The poverty of the mind in the 21st century

/ 05:18 AM February 21, 2019

Twelve innocent people murdered in another mass shooting in the United States; during the candlelight vigil, people sang “Amazing Grace.” A 27-year-old missionary killed trying to “declare Jesus to the Sentinelese tribe” despite warnings not to trespass the isolated island. During a discussion on evolution, a nonsensical claim by a man who says a chair can transform itself into an animal.

Does anybody see the impoverished human mind in these examples? “Amazing Grace” after a massacre? Really? Is the supernatural the only path to spirituality? This brain rut is so pervasive, we go to autopilot at the mere mention of “spiritual.” Can we break out of this mold in the era of artificial intelligence? If we can light up with our smartphones during a vigil, is there a technological path to compassion?


And what was the young missionary thinking? He was suffering from religion, mentally enslaved by a medieval fantasy. It was one man’s version of “Heaven’s Gate,” supported offshore by cohorts as delusional as he was.

The ideological dead end of religion is a “possibility killer.” Here are some of the ones who have refused to be part of it: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg. From these five alone, we have witnessed a sweeping transformation of the world.


We have to remind ourselves, however, that passive use of technology does not translate into a progressive thought process. (If it were so, the Philippines would have been in the leading edge of smartphone technology!) Critical thinking as a school subject is a step in the right direction. How much critical thinking did we do in high school? Force-feeding us with content was de rigueur, and those who recalled them best got the medal! In the age of algorithms, this teaching model should be thrown out.

One area where we see a confluence of ignorance, religiosity and an absolutist mindset is in this much-maligned “theory” of evolution (by natural selection ). One hundred sixty years later, it has reached the status of fact. But why still so much resistance to it?

Because any acceptance of it will cause the collapse of the Christian creed (and other religions) like a house of cards.  Evolution, a sine qua non for a biology degree, is not a required course at the University of Santo Tomas (and other Philippine Catholic universities). Reconciling Darwinism with Thomas Aquinas’ “Summa Theologica” means giving up the very essence of UST. This single scientific fact is so ideologically untenable to the Church that leaders have long ago chosen willful ignorance instead. It’s an utter tragedy when you hear adults talk about Adam and Eve the way children do in Sunday school.

Our incapacity to see through the fog of superstition and differentiate myth from reality is an upshot of constant fear-mongering during the terrifying helplessness of childhood. Religion, it must be stated, thrives on human misery, where resignation is a virtue and fear is a given.

A typical padre in a homily will quote some mysterious shepherd in the first century, add a dash of deity, a “sin no more” message, the congregation sings hallelujah, and—voila!—everybody goes home fulfilled!

But the serotonin does not last, and so the priest repeats it the following Sunday, and the next, and so on. A healthy dose of skepticism when we were young would have allowed us to be more discerning adults.

The “mysteries” we have invented this way are taking their toll. We are governed by the laws of physics and natural selection, both of which are blind and purposeless.  Our large brains are busy creating meaning where there is none, weaving stories and rituals in a constant yearning for continuity.


When we die, we are “dead as a doornail,” no different from a (dead) squirrel! We can spin this any way we want it to satisfy our emotional need, but belief never changes reality.

Who could have said that? Virtually the entire membership of the National Academy of Sciences, the same people who put human beings on the moon, harnessed electricity, created bio-info technologies and prolonged our life expectancy.

Leaving a great legacy to our community and our loved ones, and living our only life to the fullest, are the most realistic tasks anyone can do before making our final exit.

* * *

Edwin de Leon, M.Ed. ([email protected]), is a retired science teacher, high school principal and secular humanist. He is a MAID (medical assistance in dying) advocate.

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TAGS: Edwin de Leon, Inquirer Commentary, poverty of the mind, progressive thinking, Religion, technological development
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