The best thing the Chinese government is doing is not cracking down on Christianity. Cracking down would tie Christianity to the struggle for freedom from state repression and thereby ennoble it, make it modern and "enlightened," and encourage its growth. Letting Christianity run its course should lead to its eventual fall from its tendency toward decadence and corruption and its vulnerability to a science-driven decrease in "gaps" for God to fill. Then it would be replaced by atheism as is happening in Europe. Or, it will morph into evangelical science and reason denialism and somehow be usurped by conservative politicians as we have seen happen in the US, for now but hopefully not forever. Enlightenment science, reason, and humanitarianism may be slow to spread and take root but they are proving to be highly potent in the long term. Let's hope the long term is long enough.
This interview, especially the book How America Failed it
focuses on, presents a serious challenge to freethinking humanism as received
from the Enlightenment. Science, reason, and humanitarianism may, repeat may,
be succeeding globally in the long term but they are clearly failing in the US.
What, if anything, can be done when the best ideas and methods Western
civilization has produced for governance and social life are willingly and
knowingly rejected by the majority in the most powerful, wealthiest, and most
highly "educated" country in history? I tend to agree with the book's
author, Morris Berman. Nothing. We're screwed. The blind thundering herd of
selfish greedy individuals is taking us all over the cliff and into the abyss.
Not so, you say? Please explain.
Above is a link to an article on evil, that is, a force, idea,
or action of highest compassionless cruelty. I find little to quibble with in
Gray's notion that evil is part of the full range of potential human behavior -
we've proven it over the millennia. His rebuke of some who paint as evil those who
do not conform to Western liberal notions of the inevitability of Enlightened
progress toward more widespread democracy, equality, and justice, also seems
well founded. There is potential for evil thoughts and behavior in all of us. But
there is insufficient reason or evidence to conclude that evil is an
independent supernatural force or that as such it can “inhabit” a person or group. Without human thought or action evil
disappears along with all our other labelled categories for reality and human
above-linked article about a young Englishwoman marrying herself grabbed my attention in an unusual way. The
subject of the article, Grace Gelder, regards the novel notion of self-marrying, which she undertook in March 2014, as a pact with herself.That is, a
promise to herself to strengthen her commitment to personal self-awareness and development,
including improving her relations with others, then "somehow enacting that
in how you live your life from that day on."
a crucial rite of passage for acknowledging personal growth and strengthening social well-being, though
universal in ancient and likely prehistoric societies, is now not only
sorely and almost totally lacking in the secular West, it is also gradually
being given up elsewhere in the world. The current high level of personal
discontent and social un- or dis-ease, in the West and increasingly elsewhere,
warrant the reinvention and reintroduction of such a rite.
a renewed rite of passage with its attendant ceremonies and rituals would need to be voluntary. How else could it be palatable to and binding upon the modern, Enlightened individual? Successfully completing the rite would be contingent
upon the initiand having undergone self- or institutional-instruction in such subjects as critical thinking and applied personal and moral philosophy, especially that found in Stoicism and Epicureanism. It would also entail at least a minimal exposure to a significant portion of the world's other
moral philosophies, including the moral teachings of the world’s religions. A tall order, you say? Yes, but something this good could not and should not come easy. Some would fail, others would succeed partially, and still others would succeed fully. Still, this would be a great improvement over the current lack of such a rite and its attendant personal and societal discontent palpable in the ever-growing secular population of the world.
public ceremony would give the rite social affirmation and validation. During this ceremony vows would be made based on a credo of humane personal virtues and moral
principles the initiand would choose, write down, and commit to, and thereby be
something to return to for guidance throughout his/her life.
Yuval Noah Harari The Guardian, September 5, 2014
I shouldn't be so cynical when it comes to essays about
happiness, but I always am. Harari's essay, though, is a good one.
I tend to think less about my happiness and more of
my qualia (inner, personal states) such as freedom from pain or fear, or the
level of my general wellness. Pain, fear, and well being apply to the in-the-present
condition of all sentient animal life forms. Happiness as humans define it
seems to ask for too much. I can reasonably conclude that a chimp or goose, for
example, is experiencing pain, fear, or well being based on its behavior.
However, only humans, using language, tell each other or write, in excruciating
detail, about their inner states. That is, to what degree they are experiencing
or not experiencing pain, fear, and well being in terms of their happiness.
On that occasion I felt somewhat comfortable that time is
indeed an artifact with no objective existence prior to its invention by humans.
