Our ancient ancestors believed that some stars were alive. They looked at the night skies and observed that some of the stars, which we now call planets, moved around in the sky. Since things which are alive move, it was perfectly reasonable – given the extent of their knowledge at the time – to conclude that these moving stars were actual living beings and give them names like Mars, Jupiter, or Venus. They couldn’t prove they were alive but this unprovable metaphysical belief was accepted by most of humanity throughout most of our history. Some people still think that stars and planets are alive and have their own souls, which is a perfectly fine, harmless metaphysical belief.
All metaphysical beliefs are created equal.
If that sounds a little abstruse, allow me to explain. All metaphysical beliefs – ALL OF THEM – are by their nature unprovable using physical means. Metaphysical beliefs deal with the invisible world of souls, spirits, gods, demons, elves, fairies. These are not physical entities and, therefore, cannot be quantified in the physical world.
I may believe very strongly in the existence of the Soul – and I do – but I can’t prove its existence. I can’t take a picture of it, I can’t weigh it, I can’t pull it out of a paper bag and say, “See? Here it is. Told you it existed, didn’t I?”
I also believe in elves, fairies, ghosts and gods and goddesses in the plural. If you’re a materialistic atheist, you might look at me and say, “You know, you’re a little touched in the head. You’re saying that you believe in invisible things that no one can actually prove exist.”
That would be quite a reasonable statement from a materialist atheist, and it would be equally reasonable for me to say, “So what? What business is it of yours, what I believe in? If I believe in fairies, it’s not hurting you in the least, is it? It’s not like my fairies are stealing your cat’s milk or anything.”
Keep in mind, though, that this scenario is valid for ALL metaphysical beliefs, not just fairies and elves and ghosts. It applies equally to Jesus, Jehovah, Allah, Ganesh, and Tara. All of these are beliefs in invisible beings whose existence can’t be proved (or disproved) any more than hob-goblins and imps.
All metaphysical beliefs are created equal. And equally unprovable.
As long as they don’t hurt anyone else, there’s really no problem with them. For millions of people, they’re actually sources of great comfort. They help us to feel that we’re not alone in a vast, cold universe and that there’s some meaning and purpose to our existence. They help us to face death and tragedy with faith and courage. There’s much to be said for them, but they are ALL equally unprovable.
Where we start to run into a little trouble with them is when we decide that OUR unprovable metaphysical beliefs are better than THEIR unprovable metaphysical beliefs. To a certain extent that’s just human nature and doesn’t cause any great harm. If I say, “My Goddess is better than your Jesus, neener, neener, neener!” you may find that obnoxious and annoying, but it doesn’t really harm you in any way.
Where we run into REAL trouble is when we decide that OUR unprovable metaphysical beliefs are better than THEIR unprovable metaphysical beliefs, THEREFORE they have an obligation to adopt our unprovable beliefs and abandon their own.
By way of an example, if I believe in fairies, this belief isn’t harming you at all (assuming my fairies aren’t stealing your cat’s milk.) On the other hand, if I go up on a mountain top to meditate and I come back down with the Ten Fairy Commandments and DEMAND, on penalty of death, that everyone follow the Fairy Commandments, then I’ve made a very serious step into a spiritual dictatorship. If I decide that the faces of fairies are sacred and that it’s a sin to portray them in paintings and drawings, and that it’s okay for me to kill anyone who does that, I’m a psychopath who should be locked up.
Because, you see, they’re all unprovable metaphysical beliefs.
We laugh at the idea of the fairies issuing Ten Commandments, or them behaving like Allah and saying their faces can’t be depicted. We might not laugh at the idea of a fairy who was crucified, killed, and then walked out of his tomb, but we’d at least find the story goddamned peculiar.
Now, all of these stories and cultural myths about unprovable beliefs are, as I said, relatively harmless, right up to the point where we insist that other people have to share our belief in them. In forcing other people to act according to our beliefs, we violate their freedom and their personal choice.
