1) I talked to both Ben and Ninja J about "Gamism: why?" They gave me the same answer: "asking 'why would I play a gamist RPG when I can just play a game instead?' is the same as asking 'why would I play Chess when I can just play Bridge instead?'" Gamist RPGs are games, and when you want to play a game you choose one of the games available to you. Makes sense to me.
2) We played the best session of Epidemonology yet! Learned our lesson, we.
3) Very unusual sermon Minister Jon gave at All Souls, unusual and good. Jon's an American Transcendentalist social justice-oriented guy, probably sincerely nice and optimistic but it's hard to judge, isn't it? I don't trust him because I don't see his passions. But this time he sermonized about Cardinal Ratzinger / Pope Benedict, and dang. He used phrases like "theologically toxic" and "spiritually bankrupt" and "thought control." He talked about Catholocism's presumptive place in world affairs and its massive failure to care for its poor and disenfranchised. Its stifling of its progressives and theological innovators (very much Ratzinger's). Its role in the ongoing and upcoming fight to revoke marriage rights here in MA. He waved his arms so hard he punched his microphone out!
4) I finished Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer. Great book, very even-handed. It charts Mormonism's history of murder. It frames the historical account inside an account of a divinely commanded mother-and-child double murder in the mid-80's. Ron and Dan Lafferty were the murderers. I calculated the dates and it turns out that when I was 7 or 8 Dan Lafferty had kids around my age and lived within 8 miles of my family, outside of Payson, UT.
5) RPG theory is fun but I'd like to write about religion more here. What, though? Somebody say something to shake me up.
6) We played Modern Art, which I haven't played in several years. What a terrific game. We also played some Carcassonne of the stone age variety. Carcassonne is a better game for fewer people than it is for more; I think 3 players is my fave, but 2 is excellent too. 5 is frustrating. Have I ever played it with 4? Maybe I haven't.
7) I talked to Ben about Social Agenda. The conversation went along the lines of "just as your rules make your play fulfill or fail to fulfill your creative agenda, your social contract makes your play fulfill or fail to fulfill your social agenda." Is that about right, Ben?
Anyway I expect that he'll write a lot more about the subject, so yay!
1. On 2005-06-06, John Harper wrote:
Here's my contentious religious statement, which I have believed in the past and may believe again:
All religions, no matter how benign, are exclusive and divisive. They all rest upon a basic notion that those in the religion "get it" and those outside don't. It's "us" and "them" -- mixed up with varying degrees of pity, judgment, or outright hatred depending on the sect you choose.
And when I say religion I mean religion. Not "spiritual practice" or "philosophy of living" or anything like that.
And the "us" and "them" divide is the last thing the human race needs. If religions want to do some good in the world, they need to get on the "love everyone" tenet that they each have. Once you have that working for a good 100 years or so, then you can move on to the other stuff. Until then, you can take your doctrinal thall-shalt-nots and shove em.
Religion huh? Let's see. Here?s a random thought that I dregged up from the deeps of my undergrad religion courses.
1. Secular Humanism and Objectivism are religions, just as much as Roman Catholicism. They have their priests, their devout and transcendental followers, their dogma of unexamined assumptions, and a million ways in which they act as power structures to transfer money and influence from many hands to one.
2. For years I did not understand the presumed divide between reason and science on one side and religion and faith on the other. When I was growing up in a very LDS house with very LDS parents I was always told the quote, from one of Spencer W. Kimball's relatives, a brother or brother in law: "Religion is the search for truth. Science is the search for truth. Where the two seem to disagree it is only because we do not have the full story yet." Because of this I grew up always trying to balance both, and assuming both to be mostly true, though subject to review and verification, and both to have some way to go.
Now, I came to understand why fundamentalists of various religions had some problems with my attitude: because it (for them) contradicts their assumption of their beliefs as god-given absolute truth, subject to no more verification than their personal testimony. I could see that from their POV, and many were able to explain it very articulately. I never agreed, and was often scared by what they said, but at least it fit within the paradigm they claimed. They were honest in their close-mindedness.
