Re-Engineering Fundamentalism

1522 edition of Luther's 95 Theses

Guest blogger Paul Spinrad is not unacquainted with the grape. 

After our distant ancestors developed language, everyone could benefit from the experiences of others. But the bandwidth of speech is so low compared to one's own senses that it required huge compression and decompression at each end of the communication. This process of describing and interpreting was enabled by detailed world models that everyone carried in their heads.

Because these world models vary from person to person, the codec is lossy, and misunderstandings are inevitable. But the imprecision also makes words more timeless and intimate. If the impressions that some words convey to you resonate with you, it's because they are literally built out of the way you view the world.

Words can also lie, but along with interpreting words, we automatically assess the trustworthiness of their source. We can learn not to believe everything we hear, or to distrust certain people, and we can also set the Bible trust level to 100. No such counterpart exists for visual communication-- cameras, television, and Photoshop haven't been around long enough.

That's all background, and here's my point: It seems to me that every so often, the dominant political and cultural machine grows so large and incestuous that it loses its connection to people and makes them feel powerless and irrelevant. When this happens, in the West anyway, there's inevitably a revolution of words, of back-to-basics and idealism, against the image-conscious, superficial, wealth-obsessed Babylon. Because it's based on words, people can place their trust in it fully and spread it, and it will continue to make sense over time. It doesn't propagate through image, might, or personal influence. This empowers people again-- perhaps simply by making them feel empowered.

Big examples are the formation of Christianity and Islam, and the Protestant Reformation. Today we see other fundamentalisms. But the inevitable next one doesn't have to be intolerant and destructive. If we engage with the task of developing it, rather than avoiding it and leaving it to others, it can be a nice one.

Photo of 1522 edition of Martin Luther's 95 Theses, courtesy Wikimedia Commons. 



  1. I’m not quite sure what you’re proposing, Spinner, but if you want to write a new Bible, I suggest that you first read the last two verses in the old one.

  2. Religions are like genes. The purpose of genes is to reproduce themselves by getting into as much biomass as possible. Religions are memes whose only purpose is to claim as much resources (physical and mental) as possible. The fact that religions happen to mean something to people, well that’s just the meme trying to grow.

  3. Hrm. I think you need to speak more specifically. I’m a bit lost as to whether you want to talk about compression algorithms, lying, or Christianity.

    If you are suggesting that we build a ‘next fundamentalism’ you had probably better define what we would be building it in response TO. Then you should think about whether engineering a fundamentalism to be de-facto benign (like, say, the teachings of Jesus) will solve the ‘intolerant and destructive problems’.

    Otherwise: thought provoking.

  4. This is roughly my attitude toward the Dawkins/Hitchens line. It’s not that those guys are wrong, exactly — Hitchens’ humanistic criticism is passionate and incisive and important. But even he acknowledges that religiosity isn’t going anywhere. With that fact squarely in mind, we humanists of a spiritual (whatever that means) and communitarian persuasion need to think about what’s valuable in religion and how we might go about propagating those memes.

  5. Fundamentals are good in basketball.

    Fundamentalism is really the eventual product of dogma by consensus. Look at the catholic church for the best example. Thousands of years of councils to work out minutiae that isn’t included in any holy books (limbo, purgatory, when a human receives a soul) while much larger issues that actually are listed in the holy books get more and more ignored as they become less socially fashionable, like the owning and beating of slaves (the owning of which was condemned through the whole of the book)

    to place a fundamental trust in such a process ignores the most apparent of concerns.

  6. we can also set the Bible trust level to 100.

    Only if you’re using a scale ranging more in the order of 0 to 100,000.

  7. “in the West anyway, there’s inevitably a revolution of words, of back-to-basics and idealism, against the image-conscious, superficial, wealth-obsessed Babylon”

    When languages are written in phonetic symbols are they more amenable to catalyzing revolution and social progress?

    Are symbolic written languages more amenable to long-term stability, yet discourage social evolution/revolution?

  8. “If the impressions that some words convey to you resonate with you, it’s because they are literally built out of the way you view the world.”

    Huh? The words that have resonated the most with me throughout my life are those that showed me a new perspective of the world or expand my horizons in some way.

    Also, I think you and I have different definitions of the word “literally.”

    A comment on your main point: You may want to pick a word other than “fundamentalism” to use in your new movement. In the past movements you cite, part of the founders’ motivation was intolerance of and the desire to destroy “the image-conscious, superficial, wealth-obsessed Babylon” because of the faults they found. Without that drive, a movement must seek peaceful co-existence with those they are reacting to. This seems like almost a contradiction in any large movement that wants radical change on a large scale.

    @10: Are you referring to the Christian Bible as condemning slavery? This confuses me because as I believe Exodus 21 states,

    2 “If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything… 5 But if the servant declares, ‘I love my master… and do not want to go free,’ 6 then his master must take him before the judges. He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life.”

    In general my understanding of the attitude towards slavery in the Bible is very different from that of American slavery of Africans. The main difference is that slavery was usually used as a way of paying off debts, and so closer to the colonial concept of indentured servitude. However, the Bible does not condemn slavery in any form, as above, it provides rules governing its use. But now I am way off topic.

  9. I’m with #11 Luketheobscure.

    I loved the first two paragraphs of the post. Very thought-provoking indeed! Thinking of shared worldview and shared culture as a kind of codec that enables data compression for language to make sense–wow! That’s great stuff!

    The idea that it’s time to start up a new religion, not so much.


  10. So you’re saying the ideas of Christianity and Islam didn’t ‘propagate through image, might, or personal influence’.

    Hi, have you met my friends Muhammed the Prophet and Charlemagne?

  11. It is interesting how Europe went from great zeal to total indifference to religion in 700 years. The text on which the old testament is based was a commissioned translation from Hebrew to Greek in 200 BCE. An amazing number of words in the Hebrew original occur only once and have a range of meanings that can’t be figured out from context because there isn’t any context.
    There are instances of the same person having three different names or the same story told several times with a different cast. Tom Paine did a polemic on the bible.
    The key problem with holy books is that they really need editors who hew to the original and aren’t tempted to make improvements.
    Then there are matters of language. The exodus is supposed to occur 200 years before there was any Hebrew to record it. Christ spoke Aramaic yet there are no source documents in that language. Even what’s in Hebrew was translated from Greek. Those most likely to treat the bible in a literal sense either haven’t read it or have cherry picked what they’ve read.There’s plenty of truly weird stuff to be found so I have little respect for those who haven’t found it.

  12. And what rough beast, it’s hour come round at last, slouches toward Bethlehem, waiting to be born? Not the Flying Spaghetti Monster, surely?

  13. @roy trumbull

    It is interesting how Europe went from great zeal to total indifference to religion in 700 years.

    Religious war after religious war will do that to a society.

  14. Yes, please don’t use the word “fundamentalism” – it already has negative connotations, and rightly so. Read Dr. Stephen Larsen’s “The Fundamentalist Mind”:

    Also the entire corpus of Joseph Campbell, starting perhaps with “Myths to Live By”:

    To wit, much of human experience consists of irrational or pre-rational emotions and yearnings that can be constructively channeled in religious/mythological frameworks. The key is constructing frameworks that are risilient enough to provide security but flexible enough to adapt to a ceaselessly changing universe. Tibetan Buddhism strikes it about right:

    As the Tibetan Book of the Dead makes clear, any gods or demons you see are fabrications of your own mind; once you realize this, you will be liberated from them. We can have religious traditions with rich mythologies and narratives without the insistence on a literalized, historically infallible reading of the text. Religion is NOT either Literally True or Useless. Instead, it tells us about our own deepest fears, hopes, and aspirations, and gives us a means for working through our irrational problems and making sense of them. As long as religion is introverted and subjective, it can be immensely useful.

    1. As the Tibetan Book of the Dead makes clear, any gods or demons you see are fabrications of your own mind; once you realize this, you will be liberated from them.

      Yogic philosophy has a concept called ishta deva which means, more or less, personal god. You can take a philosophical (as opposed to religious) view of the universe, but still choose one representation of it as the focus of your contemplation, meditation, devotion, prayer or however you choose to relate to it. You could worship Krishna or Jesus or Aslan, not because you really believe their PR, but because they represent an ideal with which you would like to commune. Human psychology seems frankly more sympathetic to absorbing philosophy when it’s clothed in an image, even if we fully understand that the image is an illusion.

  15. Subjective Relative Truth

    Oral traditions have a very strong prohibition against bringing untruths into the culture’s narrative. Different storytellers presented
    differing views in their tellings and retellings of the histories and narratives, but all of those views were of the same absolute truth.

    “We look at different facets of truth explains why our views are not identical.”

    Objective Relative Truth

    With the invention of writing, the fingerprint of creativity brought by each storyteller’s view was obscured by an increasing reliance upon literal copying. The “being true to the spirit” of subjectivity trumped the “being true to the letter” of objectivity.

    “We have to agree to disagree. Your text came from a different scribe/printer/translator than the text from which I read.”

    Objective Absolute Truth

    Centuries of using the memory aid of writing as a replacement for memory has resulted in our modern time where people only behold things that already resemble the truths they wish to cling to, ignoring anything that threatens them with the uncomfortable task of seeing things from a differing point of view.

    “You’re wrong! I’m looking at the truth in black and white. I want my medical marijuana! I want my tax cuts!”

    Integrative bargaining is win-win.
    Polemics seem to always descend into “My poop *does* smell like roses, you rainbow-flag-waving, Bible-thumping, patchouli-smelling kitten-killer!”

  16. I’m happy that other people are getting something out of this post, but you lost me at the third sentence in. I have no idea what you are advocating. I suggest fewer overwrought metaphors.

  17. The first paragraphs embody the core beliefs of structuralism (I heartily recommend Culler’s The Pursuit of Signs if anyone is interested in boning up on the topic) but I was lost when the op-ed diverged into cheerleading ideological luddites, an umbrella category which I now presume the author wishes to use for earth-conscious neo-hippies.

    Zealotry is the obstacle to innovation, not a cornerstone. I would strongly argue that such unquestioning belief is never a plus, though it may serve a purpose as a societal construct, perhaps a counterweight to enlightenment, much as the Renaissance occurred during the same span as the Inquisition.

  18. ”There comes a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part, you can’t even passively take part; and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop, And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, the people who own it, that unless you’re free the machine will be prevented from working at all.”

  19. I just got a triple hit of fundamentalism of the anti-church variety. I’d hoped to do some community work through a local church, but the idea seems to trigger an allergic reaction among my own family and peers. It makes sense to me to bridge the community and the church, and obviously that happens in millions of communities worldwide, but my block seems to be a tough nut to crack.

  20. @Wolfiesma, churches need fewer overt enemies (Dawkins) and more friends who work alongside them, gently, firmly refusing to go along with their ridiculous BS, with humor and respect (think Neil deGrasse Tyson). “See, science is actually really awesome because all of our heavier-than-helium atoms were forged in the cataclysmic explosions of supernovas billions of years ago…” Couch it in images that resonate and make you go “wow”. If you want, it’s OK to talk about the universal dichotomy of creation and destruction too, which resonates in eastern philosophies more (Yab-Yum, Yin-Yang) while being completely compatible with science, or the Buddhist idea that the Self does not go away but merely changes forms (First Law). Even Christianity is subconsciously steeped in the dichotomy, with death-and-resurrection at its mythological core. The universe is bigger than your personal self, which dies and changes forms, but guess what? You’re still a part of it all, you magnificent bag of goo, you.

  21. @32 – This is (I think) what the concept of Maya gets at: the world is “illusion”, whether the exterior world or (the only world we know) the interior, mind-based model world we have in our brains. We come to the realization that it is illusion, but it is a useful illusion, and we need to be able to go back and forth between reaching for the universal unnameable Source and admiring its unnumerable forms and manifestations.

    There’s this lovely image in the Amida Sutra of Buddhism, of a Buddha sitting on a lotus, and millions of rays of light pour out from behind his head, and in each of those rays of light is couched millions of other Buddhas, each with their own millions of rays of light with Buddhas, and so on. This fractalling Buddha-nature is the miracle of existence, in everything and through everything. Not that we should all be Buddhists, but I think every religion has the potential for beatific visions of the unity of existence without fighting against other visions. You want religious forms to say “we’re all in this together.” It’s all different names for the same thing, so why do we quibble about names? We can each have our own names for the Thing, have different stories and books and traditions, and each be “right” (in an aesthetic sense).

  22. I really just want to make use of the real estate. We need a place for a little co-op preschool and it seems to me like a good place for it. A community garden and a food pantry would be cool, too. So much potential, so many hang-ups!

  23. community garden? Find a corporation holding land for development and see if they get a local tax break for dumping a few inches of topsoil on it and letting the locals garden it. The community loses overall since the taxes dodged by the company this way are significant, but you get your garden.

  24. But the inevitable next one doesn’t have to be intolerant and destructive. If we engage with the task of developing it, rather than avoiding it and leaving it to others, it can be a nice one.

    You would be hard pressed to find anyone who believes in those religions who think their faith is destructive to others. Thats your first problem.

    Your second problem is the fact that very few people set about creating a religion as a tool of exclusion and hate. Sure you might have a cult or two but the Christians and Jews and muslims who created their religions likely were not contemplating using it in a “intolerant and destructive

    You cant stop people from corrupting what is good – you cant create a political post someone cant abuse – you cant write a book and then set rules on how your supposed to read it. Art is in the eye of the beholder, not in the eye of the artist.

  25. @38
    “See, science is actually really awesome because all of our heavier-than-helium atoms were forged in the cataclysmic explosions of supernovas billions of years ago…”

    Heavier than IRON… But thanks for playing.

  26. I SO grok this.

    Paul is analysing, in very technical terms, the nature of human understanding. He is not advocating anything, per se.

    The 60s are the other side of the exact same coin. Teenage rebellion that leads the religious to reject the worldly also leads religiously-raised to reject religion.

    Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
    ad infinitum — look at the every-other-generation statistics of religious revivals

  27. “It seems to me that every so often, the dominant political and cultural machine grows so large and incestuous that it loses its connection to people and makes them feel powerless and irrelevant”

    Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that too much. The problem appears to be self correcting. Right about……. now.

  28. “But the inevitable next one doesn’t have to be intolerant and destructive.”

    Isn’t assuming all religions are intolerant in itself intolerant?? Way to be a hypocrite.

  29. The last line of this piece is the stupidest thing I have ever read on Boing Boing, and a candidate for the stupidest thing I have ever read online.

    The point Mr. Spinrad painfully fails to grasp is that *fundamentalism itself* is a damaging mindset. It doesn’t matter which text or set of ideas – the Bible, the Koran, On The Origin of Species – are taken as inerrant, it’s the act of declaring an idea as absolutely true and trustable which causes the harm.

    Fundamentalism stops the questioning part of the mind from working. It is a failure of imagination. It leads the victim to believing those who do not share their beliefs matter less than they do. The results of this are rarely pleasant.

    A ‘nicer fundamentalism’ is about as helpful a concept as a cheerful serial killer.

  30. Clumsy technological allusions aside, Paul Spinrad’s idle ramblings here demonstrate a lack of understanding in a number of areas, but most strikingly in history.

    Let’s take the Protestant Reformation for example. It was no people’s revolution by means of the propagation of words. The “people” were for the most part illiterate and did not understand Latin. So what good would a copy of Luther’s famous 95 Theses do your average Swabian peasant? It would be mere kindling or toilet paper. Indeed, he would have to rely on a branch of the “dominant political and cultural machine,” the Catholic clergy, to interpret the words of Luther.

    Though the 95 Theses are emblematic of the Reformation, it most certainly wasn’t the cause of it. The Reformation took hold in the wake of the Black Death and the Great Schism, a period of social reorganization in Germany punctuated by constant war and rising nationalism. There were other reformers before Luther, and had Luther never been born, history most certainly would have created another Luther, other words.

    And it isn’t even clear what the blogger is referring to as fundamentalism in this case. Luther’s philosophy, in particular the concept of Original Sin, wasn’t based on a more literal or faithful interpretation of the Bible–that was more the undertaking of Luther’s arch foe Erasmus–but on the writings of St. Augustine of Hippo, the most sophisticated and broad-thinking theologian of the ancient world, perhaps of all time.

  31. This whole idea of spiritual insight leading to stagnation leading to heresy back to fundamentalism, then wash rinse repeat is the basis for one of the better books for understanding the tensions in Western Civilization- Morris Berman’s sadly our of print “Coming To Our Senses”:

    You know Morris from his “Dark Ages America” book of recent years. But seriously drop the dime to pickup that book used if you are at all interested in this subject, cause Berman nails it to a wall with more insight and grace and he did it twenty years ago with out all the current agit-prop hate from Dawkins, Hitchens etal.

  32. Cat Vincent @ 51:

    Spinrad’s point isn’t that any text or dogma needs to be taken as inerrant; it’s that religions invariably undergo cycles of “return to fundamentals,” in which fundamentals are reinterpreted and redefined, and that humanists need to engage in that interpretation and development today.

    Roy Trumbull @ 23:

    Your larger points aren’t wrong, but the Koine Greek Septuagint is not the basis for contemporary translations of the Old Testament. Translators as early as Jerome used Hebrew source texts. The wikipedia entry is of interest:

  33. Well I think I got it… very thought-provoking.

    And I don’t think he was necessarily arguing in favour of reversion to fundamentalism – rather saying that it is a natural part of a cycle.

    But as for the “world models” in our heads, I was having an online conversation recently that touched on this.

    I was arguing that it’s a bad idea to pitch out the bible, even for non-believers (I am agnostic) because it is an intrinsic part of our world-view.

