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Thread: K-Punk and the Catholics

  1. #61
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    Quote Originally Posted by infinite thought
    I think it's important to think that it's actually very hard to be 1. a fully consistent atheist and 2. a fully consistent believer. It strikes me that working out that both of these positions are extraordinarily difficult is the first step to taking them both seriously.....
    Though aware of the fact that what I am about to say is a generalisation almost to the point of uselessness, it strikes me that it is most probably impossible to find any belief system that can be held consistently... So it's not just a problem for atheism and religious belief. For example, even agnosticism cannot be lived out in practice: to say that one is "not sure" about the existence God, and is therefore unsure about what foundations there might be for ethical and moral positions, surely implies that judgement about "what should be done" is infinitely deferred... Yet despite this, people act all the time, thereby implying that they have already made assumptions about 'what is to be done' - these assumptions are what they enact. In other words, the so-called agnostics can never be successfully follow their intentions to remain undecided until 'further information' arrives, by which they might be able to make a decision, yes or no, about the existence of God...

    The tricky thing is embracing the necessarily contradictory condition of life.

  2. #62
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    Quote Originally Posted by echo-friendly
    Atheism is certainly older than Christianity.
    I wouldn't think that this is the case. Although, of course, it depends on what definition of 'atheism' you're going with. I shall assume that the position of "having no thoughts about God whatsoever" (eg. through being non-sentient, being sentient but only thinking about how to hunt and kill your next meal) is not atheism per se: the word seems to imply having answered the question "is there a god?" with "no."

    I was under the impression, you see, that the earliest thinking humans (homo sapiens?) were in fact animistic - which seems like polytheistic position to me. I wasn't aware that there was really any atheism prior to Christianity - though if someone can provide me with historical examples to the contrary, I'll be happy to say that I'm wrong. And, of course, I may have adopted a rather narrow definition of 'atheism' here.

    Oh, and given that I forgot to do this in my previous post, I'll 'reveal my position'. I am what some may call a "cultural Catholic", though aside from sentimental attachment, I don't feel particularly obliged to defend the church. On the question of what I do believe, I am rather more confused - that is, after reading some Nietzsche, I just don't know what to do! Though I do have quite an interest in Christianity, as its history forms much of the history of 'Western thought' (read: "grappling with its worldview forms much of the history of my thought...). So that's me, partially denuded.

  3. #63
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    Quote Originally Posted by &catherine
    it strikes me that it is most probably impossible
    to find any belief system that can be held consistently...
    it's really easy. what about the position "everything's great" or
    "everything is green cheese"? the problem is to get interesting,
    rich positions that are also consistent. of course part of the
    difficulty is that it's hardly clear what "consistency" really may be.

    So it's not just a problem for atheism and religious
    belief. For example, even agnosticism cannot be lived out in practise:
    to say that one is "not sure" about the existence God, and is
    therefore unsure about what foundations there might be for ethical and
    moral positions,
    why should agnostics not use alternative narratives to explain their
    problematic actions? like maximising their/somebody else's pleasure,
    or doing as they are told, or throwing coins as decision procedure?

    Quote Originally Posted by &catherine
    I was under the impression, you see, that the earliest thinking humans
    (homo sapiens?) were in fact animistic - which seems like
    polytheistic position to me.
    and exactly on what evidence do you base your impression? on the
    extensive scriptures these "earliest thinking humans" have left
    behind?

    the thing you have to realise is that until recently, atheism was a
    persecuted world-view. this had several consequences.

    (1) many atheists will not have publicised their conviction, thus
    leaving few traces.

    (2) consequently, most narratives about atheists are the products of
    their enemies, the religions. now one of the important rhetorical
    weapons religions use in their self-marketing is to describe their
    doctrine in terms of being passed down from wiser elders, from time
    immemorial. the pretence that our seniors were somehow wiser is
    essentially a version of the "survival of the fittest" argumentative
    strategy. it also plays on oedipal fears, by allusion to childhood, a
    time when one is in fact surrounded by elders with a better grasp of
    how the world turns.

    To keep this strategy effective, it is vital for churches to claim
    atheism as a modern phenomenon, a sign of the depravity of modern
    times, rather than something as old or even older than religious
    though. relatedly, our ancestors are generally being conceived of as
    less cultured, closer to nature and if religion, rather than
    atheism was their reaction to the problems religion tries to solve, it
    would seem that the latter and not the former is somehow more
    natural. but being natural is mostly assumed to be better, so you get
    a pretty strong incentive for religious writers -- those who shaped
    the common narratives about the genesis of religions and its
    alternative -- to claim historical priority.


