ON RELIGION

by Frederick Mann, July 1994
(edited)

A correspondent recently wrote me as follows:

"I love what your freedom organisation is doing. I have but one bone to pick with you.... your use of the word "nature" instead of the proper word - God.

William Penn said, "Those people who are not ruled by God will be ruled by tyrants." Is this not what has happened to America? Everyone knows, "Remember the Alamo," but do you know the battle cry of our war for freedom? NO KING BUT JESUS.

If you are a Christian then please remember the Lord said, "If you will not acknowledge me before men, I will not acknowledge you before my Father." If you are not a Christian, when the tyrants begin to imprison us, will you pray to nature?

You will be hearing from me as I will be part of your freedom organisation. I wish you well and may God bless you."

First, let me emphasize that what follows are my personal experiences and views and not those of our freedom organisation. We welcome anyone, irrespective of religion, provided they believe and practice as far as possible the principle, "respect individuals and their property."

When I was about seventeen I had my first "religious experience." I came to believe that "Jesus had entered my life and become my personal savior."

Three years later I had my second "religious experience." I was sitting in church listening to the preacher. Suddenly I perceived him as an automatic robot or automaton, with meaningless words coming out of his mouth, and with no understanding on his part of what he was talking about.

Since then I've done a lot of reading, thinking, and discussing about religion. I have proceeded to the following position: When people use words like "God," "Supreme Being," "Infinite Intelligence," "Universal Life Force," etc., I honestly don't know or understand what they're talking about. I don't know what they mean by these terms. I don't know what their referents are when they use these words.

I'm not saying that they don't know what they're talking about. I'm saying that I don't know. Maybe they have some religious faculty which I lack.

I'm not a theist, nor an agnostic, nor an atheist. My question to the theist is, "When you use words like "God," what are you talking about?" "What are the referents for the words you use?"

Generally, an agnostic is regarded as "someone who doesn't know whether God exists or not." My questions to this agnostic are the same: "When you use words like "God," what are you talking about?" "What are the referents for the words you use?"

My Webster's dictionary defines an atheist as "one who denies the existence of God." I've heard atheists describe themselves as those who "reject the belief in a deity or deities." My questions to them are the same: "When you use words like "God," "deity," etc., what are you talking about?" "What are the referents for the words you use?"

Consider a map. I live in Phoenix, Arizona. When I moved here I bought a map. The map tells me how to get around, how to find places. The map is a piece of paper with a "representation" of some of the features of the city of Phoenix.

In a way, it is as if the map is a "miniature version" of the city of Phoenix, or at least, some of the features of Phoenix. The map gives me a power I otherwise wouldn't have. While sitting in my living room I can in a sense "see" most of Phoenix. If I want to go from any part of the city to any other I can find a good route in a few minutes. I can do this much more effectively from a map than if I were to select a route based on examining the terrain itself. And if I get lost somewhere in Phoenix, and I don't know where I am or which direction is north, with the use of a map I can determine where I am and where north is.

Of course, having lived in Phoenix for some time, it is as if I now have a map of Phoenix in my head. So, most of the time, when I need to plot a route, I do so by "looking inside my head" at my "internal map."

The referents for my map are the streets, freeways, mountains and other landmarks. Some people sometimes fail to make a distinction between their mental maps and the reality their maps represent. They fail to establish whether there really are referents for their maps. They talk about their maps rather than about reality.

When people get emotionally upset, they sometimes are upset by their own maps, rather than by what happened in reality. Suppose "X" is whatever happened in reality. Some people automatically and unconsciously make a map "Y"; they say, ""X" means "Y."" They are then upset by their own "Y," rather than by "X."

When people talk religion, do they talk about their own maps ("X"), or do they talk about reality ("Y")? Let me emphasize that I don't automatically disrespect the maps of others because they're different from mine. There can be strength in diversity. (To what extent do people fight wars against each others' maps?)

When I say people are free by nature, I use the word "nature" in the same sense as when I say my car's nature is to run on gasoline. Human "nature" consists of a collection of attributes, like "has two feet," "walks upright," etc. We are free because we control the energy that animates our bodies.

To me, the most accurate maps are those that produce the best results. I have no quarrel with people's religious maps, particularly if they produce worthwhile results. To me it's also very important whether individual maps result in personal freedom, power, health, wealth, happiness, etc. There are as many maps as their are individuals. I believe that the maps which include "respect individuals and their property" are the most useful, workable, and practical. I welcome everyone with this principle in their maps with open arms. My correspondent wrote that he will be part of our freedom organisation. I certainly hope so!