Secular Humanists, otoh, were just as close-minded, as mocking, judgmental, and paradigm controlled: but they were unable to explain fully their problems with seeing religion as a path to seek truth, hitting only on tangential points or taking the worst excess and straw-manning them for the norm, or simply begging the question away. (This is not all people who are non religious, btw, these are those who have become priests of their own philosophy.) While their reason could be sharp and their rhetoric sublime, they were unable to get past the tips of their own noses in their assertions: always falling back onto the axiomatic.
3. This has lead to me to the following conclusion: Blind faith is dangerous. However, the current focus on traditional religion as the center and source of blind faith is, in and of itself, blind. Blindness towards any philosophy that becomes powerful enough to culturally indoctrinate people is a road to hell. The cult of Reason is still a cult, and should be treated as such.
Now I can't spring my "Make Vicent Cry" Dogs scenario. I'll have to check out the book though...
Religion: Um...so what about the way religion can often be really helpful to individuals and communities. Everyone hates the born again, but you'd be pretty jazzed about a system that got you out of a life of drugs/booze/sin/etc. What's up with that?
John: Excellent post. I especially liked this part:
"Once you have that working for a good 100 years or so, then you can move on to the other stuff. Until then, you can take your doctrinal thall-shalt-nots and shove em."
Which I read in rhetorical structure as coming close to something like: The problem with religion is that they think they are right and we are wrong. However, we are right and they are wrong. They need to stop dividing us, so we will now divide ourselves from them.
The problem with these lines of reasoning is that they are inherently conflicted. They come down to the same old same old of "I belive my belife is right, and theirs is wrong." Well, they believe the same thing of you, me, and them. And I belive it of everyone.
So why does one system of thought, claiming the others are acting wrongly, get preference above the others that claim the others are acting wrongly?
Because I actually agree with this part of your post:
"And the "us" and "them" divide is the last thing the human race needs. If religions want to do some good in the world, they need to get on the "love everyone" tenet that they each have."
It's true: and that includes everyone, not just those that pray to God.
Of course, one can then ask if we judge not, how will we bring change?
On the topic of #5, here's a question that's been bugging me a lot in recent years: "How can a non-religious person have a productive discussion with a religious person about a real-world matter on which the religious person holds an opposing position for purely religious reasons?" The media answer is to have endless partisan screaming matches. My answer is to shrug and agree to disagree. Neither is very productive.
I can't wrap my brain around a way to solve the fundamental problem that the religious person may consider the non-religious person's ("earthly") concerns inconsequental relative to their conception of the Divine, whereas the non-religious person considers the religious person's purely-religious concerns to be (functionally, if not definitively) unfounded. They're just not trading in the same currency. In a discussion with someone who is "on the same page," you can score points by introducing new evidence. What do you do when none of the evidence you believe in matters to the other person?
It's tricky for me, because while I was (gradually) persuaded towards positions that conflicted with my (now-former) religious beliefs, I was religious more by default and out of laziness than anything else. I have no personal experience with well-considered and deeply-held faith, so I don't know how to address the concerns of people who have it. I suspect that your experience is more relevant than mine, and I enjoy reading your analyses of other issues, so I'd love to see what you have to say on the subject.
(You can use the same-sex marriage issue in MA as a working example if you'd like.)
1) Gamism why? Because you have much more creative ways to Step On Up in an RPG than in The Settlers, plus you sometimes create cool stories while you're at it.
5) Religion, and I'll try and be controversial, for the fun of it *g*. Secular humanism has some aspects in common with religion, however, I wouldn't put it in the same bucket. There's a fundamental difference between believing some words someone wrote and proclaiming them as truth on the one hand, and questioning everything on the other. Sure, we all have our paradigms, but they can be evaluated thanks to Pragmatism (William James and friends), and we'll soon find that the secular humanist paradigm has more cash value than any religion, i.e., it is a superior theory. In fact, it's not so much a faith in itself as it is a faith in method and analysis, and a refutation of blind unsubstantiated claims.
I understand why people want to be fundamentalists. Hell, it's so damn easy and comforting. Here's the truth. This is moral certainty. Homosexuality is wrong. We will be saved. Huzzah!
