Sunday, March 1, 2015

Anatomy of a Secular Heresy

This post started as an email to a prominent skeptic about the most shocking heresy in all of skepticdom. Though I never got a response, I am nevertheless eager to plaster it all over my blog.

Back in the days of Borders Books, I remember finding a book there on critical thinking and scanning the introduction. It concerned posing a simple question about the separation of church and state to an online forum of college students; should the words "under God" be removed from the Pledge of Allegiance?
` If you didn't already know, the original pledge was written in 1892, and these two words were added in 1954 in order to distinguish the U.S. from the godless commie countries (along with the slogan 'In God We Trust' on U.S. currency).
` Even so, many of the students responded with something along the lines of, "No, because we should honor what our founding fathers wanted." Thus it was revealed that these students had evidently never thought to ask who wrote the pledge or when.

Over the years, I've heard the "under God" discussion ad nauseum in Skeptic and atheist media, but it had never even occurred to me to ask why children were supposed to recite the pledge in the first place.
` To me, it was just "something that you do in school," something that seemed so inconsequential that it never occurred to me to think of how this practice got started. Of course, the first place I would look for information on this particular topic is... Wikipedia:
The original "Pledge of Allegiance" was published in the September 8 issue of the popular children's magazine The Youth's Companion as part of the National Public-School Celebration of Columbus Day, a celebration of the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's arrival in the Americas. The event was conceived and promoted by James B. Upham, a marketer for the magazine, as a campaign to instill the idea of American nationalism in students and sell flags to public schools.[7] According to author Margarette S. Miller this was in line with Upham's vision which he "would often say to his wife: 'Mary, if I can instill into the minds of our American youth a love for their country and the principles on which it was founded, and create in them an ambition to carry on with the ideals which the early founders wrote into The Constitution, I shall not have lived in vain.'"[8]
This may seem innocuous at a glance, but first, imagine a flock of birds flying over the border between two countries. For a moment, you naively think to yourself, "I wonder if they know that they are flying into a different country," and then you realize that these birds are not in any countries.

There are no countries, only areas of land. I should note here that the belief that the state is real is an example of the Reification Fallacy. One of the most important things I've ever learned is that the map is not the territory -- we eat the food, not the menu.

And now that I can see that the state is just an abstraction, largely enforced by lying sociopaths with weapons, I can ask what is the virtue of making children essentially worship a complete fiction?
` Let's start with the fact that the government claims a monopoly on the initiation of force. In other words, they get to push people around and say who can do what, in the name of the state, and any interference with this can be legally met with violence. How has this been determined?

If there's one thing I've been learning about more over the past couple of years, it's the fact that we're all caught up in a giant fallacious belief system and are made to at least pretend to take it seriously -- or else we're heretics! Here's what I mean:

Atheists of course concede that the idea of God didn't exist until humans made it up. There are real buildings called churches, there are real people who play the role of church authority, there's a real book purported to be the law of God, but these consequences do not mean that God exists.

Similarly, the idea of states/countries didn't exist until humans made them up. There are real government buildings, real people who play the role of authority and law enforcement, there are real documents purported to be the law of the state, but these consequences do not mean that the state exists.
` Under the threat of lethal force, people pay this nonexistent entity, and are allowed to vote in the hopes that their tax money is spent in a particular way.

Most importantly, this system is based on violence, because it trains people to put you in prison for not paying taxes, and to shoot you if you try to resist. Over money. And the person who shot you doesn't get in trouble because they were 'upholding the law'.
` Of course, this also happens for people who have the wrong bit of plant material in their pockets. How can this punishment possibly be justified? I cannot help but think of how this is like the idea of God sending people to infinite burning in hell for something they did within a finite lifespan.
` When you go to court for such victimless crimes, there is of course no victim to oppose you, so instead you go up against The State. The same State that The Judge works for. If the judge works for the same fictional entity that you are going up against in court, then how can it be a fair trial?

I hope to have inspired at least a few people into considering these matters just now, before the entire can of worms is writhing on the floor:

What I've come to find is that belief in the state is not only like a religion, but it actually is a religion -- unlike science, which is a method of understanding based on empirical evidence. What evidence do we have that states exist, and that laws apply to people living on the land?

The Native Americans didn't think that states existed before Europeans said they did.

