Posts Tagged ‘Modernity’

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The Valiant Never Taste of Death But Once

March 30, 2009

“I do not fear death. I fear that I may somehow inadvertently or purposefully bring it about.” – My paraphrasing of Timothy Holmes.

I wish I could take credit for this extreme lucidity and eloquence when I responded to the same question… I cannot. Though I did answer the question in a similar way: “No I do not fear death. I fear the deaths of others”. I for one have always confronted the idea of death with more curiosity than fear – even the darkest hours of my atheism whereupon I still agreed that the deaths of my loved ones was far more painful than my own death.

This question did arise rather suddenly and externally when myself and Mr. Holmes participated in an interview wherein the subject of death was discussed in relation to spirituality and politics. It is important, beyond the urging of my words, that we understand the entirety of modern politics is based around death and the complete desire to avoid it at all costs. Beginning with Machiavelli, and then Hobbes, and finally with Locke the idea of death becomes the foundation of rights. Natural rights flow from the nature of death.

Death’s introduction to the political order makes any answer extreme. Since our idea of life, and it’s rights, are based on death – killing becomes either grim natural reality or perverse execution. In reality it is neither.

“Death is the respite from life. It is possibly joyous and maybe even preferred.” (again another paraphrase – Tim please send me the actual quotes if you can remember them and I will errata this entry). Death as respite is something I could never believe as an atheist (though many have tried to put forward a similar concept). This understanding does come about it is in the esoteric writings of select secular philosophers who then get misquoted and misunderstood by others. It is equally important that we understand that such a concept can never be the popular understanding of the masses in a secular state.

This is not a defense or justification of religion – it is reality. The post-enlightenment birth of secular states coincides with political revolution based on the concept of death. The two need each other. If we are to understand death in a Hobbesean or Lockean way then we must see it as flowing from nature and to be the subject of reason. Thus the state shouldn’t indulge itself in the particular mythologies of churches. Thus we arrive at our modern state.

Modern religious freedom creates an accepting environment by refusing to have any religious beliefs. Thus when confronting issues of death the state must make decisions without metaphysical guide posts. This has a tendency to make the regime either act too brutally or too late. Almost every war since the Enlightenment has been a total war, an ideological war, and a devastating war. The wars have been so gruesome that even the “good guy’s” virtue was often clouded or downright abandoned. America entered the war late to save American lives – then they ended it early by dropping two nuclear weapons. Again to save American lives. Here is not the time to discuss just war theory but it is important to point out this phenomenon historically.

But here is the not the time to talk about such politics either. It is the time to point out the reasoning of a secular state. Reason, as it turns out, is no different than blind faith. It indulges itself, justifies itself, and is often used to do all sorts of bad things. Is fighting over democracy abroad any different than fighting for the glory of God? Our love of democracy is based only on post-enlightenment reason that is ultimately based on a new death theology.

What I am about to say is perhaps the most extreme thing I have ever committed to public dissection. Perhaps death isn’t all that big of a deal. Perhaps life (as we know it) isn’t all that big of a deal. It seems the greatest virtues eventually push individuals to put their own lives out of the picture. Ultimate humility, ultimate courage, and even ultimate justice sometimes demand a lack of regard for one’s own life. We are going to die. So don’t waste time fearing your death but rather fear you have not lived. Fear that you will die alone sitting watching the TV. Fear that you will have never changed another person’s life for the better. Fear that no one will mourn your death.

This idea is also dangerous. For once you realize the meaningless of death you no longer have the whip of the slave driver. The clear direction to the stars is cut short of its gravity and you’re left to drift in an apparent void. The temptation is to dive into meaningless and arbitrary faith – do not do this. This is not a justification for such irresponsibility. The fight is hard and it may flirt with that old slave driver like a mistress. It may find the bitter sting of the whip pleasant and what was once your master is now your ally. This is the most tempting and problematic effect of this new belief – one that for ages lead antiquity to the heights of greatness.

In the end, it is most likely our proximity to death that allows us to transcend and understand the things beyond our body. Only in the comfort of science could we embrace cold unfeeling atheism. Only with the soft despotism of the television could we finally give up the freedom we fought for. Only in the age of medicine and health could we devote our lives to living healthily only to realize too late that we never did anything with our 75 years. This proximity fueled our pre-science ancestors in the Renaissance who watched a great empire fall, a plague strangle Europe, and a 100 year war over a holy land they’d never see. They saw it every day and they clawed with clenched hands at the dark sky to let some light through.

The enlightenment itself started in the mild rumblings of an Earthquake in Lisbon. Such tremors have shaken the world and crumbled entire foundations. We now fear death or worse, we ignore it. But why? For what good does all this fretting and worrying do? Do we not shake the earth so badly that the ghosts of Lisbon pity us? Do those wraiths sit somewhere beyond it all fearing that one day they will be thrown back into a body and reintroduced into the fear of our skin? Perhaps I will ask them when I meet them. Perhaps they don’t even know the movement that started in their name. In which case I won’t tell them, I won’t make them worry about us, I’ll just ask about the weather or how the weather used to be.

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Good God Y’all, What Is It Good For?

August 17, 2008

First, allow me to thank Holly Martins (http://persnicketyrph.blogspot.com/) for his comments, which have spurred me to write. I recently left for a 4 day camp trip that gave me some time to think about the nature of the comment she gave regarding religious war in the pre-Enlightenment era. This comment came on the back of a previous post I wrote regarding the nature of religious and rational violence. Though he seemed in agreement with my general premise he did show me that I was not fully expounding upon my historical basis. A fact I hope to remedy with this post.

Recently the earth lost one of its fiercest defenders of ethical accuracy (despite your thoughts on his ability to live up to those standards). Alexander Solzhenitsyn passed in Russia a short while back and put to rest a corpus of work that was fraught with honesty, intellect, and hope (three things that are absent from much modern writing, perhaps even my own). His legacy is the story of communism, its twin brother democracy, and their warring feud which extends back into the Enlightenment. His books “The First Circle” and “The Gulag Archipelago” fully revealed the nature of practical communism for the first time and by doing so undermined the idea that perfect ideas can be applied by imperfect humans. This fundamental flaw travels contrary to the premises of the Enlightenment, of infinite progress, of historicism, and brings us back to a time where the fragile nature of man was impossible to question.

We have our ideas about the past that simply aren’t true. The ancient Greeks knew the world was round (not flat), the dark ages actually had a lot going on, and the only people who read Plato for hundreds of years were the Arabian Muslims. Add to those myths one more. We blame religion for almost every war after the death of Christ and before the birth of the Enlightenment. Is this a fair assessment or simply one that our modern understanding of human consciousness has whipped up to banish a more romantic interpretation?

The simple fact is that war exists, it always will, and always has. Ever since man separated into groups and competed for resources there has been conflict. (This in itself is an Enlightenment era proposition: Hobbes, Locke, Machiavelli, and Hooker). The only true causes of war surround this dichotomy of “us” and “them”. Religion is merely a marker of “us” and sets us apart from “them”. It is a distinguishing aspect to our character but not strictly a cause. Rather it is a condition by which the cause is manifest. Religion allows us to see more clearly who is “them” and hence can be a tool of war which thrives on finding contrary elements. Likewise it is something that we can rally around – something that makes us “us”. 

A simple analogy in modern terms is nationality. Not all nationalists or all patriots desire war. However, when war occurs the two can be easily used to better define “us” vs. “them”. There is no inherent violence or anger implied by love on one’s own. However, when a violent aspect is introduced it mimics itself to appear in the clothing of a more benign virtue. This phenomenon of concealing vice as virtue is one form of ideology because it justifies what would otherwise be considered unjust.

Hence the crusades cannot be considered strictly a holy war. Religious thinkers of the time often spoke about how the Church was not performing its proper role in those wars. Shortly after a host of analysts came forward to say that other forces were at work. Modern historians point more to the fall of Rome and the separation of Byzantine and Italian powers as more of a concrete cause of the Crusades. Likewise, on the other end, the Turkish invaders fervor for Islam was only partially religious. The true cause was a motivation to make everyone like them or to subsume the “them” into the “us”. Religion became a rallying cry and perhaps even a justification but the true desire is more deeply rooted in human nature and it is a love for ones own and a hate for the other. Psychology and Biology will often talk about this phenomenon as “natural” and a product of “evolution” though to keep things simply I will use the term “human nature” though it is a heavily debated one.

The notion of a merely religious war inherently implies that those wars wouldn’t have happened without religion being present. Outside of possible historic accidents (like the collation of Arabic cultures under the flag of Islam) it is easy to see an eastern power and a western power colliding without the necessary presence of religion. Take, for instance, the Greek struggles against Persia, the Roman conquest of Africa, the Russian wars with the Tartars, and the Huns sacking of Western towns. So long as a power arises simultaneously in both the East and the West there will be conflict between the two because the “us” and “them” will now be interested in the same resources.

