Mars Will Send No More is pleased to present the second chapter of an examination of the relation of Jack Kirby’s works to religion and science, by Iain Carstairs. We encourage you to visit Iain’s site Science and Religion for more thought-provoking essays.
2. Misunderstanding the Persistence of Religious Faith
“We all have a kind of feeling that I think we’ve had for thousands of years, that there are higher beings somewhere. I think all our spiritual feelings stem from that.
The truth is that the Greeks had Hercules, even as the Norsemen had Thor, and through the ages we’ve had heroes similar to them, who’s no more than a superhero. And today, we have our superheroes: we believe in them because we believe in ourselves.”
– Jack Kirby
The idea behind this post is a much stronger proof of the persistence of spiritual beliefs. Richard Dawkins once claimed in an interview that religion is perpetuated solely because children are indoctrinated by their parents, who then indoctrinate their own children, and so on. This idea has become blithely repeated as a criticism of religion. But, it shows a complete failure to think, and thereby reverses the accusation altogether. It explains why such minds find this argument entirely credible due to their own failure to think.
Dawkins attributes the tendency to listen to one’s parents to a natural selection in which those who did not listen – for example, rebels who disobeyed the urging to avoid snakes or the edges of cliffs – did not tend to survive. According to Dawkins, it was not religion so much as the tendency to obey authourity figures which was the genetic foundation of religion’s persistence. This idea supposes that rebels are generally so liable to catastrophe that they die before procreative age, and therefore should have been eliminated over the course of tens of thousands of years to produce a docile race of sheep unable to think for themselves.
How does a thinking man propose a theory so completely at odds with observed fact that to refute it, one hardly knows where to start? The urge to discredit religion seems so great that essentials like simple logic, observed evidence, and even common sense are all desperately jettisoned like hampers of food from a hot air balloon plummeting to the ground.
Only the mentally sturdy rebel is able to conceive and energise inventions and advances, corrections to restrictive systems, and resultant changes in society’s direction. Therefore, far from being the type found bitten by snakes at the foot of cliffs, he forms the quick-thinking engine of all historical progress. And since every development is, for a time, a rebellion against the norm, its adoption by the mass mind requires a kind of intuitive faith in the rebel, further accenting the strength of his perceived character. This we can see from the development of symbolic thought.
Whatever symbols, concepts, forms, and institutions which arose and survive today come solely from this class of men. Without them, man would follow the same direction as the animal world, and our social forms would remain static for millions of years. Instead, in evolutionary heartbeats, we see a constant drive for change accompanied by colossal jumps in understanding. In fact, it seems as if change is part of man’s mental makeup, and it is the biological urges – eating, sleeping, romance, and procreation – which remain constant, and in some cases vary little from the animal world, perhaps as a reminder of our origins. So while man remains in some way imprisoned by his biology, his mental abilities are his true heritage, and they are free to grow. No one can say where they would lead us as a race.
Another fact so obvious that it should never need pointing out to a champion of evolution is that apart from the reforming rebel, it is the willfully disobedient youngsters who account for most – if not all – illegitimate births today, and probably all through history too. These individuals tend to have more partners because the sacrifices and discipline required by pair bonding is not for them. They must therefore produce the largest number of genetically varied offspring in geographically separate areas, giving their traits by far the most chance to survive. I know one such free spirit who has a child in England, one in Vancouver, one in Toronto, and one in Egypt. For all I know, he may be working on a fifth. If natural selection were a genuine shaping force – and it clearly isn’t – then common sense tells us the race would be comprised mainly of irresponsible, non-pair-bonding individuals by now.
When I created the Silver Surfer and Galactus it came out of a biblical feeling. I couldn’t get gangsters to compete with all these superheroes, so I had to look for more omnipotent characters. I came up with what I thought was God in Galactus; a God-like character.
Still thinking about it in the biblical sense, I began to think of a fallen angel, and the fallen angel was the Silver Surfer. In the story, Galactus confines him to the Earth, just like the fallen angel. So you can get characters from biblical feelings.
