Sunday, September 19, 2010

No hierarchy of fiction

Recently, a friend of mine (raised fundamentalist Evangelical) railed against the “cultist superstition of Mormons”. It was a throwaway conversation filler, and I knew I was expected to conflate my frustration over LDS opposition to same-sex marriage with ridicule for their curious beliefs, then move on to more topical gossip. Instead, I fired back with some inconvenient truths: that the contributions were from members’ non-tax-exempt contributions and not from Church tithings, that even “evil” people have First Amendment rights in this country, that I have met some really warm and friendly Mormons online, at least one of whom I consider a friend (even though we have yet to meet in person), that though Mormons are arguably almost pathologically polite, they didn’t (and don’t) strike me as particularly “evil”.

My conscience thus appeased, I went on to swear, drink, and traffic in calumny of others not present. It was, all in all, a great afternoon.

Only later did I realize that my friend had mistaken my position entirely. It is not, as she had assumed, that the sins of the group are outweighed by the virtues of the few, or the one. I hope that I do not base my philosophy (or my bigotry) on mere anecdotalism.

Simply put, there is no hierarchy of fiction. Those who believe that an angel appeared to Joseph 200 years ago are no less right — which is to say, no less wrong — than those who believe that an angel appeared to Mary 2000 years ago, or those who believe in astrology or flying teapots. A deist who ridicules a Mormon’s beliefs has truly no sense of irony. A Jew who takes comfort in millennia-old prayers has no right to religious superiority over the new-age fusion beliefs of the Buddhist-Unitarian.

Extrapolating beyond the data is akin to guessing how the dice will land, and the guess does not get less difficult by shaking them seven times instead of seventy times seven times.

For the record: the LDS Church is manifestly wrong for opposing my marriage. But more wrong is the suburbanite liberal who adores gays at her cocktail party, but not in her child’s classroom. The Mormon who voted showed more (misguided) moral conviction than the hipster too hung over to bother. Those who content themselves with an avuncular supernatural “higher power” instead of Zeus and Poseidon are just as intellectually incoherent but lack creativity. There is a weird conceit among many of the credulous left to disdain the credulity of the right. In turn, those who cling to the Book of Genesis have no shame in scoffing at Native creation myths involving Crow, Beaver, Otter, and Whale.

Here are the facts: I do not know the facts. I do not know how I know this. Faced with this uncertainty, I am guided in my beliefs by empiricism, in my actions by utilitarianism and the Golden Rule, and resist the powerful, presumably Darwinian, instinct to yearn for a life after death with the modest antedote of resigning myself to extracting the most out of this one. If I live on in others’ memories, it is enough for me. Anything more is vanity.

Then again, if pressed to choose a supreme being, I do rather like the idea of a flying teapot. It is hard to imagine people killing each other to defend the honor of a such a crock.