Saturday, February 27, 2010

They came for everyone else; now they're coming for you

A friend sent me the following link: Man Branded a Pedophile. I posted the following to Sky News under Bedazzled Crone.

"And if it had been Mr Geraghty-Shewan's son who had disappeared in that shopping centre, what would he have been saying then. The situation could have been handled better, but that security guard was doing his job, what the society now expects him to do. The headline is as much of a problem. The man was not "branded a pedophile". He was questioned; who called "Sky News" - I'll bet it wasn't the security guard or the police! People want all this added security, they shouldn't be surprised when the system sometimes overreacts."

People should watch Snoops (on the BBC - I think it's called MI5 in the U.S.) if you want to see just how CCTV cameras invade every aspect of British life. If we want to stop this kind of Orwellian world, people have to step up and educate themselves on reality. One of the realities of child abuse and abduction is that it is usually someone the child knows who is the abuser. The media, academia, the governments and society at large create these "moral panics". People buy into the scare tactics  and demand something be done. Then they accept the curtailment of their freedoms "for the greater good". Then, somebody comes for them. Do people not understand that you can't have it both ways?  
Even though there has been a decrease in crime in Canada, there is this constant screaming for harsher crime legislation, for more prisons, for American-style justice. This is just the slippery slope down the road to giving up more and more of our freedoms. The thought police, the smoke police, the fat police, the drug police, the terrorist police. Create enough fear in the general population and people seem to willingly give up their freedoms. There is that old adage, "give an inch and they'll take a mile". In places, they have taken hundreds of miles.
What is rather ironic, I think, is that the Rights Revolution has turned into increased monitoring of the population as a whole, leading us, willynilly, into a potential police state. I doubt that that was the original intention!
The following is a quote from the conclusion of a wonderful little book about multiculturalism and the Canadian experiment called The Rights Revolution:
     "We have reason to be hopeful, and not just because places like Canada are rich and have capacities to conciliate conflict that are denied poorer societies. We are lucky too because, as colonial peoples, we were schooled in the life of liberty. Today, in our multi-ethnic, multicultural cities, we are trying to vindicate a new experiment in ethnic peace, and we have learned that the preconditions of order are simple: equal protection under the law, coupled with the capacity for different peoples to behave towards each other not as members of tribes or clans, but as citizens. We do not require very much in the way of shared values, or even shared lives. People should live where they want, and with whom they want. The key precondition is equality of rights; it all depends whether our differences can shelter under the protecting arch of legitimate legal order.
   So the unity and coherence of a liberal society are not threatened because we come from a thousand different traditions, worship different gods, eat different foods, live in different sections of town, and speak different languages. What is required of us is recognition, empathy, and if possible, reconciliation. .... "Let's face it, we're all here to stay."" (M. Ignatieff, 2002, pp. 140-141)
This is what we should be aiming for. It many ways it harkens back to the origins of liberalism (& dare I say libertarianism). The idea of equality of persons and rights has been turned into "my rights" and people don't seem to give a damn if somebody else's rights are trampled on.
However, if you let them come for everyone else, they will, one day, come for you.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

DWMs (Dead White Males)

The original post
She said:
and Aristotle and Tommy were misogynist fools, which means that you really have to take what they say with a mountain of salt
He said:
Thomas Aquinas also supported the Inquisition. Nietzsche was a misogynist too. Aristotle did not oppose slavery. All horribly deplorable characteristics, of course. Of course. But it does not negate the overwhelming body of philosophic truth that these people discovered.
She said:
and it is not because they are DWMs that I disparage Ari & Tommy – their systems are useful to figure out how not to do things

So the DWM:
The players: Aristotle and Aquinas; St. Augustine makes the Trifecta and Plato makes the Superfecta (in proper order, Plato, Aristotle, St Augustine and Aquinas bringing up the rear)

The problem, as I see it, is that there is a major problem when you pick and choose. This I can accept, but that isn't so good. Then I can just disregard the stuff that I don't like. And misogyny isn't some little tweek to the system. Misogyny is about the hatred of half (actually, usually a little more than half) of the human race by those in power. The minute that you have a system that dismisses half of the human race as not really human, you set up a massive system of inequality that is rife with abuse. Therefore you must call into question every aspect of the system that these men have set up, because in the end, their systems are dependant on the subjugation of half of humanity - and the half of humanity that gives birth to those in power.

