Where to begin?
Michael Friedman was once quoted as saying “The scientific name for an animal that doesn’t either run from or fight its enemies is lunch.” I don’t know if the source I got this from was referring to Michael Friedman the philosopher, the mathematician, or the cyclist. Perhaps they’re all one and the same, like Father, Son and Holy Ghost. I don’t care enough to bother figuring it out.
The point is someone once said that and I thought it was witty: no one wants to be lunch.
So when faced with stimuli that inspires fear, we either fight it or we run away. Creationists don’t really have an explanation for this behavior beyond it’s just part of how their god made us. Evolutionists explain that those creatures which came before us that did not have this fight/flight instinct tended to not live long enough to reproduce, and therefore they are not us, cuz they ceased to be.
We are the descendants of those that survived. Therefore, we have the fight/flight impulse. This does not mean species no longer become lunch. You eat creatures which had the survival instinct, unless you are a vegan. Plants may have fight/flight instincts, but we wouldn’t know. It is of course possible to override these instincts, but most of the time we don’t. Sometimes someone experiencing the fight/flight instinct is not bothering at the time to contemplate just what it is they are experiencing until after the event is over, provided they did not become lunch.
Of course everything I just said could be completely wrong. I don’t believe in either creationism or evolution. However, evolution is winning in the evidence game, and it tends to ‘work’ consistently when new evidence is presented, so I’m going with what works. However, I think the answer is possibly a third explanation that we don’t even know yet, cuz we don’t have all the answers. I could be wrong, but it’s just as plausible as the first two. Of course, like creationism, it doesn’t work. So I don’t go with it. Altho I like to keep my options open.
There was a time when Newton was king, and his theories worked. They still do, technically. However, Einstein came along and explained that while Newton was right from his point of view, the laws of physics as we understood them were relative to mankind’s fixed point on a spinning sphere in space, and to get the whole story, mankind has to think outside its limited scope. This approach to thinking about reality has scared some people. It causes them to shy away from science and find math too hard. Some of these people are perhaps running your schools, heading up charities and large corporations, even helping to run your country. Be very afraid.
Now if you are in a position of power, there are ways to react to things that scare you. Martin Luther scared Pope Leo X and many others by challenging the idea of indulgences. Luther believed it wrong to say people could pay their way out of hell by giving more money to the Church. This was how the Church made money at the time, so Luther was threatening the livelihood of the Church. So Pope Leo X demanded Luther retract his statements. He refused, and wrote up many other charges against the Roman Catholics. The Pope responded to Luther’s further accusations and condemnations by excommunicating him. This was big back in those days. It meant you were disavowed from The Church, would rot in hell after death for all eternity, and anyone else who might associate with you were risking the loss of their own immortal soul by cavorting with yours. So a lot of fear, and people would respond to this by fleeing your presence, cuz of the fight/flight instinct. Martin Luther may have feared the consequences, but he fought back, and this eventually led to the Protestant Reformation, and a schism of the Church that led to many denominations or splinter groups of Christianity including Lutheran, Baptist, Pentecostal, to a lesser extent Anglican, Episcopalian, and to a greater extent even Mormon variants of the Christian faith. The Pope and Luther fought, then the Pope pushed Luther away or Luther ran. The end result was an expansion of Judeo-Christian beliefs into a very complicated and varied cornucopia of confusion. What was once one faith became many, and today one can argue easily that in any congregation no two people truly believe the same exact thing. Each church has its own creed but its doubtful most of that church’s congregation could even recite its creed, much less honestly claim to believe all of it. The Devil’s in the details. They may claim to believe it, but only out of fear of what might be said if they spoke the truth.
Some decades after Luther, Pope Urban VIII tried many things on Galileo when he started saying stuff that scared The Pope. Exile. Excommunication. Shunning. House Arrest. See, Pope Urban VIII asked Galileo to cite arguments both for and against a heliocentric worldview in his books. Galileo had done the math. He knew the Earth revolved around the sun. The Church insisted the Sun revolved around the Earth. Pope Urban VIII wanted both sides to be discussed. He didn’t want a decision made. He wanted people to believe. He didn’t want them to know. Galileo wanted to be accurate, but he also didn’t want to piss off the Church. He loved his god. He had no reason to actively confront the Church and tell it how wrong it was, but Galileo observed the universe at face value, and it was simply behaving contrary to how the Church said it would. Galileo wasn’t making this up.
As this was happening, Pope Urban VIII was dealing with other issues too from many sides. Influential people were accusing Pope Urban VIII of being soft on defending the Church. There were enemies of Urban and enemies of Galileo, and some historians feel these people conspired to force Urban to put Galileo on trial for heresy and other crimes against the Church. All Galileo was saying was that out in space there were things moving in really fascinating ways. Ways that were different from what we thought. Eventually they came to a kind of compromise and Galileo managed to keep his head, but the rest of his life was not as pleasant perhaps as it could have been. All this for looking out in space and seeing that The Wanderers were not doing what religious tradition had up until that point assumed. Okay I just seriously generalized a very complicated part of history, but I don’t want to try to write the book on Pope Urban VIII right here and now. There’s already countless books on him and Galileo. You should read a few of them. Very fascinating.
This meant mankind’s world view would have to change. People don’t like change. It kicks in their fear impulse. Fight or flight. So they fought Galileo and they won. He didn’t fight them. He didn’t run away. He let them win. For hundreds of years after that, the Church remained in power, despite the fact science had already disproved them. Galileo let himself be lunch. However, he lived out the rest of his life under house arrest in relative safety from further haters. He even wrote more books and continued exploring other sciences. His work was formally denounced in his lifetime, but today we consider him to be one of the greatest minds of mankind and a forerunner of modern physics.
