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Comments: Life is Short and Christianity is Logically Impossible

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Two brilliant comments will have to fill in for me today since I’m having an incredibly busy week. And really, I couldn’t have said it better. Your comments are always appreciated here at Black Sun Journal, even if I don’t respond to them right away, and I’m going to start posting some of the most insightful ones.

First, from Andrew Marks on the meaning and value of our short lives:

There was one good–if accidental–observation from the hate mail (previous article): the term “this sick violent world.” Yes, it is a sick and violent world if the measuring stick is compassion, community, empathy, excellence, optimism, vision, leadership, integrity, courage, critical thought, respect for others, human freedom, equal opportunity, etc.

But there is a reason that the world is as it is: “red in tooth and claw” Darwinian evolution. We’re animals. Life is suffering because Darwinian evolution is blind. To speak metaphorically, as if to personalize a blind force, “it doesn’t care” about human happiness. It just is.

I strongly recommend a remarkable book by Charles Fisher, Ph.D., entitled Dismantling Discontent: Buddha’s Way Through Darwin’s World. Fisher traces the biological roots of human suffering, and his thoughts are as profound as they are provocative–in contradistinction to the magical world view. The book has a preface by Lynn Margulis, Carl Sagan’s first wife (and a world-renown biologist), and an introduction by Dorion Sagan, Carl’s son. I’m far enough into it now to understand why: this is a hard-core biology book that pulls no punches. It is a deep exploration of what nature is really like–for instance, of how animals catch diseases or die violent deaths in the wild.

In brief, human suffering exists because it is built into the deep biological structures of human life. The evolutionary advents of self-reflective consciousness, speech, and an agrarian world have created conditions wherein members of our species are able to effectively communicate with great precision their sufferings, and reflect on them in their plentiful leisure time (compared to how much time they had to do so during the hunter-gatherer era).

Although I’m only halfway through the book, I think that the message is that although some of us can meditate as one means of potentially taking the edge off of some forms of suffering some of the time, there is no escape from old age (assuming that we make it that far), sickness, and death.

I don’t know and I don’t care whether or not there is a deity. Personally, I doubt it, but I’m too aware of epistemological problems to declare with a certainty that I don’t believe that there is one or not, or that there is a life after death, or not. I hope for the best but fear the worst. I look on in horror as my parents age. I wonder what it will be like–as an only child–to have to take care of them. I wonder what my own life will be like when it approaches its end. Will I die quietly or loudly? Will I die with courage or in the throes of terror and in great pain? The latter seems far more likely to me.

When I think about cults, I see little that separates them from Fortune 1000 corporations. Capitalism is merely a social reflection of biological evolution. It is by its nature violent. Any gains that have been made in improving the quality of human lives have been achieved through science and humanism. In the end, what, really, do we have apart from each other and our collective wits?

In his brilliant song, “Young Americans,” David Bowie sings the insightful lyric, “We live for just these twenty years, still we have to die for the fifty more.” My twenty years ended eighteen years ago. While I wouldn’t call the past eighteen years “dying,” exactly, biologically, it’s true. Even psychologically in some sense, it feels true.

Life is short. It seems so ridiculous to delay anything: the pursuit of one’s dreams, the pursuit of love, the pursuit of joy, the application of one’s strengths to try to create and hopefully realize joy.

Wittgenstein wrote something to the effect that whatever reason there is that we’re here, it doesn’t appear to be to enjoy ourselves. That’s surely the understatement of the past several centuries.

Perhaps life has a meaning, or perhaps not. I tend to think that by “meaning,” most people denote experiences that produce pleasurable feelings. That’s why I theorize that music is meaningful to many people. It alters brain chemistry in often salubrious ways. Some relationships accomplish the same end.

It would be wrong to equate correlation with causation–qualia with brain states. The case for causation certainly does seem quite powerful, however.

My name isn’t Andrew Marks, but it’s as good a name as any. I am a philosopher, though, and I am gay. At 38, I stare from atop a hill, with life half over, and an uncertain second half (if I’m “lucky”) ahead. I’ve had young friends die–always the most talented and beloved. I witness so much suffering every single day among people living on the streets of Milwaukee. Every day in the business world, I see–beneath the patina of personas adopted by individuals to win customers and money–absolute brutality and ruthlessness.

But every once in a rare while I see acts of kindness. The irony is that “bad” people can be kind, and “good” people can be cruel. It would be a drastic oversimplification (and commit the fundamental attribution error in psychology) to suggest that there even is such a thing as a good or bad person. There are actions that individuals commit, and whether they’re good or bad ultimately depends on what one values. Camus would have pointed out that no matter how hard one tries, one’s every actions inevitably cause harm to others, in however diffuse a way.