    Quote Originally Posted by &catherine
    I wasn't aware that there was really any atheism prior to
    Christianity - though if someone can provide me with historical
    examples to the contrary, I'll be happy to say that I'm wrong. And, of
    course, I may have adopted a rather narrow definition of 'atheism'
    here.
    you'll find plenty in the ancient Greek world. the term "atheos" has
    it's origins there, although it used to describe enemies of the
    traditional local gods, which could include followers of other
    faiths. (interestingly, early christians were sometimes considered
    atheos, because the idea that a god would "come down" and be human was
    such a violation of the dignity of what some religious greeks
    considered intrinsic in the very notion of gods). if you look at the
    pre-socrates, you'll notice a strong atheistic bent. anaximandros,
    heraklit, emphedokles and others come to mind. in socratic times,
    atheism becomes more problematic because there's presecution.
    Last edited by echo-friendly; 30-10-2004 at 08:32 PM.

  4. #64
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    Quote Originally Posted by echo-friendly
    it's really easy. what about the position "everything's great" or
    "everything is green cheese"? the problem is to get interesting,
    rich positions that are also consistent. of course part of the
    difficulty is that it's hardly clear what "consistency" really may be.
    Perhaps what I said is better expressed by saying "it seems impossible to have any belief system that is not internally self-contradictory". That's what I was getting at by use of the term 'consistent'.

    And as for "easy"... I'm sure it is easy to say things like this. But logically, they don't check out. And that was my point, that the inevitability of contradiction is something that people interested in questions of faith must face up to. Even if this 'facing up to' only takes the form of ignoring the contradiction...

    why should agnostics not use alternative narratives to explain their
    problematic actions? like maximising their/somebody else's pleasure,
    or doing as they are told, or throwing coins as decision procedure?
    I don't recall ever having said that they shouldn't do these things - in fact, these sort of actions exemplify what I was talking about. Using multiple narratives to explain actions, would presumably result in many conflicting explanations for 'why things happen' / 'why actions have been taken'. And, to use a word that seems one of your favourites, this is an "easy" thing to do, on the practical level. But to build an ethical system or system of values out of this would result in a structure that is full of dissonance and contradiction. Whether or not one finds this problemmatic is a matter of opinion or taste. I think it flies in the face of what is accepted in the institution of law, for example. But my point, at bottom, was that these agnostics - and everyone - will contradict themselves, whether they're aware of it or not.

    and exactly on what evidence do you base your impression? on the
    extensive scriptures these "earliest thinking humans" have left
    behind?
    On a few things. Firstly, cave painting and related evidence of religious sacrifice and festival. Secondly, evidence of the ritual burial of the dead. These seem to attest to a world view in which there are believed to be 'magical' or 'spiritual' forces as work - these practices result from more than purely utilitarian motives, in other words. The first posited 'laws of the universe' were ones that functioned by 'magic'. And even if it was not the case that gods per se were in the picture, I don't think that you could call such a spiritual worldview 'atheistic'.

    To keep this strategy effective, it is vital for churches to claim
    atheism as a modern phenomenon, a sign of the depravity of modern
    times, rather than something as old or even older than religious
    though.
    I agree with you completely. But I think it is also the case that 'atheism' has a certain, special relationship with 'modernity'... Or at least there are various schools of thought which would define 'the modern' in such terms.

    But even so...

    you'll find plenty in the ancient Greek world. the term "atheos" has
    it's origins there, although it used to describe enemies of the
    traditional local gods, which could include followers of other
    faiths.
    ... even so, just because the term existed, doesn't mean that these people didn't actually believe in gods back then, as is clear in this example.

    if you look at the
    pre-socrates, you'll notice a strong atheistic bent. anaximandros,
    heraklit, emphedokles and others come to mind.
    Yes, I've thought to myself more than a few times while typing this, that I shouldn't be too careless about blurring the line that divides a religious point of view (or one that is generally metaphysical) from one that is theistic, in the strictest sense.

    But aside from a few historical points, I think we may be more in agreement than it seems. Even so, I still think that, if one thinks about it (rather than just acting incuriously and so finding it "easy"), that the contradiction and contingency necessitated by the agnostic point of view are rather tricky things to embrace.

