Friday, October 1, 2010

Thank Goodness we don't live in a christian society

This scary thought came to me re-reading Dan Dennett's essay "Thank Goodness". He makes the point (among others) that the medical practitioners that saved his life would be fired if they conducted themselves in the same way as the religious do. Instead they hold themselves to the highest standards of performance and take responsibility for the outcomes of their patients.

I've currently got a suspension problem that seems impervious to a mechanic's diagnosis and I thought about the sort of responses I'd receive if we had a truly christian society.

The catholic mechanic would tell me that the suffering was making me a better person, would reduce my time in purgatory if I accepted to gratefully and that like my time in purgatory that I should stop dwelling on how long it was taking to fix the car and instead focus on the end result-oh, and would I indulge him by paying one more shop charge?

The pentecostal mechanic would tell me that the whole garage had laid hands on the car and prayed in tongues for it to be delivered from that "swaying spirit" and that if it was still happening a) I needed to have more faith and b) there was unconfessed sin in my life that was keeping me from dealing with a).

The reformed mechanic would tell me that my car had been predestined to have this problem and that nothing could be done about it. The repair manuals only apply to those cars that god has chosen to fix, not mine.

Finally the unitarian universalist mechanic would tell me I needed to be more tolerant of my car's "differences" and to be less dogmatic about its performance. Then she would ask if I had considered whether I might prefer an imported car better.

Fortunately, I am served by mechanics who approach their craft from an entirely secular mindset, taking responsibility upon themselves to inspect, diagnose and repair the car properly, and who have not charged me because they've been unable to find the problem. I know they are capable from past experience and I know they will fix it-and I will thank them for it.

Blasphemy Day is gone and Thanksgiving is now approaching (we Canadians get to enjoy it in just 2 weeks) so let's move from ridiculing religious belief to expressing a hearty "Thank Goodness" that religion doesn't have more influence in people's lives. Living in a world such as the one Dennett and I have envisioned would indeed be hell.

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