Category Archives: philosophy

The power found in the True Language of the Universe…


I know I’ve not been very active lately here on this blog. I’m wrestling with some stuff in and outside of my head -it’s not because it’s in my head that it isn’t real…- and though I do have a lot of unfinished posts on various subjects that will hopefully be finished and posted one day although a lot of them might see the light, I’m quite unsure about what to write at the moment. This post is another impulsive train of thought that just needed to be written down, and it does most probably fit somewhere in my demodersiation-project.

As some people kearthseanow already, I’m an enthusiastic reader of fantasy and scifi and likewise books, so after re-reading some Narnia, LOTR, and a few Terry Prachett books late last year I’m currently (re)reading Ursula Le Guins Earthsea series. I do say (re)reading because I’ve only been reading the first 4 ones before, and now I’ve also reading the collection of short stories called ‘tales from Earthsea’, and the last novel ‘the other wind’. It’s both interesting and challenging to me that the worldview in those books is sometimes much further away from mine. LOTR, Narnia, and even Harry Potter (indeed, Harry Potter) do have a pretty Christian background-worldview, while Earthsea seems to have some taoist and pagan (Native American?) concepts incorporated that are further away from my own thinking, with sometimes concepts and philosophies that I can’t agree with, but still very interesting to think about.

For this post there is just one idea I want to touch upon, which is the background behind the magic in Earthsea but also interesting outside of that context: the power of the old speach, which is the language of the making of the world. For those unfamiliar with the books: the world of Earthsea is created by some creator being name Segoy, more specifically it is called into being using that ‘true speech’. (There is a parallel with Christian thought here, but also differences: the world is called into being by the word of a creator as in genesis, though not ex nihilo, nor is the creator very active in the world anymore. So maybe there’ a more deist touch here even…) Wizards in Earthsea still use this very language of old speech since it is very powerful, if you do know the ‘real name’ of something (or someone) you have power over it. It is sort of the language underneath the universe of Earthsea.

Now outside of those books, the idea is still a very interesting one, and, dare I say, important one: If you know the language of creation, the language by which the world was made, and can speak it, you have power over the world.

I don’t think that true name magic is very original, nor do I expect Le Guin to claim that it is a new idea. Ideas like this do exist in a lot of cultures and more ‘magical’ thought (it’s behind the idea of most ‘spells’), but in a way the same idea also lies underneath modern science. We just don’t expect that language by which the world is made to be an actual language with words.

einsteinLet me explain what I mean with that: We modern people describe the world in formula and theories, looking for the ‘true name’ of things in the abstract language of mathematical equations and weird symbols, so we can not just explain the world around us, but also have power over it. We can visualise how an atom looks, and split it, either to make energy and electricity, or to make one of the most abominable weapons ever. We can unravel the language of DNA, and not just to find out how certain characteristics are coded in our genes, but also to alter organisms.

If you learn the language of the making of the universe, which is the same language the universe still speaks, you sometimes can control it. That’s one of the reasons why a lot of scientists are still looking for the ultimate formula that describes everything. We want to unravel the code in which the universe is programmed, so we can be able to re-program it in our own taste… Which is still the same goal that any serious magician had. I’ve said before that science and magic are like twins in a way.

And yes, it is true that to do anything at all, you need to understand the way the world works, learn the language, and submit to it. It is in submission to the rules of the language of the world that we can gain power over it, not just by writing symbols on a board. By submitting to the rules of the grammar of creation we can make the word submit. And as humans we do want this to be absolute. But the question here is ‘can we?’? I do find the modern idea that the universe can be completely understood ‘rationally’ in our terms, in our language and abstract system, to be naive hubris at least.

Now, science is only one attempt to try this, and one that is very useful in one area (the visible, material part of the world), but there are more dialects of the true language of the universe that the universe speaks, and though magic might not be in vogue in the high places nowadays (although our technology can be more evil than a lot of dark magic), there are working systems of magic that have found bits of the language to the universe useful to exercise power. (Chaos magic can be quite effective in the right (?) hands I think for example, if we get outside of the realm of more traditional occult magic(k) )

