Friday, February 4, 2011

The Midfuture of Religion

Grace Cathedral, San Francisco
In due course this blog will return to simple, innocent speculation about zapping or otherwise blowing up spaceships. But for now, I can't resist following through on my recent promise (well down the comment thread) to play with fire.

Religion is a very widespread, even pervasive characteristic of human societies, and pretty damn widespread among individual humans. Having said that, what exactly do I mean by religion? What we now call simply 'the West' was, for about a thousand years until rather recently, called Western Christendom. Whatever our personal beliefs, most of us grew up in that cultural milieu, and it shapes our concepts of 'religion.'

As a minor example, in the linked thread I made a reference to faith. Yet my impression is that classical paganism cared not at all about faith - it insisted on ritual, carried out as prescribed, without caring whether you 'believed in' it or not. I gather that there is also a bit of a standing joke in archeology that if you find an artifact, especially a carefully made one, with no obvious purpose, you put it down as a 'cult object.' And what will future archeologists make of that big statue of Athena Polias in New York harbor?

For purposes of this discussion I won't even try to define religion - anyone who thinks they can, click the comments button and give it a shot.

But as a matter of fairness I'll show my cards. I was raised in the Episcopal Church, the 'Murrican member of the Anglican Communion. This fact has currently produced a dispute that gives a whole new (old?) meaning to 'primate house behavior,' which I won't belabor here. I had no beef with it, but in college I was converted to agnosticism by a fundamentalist friend, who probably remains mercifully ignorant of how his evangelizing misfired.

Rigorist atheists would probably describe agnosticism as 'squish' atheism, and this was mostly true of mine, though I have subsequently shifted to a purer agnosticism - from There is no God! (But I hesitate to assert it dogmatically.) to Is there a God? God only knows!

From a somewhat different perspective, though, I would be tempted to argue that most self proclaimed atheists (and mere agnostics) are actually followers of a religion I shall call Puritanical Pantheism.

Conventional pantheism is the belief that divinity, 'numinosity,' God-ness infuses the physical universe, AKA Nature. Pantheism of the ordinary sort is associated with the environmental movement, especially its more spiritual-minded wing, as well as with Westerners who are attracted to Eastern mysticisms. Stereotypically it connotes hippie dippie types who wear sandals in places where hiking shoes would be more convenient.

It is a rather 'Catholic' sort of pantheism, not (obviously!) in any doctrinal sense, but in its baroque richness of imagery and vast calendar of saints. Its present day believers are (again, stereotypically) not terribly fond of industrial civilization or, of most interest here, space travel, even though environmentalism as we now know it is very much a product of the space age.

Distaste goes both ways, unsurprisingly, since heretics are always worse than mere infidels.

Puritanical Pantheism is an altogether starker faith than the garden variety sort. It offers no solace that our souls will somehow be joined with the butterflies, and no sacred groves where we might contemplate such things. It offers nothing at all to its believers save sheer awe. Sinners in the hands of an angry God? Try sinners and non-sinners alike in the hands of an utterly indifferent Universe.

For just that reason, puritanical pantheism will probably not sweep all other faiths before it into the dustbin of history. If I were to guess, and I will, both the death and the revival of more traditional forms of religion is probably overstated. The world's major religions have not gotten that way without offering powerful world views to their believers - or even their not-quite-believers. My own world view remains shaped in important ways by the Book of Common Prayer.

That said, I would not be surprised if a syncretic muddle is common in the midfuture, because we are far more aware of the range of possible religion than people in the agrarian age generally were. Short of a catastrophic collapse this is unlikely to change. This by no means implies that everyone will believe in a syncretic muddle; major faiths will likely retain their full vitality among many millions of believers.

Fundamentalism? It is, I suspect, a characteristically transitional phenomenon. Traditional believers of an earlier era were not 'fundamentalist;' traditional teachings were simply taken for granted for lack of alternatives. God (or Thatever) may have created the universe ten minutes ago, complete with fossil record, etc., just as we write stories with a backstory extending back beyond Page 1. In my personal opinion - worth what you paid - accepting this is a far more robust position than trying to take pliers to the material evidence to bend it to fit doctrinal positions. That is to say, 'creation science' is neither scientific nor very creative.

(If you wish to argue otherwise, bear in mind that this is a seriously geeky crowd who will cut you little no slack if you slip up on technical points.)

But religion is not limited by fundamentalism, and the methods of science have their own constraints. Broadly speaking, science deals with the orderliness of nature. What is not orderly - human history comes to mind, not to mention the human experience as recorded in literature - requires different methods of study to produce useful results. And if the universe were created, like a sim except for real, it is questionable whether any purely internal analysis could ever show this, or refute it if not so.

Discuss.




The image is of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.


A reminder to commenters and prospective commenters from Captain Obvious: This is, shall we say, a potentially contentious subject for a blog post. Rocketpunk Manifesto has, so far, been amazingly devoid of flame wars, and I ask all who enter the comment thread to help keep it that way.

381 comments:

1 – 200 of 381   Newer›   Newest»
Craig A. Glesner said...

I wonder about the resurgence of the household god, but now geared up as the ship's god.

Luck might have a place as religion of chance.

As well I suppose the old religions will endure and new ones will pop up. Some of the new ones will stick while the rest wither or mutate.

Also I threw out the Gibsonites to a friend of mine, but he suggested the more neutral Futurists.

And does Psychohistory count as a religion?

Just some thoughts off the top of my head. I claim no expertise in the area.

Milo said...

Rick:

"Yet my impression is that classical paganism cared not at all about faith - it insisted on ritual, carried out as prescribed, without caring whether you 'believed in' it or not."

The modern emphasis on faith is at least in part because people are being increasingly given reasons not to believe in gods or spirits, and so need to more conciously worry about whether they will believe in them or not.


"I gather that there is also a bit of a standing joke in archeology that if you find an artifact, especially a carefully made one, with no obvious purpose, you put it down as a 'cult object'."

Yes. Which, mind you, makes me fairly skeptical about any artifact that's hypothesized to be a cult object.


"Distaste goes both ways, unsurprisingly, since heretics are always worse than mere infidels."

Ah right, that old adage about how your worst enemies are the people with views almost, but not quite, identical to your own.


"God (or Thatever) may have created the universe ten minutes ago, complete with fossil record, etc., just as we write stories with a backstory extending back beyond Page 1."

And when we do, we expect the characters to act as though they did in fact exist before page 1, oblivious to the true nature of their universe. Failure on the characters' parts to do would disappoint us, except in a comedy - and fourth-wall-breaking comedy is hard to do right.

Therefore my view is that whether or not the universe existed more than ten minutes ago, I am better off acting as though I am confident it did. If I am wrong, than I am still doing God's will - and it is highly unlikely that acting as though the universe were created ten minutes ago would personally benefit me in any way, again regardless of whether it's actually true.

Incidentally, I didn't keep track, but there's a good chance this post took me longer than ten minutes to write...



Craig A. Glesner:

"I wonder about the resurgence of the household god, but now geared up as the ship's god."

Sailors were stereotyped as highly superstitious folk, with a bit of a disconnect from the cultural beliefs of landlubbers even if they were "officially" still good Christians. This was a consequence of their extreme isolation for extended periods, so spaceships crew might experience similar evolution - or might not, if radio communication to home allows them to stay in touch sufficiently well. It was also a consequence of their feelings of helplessness in a remote and unpredictable environment.

Astronauts who actually believed in household gods back home, though (Shinto?), are far more likely to come up with the idea of ship's gods in short order.

Craig A. Glesner said...

Milo, I think there is also the sort thing that leads folks (in the US at least) to anthropomorphize their cars.

But yeah the Shinto point is cool too.

Milo said...

Cars (and spaceships) are expensive (= hard to replace) devices that don't always behave reliably. Where luck exists, superstition often follows.

On a more encompassing level, I know that some neopagans have added a deity of cars to their pantheon, who is prayed to when you need to find parking space in a crowded mall, praised when you receive a streak of green traffic lights, etc.

Craig A. Glesner said...

As do I. Though with the ones I know it is a specifically a saint of parking spaces. It has a gender, female and a name, which since I don't drive I forget.

dragon01 said...

Being a Jew, I suppose I stradle the ethnic/religious barrier. In my own family, we can clearly point to ancestors, showing that our family religious affliation has been unchanged for almost 200 years. Therefore, in my own case, my religion is almost a function of genetics and breeding.

That being said, as a professional aviator, I can say that I have always refered to my aircraft as "she" or "her", and used "we" to describe the unit of plane and pilot. As each aircraft is manufactured, there is some variation, even with standardization. Some planes just fly better than other, even though they were assembled right next to eachother.

So how do I reconcile religion and technology, possibly in the same way spacefarers will. My ship has a spirit, when that sprit interacts with the universe in such a way as to alleviate boredom with shear terror, I will invoke the name of the almighty, his son, the fellow on the other team downstairs, the prophet of the other guys who ride camels, and any other deities that my fear addled mind can recall. Anything to keep the ship together, and make takeoffs equal landings.

My two cents, YMMV.

AdShea said...

In reading this I cannot help but think of Neil Gaiman's book "American Gods" which is basically the story of all the "old world" pagan gods being transplanted to America, and finally going up against the "new gods" of things like technology, industry, cars, and the like.

Milo said...

Because, of course, we don't have technology, industry, or cars in Europe. Totally.

Mangaka2170 said...

Also remember the Foundationists from Babylon 5. Their belief is that God is so vast and powerful that He's simply too big to fit in a single religion.

I like the Shinto idea, may have to yank it for my own midfuture setting (/graphic novel).

Similarly, what sort of effect would space travel have on the practices of some religions? For example, as I understand it Muslims face the direction of Mecca when they pray. So, which way would a Muslim on a spaceship face when praying? Would it be the direction of Earth? Would they face the Sun instead, or would they pray to a substitute of the Black Stone instead?

Actually, I've been doing some thinking of my own on the subject for the above project. The way I see it, the pervasiveness of religious beliefs, establishments and superstitions haven't really changed much from today, except that there's an understanding between most people that such beliefs are very much a personal matter (as religious conflicts + fragile space colonies = a really big mess that screws everyone over). Even on Earth most people have an unspoken tolerance of their neighbor's beliefs (for example, fighting between Muslims, Jews and Christians in the Middle East all but disappeared after the notion that religious fundamentalism doesn't do any good at all became popular and widespread enough).

Of course, America's the exception (having been essentially taken over by the sort of Fundamentalists that give all Christians a bad name). The Big Faith brand of Christianity became the state religion (Constitution be damned if it says otherwise) and the puritanical-to-the-point-of-paranoid-OCD mindset that's become ingrained into their society makes everyone who's different an enemy (essentially putting the Americans in a never-ending war with the rest of the universe).

Of course, the thing about including religion in any work of fiction (or non-fiction, for that matter), is that it's best to either know what you're writing about or know someone who knows what you're writing about. For example, I seriously considered making one of my main characters a Muslim, but I don't know any Muslims and the best I'll get from Wikipedia is an outsider's perspective on the subject, which any Muslim reading my work would be able to tell that something's not quite right about her, and it's those little details that can end up offending people if you're not careful.

Rick said...

Welcome to some new commenters!

I like the way the comment thread started immediately in a direction I had not anticipated, what might be called 'micro-religion' - household/ship gods, personal superstitions (not used here in a pejorative sense), and the like. An explicit proliferation of these would be quite unsurprising.

Milo said...

Mangaka2170:

"Similarly, what sort of effect would space travel have on the practices of some religions? For example, as I understand it Muslims face the direction of Mecca when they pray. So, which way would a Muslim on a spaceship face when praying? Would it be the direction of Earth? Would they face the Sun instead, or would they pray to a substitute of the Black Stone instead?"

I'm pretty sure that imams actually have decreed an official answer to this. Religious authorities in general often seem to enjoy contemplating such questions in their spare time. (Really, priests and monks were geeks long before scientists even existed...)

In this particular example, I would say that praying in the direction of Earth makes the most sense - in fact, Muslims are technically supposed to pray in the direction of a particular building in Mecca, it's just that when you're far enough away, you can't tell the difference between it and the rest of the city anyway. If you have interstellar travel, then you'll just pray in the direction of the dot in the sky that you know is Sol, since that's where Earth is, and that's where Mecca is.

Ah, let me look it up... yup.

See also here.


"Actually, I've been doing some thinking of my own on the subject for the above project. The way I see it, the pervasiveness of religious beliefs, establishments and superstitions haven't really changed much from today, except that there's an understanding between most people that such beliefs are very much a personal matter"

The thing is, multiple religions' holy texts explicitly say that you should forcibly convert other people, or that doing so is necessary to save their souls, or just expect you to enforce that religion's code of behavior even on unbelievers. Claiming to believe in these religions while also claiming that forcing your religious beliefs on others is wrong would be hypocritical.

...But then, it's a form of hypocricy that religious people are already quite happy practicing today, and there's no reason to expect they'll stop. People are surprisingly good at reinterpreting the holy word to concord with whatever happens to be the popular secular values of the day.


"For example, I seriously considered making one of my main characters a Muslim, but I don't know any Muslims and the best I'll get from Wikipedia is an outsider's perspective on the subject, which any Muslim reading my work would be able to tell that something's not quite right about her, and it's those little details that can end up offending people if you're not careful."

You could try asking a Muslim who's interested in science fiction for advice. Other than that, a good guideline is to just not overstate things - most people (at least the non-annoying ones) don't constantly emphasize their religion all the time.

Worst case scenario, you could justify it by saying the character in-universe is only slightly religious. Although that can bring unfortunate implications of its own.

Aaron Lee said...

A very interesting new su bject here, if one that has taken a sudden detour from the usual faire.

don't take this as a direct rebuttal, but I actually practice native-americal style shamanism, to whatever extent 'practice' apples. I'd say it hasn't made me less but more of an adamant sci-fi geek, however. Old beleifs don't neccessarily mean old technology. The anthropologist in me suggests it may be that, rather, new technology enables the freedom to practice and embody old beleifs. If a christian wants to enjoy their personal faith, it no longer has the direct statist political baggage it once did, for example.

Whew.

Also, hi again, everyone!

Citizen Joe said...

I think I'm what might be called a literalist. The afterlife is literally what happens after you die. If the world is a better place for having you been there, then the afterlife is closer to 'Heaven'. If it is worse, then it is closer to 'Hell'. Your soul would be analogous to the memories of you left behind. That part is a bit like oriental ancestor worship, but not so formal. The notion of doing good so you go to Heaven when you die has always struck me as selfish. Instead do good for the sake of making the world a better place. It also doesn't require faith in a higher power. The effects can be demonstrated and if you do things right, you can reap the benefits before you actually die.

Chris said...

Hi there. I feel I should say "I'm new here!", but I've been an avid fan of this blog for years, and already feel extremely familiar with mr. Robinson's writings and the commentors here. Still, this is my first post iirc. Though mr. Robinson makes a very good point on midfuture religiosity, I disagree with his assertion on paganism. One thing my lecturers on heathenry made abundantly clear is that pagans saw the gods (and the other "mystic creatures", think dryads and dwarfs; satyrs and elves) were, just like humans, inhabitants *in* Creation, not masters *of* it. Thence the need for supplication: they were Powers Capable of Influencing your Life. They were worthy, therefore, of respect, and thus ritual. It's also why pagan gods seem so wonderfully amoral to us sometimes. They weren't meant to be inspirational, or a model for humanity. These "Powers" could, however, destroy your home and family on a whim, so you'd best stay on friendly terms with them. Priests were guides in this. Their "amorality" merely served to explain the complete whimsicality of the fortunes that could befall you, poor mortal.

I can write whole essays about this, but I had another thing to say. The Catholic Church, if memory serves, actually spent some time pondering the theological ramifications of extraterrestrial life. There were, I believe, two main conclusions. (1) If they have souls, that should mean that God's plan of salvation applies to them, and they should/could thus believe in (our) Christ, or it might mean he has sent them a Saviour of their own. This could mean every alien race has their very own Jesus, in short. Or (2) they have no Original Sin, no Fall from Grace, are therefore not obliged to God in any way, and are therefore soulless in the same way Angels and Demons are: maybe more than Man, yet inferior nevertheless. This is because if I remember Catholic theology right, Mankind only has souls so that we have the Free Will that enables our redemption (if we believe in Christ). The second possiblity should be the impopular one, since it opens the door for all manner of intolerance. Anyway, aliens fall outside the scope of Rocketpunk, but it does show, I believe, that religions are capable of adapting to the (mid?)future, and apply dogma to new circumstances. Let's hope it's for the better. I also hope this first post of mine wasn't... inflammable or anything.

Jedidia said...


I'm pretty sure that imams actually have decreed an official answer to this. Religious authorities in general often seem to enjoy contemplating such questions in their spare time. (Really, priests and monks were geeks long before scientists even existed...)


I have indeed seen a Fatwa once that was directed to potential muslim astronauts serving aboard the ISS. It majorly regulated prayer times (since, if you take the Sun as reference on the ISS, praying five times a day is a somewhat demanding task...).

If I remember right it was solved as one would expect: use Arabic times with an eventual offset to mission time, and pray in the general direction of Mecca. The Times actually had a precedent from a Fatwa for potential muslim polar explorers, for whom there is also an exception rule for the keeping of the fast during Rhamazan. This was, as far as I know, not neccessary for the ISS, as it is considered "traveling". Traveling days are excluded from the fast anyways, but there's the obligation to keep the left out days when Ramazan has ended.

As for household gods, I think at least some degree of antropomophisation of the ship is practically unavoidable. Could get worse if the Ship has an AI with a holografic Avatar... :lol:

smc said...

I like the idea of the crews of ships tailoring their own religions to get them through the months or years of their mission. Like a Space Family Stone with spiritualism rather than snark.

Another near miss on the ships god's (or ships as gods) idea is The Culture's Minds. Though I suppose they are high end pagan creatures inside reality rather than gods, but only just - as the various discussions of transcention in the various books make clear.

Though provoking post Rick, thanks.

montejo said...

"Instead do good for the sake of making the world a better place."

Is this not also a fundamentally selfish reason? The fact that it happens to help other people doesn't explain why some people do it and others don't. Some people feel the "positive feelings" of altruism more than others.

Those who don't feel like altruism is the purpose of their life will seek out other outlets for gaining the feelings of fulfillment, outlets that may or may not be religious. Actually I found a blog (thecosmist.blogspot.com) that's about creating a new "religion" about human exploration of the cosmos, with people like Carl Sagan and Arthur C. Clarke as the closest thing to prophets. I think this kind of thing would only be religious in certain senses, and wouldn't include the concept of faith at all. I created a similar blog, but I didn't consider my interest in space exploration as a religious one.

Rick said...

Welcome to more new commenters! Also 'returning' ones. This post seems to have been pretty efficient at pulling people out of lurkerdom.

On classical paganism, and similar religions, they are part of what I had in mind in mentioning the Christian, and more broadly Abrahamic milieu that we mostly live in, where the word 'god' carries deep connotations of the biblical creator-god. The Olympians, to take the only pagan gods I know much about, were nothing of the sort, even collectively.

I imagine that most pagans did believe in the entities they worshiped, but for the purpose of keeping them happy saw it as sufficient that others performed or acquiesced in the rites.

Certainly I see no reason why old religions can't be continued and/or revitalized. I doubt that modern druids have any significant historical continuity with ancient ones, but I have no beef with any reconstruction, so long as they don't frighten the horses, so to speak.

I've never read CS Lewis' Perelandra (sp?) books, but I gather that they deal with an unfallen race, and I imagine his views are reasonably representative of Roman Catholic thought on the subject.

Boy is that an interesting question about the boundaries of altruism and selfishness. If we find satisfaction in making the world a better place ....

Tony said...

Just a copule of thoughts...

Reilgion staisfies that thing in humanity that needs to know, to have existential certainty. Contrast this with the urge to understand that drives science, exploration, etc. That some people need to exert supremacy of one over the other is understandable, but hardly necessary.

Given that science and religion address different needs in people, both will continue into the future indefinitely.

/**********/

Few religions are in touch with their creator gods as the Abrahamic religions are, but all of them, even primitive paganisms, have creation myths.

Anonymous said...

While I don't think that the major religions will change in any major way in the next few centuries, there is a good chance of minor religions (or what are refered to as 'sects'), developing over the next several centuries, especially in isolated communities with only infrequent contact with the home world. Religions grow, evolve, develop, and mature into stable forms that satisfy basic human needs...or they don't last. I don't see the mid-future as being any different.

Ferrell

Milo said...

Jedidia:

"As for household gods, I think at least some degree of antropomophisation of the ship is practically unavoidable. Could get worse if the Ship has an AI with a holografic Avatar... :lol:"

I think you could hardly be blamed for anthropomorphizing something that, objectively, is a person. If the AI has legal personhood, then that's about as anthropomorphized as it gets. Add a humanoid avatar (holographic or remote-controlled puppet) if you really want.