Now we don't really understand how this happened. Greek philosophy and Greek life was one of the most misogynist in the ancient world. One argument for why this was so might be that it was extrememly difficult in Greek society to dethrone the worship of the goddesses as critical to human existence. Gerda Lerner's book, The Creation of Patriarchy does not focus on the Greeks, but focusses on the process of the dethroning of the goddesses in Mesopotamian and Hebrew cultures. We do not have the same written information on early Greek society that we do for the early semitic cultures.

What we have of Greek philosophy is predominantly Socratic, Platonic and Aristotelean. There are a few interesting pre-Socratics, but we have very little of what they wrote and they weren't the "winners" in the hearts and minds of Greek men. These philosophies are dualistic, particularly Plato's philosophy. There is a focus on reason over emotion, which has haunted western civilization in all of its structures. It is argued that Plato has a place for women in his ideal state, The Republic. That is true, but only if they behave like men. His society is also oligarchic and communal (for example, with respect to child-rearing, which I suppose allowed women to then act like men). Aristotle, while disagreeing with Plato in a number of areas, made women even more subhuman by insisting that they were deformed males - conceived when the north wind blew. (I wonder what Aristotle would make of the x and y chromosones - in the fun heydey of the 70s & early 80s in the feminist resurgence, women were want to talk about how the "y chromosone" was actually the deformed one, with only a touch of irony). All of this means that when they set up their ideals, be it the family, the state or their class systems, they did not take into consideration the insights of half of their populations. The women were only really good for breeding and keeping the "home fires burning". Since few women were educated in the literate arts, they didn't actually leave their feelings about the subject to posterity. One of the few plays to show how women might have felt is Euripides' Medea, a heartwrenching portrayal of a woman betrayed by her husband, the father of her children and the norms of the society in which they lived.

Platonic dualism (and more clearly, its child, neo-platonism) is characterized primarily by the split between the mind and the body. The mind/soul is good but it is trapped in the body, and thus, the body is something that one must escape from at all costs. Platonic dualism had a major impact on the development of Christianity. It is already evident in the Gospel of John, some of the NT letters and extra-canonical New Testament writings. However, it reaches its zenith in the writings of St. Augustine of Hippo, the man who had so many problems with sex, that he embedded Christianity with the theological justification for its hatred of sexuality, and he did this by blaming Eve for the introduction of original sin into humanity. Everything would have just been perfect if only Eve had behaved herself and obeyed Yahweh. The focus on celibacy and the cult of the Virgin Mary are logical outcomes of this distaste of sex. The one thing to be said for the Augustinian position was that, since he based, as much as possible, his theology on the biblical books, he believed that women were equally capable of salvation as men - after all, Paul said so in Galatian 3:28.

That was the state of affairs until Thomas Aquinas decided to embed Aristotle into Christian theology. Where women were concerned, there was absolutely no redeeming value in this shift. Women were now deformed males, and they were less capable of salvation. Read Question 92: The Production of the Woman in his Summa Theologica. Enough said!

For the record:
Women sometimes look at Spartan society as really good for women (I have a hard time believing that women in my history classes can actually believe that this is a place where women have "made it"). Plutarch gives us some idea of the dimensions of Spartan women's lives in his Sayings of Spartan Women. The problem is that Spartan warrior society was based on institutionalized sexual abuse of its male children, and was one of the few societies that we know of that murdered male infants in a greater proportion than female children. Not a society that I would want emulated.

