Saturday, April 03, 2010

The Religion Cheat Code

(The following is a transcript to the April 3rd broadcast of "Brutally Honest on ShockNet Radio". This transcript is being provided for the 2010 Blog Against Theocracy Blogswarm Weekend and is done with permission of the author.)

I love to play video games. This is something that goes back for THIRTY YEARS now. But computer games can also get very frustrating at times… especially when they involve a random number generator, because it sometimes seems like no matter how many times you run that, you’ll always lose. It’s like playing blackjack with the computer and the computer will ALWAYS give you two fours while it always gives itself blackjack. After a while you begin to think that the game is rigged and that you’re NEVER supposed to win.

That’s when you bring in… the cheat code.

Oh cheat codes are FUN!

Now cheat codes are not hacked codes. You’re not actually hacking into the computer and making these changes yourself. These are cheats that are INTENTIONALLY written in by the game developers so they can test certain features without wasting a lot of time going through the game from start to finish.

SO… let’s suppose that you’re a programmer for the new Final Fantasy game that just came out on PlayStation 3 last month. You want to test out a change that you made to the final stage of the game, but you don’t want to waste your time going from the beginning all the way to the end. SO you write in a code that allows you to skip scenes. And because you don’t want to get killed all the time, you write in another code that allows you to keep your character’s health. And you don’t want to run out of abilities or resources while you’re testing out this game, so you write in another code to keep that plentiful.

By the way, this is what is known as a GOD MODE. You’re unstoppable and all-powerful. And sometimes you’re considered invisible as well.

Now a programmer is SUPPOSED to write those codes out before the game is released. But quite often they will either forget about that or they’ll leave them in on the off-chance that they would have to fix a problem they didn’t already take into account. And because they don’t want people to accidentally trigger God Mode, they sometimes can’t be triggered until you put in some conditions. Like if you pause the game, go to the menu screen, THEN trigger the codes.

And of course there are plenty of people who will figure out what those cheat codes are and how to access them, and then they will post those cheats out on the Internet for others to use. And I won’t deny that I’ve used them on occasion… because sometimes it beats tearing up the apartment in frustration.

Now… wouldn’t it be great if there was a cheat code for LIFE? To be able to pick up some short-cuts and get an advantage in life?

Some people certainly come into this game that we call reality with a few advantages over the rest of us. Money, looks, charisma, connections… and sometimes people end up getting a few disadvantages, and not necessarily through any fault of their own. Those with those advantages certainly would like to keep them, and the people with disadvantages certainly would like to level the playing field. But how can you do that? Real life, of course, isn’t as simple as a computer game… as much as we would wish otherwise.

Well, to some extent, we have something of a cheat code to life. It’s not really an ACTUAL cheat; it doesn’t REALLY give you a “God Mode”. You can’t turn yourself invisible or be invulnerable or have infinite resources if you use it. But we certainly ACT as though it is a cheat code to life.

Of course I’m talking about… religion. And I’m sure some of you are scratching your heads on this and wondering where I’m going with this. Well, bear with me and should all be crystal clear.

Now in the course of normal human affairs in a supposedly free society, my opinions SHOULD carry no greater weight than would your opinions or those of anyone else’s. If I like the color red, then that doesn’t mean that everyone else should also like red. If I - hypothetically - think that the world was created by a big glob of snot sneezed out from the Greek God Zeus, then that’s fine. That idea of how the world came about should be no different than yours or of anyone else’s, even if science and reason could prove otherwise.

BUT… what if I wasn’t happy with that? What if I didn’t like the fact that I couldn’t convince a lot of people that the world was created by a chunk of snot sneezed out from Zeus? It gets a little tiring to have to continually go back and remind people that this is what I - hypothetically - believe in. And I may not like the fact that I don’t have too many people who agree with me. I may want MORE people to agree with me. I may want EVERYONE to agree with that idea; that the world was - hypothetically - created out of a huge chunk of snot sneezed out from Zeus.

If all things are equal then my view carries no more weight than anyone else’s… UNLESS I cheat. Unless I invoke RELIGION. Now this is no longer about what *I* believe in. This is now about what *GOD* believes in. And in this hypothetical case, *GOD* is Zeus. So now if you insult me, or if you belittle my view, or if you criticize what I believe in, then you’re really insulting *GOD*… or Zeus, in this case. All-knowing, all-powerful, invisible, works in mysterious ways… and you’re not supposed to mess with a being like that.

So let’s suppose you ask for PROOF that Zeus created the Earth out of a ball of snot. Well I don’t HAVE to prove it to you. That’s my religion. That’s my BELIEF. You’re supposed to simply ACCEPT that what I said is the truth. Remember: all-knowing, all-powerful, invisible, works in mysterious ways and all that other stuff… we’re not SUPPOSED to know all those secrets, we’re just supposed to ACCEPT them as the way things are.

So you then follow-up with some proof all you own. You pull out science studies and geology reports and theories from noted astronomers about how the universe came to be. And all of that is utterly WORTHLESS, because I have already invoked the RELIGION cheat code, and now all your facts and theories and evidence are meaningless. ZEUS trumps man, end of story.

Now let’s take this to the next level, because if we just left it at that you’d just write me off as a hypothetical loon.

Let’s suppose that I somehow manage to get some people to believe with me that the world was hypothetically created by a chunk of snot sneezed by Zeus. Housewives and business people, police officers and firemen, a few doctors, and a couple of elected officials. They also agree with my hypothetical belief that the world was created by a divine chunk of Zeus-snot. And they’re also hedging towards liking red as their color. And WE… because it’s not just MY belief anymore… WE now want this to be an accepted TRUTH in society. Because WE now have influence in government, and therefore WE want that government… and thus society itself… to be reflective of OUR beliefs. After all, that is what ZEUS reportedly wants us to do… or so we hypothetically believe.

