The Wizard on the Golden Throne: Joe Rogan on Religion Pt. 3

Joe Rogan has one of the most popular podcasts in America called “The Joe Rogan Experience.” For context, please see my first and second post on this topic. I’ll continue my consideration of Rogan’s views on Christianity in this post. The following quote is a thought which Joe Rogan often repeats. I’ve heard him express a similar idea several times:

“I think all religions are ridiculous. I think ideologies are ridiculous…I am against pre-determined patterns of behaviour that you subscribe to that are thousands of years old, that were written by people who were extremely ignorant to the facts that we know now, as to how the universe was formed and how biological life has evolved, and all of the work that science has done. That doesn’t mean I don’t believe in God. That doesn’t mean I don’t believe in the possibility of there being some grand order to this. But the idea that the Catholic Church, the guy who dresses like a wizard and sits on a f***ing golden throne, and you have to call him father, that that’s the guy. That this is the thing [inaudible].”[i]

Everybody has an ideology and everybody behaves according to a certain pattern. If you don’t have a pattern you behave according to then you’re a moral nihilist – someone who doesn’t believe morality is important. Morality is, after all, a pattern of behaviour that you have to adhere to. This seems to mean that Rogan thinks that he just doesn’t want patterns of behaviour imposed on him, but wants to establish his own patterns. But doesn’t this come down to simply not wanting to be held accountable to any standard beyond your own ideas, desires and emotions, in a word, beyond yourself?

It is typical in our culture to think that because something is old or ancient, it is automatically bad. What is new is automatically good and what is old is automatically bad. The modern is good, the old is  “backward” and “primitive”. Science fiction movies and books emphasize the idea that the future will be better than now, at least in terms of technology. This way of thinking is compelling because there is some truth to it if we look at recent Western history. This is because, in the Western World, the march of time has often brought good things. We have greater prosperity, more sophisticated technology and greater scientific knowledge than we did in the past. It is arguable that our political systems have become more humane through a recognition of human rights. But this does not mean that human beings have become more moral. There are many things in our culture which are worse than our ancestors’ cultures. Western culture today has a very impoverished sense of morality, basically only recognizing the wrongness of racism or a vaguely defined “bigotry” mixed together with an unsophisticated form of philosophical hedonism. There is widespread sexual and relational nihilism. There is little to no recognition of any moral requirements on sex except for the legally required consent. (Isn’t it interesting that the only legal requirement on sex has become the only moral requirement?). Sexual promiscuity is celebrated in popular culture and where disapproval exists, it is quiet, timid or simply uninfluential. People don’t recognize ( or recognize only very faintly) the importance of marriage and monogamy, of honouring one’s commitment to one’s spouse, come what may. Divorce for almost any reason is regarded as acceptable. Notions of honour, bravery, discipline, loyalty and respect for authority and one’s elders have almost vanished and are absent from the public discourse on morality, even, to a great extent, in mainstream conservatism ( which has become almost synonymous with libertarianism and nationalism in most of its popular instantiations). We deny that unborn children are human beings and kill them en masse without compunction and for trifling reasons. Honesty is not regarded highly, and it is even regarded as a vice when it intrudes, to the slightest degree, on human happiness and pleasure.

It is also easy to argue that our culture has only become more humane because it became more prosperous and less embattled. We are still living in the glow of post-war prosperity and decadence. It is easy to be kind and gracious to others when you live in a functioning and prosperous society,  where there is no daunting foreign army threatening you, and where the rule of law is well-established. Take those things away and we will see how kind and gracious people still are, and we will find that human rights becomes a very malleable concept. If the Night of the Long Knives happened today and we had the war before us, I have grave doubts about how we would fare against the Nazis ( and I mean real Nazis, not the people that Twitter activists and anti-Trump political alarmists complain about). The storm will come again, because it always does, and we will not be ready. There is no techno-Utopia waiting for us at the end of all this capital-p “Progress.” There is only the same human nature that always has to be managed well by the grace and mercy of our Saviour. And when it is not managed well, when we reject the commandments of Jesus for the worship of self and sensuality, the monsters in our hearts come out to play and start to shape the society we live in.

