As we were saying before you unwashed interrupted….
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As we were saying before you unwashed interrupted….
The Immortality Key, by the American author and lawyer Brian C. Muraresku, is at once entertaining, annoying, important, and badly argued. They key assertion is that the ancient mystery religions used psychoactive doped beer or wine, akin in its effects to psilocybin experiences of today. He does us a great service in reminding the present that the Eleusinian Mysteries, as they were called, involved a ceremonial consumption of psychoactive chemicals of unknown nature, and that the pilgrimage and associated ceremonies acted as the centre of a religious cult that lasted for centuries if not millennia. The Eleusisian Mysteries were not some trivial affair. The site, and its ceremonies, acted as the major cultic centre of the ancient Greek-speaking world. Romans too participated.
To summarize the argument, Muraresku claims:
The first two points are very likely to be true. The third is a stretch, but it could be true. The fourth point, suppression of psychoactive communions, depends on the third point being true, because there might have been no psychoactive chemical communions to suppress. The fifth point, that what is offered in communion to this day is a placebo, a substitute for the eating of the flesh and drinking of the blood of the true God, constitutes (I believe) a huge mistake as to what the Chritian message is. The last point, that the suppression of witches was the suppression of female centred drug knowledge, seems plausible
Muraresku calls this the “pagan continuity with psychoactive twist” thesis.
I find it significant that the author has never tried psychoactive chemicals of any kind. Thus his arguments cannot be refuted or defended against by saying he is a drug adept. For the same reason they also partake of a complete innocence of the issue. In my experience, psychoactive chemicals, such as psilocybin and other entheogens, have to be approached in a spirit of religious awe, and in a completely secure and preferably beautiful setting. The reasons for this is obvious to anyone who has tripped. Nor should they be done in a crowd. Not everyone can handle it. Some might be in a very bad mental space. For many practical reasons, you cannot have thousands of people tripping on acid or psilocybin every Sunday. It is hard to see how the Church could have become universal in time and place if its core ceremonhy had remained (if it ever had been) a quasi-private drug initiation.
Yet none of these reasons of prudential wisdom capture my real objection to the Muraresku thesis. Whether you are tripping or stone cold sober, you are required to believe certain impossible propositions in order to be a Christian. Impossible to nature that is. The idea that Christ rose from the dead is not made any more likely depending on the chemicals in your brain at the time of hearing the news. And if it were made to seem more likely by the consumption of entheogens, then the Gospel message would be made to look ridiculous in the sober light of the day after the trip. Either way, you may get to belief through psychoactive chemicals, or not arrive at belief at all. Pschoactive chemicals can loosen tightly bound minds. They do not bring one to belief, however.
Belief is not knowledge. If we knew, belief would be superfluous. I do not have to believe the car is in the garage if I see it parked there. Belief is what you reserve for what you cannot prove.
For a brilliant discussion of Christianity’s revolutionary message and effects, you are far better off reading Tom Holland’s Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World.
As a prose stylist and as a historian, Holland is a far superior writer to Muraresku.
In Dominion, Holland reminds us of just how revolutionary it was for God to sacrifice his son to the humiliating death of a slave, through crucifixion.
I have no objection to psychoactive drugs taken in religious ceremonies, or for therapy, or for any solemn exploration whatever. But I do not believe that Christianity’s core sacrament is made valid or invalid according as we are stoned on enthogens at the time of participation.
Finally, as a lawyer, and therefore as an crafter of arguments, Brian Muraresku needs to be reminded that a paragraph consisting of a series of questions, however suggestive, does not constitute a rational discussion. State your argument, man! Say it boldly! His book would have benefitted from a reader who was ready to challenge him by asking: “what are you really saying here, Brian?”. “And if you really believe it, say it!” The book suffers from too much narration of the author doing his reasearch and talking with sources, and not enough careful exposition and handling of obvious counter-arguments. In the long run, no one needs to know what kind of day it was when he visited the Vatican Library.
Still, Muraresku has written an annoying, interesting, badly-flawed but possibly important book. Holland’s by contrast, is impeccable in style and content, and I commend it unreservedly.
Brian Muraresku appeared with Graham Hancock on the Joe Rogan show. He did not have time to get to the last three arguments noted above in bullets.
Watch this man, Dr. James Tour. The origin of life: we haven’t a clue. We have no idea how to build the simplest bacterium. So all the stories you have hear about early experiments putting an electric charge through simple chemicals in a flask are total bullshit (the Miller-Urey experiement in 1952) in that nothing further has flowed from those experiments. And there exists a collaboration between bullshit science and the media that leads other scientists who do not know what they are talking about to assume that “science” has answered the question of the origin of life when it has not.
Tour has written extensively on his viewpoint that all scientific studies to date are wholly inadequate to account for life. In multiple essays in the Inference: International Review of Science, Tour argues from a chemical perspective that the molecules needed for life – nucleotides, carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids – are too complex to have been formed by probabilistic chance and the methods to assemble those structures into a cell are unknown. Ultimately, he believes that on matters of life’s origin, which is the genesis for all evolution, that scientists are “utterly clueless”. Though he remains open to the possibility that future research will afford an explanation.
The most important aspect of the story today about Jordan Peterson being rejected for a stint at the Cambridge school of divinity is not that they rescinded his application. No sir. What is of interest in the story is that the greatest Calvinist in living memory has found his proper metier, as a minister of the Christian religion.