Smc:

"I like the idea of the crews of ships tailoring their own religions to get them through the months or years of their mission."

I find the idea of actually believing in a religion you made up yourself to be extremely shallow. That's practically the epitome of "I believe it's true, because I want it to be!" thinking.

Of course, fantasy authors regularly make up their own religions (as do other authors, sometimes, but the ones made by fantasy authors are more likely to be factually true inside the fictional world) and enjoy reading about them, but they don't actually believe in or pray to them.

That can also happen with real-world religions. Have you ever found yourself reading about some deity and thinking to yourself "Hey, he sounds like a pretty cool guy. Too bad he doesn't actually exist."?


"Actually I found a blog (thecosmist.blogspot.com) that's about creating a new "religion" about human exploration of the cosmos, with people like Carl Sagan and Arthur C. Clarke as the closest thing to prophets. I think this kind of thing would only be religious in certain senses, and wouldn't include the concept of faith at all."

It can be religious in the sense of assigning a meaning to life, and holding that certain actions have inherent moral value even when it's not obvious what good they're worth. Science, for its part, cannot define how things should be, only how things are. Therefore any opinion that things "should" be a certain way or that a certain thing is "right" are ascientific (but not necessarily anti-scientific).

I feel that curiosity, truth, and knowledge are goals in their own right, and worth pursuing simply because life would have little meaning if we didn't. Is that a religion?

Milo said...

Rick:

"I imagine that most pagans did believe in the entities they worshiped, but for the purpose of keeping them happy saw it as sufficient that others performed or acquiesced in the rites."

Yes, but if you don't believe, then you might stop acquiescing to participating in the rites, and that could be dangerous.

Supposedly many medieval Christian peasants also had an attitude of "meh, I'll just do the rites the priest tells me to and it'll be fine", even though this was not how the Church officially viewed their theology.


"Boy is that an interesting question about the boundaries of altruism and selfishness. If we find satisfaction in making the world a better place..."

Which, of course, I can only reasonably draw the conclusion from that selfishness isn't necessarily bad.

Think about it. Let's say there are two people, Alice and Bob. Alice enjoys doing good and helping other people, and enthusiastically devotes her life to altruism, never even feeling temptation to do anything that would make others unhappy. Bob, meanwhile, is more of an asocial sort and feels such temptation on a regular basis, but believes that giving in to said temptation would be morally wrong, and so restrains himself by force of will. So technically, Alice is motivated by "selfishness", while Bob is motivated by moral prerogative. Which of these people is more moral?

Thucydides said...

An interesting observation is that a large percentage of Americans identify as being religious of spiritual in some way, but the actual attendance in churches is only representative of a much smaller portion of the population.

The need for religion may remain (answering the question of "why" things are rather than the role of science, to answer the question "how things work?"), but the current population of America (and to a lesser extent Canada) don't see the need to belong to an "organized" religion.

Secular religions like environmentalism, animal rights or other members on the extreme edges of various ideologies serve the same purposes, so expect to see more secular religions popping up as it is easier and more "acceptable" for secular groups to recruit in schools, universities and workplaces than overtly religious organizations.

In the longer run, organized groups will have a better chance of recruiting and growing than diffused and disorganized movements.

Craig A. Glesner said...

Milo: I would have responded sooner, but the weekend is my work week. As for you having tech and cars and nice food in Europe that I don't doubt. Crazed car and gun behavior, I tend to think of as our homegrown thing.

Of course you are also free in Europe to be crazy for and about cars and guns, but you are coming in behind us.

dragon01: Greetings from a foreigner in the lands. :) Also which service did you learn to fly? I am guessing Navy, but one can never tell. Curious is all.

Mangaka2170: I like that Foundational thing, I must have missed that episode. And you aren't lying about the new American state religion. Scary stuff here. Your Muslims in Space question has got me wondering now too. Oh and the best way to do the research is read their holy book, then find the local Muslim center (also a good place to pick a copy of their book too, it is where I got mine and for free too). I am pretty sure if you are honest about your interest they will talk to you, the one I visited was quite pleasant.

Rick: I am extremely chuffed right now. (That is a very good thing. Or my ex lied to me and I will take her to task for it.) Glad I did a Player to GM's Plan move and monkey wrenched your thread to new territory. And thanks for nice welcome, been lurking for a while now, but didn't feel as intimidated on this topic as I do most.

Milo again: Yeah, monks and priest were some of the first scientists from what I gather. And you answered the Mecca question, thanks.

And everyone else, I am reading it, but tight on time so will have to comment later.

Hugh said...

Linking this thread on religion to the previous on AI, Ken MacLeod in his near-future book "The Night Sessions" has Calvinist robots. As one of his characters remarks, human engineers are suckers for Creationism. For intelligent beings that know beyond doubt that they're artificial...

I can see AIs exploring various religions to find one that suits them. Think about it from the viewpoint of an intelligent robot. Some squishy being with inferior temperature resistance, reflexes, sensory spectrum, etc tells you "I am your creator?" I don't think so.

nqdp said...

Rick: I actually have read C. S. Lewis' "Space Trilogy," which includes Perelandra (the last in the series, I think) and two other books. The series is very much about Original Sin, although it presents a philosophy that I assume is not widely supported by the Church: the Martians also suffer from Original Sin, but theirs was apparently not as bad as Earth's, so their planet is nicer and they can directly interact with God on a regular basis--even though they're still sinners. Later in the series the main character (a human) has to travel to Venus and resurrect Merlin, or something like that.

Incidentally, the science (of spaceflight, not resurrecting dead wizards) seemed pretty solid, even though Lewis isn't really an SF author and didn't bring up science very often.

Apparently a Joseph of Cupertino is the Catholic patron saint of astronauts. Ships of the future may very well venerate him or some other saint, even if their crews are not Neo-Pagan... not that I know the details of how Catholic saints are supposed to work, since I'm Protestant.

Mangaka2170 said...

In the Warhammer 40K universe, religion plays a major role in defining almost every faction. In the Imperium of Man, the state religion is the Imperial Cult, which essentially worships the Emperor as a god who watches over and protects humanity from the evils of the universe (despite the fact that he's been all but dead for around 10,000 years). Just about every planet in the Imperium (and there are millions of them) has its own interpretation of the Imperial faith, but it's more denominational than separate belief systems. Among the core tenets preached are blind and unyielding obedience to the establishment and hatred of aliens, mutants, psychics, heretics and demons (since FTL travel in this setting involves literally traveling through hell to get to your destination, and psychics make for excellent gateways for demons to spill out into our reality). Of course, this makes any and every war humanity fights a holy war...

The Adeptus Mechanicus, a sub-empire in the Imperium that seeks, stores and maintains all technical and scientific knowledge essentially worships technology as a form of divine perfection made manifest through the labor of imperfect beings of flesh and bone. As a result, they tend to be heavily cyborged and usually hold machines to be more valuable than human lives.

Likewise, while the various Space Marine chapters practice versions of the Imperial creed, they tend to venerate their Primarchs (the legendary Marines from whom the Space Marines were made) as saints and simply consider the Emperor to be a greater saint than a god.

Almost all of the other alien races have their own religions as well (the Eldar and Dark Eldar literally had gods at one point, but they were all slain or captured by the gods of Chaos that rule hell, the Orks have their simple bitheistic creed that validates their way of life, and the Necrons are perpetually enslaved to their gods incarnate), which define who they are.

Just another interesting tidbit I thought I'd share.

Milo said...

Warhammer 40k is neither plausible nor midfuture.

Anonymous said...

Carl Sagan is also a prophet in the Minbari religion I think (though probably under another name). That's a rather nice space religion in my opinion, although the setting is neither mid-future nor plausible of course.

I think you're wrong to say that pantheists are unlikely to be interested in space or science. That's just a stereotype.

In the interest of keeping the flames away, please refrain from trolling such nonsense as "secular religions like environmentalism". You're free to use your own definitions but it would reflect positively on your intellectual integrity if you were consistent instead of partisan in your usage.

-Horselover Fat

Milo said...

For what it's worth, I'm sure that at least the terraforming crowd has a decent proportion of people who are both space-enthusiasts and environmentalists. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery...

papa said...

Chris's comments on Catholic theological speculation on extraterrestrial intelligence reminded me of something James Blish wrote on the same subject in the Foreward of his novel "A Case of Conscience" (which gives an interesting depiction of the role of religion in an interstellar space-faring future). He quotes a Catholic theologian, Gerald Heard, as follows:

"If there are many planets inhabited by sentient creatures, as most astronomers (including Jesuits), now suspect, then each one of such planets (solar or non-solar) must fall into one of three categories:

"(a) Inhabited by sentient creatures, but without souls; so to be treated with compassion but extra-evangelically.

"(b) Inhabited by sentient creatures with fallen souls, through an original but not inevitable ancestral sin; so to be evangelized with urgent missionary charity.

"(c) Inhabited by sentient soul-endowed creatures that have not fallen, who therefore

"(1) inhabit an unfallen, sinless paradisal world;

"(2) who therefore we must contact not to propagandize, but in order that we may learn from them the conditions (about which we can only speculate) of creatures living in perpetual grace, endowed with all the virtues in perfection, and both immortal and in complete happiness for always possessed of and with the knowledge of God."

***

Rick, a nit-pick, but C.S. Lewis was an Anglican, not a Catholic. (His friend, J.R.R. Tolkien, was a Catholic.)

Thucydides said...

I will point out that many secular systems and ideologies have lots of similarities to religion, so to say that an environmentalist (or Marxist, for that matter) is practicing a secular religion isn't a flame or insult, simply a statement of fact.

An interesting exercise might be to compare Christianity to various secular religions in meta terms, to see if any of the conditions that allowed the early Church to grow and flourish at the expense of older, more established religions exist today.

Given the reality that Americans identify themselves as being religious or spiritual without (generally) belonging to an organized church or establishment, it may be possible that some secular religion will find a ready pool of recruits and able to effectively mobilize and convert these people.

WRT religion in American political life, I would say the apex was probably the 1980's. Certainly religious "social conservatives" had less influence in the 1990's, and the rise of the Democrat Congress in the 2000's and the TEA Party movement post 2008 were and are very focused on secular matters. I certainly don't see much evidence of religious influence in debates on the size of the deficit or the role and nature of the US Constitution, at least as reported here in Canada.

Jedidia said...


Rick: I actually have read C. S. Lewis' "Space Trilogy," which includes Perelandra (the last in the series, I think) and two other books etc


Must have been a while since you read them. The first part is "beyond the silent planet", which plays on Mars, called "Malakandra" by its inhabitants.
The second one is "Perelandra", playing on Venus, and the first is "that hideous strength" and plays on earth, and is only loosely connected to the other parts.

Anyways, Lewis wasn't a scientists, so his physics are somewhat off. The whole thing could be considered "Theology-fiction", I guess, since the plot is set on theological assumptions (The war in heaven and the fall of man by satans deceit. It largely uses John Miltons "paradise lost" as a pre-history, so we're talking about a war in heaven and banishement of Satan before the creation of man, a scenario only found in few actual theologies).

Anyways, the back-story of the first book goes something like this: Protagonist gets abducted by a crazy scientist and a profiteering enterpreneur and taken on to Mars on their experimental spaceship, where they intend to present him to the Zorn for sacrificial purpouses (The Zorn spesifically asked for a human to be left with them on their last visit, and since they seem a primitive people, that's the only thing the antagonists could think of that they might need another human for).

The protagonists escapes at arrival on Mars, spends some time with a native race (there are several sapient races) and learns that they have no concepts of deception, treachery, oppression aso. His journey progresses over the planet, to finally meet the Zorn, and their enigmatic leader, the "Oyarsa Malakandra", who turns out to be the worlds gouverning angel, who was eager for news from Tulcundra, the silent planet (earth), since their was no word from it since he and his pals thought a cosmic battle with the gouverning angel that in the end left him stranded there. So the races of Malakandra never expierienced a fall.

In the second book, the same protagonist gets transported to Venus by the Oyarsa himself, to complete a task he isn't told anything about. On Venus (Perelandra) he meets the Adam and Eve of this new world, and after a while the crazy scientist from book one makes a crash-landing on Venus. It turns out that he is possesed, and that the Oyarsa Tulcundra (Satan) used him as a vessel to get to Perelandra, to tempt the local Eve into a new fall, to mess up Gods plans for the planet and its race. The second half of the book is spent with the Protagonist battling the possesed crazy scientist first verbally, by trying to keep Eve from listening to him, and later physically, as he sees no other way out. The antagonist is finally defeated, and a good last quarter of the book is one giant majestic scene of how the gouvernament of Perelandra is passed from the local Oyarsa to the new Adam and Eve.

The third book is somewhat different, and has a rather weird apocaliptic plot of a conglomerate of crazy scientists experimenting with bringin people back to live, more or less accidentally creating a satanic religion in the process, and a resurected Merlin (yes, the one from king Arthurs court. No Joke!) being infested with the powers of the Oyarsas of the solar system to put an end to the whole mess.

Anyways, the first two books are really interesting in that they bother with a society without a "fall", that is a technologically primitive, but socially perfect society, and a "what if the fall had never happened on earth" in the first book, as well as how relations with extraterrestrials might look like if humanities nature really were induced by an original sin, i.e. an exceptional situation, as opposed to bred by evolution, which would make it a more or less universal trait.

Rick said...

Welcome to another new commenter!

a nit-pick, but C.S. Lewis was an Anglican, not a Catholic. (His friend, J.R.R. Tolkien, was a Catholic.)

Ouch - I shoulda remembered that!

It is good to be chuffed - throwing unexpected curves is definitely a feature, not a bug.

On environmentalism as a 'religion,' I was unabashedly reflecting stereotypes that are pretty common in space geekdom, including comments on this blog. My only semi-flippant response, worth what you paid, is that space geekdom also has features of a 'religion' - and in fact the same religion, pantheism, just a different denomination. Puritanical pantheism, as I have dubbed it.

Having said that, I'll again remind everyone of the highly fulminatory subject matter, and advise duly careful handling thereof.

Both 'plausible' and 'midfuture' are sometimes interpreted VERY generously around here, including by me.

I could make scads of other observations, but the cool thing about this blog is that commenters generally do this for me.

montejo said...

Therefore any opinion that things "should" be a certain way or that a certain thing is "right" are ascientific (but not necessarily anti-scientific).

Quite right. I think the same thing is captured in the statement "morality is subjective". It's a theme in Nietzsche's work among others.

Mangaka2170 said...

@Milo: Oh, I'm well aware that Warhammer 40K is neither plausible nor midfuture; I'm just saying that its focus on religion as a defining trait of most factions has relevance to the discussion.

Tony said...

Re: Horselover Fat

It's not nonsense to say that there are secular religions. It's not nonsense to say that environmentalism is one of them. So is science in general, to a lot of people. So is progress. Anything that satisfies a person's need for existential certainty is a religion. And there are millions of them out there, both theistic and secular.

Geoffrey S H said...

Plausible 40K may not be, but it does have some interesting worldbuilding titbits though.

My personal take on faith is (hopefully not too flammible) that God both exists and does not exist (and thus is so utterly beyond our comprehension). The atheists and religious are both right and both wrong. But hey, I believe anything, so I can easily make it work for myself.

I wonder how many sci-fi writers have examined shinto or bhuddism in their works.......

Milo said...

Rick:

"Both 'plausible' and 'midfuture' are sometimes interpreted VERY generously around here, including by me."

Nonetheless, Warhammer 40k does not qualify by even the most generous definition of plausible or midfuture.



Mangaka2170:

"@Milo: Oh, I'm well aware that Warhammer 40K is neither plausible nor midfuture; I'm just saying that its focus on religion as a defining trait of most factions has relevance to the discussion."

I think that the fact many of the gods in that setting factually exist and provably have a profound influence on people's lives (a negative influence, since this is still Warhammer 40k) puts it in a somewhat different league.

Tony said...

montejo:

"Quite right. I think the same thing is captured in the statement "morality is subjective". It's a theme in Nietzsche's work among others."

That's both true and not true. Every society seems to have moral constraints against things like murder, rape, robbery, etc. It's how those things are defined that can be relative. For example, in the West, rape (nowdays) tends to be defined as forcing sex on a woman against her will. In many Eastern societies, rape is still about forcing sex on a woman that doesn't legally belong to you.

Milo said...

Tony:

"Every society seems to have moral constraints against things like murder, rape, robbery, etc."

That does not mean these are not subjective, though, just that these are subjective opinions which are consistent across almost all humans. ("Almost" because while each society as a whole opposes the things you said, there are still anomalous individuals within each society who fail to see what the big deal is.) This provides important insight on human nature, but it does not mean that the immorality of these things can be taken as objective fact. A subjective view held by almost everyone is still subjective.

Of course this also appears to give the impression that just because something is subjective does not mean it is wrong.


"For example, in the West, rape (nowdays) tends to be defined as forcing sex on a woman against her will."

Or a man. We're rather fussy about gender equality these days.

Tony said...

Milo:

"That does not mean these are not subjective, though, just that these are subjective opinions which are consistent across almost all humans."

If every society has a moral category for murder, rape, theft, and several others, then it's hardly subjective. You could say they're a consensus, rather than absolutes. But these categories are still realities to the vast majority of people.

Which brings us to...

"("Almost" because while each society as a whole opposes the things you said, there are still anomalous individuals within each society who fail to see what the big deal is.)"

Morality is defined by the community, not by the individual. Saying that an individual doesn't recognize the community's moral rules doesn't mean those rules don't exist.

"Of course this also appears to give the impression that just because something is subjective does not mean it is wrong."

How? RIght is what the community says is right. Moral conflicts arrise when communities interact or when communities start developing factions over moral questions. IOW, humans will never develop an ultimate morality, just variations on some common themes.

Milo said...

But there is no way to scientifically prove, based on our knowledge of the universe's workings, that murder is wrong. (You might be able to prove that overacceptance of murder will result in a society self-destructing, but there is no scientific reason why a society self-destructing would be seen as unfortunate either.) Almost all humans agree, but that is an appeal to authority, which is a logically invalid argument.

You yourself have argued that AIs would not view murder to be wrong, either individually or as a group.

Tony said...

Milo:

"But there is no way to scientifically prove, based on our knowledge of the universe's workings, that murder is wrong. (You might be able to prove that overacceptance of murder will result in a society self-destructing, but there is no scientific reason why a society self-destructing would be seen as unfortunate either.) Almost all humans agree, but that is an appeal to authority, which is a logically invalid argument."

That moral codes exist is an observation of fact.

That moral codes have social utility is an observation of fact.

That moral codes almost uniformly have categories of murder, rape, theft, etc. is an observation of fact.

Moral codes are simple a fact of life. The only thing science could reasonably establish about them is the reasons why they have social utility and the reasons why they have the categories of proscripted behavior that they do have in common.

"You yourself have argued that AIs would not view murder to be wrong, either individually or as a group."

An AI is an individual. It might see itself as a a part of human society, or it might see itself as a society within itself, being the only member of its species. If it joins a human society, it might decide to adopt that society's moral codes. Or it might be sociopathic. If it sees itself as its own species, and constituting its own society, then it would pretty obviously adopt its own ethical rules, for its own reasons.

What I have said had nothing to do with murder per se. I've just pointed out that an AI might evalutae its own survival to be more of a priority than the survival of the human race. In that case, the humans that might be killed would not be a question of murder, but victims of of interspecies war.

Rick said...

My personal take on faith is (hopefully not too flammible) that God both exists and does not exist

...

That's both true and not true.

Who needs the Superbowl? This is getting to be fun!

montejo said...

If every society has a moral category for murder, rape, theft, and several others, then it's hardly subjective.

No, it's still subjective. I'm talking about what a moral claim actually is, what its status of existence is. The statement "murder is wrong" is not a scientific fact; rather, it has the same (ontologoical) status as a made-up rule to a board game, for example. Any amount of consensus can't change the status of whether something exists in the physical universe.

That moral codes exist is an observation of fact.

Actually, you can describe all of human behavior without resorting to moral language. Altruism among primates is a pretty well-understood evolutionary development that helps genes survive and reproduce. It's convenient to use moral language to describe behavior, but not necessary.

Milo said...

Objective: "Almost all humans have an ingrained desire to be kind to others, even at some expense of their own well-being."
Subjective: "This is a good thing, and it makes humans morally superior to beings which do not have this ingrained desire."

Anonymous said...

There is no consensus on what constitues murder anyhow so it's a bit of a moot point.

I find this stuff about environmentalism being about existential certainty or more religious than right wing nuttery rather bizarre. It flies in the face of research and polls but there are more subjective issues than spaceships so I guess that we're allowed to make stuff up.

-Horselover Fat

Anonymous said...

s/there/these/

-Horselover Fat

Jedidia said...


Objective: "Almost all humans have an ingrained desire to be kind to others, even at some expense of their own well-being."


I guess this could be considered true, although "others" seems to be a very small group for most humans, in extreme cases even limited to one person (the classical evil villain that just happens to be in love with that one woman trope).