  5. #65
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    Quote Originally Posted by &catherine
    But logically, they don't check out.
    And as for "easy"... I'm sure it is easy to say things like "logically,
    they don't check out". In
    what sense is "Everything's green cheese" contradictory? The meaning of
    "Contradiction" and its opposite "consistent" are hardly clear, except
    in formal logic. but we are clearly not discussing in formalised
    languages.


    But to build an ethical system or system of values out of this
    would result in a structure that is full of dissonance and
    contradiction.
    are you in all seriousness suggesting that religious positions
    do not face similar problems?

    Whether or not one finds this problemmatic is a matter
    of opinion or taste. I think it flies in the face of what is accepted
    in the institution of law, for example.
    what is accepted "in the institution of law"?


    On a few things. Firstly, cave painting and related evidence of
    religious sacrifice and festival
    one needs to be pretty zealous to see that in the cave pictures of
    lascaux.

    Secondly, evidence of the ritual
    burial of the dead. These seem to attest to a world view in which
    there are believed to be 'magical' or 'spiritual' forces as work -
    these practices result from more than purely utilitarian motives, in
    other words. The first posited 'laws of the universe' were ones that
    functioned by 'magic'. And even if it was not the case that gods
    per se were in the picture, I don't think that you could call
    such a spiritual worldview 'atheistic'.
    sorry that doesn't wash. "Magic" is just another word for
    "don't know". so modern physics is full of magic: gravitation, weak
    and strong forces, conservation of energy and so on. the difference
    between atheism and religious positions is that the former tell you
    "we don't know" whereas the latter turn such lacunae into a
    justification for their overarching ideology: we don't know what
    gravity really is hence we must have faith that xyz is the only god,
    hence you should not have sex before marriage.

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    Quote Originally Posted by echo-friendly
    are you in all seriousness suggesting that religious positions
    do not face similar problems?
    No, not at all! I think they're all in the same boat - or very similar boats, anyway (ie. ones that all fall well short of 'waterproof'). I was just saying that what goes for atheism or agnosticism also goes for religion, and vice versa, in a lot of these cases (see previous posts). And, consequently, I tend to believe that there's no good reason for choosing either of these three (or any other, really) belief systems over the others, if 'logical defensibility' is a criterion. Which, as you pointed out, it most certainly doesn't have to be! Like I said, I think we're largely in agreement, except for some historical bits and pieces.

    Oh, and as regards Lascaux - whether one needs to be 'zealous' or not, I'm rather impressed by it. I take it that you are not? Though perhaps this should become a separate line of discussion, as I rather feel that I'm picking on the carcass of the original topic of discussion... Not that relevance is necessarily a criterion, either. It's 'easy' to be irrelevant, no?

  7. #67
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    Apologies for posting twice in a row...

    Quote Originally Posted by echo-friendly
    what is accepted "in the institution of law"?
    A nice tie? Remorse?

    I'm not too sure of what is accepted, to give a 'positive' definition, but I'm fairly sure that what wouldn't be accepted is the many-narratives / explanations approach that you offered up as the approach for agnosticism a few posts back. To put it perhaps a little clearer, the institution of the law doesn't like conflict between laws. The laws have to compliment each other, and not conflict... And even if it is the case that conflict is inevitable in reality, I would think that the ideal of the law states that there be only one law (even if with many different 'levels'), one ethical standard, by which to judge everything else.

    And what I was trying to capture by saying this is my belief that admitting that one is working by many possible criteria at the one time (which is how I interpreted your proposition for what agnosticism can do) is not compatible with the ideal of the the law, as described above. Which is a statement about the assumptions of institutions rather than an admonition for agnosticism...

    one needs to be pretty zealous to see that in the cave pictures of
    lascaux.
    I think 'zealous' is a bit strong. But I still believe that what I described (or better, shamelessly lifted from Bataille ) is a better justification for these than stating that the people who drew the pictures were atheistic or with no sense of an extra-physical world. That's all I was getting at.

    sorry that doesn't wash. "Magic" is just another word for
    "don't know". so modern physics is full of magic: gravitation, weak
    and strong forces, conservation of energy and so on.
    I'm not sure if I'd agree with defining 'magic' as nothing more than a big question-mark... That is, perhaps it would be better to call 'magic' a sort of a taxonomy of forces (albeit a weird-looking one to eyes accustomed to our notions of physics), rather than a stand-in for lacunae... (Or maybe 'taxonomy of forces' = 'stand-in for lacunae' anyway? Oh it's tricky.)

