Join 3,556 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)

Tags:

hindu?
April 2, 2005 8:52 PM   Subscribe

The invention of the Hindu : "Hinduism is largely a fiction, formulated in the 18th and 19th centuries out of a multiplicity of sub-continental religions, and enthusiastically endorsed by Indian modernisers."
posted by dhruva (72 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well the vedas, upanishads, etc were written a long long long time back. Hinduism is adaptive, very adaptive. Buddha ended up being the 9th avtar of Vishnu, now I have a feeling that it was done as a step to retain his followers in the country, which is probably why Buddhism all but disappeared from India.

The greedy priests all but ruined the religion in the last 500 years and it took people like Vivekanand, etc to get it back on track. So from that aspect, yes Hinduism has been reformulated recently, but the core of the religion goes back to the proto Indo-European culture. We still have Devs and Devis, the western branch ended up with Deus, and the people the Aryans conquered ended up referring to the Indian Aryan gods as the Devil.

To me, as a "modern" Hindu, the religion is very fluid and adaptive, I am not bound by rituals, nor do I need to follow any particular way of life to be a Hindu. I am a Hindu because I believe in the Hindu gods, not because of anything else.
posted by riffola at 9:16 PM on April 2, 2005


Also contrary to popular belief, Hinduism does indeed have the *one* true god. Shiva created Vishnu and Brahma to form the holy trinity, he also created the universe, etc. So just because he is good at delegating doesn't mean he stopped being the god of gods.
posted by riffola at 9:20 PM on April 2, 2005


So what does that say about Catholicism and Vatican II?
posted by antron at 9:23 PM on April 2, 2005


riffola : 'I have a feeling that it was done as a step to retain his followers in the country'

I have heard (but cannot confirm) that the Gita itself was written and incorporated into the Mahabharatha as an effort to prevent the decline of hinduism due to buddhism.
posted by dhruva at 9:41 PM on April 2, 2005


Good post.

riffola: Also contrary to popular belief, Hinduism does indeed have the *one* true god.

Or rather the Godhead a.k.a. the Brahman, which is not a separate entity from us. Rather, all matter together comprises it. This basically is a primitive antededent of today's panpsychism. I would call the Vedanta among the earliest gnostic traditions, rather than received wisdom. The greatest, atleast somewhere up there, tragedy is that the traditions have been anthropomorphised, so that you have millions of people who believe they must devote significant parts of their lives worshipping idols and human forms, performing pujas and going on pilgrimages. This is I call the modern Judeo-Christian wrapping over Hindu philosophy.

That said, can anyone recommend a good book on the Mahabharata and other Itihasas? I read Rajagopalachari about a decade back. I recall it being entertaining, at the least. I know they are available online, but I prefer a dramatized paper prose version.
posted by Gyan at 9:47 PM on April 2, 2005


Correction: antededent == antecedent; This is what I call
posted by Gyan at 9:48 PM on April 2, 2005


As far as I can tell, every religion has a philosophical/spiritual side and a more pragmatic everyday worship side. Hinduism is no different in that the pragmatic worship part is given more attention than the spiritual side. I'm not sure where the Judeo-christian connection comes in though.
posted by dhruva at 9:52 PM on April 2, 2005


dhruva: The popular understanding of Christianity is that Jesus passed on the word of God and 'sacrified' himself on behalf of all humans. Thus Jesus was an actual person. That God is a separate , powerful entity. Whereas, I'm saying that in the original tradition of the Vedas, there is no Vishnu or Shiva to be worshipped. They are literally metaphors, not supposed flesh incarnates. Also, there is no God to pray to. We, collectively, are the Godhead. So the Vedas advise about the methods to control ourselves. This assignment of human form seems to be a result of a)priest classes, in order to cultivate status and control b) the influence of other major religions or traditions.

Maybe a Hinduism or Eastern Religions scholar can correct me, if I'm wrong
posted by Gyan at 10:03 PM on April 2, 2005


thx for this link i enjoyed immensely
posted by nola at 10:46 PM on April 2, 2005


Interesting stuff, histories of religions are always interesting, and this one is very colorful. The adaptive nature of the religion might be taken by some as a sign of falsehood - assimilating smaller religions and their gods seen as a form of religious imperialism - but if it's done peacefully, and assimilated well, fitting it into the larger framework, I see no reason why two religions shouldn't be able to merge. Thanks for the post, and the extra information from riffola & gyan.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 11:13 PM on April 2, 2005


I am a Hindu because I believe in the Hindu gods, not because of anything else.

I am startled by this statement as I would be by the admission that you believed in Zeus or Odin or Santa Claus. I'm not mocking, but seriously intrigued. Why do you believe in the Hindu gods, riffola? This is an entirely alien concept to me, so please explain.
posted by Chasuk at 11:30 PM on April 2, 2005


I think if the assimilation of religions works only if it's kind of organic. Artificial mergers don't always work, as the Mogul emperor of India, Akbar, found out in 1581.
posted by dhruva at 11:34 PM on April 2, 2005


Great information, but I was really impressed by the design of the page. It made it very pleasant to read!
posted by ontic at 12:40 AM on April 3, 2005


Hinduism is largely a fiction,

Well...so far I don't see how it's fundamentally unlike any other religion.

formulated in the 18th and 19th centuries out of a multiplicity of sub-continental religions, and enthusiastically endorsed by Indian modernisers.

Ok, it's exactly like every other religion. It's not as though any religion which is changed by people is a fiction to be contrasted with other religions whose godly virtue preclude the need or possibility of change.
posted by clockzero at 12:52 AM on April 3, 2005


Every other religion was an 18th century amalgam of local religions?

Which, I'm curious?
posted by Bugbread at 1:01 AM on April 3, 2005


Their quick disillusionment seems not to have deterred the stylishly disaffected members of the western middle class that can be found wandering the town's alleys in tie-dye outfits, trying to raise their kundalini in between checking their Hotmail accounts.

Heh. Reminds me of Karma Cola by Gita Mehta - an indispensible book for any westerners seeking enlightenment by travelling in India.

Thanx for the link Dhruva - and now I feel happy knowing you made it home the other night ;- )
posted by peacay at 1:02 AM on April 3, 2005


It was my experience in India that these theological things were not particularly hammered-out and could change from person to person... and that people's individual religious life was almost totally unrelated to any scholarly conception of things...

With the exception of the political/religious movement that Mishra writes of in this excellent article.

As an aside: Pankaj Mishra has really grown on me lately. Butter Chicken really struck me as bitter and mean-spirited, but it seems that since then he's grown immensely...

also, on riffola's comment: yes, i would say that is exactly how most hindu's see things, or at least the one's i've known that would agree to being described as such: the different gods simply play a role in life, in terms of personal prayer, or holidays devoted to them, or telling stories about them, or having them hang up in the dashboard of one's auto/car/etc...
posted by goodglovin77 at 1:05 AM on April 3, 2005


Hinduism is commonly considered henotheistic rather than polytheistic, in that most of the gods may just be considered to be different manifestations of the same divine force. Note how one god often has both a female and male form.
posted by adzm at 1:10 AM on April 3, 2005


bugbread:

Totally. Check it. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Lutheranism, the Astronaut religion---everything.
posted by clockzero at 1:14 AM on April 3, 2005


I am startled by this statement as I would be by the admission that you believed in Zeus or Odin or Santa Claus. I'm not mocking, but seriously intrigued. Why do you believe in the Hindu gods, riffola? This is an entirely alien concept to me, so please explain.
I believe in the various Hindu gods because I've had plenty of instances in my life which made me a strong believer. For example, I worship Hanuman (among others) who at most would be a dev, but after visiting a temple dedicated to him in the middle of the Gir forest, I couldn't *not* believe in him. He's more amazing than traditional devs such as Indra (god of rain), etc.

I have had my skeptic periods, where I wondered if there were gods, god, or anything divine. I've had plenty of experiences that have made me a believer.

At worse the benefit of being a believer on my life in general outweighs the damage, if any, revelations about the lack of god(s) would do.
posted by riffola at 1:21 AM on April 3, 2005


clockzero : " Totally. Check it. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Lutheranism, the Astronaut religion---everything."

Which religions were combined into which?
posted by Bugbread at 1:24 AM on April 3, 2005


And, more interestingly: why all in the 18th century?
posted by Bugbread at 1:25 AM on April 3, 2005


no worries, peacay. though I'm not sure exactly HOW I made it back :)
posted by dhruva at 1:25 AM on April 3, 2005


goodglovin77 : 'that people's individual religious life was almost totally unrelated to any scholarly conception of things'

It also seems to be the only religion where the Book (ie, the formal written down account) came much later to the religion itself.
posted by dhruva at 1:36 AM on April 3, 2005


goodglovin77....It was my experience in India that these theological things were not particularly hammered-out and could change from person to person

I remember walking between Dharamsala town proper (Himachel Pradesh state, near Jammu & Kashmir in Northern India) and the monastery where the Dalai Lama lives (about a mile or 2) - there was a chai shop at about the 1/2 way point.
The guy that ran it had his 'temple area' (as do most people of course) and I was gobsmacked to see that 'his' version of Hinduism included Shiva, the Dalai Lama AND Jesus Christ. If his english had been better I would have asked him more than a couple of questions.
posted by peacay at 3:00 AM on April 3, 2005


Great article. And I second the nice design, pleasant to read compliment as well. Thanks for t his link.

Bugbread, not entirely sure but from here it looks like you and clockzero are talking past each other. Check the second paragraph of the article linked to see what I mean.
posted by dabitch at 3:35 AM on April 3, 2005


Tell us what happened at the temple, riffola. Tell us why you can't not believe in the monkey-god.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 3:38 AM on April 3, 2005


I am a Hindu because I believe in the Hindu gods, not because of anything else.

this is a very beautiful statement, riffola, thanks. good post and thread.
posted by matteo at 3:51 AM on April 3, 2005


bugbread:

I recognize that the notion of a singular Hindu religion is partially a consequence of specific socio-political events; that being said, I don't know of any religion which is not such, or which has not undergone schismatic or synthetic transformations, though in the western world schisms have been the common phenomenon for some time. I didn't mean that it was like other religions because all religions changed in the 18th century. I was merely jesting. I thought the astronaut religion remark gave it away.

everyone knows astronauts don't have souls, so their religion is meaningless
posted by clockzero at 4:20 AM on April 3, 2005


Interesting parallel with Shinto in Japan.

Shinto is often considered to be a single religion, but it's basically a book or two of ancient legends (the Kojiki), and then dozens of folk customs from different areas that aren't really related to each other. After the 19th century Meiji Restoration, the emperor promulgated Shinto as the state religion and basically synthesized all those folk customs together into a single entity.
posted by Jeanne at 5:24 AM on April 3, 2005


I didn't mean that it was like other religions because all religions changed in the 18th century

18th, 19th, who's counting? Modern christianity certainly wasn't invented in 32 BC or or AD 337. Do you believe that Methodism is the path to salvation? 18th century invention. Unitarianism? You're wicked late to the party.

One of the central qualities of any surviving religion is that it has to adapt to modern circumstances. We hear lots about Judaism being 5000 years old, but the rabbinical judaism that we're familiar with is only about as old as christianity. And as I mentioned previously, most modern flavors of christianity would be unrecognizable and heretical to adherents for 3/4 of the religion's history.

