suddenly, you have throngs of people milling about singing Amazing Grace and reciting ten Our Fathers at the drop of a hat.
I don't care to go too far into this, since it's rather against my principles to discuss religion, politics, or Star Wars at length in mixed company. But, suffice it to say, something's screwy here. Certainly, there are advantages to organised religion. A prime example is that a religious person would go to church on Sunday and instantly be within a very large social group with the same commonality. A methodist, say, would be amongst other methodists. Each has the same religious belief, leading to instant acceptance of any new person into the group. Why? Because, it's assumed that any man or woman whosoever should enter a methodist church would, quod erat demonstrandum, be a methodist, him- or herself.
However, as with anything, there are pros and cons. The major con in this case is the pliability of the thought and reasoning process. If the vicar believes in what he preaches, he tends to project his own enthusiasm, which may lead to an alteration in the most basic reasoning functions of his flock. Suddenly, the answer to the question, "Why am I here?", changes from, "because my dad and my mum did the nasty 23 years ago", to, "because God has a plan and I'm somehow a part of it". Then, of course, in any well-trained flock, you're going to have some, as society calls them, "extremists" who believe that this is the only religion and the only way to look at God and that any other viewpoint is fundamentally incorrect. This view has led to more wars in the history of Mankind than I care to think about.
I'm not a religious man, myself. Don't get me wrong, though, I do believe that something caused the universe to come into existence. The two interactive atoms at the head of the Big Bang didn't just appear out of nowhere -- some external force had to create them. That's pure and simple logic.
People have given this force a name to make it less impossible to perceive: God, Jehovah, Yahweh, Allah, what-have-you. That's fine -- society has always been way into giving labels to stuff. It'll always be that way.
However, I don't believe that the force's name should be invoked as the sole purpose for starting a war, inciting rebellion, or instilling fear.
"Repent now, lest God cast you into Hell for all eternity!"
That's the principal reason why I'm writing this.
In Gene Roddenberry's utopian setting for Star Trek, there isn't really any discernable religious view. Yes, yes, Star Trek is fiction, this is reality, and all that, and all that. But, really, when you get right down to it, religion is a list of things that you can't do. "Thou shall not kill", "Thou shall not covet thy neighbour's possessions", et cetera. When are people going to realise that they don't need religion to know the difference between right and wrong?
What do they have? Science. Astronomy. Microcellular analysis. I'm sure that Starfleet's greatest scientific minds have come to the same conclusion I have -- that "God" is the force which ultimately set the Big Bang into motion. This force has also acted upon countless other astronomical bodies, including huge, great, heavy things that speed through Space at a thousand miles an hour; and stars around which orbit planets. This is where Doomsday is. Not in some calculation by a religious guy, but in the atomic decay within the Sun or in the trajectory of an asteroid. Eventually, either the Sun will go supernova or a huge, great planetoid is going to crash into the Earth, wiping out all life, faithful or not.
I'm not saying that religion is bad. In fact, belief in the afterlife is extraordinarily helpful when faced with cosmic disaster. But, really, I sincerely doubt that real life will happen like some El Greco painting -- angels descending from Heaven to take the faithful away, Hellfire erupting from secret staircases where the damned are led to eternal suffering by red blokes with pitchforks.
In fact, perhaps Doomsday did come, after all. Perhaps those 125,000 people who die of death every day were all religious this morning. I'd certainly call the current human condition in some places around the world, "suffering". Perhaps Earth, itself, is Hell and the fact that we're all still here is evidence that we're going to continue our suffering -- not at the end of Satan's pitchfork, but at the bullets of our own guns and in the blast zones of our own nuclear missiles. We're doing well enough punishing ourselves... we don't need Hell's demons to help us with that.