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.

  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 15 other followers

  • Feedshark

Archive for the ‘Spiritual propaganda’ Category

The Afterlife and evidence

Posted by robertpriddy on January 25, 2016

Those who believe in an afterlife, in whatever sphere imaginable cannot know what it would be like, the shape or form, time or place or any other definitive information about it. One may believe one knows, but that is still just a belief, however much circumstantial evidence one may claim for it or however convincing the sect, cult or guru that promotes it may be. Therefore certain questions can be asked.

Presuming that I will reappear in some form, will it be me and not someone else when some new spirit awakens me? Humankind has long supposed that the individual person lives on in an afterlife and therefore has the same identity. The underlying faith here is that it will be I who will be there and take on some new form, preferably in an easier and better world. Or perhaps the same form renewed as one had at some stage, so if one meets long-lost friends and relatives, they will recognise me? Thus one can build out a narrative to quell anxieties about endless oblivion.

How you were at some given time of life – or any of the other considerably different selves that evolve throughout your life until the ‘final act’ – does not constitute your undying identity. The idea that there is an unchanging self which is one’s core identity has no sound evidence to support it, as Julian Baggini and others have shown. Though there are many scriptures which suggest or assert this, and much philosophy that is enamoured of the thought and its possibilities, there is no empirical evidence to substantiate this.  To this, the true believer in the eternal self will often respond that it is a matter that cannot be decided by worldly methods, but only by intuition along with high-flying reasoning, possibly by using supposed paranormal powers to obtain ‘divine revelations’ or occult wisdom. Arguments for all such means must rely on beliefs, unproven assumptions or axioms. Moralists who believe in divine reward and punishment (such as a universal law of karma) are motivated by a range of emotions and unexamined prejudgements. (Around 80% of Americans believe in heaven and hell!)

Suppose such beliefs to be valid and true. How then would our existence be? Imagine – for example – how it would be to be living on as a continuation of oneself in an infant’s body, remembering all those things one has been and done that make up one’s supposed ‘self’, a self which remained the same and could not be changed whatever one did. Would not we then have to drag along with us all our remembered lives endlessly? Not to be able to remember them would not change the real situation, only that we could somehow hide our true self from our awareness. Without self-forgetfulness we could get no relief from the sorrows, sufferings and traumas that marked us in the past. Could a blanket of forgetfulness descend as we came into a new life somehow maintaining an unconscious continuity of self, while an entirely fresh experience develops in consciousness? This is what some believers in reincarnation hold.

This vision is one that rebirthers develop with their manifold extra-scientific doctrines and methods of so-called ‘past life regression therapy’. Such ‘therapies’ are not scientifically based or recognised by modern medicine, depending as they do on ways of altering perceptions such as through hypnotherapy, suggestion, and even the use of mind-altering substances. What one experiences or interprets from them is subjective and uncontrollable by other observations. Many cases of persons who discover they were sexually abused in childhood by parents or others have been shown to be bogus and great suspicion attaches to claims based on these supposed regression claims. Research on so-called false memories and how they arise has made considerable advances.

There is no proof or even reliable circumstantial evidence that either eternal hell or everlasting heaven exists, while there are many feasible explanations as to how these beliefs arose in primitive humanity, what or who motivated and sustained them for all manner of reason. Despite this, there are innumerable differing claims about what happens to the individual after death, countless belief systems of where one goes and how its inhabitants would be… from Elysium to Hades, Paradise to Hell, Purgatory or Sheol, Limbo, Swarga or Naraka, Valhalla or some other realm of ancestors or disembodied shades… the imaginary details are virtually endless.

Various religions teach of intervening periods between death and rebirth. The Greeks believed in this, Christianity developed speculation on it much further, while much Hindu doctrine revolves around temporary existence in other worlds according to what personal destiny decrees. If one can ever be reborn, there would most likely have to be a transition the nature and length of which no one can determine. In that interval, the deceased person may or may not experience selfhood just as before. The disembodied soul or wraith is often alleged to meet judgement leading to trials, punishments or rewards as an adjustment to the other-world and education to further existence… rebirth in some appropriate form or other (even as an animal, according to some religions). The various versions of purgatory (Catholic, Jewish, Hindu) involve transitional visits to imaginary hells or to uplifting spheres, the latter much promoted by mediums,’channelers’ and diverse mystics.

