Death and suffering can’t matter nearly as I think they do. Since they are so common my taking them seriously must mean that I am insane. I must try to be Saber.Kurt Vonnegut in Palm Sunday
by Kurt Vonnegut
Palm Sunday is a collection of some interesting essays by Kurt Vonnegut that I would recommend to any one as summer, winter or whatever season reading. They are full of humour and every once in a while something to make you think. One of the essays is titled religion and I want to just share some passages that I found to be quite good.
His uncle Clemens, he tells us wrote
whoever entertains liberal views and chooses a consort that is captured by superstition risks his happiness
and I think this is true for both men and women.
The portion I liked best is this farewell from the same uncle addressed to friends and opponents & to next of kin present to deliver his body to the earth
Do not mourn! I have now arrived at the end of the course of life, as you will eventually arrive at your. I am at rest and nothing will ever disturb my deep slumber.
I am disturbed by no worries, no grief, no fear, no wishes, no passions, no pains, no reproaches from others. All is infinitely well with me.
I departed from life with loving, affectionate feelings for mankind; and I admonish you: Be aware of this truth that the people on this earth could be joyous, if only they would live rationally, and if they would contribute mutually to each others’ welfare.
This world is not a vale of sorrows if you will recognize discriminatingly what is truly excellent in it; and if you will avail yourself of it for mutual happiness ad well being. Therefore, let us explain as possible, and particularly at the departure from life, that we base our faith on firm foundations, on Truth for putting into action our ideas which do not depend on fables and ideas which science has long ago proven as false.
We also wish knowledge, goodness, sympathy, mercy, wisdom, justice and truthfulness. We also strive for and venerate all of those attributes from which the fantasy of man has created a God. We also strive for the virtues of temperance, industriousness, friendship, and peace. We believe in pure ideas based on truth and justice.
Therefore, however, we do not believe, cannot believe, that a thinking being existed for millions and millions of years, and eventually and finally out of nothing – through a word- created this world, or rather this earth with its firmament, its sun and moon and stars.
We cannot believe that this being formed a human being from clay and breathed into it an immortal soul, and then allowed this human being to procreate millions, and then delivered them all into unspeakable misery, wretchedness and pain for all eternity. Nor can we believe that the descendants of one or two human beings will inevitably become sinners; nor do we believe that through the criminal executions of an innocent one may we be redeemed.
Quoting Bertrand Russell famous declaration that in case he met god, he would say to him, “Sir, you did not give us enough information” that he would, “All the same, Sir, I’m not persuaded that we did the best we could with the information we had. Toward the end there, anyway, we had tons of information.”
On the White House prayer breakfasts (and now we have our own version of national prayer days) he writes the
lethal ingredient in those breakfasts wasn’t prayer. It was a virulent new strain of hypocrisy which did everyone in.
And I agree with him when he writes
I don’t think anybody ever dreaded hell as much as most of us dread the contempt of our fellow men.
To end this already long post, I will add one last thing, about community. He says if you are going to be a leader with a mission to help us find an amazing future, then you should consider helping us find an intelligent and imaginative way back to some of the more humane and comforting institutions of the past. Say extended families for example. He argues the nuclear family doesn’t provide nearly enough companionship.
So, my friends, go and be lonesome no more.
Happy weekend everyone.
and while we are still here, I hope no one who reads this blog also believes in this
On human purpose.
This chapter could have been titled C. S Lewis and nothing would have been lost.
It starts by the story of a woman, Jennifer Fulwiler, who had grown up atheist and when she had her first baby, she, in her own words,
I looked down and thought: What is this baby? And I thought, well, from a pure atheist, materialist perspective he is a randomly evolved collection of chemical reactions. And I realized if that’s true then all the love that I feel for him is nothing more than chemical reactions in our brain. And I looked down at him and I thought: that’s not true. It’s not the truth.
It is possible that there are people who look at life this way. They see a beautiful painting and say what is this but random brush strokes on a fabric on and on, which would be one correct way of looking at the painting or the baby in this case. But the baby or even painting, can be looked at as a labour of love.
I said the alternate title of this chapter is C.S Lewis because Justin can’t help himself from referring to him in almost every page. Lewis’ conversion to Christianity and his works in defense of that faith such mere Christianity are quoted as evidence that without god, our lives have no purpose, no meaning no value.
