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 the ‘Ideology’ Category

Prayer and Meditation – the futility?

Posted by robertpriddy on December 9, 2011

That prayer is not effective is the experience of virtually every child, and no scientific studies of any rigour have produced evidence that prayer has the slightest effect. Needless to write, no reliable scientific studies have been produced to show that prayers have anything other than – at best – beneficial subjective perceptions. 


Click on image above to see original article in full

On meditation, however, there are scientifically measurable effects, some few of which are quite startling… this is the province of the new neurology in investigating the relationships of the two sides of the brain. Though Singh has a point about ‘peace of mind’, which can easily be a flight from  reality and the influential or necessary conditions of the world when they are problematic. Nonetheless, to calm the emotions in difficult situations is valuable. Yet meditation varies enormously and individually in both methods and effects. Though the dividing line between prayer and meditation is vague, there are measurable effects such as on metabolic functions like blood pressure, neural agitation and even such results as drastically slowing metabolic functions like breathing, heart beat – the notable first case scientifically studied at the Menninger Foundation was with Swami Rama in the 1960s). The complex relationships between the two hemispheres of the brain are reportedly much affected in some few cases of meditation, which are also most widely reported (in ‘spiritual literature’) as producing (temporary) states of consciousness (though with far more time and effort) also well-known to investigators of psychedelics or psychotropic drugs – ranging from cannabis, psylocybin, mescaline, LSD-25, DMT, Ecstasy, to ketamine, morphine, heroin, fly agaric and even extreme posioning etc.). Most extraordinary experiences of ecstasy and perceived paranormal experience have sometimes also arisen from physical accidents, not least brain seizures (neurologist Jill Bolte Taylor’s own major stroke being one of the clearest cases of this activation).

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Cognitive processes in religious and other dogmas creates major delusion

Posted by robertpriddy on August 25, 2011

Some overarching ideas are like hydra – the more we entertain them, muse over them, think our way into their meaning and possible consequences – the more they spread and entrench themselves in our minds. In fact, they entrench themselves in the memory circuits of the brain and every time they come to mind they reinforce the neural connections. Many entertain not just a ‘big idea’ but commit themselves unduly to an entire ideology. It is often germane to an ideology that it ‘totalities’ itself as the one and only way to understand whatever it claims to cover. Among such totalistic or ‘exclusive’ ideologies, we find of course totalitarian belief systems, from Nazism, Leninism, Maoism, to an even partially-fundamentalist theology. Their explanations invariably require that other (conflicting) belief systems be negated, denied and preferably ignored.

The countless ganglia of the human brain – as neurological research is now penetrating to a far greater degree than ever – can be dominated by a build-up of connections so as to cause the relative exclusion of whatever is not dwelt on enough to make comparative impressions (i.e. as strong memory connections). This is how major and near-total indoctrination is possible or – in a more expressive term – ‘brainwashing’. What is washed out is anything that contradicts or throws doubt on the dominant ideology.

The more one concentrates on an ideology, the more it tends to take over a person’s mind-set until a way back from the whole of it becomes more and more tortuous and difficult to trace. When people make an exclusive ideology too predominant as a doctrine, they interpret life and the world only on the premises it enshrines, and invariably it rejects without reasonable discussion explains way all or most other competing doctrines in the process, then a cognitive disorder id developed. The person may be or appear quite sane and normal in other respects, but has a seriously distorted perception nonetheless. This can lead to dangerous and anti-social actions too.

Contrariwise, as interest shifts to other concerns and ideas are side-tracked, the neural connections are weakened. There are, however, other causes which can overcome even an obsessional dogma or indoctrination, of course. Major psychological shocks can cause a person to have to rethink it all, or people can be influenced by other, stronger ideologies and not least by education and even specific ‘deprogramming’. People may have other resources (previous education, or other cognitive skills and experiences) to fall back on which, once activated, give them a critical or doubting perspective on their main beliefs. 

Believing in a largely unsupported system of ideas can be taken so far that – in common parlance – the ‘mind flips’ into unrealistic modes. Some become pathologically obsessional, paranoidal, and so on up to megalomania and related conditions. To be mentally deranged is to suffer a malfunction of normal thought operations involving a loss of common sense, reality sense and the use of self-corrective reflection. It occurs in all degrees of seriousness and triviality and probably very few persons indeed are entirely free of it in some form. Yet a large or crucial part of a person’s mental life can develop in such a way that one’s ideas – and even perceptions – become very far removed from common sense and reason.