The doctrine that a person’s “true self “ is completely transcendent of the mind (call it ‘eternal spirit’ or ‘heart’ or ‘universal consciousness’ or what you will) is part of the belief system that refuses to consider a person (or soul) not disappear after death,  This involves a schism between individual consciousness and the so-called universal one. Many sophisticated spiritual arguments are put forward, especially in Advaitic Hinduism, to bridge this gap. Yet they are speculative in the sense of being unconfirmable in research or personal experience.

Though ‘spiritual masters’ claim to have the experience of both, and many users of psychotropic substances assert the same, there is no guarantee that the universal awareness they experience is the same in each or even any instance. Besides, consciousness must always be consciousness of something – some ‘mental object’ or phenomenon – or else it is not consciousness. So anyone’s guess is as good as another’s on what ‘universal consciousness’ has as its object. It cannot be its own object. So even when we may seem to experience that we are somehow ‘beyond mind and in pure spirit’ – as can occur in many ways from extreme meditation and asceticism, induced trance, the ingestion of opium or of psychedelic and entheogenic substances, the specific mind and brain is still always the medium of experience, for none of it can be recalled without the mind’s activity. However much would-be spiritual teachers struggle to ‘cleanse’ the mind of all worldly aspiration and thoughts, try to stop it, get between though impulses to  negate it, or otherwise deny its presence, it remains the medium of all that too. 

This brings us to the issue of the dependency of the mind on the brain and the ‘near-death’ experience, which is often thought of by some incorrectly as the after-death experience. A dead body cannot tell what it experienced. No experiment has so far succeeded in showing conclusively that a person who exhibit signs of death (like heart stoppage, cessation of brain waves) but revives afterwards was dead. Therefore no proof of even a briefest afterlife has been established. That the revived person is able to tell of events that took place during the ‘near-death’ experience does not guarantee that this was due to any kind of transcendental consciousness. Other explanations are possible, though the means remain unknown. One most telling fact is the described effects of large does of the drug ketamine can induce a state described by subjects to show very similar experiences to those who have survived near-death experiences, not least the so-called ‘K-hole’ experience, going through a dark tunnel towards a light, ending with a feeling of having died and being in the presence of God. (See The Blissful Brain by Dr. Shanida Nataraja, Gaia, London 2008, p. 149). 

Some Eastern religions claim that rebirth takes place at some indefinite time after death. This is mostly thought to be in another human body, otherwise incarnation as an animal at any level of evolution. The most optimistic hope is to reappear as some super-being, an angel, an enlightened soul, a deity or perhaps even as an alien of some higher level of development, but preferably as a joyous and all-knowing blissful consciousness eternally absorbed in a supposed Universal Being. If not next time but sometime in the future. Take your pick… but the chosen belief does not carry any guarantees.

All the imagined dimensions involved are actually inconceivable as definitive environments, locations, lands, societies. The can only be given the flimsiest of descriptions or representation, invariably depending on borrowing known features from our present world. Should there be a virtual copy of the present world elsewhere, incorporeal or not, we have never come across it nor can discover any feasible whereabouts. The power of human imagination can work equally for good or ill, truth or delusive myth-making. As Iain M. Banks has put it: “The imagination is necessary not to make things up – that would be wrong – but to come up with plausible scenarios for what ones senses are detecting, theories that might explain what is going on.”

Those who entertain ideas and hopes about an afterlife often say that it would add meaning to life. If we simply cease to exist, would not life be meaningless, or at least less meaningful? If a person cannot find living meaningful or create a meaningful existence without faith in its continuation after death, it is a sorry plight indeed. Meaning is created by the mind, being the significance we grant to events we experience, whether bad or good, important or less so. Nature does not exhibit any specific meaning (unless one can say procreation or evolution is inherently meaningful). Yet since the ancient past, humankind has tried to find clear unequivocal meaning in its various events and have tried to influence through worship and sacrifices the countless spirits and deities they came to believe must be behind it all. That kind of propitiation has never been proven to be effective, despite religions exhorting prayer and ritual, chanting and meditation, self-denial and much else to conciliate the imagined powers involved. No conclusive evidence of demons, deities, departed souls, ghosts, or other unearthly entities have yet been scientifically validated or widely accepted. Instead, science has provided testable explanations of the vast majority of natural events that affect humanity and also of how people hear voices, seem to contact incorporeal entities etc., making such otherworldly agencies redundant.

