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 ‘Lifestyle’ Category

Sam Harris, Religion, the open mind and traps for the unwary

Posted by robertpriddy on May 13, 2011

Sam Harris has a knack of stating what is wrong with religion in such a succinct and convincing way that I cannot do better than this quotation from his book ‘The End of Faith’:-

Of course, there is a lot more to be explained for the benefit of those who cannot absorb this due to lacking insight into the labyrinth of errors called ‘theology’ or not having the knowledge – or the critical mental tools to extract it from out of the confusing tapestry of human ideologies.

Young people who have not been too much surrounded by a church, a sect or religiously minded educators are all too often left unprepared to think for themselves and are thrown out, so to say, into the maelstrom of warring beliefs, sectarian theories, doctrines that promise this, that and the other (even without all the conspiracy theories). That is why it is so essential that they should understand how what is called ‘critical thinking’ is not a negative scepticism but rather the investigative spirit of have a genuine openness to knowledge and the facts, wherever they may lead. Critical thinking is a basic and unavoidable element in a humanist and secular attitude.

History demonstrates to the full that there are many pitfalls to the seeker of truth. Among the more obvious is outright deception by those who would mislead for their own purposes. Much less obvious but more insidious and difficult influence to detect is that of excessive group identification. This applies with full force to those who are brought up within a religious community or subjected to groups which they find agreeable and which hold common beliefs or faith. The spell of a major world religion is difficult to break, especially if one is unaware that it is but one of many entirely different religious belief systems, themselves in conflict with many other accounts of the nature of reality, especially those based on science, such as the marvels of the genetic code and paleontology, what they demonstrates about evolution and the origins of mankind and life itself in clearer and yet clearer ways with the massive advances made through hyper-advanced nano-research and the use of super-computers of unimaginable capacity.

So finding that someone agrees with us  –  even about relatively trivial matters such as a favourite film or book –  is undoubtedly one of life small pleasures. But now scientists appear to have put their finger on why we take such delight in being of the same mind. Discovering that we are agreed with lights up the brain’s pleasure centres, they say.

Researchers at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at UCL (University College London) in collaboration with Aarhus University in Denmark have found that the ‘reward’ area of the brain is activated when people agree with our opinions. The study, published today in the journal Current Biology, suggests that scientists may be able to predict how much people can be influenced by the opinions of others on the basis of the level of activity in the reward area. This article at machineslikeus. com makes interesting reading (Even to neurons, the opinions of others matter).


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India’s Ayrans, Vedic texts, mystics, philosophers….

Posted by robertpriddy on January 24, 2010

This is a response to a comment (see at foot of page) received about an earlier blog I wrote. The response is somewhat typical of Indians who take excessive pride in their ancient culture and who try to present its history, early civilization and ancient thought forms in the best possible light. I have actually earlier stood for much – even most – of what Kiran tries to express – but no longer. Life went on and I learned to find my way back out of those huge mental labyrinths – but it took many decades. At all events, I am far away from your conceptions now. You will probably feel my replies sharp, but there is no ill will intended. A sharp response is better than a blunt one, I always feel. I can’t explain my reasons fully here – anyhow, all explanations must end somewhere. My comments are in blue text.

Kiran wrote:-

“Aryan invasion of the Nazi variety never did happen in India. India has indeed seen a racial and cultural mix of a lot of people, but there is no reason to suggest that the complex civilization of Mohenzodaro along the banks of the Indus and Saraswati was disconnect from the Vedas.”

Reply: Kiran may have read, but not taken to heart, the work of India’s famous true polymath Nirad Chaudhury. He is loathed by many Indians for revealing the full truth about India and Hindu origins, its caste and related practices, its suppression of the indigenous inhabitants, its inherent militarism and so on … I find his reasoning and evidence most persuasive – though incomplete, of course, on much of the debate about the origins of India and its tremendous problems today. Try ‘The Continent of Circe’ (Chaudhury). The Ayran invasion was maybe mass immigration, undoubtedly not without considerable conflict, – but the evidence of a planned invasion is lacking, of course. One cannot either say for certain invasion never did happen.

