Robert C. Priddy

Writings on diverse themes from philosophy, psychology to literature and criticism

  • Robert Priddy


    In this blog I post information and critical views concerning ideologies, belief systems and related scientific materials etc. I am a retired philosophy lecturer and researcher, born 1936.

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Investigating scriptural truth

Posted by robertpriddy on March 20, 2014

All ancient scriptures like the Vedas, The Bible, The Hadith, the Quran and so on were written and put together when human civilisation had not progressed very far in development of information or refinement of the cognitive faculties. Writing as recorded language was a most uncommon occurrence, and even those reading texts were very few and far between. Copying was the only means of reproduction and it was prone to error. Only modern printing developed by Gutenberg in Europe made texts at all widely available. The tools of serious literature such as editing, correcting, reviewing and translating were yet in early infancy, if done at all. Those considered sages in the late Bronze Age had no systematic knowledge and could only guess at answers to a vast range of questions that arise for thinking beings. Therefore no one of historical, anthropological and semantical insight can put much faith whatever in such scriptures other than as fables, the works of a moralising priesthood trying to control and regulate to some extent the huge vagaries of humans, nature, life and death. 

The ‘knowledge is power’ motive certainly very often played a major role in the constant human struggles of survival and dominance through religious ritual and beliefs. The same applies today, no doubt, both in secular and religious contexts, though the levels and extent of knowledge and of possible power have changed beyond all recognition. Likewise today, the pretence of knowledge – the mere belief (that one ‘knows’ truths) can also be an instrument of considerable social power, but one incapable of contesting seriously and reasonably with science. The vast and accelerating growth of objectively testable knowledge – based on proper observation, science and reason – has achieved a status which is beyond the power of all belief systems to shake fundamentally. One proof of the pudding which secures this kind of knowledge is the modern unavoidability of technology, which is dependent on scientific knowledge.

One way in which knowledge progresses is by discovering inconsistencies, illogicality and irrationalism. Any system of knowledge, any philosophy, must be rational and logical in order for it to be consistent if it is to reflect truth. Subjecting statements which go to make up a system to observation, testing and empirical methods wherever this is possible – assuming that the statements assert some alleged fact or state of affairs. By contrast, the rigid and traditional views in most religions that their particular scriptures state the truth, God’s infallible word etc., are too unreasonable and unsupportable by knowledge to consider seriously in any serious truth-seeking debate.

The scriptures of religion cast a spell, which should be broken. It has created commandments and taboos way over and above what is fruitful for the best functioning of mankind. Leaving people to their own superstitions without a word of criticism, however abject the beliefs, is not right or beneficial either for them or for those whom they affect.

That mankind would not know right from wrong without a supernatural, celestial dictatorship is an unsupportable thesis, both on empirical, rational and common-sense ground. A supposed divine creator which hides itself behind layers of personal superstition and illusion based on ancient flawed scriptures is not credible at all. God perceived in a glass darkly, and inscrutable, unaccountable, and irresponsible is an indictment of religions everywhere. Where that God is ‘recognised’ as being extremely cruel, revengeful and a jealous being… or having created inhuman punishments and even an eternal hell for unbelievers and ‘sinners’ it becomes irrational to an extreme degree, if not the result of patent control-seeking dishonesty to manipulate their anxieties and fears.

Religionists are ever speaking of the arrogance of scientists because they insist that everything that can be known will eventually be explainable by science  Yet they exhibit a breathtaking arrogance themselves, claiming to know that God exists – based entirely on subjective speculation and faith (which is blind by definition as it is not knowledge at all), and even that they know God. Though they speak of humility before God, there is no discourse in human culture which enforces humility more rigorously than science – humility before the facts. Scientists are the first to admit when there is something the do not know with a high degree of likelihood.  They will often reply to questions that “it is not my speciality”, but that kind of humble reservation of judgement is seldom heard from promoters of religion.

Constant reading and chanting of scriptures, the recitation of prayers and ‘mantras’, performance of endless ineffective rituals, and meditation of holy figures, deities, god and oneself have the function of closing the mind, deadening and even debilitating it, which last is even made a great virtue by some religions like Hinduism.

Religions preach about mythical figures and their doings as if they really had existed, or even still exist in some imperceptible realm. They seldom make clear that a scriptual tale is only metaphorical or a mere parable, and almost never refer to historical researches (which invariably show that the authenticity of reports are far from certain or genuine). Faith is built on a mesmerising mix of ‘stories’, unfounded accounts of events, doubtful and unclear or unworkable divine commandments and so forth. Such is the case, for example, Adam and Eve and countless other Biblical figures, and it is the very basis of many Hindu stories about Rama, Krishna and a galaxy of other figures in legends and myths of ancient scripture which are taken as literal truth by most of the Hindu population.

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Mediumism gradually undermined by science

Posted by robertpriddy on February 24, 2014

There are countless instances in history ancient and modern of persons claiming that God or other ‘spirits’ speak through them, and that they are merely instruments of ‘divine will’. Among those who profess powerful convictions about divinity, many claim they are ‘hearing voices’, whether that of God or other entities. The phenomenon of ‘speaking in tongues’ is also alleged in some sects to be divinely inspired wisdom, though it is often sounds entirely  unintelligible to the non-initiated. The suspicion is easily aroused that,  by some ‘sleight of mind’, the claimants are deceiving themselves and/or others. By disclaiming wilful intention,  they may say whatever they want while denying responsibility for it. There can be many and diverse motives for such a deception, from simply  impressing others to trying to overthrow existing powers-that-be.  Historically, many mediums who claimed that spirits were speaking through them were exposed as fraudulent. Notable instances were those of the production of spiritual ‘protoplasm’, of instruments being played and so forth in seances in the dark rooms.  It is well recorded that such duplicity can arise from personality disturbances involving cognitive and emotional confusions, or vague intuitions and subliminal perceptions the medium over-interprets and dramatizes. They may really believe that what in fact are their own ideas or convictions and show signs of forgetting afterwards what was uttered by them, indicating neurological pathology which may be represented as some kind of split mind or dual personality. Thus to hide behind an assumed ‘other entity’ may also imply chronic character weakness in lacking the self-confidence simply to be themselves. Meanwhile, ‘hearing voices’ is a phenomenon that many claim they suffer from badly and an international organisation ‘Hearing Voices’ attempts to explore the many aspects of the matter and seek answers and solutions. Many mediums doubtless have problems about personal identity, multiple personality role problems or even outright schizophrenia.  Though the existence of a pathology called ‘schizophrenia’ is contested due to vague definitions, false assumptions and other reasons, there is good evidence that some of the population from which it was derived were suffering from a later-identified neurological disorder.