But the present essay has me fairly well convinced that
mathematics, at least the natural shapes and processes it accurately accounts
for, exists independent of humans inventing it. As I read with that notion
under tow, I began to think that perhaps time might also exist independent of
humans "discovering" it. The intervals between cosmic and quantum events
are real. Call them time if we must.
I can ease my dilemma if I couch these notions in an
explanation/understanding that acknowledges that both exist - objective
mathematics and time on the one hand AND the
artifactual constructs we create and use to think about and discuss them on the
other. This seems to square with modern science - the objective existence of
preexisting regularities (predictabilities) in the universe AND
the formulation of laws, equations, and descriptions that represent and explain
Then again, without our "mathematics" and
"time" the universe would only be matter of various types,
combinations, and shapes, in motion. Certain outcomes of this motion would
repeat themselves (events we would describe as being in conformity with natural
laws) and other motion outcomes would be novel or emergent. Period.
Let me read it once again....
"Our Lonely Home in
Nature" by Alan Lightman, May 2, 2014
"Nature can survive far more than what we can do to it
and is totally oblivious to whether homo sapiens lives or dies in the next
hundred years. Our concern should be about protecting ourselves — because we
have only ourselves to protect us."
Really?! Lightman does place human empowerment a far second
from the power of nature. The problem with his conclusion is his, I think, unfounded
assumption that nature can withstand whatever humans do.
further I read in this great, Pulitzer Prize winning book the more amazed am I that the principles of the Enlightenment – the improvement of society through
reason; the challenging of ideas grounded in tradition and faith; and the
advancement of knowledge through skepticism, scientific method, and
intellectual interchange - have not by now been completely rooted out and
discarded by mainstream America and the politicians that prey upon, serve, and
ultimately rule them. [Perhaps this is in fact the real American story, that
Enlightenment principles remain in place at all.]
Maybe we are experiencing the last chapter in the current conservative,
Christian, Republican effort at such an eradication and societal takeover. For
the holders of this vision seem to be ever-more numerous, determined, and
entrenched in power. If they ultimately succeed, and current events in the US
continue to strengthen my belief that they might, a new and much more brutal
Dark Age will soon and surely follow.
I am not angry at God and certainly do not fancy myself being him, as some I’m sure accuse me. In fact, I would never want to be God and have and use his imputed power and knowledge. Not even for a moment in which I might rid the world of, say, human suffering and injustice. The responsibility for such an act aside, removing suffering and injustice and all that causes, attends, and follows from them would be an unprecedented intervention in the unpredictability of the Cosmos.
Eliminating any of the unpredictability of the Cosmos would forestall the possibility of certain serendipitous events taking place in the future. A look at the list of past serendipitous events and conditions that contributed to the origins of the Earth and life upon it, including our own, though a rare but not necessarily extraordinary occurrence in the vastness of the Cosmos, should make one, especially a God-for-the-moment human, hesitate to make any wholesale changes in how it all works. A cosmic intervention would also require certain violations of the predictable laws of the Universe that we are aware of - gravity, for example - and a number of others we so far have not discovered but would be briefly known to me, the God of the Moment, The Great Intervener. My mere tinkering, which is what it would be for such an omniscient and omnipotent one as me, would redefine every thing and every process, everywhere, forever.
This new journal premiered in March 2014. It describes its aims and purpose as follows:
Science, Religion, and Culture is an open access interdisciplinary journal focused on
bringing together research and theoretical analysis from the physical,
biological, and social sciences with ideas from philosophy, theology, and
religious studies. It aims at exploring the unique relationship between
science, religion, and culture, and it welcomes submissions from all
perspectives and religious traditions—including Christianity, Judaism, Islam,
Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, secularism, humanism, and naturalism. Given that
science and religion are two great manifestations of human culture, special
focus is given to the various ways modern science—including the disciplines of
physics, cosmology, biology, psychology, neuroscience, mathematics, sociology,
and anthropology—support, oppose, inform, or are informed by religious,
theological, and cultural perspectives. Additional focus is given to
perspectives on science, religion, and culture from different geographical
regions, cultures, religions, and historical epochs.
The journal’s appearance prompted an online discussion
between me and some of my local fellow freethinker friends (secular, freethinking,
humanist, atheist/agnostics). With reference
to the first two articles by Victor Stenger and Massimo Pigliucci, one friend
said that s/he had a low tolerance for faith-based ideas such as those of the
Abrahamic religions and therefore sided with Stenger. His/her implied assertion was that these
religions, and other faith-based belief systems, have not made the world a
better place. Since it is impossible,
his/her argument went, to know what the world would have become without the influences of religions, the
assertion that the world is a better because of them is a non sequitur. The following
is my response, which I have expanded a bit since the discussion: