Monthly Archives: November 2013

Thoughts about the spiritual ecological naivete of modern Westerners


dodoliedI more or less recently finished rereading a book called ‘the song of the Dodo’ (in Dutch translation though) by David Quammen, a very readable popular-scientific book about island biogeography and extinction among other subjects. It also touches on related topics like evolution on islands, the size a national park needs to have to keep a viable population of an endangered species, and the way Charles Darwin might have been evil towards Alfred Wallace, who was developing the same ideas he became famous for, at the same time as he was writing ‘on the origin of species’… It was probably the first book about evolution I read that did not just sound convincing, but also intrigued me in the subject when I was a lot younger… It is also a very interesting read, well-written, with both a lot of interesting stories and anecdotes and thorough scientific information.

One term that he uses that I find very interesting is ‘ecological naivete’: an animal evolved in a place without natural enemies, like on a remote island, will not have the concept of ‘enemy’ even if one comes along. It will look ‘tame’ to humans, but also will not run away from introduced predators (until it’s too late that is). So a Galapagos iguana or giant tortoise will not even bother if a human being approaches it, and a dodo on Mauritius didn’t run away from a hungry Dutch settler with an axe, but maybe just ran towards it to say ‘hi’… The few specimens of a species that do learn to get away from predators and keep their young away from them might be the only ones that remain to start a new line of the species more adapted to the new situation with predators in it, but such a thing rarely seems to happen, and a lot of ecologically naive species on all kinds of islands have been exterminated when a predator, like the common house cat had been released.

This is because it’s ancestors have never had any form of natural selection on how to react when a predator comes around. Here on the continent there is a heavy selection by predators, and only those animals who can stay out of the mouth of a predator long enough to make and raise babies will be able to reproduce… And the predators are being selected in the same way, if they are not able to catch enough prey they will not stay alive either. It is sort of an arms race… [I don’t want to start a discussion here if ecological naivety is cultural (learned from parents and other older animals) or genetically inborn, it’s not my field of expertise, and most probably a combination of the 2 anyway, and it would lead us far astray…]

What’s so interesting about this term is that it can be used to describe something that at first sight seems absolutely unrelated: the way some Westerners seem to be attracted to ‘the spiritual’ without hesitation, in any form that will present itself to them, without even being careful about ‘the invisible world’. (I’m not in the first place speaking about God here, more about the invisible part of our world)

We as Western moderns do live in a world with a seemingly complete absence the supernatural, and we do everything to keep up this illusion that it doesn’t exist in no way at all… People are conditioned to see the world this way, have learned to not bother about those superstitions. But is this reductionist naturalist world the real world, or is it just what we want to see? Isn’t a life of materialism and naturalism, like a lot of us have in the ‘civilized’ part of the world (especially academic circles…) the privilege of ivory-tower Westerners, more like a form of wishful thinking than ‘the only rational way to view reality’ as some claim it to be.

From a few things that I’ve experienced, and a lot of things that I’ve heard from different sources around the world, the influence of the supernatural is not always as easy to put away as ‘superstition’ as it is here and as we would conveniently be able to do. People in a lot of countries do even live in fear of it, sometimes out of real superstition probably, but sometimes not without a good reason nonetheless…

I agree that it’s in a way very convenient to have a world that is completely ‘rational’ and that can be described solely through ‘the laws of nature’ as modern science defines them. But do we have such a world? We have at least been living like we have in only a material world, for a few hundredths of years. Since the enlightenment we’ve been denying the supernatural here in the West, telling ourselves it does not exist… Which also means that we generally stopped almost all of our contact with it, and we got completely our of touch with it… We built up a world in which it has no place and is not supposed to exist!

