Archive for August, 2008

Killing God In Different Ways

08/27/2008 1 comment

Many have heard the phrase, “God is dead” or “the death of God” and so forth. Such a cosmic event is said to have happened in the 19th and 20th century. What is interesting to note, however, is that in that span of time, God was killed more than once and in more than one way by different groups of people.

The death of God refers to the death of a particular conception of God. The conception of God relevant here is the traditional monotheistic God of history who has and does intervene in the world. He is the literal creator of the universe, he has a grand plan for the history of humankind, he works miracles, and such a being exists objectively apart from his creation. This is the God that was dealt a lethal attack in the past few centuries.

In the Christian West, God was killed by what we could call the rational part of the soul: through the use of logos. Much of this had to do with the rise and advancement of science. More and more the empirical world was being successfully explained in naturalistic ways without any need to invoke God. God simply was not necessary. As the mathematician and astronomer Pierre-Simon Laplace so famously told Napoleon concerning the question about God’s role in his latest book on astronomy, “I have no need of that hypothesis.” And even though Isaac Newton was a devout theist, his new physics represented the new naturalistic view more than any other: the world was essentially a machine governed by impersonal laws. Eventually Darwin arrived shattering any supernatural origin of the species, Hubble discovered other galaxies showing how truly small and seemingly insignificant we are, and the rest of the sciences followed right along, each one narrowing and then eliminating the living space that God once had.

God’s death among the Jews was a very different story. In the Christian West, God suffered a long and silent death: it happened over the span of a few centuries and many didn’t even realize that it had happened (many still don’t). It took people like Nietzsche and others to spell it out. For many Jews, however, God died suddenly in a short span of time. He died during World War II. He died in Auschwitz. His killers: the Nazis and the Jewish people themselves. There is no more powerful description of this death than Elie Wiesel’s description of it in his classic book Night. The following is an excerpt from Karen Armstrong’s A History of God:

One day the Gestapo hanged a child. Even the SS were disturbed by the prospect of hanging a young boy in front of thousands of spectators. The child who, Wiesel recalled, had the face of a ‘sad-eyed angel,’ was silent, lividly pale and almost calm as he ascended the gallows. Behind Wiesel, one of the other prisoners asked: ‘Where is God? Where is He?’ It took the child half an hour to die, while the prisoners were forced to look him in the face. The same man asked again: ‘Where is God now?’ And Wiesel heard a voice within him make this answer: ‘Where is He? Here He is—He is hanging here on this gallows.’

Armstrong goes on to say that since the Holocaust, “many Jews can no longer subscribe to the biblical idea of God who manifests himself in history, who, they say with Wiesel, died in Auschwitz.” According to many, it is the Holocaust, more so than any other event in history, that has made the problem of evil eternally unanswerable. Presumably at one point in Auschwitz, God was put on trial by a group of Jews. His charge: cruelty and betrayal. The verdict: guilty. The sentence: death.

The death of God in the West was seemingly dry. It was based on an ever-growing tradition of rationalism that saw science as the wave of the future. And it was proclaimed that the traditional monotheistic God no longer fit within this new tradition, and rightfully so. In contrast, the Jewish execution of God was filled with emotion. It was an emotional response to a particular event that had happened in history. It involved much grief, tears, and sorrow. To use Aristotle’s modes of persuasion once again, we might say then that the Jewish rejection of God was not merely a utilization of logos but also of pathos.

Muslims also killed God in yet another way. Whereas the death of God among the Christian West and among the Jews was a complete rejection of the traditional monotheistic God, the death of God among Muslims was merely a change of focus: one that would prove dangerous in the future. God would no longer be the main focus for certain Muslims. Instead, the focus was on getting Islam back to its glory days of the seventh and eighth centuries. As Armstrong states,

Islam…is a religion of success. The Koran taught that a society which lived according to God’s will (implementing justice, equality, and a fair distribution of wealth) could not fail. Muslim history had seemed to confirm this. Unlike Christ, Muhammad had not been an apparent failure but a dazzling success. His achievements had been compounded by the phenomenal advance of the Muslim empire during the seventh and eighth centuries. This had naturally seemed to endorse the Muslim faith in God: al-Lah had proved to be extremely effective and had made good his word in the arena of history…Now, however, something seemed to have gone radically wrong with Muslim history, and this inevitably affected the perception of God.

That which went “radically wrong” was the advancement of Western powers into Middle Eastern Muslim countries, perhaps resulting in a feeling of inadequacy and inferiority in the minds of many Muslims. There was, therefore, much emphasis placed on the success of Islam as an earthly establishment. This, however, pushed God out of the picture. He was no longer their primary focus. For these “earthly” Muslims, God was hardly ever mentioned at all. He was, in some sense, dead.

Source: A History of God by Karen Armstrong

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“All good things must come to an end some time”

08/20/2008 2 comments

It was a sad day for Dave Matthews fans as the news came in that band member and saxophonist LeRoi Moore passed away suddenly on Tuesday, August 19, at the all too young age of 46. He will be deeply missed. This is my tribute to him.