Had he fought them, they would have probably executed him. The writings he did after the charges of heresy would have never been written. Had he fled, he probably would have died early then too. The Roman Catholic Church was quite powerful back in those days. There really was nowhere to hide. So he let them incarcerate his body, but they didn’t trap his mind. There were probably many moments in his life where the fight flight instinct kicked in, but he was able to find alternatives and options. He was one smart cookie.
Fast forward to the 1700s. A group of Believers in Switzerland who followed the teachings of a guy named Jakob Ammann were really into shunning other people. They had developed a strong sense of faith in their god through the scriptures and if you didn’t adhere specifically to their interpretations, you not only were bound for hell, but you threatened to take them with you. So they’d cast people out of their community for fear their immortal souls were in jeopardy. Naturally this led to some misunderstandings with others who didn’t believe the same way they did. They felt great persecution in the old world, and so some of them fled Europe for The New World. Some of these communities still exist today, in the US and Canada. Mostly around the Great Lakes region. Ohio. Indiana. Ontario. If memory serves there’s less Amish in Pennsylvania which has more Quakers which are like the Amish in that they’re Anabaptists too but.. I’m boring you, aren’t I? And I’m certainly no authority. Half of what I’ve typed up is probably wrong. You should fact check me.
These are great communities, don’t get me wrong. Very nice, hard working people who just want to live as they believe their god wants them to live. There’s sometimes disagreements among their own kind but they find ways to remedy that when they can. Recently in the news there was some discussion about Amish people cutting off each other’s beards when people disobeyed their community laws. Compared to other problems we’re having with more allegedly tolerant people in more mainstream society, beard cutting is almost quaint.
Still, this idea of a closed society, closely adhering to complicated laws demanding a simplified time has essentially bottled these communities into a state of stagnation. They do not interact with the outside unless it is unavoidable. They stay among their own kind. They do not embrace technology, unless it is proven to be beneficial to them to a degree that they can tolerate. Their every day way of life is strongly impacted by ancient laws that were decided upon hundreds if not thousands of years ago by people long since dead who did not know the many things we know today.
These laws though, started somewhere. In the case of the Amish, they started with Jakob Ammann and even before that the people to whom he had been subservient. One day Jakob discovered that he had been tasked with the responsibility of leading his people and this was the best he knew how to do. It must have been frightening, but he weathered it. He accepted the burden, and probably saw it as a joy to serve his god in this fashion. He looked up to Moses and David and Solomon and other simple men who took on a great task and were then remembered as great men. What he came up with is not what I’d consider to be the best solution, but it was his solution and it’s served his people well, cuz they’re still there. Some would argue that in their own way, they still thrive. Jakob thought this was a good idea. The law of his god and the demands of the scriptures were more important than embracing change and progress. He believed by adhering to these sacred laws he was protecting his people from the danger of a changing, unpredictable, and sometimes evil, soulless universe.
It started small perhaps, but snowballed into tenets that maintain the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people today. Some of them continue to follow these tenets cuz they don’t know any better. Some know better but fear the alternatives. Still others learn there are alternatives, and dare to try them but are then shunned by their own loved ones and friends, again for fear of their immortal souls, and how not maintaining this delicate precious microcosm of humanity, could threaten the very existence of humanity as they know it to be.
Fear. These societies were built on fear. From the great Roman Catholic Church to the most humble Amish community, these people huddled together and tried to share the same mindset because they feared differences. When the bush starts to rustle it might be the wind or it might be a tiger. It’s best when the bush doesn’t rustle. So we don’t have to worry. Stay away from bushes. There might be danger within. Stay here in the cave where it’s warm and safe and we can comfort one another. Don’t venture too far into the dark. There’s wolves and tigers and snakes out there. Stay close. Hold me.
Fear. One can argue that every schism that has ever happened in the history of mankind was in some way shape or form, shaped and formed with fear. I see it happening again in the atheist “community.” It’s not supposed to happen here. We’re not even a faith, but some can’t let go of faith. They need beliefs. And they need to know that you share them. They need to feel safe and secure cuz there are wolves among our own number. Tigers and dangers that seek to prey upon us. Our own kind has predators. How can we tell them apart if we don’t find ways to separate them from us? How will we know we are safe?
Fear. Do you honestly want to shape your atheism with fear? You dared to look into the empty space and see no god. You didn’t run away then. You stood your ground. Why let fear win now? Why be lunch?
Do you seek a peaceful house arrest to wait out your final days. Do you seek to start a movement that will lead to centuries of people shunning one another and trying to find their own peaceful place to cordon off from the rest of the world and pretend to feel safe and secure? Or do you want to just accept reality as it is for better or for worse and to hell with fear? Or perhaps you too are seeking another option. A solution no one has tried yet. Something no one else has even fathomed yet and you haven’t either but maybe if you look at all the roads previously traveled and see the dead ends where they lay, maybe there’s one path left that hasn’t been taken. Do you dare face that path? Do you dare try to illuminate it? Do you dare even look to see if there’s one left?
Fight. Flight. Lunch. Question mark. Is fear what incites all these paths? Is fear what blazes these trails? Is it possible we are out of directions left to take humanity?
Where do we go from here?
Are you scared? Me too. Take my hand.