Anyways, I saw a report about work on "a scientific basis for ethics" (that's what it was called, don't kill the messanger). Unfortunately it's in german, so I guess there's not much point in posting a link, but it was based on the work of a certain Richard Carrier, who is 'murrican, so you should be able to find something about him in english.
Anyways, it looked mostly like a cluster of mumbo-jumbo, offering nothing really new but having some "unfurtunate implications" in its logical reasoning that I'd consider very problematic from my subjective ethical point of view.

Anyways, There was also the topic of altruism vs. selfishness. I was pretty strong into altruism during my youth (I also went through a five-years depression, surprise), and can tell from that expierience that it sucks. I cannot imagine any form of radical, consequent altruism that wouldn't end in self-abuse.

I have by now found peace and self-respect again in Jesus' actual commandement "love your neighbour AS you love yourself", i.e. not loving them more, but neither less. I think balance is the key here to a) not become a sociopath and b) not getting to hate yourself more than anyone else on the planet.

Also, the question has been raised if psychology might be considered a religion. This is a bit touchy, since I'm rather fond of psychology, given that it was the major tool to get me out of the above described situation.
I'd definitaley consider psychology science, although a rather immature one, where empiric facts can only be obtained from statistics, which can be problematic as we all know.

There's also the fact that Psychology started out in a rather doubtfull environment, where peer-to-peer review pretty fast turned to the forming of parties that all adhered to the line defined by its schools founder, and that had open conflicts among each other (The school of C.G. Young for example seems to be born more out of personal issues with Freud than on empirical evidence).
Since statistics can be interpreted one way or the other and psychology still depends a lot on the worldview of the one doing it, it does indeed have not too small parallels to religion. There are now attempts at unifying different therapies, that is not to make them fit each other, but in aplying every school of therapy in the context they were actually developed for (i.e. no "one gloves fits all"-aproach, as proponents of different schools usually see it).
In such a form, psychotherapy can do a whole world of good. However, to become a full-fledged and recognised science I think we have to wait for advanced neurology, that I hope will provide some tools to derive evidence from other things than statistics.

Michael said...

First off, empiric fact can only ever be determined through statistics. That's not a bug of psychology (which I would consider to be lack of controls and small sample size).

On to my main post. One trend of the past few hundred years that might be continued into the midfuture is the concept of ecumenicalism. I see it more in the religions of "Western Christendom" where you have the Catholic Church and some major branches of Protestantism seeking to promote and affirm the similarities rather than the differences. Moving from a stance of "you're wrong" to "you're right about some stuff that's important to us, and we're not going to fight about the other parts". Milder forms of this can be seen between religions, where some religions recognize the value, and in rare cases divine influence of other religions.

This trend was taken to its end point in Frank Herbert's _Dune_ with the Orange Catholic Church, which was basically a collection of all major human religions getting together, deciding on what they all agreed on, and publishing a single Bible as a single human religion. It didn't really work, of course.

In the plausible mid-future, I could see branches of major religions split ecumenical branches and fundamentalist branches. The ecumenical sorts get a long with each other and are willing to admit other religions in the "ecumenical concord" have some access to the divine truth, while the fundamentalist sorts believe their ecumenical brethren are on the same highway to Hell as all the non-believers.

jollyreaper said...

Couple of thoughts.

1. We kept defining the idea of God as bigger the more we learned. Gods were of rivers and lakes and streams and thunder when we were primitive. As we learned the scale of the universe, we attributed that to God as well. And even as we learn that there's no divine hand pushing the tides, no divine lungs blowing the wind, we will still sort of handwave an attribution of getting the ball rolling.

2. Religions change through time but new facts don't seem to have much influence. Scientific learning will just be ignored by the majority and might get some eggheads thinking a little more progressively. The Deism from the Enlightenment was never of the common man.

3. People want comforting answers for questions that have no answer. Nobody wants to think that this is it, there are no souls, people you've lost will never be met again and death is oblivion. That's terrifying and you're never going to convince people otherwise. We may breathe air and eat food but we live on hope.

If we stick to the classic view of gods being the source of all the functions of nature, AI caretakers fit the role nicely. I have an idea for a truly massive generation ship like a mega-Rama that's so huge on the inside that it's hard to appreciate that its a rotating cylinder. For reasons I'm not quite sure of yet most of the people inside the ship are unaware they're even on a ship. It's thousands of years past launch and they're living in a religiously regulated schizo-tech society. They're farming in a very terrestrial fashion but have 'magic' artifacts which are actually just tools used by the humans who built the ship. There are 'wizards' but they're not communing with spirits but talking to the AI and are granted boons.

I'm thinking that there will be factions amongst the passenger population, always striving against each other. They're aided by the masters of the occult who are really just talking to the ship's computer. But beyond that would be the inner inner circle of enlightened ones who actually know the truth -- that they are on a ship, that they have been charged with a great task by their ancestors, and where they're going. And these of the inner circle are directly concerned with ensuring the continued operation of the ship, its environmental systems, and the sustaining of human life. I'm not exactly sure what they could contribute that help the automatic systems but maybe I'll think of something.

The best I could figure for a rationale for this, maybe the builders wanted to make sure the humans inside remained sharp and didn't grow complacent, thus the constant struggle? Or maybe this was a completely unintentional state of affairs and would be seen as a cultural failure mode by the builders but no one has the ability to fix it at this point?

At any rate, the religions developed in such a setting would have experimental proof, you know? How do I know the spirits exit? I called them and it rained. What's the most effective rain prayer? Variation A got us a gentle rain and variation B got us hail. A is superior. But what does variation C give us? Snow! Hmm. Not useful for the crops but you know, we could pack this snow into these earthen dugouts and preserve food. Yes, this does have a use! I'd challenge an atheist to exist for long in a setting like this.

jollyreaper said...

In the plausible mid-future, I could see branches of major religions split ecumenical branches and fundamentalist branches. The ecumenical sorts get a long with each other and are willing to admit other religions in the "ecumenical concord" have some access to the divine truth, while the fundamentalist sorts believe their ecumenical brethren are on the same highway to Hell as all the non-believers.

That's how I would depict religion in the future. It's really a process of evolution. :) You have your young and fast-evolving ideas and you have your older, established ideas that have found a successful niche and have optimized for it.

If we take a look at the state of modern protestantism in the US, the old-line churches are losing a lot of attendance and tithe money to the megachurches. I've yet to see a strong denominational stance taken by any of them. These churches tend to be strictly for themselves and usually had a strictly conservative take on morals even as the worship style will be more liberal by doing away with pipe organs and bringing in drums and guitars.

So if I were outlining the human religions for a plausible midfuture, they'd be something like this (I'm sticking strictly with christianity for the examples):

1. The old standby, aka the Catholic Church. Institutions that have been around for a while, have had enduring success, are unlikely to change much.

2. Splinter groups from the old standby. They may be more conservative or less conservative depending on the issue they're splitting over. The doctrinal nuances might seem esoteric to the outsider. Could include religious terror groups or hippie dippie ecumenicals.

3. New cults. There's the old saw about a cult being a small, unpopular religion and a religion being a large, successful cult. There's a term, "christian cult" used to describe groups ranging from Jim Jones to the Branch Davidians. The definition is "a group using the trappings of christian dogma but with sufficient differences that no mainstream denomination would accept them as christian." Now this can be a kind of fuzzy definition because I know protestants who accuse catholics of idolatry. You have to apply a smell test to it. If the cult's founder says he's a reincarnation of Jesus, it's a cult. If they're making claims about biblical truths you don't ever recall hearing about or are radically reinterpreting scripture, it's going to be a cult.

We haven't seen a world-shaking new religion develop in quite some time. I think Islam's been the last big one -- and by new religion I'm talking about something brand new, not just a change or reformation of an old religion. If I were going to put money on something here, I'd say it would be an intelligently designed, scientifically calculated artificial religion. This would be the black swan for the midfuture. (more after the break)

jollyreaper said...

I'm differentiating the designed religion from the cult because the cults would be just more of the same of what we've seen before and the designed religion would have the potential of becoming one of the great religions in short order.

We have a god center of the brain that some psychologists are saying is the root of religious ecstasy. When we say we felt the presence of god or the divine, it's this thing twigging into overdrive. And the docs say they can induce states of religious awe at will.

So, games of chance have evolved naturally over time but science and psychology have been used to weaponize them into the most addictive brain-crack known to man. The Magic card game, World of Warcraft, Everquest, they're all designed to be compulsively addictive. So what if this same attention was placed towards crafting a religion, complete with the use of the latest in psychoactive drugs and brain-modifying electro-stimulators to provide that religious high? Scientology is a really crude example of this, I think. Embarrassingly primitive. But I'm thinking it would be a mystery religion that could appeal to the simple and the educated alike. The simple will believe the doctrine at face value and the self-congratulating smarties who are initiated into the secret rites will be given an even more complicated story that meshes with their own vanity and conceit. The simple housewife in the village could believe in it and so could the urban sophisticate. The inner smarties could be highly educated and completely devout 100% kool-aid drinkers or pragmatic atheists who feel that the religion is still a good idea for those people lesser than themselves who need superstition to guide them. And it would do the old gag we've referenced before about claiming all the other religions were emanations from the same truth this religion brings you to.

I'm thinking that the special gadget would stimulate holy visions during daily meditation. Each person's view of exactly how the religion works is completely personalized because their own experience is exactly how they would imagine it to be because it's all projections from their own subconscious. You want Jesus to give you advice? There he is, talking to you. Ancestor worship? Great-granddad will be here to tell you what he thinks. These experiences feel 100% real because they really are 100% real -- these hallucinations and dreams really are occurring to you. The only question is whether you accept them as truth. I personally would see them as false. It's like if you drop acid you're not really connecting with the universal cosmic soul -- anything that happens is coming from within your own head. You get some kind of insight, it's coming from you, not outside. But you know what? Imagine if people linked their prayer gadgets together? It would be basically like a ouiji board -- the pointer is moving because of what everyone does, there's no spirits even though it feels spooky and real. So what if a group gets together and their shared religious experience is the result of all of their metaphorical fingers on the pointer? I bet a lot of people would become true believers.

Michael said...

Alistair Reynolds' book Absolution Gap (third in a series, starting with Revelation Space and Redemption Ark) includes a manufactured virus that stimulates the centers in the brain that evoke religious feelings to promote religious experiences. Some individuals actively avoid infection by church hierarchy, while others seek out the most effective strains.

jollyreaper said...

Yeah. No idea's ever new. Reynolds probably discovered someone else did the same thing while he was writing the book. :)

I liked that idea I had of a the guy who invents a perfect disintegration device and cooks up a scam that it's a one-way teleporter to new colonies. He has an elaborate computer-generated system of sending back text "transmissions" through the portal to loved ones here on Earth talking about how great the colonies are. Anyone going into the device is instantly and humanely killed. He considers this not just a scam but a humanitarian gesture on an unpopulated planet. It was pointed out either on this blog or on sfconsim that this was a reinvention of the plot from the Marching Morons, substituting a disintegrator for shoddy spaceships to nonexistent colonies.

There are no original ideas. lol

Tony said...

montejo:

"No, it's still subjective. I'm talking about what a moral claim actually is, what its status of existence is. The statement 'murder is wrong' is not a scientific fact; rather, it has the same (ontologoical) status as a made-up rule to a board game, for example. Any amount of consensus can't change the status of whether something exists in the physical universe."

You're missing the point. Murder defines a classification of act, unjustified homicide, to be precise. It needs no scientific basis, because what is and isn't a justified homicide is a social judgment, not a scientific one.

Justice itself is a social value, not a quantifiable physical phenomenon. What constitutes an unjustifed homicide is a matter of experience within each society.

"Actually, you can describe all of human behavior without resorting to moral language. Altruism among primates is a pretty well-understood evolutionary development that helps genes survive and reproduce. It's convenient to use moral language to describe behavior, but not necessary."

I say precisely what I mean to say. Moral codes exist. Moral codes have social utility. Why you think they exist, and why you think they have utility is up to you.

I would, however, caution people against thinking that codes are just a convenient grammar for discussing human behavior. The minimum utility of moral codes is to instruct people how to behave in a socially acceptable manner. Such instruction avoids a lot of inefficiency in people finding out through experiment what others will and won't put up with. That alone has great social utility, whether or not your personal values allow you to agree with a particular society's moral rules. Moral codes may have additional utility, but it's not for me to say.

Tony said...

Horselover Fat:

"There is no consensus on what constitues murder anyhow so it's a bit of a moot point."

Murder, at the conceptual level, is simply unjustified homicide. Different societies concretize the definition of "unjustified" in different ways, but their words for "murder" always mean killing somebody unjustly.

So it's not moot at all. It's an important point to make that human moral codes recognize murder, rape, theft, etc. It says something about what people not only uniformly believe, but they are capable of believing.

"I find this stuff about environmentalism being about existential certainty or more religious than right wing nuttery rather bizarre. It flies in the face of research and polls but there are more subjective issues than spaceships so I guess that we're allowed to make stuff up."

What research? What polls?

I don't know how old you are, but anybody who achieved adulthood before the end of the just passed century of "-isms" should have no trouble identifying at least ten secular belief systems that took on the quality of religion for their adherents. Environmentalism is just the most obvious one.

jollyreaper said...

I would, however, caution people against thinking that codes are just a convenient grammar for discussing human behavior. The minimum utility of moral codes is to instruct people how to behave in a socially acceptable manner. Such instruction avoids a lot of inefficiency in people finding out through experiment what others will and won't put up with. That alone has great social utility, whether or not your personal values allow you to agree with a particular society's moral rules. Moral codes may have additional utility, but it's not for me to say.

I think that some people get caught up when they hear "morals" as automatically meaning "as handed down in this holy book."

If we can talk about a rationally-derived morality that makes good sense, I'm all for it. It's the mindless adherence to tradition that bothers me. The reasonable expectation that you can walk out your front door without being murdered in the street is conducive to a civil society. The expectation that anyone who does murder you will be punished gives some comfort. But the belief that redheads don't have souls or that the widow of the recently deceased should join him on the bonfire are also "morals," the same way a raped woman should be murdered by her family members to remove the stain of dishonor.

Obviously we need a moral code to operate under reasonable justifications rather than unjustified prejudices or conceits.

jollyreaper said...

I don't know how old you are, but anybody who achieved adulthood before the end of the just passed century of "-isms" should have no trouble identifying at least ten secular belief systems that took on the quality of religion for their adherents. Environmentalism is just the most obvious one.

Broad brush. Some adherents may have turned it into a religion but the broad preponderance of environmentalists have not. Would it be fair to say all internet users and web designers are UFO cultists just because the Heaven's Gate cult offed themselves?

Tony said...

jollyreaper:

"Obviously we need a moral code to operate under reasonable justifications rather than unjustified prejudices or conceits."

One must be very careful when one says morality should be rational. It was once considered rational in the West that a gentleman's honor should be defended with his death, if necessary, and that participants in duels implicitly waived the protection of laws against murder. It wasn't too many centuries before that that a man could be literally outlawed, and anything that subsequently happened to him was his own responsibility.

And it wasn't that long ago that a female rape victim could be, under certain circumstances, be judged to have been "asking for it", and her assailant escape even being charged, much less tried or convicted. This was based on a rational judgment that a lewd woman excited uncontrollable appetites in men. In many people's minds, only proper, chaste women could in fact be raped at all. In fact, one of the ways to define a "gentleman" was to say that he was the type of man that would not ravish a lewd woman.

It wasn't 200 years ago that this was considered scientific. In some places today, it is still considered established fact. The only difference between the West 200 years ago and such places today is that we didn't physically punnish the lewd woman or girl for being a temptation to her victims. But we sure made a place in society for her where she could only be a prostitute or some type of criminal.

So, rationalist morality is only "rational" in accordance with the logic of the day. In some ways, it is inferior to traditionalist morality, especially the type based on some such basic rule as: "do unto others as you would have them do unto you," or: "he who is without sin, cast the first stone." I ain't sayin'; I'm just sayin'...

Tony said...

jollyreaper:

"Broad brush. Some adherents may have turned it into a religion but the broad preponderance of environmentalists have not. Would it be fair to say all internet users and web designers are UFO cultists just because the Heaven's Gate cult offed themselves?"

No broader a brush than is used to paint all Christians as evangelical fanatics seeking to turn the US into a Calvinistic theocracy. Or that all people who have positive views of scientific and technological progress are defilers of our mother Gaia.

But since I'm not interested in slinging mud in a religious rhetorical war, I should just say that you are applying argumentum ad absurdum. Of course not every person interested in environmentalism is a religious fanatic. But enough are to say that it is a secular religion, for those that feel that strongly about it. Just as marxist thought is with certain ignorant young people. Or atheism is with Dawkins and Hitchens.

It may surprise you -- or it may not -- but even as an agnostic I am interested in Christianity and study it. I even agree with certain Christian values that do not touch directly on articles of faith. Since I don't consider myself exceptional in any respect, I doubt that I am alone in this interest. But such interest hardly renders Christianity any less of a religion for those that accept the articles of faith.

Just so for environmentalism. Many people are students of environmentalist thought and even accept some, or even many, of its values. But, just because the majority don't elevate such thought to a religious level, that doesn't mean that there aren't people who do, and a good number of them.

jollyreaper said...


One must be very careful when one says morality should be rational. It was once considered rational in the West that a gentleman's honor should be defended with his death, if necessary, and that participants in duels implicitly waived the protection of laws against murder.


Granted. I already brought up the example of honor killings. I consider morality to be something in a state of continuing refinement as we gain a better understanding of the world.

I can *easily* imagine some near-future culture clashes once we've seen people out in space colonies for a while. And I can see both sides feeling completely vindicated.

Spacers see planet-dwellers as ignorant and soft yet barbaric. They live beneath bare atmosphere open to space. They are subject to the random whims of nature with so many things under control. They eat living animals as opposed to the cultured vat proteins civilized people eat. (Heck, maybe even their veggies come in indistinct patties, too. Eating a plant would seem very strange to them.) Planet-dwellers live with too little order in their lives, no structure. They live useless, unproductive lives.

The spacers, by comparison, are seen as alien to sensible planet-folk. They start having sex whenever they feel like it with whomever they'd like, male or female, old or young. All breeding is selective and the computers match the parents -- their fertility implants will only allow conception with the matched pair and will prevent any other unwanted pregnancy. The children are raised in communal creches and there's no proper families. And without that and with the fertility implants removing the risk of accidental pregnancy, there's no incest taboos. Immoral, disgusting degenerates living like rutting animals rather than god-fearing human beings! And there's no property rights up there, everyone's got a common share in their ship, in their habs. It stinks of dirty hippie socialism. They're socialist drone people with filthy sex habits. (I'm just imagining the sort of culture that'd be in a Heinlein novel if he were still writing today, mainly the sex bits.*grin*)

I figure you don't really need aliens in most stories when you consider just how alien human cultures could get when separated from the mainstream. Even if they remain in cultural access with Earth, a Jovian colony is going to very quickly become a lot different from the mainstream of Earth, especially if there's not a lot of swapping of personnel -- if these are people living out there for keeps instead of working an assignment.

jollyreaper said...


No broader a brush than is used to paint all Christians as evangelical fanatics seeking to turn the US into a Calvinistic theocracy. Or
that all people who have positive views of scientific and technological progress are defilers of our mother Gaia.


But there are far more Christians seeking active fundie reforms than there are environmentalists with a religious mission. How many figures of significant (or any) national prominence can you think of who are Gaia religious hippies? Honestly, I'm having trouble thinking of any. I'm sure there are still some these days but I'm drawing a blank. Most of the really radical crystal gazer stuff seemed to go away in the 70's. While there's still Oprah-style New Age mumbo-jumbo that gets peddled around like the Secret, there's not really an environmental bent to any of it. Conservatives will say Al Gore is a good example but he's clearly secular in his environmentalism.

But since I'm not interested in slinging mud in a religious rhetorical war, I should just say

No mud slung. I'm tossing ideas, not dirt.

that you are applying argumentum ad absurdum. Of course not every person interested in environmentalism is a religious fanatic. But enough are to say that it is a secular religion, for those that feel that strongly about it.


Well are we talking about earth goddess planet worship or simply a faith-based approach to the environment that ignores scientific evidence in favor of preconceived notions? I think there's a big difference between the two.

Just as marxist thought is with certain ignorant young people. Or atheism is with Dawkins and Hitchens.

It may surprise you -- or it may not -- but even as an agnostic I am interested in Christianity and study it. I even agree with certain


This may seem like a random question but do you own a parrot?

Just so for environmentalism. Many people are students of environmentalist thought and even accept some, or even many, of its values. But, just because the majority don't elevate such thought to a religious level, that doesn't mean that there aren't people who do, and a good number of them.


