Archives for category: religion

One of the oldest literary works, a poem written some 4 millennia ago, is about the prince of the land, Gilgamesh, helping his ‘commoner’ friend, Enkidu, to reach ‘full human-hood’. Along with the rest of the people under Gilgamesh’s stewardship.

Prometheus, the Titan who had given us “the gift of fire and the skill of metalwork“,  ended up chained to a pole and having his liver eaten out by an eagle.

The Jewish God had made Man in His own image. All men, and women, equal among themselves – since they had all been cast in the same mould, and all of them sharing a divine spark – since that mould had been made in God’s resemblance.

Some two and a half millennia ago, in India, Siddhartha Gautama – the highly pampered son of a local ruler, had figured out – and started to teach his followers, that the manner in which you lead your life is far more important than being celebrated as a winner.

About the same time, in China, Laozi had written a “handbook for the ruler. He should be a sage whose actions pass so unnoticed that his very existence remains unknown. He imposes no restrictions or prohibitions on his subjects; “so long as I love quietude, the people will of themselves go straight. So long as I act only by inactivity, the people will of themselves become prosperous.””.

Two millennia ago, in Jerusalem, a teacher had reminded us that God’s teachings have been meant to be followed in earnest, not ‘faked’ in a callous manner. And that we should respect each-other, regardless of our respective ranks.

Less than three short centuries ago, Adam Smith had figured out that human society has passed through a series of ‘stages’:  “the original “rude” state of hunters, a second stage of nomadic agriculture, a third stage of feudal, or manorial, “farming,” and a fourth and final stage of commercial interdependence.
‘Commercial interdependence’ meaning that each and every one of us depends on everybody else.

“We don’t expect our dinner from the benevolence of the butcher, brewer, or baker but from their regard for their own interest; we appeal not to their humanity but to their self-love, and talk to them not of our needs but of their advantages.”

Adam Smith,
An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, 1776

In other words, Adam Smith reiterates the very same thing that has been already told so many times in so many ways.

That it is in the interest of each and everyone of us for the free market to remain free. If we allow any of the ‘butcher’, ‘brewer’ or ‘baker’ to take any kind of precedence over any of the other – or over any one of us, then we are all doomed. Including those who had enjoyed, for a while, the spoils of ‘precedence’.

I’m not making much sense here?

Let’s take a short glimpse back.

Not many of Gilgamesh’s ‘nephews’ have followed his example.
During their rule, the area had been a quagmire of internecine warfare. It still is, unfortunately.

Prometheus’ is a very interesting story.
His very gallant exploit was punished dearly.
What if there is some hidden meaning to it? Related to that of the ‘original sin’?

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”

The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

So what do we have here?
The serpent gives Eve an advice – which comes to be true, Adam and Eve haven’t died from eating ‘the apple’.
Adam and Eve ‘realize they were naked’ and dress themselves.
God finds out and chastises Adam: ‘what have you done? Haven’t I told you not to eat from that tree?’.
Adam snitches on his woman, the one made from his own rib, at his own request:  “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” And Eve passed the blame along to her teacher…

Well, maybe there is a sort of an ‘original sin’… and not one necessarily based on our tendency to disobey orders… after all, ‘disobeying’ is the only way to learn anything…

Let’s go back to the Bible.

22 And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”

What if God was not as much mad at Adam and Eve for acceding to self awareness as he was afraid of what they will do with their newly acquired skill? Specially if they would have been allowed to hone it for any considerable amount of time?
Specially when considering what each of them had done after they had learned about their individual oneness? Tried to blame others for what each of them had done?
Each of them had tried to use whatever difference there was between their individual beings and all the rest to their exclusive advantage? As a way to invent and win a competition instead of a reason to start and engage in a cooperative effort?

Would it be farfetched to interpret this episode as ‘God, in his immense wisdom, knew that allowing an imperfect ‘knowledgeable person’ to ‘hold on to power’ for too long would transform that person into a tyrant?’.
For we are, all of us, ‘imperfect knowledgeable persons’… regardless of what we think about ourselves…

Going back to Prometheus, ‘fire’ and ‘metalwork’ are powerful ‘competitive advantages’. Societies which control these ‘skills’ can very easily subdue those who don’t. And they have done it, several times in history.
With ‘mixed’ results, to put it mildly.
Could it be that Prometheus’ punishment is a metaphor meant to teach us about the perils of inducing extreme disparities among various groups of people?

