Space and Spirit

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Space and Spirit

Postby Windwalker » Fri Jan 26, 2007 2:06 pm

This article first appeared in MS-NBC in July 1998, with the title "Space: the final and best frontier." Since I wrote it, there have been discoveries and global changes that (in my opinion) strengthen the central thesis of the essay. I am posting it here as a starting seed for conversations.

The Cosmic Lottery is a Winning Proposition

by Athena Andreadis

I believe in math. All more-than-zero probabilities carried to infinity are certainties, which is why I know that E.T. will phone one day. Whether we'll be able to carry a meaningful conversation is a separate topic but, given the odds, it's a sure bet E.T. -- or some other form of extra-terrestrial life -- is out there.

It's in the numbers. There's a famous equation which makes the point, called the Drake equation after Frank Drake of the SETI Institute who formulated it for Project Ozma in 1960. It calculates the number of civilizations capable of long-range communication.

The equation has seven terms; the first three address astrophysical and geological questions -- the rate of star formation, the fraction of stars with planets and the number of earth-like planets within each system. The last four address chemical and biological questions -- the fraction of planets on which life develops, flourishes long enough to develop intelligence, then technology and, in particular, becomes mature enough not to destroy itself before sending out an obvious signal of its presence.

Twenty years ago, as a Harvard undergrad, I listened to a taped lecture by Carl Sagan, in which he went through the Drake equation. Twenty years ago, we knew just a bit about the first term, and nothing about the others.

In the years since, we've witnessed stars form, flare, dim and die. In the last three years, we saw star orbits wobble from what could only be surrounding planets. A month ago, we gazed at the first pictures of a planetary system forming, a dark ring around a star, a celestial embryo in its first division. And a few weeks ago, the Hubble telescope directly photographed a rogue planet streaking away from nearby stars.

All of these observations essentially set the first three terms of the Drake equation to values close to one, and serve to remind us, again, that Earth's experience is not so unique after all. In fact, given that only a few stars were sampled for planets, we might be just another block in the Levittown we call the Universe.

So now we're left with the other four terms of the Drake equation, which deal with chemistry -- of planets, as well as of brains -- and which have not yet been systematically explored. Still, answers have been accumulating to reassure us that life on Earth is not an odd accident, not an isolated shooting star destined to burn unobserved.

Even within our own solar system, we have met with encouraging hints wherever we've sent a craft with sensitive instruments. Water, the solvent that would support life forms similar to us, exists in the atmosphere of Titan, under the surface of Europa and in the Martian polar caps. Several other planets have conditions similar to those in hot sulfur springs, polar regions and ocean depths. Such locales may be hell for creatures who utilize oxygen and prefer ambient temperatures; nevertheless, they teem with exotic life. Finally, there is the unusual soil chemistry of Mars, and its abundance of optically active quartz. An equally "exotic" chemistry of silicon scaffolding supporting complex carbon compounds heralded the dawn of life on Earth.

With the intractable problems on Earth, why should we care if there is life beyond our planet? Because what makes us human is our ability and need to venture into the unknown. At this point, we have overrun Earth, leaving no more space to experiment, no new lands to discover, no frontier -- except for the ersatz thrills of cyberspace.

Having neither a strong antagonist nor a great cause to unite us, we have become navel-watchers, despoilers and cannibals, just like rats when they are confined in too small a cage. Without real challenges, we invent aritificial ones that are often malign. Our spirits are shrinking along with our boundaries, giving rise to endless petty disputes, random Balkanization, social fragmentation and a sense of free fall.

The discovery of life -- or even of conditions favorable for life -- on another planet will re-open outlets which are now dammed (as well as guarantee our long-term survival, since neither Earth nor our solar system will live for ever). The pursuit of these questions will not only infinitely expand our scientific knowledge, but will also grant us a new definition of what it means to be human, just as each discovery about the other terms of the Drake equation has led us to re-evaluate our vision of the universe and our position in it. By providing endless nourishment for our irreducible needs as an exploring, curious race, space is not the final but the best frontier.
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Postby rocketscientist » Thu Feb 22, 2007 5:51 pm