Where no satisfactory explanations to the ‘mysteries’ of nature and life could be found, imagination and superstition were called upon to play the biggest role in trying to explain them. This heritage of millennia, though intellectually redundant, has a tremendous inertia which hinders the controllable answers supplied through the lengthy and painstaking investigation of the sciences, answers that were held in great scepticism and were condemned as heresy or superstition due to nothing less than belief and superstition, which are still so very powerful throughout much of the globe. It seems most likely that the model for hell and heaven is earthly, the impenetrable blue mystery (the sky) and the roaring sulphurous volcanoe (hell), with the added details of the joy and blisses that the fortunate experience and the many man-made hells on earth.

Reported experiences of revival from clinical death are not by any means all supportive of continued existence. For example, the case of a man who died and was revived twice who experience nothing – until he was revived and noticed a time lapse. http://www.express.co.uk/news/science/713799/life-after-death-afterlife-heaven-dead

Posted in Atheism, Spiritual cults, Spiritual propaganda, Theology | 1 Comment »

Prayer and Meditation – the futility?

Posted by robertpriddy on December 9, 2011

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


Click on image above to see original article in full

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

Posted in Ideology, Religion, Science, Spiritual propaganda | Leave a Comment »

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 »

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 »

Spirituality redefined without religion or mysticism

Posted by robertpriddy on December 3, 2010

The words ‘spiritual’ and ‘spirituality’ are nowadays being widely used to advance all manner of religious and pseudo-religious theory, such as unrealistic ‘New Age’ belief systems. They should be redefined entirely within the context of the ‘human spirit’, not any kind of imagined disembodied holy entity (God) or world of spirits (an afterlife or realm of eternal beings). The creations of human ingenuity – whether artistic or scientific, social or moral, practical or even technological – can be expressions of the human spirit. Genuine spirituality is – in real terms – about all those down-to-earth values whereby one does one’s best to advance society in everyday life, create secure and peaceful conditions for oneself and others. Always defending the truth and being truthful, loving others and where possible serving them while respecting their genuinely human qualities and acting in accordance with this to the best of one’s understanding and ability… these are signs of recognisable and real true human spirituality.

A fair degree of self interest is not incompatible with such ‘spirituality’ as we also have a duty to ourselves to survive, develop and live fully. However, there is a vast amount of what passes for spirituality which is self-serving in that people aspire only or predominantly to their own supposed salvation or benefit. This involves putting one’s own wished-for ‘liberation’ from worldly problems entirely before other concerns, aiming to win divine benefits through worship, prayer, meditation,  rituals of many kinds. The desired attainments would raise oneself above others, such as in trying to obtain extraordinary psychic powers or other imagined ‘holy’ dispensations. Those who aspire to such believe in otherworldly and discarnate entities as promoted by mainstream religions and a host of sects and cults of almost every conceivable description.

Looked at from the standpoint of non-belief, religions are seen mostly to be about moralistic control of others and creating false hopes of healing, miracles, divine forgiveness and other promised rewards which seldom occur (and when appearing to are without proof of any divine origin). Not least, religion exercises power over others through creating fears of punishments of many kinds, especially after death. Religion is too often largely about believing in beings which cannot be proven to exist and events which cannot be proven to have occurred – or in scriptures and doctrines about them. Countless conflicts are either caused by religious fervor – or are supported by religionists on opposing sides. Human values are – by the very concept – not divinely ordained, they are human… based in human interests for survival, happiness, peace, freedom from oppression and glaring inequality. Religions have tried to subjugate these values to themselves and/or the absent deities or God in whom they believe. (See some of the theological tricks involved examined here)

It is unnecessary for any mention of God or religion in the context of moral issues, they can be discussed adequately and fully – and practised – without any such reference.  Human life teaches values naturally, for the peace, prosperity and happiness for all towards which good people strive arise from observable actions within the scope of such values, and equally man-made sufferings are easily seen to arise from false values. The desires for fulfillment of human needs are quite universal, though the needs will differ with changing circumstances, But ignorance of our nature and lack of empathy causes many to try to reach them through short-cuts like corruption, violence and crime. None of that has anything to do with any god, deity or spirit – and natural disasters are exactly that, natural not divinely caused! We should harm no living beings if avoidable and possible for the reason that it causes fruitless suffering, not because any god or cosmic intelligence created living creatures – they and we are all products of an enormously long, complex and amazing process of evolution which needed no divinity to operate, nor to begin. The real evidence shows only that we are all products of evolution, not of divine creation. (Those who still doubt the validity of this would benefit by seeing David Attenborough’s film for BBC and Discovery Channel  ‘First Life’

