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Thursday, December 29, 2005

Row deepens over Danish cartoons

Yikes! Now the poor Danes are under threat from true believers, who think it's okay to issue death threats to anyone who portrays Mohamed in any way... (especially this Danish cartoonist and his editors).

I don't know who scares me more - the Wrong Wing Christians, with their certainty and hatred (to gays, to liberals, to non-belivers, to anyone who disagrees)... or the Muslims who have fundamental beliefs that seem to require much of the same.

Hey, I know there are moderates and loving folks in both camps - even met some. I'd just be happier if everyone started with a clean slate and really thought about these myths and stories ...

If we raised a generation of humans to say, 18 years old, with absolutely no religious training (of any sort), then told them the Christ, Mohamed, Krishna, Buddha, Apollo, Zeus etc. stories - what do you think they'd believe? Probably find the stories interesting and be willing to provide therapeutic counselling for anyone who believed they were real...

I like your idea. There's sometimes too much intolerance in this world, or indifference! People need to try and find a balance and some unity in their thinking.
Jeesh... everybody is up in arms over something now a days. Muslims hate this cartoon and people in the US and EU want the butt naked Austrian ads axed. I think the Austrian ad is far too kind to those depicted... and I am disappointed that they didn't somehow manage to squeeze in a mask of new Polish president Lech Kaczynski in the menage a trois action b/c as Bush reminded us, don't FORGET POLAND!
Hi Gary

An interesting posting and I thought you might also be interested in the thoughts of Jesse Bering, an assistant professor in experimental psychology at the uni of Arkansas.

He gives an example of the responses of a group of participants who were asked to comment on the psychological abilities of someone who has just died in an accident. Most confirmed the person would know they were dead, inferring continued cognitive development, even though it contradicted their general views of an afterlife. Psychologically interesting responses, non sensical as they may be !!

The other interesting discovery came from Gerald Kocher who found young children readily described death as either feeling dizzy and or sleeping peacefully. Further Bering reports that younger children are more likely to attribute mental status to someone who is dead, than older children. What may be present is something in our evolution of our minds rather than our cultures.
You might ask what the devil has this got to do with the posting !! i'm coming to that !!

It may help explain why fundamentalism can so easily take hold and gives credence to your suggestion in a slightly different format.

That is the reinforcing of views that are already present in our evolved minds but directed towards a narrow conclusion in the form of fundamentalism.

I’m all in favour of an education so that hopefully we have as a result a well informed choice, that doesn’t embrace this wretched fundamentalism. I think education will help alleviate theses narrow minded dangerous obsessive views.

Have a look at the countries education system where fundamentalism flourishes and I think you see a correlation with hard line policies and or narrow views

But I am also interested in what you think from a psychological point of view. Possibly we are all operating with some blemishes in our well worn psychological hardware!

It’s interesting I think that fundamentalism seems to have taken stronger routes in the USA of more recent times even amongst well educated folks. Fundamentalism on a global scale may also be heading in that same direction.

I think the group of 18 year olds would not believe those stories, but I think they would believe in something because I think its part of our psychological make up ......But then you may be beter able to comment on that that than me !!

I am thinking of doing a posting of prominent thinkers ..taht is what they believe but cannot prove !!

Best wishes
I didn't hear the Arab League's ministers council protesting when Theo van Gogh, our well known scenario writer/producer was murdered in the name of Allah..

Indeed I teach my son the way you propose. Wish more of us would do the same.

At the same time I have some thoughts on freedom of speech as well. If I would enter a Hells Angels Clubhouse and call them silly girls I don't believe I would get away with freedom of speech. Cynical provocations or insults either in text or cartoons do not contribute to the harmonization of beliefs. We should all be aware of that and stop insulting each other.

I do have hope somehow, many of our Amsterdam mosques Imams (except for a few radicals) condemn fundamentalism and extremism in the name of Allah.

I is time to have the arabs/muslims united to join our parliaments and follow the democratic processes and discussions.
Hello Gary,
Thanks for the visit and comments. You are probably correct in suggesting that people should not be exposed to religion until they have some ability at critical thought. Most of the time children are endowed with the religious crutches before they realize they can walk without them. The only possiblity that is probably realistic is to try and encourage children to read more about other cultures and religions and hope that some broadmindedness develops. Then again, here in the Southern U.S. the Bible thumpers are trying to ban every book that even suggests there are other religions, lifestyles or beliefs. These folks may be lost.
it is my view that Dimitri is right about freedom of speech; that it is the right to question others and not the right to mock others, and that it is a privilege we should use wisely and not cheapen by abuse.

i hope in the 'free' world we still have some fundamental beliefs: imagine if our child was being disrespectful to someone, what would we do? and how would we feel if we were that someone and the parents did nothing? so what's fundamentally different in the Danish case? The age of the perpetrator? hmmmm.

ultimately, freedom of speech is a good thing but are we culturally mature enough to exercise it? Perhaps we still need guidance at this stage.
I had a feeling this might generate good discussion.

Freedom of speech (and other freedoms) come with responsibilities as well - sometimes guided by laws (you can't express your views with a stick on my head for example).

In a free society, I think we need to err in favour of not restricting expression and thoughts - at the risk of offending others. If we begin to mandate what the media (or bloggers for that matter) are allowed to express, we put enormous power in the hands of our leaders (just have a look at China, Iran, Myanmar and on and on...) Our elected leaders already tend to do whatever possible to stay in power (look at Bush and Blair) - let's not encourage them to remove more rights in the name of security.

As for the religious bit, I actually have respect for religious thought (believe it or not!), although I'd probably qualify as an atheist by strict definition. What I object to is how much harm is done by people who have attached so much behaviour to the myths, books and stories that religions are.

Lindsay - I agree too, that these inherent beliefs (in a soul or spirit for example) are deeply held within our collective subconsciousness. Even with no religious indoctrination, we might find ourselves wondering about all these things: death, life, meaning, cause and effect, how to live a good purposeful life etc. Wouldn't it be nice if we could approach all this with humility, ambiguity, confusion and wonder? (Instead of the nasty certainty that so many frail humans seem to hold?)

There - rant within a rant!
Lindsay's comments reminded me of what Sartre called the "God-shaped hole" in the psyche of man.

Interesting to come here and read this. I just posted about a topic a few minutes ago related to religion and commented about Julian of Norwich's emphasis on reason as one source of faith nearly 600 years ago.

My views are very much like yours, Gary, so there's nothing more I can really add.
I'm with Lindsay in thinking that an intentional religious void would fill with something, and I also think it would leave us rather impoverished. Actually, though the news would lead us to believe otherwise, I think that here in Canada, at least one generation has been raised more or less without much religious interference. For whatever reason, that's the generation that seems to me to be least comfortable with itself, for good or evil. As frustrating as I find fundamentalism, I don't want to see it outlawed. I just want my freedom ensured, too, without penalty.
Tina, I must have missed the 'butt naked Austrian ad' - what's that about?
Hi Gary,
thanks for your recent comment on my blog.

This is what I think about the different religious camps:

To be religious is not merely a question of going to the church, performing some ritual, lighting a lamp or bathing in the Ganga. These things are easy to do, anybody can do them and after doing it, one can feel that one is religious without being religious.

A truly religious mind is a mind that is in quest of truth. The problem with religious dogma is that people accept the truths (stories) that are told to them and no longer remain open to new possibilities, new discoveries etc..

A truly religious person in my opinion is someone who is open to the great mysteries, a seeker one who has a "reverence for life" as my Dad would put it.
Wow Rachael, that's really well said.
A few disjointed thoughts:

1). The psychological function of humor is to bring social problems into discussion, things that would otherwise be taboo. Observe and you will find that much of stand-up comedy has to do with social themes; child abuse, racism, etc.

