Christmas: My Wish Is For 'Less' Instead of 'More'

Posted by Charles Reece, December 25, 2007 06:31pm | Post a Comment
When he wasn’t drinking in pubs and shooting billiards, the greatest Scotsman who ever lived, David Hume, took apart human reasoning, piece by piece.  Of particular relevance to the holiday season, in his essay, "Of Miracles," he critiqued one the foundational chestnuts of the Christian tradition.  In order for something to be a miracle, it must be supernatural.  If it's truly supernatural, then it's beyond natural laws.  If it's beyond natural laws, then it's a violation of anything we humans have the capability of understanding or reasoning about -- is, in other words, beyond rationality.  A Christianity without miracles isn't much of a religion, since all of it's basic beliefs become, at best, metaphors for natural phenomena (virgin birth, resurrection, et al. would be just strange ways of talking about more pedestrian subjects that we all know occur under natural laws).  Thus, Christianity isn't rational. At best, it's nonrational (as opposed to merely irrational), the belief being what's called fideistic, which is the act of accepting a proposition (like 'there is a god') without sufficient evidence, or, really, any evidence at all, because of the supposed value in faith itself.  Many Christians don't like this approach, but it's hard to see any other viable alternative.  Of those who bite the bullet and continue to believe, the most famous are:

Blaise Pascal, who argued that one should believe in a god because if there is a god, the possible reward for being right outweighs the possible punishment for being wrong and you don't get jackshit if you're right about there not being one.

William James, who argued in absence of definitive evidence one way or the other, one shouldn't just be skeptical of both propositions (there is or isn't a god) for doing so misses out on any good that might obtain from either being true (although he seems to focus more on the good of the affirmative).  One can't wait until definitive proof to trust every person one meets without having an incredibly impoverished existence, and the question of a god places a similar demand on an individual.   The noncommittal agnostic will burn in hell just like the determined atheist after all, so suck it up and be a man.

Søren Kierkegaard, who argued, as best I can tell, that the qualitative difference in the act of becoming a Christian was for him, at least, enough of a reason to have faith in a god.  Justification comes from the Christian acting good because of his faith, rather than any foundational assumption about the necessity of Christianity.  (Ludwig Wittgenstein had a similar approach to the majority of human activities, so there is a group of fideistic Christians out there calling themselves Wittgensteinian, even though it's doubtful Wittgenstein was one himself.)

I don't much find this approach very convincing as it's more an argument that some practical advantage might come your way if you do believe than any sort of reason for believing.  You're better off in a theocracy pretending to believe in the mandated god, but pretense isn't the same as actual belief (minus CLOCKWORK ORANGE-styled brainwashing).  Who gives a shit if religious belief leads to a longer life, as has been reported in some scientific research?  You can’t just turn on belief for a life extension.  Hell,  it might be the religious context in which the nonreligious have to live which contributes to their early grave (cf., the Inquisition).  Honesty isn't very pragmatic for achieving power.  Morality isn't likely to get you rich.  Perspicacity rarely leads to bliss.  So in the spirit of giving, here are some intellectuals who have taken a stand:

Bertrand Russell, who doesn't sound like he was the nicest of fellows, but he gave good argument, nonetheless.  His classic anti-Christian tract is Why I Am Not a Christian, wherein he takes to task all of the famous theological arguments for God (as in the one who used to not have any true vowels to his name, not some aberration with multiple arms or a big dumb guy with a hammer).

Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in an interview about his atheism and his general scientistic belief that not much else other than science gives us a truth worth considering.

Another scientistic thinker, bearing a striking resemblance to Saint Nick, is Daniel C. Dennett, who uses philosophy as the little yapping dog to Dawkin's big dog of science, Spike.  In the link he talks about faith and its role in a democracy.

The late, great paleontologist Stephen J. Gould referred to the former two's camp as pan-adaptationist, because they (along with other popular scientists like Steven Pinker) attempt to explain all human behavior as a function of natural selection.  That's neither here nor there for this blog entry (except to explain why I keep using 'scientistic' in the place of 'scientific'), but a particularly eloquent opponent to their camp who's no more Christian than they, but far less scientistic is H. Allen Orr, so here are some of his takes on science, religion, Dennett and Dawkins, plus an exhange with Dennett.