In the case of the Crusades, accidental qualities, such as religion, united and empowered both east and west cultures at the same time. As both united and found power (keep in mind many Christian nations and many Muslim nations fought each other to achieve such unity often in the name of money, land, and power rather than religion) they expanded into each other and clashed. Both used religion as a way of uniting “us” and defining “them” but merely by the accidental nature of religion not because of an inherent factor within religion as an idea. Thus religion can only ever be considered an accidental cause and not a sufficient cause. And perhaps that means it may have to deal in the dirt on occasion and be blamed on occasion for its lack of action or its abundance of action but add to that list race, language, culture, government, regime, philosophy, location, and time period. All these things have “caused” wars too yet we cannot start blaming them for war in general merely because they have been used as reasoning or justification. It wouldn’t make sense and neither would saying religion caused these wars. They are related, possibly entangled, but are not caused by each other. This error appears too often in our modern day when we confuse related things as caused by each other. Two things can be found and even generated in the same time and place without be caused by each other. 

For more on this issue I would read Solzhenitsyn’s address to Harvard. It seems we too quickly judge things like religion because of our modern culture. We are in a mind frame of “fixing” the problem quickly. Simple minded solutions like atheism in the name of peace fail to take into consideration that the problem might be within us. We, indeed, might be the monster under our bed rather than any outside or external idea that has arisen from philosophy, politics, or religion. Perhaps we are imperfect, dirty, war loving animals who will always struggle with violence despite our governments, religions, locations, languages, and cultures. But such a concession would mean or reliance on old world ideas springing from the mouth of (dare I say) Theologians like Pascal, Aquinas, Augustine, Pope Leo, St. Francis, etc. It seems it is religion which all along has embraced the nasty nature of man and offered as a solution in accordance with the problem of vice.

Perhaps that is why we so quickly slander religion with false accusations. For one does not feel the ethical obligation to listen to what they deem a “murderer”. So we label religion as the cause of war so we do not need to hear its valid cries over humanity’s fallen nature. One day we will find out that we ourselves were to blame all along, but then in may be too late.

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Out Damned Spot

April 29, 2008

Isn’t funny how the mind makes things more real than they actually are. We worry about the future, about offensive words, about things we have absolutely no control over – yet the things we can control are ephemeral, passing without notice. We have come to a cross-road in our culture where we believe in the mind and its powers but refuse to accept its panacea because of its difficulty. Buddhist monks use their minds to break steel, smash stone, and light themselves on fire without pain – yet in America we need pills to get through the night, to wake up in the morning, and to enjoy our lives. What caused this to happen? Is it merely cultural? I can barely withstand a hangnail – never mind being on fire. If all these problems: pain, depression, ADD, and despair can be solved by the mind (which is a HUGE assumption that has some proof behind it) then why do we waste our time on pills? Shouldn’t we be training ourselves to raise above these trivial concerns of the body? Do we choose our attitude – or are we hard-wired? Can we control our own beings or not? Are we subject to ADD in the same way we suffer from cancer? Is it an outside physical entity intruding on our health? What of alcoholism? Do we have a choice to drink or not? It certainly seems that every sober person can choose NOT to drink – so what’s the difference? Have we imbued temptation with so much power that it is not insurmountable – an absolute physical necessity? Or are we demonizing our enemy in order to make ourselves stronger? Hell is murky. 

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Comedy is Ugliness Without Pain

April 24, 2008

Science is no longer a hobby for rich aristocrats – now it’s a business.

Poetry is no longer the voice of people and nations – now it’s a business.

Philosophy is no longer a search or a love – now it’s a belief.

Politics is no longer for the best and greatest – now it’s a business.

War is no longer to achieve peace – now it’s a business.

Charity, giving, servitude, and mercy are no longer virtues – they too are businesses.

Tragedy is no longer cathartic – now it is reality.

Books are no longer written for eternity – they are just a business.

Art is no longer achievable – what we do is merely business.

Reality became Theater, theater became television, television became reality television. The cost of doing business.

What then of writing, what of this thing I am doing? Have I sold you a line? Are you buying any of this?

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A Defense of Religious Beliefs in the Eyes of History

April 3, 2008

Recently a comment was posted on an entry ( I believe my liver is diseased ) by a person I respect above most in this community. A person who has offered valuable help in writing style and refreshing view on things. Nevertheless I must respond to his recent comment in defense of religion, an attack on reason, and ultimately the affirmation of human nature above both as the unity from which we can say a man is man. In the end of things I see his point though I disagree. The following remarks obviously do not paint a fair picture (though I am hoping that in this dialogue 1poet4man will offer the other side, though all are welcome to post). However I write, not from bias, but out of hyperbolic equilibrium. It is my belief, perhaps unfairly; that the side of reason has distanced itself too much from reality so I have written my response in bigger letters than perhaps they should be. Nevertheless I feel it is an important message as we push further into the new century.