Let me note here that religion can probably be viewed in similar ways, but with a big difference: the ‘control’ part on our side should be absent for healthy religion, lest we fall back into some form of magic. This is often the case though, and not just in pagan systems, but also in some parts of Christianity. But that would be one more adventure in missing the point. We can use the language of the world (insofar we decipher it) to be able to understand and master nature, but we can only learn to speak the language of God (or the tao, or the order of the universe, depending on your tradition) in order to align ourselves more with Him. But we can’t put the Source of Being in our pocket or use it as a pet hawk to catch the hare we want to eat for Christmas…

In the end we are part of a bigger whole. We humans are not to be masters of the universe. We are almost gods maybe (see psalm 8 in the bible), but we never will be gods. We didn’t make this place, and didn’t invent the rules that were written in all of creation…

So we can try to learn to understand the language of the universe (in part, and in our fallible human way) but we will never be God, never be the Source of being, and in the end we will always be answerable to the Ultimate Source of Being.

(And as a Christian I must add that, while it is impossible for a human to really learn ‘the language of God’, it actually works the other way. God came down and learnt to speak our language, and became human in the person of Jesus. This is the opposite of all our power games. God did not come to make us submit in that way of power, He came as we are. See also this post)

Peace

Bram

2014 as a year of demodernisation for me


I know I’m babelnot very active as a blogger right now, and most of my posts at the moment are older writings that I’m finishing now and finally posting after a long time of waiting in the pipeline. There’ some stuff I need to finish (about Christianity and capitalism, and about racism for example) but I don’t have the time and energy at the moment, and I’m focussing on work, children, gardening lately, and most of my writing has been fiction in Dutch, so it doesn’t fit on this blog.

(My fiction can be found at Oranderra, but most of it is Dutch. I do hope to one day continue my series of ‘the paralian priest and the acosmist nun’ though.)

I will still be writing blogposts here about a whole variety of subjects when I have the time and inspiration for it. (And there are some unfinished things that will be finished and posted too…) But in 2014 I will be starting a new project, which I call the ‘demodernisation’ of myself, which will most probably lead to some blogposts too.

So what do I mean with ‘demodernisation’? I feel it is the natural next step after my ‘postmodernisation’, that might have helped me a lot in some areas, but it did not help me much in a lot of other things…
Some years ago I found the ‘emerging church discussion’ through the internet, and learned a lot from it, or learned the right words to describe how I already saw the world, for I am a native postmodern. But I must say that the whole ‘emergent’ stuff has become more and more frustrating to me. A lot of it is just American anti-reaction to a fundamentalism that I don’t know, and acts more like a photo-negative of that fundamentalism. No-one can expect me to be interested in a photo-negative of something I don’t care about. The photo and the negative will generally be equally uninteresting to me.

And the other problem is that the more photo-negative of fundamentalism enters the picture, the more modernist Christian liberalism (the natural negative view of fundamentalism), which has never interested me at all. I think it was Scott McKnight who said that McLaren at the time of ‘A new kind of Christianity’ did not arrive at a new one at all, but an old one (referring to older protestant liberalism) that actually wasn’t old enough. Although I like a lot of McLarens earlier books and have benefited greatly from them, new liberalism just makes me lose interest, and I’ve seen that in most corners of the ‘emergent’ dicussion. (Also, I and just clueless about the American ‘liberal PC’ stuff. It’s just alien for me and feels like a new form of fire and brimstone preaching from a new corner to me.)

So, the project now, with my postmodern identity established, is to go way beyond postmodernism and Western though to reconnect with my Christian (and human) roots outside of modernity. My flirting with Eastern Orthodoxy is already part of that, and I will try to read more about non-modern, non-Western forms of Christianity, and also other religions and philosophies from everywhere. (I want to know more about native American thought systems, taoism and pre-Christian European thought for example.)

I do think that I will also go back more to my Lewisian roots, and explore Chesterton and MacDonald more for example.

(Not that I don’t value some things about modernism, like human rights and gender equality, the realisation of how serious the destruction of ecosystems and extinction are, and general growth in scientific knowledge about the natural world, and modern medics. But apart from those and other advancements, there is so much we have lost, and so much dark side to even a lot of advancements, and so on…)

My ideas on magic and the occult are part of what you can expect, but I will try do ‘deconstruct’ more  things and look from other angles than both Western modernism and post-modern hyper-enlightenment thought.

I hope to I can keep on having very interesting conversations here with all of you…

peace

Bram

 

Believing things on authority (C.S. Lewis)


What are the implications of this paragraph from C.S. Lewis in ‘mere Christianity’? Or is there a way to disagree with this?