2). I recently watched a documentary about wahabiism (I believe that's the term; Arabic is a difficult language for me). Radical Islam is a relatively new development, coinciding with the development of the Arabic oil fields. Wahabi was a marginal school of thought prior to that time, and the Islam of 50 or 100 years ago was much different from what we see today (as portrayed by MSM).

3). Religion is a tool, neither good nor bad. A man can be stabbed to death with a screwdriver; yet much good can come of screwdrivers as well. Neither is religion necessary for ethical or moral development. The primary textbook in use for the teaching of Ethics in the early part of the 20th century was Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. Criticisms from higher-ups in the church concerning my reading of Aristotle (did you know he was a pagan? wouldn't you rather be reading something by a christian author?) was one of the things that first caused me to remove myself from the thought of the fundamentalist teachings I was reared in. Literally looking up from the pages of The Topics to hear this sort of thing, the distinctions between the two are rather glaring. I've said it many times, and it bears repeating - religion does not make people insane; the insane seek out religion as a mask for their deformity.

4). I, too, am an atheist, or evolutionist or whatever, strictly speaking. Another of my sayings (please forgive me for quoting myself), "Science is the handmaiden of God; and not vice versa." I see that a faith that is weak must have things just so in order to continue. And this not only of evolution, but many other things as well. For example, it is simply not possible that Moses wrote the entirety of the Pentatuech; yet to suggest that scholarly evidence is perhaps correct is frowned upon. I was directed to a verse in Matthew where Jesus uses the phrase "Books of Moses" as indisputable evidence. My response - "If I told you that I had five books of naked women, would you believe that naked women had written my five books?" This ended the discussion, btw.

5). Being Christian or quasi-Christian all of my life, I have often heard John 3:16 quoted as the basis of christian faith. I believe John 4:23,24 was more what Jesus had in mind, and that is the basis of my faith.

And thank you for quite an interesting discussion.
I wouldn't want the media to have unrestricted powers anymore than our leaders. The important difference between Bush (and Blair) and the media (and internet writers) is that we can vote our leaders out of power but we can't vote out the media!

No, I don't see it as a case of all or nothing but one of using sound judgement in each case - does the good justify the harm? In this particular case I can't see it does.
What a great blog, Gary. I am always amazed by the intellects that meet in the comments here. What a great discussion you've got going.

I think Lindsay Lobe's comment is what Carl Jung would have referred to as a cultural archetype. I am not sure what Jung said about religion being a cultural archetype, but he believed they existed and that people were born with certain innate ideas because of them. It's very possible that religion could be one of them.

In terms of spirtuality, I was an atheist for many years, but eventually I came to the realization that it wasn't so much the idea of god that I had a problem with, it was the idea of religion and what it does to distort the idea of god. I agree with Rachel Byrnes that too many people follow a relgion or hold certain moral beliefs simply out of tradition. They have never really thought critically about it. It's just absent-minded, rote sort of behavior like taking a shower or brushing your teeth. I agree with Rachel that relgion is about seeking truth, no matter what the source. As some of my blog reader may know, I recently became a Unitarian because this is the Unitarian covenant--to seek the truth with love.

I, too, Gary, heartily agree that no child should be exposed to relgion until that child has the ability to exercise critical thinking. I can only imagine the damage that's been done in the world because people don't think they should apply reason to relgion. I think that if you believe in an all powerful deity, you should believe it gave you the powers of reason so you would use them, but that's just me.

Again, what a great discussion.
Thanks all. It is an interesting discussion - both on freedom of expression and on religion. I think this group of bloggers may agree on the value of freedom of belief and expression AND on the value of respectful dialogue and 'doing no harm'.

Elizabeth, I like the Unitarian covenant: to seek the truth with love. I've enjoyed Unitarian meetings (and my wedding).
Oh damn!... I meant to post this link for you Gary 2 days ago... but well... you know how it is... here is the info on the Austrian posters AND the actual posters at BBC News:
LINK: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4567000.stm

Sorry I'm late... but better late than never.
Thanks Tina. World leaders in an orgy (simulated with masks on) while the rest of the world burns... not a bad piece of art.

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