The more ‘official’ term for mental derangement nowadays is ‘cognitive disorder’. There are numerous kinds of cognitive disorder.

1) Illusory correlation. This is a misjudgement of how likely an event is. To confuse one thing as the cause of another is also an illusory correlation.

2) Memory bias. A number of biases can affect memory (Schacter (1999). These include false memory in recalling one’s past attitudes or behaviour as more similar to one’s present attitudes than is factual.

3) Egocentric bias. This can occur when one wants to hold a positive self-image so as to avoid negative facts about oneself. The conflict of negative and positive facts about oneself is known as ‘cognitive dissonance’, which there can be a strong tendency to avoid.

4) Ignoring relevant information is a cognitive bias, which occurs when one gives undue importance to a minor but salient feature of some problem. One’s judgement is warped through irrelevant information. Examples are found where there is ‘framing effect’. In social theory, a frame means a sets or system of interpretations – often a collection of root assumptions or set of stereotypes which people use to understand and act on events. Framing involves selective influence over how one understands words, phrases in description, labelling, or presentation of a problem. An unduly narrow perception or description of a situation or issue is a case of framing, whether wilful or unconscious, whereby attention is directed away from important facts or aspects of a matter.

5) Assymetric insight: This illusion “is a cognitive bias that involves the fact that people perceive their knowledge of others to surpass other people’s knowledge of them. The source for this bias seems to stem from the fact that observed behaviors of others are more revealing than one’s own similar behaviors. Relatedly, people seem to believe that they know themselves better than their peers know themselves and that their social group knows and understands other social groups better than that social group knows them.” (Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illusion_of_asymmetric_insight)

6) Self-serving bias: A self-serving bias occurs when people attribute their successes to internal or personal factors but attribute their failures to situational factors beyond their control. The self-serving bias can be seen in the common human tendency to take credit for success but to deny responsibility for failure. “It may also manifest itself as a tendency for people to evaluate ambiguous information in a way beneficial to their interests.” (Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-serving_bias)
See also http://www.robertpriddy.com/P/14disorder.html

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On moving towards grasping the mystery of existence

Posted by robertpriddy on May 24, 2011

On paranormal phenomena and the explanations sought to explain them: That the brain is claimed to be merely a frequency receiver, which I once also tended to believe possible (also because it fitted with spiritual beliefs I held then) I now find to be almost wholly unsupported. Empirical studies show it has some subliminal precognitive features (seconds before an event, it can ‘react’). Yet to derive from this an entire ‘mentalist’ and ‘spirit’ philosophy is stretching credibility too far. Current such theories (like the ‘holographic universe’ speculation) seem to be based on the thinnest of empirical observations in nuclear science, most probably not correctly interpreted. Such ideas had the briefest life in European though, such as with Bishop Berkeley.  I am of course also well aware of the uncertainties of sense perception (it’s lesson one in philosophy) – and also the limits within which our senses operate, but that does not alter my views on the uncertainty of all spiritual ‘hypotheses’ about sense inputs having an extra-sensory – pre-sensual – input (‘hypotheses’ usually put forward as established doctrine). The truly astonishingly vast extent of phenomena to which technological instrumentation and computing has brought within our scope does exceed and so extend the human senses vastly, and the pace of development has been accelerating enormously along with the miniaturisation and multiplying computing power. The evolution of science and the direction the technologies it made possible took in the last decades was totally unimaginable in mid-C20 – and even in most science fiction then.


One small item comes to mind: it is now established in neuro-science that the human uses the entire brain all the time… and real-time magnetic imaging even illustrates this clearly. The once much bandied idea that we use 10% (or whatever) was a primitive judgement which first gained prominence back in the 1950s. One believed that there had to be a massive unused capacity because of the so-called ‘transcendental’ experiences, such as can be reproduced with certain psycho-mimetic substances and by diverse other means. The underlying reason for the myth of the 10% capacity was the belief in a God Creator who made human beings in his image, which is of course ‘creationism’. It is, however, most unreasonable to believe that the brain evolved with a large unused capacity, for nature soon abolishes ‘useless’ appendages and genetic developments. Just today research has shown that parts of the brain may temporarily react as if ‘asleep’ (see scan on right)  Evolutionism is not a doctine but a particularly well-established master theory the only creditable fact- and empiri-based explanation of life on earth and human origins that can already account for the larger part of all variations we find in living nature.