Do not be scared by the word authority. Believing things on authority only means believing them because you have been told them by someone you think trustworthy. Ninety-nine per cent of the things you believe are believed on authority. I believe there is such a place as New York. I have not seen it myself. I could not prove by abstract reasoning that there must be such a place. I believe it because reliable people have told me so. The ordinary man believes in the Solar System, atoms, evolution, and the circulation of the blood on authority–because the scientists say so. Every historical statement in the world is believed on authority. None of us has seen the Norman Conquest or the defeat of the Armada. None of us could prove them by pure logic as you prove a thing in mathematics. We believe them simply because people who did see them have left writings that tell us about them: in fact, on authority. A man who jibbed at authority in other things as some people do in religion would have to be content to know nothing all his life.

peace

Bram

Atheism, the supernatural, gaslighting and modernity…


Note: Note that I do live in a secular country where materialist naturalism is the norm, and were atheism might not be the absolute majority, but it is a respectable tradition which seems to be the absolute norm in most academic disciplines. Supernaturalism is frowned upon and seen as non-existing by most people, or even worse. (The same tactics can be used by a community with false claims about the supernatural and atheists btw)

I

We have a very peculiar and complicated system for religious education in public schools here in Belgium, where every student in secondary and primary school can choose their own religion out of a list of official religions including catholic, protestant, Islamic and Jewish lessons, which will be given to them for 100 minutes every week. For the non-religious children there’s a seperate subject called ‘niet-confessionele zedenleer’ (which means something like ’non-confessional study of ethics’) which is based on liberal humanism.

The guy I was talking to was a ‘zedenleer’ teacher who taught secondary school pupils, and as more of his colleagues he was also a very convicted atheist. The type of atheist even that has a stereotypical ‘there is no God’ sticker on his bag and was a fan of people like Richard Dawkins.
He was actually talking about another subject, but suddenly he voiced his opinion about prophets and said something like the following:

“In the older days people who heard voices were regarded as prophets were followed as prophets, but now in our modern tie we lock them up in a psychiatric clinic”

Quite a judgemental broad-brush statement, and a bit extreme too if you ask me… Not only rejecting every prophet of every religion, but outright stating that they all should have been locked up because they were just mentally ill.

I’ve heard and read this same sentiment from atheists on more occasions, sometimes stronger, sometimes said in a milder tone. But in the end too often it all boils down more generally to the idea that everyone who claims to have had any experience of the supernatural is seen as either a fraud or a lunatic who should be locked away… (I wish I was caricaturing here, but I really have met people thinking like this!! It seems a very common idea in certain atheist circles.)

Apart from the stigma attached to psychological disorders that seems to underlie the way the original statement was voiced (which is unfair to those suffering with mental illnesses.) there is something very troubling about the way in which the supernatural is waved away as if there could not in a million years be another option… Materialism and naturalism are unquestioned axioms that should not be questioned lest you want your mental sanity questioned…

II

The world I grew up in is almost the opposite of all of this: I grew up in pentecostal and have afterwards always been part of charismatic churches (the vineyard) where hearing from God was seen as something very normal, something that was encouraged for all people. Other supernatural things were also seen as quite natural. Speaking in tongues (sometimes with translation by the Spirit, sometimes with someone recognising the language), healing, prophecies and words of knowledge in which people supernaturally had information via the Holy Spirit that they could not have, and so on…

Now it is true that I’ve seen a lot of questionable prophecies, abuses and stuff that might have been not 100% kosher, and that I do ahev my questions about some things. (I have never met anyone who abused the supernatural or a fake version of it for money though) But that does not take away that I’ve seen an experienced too much of the supernatural to disbelieve in it. It is e that some things are more human in origin or could be explained otherwise.

To complicate the matter more, I have spoken in my life with people from a lot of places with a lot of backgrounds, and the supernatural is presents in other cultures, traditions and religions too. Even if am quite sceptical and think a lot of things I’ve heard might be exaggerated, wrong explanations, etc… There is no way I can ever accept claims that brush it all away and say that none of this does exist. That is simply not an option for me.

III

On to the word gaslighting in my title , a word I’ve seen used first by poost-fundamentalist bloggers to describe a form of abuse in which the experiences of the victim are completely dismissed.

