Friction can be a drag

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“He’s got a good heart!”  

What does this mean?

It becomes clear after the briefest reflection that the answer to this question depends on the context of its utterance. Was it said during cardiac surgery or during a charitable act?

Clearly the empirical / factual / scientific framework is appropriate for one type of interpretation whereas the metaphorical / allegorical / ethical framework can be seen as appropriate in another. There is no single Archimedean point of semantic reference (or what Nagel famously called a ‘view from nowhere’) for understanding here.

Similarly when one reads Aesop’s fable ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’ it would be equally as absurd to claim that it either was all nonsense because animals cant really talk or to insist that it makes sense as animals really DO talk – ie claim historical accuracy for the tale.  

In a like manner it would be naïve to think that there was literally a ‘talking snake’ in the Eden story (illegitimate de-allegorizing) or claim that Dickens’ Christmas Carol was a load of rubbish as there are no such thing as ghosts.  The latter is also illegitimate de-allegorising – albeit from the opposite direction.   The Eden story legitimately concerns the loss of innocence and the Dickens story the folly of selfishness. Neither can be coherently said to involve empirical or ontological claims – and to maintain they do misses the point of each.

Yet problems of misinterpretation can often be seen to arise when we are gripped so strongly by one frame of reference so as to be blind to another. For instance when looking at an ambiguous picture such as Hill’s famous ‘old woman / young girl’ , it may be the case that one is so strongly taken with the youthful image that the very idea of the old lady is both repugnant and invisible. This is one way of characterising the position I held in my youth – namely that I was so absorbed by the scientific picture that that the religious one became excluded by default. Such a position I now describe as ‘naïve scientism’.

Such may be described an example of what the Gestaltists termed ‘ASPECT BLINDNESS’ and is often evident in the polarization in debates between the extremes of the religious and the secular. Thus we have Christopher Hitchens’ ‘Religion poisons everything’ and Ted Haggard’s ‘Godlessness is the root of all evil’ – both can be seen as examples of ‘aspect blindness’ – invoking pictures which are mutually exclusive.

In this masterpiece the ‘Philosophical Investigations’ the great philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein described ‘aspect blindness’ as “akin to the lack of a musical ear” – but nevertheless it may not always be an incurable condition.

One may have seen Orwell’s Animal farm as an innocuous cartoon for many years then after studying the history of the Soviet Union come to see a totally different picture in the story. This phenomenon can be described as ‘aspect dawning’. Similarly, after studying Freud an individual may come to see their personal history within a picture frame of Greek Mythology.

This phenomenon is a semantic version of what the Gestaltists described as ‘emergence’. Philosophical analysis may be able to help break the deadlock in such intransigent discourse by cultivating what could be described as the EMERGENCE OF A MUTUAL ‘ASPECT DAWNING’ via an exposition of both the deep / valuable and shallow / damaging beliefs in both traditions (the latter being the cause of extremism).

The imagination to be able to see aspects from either paradigm will eventually lead to a position where both pictures can be seen. This latter ‘pluralistic’ position could also help one differentiate the ‘wheat from the chaff’ more clearly.

Examples of shallow beliefs within the religious tradition may include that of ‘life after death’, the ‘causal efficacy of prayer’, the ‘interventionist’ conception of ‘miracles’ and the view of God as a ‘person’.

The work of the late great DZ Phillips did much to help uncover the true character (‘depth grammar’) of religious language, which is not referential in character, but which rather moves us to see the world ‘sub specie aeternitae’ (under the aspect of eternity) as Spinoza put it.  Seen thus ‘Immortality’ is not more life, but life seen under the aspect of eternity (the Platonic form of goodness). Prayer is not a pseudo–causal (superstitious) means of bringing things about but rather an expression of ones deepest desires and allegiances. Miracles are beneficial coincidences viewed religiously and God is seen as infinite love.

For those who can be described as ‘coherently religious’ or what professor DZ Phillips called ‘deeply religious’ to tell a story such as ‘The Good Samaritan’ is not to talk of empirical facts, but to allude to the whole set of doctrinal stories and confess allegiance to them. What is critically RELIGIOUS about a tale such as ‘The Good Samaritan’ it is that its moral message (agapeism) remains valid even if even if its factual basis is questionable. Indeed the historical accuracy of such a story is, a la Aesop, beside the point!


The characteristic difference between the major religions can thus be seen as one of adopting a different set of stories (parables, myths, fables etc) as we see in their distinctive ‘creation myths’.

Within the scientific tradition shallowness is often manifest in reductionist theories of social phenomena, such as morality and aesthetics for example. When one sees beauty or repugnance in a piece of art – this is not determined empirically! Love is not just a neurophysiological process – but a social phenomenon!

When we speak of ‘the language of love’ (as we see for example in some poetry) it does not mean we speak of a special vocabulary – like the language of Physics (technical terminology) – but because the words are used in a particular way. Not to grasp this would be similar to someone who knows that a flower is a plant blossom, but who cannot see the aptness of Shakespeare’s description of Juliet as ‘the sweetest flower in the field’. Such an inability to understand cannot be remedied by, for instance, pointing at Juliet and a flower and commenting, ‘she is like that’, but rather by bringing their attention to aspects of the flower that make the comparison with Juliet meaningful. If this still does not help, then perhaps getting the individual to read more poetry will gradually make understanding dawn.

This kind of cultivation of a conceptual reorientation is what I mean in this context by ASPECT DAWNING and such experiences can enrich life via an active exercise of the imagination.

Similarly as regards understanding ethical, religious and artistic concepts, one could speak of cultivating certain virtues of character said to be necessary for making such understanding possible.

To use another example, someone, for instance, who lacks a musical education and does not possess a ‘musical ear’ will not be able to contradict the judgement of a master composer; indeed such a person may not have sufficient (musical) sensibility even really to understand what the composer is saying. In other words, such a person will neither possess the vocabulary nor have the appropriate concepts that would enable them to say anything genuinely meaningful about a musical work, short, perhaps, of finding it ‘pleasurable’ or ‘relaxing’.