Once entrapped in religious thinking, one tends to attribute everything to God even when it is really our own doing, but especially when it is something (negative) beyond ones control. God is a summary word for all manner of believed ideas, derived from groping superstitions handed down, extended and manipulated for countless generations. It is bolstered by millennia of ignorance (and fear) about the real causes of events and has generated a social inertia (i.e. an accumulated energy which is most difficult to counteract without an equally strong opposing force). Science has taught us the real causes of the majority of known events, starting really seriously only a few centuries ago. The scope it now encompasses compared with what it did even when left school in the early 1950s is amazing, and our knowledge is expanding at a colossal pace which is still increasing.  Since then has successfully been explaining more and more things humankind originally came to believe must be done by  some God, spirits or other non testable speculations.

We can now look at the sky and realise there is no one up there, though long believed they must be, and since we could not get off the ground, physically or otherwise, we were in awe of it as ‘heaven’ or the abode of the ancestors or whatever. We understand, for example, that from seeing volcanoes the idea of an underworld and a hell where one burns arose. Yet religions still preach these absurdly primitive falsehoods to billions of people, and it is shameful indeed that Pope Benedict XVI
(falsely claimed to be an intellectual) still preached the primitive and absurd doctrine of damnation in hell for non-believers in his particular delusions! As argued previously on this blog, on the evidence so far and with the highest probability, God is nothing but the creation of the human mind.

See also Human Values as Common Ideals
Human Values in Psychology

Posted in Atheism, Belief, Catholicism, Creationism, Disinformation, Environment, Ethics, Evolution, Ideology, Religion, religious faith, Science, Spiritual propaganda, Theology, Uncategorized, Understanding | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

On the roots of political, religious and other fanaticism

Posted by robertpriddy on November 2, 2010

Religious, political and varied other kinds of fanatic are those who defend beliefs as certainties and tend to hold absolutist opinions. In neurological terms they are said to have developed “hard-wiring” whereby certain neuronal pathways in their brains have been so strongly reinforced that they maintain ideas and opinions against otherwise overwhelming contrary evidence. Such mindsets may be unreflected – unquestioned assumptions about many things which have been ingrained in their make-up in early life. So how can one learn about the most likely and most general causes of such fanaticism?

In the relative lack of well-articulated and systematic empirical studies on the circumstances influencing the adoption of one or another kind of extremism or fanatical attitude, we must rely mostly on recorded case histories and insightful literature. The chief source of understanding is probably individual life experience… and the longer and more varied the life, the higher accuracy and value the experience will have.

On such foundations it seems indisputable that, very often, sustained fanaticism occurs in persons who have had a disturbed upbringing causing them to lack what Medard Boss and other existential psychologists have termed ‘basic trust’. Obviously, the specific causes of each kind and degree of disturbance can vary enormously, but a general process definitely seems to pertain in that the need for security or mental-emotional comfort which has lacked is relieved by a pseudo-remedy. Such remedies may include the acceptance of someone as a father- or mother-figure (such as a charismatic preacher or guru, established religious or even political figures as an idol – which ‘transference’ of need is used therapeutically by psycho-analysts). Aids used to relieve emotional suffering also include imagined entities (angels, deities, aliens etc.) to largely mental abstractions, from religious doctrines to conspiracy theories, set philosophies to totalitarianism.

However, on the positive side of things, such strongly held positions, also when long entrenched, can sometimes be overcome. The (undamaged) human brain is reportedly never so “hard-wired” as to be irretrievably fixated into set patterns of responses. New paths can be opened if sufficient stimulus is there, and what was “hard-wired” in the shape of cast iron beliefs or opinions set in stone, and even over a long period of time can – with lack of reinforcement – eventually fade into insignificance.

However, where the person concerned is unable to overcome or neutralise the root cause of unfulfilled needs or a badly disturbed sense of trust, the evidence points to substitution of other cognitive distortion in place of the defeated ones. Thus, a believer who is severely jolted out of belief in a religious sect, cult or guru will very often seek another such in place of the first. The same applies (with due alteration of details) in political extremism and other kind of ‘fanatical fixation’.