So modern hinduism is an invention. So what? The reality is that every human concept was invented by someone somewhere. And as the article mentions, it's largely an amalgam of existing regional, related beliefs. And a distilled religion to bring people together is at least as legitimate as my family's religion, which has its origins in the very spiritual concept of the Tudors wanting complete control over their subjects without papal interference. Even if my religion is older.

I'm not saying "so what" to the linked article. That was great and I learned more than I usually do on sunday morning.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:55 AM on April 3, 2005


I think the motivation of this article is to deconstruct the new Hindu nationalism, not to say Hinduism makes less sense than other religions.
posted by lunkfish at 7:55 AM on April 3, 2005


Thus Jesus was an actual person. That God is a separate , powerful entity

Actually Christians try to have their cake and eat it too, here, with the various schisms and controversies (Arianism, monophysite controversy) evolving into a solution that pleases the most people.

It is very interesting to study how religions alter their teachings over time to produce the greatest happiness in their adherents, and for the most 'successful' religions, the greatest capability of attracting new adherents. Dawkins' description of religions as competitive replicators in a common meme pool is of course quite eye-opening... mind-share is indeed another area of competition and 'survival of the fittest'.

wrt Hinduism, it was seeing the great personal faith "heathens" had in their own dieties that first planted the seeds of doubt in my own faith. My mom is a fundie, more or less, and she's under the impression that her faith is something separate and somehow stronger than the Hindu folk.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 8:51 AM on April 3, 2005


Mayor Curley:
We hear lots about Judaism being 5000 years old, but the rabbinical judaism that we're familiar with is only about as old as christianity.
Actually, modern archeology shows that much of the old Old Testament was largely made up around 600 BCE.
In the last quarter century or so, archaeologists have seen one settled assumption after another concerning who the ancient Israelites were and where they came from proved false. Rather than a band of invaders who fought their way into the Holy Land, the Israelites are now thought to have been an 'indigenous culture that developed west of the Jordan River around 1200 B.C. Abraham, Isaac, and the other patriarchs appear to have been spliced together out of various pieces of local lore. The Davidic Empire, which archaeologists once thought as incontrovertible as the Roman, is now seen as an invention of Jerusalem-based priests in the seventh and eighth centuries B.C. who were eager to burnish their national history. The religion we call Judaism does not reach well back into the second millennium B.C. but appears to be, at most, a product of the mid-first.

This is not to say that individual elements of the story are not older. But Jewish monotheism, the sole and exclusive worship of an ancient Semitic god known as Yahweh, did not fully coalesce until the period between the Assyrian conquest of the northern Jewish kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C. and the Babylonian conquest of the southern kingdom of Judah in 586.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 9:17 AM on April 3, 2005


Unitarianism? You're wicked late to the party.

Unitarian thought is well-recognized to have begun at least as early as the 2nd century with the writings and theology of Origen, who wrote not only of a unitarian godhead, but also universal salvation.

Not that it's particularly relevant to this thread...

Good post, and very interesting discussion. Nice way to spend my Sunday morning.
posted by ivey at 9:30 AM on April 3, 2005


Fascinating post. Thank you dhruva.

Isn't the author's argument that this synthesis of modern Hinduism served political and nationalistic purposes, specifically to counter Islam as the subcontinent's 'growth religion'?

Following on that, nationalism's purpose is demonize 'the other' in order to consolidate and build political power over the population, while eliminating said other.

India's Hindus: the Muslim as 'the other'. (what the author says, not me).
Bosnia: the Muslim.
Russia vs Chechnya: the Muslim. Hm, pattern?
Nazi Germany: The Jew.
USA: liberals and free-speakers (more from the likes of 'Michael Savage', if that's his real name).
France: the Jew and the Arab (anti-semitism+xenophobia of Le Pen's FN). Etc.

I think it's interesting from that standpoint alone.

Or call out on it as you see fit. This is a great thread.
posted by nj_subgenius at 9:53 AM on April 3, 2005


dhruva: Thank you for the incredibly good article. I especially found it very interesting to hear that the influence of Sufism, an originally Islamic devotional religion that has over the centuries had adherents among the Christians, Muslims, and Jews, as well.

As he is generally pointing out that the BJP's project of Hindu nationalism is misguided, Mr. Mishra notes at one point:

Today, the Hindu nationalists present Muslim rulers of India as the flagbearers of an intolerant monotheism; but there was even more religious plurality during the eight centuries of Muslim presence in India. Sufism mingled with local faiths; the currently popular devotional cults of Rama and Krishna, and the network of ashrams and sects expanded fast under the Mughal empire. Medieval India furnishes more evidence of sectarian violence between the worshippers of Shiva and Vishnu than between Hindus and Muslims.

People need to note this, now more than ever: religious plurality not only possible but ever more necessary. The world is going through a time when all corners of the globe are forced to meet each other, and different faiths can no longer rely on distance to alleviate intolerance. Furthermore, as we in the west see all too well, the project of "progress and enlightenment" undertaken here several hundred years ago is being judged; our disregard of religion is being weighed carefully, and Muslims in particular, our closest neighbors, have begun to wonder if the gains of the west are ill-gotten.

True tolerance is the essence of faith. This lesson of Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad, somewhat forgotten in the west, is one of the things we can be reminded of by the religions of India.

On preview:

ivey: "Unitarian thought is well-recognized to have begun at least as early as the 2nd century with the writings and theology of Origen, who wrote not only of a unitarian godhead, but also universal salvation."

This is simply false, in my view. To say that Origen in any way concurred with modern Unitarian beliefs, one has to ignore his major works, especially Contra Celsum. In short, he believed that there was such a thing as heresy, and he believed that there was such a thing as truth, a single truth. Many orthodox christians claim him as their own.