    Beyond the lies, outdated rules, and bloody history, and whether or not it is literally true (does it matter?) the Bible is still full of art, philosophy and allegories. Some of them are bunk, but others are truly revolutionary.

    More importantly, our culture is steeped in the biblical mythos – much like classical references 100 years ago. At the turn of the last century everyone understood what a reference to Hermes, Rubicon, or “fair Helen” meant. People still understand what “sour grapes” means even if many don’t know the source.
    Likewise most people still understand what you mean when you talk about someone’s “road to Damascus”, though references like “spidey-sense” and “king of the jungle” are probably more widely-understood.

    So I am certainly opposed to oppressive fundamentalism, but the anti-Bible vitriol is in many ways itself a kind of fundamentalism, one which threatens to turn us into cultural illiterates. It also threatens to cut us off from understanding where we came from – a dangerous road to go down.

  34. New religions, if that be goal here, are usually begun with an epiphany, miracles, or a religious experience, i.e. Moses and the burning bush, Joseph Smith meeting the angel Moroni, or a man who performs miraculous healings for three years running until they crucify Him for it. I don’t know of any founded by a council that decide to sit down and make up a new religion. I’m sure it’s been tried, but most people prefer that God have a hand in their religion.

  35. Troofseeker:

    I get your point.

    Part of the problem is that most modern religions WERE created by councils that claim authority from some miracle event in the past. Even the Bible was cobbled together by bean-counters and pencil-pushers.

    And most of the religious laws, from sharia, to canon to talmud don’t even come from the original, supposedly divine source anyway.

    From the time Constantine decided to adopt Christianity it became a hodge-podge of religions and customs which came before it.

    So not to undercut the divine spark in any belief, but it usually comes along with a whole bunch of compromise and make-do.

  36. @Troofseeker – That’s half-right. Most religions have their origins as cults around a charismatic leader, as in the Mormon cult, the Jesus cult, the Buddhist cult, and so on. But what promotes a cult into a religion with an army and a navy largely has to do with what the followers do after the leader is gone. In the case of Christianity, the first century saw hundreds of little localized sects spread around the Mediterranean from Jerusalem to Ethiopia to Greece to Rome. Jesus may have founded the religion, but the Catholic Church became an institutional presence by committee: in the second to fourth centuries, religious councils led by Iraneus and others determined which of the writings in circulation were “legitimate” and which were “heresy”. This process of committee – though not mythologized or taught in Sunday School – is actually the most important phase of the canonization of the religion, since the internecine battles that took place determined the shape of the Church and established the orthodoxy that set it up as an institution worthy of Constantine’s conversion.

  37. @44

    Stellar fusion burns hydrogen and helium – this fuses the atoms together, creating heavier elements. Iron is the heaviest element that stars can produce. Otherwise your right – any precious metal like gold or silver was blasted into existence millions of years ago billions of miles away.

    Sorry that was off topic…

  38. Troofseeker,

    I don’t know of any founded by a council that decide to sit down and make up a new religion.

    Well, there are the unitarian Universalists. Only a few hundred thousand of us are in the US the days.

  39. Troofseeker – to explain: the only dogma in the UU faith is based in the inherent worth and dignity of every single person. There’s no call for a uniform faith or an authority figure, there’s just people sharing timeless wisdom with other people, followed by coffee.

  40. Strumpet Windsock (and by the way, that is the coolest pseudonym ever!),

    Ever true, that some see a phenomonon as an opportunity to capitalize by creating a beaurocracy that affords them control (their first priority) to capitalize (their second) and benefit personally through said control. Especially true in religious matters, because believers are oft willing to give much more than they should.

    But look again. Neither Moses nor Jesus nor any of the authors of the Bible were beaurocrats. They come later, believing that strategic marketing is going to buy them some fancy robes, a lush lifestyle, chicks, and lots of power.

    I’m pretty sure this isn’t Spinner’s MO, but if it works, those guys will be along soon!

  41. #62

    Actually 44 was right as well.
    Higher elements (greater than iron) are formed during supernovae and other catastrophic stellar events.

  42. Troofseeker:

    Thank you.

    Again, I see your point. But Jesus did not actually write the bible (and it is unclear if Moses actually put pen to paper either).
    And even a more recent version – Mormonism – owes more of its current form to Brigham Young and those who came after (we well as secular forces like the U.S. government outlawing polygamy) than it does to the original founder.

    Neither did Jesus establish any formal church.
    That was all done by his followers, and there were many variations even in their time.
    And whatever church they did establish has little similarity to the codes, calendar and customs we now call Christianity. It may go by the same name, but most of what we follow now has been put together by – guess who – religious and political leaders and church councils.

  43. Actually, Troofseeker – it pains me to admit this – but I think that IS Spinner’s MO. Religion is a psychological/sociological phenomenon, and as such can be engineered. The most successful ones at propagating are designed to exploit features of the brain that cause people to act in such a way as to spread them. People are going to be religious, and there’s not much we can do about that anytime soon – given a chance, the masses will figure out how to turn most any worldview you give them into irrational faith. But nobody (to my knowledge!) ever held a gun to anyone’s head or invaded a country to get them to convert to Buddhism. Some religions insist on exclusive hold on the truth, some don’t. The question is: how can we engineer religion to give lazy, greedy people a productive outlet so as to minimize the damage they can do (and maybe, if we’re lucky, get a few of them to grow up in the process)?

  44. Forced conversions are all forbidden by the major religions. Rather than a religious or even ideological they have been a political tool almost every time.
    I found one instance, in Japan, during the Edo period, under the Shogunate of Tokugawa, where Christian were force to convert back to Buddhism or die. (No web link but I gave enough details for you to search I think). Are there others?

  45. how to fix religion? Now there’s a worthy project. Design a meme strong enough to eat all the others without being pernicious itself. I had held hope for science, but it proved too removed from the reality of human nature. Ultimately it will win because primate psychology is ultimately physically explainable – but it’s moving too slow to keep up with human self-destructiveness. All those stories about evil geniuses wanting to wipe the earth clean and start again with their own seed stock of the “right” humans: Noah.

  46. Really Innocent? In my experience and observation, all organized religions want you to convert or die. Some are more polite about it but when you boil it down, there it is.

  47. @69 – That’s certainly an instance of Buddhist oppression, but seems to be an isolated political one, two thousand years after the religion was founded.

    Islam, by contrast, almost immediately became an imperialist religion, and within a century of Mohammad’s revelation had taken over much of the territory you see now by means of military force. Those who converted were blessed, those who refused to convert were put to the sword as infidels.

    Not to rag on Islam – there are certainly mystics and pacifists who have been able to work within that faith – but the Levantine religions – including Judaism and Christianity – have a violent, oppressive streak that simply doesn’t have any parallel in most other religious traditions. Maybe it has to do with living in the desert, where nature is your enemy. Regardless, folks from these traditions have an uphill battle toward humility and acceptance of other ideas. (Modern, as opposed to talmudic, Judaism has a leg up, though.) You might be interested in this chart:

    which shows rate of acceptance of evolution by Americans of various faiths. Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, and Unaffiliated are the top 4, at 81, 80, 77, and 72 percent, respectively. There’s something in these traditions that helps people keep an open mind to science. What is that, and how can we tap into it?

  48. Takuan,

    You must not have much experience with religions outside of Christianity and Islam. I’d like you to provide examples of prominent religious leaders of other major faiths saying something to the effect of “if you don’t convert you’re going to hell and/or should die”. Nothing? Didn’t think so.

  49. As I weigh the ways to be in this world, I often have to wonder if the most important aspects of a belief system’s power have to do with the sorts of authority they allow the strong to claim. This came home to me while serving in the US military. There is *no doubt* that religion is necessary to war, ultimately.

    Persons of a more reasoned temperament often find themselves incapable of war. This has consequences over time. I’ve begun to consider it a possible rationale for our inherent rebellion in evolutionary terms. Our youth exist to defy us till we give up hope, then defy our defeated expectations by flowering up cooperation as they age.

    This thread is interesting on two levels. Initial premise may reflect certain -isms if that’s what you look for, but the germ of the idea is quite elegant and subtle. So we see a dog pile of partisans of one kind or another, and these are funny but not the fun part.

    The concept that ultimate truth is rooted in the limits of the media that conveys it is worth a look. We are talking anthropology here, not social engineering. It is jarring to realize that the pillars of our own conceptions are such simple things, discomfiting to visualize them in flux. It’s not for everyone to do.

    And for those of us who do cast for changes in the future, we do well to consider not where we should leap to, but by what ladder to climb and whence.

  50. 39 and 51 are doing a magnificent job of using words to describe the indescribable state of pure being. To whiff it is to want to share it. Bad idea. Work to perfect yourself in service. Good idea. Please put the Trees back.

  51. @75 – Why are they mutually exclusive? It seems to me that loosening the materialistic ego-hold on priorities is a good first step toward service. Karuna – love of all, service to all – is the Buddhist conclusion. Re-entry to the world is essential. But why should I spend time I could otherwise spend making money and getting things for myself on people and causes that don’t directly benefit me? There’s no single answer to that question, but they all involve sacrifice of self and realization of connection to the larger universe, which undermines an immature feeling of rugged individualism and everyone-for-himself.