But those people who question and who live in uncertainty, and who refute that such certainty is possible, are in a wholly different situation. That's why secular humanism is not a religion. It does not give you comfort. It does not give you easy answers. It says instead, hell if I know what's true, but that stuff you're believing in just doesn't rhyme with the way the world works.
Welcome to uncertainty. Welcome to modernity.
Now, everyone can believe what they want. But people who blindly believe and people who constantly question are just not in the same boat.
Brand Robins said: "Which I read in rhetorical structure as coming close to something like: The problem with religion is that they think they are right and we are wrong. However, we are right and they are wrong. They need to stop dividing us, so we will now divide ourselves from them.
The problem with these lines of reasoning is that they are inherently conflicted. They come down to the same old same old of "I belive my belife is right, and theirs is wrong." Well, they believe the same thing of you, me, and them. And I belive it of everyone.
So why does one system of thought, claiming the others are acting wrongly, get preference above the others that claim the others are acting wrongly?"
Yep. That is something that has always bugged me, too. How do you meaningfully differentiate religion from "not-religion" in terms of belief systems? How do you avoid becoming the same old thing with different particulars?
I have been fumbling about for an answer to this question. Here are some talking points that I've found, though I have not been able to assemble them into anything coherent or useful:
a) In a scientific/secular view, statements of fact (whether "laws" or "theories" or otherwise) are subject to disproof. That is, you should be always able to specify a set of circumstances under which your statement could be disproven and your beliefs could be altered. (Not everyone actually behaves this way, of course, but that's how it's "supposed" to work.)
b) In the scientific/secular view, a belief is only acted upon if its efficacy has been demonstrated. Ideally, result of the action should be repeatable and externally verifiable!
I admit that point "a" is a lot firmer than point "b," since people have different thresholds for what they consider a satisfactory demonstration of efficacy, and it still relies heavily on general uniformity of human perception. (Maybe some people posess sensory capabilities that I lack! How could I possibly know?)
I feel like the true, fundamental differences are somewhere in there. Especially "a," since "b" is pretty fuzzy. Pragmatism feels like it makes a lot of sense to me, but don't have the words to properly pin it down.
Metallian: You said, "a) In a scientific/secular view, statements of fact (whether "laws" or "theories" or otherwise) are subject to disproof."
This is true sometimes, with some schools of rationalist philosophy and when talking about actual science with people who have a scientific view -- that is they judge things on proof and disproof. However, most people, IME, do not do this. They take on a suite of related philosophies, axioms, and hypothoses and act on them with the same faith (and same lack of proof) as the religious do.
Plus, one must ask if only reason can prove or disprove something.
Like you I don't have a lot of answers. One of the few that I've come up with is "We need to spend more time talking to each other and less time talking at or about each other." Thus my move towards post-positivism over the last few years.
Xenopulse: You said, "But those people who question and who live in uncertainty, and who refute that such certainty is possible, are in a wholly different situation. That's why secular humanism is not a religion. It does not give you comfort. It does not give you easy answers. It says instead, hell if I know what's true, but that stuff you're believing in just doesn't rhyme with the way the world works."
Well, I have some Buddhist friends that believe very similar things -- and all the while are trying to negate themselves. Does that make Buddhism not a religion? (Actually, I did once attend a conference in which three PhDs in Religious Studies said just that: Buddhism isn't a religion, it's a philosophy. That was the day I started collapsing my own definitions of the words, finding that the divisions between the two can become so close as to be meaningless.)
Certainly you've demonstrated a difference between secular humanists and some Christian Fundementalists: but not between our good friends and all religious stripes. There are many people who see religion as a way to learn and find the way to truth, not claim divine right for everything, and just as many religious people who admit to uncertainty as there are among those who shun traditional religions.
I think the problem is closer to "those who are willing to learn" and "those who are not" ? and I still maintain that no side has a lock on either aspect.
anon.: You said: "This is true sometimes, with some schools of rationalist philosophy and when talking about actual science with people who have a scientific view -- that is they judge things on proof and disproof. However, most people, IME, do not do this. They take on a suite of related philosophies, axioms, and hypothoses and act on them with the same faith (and same lack of proof) as the religious do."