The idea word comes from an old movie I haven’t seen, but there’s a very good example of a very ingenious form of gaslighting in one of my favorite movie ‘Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain’ (I think the title in English is just ‘Amelie’) in which the person the movie is named after gets fed up with the way the grocer in the neigborhood treats his helper, a mentally challenged young man who might be a bit slow in his work, but who is very friendly. Amelie then takes revenge bameliefarmstandy gradually changing small things in the house of Mr. Collignon: lightbulbs with lover light, switching doorknobs, and so on. When she changes his clock and alarm he goes out to work before everyone else and fall asleep, and in the end when it all becomes too much he takes his liquor (replaced by something quite undrinkable) and then as a last straw calls his mother and ends up calling the psychiatrist. Revenge complete, and Mr Collignon is psychologically destroyed..

This is an extreme example of a very complicated and well-prepared prepared case, but the same dynamics can apply to other situations where things happen that do not fit into the worldview of others. Post-fundamentalists who escaped the world they grew up in and have seen their old worldview crumble are told that whatever they’ve experienced is nit true, not valid, that theyre crazy or whatever, because nothing can exist that does not align with the beliefs of the community…

These kind of tactics come up automatically to protect any status-quo worldview from whatever deviation that might disturbs it. “Whatever you may claim, it could not have happened according to our Truth so you must be wrong, or maybe crazy even. Shut up or we’ll silence you! It is a very logical way to protect any orthodoxy from thing that undermine a worldview that should not be questioned…
If we use the word gaslighting here for these kind of worldview-preserving tactics, we do have to note that those doing this are, unlike Amelie Poulain, not always knowingly deceiving, just as fundamentalists that use the technique on those leaving are generally not trying to lure others in deceit, but just are just defending their worldview from data that does not fit and might destroy it. I actually think this is is a very common reaction from the more powerful world when two worldviews collide and the less powerful side has experiences that disprove the accepted ‘orthodoxy’ of those in power…

IV

The same principle is at work in the logic from the teacher I described earlier. It’s a mentality of ‘our truth is that reason says that the supernatural does not exist, so therefore you cannot have experienced the supernatural. So you are or deluded and we must see the light of our truth, or a fraud that should be stopped, or mentally not well and should be helped/locked up. The least you could do is shut up…’. What I feel from some atheists is indeed that if someone would come with a claim of something supernatural, that they indeed would like such a person to shut up, or be locked up. Such a thing cannot exist and must be disposed off. Like the inquisition I Gallileo’s days, the orthodoxy of the status should not be disturbed, the boat should not be rocked, the ‘Magister dixit’ of the enlightenment tradition should not be spoken against…

This can lead to actual discrimination too: There was a case here in Belgium recently when a person, who is a Pentecostal Christian who believes in healing, was fired from a function in an university because he had a website in which he claimed to believe in miracles, even though the work he did had nothing to do at all with this.

There is something very absolutist in certain forms of modern atheism. I would not in a million years trust this kind of modern atheists more in a position of power more than any supposed ‘theocraty’ in which any religion is abused to keep a certain religious group in power. They would indeed rid the world of everything supernatural as much as they could, if needed with violence or by breaking people’s spirits in a psychiatric clinic…

V

All of this ironically does fit in very well with the roots that modern science and technology do share with actual magic: the quest for power over nature. C.S. Lewis even called magic and science twins for this reason, and this has been the major occupation of modern humanism: conquering nature, getting more power. (Which also means that the elite who does this work gets more power over the others.) Modernism has created a very closed worldview, in which the natural sciences have had an enormous development which made a lot of extraordinary things possible through manipulation and mastering of the natural world (from medical science to nuclear weapons).

But the worldview has become absolute, and it has become for some an orthodoxy that should not be spoken against. The inquisition and Galilei have switched sides…

Underlying still there is the fear of the unknown, the fear of thing bigger than us. We tamed the natural as far as we could (and destroyed half of the planets ecosystems and brought on the greatest mass extinction since the end of the Cretaceous time) but we don’t even control ourselves (and sometimes shush ourselves with neurocalvinist nonsense that we don’t have the free wil to this, not realising that this idea completely destroys any notion of ‘conquest of nature’ and just proclaims the absolute victory of nature over man on the end…)

But in the end, unless there will be a very totalitarian atheist dictatorship in which anyone who dares to say anything about the supernatural get ‘cured’, it cannot be stopped or erased from this world. Reality just is regardless of any of our descriptions of it, and it will never fit the mold of our pet theories about how the universe workd. The world is bigger than we want it to be, there are things we cannot investigate with naturalistic science nor control with technology.

