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You ``Are'' Your Axioms

We've all heard the saying, ``you are what you eat''. What you may not realize is that this saying applies just as well to the axioms you've ``eaten'' all the years of your life. Let's begin with a little metaphor.

Suzy lives in a city. Every breath she breathes is laced with particulates: factory smoke, powdered asbestos from all of the cars' brakes, dust, car exhaust. The food she eats is loaded with sodium and nitrites and fat, the meat comes from animals that are routinely fed antibiotics and hormones that bring about premature menarche in her and cause boys in her class to have low sperm counts. Suzy has no choice; she is only eleven years old and lives with her parents. Her parents have little choice about living in the city, as they make a living there. Still, by the time Suzy grows up she'll have small but permanent damage to her lungs and other organs, and maybe the seeds of cancer in some of her damaged cells.

Tommy lives in the country. The air is fresh but he breathes in huge quantities of pollen and mildew spores. His house (unknown to his parents) has dangerous levels of radon gas. The family garden is surrounded by treated landscape timbers and he gets a steady dose of heavy metal poisoning from his daily salad. His father regularly doses the garden with malathion and sevin dust to keep off the bugs, and naturally they eat a bunch of that as well. By the time Tommy grows up he'll have just as much damage as Suzy, maybe more.

In neither case do Suzy or Tommy have any clue that they are breathing in and eating death as well as life with every breath and bite. Neither do their parents - or rather, to the extent that they do have a clue that this is happening they don't care as it is beyond their control and the benefit (breathing, eating) exceeds the risk (dying eventually of causes that may or may not have anything to do with the damage they experienced from the environmental toxins in their lives). It's just the way people live, and we'll all die eventually anyway.

Consider instead the axioms that Suzy and Tommy and Raj and Maryam and Yin and Saul are fed from the moment they open their eyes. These axioms are the memes of the culture in which each of these kids live and are brought up.

Suzy is fed raw Catholicism - an unhealthy dose of guilt for things she's never done but is nevertheless blamed for by God (obsession with original sin); a perception that as a woman she is inferior to men as men were made directly and first by God, it was Eve (made from Adam's rib) who took the fruit, and consequently women cannot be priests or stand as close to God as men can. She is taught that if she lives a good life by the precise definition of the church then when she dies she will go to ``heaven'', which is just like here but you can have fun all the time and never are hurt, and otherwise she will very likely be sent to ``hell'', which is sort of like the inside of an active volcano, and you burn alive for eternity without ever actually dying so that the pain can stop.

Suzy is taught that non-Catholics (even other Christian non-Catholics) are ``outsiders'' and although it is rarely said openly, outsiders have at best a snowball's chance in - hell - of avoiding being sent there, unless they possibly knuckle under and acknowledge that Jesus is their King at the very last of last seconds in which case they get sent along with the other forgiven sinners to ``purgatory'', which is sort of like here but living in a housing complex where there is nothing to do but work and be miserable, but at least it isn't forever and eventually you get to go to heaven where you can work for the ones that got there right away because they were Catholic and Forgiven and Saints and the like.

Suzy is taught that the one thing You Must Never Do, the sin beyond all forgiveness, is to question the holy scriptures that lay all of this out with its lovely set of rules and regulations, benefits and punishments. She is taught that above all, the authority to decide what is and what isn't holy scripture and what are the current set of rules and what is and isn't are manifest eternal truth is carefully vested in a closed group of men (and only men) whose whole lives have been devoted to the preservation of the entire structure of these rules, their own power, her obedience, and more.

Suzy's church has special terms it applies to church members who openly question scripture - they are called ``apostates'', or ``blasphemers'', or ``heretics'', and the church has in the past been known to do their best to bring hell to earth in dealing with them, with things like torture, imprisonment, maiming, execution, and being burned alive just routine fare over dealt out to the apostates over the centuries. Even heathen were historically accorded (slightly) better treatment as they don't know any better. They were only burned alive and tortured if they were given a fair chance to convert and failed to; otherwise they were made into good Catholics and often as not given jobs working as slaves for better Catholics digging gold and plunder from their native lands.