    Even so, what I was trying to argue was that if "ancient people" believed in magic, then I don't think they were atheistic. But on second thoughts, the term 'atheistic' applies only so long as someone doesn't believe in a god ... And I suppose you can have magic without gods... So maybe there weren't deities in their worldview, though they did have magic... But even so, I wouldn't equate that with a modern atheistic position, which tends (tends!) to incorporate some acceptance of "physics", "evolution", et cetera.

    To refine of my position: atheism shouldn't be thought of as a constant over time.

    the difference
    between atheism and religious positions is that the former tell you
    "we don't know" whereas the latter turn such lacunae into a
    justification for their overarching ideology: we don't know what
    gravity really is hence we must have faith that xyz is the only god,
    hence you should not have sex before marriage.
    I suppose it depends which you believe is the chicken or the egg: the "I don't know" or the "there is a God". The question could be restated: does positing a god come before or after questions that ask about what forces could possibly account for the existence of 'the world' as we know it? Or do people think that there are gods, and then work from there?

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    I'm not too sure of what is accepted, to give a 'positive'
    definition, but I'm fairly sure that what wouldn't be accepted
    is the many-narratives / explanations approach that you offered up as
    the approach for agnosticism a few posts back. To put it perhaps a
    little clearer, the institution of the law doesn't like conflict
    between laws.
    really? why do you have two sets of lawyers arguing in each court case
    for their clients? is one of the sides always mistaken in principle?

    law is a mechanism to defuse conflicts. conflict is at the very heart
    of law. legal mechanism work because they take a conflict and draw it
    out in time, at each point trying to maintain the illusion (!) that
    both side have a fair chance that their interpretation of the law
    prevails. of course at the end there's a decision, which in fact has a
    random component. the hope is that this drawing out in time of the
    conflict has changed the world/participants sufficiently to have defused
    the conflict. if not, one of the sides will be silenced in some form,
    thus terminating the conflict in most cases. To sum up: if there's
    law outside, there's plenty of conflict inside.

    One notes that you have changed from using contradiciton to conflict.

    if laws didn't seem to allow multiple interpretations, there would be
    no incentive for both sides of a conflict to bother with legal conflict
    resolution, hence ambiguity/contradictory interpretations
    are at the heart of the law.


    I think 'zealous' is a bit strong. But I still believe that what I
    described (or better, shamelessly lifted from Bataille ) is a
    better justification for these than stating that the people who drew
    the pictures were atheistic or with no sense of an extra-physical
    world. That's all I was getting at.
    Bataille, as you remember trained to be a priest and has grappled with
    religion all his life. I see a bunch of animals. Maybe I'm lacking imagination.

    I'm not sure if I'd agree with defining 'magic' as nothing more than a
    big question-mark...
    OK, that is a bit simplistic. "I don't know" is the essence of magic, but magic has connotations of a do-er, with unknown intentions.

    Even so, what I was trying to argue was that if "ancient people"
    believed in magic, then I don't think they were atheistic.
    what i was trying to say is that the historical record does not
    allow to state that the ancients were religious and not atheistic.

  9. #69
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    Quote Originally Posted by echo-friendly
    really? why do you have two sets of lawyers arguing in each court case
    for their clients? is one of the sides always mistaken in principle?

    law is a mechanism to defuse conflicts. conflict is at the very heart
    of law. legal mechanism work because they take a conflict and draw it
    out in time, at each point trying to maintain the illusion (!) that
    both side have a fair chance that their interpretation of the law
    prevails. of course at the end there's a decision, which in fact has a
    random component. the hope is that this drawing out in time of the
    conflict has changed the world/participants sufficiently to have defused
    the conflict. if not, one of the sides will be silenced in some form,
    thus terminating the conflict in most cases. To sum up: if there's
    law outside, there's plenty of conflict inside.
    I agree completely. I have always said that there is conflict inherent in the law. But I have also stated that there is a common conception of the law which holds that, although there is interpretation of laws, these laws form a coherent body. My points have been about how the inevitability of conflict is not what most people would expect or think to exist in their belief systems, ethics, laws, moral codes... Which can be somewhat devastating to realise, if you'd always assumed that you could make a nice smooth fabric of things.

    magic has connotations of a do-er, with unknown intentions.
    Which was exactly my point! And therefore, if (if!) you accept that these 'early humans' had a conception of an extra-material, magic dimension somewhere abouts (which you seem not to accept to be their conception, but which I find to be a fairly plausible explanation for the cave paintings, evidence of ceremonial burial etc.), then I think that it is fairly safe to say that these early humans were not atheistic. And this, in turn, was my original point - that the earliest/first humans were not atheistic.

