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Member since: Sat Nov 29, 2008, 02:55 PM
Number of posts: 17,671

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On finding God (Part 4)

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

The vast majority of people who have ever lived spent their unremarkable albeit peaceful and productive lives believing in something they called God. I find it difficult to believe that the concept of God did not play a significant role in the survival of the species. Spirituality and all that entails may be considered a recreational activity now, but some caveman didnít stay up all night drawing figures on the wall because he just wasnít tired enough from chasing Mastodons with a pointed stick all day.

These people arenít crazy, theyíre just assholes. Okay, some of them are crazy assholes.

Of course everything is thoroughly modern now what with all the newfangled gadgets like the internet, which seems to be used primarily for distributing kitty pictures and porn. While the utility of porn is obvious, itís hard to imagine people devoting so much time to cat pictures because of an interest in phylogenetic research. No, there is more to life than solving the puzzles of the universe and forty seven cup holders in Chevys. People are spiritual critters and that spirituality is an important part of our existence. The traditional focus of that spirituality, alas, has been the source of a certain amount of mischief throughout our history. My objective here has been to postulate the actual object of our spirituality and build a narrative around it with which we might all live without butchering each other over it.

Call it what you will; initiative, curiosity, id, moxie, chutzpah, guts, drive or ants in your pants there are more names for God than for Satan. But each moniker points to something within each and every one of us, and that thing is as much a part of us as our pulse. Itís standard equipment in our model rather than an aftermarket option. It may become little more than another appendix some day, but right now itís still as important as lungs.

I prefer my narrative right now because it offers me a perspective that I think is important. It offers me the opportunity to see a reflection of myself in others, and a reflection of them in me. A Theory of Mind has been crucial to the survival of the species and without it civilization could not exist. We already have lots of Chevys with lots of cup holders, but simple empathy appears to be lacking.

I usually have to wait for what people seem to call God to show up before I can really get anything meaningful done. Sometimes I have to struggle to make it appear. And I do it every day without the help of some guy with a special hat or Bronze Age text. I think the truth is that the arts are not a tool used in the expression of religious faith, but rather that religion is just another one of the arts, and the arts are just another way people build a narrative in response to the compulsion to ďgoĒ. Some of us build a narrative with science, others with images of flaming genitalia. Who am I to argue which is better?

We have come so far in the development of our understanding of the boundaries of outer and inner space. Our knowledge has become so esoteric it is completely removed from the everyday experience of life as we know it. Our theories and ideologies have run away and left us to become realities in their own right Ė realities that are used against us for all the same reasons any other weapon has been used since we discovered our thumbs. One narrative is no more good or evil than another. I think the greatest evil today is not any particular narrative, but our lack of desire to develop our own narrative and make it work. We are all too willing to let someone sell us something that weíve already got.

Iíve often heard it said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. I think thatís true. It might also be argued that any sufficiently advanced art is also indistinguishable from magic. Itís all just form and content after all.

The problem is the conversation we just had, or rather

the lack of one between people on different points of the partisan spectrum. I've raised the registration issue with people here more than once, (the Bob and Alice scenarios were a C&P from my journal) and the only person that has even attempted to examine the issue equitably was a "gunnie". You.

That's why this place is interesting. It is populated by people who, if not actually dyed in the wool hard left liberals, fancy themselves to be so for the purpose of social plumage. It's a great big rolling experiment in the emotional attitudes about the issues of the day. So right here we have people legitimately wailing like it's the end of the world when the Patriot act gets passed or the cops infiltrate the Occupy movement, and at the same time seem to think rigidly enforced gun registration is just fine. They don't stop to consider that every "ping" on the system is data that can be mined by the powers that be. It is a point on a chain of individual relationships with a gun as an anchor. Right now you can go across DU and read about how much worse Nixon was than we thought, and then read some blind authoritarian cheerleading for a 1% billionaire that wanted to regulate soft drink containers. I wonder how many right wing fundie nuts would just love to regulate birth control the way some liberals want to regulate guns?