The following video is a collection of pictures of LeRoi. The song is “Long Black Veil” performed by Dave and LeRoi.

Here are two more songs that highlight some of LeRoi’s talent. He has solos at the end of each song but plays throughout them as well. And the videos are less relevant here. Enjoy them if you wish or just open them in a different window and listen like an audio. Vox isn’t letting me post mp3s of the songs so I just found videos of them.

“Celebrate we will
‘Cause life is short but
Sweet for certain
We climb on two by two
To be sure these days continue”

Thanks LeRoi

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Categories: Music Tags: ,

Abortion: the cards are still stacked

08/19/2008 8 comments

I watched the Obama-McCain interviews that took place at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church on Saturday. All in all, both candidates faired well. McCain tended to appeal to the heart of the American public while Obama addressed the head. Both approaches, I suppose, have pros and cons. But their overall performance is not what this post is concerned with. I am here to address the way conservatives–knowingly or likely unknowingly–have hijacked the abortion debate with obscure language. And such language has, as the title says, stacked the cards in the conservatives favor. Now, I don’t wish to place all of the blame on conservatives. The public at large–conservatives and liberals–has bought into the way we talk about abortion. But if the liberal is to have any chance of justifying his pro-choice position, he must change his approach. Here is the problem that was reemphasized during the Obama-McCain interviews:

The question is asked (as it was by Warren): when does life begin?

It seems like an innocent question, but the way it is set up and the way we, as Americans, tend to think of this issue, it leaves little chance for the liberal to give an acceptable response. The pro-lifer can simply state that life begins at conception. Therefore, the conclusion seems unavoidable that abortion is essentially the killing of an innocent human person and is thus no less wrong than the killing of an innocent adult human person. At this point the liberal is usually stuck defending the indefensible position that life doesn’t begin at conception or that an embryo or fetus is not human (or some may go on to talk about the rights of the mother, which does have some merit but also has problems of its own). But if an embryo or fetus is not human, the pro-lifer responds, then what is it? A valid question indeed if liberals are naive enough in the first place to accept the baiting by conservatives that the when-does-life-begin question actually has any relevancy whatsoever to the abortion debate. The fact of the matter is, it does not. Why? Because it is a biological fact that life begins at conception (not to mention that it is also a biological fact that such a life in a human mother is human). So asking a politician, “When does life begin?” is like asking them how many times the earth rotates around the sun each year. If asked that question, we might imagine a politician saying, “The answer is once a year, but so what” and that is the same answer he should give to the when-does-life-begin question: at conception, but so what?

Life begins at conception. The pro-choicer can and should admit this because once he does, the real question of importance can rise to the top: when does a human (or anything for that matter) become a person? Now this is an entirely different question from the one posed by Warren. At first, the question may be confusing because in everyday language we tend to use “human” and “person” interchangeably. But the distinction between them is significant. “Human” merely refers to the biological classification of a living thing. In our case, we are classified as Homo sapiens sapiens. “Person,” however, refers to the moral status of a living thing. Thus we can all agree that an embryo or fetus inside a human mother is indeed human. But is it a person? In other words, does it have full moral status i.e. the sort of moral status that makes deliberately killing it morally impermissible?

So let us now rephrase Warren’s question. The question should not be, “When does life begin?” but rather “When does personhood begin?” That question is not so easily answered and is indeed a philosophical (as opposed to a scientific) question. Perhaps Obama’s “answering that question is above my pay grade” response to Warren’s question is not so bad after all. We cannot simply say, as McCain did, that life begins at conception. It is not that easy. Otherwise we would have settled this issue long ago. So once the proper question is asked, the cards become equally stacked. Both the pro-life and pro-choice advocate can now make legitimate cases supporting their position without being confused and deceived by obscure and lazily asked questions like, “When does life begin?”

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Bring That Beat Back To Me Again

08/09/2008 4 comments

Here is an article that discusses music and memory. I think we all intuitively feel the link between the two. I found it interesting how others also include concepts like “innocence” and “youth” in describing this feeling. Also, the observation that music paints the background of our lives seems very true. Bold words are some of the highlights:

Good Question: Why Does Music Bring Us Back?

(WCCO) To the crowd of women in their late twenties and early thirties lined up at the Mall of America for a free concert by New Kids On The Block, the question was easy to answer. Does music transport you back in time to a certain memory or certain place?

“Back when I was in 5th grade, in love,” said one woman. “It takes you back to that innocence,” said another. “Harriet Island,” said another fan of the boy band. “Where we sat outside waiting the whole day, it was crazy.”

Outside of a smell, music may be the only thing that can so strongly trigger a memory.

“It’s an extremely emotional trigger. You can put a soundtrack to almost every memory you have I think,” one woman said. “And the feelings that those songs conjure up are extremely strong.”

If their parents listened to Elvis, these women listen to boy bands. It’s a phenomenon Peter Mercer-Taylor has studied as a professor in the University Of Minnesota School Of Music. One band in particular does the trick for him.