I've been meaning to comment on what a well written essay this is. The language is concise and clear. It walks the reader through your thought process without either beating us over the head or talking down. I assume that you consider me an intelligent reader. I appreciate that. The argument is good and the conclusion is logical to the premis. If I ever need to write and essy I'm going to come back and look at this one to get some good tips on how it's done. :wink:

Seems like a funny thing to think about given the suject, which was very interesting. But I feel like your argument is quite tight - I'm left just admiring how you did it! LOL

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Postby Windwalker » Thu Feb 22, 2007 6:16 pm

I'm very pleased you like the essay! As a person and a scientist, I am besotted with the idea of humanity venturing into the beyond and with the possibility of finding other life. In terms of structure, my view is that essays are best wrought as taut extensions of the articulate soundbite (with use of as much "Saxon" as possible... *laughs*).

I have had reason to think about the human spirit recently. Call me a hopeless romantic, call me a hopeful romantic -- I think that even if such thinking (dreaming?) is adolescent, it does nurture us when "we subsist on defiance and visions".
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Carl Sagan and the Varieties of Scientific Experience

Postby Walden2 » Fri Apr 13, 2007 2:12 am

Carl Sagan and the Varieties of Scientific Experience

By Larry Klaes

Since the time in the distant past when the human brain developed the ability to both imagine abstract ideas and attempt to comprehend our world, we have strived for the answers to the primal questions of
existence: How did the Universe begin? Did somebody make the Universe? Why are we here? Is there a deity or deities monitoring and controlling our lives, or are we on our own?

For millennia we have pondered and explored these concepts, first with mysticism and then the tools of science. Though we have come a long way in terms of knowledge about our surrounding Universe thanks to scientific advancements, many still hold views and beliefs about existence that are based far more on faith and bias than factual evidence. While one's belief system is their own choice, when it comes into conflict with the views of others and reality, problems can be and often are produced. This is a state of human affairs that has seen slow change over the ages.

Two Tompkins County residents who have done much to find the answers to these important questions about "Life, the Universe, and Everything", while educating the public on the wonders of science and its processes was Dr. Carl Sagan, a professor of astronomy at Cornell University and long-time resident of Ithaca, and his wife Ann Druyan. She is an author, media producer, and the CEO and co-founder of Cosmos Studios,
headquartered in Ithaca.

Sagan was one of the most well known science popularizers to the general public. Along with Cosmos, the 1980 PBS television series he is best known for, Sagan wrote numerous popular books on nature and science, many with Druyan for the majority of his professional career, right up until his death from his battle with a rare form of leukemia called myelodysplasia ten years ago next month. Despite Sagan's outpouring of popular and technical science works, not everything he wrote and said has been disseminated to a wider audience.

Recently, Druyan has collected and published a series of lectures given by Sagan in October of 1985 into a new book titled The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God (Penguin Press, New York, 2006). Varieties is a record of Sagan's talks to the faculty and students at the University of Glasgow in Scotland as part of the Gifford Lecture series on natural theology, begun in 1888 by Adam Lord Gifford to examine religion and its attributes through science and not rely on the miraculous for explanations.

Originally titled "The Search for Who We Are", Druyan retitled the newly bound collection after a book by another early Gifford Lecturer, the Harvard psychologist and philosopher William James, which he called The Varieties of Religious Experience. Druyan chose this to "convey that science opens the way to levels of consciousness that are otherwise inaccessible to us; that, contrary to our cultural bias, the only gratification that science denies to us is deception."

Druyan says that Varieties "represents a definitive statement of Carl Sagan's forty-year search for the meaning of what is sacred. The lectures are a testament to his life and his drive to answer these very deep questions. His science career was a response to humanity's questions about existence."

As to why this collection of Sagan's thoughts and ideas is being published twenty-one years after he spoke them to those audiences in Glasgow: "We are in a period of resurgent religious fundamentalism that has permeated and diluted the separation of Church and State and what is being taught in the classroom to our children. It is wonderful
to have Carl's voice in this current debate. His approach in Varieties is a model of reason and compassion, using rigorous skepticism rather than contempt."

Through Varieties, Sagan examined where our religious beliefs may have originated and why they seem to be in such conflict with modern society and the world at large.

"When our species consisted of hunter-gatherers, going back roughly one million years, our spirituality was deeply rooted in nature," explained Druyan. "When we developed agriculture and established civilization, our views of nature and God began to change. Instead of finding answers in the world about us, we became rootless and contemptuous
of nature. The world became a place to subdue to human whims rather than the place to find our answers."

