Alterless Boy(s) – A. Pogue, S. Russell, N. Hopkins, & G. Duffy

Alan titled his post, “Druids and Animists, oh! my!” I don’t know which is more appropriate – they both work. rdj


I almost never look at the web site because I have no idea about i.d.s and codes and such but I intuited your message.

Most of the Vietnamese were animists with a spot of ancestor worship, kinda Shinto but they wouldn’t use that term. A Vietnamese Catholic priest who was completely honest explained Vietnamese religious demographics to me. I was a Catholic chaplain’s assistant at the time. We were in a bombed out church with nothing much to do and shared an interest in comparative theology. I met a Vietnamese soldier who loved Dylan Thomas but that is another story.

I use the word “meaningless” in an exact sense. Words refer to something in order to have meaning. There is Lewis Carroll. The word “god” has no content, no attributes, no predicates , no nothing. Most mystics will agree but some keep on insisting that there is some other plane of existence they have a line on. Well, dial it for me so I can listen in. Maybe if I give them a few bucks they will call in my request. We humans like to anthropomorphize. We can attribute motives to inanimate objects or the weather. We have always wanted to be the center of something or the end product of the unfolding of something, anything to make us feel special, cosmically loved. Vague category words like “love” and “beauty” are hard to define, by definition, but one can pen down what one is referring to in particular. There is/are someone(s) one loves and there is/are something(s) that is/are thought to be beautiful and they have these attributes but if one says they love God then we are back to nothing again. Falling in love with love is falling for make believe et cetera. There has to be some there there. Go Gertrude.

Huge numbers of people can believe total bullshit. We see that all the time. Pass me a People magazine and a Diet Coke. Sociological meaning is another animal. Karl Rove can manipulate the nothings we believe are important. Strong emotional belief has a lot of sociological meaning. Let us all salute the flag, amen.

I like Zen/Chan Buddhism for the same reason I like existential phenomenology. They talk about our perception of reality in a way that helps scrape off all the nonsense. Unfortunately there are many wishy-washy people calling themselves Buddhists who reek of god nostalgia. Theism is like heroin or nicotine or Teddy Bear or nationalism.

Positivism and linguistic analysis aren’t all of philosophy but they are helpful. If someone wants to assert the existence of something then where is it. If it is, by definition, unknowable then how do they know about it? Got some old stone tablets or gold plates with cuneiform on them? And then, God or no God what difference does it make if it doesn’t make any difference? Shall we pray for rain? A straight flush? A cure for cancer? A parking space? Intuition of the correct path?

I believe in the essential goodness of human consciousness. Might as well since that is all we have, while the light lasts.

I believe in justification by works, not faith (identification of oneself with a magic totem). Many are those that cry Gaea, Gaea but do not do the will of the Mother/ Father/ General Good.

Alan, the a-Druid, a-Pagan and a-theist, altarless boy

Alan and Gavan,

I think you both underestimate what can be accomplished by the manipulation of the meaningless, although I agree with you both on the bottom line of “factual” meaninglessness.

It’s kind of like “There is no such thing as race.” A true statement in the scientific sense, but in the social sense we ignore race at our peril.

Steve “Pagan” Russell

Emile Durkheim, the “Father of Sociology” and an influential 19th century analyst of things social, argued that human behavior is constrained by three kinds of reality: physical reality (you can’t fly because we don’t have wings), psychological reality (we are limited in our ability to understand), and social reality (Durkheim’s example: he had to speak French not because he was incapable of speaking some other language physically or mentally, but because he lived in a French-speaking society). Social realities are just as “real” as the other two when it comes to affecting people’s behavior. Concepts like “race” may not be empirically valid, but they sure are socially valid. “Socially-constructed realities” are still real, even if they are just social constructs.

Incidentally, Durkheim also argued that in order to change a “social fact,” you had to change its causes, e.g., if you want to lower the crime rate, locking up criminals won’t do it, you have to attack the base causes of crime.

My two cents.

Nick Hopkins (a great fan of pagans)

Well, I agree with both Alan and Steve.

My point was simply that religion, although not at all the main cause of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, is not irrelevant in (and thus not meaningless to) any explanation or understanding of political events there. Although in the final analysis religion is meaningless for all the reasons Alan articulates, it nevertheless and unfortunately motivates the actions of a great many people. Political leaders in Northern Ireland (and elsewhere) know this and exploit it to mobilize mass political constituencies cheaply (without having to expend material resources).

So, the political leaders in Northern Ireland across communities, are motivated by an interest in security. But they find it convenient (and cheap) to mobilize mass constituents by “distributing solidary incentives” or, in this case, by glorifying their group and demonizing their opponent’s group along confessional lines.

Although distributing solidary incentives is cheap, leaders discover when they want to settle with their opponents that — even if they attain their actual goal (security in this case) — they cannot settle without risking loss of their incumbency or loss of their lives to hardliner assassins within their own constituency. If you don’t believe me, ask Anwar Sadat or Yitzhak Rabin.

The Good Friday agreement delivers the security every party wants, and nominally solves the Irish problem. However, its implementation is delayed (hopefully not prevented) because of difficulties in retracting solidary incentives in both the nationalist and unionist communities. Retraction of these incentives is particularly difficult in this case, as political leaders been distributing them for half a millennium or so.

I contend that the solidary incentive retraction problem is a prime obstacle to peace and not just in Northern Ireland. If anyone has any ideas about how to foster their retraction, I’d like to hear them.

Gavan, the devout agnostic, Duffy

When writing about solidary incentives, I stand on many shoulders. One set belongs to John Turner, who writes about stereotyping and social categorization. He was standing on the shoulders of Henri Tajfel, who conducted the famous “minimal groups” experiments (which showed the people’s evaluative judgments of others are affected by their group affiliations, even when those affiliations have no real meaning). Tajfel in turn was standing on the shoulders of Emile Durkheim and his work on socially constructed realities in The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life.

It’s in just this sense that religion is not meaningless, even if Alan and I choose to construct it that way.

Gavan Duffy

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