For analogous reasons Wittgenstein, in his Lectures On Religious Belief, feels that he cannot contradict what the religious person is saying, since he, as yet, lacks a real grasp of the concepts involved. To put it another way, just as there is musical sensibility and tone deafness (and much in between), perhaps there is also religious sensibility and blindness for religion, and neither musical nor religious sensibility is acquired by learning a set of theses, doctrines, by heart – or about who the great composers were, about the laws of counterpoint or about transubstantiation – since this would only bring about an ‘external’, that is, purely intellectual, understanding of the subject comparable to having learnt a code.

It could likewise be claimed that in order to be able to contradict a religious statement, you not only need to understand what the ‘atoms’– that is, the individual words – it is comprised of mean in ordinary contexts, but what the sentence as a whole means, and, for this to be possible, you must understand how the words are functioning in their natural home. That is, you must understand their technique of application in this particular context – for as Wittgenstein noted in his Lectures On Religious Belief, what often happens is ‘my normal technique of language leaves me’.

Being able to see this is not possible, if Wittgenstein is right, independently of having some familiarity and grasp of the religious form of life and the phenomenology of experience that gave rise to it. Much more than rote-reciting is required. However this is not to say that therefore the ‘doctrine’ – of for instance the Christian claims – are irrelevant. For to use another of Wittgenstein’s examples, this would be as absurd as thinking that because a song can be sung both with and without expression, you could have the expression without the song…

An open attitude to another’s culture and way of life may be the best starting point on the road to such understanding.



Written by zygruntee

March 24, 2009 at 6:06 pm

50 Responses

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  1. […] Faisal Qureshi put an intriguing blog post on EXTREMISM: IS SCIENCE AS GUILTY AS RELIGION?Here’s a quick excerpt…in character, but which rather moves us to see the world ‘sub specie … The characteristic difference between the major religions can thus be […]

  2. Are we going to be tested on this later?


    March 25, 2009 at 2:30 pm

  3. love the term ‘aspect blindness’ – certainly applicable to any area…particularly politics…Gipper?


    March 25, 2009 at 3:43 pm

  4. Are you insinuating that I am afflicted?
    Oooooh handbags at dawn!

    I would agree, but I wouldn’t call it blindness because I have had my moment of aspect dawning.
    The scales fell from my eyes and I now I realise that if you don’t agree with me then you are wrong (no problem here with the mutual exclusivity of polarized opinion). 😛


    March 25, 2009 at 4:18 pm



    March 25, 2009 at 9:10 pm

  6. I would be proud to broadcast this excellent piece of thought as a personal manifesto.

    Being lost in the extremes is to lose everything.

    I wish to change both religious and nonreligious minds to this space of thought.

    Thanks for sharing Zyg.

    My outlook of the world does include a personal aspect of God, but I will have to justify that inside the framework you’ve laid out. I’ll make an attempt soon.

    Otherwise, bravo, and I’m going to keep a copy of this in my quotes book.

    Less fun than an argument, but sometimes it’s important to just appreciate.


    March 25, 2009 at 10:46 pm

  7. TREE, in my response to you, for the sake of brevity I will confine my comments in the most part to examples arising within the religious communities.

    Firstly I would like to say that I could not agree more with your proactive stance to “actively strive to discredit irresponsible and irrational patterns of meaning” which could lead us to “nonsense and extremism”. Yet I contend that to “move closer to a clear understanding of humanity and a safer world” must be done respectfully and diplomatically – as well as with a view to enhancing mutual understanding – rather than by, as we commonly see, imposing mutually exclusive pictures.

    After all the best way to help someone who has a weight problem is hardly to approach them and point out how fat they are – this typically would lead to OFFENCE, followed by defensiveness and greater intransigence!
    In short – as I know only too well from my own experience – the wrong approach, however well intended, usually leads to an exacerbation of the problem rather than its remedy.

    A more productive starting point in the war against “nonsense and extremism” could be a focus on strategies for breaking down the ‘psychological walls of the sacred’ by focusing on a remedy to the ideological polarisation between influential anti-theists like Christopher Hitchens and theist leaders like Rowan Williams.
    My view is that it does not have to be an ‘us and them’ scenario where fundamental divisions lead to impasse.

    Thus rather than the secular minded joining Hitchens in exclaiming ‘Religion Poisons Everything’, a more productive modus operandum could be to try to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of the religious by positively acknowledging the ethical value of some of their traditional stories (eg ‘the good Samaritan’ etc) while at the same time emphasising where shallow and literalist interpretations of religious concepts can lead to misunderstandings of the most dangerous kind. An example could be where the confused grammar of belief in ‘life after death’ and a ‘place’ called ‘paradise’ / ’heaven’ where ‘a soul’ can ‘go to’ etc sets the misguided logic within which to embed dangerous ideas like ‘suicide martyrdom’.

    As I mention in my previous post a more subtle reflection on, and understanding of, religious concepts such as immortality, prayer and miracles (as demonstrated by the late DZ Phillips) could help productive anti-extremist dialogue between and within the religious and secular communities.

    As part of this valuable process of dialogue adults should be encouraged to re-examine what, within their current belief system, has been accepted on authority and without rational consideration as part of their primary and secondary socialization process.

    This ‘applied philosophical’ approach which I will call COMMUNITY PHILOSOPHY aims to encourage proactive thinkers into having the courage to get involved in proactively discussing religious concepts IN SITU – eg during church / mosque discussion groups as well as on more general social occasions and blogs etc. The aim will be to help discuss confusions and mistakes WHERE THEY ORIGINATE while ‘leaving everything as it is’, as Wittgenstein put it, in terms of the correct grammar of deep religious language.
    During such discussions it would be wise to keep in mind values such as TRUTH, JUSTICE, LOVE and COMPASSION as emphasised by influential theologians like the late great Professor Lloyd Geering; where “’God’ is seen as a symbolic term for all that is greatest and highest in our values”.

