Salvation by austerity
By Lance Corporal X
I. Social Contract
In my last article, I mentioned my keen interest in the superstitious nature of the Philippines. I heard it all while over there, from vampires to dwarves to fairies to giants to ghosts. My personal favorite was the faceless apparition that hovered as you slept only to wake you with some sort of ominous whisper, then spin away like a tornado through solid material. At the heart of all this is our hopes and fears. That’s the reason people usually attribute good or bad to these things. In the West, these beliefs have largely been relegated to story books or movies. But if you look hard enough you’ll find it over here in America too — what survived are Bigfoot and Alien sightings.
Since we learned how to transport fire, we’ve continuously pushed our fears away. It’s a never ending push, but every inch of hope — no matter how small — humanity improves (relatively). Without that initial discovery and the ability to transport fire, every night was an ordeal; get eaten by large cats, mauled by a pack of wolves or trampled by marauding herds. Before I get labelled as an intellectual racist again, let me point out that the coolest, most efficient, way to make fire is by fire piston. While people in Europe were banging items together to produce a spark, Filipinos were compressing air to produce ignition. I’m using fire here as metaphor and the fire piston as example of the ability to come up with something truly original apart from the West.
Though tools and technology may differ, hopes and fears, are the same everywhere — whether in the Kalahari desert, Amazon jungle or the Arctic. People have always attempted to carve out more hope than fear. After we learned how to control fire, we learned to speak. We were probably already grunting, but the fire enticed us to do more with our voice box. Seated around a camp fire, you just can’t help it. The fire invites you to tell stories. So we got (1) fire and we got language, and that was our first evening entertainment — actually procreation was, but that doesn’t really make us special from the rest of creation.
With a little bit more hope and talking over fire, now ideas can be shared. One lazy hunter, over a warm fire, must have floated the idea of capturing wild animals and domesticating them. Prompting another lazy gatherer to match the animal domestication idea with plant domestication. Small family units can subsist on hunting and gathering, but once you have a bunch of (2) animals and plants under your care, you need manpower. So the mantra now is the more the merrier, only there’s nothing merry about more — it’s the exact opposite.
After fire and language, then animal and plant cultivation, came (3) social organization. And with that, a new sense of morality had to be hammered out. The Golden Rule that worked perfectly well before was too simple — ‘do as I say, not as I do’ is more fitting when dealing with hierarchies. How do you do that? Come up with supernatural stuff,. It’s no accident that ancient peoples worshiped animal deities. They were, after all, our primal fears — jaguars, hippos, elephants, scorpions and tigers today still represent a clear and present danger for people. So leaders manufactured half-human, half-animal gods and used them to scare people into doing things.
As time went on, and wild animals were effectively kept at bay, we became more fearful of other humans, so our gods reflected those fears. Predictably, the gods became super powerful humans, who themselves were subject to their own social organizations. We were suppose to mirror them, but actually the gods mirrored us (art imitating life). It worked, a little too well — since this concept is still used today. But with fire and language, then animals and plants, the main reason behind social organization and morality is obedience, the ability for the people at the top of the supernatural pyramid scheme to direct the rest below.
(1) fire and language
(2) animal and plants
(3) hierarchy and morality
II. Church and State
This is the essence of Thomas Hobbes‘ social contract, peace by coercion through imposed obedience with supernatural magic. St. Thomas Aquinas’ Aristotelian movement had yet to hit its stride at the time of Hobbes, but (4) science and education (the sharing of knowledge through print) would eventually counteract those last two human advancements by promoting other forms of social organizations and morality — where before certain ideas cornered the market, now ideas were freely exchanged with relevant ease. The current set of advancements, which we are now in, isn’t really anything mind blowing like fire and language, conquering animals and plants. It’s just variety — more ideas, knowing more, creating more.
So (5). whatever human advancements unfold after that must somehow include less — just less of everything. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. For now, I just want to set up Hobbes and how he was at the end of the line of the third set of human advancement — basically justifying divine decree (or absolute authority), but this time by consent. Two other guys will argue against Hobbes’ (‘Leviathan’, 1651) absolute rule. Whenever people think of separation of Church and State, they think of John Locke. But Locke was exposed to this idea, when he took off to Holland (the Netherlands) in the 1680s, and hung out with Baruch Spinoza‘s friends. Spinoza died in 1677, but his separation of Church & State was the buzz at that time.
But unlike Locke’s, Spinoza’s separation presumed that religion did more harm than good (‘Theological-Political Treatise’, 1670). And since every philosophy in essence is an autobiography, Spinoza’s life story makes a very compelling case for this presumption — the Spanish inquisition, wars between Catholic and Protestant, Luther’s and Calvin’s violent consolidation campaigns and Spinoza getting excommunicated by his own Jewish community. So he dies, and Locke gets in trouble in England and goes to Holland. Locke spends time with Spinoza’s friends and gets to talking about Church and State separation.
