Friday, February 3, 2012

Layer 514 . . . Atheist Temples, Religions, de Botton, Spiritual Intelligence, Question Time, BBC Balance, Bankers' Bonuses, Muddling Along, Mitt Romney and Radical Alternatives

Here's an interesting headline:

Alain de Botton's atheist temple is a nice idea, but a defunct one

De Botton's atheist temple call does not need to be realised – our existing places of worship can be appreciated by all

And there we have a depressing strapline that sits beneath it. John Gray just doesn't get it.
Establishing atheist places of worship isn't exactly a new idea. As de Botton himself notes, an ambitious programme of atheist church-building was part of the Religion of Humanity, invented by the 19th-century French thinker Auguste Comte.
When he proposes building a temple for unbelievers, de Botton is reinventing a wheel that never really turned. The fad for atheist temples lasted for perhaps 60 years, while places of worship dedicated to something bigger than humanity have been around for many millennia. There is a nice irony here. For all his loony notions, Comte was more intelligent than most of the atheists who came after him. He saw clearly that religion is an enduring human need that cannot be denied. 
Even if Comte's church was ephemeral, he was right in predicting that religion would not die out. The world is awash with formless religiosity, much of it flowing through non-traditional channels. 
Comte wanted his new religion to be based on science, so the temples of humanity pointed only as far as science could reach. That is why his new church failed. The very idea of a science-based religion is an absurdity. The value of religion is that it points beyond anything that can be known by the methods of science, showing us that a mystery would remain even if everything could be finally explained. The heart of religion isn't belief, but something more like what Keats described as negative capability: "being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason".
Rather than trying to invent another religion surrogate, open-minded atheists should appreciate the genuine religions that exist already. London is full of sites – churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship – that are evocative of something beyond the human world. Better spend the money that is being raised for the new temple on religious buildings that are in disrepair than waste it on a monument to a defunct version of unbelief.

What a load of cobblers. Where to begin with this?

" Religion is an enduring human need that cannot be denied."

I, for one, have no need of religion - so that deals with that stupid idea. So do billions of others have no need for religion. There are massively more people who have no need for religion than those that do. Many of those who apparently need a religion are simply following their family or community traditions rather than experiencing genuine need. Many of those that do are needy individuals who are simply praying for some sort of mystical help and 'divine intervention' to deal with their problems. Many of those that do somehow believe that God is an actual divine being with whom they can have conversations. This may be some kind of need, but it's not a healthy or realistic way of dealing with problems. People like Tony Blair and George W believe they have conversations with God, but that doesn't prove God exists. These people have been known to be wrong on other serious matters.

Whilst it's true that many strong and healthy people engage with religion in order to engage with something positive and to experience awe and wonder, this does NOT mean that there's 'an enduring human need for religion'. Many people cease to attend 'places of worship' out of a sense of disgust with the way that religious establishments have colonised and perverted the original enlightened words of the founders of those religions.

"The value of religion is that it points beyond anything that can be known by the methods of science."

Religion does indeed 'point beyond anything that can be known by the methods of science', but that doesn't mean that religion itself has any true value. Comfort eating and cigarette smoking have some sort of value for those that seem to benefit from these activities, but that doesn't mean they have true value. Arguably down the centuries various religions have been equally destructive for those who have engaged with them, both in terms of physical harm but also in terms of replacing or blocking more enlightened approaches to engagement with the metaphysical and the spiritual.

"Rather than trying to invent another religion surrogate, open-minded atheists should appreciate the genuine religions that exist already."

De Botton is clearly NOT ' trying to invent another religion surrogate'. A temple for atheists would be a place where people could gather to reflect on the divine and the sublime without any of the religious trappings - no priests, no icons, no 'faith', no 'worship', no rituals, no doctrine, no imagery, no God.

Now it's true that we don't need special buildings in order to commune with the spiritual and the sublime, and to experience awe and wonder. We have nature, which is perhaps the best place to be if we want to switch off rational thought, as such, and let our metaphysical intelligence engage with the incredible mysteries of life, and to give silent appreciation for life.

However, in cold climates and in cities it's sometimes difficult to find special places that facilitate meditation and inner wordless reflection. Whilst it's true that atheists might choose to go inside buildings which belong to various religions in order to meditate and reflect, many of us choose not to. Even in Japan I'd prefer to seek spiritual experience in a garden than inside a mainstream Buddhist temple. (Though I'm very 'at home' inside a Zen temple, whose minimalism shows no signs of religiosity whatsoever.)

So de Botton is right and Gray is wrong. We do need atheist temples that provide beautiful, harmonious, comfortable indoor spaces that are akin to halls of meditation - where people can experience awe and wonder as they take a break from everyday life, switch off their intellects, and allow their metaphysical intelligence to operate in a place of silence that's dedicated to the expression of gratitude for the wonders of life itself.


Question Time

I'm really giving up on Question Time. This week was worse than ever. A bunch of right wing gimps, including a careerist New Labour toss-pot of the worst order. This programme is now largely pointless.

Even Phil Redmond, ostensibly a liberal, seems unable to offer a radical perspective on current affairs. The man's a millionaire, but in theory that shouldn't prevent him offering a radical critique. Somehow, though, it does. (He also managed to choose a bunch of rubbish for his desert island discs!) A waste of space.

And I don't even want to talk about the Taxpayers' Alliance. Idiots United.

Does the BBC really call these panels 'balanced' in these times of worldwide clamour for change?

Ed Miliband to call Commons vote on bonuses

Ed Miliband will broaden his attack on the coalition's divided Britain by calling a Commons vote next week to urge an end to the bonus culture.

Mitt Romney wins backing of Donald Trump ahead of Nevada caucuses

Oh joy.

America had 45 million people living in poverty, but Romney makes it clear that he's not interested in them. He'll take good care of the middle classes, he says. According to Romney anyone, like Obama, who talks about 'fairness' is just talking 'the politics of envy'.

Is America really going to elect this man as their president?
The mood in Britain is to muddle along
This may be an era of economic turmoil, but people have little appetite for a radical alternative
by Martin Kettle

Martin Kettle's another shifty right-wing New Labour type. And I speak as someone who does indeed have a considerable appetite 'a radical alternative'. He's a rubbish writer who always defends the status quo. Annoying bastard.

The reason most people appear not to have an appetite for a radical alternative is because they're not being offered one. None of our mainstream politicians have the charisma, the coherence or the vision to put in front of people that will persuade them that a radical alternative is both possible and desirable. Very few of our mainstream media organisations would offer a platform for their views even if such people existed.

In these situations, throughout history, we find crazy, reactionary, repressive and repellent individuals coming to the fore to offer fascistic 'solutions' to national political problems - Franco, Mussolini, Hitler, Ayatollah Khomeini, Saddam Hussein, etc. George W Bush and Tony Blair are fringe members of this group - as witnessed by their crazy support for unregulated capitalism and financial systems, 'trickle down' economics, 'globalisation', repression of civil liberties, overt and covert support for kidnapping and detention without trial, ditto for the use of torture of suspects, assassinations, illegal wars and invasions, worldwide coercion of foreign governments, and so forth. All of this is on the record. Naomi Klein has provided the world with an excellent summary - 'The Shock Doctrine'.


This Week on BBC1 is another waste of space. Andrew Neil is a twat.


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