“The Vedic texts are rich in astronomy, mathematics, medicine and linguistics.. such artefacts cannot but come from a well-established civilization. The dating that was arbitrarily assigned for the composition of the Vedas (specifically the oldest Rg Veda) are now being revised by all professional historians.”

By some – if not all – professional Indian historians no doubt (apart from that Indianized shastri from the American Frawley whose astrological evidence and astronomical interpretations are far-fetched speculations). Yet not by any world-class historians or archeologists, I fear! Professional Indian history began with the British… and India’s earlier history is misty, to say the least. Claims that India has the first airplane (pushpak) that flew by power of mantra  and many like it are not taken seriously because historical records are were never kept at all – and then seldom properly.  The Vedas are recorded inalienably in Sanskrit (the correct pronunciation while chanting them is held to be of decisive importance) Therefore they could not have been translated into a later form of Sanskrit. The well-researched study of the various phases of development of Sanskrit reportedly show in great detail how they are not anywhere near as old as Indian Hindus would like to believe.

“The Indian civilization at (and even prior to) the composition of the Vedas was the most sophisticated and technologically advanced in the world at the time, such heights were not reached by the western world until the renaissance and middle ages, which themselves owe to a certain extent to Indian influences (via the Arabs).”

I am aware that the Mohenjo-Daro civilization had made some considerable discoveries in maths, astronomy, though the Babylonians are universally recognised as prior in these areas. The Ayurveda – which you apparently endorse – is made to look extremely lightweight in the light of the current science of genetics, nutrition… it had no conception of bacteriology or viruses for a start. Thousands of discoveries of major importance to health and curing diseases had to wait until European medicine began its rapid advance with people like Harvey…. It was a lifestyle philosophy more than anything, bound up with primitive beliefs in the power of prayer (which is objectively entirely powerless, of course). Some of its claims are ridiculous, of course (urine-drinking?)

“The image of the Indian other-worldly sage is a pure imagination is distinctly colonialist, it holds no relevance today. Indian sages, for all purposes, were very worldly and developed quite sophisticated sciences and technology. A few of them were also mystics and indulged in meditation and self-reflection. Indian philosophy owes a large extent to the latter types.

“Pure imagination” it is most certainly not. Among the intensely other-worldly supposed ‘sages’ of India rank Swami Nityananda, Sri Yukteswar, Ramana Maharshi, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Nisargadatta (advaitist!), Yogananda, Shirdi Sai Baba, Babaji, Tapaswaji Maharaj (claimed as 183 years old!?), Shiva Bala Yogi, Toilanga or Mahatma Tailang Swami (claimed 280 yrs.) just as a start. There were some sophisticated thinkers even among them – but no empiricists and their weird beliefs are known to – and often held in awe by – most Indians today. India is famed for its host of equally or even more other-worldly figures. Consider the 250,000 stark naked and heavily cannabis-imbibing naga mendicants, the 2 million wandering sadhus, including countless practitioners of mystical and weird tapas (standing on one leg for decades, sitting amid 4 fires in hot summer, rolling thousands of kilometers (as recently done by Lotan Baba). – I can agree that many Indian gurus are very worldly. The business interests of Rajneesh, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Maharaji, Ravi Shankar – to name a few of these bogus ‘masters’  – shows that. Besides which, many who had very large followings have been imprisoned for rape, murder, embezzlement and so on. (see The Dark Underside of some prominent Hindu gurus)

Indian philosophy, though it has its empiricists – very largely ignored to this day – is nearly all speculative thought, invariably based on assumptions of a religious and otherworldly kind… the Sankhya philosophy is based in primitive earth/air/fire/water/akasa symbolism. Neither dvaita, vishtadvaita or advaitic theiological-philosophies are sufficiently empirical to be other than religious tracts – and are all entirely non-systematic as to scientific method. This is what the so-called ‘sages’ produced (Shankara, Ramanuja as examples). Let’s face it, the comparatively vast development of knowledge through the hard and soft sciences during the last few centuries totally outstrips all traditional Indian thought.

