48 Comments


  • Very good morning read. Thank you.

    If you haven’t heard of Bill Hicks you should go and buy one of his cd’s or I can burn one for you and send it your way. He has some good rants on fundamentalism that will have you rolling on the floor. Definitely one of my all time favorite comedians.

    August 01, 2004
  • Great essay. I’ve had something percolating in my head for a while, along somewhat similar lines, in that I’m coming to believe more and more that the battle is not with conservatives, but with fundamentalists. Many conservative (and I’m using the word here in its dictionary sense, not in its U.S. political label sense) viewpoints — stable families, a non-permissive approach to crime, aggressive defense of the homeland — are good for society. It’s religious fundamentalists and their allies on the American right who translate those to gay-bashing, racism and pre-emptive war. The political debate is often framed as if we have a choice between everyone being able to do whatever they like, and everyone being marched to the Baptist church at bible-point. Neither is healthy.

    The “fundamentalists” of the left (by which I mean those who prefer to give up any significant self-questioning and who would like to force you and I to give it up as well) can be as irritating. I have less and less patience with true believers of any stripe. I think if we could somehow create a country of people who read books, think for themselves, and are secure and happy enough not to spend most of their time worrying about the motes in other people’s eyes, this would be a healthy society, even with as wide a divergence of political viewpoints as we have now.

    Finally religion and intoxicants are not the only things that every culture invents. There’s also music, the basics of which do not change despite cultural differences in scales and harmony. It’s the closest thing we have to a universal language.

    August 01, 2004
  • Bill Hicks (Noting it down.) Thanks, glad you liked the essay. I see it inspired (no pun intended) a theistic quiz in your blog. Not surprisingly, this was my result:

    Take the quiz: “WHAT RELIGION BESTS SUITS YOU?”

    August 01, 2004
  • You’re right, of course: the extremes on the left and right force the political dialogue into an either-or mold. Prior to this administration, however, the realities of governance forced presidents (if not Congress) to act much more pragmatically than their rhetoric indicated. What makes Bush and his fellow travelers so dangerous is that they really are true believers.

    …religion and intoxicants are not the only things that every culture invents. There’s also music…

    My initial response was “Of course!” but I’m not sure if that’s true. I remember reading something about the Yanomami people of the Amazon basin regarding their lack of music—even drumming. I never followed up on it, however: I may well be wrong. It does seem that music is a natural, maybe unavoidable, outgrowth of language.

    August 01, 2004
  • PS

    Great Op-Ed piece in the Times this morning, Breaking the Silence, by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., about the false dichotomy of racism vs. personal responsibility.

    August 01, 2004
  • Oooh! Great essay! Great Essay!

    Please! Don’t reinforce his tendency toward meglomania. He’s already all, I have opposable thumbs and you don’t. I’m going to have to spend the whole day hearing about the alleged superiority of bipeds—don’t forget, you hairless wonder, chickens are bipeds, too!

    August 01, 2004
  • Oooh, read Sock by Penn Jillette. Despite the fact that the narrator is a sock monkey, it’s an impressively thoughtful commentary on this stuff. No, really.

    Thanks for the read. Weirdly, the more research I do into the Enlightenment, the more atheistic I become.

    August 01, 2004
  • … and I got:

    “Agnostic
    “You’ve probably studied loads of different religions, but you’re just not sure if any of it is true. Evolution makes some sense to you, but it doesn’t satisfy you. Lastly, your personality is one of question, but you won’t go out of your way to find -The Truth- It’s more of a hobby.”

    Great essay, and I agree that religious fundamentalism is perhaps the greatest source of evil in our world. But agnostically seeking transcendence does not preclude a rational search for meaning (whatever that means) or methods to transcend simple human existence. I believe that humanity will, ultimately, discover a technological means for the species to transcend ourselves… in some ways, perhaps we already have. Any tool from screwdriver to cell phone makes us greater than we are. That’s why motorcycle riding feels so good, or blowing up skyscrapers: We become far more powerful than individual humans. Now if we can only use that power for bringing the species together.

    Hmmm….

    Chris

    August 01, 2004
  • Word, sister.

    Me-ow,
    Sanju

    August 01, 2004
  • Okay, I’ve resigned myself to the idea that I’m going to read a book narrated by a sock monkey (ordered it already).

    Weirdly, the more research I do into the Enlightenment, the more atheistic I become.

    Why is that weird? It seems to me the likely reaction. Why are you reading up on the Enlightenment: just your usual eclectic grazing, or is it research?

    August 02, 2004
  • Thanks. I’m not sure if I mean “transcendence” in the same way you do: as being larger than ourselves, or more powerful. I mean it more in the way of feeling deeply connected to other people and the universe. In that way, I think technology is as often a hindrance as a help. After all (he points out recursively), I’m typing these words on a computer while I sit alone in my office, rather than connecting with another person face-to-face. Admittedly this is a connection, but it’s not the same as personal contact.

    August 02, 2004
  • That quiz sucks. No room for Buddhists.

    August 02, 2004
  • Well, “being larger than ourselves, or more powerful” is only one way of transcending normal existence. Emotional or spiritual transcendence (or communion) is something else entirely, not usually attainable by technological needs… but we can’t dismiss this urge, because it points to something within us that needs to be fulfilled. Religion works for some, but it seems just plain silly to many of us — especially fundamentalism. But I don’t doubt people are working on a technological solution to this problem at this very moment.

    By the way, I feel much closer to a lot of people I know because of things like LiveJournal, because I’m terrible at using the phone and simply can’t see everyone I care about on a regular basis. So this is an example of tech helping connect people!

    Best,
    Chris

    August 02, 2004
  • It’s for the book she’s currently working on. Divergent from the previous Japan books.

    Chris

    August 02, 2004
  • You did a great job with this, Bob- you sound confident without sounding arrogant. You had a tough variety of subsets to cover in order to properly identify the “mind virus”, and I admire your courage in admitting that perhaps religion can serve our own (seemingly) inherent needs, rather than religion transforming and perverting what would otherwise be a perfectly rational mind.

    August 02, 2004
  • Of course, I’m not endorsing religion—merely saying it works for some (many) people.

    I know you’re a big fan of LJ because it’s a kind of social network. I agree, and it’s why I’m here, too (partly at your urging). But if you think about connections to people, phone is less intimate than face-to-face; e-mail less intimate than phone; and a public blog less intimate than e-mail.

    August 02, 2004
  • Or Hindus and Zoroastrians.

    August 02, 2004
  • Ah, I thought it was a bit off the reservation.

    August 02, 2004
  • Thank you—I’m glad it worked for you. I’ve never been accused of having a perfect nor rational mind. The police will be calling you first when I need a character reference.

    By the way, that is one frightening picture. Do you think she’s cooking babies? Pre-K consumme: it’s a good thing.

    August 02, 2004
  • True.

    Is Buddhism a religion “of the book?”

    [puzzled]What does that phrase mean?[/puzzled]

    August 03, 2004
  • I used that icon because I thought you’d be more receptive to praise if it came from an icon of authority. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    August 03, 2004
  • I would say it’s a different kind of intimacy.

    It’s certainly less intimate in the sexual sense.

    However, LJ (or whatever digital correspondance you wish to reference) can/does create a sense of closeness between people around certain things.

    Knowing that you are a friend of Kij and Chris certainly helps me think that you and I could have a meaningful interaction in person, or even in this medium.

    For instance, a week ago I barely knew you, and today I feel as though I could sit across from you at a table for at least an hour, before I’d want to pluck out one of your eyeballs. That’s certainly bringing us closer together… despite the fact that we are indeed strangers.

    August 03, 2004
  • The “religions of the book” are the three monotheistic faiths (in order of appearance): Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Their respective books are: the Torah (first five books of what Christians call the Old Testament); the Christian Bible (old and new testaments); and the Koran.

    Buddhism has scriptures, of course, as does Hinduism, but Judaism, Christianity and Islam all come from the same tradition (Jesus appears in the Koran, for example, but he is not god, merely a prophet). The books of these three faiths are supposed to be the exact word of god as written down by his servants.