There are significant benefits to membership in the church and compliance with its rules, and I don't mean to suggest in any way that the Catholic Church is itself evil. It is beyond mundane concepts of Good and Evil, as it is itself a complete set of memetic axioms that define a Superorganism, complete with mechanisms for defense, growth, reproduction, in competition with other similar Superorganisms. Suzy is but a single ``cell'' in the Superorganism that is the Catholic church - protected and nourished if she is a good cell, punished or expelled or even killed if she is a bad cell. As a good cell, Suzy gains the comfort of a personal relationship with a conceptualization of God, a tiny bit of freedom from the fear of death and pain (or at least a measure of the support and strength required to endure pain and face ultimate death), many celebrations and festivals, a place to marry and a place to bury.

The church does many good things for Suzy as well as for Suzy's community, even the non-Catholics, because many of its cells are just plain good people who never think too deeply about the core structure that holds the church together, about its defenses. Suzy is further blessed in that the church she is being raised in was never more open to change and question than it is today - it is even likely that in her lifetime the world will see woman priests, maybe even a woman as Pope, although that would require what amounts to a memetic revolution within the church itself and therefore is strongly opposed by the specialized human ``white cells'' that guard the purity of the church's memetic structure.

Tommy, however, is being raised a Baptist. This is sort of like a democratic version of Suzy's Catholic church, with no pope, with elections that go down all the way to the people who make up the church, with a whole lot of rules and rituals either thrown out or modified and simplified. Baptists are all apostates or heretics as far as Catholics are concerned (and of course vice versa) but both are Christian and they share a lot more memes than they differ on. Its not that both groups won't get into heaven, probably, it is more a question of which group will be in charge once they get there, as the Bible openly promises that the meek and compliant will become Kings and Queens in heaven. This is an interesting vision to hold in America, where there are no Kings and Queens at all (or if you prefer, where we are all equally Kings or Queens of our own selves and little more). Democratic or not, Tommy is taught that even though he might well be asked to go fight and die to preserve our democracy against Kings and Tyrants around the world, he must bow his knee to Jesus and acknowlege him his feudal King and Lord and do his liege duty to him by following the word of God as laid out in the Bible.

He is carefully taught that the world was created in seven days (all physical and scientific evidence to the contrary notwithstanding), that women are a form of chattel who exist to ``obey'' their father and eventual husband who is naturally King in his own household and a wee bit closer to God (just like the Catholics), and that the one sin beyond all sins is to question the Bible and all of the rules laid out therein, as that is to question the memetic/scriptural basis of the church itself. Shooting a man, sleeping with another man's wife, lying, cheating, stealing, even sleeping with another woman's husband or a sheep, all of these are forgiveable if you abase yourself before Jesus and pray forgiveness, but questioning Jesus himself or the rights of the Church to interpret the Bible for him is a one-way ticket to eternal fire.

Again, Tommy gains many benefits from his position as a cell in a Superorganism. He gets to see and play with his friends and neighbors in Sunday School, there are other social events, it is a place for marrying and burying and sometimes Tommy learns important moral lessons there that really do help him live a better life. It is a place where his parents can get a helping hand in time of need, and a place where they can donate help to others in need. Tommy, too, comes to learn of God there, even if his vision of God greatly resembles a sort of stern Santa Claus surrounded by clouds accompanied by a slightly effeminate man with long blond hair, blue eyes, and white robes with the coolest birthday ever. Of the Holy Spirit Tommy learns only a bit, that it can work some kind of magic and heal the sick and help you win the lottery if you ask it just right in a prayer.

Raj is being raised in a small village in India as the oldest son of a moderately well-off Brahmin. As such, he from an early age has been instructed in the rites and duties of Hinduism, and has been reading the Vedas, especially the Upanishads, when he isn't out playing hooky with his friends. He reads aloud from the Geeta, which is purportedly the conversation between Krishna (avatar of God in human form not unlike Christ) and Arjuna in the middle of a battle where Arjuna is about to mow down his cousins and their armies like sheep in a great war over just who gets to be King(s) of the World. He learns that cows are very sacred and that killing even for food is a very bad thing but that killing people who kill cows or who might want to kill you or killing to conquer a kingdom that is rightfully yours might well be exceptions to the above.

When Raj is in the right mood, he learns much more. Even though he is taught that there are many, many, many, many gods, three of them MAJOR gods (Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva), he is paradoxically also taught that there is but a single God, the principle of brahman, and that this God is not only in all things, it is all things, the underlying Unity from which all diversity springs. He is taught that his soul, his spirit, his Atman is a spark of this eternal and infinite consciousness, and hence cannot be created or destroyed. He is taught that his soul has cycled through many lives before this one, and that he has gradually been learning how to see and understand God. He is taught that this cycle he has a good chance to complete it and remerge with the infinite, as he has been born a Brahman, only one step down from God.