It is my contention that you have to look at the whole, you cannot look at little parts of things. It is imperative that we look at the presuppositions of any writer. In the case of these DWM, one has to ask one's self, how could they structure up a system that treats females this way? What is it about their belief systems about how the world works that would allow this misogyny to go unquestioned? All these writers created philosophical systems that justified sexism, racism, classism. They had an anthropology that believed that half the human race was less than human (read male). In my book, this makes their entire systems suspect.

Life should be joyful. Men and women should be able to have happy and fruitful relationships. They should be able to treat one another with care, emotion, and equality. They should have respect for one another. I see little of this in the DVMs and their philosophical, religious, or social systems; the ones that have dominated the world's thought since recorded western history began. I do not believe that they left us with an "overwhelming body of philosophic truth." We are socialized into these women-hating systems, both men and women. Why are we so surprised that the world is full of hatred; hatred of the self, and hatred of others. Misanthropy begins with the hatred and the disparaging of women that is built into the systems that we so revere.

I am not saying that it is easy to change, to find a different way to look at the world and at ourselves. The thorns of our socialization dig deep into our souls. We can only try to remove the thorns one by one. It is a struggle; a struggle that won't be completed in my lifetime. I have faith that the world will get better as we question every presupposition that we grew up with. The world is better for women today than it ever was. I would never want to go back into the past. The world that we live in is the sum total of the past. Much of it is a mess - the old philosophies, social systems, religious sytems and other "isms" haven't worked - and please don't tell me that this is because we haven't followed those prescriptions perfectly - they weren't and aren't perfect. In fact, perfection is a red herring that keeps people from changing what they can. People keep trying to find that platonic ideal. Why do we keep thinking that we fail to live up to some ideal? Give it up, it doesn't exist. Human beings are what we are - we live, we make mistakes, we move forward, we have children, we work, we play. Some of us fight for change, when we think there is injustice. Being separate, as well as collective persons means that we won't ever build a consensus, however much we would want to. There is no perfection, but lord knows, we have to stop leaning on the failed solutions of the past if we ever hope to find a better way.

Some days, life sucks; other days, it is glorious. Some days, you get up at 3 am and write for almost 3 hours. That's just the way it is.

Use stuff from the DVMs, if you must, but to reiterate, always take what they say with a mountain of salt.

As always, if you want change, prepare for the backlash!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Reason to Believe

One of my favourites. I picked this version to embed because of Springsteen's opening words. This is the problem that all of us face day to day. What to we believe? What are our reasons for getting up in the morning? Often we don't actually think about it. We are still humans and we still need to live within relationships. How we do that is a measure of who we are. Our world is changing. Religious systems still give many people the answers to these questions. Too often, people leave one religious sytem to go to another - and sometimes those are secular belief systems. They function in the same manner as the "old time religions"; however, they can be just as damaging to the world, as the belief systems left behind.

True believers are the bane of the world - and there are all sorts of ways to be a true believer. It is not easy to keep one's self open to new ideas, particularly when they can be disconcerting. Years ago, someone told me that I shouldn't be asking so many questions and reading so much stuff - it would destroy my faith. My response was, "If it destroys my faith, it wasn't much of a faith to begin with." Thus, begins the life long journey that all us travel, whether we want to or not - unless, of course, we opt out.

For the rest of us, the answers are not simple. The world is one of chance - we do not choose where and to whom we are born.  Sometimes we are just in the wrong place at the wrong time. We are socialized into different views of the world - and it is hard to break the stranglehold that early socialization has over us. There is a great tendancy to "go with the flow". Hats off to those who don't want to accept the status quo - it too often sucks. My final tagline for anyone trying to hold those in power to account:

If you want change, prepare for the backlash.

and, as always Power to the People

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Silent Scream of the Asparagus

The Silent Scream of the Asparagus

You just have to read this one. So plants have rights in Switzerland. Do you think that I should give my house plants the choice to move there? How the hell will I know if they decide to move to the plants' home of the free!!, and whose going to pay to get them there?

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Post-WW2 Demythologizing Weltanschaaungs

Those Germans have a good word for a lot of things. Weltanschaaung is really just worldview. I love the sound of it.