    [Am aware that I might be a bit over-zealous myself in hammering this home - oh well ]

    But I think the chronology of these things is of most interest/value for 'anthropological' (in the broadest sense) investigations. What I am not interested in is attempts to deduce from possible historical primacy some sort of 'moral/intellectual superiority'... To attempt to say that either religion or atheism came first, and is therefore somehow more defensible is, among other things, just not my bag (and I'm not suggesting that it's yours, either, I might add. This was a piece to camera.)

    what i was trying to say is that the historical record does not
    allow to state that the ancients were religious and not atheistic.
    Which, as I think this discussion suggests, is a matter of the interpretation of the historical record. Which is in itself no small matter, by any means. But I always feel a sort of satisfaction in 'pinning down' the points of difference between positions.

  10. #70
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    Quote Originally Posted by echo-friendly
    Zak, the decline of Mayan culture is not clearly linked with the European conquests
    of Latin American.
    Ummm, there are still millions of Mayans alive and well today, and they have a set of fairly discrete cultures. Some of them are still pagan, a lot of them practice a bizarre fusion of catholicism and south american paganism.

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    [QUOTE=k-punk]First of all: I want everyone to put their cards on the table. If I'm dealing with a cult initiate, I want to know.

    Me! Me! Several! Though none currently. Well, not properly anyway. Ex-catholic and aggressive about it though .

    Re: 3) Passsion of the Christ
    So you're saying this film kinda condemns Gibson from his own mouth? Cool. I still think it's anti-semitic though.

    Astonishingly, Gibson's film shows that they haven't succeeded, that there is something in the story - a Gnostic core - that resists all the attempts of Satanic wordly administrators to distort and conceal it.
    Gnostic core. Yeah. Like your style. 'Course, it's not a Catholic gnostic core -- may not even be a christian one, per se. Essenes out of control and all that.

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    Quote Originally Posted by 2stepfan
    Ummm, there are still millions of Mayans alive and well today, and they have a set of fairly discrete cultures. Some of them are still pagan, a lot of them practice a bizarre fusion of catholicism and south american paganism.
    it all depends by what you call mayans. With mayan culture, we usually associate the big mayan cities in yucatan and chiapas, like palenque and chichen itza. this city centred culture declined before the spanish arrived -- why is not know. the northern mayas were generally assimilated by other mexican cultures, while the southern mayas were mostly left to their own devices, because, as i said, the spanish didn't have the military means to subjugate them in the impenetrable forests of southern mexico, except in the costal regions. so in some sense the mayans remain unconquered, except by TV since the 1960s. that their culture absorbed elements of the surrounding dominant catholicism is perfectly natural.

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    Quote Originally Posted by &catherine
    Which was exactly my point! And therefore, if
    (if!) you accept that ;these 'early humans' had a conception of ;an
    extra-material, magic dimension ;somewhere abouts (which you seem not
    to ;accept to be their conception, but which ;I find to be a fairly
    plausible ;explanation for the cave paintings, ;evidence of ceremonial
    burial etc.), then ;I think that it is fairly safe to say ;that these
    early humans were not ;atheistic. And this, in turn, was my ;original
    point - that the earliest/first ;humans were not atheistic.
    let's look at it that way: i went to one of my grandmothers funerals
    not too long ago. i engaged in all sorts of rituals, including prayer
    and throwing goods in the grave. all these rituals can and should be
    understood as having religious/magic content. so you are saying i am
    religious? I'd say, i was observing local customs because it was not
    the time not to.

    in that sense, your suggestion imputes a unified belief system on our
    ancestors and also population wide conviction and trust in that belief
    system. there's nothing in the historical records to allow such
    conclusions. All you can say is that some rituals not dissimilar from
    those of some contemporary religions have been around for quite a
    while. I'll even grant you that some of these were fairly close in
    metaphysical content to contemporary religions. but all the historical
    evidence is consistent with widespread prehistoric atheism.

    [the true reason is of course that we know so little about preliterate
    societies!]

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