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Member since: Sat Nov 29, 2008, 02:55 PM
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Well actually

nobody could know that. And your prognostication regarding the stars is also an understandable appeal to emotion. I don't think religion would have kept us from exploiting oil as an energy resource. But since we're just imagining here, as it stands now it's a fact that there is no replacement for oil and it's running out fast. Without that gap, we would have hit peak oil much sooner and at this point we would most likely be struggling to emerge from another dark age. And it would be a dark age caused by the exploitation of natural resources to drive technology, which depends on science. It could well be argued that the twentieth century was the most barbaric in human history. Those wars were fought for natural resources, as was almost every imperial conquest in history. Most of the time religion was just along for the ride as an excuse.

If purely rational thinking were the panacea that would lift the human race to the stars we would all be speaking Greek right now. If rational social organization and efficient government were the best solution for the vagaries of the human spirit I would be writing this in Latin. The devastation in the images above was not caused by religion. There was no religious crusade destroying rain forests, shipping tons of garbage to the third world, or burning children's faces. That devastation is caused by the need for natural resources to fuel science based technology. Religion is contributing to it because it uses technology. But religion didn't build all this shit, it just uses it just like everybody else believer and atheist alike. If atheists were as purely rational as we would like to think we are we'd be the biggest Luddites around.

It seems to me that both religion and science are working the same scam. Religion says, "Don't worry, heaven is your reward." and science says, "Don't worry, we'll get it figured out." All the while both of them are getting rich and anybody who isn't lucky enough to get with the program gets the shit kicked out of them.

I personally don't have a problem with religion or science. I think they are both vital to our survival as a species. It seems to me that the problem with religion begins when god gets property and the problem with science begins when ideas become property. When that happens people begin to identify more with their systems of thinking than with each other. And that's when the fighting begins because you have to dehumanize someone to brutalize them.

After the fall of the Roman empire religion did exactly what it was supposed to do. It reestablished relationships with people in proximity with each other. It was a difficult and ugly process and after a while god got property and everyone else got human barbeques. The twentieth century was a century of "isms". Capitalism, communism, and fascism fought it out across the entire planet, and in the end all we got out of it were more human barbeques.

Well it is just a message board post.

I have found that if you type more than two hundred words or so people just don't read it. You are right, it is incredibly complicated. Hence the remark about a two way street.

The physics of the matter remain. If you don't live long enough to reproduce, you lose and so does your DNA. A hard world demands hard people. Have you ever noticed that a lot of girls who like "bad boys" really like boys who are bad to everyone but them? Of course sometimes they make a mistake and marry an abusive asshole. And how many women have you heard say that they watch how a man treats wait staff at a restaurant when out on a date? Of course under those circumstances, when servers (servants) are bringing you food at issue is much more about social status than survival. People eat at restaurants when times are good.

Armchair anthropology to be sure and I of course have no research or data to support it. But does it sound at all fair to blame the male gender for all the bad shit humanity has done? Is the female gender really the font of all that is truly good in the human species? Does that make sense? Or is it possible that we are all human, male and female, and the exigent circumstances that surround our existence play a decisive role in how we treat each other in order to survive?

How many men do you know who really care what kind of kitchen faucet they have? I can't think of a single one of my acquaintances who gives a rip about the aesthetics of kitchen hardware. So why is there an entire "wall of faucets" at Home Depot? And drawer handles? And doorknobs? And rugs? And paint colors? As Rita Rudner said once, "men are just bears with furniture". So why did we make all that stuff? To make the women happy so we will get laid.

The horrible injustice of illegal abortion or rape is that women have the right to choose with whom they have sex and whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term. Those choices are their right as females. Thus, aggression in the interpersonal relationships between mates has no place at all. Hence all the fancy home furnishings. Making a nice place for the woman means the man is investing time and energy in the relationship, an indication he will stick around to help rear the child. (Please note the last block quote from Wiki.) Aggression in defense of the home is another investment.

Sure, men have done horrible violence for any number of reasons and will continue to do so. But I sometimes wonder how many of our environmental problems would be solved if women (although men are certainly not blameless here) decided they didn't need all the affectations of modern living.

Where would women have fit in?

Like I said, religion is a tool than can be used for good or ill. I think it is a mistake to lay all of the depredations the human race has perpetrated against the planet and itself at the feet of males.