Unitarianism, on the other hand, seems to be a "faith" that believes two contradictory things: that is, that all religions are true, and that none of them are true. If it believed that any of the religions were true, it would encourage its adherents to choose one and attend to it. Instead, it encourages them to ignore all the religions and attend its own watered-down amalgamation of many of them.

For true openness, I suggest looking here.
posted by koeselitz at 10:08 AM on April 3, 2005


But compare Pauline Christianity to the faith practiced by Jesus's apostles and other early followers.
posted by orthogonality at 10:12 AM on April 3, 2005


MonkeySaltedNuts: "Actually, modern archeology shows that much of the old Old Testament was largely made up around 600 BCE."

...and religion claims that miraculous events happen, and that God's word is truth. Revealingly, science has never managed to refute this claim, although it's been trying since Spinoza.

orthogonality: "But compare Pauline Christianity to the faith practiced by Jesus's apostles and other early followers."

I have. While the apparent conflict is interesting and important, I think it's only apparent. Though arguments by authority are perhaps not the best arguments, it's to be noted that the vastest number of those who have considered the matter at length think the same thing.
posted by koeselitz at 10:17 AM on April 3, 2005


Hinduism makes less sense than other religions.

Hmm, well my take is Hinduism contains a lot of human wisdom, psychological insight. The gods are explanations or semi-formalized descriptions of various aspects of human nature. Of course there are many different kinds of people, some are more outgoing, artistic, family-oriented, adventurous, etc. So, you get to pick which god is yours to emulate and live up to. This god will be a sort of idealized type of the kind of person you happen to be, or at least will represent those traits you want to emphasize and develop. Makes a lot of sense actually, it's a way to figure out who you are and be your best.

Heh, of course one wonders how long this thread can survive on-topic before switching to a discussion about Christianity...
posted by scheptech at 10:18 AM on April 3, 2005


True tolerance is the essence of faith. This lesson of Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad, somewhat forgotten in the west, is one of the things we can be reminded of by the religions of India.

BWAH HA HA! That's funny! Oh, wait, you weren't joking?! Anyone who has even the most cursory knowledge of history can tell you that tolerance has absolutely nothing to do with religious faith. Every religion is founded on the idea that it is the one true way and all others are mistaken. It is what gives religions the "right" to slaughter those of different faiths. After all, if God (or Gods) has blessed you above all others nad everyone else is doomed to an eternity of suffering for their mistaken beliefs (a handy feature of almost every religion) then their lives are without merit.

Consider the present situation. On one side you have Muslim extremists, one another side Jewish extremists, and on another side Christian extremists. Yes, their are moderates in each of these religions, people who are willing to reach across the lines, but their influence is negligible. The hardcore fanatics can always make a claim to being the true defenders of the faith, and if you auctully go by what any religion says, they are right. This is why the more numerous moderates have their voice drowned out.

Look at the situation here in America. The vast majority of Christians in America are pretty complacent, docile people. They are the types who consider themselves members in good standing of their church if they contribute to the building fund a few times a year. Theri voices are drowned out by the small, very vocal, Christian extremists who, in their extremism, claim to be the true Christians. It is this small group who has not only set church policy in America, but national policy as well.

Do most Christians in America want to undertake holy crusades in the Middle East? Do most want to burn abortionists, euthanasists, gays, pronographers, etc., at the stake? No, but they are afraid to speak out against those who do for fear of being labeled unfaithful. This same dichotomy is happening in Islam and in Judaism. It has always been this way throughout history. The difference is, in times past the world was a much bigger place and it was harder for religious fanatics to do as much damage. Today they have the power of Hades at their disposal.

Unless we throw off the yoke of religion, encourage people to think for themselves, this world is doomed.
posted by berek at 10:46 AM on April 3, 2005


berek: Every religion is founded on the idea that it is the one true way and all others are mistaken.

"Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it. This is fearlessness, and it is love. -- Siddhartha Gautama".

Sounds like you need to modify your statement a bit.
posted by Gyan at 11:03 AM on April 3, 2005


"And argue not with the People of the Scripture [viz. Jews and Christians] unless it be in (a way) that is better, save with such of them as do wrong; and say: We believe in that which hath been revealed unto us and revealed unto you; our Allah and your Allah is One, and unto Him we surrender." -Koran, Surah 29:46

...more reason to modify that statement.
posted by koeselitz at 11:32 AM on April 3, 2005


All I knew of Hinduism was the basic "they gotta lotta gods." Thanks for the great post and good discussion, folks.
posted by deborah at 1:16 PM on April 3, 2005


Is Berek the New Bevet?
posted by Elim at 1:46 PM on April 3, 2005


koeselitz: something of a fallacy-fest, I'm afraid.

...and religion claims that miraculous events happen, and that God's word is truth. Revealingly, science has never managed to refute this claim, although it's been trying since Spinoza.

It really hasn't, you know. Because most scientists understand that:

1. the burden of proof rests solely on the proponent of an idea.

2. Trying to prove the inverse of an unsupported claim is a waste of time - and the more preposterous the claim, the more likely the impossibility of disproving it. Science - or anyone else - can no more disprove empty claims like "miracles happen" and "God's word is truth" (that statement includes a fallacious a priori assumption of God's existence, incidentally) than it can disprove claims like "invisible space camels orbit Jupiter". To think - even for a nanosecond - that this makes these outlandish propositions more likely - is profoundly unintelligent.

Though arguments by authority are perhaps not the best arguments, it's to be noted that the vastest number of those who have considered the matter at length think the same thing.