Personal development: My own case is the best know to myself, so I proceed from it. I have studied a wide range of books with embracing all manner of paranormal and/or spiritual phenomena and a range of suppositions about their origins and all-explanatory theories of many kinds. Some are based on holography, on transfigural mathematics, on solipsist assumptions, on quantum theory (usually by amateurs), on ancient Indian psychological speculations (not empirical), mysticism, even shamanism and more besides. Now, all these now appear to me to have a similar epistemological status as, say, the Continental rationalists and other metaphysical and pseudo-theological system-builders. Kant’s view of sense perception was, for its time, more advanced than that of Kapila, Triguna, Nagarjuna or other Indian thinkers reaching back apparently even to the Indus civilization. Most of what makes up so-called New Age theories came through the spiritualist movement and Madame Bravatsky from India, most of these ‘alternative’ traditions being prefigured in speculative Indian thought reaching back to former centuries where one knew almost nothing about the ‘secrets of nature’ compared to present day (developed on the basis of the Vedas – virtually a set of hymns, myths and some primitive natural philosophy)

Which ideology a person adopts – whether a political theory, a religion or a philosophy – is partly a matter of choice, partly chance, What one is brought up to believe, or else what one comes across firstly is seldom intelligently chosen. Everyone has to start somewhere and it takes a long time to investigate each ideology philosophy and evaluate it. Many will not even get so far as to think, question, analyze or put to the test the assumptions and beliefs in the culture in which they grow up and live. Many will be more or less unwittingly attached to the set of beliefs, doctrines or systems of thought they happen to be taught or come across early on.

I investigated many movements, political, scientific, social, humanist, and religious too, but always moved on, impelled forward by the need to break false boundaries and learn more, go beyond conventional limits in search of greater understanding.  I soon gave up writing philosophy papers and planning books (my professional status being already sufficiently secured) because publishing and conforming to peer standards slowed down progress in investigation and freedom to search.  After my interest in mysticism was awakened through a very powerful personal experience, several inspections of gurus and various ventures into that sphere ended up in each case with unsatisfactory results. In my mid’40s, unusual circumstances (recorded in my now out-dated and deficient book ‘Source of the Dream’) eventually caused me to threw myself wholeheartedly into a ‘spiritual quest’ in relation to the Indian self-proclaimed divinity Sathya Sai Baba. His claims were so special that I was drawn to visit and see him for myself.  For 18 years my definitive plunge with total commitment into what I would call ‘the spiritual world’ in practice. I did eventually obtain a great deal of new self-knowledge from it, because otherwise I would still be involved in it! Not of course what I expected and not what was supposed to result! On the contrary, I find myself more in tune with certain Zen ideas (except that they supposedly have none, as such). When I allowed myself to raise serious doubts and bring to bear all my former insights and knowledge on the whole thing, I progressively rediscovered the value of critical, analytical thinking (which had been my forte before I put it on ice for the purpose of spiritual endeavor). The advances made in world science even since I has ceased to pursue it thoroughly were so astonishing that, looked at with a clearer eye and on a much broader basis, it uncluttered and cleared my mind in many ways and also necessarily brought me more down to earth than ever (a liberating experience after decades of self-sacrificing idealism and largely wasted ‘spiritual efforts’). The result so far does not seem at all to have been a matter any single set of choices, but rather the sum benefit of my whole life so far. There is no philosophy I could choose today, none are adequate in enough respects… life has pushed me beyond any one set of assumptions on which any philosophy is necessarily constructed.