Many explanations for such behaviour have been put through the ages. In early times, visitations from the dead, hearing voices, ‘speaking in tongues’ and the like were probably easily believed to be the actual work of spirits, deities, or demons. In more modern times it was popular to attribute such phenomena to nature spirits in a throwback to paganism. However, these beliefs are still widespread in mainstream religion, such as in Hinduism, Islam and not least Roman Catholicism and other Christian sects. Religions all assert a ‘spiritual realm’ and this is often taken to be an astral realm (or akasha) wherein supposed disembodied entities in astral form that can enliven ‘dead thoughts’ from mental remnants of departed persons or create images, sounds, visions, apports, and even manifest actual objects. These spirit entities have been grouped together as ‘elemental nature spirits’.  However, apart from accepting that mediums are actually delivering messages from divine beings (as in Mohammed’s outpourings or Swedenborg’s writings), and apart from the belief in ‘demonic possession’, it has also widely and increasingly been put down to psychological disturbances or what is roughly defined as  ‘mental illness’. In schizophrenia, for example, hearing voices, it is a quite common symptom (‘auditory hallucination’) and the voices can be many, frequent and very insistent. 

To attempt to contact or ‘channel’ such sources – a popular pastime or ‘spiritual’  investigation in New Age communities – often leads to experiences which seem to the participants to have a supernatural origin of some kind. The calling up of spirits through the ouija board  legible text, taken as answers to questions. The exact details of how the mind produces such effects as ‘voices’ are not known, but however fascinating alleged paranormal phenomena of these kinds may be and however genuine they may seem, there is no decisive evidence so far to show that they are not products of the human mind and imagination (with subconscious input). It has further been shown that hearing voices can arise through neurological misinterpretation of signals and their origin (i.e. within or outside the brain - see Neurology throws light on ‘hearing God’s word’, ‘channelling’. All in all, the progress of the sciences in researching mediumism and other psychic paranormal phenomena is slow compared with advances in other fields concerned to understand the complexity and effects of brain power. Since it is hardly 100 years since the natural sciences showed any interest in investigating paranormal claims, such as by the physicist Sir Oliver Lodge, and the issues have so far remained relatively peripheral to the main concerns of humanity, parapsychology not being a priority of present aims in the relevant sciences. However, in the last few decades, the technological advances in instruments like Magnetic Resonance Imaging (which now can study the brain at the microscopic level in real-time) and much more are making it likely that such claims may be resolved definitively.

It has also been clearly shown by constructed experiments that fictional entities created for the experiment can just as easily be contacted and give answers etc.  Such a proof was provided by an experiment by Derren Brown on BBC TV in which a complete recreation of a Victorian-type spiritualist seance with events such as smashing wineglasses, ringing bells, ouija phenomena and the fear reactions of  (and later relief) of the participants, twelve students, picked from volunteers at Universities around UK. Use of hidden cameras exposed the actual causes of the phenomena, which were entirely unknown to the chosen volunteer who acted as medium.All was set up in advance and all done through Derren Brown’s psychological suggestions, as he explained in detail afterwards.

The proof was also shown by the famous 1970s ‘Philip experiment’ in Canada:- See (Create a ghost – How to create a ghost – Paranormal Phenomena   http://paranormal.about.com/od/ghosthuntinggeninfo/a/create-a-ghost.htm

The Philip Experiment – documentary and footage Part of a documentary and actual footage from the Philip Experiment. http://paranormal.about.com/od/Ghost_Videos/v/the-philip-experiment-video.htm)

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Belief in denial

Posted by robertpriddy on February 1, 2014

When one has developed and nurtured a belief or system of such for some time, it is psychologically harder to give it up that to retain it, and even in the face of the most destructive facts. Religions in the modern world are such beliefs. So how does such denial work? Quite simple for some people, due to a certain feature of our brains, it appears:-

Denials are nothing more than a statement with a ‘not’ tagged on, and it’s often the statement rather than the ‘not’ that seeps into the brain.”

In ‘A Mind of its Own‘ by Cordelia Fine (Icon Books) she refers to the human brain. She compares the subconscious to a butler who carries out everyday duties so that our conscious minds can concentrate on more elevated stuff. The problem is that, like many of the best butlers, the brain keeps its master happy by scheming and concealing the truth from him. We are predisposed to believe what we want to believe. So “evidence that fits with our beliefs is quickly waved through the mental border control“, while “counter-evidence must submit to close interrogation and even then will probably not be allowed in“. The moral: we should keep our mental butlers in check… not be a defenceless martyr to the fictions of the brain, and watch out in particular for its instinctive bigotry, which leads us to jump to conclusions about other people.

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Creation from nothing or something – how, by what or who?

Posted by robertpriddy on January 7, 2014

The nature of the debate between science and theology on the issue of creation of the universe, as presented in the media since atheists and agnostics took an activist stance (as propounded by Dawkins, Hitchens and an increasing number of others), and by diverse new defenders of theism who argue against the atheists, revolves around the concepts of ‘nothing’ and ‘God’.