Argumentum ad populum is every bit as fallacious as argumentum as verecundium. Most of the world used to believe the earth was flat. That was no more a valid argument for the truth of a belief then than it is now.
posted by Decani at 1:59 PM on April 3, 2005


Argumentum AD verecundium, dammit.
posted by Decani at 2:00 PM on April 3, 2005


Metafilter: Argumentum AD verecundium, dammit.
posted by weston at 2:24 PM on April 3, 2005


Decani: I'll grant, first, that argument by authority is a bad form of argument. I used it only for brevity. If you want me to, I can argue at length from the text that Pauline Christianity is identical to original Christianity. I didn't guess that anyone wanted me to.

Second: the burden of proof is only on the proponent of an idea if we're in a debate club. But we're not, and the real world confronts us with this problem: do miracles happen? In other words: do all things take place according to a law intelligible and coherent to human beings, or are there some things that we don't understand?

You say that the statement that "God's word is truth" "includes a fallacious a priori assumption of God's existence." Disregarding the fact that assumptions can't really be fallacious, I can agree that it's an assumption in some ways, although I think the proofs for the existence of God offered by the theologians and the philosophers carry a great deal of weight. However, it's a reasonable assumption, and one upon which much rests. For example, even to use to words "truth" or "logic" is to assume that there exists some unitary order underlying the universe. This is the same as to assume that God exists. "God's word is truth" is almost a tautalogy.

You use the language of logic; you say that we shouldn't waste time proving that unsupported claims are false. But, first, if we're rational, how can we rationally assume that unsupported claims are untrue without proving it? Second, how can we even assume that rationality will lead us to an understanding of the universe? Third, isn't the belief that rationality is universally applicable to the universe, and that observation and reason will lead to an understanding of it, an assumption that the world has a single, comprehensible source-- a god?

We assume that all effects have causes on the basis of no evidence. In fact, there can be no evidence for such an assumption; evidence means observation of a cause, and thus already assumes that effects always have causes. Hume has already argued this much better than I can.

Sorry that this is so long. But it's something I've been thinking about for some time.
posted by koeselitz at 2:45 PM on April 3, 2005


do miracles happen? In other words: do all things take place according to a law intelligible and coherent to human beings, or are there some things that we don't understand?

So, lack of understanding = miracle?

...proofs for the existence of God offered by the theologians and the philosophers carry a great deal of weight

even to use to words "truth" or "logic" is to assume that there exists some unitary order underlying the universe. This is the same as to assume that God exists

how can we rationally assume that unsupported claims are untrue without proving it?

Wow. Just... wow. I can't even begin to debate you, we speak different languages.
posted by Bort at 3:07 PM on April 3, 2005


bort: "Wow. Just... wow. I can't even begin to debate you, we speak different languages."

Here, maybe I can help.

"So, lack of understanding = miracle?"

I take a "miracle" to be an event with no intelligible cause that therefore indicates a supernatural source. Religion claims that some things do not have causes that the human mind can understand; science, as it is understood generally today, begins with the assumption that all things have (physical) causes, and that reason can lead to an understanding of those causes. When religion says that Jesus walked on water, science says that the water was only very shallow, and that it only looked like he was walking on water. It denies miracles because of its fundamental assumption, not because of reason.

Assuming that unsupported claims are untrue is irrational because assumption is done without proof. If you told me, for example, that "the earth orbits the sun," and I rejected your unsupported claim out of hand and assumed that it was untrue, I might be following a rule of debate, but I wouldn't be acting rationally. True rationality calls me to examine the world, consider the evidence, and conclude on the basis of proofs and reasons that the earth actually does orbit the sun.

The "proofs for the existence of God offered by the theologians and the philosophers" are helpful to me because they indicate that the universe must have an underlying principle to be at all coherent and rational.

A really good teacher of mine once said, when asked if he believed in God: "Of course. Everybody believes in god. The question is: what do you think God is?"

posted by koeselitz at 3:25 PM on April 3, 2005


the burden of proof is only on the proponent of an idea if we're in a debate club

do miracles happen? In other words: do all things take place according to a law intelligible and coherent to human beings, or are there some things that we don't understand?

So by I combining these two concepts I can safely assume, with no obligation to back up my assumption, that the next time I get rejected by some fine foxy lady that it's no fault of my own but that the woman in question was miraculously acting according to the will of god... or maybe even the devil?

hmmm... does anyone know where I can get a bell, a book, a candle, and a lot of firewood?
posted by TheSpook at 3:39 PM on April 3, 2005


how can we rationally assume that unsupported claims are untrue without proving it?

The assumption is neither. A claim is just a claim. It could be true or it could be false.

Second, how can we even assume that rationality will lead us to an understanding of the universe?

That would be presumption / human hubris.

Third, isn't the belief that rationality is universally applicable to the universe, and that observation and reason will lead to an understanding of it, an assumption that the world has a single, comprehensible source-- a god?

If your #2 is false, this doesn't follow. Rationality is a process. The body of knowledge it collects determines its validity. So far, empiricism and scientific materialism is looking pretty good.

People say that science can't concern itself with the supernatural, but I disagree; if the supernatural works within the constraints of science (ie leaving evidence) then science can, and will, certainly study it.

But science will have a hard time picking up on evidence for the supernatural if its effects are subtle, eg. a putative universal teleologic drive towards complexity that has been influencing development of life on Earth. Scientists are currently just going with the null hypothesis that the rise of complex biology here is due, at its core, to nothing but random biochemical events.

This is a null hypothesis that is hard to break with evidence to the contrary...

