Tuesday, March 28, 2017


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This posting was interrupted by the killings in Paris by Islamic State.  I delayed posting because I could see that by viewing a page beginning with an illustration of religious iconography readers might get the wrong idea and think I was exploiting religious sensitivities, particularly (in view of those shootings) in taking a tilt against Islam.  Which I am not. .. Well, I am not taking a tilt against Islam (although 'Islam' - according to the multiple and various interpretations that are put on it - is heavily implicated in the current events, news of which was just coming in as I was posting), but I am taking a tilt against those who see a role for religion in organising political affairs.  If the Theocracy of Islam happens to be particularly good at that, then I'm agin' it on that score.  But, ....

Before continuing, I had better explain.

I'm actually voicing a larger concern - that organised religion as a whole is motivated to appropriate ordinary human (/'spiritual') values, and, beginning with the child,  preys on the natural tendency of people to put trust in others' goodwill, and thereby lead them by the nose up the garden path in the name of something that is supposedly good.  Not that I am against 'goodwill' of course, though I have to confess the older I get, the more grumpy (cynical) I find myself to be.  There's just so much bullshit around, .. so you have to be careful what you do with yours.  Trust is essential to living a life, and is (I think) the default setting. That's why lowest common denominators' can, when they feel like it, have a field day. It just takes one low-life cat among all those nice cuddly pidgeons to ..  (if you get my drift).

But there is nothing good about coercing the most emotionally vulnerable.  So even more particularly I'm objecting to the way that theocrats - by commission (cultural sanction) and omission (dog whistling; giving tacit approval while expressing abhorrence), invoke 'religion' to manipulate others for self-serving political ends and their own power.  Religious practices that exploit the weak need to be repudiated in the strongest possible way.  And by no means is this restricted to Islam.

Islamic State insist that these killings are carried out in large part for religious reasons.  In the past, the intrusion of religion into political affairs proved to be a disastrous failure that western democracy sought to correct centuries ago.  To see it raise its head again, particularly when this is coupled with the increasingly strident tone of religious affiliations of political elites in powerful nations (e.g. America), is unacceptable, dangerous, and highlights the darker subterannean currents of religion that stir society generally.

Abhorent though these killings are, there is a certain in-principle, tit-for-tat rationale to them - "collateral damage" of a 'state-of-war', even though it is as Pope Francis says, "in bits" (remembering that it took the deaths of nearly thirty million people to stop the last one that was carried out (partially and arguably) in the name of biblical genocide).

So why am I objecting to religion? Because I see in it exactly the same cognitive deficit (/failure /displacements) that has led to the development of Plate Tectonics in Earth science, namely legitimising figments of imagination by 'groupthink' and attempting thereby to give them physical substance when in reality they have even less than a will o' the wisp.  The parallels are remarkable.

However the really objectionable (and dangerous) thing is the power that comes to be wielded through a symbiotic, reciprocative, societal need of people to belong to a group.

Expressed through people's succeptibility to received wisdom from others whom they credit with authority, and its manipulation by those others for self-serving ends, this power has no foundational trappings, no substance in realism or resource.  It is a power that is unconditionally bestowed and received by warrant, and therefore has no accountability.  It is naked and absolute.  Anyone can wield it, and whoever does can do so for great good or incomprehensible harm.  Even as the parable of the Emperor's New Clothes adds the scalps of National Socialism and Dictatorial Authoritarianism (/communism) of the last century to its belt, by the killings in Paris we are reminded yet again of the harm that can be done when individuals feel empowered by allegiance to a religious authority to do things in its name that otherwise by their own volition they would not.

This is especially dangerous today because of the nihilistic direction that popular culture has taken in the wake of those theoretical -ísms that, made bane by their corruption, have been laid to rest.  But the source of their power can always arise again in another form.  Rather than being a solution for mayhem, that "old-time religion" may well turn out to be a cause of it, creating a chain reaction of more problems in ways that we cannot imagine [link], and that could make the downfall of the Roman Empire and the still-born failure of a 'Third Reich' (from this to this) seem like a cup of spilt milk.  ['Milk', and "Give me the child until he is seven."]


So, that is why I am objecting to religion (and its deistic derivatives).  Because through a serendipitous visit to the Oracle at Delphi I came to realise that Plate Tectonics (in science) and Religion (in human affairs) are closer similars than I thought.  People have to be nuts to believe in either - forgivable up to a point for religion (one's spiritual issues /values are nobody else's business - though in some instances culture might well be), .. but not for science.  Something is going on there that needs attention, .. and revision.  The killings in Paris are simply the catalyst that has raised awareness of the problems that can arise when religion is conflated with politics, or, more exactly, with the failure of politics.  What happens when religion is conflated with science?  Intelligent Design if you are lucky; or Boko Haram if you're not

Everybody needs to sit up and pay attention here. So long as politics spawns disaffection and hopelessness, this will continue.  Society, under the rubric of religion, is at war with itself only this time, unlike the last when it became polarised in National Socialism, it is more like the breakout of an diffused cancer, than a malignancy with a specific core that can be excised with a snip.

Previously I would have said that religion, with its displacements in metaphor and symbolism and the gobbledegook of theo-speak, has nothing to contribute but confusion, and for it to "keep off the grass", but I am wondering if, by a similar displacement, the Pope's duet with Shakira at the United Nations General Assembly was another dog whistle, this one being directed to the crew of his sinking ship, .. at least the one they have previously known.

Fig.4  The captain's cabin - looking towards the stern of the Big Ship which is showing a slight list to port, suggesting there could be a storm brewing.  ("Passing through the eye of a needle", and all that.)

Do we have a leader, making 'religion' relevant again?  [The Third World War "ïn bits".]  Pope Francis does look to me like the sort of a coot who would be quite happy in a lifeboat, though it has to be said he would have to choose his crew carefully.  If that 'duet' with Shakira was officially sanctioned, then there are more than a few would be very willing to toss him overboard - ("By the light ("by the light") of a silvery moon.").  I mean, would the U.N have asked her beforehand what song she planned to sing (her being forward with the rights of the child and all that), ..but then, being cognisant of possible papal sensitivities, would they have cleared it with the Pope?  Or are we supposed to see it as an ambush, and letting her do a 'Pussy Riot' on him ..  like they did on Putin?

It is possible.  The Vatican has had a troubled relationship with the United Nations over population control for a long time, so it is interesting to see even as I write, that Pope Francis has opened St Peter's Holy Door and said that "by passing through it, Catholics should take on the role of the Good Samaritan".  Symbolism (re. "the eye of the needle")? or another dogwhistle with larger intent?

Remains to be seen.

[Hey, .. Sicily as a litmus test?]

    "How high's the water Momma?"

( Let's hope he's got a long pair of wellies.)

20161121   Yup, .. he's on track.

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