I had a good discussion with a ‘born again’ Christian recently. These kinds of talks always offer fascinating food for thought. Particularly interesting was his view on global warming, and the conspiracy he thinks lies behind it. His certainty was high despite his limited knowledge of basic science. It may be that the less one knows, the more certain one tends to be (1).
Chapter 40’s, the myriad creatures in the world are born from something, and something from nothing hints at the dynamics involved here. The force driving certainty, the ‘something’, is the visceral sense of emptiness, the ‘nothing’. Dependence on ‘something’ helps blot out the feeling of emptiness. This is true across the board, whether it is a dependence on a belief, work, sex, alcohol, drugs, tobacco — any addiction. We cling to anything that promises to fill the void. Chapter 5’s advice, Better to hold fast to the void is the last thing we wish to do.
Tobacco was ‘something’ that filled my void. I see parallels between the Christian’s belief in the ‘story’ and my experience with tobacco. Note, I separate belief in the story from Christ’s useful tips about life. I can verify through my experience much of what Christ said, but not the story — the myth. The unique thing about belief is that it requires no verification. Faith is the ground upon which belief stands, and rationalization is the leg upon which faith leans.
Back to tobacco… I acknowledged the scientific evidence that smoking contributed to cancer and such, but only halfheartedly. I also conjured up the rationalizations necessary to paint the evidence in the least serious light possible. I wanted to smoke and I wasn’t going to let facts get in the way!
Those who refute global warming may be rationalizing their stance further than I did with smoking. At least I acknowledged the science. That is probably because I am science literate, while my Christian friends tend to be more science illiterate. Science, at its core, offers no solid belief to stand upon. As new evidence turns up, one’s ‘belief’ must change accordingly. That is very unsettling to anyone who needs solid unchanging ground to stand upon. That should help explain the historical tension that exists between science and religion.
Now, where does the ‘taoist point of view’ stand in all this? It probably stands in both realms. For those who require solidity, there is the dogma and ritual based ‘Taoism of the people’. On the other hand, small ‘t’ Taoists will find more appeal in chapter 16’s I do my utmost to attain emptiness; I hold firmly to stillness… at least as an ideal. In other words, ‘Taoism’ is a religion; a ‘taoist’ point of view is much less… less and less until it is nothing at all, to paraphrase chapter 48.
As emptiness deepens, chapter 43’s The teaching that uses no words, and the benefit of resorting to no action should feel a welcome ideal. This ‘teaching’, although closer to science, steps outside the box of both religion and science. It is bizarre, when you think about it. No solid ground anywhere. As chapter 67 puts it, it is vast and resembles nothing. If it resembled anything, it would, long before now, have become small.
Belief-a-holics and Global Warming
I was going to title this post, Russian Roulette Anyone? Let’s say there was only a 1 in 6 chance that global warming was real. Shouldn’t we error on the side of safety? We do this constantly for product safety issues. Indeed, if the evidence showed that I had a 1 in 6 chance of getting lung cancer, I might have quit smoking immediately. With global warming (2), the evidence points to a much better than 1 in 6 chance and the evidence continues to mount. Curiously this drives the believers of ‘no climate warming’ to clutch even more at any rationalization that discounts the evidence.
Considered from a symptoms point of view, such people need to have global warming not be true. Naturally, most people would prefer it not to be true. However, denial of evidence dooms us, so why do we do that? Fear prevents us from entertaining any solid evidence impartial enough to destroy the beliefs we happen to cherish. Taking sides is what we do, and addiction to belief (3) keeps us securely there.
(1) The more deeply I accept that I don’t know, the less able I am to be certain about anything. Paradoxically, feeling certain that I don’t know is a way to know yet to think that one does not know, as chapter 71 puts it.
(2) I became aware of the mounting scientific evidence of global warming in 1985, which upset me a lot at the time. I now accept it, for I’ve accepted the historical fact that we, as a species, are unable to deal with a thing while it is still nothing, as chapter 64 advises. Disaster has to take its toll before we become motivated enough to act. We all know the admonition; ‘don’t fix it if it ain’t broke’… so we wait until it is broke. Nonetheless, doesn’t waiting for ‘it’ to brake, rather than dealing with ‘it’ beforehand conform to the way… As chapter 65 hints, Only then is complete conformity realized. What’s more, if we could actually act upon every idea, plan, desire (need) or worry (fear), we’d soon burn ourselves out!
(3) Some will say that belief is not addictive. Looking around me, I reckon that belief may actually be the most potent addiction there is. Belief is closely tied to social/tribal identity. Belief defines the self, the ego. Belief causes people to go to war, to martyr themselves, to burn witches at the stake. Belief is powerful stuff, and alas, as blind as a bat. (See Belief: Are We Just Fooling Ourselves?)