When religion says that Jesus walked on water, science says that the water was only very shallow

IMV, empiricism would indicate the walking on water account is more likely fiction, a campfire story, and/or telephone game.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 5:09 PM on April 3, 2005


I've never seen anyone directly attack the principle of the burden of proof before; I'll give you props for boldness. But it simply isn't the case that the burden of proof is restricted to "debate class," and I'm sure you'll agree. Would you prefer "guilty until proven innocent?" Would you rather policy makers demand DISPROOF of their plans for government before they spend your tax dollars? Heck, I should just walk up to you and say "You should give me all your money."

If an unsupported claim is indeed unsupported, it should be rejected out of hand. There are an infinite number of unsupported (and unsupportable) claims to be made, the mere articulation of one does not make it worth considering.

The example of "the earth revolves around the sun" is a very poor one. Even so, it would be logical for the person asking to demand an explanation for the statement, or at the very least an articulation of why he is to believe another on this matter. (to make an effective argument from authority).
posted by mek at 5:17 PM on April 3, 2005


If an unsupported claim is indeed unsupported, it should be rejected out of hand.

I disagree. Science deals in probabilities, and this is where Bayesian probability can come in, to avoid throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Someone with potentially important assertions, but with a weak case, deserves a hearing, and a mental filing into the "possibly true / keep an eye on it" pile.

(I do this for UFO reports. Plenty of trustworthy people, like Jimmy Carter, have made interesting sighting reports without any evidence to back their claims. I do not reject their attestations out of hand!)

Also, by rejecting out of hand you are ignoring the scientific value in monitoring the size and complement of the body of unsupported claims itself. Validity is not a popularity contest, but unsupported claims are indicative of something, even if it is 'mass hysteria', a new virulent meme, or what have you.

Confusing the 'body of Science' with the 'body of Truth' is an easy, but wrong, thing to do. It's simply human hubris, and there's no guarantee that our science will uncover all that is real in this universe.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 5:35 PM on April 3, 2005


koeselitz: hi again.

I can argue at length from the text that Pauline Christianity is identical to original Christianity. I didn't guess that anyone wanted me to.

I've seen arguments to that effect. They've all been thoroughly fallacious. Not least because of the number of a priori assumptions made in order to support them. I'm not saying your arguments fail in this way, but I suspect we probably don't want to get into it here as it will be lengthy.

Second: the burden of proof is only on the proponent of an idea if we're in a debate club.

No, I reject that assertion as unfounded. If we are to remain rational, then the burden of proof is on the proponent of an argumen or idea every single time. Sorry.

do miracles happen? In other words: do all things take place according to a law intelligible and coherent to human beings, or are there some things that we don't understand?

I reject your definition of "miracle". There are most certainly some things we don't understand. This does not make them "miracles", any more than lightning, or earthquakes, or eclipses were "miracles" in the days before we understood them although, of course, there was no shortage of irrational people eager to claim they were. It is depressing that such people are still with us.

Disregarding the fact that assumptions can't really be fallacious,

Strictly speaking, no. Not by themselves. But if an assumption is made a priori - i.e. with no logic or evidence to support it, then any conclusions drawn from that assumption most certainly are fallacious.

I think the proofs for the existence of God offered by the theologians and the philosophers carry a great deal of weight.

And I do not. Not least because every single one has been thoroughly dismantled. Of course, if you know of one that still stands strong, please share it. I'll be fascinated to think I've missed it.

However, it's a reasonable assumption,

I reject that wholly unsupported assertion.

and one upon which much rests.

Now that I agree with. A whole lot of irrational and fallacious conclusions certainly do rest upon the unfounded, irrational, a priori assumption of the existence of God.

For example, even to use to words "truth" or "logic" is to assume that there exists some unitary order underlying the universe.

No, I reject that unsupported assertion. You have not provided the slightest support for that claim.

This is the same as to assume that God exists.

Your conclusion might be, yes. Unfortunately it is fallacious; based as it is an an unestablished a priori assertion.


"God's word is truth" is almost a tautalogy.


A meaningless and unsupported claim, I'm afraid.


You use the language of logic; you say that we shouldn't waste time proving that unsupported claims are false.

No, I didn't say that. It is perfectly possible to prove that a claim - unsupported or otherwise - is false. But it is the responsibility of the claimer to prove that his claim is true before it can reasonably be accepted as such. That is what I said.

But, first, if we're rational, how can we rationally assume that unsupported claims are untrue without proving it?

If we are rational, we assume an unsupported claim is untrue until it is sufficiently supported. Otherwise we end up assuming that invisible space camels are presently orbiting Jupiter simply because Decani said so. Do you see?

Second, how can we even assume that rationality will lead us to an understanding of the universe?

We can't. We can't assume anything will lead to that. The reasonable, rational assumption is that as limited entities it is almost certain that a proper understanding of the universe is quite beyond us. This is because there are plain limits to our intelligence. However, the response to the harsh fact of our limited intelligence should not be unintelligence.


Third, isn't the belief that rationality is universally applicable to the universe, and that observation and reason will lead to an understanding of it, an assumption that the world has a single, comprehensible source-- a god?

No, I don't see that that follows at all. However, as I have said, it is also a straw man as far as this discussion goes since I have not made the claim that rationality is "universally applicable to the universe" or that observation and reason will lead to an understaniding of the universe - not in its entirety, anyway.

We assume that all effects have causes on the basis of no evidence.

No, that is a false assertion on two counts. Firstly, we do not assume that all effects have causes. We assume that the vast majority of the ones we can perceive do, and secondly, we make that assumption on the basis of an absolute mass of evidence: the evidence of cause and effect we see every single day, in every area of life. From the laboratory to the football field and beyond. Cause and effect is observable absolutely everywhere in the human arena.

In fact, there can be no evidence for such an assumption; evidence means observation of a cause, and thus already assumes that effects always have causes.