How did bonobos, which live in humid forests south of the Zaire River, evolve such a different social structure from chimpanzees since the two species split about 2 million years ago? Male dominance plays a big role in chimp society. Disputes are often resolved by threatening displays or by fighting. Female chimps lead a life much more solitary than that their bonobo cousins, and are sometimes harassed by the much larger males. Sex is strictly about reproduction, and reproductive tactics can include infanticide -- the killing of offspring unrelated to a male chimp. Infanticidal individuals remove potential competitors to their own offspring, and the mother, without an infant to care for, will become available for mating again much sooner.


Why, then, have chimps not evolved this social structure? The answer may lie in the history of the habitats they occupy. Both species of primates live in tropical forests along the Zaire River -- chimps north of the river, bonobos to the south. Their environments seem to be quite similar today. But about 2.5 million years ago, there seems to have been a lengthy drought in southern Zaire that wiped out the preferred food plants of gorillas and sent the primates packing. After the drought ended, the forests returned, but the gorillas did not.

Chimpanzees in this environment south of the river had the forest to themselves, and could exploit the fiber foods that had previously been eaten by gorillas -- foods that are still eaten by gorillas to the north. With this additional food to tide them over between fruit trees, they could travel in larger, more stable parties, and form strong social bonds. They became bonobos.

On the north side of the river, the chimps had to share their niche with gorillas, which eat the fiber foods. The chimps have to compete for fruit, and occasionally meat, food resources that tend to be widely scattered. Female chimps disperse into the forest with their infants to find enough to eat, and cannot spend time together to forge strong bonds. The changes in social behavior that occurred in response to this environmental factor may be what led chimps down a different evolutionary path, toward a society more prone to violence.

After nearly going extinct 150,000 years ago, humankind split into small groups—living in isolation for nearly a hundred thousand years before "reuniting" and migrating out of Africa, a new gene study says.

"The population size was driven down to probably as low as 2,000 individuals, perhaps—just a few hundred individuals in each population," Wells added.

"We were on the brink of extinction."

Once the rough climatic conditions let up, the populations apparently expanded and ultimately moved out of Africa—perhaps helped by the new tools and technologies of the late Stone Age.

It may be that without the size, strength and aggressive tendencies of males the human race may not have survived at all. I wonder how much fighting occurred when all those separate bands of humans began to interact again? It's not hard to imagine evolution selecting for male possessive aggression for the survival of the species. The idea of "my woman" to continue "my bloodline" isn't a far cry from "my property".

It doesn't seem surprising to me that feminism in the United States blossomed in the sixties and seventies, a time of wealth and easy access to resources. I may be wrong and I certainly haven't made a study of it, but it may be that in times of scarcity women are treated as chattel and only in times of plenty do they enjoy greater freedom. Living in our highly technological age physical prowess and aggression are not necessarily required for survival. A woman can work at a computer terminal just as well, or probably better, than a man, advantages that benefit both genders.

Traditional avenues for men to gain honor were that of providing adequately for their families and exercising leadership.[24] The traditional family structure consisted of the father as the bread-winner and the mother as the homemaker. During World War II, women entered the workforce in droves to replace the soldiers who were sent overseas. While some returned home to resume their positions as homemakers if their husbands survived the war, and others remained in the workplace. Over the decades since, women have risen to high political and corporate positions. This shift has caused an increase in women becoming the primary income-earners and men the primary care-givers[24] --a process author Jeremy Adam Smith calls "the daddy shift" in his 2009 book of that title.[25] As of 2007, 159,000 dads were primary care-givers and this number is increasing.[26] Dubbed stay-at-home dads, these men are performing duties in the home which are not being done by women. Regardless of age or nationality, men more frequently rank good health, harmonious family life and good relationships with their spouse or partner as important to their quality of life.[27]

I think that it's not hard to imagine that most of the men that died in some horrible war of aggression and conquest died to defend a woman and child back home. Compassion, tenderness and nurturing are sometimes luxuries we cannot afford. While women have certainly been the victims of such a lack, it has been men who have been forced to relinquish most of what makes us human just to stay alive. In the end, I think it's a two way street with a lot of twists and turns with no clear end or destination.

Not necessarily.

Art has two basic parts - form and content. Form is anything you can point at like line, shape, color, value, edge, surface or texture. Content is what it means or why it was made.

Religion is an expression of cultural content. While Christianity has perpetrated its share of moral outrages it also supported some of the greatest cultural advances in human history. I'm not an anthropologist, but I suspect that the creation of a monotheistic deity created a personal connection to the divine which represented a great leap forward in our ability to understand why we and those around us do the things we do.

