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 ‘religious faith’ 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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Theism and the ‘God Within’ ploy

Posted by robertpriddy on November 6, 2011

Theism involves belief in the existence and influence of a transcendental Creator. Because of the impossibility of providing the slightest unambiguous empirical proof of this imagined Being, those who find this position untenable have tended towards imagining that God resides only within the individual person’s deepest reality… in the human “heart”.  It can be discovered within oneself and experienced, it is found through variously differing ‘methods’ from prayer, to meditation, doing good works to simply having steadfast faith (in the supposed God). These ideas are widespread in Hinduism and the teachings of the mystics of most traditions. Christianity is increasingly turning towards this apparent way out. So-called New Age writers and gurus are among the most active promoters of the “inner path” and the ‘universal super consciousness’ which is equated with God. The location of this is supposedly everywhere and the route to it is via the “human heart”. The appeal to ‘the heart’ as superior to ‘the head’ is a numinous but ultimately vague and confused conception arising from primitive beliefs that the mind resided in the beating heart rather than in the brain. The physical heart is thus considered (most wrongly) to be the seat of human emotions and even of human wisdom and judgement.

To claim, as in some religions, that “all people are divine in essence” or Divinity is like a spark in everyone (and/or in every living being) is not to eliminate the assumption of the existence of God, it is simply to assuage the perplexed by diverting attention from the inability of proving that God has a separate existence – invisible, inscrutable, beyond human intelligence and ‘out there somewhere’. Others insist that God is both ‘within and without’. The inner reality of God is stated in a variety of summary ways – all of them without exception – when looked at closely – vague and ultimately insubstantial. The simplest version is perhaps ‘God is Everything’. Another is ‘All is one Divine Consciousness’. Both imply that we are God. However, to explain to unbelievers how we are not aware of this, God is said to be “within us all”, though our born ignorance, ego desires and much else hide the fact from us. Advaita holds that God is our true nature, that we really are God (sometimes qualified by ‘in essence’). Indian gurus preach advaitic variants like ‘God resides as consciousness in the heart’, ‘God is omnipresent’ and many other such vague and always untestable imagined conditions. The highly misguided doctrine of ‘god within’ is often promoted in mantra-like repetitions. None of it makes any proper sense because it is totally divorced from anything whatever which is observable by anyone anywhere. It rests entirely a a handed-down belief… that God is Almighty Creator and Ruler of All. “The scientific method is rejected in favour of revelation, belief and otherworldly projections and hopes, and one is trained to construct and maintain a view of reality which fits the mould set by the guru.” (Kramer & Alstead, ‘The Guru Papers’). This doctrine – known as advaita – incomplete and full of sheer speculation – is itself what one might call the final outcome of a long process of rejection of God concepts.

Human history presents a desolate mindscape of broken beliefs, especially religious beliefs which have
successively had to be abandoned because they could no longer be upheld in the face of mankind’s increasing discoveries of a majority of the actual causes of every kind of phenomena. Nonetheless, the remnant religious beliefs still rule the lives of billions of earth’s inhabitants… idols, deities, holy incarnations, holy places, holy men and women, saints, avatars. The various theologies of each religion meet with more and more insuperable difficulties in explanation, whereupon they retreat more and more into the abstract and the mystical.

The flat earthers eventually had to bow before Columbus’ discovery, the earth-centered universe before Copernicus, while scientific advance after advance dispelled all manner of false religious ideas concerning the earth’s history, human origins, the causes of all manner of human suffering, and even the origin and development of the entire universe. The flight of religion into the insubstantial bastion of the abstract and the unknown – that there are mysteries we cannot fathom because they are God’s preserve – is the result. Christianity usually asserts the ‘Holy Ghostliness’ of God, advaita the total but entirely unseen permeation of everything and everybody totally with incorporeal God. Theologies which put some limitation on God – like Catholicism, has to invoke Satan as God’s weaker counterpart even today to try to explain ignorance, wrong-doing and all that is fearful and destructive in mankind and nature. The doctrine of there being both eternal heaven and hell most likely go right back to early mankind’s attempt to explain the mysterious fact of the unreachable sky and the fearful outflows of volcanic magma.

I have written a somewhat lengthy analysis which shows the degree of conceptual and general confusion that reigns throughout these sectarian ideas.
God is everything, in everyone – as a spiritual teaching 

also Advaita – historical flight into abstraction and speculation

and The Ultimate Fallacy, which I wrote here some time ago.

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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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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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“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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    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!

    Posted in Atheism, Belief, Creationism, Ethics, Ideology, Philosophy, Religion, religious faith, Self-awareness, Spiritual propaganda | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

    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/


    Posted in Catholicism, Disinformation, Historical research, Ideology, Religion, religious faith, Research, Theology | Leave a Comment »

    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.

    Posted in Atheism, Belief, Evolution, Free will, Ideology, Philosophy, Religion, religious faith | Leave a Comment »