    Community Philosophy – if taken up more often – could thus move towards becoming a root and branch reformist ‘pincer movement’ employing both a ‘top down’ analysis to a ‘bottom up’ conceptual elucidatory activity; for both the theologians and the congregations inclusively; slowly defusing extremes from opposite directions – and thus perhaps become PIVOTAL IN THE POLITICAL DRIVE AGAINST THE EXTREMIST-TERRORIST THREAT AT A GRASS ROOTS LEVEL.

    Thus in the spirit of TREE I would suggest that whenever the pressures of work permit, it is a valuable exercise for the courageous free thinker to proactively yet sensitively challenge confused ideas such as ‘life after death’ and ESPECIALLY the still pervasive MYTH OF THE ‘DEUS EX MACHINA’ (as propounded by common folk psychology) during encounters with religious people – as even quite light conceptual elucidation can help tease out the superstitious from what is deeper and more positive in religious thought.

    However COURAGE may be required – as it may be evinced that such a process can be inflammatory for the believers – like extracting thorns from a lion’s foot!
    Openness to religious aspects of meaning and an active cultural interest and sympathy of approach is thus a critical consideration so as not to allow the exercise to become counterproductive; a clanging clash of the aspect blind…

    I would suggest that a good starting point in such discussions can often be WHAT IT MAKES SENSE TO SAY.

    For instance when it comes to our example of ‘life after death’ it may be useful to draw attention to what Wittgenstein pointed out in his Tractatus: “Death is not an event in life: we do not live to experience death”(TLP 6.4311).
    Death is thus more coherently seen as the end of life.

    Likewise one can meaningfully speak of surviving a train wreck – this means NOT to have died in it. The term ‘surviving death’ can equally be seen to lose sense as its underlying grammar reveals it means ‘to die and not to die’ – a clear contradiction.

    Now it is often objected to such a position that dialogues such as this are doomed to failure as such things are ‘beyond language’ – yet as DZ Phillips pointed out in his classic monograph “Death and Immortality” – If we say “our language as such is inadequate to tell us anything about the world beyond the grave, the notion of inadequacy is being misused. Our language is not a poor alternative to other means of communication; it is what constitutes communication…there can be inadequate use of language, but that does not tell us that language itself is inadequate – that makes no sense” (p.15)

    Thus reform / education is as essential for the mainstream religious as it is for the secular: AS WELL AS the theologians and scientists – ALL need to become informed enough to differentiate the superstitious and confused from what is genuinely valuable in the canonic allegories / moral tales. Above all it should be emphasised that religious stories should not and cannot be framed as factual (pseudo-scientific) discourses.

    What I have thus characterised as COMMUNITY PHILOSOPHY need not be overly technical or obscuritanist – but on the contrary operating at many levels of understanding depending on context; open to EVERYONE with an active mind, not just theologians and philosophers – and to this extent it is both reformist and populist. The goal: MUTUAL ASPECT DAWNING.

    At this point some may object on grounds of ‘social cohesiveness’ that such proactive and somewhat challenging endeavours could work to deprive some people of a ‘comfort’ or a ‘crutch’ when it comes to future hopes such as to live in eternal paradise, to have a supernatural guardian or to be reunited with dead relatives.

    People who come to be DIS-illusioned in this way can also be seen as thus EMPOWERED; they come to wean themselves off such pipe dreams and relearn the ability to walk unaided and upright – as DIGNIFIED HUMAN BEINGS WITHIN THE DAWNING OF A COHERENTLY PLURALISTIC AND UNIFIED WORLD FUTURE…

    I would heartily recommend the excellent documentary on the great and courageous theological reformist Professor Lloyd Geering which can be viewed here:


    March 29, 2009 at 2:41 pm

  8. So, our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to “disillusion” all the religious whackjobs that we encounter.
    Step 1. Convince them to abandon their faith by hijacking their language.
    Step 2. Redefine pluralism to mean – one belief system, ie, yours.
    Step 3. Be stewards of a united world order of peace and harmony without any religious clap-trap clouding our newly free minds.

    You could be on to something, I vow to make a start with the Environmentalists.

    “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…”


    March 29, 2009 at 5:28 pm

  9. I can see the campaign now. Zygruntee is the new Kitchener. ‘Our Philosophy Needs You’.

    Zygruntee I’ll leave the churches/temples/mosques to you my bredrin.

    Gipper you may have trouble tackling the environmentalists in situ, given that we are everywhere?

    I’ll take the delluded looneytarian minarchist types -I may have to join some private members clubs to tackle them in situ but needs must as the devil drives.

    P.S. enjoyed the Lloyd Geering heresy.


    March 29, 2009 at 7:50 pm

  10. @ you may have trouble tackling the environmentalists in situ, given that we are everywhere?

    I have my infiltration operation planned out.
    Trade in my giant, red-neck, pick-up truck for a Prius and start shopping at Whole Foods, never will I cross the threshold of Wal-Mart again.
    I am golden.


    March 30, 2009 at 1:28 pm

  11. LOL…And what about the post-infiltration plan of operations? Will you convert Whole Food customers from their folly in the aisles, tempting them with cheaper, less local groceries? Or perhaps establish a climate change denial booth in the car park, while talking the language of Prius owners?


    March 30, 2009 at 2:03 pm

  12. Every environmental principle has a counter point, an inherent paradox Tree.

    Gipper has only to offer “Fair Trade” in exchange for “Locally Grown”, and in place of Organic, put “Non-GM” and in place of climate change put an emphasis on aid for developing countries.

    That aughta do it. Hoisted by their own irrationalities.


