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just some music dance

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Written by rexinfinite

April 18, 2009 at 2:31 pm

Posted in faith, free speech


with 50 comments


“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

People with strong religious beliefs cling to life

with 7 comments

People with strong religious beliefs want doctors to do everything they can to keep them alive as death approaches.

You’re 88 years old. You have lived a full christian life. You can have heaven now or two weeks of tubes down the throat, ventilation,  repeated resuscitation, defecating in a pan and then die amongst strangers.

Surely the christian thing to do is to let nature take its course. Die with dignity at home with your loved ones (80% of people now die in a hospital, not long ago it was 20%). Then spend the vast amounts of money wasted in prolonging life by two weeks of intensive care on those with a chance of recovery.

Sign the ‘do not resuscitate’ form and enjoy the everlasting.

Written by Dontthinktwice

March 18, 2009 at 5:48 pm

Posted in faith, religion

Religion on it’s way out?

with 63 comments

A story just hit the headlines showing that most religious of western countries, the USA, in a decline of religious belief.

Granted, it’s only gone from 14.2% who say they don’t, to 15%, but that 15% is nearly double the 8.2% who didn’t believe in 1990. At that rate, about .3% per year, it would still take over 100 years before America reached the levels of non belief of a Sweden, and a good 200 years or so before it was an overwhelming majority.

As someone who believes religion has a lot to offer, I contemplate ways to reverse this trend. Maybe if the Anti-Christ arrives? 😉

But on the other hand, I think most people in this blogspace don’t believe in religion. Do they have any ideas of what would make their perspective grow faster in the populace?

Maybe taking control of all schools?
Maybe actually trying to prove God doesn’t exist? (i.e. manifest life from raw matter).

Well, anyhow, interested in whether people think it’s good, bad, and what can be done.

Written by rexinfinite

March 9, 2009 at 12:36 pm

Posted in faith, free speech, religion

Tagged with , ,

My daughter the porno star

with 3 comments

So, a friend suggested he would be comfortable with his daughter or his wife being a porno star. He felt his position was very liberated and empowering to the woman. He wouldn’t go so far as to encourage it, but if that is what she is, then he won’t reject her.


I would disown any daughter doing that, although I wouldn’t object to being married to a stripper, and I’d be in the same boat as the pimp daddy if my daughter were a stripper, just about ok.

Written by rexinfinite

March 12, 2007 at 4:14 pm

The disproportionate media coverage of religion

with 8 comments

The Christian Research English Church Census, 2005 recorded just over 3 million people attended church in that year (and the numbers are falling fast). In the census of 2001 about 2.5 million people claimed to be either Muslim, Sikh, Hindu or Jewish. So I’d guestimate from those figures that about 8% of the population consider religion to be an important part of their lives. So why the fuck does it get so much media coverage? And why are we constantly given quotes and views from their representatives?

I appreciate that sometimes religion justifies some newsprint but we seem to be looking at it to play an active part in society even though it no longer plays an active role in the overwhelming majority of people’s lives. I’m all for minorities having a voice but this is supposed to be a democracy. More people smoke cannabis than pursue religion but you don’t see Howard Marks giving his view every time a moral issue springs up.

Written by sanchezdemarcos

February 5, 2007 at 2:41 pm

Test tube meat

with 2 comments

Can’t wait to tuck into lab grown meat in a couple of years…no animals being slaughtered, no land being wasted on greedy meat eaters, no BSE and best of all, reduced saturated fats and added omega oils – yum.

What is the fuss about? Willow trees used to cure headaches and now the molecular pattern is synthesised so we can just take a pill – our kids will laugh at our distaste – excuse the pun.

Build me the protein sheets, I say.

Written by sanchezdemarcos

January 23, 2007 at 2:43 pm

Posted in faith, quirky

Tagged with , ,