Monday, April 22, 2013

Belief Can Lead to Mayhem

Aldrin on the Moon
You may believe the Earth is flat.  Some people still do.  You may believe that man never landed on the Moon.  Some people believe that, too.  You may believe your religion is the only true one.

That’s the nice part about belief.  You can believe almost anything: the world is ending tomorrow, a dead uncle was reborn as a cow; ancient ancestors needed to be placated; a god likes to be eaten.  Some people do.

However, that does not make it correct.

Take the flat Earth idea for an example.  The Earth is not flat.  That was clear to ancient people when there was an eclipse.  The round shadow of the Earth was visible. It’s obvious today from photos taken by satellites and astronauts from space.  It’s clear from photos taken of other planets, all of which are round.

Paul Kruger, former prime minister of South Africa, discovered the impact of that fact first hand.  In the late 1800s, he was a member of the Flat Earth Society, which insisted the world was not round.  The organization based its arguments on the Bible, which, in their mind, could not be wrong.

As an important official, Kruger often made long-distance official visits by boat.  On one trip, he chatted with the captain and asked him about navigation.  The captain explained how he was able to steer the ship using a system based on the curvature of the Earth.

Sure the Earth was flat, Kruger asked for a detailed explanation and quickly learned the facts about the Earth’s dimensions.  He also realized that the captain was right.   He then went to his cabin, got his Bible and heaved it overboard, saying that if the Earth wasn’t flat, then the book was wrong. 

Others preferred to ignore that inconvenient fact.  The Flat Earth Society still exists.

Humans also landed on the Moon.  That’s clear, even if you prefer to ignore the Moon rocks with their very different chemical and physical composition.  You simply have to look at the little American flag still on the Moon and visible with a telescope.  It didn’t grow there. 

After the Boston Marathon bombings
Facts can be hard to accept.  They can be very uncomfortable.  We all have pet theories and ideas, and facts can shatter them.  They can be like hard punches to the solar plexus.  They can cause bruised egos and massive hemorrhaging of confidence.

Perhaps most significantly, facts can really create gaping wounds in any religious body.  They can cause some people to kill, such as the marathon attack in Boston or suicide bombers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

They are the reason that a growing number of people worldwide no longer belong to any organized religion and have backed away from faith.  They are why age-old religions are fighting so nastily by manufacturing their own “facts” and trying forcing their own beliefs on everyone else through politics or violence. 

The realities of life lead to terrorism, as believers unable to convince anyone with their words try to fend off incursions into their faith with murder and mayhem.  They would kill everyone that does not believe before they turn on each other. 

Others are more peaceful.  They simply deny facts.  For example, they refuse to accept the fact of evolution.  To do so, they must ignore all the advances of scientific research that dates back to the ancient Greeks.  Charles Darwin gets credit for the theory, but it existed long before him.  Darwin just brilliantly deduced how evolution works – through natural section.

Today, no evidence has ever been found to contradict evolution.  Moreover, continued research has supported and expanded on Darwin’s seminal work.  We now know that heredity and environment work together to activate and suppress genes, changing life slowly and, on occasion, surprisingly rapidly.

Evolution is fact.  So is Climate Change, an increasingly dangerous threat to mankind’s existence.  Most recently, scientists said that summer ice melt in parts of Antarctica is at its highest level in 1,000 years,   “Data taken from an ice core also shows the summer ice melt has been 10 times more intense over the past 50 years compared with 600 years ago,” the news report said.

"It's definitely evidence that the climate and the environment is changing in this part of Antarctica," lead researcher Nerilie Abram said.

The flood of fresh water into the world’s oceans doesn’t bode well for islands and shorelines, not to mention more violent storms and disruptions in farming and food supplies.

That’s the flip side of belief: ignoring facts doesn’t make them go away.  Facts help us plot a future.  Pretending they don’t exist simply exposes all of us to unnecessary perils.    For example, the advent of AIDS meant that the practice of sharing Catholic communion cups had to cease.  Orthodox Jews who staunch blood orally after a ritualistic bris now know they may be spreading hepatitis to the hapless child.

On a larger scale, pretending Climate Change is not happening simply guarantees nothing is done until the danger evolves into a disaster.

Believe whatever you want.  Just keep that belief separate from the facts.  The two can make a very volatile mixture.

The Earth is round.  Belief won’t flatten it.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at

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