Now in a truly free society, we’d have a problem with that. Because in a truly free society, it doesn’t really matter HOW many people agree with you. All religious beliefs are SUPPOSED to be on an equal footing.

Ahhh… but that was BEFORE I invoked the religion cheat code. Sure all religions are SUPPOSED to be on equal footing. But I have NUMBERS on my side. I have key people of influence in society on my side. They will vouch for the benefits of believing that Zeus sneezed the world into being…and also on the benefits of wearing red-colored clothing. You can believe what you want to… but since WE have influence in government, and thus influence in society itself, OUR beliefs now carry more weight than yours.
Oh, and you might want to be careful about what you say about our beliefs now… because, you know, Zeus is all-knowing, all-powerful, invisible, works in mysterious ways… and you never know when an accident could happen. Oh, we won’t WANT that accident to happen, but it’s not really in OUR hands is it? It’s in Zeus’ divine hands, and he works wonders, and sometimes he works through other people. Hint-hint.

That sounds a little scary doesn’t it? Now substitute Greek Pantheism with Christianity. Or Islam. Or any other religious belief. It’s all pretty interchangeable at that point.

Oh but wait! I’m sure some of you are hemming and hawing and saying that it’s not reflective of what YOU believe. You don’t believe in threatening people. Your belief is a religion of PEACE.

Yeah, it’s peaceful… as long as nobody tries to question your position. As long as nobody tries to challenge your dominance. As long as nobody tries to interject doubt. Then all of a sudden you start hearing talk about “God Warriors”. Or in this hypothetical case… “Zeus Warriors!”

Ahhh… but then the OTHER side of the cheat code comes in! The one that absolves you of such “rash thinking”!

You see, thanks to that cheat code we call religion, you can talk about WAR all you want to. You can talk about violence and mayhem and chaos and anarchy and death and destruction. You can talk about wanting warriors for your faith, soldiers for your army, crusaders for your cause… but the minute someone actually DOES what you’re talking about, you can just write them off as not being a “true follower”.

And what about if you catch me wearing something other than red? What if I’m wearing blue? You know, after all that hypothetical talk about the benefits of wearing red and telling people they NEED to wear red to appease Zeus. Well there’s a cheat code for that as well. You see, I can beg forgiveness and be expected to just let the whole thing go away. You know why? Because Zeus is supposedly a forgiving deity, like ALL deities somehow end up being. Never mind the bit about unleashing the Kraken. Ancient history, right?

Do you guys see it yet? It is becoming clear yet?

Let’s get brutally honest here… even though cheat codes really don’t exist for the real world, we are still guilty of using our beliefs as though they ARE a cheat code! We use it to give us an ADVANTAGE over other people, especially those that don’t share in what we believe in.

And then we compound that problem when we use that cheat code so often and so frequently and for so many years that our government institutions essentially PROCLAIM it to be real! When you have judges and politicians look at the abuses of faith and they actually say “yeah, it’s a cheat, but you know what? This has been going on for so long that we’re just going to allow it to keep going on.” There have been SEVERAL court decisions this past decade that have said essentially that.

If you were a marathon runner and you found out that the person who just beat you really didn’t RUN the whole course, you’d get pissed off about it right? You’d want that person punished. They CHEATED!

But what if you find out that other people did that as well? What if, instead of running the full twenty-six miles, half the runners boarded busses and cabs and raced on out to the finish line and then ran that last mile? You’d feel sort of stupid wasting your time running the whole twenty-six miles, right? I mean, what’s the use of rewarding training and good health if all you have to do in order to reach the finish line is to just board a cab to cut twenty-five miles and then run the last mile to the finish line?

Well that is what we, in general, are doing with religion. We are using religion as a CHEAT. We are using religion not to guide us, not to help explain the unexplainable, not to help explain some of the things going on in the world, but rather as a way to justify that we are somehow BETTER than other people. That we are SUPERIOR to other people. That our beliefs give us the power, even if in our minds only, of a GOD-MODE. And in a supposedly free society, where all are SUPPOSED to be on equal footing in terms of what we believe in, that cheat SUBVERTS the very nature of a free society.


Distributorcap said...


great point - religion is used to hold us back, not move us forward. just look at any point in human history when religion dominated and see how "far" society advanced.

ps - rosie ruiz famously decided the subway was a good way to win the NYC marathon in 1980

Chuck Doswell said...

Great analogy, David!! I love it.

Cujo359 said...

The idea that if an idea is part of a religion makes it somehow makes it above question has always been a mystery to me. More recently, I've been wondering why really crazy religious beliefs should be above ridicule.

For me, it's about the people. I try not to ridicule someone's profoundly held beliefs, assuming they're not awful people, of course. At the same time, I do resent the implication that I have to do this just because it's a religious belief, as if that makes it somehow unassailable.

You're right, rhetorically speaking, people often do use religion as a cheat code.

Anonymous said...

Nicely done David!

Batocchio said...

That's a really entertaining take! I've long argued that the key thing about theocrats is their desire for power and privilege, since they already have religious freedom. I like your analogy for those dynamics - and it's true - faith is often used as a trump card. (just as Bush cited his "gut," which knew more than all those experts with those "facts.")

Graham Firchlis said...

Nice approach, David. The Republican party honchos do something similar with Magic Words. If you lable something "Conservative" it is automatically made Good, even though it is actually Reactionary and very bad. If you lable something "Liberal" then it is automatically made Bad, regardless of real effect.

Now if I can just figure out how to get my own cheat codes for life....