I compare it to the grand feminazi debate. In the 90's there was all this ranting and raving about the radical feminist agenda trying to convince women to murder their children and become lesbians. Wow, how dastardly. Where are these hordes of radicals? I could find a few fringe professors and oddballs but they were on the margins and not taken very seriously. Radical feminazis (if that's what you want to call them) represent an almost endangered species, especially in comparison to the robust and teeming herds of anti-abortionist and anti-women's rights conservatives. It's like when the two black kooks with beards were elevated into being the New Black Panther Party and a thing for all to fear. What? No. There were two kooks. Two kooks does not an army make.

Tony said...

jollyreaper:

"But there are far more Christians seeking active fundie reforms than there are environmentalists with a religious mission. How many figures of significant (or any) national prominence can you think of who are Gaia religious hippies?"

I strongly suspect that any person who self-identifies as a Christian and and even murmurs under his breath that modern licentiousness has gone too far is actively seeking "fundie reforms" in certain worldviews. And that anybody opposed to whatever freedom or license desired, if there is Christian opposition, is automatically a member of the radical religious right. It doesn't matter what a person's reasons are, religious or otherwise.

On the other hand, to an environmentalist -- to take a concrete example already being discussed; we can apply this same argument to any -ism, including any theism -- only the most radical, kooky freaks are religious about there environmentalist beliefs. The average environmentalist is just advocating sense, and anything one chooses to believe is simply obvious fact, no faith involved.

So please excuse me if I don't take it as self-evident that environmentalism (or any other -ism) is a minor or fringe religion. Remember, all religions are the same to me. I pick no favorites, nor do I condemn any demons. It may be the case in the Americas, Africa, and certain parts of Asia that secular religions are in the minority, but that's not the case everywhere. In the European and Asian societies where theism has waned, people still believe in something, and the secualr religions abound.

"Well are we talking about earth goddess planet worship or simply a faith-based approach to the environment that ignores scientific evidence in favor of preconceived notions? I think there's a big difference between the two."

The two are essentially the same, with somewhat different articles of faith. The object is preservation of the "natural" environment, even at the cost of human interests. One says onw must do so out of respect for Gaia, the other says that it is scientific conclusion.

"This may seem like a random question but do you own a parrot?"

I think you'll have to justify that question before I answer it.

jollyreaper said...

"This may seem like a random question but do you own a parrot?"

I think you'll have to justify that question before I answer it.


Someone I knew from another board had a thing for Christian history, especially the early parts. Just something about your statement reminded me of him. He also kept a whole mess of parrots. If the name Cheopys doesn't ring a bell then it's just a weird coincidence.

Tony said...

jollyreaper:

"Someone I knew from another board had a thing for Christian history, especially the early parts. Just something about your statement reminded me of him. He also kept a whole mess of parrots. If the name Cheopys doesn't ring a bell then it's just a weird coincidence."

Not me. My interest is mostly in doctrine, epistemology, and social history of the Church (in all its forms, not just the RC).

Milo said...

Michael:

"Milder forms of this can be seen between religions, where some religions recognize the value, and in rare cases divine influence of other religions."

It's notable that the "only our religion is correct and all other religions are lies" attitude is actually rather Abrahammic in origin. Many Japanese, for example, see no problem simultaneously professing a belief in both Shinto and Buddhism.



Jollyreaper:

"But what does variation C give us? Snow! Hmm. Not useful for the crops but you know, we could pack this snow into these earthen dugouts and preserve food. Yes, this does have a use!"

Snow is actually useful to serve as insulation and keep underground crops (relatively) warm throughout the winter. Then the snow melts in the spring and provides water when plants are more ready to start growing again.


"I'd challenge an atheist to exist for long in a setting like this."

But a "religion" that is objectively true and has measurable effect would come over quite differently from one that does not. For one thing, it would be a science.


"We haven't seen a world-shaking new religion develop in quite some time. I think Islam's been the last big one -- and by new religion I'm talking about something brand new, not just a change or reformation of an old religion."

How world-shaking do you want? Sikhism, founded mainly over the 1600s, hasn't had as widespread an importance as Islam, but it's still a fairly major religion, and had a definite influence on India's history.

jollyreaper said...

Replying to spamfiltered comment.


"I'd challenge an atheist to exist for long in a setting like this."

But a "religion" that is objectively true and has measurable effect would come over quite differently from one that does not. For one thing, it would be a science.


That's my whole point. It's a religion you can put to the test! And it's hard to falsify the theory that a god's doing it because, depending on your definition of a god, it may well be! If your concept of the world doesn't encompass computers and expert systems and AI and the like, someone telling you that's what's answering your prayers may not seem all that different from "god did it." It's certainly supernatural, at least by your understanding of the natural world.


How world-shaking do you want? Sikhism, founded mainly over the 1600s, hasn't had as widespread an importance as Islam, but it's still a fairly major religion, and had a definite influence on India's history.


That's smaller potatoes. I'm talking about a religion that grows wildly and ends up killing or converting large numbers of people. Islam and Christianity have been in competition for that. And I think we'd have to go to the East to find an example of a religion starting from a fringe cult and taking over the whole empire as Christianity did with Rome. Buddhism is an offshoot of Hinduism but I don't think it's exactly comparable in terms of violence of impact. Confucianism is more of a philosophy than a religion but it certainly had forcible conversions in China.

Anonymous said...

"Nobody wants to think that this is it, there are no souls, people you've lost will never be met again and death is oblivion. That's terrifying and you're never going to convince people otherwise."
That's your cultural prejudices speaking.
I don't see what's terrifying about that. But being tortured forever in hell, yeah I can see how that's terrifying... and people don't seem to have much trouble believing in eternal punishment.
Look at the three marks of existence in Buddhism. You could interpret them as an even bleaker outlook than the one you're describing. Yet people believe... and figure their outlook to be liberating rather than depressing. It's a matter of perspective.

Considering the current diversity, I'd say anything goes when making up midfuture religions. There isn't any reason to expect the diversity to go away.
New religions happen all the time. You may say the new ones are only variations of the old ones but some are quite creative and the old ones were originally mere variations as well.

-Horselover Fat

Rick said...

Three unjustly imprisoned comments have been let out of spam jail. Blogger is quite good at catching actual spam, but it goes through spurts of false positives that (to my meatware eye) don't even have superficially spamlike markers. Go figure.

I have no one to blame but myself for raising the question of environmentalism as a 'religion.' Just bear in mind that in the sense I am using it, anyone who expects human space travel to be of greater consequence than, say, Antarctica has a religious belief in it.

By that standard, practically anything that people regard as Really Important would qualify as 'religion,' and you could probably have a fairly endless debate on that topic.

Carry on!

Milo said...

Jollyreaper:

"That's my whole point. It's a religion you can put to the test! And it's hard to falsify the theory that a god's doing it because, depending on your definition of a god, it may well be!"

The question is if those people would believe only in those gods and supernatural effects which are clearly provable, or would also invent other, less accessible gods whose existance they hold only on faith.

Having clearly extant gods would also force people to view them more critically. It's okay for your religious leaders to tell you that God is infallible and morally perfect if he's just an imaginary friend, but if God clearly exists and just ruined your vegetable garden last week, you're going to look for ways to foil his power rather than sticking to the traditional rituals.

Tony said...

Horselover Fat:

"That's your cultural prejudices speaking...Look at the three marks of existence in Buddhism..."

Which have (not exact, but close enough) parallels in Western religion:

Mortality

Original Sin

Distinction between mortal matter and the immortal soul

Also, Buddhism is not a sufficient religion in itself. This is one of the biggest mistakes that westerners make when they study it. Buddhism originated from, and coexists with, Asian polytheism as a metaphilosophy.

Thucydides said...

The Bahá'í religion is pretty new, and claims adherents throughout the world. Never say never with the formation or dissolution of new religions.

For that matter, old religions might revive under new circumstances. Island Three space colonies might turn to Sol Invictus, since they will be constantly aware of the fact the Sun controls their ecosystem and economy. Abrahamic religions might get reinterpreted and extended by some future prophet with a "Fourth Book", going beyond the Pentateuch, Bible and Qur'an.

Finally, religions can be perverted for various purposes; State Shinto during the interwar period was used to condition the population of Japan to become more supportive of the means and ends of the ruling elites (it worked because it meshed with existing cultural tropes). National Socialist Germany had various occult cults, apparently attempted to revive the Norse gods as a form of worship and gave some consideration to the idea of worshipping the Führer in the same manner as Roman emperors. It was much easier to co opt existing churches, however, so cults and Norse gods were niche activities in Germany during this period.

Frankly, most SF seems determined to avoid religion, when in fact, it will probably remain one of the driving powers motivating people for as long as there are people.

Anonymous said...

I think this is yet another misunderstanding.

I'm not a Buddhist scholar and I can't read pali but my understanding is that...
Dukha is not a metaphysical statement about "sin" but a statement about invariances in human (or possibly sentient) experience.
And if anatta means anything it's that there's no such thing as an individual soul.

Yes there are many variants of Buddhism (as with Christianity and other religions) but it's stil generally called as a religion. I guess you could nevertheless say there are non-religions forms of Buddhism without playing semantic games.

Raymond said...

1) This far into a religion-in-the-future thread, and nobody's mentioned The Stars My Destination? For shame. While you can debate the plausibility of what Bester did with religious observance (went underground, became the new pornography), it was an interesting deviation from the usual extremes of "nothing about religion will change" and "religion will disappear and we'll never talk about it".

2) And nothing for A Canticle For Leibowitz? Double shame.

3) I remember one of Orson Scott Card's essays (tucked into a short story collection and before he turned dramatically right-wing) wherein he proposed that science fiction was inherently religious fiction, in a way, as it allowed (in his terms) "rationalization of the transcendent". The 40k example earlier wasn't entirely amiss: SF gives many opportunities to present scenarios where a given religious belief has some tangible, comprehensible, measurable basis. Do we still consider it a matter of faith? For those in the present who believe in some form of systematic, tangible influence by some form of deity, would it be any different?

4) I find it useful to distinguish between morals and ethics when discussing codes of behavior. The former is personal and internally generated from a number of factors, whereas the latter is external and derived from group consensus. There is more variance in morals; definitions of ethical codes are more directly linked to surrounding political and legal frameworks. The two can, of course, come into rather direct conflict, and they can (and frequently are) confused when discussing controversial topics. I think the above comments regarding moral codes are confused as to which of the two is under consideration.

Anonymous said...

Thucydides posted while I was writing. Apologies for the discontinuitites.

Bahai practioners have told me they see their faith as a development of the better-known Abrahamic religions.

jollyreaper said...

Regarding faith in the presence of tangible gods, I think it would be like living with a tiger in the jungle. It eats your people. You may hate it. You may develop rituals to protect yourself or make offerings to keep it fed. You may even convince yourself to love it as a means of reducing your terror. But you will never ever forget it's out there.

The Greeks seemed to have a love and hate relationship with the gods. The myths show them to be real dicks, every bit as bad as people. Monotheism seems to be the one where you have to be friends with god, specifically the Jesus-focused ones. Something like the book of job just says you're a worm and unworthy to fathom the mind of god.

Chris said...

My, my... This discussion expands at a prodigious rate. The whole discussion between Milo and Tony (and others, btw) about Nietzsche and morality is kind of going over my head by now, but in essence, I think I agree with Milo's explication of Nietzsche: morality is a human, or societal, construct. We tend not to question it because since we're 'observing' this morality with our own human brains: that murder or rape is wrong, seems commonsensical. And because it's commonsensical, we do not question it. Yet, logically, there exists no morality absolutely, outside of human experience. I should say that I am, personally, what's philosophically called a 'mechanical materialist', meaning that I only acknowledge the material, and nothing beyond that. Just the physical, and not the metaphysical. Just the natural, and not the supernatural, etcetera and so forth. Bla, bla, my point is: to presume things are morally right or wrong regardless of human observation; i.e. things being good or evil even if there's no-one to have such an opinion on it, presumes humanity derives their morality not from themselves, but from another source independant of humanity. I'm trying to say that an absolute morality presumes that murder or rape is wrong, even if there would be no humans (whatsoever) to observe it and to opine it is wrong, whilst in my philosophy, and Nietzsche's, and I think Milo's too, that's nonsense: murder is only wrong, in this view, so long as there are people who think it is wrong. Ah well, I can't explain it either. I just wanted to say that I personally do not adhere to the notion of an absolute morality (i.e. murder being wrong 'cause 'it just is') because to presume humans derive their morality from some other source than humanity, that certain things just 'are' wrong regardless of human observation/opinion, presumes this morality derives from some other source than our own humanity, and thus presumes the existence of the metaphysical. And I deny the existence of the metaphysical. I feel I should tell you that I tried very hard at being religious before I... gave up, I guess.

As for papa's comment, on Gerald Heard quoted from the Foreword of the Blish novel: thanks! I haven't read that book, but I have a sneaky suspicion those theological musings are what I was trying to recall when I made my original post. Don't know where I picked up on them, though. Only thing missing from the Heard thing is the notion of every alien race having their own Saviour I mentioned, which would be part of the (b)-position he lists.

Anonymous said...

The 'space qibla' problem leads me to wonder how living in a space habitat might alter other religious rituals. For example, how would baptism be conducted in a freefall environment? Sprinkling baptism should be relatively unaffected, since the baptizer could flick their wet fingers to cause drops of water to contact the person being baptized. Pouring baptism would require a stream of water to be expelled under pressure, while immersion baptism would require a human-sized volume of water to be safely confined in some manner while still being accessible to the person being baptized.
Regarding the future of religion generally, the political scientist Eric Kaufmann has pointed out in his book 'Shall the Religious inherit the earth' that religious fundamentalists tend to have higher birth rates than secular people and moderate religious people, and higher retention rates than the latter. He therefore suggests the future will see the proportion of fundamentalists increase. He also forsees a proportional decrease of secular and moderate religious people, since the former are increasingly below replacement fertility rate, while the latter, although having slightly bigger families, lose a relatively high number of children to secularism.

R.C.

jollyreaper said...

Ah well, I can't explain it either. I just wanted to say that I personally do not adhere to the notion of an absolute morality (i.e. murder being wrong 'cause 'it just is') because to presume humans derive their morality from some other source than humanity, that certain things just 'are' wrong regardless of human observation/opinion, presumes this morality derives from some other source than our own humanity, and thus presumes the existence of the metaphysical. And I deny the existence of the metaphysical. I feel I should tell you that I tried very hard at being religious before I... gave up, I guess.

There's as of yet no evidence of a creator god. If we had incontrovertible proof and if he made his wishes known, there would still be people who would question our obligation to follow such rules.

Like you, I don't believe that there is an absolute external reference for morality. It's something we must construct for ourselves but that doesn't make it a cheap contrivance; it is the very essence of what makes us human. This is what we think is good in the world. This is how we should live. These are the principles that guide or word and deed and by that shall you know us.

Now where people disagree about what's moral, ah, there's the rub. With my example of planet-dwellers and spacers above, you can just smell the culture clash coming.

In my personal view, the universe is an uncaring, unsympathetic place. "Nobody ever said life was fair," the old saying goes. But what if we do what we can to mitigate that? What if we bring love and charity into the world, bring mercy not for any personal gain but act an act of compassion? And if that's asking too much, why not at least settle for not making others suffer as a consequence of your own existence?

This sort of thing all depends on how you look at it. The Randian would say that theft is the big sin and it's the moochers and politicians who steal the fruits of the labor of the hero of industry. Looked at from another way, the people were minding their own business until the titan of industry imposed his system of labor upon them. Both sides can feel justified in condemning theft and imposition but can't agree on cause and effect! That's a fundamental disagreement that can drive some good storytelling.

Chris said...

Though you made an excellent point, Jollyreaper, when you said "This is what we think is good in the world. This is how we should live. These are the principles that guide or word and deed and by that shall you know us," it makes me wonder: what gives us the right? This is something I haven't worked out myself... Because I agree with you that the 'Nietzschean' point of view could, but shouldn't, devaluate morals to a 'cheap contrivance', I still wonder what exactly is it that vindicates our principles that guide our words and deeds and from which we shall be known? No matter how convinced we may be of our righteousness, what gave us the mandate if there is no absolute source from which morality is derived? I do think democracy provides part of the solution, since there is government by consent, so the mandate is given by the voters. But how about those who would oppose democracy? They don't have that 'mandate', neither divinely nor democratically, but it only illustrates the relativity (relativeness?) of morality. It doesn't provide a winning argument for either side's morality. So though I agree our norms and mores define us to ourselves... it doesn't define us in the eyes of an outsider. It's merely an outgrowth of our biology to construct morality, whichever these end up being.

Tony said...

Too much to take point-by-point with quotes...

1. I said that parallels between certain points of Western religion and the three Buddhist marks of existence were "not exact, but close enough". I think I'll stick with that.

2. Baha'i is presented as the next leaf of the Abrahamic faith tree. It is decidedly deist in its articles of faith about a Creator God. One might think of it as Abrahamism for a scientific age.

3. I don't know where I went wrong, but I feel constrained to point out that I'm not advocating an absolute morality. I'm simply trying to point out that moral codes are real, they tend to have certain things in common, and they have a social utility. That social utility is, at a minimum, efficiency in teaching ethical norms. Other utilities have been claimed, but I'm pretty much agnostic about all of them.

I agree that human morals are pretty subjective and derived from local experience. Having said that, they still tend to find certain common classification of proscribed behavior, including murder, rape, theft, and several others.

As to what gives us the right, well, that's a meaningless question, as far as I can tell. We don't need a right. Moral codes have utility, therefore we use them. IOW, human ethics tend to be rule utilitarianism. I would think a materialist could appreciate that.

Rick said...

I will cut slack for nonmention of A Canticle for Liebowitz, (sp?) at least, on the grounds that my original post implied no catastrophic collapse of industrial civilization.

I am not sure where Mormonism goes in the taxonomy of 'new' religions. Just from its full official name the LDS church clearly asserts a Christian identity, but small-o orthodox (i.e., Nicene) Christian groups would likely call it a distinct faith tradition.

Milo said...

Chris:

"Though you made an excellent point, Jollyreaper, when you said "This is what we think is good in the world. This is how we should live. These are the principles that guide or word and deed and by that shall you know us," it makes me wonder: what gives us the right?"

Do we need a "right"? We aren't wrong.

That's what "subjective" means.

Tony said...

A Canticle for Leibowitz has significant elements of Roman Catholic apologia and a totally unconvincing deus ex machina resolution. (What, the world is going to suffer a second (!) nuclear apocalypse, one it might not recover from this time? To the stars! (In a heretofore unrevealed starship hoarded by the Church, of course.))

The Stars My Destination uses religion for shock value, and is highly reliant on mid-50's attitudes about traditional religion. Both the cellar Christians and the Skoptsy's are designed to evoke a specific reaction in an American raised with traditional Protestantism or Roman Catholicism in the first half of the 20th Century. The expected reaction was, approximately, "Religion can't be like that. This is too wierd. This is bizzare." But to many raised in the 60s or later, it just doesn't resonate that way. It's novelty value has worn off.

The LDS church is a Christian heresy, pure and simple. Not to deprecate Christian heresies -- I used to be internet acquainted with a feminist historian who maintained that Islam is really just the most successful Christian heresy. In some ways she's probably correct.

jollyreaper said...

The Mormons would be considered a splinter group or christian cult on my list depending on how you would want to interpret things. (like I said, some protestants would call catholics a christian cult.)

I think the most likely new religions would taste like the old ones. I find the appeal of something completely invented to be less likely. Note how scientology remains an intensely popular cult that hasn't managed to cros the cross the same kind of threshold as various christian sects with megachurches and telethons. But speaking strictly from a business perspective, maybe their current busienss model is satisfying their needs. They're cultivating rich people or those who can be completely recruited into their fold, they're not so much interested in donations from granmda.

Raymond said...

Tony:

WRT Canticle, I wouldn't dispute the deus ex machina at the end, but I would dispute dismissing it for the Catholic apologia. Miller was drawing more from older portions of Catholic history - Irish monks preserving manuscripts, politically ambitious popes, and isolated remnants of a fallen civilization.

WRT TSMD, while I'd agree his treatment of religion was more for shock value than anything else (see previous disclaimer), it was also part of a larger social order designed to be alien to contemporary sensibilities, in order to better reflect the large gulf in time. I think more SF should do this.

Rick:

Mormons, like other faiths originating in the burnt-over region (Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists, and to some extent Christian Science), could be considered post-Nicene. There is a certain continuity with Nicene-based strains, but it's rather thin at times, and Mormons in particular have a theology highly influenced by their American roots.

Mormons are also extraordinarily sensitive about being called non-Christian.

Tony (again):

To call the LDS church a heresy would be technically correct, but placing it in the same league as Islam is a bit too broad, I think. In software terms, Islam is a ground-up rewrite with some backwards compatibility features, where the Mormons at least derive from the same codebase, adding a bunch of extensions and changing the behavior of some key functions.

jollyreaper:

One of the key ingredients of any new religion is some sense of continuity with its precedents. They may deviate substantially on the details, but it's easier to repurpose than invent in terms of the language and history.