We are not in control of everything.

And it’s fine..

Peace

Bram

Short thoughts on the futility of language


Rosetta_Stone

*

If 2 or more groups disagree on the meaning of a word, communication is futile. When scientists use the word ‘theory’ they have a certain meaning. When creationists hear the word they attach a completely different meaning to it. And when working class people hear the word they just us it pejoratively, as in ‘its work in theory’, which means it does not work. (Like in a users manual)
what does the word theory mean? I do have my theories about it…

*

Perspectivism is good, but hardline postmodernist relativism in the end dissolves all meaning that could be. Just as with post-structuralism and the futility of the meaning of words we need to find a balance or we have nothing left.
The other option would be completely naive though. To think that my perspective (or that of my tradition, the Western modern enlightenment tradition for example) is completely objective and not just the best but also ‘the right way’ to look at a certain thing. Same with the meaning of words, if we thing words can have a fixed meaning we will only get frustrated and confused in the end by the real world…

The question is how to find this balance… Continue reading

Capitalism vs. Christianity I: Rule of the Market


Coin of Augustus PAS 200 px sh“Markets, like merchants, are nothing new, but they are central to the capitalist society in quite a new and more abstract way” – James Fulcher

A bit late because of work, illness, bad time management, alien abductions and the birthday of my wife, but here it is: my first post in what will become a series about the incompatibility of Christianity and capitalism. (Click on link for the introductionary post)

Central to capitalism as it is currently defended by a lot of people is not ‘in whose hands the means of production’ are or should be, but the idea of ‘the free market’. And even more: the ‘free market’ itself has to be quite a priority according to those who like to preach capitalism. Not only is it important for ‘the market’ to be ‘free’, it is also important for that ‘free market’ to be really important in all aspects of our lives. And indeed, for some reason unknown to me ‘the market’, together with the whole idea of ‘the economy’ which is centered around it, is seen by some as the center of reality, and even as the only reality that matters.

Not reasonable or logical at all
So what’s my first problem with this ‘marketisation of everything’? ‘My first critique to this is just philosophical: Contrary to what I’ve heard from some people sometimes, there is nothing ‘rational’ or even ‘realistic’ about putting the economy, centered around the so-called free market, as our top priority in life and all human affairs on planet earth, and as a lens through which all of this world has to be interpreted. If you want to look at the world this way, fine, but know very well that it is purely an ideological choice, and if you ask me it’s a very poor hermeneutic which leads to a very bad and unbalanced exegesis of the book of ‘reality’. Continue reading

Pope Francis as a universalist?


Pope_Francis_in_March_2013-1

Edit: Here is a catholic explanation. Doesn’t sound universalist at all if you ask me…

Pope Francis, the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church worldwide, has already proven to be a controversial person from time to time in his career of only a few months. And luckily it has been in a surprisingly Christlike way, not in the way most modern liberal people expect popes to conservative and oldfashionedly irrelevant: The pope who denied the papal palace, shuns wealth, calls the church to focus on the poor,  washed the foot of women and Muslims instead of Catholic priests and criticised capitalism now stated that atheists are redeemed too and can do good works.

2 articles have been going round on facebook since yesterday, first one from the Vatican Radio and then one from the American Huffington post, which tried to interpret the words of the pope from an American perspective, but to me they seemed to miss the point and tried to make him answer questions he wasn’t addressing…

But let’s have a look at what our papal friend is saying:

“The root of this possibility of doing good – that we all have – is in creation”:

“The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us. ‘But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can. He must. Not can: must! Because he has this commandment within him. Instead, this ‘closing off’ that imagines that those outside, everyone, cannot do good is a wall that leads to war and also to what some people throughout history have conceived of: killing in the name of God. That we can kill in the name of God. And that, simply, is blasphemy. To say that you can kill in the name of God is blasphemy.”