One belief that I firmly uphold is the belief in hell, because I think that we’re in it–here and now. Enjoy as much of life as you can while you can, for tomorrow–whether in 24 h or 24 y, or soon enough thereafter–we will die.

Andrew

Beautiful, Andrew.

Then, from Cristy on the impossibility of Christianity, the weakness of Pascal’s Wager, and the philosophical nuances of Marxism and communism:

As a philosophy major, I have to say something here. I think that the reason that so many traditional Christians dislike philosophy is because any serious philosophical disscusion needs to be logical, and logically, Christianity is impossible. In order for even a theoretical god to be omnipotent, omnicient, etc, that god has to be either A. immaterial or B. all matter (as in pantheism). A philosophical defense of Christianity is impossible because it has to contradict itself internally before it is even exposed to reality (Jesus would have to be both immaterial and material as well as infinite and finite).

Oh, and a note on Pascal, who Fraiser mentions- There is an argument called Pascal’s Wager. This argument is considered so weak that my intro to philosophy teacher used it as an example on how to demolish someone else’s argument. A college freshman is expected to be able to see the obvious holes in his Pascal’s reasoning.

If you want some interesting philosophical reading on religion and materialism, I recommend Ludwig Feuerbach. He’s not very well known and not all of his works are available in English, but he’s brilliant. I would suggest that you be familiar with Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz first because Feuerbach does a lot of arguing against them. Feuerbach was an inspiration to people as diverse as Freud and Marx. Speaking of Marx, Peter, above you referred to communism as a “secular religion”. You should be careful when using that term, because communism as defined by Marx clearly excludes communism as defined by Vladimir Lenin. Marxist communism (often considered a branch of left Hegelism) is about eliminating oppression, whereas Soviet Socialism is all about oppression. I think that before people go throwing around the term communist, they should read up on Marx-not by reading about Marx, but by reading his actual writings. Also, be careful because several Soviet leaders actually make up sayings and attribute them to Marx or attribute Engel’s statements to Marx. Despite Marx and Engel’s close friendship, they had serious differences in opinion and in how they wished to accomplish their goals. In fact, Marx thought that democracy was communist. Marx’s writing on the Polish democratic revolution makes this ecspecially clear, but even the communist manifesto (cowritten by Engel) encourages participation in democracy. The works of Marx and Engel are available online so you can go see for yourself.

Cristy, I would respond that true communism is an ideal that I think is unreachable within the human condition. As Andrew mentioned, it contradicts human biology. When practiced, communism seems to always degenerate into something like Soviet (or Cuban, or North Korean, or Venezuelan) socialism, with a corrupt ruling elite. But in the way that John Lennon imagined it, it remains an ideal of ‘brotherhood.’

Sometimes I feel the same way about objectivity, which happens to be my personal ‘sacred’ ideal. Since consciousness is by definition subjectivity, true objectivity is always just a little out of our reach. But we can still try.


Comments (6 comments)

Joshua / February 21st, 2008, 7:25 am / #1

Considering your comments, I recommend you read the book, “The End of Religion!? The New Age Reformation”, which was written by a Philosophy graduate from the UW-Madison on the topic of religion. He started as an athiest and decided, through philosophical logic, that Christianity was the only logical answer. It can be purchased through Borders.com, Barnes and Noble, etc.

Peter / February 21st, 2008, 10:59 pm / #2

When practiced,

Comminism cannot be “practised”. It is the final stage of capitalism.
Marx’ theory was that the only in a fully developed capitalism, where the nation state and the capitalists are indistinguishable, capital is concentrated to the maximum. The interest of the Capitalist is the interst of the state.

Since this development of capitalism, due to its evolutionary “ways out” the required ultimate concentration hasn’t happened yet, and the road to the ultimate congruence of capital and the state is quite rocky; “communism” as defined by marx, and not in its opportunistic leninist interpretation, is quite far away.

According to Marx communism, as he observed it from his tower in the mid 1800’s, was inevitable. But capitalism has found ways to elude its final stage – fascism, the militarized version of a state capitalims (as defined by Mussolini) is one way.

John Evo / February 22nd, 2008, 3:46 pm / #3

@ Andrew Marks comment –

I very much relate to your point of view. I hope your years on this planet are not nearly half over. If so, how much the worse for me at 54? But the overall point remains the same. Time is short – for all of us; even those born in some hospital this very morning. We break ourselves into separate generations but we are all the same generation – all living here together at this unique moment nearly 5 billion years into the life of our planet!