For me the registration issue isn't about taking guns away, it's about allowing the government access into a citizen's private life without any clear benefit for that citizen but a fairly obvious infringement on their right to be left alone. I don't think the presence of guns among the population significantly reduces crime, but allowing government regulation into your home won't make the cops show up any quicker either. If we can't show a specific benefit for the people who will be impacted by the regulations we propose they won't buy it. Nobody likes to take one for the team, especially if it means losing your life doing it.

If Diane Feinstein got every little thing she wanted or dreamed about in the way of gun control there would be minimal impact on my life, and it wouldn't keep me from voting for a Democrat. I live in a low crime area and the crime rate is on a downward trend across the country. Besides, we've got bigger fish to fry. But I know people who would be inconvenienced enough by current firearms regulation proposals to keep them from owning a gun, and if they get killed it won't be a cause du jour on DU. I doubt it would even make the papers. But they will leave behind friends and family who would become instant Republicans for life because of the tragedy. How many of us have argued that for every innocent that gets killed in a drone attack ten terrorists are made? The same effect holds true for bad public policy here. And we will lose them as voters not because we controlled guns, but because our ideology didn't have a solution for when someone gets assaulted beyond some vague platitudes about "guns as a public health issue".

You've almost sold me on universal background checks. And it took a heathen gun owner to do it. Fancy that.

That's because

if the system is working right, sooner or later at the end of the day whatever legislation gets passed into law has to work in the real world. Prosecutors have to be able to look at the statute and be willing to devote resources to convict people of crimes.

The AWB and mag capacity regulations were absurd on their face. Background checks for private transfers are a fine idea if they can get it to work. But you're talking about regulating the transfer of an object that weighs about three pounds between people who could have a near infinite variety of relationships. I don't see how you can mandate and enforce background checks without chain of custody documentation. And we're not talking about documenting something almost exclusively operated in public, but something inside the privacy of people's homes. If the civil rights problems weren't bad enough, the political ramifications could be disastrous.

But let's assume they can figure out a way to get it to work and pass it into law without giving the Republicans control of government for another few generations. In all the brouhaha over the issue, I haven't seen anyone comment on the impact of private background checks on the gun market. If they implement that system, it will effectively turn every gun owner in the country into a gun dealer. We can't successfully regulate straw purchases at gun dealers now, imagine if we create eighty million of them.

Someone with a troubled background won't need a gun to hurt you.

How you deal with that individual in that situation will be up to you.

There is some confusion in people's minds when it comes to the management of technology and public policy. They confuse their personal safety and convenience with the public good. It leads them to treat public policy objectives like a product designed just for their personal proclivities. Personal convenience and civic duty are not the same thing.

You are perfectly free, and quite correct, to advocate for, say, coast to coast light rail to reduce pollution. Just don't expect the train to stop at your front door when you're ready to go. You can advocate for the wisdom of single payer health care, but don't do it while you stuff pork chops in your mouth. And you can advocate for all the anti crime measures you think are appropriate, but no single anti crime initiative will make you safer than any other. People who abuse others for a living circumvent the law as a part of their occupation. So unless you are exceptionally large, strong and well trained in hand to hand self defense, banning guns won't help you one whit. Your assailant will have long since altered his tactics and strategy to circumvent whatever limitations have been placed on his access to firearms.

The United States is a nice place. I like it here and I think you will enjoy it. We, as a country, are very wealthy and powerful. That's part of the appeal. But remember we got that wealth and power by becoming an empire. And we became an empire by killing a lot of people all over the world. Our national identity was forged in part by our history of violence just like any other empire. And the safety that the vast majority of our citizens and visitors enjoy is more the result of our blood soaked wealth than the generous nature of our population. We all have our crosses to bear.

So come on over and build a future here, but don't expect us to turn the North American continent into your own private Disneyland. We are a nation of over three hundred million human beings, and some of us just aren't very nice. But then, you'd find that to be case no matter where you go.

People keep thinking they detect a "religion of science or atheism"...

