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 ‘Belief’ Category

Appealing non-theist insights by Somerset Maugham

Posted by robertpriddy on January 9, 2012



by Somerset Maugham (from A Writer’s Notebook’ 1949)

Among the many interesting comments on religion in his once private – later published – notebooks, Somerset Maugham  discussed 1) intuitive belief 2) spiritual and sectarian differences.
Here I present some scanned excerpts which deserve further promulgation, making some comments as to why I consider them just as relevant as when he wrote them:-

 
This, it seems to me, would probably be what most educated persons who also have active, not mainly passive, minds cannot avoid thinking, even though they may admit of natural uncertainty and at times also entertain hopes that there is somehow something better than the condition most experience at the end of their lives, if not also through much of their existence with so many cares, sorrows and travails.

Philosophers have shown the illogicality – invalidity – of every argument for the existence of God that has ever been forwarded. Likewise, one can no more prove that God does not exist than one can prove that the entire universe is run from within a brain of some person hiding in India or elsewhere (though there are plenty who completely believe this latter to be true! The ontological status of the claim that God exists, or Jesus lives is no different from the claim that ‘Elvis lives’, as Sam Harris has so amusingly put the matter. In short, the fact that we die and are not resurrected is one that can only be faced with some courage. That we should be reborn – reincarnation – is equally impossible to prove, and would require the most fantastic funds and methodological advances in science to study empirically. Retribution and reward by God or any entity in any way or future existence etc. are – as far as human ingenuity can discover through all its manifold oceans of knowledge and related resources – merely a figment of speculation, imagination, hope or existential desperation. The entire explanation for the idea of some Divine (or more primitively, some demonic?) retribution obviously arises from the refusal to believe that justice does not eventually rule and bring all evil-doers to book! The same goes surely for rewards – sojourns in heaven and even absorption into the Godhead as some immaterial unprovable and totally brainless consciousness (known variously as nirvana, moksha, liberation from the wheel of life). 

Maugham uses the term ‘intuitionism’ to refer to that which moves most people to hold absolute views on right and wrong. Another aspect of it, as Maugham was also aware, is so-called ‘conscience’. Both a person’s intuitions and conscience are formed and developed through prolonged interaction of the physical being with the environment – unquestioningly absorbing the values and precepts of those who bring one up from babyhood onwards. Education invariably sets about inculcating certain values – not least through constant repetitions and lessons that are the accepted form of indoctrination to the mores and acceptable practices of the society involved. Even when bodily maturity is reached, many remain in the figurative ‘intuitive crib’ of their parental surroundings. Those who diverge from their family in views are often simply absorbed into what may be called a regional or national ‘crib’, perhaps adopting one of the accepted religions, or becoming agnostic and going through various changes in ideas of what is right and best, what is wrong or excusable, as influenced by their peers and the many group pressures which apply in specific culture and societies. In short, what conscience and intuition decide in one setting, one society, one religious culture etc., differs very greatly – not only in detail from person to person, but in the broadest sense between cultures which are opposed on many central issue and belief systems.


The many effects of relativity, the fact that there is no absolute knowledge, social structure, religion etc. means that cultural change, increasing knowledge, even shifts in physical environments, upset the certainties once held, often entirely, sometimes by modification large or small. Even since Maugham wrote his notes, the picture of the universe has altered beyond what one then could usually imagine, vastly more detailed and its laws penetrated far more deeply with empirically proven knowledge gained through – to the layman – almost inconceivable perfection of instrumentation and computational facilities. The same goes for the entire globe, and also for the microcosmos, with manipulation even of atoms. Meanwhile nano-technology is weekly creating wonders that show the reliability of the entire new insight into existence at all levels that have been achieved. Nowhere is there a hint of any transcendent ‘spirit’ stuff or immaterial intelligence.
 This kind of proven, tried, tested and re-constructible understanding is not to be found anywhere in any religion, of course! Though people continue to believe in religions on such a large scale, the globalization of culture and information had brought culture virtually ignorant of one another closer, and so often into conflict.  We see the warring between the mainstream ‘faiths’ is intensified at all levels, and not least that between genuine knowledge and beliefs themselves.  When the globe is technologised yet more fully, the science on which technology depends will be a sine qua non in most national education systems (if only for reason of economic survival), and this will almost inevitably weaken the religions.