Said they did. There is no evidence -- other than, "because we said so, oh, and here's some smallpox-ridden blankets."

I've very recently discovered a fellow skeptic named Marc Stevens, who, much like the JREF, has a $5,000 challenge to anyone who can prove with facts and evidence that the state "really" exists and that laws apply to people living within its imaginary borders.
` He has contacted many federal judges and lawyers on this matter, and none of them can prove it -- it's very similar to watching all those cranks fail the Million Dollar Challenge! They have logical fallacies and excuses, nothing more -- and there is plenty of video of them Gish Galloping on YouTube. (I've embedded a sample of this below.)

How much sense does this example make: The laws apply to us because people actually pay taxes and go to prison. Wrong! People are forced to do those things, by other people. Coercion is not a social contract, and does not mean that people agree to accept laws of their own will.
` Forcing people to do things doesn't mean that the state exists any more than people being tortured and killed by islamists means that Allah exists. Although you may fill out a tax form, you are required to do so by law (under threat of violence) -- it is coerced, not voluntary. Your autograph on a tax form is no more a valid signature than if the Inquisition forced you to sign a confession of being a witch.

And to say that laws apply because the laws say that they apply is of course just circular reasoning -- might as well say that the bible is true because the bible says it's true! What are the facts and evidence of authority? Outside of belief and opinion, the pope and the president have the same amount of authority -- zero.

And there is a lot of circular reasoning on display in Marc Steven's book 'Government Indicted', which is on my to-read list. For instance, Stevens asks the court what evidence they have that his client is a taxpayer. The answer is, because the court sent the client a letter saying that he had to pay taxes. And why did they send him a letter? Because he's a taxpayer...
` Around and around it goes. And these people have college degrees. Even more disturbing, they know that they're scammers; if you point to the man behind the curtain, that's a threat to their position in power and they try to direct your attention elsewhere.
` The emperor has no clothes because there is no such thing as emperor -- we are all just people under the surface -- and yet they can punish you for saying so!

But Spoony, you say, what would we do without the government? That's like saying, "But Spoony, how would we be moral without God?" That's not an argument for the existence (and thus authority) of anything. Atheist organizations spread the idea that you can be good without believing in God because that's how it really is.
` Similarly, you can be good without believing in a government. You can build roads and schools and fire departments and security agencies without basing it on duress or coercion or the reification fallacy. Most of our transactions are voluntary already, so why not all of them?

What's preventing people from realizing this? It's the pernicious conditioning of the reification fallacy, backed with violence, that's embedded within all cultures. From the Pledge of Allegiance, to television, the news, civics classes, etc.; the assumption that the state has some kind of reality and authority beyond our imagination is inescapable.
` Yet, if you draw attention to this fact, you run the risk of being labeled as some kind of dangerous terrorist for your thoughtcrime of cool rationality. Don't think for a moment that you're not up against some major illogicality -- check out this court transcript from Marc Stevens:
"Well, Marc, you're not subject to the laws governing fishing because you don't fish."
"Great, the law doesn't apply; I'll go fishing then."
"Then the laws would apply to you."
"Because there are laws about fishing."
"They weren't applicable a moment ago, but now they are, just because I decided to fish?"
"What evidence is there the law applies though?"
"What makes you think that is true?"
"But what..."
Complete insanity. In his (and others') adventures in Legal Land, the lawyers, judges and senators alike claim to have facts which back up their authority, but instead they merely offer logical fallacies such as:
` Argument from Force, Argument from Authority, Argument from Tradition, Argument from Utility, Argument from Popular Opinion, Argument from Consequences, Circular Reasoning, and an assortment of Non Sequiturs.

The burden of proof is on them to provide facts and evidence that laws apply to people living on the land. They can't admit that there is no evidence because that would mean conceding that they have no authority, and so they vomit forth the same logical fallacies over and over again.

I would also like to point out that while you may feel blessed not to live under sharia law, what happens if you openly claim in a court of law that the state isn't real? You may be found in contempt of court or more likely be sentenced to a psych exam. It is the ultimate blasphemy in the modern world.

Ask yourself why you were made to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in school, when you didn't even know what a "liege" is, or many of the other words. And you're reciting it to a piece of cloth and to a fiction called The United States. Why is this so important in the cultural conditioning of young children?