The crux of debate about the origin of the universe is whether something can arise spontaneously from nothing; that the Big Bang was a contingent event, without any cause such as an ‘uncreated creator’. The central concept that receives little or no attention in this debate is ‘nothing’. By definition, nothing cannot exist. How then do we then even arrive at the idea of nothing?

The word ‘nothing’ is simply a contraction of ‘no thing’. This shows that there is no positive conception of nothing, only an idea of the absence of some thing or other, or of all things (and, if one prefers, of all matter and energy). Thus, nothing is not an empirical concept, there is no basis for it in experience, only in the interpretation of perception… the deduction that something is not present (where it was expected to be).

On the BBC programme “The God Question – the Cosmos” it was held by Dr. John Lennox that theologians that the choice between God or science is a false dualism since the Big Bang creation ‘from nothing’ is acceptable both to science and theology, but that God, not science, put the universe there, being ‘Himself uncreated’. This idea he did not bother to explain (just as he did not explain how “The fact is that there is a God watching means that there’s going to be justice”). An unidentified Muslim on the BBC programme claimed that “The question ‘Who made God?’ is actually an illogical question.” He did not demonstrate or give any context to explain how a question could be illogical, however, he simply asserted it. So much for his logic.

All who would argue that the universe was created from nothing by an ‘uncreated creator’, are appealing to nothing as a precondition of existence. The only alternative is that the universe was created from something prior to the Big Bang, which obviates the idea of its creation from nothing.  When theists insist that it was created by God and define God as ‘uncreated’, they simply mystify the issue yet further, as whatever was never created evidently cannot exist. To assert it could while lacking all evidence of the possibility is totally illogical (and totally not empirical, of course)… so it appears as sheer mental stubbornness. By that measure, the universe, created from nothing by God, logically makes God nothing too.

The question remains unanswerable with any certainty, but so did countless other questions until science came along and gradually wrestled with them. It may take a long time, but science has shown that no one can impose a limit on what it can learn and know in the future. It may take a long time to explain apparent creation from nothing, meanwhile the futility of claiming any knowledge that an omnipotent God did that continues unabated…

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Erlendur Haraldsson, the failed investigator of Sai Baba fraud

Posted by robertpriddy on November 27, 2013

Parapsychology is known to be a ‘flukey science’ at the best of times. Those who pursue it are invariably interested in finding proof of psychic powers, but – failing proof positive – the most serious of them will publish the failure to prove such, and also to discover fraud. The now elderly Icelandic parapsychologist – previously a teacher of experimental psychology at Rekjavik University, Dr. Erlendur Haraldsson, set about the more attractive task of investigating most extraordinary claims of miraculous powers. He heard of Sathya Sai Baba and visited him in Andhra Pradesh, India, to observe his ‘miraculous manifestations’. He and his companion were told they could not carry out any tests or experiments but Haraldsson was nonetheless obviously impressed enough to return to India and carry out indirect investigations into these powers, including alleged resurrection from the dead, bi-location and so forth.

The only negative result he then considered conclusive was that Sai Baba had never resurrected a person he claimed to have, visiting doctors and others involved in the hospitalisation for a heart attack of the US millionaire, Walter Cowan. He assured himself from interviews and documents that there had been no death nor any death certificate issued etc. This did apparently not suggest to him that similar deceit was used in ‘materialisations’. Having had a few cursory talks with magicians, Haraldsson – who can perform no magic tricks himself – was not well-prepared to uncover the many possible methods by which illusion and fraud is achieved. Long training in many methods of deception, sleight-of-hand and other techniques is required, and I know from personal contact that Haraldsson could show very little knowledge of these matters. 

However, no proper investigation was at all possible regarding the countless other reported miracles, nor was anything remotely like a scientific experiment or approach possible. To prove that a materialisation was genuine would be well nigh impossible in any event, and to have done so would have virtually been to support the claim of Sathya Sai Baba that it was a ‘divine miracle’ as every devotee rigorously held it to be. Rather an awkward dilemma! Since Sai Baba’s claims were so tremendous, backed up by a host of devotees, Haraldsson decided on a questionnaire survey of the claims, backed up by interviews with those persons he could find who would speak for Sai Baba’s claims. Haraldsson saw his chance to emerge from academic obscurity by publishing a book dwelling much of the sensational claims and finding a publisher which differed from those accepting the huge hagiographical literature. He took pains to try to achieve a neutral stance towards the miracles, yet his entire method was based on testimony, and the testimony of persons who nearly all held quite extreme mythological-based views on the nature of the world, reality and Sathya Sai Baba, ‘the self-proclaimed avatar of the age’ and saviour of mankind. The book sold excellently in plenty of translations too, not least among the apparently countless followers of Sai Baba who, though they rejected its critical and highly embarrassing parts (and conveniently overlooked that), appealed to them because of the catalogue of reports of utterly amazing – some unprecedentedly incredible – miracles.

The story does not end there. Haraldsson continued to visit Prashanthi Nilayam, the ashram of Sai Baba, at intervals but he was not able to do more than observe for shortish periods (a couple of days) and then mostly from a distance as Sai Baba purported to ‘materialise’ holy ash and the occasional ring or locket etc. for followers. He was never granted any closer relationship, merely a few interviews in all, such as after this book came out, where Sai Baba told him in an interview that he was using the entirely wrong method of investigating Swami’, the self-proclaimed Creator of the Universe, Deity to all deities (etc. ad. inf.) Instead of ‘going to the market place’ to ask people who had bad memories, perceptions and so on, he should deepen himself in the mystery and love of Sai Baba. This is supposedly done through spiritual practices like singing His Name joyously, praying for enlightenment, doing service to others, meditating and such like. Haraldsson, a rather dry academic, was definitely not cut out for such a role, so it had only a limited effect on him at best. This I know from having shared many long hours of conversation and extensive e-mail contact with Haraldsson from 1988 until 2001, on several occasions when we were together in India at the ashram, more often when he visited Oslo, and our home on numerous occasions. He was unwilling to up-date his writings on the basis of the mass of information I provided to him of fraud, deception and unpunished crimes by Sai Baba, saying his ‘time was too precious’ to take on the matter any more.