One main cause of religious zeal: Religious enthusiasm is often fuelled by the desire to be part of a greater whole and ‘surrender’ ones worries and anxieties into the keeping of a wise super-being… whose existence is deduced through false logic from observations and especially from unconfirmed and non-confirmable second-hand reports (i.e. such as scriptures and hagiography). This applies equally to followers of many political movement of the more or less totalitarian kind. The all-too-commonplace assumption of religionists that a super-being is controlling everything that everyone thinks or does, and all that happens from the tiniest detail to the unknown reaches of the vastest universe would seem to rank near the top of the greatest conspiracy theories of all time. This assumption leads to cognitive distortions of many kinds, from the somewhat innocuous to the truly dangerous and highly destructive doctrines. This assumption is so widespread and has had such a pervasive influence throughout the history of the world that it must be considered one of the chief causes of religious fanaticism.

One symptom of clinging to cherished beliefs is seen in most conspiracy theorists. Such theories are sometimes surely designed to defend against a perceived threat to the way of seeing the world that the proponent feels it imperative to maintain. They avoid or belittle investigation of substantive facts and are liable to rely on assertions about others’ assertions for fact (whether in support of their fancy or the opposite), without themselves confronting the factual basis itself.  Such theories detach from the basic factual evidence and are generally highly selective as to what they take into account. One can see the avoidance of psychological denial in the ways they concentrate almost exclusively on verbal statements and the character of those who made them, rather than on collected and sifted evidence.

See also Neuronal Pathway Finding: From Neurons to Initial Neural Networks

How your brain creates God (i.e. subjective ‘realities’)

The Origins and Persistence of Religious Belief and Faith in God

Posted in Belief, Disinformation, Ideology, Psychology, religious faith, Self-awareness, Spiritual propaganda, Understanding | Leave a Comment »

Will Pope Benedict XVI go to hell?

Posted by robertpriddy on September 19, 2010

Since the Pope now visits Britain, why can’t he get a dispensation from the Lord also to visit hell, in which he firmly believes (see below)? There must be many there (in his view) who would long to see even one wave of his holy hand! He might even stay there and administer to the ‘lost souls’. Who are the lost souls? All of us billions who are not Roman Catholics!:-

“The intolerance not just to other religions, but to other types of Christianity, is unfortunately fostered by the upper echelons of the Church. In August 2000 a Church declaration (called Dominus Jesus and endorsed by the Pope) announced that the Catholic Church represented the only ‘valid’ and ‘genuine’ Christian episcopate. Any other type of ordination – either Anglican or Non-Conformist – was simple heresy. Even to many Catholic onlookers it appeared like something from the Middle Ages. The inspiration for such announcements is invariably Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a man who heads what is called the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (an organisation that acts as the guard dog against pluralism and tolerance). It doesn’t take long to realise that Roman Catholicism is excruciatingly conservative and – like Italy itself- acutely hierarchical.” (‘The Dark Heart of Italy’ by Tobias Jones, 2003)

As stated, the Pope believes firmly in eternal hellfire, as he showed before he realised the damage this would do him. He later tried to tone down his ill-advised ‘eternal’ pronouncement, but it was really too late… we know what he really believes, because The Sunday Times (March 27, 2007) reported “The fires of hell are real and eternal, the Pope warns“:  ‘Hell is a place where sinners really do burn in an everlasting fire, and not just a religious symbol designed to galvanise the faithful, the Pope has said.’: “Hell “really exists and is eternal, even if nobody talks about it much any more”, he said.”

The damage-limitation exercise which followed later on was reported by the Catholic News Agency, as follows: ” In reply, the Pope called heaven, hell, and purgatory “fundamental themes that unfortunately appear rarely in our preaching,” journalist and church expert Sandro Magister reports. Pope Benedict speculated that the condemned might not be numerous, describing how thoroughly they would have to have destroyed themselves: “Perhaps there are not so many who have destroyed themselves so completely, who are irreparable forever, who no longer have any element upon which the love of God can rest, who no longer have the slightest capacity to love within themselves. This would be hell.” (http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/what_the_pope_really_said_about_hell/)

The obscurantism of Pope Benedict XVI almost takes ones breath away, except that we are inured to the Middle Age theology and backward-looking morality that the Papal visit to UK brings into focus yet again. In the Pope has any real investigatory capacity and critical intelligence, he would realise how much damage he is doing to the people of many countries who have no real defense against the cynical indoctrination in which they are brought up. Consider it, children are taught to fear hell at an early age by most priests, and not a few of them learn that to speak up about sexual abuse is to risk eternal damnation and hellfire. Too much in this religion is full of empty words, anti-rational teachings about sexuality and gender, and unsupportable beliefs about the past that one almost despairs of the human race which cannot so far completely eliminate it.