The Jewish people have demonstrated an uncanny ability to survive. As a people, I mean. Against incredible odds.
I don’t know whether this has anything to do with any help from God but I’m convinced it has everything to do with the manner in which they treat each-other. More precisely, with the manner in which they help and respect each-other.

Only three countries in Asia have not been completely overrun by the Europeans during the XIX century. China, Japan and Thailand. The common thread among them is that all three follow the teachings of Buddha and Laozi. Which are very similar, in their essence.

Christian Europe, the land inhabited by people supposed to love each-other, has somehow reached a world dominant position during the XVIIIth and  XIXth centuries, process which has been furthered by the rise of the equally Christian US of America.
Unfortunately, during the same three centuries, the same Euro-Atlantic space has been the theater and origin of the bloodiest conflicts in the history of humankind.

The free-market capitalism envisioned by Adam Smith worked wonders.
Well, not the capitalism itself. The people cooperating according to Smith’s division of labour in the realm of the free market.
The entire world is currently living in way better conditions than, say, one hundred years ago.

Yet, there are some ominous clouds rising their ugly heads over the horizon.

In Europe – which had wised up after WWII, at least temporarily, ‘differentialism’ is on the rise again.
The Cold War had ended but those who won it didn’t apply the lesson that had become evident after WWI and WWII. That the victor has to help the vanquished out of its war induced relative misery if things are to be settled for good.

For many, capitalism has become synonymous to greed.
Which is both absolutely wrong and very descriptive of the current situation.

How about us making better use of the comprehension skills for which Adam and Eve had been banished from the Paradise?
And revert to more modest manners? More helpful for our longer term survival?

Would it make any difference if I reminded you that Rome had fallen while Byzantium had survived for another millennium?
What was the difference between these two?
The people in Byzantium had converted en masse to the religion which considered people as being ‘Equal Children of the Loving God’ while the Roman emperors had continued to bribe their ‘constituents’ with ‘panem et circenses’.

“He would rather govern rich men than be rich himself; since for one man to abound in wealth and pleasure when all about him are mourning and groaning, is to be a gaoler and not a king.”

Thomas More, The Utopia.

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Vatican scrambles after pope appears to deny existence of hell.

Francis washing feet of inmates

“The controversy came as Pope Francis washed the feet of 12 prisoners at Rome’s Regina Coeli prison on Holy Thursday. Among the inmates were two Muslims, an Orthodox Christian and a Buddhist. He told them: “Everyone has the opportunity to change life and one cannot judge.”
It was the fourth time since becoming pope that he held mass in an Italian prison. “I am a sinner like you but today I represent Jesus … God never abandons us, never tires of forgiving us,” he added.”

“The Holy See issued a terse statement saying a lengthy article published in La Repubblica on Wednesday by Eugenio Scalfari, 93, the newspaper’s founder, was “the fruit of his reconstruction” and not “a faithful transcription of the Holy Father’s words”.

While the Vatican conceded that Scalfari, an atheist who struck up a friendship with Francis in 2013, had held a private meeting with the pontiff before the Easter weekend, it said an interview had not been granted.

During the meeting Scalfari asked the pope where “bad souls” go, to which he was quoted as responding: “They are not punished. Those who repent obtain God’s forgiveness and take their place among the ranks of those who contemplate him, but those who do not repent and cannot be forgiven disappear. A hell doesn’t exist, the disappearance of sinning souls exists.””

OK, and where’s the problem?

“… in 1999 Pope John Paul II announced that hell was “the ultimate consequence of sin itself … rather than a place, hell indicates the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God, the source of all life and joy”.”

Since ‘nihil sine Deo’, where’s the difference between ‘disappearing’ and ‘becoming definitively separated from God’?!?

“The Catholic church’s teachings affirm the existence of hell and its eternity, saying “the chief punishment of hell is eternal separation of God”.”

If I’m not mistaken – and I’m not, many people belonging to the same Catholic church once behaved as if sinners were able to buy ‘respite tickets from hell’, for themselves or for their friends and family…
The Council of Trent instituted severe reforms in the practice of granting indulgences, and, because of prior abuses, “in 1567 Pope Pius V canceled all grants of indulgences involving any fees or other financial transactions” (Catholic Encyclopedia). This act proved the Church’s seriousness about removing abuses from indulgences.

Humans are biased. We tend to interpret what we are told and to bend everything we learn towards what we want to believe.

How about going back to basics.

God loves us.
Simply because He had made us in His own image.
And, just like any other reasonable parent, He knows that His children are far from being perfect. Hence He must have had perfected a method to correct our transgressions.

On the other hand, eternal damnation doesn’t make much sense, does it?

What loving Father could envision any number of his children suffering till the end of time, whenever that might come?

What about a simpler alternative than trying to out-guess God?

For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.

1 Corinthians 2:11

Pope Francis’s words make a lot of sense. To me!
There’s also very little difference between his interpretation of hell and that expressed by Pope John Paul II.
How can anything continue to exist when separated from the all encompassing God?
What loving Father would give up, for good, any number of his children? Regardless of their transgressions…

Who has done this and carried it through, calling forth the generations from the beginning?

I, the Lord—with the first of them and with the last—I am he.”

Isaiah 41:4

You see, adding the fact that we’re all sinners to the possibility of an eternal hell would lead us to the conclusion that we’re all doomed. For the eternity.
If God would allow it, of course.

Doesn’t make much sense, does it?
Then how about us striving to minimize our sins here, while we still have this opportunity, and leave the rest to somebody who knows better?

At the beginning of Part I there’s a list of what we’ve accomplished during this century.
I’m going to remind you now some of the mistakes we’ve made.
Genocide, atomic bomb, global warming, widespread pollution… basically, we’ve turned the tables upon ourselves.

I had the first inkling of what’s going on when I started to compare what’s currently going on in Syria with the Spanish Civil War.
NB, even the name we use for this kind of conflict is an absolute aberration. War is, by definition, the opposite of civility. Why on Earth any of us might consider that war waged between co-nationals can be expected to be more ‘civil’ that the ‘regular brand’…

Spain and Syria have evolved in eerily similar manners. Multiple ethnic groups of multiple religious convictions have been forced by geography to coexist and to evolve together. Each of them had passed through very similar stages, albeit following different time-tables. The whole thing culminated with both of them passing, during the last century, through ‘revolutionary’ episodes. There are two small differences though.
Spain’s ‘revolution’ had taken place at the end of a turbulent period and had produced a dictatorship – Franco’s, while the Syrian one is the consequence of a dictatorship and has not yet yielded a clear result.

And why is any of this of any interest when analyzing the entire century? Except, maybe, that the two atrocious episodes have marked the start and the beginning of the said century?

Well, it’s how the rest of the world have chosen to react in each instance which I find extremely interesting.

First of all, let me remind you the broad picture in both cases.

Spain’s took place shortly after the end of WWI and immediately after the Great Depression. The most important ‘disruptive ferment’ was militant marxism and although not all of those fighting on the side of the revolutionaries adhered to this ideology the presence of the marxists had decisively shaped the reaction of the democratically elected governments of the world. They had chosen to basically stay out of it. Despite the fact that Franco was leading a rebellion and that the Republican Government had been dully elected to office.
At the beginning, France’s first socialist PM, Leon Blum, had assisted the Republicans but recanted shortly afterwards, “under pressure from Stanley Baldwin and Anthony Eden in Britain, and more right-wing members of his own cabinet”. Which, in a way, made some sense. Western Europe was frightened that communism might spread westwards and many of the Spanish Republicans were of communist persuasion. “Baldwin and Blum now called for all countries in Europe not to intervene in the Spanish Civil War. A Non-Intervention Agreement was drawn-up and was eventually signed by 27 countries including the Soviet Union, Germany and Italy. However, Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini openly ignored the agreement and sent a large amount of military aid, including troops, to General Francisco Franco and his Nationalist forces.” Stalin also ignored the agreement and send some help to the Republicans but got bored and by 1938 he practically forgot about the whole thing.
In the end, the conflict had been won by the side supported by those seeking revenge for being defeated during WWI – and for the harsh conditions imposed by the Treaty of Versailles.
That had been the ‘institutional’ reaction.
On the popular side, despite the ‘hang-over’ produced by the WWI and the Great Depression, some 60.000 volunteers from all over the world had joined the ‘fight for freedom’. The fact that they were organized by the Comintern didn’t help in the end, on the contrary, but the population at large looked at them with sympathy. Proven by the success enjoyed by the literature and art produced by some of the volunteers/sympathizers.