To cut the story short for the present purpose, one can read in detail of all these events and the development whereby I found it necessary after holding back for over a decade, to expose Haraldsson’s claims of neutrality and his lack of duty of care through his unreported knowledge of sexual abuses by Sai Baba - documented with e-mail exchanges we had. He responded to this by deciding to revise his book (‘Modern Miracles’), totally avoiding all the mass of testimony of fraud and worse that is available – and contact with many of the testifiers still being available through myself – and going to Puttaparthi to see what more he could learn for a new edition of his profitable book. Naturally, they knew he was coming and were more than ready to handle him, which is evident from various instances of his adopting their disinformation and not letting him realise the nature of the extreme criticism under which Sai Baba’s reputation labours, also from many disaffected Indians. Haraldsson spent but a tiny fraction of the time with Sai Baba that a dozen of his closest Western followers did, those who left him due to his fraud, deception and crimes. Haraldsson totally ignored this and the thousands who have left Sai Baba since then, even though I told him regularly of those events. So the ‘scientist’ showed himself to be most unscientific in not even considering the ‘negative instances’ to his hypothesis, which still is that Sai Baba cannot be shown to have used fraud, not can it be proven that his materialisation miracles were genuine – these being the be-all-and-end-all of his narrow focus, while countless huge Sai Baba deceptions and lies have been proven definitively!

On the devious update of ‘Miracles are My Visiting Cards’ by Dr. E. Haraldsson

Miracles as Sai Baba’s ‘Visiting Cards’?

for a fuller account of  the history of Haraldsson’s Sai Baba involvements see http://www.saibaba-x.org.uk/30/Haraldsson.html 

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The mind in evolution, brain-dependent and temporary

Posted by robertpriddy on November 16, 2013

Modern neurological science has established that the human mind, including memory, is not permanently the same. It develops, changes and can lose many or all its functions due to diseases or brain injuries. No such thing as ‘mind atoms’ have every been discovered. Instead, the mind is a vastly complex network of neural connections between neurons (which are much larger and more composite than atoms) and interactions within an electro-magnetic field. These connections can either grow and become more secure through reinforcement through memorising and perceiving, or they can weaken and disappear. The mind is therefore no fixed entity but a complex of electro-magnetically induced connections between its neurons, which decompose after death.

Modern neurobiology supports the view that the mind is a manifestation of brain activity and is inseparable from it. This view is underpinned by extensive new knowledge which has been obtained from MRI and CAT scanning. We know the specific areas where various kinds of mental activity are processed. Whenever we have a damaged brain, thoughts or recognition which are normally found associated with the damaged area, cease to exist. There is no hard evidence anywhere of the existence of conscious mental activity except in relation to the living brain.” Dr. Peter T. Chopping. Chopping regards the human mind is the product of evolution is virtually indisputable (See A.G. Cairns-Smith – “Evolving the Mind.”) and it takes a real part in decision-making – it moves the limbs etc. and all that follows. That neural activity which activates begins before the decision to move enters consciousness can be due to an ‘editing process’ before making the decision final (a process as is shown in the much researched Phi phenomenon).

Of the four fields of force (strong and weak nuclear, gravity and electromagnetismThe only possible mover of the power of the mind is the electromagnetic force, which combines the electrostatic with the magnetic (including electromagnetic radiation). No other force is known to physics, and can therefore contribute any better understanding. Chopping also considers at length the problem of the ‘gap’ between classical physics and quantum theory, which may affect the issue, and he defends the contention that animals have consciousness, their evolutionary chain correspmding to levels of complexity of consciouness. He discusses the Hebbian properties in neurons and how the neural structure exhibited by the learning process appears to have developed from these properties. The brains of higher organism – especially homo sapiens – have several different orders of consciousness, which experimental evidence confirms and he considers “that the most significant consciousness is dependent on the magnetic fields generated by oscillating neural loops and that there are emergent properties associated with alternating magnetic fields the nature of which we do not yet know. The conscious mind presents a picture of the real world which describes it to some extent in a way which is useful to the animal. Perception of colours varies greatly with different species and humans creatively identify thousands of hues way beyond the seven colours of the spectrum. This picture is not entirely accurate.” The mind with its emergent properties has the nature of an almost infinitely complex and intangible ‘field’ and as such surely involves wave functions and interference phenomena. Understanding these through quantum research leads much further into solving the questions about the mind.

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Amusing ‘Christians wanted’

Posted by robertpriddy on October 19, 2013

Ad outside church in Hastings, UK.

Ad outside church in Hastings, UK.

And no previous experience necessary! Presumably previous experience of the church or the doctrines might well be disabling in advance. (However, ‘no previous experience’ whatever would not exclude infants). It is heartening to see such signs of the condition of the native religion in England today).
But do not forget that the threat of a journey of misguidance and vain delusions is still ever very much alive in the land.
See for example:-

Major religious troubles that will not go away

The future death of religion

Richard Dawkins: the Inner God Illusion

The Failed Doctrine of ‘Original Sin’

Einstein on God – just a weakness

Neurology throws light on ‘hearing God’s word’, ‘channelling’

 

 

 

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The Failed Doctrine of ‘Original Sin’

Posted by robertpriddy on June 9, 2013

So-called ‘original sin’ has its origin in Genesis as attributed to Adam and the ‘fall of man’, an Old Testament idea. However, Pope Pius XII instructed the Catholic Church as late as 1950 that the account of the creation and the Garden of Eden story “pertained to history in a true sense” and that it was vital to believe in it. This was to preserve the doctrine of original sin – the burden carried by all mankind due to Adam’s fall due to his rejection of God in his exercise of free will.

