The Amazing Randy is asked in an interview in Salon if he doesn’t get frustrated by the seemingly endless shams, scams, and charlatans he encounters in his quest to expose the fakes and illuminate the truth. He responds
Well, a bit, but just because we — as a species — will always be affected by a disease, it doesn’t automatically mean that we are going to stop monitoring or treating it. It goes without saying that it’s our civil and moral duty to stand up for the less fortunate and the victims in our society. It’s our duty to provide them with tools so they can arm themselves properly in life.
Part of the “makeup” of a large proportion of the population is due to the influence of religion, which is all magical thinking, thoroughly well organized and well established.
My all-time goal has been to be an educator through my investigations. There’s certainly no lack of research material! At my age I feel that if I’ve advanced critical thinking around the world, I’ve done my duty. Faces will come and go. What’s left are the principles and methodologies to discern, and to not become victims of the scammers, nor of our own impulses to automatically believe.
Two thoughts remain with me after reading this short interview.
The first involves our tolerance of religious views and the unsubstantiated myths that are foisted on audiences with little or no critical thinking skill. Even our own Constitution allows for the freedom to worship any way you want, be it Catholic, Protestant, Moslem, Jewish, or the Loyal Order of Harold the Carrot and His Disciple, the Great Pumpkin. Sam Harris considers religion as possibly the most destructive element of civilization, competing with the plague of the Black Death and asteroid that did in the dinosaurs. Should religion be tolerated or should religion be exposed so that critical thinking replaces magical thinking?
I side with Sam Harris. There is nothing in this whole wide world that makes religion necessary for sustained life and, sadly, there is so much that religion interferes with by relying on the outdated concept of an imaginary god.
The second thought is that most pervasive activity in our societies is to dupe as many people as possible. Religion is the obvious scam. The number of people that profess a belief in an organized religion—in a god—is astounding. Of course the fact that different religions through the years have insisted on the efficacy of many different gods, it doesn’t take much skepticism to question the existence of any god.
I am reminded of an very old panel from Mad Magazine: the subject then was pizzerias but it works equally well for churches. Imagine a city block with one church after the other. A sign in front of the first church tells parishioners that the Protestant Church is the best church in the neighborhood; but the next church also has a sign announcing in bold letters that the Catholic Church is the best church in the whole city. Needless to say, the Synagog also had a sign declaring that it was the best temple in the entire state and the Mosque next to the Synagog had a very impressive sign that, when translated, insisted that this Mosque was the best religious establishment in the country. Oh yes, there was also a small church on the corner with a small sign promising the best religious experience on the block.
So whether it is religion, pizza, politics, or commerce, mendacity and magical thinking are strong mechanisms to dupe many people.
Interestingly, the internet, despite being a source of knowledge, has exploded the ability of the scam artists to fleece the gullible public. From that lawyer in Africa to a politically biased pundit with limited acquaintance with the truth; from seeding Wikipedia with hidden agendas to selling questionable products and services; from online pornography to get rich quick schemes; the internet is the new frontier of film-flam.
Our defense against all the fantasies and scamming is strong critical thinking skills. We used to emphasize the need for these skills and educate the population to develop these skills. Nowadays, especially in places like Texas, critical thinking is being treated as a problem. We can’t stand back and let the man behind the current manipulate us … not any more.
As an aside, I credit Mad Magazine for improving my critical thinking skills as well as for giving me years of laughter and warped brain cells. I started reading Mad at a neighbor’s house and eventually got my own subscription starting with issue No. 50. Back then the magazine was also publishing paper back compilations of much of the early stuff and I had them all. A few years ago I heard, after the fact, that the complete Mad Magazine library, from Issue 1 to date, was available on cds or dvds, I could kick myself for missing the opportunity to return to the to the depravity of my youth and relive American culture through the illustrations of some of the funniest satirists in the business. In Mad Magazine, especially those from the 1950s and early 1960s, you really can understand what was happening in the country (the world, in fact). Humor and satire, like all fiction, can expose truths about life that no history book will ever be able to top.