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    • CommentTimeMay 4th 2010 edited
    And just because I feel it bears consideration, a more full recounting of the Niezschean "God is dead" aphorism:

    God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?

    For various interpretations and context, the Wikipedia entry is actually a pretty good starting point.

    (Also: I leave it as an exercise to the reader to compare and contrast with Mr. Ellis' /Supergod/. In Soviet Russia, God kills *you*.)
  1.  (8121.222)
    @ Finagle. You might know this... who was it that said "when men stop believing in god, they believe in anything else?" I may be paraphrasing.

    Anyway, I always thought that in our rush to get rid of the structures of religion and empire and the like we left ourselves open to that and sadly it seems we replaced it with the Society of the Spectacle and the worship of self above all others. Roark not withstanding (nor Nietzsche and his whole will to power thing) I feel this kind of manipulation has lead to greater catastrophe and for many has seen a retreat from reason and enlightenment values. Not that I'm condoning either empire or theocracy, but it does seem that both are raising their ugly heads again luring in the disenfranchised who have been increasingly abandoned by these new temples.
    • CommentTimeMay 4th 2010
    @Finagle: I should preface this by saying that I am entirely in your camp as a committed agnostic and radical empiricist.

    That said, I think you give the Humanists too little credit. Certainly the vast majority of people on that side of things have done precisely as you say, deifying Man in a very dangerous way. But the leaders of this movement, the ones who give it the capital H, are doing something different. They, as I think all intelligent nonreligious persons do, know that something must replace the gods left behind. And they are working studiously to figure out what that thing should be.

    I don't know if that question is answerable, and I'm certainly unsure of the directions they're looking, but that search is what makes the movement beautiful to me.
    • CommentAuthorJiveKitty
    • CommentTimeMay 5th 2010
    Religion, on the whole, contributed to the deification of man though. It typically - in the major religions - posited and still posits man as apart from other animals: the apex of what one can be. In Christianity, man was created in God's image, a reflection of God. Even in Buddhism, the enlightened man is seen as the goal to make the final step to Nirvana. Take away religion and on the whole you've still got a creature that thinks it's the apex of what an animal can be. You've still got a creature that thinks it's better than all other animals, rather than just different. Whether this attitude can be wholly attributed to religion, I don't know (it could, for example, have been a societal survival mechanism which would have been entrenched without the influence of religion), but religion certainly played and plays a significant part.
      CommentAuthorcity creed
    • CommentTimeMay 5th 2010
    wow, I'm a little surprised by the turn this conversation has taken to be honest.

    "something must replace the gods left behind"

    replace god? the one who didn't exist in the first place, right? - so really we're just talking about replacing one specific idea of something greater than ourselves? please correct me if I'm wrong, I understand you guys seem to be saying that we replaced god with man but notwithstanding Nietszche's somewhat whimsical poesy, I don't really think that's it. Human beings are human beings, no significant change occurs when you remove belief in god except that we have to find better, more realistic explanations for things.

    We have replaced god with many different forms of unprovable belief in something greater than just 'us' - UFOs, chi energy, homeopathy, the Illuminati. There's many many more examples I could throw in.

    Does this mean we have a 'need' to believe in something greater? I'm not sure it does, I think it just highlights a weakness, a common desire to believe that there is something running the show because the alternative - that we're running what little show there is - is just too frightening and lonely a headfuck for many people to accept. I'm not convinced that means we should simply replace one pack of demonstrable falsehoods with another. Or that that first pack of demonstrable falsehoods really needs to be replaced with anything at all. Can't we just be glad to be rid of medieval superstitions?

    Sorry, I don't mean to be bolshie and it seems more than likely I've got totally the wrong end of the stick, but I'm struggling to understand why there is a need for anything to replace god. I'd like to grasp why you guys, who I'm pretty sure are all smarter and better educated than me, think there is.
  2.  (8121.226)
    @ Citruscreed. I don't think it's a case of need I think you've kind of grasped that there is a common desire for many to have life defined by a simple narrative, some philosophers even claim that it is necessary to have such things in order to maintain social cohesion . Leo Strauss for example calls this the "noble lie". It doesn't necessarily mean that we need to use Jehovah the Cosmic Ghost Monkey, but that in order for societies to thrive and not fall into utter mayhem it does need some symbol of an ideology greater than the individual, whether that be a flag or a religion or a monarch, or even as Orwell had a static image of Big Brother.

    The technique is always the same though. Those in-group are promised some form of utopian paradise (either now or in the afterlife) if they do exactly as they are told and if they don't then they are criminals sinners damned, the other, non-persons etc and of course the only thing stopping them from entering such paradise is the out-group whether that be supernatural or sub-human.