In Judaic and Christian theology, the doctrine has changed through many differing interpretations. It has also been reinterpreted by psychoanalysts and other psychologists. One widespread dogma in various Christian churches is the Old Testament doctrine that all human beings are born sinners in that they inherit the ‘sins of their fathers’. This sin was supposedly passed on down through the generations from Adam by way of birth, being a punishment exacted by God on mankind due to the sin of Adam. Many hold that the gospels in the New Testament preach that man’s original sin is removed by Jesus’ suffering on the cross, and there are variants on this too – some restricting salvation to true believers, others making it universal to the human race.

Exactly how this was supposed to have occurred is a subject of speculation. In scientific terms, it may be thought to be familial transmission through genetic inheritance. This idea would explain how the consequences of sins of one’s ancestors were passed on, but it fails to explain how sin itself is inherited. Only if there are genes that dispose us towards crime, so that we cannot avoid sinning, does this interpretation seem to hold water. But this theory, unlikely as it seems, would mean that all moral responsibility is taken from us and can obviously therefore not be accepted, because the very idea of sin requires knowing and wilful bad action by the sinner.

Another way in which one can in some sense ‘inherit’ the sins of one’s ancestors, in a broader and less individual sense, is through the environment that was shaped by them. This includes the natural and the social environment, up to an including the entire rise or decline of the destiny of the human race. This can be thought to occur negatively (since it is sin and not the good, that is supposedly inherited) through the perpetuation of ignorance, hate and revenge etc. through generations. This can take many forms from vendetta to wars, and through the collapse of society, social values or civilised standards of collapse of the natural environment due to the mistakes of past generations and so on. However, this approach has yet more logical weaknesses as an interpretation of the doctrine than that of genetic inheritance. It is hardly defensible as an explanation of the inheritance of sinfulness by specific individuals from their particular forebears.

THE SUPPOSED ‘ORIGINAL FALL’ OF MANKIND

That all the offspring of one person, Adam, should be punished for his sins seems extremely unfair, to the modern mind at least. Another approach to this doctrine is therefore more satisfactory, namely that it is as expression of the idea that there must have been an original falling away from a sinless and perfect life. It is an attempt to answer, in terms of the Garden of Eden parable, how God could have created human being who act against His Will (i.e. sin). The idea that man is a kind of fallen angel attempts to explain why we are not able to live in peace and plenty, though the earth provides all that is required.

Everyone who has any idea of right and wrong has some idea of how things might have been in a perfect, earthly paradise. The enigma of ‘original sin’ is one of the deepest mankind has to face. The doctrine of karma and free will is the most comprehensive and consistent answer history has produced. According to this, man is created in God’s image, not with infinite but only finite divine powers of knowledge and will power. Man is the only being with the freedom to know the difference between right and wrong and to choose between them in his actions.

At the same time, the law of karma ensures that every act will eventually bring about an equal reaction upon the agent. Good actions are the seeds of future good fortune, bad actions those of ill fate. One has freedom to act, but no freedom to avoid the consequences. The reactions of karmic law can occur immediately, ar at any later time, whether in the present life or in a subsequent one. Only when one has obtained the ultimate, goal, salvation from karma through re-unification with our divine origin, God, does the process of action-reaction cease. That is the equivalent of ‘eternal heaven’. Being bound in the prison of action-reaction through human life contains its own hells. The idea of hell was believed by early priesthoods but almost certainly also cynically used to incite fear among the people and stop them from doing whatever they thought to be sinful, not least confronting the priesthood itself. The idea that man is a fallen being and as such is subject to the temptations of evil through a most powerful being, the fallen angel Satan, is just one further embroidery of speculation on the origins and causes of sin… one which seemed to solve the responsibility of God for creating a world where evil could operate.

‘LOSS OF THE SOUL’ ?

Jesus is reputed to have said, “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”

There are many possible interpretations of this famous saying of Jesus. The Roman Catholic Church has long preached a doctrine of anathema whereby the soul of such as non-believers, blasphemers and great sinners ‘lose their souls’. This idea, that a person can be sent to perdition – eternal death or damnation – is widespread in Christian churches and sects. A repulsive and abominable doctrine though it undoubtedly is, it is hard to uproot because it is often either interwoven with a number of other equally false dogmas (such as that of ‘eternal hell’) or it is used to ‘fill the gap’ where explanations of other doctrines fall short of clarity and reasonability. Thus, without the doctrine of karmic reaction and continuous human reincarnation until liberation from the wheel of life is achieved, loss of soul seems to be a possibility.

By ‘gaining the whole world’ was most probably meant something like getting a very large measure of what the world can offer – worldly goods, acclaim, power etc. But to ‘lose one’s own soul’ is by no means so clear. It cannot mean losing one’s consciousness. Nor, according to most theologies, does the soul refer to anything tanglible… it is supposed to be transcendental, invisible, intangible and ever-present, eternally existing, unchanged and perfect hence we cannot lose it under any circumstance. Soul (Atma) and its inner nature are assumed (but not proved) to be always suffused with goodness, love and knowledge. This cannot be the same as the ‘soul’ in Jesus’ sense, which can be ‘lost’. This must refer to losing salvation to enter paradise and to have to remain in purgatory or eternal hell. It sounds so unreasonable and unlikely!

The soul can be taken here to mean all that in human kind which has no physical manifestation or experienced appearance. As such it included all manner of things that were not dependent either upon the judgements of society or the world. This was applied to that internal selfhood or ‘I’, which is not itself visible but is presumed to exist because of the fact of subjectivity of consciousness… some fixed ‘ego’ behind all our expressions of selfhood. Such an ‘ego’ cannot be discovered in inward meditation, however, but only as fleeting impressions of selfhood when reflecting on personal experiences and memories.

