Archive for January, 2011
Posted by robertpriddy on January 29, 2011
Posted by robertpriddy on January 24, 2011
The doctrine of ‘karma’, that illness is an inevitable result of the past actions of the sufferer, either carried out in this lifetime or an earlier incarnation, has become more widely believed since the advent of Indian ‘gurus’ and preachers of Hinduism in the West. However, it is extremely hard to accept or understand by people of modern scientific education and humanistic outlook. The central aspect of the doctrine of karma – is that whatever happens to you is what you deserve because of your own actions in the past. When, as very often, there seems to be nothing in ones past that can account for it (eg. no ‘sin’ or ‘good act’), it is supposed that you lived in one or more ‘former lives’ and caused your present circumstances by your acts then.
The whole idea of karma arose as an attempt to account for what non-believers today would call accident, luck or the result of circumstances beyond ones control (genetic traits, society, other persons’ actions). That a good person should suffer disasters needs explanation if one is a believer in a benevolent God, and even in a punishing God. What most repels Westerners, perhaps, is that all the ‘bad’ results of karma are not to be blamed on others, on nature or on God, but solely on the individual involved (as an inevitable reaction attaching to his or her ‘soul’). Many Eastern gurus also teach – with typical inconsistency – that the ‘good’ results can only be attributed to God (not to oneself or other persons). The idea of karma has become popularized by New Age people, often in most superficial ways. Some proponents of karma doctrine even argue that all the most horrific events that occur including all heinous human acts – are necessary and integral part of the divine cosmic harmony, which is ultimately for the benefit and good of all! This doctrine that ‘everything is as it should be’ and/or that this is ‘the best of all possible worlds’ is sheer escapism. How much further one can get from reality and sanity without actually suffering from a pathology it is hard to conceive.
The sheer disdain which this doctrine of blame receives in well-educated countries is shown, fortunately, by the huge national uproar this doctrine caused in the UK in the 90s when the manager of England’s national football team, Glen Hoddle, no more than indirectly hinted at as a possible explanation of some illness ! (see under ‘Dismissal from England job’ Wikipedia) Prime Minister Tony Blair then denounced the doctrine firmly in public and contributed to the immediate sacking of the England coach from his position, one of great prestige in the nation. The doctrine of karma – and it associated primitive Hindu religious ideas – has been held by many Indian intellectuals to be the main cause of discrimination and almost total neglect of sufferers of all diseases and ills by successive Indian governments and authorities, as well as by the general public. The state of a country is always related to the predominant beliefs held by the majority there. The severe lack of social welfare, old age pensions, health care and much else can be seen as the historical result of the karma doctrine and related otherworldly religious belief and ‘non-dual’ philosophy.
One reason for aversion to a doctrine of retributive karma as ‘inevitable punishment for sins’ can hardly be better stated than by the English writer Edmund Gosse in his autobiographical book, Father and Son of 1907. “The notice nowadays universally given to the hygienic rules of life was rare fifty years ago and among deeply religious people, in particular, fatalistic views of disease prevailed. If any one was ill, it showed that ‘the Lord’s hand was extended in chastisement’, and much prayer was poured forth in order that it might be explained to the sufferer, or to his relations, in what he or they had sinned. People would, for instance, go on living over a cess-pool, working themselves up into an agony to discover how they had incurred the displeasure of the Lord, but never moving away.” (p.34)
Not all aspects of karma doctrine are so harmful: Among Western supporters of the general idea of karma, some are less stringent and more acceptable. According to Edgar Cayce, a 20th century American ‘mystic’ who sometimes talked sense, “Karma is the meeting of oneself in the present through thoughts and deeds from the past. Karma is tied to the concept of reincarnation and balance. Karma is neither a debt that must be paid according to some universal tally sheet, nor is it necessarily a set of specific circumstances that must be experienced because of deeds or misdeeds perpetrated in the past. Karma is simply a memory. It is a pool of information that the subconscious mind draws upon and can utilize in the present. It has elements that are positive as well as those which may seem negative.”