And still it did not go away, and it won’t… No matter how much we cry to the sky that it’s empty, the world is and has always been more than just ‘natural’ in the modern sense. Things I’ve experienced myself, as well as heard from witnesses do convince me that there is something, whatever it is…
Nothing convinces me that all the explanations given about them are true though… Neither the demonologies of certain charismatic Christians that I’ve met nor the weird worldviews of new-agers and neo-pagean hippies seem really satisfying in describing and explaining all of ‘the invisible world’, which is as the words say invisible and not quite as easy to investigate as the natural world.
This is in itself no reason to not believe in it, except if we’re blinded by human chauvinism ‘If I can’t investigate and explain it it isn’t there’ is more like what we call ‘ostrich politics’ over here. Think about the proverbial ostrich hiding his head in the sand when something undesired comes his way. It will not at all stop the lion that wants to attack it Our ideas of what should and can exist and what not based on a particular worldview do not have any effect on the world, but they will have a lot of influence on how we perceive it…

Back to the ecological naivete and how it fits in our story: just as with our dodo saying hi to the Axe-wielding Dutchman, some modern Westerners are completely ecologically naive when they encounter the supernatural.. The supernatural is so unknown, that some just want to have tea with every spirit that shows up. But this can be quite dangerous. Not every Spirit is safe. Not every spiritual experience is positive.

(I do have a dystopian picture in my head now in a world where the same is happening with the natural world, and some people who think ‘animal is good’ that are accidentally where there are still animals, trying to pet a giant crocodile as much as a baby deer…)

I get a creepy feeling when I see what some people write about psychonautical experiences for example. Why would anyone think it’s safe to use drugs to go into other dimensions or the spirit world just without any form of guidance? A shaman in a tribe has to learn a lot of things and be initiated before they can do such things in a supposedly ‘safe’ way, and not without a reason.

The invisible world has the disadvantage that it is invisible, like I already said with a terrible pleonasm, and that we don’t know much about it, and so can easily project our theories onto it… But if there’s something there that’s dangerous, it will not play according to our rules, just as the things in the natural world do follow their own rules…
Hippies, new agers, ‘spiritual types’ and certain Christians all seem to share in this ‘we are safe, we know what we’re doing’ sometimes with the Spiritual world. Thinking that something is harmless just because it’s ‘spiritual’ or ‘supernatural’ is as stupid as thinking that something is harmless because it’s natural (sorry to destroy one of your arguments, you Cannabis-freaks…), or did you not hear of the venom of snakes, the poison of the deathly nightshade, the claws of wolves, etc.???

So that’s what I meant: modern man, coming from a place shielded from everything spiritual, tends to be completely ecologically naive when catapulted into a world that still has that connection with the supernatural… I just give this as a warning, do with it whatever you want…

peace

Bram

 

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I don’t care how ‘big’ you are…


babelThis world seems to be obsessed with celebrity sometimes. Everybody wants to make a name for themselves, or follow those who have made a name for themselves as if they are very important. Sometimes to the point that I wonder if the cult of celebrity is some replacement of the pagan worship of all kinds of minor deities, or the exaggerated saint worship of some of our medieval Christian ancestors.
Which is quite weird to me, because the objects of this worship are humans after all. We all are just humans. It’s not because someone is more known that he or she has more to contribute to humanity, or is more interesting. Au contraire, we have a phenomenon in our Western world of people who seem to be known just for being known. Or what would you say is the reason Paris Hilton is famous?

Sure, there are a lot of people who are known for good reasons. There are some good musicians who sell a lot of records, and those are known for good reasons. There are also a lot of people who sell millions of books because they are good at writing or have ideas that should be known to more people. But this should not at all be reversed: there is no guarantee that celebrity means quality… And it is, sadly enough, also not true at all that quality or substance will lead to celebrity or having a platform that can share your message to the world. Some of the greatest artists of all time have only become known after their death anyway, like Vincent Van Gogh, and probably some of the most important thinkers and artists have died unknown.

Being known means nothing except that you’ve made a name. It does not mean that you have quality, nor it does not mean that you don’t have quality either…(Furthermore, celebrity can be detrimental to quality, and those who are too interested in it and obtain it do sometimes even destroy the reason why they might be of any real interest to people, beyond their mere state of celebrity… A lot of people sacrifice quality for celebrity)

A lot of the best things might be unknown. A lot of the best music is never heard on the radio or found in the CD-store. The psalters for example are one of the best bands ever in my opinion, and one of the most impressing examples of religious music; even though unknown by most people. I do have a lot of lesser known artists in my library who have made songs that are better than the songs on the radio, sometimes even better than a lot of songs in our lists of ‘timeless classics’. Yes, I know, all of this is subjective, but exposure to it might increase the chance that people will like something, but it won’t change the quality… The guitar-riff of Soul-junks ‘may my tongue be stuck up on the roof’, for example, a psalm 137 song about the rivers of Babylon has a killer riff like ‘seven nation army’. But it’s completely unknown…

Same with writings things like blogs. (btw, I do generally have more readers as a ‘christian blogger’ than I do have listeners as a musician, although I don’t have a big audience anywhere.- I do have some links in my blogroll here, and those are just chosen because I like what those people are writing. I actually don’t even notice how ‘big’ a blog is when I read it, link to it or recommend it. If someone says things worth reading I will read and quote them, makes no difference be it a completely unknown guy with great ideas or one of the most-known thinkers on the earth.
I’d quote a friend as much as I would quote Plato if his saying is true and says what I wish to communicate. Truth is not linked to celebrity.
Staying in the field of Christian blogs, I don’t have more respect for a blog with 100ths of comments or one with a comment here and there, if they have something to tell that’s worth reading I’ll read it and recommend it. No matter if it’s Scot McKnight, Andrew Jones, Morgan Guyton, Lana Hope, or Rachel Held Evans, or some enormous star (I do like the new series on the bible by Rob Bell here, who seems to be a Christian celebrity for example) or someone no-one has ever heard of. I frankly don’t even have a clue who the big Christian blogs are, and I probably wouldn’t even interested in those. But I can recommend everyone to read the monthly post of Vinoth Ramachandra, or the weekly post of Eric from the Jawbone of an ass. Those are blogs I learn from! Even though I hardly see anyone quoting them.

C.S. Lewis describes an interesting scene in ‘the great divorce’, a weird book about a guy who visits heaven with a bunch of people from hell, and meets some interesting people there and sees other from a distance without interacting with them. One of them, who seems to be an enormously important saint, happens to have been a simple unknown woman during her life on Earth. She is honored as the greatest saint of all, while big figures here on earth are just shady and deluded ghosts there.
It is this way in the kingdom of God anyway: the least are the most important, and those who think they are big might turn out to be not much…

So it might be true that celebrity gives you a bigger audience, which is good if you indeed bring something that’s good, but which is quite bad if what you bring is bad. And actually, there is no reason at all to think that louder voices are more valuable and more worth hearing. (I even think that there’s good reason to be very careful with them…) Maybe the little kid next door has some wisdom that none of the rockstar preachers, academic masterminds and other mighty idea leaders will ever tell you because they don’t know it themselves.

Stardom is so relative, and it has cost a lot of people their soul…

peace

Bram

The end…


I completely have my doubts that this is a genuine Bill Watterson comic, but it’s the saddest Calvin & Hobbes I’ve ever seen, and it makes me glad that I never took any medication against my ADD tendencies…

(Someone on facebook commented with ‘entmythologisierung’ (demythologising) and that connection makes me dislike Bultmanns thoroughly modern proposals even more actually.
Long live narrative theology…)

peace

Bram

On similar misandry in Christian fundamentalism and consumer capitalism?


I read this excellent bvenus_de_milo1logpost by Sarah Schwartz, and American Christian blogger, in which she apologises for the damaging way men are often viewed in her (sub)culture. A quite horrible view of men, that’s preached not just by women, but by men too. The way she expresses it goes probably a lot further than what I know from local Christian circles, but I do recognise it nonetheless. What’s more troubling is that I recognise it not mainly from Christian circles but much more strongly from other places, and it’s something I’ve always been sensitive towards because I found it quite painful.

I posted the post above on my facebook-wall with a quote from her and a short introduction:

Quite sexist to reduce men to this, not? I hope she exaggerates, but I do recognise some of it…
“You are nothing but a slave to your desires. You are a sex hungry, uncontrollable, animal-like creature with no capacity for empathy or self-control. It is laughable to think that you could possibly prize relationships over sex, people over sex, vows over sex. You are sub-human, and no one expects anything different from you.”