Guernica

 

 

 

The early believers were convinced that God’s ‘real’ name could not be uttered by their ‘mortal’ lips.

Their logic was simple. Using a single word to ‘differentiate’ something from everything else is somewhat arrogant. It implies that the ‘god-father’ knows all that there is to be known about that something – or at least enough to give credence to that naming.

As faith became stronger, so did the self confidence of those involved in the process.
When writing about their beliefs, some of them circumvented the initial shyness by using multiple names to describe the object of their adoration – hoping that in this manner they’ll get close enough to the real thing.
“To begin with, God is referred to by a number of names in the Bible—not just a single name. By some counts there are more than 20 different names for God mentioned in the Bible. And each of these names has great significance. Each one tells us something important about God—His character and how He relates to us.”
Others still stick to the ‘no name’ policy, refer to their God using a title, Allah – the ‘One and Only Who Deserves to Be Worshiped’ – instead of a ‘proper’ (?!?) name, and use a number of attributes to describe him. Such a large number of attributes as to make it evidently clear that stringing attributes is in no way enough to ‘exhaust’ the inner nature of any god. Of anything, really.
“”If We had sent down this Quran upon a mountain, you would have seen it humble itself and shatter out of fear of God.  Such are the parables which We put forward to mankind that they may reflect. He is Allah, there is no deity but He.  He is the Knower of the unseen and the seen.  He is ar-Rahman (Most Compassionate), ar-Raheem (Most Merciful).  He is Allah besides Whom there is no deity.  He is al-Malik (Sovereign), al-Quddus (Most Pure), as-Salaam (Giver of peace), al-Mumin (Giver of security), al-Muhaiman (Vigilant), al-Aziz (Migthy), al-Jabbar (Overpowering), al-Mutakabbir (Glorious).  He is pure from whatever they ascribe to Him.  He is Allah, al-Khaliq (Creator), al-Bari (Perfect Maker), al-Musawwir (Fashioner); to Him belong the most beautiful names.  Whatever is in the heavens and the earth glorifies Him.  He is al-Aziz (Mighty), al-Hakeem (Wise).” (Quran 59:21-24)”

After writing for long enough about their beliefs, the worshipers had become emboldened enough to transform their convictions into precepts. To be not only followed by the believers themselves but also imposed upon others.

And this is how various groups of people have traveled from “The Truth Shall Make You Free” to defining heresy as being the most heinous crime… so heinous that the congregations felt the need to punish it in the most eloquent manner.
Does it seem logical that heretics were burned alive, with their mental faculties intact, to give them one last chance to repent before being sent into the “eternal fire”? Could it be that burning an individual at the stake was seen as a merciful death, as a means of giving that person one last chance to save his or her soul before final damnation??? I have read that “burning at the stake was believed by some medieval authorities and scholars to liberate the sinner from his or her formerly damned state and offer some hope of salvation to the now ‘cleansed’ soul”.

After some of us have somehow survived that era, a few parts of the world have become ‘the lands of the free’.
The countries where a majority of the inhabitants believe that “your right to swing your arm leaves off where my right not to have my nose struck begins.”

It’s here that things get really interesting.

The quote defining freedom as stemming from the relation between your fist and my nose logically leads us to observe that those who define liberty in this manner are a bunch of tired, and maybe wised up, fist-fighters.
Who have finally reached the understanding that it’s better to negotiate it rather than fight over it.

‘Negotiate? What is here to be negotiated?’
‘The distance between our noses? How close am I allowed to bring mine to yours before you becoming allowed to defend your intimacy?
After all, if my nose is so far away that you’ll never be able to touch it, this particular definition of liberty ceases to make any sense while if you’re never allowed to punch mine then I’ll be able to use it to crowd you out of your own life.
And vice-versa.
Capisci?’

Which points out the cruel reality that we cannot negotiate everything.

To start any negotiation we must first have something in common.
A common language would be fine indeed but I have something else in mind.
Both sides involved in any negotiation need to share the same attitude.

