Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Wittgenstein and 'Aspect Blindness'

Hi Sam,

I have decide to break this out into a new post. Let gain an agreed understanding of this as a starting point. I read over the first of the two links you provided but did not have much time to mull it over. I shall nevertheless blunder on in proud ignorance. My thoughts thus far:

It seems to me that Wittgenstein is laboring the point about experience, be it sensory, thought or emotional, being applied to a word. I think therefore that the meaning of a word is necessarily subjective, though a general approximation of each individuals experience can be shared. As in the case of the name Schubert coming to fit the face and works of Schubert, I think this is referring to nothing more than subconscious associations. If you had mistakenly thought that Schubert’s image and works were in fact those of Mozart it is almost certain that with repeated association that the name Mozart would, for you, come to fit the face and work of Schubert. Indeed, you might have a very difficult time adjusting your experience of the name Schubert if your error should be pointed out to you. The word in any given context has only the meaning we associate with it. It might be said that someone has aspect blindness with respect to a meaning of a given word or phase only if that meaning is experienced generally or at least not as an individual’s subjective experience.

Aspect blindness would in the sense you are employing it have to mean a generally accepted meaning or at least a meaning shared by at least two people. I could claim that there is a meaning or an experience, an aspect if you like, of the word truth that everyone but me is missing. This, of course, is ridiculous. There might well be some subjective experience that is mine alone but surely then I am redefining what is generally meant by the word truth. It is no longer the appropriate word to communicate my experience.

With regard to the example of saying ‘Mr. Scot is not a Scot’ and attempting to force yourself to mean the first `Scot’ as a common noun and the second as a proper name; the meaning or experience of 'Mr.' is conflicting with the meaning or experience of 'Scot' meant as a common noun. From this conflict we activly experience meaning.

These musing bring me to the following questions regarding your employment of the concept of ‘aspect blindness’ in our previous discussions.

Are you suggesting that I or indeed Atheists in general are ‘aspect blind’ with regard to entire religious concepts or is this blindness limited to words or phrases?

How do you know that the aspect we are missing is not just a purely subjective meaning you are applying?

Even assuming aspect blindness exists; this is still only referring to experience and does not in any way lend weight to truth claims or the validity of religious concepts. I am assuming that your suggestion is that we do not clearly understand the concepts because we are aspect blind to certain components of the language used to decribe it. I this the case?

I have not studied the articles too deeply so my apologies if I have missed the point Wittgenstein was making. If you think I have done so, let me know.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Boundaries of Language.

I was reading over on Elizaphanian a post by Rev Sam.
The post is entitled Muscles, metaphors, mysteries: on the grokking of God

In the post Sam is claiming that

Religious language is always on the boundary, on the cutting edge, always provisional and open to change.

He offers the idea that language that is well defined, with concrete meaning, is insufficient to discuss the topics of faith. The words/phrases will have lost a poetic and/or metaphorical quality and the ideas of faith are beyond the scope of such concrete terms. That may not be exactly Sam’s point. I invite you to visit the article yourself and draw your own conclusions. Now personally, this strikes me a cop out. For any topic I choose I can claim that the words and language to fully describe it, as I understand it, do not exist. What I am really saying is that either I don’t know how to describe what I’m thinking or, more likely I think, I don’t know exactly what it is that I think.

Religious concepts such as the Jesus being both man and God at the same time are just plain old. They are ideas which originate in a time when the average Joe would marvel at this sort of mystery and not really dissect it in the modern, post enlightenment, way.
An entity cannot be divine and human (human being a state of non-divinity) at the same time. It is similar to suggesting that a bacterium was both bacteria and human at the same time. Now you can waffle till you drop about the bacteria having aspects of humanity and bacterium at the same time or it sharing the bacteria and human nature in one form. It still doesn’t make any sense. If a bacterium has any of the defining characteristics of a human it is no longer, in any meaningful sense, a bacterium. I think humans and bacteria have much more in common than a human would with an entity so powerful that it could literally speak the universe into existence. I think this particular inanity was invented because the Christians wanted it both ways. They wanted Jesus to be an average Joe, a guy like you and me, someone you could relate to. He was just a frail ole human who managed to overcome the human condition and be something more. On the other hand, if Jesus was just a man, why should we pay him any mind? Maybe his way was not necessarily the right way. To eliminate any possible authority debate, make him GOD. It may be a wild contradiction but lets face it, they were already on fairly shaky ground with that whole sacrifice for our sins thing.