  52. If there’s one thing rational types can get down with, it’s scientific method by experiment as God’s Hammer of Ultimate Truth. We may still interpret his works mistakenly, but what is, is.

    Our minds are a flickering reflection of the creation that contains it. We do honor to God by knowing his works with all the completeness we’ve been gifted to obtain.

    To that end, we need our people(everyone) to be well grounded in the basics of what can be observed, and the history of such ideas and the words that convey them.

    I propose a new temple, we might call it a Calibrarium, where we can all freeze water and spin magnets and time shadows and refract rainbows and teach and discuss what the implications of God’s laws(of physics) really are. There is no shortage of wonder in these quests. Fundamentalists all have swallowed a poisoned pill; they appeal to the truth, and that will in the end set us all free of them.

  53. Antinous 32: You could worship Krishna or Jesus or Aslan, not because you really believe their PR, but because they represent an ideal with which you would like to commune.

    I had no idea this philosophy had a name! Thank you. You’ve put your finger on why I chant to Ganesh-ji every morning.

    Troofseeker 65: Neither Moses nor Jesus nor any of the authors of the Bible were beaurocrats. They come later, believing that strategic marketing is going to buy them some fancy robes, a lush lifestyle, chicks, and lots of power.

    Quibbles aside, what you’re pointing out is the difference between a prophetic religion and a bureaucratic one. I’m acquainted with a number of Christians who are trying to make Christianity into a more prophetic tradition. The Roman Catholic Church is a good example of what was once prophetic becoming bureaucratic.

    Once a religion goes bureaucratic, it must suppress prophetic voices, because they disrupt the bureaucracy. Bureaucratic Judaism suppressed Jesus of Nazareth, and in our own time a bureaucratic branch of Christianity (the aforementioned RCC) suppressed Matthew Fox, even though the Dominican Order (not an order known for its liberality) investigated him and found him free of any taint of heresy. Then-Cardinal-now-Pope Rat forced them to cast him out anyway.

    Fundamentalism is antithetical to prophecy. Jesus told people to do things, and behave in ways, that were not supported by the orthodoxy of his time (though I’ve heard it argued that his point of view IS well-supported by scripture). But he was doing something new. (The prophetic Christians say things like “God is doing a new thing.” Fundamentalists believe in a lesser God who cannot do anything new, anything not described in scripture, or even sometimes anything they (the fundamentalists) don’t understand.)

    Innovation, and addressing the issues of the society as it is, are characteristic of prophetic traditions. Fundamentalism opposes innovation in religious matters, and addresses the needs of the society at the time the fundamentalism was formed; usually some text describes what may/must be done.

    It is possible for any tradition to acquire fundamentalism, which is like a fungus that eats prophecy and turns good religions into empty shams. I’ve met Wiccan fundamentalists who couldn’t to ritual without reading it out of the Gardnerian Book of Shadows. They consider me…I don’t know what, some kind of fake, lesser, hard to know. I consider them laughable.

  54. One of my personal favorite authors/bloggers is retired physicist Chet Raymo, who writes the Science Musings blog:

    An avowed agnostic/”religious naturalist”, Raymo applies a sense of religious awe to the wonders of the natural world as revealed by science. He also opines about the metaphysical “thing itself” behind/beyond the knowable. There’s what we can observe, and we see patterns and mathematics in it, which leads us to ask: where did the mathematics come from? Why is the universe comprehensible at all? I’d like to think that the horizon of science is infinite, but our curiosity will always stretch beyond the horizon of our knowledge.

  55. Schools are supposed to be Calibrariums, but they Fail. One poster spoke of my feeling of rugged individualism as immature. knowing that i had to Fight to teach myself in the face of their interference gives me a fire many seem to lack. There has *always* been individualism. Normally it is is hoarded by our masters.

    Does your way of life deserve to exist?

    Fight or fall.

    So I appropriate deistic imagery to underline things in red; a habit i got from our founding fathers. It affords me the right to be *morally outraged* at fundamentalists of differing casts. It pains me so much to know that most persons who would stand for reason will sooner attack me than see what a power lies there. It even has history of the most powerful sort for all Americans. We’ve let our Deistic foundations become weathered and obscure, not knowing that they were the first cause of all that we hold dear as scientists.

    God’s word is God’s works.

    You don’t have to believe it. you just have to say it and say it until the walls fall in on those who say its His(our very old) Words.

    Now cut me to ribbons.

  56. From Takuan:

    Really Innocent?

    It’s their story, they all have some piece of text somewhere that states and they’ll officially stick to it. OTOH, there’s little doubt that party religions, state religions are ploys, political tools to get to power.

    As to forced conversions or even simple proselytism it varies greatly with branches of the diverse faiths and with historical period. For example, from what I know conversing with friends of the Reformed persuasion, Reformed Jews encourage the non-Jews of mixed marriage to convert but few others; Orthodox Jews are rather refractory to the same thing. In general Jews proselytized in the Hellenic times but almost don’t nowadays.
    For another example, is there an instance of Hindu proselytism ?

  57. In the end, we will justify what we have to do to survive, but slowly enough to be very painful for all the survivors. Religious dimensions of the debates on ecology/environment aside, most persons I know oppose environmental protection if it hurts their financial interests. This looks short sighted until you consider what we would think if it were food and survival, not money and dominance at stake.

    We will burn the forests down before we starve. This is not a conviction of mine, but an observation.

    If such a cataclysm is unavoidable we will be changed as a species forever; what will the survivors believe? How will they justify what they will have to do?

  58. @80 – Rugged individualism is a necessary step in development. It’s graduation from being a baby to being an adolescent. I’m just saying it’s not the end of the road. That way, Ayn Rand lies.

    Puranic Hinduism has a story about Indra, the Zeus-like Warrior King of the Gods who has a vast empire on earth and is worshipped by all. He is visited by a young boy with blue skin, who turns out to be Vishnu, the Eternal God who dreams the universe into existence. Indra boasts about all of his accomplishments, and Vishnu laughs. Insulted, Indra asks why he laughs. Vishnu points to a line of ants crawling across the floor and says, “You are indeed mighty, you have achieved great things. Good for you. But see this line of ants? In their past lives they achieved great things. But they are now crawling across the floor. They are former Indras, all.” So basically, an Ozymandias story.

    One’s own great achievements are indeed a prize to be won, and are worth working for. But it is not the end-all of existence. It does not secure your immortality.

  59. Look around from reading this. How far away is the first happy plant? Or Fungus ? Or Prion ? Or H2O, Or electron, etc. Down to Quark level. Human consciousness can be a pain in the ass. We think we are bigger than we are. Put Dr. Leary into a Dr. Bohm dialouge circle with Dr. Lily as the silent whiteness and fry Ken Wilber’s self loving brain in Krishnamurti oil. Love Them all . Please be mindful of the notion that by dumping your own mind you may have a chance to live long enough for biologics to take over the world of information and you can eat your old computers.

  60. Fundamentalism happens because people forget that the myths their cultural beliefs are based on are myths created to make points, and instead, they decide that the myths are the point. Religion for many people are about community and shared culture. Over time, as cultures get calcified as the world changes around them, cultural leaders turn to fundamentalist thinking to hold on to their power and prestige, which they lose as the myths and stories that sustained their culture no longer stand up to new challenges. This happened to Buddhism in India, Confucianism in China, Christianity in Europe, and Zoroastrianism in the Levant. Right now, its happening to Islam. Essentially, reality intrudes and instead of either a) reinterpreting the stories to deal with the new challenges or b) tossing out the whole thing and trying something new, these institutions bunker down and try to stave off the changing winds. I think the author of this post is trying to suggest that our modernist views are just as in danger of being ruined by fundamentalist thinking. Although, he needs to clarify his point, if this is true.

  61. “convert or die” doesn’t have to be overt either. They can just keep apart and keep you apart until you die of lost opportunity, hunger, untended sickness or any of the myriad of ways a majority can quietly exterminate a minority. Ask any of the most “charitable” of religious types who they are charitable with first: fellow members or infidels?
    They make noises about “humanity” but if you examine their behaviour, the pattern is clear. Basic hypocrisy.

  62. @84 Thanks for listening I see that you have wisdom.

    I must confess that I do not see the relevance of Indra’s dimmer echoes to the problem of survival of our vessels in the current pass through the gauntlet of existence. But I am stewing it over.

    I did want to comment that I have found the vehicle of fable to be a power to be seriously studied. I am not a master of any kind, but the storytelling arts are the strongest magic I’ve ever discovered, and for me that’s saying something. I’ve worried all my life how goodness can be preserved through all this shifting corruption over time, and our inability to use Looking as our main way of knowing what is and what was.

    While we look to build such a sand castle on purpose, certain memes hook in and grow mighty all on their own; UFOs and lost continents jump to mind. In important ways, we are powerless to direct their course.