Druyan further explained that in one sense, science has become a "kind of spiritual searching for nature. Modern religion in its focus on the afterlife has not kept up with understanding the world around us."

Sagan and Druyan stressed that they do not want science to be perceived as stripping away the wonder and purpose of our existence and lives. Science's ultimate goal is to remove our limited notions of the world, which often cloud us to the amazing reality of the Universe we live in. Even God has been limited by human imagination; Sagan "saw no evidence for the idea that God is an oversized white male with a flowing beard who sits in the sky and tallies the fall of every sparrow.”

Rather than leaving us with a world that is cold and sterile, Sagan even dreamed of “a religion old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science, might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths. Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge."

Carl Sagan spent much of his life explaining the wonders of the Cosmos to the world, cutting through the myths and cultural darkness to reveal the objective, scientific truth of things at their cores. Ten years after Sagan's passing, the world still needs his guidance. Thankfully the bulk of his knowledge and insights are still available to us. The Varieties of Scientific Experience is a welcome addition to Sagan's legacy.

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Postby Windwalker » Sat Apr 14, 2007 1:33 pm

Larry's article is particularly interesting in light of our recent discussions over the latest Primack/Abrams book. I think that Sagan did much to make science not only accessible but liked. Gould, Hawking, Dawkins et al followed his example, to a large extent. The refusal to elect him to the National Academy of Sciences was mean spirited. Popularizer or not, celebrity-obsessed or not, he fulfilled a critical function and did it well -- and he did a good deal of primary research as well in his early career.
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Postby sanscardinality » Mon Apr 16, 2007 9:22 am

I love these boards - you go away for a couple days and all sorts of cool stuff pops up!

Athena - I really liked the essay. I think we discussed it some back then, but a couple new ideas popped into my head on re-reading it. First, perhaps there is a need to go through periods of despoliation, naval-gazing, etc. in between periods of big progress. This relates to the other theme of the thread in a way. What if we went into space with gusto during a period of religious fundamentalism? I can imagine what the policies of a Wahabist or Rapture-expectant Evangelical self-sustaining base on the Moon or Mars might be, and it makes me shudder. I'm not saying TV and rampant greed are good things, but that we haven't yet developed a mass-market perspective that is decidedly better than consumerism or the medieval alternatives.

This leads to the piece on Sagan.

I agree with him that a "new religion" must be found, but it's going to be a tough row to hoe. I see the religions that I've spent serious time on as all having nearly an identical pattern of development. The best analogy I've thought of is that they have Doppler shifted. Once, generally a long time ago, someone really special came along with important insights or perhaps just powerful organizational skills. They were generally scientists in the informal sense - people trying to figure things out in front of them. At this point, the ideas sounded like a train coming down the tracks to the rest of society - fast, high-pitched and frightening.

Generally, they were operating in societies that were either tribal and barbaric in many ways, had fallen into a malaise of self righteousness, or both. They tended to use very certain language to tear down what they saw as negative customs or practices, and equally strong language to voice support for some aspects of mainstream society. At that point, they sounded like themselves to an onlooker - the message was in context, and with a shared perspective on most aspects of life. This is when most religions got their root planted - right at the high-point of the explanation by the founder or founders. Light bulbs went off in the heads of the apostles of whichever saint or guru or prophet or God that was telling them new things. The apostles didn't have the ability to re-create the information they were being given, but instead saw the process as a mystery beyond their capabilities to duplicate. Given that humans desire mystery and hierarchy on some basic level, and that the new information was actually valuable within the context it was presented, the reaction was predictable. "The Truth" had been found, whether the prophet/saint told them not to think that way or not.

In some cases, the prophet/saint went on to change things from "The Truth" later in his career, and this could even get them in trouble with their own followers, or at least have some material favored in compiled writings over others. At this point, the train has blown down the tracks, and the listener is hearing a deeper, more resonant and receding sound. It echoes more. It makes one feel sentimental. The train gets to be shinier and larger in the memories it still inhabits. No matter how many more trains go by, and how much faster and safer and less polluting they may be, that one train was the better train - by far.

