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The Dangers of Delusion

Delusion is one of the defining characteristics of our species. The phenomenon is more common among the ignorant, gullible, and superstitious. But even intelligent, educated, and supposedly rational people can and do suffer from delusion. Witness the late James Irwin, (Colonel, USAF Ret.)

James Irwin was the only person in the world to both walk on the moon and fall off Mt. Ararat. His walk on the moon was the culmination of years of training and studying and decision making. All of which was designed to protect and help James Irwin survive a very hazardous and chancy mission. That Irwin was able to carry off this feat is testament to the effectiveness of his ability to absorb knowledge in a systematic and comprehensive way, use that knowledge when necessary, improvise when required, and perform dangerous missions with remarkable success. James Irwin was a very knowledgeable man, a very resourceful man, and, one would think, a very rational man. After all, he had a masters in aeronautical engineering from the University of Michigan. His knowledge and ability made it possible for him to walk on the moon. He fell of Mt. Ararat because of an April Fool’s joke.

Our story begins in Germany in the early part of the 20th century. On April 1, a German paper,”Kolnishce Illustrierte Zietung,” printed an article about the finding of the remains of Noah’s Ark on Mt. Ararat. The story was treated as straight forward news and reported as such. The story of this event was next picked up by a Russian publication and printed as factual. The next month’s publication of the German paper revealed the truth that the whole article was merely an April Fool’s joke. The Russian publication did not print the second article. James Irwin and his companions relied on the Russian article without bothering to verify its veracity. As a result, James Irwin went to Turkey, climbed the mountain, fell off, came away with cuts bruises and broken teeth but with his delusion intact.

There is a simple, reasonable, factual argument that can be made demonstrating the impossibility of a world-wide flood, and Irwin should have been aware of it. He went to Ararat, he floundered around in the snow, he should have known.

At 15,000 feet or so, water turns to ice. At 29,000 feet we have a world of permanent ice caps and glaciers. As the water from the flood rose, it would have encountered air that got colder and colder. It would have started to freeze. At 20,000 feet or so, the water would have frozen solid and any additional precipitation would have come down as snow. Every animal and plant on the boat would have frozen to death. Temperatures at 29,000 feet (the height needed to cover Mt. Everest) are 30 to 50 degrees below zero. Noah could not have survived.

Irwin should have known this. He went to Ararat, he saw the snow, he even walked on it, he experienced the cold, he knew from his time at NASA that outer space was frigid and that the higher you go in the atmosphere the colder it gets. This is not rocket science. He should have been able to reason out the impossibility of the flood easily, and yet he did not. And the question must be why.

Irwin’s delusions are a perfect example of my contention that the human animal is biased in favor of a genetic predisposition towards delusion. As we have seen, delusion is, I believe, deeply imbedded in our genetic make-up. Irwin demonstrates this perfectly. An intelligent, educated and trained engineer able to wall off portions of his mind and accept without the slightest question something that is obviously, factually, a patently false absurdity.

Where religion is concerned, the mind must not, under any circumstances, entertain doubt. The greater the lunacy the greater the predisposition to believe. A case can even be made for a need for the belief system to be outlandish. The more unbelievable the myth the easier it is to believe. This demonstrates that the believer is so committed to the myth that nothing can sway that belief. Not even simple logic. There can be no doubt.

How outlandish? How bizarre? Well, if we could we would ask Marshall Applewhite and the cult of Heaven’s Gate. He managed to convince otherwise intelligent rational people that a space ship was hiding behind Hale Bop Comet. So, following his delusion, his disciples donned identical sneakers and killed themselves convinced they would be transported to the space ship. The followers of Marshall Applewhite paid for his delusion with their lives.

Or consider David Koresh. Koresh liked to play sex games with pubescent girls. Society as a whole does not approve of this kind of behavior especially if they cannot join in. So Koresh had to find a way to indulge his passion while circumventing social mores. The result was his cult. By making sexual activity with young girls part of his belief system he was able to indulge himself without suffering the condemnation of society especially since he kept the activity restricted to the young females of his followers. The result of this delusion was death for Koresh and his disciples.

Delusion and death on a larger scale was the end result of the cult of Jim Jones. Over 900 of his followers drank poisoned Kool-Aid because he told them to. Death on a massive scale, and its all because of dominance and delusion. Jim Jones aspired to have dominance, control, and power over others. He found ignorant, gullible and superstitious people willing to submit to his blandishments. When the jig was up, he exercised his ultimate power, the power to take someone’s life and all died for Jim Jones’ delusion.

There is yet another Christian delusion that sounds good, does much for our image, and allows us to bask in the rosy glow of satisfied humility. We are, according to Genesis, created in the image of God. That is all fine and wonderful and satisfying. It’s a fitting frame for a crowning achievement. It would be good to be a god, but barring that, at least we can look like one. But what, after all, does it mean?

Genesis 1-26 says…. “in our image, after our likeness” but what does that signify? Does god have a belly button? If he doesn’t then we were not created in his image, none of us. If he does, then that implies a mother of god. If god is great, what does that make his mother? Does God have a mouth, a gut, an anus? Does He eat? Does He defecate? What color is God? Is he brown, black, white, red, or does He have that beautiful western Mediterranean olive tan glow? If he is any of these colors then the majority of humans were not made in His image. If He is some other color then none of us are made in His image.

Is God male or female? One or the other and you automatically exclude one half of the population. If God is female, does she have a uterus, vagina, or fallopian tubes? Does she menstruate? Does she have PMS? Are all of the floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes simply the signs of a Goddess in the throws of the ” curse of woman”? If God is a man, does he have nipples on his chest? If he does, why? Does God have a penis? Does he use it for anything besides urination? Does He have testicles, and if he does, why does he have testicles?

It is better not to ask. We are created in the image of God; that is enough. It feels good, it gives us a sense of our own importance. It is also delusion.

It is enough, our delusions are great, our illusions vast. We believe the improbable without doubt, the impossible without qualm. It is an astronomical misleading of the mind in pursuit of self-aggrandizement.

And yet reality presents us with powerful arguments to the contrary. Northern Ireland comes to mind. Here two groups that worship the same God, accept the same Savior, and supposedly try to live by the same set of rules cannot find anything better to do with their time than fight each other, killing women and children in the name of a merciful and caring God. All the while calling their war holy. India, the Middle East, Africa, and Southeast Asia have all spawned wars in the name of God. All kill and maim in the name of a benevolent deity. And no one seems to think this odd, no one says, “How can this be, the lowest of deeds for the highest of motives?” We all know, we all understand, it is the true nature of man. It is not pretty.

There is, however, one definitive statement that can be made regarding religion. For those whose piety is great, for those who believe in a hereafter, heaven and hell, and the durability of the soul, there is one irrefutable assertion that can be made regarding all religions that believe in eternity. If there is no such thing as life after death, no one will be disappointed.