Monday, 11 February 2008

The logic of sin

In every religion with an all-powerful and all-good God, a huge cognitive dissonance will inevitably arise: How can the evil happen? Either the all-powerful makes it happen, so how can he be called all-good? Or the all-good is not able to prevent evil, so how can he be called all-powerful?

It is clear that such thoughts are forbidden for devout adepts of religion. In other words, the cognitive dissonance (clash of two conflicting views) is not allowed to be upheld, it must be solved. Two solutions are possible: The evil can simply be denied to exist, or it must be explained.

Denial is not very effective, but attempts have been made. For instance, the devout have said that evil is only evil in our eyes but not in God's eyes. We must accept what is put on us, in every case, because it is good in a higher sense. We may suffer, but our souls may be refined. Most people will not be able to follow such a reasoning. Therefore, a stronger explanation is required.

Human beings must be evil. They must be sinners. They must have offended the all-powerful and all-good God. They must have deserved punishment. The most famous example is Sodom and Gomorrah. If those cities ever have existed in history, it is most likely that they have been destroyed by an earthquake. The story of the sinful inhabitants has been invented later to explain why they have been killed. A similar story, by the way, has been told of the alpine village Piuro (at the Swiss-Italian border) that has been destroyed 1618 in a rockslide.

Looking for scapegoats

Such a view is a very dangerous threat to humanism, because if sinners are the cause of natural catastrophes, they must be prevented from doing evil, at any price. Even killing them may be justified. The history of the big three monotheistic religions is full of sad examples.

This is sort of a second degree cognitive dissonance, that is, religion supposed to be good and doing bad. The Christian dogma of salvation by the scapegoat death of Jesus can be seen as sort of a second degree escape from this dissonance. If all mankind has been saved from sin, nobody can be made responsible for all the evil in the world. But this does not really work because there still is evil happening all the time. And new explanations are ready at hand: Jesus is not served the right way, and we come to the case of the Spanish Inquisition and the burning of heretics.

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