Comment received

Posted in Belief, Disinformation, Ideology, Lifestyle, Philosophy, Religion, religious faith, Science, scientism, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Otherworldliness and futile escapism

Posted by robertpriddy on January 7, 2010

In the uncertain world of birth, life, change and death, there are age-long traditions of many kinds that try to prepare those who aspire to it for greater understanding and realization of their own potentialities.  In many cultures these traditions have become tied up with the belief in higher beings – whether spirits of the departed and ancestors, deities supposed to control the various vagaries of nature, transcendent gods and universal divinity or imagined supreme consciousness.

It is almost unavoidable that a person  – even if not brought up to some religious faith and even well-educated in the relevant sciences – will sooner or later become interested in these so-called spiritual questions and traditions. A large proportion of them will join religious or spiritual communities, possible come to believe in what they promise and so possibly strive to practise their teachings, from prayer to sacrifice, and not least to try to improve others in recruiting them. The unanswered questions which beset all thinking persons seem to be important, especially where they impinge on one’s own sense of well-being and self-trust, that most people are vulnerable to some ‘otherworldly’ beliefs and doctrines. Many seek a sense of existential security in a belief system which answers all troubling aspects of life and promises much… and the there are many forces which work towards them taking for granted the validity of age-old beliefs and practices. For example, prayer – which has never been shown to have any effect one can register by any serious means of investigation, other than giving some (temporary) relief to those who resort to it.

Through a long life (so far) I have become increasingly aware that spiritual advancement has nothing to do with any beliefs in divine figures, let alone in scriptures or other non-worldly ‘spiritual teachings’, whether inherited from parents or arbitrarily imposed by religious worldly ‘authorities’. Spiritual advancement must be, according to my conviction, entirely a product of the natural human spirit – for no help comes from any heavenly being. Nor does miraculous help come from gurus or supposed ‘spiritual masters’. The latter may be able to point out a viable way to what one seeks, but none of them can undertake the journey on ones behalf. First and last, all advancement of one’s understanding depends on oneself and comes about through one’s way of life and one’s actions.

The history of humanity emphasizes how faith in deities, invisible entities and powers or whatever can mislead people into the most bizarre of experiences and not seldom bring about the most severe consequences imaginable in terms of suffering, violence, wars, genocide, torture and debasement of the human spirit. Yet worse the possible consequences of divine retribution, constant rebirth as animals of prey, immersion in eternal hell fires (as the current and misnamed Pope Benedict believe and preaches!) and just about any perversion of goodness the human mind could invent and attribute to the supposed ‘Divine Creator’. Putting ones trust in an unworthy person usually leads to disillusionment, putting one’s faith in religious teachings and spiritual leaders is also a serious gamble where the stakes can be high indeed.

All such speculations depend on some degree of belief in an otherworldly realm, whether heavenly, hellish or both. For the aspirant to some level of imagined holiness, everything depends on other world and invisible spirits whose (often contradictory) demands one must take great heed above all else. No lively young soul can accept the need for ignoring the world they have not even explored? The supposedly ‘spiritual’ teaching that the world is unreal and only God etc. is real is hardly a very promising prospect for healthy young persons with a lifetime before them. It turns existence into becomes a ‘life sentence’, and there remains little else but to hope like hell there will be no rebirth, no ‘next time round’! How can anyone setting out to live and make a living in the competitive and tough world, or to care for fellow human beings and the fate of the earth, possibly ‘understand’ that sort of vision.