The only difference with Spinoza is that Locke likes religion (‘Letter Concerning Toleration’, 1689). He just didn’t like Catholics and atheists, which Spinoza undoubtedly was. So where Spinoza’s presumption was the State needed protection from the Church, Locke’s was the opposite: the Church (small, less powerful Protestant churches) needed protection from the State. So Locke’s separation of Church and State became doctrine in the New World and got applied by American Founding Fathers. Franklin, Paine and Jefferson were fans of Spinoza, so they instituted checks and balances, presuming, like Spinoza did, that too much power needs to be put in check.
So we here in the US understand the separation of Church and State, not as protection for institutions, but protection for the individual, the little guy. And that little guy is the bellwether, depending on how much freedom he is afforded or abused for his own ideas, no matter how unpopular, that balance between Church and State rests on that atheist (he’s the little guy), whose only church is his mind. Over here, no presidential candidate can be elected if he makes a public pronouncement of his unbelief. I’m sure over there, this truth is multiplied a hundred times, maybe a thousand.
And that’s the litmus test here – there’s no true separation – but is the atheist protected? Europe probably has the closest mechanism to the ideal of separation, but look at the Muslim Salafi attacks in the Netherlands. The irony is that just when they were able to curb Church power, another church (the third iteration of Abraham’s religion) is poised to wreak havoc once again. And just as the events in Europe affected things in Asia, it will again be so (Battles of La Naval de Manila).
We’ve already produced so much under science and education, but it hasn’t completely nullified our old hierarchy and morality — maybe because we never really attempted to replace them. So another human advancement is necessary to save us from ourselves. Whatever it is has to include austerity.
4). science and education
5). whatever this is (will be), has to include less
III. Salvation by Austerity
Granted that the little atheist has no need for salvation. He understands the world a little differently from most. But that ‘most’ is what’s problematic to the relative freedom the atheist enjoys (ie. zero in Saudi Arabia and maybe 98% in the US — depending how far you are from either coast). Hence the need for that atheist to push for a better form of salvation, one he already knows via the humility that comes from not being sure. I’m an agnostic when speaking to atheists, who’ve themselves fell into the same hole of dogma. I’m only an atheist to believers who, Tebow through life, insist that Jesus or God is a personal deity much like the Romans and northern barbarians conceived their gods to be (like rappers and R&B artists at the Grammy’s).
Most will prefer wading in the shallow end, some will even attempt to convince themselves that the shallow is in fact the deep (delusion). Only a few will venture towards the deep end and fewer still will go deeper. How are we, the little atheists (much like Spinoza), at the mercy of the many, to convince the Most of a better idea of salvation? A salvation that will not only benefit the few but also the many who prefer 100% than the more abstract concept of probability that is life. How do you curb fanatics (Spinoza), and at the same time save souls from damnation (Locke), while ensuring order (Hobbes)? The answer is simple and Jesus was correct all along: Austerity.
We can still entertain all conceptions of Christian salvation, just make the initial step of your journey to heaven austerity. Pastors and priests can preach salvation by belief alone (by Paul), but if they are driving expensive cars, skimming from Customs and partaking in orgies (big or small), they’ve not gone through the initial step. If salvation by works (by James), then similar litmus tests can be applied. For example, Mother Theresa did a lot of work; she didn’t need a bullet proof SUV to get around and get things done.
Because salvation by austerity isn’t exclusive from faith alone and works, souls can still be saved (the Eternal Damnation Locke was worried about). But more importantly, these pyramid schemes that generate the power of fanatics (the True Believers Spinoza was worried about) can be counteracted — if not quite on the ground, at least in theory.
But the ultimate beauty of Salvation by Austerity is that the State will finally have ammunition. Spinoza and Hobbes agreed that between Church and State, the State posed more promise. By legislating austerity as the main definition of religion, criminal and tax laws will be easier to enforce. Religious organizations attempting to subvert the State can be downsized, much like the US gov’t downsized the Church of Latter Day Saints in the 1800s (the US gov’t today should do the same to the Church of Scientology). Hobbes envisioned Peace, but understood that peace was different from that period of time between wars. The absence of war is not Peace, it’s just a break from war. Peace is harmony, and this is near impossible, but prolonging periods of no violence is good enough.
That’s the governance view in all this.
Aside from hierarchy and morality, austerity will also address not only individual salvation but humanity’s continued existence on this planet, which should take priority over some perceived happiness in the afterlife. The happy days brought on by (4) science and education, because we weren’t able to come up with better (3) hierarchy and morality, is fast coming to a close. Whether it will end quickly or gets drawn out into a long period of Suckiness, we can’t return to the number (3) of the Dark Ages, so it behooves us to come up with something better now while we still have our wits. Hope vs. fear, so (5) whatever this will be, has to include Salvation of Austerity (by Jesus)–more hope, less fear.
The only question now is, do current superstitious trends in the Philippines prove amenable to Salvation by Austerity? Or do nights still invoke fears of giants, monsters, fairies, vampires, ghosts and other-worldly apparitions that Salvation by Austerity cannot really cure?