Speakers’ Corner, Hyde Park, London.
Archive for the 'Religion' Category
It is hard to see how Catholicism can survive in Ireland, given that the Church seems to have been involved in maltreatment, starvation, and mass burial of innocent children in septic tanks, and within living memory. Who could belong to such an organization? The church apologists have already started arguing that we should not judge the past with the criteria of the present, but when was it ever morally acceptable to murder children? Like the Communist Party of the USSR, the Roman Catholic church in Ireland was a criminal conspiracy that captured the State, and as with the CPSU, it needs to be outlawed. Only by closing down the whole shebang and starting afresh can any moral worth be retrieved from this evil, shameful, despicable organization.
Despite what most of the medical profession would have us believe, they have very little understanding of the actual causes of or best treatments for the obesity epidemic currently sweeping the West. What little scientific evidence there is on the relationship between exercise and body weight indicates that increasing exercise leads to increased weight (presumably because more activity makes the exerciser hungrier). And the extensive scientific evidence on the relationship between dieting and weight indicates very strongly that this relationship is complicated, subject to contextual factors, and highly non-linear, with so-called “set points” that result in increased fat storage when calorie intake goes down significantly, for instance.
Some buildings and spaces provide pleasure to the eye and heart, and an inexplicable lift to the spirits. One such place is Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple in Chicago, whose intimacy and proportions are ineffably balanced. Another is the Italianate Church of St Brigid in Wavertree, Liverpool. This Anglican church was designed by E. A. (Arthur) Heffer and built between 1868 and 1872. The building can be clearly seen from the inter-city trains approaching and departing Liverpool’s Lime Street station, and seeing it never fails to lift my spirits.
Perhaps the pleasure arises from the stark contrast between the tall bell tower and the flat, surrounding landscape of two-story Victorian terraces. Or perhaps it is the shape and size of the tower; certainly, the visual pleasure would be much less if the tower were pyramid-shaped, or conical, or any shorter.
I miss reading the posts of the late Norman Geras, over at Normblog. His views were always interesting, and his arguments very often acute. For all his mental incision in general, however, he had a blind spot when it came to religion, as I argued here. His blind spot marked him, despite his lack of religious beliefs, as a person of the post-Reformation confessional view of life: the view that thinking does (and should) preceed acting, and that thinking leads to considered beliefs. This is a peculiarly modern, western view, a view not shared by most of humanity, neither now nor in the past. The entire weltanshauung of Zen Buddhism, for example, is that beliefs (in the form of enlightenment) are the consequence of religious practices, not necessarily their cause. Norm, western philosopher to his fingertips, never got this.
S. Brent Plate makes a similar criticism of a recent questionnaire aimed at ranking US cities by their “Bible-mindedness”:
The assumptions of the pollsters betray a larger misconception concerning who religious people are and what they do. Questionnaires are still mired in the mostly-Protestant notion that religious people read holy books and have “beliefs” in their heads. It makes for good fodder on the religion news circuits but necessarily leaves out the lived realities of religious existence. For religious life in these United States, the potluck is just as important as the preacher. The soup kitchen as important as the scriptures.
What if we had polls that were indeed about religion and society? What would this mean? How would we ask? Who would we ask?
At the least, this would require the work of bodies, of actual breathing, eating people. We’d find that we social beings might believe things, but more importantly, we behave in particular manners. Our bodies move with other bodies in private and public ways, singing and swaying, seeing and smelling.
We don’t act out our beliefs as much as our beliefs are created through our actions.
Mere purposive rationality unaided by such phenomena as art, religion, dream and the like, is necessarily pathogenic and destructive of life; and . . . its virulence springs specifically from the circumstance that life depends upon interlocking circuits of contingency, while consciousness can see only such short arcs of such circuits as human purpose may direct.”
Gregory Bateson : “Style, Grace and Information in Primitive Art.” Page 146 in: Steps to an Ecology of Mind. New York, NY: Ballentine Books.
George Santayana said something similar in his Sonnet III:
It is not wisdom to be only wise,
And on the inward vision close the eyes,
But it is wisdom to believe the heart.
Man, in contrast to other animals, is conscious of his own existence. Therefore, conscious of the possibility of non-existence. Ergo, he has anxiety.”
Woman speaking at party, in Shadows, a film by John Cassavetes, 1959.
I am not convinced that man alone is conscious of his own existence, not when elephants go to specific places to die and other elephants avoid those places, and not when dogs play jokes on their owners, and nor when some birds seem to enter into relationships with humans in which they present their offspring proudly as if to a grandparent.
Evolutionary psychology and sociology have long struck me as arrant nonsense, because they ignore human free will and self-reflection, and thus our ability to rise above our own nature. There are no pianos on the savanna, as I have remarked before, so an evolutionary psychologist will have a major challenge to explain a desire to play the piano in evolutionary terms.