    Old tales have the best power. The Classics as we call them have been drawing my interest. It is my hope that i will find opportunity to acquiant myself with more of India’s lore ultimately, believing as I do that our cultures are of one root.

    As to my Randular trajectory, I am unable to know why that is a thing to avoid since I’m not well versed in her dogma. I did read Atlas Shrugged long ago and it blew my hair back.

    Perhaps it is years of watching good works corrupted that has made me so stand-offish. I’m tempted, when I watch the young tear up parks, to think the patronage of the powerful is the only avenue to lasting works. So I’ll need to become powerful, so my Calibrarium can have Doric columns without some liberal busybody telling me It’s too european. All are welcome, but historical allusions exist for reasons.

    There will be a ring of trees planted there, too.
    And an ampitheater to fix the need for a chapel we all subtly have but cant feel… and a fountain for the same sorts of reasons…

    There was a Lyceum movement in the US long ago. Much will come to light in the way of direction as that history is revisited. But simple experiment, ‘calibrating’ oneself to observe, will be the goal of the Calibrarium.

    tell me another story, my vessel remains unfull…

  63. When the Church left our Bodies and became a place to go we created a disconnect. The Church of The Earth don’t need no stinking buildings. Some ancient mother pucker figured out the power of denial. Like deferred maintenance. W.T.F.? If you can’t take your love home you a’t doing it.

  64. That is more complicated that that Tak. One of my ‘clients’ (I help older people for stuff) is a Jewish woman, referred by the the B’nai Brith charitable wing to the neighborhood Catholic parish organization which referred the case to me, a professed non-Christian…

  65. Fundamentalisms are like formal grammar; if you look for the monster you shave and shave and there is only fur. This is why I believe that a revival of Lyceums may have the ability to grow a fundamentalism of it’s own and not get swept away with all the other shifting sands. Our culture already has this root planted in it. we are predisposed to grant old philosophers great reverence(unless we read too much, by then we are much calibrated with respect to philosophy). This should be encouraged. Fables of all sorts should be studied for what they are and what they do. As a secular soul I will cry out openly that I am jealous of the faithful that they have churches to meet in. How can we herd these cats long enough to get the pillars erected? as a church of vapors this does nothing to support families. till is does, only raw power could re-institute such an ideal, and it would lack the social grease to function as a church. the efforts of families could in principle aggregate into a lyceum, but real and percieved differences of opinion often dash the trust on which such a thing is founded, especially today.

    Commitment to verifiable truth is as Fundamental as it gets for most everybody. Organization is the difference, the reason, the lack we need to fill.

  66. oops meant to say ‘correct grammar’ Formal grammars have an actual monster if you shave them all the way…

  67. As an image to convey the ideal of rational inquiry toward fundamentalism I’d want Gossamer the looney tunes hair monster trying to push over a doric column with a running shaver on top. still need a device to convey the idea of not shaving all the fur of the world, just the angry monster fur. discuss.:)

  68. Its the doing it. People doing it Love it. Give me the opportunity to deflect the prick of death from the sucking ways of most religions people and you find that my word stuff is just a miserable and pathetic opportunity to have fun.

  69. @90 Yet I know of no Atheist soup kitchens, homeless shelters, childcare for the poor centers, the list is endless. You cry that the religeous do not give. Yet they do, and mightily. I ask in return, what is the alternative? For those that do not believe don’t seem to be standing up to the plate either. And as #93 says, it is a very complex thing.

  70. yes Innocent, individuals can and do act as such. I was referring to to the macro-patterns of organizations and their net effect over time. Any religion that preached helping all others and actually did it would be devoured by the other memes.

  71. Words needn’t be miserable or pathetic. In our day they often are. bored as I get with my surroundings I am amazed and thankful to find such versatile and knowledgeable company around BB. I never fail to soak up new ideas from a thread such as this.

    As to my Lyceum, when I opine and am answered in kind in know I am in one already. I shall put Doric columns on my background image.

    This leaves the problem of a fountain, amphitheater, and circle of trees. I shall still have to get powerful for those to come to be. But the discussion is the most important part; second is the ability to check facts.

    I said it out loud last week, here I say in print:

    The Wikiian Oracle is the light of our times.

    Go pay it homage and tell it of your fallen fathers and matron moms.

  72. mmm… μια κλασσικη ηλιακη αντιφωνηση της κοινωνικης αποφυστικοποιησης.

  73. To complement your thesis of
    It seems to me that every so often, the dominant political and cultural machine grows so large and incestuous that it loses its connection to people and makes them feel powerless and irrelevant.“, may I suggest the following:

    The West (Greco/Roman Culture) has had something like the Reformation every 400 years or so:

    • 1 AD – Christianity & transition of Roman Republic to Empire
    • 400 AD – Conversion of Roman Empire to Christianity, Fall of western Roman Empire
    • 800 AD – Charlemange and the rise of Islam
    • 1200 AD – Crusades, Magna Carta, Inquisition
    • 1600 AD – Great Reformation – Protestant Christianity (crypto Catholicism to Orthodox Christians…)
    • 2000 AD – WW I & II, rise of European Democracy, Technological Revolution, etc.

    This observation was inspired by a Latin instructor of mine who observed that the Great Reformation was not the only Reformation – that they had occurred in 1200 AD and 800 AD as well.

    Of course, my thesis is pure B.S.

  74. “Yet I know of no Atheist soup kitchens, homeless shelters, childcare for the poor centers,”
    no government where you live?

  75. A Buddhist tale you might like:

    There was a young prince, who would in a future lifetime be Gautama Buddha, who was the master of five weapons: a bow, poisoned-tipped arrows, a sword, a spear, and a club. There was a rumor of a monster who haunted the nearby woods, but the prince, fresh out of college and confident in his mastery, was unafraid and decided to venture into the woods to defeat the monster. When he found the monster, it was as tall as a tree with a head as big as a house, covered head to toe in thick fur. The monster spoke: “Where are you going in my woods, young man? You look like a tasty morsel to me. I’m going to eat you up.”

    The prince, as fearless as a lion, replied, “I am the master of five weapons, and I will defeat you!” So the prince used his bow and arrow, firing them all at the monster. The arrows, however, just stuck harmlessly in the monster’s thick fur, and when all 50 arrows were spent, the monster just shook them off and they fell to the ground. Next the prince swung his sword at the monster, but the sword just stuck to the fur and did not cut. Then he threw his spear at the monster, but the spear just stuck in the fur too. Finally he used his club, but to no avail: again, it stuck in the fur and he couldn’t pull it back out.

    The prince then yelled at him, “I have more than just five weapons. I am also strong and will break you to pieces!” So he punched with his right hand, then his left, and they each stuck in the monster’s fur. Then he kicked with his right foot, then his left, and soon all his limbs were stuck in the monster’s fur. Even now, the prince had no fear.

    The monster thought to himself, “Why does he not tremble in fear, even though he is caught up in a monster like me? I’ve never met anyone this brave.” He asked the prince: “Aren’t you afraid of death?”

    The prince replied, “Why should I be afraid of death? Everyone who lives must die.”

    Then the prince thought to himself, “The five weapons given to me by the world famous teacher have been useless. Even the lion-like strength of my young man’s body has been useless. I must go beyond my teacher, beyond my body, to the weapon inside my mind – the only weapon I need.”

    The prince continued speaking to Sticky-Hair, “There’s one small detail, oh monstrous one, I haven’t told you about yet. In my belly is my secret weapon, a diamond weapon you cannot digest. It will cut your intestines into pieces if you are foolish enough to swallow me. So if I die — you die! That’s why I’m not afraid of you.”

    In this way the prince used his greatest inner strength in a way Sticky-Hair could easily understand. He knew this greatest of all weapons, the one inside his mind, was the precious diamond gem of his own intelligence.

    Sticky-Hair thought, “No doubt this fearless man is telling the truth. Even if I eat as much as a pea-sized tidbit of such a hero, I won’t be able to digest it. So I will let him go.” Fearing his own death, he set Prince Five-Weapons free.

    He said, “You are a great man. I will not eat your flesh. I let you go free, just like the moon that reappears after an eclipse, so you may shine pleasantly on all your friends and relatives.”

    The Enlightenment Being had learned from his battle with the monster Sticky-Hair. He had learned the only worthwhile weapon is the intelligence inside, not the weapons of the world outside. And with this diamond weapon he also knew that destroying life brings only suffering to the killer.

    In gratitude, he taught the unfortunate demon. He said, “Oh Sticky-Hair, you have been born as a murderous blood sucking flesh eating demon because of unwholesome deeds in your past. If you continue killing in this way, it will lead only to suffering for you — both in this life and beyond. You can only go from darkness to darkness.

    “Now that you have spared me, you won’t be able to kill so easily. Hear this — destroying life leads to misery in this world, and then rebirth in a hell world, or as an animal or a hungry ghost. Even if you were lucky enough to be reborn as a human being, you would have only a short life!”