And, finally, all-around curmudgeon, Christopher Hitchens gives us some yule-tide warmth and season's greetings.

Also, coming out on Jan. 7th, a conversation between Dennett, Dawkins, Hitchens and Sam Harris:

Merry Tuesday.

December 25, 2007

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, December 25, 2007 07:31am | Post a Comment
So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
A new one just begun
And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear ones
The old and the young

A merry merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear

And so happy Christmas (War is Over, if you want it)
For weak and for strong
The rich and the poor ones
The road is so long
So happy Christmas
For black and for white
For yellow and red ones
Let's stop all the fight

A merry merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear

And so this is Christmas (War is over, if you want it)
And what have we done
Another year over
And a new one just begun
And so this is Christmas
We hope you have fun
The near and the dear ones
The old and the young

A merry merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear
War is over, if you want it
War is over now

- John Lennon

This quiet, early morning meditation brought to you in hopes that we can all band together in 2008 and shake off our passivity, and start the change our world desperately needs. The change doesn't start by marching in the streets, writing big checks to politicians, posting blog after blog, angry rants in dark bars ... the change starts in our hearts, in our minds.

God bless every one of us: the newborn baby, the man with a shopping cart on the street, Dick Cheney, a woman giving birth somewhere, the murderer in prison, a person who lays dying. The word God means so many things to so many people - and nothing at all to others, so let us let it be just that: let blessings rain down on everyone, because we all need it. Whatever it is, whatever this godlike state is, this state of love without judgment, I hope it for every human: maybe then we can start to heal this world. One heart at a time.

Continue reading...

Merry Christmas

Posted by Mr. Chadwick, December 24, 2007 11:56pm | Post a Comment

Mac bought daddy a Rolling Stones album back in 1983...It had kind of a naughty cover... Daddy stored some Stones clippings along with the original shrink and xmas tag...

Quite an amazing piece, possibly Wladziu is sitting up waiting for his brother George to call to spread a little holiday cheer???
1978 cheapo release on the Mistletoe label- a subsidiary of Springboard.  A complete Springboard post is in the works...

Seasonal specials often get their own promo stickers... this one found on the back of a Supremes Christmas LP re-issue, probably from the early 80's...

And finally, from the "and then I wrote series" on Coral, a collection of songs written by J. Fred Coots.  Mr. Coots wrote the New York Rangers theme song, the theme from PBS DIY trailblazer (seriously, this show was the template for so many reality TV shows) "This Old House", and of course that little ditty "Santa Claus is Coming to Town"...

Christmas records, you might have missed

Posted by Whitmore, December 24, 2007 03:56pm | Post a Comment

(In which good tidings abound.)

Posted by Job O Brother, December 23, 2007 06:43pm | Post a Comment

Christmas Trivia: Which creatures in this picture traditionally ended up being sacrificed?
(See the answer at the bottom)

Merry Christmas, Dear Reader!

…Unless of course, you’re Jewish, in which case...

Happy Chanukah!

Or maybe you’re an African-American who’s reconnecting with what Ron Karenga characterized as their African cultural and historical heritage by uniting in meditation and study around principles that have their putative origins in what Karenga asserts are "African traditions" and "common humanist principles", in which case...

Happy Kwanzaa!

Oh! And my friend Giggles is a pagan.

Happy Solstice, Giggles, and all you other pagan pals!

Did I forget anyone? In a world of such rich and diverse cultural and religious/spiritual… uh… things, I’m sure it’s impossible to include everyone, except to say:


…Oh… Unless your beliefs prohibit being happy. I suppose my blanket statement wouldn’t include you. Sorry! Okay, so, let’s try this again…


Whew! I think I nailed it that time. I must admit, though, I’m glad most of you readers just celebrate it as Christmas and Chanukah, because that’s much easier to say. ...And to write in hot glue on a stocking.

I will be celebrating the holidays at the home of my beloved. I’m going to make egg nog from scratch with bourbon and we’ll probably play Scrabble and watch the French & Saunders Christmas Special.

I’m also trying to come up with a recipe for "dessert eggs benedict". Any suggestions?

However and wherever you’re spending your December 25, remember that I think the world of you and will do everything I can to make things radder for you in the coming year.


Trivia answer: All of them! Ho, ho, ho!
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