Somewhere on the borderline between the invented and the real lies the question of the human spirit and its associated qualities, such as love and aesthetic appreciation. I grant that these qualities, or at least their physiological appurtenances, exist. The question, then, is whether science can elucidate them.

If science can, it has a lot of catching up to do. We've been elucidating that aspect of the human condition for a very long time. Certainly not as long as our efforts to understand and control the world around us, but apparently the need to wrap some sort of aesthetic or spiritual narrative around the mechanics of existence occurred as an important part of the development of the species. Certainly the requirements of aesthetic priorities continue today as an integral part of our physical existence on the planet.

Form follows function, and part of the function of any tool we have ever used is its potential to propel us into an uncertain future.

There is no evidence that it cannot, and it is not unreasonable to suppose that it can without resorting to supernatural importations. Love is a complex emotion, involving genetically controlled responses, hormonal excretions, and intellectual reflections and considerations. Science can elucidate such a condition, even though it will probably never purport to be able to predict whether one individual will fall in love with another...

Atkins offers us an optimistic expectation that science will be able to measure and quantify the human spirit, but is still unable to offer any hope that quantification will produce predictability. And he does it by denying the need for any evidence that it can accomplish that goal. Such an optimistic expectation of success using an appeal to ignorance sounds a lot like an expression of faith. Especially after a five paragraph paean to the virtues of science over religion. I guess science truly works in mysterious ways.


Find joy without the use of specialized equipment.
Appreciate beauty in things that weren't manufactured to be beautiful.
Seek out unusual or conflicting ideas and make them work.

Do - starve the beast that feeds you.

Oh, I think it would be easy to market.

In a culture that gave us the pet rock, marketing isn't the problem. The difficulty is in market domination. For most of human history religion was the only game in town, and a theocratic power structure was usually employed to make sure it stayed that way. Nowadays people can project their faith in any of a million different directions. There is really no difference between a revival meeting and the wave at a baseball game. Religion has, for all intents and purposes, become indistinguishable from any other brand loyalty. The most successful religions are little more than media empires for a reason.

Fiction isn't simple. Literature is one of the arts, and the arts are very complicated to produce and understand. Making art is like juggling spaghetti in a tornado. Everything you do retroactively affects everything else you have done and proactively everything you can do in the future. If science were like art-making the experiment would depend not only on the measurable qualities of the experiment itself but how the scientist feels about it, how anyone reviewing the results of the experiment feel and how all those feelings relate to the zeitgeist of feelings, expectations, fears, hopes and regrets of the culture at large over time and in relation to everything that has gone before. There has certainly been plenty of historical fiction since the bible was written and references to the world around the narrative are crucial to helping people understand what is going on and identify with the characters.

I doubt that reimagining Christianity again will prove helpful in the times ahead. Religion in general and Christianity in particular have hitched their cart to an expansionist mindset and here in the twenty first century with seven billion people on the planet and the specter of resource depletion, there is nowhere left to expand to. We may be on the cusp of another Axial Age, and any search for God shouldn't depend on the zeitgeist that got us into this mess.

As far as I'm concerned

the bible is fiction and theology is literary criticism. As literature, the bible is not really designed to empirically explain anything but rather to give form to our internal lives in the context of the world in which we live. Unfortunately, since it's The Bible revisions to accurately reflect cultural changes have been erratic, spotty and occasionally violent. Probably because a lot of money and power depend on keeping it the way it is.

I think Charles' interpretation of christian faith is an effort to place God in the center of our modern understanding of causality. That understanding today is concerned with things like quantum mechanics, microbiology and other aspects of the natural world that are too small or remote to be directly percieved but nevertheless have an impact on our culture. It's a sort of "new agey" Christianity and if that works for him it's fine with me.

I think problems arise when revisions to Christian doctrine have more to to with effective marketing than spiritual enlightenment. Given the importance of religion and an interpretation of the nature of God in the exercise of power throughout human history, we should exercise special care and a healthy dose of skepticism regarding a new understanding of the divine. I find Charles conception of God unsatisfying because it seems to depend more on cultural changes for popular appeal than give a deeper insight into our understanding of our place within them.