    So Prince Five-Weapons continued to teach sticky-hair, and through his teaching gradually the monster learned to become the friend of all and was no longer a menace in the forest.

  76. Western governments are usually secular, not atheist. Most people really don’t believe any more, not in the US. I include so-called Fundamentalists also. They make a great show of their belief but they don’t truly believe. If they did they’d behave differently.

    Most religious faith today is all about appearances, it’s all surface, all hat and no cattle. True believers are few and far between.

    Secular culture has won.

  77. I know Tak. I wasn’t trying to blur the big picture but to add to it the one element that seemed to miss: the action of the vast majority of non-fundamentalists at heart.

    There will always hyper-actives totalitarians, people with ‘convictions’ who will want to run everything all the time. They’ll come and they’ll go, surrounded by loud mouthed groupies that’ll consistently make a much bigger case of them than they’re worth.

    Underneath, silent, hidden, thanks God (manner of speaking ;) ) there will be us, the multitude of octopi that those big thugs bore to death. We will be juggling with any hermit crab or urchins we’re thrown at, we will glide and dance like shadows, taking postures and colors, getting predated upon alas too often but, in the end supply, subtly keeping everything from falling apart under the assault of the domineering ones.

    That is where I’ll place my bet rather than into any renewed fundamentalism, I guess that’s what I’m sayin’.

  78. I’ve occasioned to wonder before if the iconoclastic and exclusivist claims of our christian bible make for more obstinate extremes of opinion. My conclusion has so far been that they do indeed, and this is one reason that I embraced Deism as a linguistic practice. I will not cede my sovereignty for the sake of philosophical completeness in the company of partisans. I will trump moralist claims with Ethical ones.

    This is a pugelistic stance, figuratively speaking, for the nebulous nature of the divine in our time leaves much room for debate. In the end if i have the energy i can battle any honest opponent back to the confines of what is agreeable to both of us. Well trained or obstinate foes will sometimes leave little of this common ground to stand on, but that’s boxing.

    One thing I like about this form of discussion is that you can take your time mulling over the words of others and review and rethink.

    wish i was smartzy enuf to grok the greek above, particularly if it wz4 me. care to walk me through it?

  79. so I gather from your previous commentary. Thats one of the main reasons I’m angry all the time. All the good-hearted and capable hold it together while the loud, stupid and greedy get the ignorant and fearful to aid and abet them. My main objection to organized religion stems from the firm handle it gives the unethical to drag around the weak.

  80. the government ( depending where you live) may not be avowed atheists, but they are bound in separation of state and church nations to behave like them.

  81. the Prince of One Weapon approaches Sticky Hair Monster…

    ..He doesn’t fear,..?

    And out come the Electric Shears of Checking Sources!

    bzzzwzzwzzz oh noe….

    It was all fur!

  82. Historical perspective is important. I think of it as similar to etymology, in that knowing the roots of a thing lends depth to one’s understanding of the thing’s subsequent mutations.

    So, briefly. There are five Christian fundamentalist beliefs, which were codified in 1910 by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church. They are:

    1. The Bible was inspired by God through the Holy Spirit and is inerrant.
    2. Christ was born of a virgin.
    3. Christ’s death was atonement for the sin of all mankind.
    4. Christ was resurrected, bodily.
    5. Christ’s miracles are historical truths.

    That’s it.

    But then! From those five points spawned 12 volumes, called (ta-daa!) The Fundamentals. They were funded by a pair of Christian oil tycoons (Lyman & Stewart), edited by A. C. Dixon and Reuben Archer Torrey, and published from 1910 to 1915. Find them all here.

    The essays in these volumes defended Protestant orthodoxy, in the process attacking academic theological criticism, liberal theology, Catholicism, socialism, modern philosophy (say, everything post-Aristotle), atheism, Mormonism, Christian Science, Cory Doctorow, Spiritualism, and evolutionism. (That was to see if you were paying attention.)

    300,000 copies were distributed free to ministers and missionaries around the globe.

    Pretty much everything that is modern Christian fundamentalism is laid out there. And I believe–although I’d be happy to argue the point–that this modern fundamentalism, in general and in specific, has been exported throughout the world along with Coke and McDonald’s. It’s not just an attempt to “‘eff’ the ineffable” or a general tendency towards intolerance. It’s an attitude towards the world and the people in it, a mode of thinking about everything, and a way of life, all codified in 90 essays by 90 authors, distributed via the viral mechanisms of well-funded print distribution and, later, radio and television.

    If you want to re-engineer fundamentalism, grok its foundation. And if what you build anew is so vastly different as to be unrecognizable when compared to what’s come before, can you call it by the same name?

  83. Then in answer, no, we have no government that treats the homeless, poor and disadvantaged here. Here being the USA.

  84. 105 Beauty is coached in our seeing. Better we see beauty, more we love being alive. Some really ignorant intelligent people popped a Neuc. Dialogue ??

  85. ?
    “Federal Government Aid for the Homeless – Federally Subsidized Housing

    The national effort to provide housing for those in need is far more massive than would be indicated by the expenditure of about $1.5 billion on assistance to the homeless. HUD’s expenditures on public and Native American housing were projected to be $23.8 billion in FY 2005. (See Table 5.2.) If these funds are added to projected expenditures on homeless programs, total spending on subsidized housing in FY 2005 would be $25.3 billion. Of this total, 5.8% is allocated to helping the homeless and 94.2% to ensuring that people do not become homeless. To help people stay housed, the government has housing programs that help poor and low-income people.”

  86. No body will believe that i have been present for my love. The easiest thing to ponder is ” What the fuck are you doing putting simple people in jail and ignoring the simplicity of intellegenance?

  87. Great discussion, thanks for all the corrections! It’s wrong to say that belief systems don’t “propagate through image, might, or personal influence.” Of course they do– they can spread bottom-up (love), via word of mouth,
    or top-down (control) at the end of a sword. I don’t want to confuse the beliefs
    themselves with institutions that use them to perpetuate themselves.

    The example I always think of is the First Nicene Council in 325 A.D.,
    which is one of the first places I would visit in a time machine. Did
    those bishops really care that much whether Christians should view the
    Trinity as 3 separate entities (Arian Christianity) or as both 3 and 1 at
    the same time (orthodox Christianity)? I don’t buy it. I suspect that
    esoteric doctrinal argument was a self-deluding excuse, and the real, underlying
    controversy was over who would rule over all of Christendom, and whose
    followers would be excommunicated as heretics if they didn’t bow down to
    their new overlords.

  88. thankyou for heads up on fundamentalism sources. Know your enemy.

    Hope I don’t convert while i’m reading them!

    Hardly a point as the problem with fundamentalism isn’t so much the sources as the license afforded by certain modes of belief. These sorts of problems are less a function of what we make of the books, more one of which dirty business humanity needs to attend to next.

    fundamentalisms may be emergent and necessary social phenomema. Hope not. How ugl.

  89. Burp. Please fall in love with the notion that you are infinitely beautiful. Because you are. Get used to it.

  90. When I look at the culture-fizz wave upon which we all surf(or swim, as we choose)a bazillion little selfish bubbles; to what end do we strive?

    Mankind is a caustic clade. If all men lived in the opulence which I enjoy the Earth would be scorched clean very soon. Even knowing this I cannot alter my course. As light as I may tread, my feet must touch the Earth.

    Will a general ethic of light-stepping become norm? Will we not always defer to war when called? And if this tragic end be inevitable, and all our light footprints are churned under by treads of tanks, what ethic prevails then? Who shall thrive and survive?

    Two questions Is free inquiry a help or a hindrance to war(upon whos outcome all other things depend,if we ever embark to war again)? two.As a seeker of truth and a dying mortal man, do I care about that?

  91. Now. The God particle. No slammer biggie wappo machine hoge ugley ignormaious person can possimaley survive a snake encounter under thier own porch. Simple love is awesome.

  92. My main objection to organized religion stems from the firm handle it gives the unethical to drag around the weak.

    Religions aren’t the only belief systems that have been used to that effect though. ‘Immanent destiny’, ‘Chosen race’, ‘Proletarian Dictatorship’, ‘American Dream’, ‘Permanent Growth’… idols are planted on demand everywhere they are needed and some sort of syncretism is the natural faith state at any moment. It is like so many people need to believe in anything but themselves.

    To have a simple, single, immobile target is enticing but an illusion in the end, a fight with no aim and hence no end in sight. We are living one of those periods when the false Gods, not that I’ve met any true one for sure, are falling by themselves, undermined by their own contradictions: let’s hope that new communities of mutual aid and interests will be born in the meanwhile, giving us more tools to do a better job a building this World.

  93. perhaps when the full wrath of the economic “adjustment” settles upon us all, we will see what new Stalin, Hitler, Mao emerges that fits the times.

  94. Sit Down. Shut up. Try to listen. We got a problem. Simple. No body wins a death. Courage takes time. I Loves us.

  95. It is always the same thing. Love never gets the job done, Liberal women put their crouch on the table and got trashed. Maybe.

