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11:18 am: Of primitives, savages, and our obligation thereto

I lost an argument the other day – and it’s bugging me.

It’s not so much that I lost, since we weren’t really arguing – as that I let it get away from me because I was pushing on two different ideas at once. I let myself get all confused and failed to make any point at all.

So here’s idea one: “There exist people for whom religious belief makes it is easier to lead a happy, good life.” Note that I’m not talking about child rape, bigotry, dark and hidden political agendas, the phrase “in God we trust” on the currency, or any of the usual woes that beset organized religion. I’m talking about faith in a non-empirically-provable god or gods. My observation is that (a) it’s possible to decouple belief from a lot of the badness of organized religion, and (b) some folks find it easier to face their lives with God at their back.

Personally, I do not. I do observe a correlation between faith and people who are less stuck in their heads than I am – who are less academic, and perhaps less unhappy if their pencils are not perfectly aligned on their desk. Note that I am specifically not saying “smarter” people or “people farther along the path” or anything judgmental like that. Some people don’t like bitter flavors, some do. Some are happier if the pencils are perfectly aligned, and some don’t care. Some people find that faith makes it easier to get along – some do not.

With that said, here’s idea two: “I think that organized religion has some really valuable properties in terms of lifting societies out of chaos and into a stable state.” I’m thinking specifically about Haiti here – the fact that after decades of aid – the country is still struggling.

My observation is that external aid is really hard to do effectively – since you tend to get people hooked on your largess. Similarly, I begin to think that we may have done Haiti a disservice by knocking over dictator after dictator. Where they are right now is chaos. Would order, even under an exploitative regime, be better than that? Religion splits the difference. As I’ve observed it in practice down there, religion is about a community saying “we will be better than this – we will be better than we are right now – and we will do it for ourselves.” It’s inspiring to watch a community build a church out of the mud. It’s stunning to watch them use that church as an anchor for a school, a clinic, and so on.

Somehow, between those two thoughts I let myself get all confused and dragged into the question of whether Haiti was somehow morally and intellectually inferior to the US – and thus not equipped for my highfalutin god free existence. That wasn’t my point at all.

Originally published at chris.dwan.org. You can comment here or there.

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