Jnani said...

Judging from the passion that this post has generated about moral philosophy (and, apparently, Warhammer 40k), this blog should be called "The Rocketpunk Manifesto that Kicked the Hornet's Nest"!

I think some considerations that haven't been addressed are the relation between religion and government, or, at least not addressed to my satisfaction. The way we interact with religion currently is a product of "Western" culture being heavily invested with the idea of democracy. If each member of our community has a voice in government, even if it is a dissenting voice, then they can also have a dissenting opinion about god and morality, provided that it is not too dissenting. We agree as a community to accept a certain level of dissent to provide a more robust democracy.

Japan in World War 2, however, was not like this. Shinto was the official state religion, and part and parcel of industrializing at an incredible rate was complete subjugation to the government machine. The Emperor was revered to an almost godlike degree, and warriors would gladly sacrifice their lives for the state, even going so far as to commit kamikaze tactics.

Can we mobilize enough resources to create a plausible midfuture with a vibrant space culture without heavy industrial mobilization that authoritarian governments provide? We made it to the moon, but only with heavy government investment, and then the dissenting opinions that democracy provided pushed the momentum in the other direction.

If a democracy, and with it free religion, is capable of creating a plausible midfuture in space, then it relies on heavy amounts of investment by the private sector. If not, then it will require an authoritarian regime with some bound interest in space (either for political or spiritual reasons).

Please note, I am not advocating for fascism or authoritarianism is any sense. I am a huge fan of democracy, and an active participant. I just want to point out that the current trend of free religion and free secularism are not necessarily compatible with grand space opera, even in a midfuture setting. However, it can obviously be made to work, if you can find enough incentive out there for private industry to place the ungodly amounts of capital into the infrastructure required.

Tony said...

Raymond:

"WRT Canticle, I wouldn't dispute the deus ex machina at the end, but I would dispute dismissing it for the Catholic apologia."

I'm not dismissing it. I just don't think it's a very good example of religion for the future. It's too rooted in a theory of RC transcendence of the times. IOW, the future and the past are all one, as long as the Church abides. Now this is an interesting assertion, but it has little to do with SF per se.

"WRT TSMD, while I'd agree his treatment of religion was more for shock value than anything else (see previous disclaimer), it was also part of a larger social order designed to be alien to contemporary sensibilities, in order to better reflect the large gulf in time. I think more SF should do this."

Of course it should. But using religion as a stalking horse for disorientation of the reader doesn't really say anything about religion. Also note that the mentions of religion are all in the context of what society does to religion in Bester's future, and nothing about what religion does to or for society. It's an almost caricatured, unbalanced argument.

"To call the LDS church a heresy would be technically correct, but placing it in the same league as Islam is a bit too broad, I think. In software terms, Islam is a ground-up rewrite with some backwards compatibility features, where the Mormons at least derive from the same codebase, adding a bunch of extensions and changing the behavior of some key functions."

I would say that a system modification, whether by extension or rewrite, is still just a system modification. Even in the most radical rewrites the system still has to provide certain expected services and some kind of upgrade path to the user. Yes, Islam as a Christian heresy has a much steeper learning curve, for somebody predisposed to Christianity, than the LDS chruch does. But objectively they're both derivations of the Abrahamic tradition.

"One of the key ingredients of any new religion is some sense of continuity with its precedents. They may deviate substantially on the details, but it's easier to repurpose than invent in terms of the language and history."

Nevil Shute's Round the Bend describes an Asian aircraft mechanic founding a sort of universal successor religion based on the spiritual value of doing good work. Not SF per se, it still makes interesting arguments about what a viable latter-day religion in a technological age would have to look like.

jollyreaper said...

Can we mobilize enough resources to create a plausible midfuture with a vibrant space culture without heavy industrial mobilization that authoritarian governments provide? We made it to the moon, but only with heavy government investment, and then the dissenting opinions that democracy provided pushed the momentum in the other direction.


This would be the Reagan gambit. Reagan had often talked about how the world could be united by an alien threat from outer space. This was the same evil plot from the Watchmen comic, Earth is threatened by aliens from another dimension so everyone has to get together. The threat was completely fabricated and a means of keeping humanity from destroying itself with nuclear war. The threat was altered for the movie version.

And the Reagan gambit is just another variation of creating an external threat to unify the people to whatever you want them to do. Usually you need an internal threat like a disliked minority group or a foreign country to agitate against. If people will believe in aliens, that could be another tactic.

Now, as to how likely the gambit would be to pull off... Project For A New American Century was talking about how we needed to go imperialistic and start invading oil-rich countries but lamented getting national support behind it without a 21st century Pearl Harbor. 9-11 came later. So, made it happen on purpose? Let it happen on purpose? Or just taking craven advantage of a tragedy to advance the preexisting agenda?

I'm skeptical of 9-11 as MIHOP. It might have been LIHOP. But certainly it was used to advance a preexisting agenda. But it was obviously human terrorism. I don't know how you could effectively fake an alien attack for a Reagan gambit without the truth coming out in the end. You'd need an alien message or an alien attack, something that all the eggheads will be looking at and holds up.

Maybe ruins could be found on the dark side of the moon and there's no evidence that it should be taken as a threat but it's portrayed as such for power grab and building a world government and military force to "keep Earth safe for humanity" but it's really just about centralizing power.

Chris said...

I don't know, but... I'm none to happy with classifying Islam as a Christian heresy. Same goes for the LSD, too. First point to make, is that it certainly the most liberal definition of 'heresy', by which I mean both the breadth in what it encompasses, and in the possible level of appraisal of it.
I think I understand it when it comes to the LSD church, though I'm not American. However I always considered a perfectly legitimate offshoot of protestantism, with a heavy dose of Masonic notions on divinity and biblical studies thrown in the mix. It adds up to a fascinating mix that, in my mind, forms a legitimate religion. By the way, they gave up the polygamy thing, right?

Anyway, I can see how you might apply the formula of "offshoot + influences" to Islam, but I am given to understand it's so much more than that. I liked the analogy of a "system rewrite", which I would argue goes much farther than mere modification. What it boils down to, is the notion of a "deriviation of Abrahamic tradition".

Perhaps it can be called a "derivation" if you consider Christianity to be the sequel to Judaism, with Islam being more of a remake. However, I consider that a false perspective. The New Testament is in no narrative sense a continuation of the Old one, and even in its earliest days, when many of the converts were Jews not Greeks, Christianity was theologically quite distinct from Judaism.

A sequel, it is not. But that would also negate the idea of Islam as the remake in this extremely warped film metaphor. Therefore, my personal notion of "Abrahamic Tradition" is a pretty broad one: it includes Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and because I'm feeling so tolerant, I consider Bahai'i (which I probably speld rong) the fourth amongst the pillars of Abrahamic Tradition. And since I began this rant with the LSD, let's be crazy and name it as the fifth, with a sixth and seventh inclusion in the Abrahamic family of religion certainly being a possibility.

To Tony: yes, you're right. You never became some sort of advocate for that position. When I said "[t]he whole discussion between Milo and Tony (and others, btw)" and I bit later on "I think I agree with Milo's explication of Nietzsche" I didn't mean to suggest you thereby occupied some opposite position in the discussion.

And I think I've typed enough for one post already.

Tony said...

jollyreaper:

"I'm skeptical of 9-11 as MIHOP. It might have been LIHOP. But certainly it was used to advance a preexisting agenda."

And wasn't all that successful as a unifying phenomenon. In the long run all it's done is provide enough motivation for the 21st Century equivalent of Indian War, in terms of level of commitment. In terms of geostrategic impact, we've got a couple of tar babies we'd really rather not have.

jollyreaper said...

"I'm skeptical of 9-11 as MIHOP. It might have been LIHOP. But certainly it was used to advance a preexisting agenda."


And wasn't all that successful as a unifying phenomenon. In the long run all it's done is provide enough motivation for the 21st Century equivalent of Indian War, in terms of level of commitment. In terms of geostrategic impact, we've got a couple of tar babies we'd really rather not have.


I would argue that 9-11 was extremely successful in that regard. I don't think we would have had these two wars without it; certainly not Afghanistan, and I don't think that the Iraq war would have been started without being able to beat up the unenthusiastic as being terrorist coddlers and unamerican cowards.

But as machiavelian evil foreign policy, you are correct; it's a terrible blunder. Storytelling lesson to be learned: it doesn't have to make sense in any objective sense for it to be a good plot point -- the only one who has to be convinced is the guy making the mistake. Mistakes should be in character and plausible.

jollyreaper said...

I think I understand it when it comes to the LSD church, though I'm not American.

The LSD church? I might not agree with their dogma but I'd love to hear about it. :)

Raymond said...

Jnani:

I don't think that even an authoritarian government backed by a state religion could find the stupidly massive economic surplus to drastically accelerate the Rocketpunk timetable.

The Mormons, for example, have a ten-percent tithe - this pays for land, buildings and missionaries, and not much else. We're a long ways removed from the age of religions with deeper coffers than governments (and most governments are fairly hard-pressed for cash ATM, authoritarian or not).

Tony:

"It's too rooted in a theory of RC transcendence of the times."

I think it's a legitimate argument about future religion - it may not actually change all that much, except perhaps some of the details of the rituals. I don't agree with it either, but it should be in the discussion.

"...note that the mentions of religion are all in the context of what society does to religion in Bester's future, and nothing about what religion does to or for society."

True, but considering it was less of a plot point or narrative element and more of world-building flavor, I'm willing to give Bester a pass. Like many elements of the book, it wasn't exactly optimized, but the fact it was there at all counts for something.

"I would say that a system modification, whether by extension or rewrite, is still just a system modification."

In the broad sense, yes - and in the broad sense, both the LDS and Islam are successful Christian heresies. But an extended codebase attracts different developers than a rewrite in a different language, and can have very different performance and compatibility characteristics. I don't think the distinction is trivial.

jollyreaper:

Projects as big as Rocketpunk would require more and longer motivation than the best conspiracies could bring to bear.

Chris:

Uh, it's LDS, not LSD (insert snarky comment about talking salamanders here). And yeah, they got rid of the polygamy thing a hundred and twenty years ago. The isolated holdouts haven't been part of the main church for about that long.

Jedidia said...

The New Testament is in no narrative sense a continuation of the Old one, and even in its earliest days, when many of the converts were Jews not Greeks, Christianity was theologically quite distinct from Judaism.

While it is correct that the new testament isn't a sequel to the old testament in a narrative sense, the continuation from Judaism to Christianity certainly could be considered a sequel. For starters, Jesus didn't teach much new theology if you're a bit familiar with the more liberal interpretations of Rabbies from before Jesus came around. It's his Messianic claims that were rather outstanding.
Also, if you check christian and Jewish apocryphs to the old testament, you get most of the gaps filled in. Not neccessarily narratively, but it shows quite nicely how Judaistic theology and spirituality progressed and forms a pretty seemless link to Jesus.

From the grand epic point of view, the new testament can also be savely considered a sequel in a narrative sense, similiar to that the lord of the rings could be considered a sequel to the hobit.

Also, christianity might (by introduction of the Messiah) have had quite some theological differences with Judaism, but it emerged from the same culture. Which means, that early christians used largely the judaistic cultus too, so in these beginnings it could pretty savely be considered a judaistic sect.

Islam, on the other hand, has a pretty different story of origin. Arabia was a country with very mixed religions, most pagan, but also a lot of christians and jews. Whereby it should be noted that most christians in Arabia had escaped from heresy persecutions in the byzantine empire. There also were no scriptures available in the arabic language, and only few people who new greek or hebrew, so Muhammad ended up getting his sources exclusively second-hand (since, as is also commonly believed in islamic circles, he could not even read arabic, or only rudimentary).

When the religion was originally formed, it already had its own cultus, which has some similarities to Jewish one, true, but was pretty much its own thing due to the arabic inculturation.

Chris said...

LDS! Right! LDS! I knew that...

Freudian slip of the thong, perhaps, that acronym I typed.

At Jedidia (and I really need to find out how you do that italic quote text buisiness):

I am well familiar with the the influences from liberal, alternative, and yes, heretical sometimes, rabbis on Jesus. And I'll one-up you: in the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus himself barely makes Messianic claims. The later the source, the more pronounced it gets, basically.

And yes, you're completely right on the influence of Jewish Apocrypha on Christianity. Christian theology (specifically Angelology and Demonology) would be nothing without the Book of Enoch, which has no status whatsoever in Judaic theology, apart from being an interesting read.

The point is that I didn't delve into what Jesus said. I spoke of "early Christians" (didn't call it that, though). And the Early Christians were, as a group, mostly in the dogmatic area, quite distinct from other Jewish sects. I need my ex-girlfriend who does Religion Studies to explain you how, precisely. And especially when Paul gets stuck in with the whole Christianity, it's divorced from Judaism, to put it a little too bluntly.

You're mostly right on the origin of Islam, though bear in mind that as a member of a trading caravan, he picked up quite a tad from the areas more to the west, and therefore mainstream Judaism or Christianity (I guess the latter more, by that point in time). The "Arabic cultivation" I consider a perfectly valid influence. According to modern day Religious studies, Judaism emerged rather similarly from native Hebrew polytheism. Remember the supreme god of the Canaanites too, was called Yaw. Judaism has YHWH, the tetragrammaton thing.

So a monotheistic, Abrahamic religion emerging from the original polytheism seems a theme here. Judaism was the original, Islam a later iteration of the same phenomenon, the second under the influence of the third, and many other influences besides, which Jedidia mentioned.

Bear in mind that I'm so zany as to allow Bahai'ism as a genuine, full member of the category "Abrahamic religion". My point is: I still see no reason to view Islam as merely a "derivative", as if it somehow cannot, or may not, be a full member of this group.

Tony said...

One of the things we have to remember about Christianity is that it presents itself as the realization of the God's covenenant with the Hebrews/Israelites/Jews and the initiation of a new covenant with the whole world.

Islam presents itself as the final revelation and Muhammad as the final prophet. The previous prophets are all out of Jewish and Christian scriptures.

Baha'i presents itself as a further revelation, fit for our own times and conditions.

Note how each successive faith in this progression deprecates the supposed finality of the previous one. One could argue that the sole non-heretic Abrahamic faith is Judaism.

Chris said...

A little rectification here, since my rant went a little disjointed at some points:

I meant to say: when Paul got stuck in with the whole Christianity buisiness. Missed a word or two out of that sentence.

More importantly, I meant to say that the mutual influence of Abrahamic monotheism and the native Arab cultic traditions in Islam can be seen to mimic the way Judaism originally emerged. Only I said it ridiculously. Sorry.

Chris said...

Since I'm still around, I'll say that I agree with Tony. And to put this discussion a little back in the direction of the Midfuture instead of Far History, would the midfuture have a further iteration of that trend, a successor which deprecetes also Bahai'i?

Or is that last one up-to-date enough for the religious spacefarer. Spacer. I'm not too good with the lingo.

Raymond said...

Not knowing much about Baha'i, I'd say the Islamic tradition would be the most suited to life in space. The routines of daily prayers and fast months, the imagery of deserts and isolation, the history of astronomy and mathematics - all could be adapted to a spaceborne religion. You might have to shave off the bit about pilgrimages to the Hajj - then again, considering the Black Stone's possible origin as a meteorite and the delightfully monolith-like appearance of the Hajj, it might be appropriate to build one on each inhabited world. The decentralized nature of theological structures would also suit space travel fairly well.

On a different note, anybody read any of George Alec Effinger's Marîd Audran stories? Interesting cauldron of midfuture Islam and brain-hacking.

Milo said...

Tony:

"The LDS church is a Christian heresy, pure and simple. Not to deprecate Christian heresies -- I used to be internet acquainted with a feminist historian who maintained that Islam is really just the most successful Christian heresy. In some ways she's probably correct."

By the same definition Christianity is a Jewish heresy. People just stopped thinking about it that way when it got to be more popular than Judaism.



Jnani:

"Judging from the passion that this post has generated about moral philosophy (and, apparantly, Warhammer 40k), this blog should be called "The Rocketpunk Manifesto that Kicked the Hornet's Nest"!"

I find it rather ironic that we're getting more heated opinions on secular moral philosophy than we are on religion.



Chris:

"A sequel, it is not. But that would also negate the idea of Islam as the remake in this extremely warped film metaphor."

My view was that Christianity is a decayed adaptation - a sequel to Judaism, but one of those sequels that has all the fans disclaiming its existance. Islam is a response/criticism by people who disliked this sequel and wanted to stay truer to the series' roots, while still cribbing a few of the ideas from Christianity that they liked. Judaism itself is maintained by the people who are offended at the very notion of a sequel, feeling that you shouldn't try to add on to perfection.

Disclaimer: I am not a religious scholar.



I also think a few of my posts are disappearing...

Tony said...

Can we arrive at a consensus?

Judaism is the original, old-school, B&W Abrahamic religion.

Chrisitanity is the sequel, in color, introducing a whole cast of new characters.

Islam is the indie reboot, by an eccentric auteur, keeping all the old characters, but twisting the story.

Baha'i is an out of focus homage to all that has gone before.

Milo said...

Tony:

"Can we arrive at a consensus?"

It's a thread on religion.

Of course not.

Raymond said...

So which one gets the next sequel?

Rick said...

this blog should be called "The Rocketpunk Manifesto that Kicked the Hornet's Nest"!

It is borderline scary to me that I could post on religion, get more than 100 comments so far, and NOT have a flame war break out.

And the programming metaphor - not to mention the movie sequel metaphor - must surely be heretical to someone out there.

Thucydides said...

Can we arrive at a consensus?

Judaism is the original, old-school, B&W Abrahamic religion.

Chrisitanity is the sequel, in color, introducing a whole cast of new characters.

Islam is the indie reboot, by an eccentric auteur, keeping all the old characters, but twisting the story.

Baha'i is an out of focus homage to all that has gone before.


So D.W Griffiths did the Pentateuch, Stanley Kubrick did the Bible and Werner Herzog the Qur'an.

This can only mean Christopher Nolan is filming Baha'i! ;)

jollyreaper said...


And the programming metaphor - not to mention the movie sequel metaphor - must surely be heretical to someone out there.


I've commented before on how the development of the bible and christian doctrine bears an incredible similarity to comic book and scifi fandom. Comic books and franchise shows like Trek are much like the bible in that they have multiple authors with conflicting ideas of how the story should be told. Retcons abound. The Marvel no-prize, awarded for people who find what appears to be a mistake in continuity or logic and is then explained away as not really being in conflict at all -- seems exactly like the convolutions theologians will put themselves through to justify something they already believe.

It is a constant source of amazement for me how doctrines that go to the core of mainstream Christianity that one would assume were agreed with from the very start turn out to be things that people fought and killed over. The divinity of Jesus, the Trinity, the way the faithful are supposed to earn a spot in heaven, all of it is subject to retcon.

Raymond said...

Thucydides:

I'd be more interested in Baha'i if it were a Chris Nolan movie. As it stands, it's more like Douglas Sirk. Pretty in a formalist way, but never more than niche.

jollyreaper:

Mormons are the Ron Moore BSG of Christianity, then, given their thoughts on the above (especially the nature of the Trinity).

Raymond said...

(And yes, ironies inherent in mentioning BSG and Mormons in the same sentence are all entirely intentional.)

Tony said...

Thucydides:

"So D.W Griffiths did the Pentateuch, Stanley Kubrick did the Bible and Werner Herzog the Qur'an.

This can only mean Christopher Nolan is filming Baha'i! ;)"


I was thinking more along the lines of the Old Testament being directed by Cecil B. DeMille, the New Testament by David Lean, Islam by Francois Truffaut, and Baha'i by George Lucas.

Chris said...

Jollyreaper:
First computer programming, then movies, now comicbooks! But actually, your analogy is spot on.
Think of Star Wars... (yes, I was a sinner before I converted myself to rocketpunk and the midfuture, to keep in the religiosity :P)
Star Wars has multiple *levels* of canon, and plenty of apocrypha.

Warhammer 40k eclectically disowns and reincorporates bits of canon and apocrypha both, depending on what's in vogue (are Blood Angels vampires? Is Chaos evil, or just a force of unnature?).

Of course, the *incredibly* significant (ahem) question then becomes, whether it's Mormonism, or Islam that forms the Ultimate Marvel to the older religions'... ordinary Marvel.

Also, thinking Baha'i is either a Nolan film or a Lucas film makes me dread to think what the Michael Bay Abrahamic religion would be like. Oh wait... Charismatic Christianity, maybe? Huge television audiences and fancy miracles...

Of course, I secretly had hoped that the Nolan equivalent would be something a little more postmodern than Baha'i, in which case I'll think Gnosticism would be more of a Nolan thing, honestly. What with the multiple narrative layers and the disjointed flow of time...