I only veer away from you on one point (though I’m sure you’ll see through it and realize how much we agree). To me, today is not a day in hell. It’s another day in paradise. The only paradise we will ever experience. Enjoy it.

BlackSun / February 24th, 2008, 3:35 pm / #4

@Peter,

I do agree that many modern states veer dangerously close to fascism. Especially in the area of challenging entrenched business interests who are raping the nation’s natural capital.

The antidotes to fascism are transparency, citizen activism, tru-cost pricing mechanisms, checks and balances and accountability.

Unfortunately, many of these things will raise prices in the short-term as an ethical economy would take some time to adjust to. Consumers who would most benefit often object to the very reforms that in the long run would clean their air, purify their water, lower their energy bills and result in less need for wars and adventurism.

They would just rather not think about all that and keep enjoying their cheap goods. That is the real driver of fascism. It’s our appetites.

@John Evo,

I agree, I think we should try to make this life a heaven if at all possible. But there are plenty of people who get a raw deal, whether through genetic defect, bad luck or poor choices, they are missing some fundamental component to have a normal human existence. Since there are no do-overs, they are basically screwed. They have to choose between becoming depressed and withdrawn (living in hell), and doing the incredibly hard work of overcoming their portion of adversity.

I think those success stories, while inspiring, are comparatively rare. For a large number of people on the planet (as Buddha observed–yikes, I’m quoting Buddha :-) ) “Life is suffering.”

salient / February 26th, 2008, 8:23 pm / #5

I’m tagging you. If you have recently been tagged, feel free to bounce this on.

http://saliental.blogspot.com/2008/02/heres-punch-in-behes-eye.html

Cristy / March 13th, 2008, 4:17 pm / #6

Soviet socialism never was a communist society and never even came close to being a communist revolution. Vladimir Lennon took the name, made up some quotes so people would think he was linked to progressive groups, and launched a revolution that was just another case of the bourgeoisie overthrowing the nobility. Marx considered the Polish democratic revolution to be the closest thing he had seen to a communist revolution.

As far as fascism goes, the left hegelians were decidedly antifascist. Marx and his predecessor Feuerbach, lived in what is now Germany in an era where the government was moving closer and closer to a fascist state. Censors actually boke into Feuerbach’s home and burned several of his manuscripts. He spent time in prison because his brother led a peaceful protest against the government. Marx was banished for writing his opinions. It is perfectly clear that they considered communism to be the opposite of the government’s repression, what would now be called fascism.

Oh, and to the people who think we have not reached the stage that Marx thought was nessecary, look at his definition of what qualifies a truly capitalist state “It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation. ” The goal of Marxism is to end oppression and end treating people as property, even if you thing that goal is unreachable, it is certainly something worth working towards. To quote the communist manifesto again “Communism deprives no man of the power to appropriate the products of society; all that it does is to deprive him of the power to subjugate the labour of others by means of such appropriations.”

Marx’s ways to pratice communism included increasing women’s rights, creating trade unions, expanding public transportation, fighting to end child abuse and abusive child labor policies, providing free public education, and passing laws to ensure that drinking water was clean. If you want some examples of things that are very communist-PBS, the EPA, public buses, public libraries, the Civil Rights Act, universal health care, minimum wage, workplace safety laws, …..the list goes on and on.

To Joshua,

I’ve read everything from Augustine to Leibniz and have yet to find a feasible philosophical defense of the existence of God and have never even seen a decent shot at trying for Christianity. You see, to fit the requirements for God, God must be infinite. The only two ways that this is possible are if God is immaterial or if God is all matter (pantheism). A human body is material (even Christians concede the body is material even if they argue that a human contains immaterial parts). A human body is also finite. To contain God in a human body makes him limited by the material and finite, which contradicts omnipotence, because it is impossible to be omnipotent when contained within a finite, material thing. As far as pantheism goes, if God is all matter, than it is impossible for one piece of matter to be God while others are not, because then all matter would be part of God. Therefore, Christianity is self contradictory.

I have heard a rather lame argument that God is above logic, but that is an impossible argument to validate. In order to have a convincing/good argument, you have to be logical, so an argument that basic logic does not hold is an oxymoron. Would you believe me if I told you that 1. If McCain becomes president we will stay in Iraq. 2 McCain will become president. Therefore, given 1 and 2, we will leave Iraq. No, of course not, because even if I was right about McCain, my result would be ridiculous given my premesis.

As for the book you mentioned, I found a text of it, and within the first chapter the guy talks about how evolution is bad and creationism should be taught is schools, hardly a credible source. This guy comes off as a real quack, at least Spinoza and Descartes gave me an argument.

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