That is a false and illogical statement, I'm afraid. Evidence means observation of effects that can reasonably, logically and reproducibly be ascribed to given causes. Evidence does not become evidence until a clear link can be made between cause and effect. Before that happens, it is not evidence. It is merely the observation of effect.

Hume has already argued this much better than I can.

Hume has argued a lot of things extremely well; some not quite so well. To the best of my recollection he hasn't argued what you appear to be arguing, however.
posted by Decani at 5:47 PM on April 3, 2005


That was a great article (just to try to right the rails). It's interesting to see the social forces that shape the expression of religions (kind of like seeing a building being constructed in time-lapse).
I think, to me at least, that any attempt to describe the universe must by necessity incorporate a large amount of abstraction and metaphor. I think that science is the best vocabulary for describing repeatable phenomena, but it often lacks the emotional resonance to truly connect meaning to another person, and that's a place where religion can be devestatingly effective.
At a certain point, people believe what they believe because that's what they want to believe, whether or not its coherent or consistent.
posted by klangklangston at 6:35 PM on April 3, 2005


people believe what they believe because that's what they want to believe, whether or not its coherent or consistent.

And worse, belief systems will evolve to increase their emotional hooks, on both the prosyltizing (sp) ("our God kicks ass!") and retention side ("don't fall away or you'll burn in a lake of fire for all eternity!").

The early success of Christianity came from a self-conscious campaign to ditch the unworkable parts of Judaism but maintaining the overall Big Story -- personal saviors are an easy sell in any era.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 6:52 PM on April 3, 2005


the invention of self worth by psychotic animals. the end.
posted by Satapher at 7:09 PM on April 3, 2005


Decani, I think I love you.
posted by Vulpyne at 7:44 PM on April 3, 2005


Heywood Mogroot;

The early success of Christianity came from a self-conscious campaign to ditch the unworkable parts of Judaism but maintaining the overall Big Story -- personal saviors are an easy sell in any era.

I think this is partially true, though it's a bit flip to use the phrase "unworkable"; I mean, Judaism worked and does work for the Jews. I wonder if perhaps you are thinking of how Christianity saw as its subject all people, rather than a particular tribe, as Judaism does. Maybe?
posted by clockzero at 8:43 PM on April 3, 2005


Thanks, Decani, that sums up everything very nicely.

Heywood Mogrot: A weak case is a weak case. We're discussing UNSUPPORTED claims, which have no case.

I apologize, but this derail has gone on long enough, so I'm just going to ignore your argument against the burden of proof, for reasons self-referential.
posted by mek at 8:53 PM on April 3, 2005


Judaism worked and does work for the Jews

I was thinking of the ditching of circumcision, for one.

I have not read the epistles of Paul to any great detail, but the general impression I get through osmosis is that the early church was finding the right secret sauce to sell the religion to the gentiles. Things like moving the birthdate of Jesus from Spring to the near the winter solstice, and the various Councils and Synods that I remember from catechism that modified the DNA dogma of the Church doctrine.

There's a great difference between being born into a cultural religion, and a prostletizing (google is not giving me correct spelling of this damn word!) one like Christianity. For a religion to sweep the world it helps to develop more virulent memetic hooks.

Some of the really quasi-Christianized ancient cults hanging on Iraq that have been publicized due to the war's events are similar to Judaism in that they don't prostletize, and go one step farther by not even converting outsiders into the faith.

On the Buddhist side I see Soka Gakkai as a similar pattern of a splinter sect tuning its message to become more "virulent" in its outreach and massively succeeding. Interesting stuff.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 9:09 PM on April 3, 2005


You make it sound as though they used focus groups. Is there any reason to think that they considered circumcision unnecessary or counter-productive for prosyletic purposes rather than spiritual reasons?
posted by clockzero at 9:25 PM on April 3, 2005


Is there any reason to think that they considered circumcision unnecessary or counter-productive for prosyletic purposes rather than spiritual reasons?

Yes, since I've read in several places that the Greeks weren't down with mutiliation and there was conflict in the early church over this and other Judaic laws. Ignatius came out and said that all the old Judaic stuff could be ditched:
It is absurd to speak of Jesus Christ with the tongue, and to cherish in the mind a Judaism which has now come to an end. For where there is Christianity there cannot be Judaism
But my argument is indeed rather flip & ad-hoc. I'm probably looking at the history more from modern practice, where conservative christians take what they want from the OT (generally various sins 'other people' do) but ignore that which they themselves do (divorce & remarry, eat pork & shellfish)...
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 11:23 PM on April 3, 2005


Anyone who has even the most cursory knowledge of history can tell you that tolerance has absolutely nothing to do with religious faith. Every religion is founded on the idea that it is the one true way and all others are mistaken.

...Consider the present situation. On one side you have Muslim extremists, one another side Jewish extremists, and on another side Christian extremists.

The extremists of three religions do not represent "every religion", nor were they the founders even of their own religions.
posted by Foosnark at 8:28 AM on April 4, 2005


Okay, there's a lot of stuff here. I'll try to address what I can, though I have limited time.

First, on the burden of proof:

mek: "I've never seen anyone directly attack the principle of the burden of proof before; I'll give you props for boldness. But it simply isn't the case that the burden of proof is restricted to 'debate class,' and I'm sure you'll agree. Would you prefer 'guilty until proven innocent?' Would you rather policy makers demand DISPROOF of their plans for government before they spend your tax dollars? Heck, I should just walk up to you and say 'You should give me all your money.'"