Actually, gnosticism hasn't been mentioned up untill now, has it? Of course, in the first two centuries A.D. the Gnostics considered themselves to be the same as Christians, and likewise vice versa. The main difference is in the significance ascribed to the death of Christ. Gnostics believed that Christ's crucifiction paved the way for the attainment of gnosis, whilst the Christians believed His death paved the way for redemption from sin.

Wait, that rather starts to resemble the Alien, Predator and Alien vs. Predator franchise. Now we need fans to discuss which is the real sequel :P

jollyreaper said...

Star Wars is a great comparison. I used to think it was all one idea sprung from Lucas' forehead fully formed. Only as I got older and saw more things did I appreciate where Lucas borrowed and stole from.

Having read more on religion, I can see how Christianity and Judaism have done the same thing. global floods and the one just man was from Sumerian mythology. The leader drawn from the reeds and raised in the house of a king, done before. Samson was pretty much a Hebrew demigod. And later as Christianity expanded, other franchises were retconned into the larger continuity, much like when Marvel or DC bought up smaller publishers and acquired their IP. Pagan gods were simply adopted as devils and demons and the best aspects of the good gods were claimed as new aspects of Jesus and God.


I would say the Star Wars prequels were a heresy and the schism within the great religion of Lucas. One either accepts wholly or rejects them. This would make Red Letter Media our Martin Luther, his three reviews the 95 Theses and YouTube the church door. ;) Of course, this also makes me a Star Wars fundamentalist wanting to return to a purer form of the canon and that kinda sits funny with me!

Thucydides said...

Since the first "Star Wars" movie was a retelling of the "Sword in the Stone", and the overall story arc is "Faust", Lucas at least had the good taste and sense to steal from the best....

Geoffrey S H said...

What would Steve Moffatt direct I wonder? Detirminist constant-terror Lutheranism?

"It is borderline scary to me that I could post on religion, get more than 100 comments so far, and NOT have a flame war break out."

Mwhhahahahahahaaaaa!!!!!

Chris said...

Thucydides:
Are you certain about the Sword in the Stone and Faust? The version I heard is of Lucas trying to acquire the rights to Flash Gordon to make a film out of it, but that fell through. He then basically adapted the Akira Kurosawa film The Hidden Fortress, and heavily mixed that with Joseph Campbell's monomyth from Hero with a Thousand Faces.

The Flash Gordon allusions are fairly bland: the yellow scrolling text filling the viewer in at the beginning of the film, the good faction being "Rebels", the bad guys being "Imperials", and a City in the Clouds.

Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress is about two bickering farmers escaping the aftermath of a battle, and teaming up with a scoundrel and an aged samurai to save a princess from the evil shogun. They also pick up a farmer's daughter, who is basically the Luke character.

Replace the bickering farmers with bickering droids, and you get an almost parallel story. Lucas even gave a big fat nod in the form of an officer nearly saying it before Vader Force-Chokes him:

"Don't try to frighten us with your sorcerer's ways, Lord Vader. Your sad devotion to that ancient religion has not helped you conjure up the stolen data tapes, or given you clairvoyance enough to find the Rebel's hidden fortr--"

Also: the reference to "data-tapes". Data storage marches on.

Raymond said...

Is this where I confess my apostasy from Star Wars?

Jnani said...

I for one don't think there is anything wrong with being a fan of star wars. In fact, if you want to write marketable sci-fi, you should at least have a basic understanding of why people like it so much, because you will need to incorporate at least some of those elements into whatever story you are working on to be sellable to a wide audience.

I also don't think thats a particularly depressing thought, but here is where I expect people to disagree with me.

Tony said...

Re: Jnani

Star Wars is science fantasy, not science fiction. So is Star Trek. Approached from that perspective, they're just mind candy. Too much turns you into a fathead, but otherwise, no harm, no foul.

Now, trying to justify the technology and physics is what's crap about certain fans.

Raymond said...

Tony:

I thought it was the arguments over canon and the relative importance of minor characters that resemble the Hundred Years War that makes certain SW/ST fans crap...

Jedidia said...

I am well familiar with the the influences from liberal, alternative, and yes, heretical sometimes, rabbis on Jesus. And I'll one-up you: in the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus himself barely makes Messianic claims. The later the source, the more pronounced it gets, basically.

Not explicitly. Howver, considering Jewish prophecies and practices, there's a whole lot of very implicit messianic claims in Jesus words and deeds without mentioning it. The first, and most hidden, is the numerous "verily, I tell you...", which was completely out of custom. "Rabby X said that Rabby Y said that Rabby Z said..." was the usual form in which rabies taught. Jesus "I" (pitty that it's written capital in english anyways, because it's *very* capital in such a context) was distincting itself from that traditional line, claiming that his teaching was directly from God, and that he therefore had more authority than all the rabbies that ever taught. He also claimed that he was "bigger than Moses", Which only, if even, the messiah could be. There's also numerous references to messianic prophecies, like what he told to John the baptist, the sign given to Jonah, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey (which gets usually misinterpreted as a gesture of humility. It was quite the contrary, and every Jew understood the symbol clearly, hence they welcommed him with "Hosianna to the son of david", which is the explicit title of the Messiah). So, while Jesus didn't explicitly state "I am the Messiah", he was still definitaley claiming it very clearly. But that goes a bit too deep into new testament theology, while this is a thread about religion in general.

And the Early Christians were, as a group, mostly in the dogmatic area, quite distinct from other Jewish sects. I need my ex-girlfriend who does Religion Studies to explain you how, precisely. And especially when Paul gets stuck in with the whole Christianity, it's divorced from Judaism, to put it a little too bluntly.

Indeed, there weren't many other sects that claimed to be a direct following of the Messiah that survived for long. Also, the opening of christianity to the pagans led to a divorce in the long run, that's certainly true. The time in which christianity could really be considered a Jewish sect was probably the first 50 years after Jesus death or so.

My point is: I still see no reason to view Islam as merely a "derivative", as if it somehow cannot, or may not, be a full member of this group.

That's actually the same point I was trying to make :)

And the programming metaphor - not to mention the movie sequel metaphor - must surely be heretical to someone out there.

It is to me, but if I'd flame out at everything I'd call heretical I'd have to drive around with a truck of gasoline and get a new filling every evening. I never really saw the point of getting overly worked up at other oppinions, at least if the holders of those oppinions aren't just parroting what they heared in the news and have no real Idea about. Which is definitaley not the case here.

Tony said...

Raymond:

"I thought it was the arguments over canon and the relative importance of minor characters that resemble the Hundred Years War that makes certain SW/ST fans crap..."

No, that's what makes any uber-fan of any franchise crap.

Raymond said...

Tony:

Hey now, it's standard practice in baseball.

Chris said...

Wait, Jedidia. English isn't my first language. By saying it "was the point you're trying to make", did you mean you agree that Islam shouldn't be seen as a derivation? Or was the point that you're trying to make, that Islam IS derivative? Personally, I hope you meant the former.

As for the rest: you clearly know your Bible a lot better than I do, and you make a very compelling case for Christ *implying* his messianism. The only counter argument I can hope to give is what I said before: that is messianic tendencies increase as the source is more recent. So you would have the least hints of his messianism in Mark and Q, then increasingly so in Matthew and Luke, and Jesus' messianism would be most explicit in John.

Then again, not every Christian (or even some scholars, but these have mostly died out by now) presume the existence of Q, or acknowledge Markan priority.

Furthermore, I have no idea in which gospels the implications you mentioned occur. If, say, Jesus' mode of adress, or his claim to be greater than Moses, occurs in John, then I could argue it is evidence of increasing messianism in the sources. If, however, it's already present in Mark, then BAM goes my hypothesizing.

Add to that, the fact that the only Bible I currently have with me is in Frisian, and I'm NOT going to plough through all that reading material in a minority language I have yet to master.

Tony said...

Re: Jedidia

Andrew explicitly called Jesus the Messiah in John 1:41.

Tony said...

Hey guys, remember, the Messiah can't call himself the Messiah. He can only be recognized as the Messiah by the people. Thus the reference to Andrew.

Chris said...

At Tony; on Anthony identifying Jesus as the Messias... Why can't he call himself the Messiah? Specifically, is it stated without any ambiguity in the Synoptic Gospels that he can't do so? Because you quote from John, which isn't Synoptic.

For the non-believing scholar of Christianity: the Gospel according to John is assumed to have been written at the end of the first century, or the beginning of the second century. That's long after Jesus' death. It's also precisely in the timeframe where Jedidia and I agreed that Early Christianity became quite definately removed from its Judaic origins. Thence, it's not surprising, as I've pointed out before, that identifying Jesus as the Messiah is most pronounced, most present, in John.

Rick said...

My commenters, in general, know far too much. Though it certainly helps keep threads going with minimal additional input on my part.

The exact relationship between Islam and the other Abrahamic faiths is way above my pay grade, but IIRC that early Byzantine accounts of it did indeed describe it as a Christian heresy. A natural perspective, I imagine, if your prior taxonomy of religions was basically Christianity, Judaism, and paganism.

On Star Wars and Star Trek, I'd argue that Trek:TOS, at least, was far closer to hard SF than Star Wars ever was - it had typical SF tropes of the time, and certainly did not have the high-fantasy-like elements of Star Wars.

The oddest arguments, IMHO, have been tech superiority arguments between Trek and Star Wars, which as I once before remarked on this blog, is like asking why World Cup contenders never go for a touchdown ....

Chris said...

Though the Tech-argument between Star Wars and Star Trek certainly wasn't helped when Trek: TOS ascribed certain capacities to the weaponry's power in real-world terms. And then when Curtis Saxton wrote the "Incredible Cross-Section" books (yes! That's the title) for Star Wars Ep. II and III, he ALSO described the weapon's capabilities in real-world terms, and consciously made them MUCH more powerful than Star Trek's weapons. Of course, the ICS books from Star Wars were writtin in the 00s, and Star Trek was from the 60s, and the debate has been raging for decennia. Saxton was obviously trying to "win" the argument to Star Wars' favour, but obviously Trekkies wouldn't accept such a direct manner of winning. And so the discussion raged forth...

Tony said...

Re: Chris

Kind of meta, and based on what is probably misrembered from high school religion classes, but AIUI there had been numerous previous claimants to the title "Messiah" or "Christ". One of the distinctions of Christianity was supposedly that He didn't say so, the Apostles did it for Him. That supposedly made the story more credible.

Of course, there's the whole "the way, the truth, and the life" thing from John 14:6. But that's about Jesus's perceived personal relationship with God, not whether the people should proclaim him the Annointed One.

Tony said...

Raymond:

"Hey now, it's standard practice in baseball."

Which is why I try to be nothing more than an enthusiast and a student, both of my team and the game as a whole. Fanaticism is not my cup of tea.

Milo said...

Rick:

"My commenters, in general, know far too much."

Is this a "mafia coming to kill us" know-too-much?


"The exact relationship between Islam and the other Abrahamic faiths is way above my pay grade, but IIRC that early Byzantine accounts of it did indeed describe it as a Christian heresy."

Although I know you're referring to the literal Byzantine Empire, I can't help but notice how the English adjective meaning of "byzantine" would fit into that sentence... ;)


"The oddest arguments, IMHO, have been tech superiority arguments between Trek and Star Wars,"

Which is essentially pointless, because you just know that in a crossover matchup between Conan the Barbarian and a Star Trek redshirt, the former is going to win, superiority of military technology be damned.

Rick said...

Since the uses of the word 'byzantine' was brought up, a bit I wrote on the crusading era for a website. Scroll down to the second subhead on 'Perfect Gentle Knight' and read the first couple of sentences ...

Thucydides said...

Chris:

Although the first Star Wars movie might be copied from "The Hidden Fortress", Akira Kurosawa was never above borrowing from Western sources. "Throne of Blood" is an adaptation of Macbeth, and "Ran" can be considered a reworking of King Lear.

Kurosawa also adapted Russian authors as Maxim Gorky and Fyodor Dostoyevsky, so Cinema, like Religion, borrows and cross fertilizes heavily.

Chris said...

Re Thucydides: Fair point. I concede. Thing is... I still love Star Wars out of sheer nostalgia, but the older I get, the more holes appear to pick in it. Am I, as Raymond, an apostate now? Hehe.

Also: you made perfectly clear (again, you're not the first) that I really should have watched more than one Kurosawa film, of which I cannot even remember the title....

Jedidia said...

So you would have the least hints of his messianism in Mark and Q, then increasingly so in Matthew and Luke, and Jesus' messianism would be most explicit in John.

err... what is "Q"?

Anyways, here's a few examples in that regard:

The imprisoned John the baptist sends a messanger to Jesus to ask him if he is the one or if they should wait for another one. Jesus answers by a for our understanding somewhat cryptic passage with reference to the blind seeing, the lame walking, the deaf hearing and the dead being raised up. and "the poor hear the good news". This is old testament messianic prophecy. These five miracles described in it are expected from the messiah, a kind of trademark if you will, as is the good news. This passage is from Mathew, but it is utterly clear in its message if set into the right context.


There are similiarly cryptic, but messages in Luke, like for example his preach in a synagogue where he recites a piece of Messianic prophecy from the OT and adds "these words are today fullfilled before your eyes". I have to admitt that Mark is a bit shorter in supply of such things, but there's something else in there: Jesus meeting with Elija and Moses, which is at least a clear message to the three disciples with him at the moment (who admittedly seem to be pretty stoned after the occurance, so I guess raising questions about wheather or not they remembered everything of that correctly are justified).
His "triumphant" entry in Jerusalem is also described in Mathew, not in John.



Wait, Jedidia. English isn't my first language. By saying it "was the point you're trying to make", did you mean you agree that Islam shouldn't be seen as a derivation? Or was the point that you're trying to make, that Islam IS derivative? Personally, I hope you meant the former.

Not my first language ether, and since you have a Friesian Bible with you I can only assume that we'd understand each other better if we'd write in german, but that would be a bit out of place here...

Anyways, yes, my comment meant agreement with you on that point.


As to why Jesus didn't call himself the Messiah openly, well... in his own word "because my time has not arrived yet". The major goal behind the Messiah thing was to get him crucified for the sins of mankind, but he also needed enough time beforehand to leave behind a core-group of followers. Standing there and shouting "I am the Messiah" would pretty much get him killed instantly.

And to Star Trek vs. Star Wars: I think TOS had a pretty clear concept of its technology before starting the show, while Star Wars didn't even bother about it and left making the stuff up to the fanboys later on (Hydro-Wrench?? made the Kessel-run in under 12 parsec? Hyperspace motivator? Huh?).

Later Trek definitaley kinda adapted the aproach and seemed to change the physics and technologic capabilities to whatever the plot needs them to be, leaving it to the fan boys to figure out some strange kind of logic and continuity in the whole mess. As superiority of technology goes, I guess Star Wars has the more advanced tech, since they have a republic spanning the entire galaxy for a couple of thousand years, while the galaxy in Star Trek is still pretty much in the grand explorer's era.

Thucydides said...

Warhammer 40K, ST vs SW. When will Bablyon 5 and Firefly make their grand entrance into the Rocketpunk Universe? (heh)

Raymond said...

Thucydides:

Did anyone ever figure out Book's denomination?

And Bab5 was mentioned somewhere upthread, at least in passing.

Mangaka2170 said...

Yeah, I brought up Foundationism, a Human faith invented for the show.

Religiosity in Firefly seems to be mostly a border/rim world thing, where people can't depend on technology as much as in the core. However, it should be noted that Whedon and some of the other writers have said that Inara was a Buddhist, although it was never explicitly seen in the show (also, the Companion guild appears to be a pseudo-religious organization in its traditions and seemingly inviolable laws).

Book's denomination was probably left intentionally vague, most likely because none of the writers knew much about the various Christian faiths. Ron Glass (the actor who played Book), wanted to add a more Buddhist feel to the character (as he's a Buddhist himself), but Whedon said no because Inara already had that covered. When I introduced him to the show, my dad (who is Roman Catholic clergy and a judge of canon law) was irritated at the vagueness of Book's faith, and suggested that they simply make him a Dominican monk. As I do not share his knowledge on the subject, I'm going to assume that the Dominican faith is similar to how Book was portrayed.

Also, Firefly did touch on the ship-has-a-household-god thing with Kaylee and how Serenity "talks" to her (and humorously played up in the last episode when River claims to be incorporeally possessing the ship, and even got the bounty hunter who was looking for her to believe it).

Tony said...

Mangaka2170:

"...my dad (who is Roman Catholic clergy..."

???

Mangaka2170 said...

He's a deacon in the Roman Catholic church. An assistant to the priest, if you will (not unlike how a nurse is an assistant to the doctor).

Tony said...

Ahhh...to the degree that I received a Christian upbringing, it was by my Missouri Synod Lutheran grandmother. I also went to an Evangelical Lutheran church school for 4th-6th grades. In both churches, deacons are lay ministers.

It might avoid confusion in the future for you to say "deacon", rather than "clergy". Whatever the clerical standing within a church, decaons tend to do similar things.

Raymond said...

Except in the Mormons, where Deacons are twelve and Priests are sixteen, and both are in the junior version of the priesthood. They give you the senior version when you go on your mission. (Never got that far, myself.)

Chris said...

Re Jedidia:
Matthew and Luke have a huge number of shared content, which isn't derived from Mark. The shared content in Matthew and Luke are mostly Jesus' sayings. Interestingly, the way these sayings are then explicated tends to differ between Matthew and Luke. This leads scholars of religion to suspect a hypothetical document, called "Q", after German "Quelle", or "source" in English. The Q-document, as hypothesized, would contain Jesus' sayings, but not their explication, from which Matthew and Luke drew as a common source.

It would basically be a list of Jesus' sayings. Of course, no such document is known to exist, or references to such a document. Which, if it had existed, would have been highly valuable to them Early Christians we talked about before. Alternative methods of transmission have been suggested, such as a (non-documented) oral tradition of those sayings, which got incorporated into both Matthew and Luke. You still call that a "document" for academic purposes, so "Q-document" remains the current name for it.

It is commonly accepted to be a real thing by scholars, and also the clergy. Don't know since when the church (or... churches) started that acceptance, though.

You name pretty tempting Messianic claims from Matthew. I can go on and argue "it's still only from Matthew, which is probably the latest of the Synoptic Gospels, and it might not be from Q or Mark, but original to Matthew", but that would nitpicking. Let's just say that untill I know more, I'll accept that Jesus makes (implied) Messianic claims in the Synoptic Gospels and John. Remarkable guy. And I'll have to do some reading, then.

Also: great we agree on the Islam thing. I sincerely mean that.

And to wrap up: my English is far better than my German, I'm afraid. I can pull off a reasonably convincing British accent, even. I can read German just fine, but unfortunately cannot speak or write it. I mean that. Perhaps if we tried Dutch :D

Anyway, I'm anxious to see how this thread goes on. Really like the discussion so far. Cheerio people, and Jedidia in particular

Thucydides said...

Hmmmm Religion in Cinematic SF.

Lets go to Metropolis, where the Feudal overlords of the city worship Mammon (or perhaps Baal, if Freder's vision is to be believed [subnote; I realize there are many versions of Metropolis due to decades of editing, I'm going with a "new" version I saw in 2001]), and practice an extreme version of Taylorism on the work force. (Real capitalists would be ruthlessly crushed by these guys, if they didn't end up working in the underground factories)

Down in the depths of the city, Maria preaches a form of Christianity(?) to the workers, particularly the arrival of a Messiah (the Mediator) who repair the rift between the Feudal overlords and the workers.

Of course we have temptation and sin (courtesy of Rotwang and his diabolical robot creature), and a bit of the real book of Revelation thrown in during Freder's breakdown, and finally a showdown between good and evil, the destruction of the old system and the arrival of the Mediator to restore balance and make things right.

Not bad for a silent movie with large chunks still missing at the time of viewing.

Jedidia said...

Perhaps if we tried Dutch :D

ahhh... I forgott that the netherlands have a friesian population too...

Lets go to Metropolis, where the Feudal overlords of the city worship Mammon

I don't know how far the parallel to an actually practised religion can be drawn here. The upper class is driving a mercyless industrial capitalism, so they could be considered worshipping "Mammon" in an alegorical way (Mammon became a pretty universal symbol for money and wealth). However, Freder's breakdown-induced vision reveals the Alegory to the worship of the God Moloch, which was infamous in the Old Testament as a god demanding human sacrifices (children and young males, specifically), and has therefore become a widespread alegory for any system that exploits people to their deaths. So this certainly isn't a concously believed or practiced religion, it is an allegory that relates the mindset of the upper class to religious and mythological imigery for the sake of revealing the problems inherent in it.
Maria's aproach seems much more of real religious character, though. I don't think the name was chosen accidentally either...

Chris said...

Also, if I remember my courses that dealt with this film well, the point of the movie seems to make was that neither a worker-run world (which would be socialism or communism, depending on flavour) or the capitalist-run world (what with the mammon/moloch none too subtle symbolism) works.