    March 30, 2009 at 2:57 pm

  13. Categorical nonsense. Organic isn’t even an environmental category and fair trade doesn’t counter locally grown. As for aid vs climate???
    Rex could I ‘counter’ the murder of your sister by buying your brother a car?
    I would ask what planet you are on but unfortunately it’s the same as mine.


    March 30, 2009 at 9:30 pm

  14. Tree. If we are in a culture that accepts blood money, you could compensate me for the killing of my sister by buying me brother a car.

    Unfortunately we live in a ridiculous western society, so you would prefer that I have you locked up, not even punished, but pampered. In the meanwhile, my sister is still dead, my brother has no car, and you are completely unproductive.

    Sounds about right for environmentalism. Lets talk a lot about nothing when the fact is that human beings make a mess, and while you are alive, you are “non-environmental”, and if not you, then your neighbour who will take what you don’t use.

    Do us a favour, and populate another planet, of one, with no chance to breed, and leave the planet to the environment. Oh wait, some other create will just dominate and destroy it.

    And Organic is an environmental category unless you think that pesticides and residue of rocket fuel in baby’s milk, and the destruction of local ecosystems is all hunky dory. Like I said, environmentalism is built on contradictions.

    Put three environmentalists in a room and the only thing they’ll agree on is the world is going to shit, everything else will be the fault of eachother. Including the drive to the location, the flight from another country, the pants shipped over from China, and the leather wallet, and the steak they eat for dinner, cooked on an alluminium pot… maybe they’ve done a good deed and offset it by sending some cash to a carbon credit manufacturer, aka, polluting factory doing slightly less polluting, the slack taken up by you, and a dozen factories in China.


    March 31, 2009 at 9:33 am

  15. Rex {In paragraph order}:

    Interesting that you would so readily accept a blood money culture where life can be offset with capital. Is this akin to carbon off-setting in your twisted relativism? Call me absolutist, but if you kill MY sister you can’t pay your way out of trouble no matter what culture I find myself in.

    That incaceration be deemed sufficient punishment without the need for further suffering might well qualify as a ridiculous western notion. And indeed your sister will still dead – I believe all murder victims stay that way. No your brother doesn’t get a car – sorry about that. Yes prisoners are largely unproductive as a consequence of being unavailable.

    Anyway, back to the point – so you are suggesting that because we inevitably pollute the environment and can’t trust our neighbours, we might as well forget about the consequences and not bother to try and manage our predicament. Does this head in the sand approach extend to all spheres of public policy?

    I would gladly leave your ostrich race to meet their end while I enjoy alternative planetary options with my fellow species.

    Organic food is mostly a lifestyle choice (for the affluent). Organic food is overall no better for the environment than conventional produce and in many cases it is worse –

    Put three anything in a room together and difference of opinion (at best) is likely. Does that mean they are silly? Quite the opposite surely.


    March 31, 2009 at 7:49 pm

  16. Rex – I do believe the same arguments were trotted out against the anti-pollution laws post industrial revolution…
    If only we hadn’t introduced those silly ‘green’ laws then. The wonderful smog would have probably covered the entire country by now.
    Whatever the ‘reality’ of environmental issues may or may not be – surely it is just prudent not to continually shit in your backyard?


    April 1, 2009 at 9:05 am

  17. Jack: You misunderstand me.

    I’m saying you have to shit. So if it’s not in your own backyard, the fact is, it will still be in someones backyard. So it’s hypocritical to think just because you can’t see it, you aren’t doing it.

    So your wonderful anti pollution laws just mean Beijing is covered in smog. Well done. Out of site out of mind?

    Tree: you have reversed my position in fact. It is your blindness to think that any human being can be environmental that is an ostritch in the sand.

    We can be better or worse, but we can’t be ideal.

    You’re totally wrong on Organic by the way. That’s propoganda you’re spewing.

    Organic is the only system of farming which can increase the output of land without artifice, and create a neutral balance in land management.

    In other words, it’s actually improtant that bugs get a cut of the produce, because they feed the birds, which eat seeds and crap new stuff etc.

    It’s part of a natural balance.

    Your perspective of environmentalism is what introduced poison toad frogs to australia to clear up bugs without realised the toads can’t jump high enough to eat the bugs, and with no predators would breed out of control and kill anything that tried to eat them.

    Even if you move to a new planet you’re still going to shit.

    My point is that man and woman are inherently un environmental, so before getting on a high horse, accept that fact first and foremost.

    As for blood money, you don’t have to accept it. But in some cases it makes sense. The way it works is, if you don’t accept it, the murderer is killed. So it’s up to you to save a life if you so choose.

    It’s nothing to do with paying for life, but for punishment, plain and simple.


    April 1, 2009 at 10:16 am

  18. Rex, let’s not go down the ‘all or nothing’ road we did with equality here. You are taking the extremist title of this post to heart. You seem to want to push a defnition of ‘environmental’ that entails zero-pollution. That is not standard useage. I admit the term is one which encompasses many viewpoints and as such can be unhelpful at times but generally it is about limiting greenhouse gas emissions/carbon footprints. The fact that we all pollute isn’t an arguement against managing the situation. As you suggest, ‘we can be better or worse, but we can’t be ideal’. I had already assumed (wrongly it seems) that that was as obvious as a dog’s bollocks!

    I agree that SOME forms/models of organic farming are excellent but some are just health choices at best or at worst are a con for stupid middle class people to off-set their green guilt (moral offsetting) while actually making the situation worse.

    Garrett Hardin’s ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ or the ‘Fisherman’s Paradox’ are useful in illustrating how individuals acting in their own self-interest can destroy a shared limited resource even though it is clear that it is not in anyone’s long term interest for this to happen.