To my mind, a religion is the dogmatism of a set of ideas that were intended for another purpose. This doesn't diminish the goodness of the ideas, but it cannot elevate them. Key to this process is the unrepeatability of the foundational experiences. In most religions it is considered heresy to suggest that the experiences of the founder(s) are accessible to the followers. I'll call these religions "conservative" in that they posit that something unique happened in the past, and we must live up to the rules we have been given. They are trying to conserve that which they've been given. There are traditional religions, even dogmatic ones, that are not this way or aren't primarily this way (most have elements - just as science does). In these religions, the person is expected to come to his or her own conclusions about the statements of the faithful through finding if they are true or not. The purpose of this process tends to be self-transformation into a more compassionate human being. I'll call these religions "progressive" in that they intend for the individual practitioner to make progress.

All religions have some aspects of both basic outlooks, but they do have dominant themes.

Leaning heavily to the conservative side are all the fundamentalist branches of monotheism. All the highly conservative systems are growing.

On the extreme progressive side are some forms of Buddhism, mysticism such as Sufism, and esotericism such as the offshoots of Freemasonry. All the progressive systems are growing.

What's left is the gigantic middle - the moderate and cultural forms of monotheism in our society. They are playing to both sympathies, and generally don't make any controversial claims. In a time of radical change, this makes them seem irrelevant. Nearly all of the moderate systems are shrinking.


So what should society do to encourage a "new religion"? We cannot afford to listen to past trains and idolize them. Any religion with this as its basis is going to be hostile to new information - perhaps violently so. The tepid waters of the moderate systems are more social club than religion in many cases, though their pews are often filled with a mix of progressives and conservatives that like to have a non-threatening middle ground. The progressive systems on the other hand are naturally aligned with science, and are the historical breeding ground of the early western scientists. They've been relegated to the dustbin of history as rationalists more eager to dust their broom than look back sentimentally sloughed off all the trappings of pre-scientific ideas. This left them to the conservatives to describe, who of course ridiculed and demonized them.

Society needs to go back and find the progressive aspects of their tradition - it exists in most - and map that to scientific discovery and progress. Science should claim it's spiritual forebear and parent, and explain that there are religious ideas that actually were prophetic and did bring about real positive results instead of making empty promises. This will change the meaning of the old progressive religious material, but that's what progressives do. The stark contrast between "belief" and "non-belief" is an unfertile ground for social transformation. Giordano Bruno, Isaac Newton, and Galileo Galilee are generally portrayed now as anti-religious, but were in fact devoted heretics to the conservative religions of the day. They were as much prophets as scientists. Their portrayal as unfortunately superstitious proto-rationalists is science acting as a conservative religion - hearing the Doppler shifted train of its own prophets warped by time and dogma.

In the west, signs like the popularity of DaVinci Code, inaccurate as it was, show a real openness to the old progressive religious ideas. Sagan was correct that something broader than science is needed to accompany it if we are to have a response to conservative religions. We needn't lie about things we don't understand to do it either. History is full of examples of exactly the sort of religion we need right now - one that teaches compassion and progress, and is ravenous for new information and transformation as a system. We need to use the historical symbols, because if you stick modern phrases in their place, they are reduced to less than what they can mean and you end up with a self-help seminar instead of a legitimate religion. Also, since the symbols were generally created by the progressives in the various religions, they can be explained more fully, discrediting the conservative interpretations on their own ground.

Personally, I think for society to move forward meaningfully in terms of overall direction, it will be necessary for the thought-leaders to reclaim the human heritage of progressive thought and provide an active picture of how to be rational and still appreciate the more mysterious aspects of being human. I think there are a great many people who would listen.

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Postby Windwalker » Mon Apr 16, 2007 12:09 pm

Josh, I found your analysis astute, constructive and enjoyable. I loved the Doppler shift analogy! The hardening of the founders' fluid words into stone (sometimes literally) is a key element in all movements that you define as "conservative", whether political or religious -- or should I just say, religious? In this connection, the gnostic gospels discovered in Egypt are a welcome addition to a petrified tradition, no matter how much those in charge want to ignore them.

As you so well describe, the underlying tensions are the two poles of human need: inspiration versus comfort. This goes beyond religion, it permeates myth and even our social responses. The Iliad is about inspiration, the Odyssey about comfort. In our mates we ideally want both, hence the swooning of men over unattainable women, and of women over men that they should be running screaming away from.

Perhaps one way of overcoming this traditional duality is to fuse the two poles in everything -- art, science, politics, one's self. This may be the only way that the unique insights coming from science can become fully integrated in people's worldviews.

But to attain this, people need not only a modicum of material comfort, but also knowledge, time and the willingness to explore. They need calmness of mind and freedom from fear, so that they can reflect on these issues. The gentlemen of classical Athens came up with answers that are still relevant today because they had all these prerequisites (at a steep cost to others) plus a society that encouraged inquiry. The same conditions are sorely lacking today in most lives, even in First World societies whose people are overwhelmed by speed and noise. The basic disconnect is that our technology has galloped ahead, while our biology and psychology are still Cro-Magnon.

P. S. Several SF stories and novels do develop the scenario of religious fundamentalists going into space. One, by Jay Lake, is in Strange Horizons (The Cleansing Fire of God).
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Postby sanscardinality » Mon Apr 16, 2007 1:39 pm

Windwalker wrote:Josh, I found your analysis astute, constructive and enjoyable. I loved the Doppler shift analogy!


Thanks much - glad you enjoyed it!

The hardening of the founders' fluid words into stone (sometimes literally) is a key element in all movements that you define as "conservative", whether political or religious -- or should I just say, religious? In this connection, the gnostic gospels discovered in Egypt are a welcome addition to a petrified tradition, no matter how much those in charge want to ignore them.


Indeed! The gnostics had their own strange ideas, but they were not dogmatic in the same sense as the Orthodox. They were open to hidden meaning, an essential element to myth and symbolism if they are to serve their purpose.

As you so well describe, the underlying tensions are the two poles of human need: inspiration versus comfort. This goes beyond religion, it permeates myth and even our social responses. The Iliad is about inspiration, the Odyssey about comfort. In our mates we ideally want both, hence the swooning of men over unattainable women, and of women over men that they should be running screaming away from.

Perhaps one way of overcoming this traditional duality is to fuse the two poles in everything -- art, science, politics, one's self. This may be the only way that the unique insights coming from science can become fully integrated in people's worldviews.


Excellent points! I've not thought of it in this way before, but it really makes a lot of sense to me. I think it is central to one of the primary mechanisms for religions to be progressive and useful - multiple meanings of symbols.

One good example is the concept of the Virgin Mary. On the "comfort" level, she is a completely non-threatening mother. She is without any personal ambition or selfish desire at all, and so is not only a virgin, but is incapable of lust. There is no fear of crossing her - she is maternal all-accepting love. She is devastated at the loss of her child to the mortality of the world. I could go on and on. But there is another name for Mary - the Queen of the Universe. She is generally depicted in this form with a fiercely glowing halo and surrounded by stars. Her arms usually form an arch extended upwards as if holding up the sky. The usual conservative explanation of this symbol is that she is first among the humans - the Queen so to speak. This interpretation is also bollocks.

Mary, the Queen of the Universe is a symbol and reference for Nut, the primordial sky in Egyptian thought. She forms an arch around the material world to keep out the primordial water (read chaos) and provide a place of order for humans to exist. This is a very challenging idea, and has all manner of wonderful implications. We are "typed" as her children from the comfort symbol, but when we consider her other manifestation we are children of the vast universe which itself is maternal in the sense that we exist in a world of delicate balance.

To me, hidden meaning isn't about keeping secrets from the newbies (though it is in cults), but is the allowance for creative interpretation of symbols to fit the needs of society as our knowledge grows. We do need the comfort symbols and perhaps may spend most of our time with those, but we also need to delve into their inner meanings and invent new ones to provide our intuitive and emotional lives a place of concord with our intellectual ones.

But to attain this, people need not only a modicum of material comfort, but also knowledge, time and the willingness to explore. They need calmness of mind and freedom from fear, so that they can reflect on these issues. The gentlemen of classical Athens came up with answers that are still relevant today because they had all these prerequisites (at a steep cost to others) plus a society that encouraged inquiry. The same conditions are sorely lacking today in most lives, even in First World societies whose people are overwhelmed by speed and noise. The basic disconnect is that our technology has galloped ahead, while our biology and psychology are still Cro-Magnon.


I agree on all counts. It's going to be a long time before we approach anything close to a Utopian society.

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Postby caliban » Mon Apr 16, 2007 3:30 pm

Windwalker wrote:In this connection, the gnostic gospels discovered in Egypt are a welcome addition to a petrified tradition, no matter how much those in charge want to ignore them.

You should realize you can't trust the media distortions surrounding the "discovery" of gnostic texts. None of it is terribly new. And the change "those in charge want to ignore them" does not accurately portray the spectrum of responses--responses that have been going on for two thousand years. The media quotes an archbishop or two--out of context--and it sounds like an active conspiracy to supress. Hardly.

I have read and studied about gnosticism. A LOT. I have a very acute idea of how the gnostics relate to mainstream Christianity, but I have no desire to go into it here.

There are appealing points to gnosticism. And some pretty bad ideas as well that have nothing to do with "heresies." The current noxious fad, "The Secret," which is utter poison, is nothing more than warmed up leftovers from the worst excesses of gnosticism.
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Postby Windwalker » Mon Apr 16, 2007 4:00 pm

caliban wrote:There are appealing points to gnosticism. And some pretty bad ideas as well that have nothing to do with "heresies." The current noxious fad, "The Secret," which is utter poison, is nothing more than warmed up leftovers from the worst excesses of gnosticism.


I agree. The Manichean schools of gnosticism combine the worst aspects of Platonism and monotheistic fundamentalism (including a truly poisonous version of the fall). The monistic versions of gnosticism are more attractive to someone of my bend.

I might as well mention (in case it's not already obvious) that I am not fond of any organized religion, whether it calls itself a church or a cult. I tend to side with the underdog by reflex, but only to a first approximation. The intrinsics determine my final view.
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Postby sanscardinality » Mon Apr 16, 2007 4:08 pm

caliban wrote:You should realize you can't trust the media distortions surrounding the "discovery" of gnostic texts. None of it is terribly new.


Actually a fair amount of it had been lost since the early purges and book burnings. We knew about some of it due to the anti-Arianists writing about the evils of the Gnostics, but the texts were destroyed. Of course, in retrospect there is little in the gnostic gospels that is conceptually new due to the preservation of the Hermetic texts because they were thought to pre-date Christ and so be non-heretical and supportive of orthodoxy. That and the Origenist/Clementine school of thought which was highly gnostic-influenced (although their books got burned in the 7th century so lots of that is gone too). I think among theology geeks most of it isn't new, but to the general populace, the ideas in the Gnostic gospels would seen absolutely radical compared to the orthdox position. And confusing and self-contradictory too! :)

And the change "those in charge want to ignore them" does not accurately portray the spectrum of responses--responses that have been going on for two thousand years. The media quotes an archbishop or two--out of context--and it sounds like an active conspiracy to supress. Hardly.


There was an active conspiracy to suppress. Lots of people were killed over it and many more excommunicated. It happened a long time ago, but that active conspiracy is why the books were lost until fairly recently. The Dead Sea Scrolls were the target of obvious censorship until they were partially leaked. There are still some that are unpublished - the ones the Roman Church cared most about apparently.

I have read and studied about gnosticism. A LOT. I have a very acute idea of how the gnostics relate to mainstream Christianity, but I have no desire to go into it here.

There are appealing points to gnosticism. And some pretty bad ideas as well that have nothing to do with "heresies." The current noxious fad, "The Secret," which is utter poison, is nothing more than warmed up leftovers from the worst excesses of gnosticism.


I hadn't heard about "The Secret" but after a quick Google, it looks even worse than Madonna-style Kaballah or Scientology (ok - maybe not worse than Scientology). There's lots of garbage in the gnostic texts and practices to be sure. Take any ideas from 2000 years ago and you'll find all sorts of things we know are wrong. There was no guru in the past who knew more than us. The trick, in my view, is to see those systems for what they were - human endeavors to understand the world and to leverage what they did well. My point wasn't to say that there were early religions that are worth adopting whole cloth, but that the more progressive religions are much better suited to modernization.