The idea that Fritz Lang presents, then is one of compromise. In real-world terms: a social-democracy like much of Western Europe has nowadays, where a free market is combined with a number of archetpyically socialist provisions. If I remember it right, in Metropolis this is represented by the union of Maria (working class) and Freder (upper class) despite the attempts of sabotage by the hegemony (machine-Maria, I guess).

Really, given the way Western Europe ended up, Metropolis certainly fits Science Fiction's bill of being visionary I guess.

Also, I don't know if Gramsci's theory of hegemonic domination existed yet by the time the film was made, and I'm therefore imagining the significance of the machine-Maria here.

Tony said...

Re: Chris

The problem that many perceive with social democracy is that socialism seems to inevitable destroy democracy (in the long run -- please don't point to current conditions as proof of anything). Either autocratic government is explicitly adopted, or democracy becomes mobocracy, restricting personal freedom and independence in the name of community good. Maybe social democracy is an inevitable development, but it is probably not an ultimate solution. It's just a temporary balance between the centrifiugal forces of communitarianism and individualism.

WRT to Gramsci, like all socialist intellectuals, he relegates the worker to a life of manual labor. He can't see that the working class is not constant, does not want to be constant, and that the proletariat adopting bourgeois values is not the consequence of bourgeois cultural hegemony, but a genuine desire for upward mobility into a level of sociey where those values are relevant.

Raymond said...

Tony:

"It's just a temporary balance between the centrifiugal forces of communitarianism and individualism."

Not necessarily temporary. Could be a stable orbit. The social democracies have been relatively stable and relatively prosperous for half a century now - no mean feat given what preceded it.

Tony said...

Raymond:

"You are of course welcome to disagree, but I'm a frim believer that no human government is ultimately stable. The Roman Republic lasted almost 500 years before the institution of the Principate. 50 years is nothing."

Milo said...

So the question is, wben/if social democracy is outgrown, will it be replaced by the resurgence of an earlier form of government, or by the development of a new form of government completely unlike anything that came before?



Jedidia:

"ahhh... I forgott that the netherlands have a friesian population too..."

...I didn't know that somewhere other than the Netherlands has a Frisian population.

Raymond said...

Tony:

Of course no human government is fully stable. But the Republic looks very different between the start of those 500 years and the end. Do we count civil wars? The rise of the plebes? How much change to a state before we consider it a new one? If we can agree to overlook the Interregnum, Britain's managed to exist fairly continuous fashion for just shy of eight hundred years (putting the Republic to shame). How much stock do we put in that sort of continuity? (I don't think many will really credit Britain as we know it as anything close to the same thing as England circa the Magna Carta.)

We can make the same arguments about religions, too (to bring this back towards the thread-at-large). the RC church has been in continuous existence for nearly seventeen centuries (handwaving an antipope or two in the middle, of course). The current form would be utterly unrecognizable to Aquinas. Do we count it as the same?

Milo:

I don't think the social democracy has outlived its usefulness quite yet. We'll have to see how some of the economic shifts sort themselves out before we get a better handle on their life expectancy.

Thucydides said...

WRT continuity

This is a difficult one to consider. Ancient Egyptian gods were worshipped in essentially the same form for thousands of years (one small instance of a heretic, but otherwise everything is pretty static). The Classical Greek gods (and the worldview that the universe was out to get them) seems to have survived relatively intact from the earlier Mycenaean civilization, and the Romans adopted much of that wholesale until fairly late ino the Empire, when "mystery" religions and Sol Invictus battled for supremacy (and an obscure Jewish cult began making inroads)

Other religions like Hinduism and shinto have very ancient roots, and I would guess the various MesoAmerican religions would have remained stable except for a rather unfortunate encounter with the Spanish in the 1500's....

Republics seem to have a lifespan of about 4-500 years; the Res Publica Roma and the Serenìsima Repùblica Vèneta both lasted about that long (but of course many short lived republics can also be pointed to; if 400 years represents the maximum lifespan then the United States is about 1/2 way through its life span).

I would guess that religion's lifespan is tied to the underlying culture; so long as the culture (Huntington's "civilization") survives, then institutions like religion and government will survive as well. Anyone want to place a bet Christianity will start to be displaced in the 2400's?

Rick said...

Most of our historical experience is from the agrarian age, and may not be applicable to post industrial civilization.

But for what it is worth, Western political thought, almost from the beginning, has stressed a balance of forces and interests, and contemporary social democracy is very much in that tradition.

Chris said...

Given Milo's, Raymond's and Rick's arguments for social democracy, I really don't have much to add.

When Tony says "The problem that many perceive with social democracy is that socialism seems to inevitable destroy democracy (in the long run -- please don't point to current conditions as proof of anything)" that is in no way a falsifiable statement. Or verifiable, please read the correct word here. We only have "current conditions" to draw our conclusions on. Unless clairvoyance has been discovered while I wasn't looking, there is no way to claim a predetermined course of developments. Yes, it has gone wrong in the past, but those were attempts at a true socialist state, not the compromise of social democracy that has been working extremely well for the past 60 years, and has meant an unprecedented era of peace for Western Europe since its inception. Perhaps the only exception is the Weimar Republic, but the level of implementation can be doubted, and the collapse of it certainly wasn't the fault of social democracy, unless SocDem magically generated the Great Depression somehow...

Also, Tony seems to have a radically different understanding of Gramsci's notions than what I got taught in university.

In any case I propose we let this discussion on social democracy slide. I feel it's heavily dependant on the background, on where we're coming from, and cannot therefore be resolved within the scope of this thread.

Re Jedidia; on Frisians in Germany and the Netherlands. I could not resist telling everyone about this in any case, so here's the low down:
There are three areas where Frisian languages are still spoken:

The Province of Fryslân in the Netherlands. Here they speak Westerlauwers Frisian (= Frisian to the west of the river Lauwers). This is commonly called "West Frisian", though technically that is a different area in the Netherlands. That West-Frisia lies in the Province of North-Holland, and they speak a Hollandic dialect with a Frisian substrate.

Westerlauwers Frisian is the most prominent Frisian language, with almost half a million speakers. The total population of Fryslân is slightly over half a million.

Then, in Germany, in Niedersachsen, we have the region called East Frisia; Ost Friesland. Here they don't speak a Frisian language, but a Low Saxon dialect with a Frisian substrate (akin to West Frisian, which a Hollandic dialect with a Frisian substrate). However, within East Frisia lies Saterland, where "true" East Frisian is spoken, by less than 3000 people.
Then, in Schleswig-Holstein, on the coast of the North Sea very close to Denmark, there are a few thousand speakers of North Frisian. This is the least-Frisian Frisian language: in the Viking Age and the Early Middle Ages it came under heavy influence from Danish, and afterwards Low Saxon. Whilst East Frisian (or Saterfrisian) is still quite recognizably Frisian, in North Frisian this is much more obscure.

Westerlauwers Frisian, having the largest community of speakers, and the greatest level of linguistical emancipation, has become the second state language of the Netherlands, a moderately high presence in the educational system, and a proportionally huge literary production. Germany, however, has a very bad track record of taking care of its minority languages (just go ask the Sorbians in Lusatia), and Saterfrisian and North Frisian are under heavy threat of extinction.

Magna Frisia from the Early Middle Ages stretched from Flanders in Belgium to Ost Frisland in Germany. North Frisia was colonized by Frisian settlers after the local Angles and Saxon had migrated to England.

Rick said...

Reputedly Frisian is the 'closest' language to English: 'Good bread and good cheese is good English and good Fries.' (Does that actually work, as spoken?)

There is also a saying that a language is a dialect with an army and ministry of education; if Scotland had remained independent the closest language to English would be Scots, and semi-intelligible. (Bearing in mind that spoken English is sometimes barely inter-intelligible.)

Chris said...

RE Rick: you're very close to mark!

First a note, because this may be relevant: in Scotland there are basically three languages to take into consideration:

Highland Scottish, which is a Celtic language.
Scottish English: what Scotty from TOS spoke. Basically the English dialects in Scotland.

Lowland Scots: the important one. This is a language seperate from English, and together with Frisian and English, these constitute the three main languages of the "Anglo-Frisian" group.

And yes, these Anglo-Frisian languages have unique (in linguistic terms: "progressive") features amongst the Germanic languages, and you mentioned a few already, mr. Robinson.

English "green" is pronounced identically to Frisian "grien", the same goes for "good" and Frisian "goed". Identical pronunciation, but notice the different spelling: Frisian orthography is based on Dutch, whilst English infamously simply stopped updating its spelling sometime in the 1700's, if you'll allow the exageration.

Anglo-Frisian gets really interesting when it gets more involved, such as a systematic change from a "k" sound, to "ts(j)".

Dutch "kerk", German "Kirche", but then Frisian "tsjerke", and finally English "church"; notice how in Frisian only the first "k" changed, but in English both "k"-sounds became a "ch" in church.

Another example: Dutch "kaas", German "käse", then Frisian "tsiis" and English "cheese". Of course, intuitively, "tsiis" and "cheese" might read like radically different words, but the pronunciation is, again, identical.

A few "Anglo-Frisian" features occur only in Frisian and Lowland Scots, but not in English: the word "children" in Frisian is "bern", in Scottish "bairn", which is a far cry from "children", or Dutch "kinderen" or German "Kindern". Notice, however, how again in English the "k" changed to that "ch"-sound.

Chris said...

Addendum: the rhyme Rick posted is indeed correct, although "Fries" should be spelt "Frysk" when referring to the language.

English:
'Good bread and good cheese is good English and good Fries/Frese/Frysk.'

Frisian:
'Goed brea en goed tsiis is goed Ingelsk en goed Frysk'

There are also versions that go "Butter, bread and green cheese'/'Bûter, brea en griene tsiis'

"A language is a dialect with an army and a navy" is a famous aphorism by Yiddish linguist Max Weinreich. And it is, indeed, true. The linguistical community which through historical fortune ended up with the economic and political power, is the one calling the shots.

The case about the Scots and the English Rick made is an excellent example. Most of the Scottish struggles after they got incorporated in the UK, were about getting their own monarchy back so the balance of power could shift in their (and their linguistical community's) favour again.

Rick said...

As one little oddity note, it is conventional in modern academic writing (in English) about the Reformation in Scotland to speak of established Scottish Protestantism as the Kirk. (Another Trek reference!)

I put it in this wordy way because I have no idea whether the official church of Scotland is still called the Kirk. In any case, the pronunciation presumably reflects Norse influence in medieval Scots and northern English.

Chris said...

Yep, in Lowland Scots the Church is called the Kirk. Notice how this didn't change according to the sound shifts we saw from Du. "kerk" to En. "church", or "kaas" and "cheese".

It could be either as Rick says, a more recent word stemming from the Danelaw (Norse influence) which therefore didn't shift its sound, or it's unchanged simply because of the whims of language change. In Frisian, the word for church is "tsjerke", which only has the shift in the first "k" sound to "ch".

Fun little aside: the English word "skirt" is from Norse. They had their own cognate, which in accordance to the sound shift was "shirt". So these two words were originally the same, one natively English, one a loanword. But skirt/shirt has since shifted in meaning, so the two words now stand on their own.

Scott said...

Raymond said:
4) I find it useful to distinguish between morals and ethics when discussing codes of behavior. The former is personal and internally generated from a number of factors, whereas the latter is external and derived from group consensus.

Funny, my business ethics (no snickering there in the back!) class defines those two terms the opposite.

Morals are the group consensus of how to act. "The moral of the story is..." and so on.

Ethics are how an individual ought to act, regardless of the cultural beliefs.

=====

And for a chunk of weirdness, my first ship, the USS Georgia, had a different 'personality' than my second ship, the Kentucky. Several people attributed the difference to the builders. You see, the Georgia was built by union guys with a huge pride in what they did. You could see it in the welds, how everything lined up, all the little details. Georgia was like a Rolls Royce or a Ferrari.

The Kentucky was finished by strikebreakers, who didn't seem to care how good a job they did. I saw brackets and fittings welded in upside down, she pulled to the left at high speed, and the whole ship just *felt* different, even though the two ships were nearly identical.

Sailors are *still* deeply superstitious, don't let anyone tell you different!

Anonymous said...

The thought has occured to me that off-world colonies (dirtside or orbital), would carry their religions with them from the home world, where it would mutate in response to its new enviornment. Just as cultural norms would change in response to the pressures these new enviornments present, then too should religion be pushed into new forms by those same social/enviornmental pressures. In the next few centuries, we could see dozens of new sects or branches of the traditional religions; in some cases, we might even see fusions of two or more religions, again based on enviornmental pressures (the population doesn't have the resources or space to support seperate places of worship so they share; then over time, merge); very old or obscure religions might make a comeback in remote/isolated outposts. The next several centures might see an explosion in religious diversity off-world, while in turn, we could see a resurgance in the traditional religions back on Earth, since there is a safety valve off-world for desenters and the religious adventerous.

Ferrell

Rick said...

I am not surprised that sailors remain superstitious - the sea is an extremely changeful and uncertain environment.

Programmers also strike me as rather superstitious, though in a different way - think of how much the language of magic has pervaded programming. Computers may be deterministic, but programming them tends to be full of surprises.

These points, taken together, raise interesting questions about what to expect of spacehands.


Re skirt/shirt, another odd bit of word history. Our word 'wing' comes from Norse, displacing the native English word fethra - I can't do the funky OE letter for 'th'. Which of course survived with a slightly changed meaning as 'feather.'

So if it weren't for the Vikings we might talk about the feather-span of the 747.

Tony said...

Scott:

"Funny, my business ethics (no snickering there in the back!) class defines those two terms the opposite.

Morals are the group consensus of how to act. "The moral of the story is..." and so on.

Ethics are how an individual ought to act, regardless of the cultural beliefs."


No laughing here. I took a business ethics class too. One of the students was the guy that ran the local independent ISP. It was kind of funny to see his surprise at some of the cases that were discussed in class. He had never been exposed to the corporate world and his idea of business was aranging a win-win trade between a seller and a buyer.

Anywho, yes, moral codes are a form of cultural consensus. Ethics are about how people actually behave. Then there is the middle ground of professional ethics, where a pseudo-moral code is developed based on experience of what is best for a certain class of people to do not only in their own interest, but also the interest of their profession.

Re: ships and personalities

The personality of a ship (or a plane, or tank, or automobile, or any sufficiently complex technological artifact) is first a consequence of overall design. A certain type of vehicle will handle in a certain way based on how it interacts with the medium, how much power it has, how well balanced it might be, etc. Fighter planes, for example, are deisgned to have a lively, unstable personality. Bombers and cargo aircraft are designed to be stable and generally forgiving of the pilot.

But, as Scott points out, individual examples of the same class of ship or aircraft can have widely varying behaviors. This is because no two ships (or whatever) have been built, maintained, and handled in the same way.

BTW, Scott...pulled to the left at high speed? Doesn't that happen to all boats due to torque from the screw?

Tony said...

Rick:

"Programmers also strike me as rather superstitious, though in a different way - think of how much the language of magic has pervaded programming. Computers may be deterministic, but programming them tends to be full of surprises."

Programmer invocation of magic and mythology is for comic effect. A lot of it (like the existence and properties of bogons) is in-jokes.

"These points, taken together, raise interesting questions about what to expect of spacehands."

I think spacefarers will develop a relationship with the vacuum (in all its various forms) similar to that that sailors have with the sea.

Raymond said...

Scott, Tony:

Insert snark about business having it backwards.

The definitions get fuzzy and overlap a fair amount. I mostly determine which is which by observing context of usage. Business (and professional organizations) cite "ethical" violations when castigating individuals for proscribed behavior. Religions (at least Western ones) speak of "morals" alongside virtues and principles as individual traits - which are perhaps expected to be shared by all in the group.

I'd even venture as far as saying the confusion is inherently part of a secular state, wherein codes of behavior expected of all can differ greatly from those of any particular group or individual.

Raymond said...

"I think spacefarers will develop a relationship with the vacuum (in all its various forms) similar to that that sailors have with the sea."

Except with less poetry about the smell.

Milo said...

Vacuum may not have its own smell, but spaceships do. Sound, too.

Space does, meanwhile, have much to look at.

jollyreaper said...

Spacesuits have a particular smell when they come in from outside, especially if they've been tromping around on a rock somewhere. If I recall correctly, the Apollo astronauts described a sort of gunsmoke smell from the lunar regolith oxidizing when exposed to the cabin air.

The thing that I think would be common with spacers is the warring of the rational with the irrational. I know that even the most hardheaded and science-minded person can get spooked in the right circumstances. They'll laugh off these concerns in daylight but in the dark of night all the irrational primal fears come bubbling up to the surface.

A friend of mine had much of his extended family working in the coal mines of West Virginia. You had all sorts of spook stories coming out of that. Sure, the skeptics will loudly proclaim that the miners are just pulling your leg, having some fun with the townies, but you'd be able to convince very few of them to actually go down into the abandoned sections, miles from another human being.

In terms of extreme environments capable of doing serious damage to the human psyche, space seems to have it all. Isolation, alien and impersonal environments, confinement, many ways to kill you for making the least mistake, and just being freakin' endless. I don't even like standing near the edge of high places and with space you're looking down between your feet and there's nothing beyond but an endless emptiness between you and the edge of the universe. i don't care if you intellectually know you can't fall if you let go of your ship, you're not going to go plunging out of the solar system and fall to that edge, you'll be held by solar gravity. But what makes you think a mind in the middle of a freakout is going to be anything like rational?

We give names and descriptions to things that we cannot understand, as if in the naming we are somehow taming it, making it into something we can relate to, understand. It's not that much further of a step to invent superstitions to provide some measure of imaginary control over things that are completely beyond control. We fool ourselves but this is nothing new.

There's people who have survived ocean disasters who insist on living as far from the ocean as the continents will allow for. I could imagine someone surviving a serious space disaster will want to move dirtside. I can imagine him not even wanting to leave the house at night for fear of seeing the stars and sleeps with the lights on.

Scott said...

@ Tony: The Georgia didn't pull, and that class has big honking stabilizer plates at the end of the stern planes. Besides, a good engineer can adjust the 'lift' coming from the sail to cancel that effect. It's just that the Kentucky's sail was slightly (maybe 1/4", it's a BIG foil section) off the mark. I think.

@ Raymond: Well, you have to give a working definition somewhere, and all those stories tend to imply that morals are what people actually do in society, while ethics are what they ought to do. As long as we both agree on which version of the definition we're using for this discussion, we should be good.

For the really nasty comment of the day, that same business ethics class defines my behavior as 'intentionally amoral'. The best description of that personality/belief system is 'Business and ethics don't intersect'.

That said, I have strongly-held personal beliefs that I am unwilling to bend, as long as I'm not working. However, if it was part of my job, I would not think twice about, say, pointing a gun at a sillyvilian.

The curse of what I have done in the past, I guess.

Scott said...

@JollyReaper: No kidding.

I was pretty firmly agnostic, pushing atheistic until my first dive. All submariners say there's no such thing as an atheist once decks are awash, but it took me until that first hull pop a couple hundred feet down before I got hit with just how insignificant I was. I definitely found a religion after that.

I note that even the Protestants make reference to either Rahab or St. Christopher, and sometimes even Neptune or Poseidon if they're really scared...

Chris said...

Re Scott, Tony and Rick. Yes, I'll reply in one go, since I just had a luminous notion.
Rick mentioned a measure of ritualism. Tony said these were in-jokes rather than genuine ritual. But Scott said even protestant sailors make obeisance to St. Christopher or Neptune (amongst others he named).

But isn't it fundamentally the same thing? Humans are biologically hardwired to develop repetitive behaviour. There is a very fine line between "routine" and "ritual". It's a 'better safe than sorry'-mentality, I think, just how kids know Santa doesn't exist, but suddenly don't want to take that chance come Christmas.

Think of it as a Pascal's wager. Sure, the programmer's know their wacky pseudo-rituals are just in-jokes, but you have to wonder at what point, after all these years, they repeat the joke because they're genuinely funny, or because every programmer up till now repeated them. And when its reproduction for reproduction's sake (to use the semiotic term), it already veers very close to ritual, if it isn't that already.

I recall that some things in the Bible make no sense to us now, unless we're told the theological explanation. And even though the (later) theological explanation makes sense, why it's originally in the Bible is because it's a cultural artifact. A lot of what's in the New Testament refers to first-century culture, but that's lost to us now because we have a radically different cultural framework.

So it doesn't matter if Protestant sailors pay heed to Neptune or Poseidon. If computer programmers joke about the properties of bogons, or aircraft designer lament the lack of unobtanium to construct a fuselage with. In-joke or not, it definately carries the seed of ritualism. Of reproduction of the act, for the sake of reproduction, not for the sake of the act.

The repetition makes us feel a little more comfortable.