I shall follow this blog with more of Maugham’s mature reflections soon… including on pleasure, hedonism and its suppression as sin.  

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The psychology of faith and belief vs. doubt

Posted by robertpriddy on September 14, 2011

“For them. life begins with death”
“Which is as if one were to say ”Day begins with night.’”  (from Quo Vadis)

The belief that death can be defeated, that there is a life afterwards, that one may be reborn and all those fondest of imaginings, plays some part in all religions. Such unsupported beliefs are bolstered up by countless other surrounding scriptures, sayings, accounts of supposed miracles and divine interventions, of what seem to be answers to prayers (i.e. the relatively very uncommon fulfillment of a strong desire that comes about). In short, beliefs, once adopted, tend to grow of themselves.  When fed by what are marshalled together rather uncritically as supportive ‘facts’ and experiences, they continue to grow. Otherwise, they tend to subside and fragment. The same goes for doubts. One adopted, they grow and the more so when facts appear to justify them. Doubts can also weaken and disappear if facts and positive experiences arise sufficient to counteract them.

The history of humanity emphasizes how faith can mislead people into the most bizarre of experiences and beliefs and bring about the most severe consequences imaginable in terms of suffering, violence, wars, genocide, torture and debasement of the human spirit. Yet worse are supposed possible consequences of divine retribution, constant rebirth as animals of prey, immersion in eternal hell fires and just about any perversion of goodness the human mind could invent and attribute to the supposed ‘Divine Creator’. Putting one’s 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.

The religious believer invariably seeks all that can reinforce belief and inherently tends to ignore and rejects whatever may conflict with the belief, especially radically. Often a belief may help inspire with an apparent meaning to life and strengthen good qualities in oneself and positive action towards the world. When the tinder of such a positive intention are fed by constant supportive ‘spin’ and stories of many others’ subjective experiences (i.e. which no one can control and the fewest can investigate to any reasonable extent), they ignite more faith by reinforcing what one want to believe. Our personal experience – being all that we really know first hand (however delusive or deceptive it may be) can often be interpreted and distorted by a doctrine or ideology.. whiten is what religions are. Personal experience becomes formed by indoctrination and narrowing of one’s scope of information, and is easily overshadowed by false expectations generated by a sect or a cult

When one has sought hard for a long time and finally arrived at something one can believe in quite strongly, the believer looks further for what is positive towards that belief and can reinforce. At the same time, there is a tendency to put aside or reject outright whatever may conflict with it. One will be loath to give up a belief which helps inspire and strengthen positive feelings, a more hopeful world view (then formerly held). If one adds to this a belief which gives one a sense of a meaning in life and and purpose in the cosmos, then it will be difficult to backtrack, and any challenges will be unlikely to dislodge it.

Many belief systems are of course shared by vast numbers, the mainstream religions into which one is more or less born and indoctrinated before one can use one’s own judgement at all. Should the belief system be more peripheral and diverge appreciably from mainstream cultures, it is most often part of a support network, a like-minded community or sect. As with mainstream religion, this often gives an outlet for social service and self-improvement, the increased sense of self-worth further strengthens the belief system.

There is a threshold of belief which, when crossed, sets off a psychological process of reinforcement. As in the Kirkegaardian ‘existential leap of faith’ the confusion of not knowing and uncertainty cause people to ‘take the plunge’ into some doctrine or faith which seems to promise to be rewarding spiritually, emotionally and usually also in various other ways. It is both intriguing and not least distressing to see how people become so entirely trapped in a ‘faith’ as to be unable to see even when the most glaring discrepancies for what they are. Even then a pivotal personal crisis or mental-emotional upset – perhaps a major emotional shock or personal loss – may be required for freeing oneself from the ganglion grasp that a system of belief and its associated way of life and behaviour.

When serious doubts emerge, doubts that could only be ignored with difficulty, however, they too can grow as the facts support them further. This is one way in which an internalized faith and system of ideas be shaken, and there is usually some critical personal event which sets such a process in motion. Once crossing the ‘threshold’ in reverse, doubts can grow as facts emerge to support them. Doubts can be corrosive at time, but it can also mitigate the severity of inflexible doctrines and not least fanatical ideas. Without any doubting, everyone would become a doctrinaire fundamentalist of whatever brand, which would be another bane on humanity.