The idea of evil and sin is a religious ideology and an unsolvable logical problem in all theistic religions. In an attempt to deal with this problem, Alan Watts wrote a book entitled ‘The Two Hands of God’. He regarded that what we perceive either as good or evil are both part of a unity, which some call God. His idea of God is one having two aspects (hands) the good and the evil. The Christian tradition tried to make God exclusively good and so the origin of its opposite was relegated to Satan – and human beings are born sinners. Islam and Hinduism have their own variants of this pseudo-solution of ‘the theological problem of evil’. The split between the worldly and the other-worldly, the profane and the sacred, the transient and other supposed ‘eternal’ and so forth was all part of this mental confusion and ideological schism. To resolve the dilemma finally, the only rational solution is to reject the entire hypothesis that there is a God who created or rules over the cosmos. It is only a belief, and one which brings with it endless troubles for believers, conflicts for society and misappropriation and misdirection of human resources. The belief may bear up people who cannot manage psychologically without it, but it is no less of an empty hope for that.
In Britain, where people once widely believed in healing by holy touch (of the king, primarily), things have changed vastly in modern times. Two examples: In A History of the English-speaking Peoples, (London, 1956), Winston Churchill wrote about the murder of Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket: “All England was filled with terror. They acclaimed that his relics healed incurable diseases, and robes that he had worn by their mere touch relieved minor ailments. (p. 167)” and about Henry de Montfort: “Among the common people he was for many years worshipped as a saint, and miracles were worked at his tomb.” (p 225). Yet despite this, the business of “spiritual healing” has flourished in recent decades in UK and many another affluent Western nation where the health services – however scientifically advanced – are far from perfect. Spiritual healing of most ‘New Age’ varieties depends on the karmic theory in one or another form, seeing (all or at least some) illness as originating in the human soul or spirit (as originally determined by past actions). Many attribute the cures to outside agencies, however, such as whoever is the spiritual healer or a divine figure (Christ etc.), other schools see cure as a combination of the person’s attitudes and actions with a healer’s agency, while a few regard all cures are self-generated through self-faith and techniques of self-healing which have to be learned from someone, most often for money.
Among the weirdly superstitious and medically laughable ‘truths’ that a widely-accepted God Avatar (Sathya Sai Baba) advances is: “Today man is putting his senses to misuse and as a result his body is becoming weaker day by day. He shortens his life-span by his unsacred vision and by indulgence in sensual pleasures. Lakhs of light rays in his eyes are being destroyed because of his unsacred vision. That is the reason what man is developing eye defects.” (Sai Baba, discourse on 5/7/2001 (Sanathana Sarathi, August 2001, p. 226) As if the vast improvements in health, life span and eye-care made by science in recent centuries have not occurred and age expectancy had not risen progressively in almost all countries in the world. This the kind of absurdly anti-scientific doctrine, totally unsupported by any facts, experimental or other knowledge, is being taught in India and in many New Age sects and cults. Apropos, Bjørn Lomborg writes in his 2001 book The Sceptical Environmentalist: “Fewer and fewer people are starving. In 1900 we lived for an average of 30 years; today we live for 67. According to the UN we have reduced poverty more in the last 50 years than we did in the preceding 500, and it has been reduced in practically every country.” So, any shortcomings in world health certainly have quite other causes than unsacred vision!
Posted in Atheism, Belief, Creationism, Ethics, Ideology, Philosophy, Religion, religious faith, Self-awareness, Spiritual propaganda | Tagged: healing, Karma doctrine, punishment for sin | Leave a Comment »
Posted by robertpriddy on January 23, 2011
The two following scans I found on Flikr.com The content is quite authoritative and interesting:-
Posted by robertpriddy on January 23, 2011
In 1841, the German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach first explained how religion arises from alienation from oneself and the projection of ideal human qualities onto a fictitious supreme ‘other’. This event can mark the beginning of an increasing movement towards individual human autonomy and away from almost universal false dependence on belief in imaginary beings, immaterial spheres and the hopes and wishes attached to them. It should be considered as a major step in the evolution of human self-understanding.
Feuerbach’s insight were taken up by Karl Marx in his famous ‘Thesis on Feuerbach’, one of the eventual consequences of which for Soviet (i.e. non-Marxian) Communism were a rigid atheism and suppression of all religion. Of course, this was not a necessary consequence! The progress of humanity’ self-understanding is historically fraught with many and diverse setbacks, but the critique of religion itself is certainly not one of them!
As long as one projects human qualities into imagined immaterial beings or discarnate entities, those qualities are likely to be suppressed by and in oneself in the same measure. Self-sufficiency is an ideal to be striven for and is not itself specifically a kind of ambitious individualism or self-pride lacking human humility. A person, a family, a community, a society and a nation would all benefit from self-sufficiency, and this precludes beliefs that everything is divinely ordained or that any kind of supernatural influence is capable of hindering or helping in any enterprise.