Jesus’ Sacrifice.
This has to be the crowning achievement of Christianity. Making you feel indebted to some guy who apparently did you a favor two thousand years before you were born. He got you off the hook for a crime you had no part in. You now won’t be punished by the most merciful and forgiving God for something you didn’t do because his pettiness has been satisfied by the torturous death of his own son.

Sam might suggest, and I can’t say I’d blame him, that I am misrepresenting the events. That may be so, but I would like any such error explained. My fear is that any such explanation would be unintelligible. Flowery language would once again come to the fore to muddy the waters and obfuscate meaning.

Some questions I would love to get a straight answer to from those of the Faith. Now I do mean a straight answer, not waffle or undecipherable gibberish. I’m sure I could have an argument with the leading authority on Quantum Mechanics about the uncertainty principle and never have to admit defeat by simply employing more and more obscure phrasing.

The questions.
Does God want (demand?) our worship? If so, why? Is it Ego?
Is God schizophrenic? One side of him offers peace and love and forgiveness and mercy. The other, torment and eternal damnation.
Is this a fair summation of the Christian position? God loves you. Love him back or burn forever. If not, what am I misunderstanding?

These might seem like flippant questions but I think they are valid and warranted by the confused incompatibility of the Old Testament with the new.

If you reject or at least interpret the old testament as metaphorical then a whole new set of obvious questions pop up.

Who are you to decide where God is being literal and where he is being metaphorical? The Bible say it is the word of God, so why doubt that particular?

Why would God leave so much room for doubt and misinterpretation?

We have to assume that God knew that his vagueness would cause harm and misunderstanding. God knows everything. So we can only conclude that God did this on purpose. Why would God do such a thing?

What sin was Jesus dying for if original sin is removed from the equation?

On an aside, what was the point in creating dinosaurs if they were all just going to be wiped out anyway?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Multiculturalism and 'Tolerence'

I have been asking folk to drop in with post suggestions. So I decided to have a go at this in response to eezee.

Multiculturalism is a complete non-starter. The idea sounds great, a version of 'can't we all just get along'. Well, the short answer is no. If we take a look at the case of Muslim immigrants to western nations bringing their culture with them the reasons why become fairly obvious. Western nations being secular allow the practice of any and all faiths without discrimination. In the case of Islam, it is a duty of the good Muslim to convert others, by force if necessary. Now Muslims will argue this is not so, that the Koran tell us that there is no obligation in religion. The Koran does indeed say this. Of course, like all religious texts, it contradicts itself all over the place and states the exact opposite of this as well. Let's not forget the religion was founded by a man considered so holy that Allah actually created the universe because of him, who went around converting by the sword. If the holiest man who ever did or will exist thought it was OK, then how can any modern Muslim seriously argue that such an idea is against the tenets of their faith. Many Muslims, ironically exercising their secular democratic right to free speech have stated that the want to establish Muslim ummahs in the countries they are resident in. If you believe that you are right and everyone else is wrong on religious grounds then you are right with divine authority. Everyone else is flying in the face of GOD. It is easy to see why someone believing that feels quite entitled to tell his or her host nations how to run things. This in itself would not be a major problem. People are entitled to say whatever they want. The problem arises when the host nation begins to erode its own values and culture to accommodate immigrants. Multiculturalism is nothing more than spineless PC appeasement. In the secular west we believe that women are the equals of men and are afforded the same rights and considerations. Muslim culture does not hold this to be the case. Some of you are by now wanting to slap my wrist for calling Muslim a culture. It is a faith not a culture!. I would argue that in dominantly Muslim countries there is no real distinction. The issue of women's rights is a clear example of incompatibility between Western and Muslim cultures. How far should other cultures be tolerated? It might be argued that Muslim women in western nations have the choice of living however they want. This might be legally the case, but tolerance of Muslim attitudes in western nations makes this very difficult for many. If you turn a blind eye to these attitudes then what about female circumcision? Is that just an element of their culture? Should the barbaric mutilation of young girls be tolerated so as not to offend?