    August 03, 2004
  • For instance, a week ago I barely knew you, and today I feel as though I could sit across from you at a table for at least an hour, before I’d want to pluck out one of your eyeballs.

    Okay, here’s a perfect example of what I’m saying: in person I’d have your full affect to judge this by: facial expression, body language, and tone of voice. On the phone I’d have your tone of voice. On LJ I have to guess from the context alone that you’re making a joke. Of course I’m pretty confident that you’re being playful, since there hasn’t been any hostility between us.

    And of course Kij and Chris do know me in person—a sort of real-world referral.

    August 03, 2004
  • Hah! I think Martha is less an icon of authority than an icon of twitchy-angry-control-freakiness. The compliment means much more coming from you, despite your inability to build your own Thanksgiving table from coconut husks and caramelized sugar.

    August 03, 2004
  • Well, that was sweet of you, Bob. I wasn’t baiting for such kindness, though I do laugh quite a bit whenever I drag ol’ Martha out and perhaps-maybe-kinda was baiting you to go off on an angry rant.

    All ulterior motives aside, she cheapens the fine work you’ve done with this, and so no Martha unless she is context-appropriate. ๐Ÿ™‚

    August 03, 2004
  • Well, it’s surprises me, because of the frequent references to God or the Prime Mover or Providence. But it does make sense: this was the first time European culture thought about the world as an entity independent of the divine, and their baby steps into a new way of thinking are easier to follow than the more complicated work of later scientists and philosophers.

    August 03, 2004
  • A fraggle, however, is always appropriate. Like pearls. Or camouflage.

    August 03, 2004
  • (Sigh)…Yes, he is silly, isn’t he? I must admit to that. I will get a better icon, though- you are right.

    August 03, 2004
  • Oh, I think he’s cute! I love all your icons — they run the gamut, don’t they?

    August 03, 2004
  • My poor friend Andrew, who got trapped in a dirty paintgun fight with a bunch of God-fearin’ (and evolutionarily well-adapted) Republicans in the New Jersey woods during the bachelor party from hell last weekend, would no doubt argue about the camouflage. But that’s just him.

    August 03, 2004
  • That is quite a compliment; thank you for the kind words. It’s quite a compliment not because I made the icons myself (I didn’t), but because your own user photo collection is so impressive. You have a stunning monkey in there (in fact I love BOTH monkeys), and your avatar is very pretty, as well.

    August 03, 2004
  • Bachelor party from hell? I’ve never even been to a tame bachelor party. Tell us everything!!

    August 03, 2004
  • Do you think loneliness, even existential loneliness, breeds our tendency to seek out religious or spiritual paths more so than even, say, poverty?

    August 03, 2004
  • Oh, god, I don’t know. I don’t know how you’d go about comparing the reasons why people turn to religion. According to biologist Richard Dawkins, the top reason why people turn to religion is because they’re infected by their parents. I’m not so sure.

    This is one of those questions that makes me wish I was an academic researcher: I have a gut feeling that capacity of the human brain (and maybe other great apes’ brains) for self-awareness sets the stage for belief in a supernatural being or beings. It’s been postulated that the voice of god as recorded by Bronze Age prophets is really the emergence of human consciousness. I’m fascinated by that speculation, but there’s no way we can ever confirm or discount that speculation scientifically; we cant’s unbake the cake of human consciousness, so to speak.

    August 03, 2004
  • Oh, I see what you mean. I reflexively associate the Enlightenment with the scientific method, a mechanical universe, and a diminished role for the hand of god. You’re reading about that point of view’s birthing pains, so the question of god and his works is omnipresent, so to speak.

    August 03, 2004
  • DO NOT BAIT THE BOB

    I wasn’t baiting for such kindness, though I do laugh quite a bit whenever I drag ol’ Martha out and perhaps-maybe-kinda was baiting you to go off on an angry rant.

    No, no, I appreciate the opening to riff on Martha Stewart, or as she’s known in this house, Woman Without Shame. But thanks again for the compliments, and the chance to mock a woman so self-absorbed that she creates a partial vacuum indoors.

