Those Things Held Sacred

The Necessity of Worship

There is a saying, among the churched, that “everyone worships something.” It is a saying that I always detested, perceiving it as an attempt by the faithful to spread guilt among the faithless for their enjoyment of the simple things in life, despite the obvious harmlessness of enjoying these things. However, I have changed my mind about this. Worship is not enjoyment or obsession; it is adoration and reverence. It is the attribution of absolute value. I am now convinced that that there is truth in this saying that I have disliked for so long.

The most prominent instance of worship that I have observed, in the sense that I have described above, is science. I do not mean to imply that the obsessive pursuit of scientific truth qualifies as worship. I refer to the manner in which the human practice of science is regarded—as a moral obligation requiring no justification, and superseding most any obstacle that may stymie its advancement. If a religious concern should stall grants, funding, or scientific education, it is followed by outrage, because science is a sacred thing. This is intolerable; their bronze-age ideas are blocking the progress of science! But why is it necessary for us to make scientific progress? Why is the most efficient pursuit of scientific truth worth making a great many people upset and unhappy, even if only because of their bronze-age ideas? In order to answer this question, a thing must be valued absolutely.

Another instance of this that appears obvious to me is the valuation of miniscule individual rights. We are forced to do things against our will on a daily basis—why, when these restrictions can be blamed on another human being, are we set aflame with moral outrage? Why are your rights more important than the good that may result if you do not resist? Who gave you these rights, that I should respect them?

Worship is a natural response to our condition. We must ascribe absolute value to something. Without axioms, there are no conclusions. To worship God is to live according to the principles that follow naturally from the valuation of God, who is an arbitrator higher than the individual. When standing on principles alone, we are the arbitrators, and we suffer two detriments. Firstly, we assign the highest value to those principles that are sacred to us personally. Secondly—and this is only a rephrasing of the first—we must live with the knowledge that the whole thing is a farce.

On this point, I was once asked: what’s the difference between someone like you, and someone like me? I wasn’t able to answer, because the music got too loud, and everyone started to dance. But the difference is not that I am a better person than you (though I will take it as a compliment if you think so). It is that someone like me can actually believe that my principles exist outside of myself. Someone like you must admit that your values are merely your values.

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3 Responses to “Those Things Held Sacred”

  1. Regarding “the outrage”, I have to say that science has brought much benefit that is easily demonstrated. The refrigeration of food, vaccinations, electricity, and so forth, have tangibly saved or improved lives, even after adjusting for abuses of technology.

    I don’t mean to say that religion is unable to save or improve lives. Perhaps in sciences vs. religion, one helped “more”, but whatever the case, you can get science’s contribution down on paper a lot easier.

    I like your thoughts on the valuation of individual human rights. I’ve been guilty of being a rebel without a cause but I really try to ask why a rule is in place before rejecting it on principle.

    I too am committed to the idea of absolute principles that exist outside myself, but how are mine values and yours are not? The values I have today (which have changed over time, mind you) were absorbed through literature and conversations with peers, much like your own. I’m not seeing the distinction here regarding which book or people it came from.

  2. When I wrote this, I had pure science in mind. While I would be a fool to ignore the inextricability of science and technology (or engineering), I was referring to the purely principled valuation of discovery and scientific truth. I’m sure you’ll agree that this exists, and is often found amongst the best and the brightest.

    The distinction is: how do absolute principles exist outside yourself? Perhaps I was only trying to disguise the oldness and simplicity of my point: without God, there can be no objective value placed on these things with respect to human beings (since, as best I can tell,
    such values does not have a physical existence). This can only exist if there is someone–or something–in a position to validate it. If it’s just us, then it is impossible for me to believe that there are values to which any other human being has a real obligation.

    This point is usually made in the context of morality (i.e. “objective moral values cannot exist without God”). I have framed it this way here because some people don’t care about objective *moral* values, but almost everyone betrays a belief in the absolute valuation of some thing, or principle.

  3. This was my freshman year “May-mester” poster project. I got a B in that class and no feedback on the poster.

    The girl who left her poster entirely white and empty, basically promoting the message that everything goes and no truth is certain or absolute, received several commendations.

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