Art made in oppressive, totalitarian cultures in invariably stilted and lifeless. A culture that cannot produce good art is a culture in decline.

When art is confined to the service of some utilitarian ideal rather than an exploration of what might experienced beyond the utilitarian needs of a person or regime it wilts into banality. I am often asked for a definition of art. The simplest definition I have come up with so far is that art is cultural R&D.

The vast majority of images people in the United States see are of the same utilitarian nature and are equally lifeless expressions of a culture in decline.

Art, like a scientific hypothesis, is intended to explore possibilities. It is a tool used for "another way of knowing" ourselves.

I'm familiar with it.

And without that black strip, we would have gotten here a whole lot quicker:

Religion is just a tool like a gun. It can be used to bring out the best and worst in people. Not only do I think there is no way to avoid having people create and practice some sort of religion, without it we would not be able to cooperate for the survival of the species. We have had some sort of religious practice for our entire history so it must have some sort of evolutionary utility. The secret is to use it for the purpose for which it is intended which, in too small a nutshell, is to foster a sense of understanding and empathy for those around us. Without that, the degradations of technological advance would have, and will, continue to accelerate to the ruin of the entire human race.

Since we seem able to design machinery to significantly expand the ability of the brain

I am not so sure there are any meaningful limitations on its capabilities. We can build machines that far outstrip our physical abilities with relative ease, I see no reason why we cannot do the same with our brains.

The limitations may well be not in our brains but in the object of our investigations. The planet itself may not support the kind of physical and mental activity required to make all those technological leaps. For every Mars lander there are about a hundred million Nike tennis shoes. For every cyclotron experiment there are about a hundred million mindless tweets. For every Einstein there is a Hiroshima.

While our intellectual capacity does not seem to me to have any meaningful limits, I think our emotional capacity is equally limitless as well. We seem not only to be able to conceptualize what others may think or feel, we can create fictional characters as experiments to conceptualize what could be possibly be thought or felt just to see what will happen and share in those emotional highs and lows. It's what religion, otherwise known as fiction, is designed to do. For every god there is a Satan. For every heaven there is a hell. For every St. Stephen there is a Torquemada.

It seems we have become so adept at the development of systems to expand our abilities we have forgotten how to simply be who we are right here right now. It seems that there are people who don't know, or care, where their food comes from. There are others who are so enamored with ideological constructs they are willing to kill for a fiction.

I wonder if the human race is finally beginning to reach a point where the planet and our own bodies can no longer support the unlimited ability of our brains to seek out novelty both without and within ourselves. The solution to that problem, if it exists, may be the most important solution the human race has found since we walked out of Africa.

I agree.

But actually making that happen will require a change in the human species as it has developed over the span of about 200,000 years.

We walked out of Africa in search of more and we have been moving ever since. The fundamental idea of "movement in search of more" underlies, as far as I can tell, every successful cultural advancement the human species has enjoyed throughout its history.

We may be unable to genetically respond to the changes in our environment to survive as a species. Which is ironic, since not a few of those changes will have been caused by us.

As a species

we aren't designed to manage abundance. Our bodies were designed to manage scarcity. I can't think of a culture that has successfully done it before it brutalized other cultures around it or devoured itself. We just don't know how to equitably create artificial scarcity. It seems that the only way we can create a just society is if there is little to distribute.

Technology runs on oil. The ultimate use of that technology has been primarily to secure the convenience of the three thousand mile Caesar salad. While real time global communication is wonderful, its primary use is the movement of electronic money. We may be on the cusp of another Axial Age. After seven thousand years or so of increasing abundance we now have seven billion people on the planet. With the demise of the energy resource that has been used to feed them, redesigning a localized method of social organization when so many powerful empires are so physically close together and dependent on the same dwindling resource will be an interesting task.

While the OWS movement is a wonderful thing and long overdue remember that it, right along with the Tea Party, is a movement populated by some of the most privileged people the world has ever seen. They are in dire economic straits in the wealthiest and most powerful empire on the face of the planet. I'm afraid I don't share your optimism. Our standard of living has been way too high for way too long. We are spoiled children who aren't getting what we want, and we are armed to the teeth.

I think you might be asking an unfair question there.

Traditional religions shouldn't claim any direct contribution in the advancement of empirical knowledge a la creation science and all the rest. It's not really fair to demand that of religion and at the same time lambaste it for involving itself in matters beyond its ken.