    April 1, 2009 at 11:18 am

  19. rex – tree has sort of said it for me.
    I think that you are suggesting that Beijing is covered in shit INSTEAD of London.
    No. Beijing is covered in shit, but London aint. And one day, Beijing will sort its shit out.
    You seem to be suggesting that you’d rather London AND Beijing be covered in shit.
    As Tree says, its not necessary to be extreme…just sensible. We’re not fuckin tree-huggers here…just not deniers of any human responsibility to the environment.
    No ideals, just common sense. Avoid unnecessary waste and pollute as little as possible.


    April 1, 2009 at 11:49 am

  20. if we weren’t like this we’d be as stupid as rabbits which are one of the few animals (along with reindeer) recorded as having destroyed themselves (on islands) by destroying their environment. Most animals will naturally prevent themself destroying themself from within.


    April 1, 2009 at 11:52 am

  21. ORGANIC SIDE RANT: In Britain, the yield from organic wheat is only half that from conventional farms. If all our food was organic, we would have to dig up hedgerows and cut down forests just to produce enough food. We would use twice the water, do at least twice the ploughing ­ and use twice the amount of petrol and diesel as a consequence. Most modern pesticides are biodegradable, but ‘natural’ pesticides, like copper, stay in the soil forever.


    April 1, 2009 at 12:04 pm

  22. Is not the major difference between environmental policy now and what happened during the industrial revolution is that then the laws were designed to stop people contaminating the air/rivers/land with chemicals and waste that were not ordinarily found in measurable quantities there? Genuine pollutants. Now we are told that we must cut back on the relatively small amount of carbon dioxide we put into an atmosphere that “naturally” contains carbon dioxide.

    I am struggling with this, just as I struggle hugely with the notion that anything that human beings can do is inherently unnatural.
    Whenever it suits we are either a pox on the planet, because we are so vastly superior to all other living entities or we are no more important than some endangered cave snails.


    April 1, 2009 at 2:53 pm

  23. Gipper, there are natural chemicals in your body that could harm or kill you in the wrong quantities. The ancient Greek word ‘pharmakon’ is interesting in this context in that it can mean ‘remedy’ or ‘poison’. Cortisol, for instance, protects your body but can also be very bad for you if you produce too much. You wouldn’t want to cause your body to produce harmful levels of this (eg by getting very stressed) anymore than you want to poison the planet with harmful levels of carbon dioxide. The natural/unnatural distinction isn’t helpful in this context.


    April 1, 2009 at 3:37 pm

  24. What is the optimum level for atmospheric CO2 and why?


    April 1, 2009 at 4:36 pm

  25. Sounds like a great study assignment – please let us know when you have found the answers.


    April 2, 2009 at 2:57 pm

  26. And while you are studying the matter – don’t forget it’s not all about C02…Nitrogen oxides, Methane, Hydroflurocarbon gasses, Perfluorocarbons and Sulfur hexafluorides are all considered ‘greenhouse gasses’.


    April 2, 2009 at 3:36 pm

  27. I don’t believe there is an answer to that question.


    April 2, 2009 at 4:57 pm

  28. Tree, I am not trying to be difficult, my original question was piss-poor.
    Optimum level for what?

    Anyway, what I really would like to know, from someone who believes that it is a good idea to limit carbon dioxide emissions is, how it can possibly have any effect when what man produces is just a minute percentage of the total CO2 in an atmosphere that only contains a miniscule percentage of CO2 to begin with?
    I am fixated on CO2 because of cap and trade and carbon neutral lifestyles and carbon credits.
    To this non-believer it seems like just another way to tax the producers.


    April 2, 2009 at 10:04 pm

  29. @hijacking your language

    Gipper, I prefer the phrase ‘rescuing your language’ as opposed to the ‘eliminating’ some go in for.

    To be more precise, rescuing religious language from the confusions and fallacies that a literal interpretation of their canonic texts gives rise to.

    Religious people would be wise to acknowledge that these texts ARE NOT factual or historical accounts. They are not representational in character but have a different technique of use.

    If this is not understood religious belief is reduced to absurdity and ultimately to extinction.

    In other words if someone were to claim they literally believe in talking snakes; an apple bestowing knowledge; journeys in the belly of a whale; a giant wooden ship built by one man to carry two of every species of animal on earth; a religious teacher turning water into wine, raising people from the dead and walking on water – they would not only be evoking a David Blaine of the ancient world but indulging in fantasies worthy of your label “whackjob”…


    April 3, 2009 at 8:33 am

  30. @hijacking your language

    Gipper, I prefer the phrase ‘rescuing your language’ as opposed to the ‘eliminating’ some go in for.

    To be more precise, rescuing religious language from the confusions and fallacies that a literal interpretation of their canonic texts gives rise to.

    Religious people would be wise to acknowledge that these texts ARE NOT factual or historical accounts. They are not representational in character but have a different technique of use.

    If this is not understood religious belief is reduced to absurdity and ultimately extinction.

    In other words if someone were to claim they literally believe in talking snakes; an apple bestowing knowledge; journeys in the belly of a whale; a giant wooden ship built by one man to carry two of every species of animal on earth; a religious teacher turning water into wine, raising people from the dead and walking on water – they would not only be evoking a David Blaine of the ancient world but indulging in fantasies worthy of your label “whackjob”…


    April 3, 2009 at 8:35 am

  31. Talking of ‘whackjobs’…the idea that tackling climate change is another attempt by wild-eyed left-wingers disguised as environmentalists to bring capitalism to its knees springs to mind – the ‘watermelon theory’. Perhaps we need a separate post on this?


    April 3, 2009 at 9:02 am

  32. The Pope has called upon us to be good stewards of God’s creation. More recently, the Archbishop of Canterbury has warned that God will not intervene to prevent humanity from wreaking disastrous damage to the environment. “I think that to suggest that God might intervene to protect us from the corporate folly of our practices is as unchristian and unbiblical as to suggest that he protects us from the results of our individual folly or sin,” he said.
    More to the point, God CANNOT intervene.


