I’m going to bet that this isn’t going to be the post you think. This is a post about how fictional things affect our lives. And how money is like religion.
Open your wallet and take out some money. Just look at it. In the US, it’s a piece of paper (special paper, but paper), with some ink on it. Yet, you can trade that piece of paper for a meal, or other goods or services. Why?
US money is a fiction. The money has no intrinsic value (aside from certain gold and silver coins, whose face value is much less than the value of the metal in the coin). You can’t even trade the bill for a set amount of silver or gold (as you could do in the past).
Most people don’t even see the majority of their money. The money is transferred electronically between various banks, based on commands given by various bank customers. My employers bank sends a note to my bank saying that I now have x more dollars in my account. Then I go online and send a memo to my bank saying send some of that money to the electric company, the city, the phone company, etc. They get a message when it’s done.
I may take a couple of dollars out in cash just because. But probably not.
The entire world monetary system is based on fiction. The fiction that certain pieces paper (or electrons) have a value and can be exchanged for goods and services. There is no reality to money except what we choose to make it. If a business chooses to no longer accept dollars, then they will probably lose all their business. But what happens if a bank refuses to accept dollars or if that trust is shaken. (Tom Clancy’s book Debt of Honor explores this in a bit of detail.)
But what’s even more interesting is the lengths that people will go to collecting more and more of these pieces of paper and/or special electrons in a bank computer. With enough of these pieces of paper, people can be controlled. Yes, controlled. Without access to these pieces of paper, people can die.
This fiction has a direct and powerful influence in people’s lives. Policy decisions are made based on these pieces of people. People are murdered for these pieces of paper with no intrinsic value.
It’s the same with religion. There is no intrinsic value in religion. Religion is as much of a myth as money. We never see god (any god), the fundamental basis of religion. Yet people die because of religion. Policy decisions are made because of religion.
I believe that all the good things about religion can be done without religion. And the bad things about religion are a direct result of the influence of that religion.
Some say that money is the root of all evil. That may be true, but I’m starting to wonder if that’s not general enough.
Perhaps, believing that fiction is real is the root of all evil. Maybe basing decisions on fiction is the root of all evil. I don’t think that fiction is evil, I love fiction. But I do think that there is something inherently unhealthy about basing your life and your decisions on fiction. (NOTE: I thinking about this as I type, welcome to my stream of consciousness writing style.)
Money isn’t going to to go away anytime soon.* And, I suspect that religion will not be going away anytime soon as well.
But that’s OK. Again, it seems to me that the biggest problem with both of these concepts is when they are used as determining factors in policy and decision making.
It’s not that money or religion is evil, but it’s use can be. Buying a meal for a homeless person is a good thing. Killing a person for his wallet is a bad thing. Donating time to a mission that provides clothing to kids in need is a good thing. Murdering doctors because they perform abortions is a bad thing.
When a wealthy person gives money to political campaigns, expecting certain votes to be made in his favor is bad. When a church requires that policy makes of that faith vote a certain way on policy issues, is also bad. In both cases, a fictional thing has taken over and resulted in a decision that may not be the best.
Now, these are just my thoughts on the subject, and your mileage may vary.
Part of my thoughts are based on a comment I heard today… that militant atheists are basically the same as fundamental Christians. I want to emphasize the fact that skeptics, even atheist ones, should really think about the points and issues that they are talking about. So many of us attack religion, I do it too. What I try to do (and may or may not always succeed) is to attack specific points of religion using reasoning.
We always hear about the fundamentalists that picket funerals and kill abortion doctors, but we never hear about the millions of people who quietly do their thing, are quite reasonable, and still believe in a religion. I disagree with them. I do think that gods are myths. I think that they are fundamentally harming themselves with belief in myths.
But, as long as they don’t harm others (directly or indirectly), then I’m OK with people believing whatever they like. Note that I include special privileges for those of faith as indirectly harming others.
But when we make decisions for our lives or our government or hospitals or science based on myths, fiction, and/or faith, that is where the problem lies.
* There’s a myth of a post-scarcity society. While entertaining, I don’t think it can happen. First, even the entire universe has a limited amount of resources and while I don’t think humans can use all of it, we are still limited by it. Second, even if nanotechnology becomes common place, the templates that nanotech could be used to manufacture things would be copyrighted and made single use. So, yes, we could create a warm meal from component atoms, but the expert chef who created the template would expect to get paid for the original work… just like any artist.