Shut Up and Listen!

One Man's Quest for Absolute Silence

The Rapture! Omigod! We're all gonna die!

Relax. We've been living Armageddon since organized religion was born

Rapture! The end of the world! The end of days! Repent, for Armageddon is at hand!

Relax. You know why? Because Armageddon already happened. It happened ten or so millennia ago when sedentary agriculture allowed stockpiled wealth to fund a class of priest-kings who made up idiocies like organized religion, and Armageddon--and had the power to enforce them.

When that happened, wars, massacres, genocide, torture, and enslavement were the direct result. We've been living Armageddon ever since.

Look up the definition of belief. It's the opposite of knowledge, the opposite of rationality and thought. When you stop thinking, that's when you start to believe. When you start to believe: in nutty ideas such as Christ's resurrection, the parting of the Red Sea, or Mohammed's direct line to God; you have signed on to whatever stupid, bloody mission the priest-king class dreams up for you next.

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Of course, the reason belief, and religion, exist, is understandable. Back before organized religion was founded very little was known about how the natural world worked. The human ape evolved to be curious, to make up stories that explained what was going on.  It was too scary to exist in a state of confusion. So we made up creation tales and "magic."

But before the priest-class came up with those big fancy scary belief systems, our myths were small, human, locally-based. They were not a good reason to kill or enslave the clan next-door. What--"Our tree-nymph is better than your tree-nymph"? Nah.

The priest-king class changed all that. Their "Gods" were big and scary and always right. (They were so big and scary that eventually one of them triumphed and monotheism was born.) Gods that were always right had a duty to kick the bejazus out of the false gods nextdoor. War and enslavement became, in circular fashion, both a goal of priest-king faith and justification for their continued power. Look at Sumer, Babylon, Egypt, the Kingdom of Israel, the conquering Caliphates, the crusader kingdoms: power-crazed mass-murderers, all.

And none of it was necessary. The Greeks, the Chinese, the Indians long ago evolved logical scientific and arithmetic thought that  showed us how the world might work without bringing Mohammed, Jesus and Moses--all of them most likely victims of schizophrenia, to judge by their hallucinations--into the picture. The great scientific and social-science revolutions of the Renaissance and the industrial age carried on their work; now no one with half a brain and one quarter of an education need flee to belief systems to explain anything.

And yet we do. Witness the bunch of sad zealots earnestly preparing for the world to end today: May 21, 2011.

Why do people still believe? Because they're terrified. The reason they're scared lies in the fact that they lost control over their own lives when the priest-kings took power. The priest-kings became popes and emperors, and eventually handed over power to large corporations and "democratic" bureaucracies. But ordinary people never regained control over their own lives. Want proof? Look at your neighbor, terrified of having his job, his house, his pension, his health care taken away from him--in the richest society the world has ever known. Look at your own life, perhaps ...

Lack of control means powerlessness. Powerlessness means fear. Fear means you will grab at any story, however crazy, that makes you feel better. Hence the continued influence of religious belief on our world.

Hence the idea that you are one of the chosen few who will be saved when everyone else is burned to death in a sea of fire and brimstone.

Hence the Rapture. ...

I have to admit, I worry that I might be wrong about all this. So after I post this blog I'm heading down to Dean and Deluca at the corner of Prince and Broadway.

If Armageddon comes, and everything goes to Hell, at the very least I'll be able to treat myself to a free, and very fancy, dinner.

George Michelsen Foy, a novelist and journalist, teaches creative writing at NYU. His latest book, Zero Decibels: The Quest for Silence, is published by Scribner.

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