It may or may not be true that, in the long run, only goodness will eventually bring rewards. Yet one cannot know since even human goodness is an immeasurable quantity and an untestable hypothesis. let alone assumed invisible ‘divine’ goodness. This does not mean that  respect and care for all beings (i.e. ‘love’) will not eventually prevail. It may well do so if humanity succeeds in ensuring a future civilization which embodies fairness and care for all people. But that this can only probably occur because God supposedly ordains it – and can probably only provide it in some doubtful nether world –  is a belief that stretches credibility beyond all reasonable limits. Yet there are believers in it! Still, It is just about guaranteed that most youth of this world will be skeptical and will come to reject that such matters are determined by an incorporeal spirit or any such doubtful and totally unproven entity.  it. Young people can easily come to appreciate these values, if only ideals are not inculcated as immutable divine truths without any discussion or examination of alternative ways of explaining their human necessity.  If they are not misled by the accumulated negative experience of older generations and by too many poor examples around them, they can develop their experience according to ideals which are understandable as precepts in daily life, in the making of laws and the determination of human rights and duties.

Religious conviction: an essential element or a palliative and an escape?

It is often claimed by religionists that modern thinkers do not see how their own worst suffering is spiritual drought or indifference, that they are living without any awareness of divinity and promoting atheism or, at best, agnosticism. Those who are, or who have become, believers in one or another religion or Deity think they have the answer to modern problems. It is neglect of God and divine commandments. Without education that includes religious orientation, they argue, youth will be fascinated by all the baubles and bangles of material life. They need to learn detachment from undue sensuality, materialism and the worldly ambitions related to it. One claims that this denial of religion or divinity is what lies at the root of “modern man’s sense of anxiety, meaninglessness and despair”. However, these ills were never confined to ‘modern man’, they have existed as far back as records go. The underlying idea in speaking of ‘modern man’ here is to imply that the outspoken skepticism about religion which spread at the time of Nietzsche (but not without diverse ancient predecessors) is the chief cause of modern ills… that one became able then publicly to maintain atheism or agnosticism without societal punishment. One is tempted ironically to exclaim ‘Thank God!’

Religions exhort people to change themselves as individuals, as if world peace and prosperity depended on that. However, for many centuries religions have not succeeded in effecting such a change in the world situation. The advance of civilized values embodied in laws and institutions are demonstrably far more effective in solving these and other such problems. The concept of sin as an individual failing being at the root of all evil – which marks most religious doctrines in one way or another – is evidently quite untenable and hence ineffective as a moral preaching. As President Obama said in his Nobel Speech in 2009 in Oslo: “Concretely, we must direct our effort to the task that President Kennedy called for long ago. “Let us focus,” he said, “on a more practical, more attainable peace, based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions.”

See also:-

Otherworldiness as based on ‘spiritual double-think’
The psychology of believing
The spiritual master entrapment syndrome
Examples of the ‘test of faith’ rationalization

Posted in Belief, Ethics, Lifestyle, Philosophy, Religion, religious faith, Spiritual propaganda, Uncategorized, Understanding | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Sex and religion – book summary

Posted by robertpriddy on January 5, 2010

‘Sex and religion – from virgin ball-goers to holy homosexuality‘ by Dag Øistein Endsjø Oslo University Press, 2009  ISBN:   9788215013503

Religion forbids sex and obliges, condemns, and blesses, penalizes and rewards it. Your sex partners’ gender, marriage status, skin color, religion or caste, are all factors that could lead either to salvation or perdition. Welcome to the universe of religious sex.

While Christians teenagers go to balls where they promise God that they should abstain from sex until they are married, Buddhist monks regard homosexuality as a holy mystery.

There is no simple key to the relationship between sex and religion. While the sexual religion debate in Norway focused on the room given to homosexuals’ in the church, others ask about whether the death penalty should be applied to heterosexual persons, whether promiscuity leads to hurricanes and atomic wars, whether God condemns marriage between black and white, why some religious sex rules are emphasised while other are consigned to forgetfulness.

In Sex and Religion author look closely at the various religions’ attitudes from heterosexuality and homosexuality, to sexual racism and demonic sex,  from to sex  as a filial duty and abstinence, to oral and anal sex, divorce and yet more toxic themes. The book also goes into what religions believe are the consequences of different types of sex, how sex is used ritually and the notions of sex with animals.

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