    August 03, 2004
  • The Rules

    A fraggle, however, is always appropriate. Like pearls. Or camouflage.

    *Laughing* Ah, The Rules. I have to dig up a copy and post them here.

    August 03, 2004
  • That’s what I thought, but I wanted to be sure. ๐Ÿ™‚

    August 04, 2004
  • Real Life referrals are the best kind. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Yes, it is a joke. I could have made it even more clear by hokey tactics like using an emoticon ;P
    or [joke][/joke] tags etc. I figured you’d know that I was joking. Hence, the sense that we are building a sense of intimacy.

    I fully agree that it’s not the same in person, or on the phone, but to say that it’s not intimacy at all I think is fallacious. It is a particular kind of intimacy.

    Don’t forget, Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett fell in love and decided to marry strictly because of their written correspondance. The Internet, in some respects, is the modern-day equivalent.

    However, I will state on-record that a true friendship or relationship cannot be solely conducted online. At some point it needs to go into RL. Otherwise it will always retain a certain casual element that’s only attainable through a mostly anonymous medium. Even letter writing does not have that element… at least then you have a physical address.

    August 04, 2004
  • Monkeys rule. The only thing you could add to your collection are a few monkey avatars, and then it would be perfect.

    August 04, 2004
  • I’m glad my eyeballs are safe at any future RL meeting.

    I fully agree that it’s not the same in person, or on the phone, but to say that it’s not intimacy at all I think is fallacious.

    Well, I wasn’t making such an either-or statement: I was more thinking in degrees of intimacy. I think we agree here. We certainly agree that “…a true friendship or relationship cannot be solely conducted online.”

    August 05, 2004
  • Yes, monkeys make a nice salad. I recommend olive oil and red wine vinegar dressing.

    August 05, 2004
  • Yep. We agree.

    (Oh, dear. We must not let that happen again!)

    ;-p

    And a good morning to you, sir!

    August 05, 2004
  • You’re right: we must never agree again.

    August 06, 2004
  • Ah!

    ‘Twas an ancient post! And well said. I prefer a generally “if it works for you” approach to (non)spirituality. As noted in my very recent thingy on the Religions of the Book, some seem more virulently anti-life than others. I refer to my own approach, in a ridiculously short and pithy phrase, as “scientific theism”. Aleister Crowley’s doggerel says it best: “Our method is Science, our aim is Religion!” I’ve practiced some of the techniques associated with ritual magic and paganism, and had good results. Much like RAW, though, I don’t see the question of whether the entities or energies invoked are “really real” (i.e. non-human, divine, ultraterrestrial, etc) as relevant. To me, it’s yet another way to deal intentionally with the intuitive side of human experience. I tend to favor the interpretation that religion originally grew out of magick, and, whereas magick always recognizes the subjectivity of experience, religion tried to generalize overbroadly and pronounce on things which by their nature have no True Form.

    An interesting difference, btw, between pagan religions and the Big Three of the Book, is that pagans tend merely to be concerned with orthopraxis (right practice) versus orthodoxy (right doctrine). This highlights the “community” aspect of religion quite well. The feeling in a system of orthopraxy is that “if you want to join our communal spiritual experience, you ought to respect our particular ways of doing it.” I believe fascinating insights are available when we compare this with the orthodoxy-based religions. But again, a long, long post would be required. ๐Ÿ™‚

    December 01, 2004
  • fer the heck of it…

    Take the quiz: “WHAT RELIGION BESTS SUITS YOU?”

    Agnostic
    You’ve probably studied loads of different religions, but you’re just not sure if any of it is true. Evolution makes some sense to you, but it doesn’t satisfy you. Lastly, your personality is one of question, but you won’t go out of your way to find -The Truth- It’s more of a hobby.

    December 01, 2004
  • Re: fer the heck of it…

    I’ve posted this before, but it bears repeating (if only because it makes me laugh every time):

    What do you get when you cross an agnostic, a dyslexic, and an insomniac?

    Someone who stays up all night wondering if there is a dog.

    December 08, 2004

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