Posted in Atheism, Belief, Catholic Church, Catholicism, Disinformation, Ideology, Religion, religious faith, Spiritual propaganda, Theology | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

How Does the Brain Create God – and in which ways?

Posted by robertpriddy on August 17, 2010

A new discipline referred to as ‘neurophilosophy’ has been promoted by evolutionists like A.C. Grayling – also by geneticists and neuroscientists. Their serious and fully scientifically-oriented discipline attempts to interpret the results of neurology in terms of human experience and ideologies. It is specifically NOT related to the hybrid science-mysticism of ‘neurotheology’ as promoted by Iona Miller, which is examined critically from a philosophical aspect in the following:-

1) Iona Miller article “How the Brain Creates God” suggests that God is entirely brain-created, but that misleads as to her main purpose, to instate the religious impulse and mystical experience (of God, unity, whatever…)  as fundamental to the human brain.

2) The schism between ‘outer’ and ‘inner’, mind and its objects, the brain and the mind (an underlying Cartesian dualism inflect Miller’s language and thought)

3) The irreconcilable positions of dualism and monism (to both of which Miller appeals)

4) The extra-scientific influence of Jungian thought (who claimed he knew God exists and misled a generation of psycho-analysts)

5) Denial of living reality, all is illusion – Miller reveals her basic agenda, that of non-dualism (as in advaita, zen, diverse mysticism)

CLICK ON EACH OF THE SCANNED IMAGES BELOW TO ENLARGE THE TEXT (or click here for the entire text enlarged) See also On the Roots of Religious Fanaticism

Posted in Atheism, Belief, causality, Creationism, Evolution, Ideology, Philosophy, Religion, religious faith, Science, Self-awareness, Sociology, Spiritual propaganda, Theology, Uncategorized, Understanding | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Strict Nuns get IT help with their prayers?

Posted by robertpriddy on August 12, 2010

Gareth Mitchell of the BBC World Service programme Digital Planet (10/08/2010) presented one of the most hilariously ridiculous reports that I have heard. It was about a community of nuns – the aptly named ‘Poor Clares nuns of St. Joseph’s in York – which have had a digital dot matrix display designed and made for them (in the shape of a chalice or a candlestick candle with a text display on top) that gives a news feed of global events and updates of the emotions and feelings of bloggers around the world. For the last 18 months the Poor Clare’s nuns have been using this internet portal to help “guide their prayers”. They have taken vows of chastity, poverty and enclosure, but they reportedly “intercede in the world” through prayer. Bill Gaver from Goldsmiths, London, which made the unobtrusive device suitable to the “meditative environment” explained how these nuns have taken vows of social isolation which Goldsmiths tried their utmost to respect. However, the nuns needed up-dated information on who and what to pray for, hence the digital device which is prominently displayed in their prayer hall.

The screen displays results from keywords like ‘feel’, hoping that the nuns will learn what people in the real world are feeling. Some of the results were evidently not so illumining, like ‘I feel good’ (doubtless also less expected postings like ‘I feel like a few beers’ or ‘Why the devil do I feel like a good ****?” and so on). In short the presenter and Bill Gaver made complete asses of themselves in expounding the great benefits that can be expected from this innovation in glowing terms as subtly non-invasive of their privacy and not least their self-condemned total isolation from the world. Unfortunately, though, the publicity about it had led to journalists knocking at the monastery doors… and the nuns had – surprisingly (?) also let some in to take photographs!

The “unobtrusive but effective” innovation, of which the designer said he was very proud, was said to help the nuns not to just impose their own views in sending their prayers to the ‘higher plane, as it were’, the one which is really effective! He claimed “they are changing the way God looks at people who are unhappy”. So are they instructing God too, as being out of touch with things?

Why bother with the Internet. Why not just pray to God to do the right thing whoever, wherever, whatever? Can’t he (she, or it) manage to figure the message? Oddly, the presenter reported that the nuns had already got themselves a computer so as to get on-line (in addition to their traditional use of the radio).  This incredible satire was amusing, if nothing more. Why can’t the nuns pray for the victims of Pakistan’s floods, China’s mudslides, Russia’s drought and have done with it all so effectively?