I no longer adhere to any particular philosophy – I have my own relation to all of them, and my own Weltanschauung is not a system – rather, it is more of a refined reflection of my entire mental and experiential life – the end product of all that went before gathered and sorted in an on-going process or dialectic. It is about extracting the truth content of each ideology – for few lack all truth – and carrying this over as one progresses ‘holistically’. My views today at age 74 are the result of a lifetime of intensive search after knowledge wherein I have plunged into one theory and practice after another, finding the inadequacies and unanswered questions in each new enthusiasm and – by and large – retaining the valid content on into the next venture. My Weltanschauung is therefore very intricate and embraces a great variety acquired knowledge of human experience.

On the meaning of being: The word ‘existence’ is perhaps the most ambiguous there is… so misunderstandings involving it are bound to be very considerable. It is extremely difficult to define existence, for a start. Perhaps the most precise definition is in terms of a protocol sentence (i.e. x is observed). No being can exist without there having been an evolution prior to it’s existence. No human can grown and develop without coming under the influence of doctrines of various kinds (some are not even formulated as doctrines) …  For whatever reasons or causes, most people (seems to me) do not seek the truth sufficiently to free themselves from the sway of doctrine, and thereby live in a relatively illusory world-view. Human being is so multi-perspectived that it would be virtually meaningless to speak of anyone having (or being) ‘pure being’. Only a highly abstracted generalised idea of existence can seem ‘pure’ .

I do not want to make ‘scientific’ sense out of existence, not unduly at any rate. That is the trap, to apply any doctrine to it, and especially primitive speculations by awestruck early humanity (i.e. dawning religious ideas). I find that there is a great deal of meaning in existence, though it is admittedly incomplete and often problematical to live out. I have not come to my own conclusion, but have rejected a great many unsatisfactory conclusions… which amount to knowing much more than before. Systems which are totalizations – especially spiritual theories, doctrines, religions, ‘ways to realization’ etc. – are largely predetermined not to discover the meaning, but sustain or invent further constructions, for it and give the illusion that one knows all the answers (more or less, or potentially – i.e. a subtle mental straightjacket). Looking back, faith of such kinds I now consider the very worst way to find meaning, nothing but a means to generate personal confusion and resignation to fate!

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Another God-transfixed religionist – Karen Armstrong

Posted by robertpriddy on March 19, 2011

A writer and travelling lecturer on the history of religion who wants to bridge the gaping gaps between the fundamentalisms etc., Karen Armstrong, took part in on a panel interview on Norwegian National Television (NRK) 18-3-2011. She was interviewed about her once having revoked the Roman Catholic faith after seven utterly fruitless and depressing years as a nun from age 17, returned to religious faith of a diffuse, universal kind when she discovered the fascination of Judaism and Islam, and went on to examine Hinduism, Vedanta and Buddhism.

All of that revived her faith in a transcendental divinity far, far beyond human comprehension, which has given her a sense of purpose in that she now preaches inter-faith dialogue around the globe. (Not quite the same divinity, we suppose, who had remained adamantly silent while she suffered and tried to pray to in her convent). She now propounds awe before the enigmas of existence, and a fascination with mysticism. She had pointed out that she learned about God since she was tiny, as most do, and that many persons get little further in their conception of divinity than this infantile faith. However, despite her late studies, she again expresses a similar kind of awe-faith, a strong attraction to the unexplained mystery. Yet the available objects of religious study are really only the beliefs and practices of other faiths, rituals, theologies the reported experiences of unusual states of mind… in short, only what humans have thought or done. The much-embraced mystery (God) remains occult…  this is itself wound together with many wildly non-empirical assumptions about intelligence and speculations about superhuman design in the universe. and the fascination with it is a main driving force behind what is called ‘New Age spirituality’, the success of gurus and ‘spiritual seeking’ of all kinds, arising in more and more ludicrous forms.This interest in mysticism invariably leads only further into to mystification and the piling of uncertainty on uncertainties into a seething mass rather than any genuine clarification of anything. It is all too popular in this religiously highly divided world where fundamentalist terrorisms are now  clashing globally in ways never possible before. Armstrong does not dwell on the inherent contradictory certainties at the basis of the “countless warring sects” (Fitzgerald in Omar Khayaam). She is after the unifying aspects, which reminds somewhat of the appeasers trying to reconcile Hitlers and Stalins. Her intentions are no doubt good, but the remedies are based on yet another kind of belief, not on knowledge, science or a pragmatical mindset. Much thought is expended in studying what faiths have in common, where a bridge might be built.

Armstrong came on strongly – rather too enthusiastically for any neutral, balanced researcher it seemed – and she launched into a polished spiel which she has no doubt perfected after countless such self-introductions. One thought at first that she was a debunker of religion, but all the anti-convent story was a preamble to establish her previous qualification as a sceptic who learned to hate religion, before she demonstrated her dialectical conversion back to her species of faith and hope that never die. She eagerly agreed with the Sami, Marie Boine, about the importance of the search for truth. Then Boine punctured her balloon somewhat by telling that a Russian film director had once said “If you see a person who is seeking the truth, follow him. But if he think he has found it, then run away as fast as you can!” Armstrong came up with a howler in her reply to a question about religious fundamentalists, saying that there were “secular fundamentalists”, naming Professor Dawkins as an example. Fundamentalism usually means maintenance in opposition to modernism, of traditional orthodox beliefs, including literal acceptance of creeds. To call secularism ‘fundamentalist’ is misrepresentation, a subreption and this is typical of the zeal and irrationality involved in all faith… but then irrationalism is unavoidable part and parcel of every religionist’s attitudes. Armstrong’s search for truth falls short of science and the philosophical work related to it, as shown by her off-handed rejection of Dawkins… a recognised genius whose brilliant but difficult tour de force ‘The Selfish Gene’ (one of many such) one suspects may be beyond the mind of Armstrong fully to comprehend. She would cheaply label this world-recognised scientist, who is always open to discussion (as his many very polite but penetrating TV interviews in the lion’s dens of religionists demonstrate). That blunder alone destroys any claim she may lay to intellectual integrity, reservation of judgement or balanced appraisal.

Despite her partly informed musings  – as a writer in the history of religion – about the religious impulse in early mankind and how it developed, she is evidently unable to grasp the obvious fact that the idea of deities, a god etc. were part of the mythological culture which was unable in any other way to explain natural occurrences… like why it rains, what the sky is (‘heaven’), what makes things grow or not, why droughts occur, why diseases kill people, and so on ad infinitum, and that this confusion has been sustained and developed very widely, gaining an inertial momentum very difficult to overcome in a very under-educated globe.  The highly abstract (and literally ‘insubstantial’) ideas of God as a transcendent Unity (and countless variants on that theme) were surely brought about step by step as the more specific beliefs and explanations (enlivened idols, angry dream-spirits and the countless sacrifices, spells, rituals were more and more discredited due to the advance of human knowledge. God became less and less corporeal, an unmoved mover, a being as evidently invisible as ever nowhere to be found by any means whatever (especially prayer), until it ends up as a nothing, which is regarded as the cause and sustainer of everything.

Looking around the web I found an excellent informative, subtle and amusing blog by someone calling himself ‘phil’ (i.e. philosopher, I’s say) where he comments on Armstrong’s (non-)conception of God most aptly, as follows:-

“Doesn’t this run the risk of vaporizing God into something too thin to grasp, even imaginatively? That’s the old knock on the “god of the philosophers.” But if you make Him too “real,” there’s another risk: you won’t like him.”
Highly recommended web log ‘Delight Springs’

I could not resist borrowing from that blog a short cartoon illustrating Armstrong’s embrace of what Russell called ‘a night in which all cows are black’ (this is also Indian Advaita)

Advaita – historical flight into abstraction and speculation


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Religious ’doublethink’ – basis of denial of reality

Posted by robertpriddy on February 7, 2011

Continuing the subject of the previous blog: The fundamental dualism that is found in all religions which assert the existence of any sphere of incorporeal existence ‘beyond’ or outside the space-time universe cannot be upheld except through indoctrination into acceptance of the irrational.

When persons are not fully indoctrinated, or has unavoidably reached an impasse in trying to make the particular doctrine fit certain unavoidable or observable facts, they conceive ways of re-interpreting them with a positive ‘spin’, setting them in a rosier light – or they simply ignore them.

However, there are always voices asking uncomfortable questions about otherworldly doctrine so – as a last resort to defend the main body of their doctrine – they try to suppress the issues. This is possible where they rule in theocracies, but it is a most thorny problem for them where there is freedom of speech and public accountability.

One resort is to emphasize against dissidents that one should see the world only in positive terms as good and divinely ordained. This is an attempt to transfer by mental fiat the qualities of the supposed heavenly nirvanic spheres to the real world. Many fall for this in hope that it may be true, but only at the price of blindness to ills of the real world in which we live.

‘Spiritual’ doctrines have mind-control features very similar to those Arthur Koestler analysed and described so brilliantly after he had finally broken the chains of Soviet Communism. He wrote: “I had eyes to see and a mind conditioned to explain away what they saw. This ‘inner censor’ is more reliable and effective than any official censorship.” (The Invisible Writing, p. 64). He was able to justify to himself all the horrors of suppression and killing he saw when given a pass to travel throughout the USSR in the 1930s… it was necessary so as to establish the ideal stateless state.

George Orwell’s coinage “doublethink” is used to describe the ways in which people necessarily have to think under such despotic suppression – they have to have a mental “double-accounting” system – one account states what they know within to be true, the other is for outward dissemination so they will not be dragged off as an enemy of the State. Those who feel the bite of this double-edged sword are not indoctrinated, merely forced to conform. Those who are unaware of the duplicity and the double morale required for daily living are the real victims of doublethink because it is subconscious in them.

While effective ‘double-thinking’ reduces tensions and disharmony within the fold, it also makes ‘double-accounting’ (double morale) second nature in followers and they become Janus-faced. This leads to self-repression and conspiracies of silence and secrecy to cover up major injustices whenever they may occur within a sect or cult.

Orwell also explained that the Party could not protect its iron power without degrading its people with constant propaganda. In religious terms, this is preaching, proselytism, missionary teaching, or more prosaically ‘god-bothering’. This propaganda is essential in some form or other to most faiths, since it is a means of sustaining itself and employing its most faithful adherents.

The most indoctrinated are, of course, those whose top priority is to ‘withdraw’ from the world – whether in monasteries, in ashrams or in cults. This is the consequence of taking beliefs literally, which is impossible for most people to do. Those who do so for many years find themselves mostly isolated from other people who do not share the same faith and have little by little become more and more encapsulated in the entire mental and emotional behavioural schemes.  The devoted believer is duty bound not to think beyond the doctrine heard from all sides all the time, and which they themselves have usually preached for years. They spend much energy, time and what means they have on their church or sect until they can no longer envisage a life without their faith. Moreover, it must certainly seem to most of them, whenever they might contemplate leaving, that they have nowhere else to go, no other life to live.

In a subsequent article I shall follow up on the dualism of the kind discussed here and investigate the parallel and related phenomena of the functioning of the two different sides of the human brain and their difficult inter-relationship, including the dualism between so-called ‘normal’ mind functioning and mystical states.

Posted in Atheism, Belief, Ideology, Philosophy, religious faith, Spiritual cults, Spiritual propaganda, Understanding | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Spiritual ’doublethink’ – the basis of religious denial of reality

Posted by robertpriddy on February 6, 2011

When there arises a conflict between facts we perceive and ideas we hold, “doublethink” often comes into play. Spiritual teachings often require a lot of such double-thinking, for they deal with an alleged transcendental reality which cannot be perceived and which apparently contradict what ‘mere’ worldly conditions imply.

First see what Orwell said ‘doublethink’ is (from the novel 1984):

The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them….To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies — all this is indispensably necessary.

This is expressed in religion by the well-known schism between the ‘profane’ and the ‘sacred’ (as analysed by Mircea Eliade). Piety and all thoughts of transcendent divinity are seen as sacred (or holy, blessed and divine). All worldly concerns belong to the profane. The two terms suggest that all that is not holy is a kind of ‘profanity’. So the awkward task of the priests to interpret profane events in terms of the divine… awkward because most non-religious happenings and facts are really impossible to account for in terms of divinity or holiness. What we regard as bad, wrong, tragic, insufferable and so on has to be accounted for by religionists. God cannot be held responsible for such ‘evil’ and unsacred matters… so one has recourse to blaming human sinfulness, or even demons, Satan and the like, or perhaps rationalizations as to why such things are unavoidable in a ‘best of all possible worlds’. The dilemmas involved can be solved only by rejecting and distinction between holy and unholy, sacred and profane. The dualism leads to doublethink… ‘one the one had and on the other’, where the two hands can never meet.