"I promise to be a servant to the piece of cloth which represents a fictional entity, one group of people on this land, within these invisible borders, under the invisible sky daddy, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all, whatever that means."

It's magical gibberish. Might as well be casting a spell to ward off dragons.

In reality, nature is the only thing that we know exists -- matter and energy. Abstractions do not exist in material reality. Like the concept of leprechauns, countries are only a projection of our minds and do not correspond to anything independently of our thoughts. Because they do not exist, political authority is nonsensical.
` Sure, expertise in a subject matter is real, but when weapons are the only things that say you're an authority, how does that make you an authority rather than a thug?

Marc would honestly like to know if he is wrong, so he likes to challenge people, including federal magistrates, lawyers, cops, IRS agents, politicians, bureaucrats, etc. Every one of them has failed, and here's just one example of the Gish Gallop of logical fallacies:

Right, the law applies to you because we put other people in our prisons. And they wouldn't be there if the law didn't apply. And I'm sure those folks in Salem wouldn't have burned all those women if they hadn't been witches -- you know they were witches because they were burned.

=Argument from Consequence.

To add to what Michael Shermer said about The Moral Arc, questioning an authority based on violence rather than evidence seems to be the logical next step. First we question religion, then the divine right of kings, and then the authority of the state. None of these violence-based entities are real, right?

To quote a humorous internet meme: "I can't seem to find this mystical document called 'the social contract' which you claim I am party to." I never signed it, and cannot opt out without entering another social contract. Yet, it is based upon nothing but coercion!

And to quote an excerpt from Curry v McCanless, 307, US 357, 366 (yes, also from Marc's book):
From the beginning of our constitutional system control over the person at the place of his domicile and his duty there, common to all citizens, to contribute to the support of government have been deemed to afford an adequate constitutional basis for imposing on him a tax on the use and enjoyment of rights in intangibles measured by their value.
In other words, it's all about control. You live here, therefore you must pay us, or we have the right to punish you, because we said so. There is no place in the world you can go to escape the violence based on this fallacy. First it was Clergy, then Royalty, now it's The State -- all of them based on fiction.

When I was six years old, in my only year of 'normal' school, it seemed that they really were serious about imposing a belief in their deity on me, especially via the Pledge of Allegience. I found that frightening, and couldn't bring myself to say "under God".
` At one point, the teacher and other sociopathic adults cornered me and demanded to know why these were the only two words in the entire pledge that I refused to recite. After much pressuring, I blurted out, "Because God is fake!"
` There was a collective gasp throughout the room, and I was severely punished for my truthful answer. Even my parents, who agreed with me that God is fake, punished me for upsetting everyone else, even though I had no concept of why they were upset.

Yet, I thought nothing of hating myself and revering the public school system and other institutions which horrendously abused me, physically and emotionally. That's because I thought that their authority was somehow valid independent of my beliefs.
` In my liberal college days, I learned to praise the state and public schools more than ever, and this continued until a few years ago. That's when I learned that you cannot have a healthy relationship that is based on violent coercion and fiction.
` Nowadays, if I was in a situation in which people expected me to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, I would refuse altogether, saying, "No thanks, I'm not superstitious." and if they asked me what I meant by that, I would say, "Because the state is fake!"

Update: I've gotten some really interesting responses to this article, including from some Skeptic-types, which I wrote about in Skeptical Fallout from "Secular Heresy".


  1. Thinking that I am lucky to have gotten out alive.

  2. Fun story: When I became a US citizen (honestly, for the convenience of international travel), I challenged the part about "bearing arms" in the citizenship pledge. I said "I agree to everything else, but I will not kill people."
    The INS agent tried, lamely, to convince me that "if *they* are already on US soil, then we don't have a choice but to take up arms. If you don't shoot *them*, *they'll* shoot you."

    SIGH. Us. Them. Kinda... deflating, to think that we've been killing each other for centuries over a really intense game of "floor is lava."

    Anyhoo, thanks for a great thought provoking article! Definite food for thought.

  3. I find this an interesting argument often used by the classical anarchists. though I'd argue a democratic or republic state is meant as a collective method of action and organization given legitimacy by the people's very belief in it.
    Which is why when people stop believing in and being active in a democratic system it becomes less democratic and responsive to their needs.


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