I had a fine 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. My visceral sense of emptiness—the nothing— drives my need to feel certainty— the something. Feeling a dependence on something, anything, helps block feelings of emptiness. This is true across the board, whether it is a reliance on 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 their story and my experience with tobacco. Note, I distinguish belief in the story from Christ’s useful tips about life. I can substantiate through 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 only halfheartedly acknowledged the scientific evidence that smoking contributed to cancer. I also conjured up ‘clever’ rationalizations to paint this evidence in a less serious light. 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 on. As new evidence turns up, one’s belief must change accordingly. That is very unsettling to anyone who needs unchanging solid ground to stand on. That helps explain the historical tension that exists between science and religion.
Now, where does the Taoist point of view stand in all this? A small ‘t’ Taoists (p.154) would find chapter 16’s I do my utmost to attain emptiness; I hold firmly to stillness appealing… at least as an inspiring ideal. Conversely, for those who require solid ground, the dogma and ritual based Taoism ‘of the people’ would be a better match. I imagine chapter 38’s, When virtue was lost there was benevolence; when benevolence was lost there was rectitude; when rectitude was lost there were the rites would be unfathomable, and perhaps threatening.
As attaining emptiness deepens, chapter 43’s The teaching that uses no words, and the benefit of resorting to no action becomes a welcome ideal. This teaching, although closer to science, goes beyond both religion and science. It is bizarre, with 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 err 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 disbelievers in climate change to clutch even harder 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, everyone would rather 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 broken. 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?, p.591.)