Orwell had more to say about doublethink:-

“To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it… and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself. That was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed.”

Such a dualism exists in the Christian concept of Christ. Though there are various doctrines on how a man could be a ‘son of god’ or God himself or a dual being and so forth, none can resolve the issue satisfactorily (i.e. rationally). Therefore, the matter is declared a ‘sacred mystery’ and rational approaches to it are put down as below the level of an all-knowing Being. The mystery of God and religions has to be maintained through embracing irrationality… because two fundamentally opposed conceptions of reality – the divine and the human, the sacred and the profane preclude any understandable account (on the basis of belief and acceptance of the otherworldly realm and supposed entities there).

To be continued…

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Perception And Reality, Fiction and Fact in religion

Posted by robertpriddy on February 5, 2011

It is something of a fad among surfers to say that “everything is perception” and that there is “no truth and no reality”. This standpoint obviously falls on the grounds that it is merely a perception, not truth. However, the idea persists that there is nothing that can be called reality other than perception. This is the most elementary logical and factual error one can make – it is pre-philosophical: The earliest philosophical thinkers already distinguished between perception and reality – the stick that is perceived as bent in water is ‘in reality’ straight. You could discover the reality of the situation you experienced only when you investigate so as to test the perceptions.

The same basic assumption underpins all religious beliefs – that is, the acceptance of perceptions (in the broad sense) as fact, when they may just as well be fiction.  There is a very widespread ethos saying ‘People must be allowed to believe what they want’. The fact is that one cannot stop people believing what they want. So the ethos aims instead at those who wish to question beliefs, examine them, put them to the test and debate them openly… as if they should stop their activities out of ‘respect’ for other people’s beliefs.

The biologist Lewis Wolpert seeks to examine the penchant for faith in a book whose title derives from an exchange between Alice and the Red Queen, in which the latter points out that “sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” Wolpert describes and interprets various widespread logical fallacies, examining their diverse origins in brain pathology, neuro-chemical impacts, and other cognitive limitations, in seeking to understand why so many people, in the words of H.L. Mencken, “believe passionately in the palpably not true.” His book is a useful compendium of hallucinations, confabulations, and other self-delusions, with the intriguing added thesis that much science is itself counterintuitive (the earth’s going around the sun, the mutability of species, quantum “weirdness,” and so on).

Truthfulness and/or factual truth: There can be a major difference between telling facts truthfully and knowing what is true. A witness who has been unknowingly misled – or who eagerly trusted and believed may tell experience most honestly, but this may well still misrepresent actual states of affairs. Someone can be truthful about their subjective experiences, while these experiences may remain very far from penetrating to the truth of things. Not only may the experience be the result of framed and mind-distorted perceptions but it may conflict with the evidence both of systematic investigation, collective experience, factual knowledge and reason.

To be truthful may lead to revealing a more comprehensive or hidden truth, but what one tells can be distorted by one’s subjective interpretations combined with what one thinks and believes in general, all bending one’s perceptions. When one has developed a mindset which is largely organized by some doctrine or faith, the truth of any matter is always more or less clouded by that mindset. Those who have a very wide mindset will usually be able to interpret their perceptions in a less subjective manner than those who lack training in comparative studies, critical thinking, and psychological self-understanding.

I have given some examples of distinguishing perceptions (and subjective interpretations of them) from reality in interactions with spiritual figures. Such insights are crucial in discovering fraud by so-called spiritual gurus. They help in seeing through the very subtle means of indoctrination, self-programming, and deceptive means of hooking followers. See the: The dangers of global and religious or spiritual cults (http://www.saibaba-x.org.uk/5/What_a_Cult_is.html) and for examples based on long experience of the techniques India’s most successful guru-god see here.

The nature of the brain’s self-programming is dealt with in an understandable way here, showing how perception is itself not reality-

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Fallacies in doctrines of ‘karma’ (and healing)

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!

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Critical Research into the New Testament and Jesus’ identity

Posted by robertpriddy on January 23, 2011

The two following scans I found on Flikr.com The content is quite authoritative and interesting:-

http://www.flickr.com/photos/whiteyk/5381124695/


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Evolution of the human psyche towards self-sufficiency

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.

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