    Celebrity culture works just as well. The millions who empathise with the folks of American Idol and the X-Factor are engaged in a similar process, with them identifying with the plucky underdogs being judged by the celestial powers in order that they can become ascendant. The winner gives them hope that all can attain such heights.
    • CommentAuthorcoffeemug
    • CommentTimeMay 5th 2010
    @Citrusseed: one of the most interesting points Nietzsche makes in his analyses on the death of God and the nihilism related to it, is that with the rise of the Enlightenment and Humanism, is that man is exactly not just that. In humanist theories, humanity gains an inherently valuable status, and by virtue of rationalty (or whatever you'd like to call it), man has become something essentially different from animals. This is not to say that humanism is not a perfectly acceptable alternative to, for instance, christian morality, but there are striking similarities between them.

    Similarly, in his analysis of asceticism (the notion that the world that we live in is somehow subordinate to some higher, more truthful or more valuable something), he states that the notion of thruth itself mutated from something external (platonic ideas) to the current day notion of reality (the world as something real, where we can gain true knowledge about). The central idea here is that people need to believe (or will) in something in order to survive, given the that the world is a harsh place. Following Finagle I'll direct you to the wiki on nihilism, which might prove an interesting read.
  3.  (8121.228)
    I believe that my belief should be suspended, pending further data, and that my judgements here and now should be based on the best possible current data. Does that count as a "belief"?
    Surely this is a semantic mine-field, and surely people only "need" some unchanging belief if they're brought up to value that way of thinking. We've all got frontal lobes, we can all use them to override impulse, double check intuition, perceive and choose whether to act upon instinct... any theory predicting the behaviour of humans en-masse (what they "need" or what they'll always do) has to take that into account.
  4.  (8121.229)
    @Paul Duffield.
    any theory predicting the behaviour of humans en-masse (what they "need" or what they'll always do) has to take that into account.

    Quite. Which is in a nutshell why I am always suspicious of ideology, political, philosophical or religious, since most claim to have answers that fit everyone. I find it unreasonable to make the assumption that 6 billion pegs can fit into one square hole, especially when you get such top notch whackos like Blake proclaiming ""I must create my own system or become enslaved by another man's" for centuries.

    However we are social creatures, (well most of us) there is the tribal aspect in all of us, which is the desire to fit in, to belong to something greater than ourselves.

    Having read the wiki on nihilism and having checked out post-modernism a bit it does seem to me like they are onto something. However it should be the starting not the end point. If we have desconstructed everything, we should be using the rubble to build something new out of all that came before.

    This thread is going all over the place, but I think I like that.
    • CommentAuthorcoffeemug
    • CommentTimeMay 5th 2010
    Hm, let me recontextualise: one of the difficulties with general statements about human nature is in what frame of reference you're using them. Philosophers like Nietzsche (along with the majority of 20th century continentals) tend to posit these statements not so much as sociological observations, but as metaphysical-anthropological theories. Such theories are, as such, non-scientific, which is why they can't be proven right or wrong. What use such a theory is, is of course a point of discussion, bu you can find somelinks in Nietzsche's motives behind his writings, which are not so much to posit a new system, but to deconstruct the general frameworks that constitute our thinking about (and within) science, religion and morality. There's a definate sapere aude-element (dare to think [for yourself]) in there, but that's more of a general methodology-thing.

    Anyway, what Nietzsche proposes is not a theory which suggests what people need, but a general statement about the human condition: that we always need or want something, that we always need to value something. This goes far beyond the need for religion in a spiritual sense. The general notion for him is that in order to survive, any and all human beings need to make sense of their surroundings and the world. Religion is just one of the ways in which we can do this. The grand danger of religion, however, is that it itself obscures that it is such a construction (a risk that he also sees in science).

    And I guess I should stop there, before this turns into more of a "Nietzsche and morality"-class.
    • CommentTimeMay 5th 2010
    If we have desconstructed everything, we should be using the rubble to build something new out of all that came before.
    I may have my artistic movements all messed up, wasn't that the point of Modernism? "These fragments I have shored against my ruins" and all that?
    • CommentAuthorcoffeemug
    • CommentTimeMay 5th 2010
    One of the problems about the whole deconstruction-thing is that in deconstructing, you come upon the flaws of the original construction Deconstruction is not merely destruction of the original, it's actually picking it apart to see how it worked in the first place. Whether you actually can reconstruct something, while circumventing the flaws, is another thing entirely. Note however that there is a definate difference between deconstruction in the arts and deconstruction in for example philosophy. In the latter, a frequent result is an inescapable contradiction that lies at the foundation of the original thing that is deconstructed, while in the arts, there are less essential difficulties in re-approporating the 'rubble', so to speak, to build something new.
    • CommentTimeMay 5th 2010
    When I say something must replace the gods left behind, I don't mean to imply that people need something bigger than themselves, or the "god-shaped hole" or even necessarily any solid beliefs. All I mean is that, absent the religion-motivated morality, we have two options: find a new moral framework that can generally be agreed upon, or allow a collapse of civilization. Secularists are quick to claim that God is not necessary for morality, but I think everyone agrees that thinking about morality is necessary for morality, and maybe even some external motivation. It has to start somewhere. That's what I'm interested in.
    • CommentAuthorcoffeemug
    • CommentTimeMay 5th 2010
    Agreed. The reflective element in ethics is of supreme importance. Without any questioning about what it is to live a good life (or what it is to act wisely, or good, etc.), there is merely direct action, traditionally equiated with animal action. Ethics or morality imply, in any case, a certain value which you use as a standard by which you measure your actions. Most traditional religions offer a concrete list of rules (the judeo-christian commandments) and values (the cardinal virtues) by which we can evaluate our behaviour. When a moral system like christianity falls away, we look elsewhere. The central problem about christianity (and, in fact, most monotheistic religions) is that they posit themselves as the truth, the one and only. When that falls away, it's hard not to get disillusioned.

