Nelson, British Columbia
5th July 2008
The bookstore at the centre of the town is excellent – a huge selection of books across a diverse range of subjects.
Exploration of the shelves brought the discovery of a spirituality section. At the top shelf there was Buddhism, and then various Eastern religions. Christianity seemed to have disappeared, but then there was the unmistakable sight of leather bound King James Version copies of the Bible.
Adherents of Scripture in Seventeenth Century English would probably have been uneasy that their favourite book was sitting amongst various books on esoteric subjects and that it was classified not under ‘Christianity’, but under ‘Occidental Religions’ together with Judaism and Islam. A post-modern word is one where no religion has any place or position as of right.
The post-modern approach in which every viewpoint is treated as being of equal validity can lead to unlikely sections of books being put side by side. Next to the ‘Spirituality’ section there was a ‘Conspiracy’ section. The books provided some startling theories and some familiar ones. The tragic events in the United States on September 11th 2001 were subject to new and entirely unproven explanations. The market for such books must be similar to the market for material suggesting that Princess Diana was assassinated by a coalition of the Duke of Edinburgh and various Western intelligence agencies.
Post-modern society has produced not people who believe nothing, but people who will believe anything.
Far from becoming mature, rational and objective, the decline of traditional religion has led to the rise of the irrational and the return of old superstitions. The 14th Century English monk and writer William of Occam would have been dismayed at the backward slip of civilization, William expounded a principle that became known as Occam’s Razor. The principle in its shortest form says that one should not make any assumptions more than the minimum necessary to explain an event or phenomenon. William believed that the simplest explanation was generally most likely to be the correct one.
Those of us who have grown up in the culture of the Enlightenment since the 18th Century have grown used to scientific method where theories are measured against facts and adapted in the light of those facts, an approach which would surely have found favour with William. Conspiracy theory responds to facts by creating ever more outlandish theories to account for facts that have simple explanations.
A very large razor would be useful in dealing with the conspiracy books, and not of the philosophical type described by Occam, but, then, that would not be the right attitude; the man who says that aliens, the Freemasons, Opus Dei and the New World Order are responsible for world events is just as entitled to his view as I am to mine. Isn’t that what being post-modern is about?