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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Archive for April, 2013

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

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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