Posted in Atheism, Internet, Media, Religion, religious faith, Spiritual propaganda, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

How your brain creates God (i.e. subjective ‘realities’)

Posted by robertpriddy on July 10, 2010

 

New Scientist article on human brain and its natural inclination for religious belief

In relation to the inset article: This is interesting because it indicates – at the least – how the human brain is most likely the creator of myths… rather than there being any spirit or soul which instructs the brain. On the other hand, the (admittedly tentative) conclusion that humans have a ‘natural’ inclination to religious belief is rather facile, to say the least. It is rather disappointing that the New Scientist publishes material which contains research based on imprecise or questionable usage of terms (eg. ‘religious ideas’, ‘natural inclination’, ‘hard-wired’).

The instance quoted to support this – hard times such as the Great Depression causing a rise in authoritarian church attendance – is not much of an empirical generalization… for surely countless counter examples could be found. The talk of the ‘brain being hard-wired’ for many different things, such as ’empathy’ and ‘romantic rejection’, then also ‘religious belief’ strikes a semanticist as an exaggeration in terminology for findings which are yet of a very tentative nature. For example, if the human brain is, through evolutionary pressures, now hard-wired for religious belief of some kind, how is that so many people are atheistic, agnostic or simply don’t care and never bother themselves with God in any shape or form.

Widespread atheism in a society is a recent development in human history, and does this not indicate that but the alleged “hard-wiring” proved soft after all? In the most progressively intellectual countries of Northern Europe, America (apart from the alleged USA religious majority), Australasia and so on, religion has lost it iron grip on the common mentality of people. Prevailing attitudes – which share the noosphere with opposite attitudes, can hardly be said to be evidence of ‘hard-wiring’. One suspects that there can sometimes even be a pseudo-religious agenda in emphasizing this supposed powerful ‘natural’ inclination (Thank goodness it is not called a ‘natural instinct’ any longer, as on the Cartesian-type model of a ‘God-embedded’ idea of God in human minds). In short, the jury must remain out and should not speak about their private conclusions until the evidence is overwhelming… which it most likely never will be, considering the huge exceptions I have so far only touched on.

The continued preponderance of religious ideas and their role in the arts, music, literature etc. can be explained in numerous other ways than by reference to evolutionary brain developments, which researches still remain in the shadow area of speculation, not verified and well-established hypotheses. Firstly, there is no longer a common religion in all cultures, and most religions were virtually unknown to one other in the main before the modern age of global communications. Besides, there were – and still are – many cultures where what religionists interpret as religion bears little resemblance to any of today’s mainstream religions. What can be defined as a religion is almost a political issue. This vastly complicates research addressing such sweeping terms as ‘religious’.

Secondly, the development of arts in civilised societies are understandably influenced by the other ideas, including prevalent religious beliefs. There can be many reasons for such influences other than then brain’s inclinations. There is the matter of getting accepted by others, which means communicating in terms they understand or prefer. The successful artist is almost always  dependent on a degree of pandering to prevailing tastes, fashions and the lingua franca of the ‘moral’ leaders or law-makers of society, often a priesthood,  if only so as not to be persecuted (one things of Bruno and Galileo for a start). Thirdly, that the brain can “conjure up an imaginary world of spirits, gods and monsters” is no more fundamental than what the mind of a child can create beyond the everyday world from which it draws its elements (especially of a religiously un-indoctrinated children) . Imagination is not limited to spirits, gods and monsters – of course – though these were employed by primitive humankind in an attempt to grasp the causes of the otherwise ‘mysterious’ nature (plagues, droughts, calamities rule a population and even that it rains ‘Deus pluit‘ and a thousand other daily enigmas to early people). This emphasis on religious element in imagination in the ‘hard-wired religion’ camp is without any empirical stringency, since alternative figments of the mind are innumerable too, especially today when all have potential access to everything all cultures have produced.

One of those who capitalizes on such research findings is Iona Miller of the Asklepia Foundation, 2003 writes: “The god-experience is a process, a subjective perception, rather than an objectively provable reality. Distractions cease, replaced by the direct impact of oceanic expansion, sudden insight, childlike wonder, ecstatic exaltation above bodily and personal existence, dissolution in a timeless moment, fusion, gnosis” I shall consider this in a separate blog later.

Se also On the roots of religious fanaticism

Posted in Belief, Creationism, Environment, Evolution, Ideology, Philosophy, Psychology, Religion, Science, Spiritual propaganda, Theology, Understanding | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »