Archive for the ‘thinking about religion’ Category
Being as helpless and impotent as we are in understanding the meaning of our existence, the majority of mankind turns to organized religion for answers, while a much smaller number of humans turn to learned religious writers and theologians. But all we ever get from any of these sources is unintelligible and/or absurd answers to insoluble mysteries. God, if there is a God, would have all the answers. But he is waiting for us, if at all, outside the reach of our minds — our finite minds cannot comprehend that which is infinite (or as Einstein put it, “The problem is too vast for our limited minds”) — and that is why the effort of religion and theology to define and explain God is inherently futile. Thus, my agnosticism.
Is the conclusion of agnosticism no more than an intellectual exercise? Can it have any value to the human condition? Perhaps. I believe there is an ethical dimension to agnosticism that has the potential, to the degree it is embraced, to make man more honest. We know that untruthfulness, dishonesty, deceit, hypocrisy, and pretense are so much a part of life that we almost expect these things in our daily living and find it refreshing when we see their absence. And it’s not too likely this will ever change. But if man can ever at least hope to reduce the level of dishonesty in his existence, there perhaps is no better place to start than in his relationship with God.
- Book Review: Divinity of Doubt by Vincent Bugliosi (blogcritics.org)
- Frank Schaeffer: Divinity of Doubt (huffingtonpost.com)
- Divinity of Doubt: The God Question (jenx67.com)
- The Sense and Morality of Agnosticism (unreasonablefaith.com)
Lee Smolin is a world class scientist and does his science in Canada. He recently reviewed a book by Marcelo Gleiser that has a highly suggestive title “A Radical New Vision for Life in an Imperfect Universe”. Here is a telling excerpt from that book selected by Smolin for his review:
It became clear to me that scientists and seekers of perfection from all walks of life have been courting the wrong muse. It is not symmetry and perfection that should be our guiding principle, as it has been for millennia….The science we create is just that, our creation. Wonderful as it is, it is always limited, it is always constrained by what we know of the world….We may search for unified descriptions of natural phenomena, and we may find some partial unifications along the way. But we must remember that a final unification is forever beyond our reach….The human understanding of the world is forever a work in progress. That we have learned so much, speaks well of our creativity. That we want to know more, speaks well of our drive. That we think we can know all, speaks only of our folly.
As I read those lines I couldn’t help thinking that he could be describing how religious authorities propose unified models for human morality. Surely the one constant here, human folly, applies as much in the scientific domain as in the moral.
Scientists seem to be ready to express humility in the face of human intellectual weakness. When will religious spokespersons do as much? Is it possible that religious authorities speak from a position of intellectual arrogance since they propose that they are the final judges on earth of the perfection of their vision of human life.
- The exciting absence of certainty | Jonathan Jones (guardian.co.uk)
- Embracing Nature’s Imperfections (3quarksdaily.com)
- (book review) Sam Harris’ “The Moral Landscape” (war-on-error.xanga.com)
Last night, Xmas night, I was in a Chinese restaurant in Ganjingzi, a new and expanding neighborhood near the Dalian International Airport. I was the guest of Sherry Cai and Bin Qui, her husband. It seemed like a normal Chinese dinner in an average to good area, lots of fresh seafood.
And then there was a sort of night club show with pretty girls doing a sort of belly dance routine, an MC who recognized the only Laowai in the restaurant, yours truly. I guess this was more evidence in these good times in China, that the Chinese enjoy parties and celebrations as much if not more than many other places I have lived.
So I am in an Xmas mood this morning and couldn’t help feeling touched by these thoughts written by Alan Wolfe in a review of an interesting book about the connection between religion and culture. Here is a telling excerpt from that review:
We are, in addition, witnessing the severing of religion from the cultures within which it was once embedded. Religion and culture have long existed in an uneasy embrace. Catholicism is presumably a universal faith, yet long before the reforms of Vatican II allowed Mass to be celebrated in the vernacular, Brazilian Catholicism owed as much to its South American roots as Polish Catholicism did to its Eastern European ones. Islam sought to conquer the world, or as much of it as it could, yet it was intimately connected to the Arab culture in which it was born. The only reason we do not find the term “secular Jew” puzzling is because we appreciate that Judaism is both an ethnic and a religious category. Much the same can be said for many of the other world religions, including Hinduism and Buddhism.
If religion is in decline in the modern world, Roy argues, so is culture. On the one hand, we have multiculturalism, celebrations of diversity that somehow wind up making all cultures look and feel alike. More important, we face globalization, today’s true universal faith, which subjects all local customs to the laws of the market. Under the influence of both, religion loses whatever affinities it may once have had with the cultures that sustained it. Jakarta, the capital of the world’s largest Muslim country, lies some 5,000 miles from the holy city of Mecca, and even Mecca, Roy argues, has lost much of its specifically Arab character.
I am a declared Agnostic about all religion and especially about the intersection of religion and North American politics. Here the reviewer and the writer point out that religion begins in a cultural context but it tends to cool as its original cultural connection wanes and withers. Is that what happened to me? Did my cultural unrootedness lead to my Agnosticism? I think that could be the case.
In Dalian I am a Laowai but I don’t feel a strong cultural attachment to that connection, since most Laowai here seem to share a very shallow and uninteresting cultural view, at least here in Dalian. Oh, I can’t pretend to be Chinafied but I do enjoy my cultural connection with them better than I do the connection with Westerners. Maybe I just prefer to seem different because that’s what I have always felt in whatever city/community that I lived or worked in.
- A tuneful Christmas in Beijing. Why do the Chinese love singing so much more than us? (blogs.telegraph.co.uk)
- The Real War on Christmas: No Teaching of Religion (time.com)
When I was leaving I decided to buy a few mementos, first an English language description of the SAR and its special touristic features. Then I bought a small bracelet that features a left facing svasticka symbol along with a set of nice stones.
More than one person has wondered why I should have bought such a controversial artifact. I have always said that the left facing svastika had some connection with Buddhism and peace. Here is an authentic sounding explanation copied in from Wikipedia:
The paired swastika symbols are included, at least since the Liao Dynasty, as part of the Chinese language, the symbolic sign for the character 萬 or 万 (wàn in Mandarin, man in Korean, Cantonese and Japanese, vạn in Vietnamese) meaning “all” or “eternality” (lit.myriad) and as 卐, which is seldom used. The swastika marks the beginning of many Buddhist scriptures. The swastika (in either orientation) appears on the chest of some statues of Gautama Buddha and is often incised on the soles of the feet of the Buddha in statuary.
My family and emotional connections with this fractious world is so varied and light that I feel ok about wearing a semi-religious symbol that is connected to so many East Asian cultures and quasi religious origins.
I kind of like the sense that I feel ok wearing a symbol that has such a complex history.
- Factbox: Language and politics in the Chinese world (reuters.com)
- Did the Buddha teach Traditional Reincarnation? (triangulations.wordpress.com)
- Yale Silk Road Database | Yale University Library (library.yale.edu)
Check this link to read about planet Earth being almost totally snow covered!
I just had a thought. Did God cover Earth in snow? Didn’t he make everything or know about it’s creation, or happening?
Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it?
- Super-Earth’s atmosphere analysed for first time (newscientist.com)
- Lonely Planet and BBC Books Publish The Traveller’s Guide to Planet Earth (prweb.com)
I thought this headline offered interesting views:
China defies Vatican on bishop conclave
But the report I read left little doubt that this was all about an open clash of two authoritarian regimes. How can that be interesting to a thinker like me?
But I feel empathy for any regime that contests the “administrative authority” of the Vatican.
- Being Contrarian (tc.eserver.org)
- I like to portray myself as an agnostic, a rational doubter (robertg69.wordpress.com)
- Being Contrarian Is About To Be Mainstream (feld.com)
- China to choose Catholic heads; Vatican ties tense (seattletimes.nwsource.com)