Yep. That's why I threw in."(Not everyone actually behaves this way, of course, but that's how it's "supposed" to work.)" Heck, even professional scientists don't always act that way!
Mind you, I don't expect everyone to walk around in an active state of conditional quasi-belief, thinking up disproval scenarios for gravity or whatever. That would be a pain in the butt. I just mean in a philosophical sense, they should be willing to revise any assumption given contradictory evidence.
"Plus, one must ask if only reason can prove or disprove something."
Yes. I happen to believe that we can't ever be 100%, really, really sure of anything except the fact that we are thinking a particular thought at a given moment. (Which is the only really "axiomatic" belief I've been able to accept so far.) I just don't think it can be done. The best we can do, IMHO, is to accept certain assumptions as "conditionally true" based on the number of observations that affirm the assumptions vs. those that contradict them. It's acceptable to call this "truth" for everyday purposes. (Otherwise it's annoying.)
"Like you I don't have a lot of answers. One of the few that I've come up with is "We need to spend more time talking to each other and less time talking at or about each other." Thus my move towards post-positivism over the last few years."
I sure think that would help! I just wish I knew how to do it properly when there's such a big impasse in terms of fundamental assumptions about not just "what is truth?" but about, "how can truth be found?" That's more or less what I was trying to get at in my first post here.
We've had pretty good luck around here talking about religion and humanism in terms of "story." It's through stories that we make sense of our lives; we tell stories about who we are and why, to give our lives meaning. I think that we can consider both the similarities and the differences between the stories that theists and the stories that atheists tell. Both the similarities and the differences are significant.
I'm concerned about how any set of principles becomes, so easily, a salve for your conscience when you do something inhumane. Are (say) Richard Dawkins and James Randi guilty of this? Almost certainly! Are they as guilty of it as 2000 years' worth of Christianity?
Brand, have you read the Krakauer book by any chance?
Brand said: "I think the problem is closer to "those who are willing to learn" and "those who are not""
Hmmmm. Very interesting. I think I agree, though we're still left with the difficult problem of people with different definitions of "learning."
I agree on the "Buddhism is a philosophy, not a religion" thing as well. My wife was raised a Buddhist so I've been exposed to a fair bit of it and it does seem to be a different sort of animal. Maybe it's because (at least in the stuff I've been reading) the desired end result of practice is easily observable? If the idea is to end suffering in life,* it's relatively easy to evaluate whether or not it is working, to put it to the test. Contrast this with the goal of "please God." It's notoriously hard to tell if you did it or not, so any given technique appears equally valid/invalid to the disinterested observer, creating the impression that people choose techniques based on reasons other than "it works/doesn't work," which strikes the disinterested observer as a bit risky when the negative externalities are readily observable.
* - That's the pupose of the forms of Buddhism I've read about, anyway. Other types may have different goals.
Vincent: You said, "I'm concerned about how any set of principles becomes, so easily, a salve for your conscience when you do something inhumane. Are (say) Richard Dawkins and James Randi guilty of this? Almost certainly! Are they as guilty of it as 2000 years' worth of Christianity?"
Or 2500 years of Buddhism? Or 1500 years of Islam? Or 5000 years of imperialism?
There's a lot of man's inhumanity to man out there. The question of how deep it runs, and where and why, is fascinating but not always easy to answer. Jesus/the Party become the same in some minds, and opposites so complete they may as well be the same in others.
"Brand, have you read the Krakauer book by any chance?"
Nope, though as soon as you mentioned it I added it to my massive backlog of "things I must read now." (It's just after "Theatre of the Opressed" which strikes me as funny.)
Metallain: You said, "My wife was raised a Buddhist so I've been exposed to a fair bit of it and it does seem to be a different sort of animal."
Indeed it is. It comes from a whole different tradition than Western religions, and has a much different emphasis. However, so do large parts of Hinduism, and few have problems calling that a religion.
I think the problem is less a fundemental difference between religion and philosophy, and more a difficulty in getting past cultural assumptions about what "religion" means.
For example, if the focus of religion neccisarily means God or gods, then we're going to get into trouble all over the place.
"I'm concerned about how any set of principles becomes, so easily, a salve for your conscience when you do something inhumane. Are (say) Richard Dawkins and James Randi guilty of this? Almost certainly! Are they as guilty of it as 2000 years' worth of Christianity?"
I feel like the really tough problem is more along the lines of "truly believing that an action is humane despite the protests of the objects of your actions and the lack of evidence that it has worked in the past." If it was simply a shallow self-justification for cruelty or greed, then you'd have a shot at leveraging the actor's guilt to change their behavior. But if they're 100% convinced that they're doing the right thing in the (really, really) long run...it seems like that's a very difficult kind of person to be at odds with.
Well said, Brand. I totally agree. The reason I can "judge the judgemental", so to speak, it simply by holding them accountable to their own core beliefs, which so happen to be what human beings need so badly.
First: Love everyone like you love yourself. Keep that going -- it ain't easy.
Second: Teach others to have this love.
That's pretty much it. Let's give that a shot. All of us. Let's build a few generations out of this stuff. *Then* we can go back and crack open our bibles or korans or back-issues of Sports Illustrated... whatever floats your boat.
Because in the world where people love each other religious differences (hell, differences of all kinds) are wonderful things to talk about as opposed to things to kill for.
But seriously, if you just pay lip service to the love parts and jump straight to righteous judgement and condemnation? Not cool. Hypocrisy like that is at the root of many human problems... religious, social, political, and economic.
John said: "But seriously, if you just pay lip service to the love parts and jump straight to righteous judgement and condemnation? Not cool. Hypocrisy like that is at the root of many human problems... religious, social, political, and economic."
And in total irony, I just finished having a discussion with a friend who is a member of the Marxist-Lenninist party about why I would not join his party despite my pro-labor leanings, and I said pretty much what you just did, but about Marxism.
John said: "Because in the world where people love each other religious differences (hell, differences of all kinds) are wonderful things to talk about as opposed to things to kill for."
I whole-heartedly agree. However, to do so would require giving up on those very same beliefs. My younger brother has married into a pretty hardcore, born again, Southern Baptist family.
At best, they believe that I (an atheist) am damning my "eternal soul." Out of the "love for everyone" principle, they see it as to help me "save my soul" from my beliefs. It is insulting, to say the least. But from their perspective, they are loving me to the best of their ability.
At worst, they see me as a corrupting influence on my brother, threatening his salvation with my godless beliefs. While I try never to be less than friendly and polite with them, it is a clear but unstated source of tension, as I have no tolerance nor patience for their attempts to "save" me or other members of my family.
Despite the discomfort and unpleasantness of the situation, it is pretty tame. Taken to an extreme, it seems quite possible and even likely to me that someone who actually believes in "loving everybody" could be convinced of the need to kill someone who he or she felt threatened the salvation of someone to whom he or she felt close. I think it would not be beyond the pale to draw a comparison with a parent who kills someone he or she found molesting their child.
I think it was Metallian who suggested that we are not all trading in the same currency. And I think this is fundamentally true. The secularists and those who are religious but non-dogmatic can embrace the idea of a respect and tolerance for differences in belief because we are primarily concerned with love in the here and now sense as exists between people.
I do not think this is valid for people with dogmatic belief. That is not to say they are not also concerned with love in the here and now sense. However, they must, by the very nature of their beliefs, be more concerned with love for the immortal soul and its relationship with God.
While it is not essential that these two types of love are opposed, it is very easy for them to become so. And, in my experience, when a person with dogmatic belief finds these two types of love in conflict, love for the immortal soul and its relationship with God must win out.
Furthermore, while we can bandy on about whether Buddhism is a religion or not, I don't think it makes a fundamental difference in this discussion. I, personally, believe that dogmatic belief in any ideology, be it a religion, philosophical movement, cult, political school of thought, etc., leads to a similar behavioral result, no matter the cause. I would argue that whenever a priority is placed on something other than individuals -- be it God, the State, or the "rights of the unborn"--love for individual humans will lose out to love for that thing.