There’s a matter of degree in that, of course, and it’s based on how much the other person’s beliefs are actually harming us and interfering in our lives. I have atheist friends, for instance, who become quite irate over the fact that United States coins bear the slogan, “In God We Trust.” For the most part, we shrug that off because it really doesn’t harm us in any way, therefore it’s not important. On the other hand, if they were to put Jesus or Allah on the quarter dollars, we’d be pissed. That’s crossing a line where someone is trying to impose their unprovable metaphysical beliefs on our daily lives and that violates our freedom and personal choice. It’s going from a generic, multi-purpose god-we-trust to a specific, “In THIS god we trust.”
All of which brings us to the overturning of Roe V. Wade.
Now, there’s been a lot of political posturing and folderol wrapped around that decision by the Not Very Supreme Court. There are people writing about constitutional, “originalism,” and states rights and decentralizing our government to return power to the voters. All of which is bullshit.
The real issue here is exemplified by the anti-abortion protesters holding up signs that say, “Abortion Is Murder.”
We all know what murder is: it’s the killing of another human being. If you walk up and shoot me in the head, that’s murder. If I fly into a rage and run over you with an ice cream truck, that’s murder (even if it’s a slightly more interesting form of murder.) There’s no debate or ambiguity in our minds about exactly what constitutes murder. No, the question revolves around exactly what constitutes a human being.
On the face of it, the answer to that seems simple. I’m a human, you’re a human, all of those bipedal critters at the mall are humans. We tend to define humanness in terms of walking around, talking, being conscious, and being able to interact with the world. There are certain physical, cognitive, and emotional qualities which, when taken together, we call a human being.
There are basic qualities that we all recognize as a being that’s human and we don’t pretend that something which doesn’t have those qualities IS human. While we may know that every sperm cell is a POTENTIAL human being, we don’t view them as actually BEING humans and prosecute men for mass murder when they masturbate. We may know that every egg that a woman produces is a POTENTIAL human being, but we don’t hold a funeral when she has her period.
Roe V. Wade was the simple recognition of the fact that when a sperm cell penetrates an egg, it remains a POTENTIAL human being. At the point of impregnation and well through a large part of the pregnancy, the fetus has NO characteristics that constitute what we think of as a human being. Pregnancy is a continuum in which the fetus becomes more and more human but is not, in fact, a human being at the inception of the pregnancy. And if there’s no human, there can’t be any murder. There can’t be any violation of human rights because there isn’t a human being there until late into the second trimester.
What’s glitching up our national conversation on this is the unprovable metaphysical belief that there is an entity called, “the soul,” combined with the unprovable metaphysical belief that this invisible entity enters into the egg at the exact second that the sperm cell does and – shazam! – we have a full human being.
If – and only if – we all mutually accept those unprovable metaphysical beliefs is it legitimate for the courts to abolish abortion. Since most of us DON’T accept those metaphysical beliefs, what’s happening is that a minority’s religious views are being imposed on the majority without their consent. Which is a theocracy, not a democracy.
I’m not meaning to denigrate or mock christian beliefs. If they want to believe that the Soul zips into an egg the second a sperm cell enters it, that doesn’t hurt me a bit. As long as it doesn’t steal my cat’s milk, their christian soul is welcome to do whatever it fancies.
What does hurt me, though, is when those unprovable beliefs are imposed on me as a government policy. Because, let’s face it, the christians do NOT have a good track record in being a part of governments. These are the same fine folks who brought us the Inquisition. These are the same folks who raped and pillaged and murdered their way through South America in the name of Jesus. These are the same folks who enslaved millions of innocent Africans because the Bible said that slavery was alright. These are the same folks who sat silently in their golden churches while Hitler murdered most of the European Jews.
We have no reason to believe that christian fanatics will respect other people’s beliefs or even their lives. And we have many reasons to believe that they won’t, so we need to stop this, now, before it gets worse. And that is NOT an unprovable metaphysical belief. That’s history.