There were many good psycho-theologians/philosophers after the 2nd WW who were so horrified by what happened in Germany that they started to rethink and restructure the underpinnings of Christian theology. It made many a thinking person question the foundations of the Christian belief system.

Demythologizing was a term that encompassed a new methodology for these alternate interpretations of key Christian presuppositions. It all focused on revising the Christian relationship with the Bible by initially arguing a rereading of the four gospels that tell the stories about Jesus. It meant simply that we needed to take the myth out of Christ and go back to the original stories about Jesus. For example, this meant taking the four gospels and breaking them down into their literary forms. This led to form criticism, rhetorical criticism, literary criticism, oral history criticism, etc. - a whole new ballgame for Christian scholars!! This did have an practical impact. The United Church of Canada, the tradition that I grew up in, came out with a new curriculum in the 1960s that was revolutionary - it went as far as stating that you didn't have to believe that Jesus was God to be a Christian; that the idea that Jesus was God was a creation of later thinkers and that there is no indication that Jesus ever saw himself as God in the gospels. To say that it was radical is an understatement and it caused a raging furor at the time.

Rollo May (mentioned in the comment on the previous blog) was a humanistic thinker and his ideas have some merit. However, I wondered when I first read them how much practical use they could have. I am always about the use that some of these revisionings of Christian doctrines can have for the person in the pew. And Rollo May was a close friend of Paul Tillich, for what that's worth.

Existential theology was all the rage, as well in the post-WW2 world of theology. It certainly was part of my journey. However, one day I read Paul Tillich's The Courage to Be (the bible of existential theology) and I threw it across the room. I no longer remember what was so stupid about the book, but I knew that it was crap. So endeth my foray into existentialist theology. It did not surprise me a few years later when his widow [Hannah Tillich, From Time to Time (New York: Stein and Day, 1973)] wrote a scathing analysis of Tillich, who it turns out, seduced every married women he could get his hands on, watched pornography with religious themes, had affairs with students, etc. In the 80s, when I was discussing Tillich, one of my male profs said, "But surely you can't believe that his personal life had anything to do with his theology?" Typical!!!! Of course it did. Human beings cannot create anything ex nihilo (out of nothing). Everything that we think and do comes out of our experience (For some of mine, go to the blog So They Think We're Crazy - that's me). The theologies and the worlds we create come from our journeys and our attempts to deal with the lives that are thrust upon us when we are born. We can do nothing about the place and to whom and into what, we were born. Some are lucky, some are not. Some of us will always rail against injustices when we see them. And it is only those that have injustices in their personal past who truly understand how badly those injustices hurt. However, there are myriads of ways to deal with our pasts. Tillich's was to try to escape his through theology - he couldn't let go of his god, so he had to redefine that God in order to allow him (Tillich) to exist - but he hurt many many people and his theology was devoid of true compassion for other human beings, just as his personal life was.

To not see the personal in the "abstract", is to buy into the idea that there is true "objectivity". This is not possible for humans. Even scientific endeavours are fraught with some worldview - we need to try as hard as possible to remove those biases, but always remembering that someone else may bring another viewpoint to the table. And another viewpoint is always worth looking at - it then becomes part of our personal experience to accept, integrate or reject.

From that point on, I moved to Erich Fromm. From my view today, he kept a little too much Freudianism & Marxism, although his work contains a major critique of Freud & Marx, but his writings were a hell of a lot more compassionate. There is always a reason to go back and read Escape from Freedom, Man for Himself, Beyond the Chains of Illusion, Psychoanalysis and Religion, The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, etc. Those books changed my life. Sometimes I forget how important Fromm was to saving my soul at a time when I was desperately in need of hope. (Thanks Ray, for bringing up Rollo May - it led me to remembering Fromm). That led me to the Frankfurt School and Theodor Adorno whose Minima Moralia: Reflections from a Damaged Life is one of my bedside reading books.

