Someone posted on Facebook a vaguely creepy picture of Jon Stewart smirking manfully next to some quote about there being less choice in homosexuality than there is in religion. I can’t remember the whole quote but you’ve probably seen it by now, it’s everywhere. The thing kind of creeped me out….not the quote itself but the format itself…the big man looking vaguely Kennedy-esque but for that smirk utterly devoid of hubris, and next to it the quote in big strong letters–the thing looked more like one of those pictures of Stalin or Mao or Mussolini, Franco, or Petain that would be hung in public squares or on train station walls….just a creepy kind of nostalgia for more organized times. I wonder what the mindset is that finds solace in such displays? And how do they not notice? I must be the only one creeped out by this, but maybe I don’t trust anybody, or just think too much about the bad old days.
But I shook that off and got to thinking about the quote itself. It was certainly right about the hardwiring of sexual orientation….the whole notion that it’s a lifestyle choice is ludicrous. Everyone ought to know that, but they don’t. So we jump all over them for being idiots or religious zealots or both. Bigots. It’s easy to do. They might be perfectly nice people, but they’re wrong on this point. And if you peruse the comments section on any Yahoo News story on gay marriage, you begin to wonder if they are nice people at all. But then people, even perfectly nice people, can turn positively vile at the keyboard, left or right. Our side can be just as cruel. It’s just our side tends to spell better. Though with all of our education, you’d think we’d know better than to cheer when seven marines in California are blown up by a defective mortar shell. But cheer some did, lustily. I don’t know what to say about that.
But getting back to the point, it’s the second half of Jon Stewart’s pronouncement that I have issues with….the idea that religion is a matter of choice. By religion I mean believing or nor believing rather than choosing which denomination to visit this Sunday. Because the neurology has shown that believing is not necessarily a matter of choice at all. It’s built into the cerebral cortex, hard wired. Just think of all the behaviors that are hardwired into us, things like motherhood, singing, courtship, machismo, laughing, or a fascination with fire, the urge to cheat, competition, the love of being entertained, romantic love, and the four F’s, feeding, fighting, fleeing and reproduction, and you realize that a belief in god or gods is not merely a choice but part of the brain itself. They can even tell you where it’s centered. Zap that part of the brain with electricity, and visions of god fill the subject’s mind. Epileptics with a focal point for their seizures near that part of then brain are consumed by intense spirituality, a closeness to god. Uncontrolled they become mystics. In the right time and right place, they can even become prophets.
For certain, though, it’s not something they choose. It’s built in. Probably all people are born religious. Some very religious. And then some of us turn out to be not religious at all, though we usually start out religious. Apparently plasticity in the brain is allowing the part (or parts) used for religion to be switched to non-religious thinking…the same thing that happens to the blind when the brain’s ocular neurons (at the back of your head) are retooled into audio neurons. That being said, it seems that many militant atheists today have simply replaced God with atheism and Jon Stewart is their prophet. It’s the same thing. The religious neurons (so to speak) are not used for some other function. They are still focused on religion. Not believing, but fervently unbelieving. They just can’t shake themselves of the whole god thing.
I’ve been an atheist since I was a kid and I can tell you that I don’t think about god and religion all day…I don’t think about them at all. I don’t pray or think about heaven or what will happen to me when I die. None of that is part of my life. I don’t hate religion, not at all, and I think churches and cathedrals are cool and often beautiful and redolant of history. But that’s all. I get no spiritual kick out of tne things. And I think If you want to be a true atheist stop worrying about it and just go through life godless. Once you stop doing something the part (or parts) of the brain that had been utilized in that process don’t just sit there like an abandoned factory but are taken over by functions located nearby. I was a good Catholic kid till I was 15 or so,but after I decided the whole God thing made no sense in light of human evolution (the Leakey’s were hot at the time). I stopped thinking about God and who knows what that whole section of my brain does now. Something irritating I’m sure. Maybe writing long pedantic essays. But what I didn’t do was replace religion with atheism. In didn’t go from thinking about God to thinking about they’re not being a God. I mean what’s the point. If there’s no god there’s no god. Get over it. Stop wasting all those neurons on a deity you are sure doesn’t exist. Let it go. I have a suspicion, maybe unfair, that many of these vocal atheists you see commenting on Slate, Salon, Huffington Post and Facebook will return to the fold eventually…Jon Stewart can’t be on television forever. They’ll need something to fill that void where God and then no god had been. In their case it’s not being used for anything useful and is already set up for God. Put on a little pressure, a death maybe, or it’s prospect, or just things gone completely all to hell, and God will come right back in like he’d never left. All is forgiven.
That Jon Stewart picture and quote was followed by a zillion comments. A lot of hearts and I Luv Jon’s. Or Jon’s the man. Or Say it Brother! Or just Word. True believers, all of them. A tinge fanatical. It’s hard to tell how many of them thought this through and how many were just progressive dittoheads. Progressive Dittoheads…there was a time when that wasn’t even conceivable. I guess Jon Stewart filled a void. He’s done it well, too. People agree with everything he says. It’s easier that way. He said it on TV. It must be true.
Sigh…..I don’t remember a time in my life when people have been so desperately in need of following somebody. They glom themselves onto a media figure, left or right, or some politician or celebrity and that person becomes their identity. The more possibilities the web opens up to humanity, the more humanity clings to somebody to tell them what to do. It’s kind of sad.