Justin tells us life only has meaning if you believe in Jesus. We will get to the question of Jesus later. For our purposes, I will just say it seems there are billions in the world whose lives have no meaning because they are not Christians.
Dear friends, passerby and all, happy holidays.
And if you are one of those people who don’t have something to celebrate today, worry not, it is my birthday. And I am receiving gifts and cash donations. All will be used for a good cause of my choosing of course 🙂
Now that we have that behind us, can we examine the claims in this post.
In the very first paragraph, the author makes an unjustified claim, that is
Suppose that there were no God. I say that both atheists (that is, naturalists) and theists would be deluded.
do we know that there is a god? Nope.
We are told atheists would be deluded because
Atheists, or at least most atheists, would also be deluded. They think there is a meaning to life. Not a grand meaning, but a personal meaning. They make the meaning. It’s subjective, of course.
and i can’t help but wonder how believing that we give our lives meaning be a delusion? To start us off, it should be important to point out there is no consensus on what meaning in life is. Is it different from a moral life, a happy and pleasant life? Those who believe meaning is subjective (mind dependent) represent just one group of naturalists. There are as well objectivists who maintain meaning is mind-independent. But this distinctions are not important for our discussion now. It is only important to point out that the author of that post without claiming to, does believe in a supernaturalist view of meaning- without deity no meaning is possible.
This meaning would be reducible to a set of brain states. These can be ultimately reduced to chemicals. Thus, this meaning could be achieved chemically. So if we could invent an advanced heroin-like drug, something akin to the soma found in Brave New World, one that could induce a sense of awe, wonder, purpose, connectedness, community, happiness, etc, then we all can find meaning in our lives. Why not? We could make this available to everyone, so that everyone lives a meaningful life.
and i reject this view. We wouldn’t consider a life in tube (simulator) as meaningful. Two, does a happy life mean a meaningful life? Or a life in community? Could it be the case that these things answer to different states and may only be secondary to the question of meaning.
The author writes
To rephrase this as an argument, let’s call the combination of all those features of lives worth living well-being:
(1) Well-being is subjective.
(2) If well-being is subjective, then it is reducible to a set of brain states.
(3) Therefore, well-being is a set of brain states.
(4) If well-being is a set of brain states, then it can at least theoretically, if not practically, be induced chemically.
(5) Well-being can be induced chemically.
Does well being and meaning mean the same thing? And while subjective is reducible to brain states, I don’t know whether it is the practice anywhere, even among scientists to reduce their states of mind to chemicals. I think this is a strawman argument.
How the author comes from the above to
if an atheist/naturalist thinks that meaning, purpose, and all that makes life worth living is anything beyond a set of states that can be induced by drugs, then they are deluded too.
but how is this so?
In this last paragraph, the author is conflating happiness and meaning when he writes
However, if an atheist is willing to accept that happiness, at least in the short term, can be achieved by some kind of drug, then I guess they aren’t deluded after all. This could be extended, theoretically if not practically. Imagine that we can solve our survival problems with machines so that we don’t have to work, and arrange for the machines to manufacture and deliver our drugs, then an uninterruptedly happy and meaningful life can be achieved completely by drug use. Ahh, heaven at last!
for one, a few people are known to claim to be happy when high. This is not a delusion and is a fact of common experience- i.e, it is a truth. We have been working towards inventing machines to solve our survival problems not so that we can be uninterruptedly happy, but so we can have more time (thanks to capitalism this is not happening, we still work long hours side by side with robots) to do those things we find meaningful.
In the end, I argue that this author has not proved what he sought to do. But that happens a lot when you create a strawman anyway.
So once again, Merry Christmas my friends. You have one and all made blogging interesting and worthwhile.
for those interested in further reading on the subject
Many times the phrase let their deaths not be in vain has been uttered like at moments of civil strife and I am here asking myself, if deep down these deaths were meaningless. Did someone have to die for something to be achieved?
Take for example the over 30 people who were killed by police in our last election. What did they die for? What, if you were to meet their parents or relatives, would you tell them was achieved by their deaths?
In the movie silence, based on the Japanese inquisition of the 16th century (2016) by Scorsese, a number of Japanese endure torture and some even die to show their faith in Jesus. Was this rational? What was the point?
Do you think that anyone fighting for or against a cause today, who tomorrow by some miracle were to become the all-powerful ruler of the world, would instantly do what he had been clamouring for all his life?