First, 1poet4man’s complete comment: 

“It seems to me that if by ‘man of faith’ you mean people who are religious – then far more men of reason have died at the hands of men of faith than that these two groups have ever died side by side…” -1poet4man

You say this, but do you know what you say? Over 100 million people died in the past century because of secular movements (Mao, Pol Pot, Hitler, Sadam, Stalin, Kamir Rouge) – far more than the inquisition and all crusades combine. Let us not forget WWI and WWII (wars of politics, not religions), the Japanese internment camps in America, the Native American Genocide, African American Slavery (All taking place in the secular United States, for secular economic reasons – though all movement were sponsored by religious and non-religious alike, it was conducted under the American regime for a rational economic purpose). 

If you are trying to say that reason is any less violent than faith then sadly I must say that you do not understand human nature. The only fact that supports your argument is that we have had no other option but religion for 5000 years, and we’ve only had scientific reasoning for 300. Those 300 years however, are so soaked with the blood of innocents that I believe the man of reason will catch up to his brother in no time.  

Also – the man of faith is not inherently the religious man – many would take offense to such an assumption. Likewise the man of reason isn’t inherently non-religious. I personally take offense to that one. 

And finally, to assume that a man of reason cannot also be religious and commit atrocities against his fellow man is another trap you fall into. You assume that the man of religion cannot use reason to assault his brother (be they religious or not). Hitler, for instance, could be religious, but on what basis did he assault the Jews? Nationalism, Science, and German heritage – not Christianity – he rarely even referred to them as “Christ-killers” as do many of their Christian critics. I think your primary assumption, which has led you into this unwilling bias, is that faith and reason are any different when in the vacuum of human nature. Either can be used for evil but usually both are. Even religious fanatics offer logical arguments (even if they are false). Can we be so sure the man of religion isn’t also a man of reason? 

Your seeming assumption that the life of reason is opposed to the life of faith or religion (in such a way that you can draw such a bizarre contrast) is one of understandable modern bias. But it is one that does not understand the past 300 years and the true causes of genocide, war, and oppression. In most cases the religious tyrannies are mild compared to the monsters of this past century.  Religion can sway man just as equally as reason – and neither can understand truth in totality so both can make mistakes. Reason, however, gives us bigger weapons to do it with.

I have taken your comment this seriously because I do believe that it is a major philosophic problem in modern life. If we keep assuming there is any difference between faith, reason, and religion then we will keep walking into Utopia fueled genocides, blind nationalism, and cold-hearted oppression. What we need to understand is human nature and the fact that human nature will use whatever means it has to get what it desires whether it be religion, reason, or art. So long as this is true the only true killer of man is man not his religious views, nor his politic, nor his beliefs – it is just man. When it comes down to it, every genocide, every murder, every oppression is done by man toward man for a reason. Each man does what he does because he feels justified – what difference if he says it is for God or country – does this change the primary desire? No. Man is the killer of man, and he always will. It is the belief otherwise that leads to ideology.


Please accept the previous statements as a desire for open dialogue and not as an attack. All are welcomed to post, any different views are welcome, though a concentration on the content of this statement is preffered. The underlying question of it all is this: What does it mean to be the man of reason? Any and all answers to this question would be greatly appreciated.

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We, too, know how to split ourselves but only into the flesh and a broken whisper.

March 31, 2008

Questions take two forms: those which aim to destroy and those which aim to create. They both claim to love wisdom, but only one does. Man, on the other hand can love one but not both. If he even claims to be a lover of both then he must be revealed as a simpleton whose hopes outweigh his ability to understand reality. This is the paradigm which our children are raised – to believe that all questions have the same purpose and can be loved equally is to fail to understand the basic human instincts which first made us speak – the ability which eventually led us to questions and our love of them. Questions like all things are motivated by desire, and those desires taint, shape, and distort the form and answers of any questions. Hence we have armed the next generation with a blissful ignorance about the inherent unity of language – a unity that doesn’t exist outside the theoretical imaginations of bookworms and academics.

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I believe my liver is diseased…

March 27, 2008

Can the man of faith and the man of reason live side by side?

Surely I do not know. But what I do know is this – Throughout history they have died side by side.