I don't think this really has bearing; government policy and judicial practice isn't the span of life, and, sadly, it's not really very scientific, either. I'm thinking about it this way: we have to start by asking questions. Is the universe intelligible? Is the earth revolving around the sun? Etc. To answer the questions, it does no good and makes no sense to demand that someone else lay proofs at our feet; each of us must try to discover the truth on our own. Nietszche pointed out that, though it might be nice to rely on researchers to tell us the truth, it's not possible; we can't trust their work until we've verified it ourselves. This makes sense to me. Placing the burden of proof on others seems to assume that we have all the evidence already at hand; it seems most humbly realistic not to be so haughty. We ought to be trying to understand these things together, no?

Now, on to cause and effect:

Decani: "Firstly, we do not assume that all effects have causes. We assume that the vast majority of the ones we can perceive do, and secondly, we make that assumption on the basis of an absolute mass of evidence: the evidence of cause and effect we see every single day, in every area of life. From the laboratory to the football field and beyond. Cause and effect is observable absolutely everywhere in the human arena."

You said that you disagreed with my definition of miracle; I can agree that I spoke badly. I meant to define a miracle as an effect that has a cause that is unintelligible, not merely immediately, but completely, to human thought. This is to differentiate them from things the cause of which we simply don't understand at the moment; a miracle is something we can't understand. It seems to me that, thought it's difficult to assume that a thing won't make sense if we investigate it, it's just as difficult to assume that it will.

You say that not all effects, and not even all the effects we percieve, have causes. Insofar as 'nature' (I take it; perhaps you can correct me) is the observable string of causes and effects governed by laws that we see around us in the world, this means that there are 'supernatural' (or maybe 'less than natural') events. You may not be willing to call extranatural events 'miracles;' but can you blame those who conclude on their basis that something besides matter exists?

Decani: "Evidence means observation of effects that can reasonably, logically and reproducibly be ascribed to given causes. Evidence does not become evidence until a clear link can be made between cause and effect. Before that happens, it is not evidence. It is merely the observation of effect."

You said before that we assume that cause and effect holds in the world "on the basis of an absolute mass of evidence," the evidence that we observe every day. Yet here you say that "evidence does not become evidence until a clear link can be made between cause and effect." You can understand my confusion: if we have evidence for cause and effect, it would seem to mean that we observe that effects follow causes in the world and clearly link that causality to its cause, which is the principle of cause and effect itself. But isn't that just a little circular? Unless that process of clearly linking causes and effects is a kind of direct intuition, it would seem to rely on evidence; the strength of evidence evidence would seem to rely on the principle of cause and effect itself; therefore evidence for the principle of cause and effect would seem to rely on assuming the conclusion before the conclusion is reached.

One of the major conclusions of Hume's Treatise of Human Nature (which I haven't read in some time, and won't have at hand until tonight; I hope you can forgive any errors I make here) was that there is no necessary connection between cause and effect. Now, I don't know if I agree with him completely, but the argument seems striking to me; it's the one I've tried to lay out here. He says that all we can say is that we observe certain things preceding other things; we assume, on the basis of no evidence, that some things always precede others. Hume points out that this has no basis.

The enlightenment threw off the shackles of religion first and foremost by claiming that it could explain the world without recourse to supernatural causes, and that it could describe the laws by which nature functioned in a complete way, thus making religion superfluous. There are still some who make this claim; but it seems to me as though it's been exploded, at least somewhat, by people like Hume and Wittgenstein. That's not to say that their positions lead to religion; I only mean that the world turned out to be harder to understand than we hoped. I know you accept that, Decani, and say that perhaps some things have no causes; but can you still say that supernaturalism is superfluous? (I don't know that you're saying that; it only sounded like it to me.)

Finally, you ask about what proofs for the existence of God I found compelling. Maybe you noticed that I'm very interested in Anselm's, which was handily reduced to a verse in an old song I used to sing in school:

"The fool concieves of God, but thinks the faithful are decieved
But a greatest being whose reality is not believed
Is a being then that greater-than-which still can be concieved
Which contradicts itself..."

posted by koeselitz at 9:25 AM on April 4, 2005


koeselitz: He says that all we can say is that we observe certain things preceding other things; we assume, on the basis of no evidence, that some things always precede others. Hume points out that this has no basis.

A.K.A. The Problem of Induction.

Re: Anselm, can you elaborate? I'm not too sure what that verse implies.
posted by Gyan at 10:19 AM on April 4, 2005


(I think all observations are evidence, regardless of hypothesized causation(s). The UFO case of "RB-47" comes to mind; here we have independent mechanical observations of an anomoly, yet absolutely no clear understandable causal agent.)

Anselm's ontological proof of the existence of a Supreme Being can be safely restated that 'if god exists, god exists', for it is an argument with ungrounded premises (reality must be consistent with human philosophy, a supreme being implies perfection, existence is a property of perfection).
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 10:49 AM on April 4, 2005


In behalf of the fool

Ontological, Shmontological.
posted by exlotuseater at 2:03 PM on April 4, 2005


great thread. I'd add, Heywood, that if God exists, then Gods exist. (the 10 commandments backs me up on that one too) : >

I think we all mix and match and pick and choose--it's the old-fashioned Chinese restaurant version--one from column A, one from column B. It's obvious even to true believers of all faiths that regular life doesn't allow for perfect fidelity to any set of rules or laws, especially when those laws themselves hold contradictions. I think it's really healthy that Hindus have taken a definition imposed on them (sort-of) and made it workable and their own--even the nationalism it's put into service for isn't all bad. It's not like Muslims fighting Hindus (and vice-versa) is a new thing in the world, is it?
posted by amberglow at 2:31 PM on April 4, 2005


oh, riff--in the 80s there was a really wild Indian miniseries about Hanuman on public tv (or cable). Tell us the story : >
posted by amberglow at 2:34 PM on April 4, 2005


« Older Interview with Scott Ritter on Iran June Invasion...  |  Alternative Rapid Transit... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments