Thursday, April 26, 2012

God's Quality Control 8.0: Jesus, You're Fired

I think I have one series left in me, and this is it. Who knows, I might suddenly find myself inspired to make more in the future, but it seems that I've said almost everything I have to say, or at least everything that lends itself to being said on YouTube. Special thanks to all of you who have checked in on me in recent months. It's especially to you guys that I want to point out that this might be my last series, so you don't worry about me if I go silent after this one.

No collection of Quality Control videos would be complete without a series on Jesus. He said much that an enlightened person would not have said, while omitting much than an enlightened person would not have omitted. Strangely, superstitionists and asuperstitionists alike revere Jesus as a great moral philosopher, a keen observer of human nature, a provider of timeless advice on navigating the complexities of life. I'm amazed that the man is remembered at all. Most of what he said was bullshit, and his silence on really important topics is its own form of bullshit. His biggest and most fundamental mistake was his unquestioning acceptance of the coercive and punitive morality that has plagued us since the dawn of human thinking.

The root of this morality is the word "should." We want others to behave a certain way, and rather than expressing it as a personal desire, try to convince them that our desires correspond to some kind of universal law. In other words, we tell others how they should behave. If you don't behave as I believe you should, I might punish you in some fashion. If you're a child, especially my own offspring, I might inflict physical violence on you, although if I consider myself enlightened, I might instead send you to your room or ground you or take away something you value. If you're an adult, or a child over whom I have less-than-absolute power, I might simply say something to make you feel guilty, to anger or hurt you in some way. All of these responses are the same: they are punishments, attempts to coerce you to behave according to my will.

In this series I'll perform my usual Quality Control services for the superstitionist community, discussing the myriad failures of this man who is still considered great in spite of his adherence to this dilapidated mode of thinking. At the same time I hope to continue my long conversation with all of you about invitational morality. If you don't know what "invitational morality" means, don't worry. I'll discuss it in detail in this series.

In short, I think I've stumbled on a better way for humans to perceive each other, a way that could make a meaningful difference in the way we treat each other as individuals, and, at least in my wild fantasies, the way we behave as a global civilization. I want to tell you about it, get your feedback, improve it where possible, and talk about whether it can be usefully applied in real-life situations. I'll tell you some of my thoughts and experiences applying these ideas, and I'll be very interested to hear about your experiences if you decide to try it.

We have an elaborate house of cards built up on the foundation of coercive morality, the foundation of should. We talk about what people deserve. We talk about right, wrong, forgiveness. We tend to think of forgiveness as a beautiful thing, and Jesus' thoughts on forgiveness as profound. But what does it mean to forgive, in practical terms? To suspend punishment. Forgiveness, in spite of sounding like something wonderful, is a clumsy and ineffectual attempt at a solution to a symptom of a much larger problem. If it weren't for punishment, the concept of forgiveness wouldn't even exist. In Matthew Chapter 6, Jesus teaches us how forgiveness works in his world: if you forgive, "god" will forgive you; if you do not, "god" will not. Jesus accepts the validity of forgiveness, because he accepts the validity of punishment, which disqualifies him as any sort of visionary or moral genius.

Watch a group of non-human social animals for a while. Occasionally, someone will step on someone else's toes, either literally or metaphorically. The victim of such an affront will often lash out at the perpetrator, with a bite or some other kind of physical violence, or perhaps just with a warning such as a growl or hiss. There is an obvious evolutionary advantage to this behavior. It's interesting to note that whether the perpetrator had any intent to cause harm is irrelevant. The severity of the reaction correlates to the discomfort of the victim, not in any way to the perpetrator's motives.

In the non-human world, this mechanism works pretty well at keeping toe-treading to a minimum. While it's a very useful primitive instinct, it breaks down in the presence of the human brain, which fabricates all sorts of intent and assigns huge moral weight to the event. This is where punishment comes in, where the severity of the reaction can become wildly disproportionate to and conceptually disconnected from the actual offense. Whether it takes a physical form such as violence or imprisonment, or an emotional form such as a guilt trip or verbal abuse, punishment is a misguided notion, a crazy rationalization invented by the prefrontal cortex in the human brain, made all the more grotesque by the fact that the underlying impulse is perfectly healthy, normal, and evolutionarily adaptive.

That's 8.0. Thanks for watching.