“It’s always the Beatles, and I think it comes down to ‘Please, Please Me,” said Mercer-Taylor.

“We associate music with every stage of being a young person,” he added. It’s a phenomenon almost entirely linked to childhood.

It seems like at every stage of being young, music is there to provide the soundtrack. I’m not that’s true of adulthood; I’m not sure what the soundtrack of adulthood is like. I think we come to associate music itself with just being young and innocent,” he said.

Mercer-Taylor said that it’s not entirely a psychological phenomenon. Researchers have found a link to brain activity.

“There’s certainly accounts of adults with dementia who are able to recite songs perfectly, but have lost the ability to speak,” he said.

“There are very interesting things like this. The brain seems to store these things differently. It seems to develop catalogs of music when it doesn’t necessarily have a workable catalog of speech,” said Mercer-Taylor.

Neurobiologists are still trying to figure out why music triggers such strong memories. They have detected that music stimulates several different areas of the brain. One theory is that our memories work like a file cabinet. It can be difficult to pull out a memory if it’s only stored in one file.

But with music, memories are stored in several files. The melody is in one spot, the harmony in another, the instrumental somewhere else, the lyrics are in another location. Because so many areas are being stimulated, it may create a stronger emotional response.

For most of us, though, hearing a song will take us back to that special girl that got away, a junior high school dance, or the boy band star we always dreamed of marrying.

“I think it’s wonderful. There’s nothing that makes you feel like that anymore,” said one New Kids On The Block fan.


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Categories: Music Tags: ,

Advertisements For The Weak-Minded

08/08/2008 2 comments

Do you know what really grinds my gears? The soda industry and their ridiculous advertisements.

Basically, here is the gist of their argument for why we should buy their diet and other non-regular brands of soda (Diet Mountain Dew, Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Pepsi One, etc.):

Diet Soda X has the same great taste as our Regular Soda X but without the sugar and/or calories.

So let me get this straight. Your diet sodas contain zero sugar/calories and yet somehow you are still able to produce the same taste as your soda that does contain sugar/calories? Wow, that's quite an amazing feat. But now I just have one question: why should I ever buy your regular brand of soda? To get fatter? To rot my teeth? It sure looks like you shot yourself in the foot.

Of course those of us with any sort of taste sensitivity know that diet and regular soda do not have the same taste. And thus we are quite aware that soda advertisements that say differently are feeding us lies (Advertising? Lying? WHAT?!). So my question is: why don't soda companies simply tell it the way it is? Why not simply say that consumers have two choices: either choose regular soda which has a stronger–and a generally agreed upon better–taste but comes with the price of some sugar/calories or choose diet soda which has less taste but also less sugar/calories? That way they could (1) avoid people like me who call them out on their fallacious advertising arguments, (2) equally advertise both products (regular and diet) by giving the consumer reasons to purchase both, and (3) remain honest in the process. My guess is that (1) they couldn't care less about ranters like me (2) they can and do equally advertise both products with the help of Mr. Obscurantism and Mr. Subjectivity and (3) they couldn't care less about any form of honesty.

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Categories: Miscellaneous

Richard Rorty

The following can be found on (and was taken from) the Richard Rorty Wiki page. Some brutally honest words that few would dare to admit openly:

“It seems to me that the regulative idea that we heirs of the Enlightenment, we Socratists, most frequently use to criticize the conduct of various conversational partners is that of ‘needing education in order to outgrow their primitive fear, hatreds, and superstitions’ … It is a concept which I, like most Americans who teach humanities or social science in colleges and universities, invoke when we try to arrange things so that students who enter as bigoted, homophobic, religious fundamentalists will leave college with views more like our own … The fundamentalist parents of our fundamentalist students think that the entire ‘American liberal establishment’ is engaged in a conspiracy. The parents have a point. Their point is that we liberal teachers no more feel in a symmetrical communication situation when we talk with bigots than do kindergarten teachers talking with their students … When we American college teachers encounter religious fundamentalists, we do not consider the possibility of reformulating our own practices of justification so as to give more weight to the authority of the Christian scriptures. Instead, we do our best to convince these students of the benefits of secularization. We assign first-person accounts of growing up homosexual to our homophobic students for the same reasons that German schoolteachers in the postwar period assigned The Diary of Anne Frank… You have to be educated in order to be … a participant in our conversation … So we are going to go right on trying to discredit you in the eyes of your children, trying to strip your fundamentalist religious community of dignity, trying to make your views seem silly rather than discussable. We are not so inclusivist as to tolerate intolerance such as yours … I don’t see anything herrschaftsfrei [domination free] about my handling of my fundamentalist students. Rather, I think those students are lucky to find themselves under the benevolent Herrschaft [domination] of people like me, and to have escaped the grip of their frightening, vicious, dangerous parents … I am just as provincial and contextualist as the Nazi teachers who made their students read Der Stürmer; the only difference is that I serve a better cause.”

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Categories: Philosophy Tags: