Wednesday, January 31, 2007

(Re-)Reading C.S. Lewis

I started (re-)reading C.S. Lewis today. Or rather, since I couldn't find a copy of Mere Christianity, I started with what the local library had: The Screwtape Letters. It's been at least 20 years since I last read anything of his, but when I was in The Enemy's Camp, to borrow Screwtape's terminology, I had read everything that had been published by Lewis: The Narnia Chronicles, Four Loves, his sci-fi trilogy, various novels, The Great Divorce, collections of essays, and so on. For most of those twenty years, I didn't think about Lewis at all. Suffice it to say, that I had mercifully forgotten a great deal.



After reading the first two or three letters, I'm inclined to say that Lewis' presentation of Protestant Christianity is persuasive, if you don't think about it too much, or if you're not used to thinking about these kinds of things. I'm rereading him because he did play a role in my spending two years or so as an evangelical Christian. At the time, I thought he had persuaded me of the truth and value of being a Christian. Later, I realized that the Infection was something that given my upbringing I was bound to contract sooner rather than later. It had to be gotten out of my system.



I wanted to reread Lewis to provide a reality check for my reflections and characterizations of Christianity.




Saturday, January 20, 2007

Is Homophobia associated with homosexual arousal?

The question alone ought to be enough to give Evangelicals pause. Admittedly, the authors reserve "homophobia" for fear of homosexuals and not merely dislike and disapproval.



A link to the article:



Is Homophobia associated with homosexual arousal?



In making homosexuality and disapproval of homosexuality such a strong part of who and what they are, homosexuality is presented as the strongest form of rebellion and repudiation of evangelical Christianity. Further, the suspicion arises of why should being gay be such an issue for these people. Are they hiding something? Do they engage in private orgies? Do they need homosexuals so that they will feel themselves sufficiently Christian by having people to look down on? The latter is suspiciously similar to the well known Christian vice of pride.




Friday, January 19, 2007

Idols -- Conclusion

My remarks about how some Christians make Christianity into idol worship needs to be concluded.



The main issue to be tied up is whether the problem of idolatry could in principle be resolved if the would-be Christian is sincere enough in his faith and belief. Idolatrous worship is not a matter of sincerity. Sincerity is something that other people judge of one another. It most certainly is not something that one can ascertain of one's own belief with any hope of integrity: the motivation to appear good & righteous in one's own eyes is simply too overwhelming. The struggle to overcome doubts of one's own sincerity results in an oscillations between the extremes of an overweening piety and an overweening feeling of sinfulness.



The issue of sincerity can be rephrased as authenticity vs. inauthenticity. Or more colloquially as "real" Christianity vs. "fake" Christianity. Or in terminology found in the New Testament: uncircumcised Christians vs. circumcised Christians, and Christians of the spirit vs. Christians of the flesh.



Attempts to resolve the idolatry issue by an appeal to sincerity and "true" belief presumes a number of things. First that there is a difference between sincere and insincere belief. Both sincere and insincere belief are attitudes towards one's own belief. When a believer becomes anxious about his belief, he is no longer living and feeling from within his faith. It is the difference between loving someone and speaking of one's love. In becoming anxious about his faith, the believer is no longer consumed by faith and the putative object of his faith. The believer feels himself cut off, cast out, and most vulnerable to seeking the how & why of his faith and belief.



At such moments the believer faces a most insidious temptation: judging his faith by the standard of quietude: the less troubled the believer is by objections the greater the faith. Faith then becomes a means to self-diminution and a means of avoiding engagement with the world that the believer's creator-God spoke into existence.



The end result is that faith in God, in the literal veracity of the New Testament, in whatever, really, becomes a means to an end. God is no longer a person for such a one, God is a means to the end of spiritual quietude and avoiding engagement with God's creation. God is then loved not for who He is, but for what he has to give. The believer becomes a spoilt child of God: the believers love the fount of Creation for occasional blessings bestowed. Consequently, there is also fear lest this fount dries up. In religious language: God might turn His face away. With fear comes bargaining: one "believes" in God so that God would not take away blessings already bestowed. Such a one is no Christian, but a mere believer. He might as well be a new-ager, a follower of Asatru, scientology, or whatever, the criterion of "true faith" is not truth and integrity but the extent to which the belief-system is able to give peace and disengagement from all the unexpected events of the world around him. A believer loves the effect of his faith, not the professed object of his faith.



It also follows easily enough why idolatrous believers are prone to violence. Any questioning, any requirement for thought is a threat to the promised comforts of their spirituality. They eat not for enjoyment of food but for the absence of hunger that eating brings. For Freud, the difference between a neurotic and a psychotic is that the psychotic denies reality in toto, while the neurotic only denies a piece of reality. Whatever faith might have been, it is now a synonym for neurosis.



Honest Christians are in principle possible, but are short-lived creatures. When the moment of truth and crisis of faith comes, another cannot say. Before that moment comes, before the realization comes that faith is questionable, it is possible to speak of authentic faith, but an authentic believer cannot know that his faith in God is "authentic." Once he does, the sincerity of his faith disappears in a puff of questions and uncertainties.




Tuesday, January 16, 2007

the critical difference

I'd like to think that the critical difference between an atheist/bright/whatever and believers of all stripes is that we know how to laugh about (and at) more things than any believer. If laughter at something is forbidden, rational inquiry "uninformed" by revelation will also be forbidden.








Sunday, January 14, 2007

Became a Bright today

I resisted becoming a Bright. I wasn't sure why for the longest time. Then I figured it out.



I liked the implicit rebelliousness and the bad boy vibe. "I'm godless! Who is more godless than I that I might learn from them!" [Nietzsche's Zarathustra].



But on calm reflection, I agree with pretty much everything the Brights stand for.



see http://www.the-brights.net



Being a Bright does solve one problem: I disliked how atheism pretty much means not-god-believing. It's a negative. Consequently asserting oneself as an atheist carries religion along with it.




Friday, January 12, 2007

Idolatry

Just so my posting "old idols" is not completely misunderstood...



Idolatry, one might say, is not a property of a deity. Even real, true, and authentic gods can be turned into a false god. Even professing Christians can turn their one true God into something else.



True gods are ones that are loved, which usually doesn't mean hugs and puppies. One invests the deity with personality. One has a relationship with the deity. The deity in some way in some sense is an aid and even stimulus to empowerment, self-awareness, and to becoming more than what one already is.



There are deities that are sources of fear, self-diminishment, and hatred above all else, because the deity is all too easily provoked to grotesque punishments. Such deities are better called demons and devils.



Christians who make their God into a source of fear and punishments run afoul of their own book:



Mark 3:29: But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation.

The glory of a deity is reflected by its followers. Consequently, the homophobic obsession of many Evangelicals means that they are blasphemers for Christ.



Or less controversially phrased: Christians are Christianity's best refutation.



Thursday, January 11, 2007

God can't lose

If bad things happen to His children, it's a test or a lesson. If bad things happen to infidels, it's a punishment. Whoever said omnipotence is limited by logic was wrong.



old idols

god spoke

the spirit flared

baal trembled and broke



man-god revealed

light filled churches

rome trembled and broke



god hid

the spirit fled

the cross trembled and broke



* * *




What is an idol? The quick & dirty answer is a "false god." When one would worship a deity, the question naturally arises: how does one know that one's chosen deity is not an idol? The decisive criterion is that a false god, being false, fears truth and hates reality, lest its lack of reality be found out. Whatever persuasive power an idol might have to compel worship flows from threats of punishment and hatred of all those outside its congregation. The would-be deity is not a love-object. An idol cannot be loved. It does not seek love: it wants only fear, sacrifice, and obedience. [Think especially of Baal and child sacrifice in the Hebrew Scriptures.] An idol is a bully whose passing goes unmourned.



Why I am not a Christian...

I was a Christian once, but I didn't like the hours or the boss: I couldn't hide from the boss, and the hours were 24/7 with no time off for death.



Saturday, January 6, 2007

The Meaning(lessness) of Existence

Existence has no meaning. That means existence, or life if you prefer, does not have a bad meaning either. Most often assertions of the meaninglessness of existence conjours up sad, gloomy thoughts. Instead of attributing something positive, one attributes a negative, fearful significance to one's existence.



For something to have meaning there must a context. For there to be a context there must be something besides that which is contextualized. If existence includes everything that ever was, everything that presently is, and everything that will ever be, then how could existence have a context? How could existence have any meaning, good or bad? In short, the meaning of existence is not "about" existence. Instead whatever emotional and existential significance humans attach to this and similar phrases reflects and expresses how human beings feel and think about what goes on in their lives. The significance one attaches to one's existence is symptomatic of one's psychic health and nothing more.




Thursday, January 4, 2007

Credo que absurdum

One needs to spend time away from Christianity to appreciate how brutal & savage its doctrine of revelation is. If the content of revelation cannot be found out by rational and (more or less) empirical inquiry, then it is an interruption of ordinary, day-to-day life. The stream of mundane events cannot be followed upstream to the Divine. Consequently, revelation cannot be anticipated, it cannot be prepared for. Revelation is rape. Revelation is God raping the world. In revelation God injects some tiny portion of His essence into the world. His Reasons are unknowable to us. We only have His Word for what happened. Our protests are of no consequence. He knows best. His Will be done on earth, as it is in Heaven.



In the Christian world-fantasy God is omnipotent, then as C.S. Lewis suggested, are we not all female vis a vis God? Ergo, when God reveals Himself to some poor sap, the poor sap has no choice. The doctrine of free-will lets God off the hook: the poor sap could always just say no.



Are the Incarnation and the Virgin Birth then rape fantasies? Could Mary have said "no"? Did she say "no"? Maybe she did. All we have is God's word in the matter. There are no independent witnesses. Tradition teaches that Mary really wanted it, all protestations to the contrary. God was just giving Mary what she wanted.



An aside: the doctrine of Free Will used as God's excuse presents makes the Christian God a deified neurotic. God can't do the good, the right, the just because human beings have free-will. The ugliness of His creations is somebody else's fault. His failures are somebody else's fault, blame falls somewhere else. But isn't this exact rationalization a common strategy of neurotics to evade responsibility?




Eternity

I consider it one of my peculiarities that my life taken as a whole is depressing, heavy, chaotic, disorganized, in a word, ugly. My life considered as a grand story with a direction and a plot, as something that ought to be "meaningful," is a tale told by an idiot. However, when I consider my life as a series of minor events, conversations with friends, a half hour in a coffee bar before work, a poem, daydreaming, and the list seems endless, I find the same life to be light, pleasant, and full of surprises each better than the last.



In those little experiences, I find intimations of eternity. It is not fashionable to talk about this in our proudly secular age, but there is no better word to describe the experience of timelessness that comes on my sunnier days.



It was Spinoza who made it clear to me that time and existence are independent of one another. He defined the universe as everything that had ever existed, presently exists, and will ever exist. The universe so understood is timeless. What I experience at any given moment is a tiny sliver of all that exists. When I no longer experience something, that does not mean that those experiences are destroyed. Those things that brought droplets of happiness still exist. Nothing is truly lost. The coming to be and passing away of things in the universe does not pertain to the whole. We live in eternity.



Unfortunately for some, and fortunate for others, this eternity is not the promise of the unending duration of a different mode of existence after death, but the timelessness of this life. The eternity of the universe guarantees the eternity of my life, of all those loves and hates, fears and dreams, all that I hold dear, only because they are part of this selfsame universe, and most definitely not hints of some other, "better," kind of existence. These intimations of eternity do not make me a better person. They have no monetary value and in themselves produce no insight. Nor do they even serve to ward off the inclement weather of all too frequent bad moods.



One would do well to think of them as expressive of a happiness and even of the good luck to be born Bob, son of Marysol & Lliam.




Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Acknowledging the Absurdity of Religion

Blind faith in absurdities like Christianity will not be banished from the earth by rational argument but by making religion, and monotheistic religion in particular, a laughingstock. Not shameful, not intellectually irresponsible, even though the monotheistic religions are all those things, but silly. According to Christian testimony, Satan's sense of humor isn't any better than God's: they both take themselves much too seriously.



Silke's answer to the Blasphemy Challenge is a wonderfully profound acknowledgment of the willful stupidity that is blind faith. If there is too much rational argumentation, it rubs off, so that even the basest and most arrogant foolishness takes on an air of respectability. Certain ideas become tacitly untouchable and unquestionable, hence accepted as necessary precursors to "meaningful dialog," as if dialog with a neurotic could be meaningful while the neurotic insists on playing make-believe.







One of Nietzsche's better anti-Christian jibes: the "meaning of existence" only means that there is something at which it is forbidden to laugh. That something has a metaphysical aura, like guilt for a Christian, only means that one should neither look too closely nor that one should make fun. If laughter at something is forbidden, rational inquiry "uninformed" by revelation is also forbidden. For the textually curious: see Friedrich Nietzsche, Section 1, "The Teachers of the Purpose of Existence, The Gay Science.




Tuesday, January 2, 2007

First Post

I tried setting up a blog account this morning. I succeeded and then I couldn't log back in. I gave up after 2 hours of failed login attempts. Luckily I hadn't invested much in it, but it sucks to lose my preferred username: "bobkowalski". So, if anyone notices a similarity between bobkowalski.blogspot.com & bob-kowalski.blogspot.com, it's not an accident.





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