“Instead,” the Pope continued, “the Lord has created us in His image and likeness, and has given us this commandment in the depths of our heart: do good and do not do evil”:

“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”

(bold parts from the Vatican radio website)

Some people, like Paul from disoriented, reoriented, actually do think Francis’ words point to Christian universalism (the idea that through the saving work of Christ all will be saved in the end), and point to the old tradition of universalism within christianity that goed back to Origen and Gregory of Nyssa, but I’m not so sure of that actually. I don’t have much problems with hopeful universalism or even praying for the salvation of Satan in the end (as Gregory of Nyssa did), but I believe in free will, and I am afraid that some will never be able to enjoy an eternity with God, it would be hell to them.  But it’s not my task to even speculate about those things, let alone proclaim that I know all the answers here.

It is clear that the pope is an inclusivist here, not in the the sense of salvation (which is not addressed) but when it comes to doing good, which is what is expected from all human beings. (I suppose Rahners idea of anonymous Christians or the older idea of virtuous pagans does fit in here somewhere.)

What we can be sure of though is that the pope here rejects 2 doctrines that are important to certain protestant traditions, especially those based on Calvinism: limited atonement (Jesus did only die for the chosen)  and total depravity (man is fallen in a comprehensive way, and can’t do good himself)

(My problem with total depravity lies in the people whom the NT calls good and just, like Zachary and Elisabeth who were Thora-abiding Jews, and Cornelius who was a God-fearing pagan. Apart from that I do believe very strongly in human depravity, and I see it all the time in the news, around me, and in myself!)

The pope acknowledges here simply that all people can do good, whether they’re atheists or catholics:

“Doing good” the Pope explained, is not a matter of faith: “It is a duty, it is an identity card that our Father has given to all of us, because He has made us in His image and likeness. And He does good, always.”

What’s interesting is that he roots the possibility of doing good works both in Creation (man being the image of God) and in being redeemed by the blood of Christ.  Note also that Pope Francis is speaking about good works and bringing peace here. he isn’t speaking about salvation per se, especially not in ‘going to heaven after you die’ kind.Francis in his view on Christianity seems to be focussed more on the ‘here and now’ aspect of the Kingdom of God, specifically for the ‘least of those’ than about the ‘pie in the sky’ dimension of salvation that some people prefer.

To be sure about how to interpret what the pope said I asked  a catholic, Rob Allaert who writes in Dutch on http://www.thuiskerk.be , and he responded with the next paragraph:

Redemption needs to be uderstood as gift and assignment. Become who you are in Christ. Or as Saint Paul would have it: “Offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.” So, there is an assignment attached to salvation which has in itself a universal scope.

(He also said my interpretation in this post ‘nailed it’.)

So, redemption is only the beginning point here, not the end point at all as ‘salvation’ is often seen in  evangelicalism. Salvation may be universal, but it gives us ‘an assignment’. I don’t think I can disagree with that actually. I even think we should say the same about predestination: if some are predestined by God, it is not just to be saved themselves, but to bring Christ, and salvation and redemption, to this broken world.

So what can we take from this, except from a strong affirmation of the popes inclusivism and love for all people of all religions, and the call to everyone for peace and doing good? I hope there’s also the last thought included somewhere: Loving God and neighbor as the great commandment says (which will include living out that love, maybe even in radical ways) is not the way to salvation, it is part of salvation itself. The Christian idea of both heaven and the Kingdom of heaven on earth looks forward to a world in which all relationships have been restored, and everyone and everything lives in harmony with God, other humans, and all of Creation.

If that’s what the pope means, I agree with him…

what do you think

Bram

PS: The most creepy thing about a universalist pope, especially if he is the second pope after John Paul II, is that in the dispensationalist end-times plots I encountered as a kid (that the pentecostals for some had borrowed from dispensationalism) the endtimes-pope would be some kind of ‘all-religions-are equal’ universalist who would be very popular but open the door for the worship of the beast 666 by the people of all religions.
(Not that real Christian universalism in which it is Christ and Christ alone who saves all would apply here, let alone a pope who calls the Church back to following the gospel in simplicity as Francis does. But somewhere in me the idea still lingers sometimes, and it feels a bit creepy…)

C.S. Lewis, Ayn Rand, and science and magic as twins


CSLewis_PipeYesterday I came onto this blog post, in which Ayn Rands marginal notes are quoted like  she has scribbled them into C.S. Lewis book ‘the abolition of man’, a book that I’ve read several times in my life. As someone who knows the ideas of this book, I was quite surprised not only by the vitriol of her comments, but also by how irrelevant some of them are to the text they’re criticising. Update: the complete marginal notes from Rand can be found here (thank you Arend Smilde for the link)