    April 3, 2009 at 9:45 am

  33. @The Pope:

    His teachings remind us of WHY we need religious reform.

    Speaking during his first visit to Africa, the Pope said HIV/Aids was “a tragedy that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which can even increase the problem”.

    One of the world’s most prestigious medical journals, the Lancet, has accused Pope Benedict XVI of distorting science in his remarks on condom use.

    It said the Pope’s recent comments that condoms exacerbated the problem of HIV/Aids were wildly inaccurate and could have devastating consequences.

    Rather than being a good steward, or God’s ‘infallible’ ambassador on earth, this highly influential ex Nazi is an example of a DANGEROUS WHACKJOB of the highest degree.


    April 3, 2009 at 10:59 am

  34. Careful Zygruntee, the “defamation of religion” was passed as a human rights violation by the U.N. last week:


    April 3, 2009 at 2:09 pm

  35. Zygruntee, wHat if tHe people don’t want tHeir language “rescued”?
    WHat does it matter to you if someone truly believes tHat tHe Bible or any otHer religious text is literal fact?
    You sound as fanatical as some profoundly religious people?

    (My son ripped my H key off and it will only do capital H’s at tHe moment).


    April 3, 2009 at 10:49 pm

  36. It matters alright:

    Ayatollah Khomeini’s issued a fatwa against Salman Rushdie because of his supposedly blasphemous novel The Satanic Verses in 1989 and put a sword to the throat of free speech in the religious arena.

    The new head of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, today called for ‘a balance between free speech and respect for religious feelings’ after a dispute over his support for the right to caricature the Prophet Muhammed had threatened his appointment.


    April 6, 2009 at 11:18 am

  37. @fanatical

    Gipper: there are innumerable reasons to clear out the ‘slum landlords’ of religious language; Pastors and Imams among them – but if I were to cite only one it would be this:


    In other words, far from being ‘fanatics’, those who engender active social reform of religious concepts can be seen as contributing to a non-political antidote to fundamentalism – and in so doing engaging another weapon in the armoury against a powerful contemporary terrorist threat.


    April 7, 2009 at 8:38 am

  38. To Tree and Zygruntee –
    The problem is not religious belief.
    The problem is that the fanatics want to impose their beliefs on everyone else.

    Again it is about consensus of opinion and Zygruntee your goal is no different to any religious fundamentalist.


    April 7, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    • I’m going to have to disagree here Gipperfan.

      I do actually agree completely with Zyg on this.

      Take a look at the news story today about the 200 protesting believers in the cult of death which is a drug dealers “religion” found in South America. They are baffled why anyone is cracking down on their religious freedom. No pun intended.

      What makes the story of the creation of the world as espoused by a Christian more real than that espoused by a Hindu? or a Pagan Greek, or an ancient American Indian?

      All of them follow similar trains of thought. All of them use similar phrases and concepts. All of them, actually, have something to teach. And Zyg hasn’t denied the value of this.

      A friend of mine was upset that in speaking of the Mahabharata, and Bhagavad Gita of the Hindu’s, an amazing and powerful psychological/religious/spiritual guide, westerners called it a Myth. He felt it should be treated as History and Scripture.

      Because for it’s self reference, the chain of information is unbroken since God first spoke it.

      I answered back to him, so I’ll grant you that if you grant that Zeus and Olympus are also “historical fact” and if you accept that literally, at the same time as your God was speaking the words of the Bhagavad Gita, the Christian God was literally creating the world.

      Shall we base the test of what is history on the basis of the most believers? Or on the basis of the most ancient belief? or the most reasonable? Or the one that is most in tune with Science? All of the above? None of the above?

      Does it even matter?!

      Well, it matters when what is profoundly psychological and spiritual is determined to be literal fact, because then if you don’t believe in some aspect of the physical (rather than essential meaning), of a scripture (prone to manipulation, loss of understanding over time, and new prophets creating new scriptures- see the Mormons), then you are liable to be killed, in order to maintain the sanctity of said belief system.

      That’s not a radical statement by the way. It’s exhibited even today in Wahhabi Islam, which can’t tolerate Shia’s, Sufi’s or even other forms of Sunni Islam.

      So who is right? The beauty of science is that although it can be disputed, there are methods of testing, and tangible forms of understanding. Although it can lead to killing, it’s unlikely, and inherently at odds with the very ethos of science to “fail to doubt”

      Zyg hasn’t suggested that at all. He has merely said, Religion belongs in a realm of it’s own, where we understand the terms, stories, and ideas of scripture in their own way.

      That is actually very much where the Catholic church has moved to, after burning a few people here and there.

      On the other hand, the attack on the Pope is out of place.

      His point that abstinence, marriage, and the sanctity of life and a good life are safer than condoms is actually, scientifically, easy to show.

      It is ironic that the scientific community is attacking him for something that is readily apparent and provable.

      What is less safe however, even than condoms, is a world of hypocracy where people will obey the pope and not use condoms, and fail to obey the pope and have sex outside of marriage, in affairs, and with multiple partners.

      That’s what I can’t really understand, these people listen to something dangerous, and fail to listen to what is good advice.

      I do agree that the Pope should be more aware of reality. Encouraging abstinence as well as condoms when abstinence is not an option seems like a very reasonable idea to me.

      What I do find interesting though, is that in order to really embrace religion, I think one needs to step away from the language and world of science, accept the absurd as fact, and embrace the language and space of religion with complete abandon. However, I strongly believe this is a personal choice, that cannot be entered into from a lack of knowledge, but only embraced from a deep understanding and conviction that there are secrets to knowing God that cannot be understood whilst attached to material science and the material world.

      In effect, a chosen madness, not to be imposed on others, lest the whole world become mad and not closer to God but closer to whatever is the incarnation of Evil.

      A personal madness in pursuit of God has actually given us great saints within every religious system. The imposition of such madness on society at large has produced holocausts.