The Krakauer book is really amazing. I'm glad you read it, and you know I'm glad when the discussion turns to religion around here.
Here's two contentious religious statements from me:
1) Religion is a fundamental method for self-therapy. Confronting the idea that there's nothing in charge of you, nothing bigger than you, is something most of us - me well included - can't handle without fraying. It's psychological sodium in the water of our minds. Religion is a coping method, and therefore the capacity to believe in it in the face of reason - that is, faith - is probably evolved.
2) Modern Christianity - like many modern religions - in no way reflects its textual underpinnings. I see modern Christianity as focusing only on details and missing the big picture. Gay marriage? Abortion? De-fucking-tails. Let's see about that "love your neighbor," and, hey, "find the Holy Spirit within yourself" and then we can discuss details. I say concentrate on the big stuff first.
Clinton: I gotta say I agree to a large extent with your number 2. Wasn't there something in the Bible that went like "cast not the mote from thy neighbors eye until thou hast cast the beam from thine own?"
Y'know, the way to stir this up ("I think people should treat each other well!" "Me too!" "Yay!") the way to stir this up would be to talk about violence again.
But, uh, let's not, maybe.
Instead I'll tell a story. Once upon a time I was seventeen years old. I was in love with an Amnesty International chick and I was against the death penalty. I took it up with my dad. "Dad," I said, "the death penalty is bad."
"Oh I dunno," he said.
I layed out my reasons, and as you know they're damn good reasons; whether you're pro- or con-, you have to respect the con- side. Then I clinched it with my clincher and I knew I had him: "it's unfair to the poor."
He was visibly swayed. Unfair to the poor is the worst thing he can think of, my dad. He thought about it for a long, long time. "Well," he said. "Yeah. You're right about all that. But..." and he's stopped talking to me now, he's musing outloud for himself, "but, blood atonement..."
It was the first time I'd heard the words. How about that?
Whew, your poor dad. Back to Jon's service, the thing I liked (and no surprise here) was the part where Catholics deal with "cradle to grave guilt, and instututional superiority" and that Unitarian Universalists deal with neither. This ties in to so many other things that I get to side-step, like: religion as crutch, religion as way to avoid responsibility, religion as whip to drive your life.
In a recent forced-choice excercise at a UU youth camp, there was a question "Are you afraid to die?", and I could answer clearly "No." **OF COURSE** I am in the context of 'I'm not done living, and I don't want to stop for a good 60+ years yet', but in the religious sense, no fear. And not because I'm 'saved' either, just because I have not been brought up to think of Hell as a stick/fact, or Heaven as a carrot/promise.
Meguey said: "And not because I'm 'saved' either, just because I have not been brought up to think of Hell as a stick/fact, or Heaven as a carrot/promise."
I like this point.
There is, however, something ironic in it for me. Mormons, you see, don't really believe in hell -- at least not in the way most Christians do. To go to Mormon hell you have to really, really, really try, and even then you won't make it, and you'll never just end up there by accident. So hell really isn't a threat in my church.
However, there are different degrees of heaven. (Three of them, and the top one has three sub-levels in addition.) Those degrees of heaven give different rewards based on what you do in your life. Now for a lot of Mormons this is a nice little system, where in you get rewarded no matter what, but the more you try the nicer of a reward you get. But for some....
I have talked to Mormons who are more afraid of going to the lowest level of the Celestial kingdom (the highest heaven, just the basement level of it) than most Catholics I've ever known are of going to hell. The very idea that they might not achieve exaltation doesn't just disapoint them or urge them to do better, it fills their very bodies with a shuddering fear that makes them instantly shut down any conversation they were just having.
So I suppose that even if you don't have the stick, some folk can get so fixated on the carrot that not getting a taste gives them a deep terror.
Last weekend I drove to Colorado to visit my wife's parents. On the drive we listened to The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. At the end of TRATEOTU the characters manage to punch through an impropability field and meet the "guy who runs the galaxy." This character is a slave to his immediate sensory perceptions and is incapable of conceptualizing anything he can not presently see, touch, feel, etc. The kicker is, however, that he is the fellow those who run the galaxy come to for decisions that affect every form of life in their purview. So, our lives are ultimately controlled by a being who is not only unaware of us, but wouldn't believe we existed even if someone bothered to tell him about us. Life then is a series of random events dictated by random decisions from a disinterested recluse; absurdism. Zaphod is, of course, completely fine with this.