This is the hardest thing to convey.
To convince the other side that you’re going to keep your end of the bargain.
Only after both sides have reached this ‘belief’, they will feel free enough to discuss the real issues.
This is where ‘religion’ comes in handy. It teaches us that all people are to be treated equally – all of them have been molded in a single cast, and that they share a spark from the same divine fire.
God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them“.

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel, which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!

Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians, 1:6-10)

 Which brings us back to the original question.

Is any liberty possible, outside the one we continuously build ourselves, through constant negotiation?
Is any bona-fide negotiation possible without a healthy dose of mutual respect among all those involved in it?
Why do we, grown-ups, still need our father to constantly remind us to stop bickering?

a-mans-ethical-behavior

 

 

(http://www.bibleinfo.com/en/questions/names-of-god)

https://www.islamreligion.com/articles/10827/chapter-59-verses-21-24/

http://biblelight.net/burn-heretics.htm

https://quoteinvestigator.com/2011/10/15/liberty-fist-nose/

http://biblehub.com/niv/galatians/1.htm

 

Let me first clear up something.
I’m an engineer. Converted to sociology, indeed, but still an engineer.
So don’t expect any fancy wording or very sophisticated philosophical considerations!

Let’s pretend, for a moment, that we’ve just arrived on this planet. Just ‘you and me’, not ‘us humans’.
Being sent by some alien civilization to see what’s going on here.
Like we, ‘the civilized people’, study the natives still living in the Amazonian forest – minimum contact and so on, no intention what-so-ever to invade the territory or any other-way purposely intervene in the natural evolution of things.

I don’t know about you, but my report would be something like this:

The most interesting aspect of the planet is the manner in which the intelligent inhabitants have evolved.
Those living in a relatively small and isolated corner of the landmass have somehow developed the most consequential culture and then imposed some very important aspects of it on most of the rest.

Even more baffling is the fact that all major religions observed on this planet start from the same tenet.

the golden rule

The only thing which singles out those who had managed to impose their culture on most the rest being that they apply the rule in a ‘pro-active’ manner.
‘Do unto others what you wish others to do unto you’ versus ‘do not do unto others what you don’t like being done unto you’. ‘Normative’ versus ‘preemptive’.

– Why are you so baffled about any of this? The universal law of evolution maintains that things which are not suitable enough for the environment where they happen to exist will eventually disappear… Each culture produces a certain civilization – modifies the environment according to its wishes/as a consequence of its mistakes, and the other cultures have to adapt/evolve to the new situation… nothing new or peculiar here…

– Nothing new, indeed, except for the fact that while most of the cultures on this planet learned to ‘live and let live’ – “do not do unto others…”, while the two most successful ones have adopted the slightly but very consequentially different “do unto others…”, a.k.a. ‘who’s not like us is against us’….

– Is there any explanation for the most aggressive attitude being the most successful one?
Until now, at least… considering that the two cultures which share the ‘do unto others what you wish to be done unto you’ attitude seem to ‘have worked themselves up’ into a rather ‘confrontational situation’… both intra and inter culturally…

– The only putative explanation I can come up with for such a divergent evolution is that Plato, the seminal intellectual figure of the ‘doers’, taught his followers not only that the world is knowable but also that he who has reached a learned state must, forcefully if necessary, lead his peers to the ‘light’ he had found while the ‘significant others’ believe that the learned ones should speak out, at their discretion, only when somebody asks them to.

.

.

– One more thing.
The immediate consequence of Plato’s teachings was that Alexander – an emperor who was tutored by Plato’s eminent student, Aristotle, had conquered most of the then civilized world only to die, untimely, a drunkard’s death… intoxicated by booze, intoxicated by power… who cares?

Farfetched?

Somebody was asking the other day on Facebook “how can you prove that a table doesn’t exist?”
The answer, ‘walk through the place where that table is supposed to stand’ is so obvious that it hurts.

So, was that table real or not?

You see, a table may exist in two kind of places. In a store/room/backyard and in the imagination/memory of the guys who designed/made/owned it. It can remain ‘in storage’ long after it was forgotten by everybody and/or can be remembered long after it was destroyed.
A tree, on the other hand, can exist – and die, without anybody ever noticing it. Or could have been lovingly planted and taken care of by somebody. Who might die even before the tree ever reaching maturity…

But how can any of us determine whether a table, or a tree, is real or not?