      Spirituality is personal. And Zyg’s points are vital to understanding that.

      I despise the new religious tolerance bill. It is a mockery, and a complete poison to the very basic human rights it took us thousands of years to win.

      Anyone who wants to understand the danger of it, has only to say, to believe one religion is to believe them all, and see where that leads.


      April 7, 2009 at 2:55 pm

  39. @Shall we base the test of what is history on the basis of the most believers?
    We already do, the victors write history.
    Doesn’t make it right, but it is what it is.

    @What makes the story of the creation of the world as espoused by a Christian more real than that espoused by a Hindu? or a Pagan Greek, or an ancient American Indian?
    Nothing aside from faith.

    @All of them follow similar trains of thought. All of them use similar phrases and concepts. All of them, actually, have something to teach. And Zyg hasn’t denied the value of this
    Yes he has.
    He has consistently denigrated religious belief:
    “pipe dreams”
    “Religious people would be wise to acknowledge that these texts ARE NOT factual or historical accounts”
    “indulging in fantasies worthy of your label “whackjob”
    “this highly influential ex Nazi is an example of a DANGEROUS WHACKJOB of the highest degree.”

    And fair do’s to him, I agree that any law that limits free speech is frightening, but to conclude his opening post with the following statement, is highly disingenuous:
    “An open attitude to another’s culture and way of life may be the best starting point on the road to such understanding.”

    @Well, it matters when what is profoundly psychological and spiritual is determined to be literal fact, because then if you don’t believe in some aspect of the physical (rather than essential meaning), of a scripture (prone to manipulation, loss of understanding over time, and new prophets creating new scriptures- see the Mormons), then you are liable to be killed, in order to maintain the sanctity of said belief system.

    A belief that a bible is not literal fact does not automatically lead to death by the hands of the believers.
    That is absurd.
    People may say that they are killing others in the name of their god, but they do so in their own lust for power and control.
    I haven’t read the Qur’an, but I do believe (as we are constantly told) that nowhere does it say “kill all the infidels” and yet evil men use the justification of religion to control their fellow men and to commit murder.
    Does this mean that Islam is evil? I certainly do not think so.
    Would have convincing the 9/11 murderers that the 72 virgins was a myth have stopped them? Again, I don’t think so.
    (BTW I don’t accept the premise described by the term “suicide martyrdom” I prefer “homicide martyrdom”).

    Ultimately what you believe is irrelevant, we can all coexist peacefully believing in any god, all that is needed is respect for another’s right to their belief (even while thinking them misguided or less kindly an idiot).
    I have no personal faith or affiliation to any religion, but I do strongly believe that a world without religion would be a terrible place to live and not some watered down respect for beauty and love, but actual fervent belief that there is a power that exists above man.
    I don’t care what form that entity takes for you personally and if you believe that you will meet him in the after life or not.
    Believe that creation was the work of your god, believe that every word of your bible is literal fact.
    Go spread the good word, as loudly and often as you can, but do not tell me that I MUST believe in your god or their god or most damagingly no god at all.


    April 7, 2009 at 4:51 pm

    • I don’t see a contradiction between what you’ve just said and Zyg’s position.

      Yes he has done the name calling you’ve identified, but he’s done it as a reaction to the hard core believers.

      It is patently not absurd to say that someone who believes in the literal word of a religious text is prone to imposing some pretty radical attacks on others.

      It’s just historical fact.

      Even today, in Africa, Albino’s are killed by witch doctors because of “special magical medicine” all in keeping with their belief system.

      The point isn’t that religion shouldn’t, but that in fact “it does”, “it has”, and “it will”.

      Whether it is contradictory to it’s own tennets is irrelevant. It is the fundamental belief that one can construct the world according to ones own ideas, no matter how fantastical, that allows people to eradicate others as if they were monsters.

      It is the “other side of the coin” to the power of belief, and so belief needs to be balanced.

      I also think a world without God, and without religion would be destitute of much of what constructs our moral framework. But re-read Zyg’s points, he also upholds this value.

      His attack is against the literalists who by the necessity of their belief must kill and destroy others.

      It’s history, and it’s now. It’s not absurd.

      And we all agree to fight against it when we uphold the principle “do not tell me I MUST believe your god” because that is exactly what a literalist must do. The fact they’ve been relegated to a box in the current dynamic doesn’t mean it won’t happen again even in our societies if we don’t protect against it.

      The secular environment is necessary.


      April 7, 2009 at 5:07 pm

  40. @It is patently not absurd to say that someone who believes in the literal word of a religious text is prone to imposing some pretty radical attacks on others.

    That isn’t the point that I disagreed with.
    What I object to is that the killing of the non-believers directly follows from an absolute belief in a religous text.
    You implied and Zygruntee explicitly stated that profound religious belief leads believers to murder.
    And if we could just enlighten the afflicted to the position that their religious texts are just stories then the killing in the name of religion would end.
    This is absurd and I find it deeply troubling.


    April 7, 2009 at 5:21 pm

  41. I want to retract my first statement in the above post.
    I didn’t read your comment properly.
    I do disagree with you.
    Believing in the literal word of a religious text does not make someone prone to attacking those who disagree.
    That is like saying that if you drink you will die of liver failure.
    Bullshit, you could get murdered by a radical nun. 😉


    April 7, 2009 at 9:11 pm

  42. The dangers inherent in literalist interpretion start well before we get to murder or martyrdom. And it’s not only believers that need beware. Stories can be misleading. This is particularly true of allegorical stories which require interpretive skills. Complex ideas are often introduced through simplistic stories, especially to children.
    For instance, most introductory accounts of evolution are simplistic linear tales with a beginning and an end (‘once upon a time’ and ‘happily ever after’) and all too familiar apeman diagrams. Similar evolutionary stories and depictions of Race were used widely not so long ago too. Need I say more? Not far from here to eugenics.
    All sorts of negative consequences arise when socially significant stories are misinterpreted. Prophetic, particularly apocalyptic, stories for instance often lead the literalist to predestination or a fatalistic outlook that doesn’t do anyone any favours.
    The art of interpretation (hermeneutics) should be part of the our curriculum.