Losing one’s soul, in Jesus’ conception, must mean something less than actually losing oneself entirely. If the Atma. If direct conscious awareness is the test of one’s being, then losing it would mean either unconsciousness or death. Though some theological speculations assert that direct awareness of God is possible (i.e. as in the supposed liberated saint-avatars) this awareness is also claimed always not to have been present at birth or to have been lost at birth, unless one is a God-avatar.

In most scripture, ‘loss of soul’ refers to something more than loss of belief in a transcendent creator and ruler of the cosmos. It could refer to the loss of personal integrity or the loss of a chance of a lifetime for salvation or liberation (whatever that would actually imply, which is always very vaguely stated).

The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein evidently took Jesus’ words as an injunction to be true to oneself. One’s ‘own’ soul is oneself… in the sense of the true or authentic self. The true self is that person ‘within’ rather than the outward persona or ‘social mask’ that we are under constant social pressures to adopt. In an authoritarian family or society (such as Wittgenstein himself grew up in), the pressure is great upon one to conform to all the external mores and social laws and thus to form oneself externally according to what others think of one and require of others. To go along with this at the expense of being untrue to oneself, is to ‘lose one’s soul’ in an understandable manner. The self as a soul, however, as an eternal entity that survives death and preserves the identity of the individual, is a unconfirmable idea.

It makes little difference whether one conforms to what one knows others to think (through their open censure and praise) or what one believes and even imagines they think. In neither case does one assert one’s authentic personality, and this can result from many motives and complicating circumstances, like uncertainty and confusion, personal weakness due to physical or social dependency, deficiency of spirit and even cowardice.

This ‘soul’ is perhaps only one’s inner personality or individual selfhood as experienced at any one time. This self-experience invariably changes, develops and much of it is lost to memory. (This selfhood is not to be confused with egoism or selfishness). It probably cannot normally be eradicated, but it can be suppressed to such a degree that its development is not only arrested but can also regress and lead to what we usually now call serious ‘mental illness’. World literature and biography bear witness that this process is often initiated when a persons ‘spirit is broken’, either by wilful and forceful means by others or through failing before challenges which could not be overcome.

THE ‘REMOVAL OF SIN’? 

It is often thought that Jesus taught that God punishes us for our sins, that God exacts divine retribution. This is witnessed in the way people react to misfortune either by blaming God or by asking God ‘what have I done to deserve this?’. However, this doctrine does not agree with most of Jesus’ teaching in the New Testament. Of course, he laid great emphasis on God’s forgiveness of sin. Jesus reprimanded his disciples when they asked if God had sent as punishment the sufferings at the hands of the Romans of a Jewish sect and of other persons killed when a building fell in because they had rejected Jesus on a recent visit there. Jesus told them that they should rather look to their own sins. This can be seen to imply that God does not punish, but that sufferings come as a result of one’s own sins. It is surely all very confusion and unreliable speculation. 

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Major religious troubles that will not go away

Posted by robertpriddy on April 25, 2013

Most mainstream religions have in general succeeded in getting a very good press, so to speak, in that their leaders’ views are widely reported and their institutions are still constantly referred to in positive terms – even despite the increasing contemporary exposures of sexual and other ‘sins’ and the revived views of atheists. This has depended on the fact that there are, after all is said and done, very many good people involved in their activities, people who try to serve their fellows, uplift the poor and downtrodden through aid projects of all kinds which would provide means to live a reasonable kind of life. The emphasis on these good acts – which churches are not loath to see publicised – have always tended to overshadow the darker aspects of their faiths and institutions. The appeal to religion as essential as a moral curb on criminal behaviour, anti-social elements and the most immoral ways of life, however, is countered by any proper overview of the actual beliefs and activities encountered historically which have formed the current posture and claims of religious leaders.

Religion as a deterrent to harmful persons and the unbridled desires and raging ambitions of dictators, warmongers, criminals and their like has certainly not proven effective in human history quite apart from the countless recorded violent excesses of religions and the countless warring sects themselves, which continue even today in many parts of the world.  Considering the miserable prospects offered to sinners by Christianity and Islam (not least the world ending with annihilation of all creatures and a Last Judgement with sinners descending to eternal hell) it is not so remarkable that would-be wrong-doers remain largely unaffected by preaching. Even though total cleansing of all sins is promised (such as just through believing in Jesus – a dodgy ‘clearance sale’ type promise though it sounds, unbelievers and dissenters remain unaffected by priestly admonitions of which they may learn. The less so as the so-called ‘faithful’ these days are again increasingly known to be ridden with mortal sins, especially nowadays of sexual abuse and pedophilia among the priesthoods of male-dominated and monkish leanings. Meanwhile, only human laws – however deficient they can be or lacking thorough enforcement – have provably done far more to curb many of the ills of societies and nations. Human values in the advanced cultures are specifically not values of divine commandment, but an ever developing and further discriminating instrument for the regulation of worldly life.

Virtually all established churches strive for influence and power in the ‘temporal’ social and material world. Most religions or their sects proselytize. Through the progress of law and human rights, they have mostly had to refrain from outright and open force or repression of people, which was the practice of most religions in earlier times. By showing a semblance of humility and unctuousness, churches have a known history of worming their way into favour with the powers-that-be so as to gain influence, money and power. (Amusingly, they have no records of being able to influence the supposed ‘otherworldly spheres’ or their imaginary inhabitants, despite massive collective mental efforts).