Now, it just so happens that I was reading The Brothers Karamozov at the same time (no, not actually while I was driving, thank you very much). In TBK, Dostoyevsky tries to lay out the arguments for and against the existence of god. His artistry is such that he argues both positions as convincingly as possible and leaves the reader with an understanding of the debate (circa 19th century Russia), but no answer (as if he could provide one).
Well, these two works clashed in my mind like baking soda and vineger, causing intellectual and spiritual indigestion (to be fair, this effect could have been caused by 6 hours of driving across Wyoming). I concluded that there is only one question in life: Is there a god? Why? Well, consider our options. If there is a god there is the possibility of meaning. Note, there doesn't have to be meaning just because there is god, he/she/it could be as disinterested in us as we are the ants in our neighbors garden. If god exists then it's possible humans are supposed to be here. And, if humans are supposed to be here, then there's probably something we're supposed to be doing. God allows for meaning.
Alternatively, if there is no god then there is no meaning. Or, as Dostoyevsky puts it, "if there is no god, there is no sin." Without a supreme arbiter of right and wrong how can there be a wrong? But, to get back to meaning, consider environmentalism. If there's no god and we are indeed simply "crude matter," then where does the ethic to preserve our world originate from? Since when I die all that defined me passes away, what do I care if it rains too much in California now? My children are just flawed biological copies of myself, what do I care if they have a nice place to live or not? And, to adopt an Adams perspective, so what if the earth gets blown up (either by us or Vogons)? It doesn't effect Pluto, or any other celestial body for that matter. Nothing we can do has any meaning because it is completely transient and, in the vastness of existence, utterly ineffectual. "Life it a tale told by an idiot ... full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." There are only two options: God or absurdism.
Ah ha! You exclaim. What about eastern philosophy? Doesn't the Buddhist notion of nirvana offer a third alternative? In short, no. Buddhism falls squarely in the absurdist realm. If the purpose of life is to escape pain, then the Buddhist theology is just a more sinister version of the absurdist one above. Instead of just dying and entering oblivion, you must claw your way up through a spiritual hierarchy only to have your efforts rewarded by self obliteration. No, much better to just stick with "there is no god" and cut right to the chase.
So there you have it. THE question, the ultimate question if you will, is "is there a god?" All else flows from it. Interestingly, this question would be completely consistent with Adams's absurdist view since the answer to "Is there a god" is, in his world, 42: a totally random, meaningless answer which affirms absurdism and is the same as answering "no." Of course, if this were indeed THE question, and Adams rightly describes the universe, then the answer and the question could not be known at the same time and I would ce
I ... jeez, it's rough. Heavy religious discussion isn't my first choice when it comes to reconnecting with old friends.
Food is. So: how was Thailand? My friend Duncan said that the first words he learned in Thai were "without spice," and that after he stopped weeping there were whole new flavors he'd never tasted before, within the pain.
But, I agree with you that the first step is to find out whether there's a God, and that everything else has to follow from that. Obviously I don't agree that my finding life meaningful depends on God's existence - let alone proves it.
A hundred years from now I'll be dirt. Two hundred years from now, everyone I can possibly have ever touched will be dirt. That doesn't mean I don't love life, love the people around me, love the beautiful world and its beautiful future, meanwhile; of course it doesn't!
So Porter, I lost your reply when I broke my database, sorry about that. I'll say what I can from memory.
On Thai food: yes! I've just taken to making my own curry pastes from scratch. I like my food spicier than just about everyone around me, so when I cook Thai it's kind of a self-indulgence, so I usually do it only when I'm feeling sorry for myself. Meg'll come into the kitchen like "mmm, smells like curry, rough day?"
On meaning: well, is there any possible way for a human being to tell the difference between "I find life meaningful" and "life is meaningful"? Whether God exists or not, we don't get to see our lives from outside.