    April 7, 2009 at 9:49 pm

  43. @ Gipper

    While I agree not all believers in a literal interpretation of religious texts are going to kill.

    And I also agree that guns don’t kill people, people kill people.

    And I also agree that not all alchoholics will die of liver failure.

    And I agree that smoking won’t kill all smokers.

    And I agree that a heavily polluted environment with the vast majority of the populace living in poverty doesn’t mean there won’t be some happy people.

    I would still say that at a SOCIAL level, rather than an individual level, too many powerful guns on the street leads to more violent and deadly crime (easy to show just looking at the difference between the USA and comparible countries such as Canada and the UK).

    I would also say that when smoking is the norm society will have more deaths from cancer.

    When people are alchoholics a good proportion will in fact die of liver dieases.

    And when society is BOUND in a belief of literal interpretation, then people will die.

    Because of the powerful, elegant, and far sighted guidance of the founders of the Unites States of America, the interplay between the social body (state), and the individual entity (person), has found a very positive balance, that allows individualists to imagine that they may in fact, need no boundary.

    We are not talking here about one or two indviduals (some of whom will be saints, and some of whom, like Charles Manson, will be serial killers). That’s just the way of the world.

    But when your state becomes a vehicle to impose literalist interpretations, the state itself will become violent against any non-believers, as it is the only way to sustain the power of the statement in that society.

    And literalists want to take over the state, and impose their belief system on others, because for them, it’s the only absolute truth.

    In other words, they aren’t a danger whilst bound by the democratic norms and constitutions of modern societies which fought hard to escape them. But when they take over, they are a huge danger.

    That is the danger I am reffering to. And you have the benefit to hide behind the shield built up by Jefferson, Adams, and the like, who, whether they were believers or not, understood the inherent dangers of belief, and gave you protection.

    So don’t dismiss that protection so easily.

    Just because a fundamentalist believer in America is not so dangerous without the ability to impose their views, doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be deadly dangerous if they had such an ability.

    Please, just look at the history of any literal fundamentalist society and you’ll see what I am talking about. I alluded to quite a few.

    It’s like this. Not all insane people will kill people. Especially when they are put in safe places, not allowed weapons, and have a safety net.

    But if all of your leaders where clinically insane, would you still think there would be no uptick in killing? Think Nero, Caligula and the like.

    Unfettered power, when handed to fundamentalist believers in ANYTHING, whether that is God or Science, are a danger to all of society.

    And if that means that at a State level we have to disregard or be rude about the beliefs of others, then so be it, it’s necessary. And I say that as a fundamentalist believer. I believe in God, beyond science, and I believe in absolute moral values. But God forbid I ever live in a society that imposes my values on others, because then it would become hell. Fine if everyone chooses to believe, but then it would still have to be inside a secular structure, otherwise that free will, would quickly evaporate.

    Only look at the English puritans who started out well in overthrowing the monarchy and then quickly became worse in how they treated people for moral crimes… hanging, killing, state murder.

    I can actually say with absolute conviction that NO society, founded on the basis of fundmanetalist beliefs, has ever been other than totalitarian dictatorships with murder at the heart. Be it Roman Catholic, Communist, or Islamic.

    Islam flourished when it’s leaders were secular.

    So just understand the lesson of history.

    I agree at an individual level, a fundamentalist is perfectly fine, but I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about a very real threat to any and every society.


    April 8, 2009 at 10:54 am

  44. @ So don’t dismiss that protection so easily.
    I do not. I revere that protection and I thought that was obvious from everything I have said.
    I also revere the protection of the free exercise of religion.
    What I don’t believe is that there is anything inherent in the texts of any major religion that justifies killing people.
    As you rightly said, evil people will always find a justification to exert power and the most dangerous will tell us, often convincingly, that they are doing it for our own good.
    Religion provides a very important obstacle to the successful wielding of that power.
    Other than that (and the bit about gun crime) I agree with everything else you have said. 🙂


    April 8, 2009 at 12:20 pm

  45. “It is not so much what you believe in that matters, as the way in which you believe it and proceed to translate that belief into action” Lin Yutang , (1895-1976).


    Beliefs might start in your head but they often end up in someone else’s backyard. Intrusion causes conflict. Intransigence starts fights. If your buying diversity of belief then compromise comes with the deal. Whether proselytizing or not, religions or belief systems can only surrender so much to compromise without loosing their essence (sub-optimal), even at an individual level. There comes a point when you’ve got to stand up and fight.


    April 8, 2009 at 2:22 pm

  46. The shocking story of the mother who shot her son in the head at a gun range kinda draws on all the themes we have discussed: guns, religion, psychology

    She shot him (because it was the USA after all)
    She killed him because the end of the world was coming and she wanted to send him to heaven, and herself to hell.

    That’s in her own words.

    There is an inherent danger in religion, in that it belongs in a realm of the mind, and can quickly lose limits, and create misunderstandings.


    April 9, 2009 at 10:28 am

  47. Just followed this up – utterly shocking!
    The consequences of misinterpretion don’t get much starker or darker than this.
    Apparently she left a video for her boyfriend where she said ‘The devil got to me, he destroyed me. He made me destroy all of us,’. She added: ‘I will pay forever and ever for what I’ve done and I just hope you can forgive me. When you get to heaven, tell my son how much I love him.’
    Rex, although this woman was clearly derranged, do you think it is unrealistic to suggest that beliefs stay ‘in a realm of the mind’. This is the point I was trying to make above): Our core and sacred beliefs nearly always result in actions when they collide with others.
    As Jean-Paul Sartre said: “Hell is other people”


    April 9, 2009 at 11:00 am

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