    As far as motivation goes, one of the more interesting responses to these nihilistic tendencies can be found in the works of several existentialist and absurdist writers (which ones has momentarily slipped my mind) is a great, big "fuck you" to an inherently meaningless life. If there's no objective meaning to be found, the last thing you should do is lie down and die. The more it tries to drag you down, all the more reason to struggle and rise to meet it. Screw you, world, if there's no meaning, we'll just make it!

    Also, if someone feels the burning desire to kick me back on track, please do so.
  5.  (8121.235)
    @ Coffeemug. Absolutely. Isn't what you are sayng precisely an attempt to rebuild? We have desconstructed the morality of religion found it not containing an absolute truth, so we can reject that part but that does not mean we necessarily throw out the engine just because one part is faulty.
  6.  (8121.236)
    We've got a good moral framework. We don't have to work to find it, it's sitting right there in the teachings of many religions- Be excellent to each other. We don't need a god (or even Bill & Ted) to tell us this. The belief or lack of belief in a god doesn't make "thou shalt not kill/steal/screw thy neighbor" any less valid. "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" takes a bit of a beating, I'll admit, and the bits about not wearing mixed fibers and when you can beat your wife are right out, but much of the rest are pretty decent guidelines when taken in context of it being several thousand years since being written.

    Agnostic here too, by the way, although I've never done the research or heavy though necessary to define it more clearly. I don't believe I've got enough information to say "Yes!" to a belief system, although I've seen more than enough that get an emphatic "No!" I do aspire to be more than a fleshy bag of meat and brain-chemicals, though.
  7.  (8121.237)
    find a new moral framework that can generally be agreed upon, or allow a collapse of civilization.

    @artenshiur: Why does there have to be general agreement? Isn't the individual desire to do good more than enough?

    I do aspire to be more than a fleshy bag of meat and brain-chemicals, though.

    But that is what you are. Tat tvam asi.

    This is why we invent Gods: because we do not like what we are. We invent God because we want to be God, or at least Godlike. Why did God create us in his image? Because we made him do that. Why was Jesus a human? Because we like to think that we too can be God.
    • CommentAuthorcoffeemug
    • CommentTimeMay 6th 2010
    I do aspire to be more than a fleshy bag of meat and brain-chemicals, though.

    But that is what you are. Tat tvam asi.

    This is the thing about reductionist stances in debates like these: yes, this is technically what you are. The question is whether this description is fitting and actually covers the entirety of what you are. The thing is that such a view includes a very horizontal view of what the world is: because the world is constituted out of parts that are all more or less similar, the implication is is that the concrete things that are constructed out of these parts can in no way be more important or valuable than other things, by virtue of their components.

    Apart from that, I think that the characterisation of the figure of Jesus as an anthropomorphisation of God is a little short-sighted. There are many interesting theological theories about the meaning of the incarnation. Alan Moore made an interesting statement in Promethea, where the crucifixion is characterised as treating the best and finest of us "like a dog". That a being that would transcend human power and understanding would endure that kind of humiliation for our sakes, out of a sort of impossibly unconditional love, makes for a powerful , tear-jerky story, even if it might be 'just' a story.
  8.  (8121.239)

    I know what you mean, and I'm not trying to take your words out of context here, just offering my own slant.

    I would classify the crucifixion story as more than just a story. Like I told Paul upthread, FREAKANGELS is a story. FREAKANGELS doesn't have an agenda. Religious texts are written with the intent of changing behavior and they are repeated with the intent of creating a myth that will control behavior.

    Rejecting gospel as fairy tales is ignoring its influential power. There are REASONS this stuff has such sway over people, and it has nothing to do with their gullibility or mental weakness, which is the most common claim of atheists.
  9.  (8121.240)
    @coffeemug: why would being constituted out of flesh and chemicals lead to a horizontal view of the world? I don't see this at all. Flesh and chemicals deserve more credit than that.