  96. With all the current political talk by the Obama administration of “national service”, I wonder how long until real life (as the USA and China converge on a mirror ideology) matches the thought experiment of Robert A. Heinlein:

    Jean Rasczak: All right, let’s sum up. This year in history, we talked about the failure of democracy. How the social scientists of the 21st Century brought our world to the brink of chaos. We talked about the veterans, how they took control and imposed the stability that has lasted for generations since. We talked about the rights and privileges between those who served in the armed forces and those who haven’t, therefore called citizens and civilians.
    [to a student]
    Jean Rasczak: You. Why are only citizens allowed to vote?
    Student: It’s a reward. Something the federation gives you for doing federal service.
    Jean Rasczak: No. Something given has no basis in value. When you vote, you are exercising political authority, you’re using force. And force my friends is violence. The supreme authority from which all other authorities are derived.

    Dizzy: My mother always told me that violence doesn’t solve anything.
    Jean Rasczak: Really? I wonder what the city founders of Hiroshima would have to say about that.
    Carmen: They wouldn’t say anything. Hiroshima was destroyed.
    Jean Rasczak: Correct. Violence has resolved more conflicts than anything else. The contrary opinion that violence doesn’t solve anything is merely wishful thinking at its worst.

  97. For more background on fundamentalism, I’d suggest studying the history of the Puritans: not just the Massachusetts colony, but from Elizabethan times through Cromwell’s dictatorship.

    It’s amazing how their arrogance and intolerance and desire for theocracy parallel the behaviour of modern-day U.S. fundamentalists.

    The myth is that they left because of religious persecution in England. In fact they brought much of it on themselves.

    Also, I think they’ve had an effect on the U.S. that you don’t see in other democracies. Our leaders here in Canada certainly have religious beliefs too, but you would never catch them making reference to God in public, or having photo ops at church services. It would be the kiss of death.
    Even our former PM, Jean Chretien, who is a staunch Catholic, felt it was no one’s business.

    And our current PM:

  98. I don’t believe Canadian politicians used religion as a tool to gain power. At least not in the past two generations say. If they had, Canada would have a state religion. If a politician could assure retaining power by establishing a state religion, he would. In the Canadian case they would have to create a major social upheaval to get away with it though. Don’t relax Windsock, Canada carries the cancer cells of fundamentalism too. They bide.

  99. #135
    Well the Catholic Church did have a hammer grip over Quebec through the Duplessis years (until the 60s) But that is broken.
    And Protestant English Canada had their Orange Order which railed against the French, foreigners and natives. But traditionally the closest thing to a state church has the United Church, which is hardly fundamentalist.

    Of course we are seeing a lot more American style fundamentalism here as well.

    (‘scuse the gross oversimiplification here. I am trying to be brief).

  100. no need to address me as “Great”. I’m humble. Sorta.

    If I understand what you originally said, you suggested only religious – as opposed to atheist – camps had any outreach to the needy. I supplied an obvious example that is not so.

  101. An example that you disparage on a regular basis I might add. You criticized religious folk about their giving and provided an example that you, your self criticize. Hardly the mark.

    A humble person wouldn’t have uses the lack of a comma as a compliment. Sorta.

  102. here, let go of your tale a moment and step up here with me. Did I say I LIKED the government? You must learn detachment from the argument if you wish to see the truth. There is not always a wrong side and a right side. You don’t mean you didn’t intend a compliment?

  103. You want some kind of Freudian mistake. No. I never claimed you liked the government. you however post it as an argument against people of faith helping the community. I *said* if you have an example of Atheists doing the same please provide it. You have thrown nothing ut smoke and mirrors since. So, flat out, who does more for the homeless, the hungry, the homeless than religious groups?

    (oh those Minnesotans!)

    rice christians aside, I beleive I started with:
    “convert or die” doesn’t have to be overt either. They can just keep apart and keep you apart until you die of lost opportunity, hunger, untended sickness or any of the myriad of ways a majority can quietly exterminate a minority. Ask any of the most “charitable” of religious types who they are charitable with first: fellow members or infidels?
    They make noises about “humanity” but if you examine their behaviour, the pattern is clear. Basic hypocrisy.”

    Is this what you are concerned with? Read it carefully now.

  105. very well then: government spends more money on helping the disadvantaged than religious groups. You do the math if you wish to refute it. Second: religious groups discriminate with their charity, something government is at least, not supposed to do.

  106. numbers? And soup kitchens are but one small expression of the many kinds of support, aid and assistance the society of a developed economy provides. Welfare payments, social security to poor aged, etc. Also, “federal” is but one level of “government”. As to your Red Cross link, I was unaware it was primarily a religious organization, as I think they themselves are also unaware. Perhaps you should tell them.

    By the by, there is no need to capitalize “atheists”, they are after all, not a religion. Indeed, they don’t even need labelling as a category apart since atheists are the only normal humans, un-demon ridden by priests and popes etc.
    It is not so much atheists have superior morality, rather, religious types have inferior morality. Why is it I have little difficulty in seeing your face lit up by the flames of the auto-de-fe?

  107. Again, you side step. Demonizing me helps you as well. BTW I think that the Red Cross knows they are a religious organization. And you still under preform as to where these (small a) atheists are on soup kitchens. See my face as much as you want. I dont see yours at the soup ladle where Humans live.

  108. Takuan:

    I partially disagree with your statement that atheists are not religious. I’ve met many atheists (but not all) are just as dogmatic about their beliefs as religionists (and point to equally specious axioms from which to build up their ideas).

  109. The fundamentals of life, science, arts, religion, everything, are something you learn when you grow up. Calling out to go back to the fundamentals is like saying “hey let’s crawl like a toddler again!”.
    That’s why I think religious fundamentalists are like children.
    And religions themselves regardless of the way you interpret them are the fundamentals of law, but once you have something like a constitution, religion is just retarded in our society.

  110. Oh sry, when there are like, over 150 comments, I never read until the last one and directly comment the article… but Keeper of the lantern @ 157:


    I partially disagree with your statement that atheists are not religious.

    I disagree with you on your disagreement with Takuan. Atheism is just a way of seeing things mostly based upon reason. You may see the same kind of assurance and preaching as with religious people, you can call that dogmatic, but it surely doesn’t make atheists religious.

  111. Keeper, what ideas would an atheist build?

    That atheists require proof of the supernatural?

    That morality exists independently of religion?

    That religions by nature are divisive and intolerant?

    That religious texts are no more sacred than any other text?

    That the priesthood’s goal is survival not salvation?

    This is why the term atheist is falling into disfavor. It implies a belief structure, which does not exist. Religious people cannot understand the absence of belief. Not only do non-theists not believe in gods, but they don’t believe in anything other than personal responsibility. This means each of us is responsible for ourselves and how we affect each other.

    Spiritually, this means each of us is personally responsible for our own peace. Each of us is responsible for finding our own way on the path.

    Religious people, in moments of false generosity, like to claim there are many paths to god or whatever, but the truth of all religions is there is only one path. The surprising thing, is I agree there is only one path. The path is colored and decorated by our own perceptions, but there is only one path through life. We may have different interests and vocations, but otherwise we are all the same. Except for one thing. Some people are spiritual, not religious, just spiritual, and others are not. Many religious and non-religious people are not spiritual.

    Using different tricks for coping or understanding, does not change the spiritual path anymore than walking or riding changes the road. That all of the world’s religions and myths are so similar, indicates that the path through life is surprisingly narrow. While we may exist together in one place, we are not necessarily in the same place spiritually. How we perceive the path is only a reflection of our own state of mind.

    My hope, is though we travel differently and see different things, we will eventually understand we are on the same path. Eventually, we will shed divisive religions and leaving only compassion and fellowship. No more rules, no more beliefs, no more highway robbers.

  112. There is nothing but consciousness itself. Humans divide it up into parts, and then argue about which parts are better.

  113. I decline anyone’s attempts to apply a label to me. Deal with me as I am, where I am for who I am.

  114. Takky, Takky, Takky.

    >”…atheists are the only normal humans, un-demon ridden by priests and popes etc…”

    Observe any society in man’s history. Then ask the name of their god. They have one/some. Man is religious by nature. Even Neanderthal threw flowers and, I think, jewelry into graves. They were probably religious. Humans are normally religious.

    Your religion is the science-of-the-day. Your gods are Chance, The Creator, Evo, The Enlightener, and Yourself, The Enlightened. But as is true for most “athiests”, you are punishing God by denying His existance, because He didn’t come thru for you when you really, really wanted Him to. You hate the religions that people have built because of an aching in your spirit, which you deny even having. If it was all fairy tales, it wouldn’t bother you. You don’t seem indignant that Prometheus was chained to a rock and tortured for having given fire to Man. It doesn’t bother you at all because it’s a fairy tale. But if I tell you that Jesus changed my entire life, I’ll bet that makes you angry, because it’s true, and it hurts you deep inside, and you think it shouldn’t, but it does, against all reasoning on your part. I have something you don’t, and it pisses you off because you’re smarter than I, and you should have the inner peace, not I, because you’re one of the gods and I’m an idiot for believing fairy tales. Yeah. But you know what? I love you, Brother. Keep searching.