If one looks with un-indoctrinated eyes through the ritualised language of religions and their ossified certainties and what they believe to be divinely imposed commandments, values and beliefs, one can discover it to be a mix of hypocrisy and priestly twaddle combined with skilful manipulation of the engrained anxieties, superstitions and wishful thinking of people generally. The highest religious values – like love and total forgiveness, self-sacrifice for the good of others – are ideals which are seldom possible for most people – including religious leaders – to follow consistently or anywhere near completely. This has led to the Janus-faced character of religions, which make the right hand not see what the left hand is up to. The prime example is perhaps the (vague) Judaeo-Christian commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’, while churches which preach it are most often supporters of killing in warfare, and also have a long history of torturing and burning non-conformists. Some interpret this over-generalised commandment to include not killing animals or even anything living, including any unborn foetus.

Countless generations have striven to extract truths from the Bible’s Old Testament, in which process it was necessary to ignore or reject the remainder as incomprehensible, false or inexplicable. Considering the very diverse origins of its content and knowing how the Bible was compiled and the agendas that were involved in including or excluding scriptures, the result is seen as an arbitrary hodgepodge of mostly incompatible doctrines, ideas and values. Nonetheless there are countless fundamentalists who would accept that it is infallible! Such pettifoggery is rife within evangelical as well as previously established churches. In much modern-day Christianity, there seems to be a common consensus silently to downgrade the Bible’s Old Testament, because its doctrines do not agree with the New Testament teachings of Jesus. Yet it has never been excluded from Christian holy scripture.

Christian denominations have – knowingly or not – instilled much pessimism in their folds. This begins with the assumption that everyone supposedly inherited ‘original sin’ as a burden of being born. This attitude lingers over much ritual and sacrament in churches, though most capitalise on the fact by teaching that baptism into their faith washes away all inherited sins, or confession of sins can absolve the sinner. To avoid further sinning, a puritanical and joyless rejection of the pleasures of the senses is advised – most notably any sexuality other than heterosexual marriage relations. Various sects further condemn sexual relations other than as solely for procreation, so abstaining is made a general rule. This puritan mentality, and behavioural norms related to it, repress many healthy natural instincts, even from a child’s earliest years. The repressive nature of religion has induced joylessness or melancholy and caused intolerable conflicts within the minds of many of the indoctrinated.

Having raised ‘man’ above all animals to the extent of denying our natural origins and evolution, Christianity consequently tended to look down on what reminds of natural animal behaviour, yet also the more human aspects of eroticism and sensuality, stunting natural drives and degrading the creative life force. This influenced arts such as music and literature in trying to ban many of their forms. Further, by taking numerous myths (eg. the Genesis mythology, Adam, Eve and the Garden of Eden etc.) literally, Christian churches rejected genuine curiosity and discovery or philosophical investigations as challenging. The conflict soon arose between church authorities and scientists from Galileo and Giordano Bruno and on to Darwin and a host of new scientific disciplines. Though evolution is regarded as a fact in more enlightened religious denominations, this is still vehemently rejected in favour of irrational and non-empirical ‘creationism’ by most evangelicals and fundamentalists. As is the doctrine on the terrors of hell and brimstone and the devil or Satan still lurks in many Christian sects and Catholic dogma.  The Vatican’s denial of the use of contraceptives and the right to abortion under any circumstance is an indefensible irrational mockery of human values and rights. Protestant churches are more liberal on some of these issues, which is obviously a consequence of the Lutheran rebellion against the vast malpractices of Rome.

Christian scripture holds that only the meek, humble and poor can gain entry to heaven, meaning that one has to be an apathetic failure in worldly affairs to qualify for the doubtful afterlife in a vaguely defined, insipid and imaginary incorporeal realm. That the vast majority of convinced believers and priests cling desperately to life, often believing nearly all mortals to be inveterate sinners. The burden increases unless one sacrifices oneself almost totally and sins only most minimally, and above all believes in the Christ of the gospels as a requirement to enter heaven. It is depressing – yet somehow quite laughable – toTo hear Prime Ministers and Presidents on television reading most discriminating scriptural gospel texts like “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” What a contradiction to their constant stances against most other forms of social discrimination!

That believers strive to live on in what is taught to be ‘a vale of tears’ and so put off the supposed paradisal future is thus something of a conundrum too, but to help ensure they do the Roman and other church teaches that suicide will leave them bereft of a consecrated burial and hence bar them from grace hereafter. The right to die is still almost unrecognised in otherwise civilised  nations due largely to the inertia created by centuries of religious insistence that one must suffer unto death regardless of the circumstances. What a mockery of forgiveness, love and compassion!

It is quite flabbergasting to think that otherwise sober and informed persons can actually believe that prayer for victory in battle or war can have the slightest effect on the outcome, especially when both sides are fanatically religious. The Christian Crusades against Islam illustrate this most effectively, though examples can be found throughout history and anything remotely like proof of divine intervention in world conflicts of any kind is totally lacking. Without going into detail here, what goes for the mass surely applies pari passu to the individual as regards begging for divine help.

One great crux on which most religion is broken is the doctrine that God created and rules over everything, and hence must have created the conditions of sin and evil actions, not least the devil Satan (a figure of fearful fantasy based on ignorance of the real causes of the ills of the world).

Not all religions alienate humanity from nature or life in the real world to the extent of Christian dogma. Nor do all religious sects pay homage to such absurdities as God having inseminated a virgin to give birth to a son whose suffering and awful death will redeem humanity. By what means this could be achieved it is impossible to conceive in any intelligent or sensible way. Add to this the Eucharist, the symbolic drinking and eating of the blood and flesh of Jesus… an obvious anachronistic leftover from stone age primitive thinking shared by cannibals and sorcerers. ‘transubstantiation’ is undoubtedly one of the nonsense howlers of the non-science Christian theology.