The modern emphasis on developing personal autonomy, from the child onwards, is intimately connected with the ideals of democracy – that is, that people should as far as possible be able to decide over the circumstances that affect them most directly. The religious emphasis on such beliefs as fate, a predestined future, obedience to the will of a dumb and invisible Deity (or the supposed holy deputies which are found throughout the world) are all definitively opposed to self-sufficiency, autonomy and this – at the very core of religion – even the freedom of people to decide over their own lives and societies.
Posted by robertpriddy on January 1, 2011
Relativity theory gave impetus to the common saying ‘everything is relative’. This slogan does capture one central insight behind relativity theory, which rejects the belief that there is an absolute truth applying for all times and places on any question. Almost paradoxically, what is regarded as a most objective theory also led to an increased appreciation of the role of subjectivity both in nature and consequently in all human affairs, especially in the human sciences and philosophy. It is the relation of the observer to whatever is observed that decides the character of the observation, which is reflected in much C20th philosophy.
The theory of relativity is still the best-supported, ‘universal’ theory, having stood up the most exacting experimental tests for a century. Einstein predicted otherwise unimaginable states of affairs, such as the slowing of time at great velocity (now experimentally proven) and the extraordinary Bohr-Einstein condensate (neither a solid, a liquid or a gas) – which would form near to absolute zero, which was only seen 70 years later after decades of work by many major laboratories.
The key insight is that absolutely no observation is possible independently of the observing consciousness or mind. The human brain or mind always interprets what it perceives according to what it has already learned. Observation is always influenced by individual memory, subconscious inclination or habit, and the person’s aims or direction of interest. This ‘subjective ingredient’ of every perception can be neutralized (if not always entirely subtracted or eliminated) by various means:-
1) reductive analysis of the individual’s pre-perceptual propensities and mental habits together with the conceptual mindset involved
2) by comparison with the aggregate of perceptions by large numbers of other observers of the same data from differing backgrounds and circumstances… which reaches its ultimate expression in scientific knowledge.
Set religious belief vs. scientific comparison: Not only do most religions and their sub-sects and many political ideologies maintain their established beliefs and practices, but they tend mostly to resist the very idea of change, because of the challenge it poses to the absolutes or eternal verities they would rely upon and promulgate. Relativism in thought is a serious threat to ideologies (which means non-scientific systems of ideas) because it leads to comparison of differing systems of belief, spirituality, ideology, where a conflict of alleged ‘truths’ is inevitable between the main religions. Comparative religion and the the critique of ideology are rightly perceived as threats by all religious institutions and vested political systems respectively.
A majority of the earth’s population is driven by the need for security of life and livelihood in the face of a threatening natural environment, in relating to death and all other matters which have overwhelmingly been far beyond human understanding for countless ages. Throughout the world, billions of religious believers are still labouring in dead-ends in the search for true knowledge – unwittingly bending under the scourge of obscurantist institutions and their unprovable and false doctrines. The human brain’s proven tendency to recognise human features and figures in many perceptual contexts also contributes to the anthropomorphic belief in deities as having human figures and other human qualities, such as intelligence and creativity… multiplied in imagination to perfection.
The agonizingly slow growth of human knowledge – countless failed ideas, theories, endless blind alleys of opinion, and mutual ignorance and gross misunderstanding between human societies and cultures has led to tried and tested science and its amazing fruits – medicine, labour-saving and productive technology and confidence in human enterprise and learning. Yet though these achievements benefit a majority of mankind, the slowness of the outward spread of the knowledge which sustains them is truly agonizing, faced as it is by all manner of ignorant resistance and the force of misguided traditions… and above all, religious opinion.
The human need for security gave rise to a vast variety of traditional symbolic acts and beliefs concerning the unknown. These coagulated into religious cultures and eventually into scriptures and theologies, subsequently also into political ideologies and a variety of theories from the plausible to the fantastic. All too often, the belief component of religious and secular ideologies overwhelmed and excluded the empirical observations which were emerging as practical and theoretical scientific knowledge advanced. This struggle continues to this day, traditional religions and ideologies being basically too rigid for radical changes and the force of custom and vested interest behind them resisting change to the last moment possible.
For a closer look at the issues raised here see my longer article Relatedness and Relativity
Posted in Atheism, Belief, causality, Creationism, Ideology, Philosophy, Religion, religious faith, Science, Theology, Understanding | Tagged: Everything is relative, non-theism, relativism-relativity | Leave a Comment »