By attempting to walk through it, and hurting ourselves, we only determine that there’s something there. Not at all that we’d hurt ourselves by hitting a tree or a table…

OK, there’s yet another possibility.

reality figment

Dr. Pierce – who, by the way, was produced by the imagination of a screen-writer, reminds us that neurologically there’s no way of telling apart a dream/nightmare/vision from a ‘legitimate’ perception.

So.
Then it would be possible for whatever each of us perceives on a daily bases to be nothing but some-kind of an elaborate multidimensional movie. Or prank. Played on each of us by some extremely bored ‘arcade operator’. Or by a lab-technician performing some kind of an experiment… In this scenario all other people each of us has ever met would be nothing but characters imagined by the guy who had written the script/devised the experiment…
A slightly different scenario would be that our planet (the whole world?) is a theater, we are the spectators and most of what we perceive is the movie which is played on (for?) us. In this variation we are free to speak amongst us (discuss the movie?) and this would be the explanation for why our perceptions are coordinated so well. After all, all English speakers use the same word for table/tree and most of us are able to differentiate between a table and a chair. Or between a tree and a weed…

Or we could take a completely different road!
There’s a guy, Humberto Maturana, who has reached the conclusion that most humans are not simply aware but also aware of their own awareness. And that this is what really makes us human.
In fact, his ideas make a lot of sense. A dog is aware. If house trained, it will not pee inside and most of them are able to differentiate between their owners and some strangers. But it takes a fully functional human being to step outside of themselves and examine their actions/status.

Without this very self awareness, none of us would be considering ‘reality’. We’d simply walk around the table/tree or directly through the clear space and never waste a second considering whether the table/tree is real.

Or what reality really is.

In this scenario, reality is more like a table than like a tree.
It resembles a tree in the sense that it existed long before any of us ever thought about it and it is like a table in the sense that in order to consider it we need to imagine it first.

Reality exists.
In both scenarios and along both roads. It doesn’t matter whether in the first one we are fed fake sensations and led to believe whatever the screen writer wants us to believe. In order to do that, the screen writer has to exist in the first place. We also have to exist, otherwise there wouldn’t be anyone to watch the movie!
OK, maybe what we perceive has nothing to do (very little?) to the real reality. But that doesn’t mean that a certain reality doesn’t exist at all. Even in the first scenario.

Coming back to the second road, we cannot pretend that OUR reality exists outside us.
Yes, there is a reality – THE reality, which lurks somewhere outside our reach.
What we’re able learn from it, and all we’ll ever be able to learn, is what we’ll be able to imagine first.

Think of it. What do we do when we come across something new?
First we try to classify it among our memories. In fact we try to remember whether we already have a word for it. One imagined by one of our ancestors.
If not, we imagine one ourselves.
And only then we can proclaim that the new thing has been discovered. That it has become ‘real’.

 

From an atheist, that is.

Let me clear something, from the beginning.
I’m perfectly happy with the current scientific explanation of how we arrived here. OK, there still are a few gaps that need to be bridged but, on the whole, the story  seems pretty straightforward.

But, on the other hand, me – and a huge number of other, scientifically minded, people – having no need for God as an explanation doesn’t preclude God from existing nor from having caused the ‘Big Bang’ and/or intervening since. In various manners still unknown to us.

And something else.
The God we ‘know’ is a god of our own making.
All sacred texts that guide our religious life have been written by humans, all sermons are officiated by us and, also, all religiously motivated crimes, and religiously fueled heroic acts, have been ‘committed’ by some of us.
My point being that the ‘image’ that we have crafted about what some of us consider to be ‘the ultimate cause’ for everything might be far away from the one “It” has about Itself… if it exists at all, of course.

What Dawkins has to do with any of this?
Well, some 10 or so years ago he came to Bucharest and tried to convince a few of us – about 100 students and some 20 ‘academics’ in two separate conferences, I attended both, that his work is proof enough that God cannot even exist. Period.
Really?
Then what’s the difference between Dawkins and the guys who had set Giordano Bruno on fire? OK, OK, different manners of expression but the very same level of intransigence…

Anyway, I feel a lot better now that I’ve finally figured out the difference between ‘there is no need for a particular something’ and ‘that particular something cannot even exist’.