The Roman Catholic tradition

Canonising people as ‘saints’ is a doubtful practice which aims at raising the prestige and mysticism of the Catholics. The candidates chosen must satisfy the Vatican powers that they fulfil a set of criteria, one key such requirement being that they have performed some miracle(s)…  itself is a highly controversial claim. However, if many were most likely basically good people who dedicated their lives to helping others, to attribute to all of them events deemed to be miraculous is not credible except to the indoctrinated. The sainting of Popes is also questionable, reminding somewhat of how persons in power glorify their predecessors so as to keep up the reputation of their country, political party or even cover up untoward matters in which they were involved. Some Catholic saints can be suspected of having been mountebanks or mentally disturbed fanatics. The tendency is similar to the irrational tradition among Hindus who honour as ‘holy men’ anyone who punishes himself with terrible salf-sacrifical ordeals like standing for years on one leg, fasting surrounded by fires in extreme heat for long periods and an amazing range of suchlike worthless and bizarre feats.

Catholicism claims to bring liberty to mankind while in actual life it seeks to enslave them to its precepts and demands in return for interventions with the Almighty (such as for lenience towards their supposed ‘sins’, for blessing and rewards after death.. whatever they are supposed to consist in). The crusaders, the Inquisition, the witch hunters and other fanatical believers set about torturing and exterminating the enemies of their faith and their authority, while preaching forgiveness and love towards all men. Islam, with its jihad, warred against infidels (i.e. non-believers) and this agenda is firmly continued in contemporary Muslim extremism and terrorism and intolerant attitudes which are inspired by the injunction of mullahs to extend Sharia law wherever possible throughout the world.

The Catholic church was never above using flattery and a range of other irreligious means of appeasing opponents – especially those of any State – ever aiming to lead the unwary into the delusion that it will not try to take over as much influence and power as it can. Amassing monetary power and property are invariably a goal for most religious institutions, and in one way or another, they collect wealth in return for supposed godly favours, ‘dispensations’ which can be purchased… as if god’s favour were a commodity and not a highly doubtful idea having no more basis in experience, tangible proof or logical reasoning than has the existence of an all-good and infallible Creator.

In order to continually expand its influence, Catholicism exerts pressures to ensure that children born of a Catholic parent is baptised only as such on pain of ostracism and sometimes yet worse, disregarding the rights of tender children to think in freedom and eventually discover their own convictions. This total conformism, however, is even more rigorously enforced in Islam, even to the point of preaching death for apostates and murder of family members who reject the demands of their mullahs, as all who follow contemporary events well know.

The edict that the Pope is infallible is now a recognisable and most risible bogus claim. This is but one of the countless dead branches on its dogmatic Bible-based theology while many others such as the ‘earth-centred universe’ finally dropped off very belatedly, while the doctrines are gradually eroding in the face of modern science and the social influence of human rights’ movements etc. One can hardly imagine that Popes could ever become apostates, since they must always get embroiled in an increasingly narrow ideological gridlock since they confined their lives to the mental environments of church and Vatican. A life without proselytization, power, influence, political importance and comfort would be unthinkable to the Cardinals and their countless subordinates. Paradoxically for them, none of these attributes fit in with the stunted vision of the ‘kingdom of heaven’ to which they cling.

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Personal freedom of the will is unequally distributed

Posted by robertpriddy on April 5, 2013


Whether or not humans have free will is an issue of whether free will is possible or not. It is not simple question, so a blunt dichotomy between freedom-determinism is not helpful, even if the issue could be empirically decided (which it apparently can never be). The term ‘free will’ has dozens of different meanings or interpretations. The more important of these are crucially meaningful in the entire human inquiry into how humans causally affect the world and society. There are senses in which we are free to choose, even though one cannot make the assumption that all individuals are equally free to choose. Firstly, people in different cultures and different socio-economic classes are subject to different degrees of restraint or freedom to act. Likewise, individuals are not all equally able to exercise free will, as their abilities depend on such factors as maturity, health condition, physical limitations, social restraints, intelligence and the level of their knowledge.


This aspect of freedom of the will – seemingly such an evident fact – is mostly overlooked in the concentration on the more technical philosophical or theological issue whether human can have any free will at all. There may be reasons why such a debate is not raised or is unpopular, since it conflicts with the widely cherished generalised belief about the supposed freedom and equality of all persons. On the one hand it is patently evident that everyone does not have the same degree of personal freedom – that is, the ability and means to do whatever they choose – because all freedom or choice is limited by the alternatives on hand. For example, an infant is less free than an adult, a person serving a prison sentence is less free than a normal citizen, a person with broad knowledge and long experience is usually aware of more realistic possibilities and alternatives than a person deprived of education and opportunities for wide experience. The limitations on freedom can also be congenital, as in those born with symptoms of genetic mental retardation.


The significance of the above consideration is that it opens for the possibility of degrees of human freedom of will in a way which even tends to challenge the basic assumption of free will as a universal human capacity, or at least some of the implications drawn from it (not least in religion, morals and the law). It has been proposed in some religions and by esoteric schools that the degree of free will anyone has depends upon unusual achievements such a yoga, tantra and other practices. The pseudo-philosopher Gurdjieff was a proponent of such a theory. This idea also forms the basis of most Hindu and Buddhist religion. The difficulty with this is that, as a hypothesis, it is far beyond any normal means of investigation or testing. Nonetheless, science in general still regards the existence of higher forms of consciousness or ‘transcendental wisdom’ than the human mind normally achieves as a ‘unvalidated hypothesis’, and some even regard it as an unnecessary theory to explain anything. Moreover, there is no evidence that any such supposed ‘spiritual masters’ have ever contributed anything significant to genuine knowledge, but only to speculation and subjective self-interpretations.

Sam Harris has many excellent views on religion. However, he has a  narrow mindset as regards the issue of ‘free will’, especially  as regards even the meaning of  ‘free will’. See my analysis of his problem here http://robertcpriddy.wordpress.com/2011/06/09/sam-harris-no-free-will-and-hence-all-freedom-is-a-miasma/

His book ‘Free Will’ is under considerable criticism as  a product of an amateur in philosophy: see Scientific American –  Will this Post Will Make Sam Harris Change His Mind About Free Will?

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