For those who don’t know the book (which can be read online here): Lewis is mostly known for his Christian books, but this is a more a philosophical book that’s actually not particularly Christian. The main point of the book is 2-fold: First there is an Orwellian critique to the modernist project of man conquering nature, in which Lewis states that the final step of this conquering will be ultimately self-defeating on the part of man. The second point is that there is a more or less absolute set of values inherent to this world, which he calls the tao,  with a word borrowed from Eastern philosophy, of which all meaningful human values in all cultures are derived. I do not agree with every detail, and I don’t get more than half of his references, but  I’ve always found the basic ideas of the book, and it’s critique to modernism, quite compelling. (But you need to read the whole book to understand his conclusions, including some weird parts that are hard to read.)

(I also have the idea that some of her remarks about middle ages and the renaissance would not have been made if her issue of the book would have included, like the Dutch version does,  De despcriptione temporum, his inaugural lecture from the chair of mediaeval and renaissance literature at Cambridge University (1954).)

One of the things Rand reacts quite strongly to is the idea that magic and modern science are related:

The serious magical endeavour and the serious scientific endeavour are twins: one was sickly and died, the other strong and throve. But they were twins. They were born of the same impulse. I allow that some (certainly not all) of the early scientists were actuated by a pure love of knowledge. But if we consider the temper of that age as a whole we can discern the impulse of which I speak.

There is something which unites magic and applied science while separating both from the wisdom of earlier ages. For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is a technique; and both, in the practice of this technique, are ready to do things hitherto regarded as disgusting and impious—such as digging up and mutilating the dead.

Lewis as a scholar of medieval and renaissance literature (see also the ‘de descfriptione  temporum’ text I’ve linked to) knows what he is talking about, and anyone who knows something about the life of Isaac Newton for example, who was both a scientist and an alchemist who did weird studies in the occult (and a Christian who wrote bible commentaries)  should know what he’s talking about. Newton can indeed be considered as one of the last great Western magicians as well as one of the first great scientists…

Very important here is what Lewis means with the words science and magic. Both are not means of mere knowledge for him, but of power, power over reality, including power of the one who has it over other humans. Magic is a way to get power using the supernatural, science (and technology) is a way to get power using the natural world. Note also that ‘magic’ as used here is the opposite of astrology, which has the purpose of conforming to the influences of the stars and the supernatural!

Lewis himself does not deny the existence of science as a search for knowledge, and indeed explicitly notes that there are scientists who are seeking for pure knowledge, but that’s not the goal of most applied science both in the 16th century and the momdern time, which shares indeed the goal of magic: to subdue reality to the wishes of men.

I don’t think Lewis would say that this is always a problem, he’s not a luddite and used technology himself, and never rejects it. But what he wants to show us is a dark side that is inherent to modern (applied) science. A dark side that might remind us to the lie of the snake, that told the first couple that they would be like God.

And indeed, science has been used for ‘playing God, and abused in a lot of abominable ways to get power, not only over nature, but also over other humans. Most science nowadays is subdued not to those who want pure knowledge, but to those who want power and money.  This is how we came to have the atom bomb, genetically engineered crops that are very handy in making multinationals richer, etc, (While some other scientific fields not useful for securing power and money are underfunded!)

So what happened to magic? It lost because it didn’t seem to work the way science worked, and was pushed out of the modern worldview which became more and more hermetically naturalistic. But its goal is still the same goal of a lot of modern science.

The point of self-control to be able to conform ourself to reality is also something we should not forget. We are not the creators of the universe, and there are things higher than us we should conform to, like certain laws of nature. I do not mean this deterministically, we should not let every thing we meet rule over us, man is indeed able to fight back when reality is hostile and evil, but we moderns should not forget that we can never be free without self-control

what do you people think?

peace

Bram

Freedom, human weakness, and why I suppose I better don’t leave the internet


Foto0067Humans might have free will (yes, I believe that, I’m neither a calvinist nor a neuro-determinist), still they are quite weak too… We sometimes act on random impulses and are easily conditioned in doing stuff we shouldn’t do or not doing stuff we should do.