For a long time the Jewish people have written down their thoughts about the world.
At some point, about two thousands years ago, Jesus and his followers reinterpreted those ideas so new books had to be written on the same subject.
Another four centuries later the Councils of Hippo (393 AD) and Carthage ( 397) determined which of those books were to be included in what is currently known as the Bible.

The versions being circulated since were written in Latin, Hebrew, ancient Greek, Aramaic, ancient Armenian, etc.

By 1500 almost nobody but some of the priests were able to read any of them.

So Luther had decided he had to translate it. Into German.

And changed the world.

“Luther’s Bible introduced mass media, unified a nation, and set the standard for future translations.”

Since then, because modern languages are a work in progress, the Bible has been practically rewritten many times over.

Here are three versions of how Cain and Abel were born. Genesis 4:1-2.

And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the Lord.

And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.”

King James Version

Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten[a] a man with the help of the Lord.” And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground.

English Standard Version

“Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.” Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.

Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil.”

New International Version

What next? I’ve counted 106 different versions, all written in English, on a Wikipedia page…

Luther had translated it because almost no one living in his times was able to read it by themselves.
Nowadays it seems that anybody who cares about the matter, writes their own!

I was under the impression that religion was meant to bring us together…

The Tower of Babel

11 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward,[a] they found a plain in Shinar[b] and settled there.

They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel[c]—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.”

Who is scattering us now?
Why are we doing this to ourselves?

Some people believe that “racial prejudice” is “the natural human inclination … to identity (sic) with members of one’s own tribe, race or ethnic group” and “Post-racial multiculturalism is the exact but equally extreme and insane opposite of Nazi racial ideology“.

Compare this to “Religion, which should foster sisterhood and brotherhood, which should encourage tolerance, respect, compassion, peace, reconciliation, caring and sharing, has far too frequently — perversely — done the opposite. Religion has fueled alienation and conflict and has exacerbated intolerance and injustice and oppression. Some of the ghastliest atrocities have happened and are happening in the name of religion. It need not be so if we can learn the obvious: that no religion can hope to have a monopoly on God, on goodness and virtue and truth“.

What’s going on here?

Where does all this ‘confusion’ come from?

Let me start from the ‘bottom’ of it.

“No religion can hope to have a monopoly on God, on goodness and virtue and truth”.

While I fully agree with Desmond Tutu on the gist of his words I must contradict him on something very important.

Religions cannot hope at all. About anything. Anyway you look at them. No matter which definition you use, religion – all of them – is something that people do together. A common effort.
It is the individuals who are the actual doers. Who love and hate. Or hope, in this case.
Who pretend that their religion is the only true one. Or understand, as Desmond Tutu did, that each religion is yet another manifestation of God.

“Religion has fueled alienation and conflict and has exacerbated intolerance and injustice and oppression.”

Again, it was individual ‘religious’ people who have done all of those things, not religion per se.
All sacred texts have been written by human people. I can even accept that the first manuscript of each religion was directly inspired by God. Only each of them have been copied a thousand times over. And heavily editated.
Then came the individual human people who have read those texts, interpreted them, passed them on and acted upon those interpretations. Upon their convictions, actually.

And this is how “Some of the ghastliest atrocities have happened and are happening in the name of religion”. Not because of ‘religion’ but ‘in the name of religion’.
Simply as a consequence of how certain people have chosen to interpret/use religious teachings.

And not only ‘religious’ teachings.

People are able to interpret – and use in their own (perceived) advantage, every bit of information that comes their way. And now, that we have started to understand more and more about how our brain is working, the manners in which we use that information have become more and more ‘convoluted’.

“Post-racial multiculturalism … began as an understandable overreaction to Nazi racial ideology…before being consolidated by academics into an instrument of socio-political intimidation, rewards, punishments, manipulation and control, a modern, secular replacement for the power-political role of medieval church ideology.”

So.
It was the academics/priests who have done the damage. Not their religion nor the information they had at their disposal.

But why?
How come people whose religions – all of them do this – are adamant about ‘respect your neighbor’ become involved in wars?  Sometimes even in ‘religious’ wars ….
How come academics, whose very job are to teach their students to think autonomously, use their ‘rank’ in order to subdue ‘their’ file?