The first person on facebook who reacted, Simon, has no connection at all to American Christian fundamentalism at all, but did surely recognise it as a very real problem, even on facebook:

Too bad the capitalist consumerist greedy types never cease trying to rewire our brains… For example: as a male I am constantly bombarded with sex ads on facebook (to a point where it’s disgusting me), even after I ‘told’ facebook I’m in a relationship. It’s a never ending onslaught and I think it’s degrading for men as well as for women. We are more than sex hungry creatures who can’t control ourselves. We are more. People are more. Even most animals are more. But ‘they’ don’t want us to be more. They want to control us, divide us, make us manageable to be able to make lots of profit doing the least amount of effort possible.

And yes, it’s true, if Sarah’s quote above is the description of how men are seen in American Christian fundamentalism and likewise-minded circles, it does not differ much at all of how the media and the advertisement industry in our Western system of consumer capitalism is constantly abusing us, just for profit.
The only big and very substantial difference here is that fundamentalism wants to stop this, to keep men down and to draws walls around them and puts us in boxes imprisoned by guilt, and that consumer capitalism abuses it, that it wants to make money out of it, reducing both men and women to less than humans for the sake of Mammon, which is very, very, very, low.

What’s very painful is that I’ve met enough men (and women) who just go along the lines and follow the flow, who let themselves dehumanise, and act like it could not be differently. As if we are indeed hard-wired for this as modern ideologies as fundamentalism and pop-Freudianism claim, and that we can’t function otherwise. We buy into the lie, and buy the crap the want to sell us, and let it destroy potential relationships and friendships and trust and intimacy, and…
And I refuse to believe the lie, and I refuse to accept that the lie is being spread, that people are indoctrinated and re-wired to fit the “man=animal, woman=prey” stuff. I refuse this as a Christian, as a humanist, as a human being, as the human being that I am, as a friend of both men and women, as a lover, and as a father of 2 little girls.

Problem here, if we speak about ‘wiring’, is neuro-plasticity which results in the possibility of strong conditioning by making connections in our brains. Like Pavlov’s dogs we can be conditioned in a lot of ways, and also reprogrammed later in other ways. If I compare men to Pavlov’s dogs here it’s not to reduce them to animals, but because that’s how it works biologically for both Homo sapiens and Canis lupus familiaris.
On the other hand, conditioning can be changed if we change our habits. It’s not easy, but it’s possible. We are not hardwired, and we can be rewired. We should work on this re-wiring if it hinders us from being human! This leads us to the old-fashioned idea of virtue, in which we follow a certain path of life that forms us.

I might need to clarify the word ‘misandry’ in the title for some of my readers, a words that means something as hatefullness towards man. It is a parallel to the word misogyny, which is actually the more visible part of the same problem here.
I don’t have a better word, but I am aware that it might a word that is rarely used (my spellchecker doesn’t know it) and that when it’s used, it is sometimes employed by people who come from a ‘war of the sexes’ worldview who say feminism should be fought in every possible way and want to turn the relationship between misogyny and misandry in a zero-sum game. I completely reject this line of thought, and want to be clear that I believe that sexism always has 2 sides, and that every system with heavy sexism against female human beings has another way of dehumanising male human beings, no matter how much power and privilege they have. Disconnect both sexes from each other and everybody gets dehumanised.
(I do think about Ursula Le Guins short stories about the planet Seggri here, with men having all the privilege, but women having all the rest, see my post on the sex-life of aliens and sexism on Earth) We need to treat both sexes (and all people who don’t fall into 2 binary genders) equally as humans. There is no other way. A zero-sum game approach to either women’s rights or men’s rights, or emmancipation of any minority group will always and invariably lead to some kind of ‘animal farm revolution’ which ends up with the same amount of oppression but differently distributed.

Women are human beings!
Men are human beings!
Everyone else who doesn’t fit in those 2 gender is a human being too.
And as a Christian I believe all human beings are made in Gods image.

There should be nothing radical about this !!!
It is more logical than our ABC or 2X2=3.

peace

Bram

More posts on similar subjects:
Nothing more natural than cross-gender friendships?
I don’t understand ‘complementarianism’
‘Male christianity’ vs Mother Teresa
the emerging Joneses and my anarchist marriage…
on sexy porn models and human dignity
Some old critique to ‘true love waits’ and Joshua Harris…
A purity culture I don’t know…
teenage flashback: I’m not flirting, but I might need a hug…
On the sex-life of aliens and sexism here on Earth…
Meditating on sexy models