Another unavoidable fact: teenagers all go through a stage of rebellion, questioning the dictates of parents, for the simple reason that they must develop the ability to reason for themselves. This mental development and eventual merging with the complexities of wider society is why the childhood of a human being is by far the longest in all the animal kingdom. As soon as we call a mammal human, even a prototypical human, this period of rebellion is guaranteed. Not all will go so far as bearing a child by age 13, but they will question the parents to re-evaluate their ideas as surely as a toddler entering the “terrible twos” will reflexively answer “no” to everything you suggest.
But why stop at examples of individual behaviour? A recent experiment which flatly contradicts the idea that religion is propagated by the sheepish took place in Communist Russia. Perhaps you heard of it? The experiment involved hundreds of millions of individuals, in which three or perhaps even four generations were forbidden any exposure to religion by the sternest authority of the state, with ferocious penalties for those who disobeyed. Without membership in the Communist Party, one could not even own an apartment in a crumbling block. Dissent was dealt with by imprisonment or the reverse of natural selection – by a natural Siberian exile.
If religious faith were a simple matter of obedience to parents, these beliefs should have been gladly jettisoned if only to avoid exclusion from society. In the Soviet Union it would be impossible for any child born after about 1925 to have any idea of religion as an acceptable outlet; still less for one born in the fifties and sixties. Not only did the country remain separate socially from others, the government’s influence was so all-pervasive as to affect every nook and cranny of daily existence. This experiment was as complete and as ruthless in efficiency as it could ever be possible to orchestrate.
But no sooner did the Soviet Union fall than the churches in Eastern Europe sprang back into life, lovingly restored to a state exceeding their former beauty. To give you a taste of the Russian mentality: when Stalingrad was surrounded in WWII, the citizens swore no German would set foot in their city. The Nazi blockade meant starvation set in, alongside constant bombardment. The city did not fall.
Residents eventually boiled wallpaper to make some thin kind of starch soup, and slept under dozens of layers of cloth and blankets to survive the subzero temperatures. Death hovered around every doorway. A few gave way to cannibalism, betrayed by their rosy faces and good health. But these were the exceptions. The city survived under the harshest and most sadistic pressure.
These were not latte-sipping, iPad-tapping, cosy armchair scoffers and caviar conoussieurs. These were a people possessed of an inflexible iron will and indifference to suffering, to whom all else came second to their patriotic pride. For this reason, WWII is known in Russia as the Great Patriotic War, a war in which at least 40 million people lost their lives. When they see programs showing how Britain claims to have won the war, they literally fall silent with astonishment. Either the religious minds which survived generations of war and repression in secret were the sternest and strongest of all, or, if you prefer, those minds which gravitated to religion only after the fall of the USSR must have been expressing the most hardy, perennial, and captivating sentiments of the soul. Either way the idea of religion for the sheepish is looking pretty silly.
In fact the sole reason the Communist experiment failed – a reason greater even than the corruption throughout the entire structure – was because the ordinary human being was denied a choice of thought. This state of being is so repugnant to human nature – not surprisingly, since we have shown freedom of thought is man’s only true heritage and marker of evolutionary progress – that the amassed resistance was enough to topple a regime so callous that an estimated forty million people were also sent to die in slave labour camps for their crime of free thought. This staggering statistic is never taken into account by those seeking to criticise religion on the grounds of sheepish continuation, because it makes their argument seem puerile and stupid.
All these examples show that a propagation of religious faith solely by external pressure is a nonsense, and in any case something which experience of everyday people shows would be an impossibility. Religious faith seems to be an internal concept limited only by the capacity of that particular mind to which people return, as readily as they do to that source of infinite warmth: the sun. The variations in form show an evolutionary capacity of the mind. The widespread acceptance of each shows the large numbers which simultaneously achieved that particular level.
The widespread and simultaneous resistance to oppressive regimes today in middle-east countries, among populations which meekly accepted such dictatorships without protest for ages before, shows the same tendency. The evolution of mass consciousness is the evolution of the brain, and it is expressed in man’s symbols. The gifted individuals able to create and manipulate appealing symbols are gifted with an insight into the mind of society at that level of evolution, and they serve an important evolutionary purpose.