So the fact that there are some things which are better today than they were in the past doesn’t mean that things that are “thousands of years old” are automatically bad, especially when the world that we have was so greatly influenced by those ideas that are thousands of years old. It does not mean that our future is automatically going to be good. There is no logical implication of the future based on the past. This is a non-sequitur. Just because something has happened in the past doesn’t mean it will happen in the future. This trend that good things have come with time has been isolated to certain parts of the world and certain times in history. Other cultures have declined as the West has risen. The Middle East and China were more stable and powerful in the past than they are now. So, just because things have gotten better with time for us doesn’t mean that there is anything special about the future merely for being the future, or anything bad about the past merely for being the past. It is also interesting that it is precisely the people who complain about the Bible’s principles being thousands of years old who then listen to the wisdom in other writings that are also thousands of years old, like Plato and Aristotle, or the ideas of Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha). This “chronological snobbery” is selectively applied to Christianity and the Bible.

Rogan talks as though people’s scientific knowledge is supposed to make them very competent in every area, or is supposed to make them more moral people. This is clearly irrational. Notice the similarity between this and Sam Harris’s implied contention that failing to believe in Darwinian evolution and believing the book of Genesis must mean that you will be an incompetent statesman or politician or incompetent in any professional career. There is no reason why our ancestors should not be wise or moral, or even more wise and moral than we are, simply because they don’t know about the Big Bang or other scientific truths. The New Atheist worship of science encourages the idea that merely having scientific knowledge makes you almost like a superior species, like the next stage in human evolution, an übermensch. But it does nothing of the sort. Someone who has scientific knowledge can be as immoral as anyone else and have no wisdom in how they deal with people and the demands and difficulties of life. Having scientific knowledge does not make you better as a human being than someone else.

Finally, Rogan claims to find Catholicism implausible because of how the Pope dresses and the chair on which he sits. This is of course irrational, but in the interest of charity I won’t take him literally. He might be echoing an idea which is sometimes called the “the scandal of particularity.” The idea or feeling is that there is something scandalous, something distasteful, or something implausible about God revealing himself through specific people at specific times in history (like the Pope). There is no reason why God would not reveal himself specifically, to specific people at specific times. Western intellectualism loves systematization, intuitionism and egalitarianism. It wants a god who behaves systematically, in ways that makes sense to us, who can be known by everyone equally throughout the world based on innate intuitions.

This god is egalitarian in that he does not give special knowledge to any particular person. Everyone can know him and the demands of morality through intuition. He is systematic in the sense that he behaves in generalizable patterns ( he’s a “scientific” god) and not specially to any particular person. Modern philosophy has shown a tendency to what I want to call “systematization mania” or “first principles mania”. It wants to reduce reality to a few simple ideas, or to one substance. It hates dualism, not because it is untrue, but because it feels cluttered and untidy. It wants monism: idealism, materialism, metaphysical naturalism, or Marxism. If a god is going to be the first principle of reality, he better behave himself – he better behave like a proper first principle of reality and not go off on his own designs. And so we get Deism, Pantheism and Panentheism. The idea of God revealing to a specific people knowledge which is not available generally through intuition or reason, violates these intellectual tendencies. But of course, God is under no obligation to honour these tendencies or behave according to them. And you need an argument for supposing that these tendencies are true or give us truth. But they don’t give us truth. All of these systematization projects have failed and failed dismally. The results tend not merely to be false but absurd. Idealism, hard materialism, and Marxism don’t make good sense of the world we find around us. There are always important aspects which it fails to account for adequately. Metaphysical naturalism is self-contradictory – take a look at the evolutionary argument against naturalism, and the argument from mental causation. Reality is, after all, more complex. It cannot be reduced to any particular substance or idea. Something can be systematic and egalitarian and yet be irrational. And something can be rational and true and yet be unsystematic, inegalitarian, and not based on innate intuitions. Systematization and egalitarianism has nothing to do with rationality or truth. Systematization mania has less to do with a search for truth and more to do with the human ego’s attempt to make the world in his own image and to erect a Tower of Babel.

Back to Joe Rogan’s thoughts. Even if Rogan is referring to something like the scandal of particularity,  the point remains that it is unclear why someone is disqualified from receiving divine guidance because he wears strange clothes or sits in a strange chair, or has a strange title. Does Rogan want to share his ideas about what the fashion sense of God’s prophet should be? I’m not a Catholic, so I don’t believe that there is anything special about the Pope. But Rogan’s argument against Catholicism here is very unpersuasive.

[i] Joe Rogan, “Joe Rogan Experience #710 – Gavin McInnes”, Youtube Video, posted by PowerfulJRE, October 19, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=frVdO2E5x4Y   1:38

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