I’m not talking about big spectacular dangerous sins or serious addictions here. My biggest temptations lies more in things that come close to being nothing at all than in big evil sins… Sometimes I find myself irritatingly weak for example against all kind of ‘nothing-addictions’ when hanging around a computer that has an internet-connection (and facebook). Just wasting time is a big problem that I can’t afford, but it can be so compulsive, when I miss the energy to start what I should do, or miss the overview of the stuff I have to do, or just don’t have the attention to do anything not mindless… And then the meaningless click-an-surf-mode goes on, my time, energy and everything goes down the drain…

How can I solve this?

The problem here is discerning what the underlying problem is, and what just the symptom. I sometimes wish I could disconnect completely from the internet and facebook to free myself from these ‘nothing-addictions’, which is an impossibility for both my work and my social life. But still the idea lingers that everything would be different and that I would be doing more if I would be able to disconnect completely.

Which probably is mostly nonsense: at the moments that I’m productive I don’t fall into these kind of addictions at all, with internet on and facebook open… It’s only when I’m already distracted that they are out to get me… Moreover, I don’t think the internet is the main problem here, in an internetless life I would find other ‘nothing-addictions’… A very interesting article by Paul Miller, who did what I sometimes dream of and lived a year without the internet confirms what I already suspected… The problem lies not in the internet or facebook, and will never be solved by just disconnecting..

So I guess my real problem is battling my ADD and my overall lack of discipline, not the internet… I need to battle deeply ingrained patterns and to fight the false ideas of freedom that ‘not having to do anything’ is a form of freedom. There is no freedom in having to follow every stupid impulse, or in having to follow whatever comes your way. If that is freedom there can be no free will indeed. (And any form of humanism is impossible, since it’s nature that has by default won from the human being, just as Christianity is impossible, the flesh will always win.)

I do not believe in this determinism. Man may be a weak creature, but we do have free will! Even though it’s sometimes not strong enough against the other things that want to control us…

So here we come to the paradox: Only in self-control can freedom be found, otherwise you’re a slave to whatever impulse from inside or outside that comes your way.

Now that I realise this I know that I’ve been lazy all my life, and that I have to unlearn and relearn a lot of things. May God help me with this, I cannot do this alone… Wasn’t self-control one of the fruits of the Spirit? Where are those fruits [love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, see Galations 5:22] in contemporary Christianity anyway? Or are they not manly enough?

peace

Bram

scepticism about the age of scepticism


Some people call tthinkerhis ‘the age of scepticism’. Sometimes because as a Christian we feel that there is a lot of scepticism against our tradition, which used to be the main influence in our Western part of the world, but it is also because the humanist tradition in line of the Enlightenment finds itself to be very ‘sceptical’.

I myself am very sceptical here, and sort of have my doubts about this self-proclaimed age of ‘scepticism’ in which we are in tough. Most people I know that use that word to describe themselves are not exceptionally sceptical at all, they just fully subscribe to a tradition that likes to apply that word to itself (it’s even more weird when you have people call themselves ‘freethinker’ and they all parrot the same enlightenment-light clichés) and that is sceptical of other traditions, but they never seem to questions the dogmas that every Westerner seems to breathe in and out like a fish does not notice the water.

I wish there was more scepticism about the foundations of our way of life and our Western ways of thinking, but except in new age circles and among conspiracy theorists I do not find much of that kind of scepticism, and those people in most cases completely unsceptical about whatever kind of alternative truth comes their way…

It’s not really a surprise though. Real scepticism, and the willingness to question everything does in most cases lead one away from the tradition one is in. Most of those people are seen as heretics of some kind, except when they gain enough followers to throw over the old order for a new one, or at least establish a separate tradition… And in both ways the real scepticism will die…

Yes one could establish a tradition of scepticism, but that would kinda be self-defeating. Scepticism and the forming of a tradition are very strange bedfellows. Except for the first generation, you never get real sceptics in an existing movement: every sceptic reconstructs a new system by himself, that might be adopted as the new orthodoxy by their followers, and the it will just  fossilise into a new tradition.

I don’t find those who adhere to the scientist tradition to be sceptics at all, except for that they are (like everyone) sceptics about traditions not theirs. But that’s true for almost everybody…

And I wish we’d have more real sceptics…

peace

Bram