Re Rick: the þ and ð on my keyboard are hidden under the Alt key. It's Alt+t = þ, and Alt+d = ð. Also, Alt+s makes ß, which should come in handy for German, and Alt+z = æ, if you want some fancy digraphs in your Latin.
I read somewhere that the word for "feather" was "feðere", and the word for both "feather" and "wing" was "feþra". The "feðere"/"feþra" switch seems like a simple process, I just forgot the name for it. They used to be the same word. But if Norse hadn't intervened, I would guess the two words would have drifted, untill "feþra" only referred to "wing", and "feðere" only to "feather". But we can only guess.

jollyreaper said...

@scott so, what sort of religion did you find, something off the shelf or something a little more ad hoc? Religious iconoclasts I find interesting, specifically the kind who aren't just going through the motions taught by their parents but who have made an intensive study of the scriptures and come up with a radically different interpretation that strips away the hypocrisy that naturally accumulates over the years. You tell a fundie Jesus would be more like a hippie than a pink-scrubbed teleevangelist and heads explode. Yup. Jewish socialist urging the rich to give away their wealth and for everyone to act out of love instead of fear. Many, many observers have said if there was a second coming, he'd get the cross again and it would be the most ostentateously pious Christians driving the nails.

Milo said...

Jollyreaper:

"Sure, the skeptics will loudly proclaim that the miners are just pulling your leg, having some fun with the townies, but you'd be able to convince very few of them to actually go down into the abandoned sections, miles from another human being."

This is not superstition, this is common sense.

Mining is widely reputed to be a dangerous occupation with (relatively) common lethal accidents. There are various known-in-general-yet-hard-to-detect-specific-occurences-of dangers of the underground, such as suffocation/poisoning from natural gasses, or cave-ins from poorly reinforced tunnels. (None of these have anything to do with angry ghosts.) In such a work environment, it simply makes sense to travel together and have someone watch your back. Additionally sensible people are going to stay away from the more remote parts of the mine unless they have a reason to be there.

jollyreaper said...


"Sure, the skeptics will loudly proclaim that the miners are just pulling your leg, having some fun with the townies, but you'd be able to convince very few of them to actually go down into the abandoned sections, miles from another human being."

This is not superstition, this is common sense.

Mining is widely reputed to be a dangerous occupation with (relatively) common lethal accidents. There are various known-in-general-yet-hard-to-detect-specific-occurences-of dangers of the underground, such as suffocation/poisoning from natural gasses, or cave-ins from poorly reinforced tunnels. (None of these have anything to do with angry ghosts.) In such a work environment, it simply makes sense to travel together and have someone watch your back. Additionally sensible people are going to stay away from the more remote parts of the mine unless they have a reason to be there.


Yeah. And that's the story I'll stick with in case anyone asks. But truth be told, the thought of going down there gives me the screamin' heebie-jeebies. No way, no how. Same reason why as a kid I could never swim in water where I couldn't see the bottom. What's down there? What's sitting just barely beyond the reach of my toes, waiting to touch me? It could be anything but certainly not nothing! And even when I know what's down there, I don't like going in the ocean past where I can see the sand on the bottom.

You're trying to be rational. Some people will be weirded out by the thought of doing X and won't come near it, period. Other people will be fine with X right up until the point where it almost kills them. Superstitious dread, it's out there.

There's a pretty good recent book on rogue waves, tells it from the POV of the scientists who study them and the surfers who ride them.

http://www.amazon.com/Wave-Pursuit-Rogues-Freaks-Giants/dp/0767928849

The surfers have access to satellites and all sorts of science data and the better ones can have an intuitive sense of what the sea is doing. All of them end up with a half-science/half-mystic appreciation for what's out there. They'll talk about the personalities of waves at certain breaks, the mood of the day, and what it feels like to be pretty sure you're about to die. It's completely human nature to default to superstitious awe in the face of such things. And having the contrast of viewpoints between learned neophyte and veteran spacer will make for good fiction.

Tony said...

Re: jollyreaper

You realize, don't you, that you've just made the case that evangelical atheists are pompous tools? If people are going to have their superstitious reactions anyway, for completely understandable and scientifically verifiable human reasons, then making it your business to tell them that they are idiots for just being human is nothing more than making an world class ass out of yourself.

Raymond said...

Tony:

"If people are going to have their superstitious reactions anyway, for completely understandable and scientifically verifiable human reasons, then making it your business to tell them that they are idiots for just being human is nothing more than making an world class ass out of yourself."

Having a reaction and being bound by it are two different things.

Tony said...

Raymond:

"Having a reaction and being bound by it are two different things."

What business is it of anybody's what somebody believes or why they believe it? Oh, I know the standard excuse that people who don't think 100% rationally -- by the secular humanist definition of rationality, of course -- are dangerous to the rest of us and a drag on progress. I happen to think that that is the worst kind of self-serving BS imaginable. Newton was both a Christian and an alchemist. Rickover intentionally sought out religious men because he saw in them integrity and ethical motivations that he did not see humanist and/or atheist scientists. Georges Lemaitre, who introduced the Big Bang theory to cosmology and actively promoted the scientific use of digital computers, was a Catholic priest.

Raymond said...

"What business is it of anybody's what somebody believes or why they believe it?"

It's not, usually, and some of us atheists understand that just fine. It becomes more of an issue with those conflicts of morals and ethics mentioned earlier. When personal beliefs become policy recommendations, the boundaries get blurred and the atheists start pushing back - some of them more obnoxiously than others.

Anonymous said...

Fear is evolutions way of keeping you from getting killed. Superstition is how we rationalize that fear.

Ferrell

Scott said...

@Jollyreaper: It's personal, but the closest analogy I can give is to liken it to Japanese Onmyou. Part shamanism/spirtualism, part buddhist influence, because feng shui works. I don't (yet) know how it works, but I know it works!

Fear is evolutions way of keeping you from getting killed. Superstition is how we rationalize that fear.
Quoted for Truth, Ferrel!

Rick said...

I sprang a few comments - here and on other threads - that had been unjustly thrown in spam jail.

And a very gentle reminder to all to tread lightly in this discussion - we're approaching 200 posts on religion with no flaming, and I very much want to keep it that way.

jollyreaper said...

Ferrell, I love the way you put that. It didn't show up on google... original quote?

Raymond, you took the words out of my mouth. I don't care what anyone's religion is if that's how he wants to live his life. When someone tell me how I'm supposed to live my life, now I have a problem.

I have no problem with someone who thinks homosexuality isn't for them. It's not for me, either. So we'll both be happy not having gay sex, right? But no, there's always going to be people who think that being gay isn't for anyone. And their religious beliefs tell them it's ok to tell other people how to live. I personally don't like abortion and would never want to be irresponsible enough to cause one to happen. It's none of my business to tell someone else how to live their life. If they need one, it's between them and whatever higher power they believe in, if they believe.

If I'm soliciting advice for a course of action and someone says the Lord has laid a hand upon his heart, I'll politely thank him for his input and ask if he has any hard numbers. If someone presents a well-reasoned and practical solution and says God guided his thoughts, I'll take his word on that.

I grew up in the church and I've always had a jaundiced eye towards religious justifications. A lot of times people were just trying to figure out a way to use God to justify something they already wanted to do. Or if someone wasn't being sneaky abou it, they might be making an incredible gamble by saying "God says we should put our faith in him and he will provide!" It was a genuine and heartfelt act of faith which could also be a way of describing an act of complete lunacy. That sort of thing always seemed little removed from snake-handling.

I'd tried the argument of "If God had meant for us to think for ourselves, he would have given us a brain to do so with." That usually got sour looks and scripture quoting. "For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe." http://bible.cc/1_corinthians/1-21.htm

Tony said...

Mindfull of Rick's desire to keep things cool, I'll noly add this:

If a Christian isn't allowed to vote based on his values, why should anybody else be allowed to vote based on his?

jollyreaper said...

Tony, explain how you reconcile the part where values telling the adherent how to live his life bleeds over to telling others how to live theirs.

A man's religion will influence how he votes on issues, it's impossible not to. But the rub comes when we're talking about things like civil rights. They're not supposed to be up for a vote -- that's the tyranny of the majority. If most people in a community don't like black people, tough luck, you still have to treat them like human beings.

From a practical perspective, you may be within your legal rights but not get anywhere trying to enjoy them. You're not going to have any luck opening a bar in a dry county. Trying to change the blue laws to get your business open on Sunday won't work, either. A dance hall in baptist country likely won't last long. It's the will of the community.

I think the slavery debate is so fascinating because people used religion to argue both ways on that one. And we can look squarely at the abortion debate to see that same line of reasoning. If someone is 100% convinced that life begins at conception, then abortion would be murder. If he had any moral conviction of those beliefs then he would have to kill abortionists just the same as if an armed attacker broke into his house at night and threatened his family. Those are his beliefs. But it's also called murder in the eyes of the court, even if he calls it a justifiable homicide in the defense of another. And if we accommodate the anti-abortionist POV, why not criminalize homosexuality or go back to stoning unruly children? That's all in the bible, who are we to prevent a man from practicing his religion?

I can find myself of two minds about these things. I don't think that people should be told how to live their lives except for establishing minimum standards of courtesy and decorum so we can live together. At the same time, there's also behaviors that seem to go beyond the quiet enjoyment stage, where it's no longer personal choice but doing harm to others. Someone buying a 5mpg SUV is engaging in a personal stupidity and there's no law against stupid. I would remove the emissions loopholes that let these monstrosities be considered light trucks instead of passenger vehicles and remove federal subsidies that favor them over reasonable vehicles but I don't think we should legislate against them. The rising cost of gas should take care of that.

But things like outsized Wall Street salaries, corporate greed and lack of accountability, there needs to be some real reform here. There's something fundamentally unjust about the looting class stealing so much of the country's wealth. It's morally unjustified, no matter how many times they quote Gordon Gecko. Greed is not good. Do we define a maximum national income and restore the 90% tax rate? It was good enough for our grandparents in the 50's...

Raymond said...

Being mindful myself...

Tony:

I don't think any of the atheists here would make any such argument. We simply reserve the right to call idiocy upon arguments and predicates which run entirely counter to the evidence (creationism, in particular), and to question (pointedly) the sources of the moral values in question.

I realize, too, that even the atheist arguments have value predicates at their core. No way around that. One can only examine one's own moral code, attempt to discern its origins and influences, and endeavor to make it as consistent as possible.

jollyreaper:

Side-ish note, but did you hear about the proposed law in South Dakota legalizing "protection of a fetus" under justifiable homicide?

jollyreaper said...

On a related note:

http://madmikesamerica.com/2011/02/how-religion-can-remain-relevant-in-21st-century/

Many, including myself, hunger to find meaning in the world that is not purely mechanistic, and is more satisfying than anything traditional religion can offer.

SHARE THIS POST ShareThis
If religion is to ever be taken seriously by people who are capable of critical thinking, it is going to have to drastically realign its world view to become more compatible with reality as a rational person in the 21st Century experiences it. Here are some suggestions.

Tony said...

Re: jollyreaper

I know what the theory is. In reality, if the majority says one thing, that's the way things are. All of the checks and balances in the Constitution just put a brake on things happening too quickly and arbitrarily.

And "looting class"!? Come on, man. You can't really be that poorly educated. The "looted" money all goes somewhere. It doesn't disappear. I think my favorite example of that was the 10% tax on luxury items over $100k that was imposed a couple of decades ago. It's main effect was to put middle class boat builders out of work, because rich people stopped buying US and started buying in Italy and France.

jollyreaper said...

@Raymond

I'd heard something about that, don't have all the details. If it made it to the Supreme Court, I wonder which way they'd break.

Tony said...

Raymond:

"I don't think any of the atheists here would make any such argument. We simply reserve the right to call idiocy upon arguments and predicates which run entirely counter to the evidence (creationism, in particular), and to question (pointedly) the sources of the moral values in question."

Uh-huh... This is my point precisely: evangelism is fundamentally obnoxious, no matter who does it, or for what reason.

Tony said...

Re: jollyreaper (addendum)

I would counsel against thinking you have a monopoly on rationalism. It's perfectly possible to think that abortion is murder, and that homosexuality is aberrational, without involving Christian values. Rational arguments can be made for both positions.

jollyreaper said...

And "looting class"!? Come on, man. You can't really be that poorly educated.

Needless ad hominem. Tsk-tsk.

I've heard that luxury tax thing cited for years. Tried finding some hard citations but the only places talking about it were conservative sites.


I would counsel against thinking you have a monopoly on rationalism. It's perfectly possible to think that abortion is murder, and that homosexuality is aberrational, without involving Christian values. Rational arguments can be made for both positions.


What's your rational approach? I have a really hard time drawing a line. Obviously there's some point at which a zygote becomes a human being. We all agree that a fertilized egg that doesn't even adhere to a uterine wall and flushes out with that month's cycle is not the same as a bouncing baby delivered after being carried full term. There's not baby and there's baby. But where do you draw the line scientifically? Honestly, I'm not sure. Partial birth abortion is the thing that everyone gets wadded up over but they're something like a half percent of all abortions and are not really elective -- it's about the life of the mother at this point. If she didn't want the kid, she wouldn't have carried it for so long.

I don't claim to have a monopoly on reason. The only thing I insist on is that a debate be confined to science and facts with as little appeal to faith and mysticism as possible. It's not really conducive to an abortion debate to have a religious person say "God knew you when he knit you in your mother's womb", quoting chapter and verse.

There's a lot of paranoia on the right about Sharia law coming to America. Well, let's say that a muslim group decides to get thousands of followers to move to an American small town. Suddenly, they're the majority. And they get to set the mores and traditions. What if they decided to hold a vote and decide they're going to follow Sharia there. What then? Of course nobody would want to stand for it. But the same arguments that support allowing Christians to enforce their views would support Sharia as well. You have to apply your standards equally or you aren't allowed to call them standards anymore, you have to call them prejudices.

Another good example of this is states' rights. Southern states said it wasn't any business of the gubmint to enforce desegregation and had a nice and pretty argument to support their position. But many of these same people will loudly support federal drug laws. They like the idea of the Feds overruling states allowing medical marijuana and arresting people who are operating within the law of that state. No. You can't have it both ways.

Now for someone who supports medical marijuana and civil rights, is there cognitive dissonance here? Maybe, maybe not. I think the proper course of action is to force that crisis, let the feds try to overrule the states and generate a big enough stink so that we can have a proper national debate and settle the matter. That's the correct way of addressing unjust laws.

Raymond said...

Tony:

"Uh-huh... This is my point precisely: evangelism is fundamentally obnoxious, no matter who does it, or for what reason."

There are different kinds of evangelism. The hard variety, placing its emphasis on aggressively converting everyone, is obnoxious. The softer kind, accepting differing values but arguing one's own perspective and predicates strongly (with a desire to convince), is accepted practice on the religious side. The atheist version claims the same prerogative.

And before you claim that makes us just like any other religion, bear in mind that a) I obviously don't speak for atheists the world over, and b) there's a fundamental difference in predicates, certainly for me. Religion of any form either begins with or claims to derive a requirement for powers beyond human understanding to explain the world and/or our place in it. Any well-considered atheistic perspective rejects the former as unnecessary and disputes the logic underpinning the latter.

Tony said...

jollyreaper:

"Needless ad hominem. Tsk-tsk."

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. But if you don't mind my asking, what kind of reasoning process does it take to believe the assumptions underlying a gratuitous epithet like "looting class"?

"I've heard that luxury tax thing cited for years. Tried finding some hard citations but the only places talking about it were conservative sites."

Must not have been trying too hard. If you google "luxury tax boat builder", the third link this morning is an archive NYT article from 1991, entitled "New Luxury Tax Trimming Boat Sales". See:

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9D0CE4DC1239F932A15754C0A967958260

What's your rational approach?

I don't know when human life begins, and I haven't seen a rational, scientific argument that conclusively demonstrates when it does. Thus, I would prefer erring on the side of caution, because killing a fetus after human life has begun would be murder.

WRT partial birth abortion, you're laboring under a very common, but very mistaken, conception of how it works. My ex-wife used to be a medical biller for an OB/GYN group practice. One of her tools was a standard manual that explained, with illustrations, how to interpret operation reports for the purposes of properly coding the billing documents. She brought it home every once in a while. The section on abortion is very enlightening.

It turns out that the procedure labeled in the press "partial birth abortion", but actually calles a dilation and evacuation (AKA "D&E"), goes like this:

The doctor dilates the cervix,

The doctor reaches into the uterus and manipulates the fetus to deliver it feet first,

The doctor delivers the fetus until only it's head is left in the uterus,

The doctor crushes the head with forceps or makes a hole at the base of the skull and evacuates the brains with suction, and

The dead feuts is fully delivered and disposed of.

Now, the head has to stay in the uterus, or the fetus is an officially delivered infant human and the doctor has to do everything in his power to preserve its health and life. Given that, and given the progress of neonatal technology, performing a D&E in the third trimester is killing a fetus that is inches from being a human infant.

I told you all of that in order to have a foundation for telling you this: The condition of the mother is irrelevant. If the procedure can be done at all, proper care in the process would suffice to deliver a live human infant, relieving the mother of the pregnancy without endangering her any more than she might already be endangerded. Dismissal of D&E or partial birth abortion as a necessary, if regretable, procedure is perpetuating a falsehood.

"I don't claim to have a monopoly on reason. The only thing I insist on is that a debate be confined to science and facts with as little appeal to faith and mysticism as possible. It's not really conducive to an abortion debate to have a religious person say "God knew you when he knit you in your mother's womb", quoting chapter and verse."

If that's wahte a person believes, he's allowed to think it and act on it. Your insistence that he can't, because you don't agree, is just imposing your personal preferences on another, for no better reason than you happen to think you're right and he's wrong. I don't see how you have any right to get your way more than the other person.

That's why we have democracy, so a consensus can be reached about right and wrong. The losers just have to suck it up or -- here's a real brainstorm -- educate the majority to change their minds. Of course, calling the majority superstitious idiots is not generally going to work...

Tony said...

jollyreaper:

"There's a lot of paranoia on the right about Sharia law coming to America. Well, let's say that a muslim group decides to get thousands of followers to move to an American small town."

Let's say we don't exercise the straw men today, okay? Institution of Sharia law in a local jurisdiction would obviously lead to infringing on individuals' Constitutional rights.

If, however, the majority of the people at the national level decided to amend the Constitution so that Sharia could be allowed at some subordinate level (eliminating anything that could cause court challenges), then it would be a moot point, for all practical purposes. The people have decided.

"Another good example of this is states' rights..."

I'm not very sympathetic with states rights arguments, so it's irrelevant to me.

Tony said...

Raymond:

"Religion of any form either begins with or claims to derive a requirement for powers beyond human understanding to explain the world and/or our place in it. Any well-considered atheistic perspective rejects the former as unnecessary and disputes the logic underpinning the latter."

Except that is not the reason that people who place atheism in the realm of religion do so. Atheism is regarded as a religion because it has an article of faith, that there is not God or gods.

Now, the necessity of higher powers is an interesting scientific question, but, like the existence of such powers, it can't be proven or disproven. A creator god is conceivable that would create the universe and make it look, from the inside, like supernatural creation was not necessary or involved. I know, I know -- it doesn't make sense to you why a creator would do that. But the creator's powers, reason, and value are by definition beyond our understanding. So while you might not know that a creator is necessary, and not be able to conceive of a reason why creation would appear to be creatorless, it is conceivable that a creator could be necessary and yet creation at the same time be made to appear creatorless.

IOW, atheism's central ideal, that there is no God, is just as much an assertion faith as anything any theist believes.

Raymond said...

"Atheism is regarded as a religion because it has an article of faith, that there is not God or gods."

Er, not exactly.

If there is an article of faith amongst atheists which have done the work, so to speak, it's a belief in the basic tenets of materialism.

To wit, we exist in this world, and with this world we must concern ourselves. Worlds previous or subsequent which do not intersect in any tangible way with this one can be set aside and/or ignored due to the impossibility of determining anything of import. If there were a god (or gods) which went out of their way to construct a universe which appears not to require his/hers/its/their presence, at the beginning or throughout, we can recognize the intractability of the problem and ignore it so as not to waste our time. (And personally, I don't care to worship or follow such a capricious and deceitful entity anyways.)

If there is some entity with godlike powers, and which has a tangible effect upon our universe, then there will be evidence which can be collected and examined. If such evidence presents itself, we can update our models.

If one is an atheist, one has concluded that such evidence has yet to be found.

Tony said...

Raymond:

"Er, not exactly.

If there is an article of faith amongst atheists which have done the work, so to speak, it's a belief in the basic tenets of materialism."


So you're saying that O'Hair, Dawkins, and Hitchens didn't do their homework?

Raymond said...

"So you're saying that O'Hair, Dawkins, and Hitchens didn't do their homework?"

I don't know O'Hair, Hitchens gets really sloppy with his logic sometimes, and Dawkins in particular makes us look really bad as often as he opens his mouth.

So yeah, that's pretty much what I'm saying. I wish we had better public examples to draw on.

Of course, we're not a church or anything, so it's not like we can change our spokesperson ;)

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