Raj is actually not taught that non-Hindus are doomed to anything quite like Christian hell or that Hindus attain anything quite like Christian heaven, rather that hell and heaven are right here on earth and are a natural part of the cycle of rebirth, so that a man might well experience both during each lifetime. His is a life already enmeshed in eternity, and there is therefore time for all souls to remerge with the infinite, there is no hurry. However, Raj is taught to defend his faith and to respect its scriptures with just as much zeal, bloody zeal if necessary, as Tommy.

He too benefits tremendously from his membership in a Superorganism. His religion (via his caste) utterly defines his place in society and the domains in which he can reasonably attain emminence and status. His particular caste is the highest caste and gets certain perquisites, and as always, it provides him with many festivals, wonderful stories, moral lessons, a place to be married or buried, and the rituals that provide us with the spiritual balance essential to a happy life.

Maryam similarly is dosed with the memes of the Superorganism/religion of Islam, Yin with Bhuddism (liberally laced with Zen and Taoist precepts), Saul with Orthodox Judaism. Islam and Judaism are equally vehement about defense of scripture; both place strong restrictions on its members and require significant sacrifices of individuality, but these sacrifices serve to strengthen the memetic structure of the Superorganism and fend off change. They also serve well to defend the Superorganisms against the significant threats from the stronger and larger Superorganisms, all of which are always seeking to absorb new cells by ``converting'' humans so that they adopt the new memetic beliefs. One group's apostate is another group's convert - humans are in a manner of speaking the ``food'' of religious superorganisms.

It is hopefully rather obvious that all of these children are being fed large doses of axioms (for most of the most fundamental memes of all churches are axioms, in particular the axiom set outlined above for religions in general) along with their daily Post-Toasties or equivalent. In no case are the children permitted, let alone encouraged, to question the axioms they are being fed. Raj has no more chance of becoming Christian than Tommy does of becoming Hindu, barring a chance encounter with the ``predator cells'' of a religious Superorganism (generally missionaries or itinerant priests) who attempt to exploit surpressed dissatisfaction with one memetic set by replacing it with another.

There is no reason for anyone to believe that one of these axiom/memetic sets is, in fact, correct. All of them are presented as being the divinely inspired work of good men (and a very few women). All of them ``document'' miracles done by their gods, their saints, their angels, even their daemons (miracles are the standard works of ``magic'' that are required to establish Godhood or the higher touched-by-divinity grades of Sainthood). All of them contain a moral code; in fact, within tweaks pretty much the same moral code once one leaves off the parts that involve specific religious rituals. Killing one's neighbor, screwing one's neighbor or his wife or a hapless sheep, stealing from one's neighbor (all presumed to be members of the same Superorganismic faith) are all verboten, with special exceptions granted to and by the priesthood. Failing to follow the religious rituals, attacking the religion itself, or being of another faith are all common bases for exception, in some cases to the extent of being open invitations to rape, pillage and burn as long is it is the heathen you're raping, pillaging, and burning.

In no case (certain advanced levels of Hinduism and certain ecumenical movements in the other religions aside) are individuals ever encouraged to examine their own personal axioms or especially the axioms of their religion to see if they make any sort of sense, to see if they even are consistent. On the contrary, each faith has specialized individuals whose sole reason for existence appears to be preventing precisely this from ever happening. They are the white blood cells of the body of the Superorganism, and the defend that body by expelling any sort of ``cancer'' with whatever degree of violence appears necessary. Weak religions that lacked these defences have literally been wiped out by stronger religions that had them, so no successful religion (with the possible exception of Bhuddism, although Bhuddism is not, properly speaking, a religion and I'd hate to put even Bhuddism to the sword to the extent required for a full test) lacks them.

This is, I think, a terrible shame. We live in an age of democracy and personal responsibility. The decision of just what axioms we wish to live by is the most important single decision an individual makes in their lifetime, as it shapes that whole lifetime. People are drawn, in a very natural way, towards God, but a single look at any of the world's religions suffice to convince one that they are as a general rule clueless about God. They are all about scripture and memetic structure supporting the Superorganism; God as a subject of actual unbiased study is beyond them.

next up previous contents
Next: The Axiom of Open-Mindedness Up: Axioms Previous: The Axiom of Deity   Contents
Robert G. Brown 2007-12-17