  115. #160, meet #161 FTW.

    It may be comforting to think of atheism as a “non-religion”, but it’s incorrect. Fundamentalists who are absolutely sure of their beliefs also think they hold the truth, and theirs is not a religion among religions.

    Religion is a mental state, though it is propped up and enforced by social institutions and traditions and holy books and rituals. They all provide a consistent way of viewing the world. Atheism asserts that truth can be discovered only by empirical evidence and continual testing of hypotheses. It just so happens that this is the best, most reliable way to find out certain kinds of reliable information about our universe, but science tells us little to nothing about the subjective experience of being human. Don’t confuse science — which is a discipline and practice, not a belief — with atheism, which elevates science to godlike status. Reason is an excellent tool for making rational, measured decisions when all the facts are in. Life, however, isn’t like that. You have to make decisions when you don’t have all the facts. You have to act in life based on what you want out of it, which may be complex and conflicting at times. Reason is of little use in these situations. The majority of your being is pre-rational, as you have evolved from slime and proto-fish and proto-lizards and proto-rats and proto-apes, all of which needed to survive without rationality, and developed mechanisms that continue to haunt us today, giving us dreams and emotions and holy visions and unexpected insights and gut reactions and intuitions. Fetishizing rationality, believing you use it when you actually don’t, is the fallacy of atheism.

    That said, all religions need to be shaped or broken to accommodate science. Established science must always trump emotional reactions. Holy books don’t tell us about anything except what it feels like to be a human and how to get the most out of the experience. All their claims of fact are lies, lies made up by humans about being human. In the end, it’s all the same substance. Jesus on the Cross is Buddha under the Bodhi tree, sacrificing the ego to the great I AM THAT I AM, the Void, the unknowable source of being. The Void is personal death, but it is also the source of all that is. The Buddha realizes that he is identical to the Void, that his Ego is an illusion. This task — coming to terms with death, realizing the limits of your personal ego — lies also to atheists. Maybe you don’t need a holy book or a tradition or an institution or a holy vision to walk this path. Not everyone does. But just so you know, people have been thinking about these problems for thousands of years, and they have made discoveries about the nature of subjective consciousness that science is only beginning to catch up to.

  116. Takuan- I came to apologize. I’m playing too rough, and there’s no call for that. I’m sorry. I hope you know I admire you and appreciate your insights and perspective in all the articles you contribute to. I’m sure that goes for nearly all of us.

  117. Seraphim_72:

    BTW I think that the Red Cross knows they are a religious organization.

    From Wikipedia:

    “The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is an international humanitarian movement … without any discrimination based on nationality, race, religious beliefs, class or political opinions.”

    “The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is a private humanitarian institution founded in 1863 in Geneva, Switzerland by Henry Dunant”

    “8. Recruit its voluntary members and its staff without consideration of race, sex, class, religion or political opinions.”

    Can you show me a quote or reference that suggests otherwise? (Besides erroneously saying RedCresent is for Muslims, therefore RedCross must be for Christians.)


  118. Please don’t stroke the Takuan.

    It makes him harder to clean, and he’ll only start demanding fresh bedding.

  119. doing the Big Cleaning this past week. Tossing memories does evoke them. Strange to think these words might survive somewhere far longer than any of the old books and images horded for so long and going away anyway.

  120. Yes, pity that the bigotry is your own. Trumping out the Auto-de-fe is a classic though, kudos for that. Is it now that I am supposed to bring out the tired ‘Atheist leaders have killed more people then religious leaders’ mantra? And in answer to this:

    government (ed That I hate) spends more money on helping the disadvantaged than religious groups. You do the math if you wish to refute it.

    I wont do your homework, sorry. In any event you still are sidestepping. I never asked about the government. I asked about atheist giving. You decided to post about the giving of the religious, I asked what about the non-religious. You have yet to answer that question.

  121. Seraphim, please cite the Red Cross as a religious organisation. “Side stepping” etc.

    Also, you are erronously supposing that atheism is an equal and opposite state to religion. You should be asking after secular organisations, rather than atheist ones.

    Point being, that atheists don’t have a specific uniting organisation.. they are just people.

  122. Arkizzle actually that is my point. Takuan decided to disparage the religious for their charitable giving. I was only trying to point out that we religious folk give like crazy. What about you avowed atheists?

    As to the Red Cross, I erred. For that I apologize. It stands though as to why a cross, crescent and star are their symbols though.

    And how do you people get notified so quickly about posts? I have to keep refreshing the page and it feels like I need to buy a monkey to do it.

  123. Seraphim, the Red Cross logo is an inverted (red for white) Swiss flag, honouring its creator’s nationality.

    I was only trying to point out that we religious folk give like crazy. What about you avowed atheists?

    Sounds like you are equating a lack of belief in the supernatural, to a lack of empathy for real people. How does that work?

  124. And how do you people get notified so quickly about posts?

    We’re sitting around the server, with a ticker-tape readout. (Takuan is in your rafters.)

  125. And the cross of the swiss flag came from?

    You can empathize all you want. All I asked was about giving. Again, Takuan disparaged the religious folk about giving, my response was well what about the non-religious? And I made a statement that I think the religious actually give more than the non-religious and that they also have more organizations to deal with this sort of thing.

    Please dont read more into it.

  126. /If Takuan is in my rafters then s/he had best get down here for tea. I even made biscotti.

  127. PSpinrad, this is a very interesting question. I think you might want to try asking it again in a new entry. This time around, too many people thought you were talking about religion rather than language, and about fundamentalist religious belief rather than the characteristic style of periods of fundamental religious reform.

    I think you’re right. I’ve felt the language changing for some time now. Among other things, I believe that change is an unspoken and unidentified topic of The Cluetrain Manifesto. What I know is that President Obama sounds to me like the new voice, and his White House Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs, sounds like the old one.

  128. But the bandwidth of speech is so low compared to one’s own senses that it required huge compression and decompression at each end of the communication. This process of describing and interpreting was enabled by detailed world models that everyone carried in their heads.
    Because these world models vary from person to person, the codec is lossy, and misunderstandings are inevitable.

    The strongest argument against religious fundamentalism ever.
    Let’s pick an arbitrary example of a religious fundamentalist favourite: the King James Bible. Written a couple thousand years ago by people in a culture very different from our own. Translated from mostly Aramaic into Greek into Latin into English, reformatted from one lossy format into another and interpreted by means of codecs that are themselves lossy and for the better part lost. And millions of people are willing to deny the evidence of their own senses if it contradicts what’s in the book, blinkered with belief so they won’t be blinded with science.

    Belief-based religions have been so successful politically that most people don’t even realise that religion and belief are not the same thing. It’s not necessarily so. There are some non-belief-based religions that aren’t quite as successful as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob because they aren’t quite as useful for keeping the proletariat in check. Zen, Jainism, Taoism, Advaita Vedanta and probably others I’m not aware of. All of these are compatible with reason. (Not the belief in reason. Reason.)

    So, here’s a question to turn over in your mind for a while: how exactly is belief a virtue?

  129. Eeeeewwwwww, look at this mess! I was going to weigh in, but there’s nameless goo everywhere and I don’t actually even know if I have a cogent opinion on… whatever the hell it is that’s going on in here.

    *Backing out slowly, feet making sticky noises from something congealed on the floor, muttering about kittens*

  130. Thanks Teresa! Fundamentalism is an ambiguous and often loaded term, and I should have known to be more specific! Definitely gets messy otherwise.

    @ 54 Bililoquy – that’s my favorite summary, thanks!

  131. oh, so the idea is that sensible people should help the currently deluded re-build their shattered-by-reality religious paradigm just as a matter of decency and self-defense. Get them to take out the smiting, looting and raping bits and make a new, improved version. All this as another stepping stone working towards the day that the majority will be sane and balanced for a change.

  132. #188
    Believe it or not, I once knew a devout catholic who told me upon my questioning his total belief in the bible (he has not even read it completely) that every single translation is divinely inspired.
    ‘Cause, you know, it’s the word of god they’re translating, after all. So not even the “lossy conversion” argument is strong enough for these people.

  133. Wow.

    This thread is sort of interesting as a cultural artifact. It seems American religious debate is exactly like American political debate: everyone has a half-memorized talking point, and everyone simultaneously shouts it as loudly as they can.

  134. And you still under preform as to where these (small a) atheists are on soup kitchens.

    This one volunteers at one every couple months.

  135. Re: Post #52: “Coming to Our Senses” is not out of print. If you look closely at the Amazon listing, you can actually order the Seattle Writers Guild reprint of the book, or get it from the distributor, Book Clearing House, in Harrison NY. Their address is, tel.

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