Could the religious warriors have something in common with the intransigent academics?

How them sharing the unbreakable conviction that they own the truth?
Forged inside the ‘echo-chambers’ where they have grouped themselves according to their specific beliefs? (No matter whether those beliefs are of a religious or ‘rational’ nature…)

Only after I had reached this point in my discourse I was able to fully appreciate Desmond Tutu’s words: ‘Religion … should encourage tolerance, respect, compassion, peace, reconciliation, caring and sharing’.

He doesn’t say anything about giving up on your own kind.
Or about leaving your roots behind.

All he actually says is ‘Be very careful. If all of you will accept to see only the same side of things you will become a herd. And while there is indeed ‘safety in numbers’ all herd members are ultimately headed for the abattoir’.

Diversity isn’t something to be forcefully, hence falsely, celebrated. Or imposed on others.

What we need to preserve, and celebrate, is our ability to ‘walk around’ the things that we encounter. To entertain, and discuss among ourselves, different – even conflictingly different – versions of what we see around us. This ability would only enhance our chances to solve the problems we’ll certainly be faced with.

‘Culture’ is nothing but layer upon layer of place-specific information which have accumulated in time while ‘religion’ is how a certain group of people have learned, again in time, to cooperate in a certain environment.
It doesn’t matter whether that ‘environment’ has been created by a God, has evolved according to Darwin’s theory or both.
What really matters is how we react – conditioned by our cultures and by our religious upbringing – to what is happening to us. Both individually and collectively.

In this sense, each culture we manage to preserve will only add to our chances of long term survival. As long as we’ll learn to sincerely respect each-other, of course.
Again, both individually and collectively.

PS.
A comment on my FB wall, “True religion is God entering history and the lives of humans and revealing Himself. All other religions are man’s attempt to explain the world around him in terms of god or attempts to control lots of other people in the name of some god“, helped me to understand that “There is ‘religion’ – the shared attitude that helps us to cooperate, and there are religions – specific ways that individual communities have traveled in order to attain that attitude.
And something else. What if ‘God entering history’ and enough of us reaching the shared understanding that it is far better to cooperate amongst us – love thy neighbor – than to fight each-other are the same thing?
How to put this understanding into practice? In the various, and continuously changing, circumstances we have to face?

How about this being the very reason for us having so many religions/cultures?

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Over reliance on ‘tradition’ and over reliance on ‘science’ (a.k.a. rational thinking).

The individual prone to falling victim to the first method is convinced that:

They has adequately framed the problem.
– The answer, to that particular problem or to one close enough so that the old answer is still usable,  has already been found and recorded in the collective archive currently known as ‘tradition’.
– They is smart enough to identify the correct answer inside that huge wealth of  rather haphazardly accumulated knowledge.

The individual prone to falling victim to the second method is convinced that:

– They has adequately framed the problem.
– The answer to that particular problem can be reached scientifically.
– They is smart enough to identify the correct answer using the scientific tools currently at their disposal or to develop new ones, if necessary.

If, on top of all this, that individual, in no matter which of the two situations described above, is so convinced of the adequacy of “their” answer as to be prepared to impose it on others, even against their will – or without telling them before starting the implementation of “the answer”, then all hell will break loose – sooner or later.

By now you have probably figured out why these two methods are ‘only apparently different’.

In fact both of them are nothing but variations of the ‘inflated ego syndrome’.
This theory has been proven by the fact that all the dictators that have ever ‘ruled the Earth’ have always been convinced they were ‘rational people’, regardless of all of them either pretending to had been ‘blessed by God’ or explaining their ‘arrival’ as a ‘natural consequence’ of Marx’s scientific/dialectic materialism and/or Nietzsche’s Will to Power.

The people suffering from this syndrome can be identified by the manner in which they react to every input they receive. If their response is either ‘No, you’re wrong about this’ or ‘Yes, I was thinking along the same lines’ but never ‘Thank you for this fresh and very interesting perspective’ then you are dealing with someone harboring a very ‘inflated’ – and usually also very jealous – ego.

This kind of people are usually very good at spearheading change but allowing any of them  to acquire any considerable amount of power is, to say the least, suicidal.

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