Jewish scholars also did much rethinking - but they begin from different presuppositions. They have a long, long tradition of questioning god and interpreting and reinterpreting the words of their scripture (Tanakh: the Teachings [the Torah], the Prophets & the Writings). One of the latest in this line is David Blumenthal's Facing the Abusing God: A Theology of Protest. There is also a long tradition of getting really pissed off at God. Just read the book of Job.

The latest in this genre is the Cohen brothers new film, A Serious Man, which seems to be a modern retelling of the story of Job right down to the tornado at the end of the movie - Hashem's way of saying "How dare you question me?" If you know the Book of Job, then you know that everything will come out right in the end. Hashem (God) has lost his temper once more, Job gets the point (we assume), and the Serious Man will live happily ever after. This film made me laugh and laugh. The different rabbis explaining how he had to see things differently (reinterpretation), or just accept that it's a mystery was a scream. There were lots of times in my life that I wished that I had been born Jewish (not that that is necessarily an easy road for women - but at least they had positive role models for women and a necessary role for women in their religious structures). But that is an entirely different post.

The trailer for A Serious Man - apparently it is now out on DVD.

What does all this have to do with an atheist's blog. Well, it goes to the point that there are myriads of ways of trying to solve how humans relate to one another and how to solve humanity's problems. The caring for one another. How to create that "which fosters and enhances human life". We don't need to reinvent the wheel if at all possible.

Enough for today.

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Few Thoughts on Original Sin

Someone asked to explain the doctrine of original sin. It would take a lot longer than a blog post.

I am only going to give you the highlights:

The idea of original sin really is a creation from the pseudepigraphical texts. It was a theology that started within small groups of Jews who could be considered “eschatological” or apocalyptic. They believed that the world was an extremely sinful place and this world was going to come to an end. However they needed to also explain how the world got so sinful. So, they blamed it all on the fall of Adam and Eve (and for the most part the larger blame fell on Eve, laying the cornerstone for Christianity’s misogyny). Then, over time, it becomes a staple part of Christian doctrine.

What happened was that Paul wrote a letter to the Romans answering some theological questions. He was trying to explain why & how the death of Jesus was needed to save the world. So he came up with the explanation that is summed it with (read Rom. 5)
Rom. 5:18-21: Then as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man's act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man's obedience many will be made righteous. Law came in, to increase the trespass; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Then Augustine of Hippo gets into the act. If anyone, he is the one responsible for putting it all together and creating the theology of original sin in its grandest form. It was his debates with Pelagius over whether or not “man” had free will explain the basis of original sin. The issue is whether human beings can do good without the intervention of “grace” given by the death of Christ on the cross. It also revolved around whether or not infants needed to be immediately baptised at birth to free them from this original sin. Augustine even worked out how “original sin” was transmitted from one human being to the next generation. He was obsessed with this. Turns out that original sin in transmitted during orgasm because men lost all rational thought when they were in the throes of orgasm. He even worked out that if Adam and Eve had had sex in the Garden of Eden, there would have been no lust. Sex with the rational mind.

So how does original sin work. For Roman Catholics, everyone is born into original sin. Therefore, they need the sacrament of baptism to wash away original sin. This removes the stain of original sin and then human beings are responsible for the sins that they commit. This solves the free will/predestination debate. For Protestants, there are different solutions. Generally speaking, baptism does not wash away original sin – it only mitigates it. Thus Protestants need grace to help them do good. Even then, they are always prone to sinning because that is the nature of humans. Ultimately, they can only do evil or bad things, if you want.

Therefore, Jesus had to die on the cross to save us from our sins (or original sin). God demanded this sacrifice, because only someone who was without sin (hence the development of the idea of the “virgin birth”) would be a perfect enough sacrifice to appease the anger of God at our sinful nature. You could extrapolate from this that if there weren’t any human beings, then there would be no sin, and God would be happy? It also sets up guilt as the proper response for living. It also sets up the idea that living is a burden, and that suffering is what human beings deserve for being so sinful.

Now this is modified by many Christians., but the previous paragraph is still the most common explanation for why Jesus had to die on the cross.