Everyone has the right to say whatever they want. If I want to name a teddy bear Mohammed, I will feel quite free to do so. If I want to draw pictures of Mohammed I will feel free to do so. If I want to state that I believe that Mohammed was a paedophile because he had sex with a nine year old, I will feel quite free to do so. Any Muslim out there who doesn't like this is quite free to say so and attack my statements with all the vigour and bile they can summon. This is freedom of speech. Religions in general have long desired some kind of 'free pass' in this regard. When they have enough power they usually just kill or torture those who say anything against them. Thankfully, religion in the west has lost this level of power. They still do what they can to prevent negative commentary with appeals to respecting someones faith. Even today, if I went on national television in Ireland and declared that I believed "that anyone who thought they were eating the actual flesh and blood of a two thousand year old demi-god every Sunday were idiots" I would be lambasted for my disrespectful attitude, even I suspect by many non-Christians. If I went on the same TV broadcast and declared 'Anyone who believes that we are the brainwashed disembodied souls of people killed 75million years ago by an intergalactic despot trying to solve overcrowding on other planets is an idiot' I'm sure no-one would mind, even if they are aware that this is what scientologists believe. Scientology has failed so far to attain the magical blanket of respect enjoyed by the mainstream faiths. Whats the big problem with that you may ask? Well, the problem is simply that when a nation/culture gets into the habit of respecting faiths, the reaction of that culture to new faiths seems to be to try to afford it this same wonderful respect. Whilst religion in western cultures has been forced to moderate itself to survive the enlightenment, religions from other regions have not had to do so. Trying to accommodate these old style authoritarian religions in a democratic setting is an effort doomed to fail. Something has to give. In too many cases it is the established rules of the democratic society that are being bent or broken to try to force this round peg into the square hole. In Britain, Sikhs do not have to wear helmets on motorcycles or on construction sites because it conflicts with their religious beliefs and the wearing of the turban. Pardon my french here but that is FUCKING RIDICULOUS. Don't want to obey the same rules as everyone else regarding motorcycles, fine, BUY A FUCKING CAR. This sort of state sanctioned lunacy really drives me (no pun intended) nuts. I might start a religion tomorrow that insists I don't wear a seat belt. What other inconvenient laws of modern society might I circumvent with a handy religion. I'm quite sure that if it was a political party or some other non-religious organisation which attempted to gain such exemptions they would have been laughed out of Parliament.

I think it is time to become much more intolerant and that goes for homegrown idiocy as well as imported. Am I suggesting we ban religion?, ban cultural expression? Absolutely not. I am suggesting that objections raised on religious ground be treated the same way as any other kind of objection. Culture and religion must not be allowed to act as a shield for undemocratic censorship or downright illegal behaviour. If something offends you, tuff. Welcome to adult life.

What do you think? Anyone care to make the case for multiculturalism?

Friday, January 18, 2008

My First Ever Blog Posting

This blog is intended primarily as a place for me to think out loud (or in print at least). All comments are welcome and I would be delighted if some folk found there way here to add their two cents. The posts here will be primarily on the subjects of Religion/Atheism and Philosophy but might not be restricted to those subjects. I am not particularly well read on either subject, though I am remedying that at the moment. If I am covering some really basic ideas and my floundering is grating on you, feel free to point in the direction of the relevant thinker and I will make every effort to educate myself. I do not intend to moderate any comments on this site and hopefully I won’t have to change that policy. That said, I do ask that you keep the insults and Ad Hominem to a minimum. This may all be a bit unnecessary. I might be the only person who ever posts here but what the Hell, might as well get that stuff declared right off the bat. It should also be noted that I have no idea what I’m doing with regard to Blog editing. I ask forgiveness in advance for poor layout, linking etc. All advice gratefully received. For all the reasons above, seasoned debaters may find this blog a little amateur for their tastes but hopefully the standard will raise over time.

In short, I am here in a spirit of humble inquiry. I hope to learn, both about how I think and how others do too. I am also after some debate that goes beyond boring pub talk.

Without further preamble, I shall offer up my untrained thoughts for you scorn and collective eye-rolling.