Scientific and technological developments depend on the cooperation of people not only within cultures but across generations. If cooperation didn't feel good, we wouldn't have done it. Religion helps facilitate that sense of cooperation. Other ways might have been developed, but they weren't. And I don't mind so much. I've never been comfortable with the idea of "non overlapping magisteria". To my mind they overlap constantly - within each of us. The struggle to reconcile one with the other has resulted with some of the greatest accomplishments and failures of the human race.

As someone who has little understanding or use for mathematics I find it interesting that mathematical infinity is described as something other than real numbers but nevertheless is useful in calculation. At the same time, the concept of god is considered infinite but is expressed in emotional terms and is useful in understanding our motives, as are most of the concepts of religious faith. Certainly heaven and hell are considered emotional states continued into infinity. Isn't it interesting that the concept of infinity finds its way so easily into both our understanding of the world and our understanding of ourselves?

In mathematics, "infinity" is often treated as if it were a number (i.e., it counts or measures things: "an infinite number of terms" but it is not the same sort of number as the real numbers. In number systems incorporating infinitesimals, the reciprocal of an infinitesimal is an infinite number, i.e. a number greater than any real number. Georg Cantor formalized many ideas related to infinity and infinite sets during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the theory he developed, there are infinite sets of different sizes (called cardinalities).[1] For example, the set of integers is countably infinite, while the set of real numbers is uncountably infinite.

Attributes of God

1 John 4:16 says "God is Love." D. A. Carson speaks of the "difficult doctrine of the love of God," since "when informed Christians talk about the love of God they mean something very different from what is meant in the surrounding culture."[11] Carson distinguishes between the love the Father has for the Son, God's general love for his creation, God's "salvific stance towards his fallen world," his "particular, effectual, selecting love toward his elect," and love that is conditioned on obedience.

The infinity of God includes both his eternity and his immensity. Isaiah 40:28 says that "Yahweh is the everlasting God," while Solomon acknowledges in 1 Kings 8:27 that "the heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you". Infinity permeates all other attributes of God: His love is infinite, his powers are infinite...

The development of linear perspective is one of the hallmarks of the Renaissance. It is a visual representation of infinity and evidence of an outward looking into the world after hundreds of years of emotional introspection and mysticism in Mideivel Europe. The need for order, balance, clarity and harmony was an expected response to the difficulties experienced with sectarian wars and increasing population density and mobility that brought with them appalling living conditions and inconveniences like Bubonic plague.

In about 1413 a contemporary of Ghiberti, Filippo Brunelleschi, demonstrated the geometrical method of perspective, used today by artists, by painting the outlines of various Florentine buildings onto a mirror. When the building's outline was continued, he noticed that all of the lines converged on the horizon line. According to Vasari, he then set up a demonstration of his painting of the Baptistery in the incomplete doorway of the Duomo. He had the viewer look through a small hole on the back of the painting, facing the Baptistery. He would then set up a mirror, facing the viewer, which reflected his painting. To the viewer, the painting of the Baptistery and the Baptistery itself were nearly indistinguishable.

[font color="grey" size="number" face="fontname"] Pietro Perugino's usage of perspective in this fresco at the Sistine Chapel (1481–82) helped bring the Renaissance to Rome.[/font]

The need for accuracy in perception of the world around us is obvious in the development of linear perspective. But the introspective metaphor of using a mirror to view the works of our creation as we peer through a hole behind them so that we may better understand the world around us is difficult to escape in Brunelleschi's demonstration.

Prior to the development of linear perspective imagery was rendered flat as an object in itself and was the hallmark of medieval art. This is not because the artists of the time had no notion of perspective, they just had no use for it. They were using imagery to express something other than an empirical understanding of the outside world. The art of the time was used to investigate and express a spirituality that we today cannot possibly imagine. In fact, that lack of spirituality may be one of the more troubling aspects of the human experience in modern times. The cultural tools we have traditionally used to investigate our inner selves have become little more than ideology factories more interested in market share than introspection. Certainly, much of what troubles our modern lifestyle is a sense of anomie that permeates our relationships with others.

It seems that the change from representational to iconic imagery has been cyclical, much like humanity's search for some sort of balance between what we know outside and what we feel inside. From the development of contrapposto in Greek sculpture to the image of Christ in the chapel of San Marco's Basilica which, I can attest from personal experience, still works. As I turned for one last look in the chapel before I left I saw the image of Christ looking down on me exactly as it had for hundreds of years and it gave me, an unrepentant iconoclast, chills.