If faith in some doctrine or religion revives, and radical doubts are overcome, a certain euphoria often follows – one to which critical doubting seldom gives rise. The process cannot but involve interesting and challenging shifts in ideas and perceptions, when thought is stimulated by novelty and seems to move forward into unknown but exciting territory. One feels free of brakes or cross-checks that may have been part of one’s former mentality. The positivity generated by ‘having found the answer’ and reached certainty makes for a self-fulfilling strengthening process. Reaching the apparent security of a spiritual renewal, if not also a worldly kind, and ridding oneself of uncertainty along with the trust that promising developments (‘blessings’) will eventually ensue can be a very beguiling matter.

Eventually novelty always wears off, and both practical and other hindrances invariably resurface, contradictions arise in new guises and reality exerts its usual resistance against anything that is too uncertain, too otherworldly.

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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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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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Nature and Divine Retribution – science undermines belief

Posted by robertpriddy on March 23, 2011

Consider the statement: “Scientists today are exploring the powers of nature with a view to enjoying them without limit. They want to bring all those powers under human control for their unrestricted enjoyment. This is responsible for so many of the natural disasters we witness today.”

This seems reasonable to very many people in this era, not least because of the intense and ever-mounting pressure on the environment, ecological systems and nearly all usable natural resources. It is of course vitally important to recognize the effects of human exploitation on nature and to work to contain and counteract all life-threatening enterprises. However, once one combines this aim with religious teachings – whether Christian or Hindu, Judaic or Islamic or New Age etc. – a peculiar warped attitude to science and technology soon arises. One speaks of ‘Mother Earth’ (Bhoomidev . a deity in Hinduism) and ‘Gaia’ – as if the earth is a living, sensing and intelligent entity. Alternatively, many religious scriptures attribute all that happens to the will of God.. the (illogically conceived)  ‘uncaused cause’ of everything. Yet another variant -contradicting the previous – is the claim that human moral decline is the root cause of all ills, including what are otherwise known to be independently-caused natural phenomena. That is, not caused by God by only by humankind!

Consider another quote by the same person as the first quote above: “Many natural catastrophes are entirely due to ‘man’s behaviour. Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, wars, floods and famines and other calamities are the result of grave disorders in Nature. These disorders are traceable to man’s conduct. Man has not recognized the integral relationship between humanity and the world of Nature”.(December 1992 by Sathya Sai Baba – in the journal Sanathana Sarathi).

It is true that some natural disasters may have been triggered by human activities (massive dam building causing earth movements, as one example). But the sweeping claim in the quote exhibits confused thinking indeed. God is somehow no longer the cause, especially not of bad things. Human actions which alone can make ‘wars’ are included under natural calamities, while ‘volcanic eruptions’ and ‘earthquakes’ are supposedly caused by human (mis)conduct!  Granted, floods may sometimes be the result of bad land management, but only a tiny percentage of such calamities, not to mention major tsunamis.  As the scan above shows, the tsunami of  2004 was attributed to human lapses by Sathya Sai Baba – who has a multi-million following which includes 4 Presidents of India and 6 Prime Ministers (including the present incumbents!).

Richard Dawkins has illustrated the same ideology in Christianity, and pointed out the hypocrisy of those who support a faith, yet cherry-pick what to believe or not from the canonical scriptures. This selectivity is necessitated by the inroads science has made into most key statements in the Bible about the natural world, its origins and how to explain it (not to mention any details of many similar disproven ‘truths’ in the Koran):-



See article on Dawkins’ web site here

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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-

Posted in Atheism, Belief, Disinformation, Ideology, Philosophy, Religion, Spiritual cults | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

“God is Imaginary” – see linked proofs

Posted by robertpriddy on January 29, 2011

SCAN OF WEBSITE WHICH DESERVES WIDEST POSSIBLE DISTRIBUTION

  • MAIN SITE – CLICK HERE OR ON IMAGE ABOVE – FOR EACH OF THE PROOFS CLICK HERE BELOW

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  • Bonus #1
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