“One of the saddest lessons of history is this : If we have been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.”
The author is my favorite astrophysicist, Carl Sagan, whose “Cosmos” book and TV series allowed me to discover his rare charismatic combination of science and pedagogy. The quotation is not from that book but his less-known “The Demon-Haunted World : Science as a Candle in the Dark”.
Some people have real power. Others have no power at all, except that which they claim or which we are gullible enough to attribute to them. Real power requires evidence. Dynamite has real power. So does the atom, so do volcanoes and tsunamis. Dictators have the power they abrogated to themselves or which we stupidly gave them. Snake-oïl salesmen have the power of persuasion; their product has none, and certainly not the power they claim it has (it often has, however, the power not only to make you poorer but sick).
The Church has the power to influence geopolitics, as was shown recently by two Popes, John Paul 2 in his contribution to the demise of Communism, and Francis 1, recognized by the Presidents of both Cuba and the United States as having had a decisive rôle in the reconciliation of their two countries. Priests have the power to transform bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ, as well as the power to forgive sins. Or so they say, as I myself used to believe, even long after I left the priesthood. The fact is, of course, neither claim can be proven. The faithful have been bamboozled for 2000 years about both these “powers”, and have swallowed the doctrine of “transubstantiation” (!) which cleverly eliminates all need for evidence. The outrageous pretension to forgive sin is too much of a comfort for many penitents for them to question, or as Carl Sagan pointed out, the acknowledgement of its absurdity would be too painful.
What I would like to find is someone with the power to predict, or better, prevent earthquakes. At the time of writing, some estimate the toll in Nepal as already over 10,000. And we can do absolutely nothing about avoiding the next seismic catastrophe. One day scientists might find ways of at least limiting the loss of life and the destruction of property and precious monuments. But all we can do at present is recognize our powerlessness. Believers everywhere, totally bamboozled by religion, are limited to praying for the dead and for the survivors, hoping to God that wherever it happens next time it not be in their backyard. Few will admit that such calamities make nonsense of believing in a benevolent Creator, and offer pretty solid evidence that “God’s” unpardonable passivity and apparent indifference to the uncontrolable forces of nature, can be explained satisfactorily only by the fact that He is a figment of human imagination.