Christopher Booker, in a review of E. O. Wilson’s new book, The Social Conquest of Earth, views similarly the flaws of evolutionary theory when applied to human behaviours:
It is our ability to escape from the rigid frame of instinct which explains almost everything that distinguishes human beings from any other form of life. But one looks in vain to Wilson to recognise this, let alone to explain how it could have come about in terms of Darwinian evolutionary theory. No attribute of Darwinians is more marked than their inability to grasp just how much their theory cannot account for, from all those evolutionary leaps which require a host of interdependent things to develop more or less simultaneously to be workable, that peculiarity of human consciousness which has allowed us to step outside the instinctive frame and to ‘conquer the Earth’ far more comprehensively than ants.
But it is this which also gives us our disintegrative propensity, individually and collectively, to behave egocentrically, presenting us with all those problems which distinguish us from all the other species which still live in unthinking obedience to the dictates of nature. All these follow from that split from our selfless ‘higher nature’, with which over the millennia our customs, laws, religion and artistic creativity have tried their best to re-integrate us.
Nothing is more comical about Darwinians than the contortions they get into in trying to explain those ‘altruistic’ aspects of human nature which might seem to contradict their belief that the evolutionary drive is always essentially self-centred (seen at its most extreme in Dawkins’s ‘selfish gene’ theory). Wilson’s thesis finally crumbles when he comes up with absurdly reductionist explanations for the emergence of the creative arts and religion. Forget Bach’s B Minor Mass or the deeper insights of the Hindu scriptures — as a lapsed Southern Baptist, he caricatures the religious instinct of mankind as little more than the stunted form of faith he escaped from.
His attempt to unravel what makes human nature unique is entirely a product of that limited ‘left-brain thinking’ which leads to cognitive dissonance.
Unable to think outside the Darwinian box, his account lacks any real warmth or wider understanding. Coming from ‘the most celebrated heir to Darwin’, his book may have won wide attention and praise. But all it really demonstrates is that the real problem with Darwinians is their inability to see just how much their beguilingly simple theory simply cannot explain.”
This is a list of non-fiction books which have greatly influenced me – making me see the world differently or act in it differently. They are listed chronologically according to when I first encountered them.
- 2009 – J. Scott Turner : The Tinkerer’s Accomplice: How Design Emerges from Life Itself. (Harvard UP) (Mentioned here.)
- 2008 – Pierre Delattre : Episodes. (St. Paul, MN, USA: Graywolf Press)
- 2006 – Mark Evan Bonds : Music as Thought: Listening to the Symphony in the Age of Beethoven. (Princeton UP)
- 2006 – Kyle Gann : Music Downtown: Writings from the Village Voice. (UCal Press)
- 2001 – George Leonard : The Way of Aikido: Life Lessons from an American Sensei.
- 2000 – Stephen E. Toulmin : Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity. (University of Chicago Press)
- 1999 – Michel de Montaigne [1580-1595]: Essays.
- 1997 – James Pritchett : The Music of John Cage. (Cambridge UP, UK)
- 1996 – George Fowler : Dance of a Fallen Monk: A Journey to Spiritual Enlightenment. (New York: Doubleday)
- 1995 – Chungliang Al Huang and Jerry Lynch : Thinking Body, Dancing Mind. (New York: Bantam Books)
- 1995 – Jon Kabat-Zinn : Wherever You Go, There You Are.
- 1995 – Charlotte Joko Beck : Nothing Special: Living Zen.
- 1993 – George Leonard : Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment.
- 1990 – Trevor Leggett : Zen and the Ways. (Tuttle)
- 1989 – Grant McCracken : Culture and Consumption.
- 1989 – Teresa Toranska : Them: Stalin’s Polish Puppets. Translated by Agnieszka Kolakowska.(HarperCollins) (Mentioned here.)
- 1988 – Henry David Thoreau : Cape Cod.
- 1988 – Rupert Sheldrake : The Presence of the Past: Morphic Resonance and the Habits of Nature.
- 1988 – Dan Rose : Black American Street Life: South Philadelphia, 1969-1971. (U Penn Press)
- 1987 – Jay Neugeboren : Reflections at Thirty.
- 1982 – John Miller Chernoff : African Rhythm and African Sensibility: Aesthetics and Social Action in African Musical Idioms. (University of Chicago Press)
- 1981 – Walter Rodney : How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. (London: Bogle-L’Overture Publications)
- 1980 – Andre Gunder Frank : The Development of Underdevelopment. (Monthly Review Press)
- 1980 – Paul Feyerabend : Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge.
- 1979 – Aldous Huxley : The Perennial Philosophy.
- 1978 – Christmas Humphreys [1949 ]: Zen Buddhism.
- 1977 – Raymond Smullyan : The Tao is Silent.
- 1976 – Bertrand Russell [1951-1969]: The Autobiography. (London: George Allen & Unwin)
- 1975 – Jean-Francois Revel : Without Marx or Jesus: The New American Revolution Has Begun.
- 1974 – Charles Reich : The Greening of America.
- 1973 – Selvarajan Yesudian and Elisabeth Haich : Yoga and Health. (NY: Harper)