It seems to me that cycle continues today. Compare this image from the twelfth century with a work by the modernist painter Frank Stella from 1959. Both are objects rather than a window into another space. If the first is an object to be used to prompt an emotional response in tune with the prevailing spirituality of the time, could a stereotypically modernist painting be understood as an object to prompt the same emotional relationship to spirituality?

[font color="grey" size="number" face="fontname"]Mary Magdalen announcing the Resurrection to the Apostles, St Albans Psalter, English, 1120-1145.[/font]

[font color="grey" size="number" face="fontname"]Frank Stella, Enamel on canvas, 84 x 109 in. / 213.3 x 276.8 cm., 1959[/font]

The Stella, much like the Psalter before it, was produced at the height of the zeitgeist of its time. It too was designed as an expression and a glorification of that spiritual paradigm. Medieval cathedrals were built to be an expression of heaven on earth and modern architecture seems to be designed to perform the same spiritual function. The nature of that spirituality, to me, is troubling. It is a barren and forbidding sense of being that is becoming increasingly untenable given the environmental problems we have created through the ill considered use of technology.

To my mind religion, as a systematized expression of faith, is just a tool designed to do certain things. One might say we can have faith in a deity or in a process and the practice of expressing that faith results in consequences that can be a blessing or a disaster. Sometimes I think that the only difference between the two is how long we cling to one or the other far beyond its utility until it becomes a liability.

Could be.

The Matrix movies were Hollywood action blockbusters that tried to support a veneer of philosophical depth and failed to carry it through. They were roundly panned with each iteration for not following through on their promise of producing any real insight into the human condition but rather falling back on vague elliptical expressions of existential angst. The first movie was, philosophically speaking, the best not because of any insight it might have offered, but that it playfully tinkered with the movie viewing experience. That plot device was much more effective in creating a vehicle for martial arts special effects than any deep philosophical insight. I enjoyed all three movies and consider them well done but they are not good art.

African Americans also figured prominently in the casting of the films, and the symbiotic relationship between Hollywood and academia as manifest by West and the Warchoski brothers revolves, as it usually does, more around marketing than philosophy. Actors are cast in no small part for their demographic appeal and the presence of African Americans in the movie had little to do with the plot and much more to do with marketing. The inclusion of West no doubt served to help add a veneer of gravitas and depth to a movie that had none but used the history of racial problems in this country for easy emotional kitsch. As for West, I doubt he agreed to appear in the films without knowing how it was being demographically cast, and appearing as a powerful political figure in a culture of embattled African Americans fighting for survival against machines whose designer is a white guy with a white goatee and a white suit and whose nemesis is a black woman whose role in the system is to destabilize it with free will was no doubt an interesting choice for a black theologian.

If he feels that academicians are insufficiently involved in the culture at large surely he could find some segment of the culture with more gravitas than Bill Maher and the Warchoski brothers with which to engage. Of course it might be argued that the culture is such that the only way to involve oneself in it is to use avenues like that I daresay Ken Burns would return his phone calls. While his methods leave room for discussion regarding his motives, they are beyond doubt lucrative. He has written enough scholarly books to try his hand at a screenplay but chose instead to work in front of the camera and the microphone. Say what you will about politicians and actors, one trait they both share in abundance is narcissism, a trait not necessarily admirable in a theologian or an academician.

Central to the issue is not the career of Cornel West. If he wants to cash in that's fine with me, that's the American way. What is at issue here is an awareness of divided loyalties. The value of introspection and cultural structures that foster that impulse is to help people understand why they do things and who they do them for. When those structures begin to conflate their own self interest with the interests of those they are designed to serve devotees wind up serving the systems themselves rather than people. Thus, when a religious organization involves itself in politics the members of that organization have two conflicting objectives: management of a government that should fear them and fealty to a religion that demands their respect. The end result is that the religion gains tremendous power over government and by extension the people it governs.

The confusion regarding the motives of Mr. West are emblematic of the problems of the relationship between religion and government. While we may argue that the direct involvement of academia with the public may or may not be a good thing, his methods certainly seem to be emotionally self serving and lucrative. And as with the motives of Mr. West, the motives of religion are controversial because they depend less on any easily discernible benefit for all, but rather on a sort of plausible deniability that is also self serving and lucrative.

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