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Postby sanscardinality » Mon Apr 16, 2007 4:39 pm

Windwalker wrote:I agree. The Manichean schools of gnosticism combine the worst aspects of Platonism and monotheistic fundamentalism (including a truly poisonous version of the fall). The monistic versions of gnosticism are more attractive to someone of my bend.


Well put. Manicheans went on to screw up a few of the good things in orthodoxy after conversion as well. Augustine for example... Justification for holy war, etc.... Sheesh.

Now how about those Alexandrians - that was the place to be!

I might as well mention (in case it's not already obvious) that I am not fond of any organized religion, whether it calls itself a church or a cult. I tend to side with the underdog by reflex, but only to a first approximation. The intrinsics determine my final view.


When they get a building, things get sketchy. If it's got marble columns or a shiny bit on top, the gig is up. The Pope must have Slack! :wink:

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Postby Windwalker » Mon Apr 16, 2007 4:52 pm

sanscardinality wrote:When they get a building, things get sketchy. If it's got marble columns or a shiny bit on top, the gig is up.

Great soundbite! (*still laughing*) The Church of SubGenius is loose among us?? Run for the hills!
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Postby caliban » Mon Apr 16, 2007 8:48 pm

Windwalker wrote:I might as well mention (in case it's not already obvious) that I am not fond of any organized religion, whether it calls itself a church or a cult. I tend to side with the underdog by reflex, but only to a first approximation. The intrinsics determine my final view.

It's funny. I tend to be suspicious myself of organized religion. I have no use for piety. I really hate the self-congratulatory religious types. I'm a huge defender of the Big Bang and of evolution. One of my favorite movies is "Life of Brian." And yet I might as well mention (in case it's not already obvious) we are active in an church. Virtually what little social life my wife and I have is there.

I have no interest in trying to convince anyone that they should think like I do, at least in this matter. And I really am not very interested in arguing about it. I am, in fact, a bit of a theology geek. We've been plowing through a six-month course on "The Problem of God" ending with a German theologian's book, "The Crucified God." Yes, I know, I can feel shudders all the way here. And frankly I don't blame anyone for that. I myself don't like many Christians. I don't know if I have a soul. I don't know if there is an afterlife. I don't particularly care. I don't think that's even the point.

But I do think there is a wide spectrum of religious experiences and sensibilities. I hate the self-assured, self-righteous, pompous attitude of many so-called fundamentalists. I hate it when Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell are put on TV as the face of Christianity. But I equally hate it when the Dawkins of the world equally act as if the Robertsons and Falwells are all there are to Christianity.

I have no interest in championing religion--except to argue against mindlessly narrow views of religion, against simplistic reactions against religion. (Which is why Athena's comment touched me off--sorry.) I really squirm when I hear the self-congratulation of the fundamentalists--but I squirm equally at self-congratulations from the other side, people who forget the Martin Luther Kings and the Oscar Romeros. And so on. Early Christianity was derided as the religion of women, slaves, and children; Jesus thought whores and lepers and thieves as worthy as priests and military leaders. My wife knew some of the nuns who were raped and killed in El Salvador because they were trying to bring good news to the poor and the oppressed. I can understand why, given the millenia of crimes committed by the church, many many people turn away. I do not blame them. My only wish--seldom granted--is that I not be blamed for turning to the good and the loving and the compassionate wherever I find it--even in a church.
Last edited by caliban on Mon Apr 16, 2007 9:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.
"Results! Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results. I know several thousand things that won't work." --Thomas A. Edison

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Windwalker
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Postby Windwalker » Mon Apr 16, 2007 9:11 pm

No sane person would disagree with your statement about never denying the good and loving. Also, I know for a fact that other members of this site go regularly to church. Like you, I neither expect to change anyone's view nor persuade them that mine is the right one (about any issue, including religion).

As you say, each of us is shaped by our experiences and sensibilities. In my case, I was raised in a culture where there was no separation of church and state, where citizens had no choice over their religion and where women were deemed inferior explicitly on the basis of that religion. When I grew older I studied other beliefs for all kinds of reasons (as myth, as history, as literature...). Regarding ethics, I concluded that decency is the best credo and dogma: decency as you define it by the examples of King and Romero.
Last edited by Windwalker on Mon Apr 16, 2007 9:20 pm, edited 1 time in total.
For I come from an ardent race
That has subsisted on defiance and visions.


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