While an interesting read I find your description of God unsatisfying.

I think we can more or less all agree (at least here) that the concept of a "God in heaven" is no longer tenable in light of the scientific discoveries made in the last few hundred years. So while the idea of a God "up there somewhere" is no longer tenable, the idea of a God that is at the heart of existence in the form of the "driving force" of everything really doesn't move God to a more tenable position. Science is working diligently on a ToE and sooner or later we will have to move God to yet another amorphous location to keep the notion of a deity current with the latest scientific discoveries. That I think is hardly any way to treat a concept so important to so many people.

Your conception of God is not functionally different from any other conception of a deity as a creator or first mover of the physical world and everything in it. Whether we surround God with clouds and putti or abstract concepts related to energy, God is still over there somewhere. It seems that what you have done is move him from the attic to the first floor study.

If you find that conception of God satisfying, and many people do, I wouldn't argue that you change it at my behest. I can also see potential pitfalls in such a definition of God. If God can be interpreted as a destination that is apart from ourselves, there will always be someone willing to offer conveyance to enlightenment - for a price. And with that price come all the evils that have little to do with enlightenment and everything to do with control of resources and power.

When it comes to vote harvesting

guns are low hanging fruit. Democrats play politics too, it's the nature of the beast. She's able to get away with it because lots of people don't know anything about guns. Those people tend to be urban dwellers and urban dwellers tend to be Democrats.

Contrary to popular belief around here I'm not a gun nut. My knowledge of guns is actually very basic. I hadn't given "assault weapons" a second thought until I started fooling around with DU. I saw an article in Alternet about that idiot that shot those burglars in Texas and noticed all the pro gun comments from people who claimed to be Democrats, so I came here to look at it further. What I know about assault weapons I learned right here and at Wikipedia. Of course it doesn't hurt that I've always owned guns, got my first gun when I was six years old. Heck, I had one of these (image at the end of the post) when I was nineteen years old. It's a pump action magazine fed big game rifle accurate to a thousand yards. It's made for deer and it will turn a groundhog literally inside out. It makes an AR15 look like a toy. And I could shoot it just as fast as that guy in that video could shoot that shotgun.

I heard on Diane Rehm this morning that Feinstein thinks the passage of the bill will be an "uphill battle" (note the war metaphor). No shit. She can't propose any gun control legislation (short of an outright ban on autoloading firearms) that will withstand anyone's scrutiny because it isn't possible. The technology simply cannot be effectively controlled to that degree. If the bill passed today, sales of M1A's and "pump action AR's" will spike tomorrow. The gun genie is out of the bottle, and he ain't going back.

When it comes to the difference between us and Norway and all the rest it seems to me the answer is simple. We're assholes. We are a great hulking materialistic youth obsessed greedy shallow empire in decline. Libertarian ideology isn't a proposal for the future, it's apologetics for what has already happened. We're all libertarians whether we know it or not. I live in a very liberal community and you know what? The people here are just as greedy, shallow and materialistic as any other in the conservative south where I was born. It's a little disconcerting. Feinstein's legislation is just another example of one group of people having a problem with another group of people's stuff. The politics of affectation don't build functional societies, they destroy them. When legislation is designed to support ideology instead of people the stage is being set for political oppression. And the only way to avoid it is if people work to be good people and help others to do the same.

A note on images and videos. I am putting them at the end of posts because they seem to work better there. I know a lot of people don't like seeing "gun porn", but visual aids help people understand what is being discussed. A simple image works a whole lot better than a string of esoteric nomenclature and acronyms. The truth is that a gun is a gun is a gun. They're all the same. I can reduce the whole debate into four basic axioms:

1. There is no such thing as a benign bullet.
2. It is always wrong to kill, no matter why.
3. Never judge a man with a gun in your hand.
4. The cops can't jump through a rip in the fabric of time.

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