It took him a while, but it was inevitable. The search for truth leads you where it goes, and the Word of God is more durable than stone.
This is a useful introduction to the next 70 years. The authors Darrell Bricker and John Ibbotson trace the debates about total human population, they side for good reasons with the view that the media UN demographic projections are too high, and they speculate on some of the effects that decreasing population will have on economic growth (bad), global warming (good) , and the extinction of small cultures (ongoing).
The argument is simple: women are becoming less fertile – having fewer babies – under the influence of higher education, moving to cities, greater aspirations, and the decline of social control of their reproductivity. This decline is occurring nearly everywhere, including in non-industrial societies, advanced industrial societies, and regardless of whether the people in question are Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, secular, or Islamic. The fertility decline is occurring with especial speed in Islamic societies, and formerly strongly Catholic ones.
This is counter to what you have been taught in university back in the days of the Club of Rome report (1972) and in the doomist press. Births are below replacement rate (2.1 per woman) in most parts of the world. Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Mali are exceptions, though birth rates will fall there shortly, too. The point of demographics is that it correctly predicts the shape of societies for decades to come precisely because people tend to live by statistically valid durations of time. Lifespans are calculable.
Overall, the global average length of life has doubled to 70 years since 1900.
The UN predicts in its medium growth scenario a global population in 2100 (roughly 80 years away) at 11.2 billion, at which point it holds stable and then starts to shrinks. The low variant of UN projections say that the world population will peak at 8.2 billion around 2050 and decline to 7 billion, where we are now, by 2100.
A good portion of the argument of Bricker and Ibbotson is that the low variant will prove to be the correct one. I encourage you to read the argument.
The authors indulge themselves in later chapters with some attacks on nativism and Trump’s policies, which express Toronto-centric Upper Canadian snobbery and fail to address that the issue for the US is illegal immigration. Legal immigration to the United States continues to be high and is socially approved of, at about 1.1 million a year. Undocumented immigration has amounted over the years to more than 10.5 million US residents, and this is what excites the antipathy of the US citizenry.
They do venture to observe that declining world population, coupled with roughly stable energy use per person, will alleviate the global warming crisis (as they would see it). “Urbanization, innovation, and depopulation might be the best solution to halting the march of climate change.” (p.231)
However, the chief merit of this book is to draw attention to the shape of the next 80 years, as population rises until mid-century and begins to drop, in some cases precipitously, by 2100.
The same material is discussed from a deeply religious (meaningful) viewpoint in David Goldman’s How Civilizations Die (and Why Islam is Dying too). Both books start with UN statistics on population, but the resemblance ends there. Goldman links fertility, past and future, to the tenacity to which people hold to their religious creeds. This will be an unwelcome thought to the purely secular minds of Ibbotson and Bricker, and many other reasonable people. Yet of the subject of the world’s population interests you, Goldman’s interpretation of the facts evokes much deeper issues than urbanization and female empowerment. Says Goldman:
“Two cultures are contending at the family level throughout the world: secular modernity and renewed faith. Secular families have few children and religious families have many. That means that in each generation, religious families will increase in number and secular families will diminish” (at p 197)
Thus, says Goldman, the path out of secular population decline will necessarily require a change of views regarding family, women’s roles, fatherhood, and the really important issues of life. These are what I mean by the word “religion”. I do not see anything like this happening soon, and maybe it will never happen. By 2050, in a world that is shrinking in population, radical alternatives to population decline may seem more achievable and desirable. Or maybe we will have been assimilated by the Borg by then.
Scott Adams interviews Naval Ravikant, genius and investor. Worth your time, else I would not post it.
“The real universal basic income is cannabis and video games” – Naval Ravikant
Both are convinced we live in a simulation. Both are convinced that religion and mathematics are predicated on belief – that God and mathematical laws rest on axioms. God is the biggest axiom. You choose, that’s all. And by definition, both of them believe what they do without being able to prove it.
The recent media kerfuffle about some boys from Covington high school and their supposedly awful attacks on some poor old Indian have turned around into a media catastrophe. The leftist press got everything wrong – no surprise – but was apprehended in the act, and had to back off. The entire incident will be forgotten in a week. I present this as an important reason why I try not to participate in the blogging of outrage.
In the time the entire event arose, spread, was refuted, and collapsed, I had to go to hospital for a cardiac procedure. (I am well thank you). The slight risk of actual death has a wonderfully concentrating effect on the mind. I turned to youtube videos about saw mills and cabin building. They are my way of engaging in escapist literature.
More than this, they concentrate me into practical efforts that bring exercise, accomplishment, and deep satisfaction in their wake.
The net tendency of Internet participation is to be constantly aggravated. If you are like me, it will be offended by the leftist assault on reason, history, religion, males, the white race, Christianity and morality. If you are anti-Trump, then everything happening these days will be offensive to you sensibilities. The best way to regain your poise and equanimity is to stop paying attention to the shadow play of politics.
I realize this is not what a political blog ought to say. Yet I am more concerned with my own health and sanity than I am with Trump, Trudeau or any of the dozens of points of concern, such as Brexit, Venezuala, or building pipelines in Canada. We have to remember that the reasons why we are conservatives is that most of life lies beyond and outside of politics, and it is to those wells that we go to draw our spiritual water.
The great thing about Christmas, Garrison Keillor once said, is that it is not about you.
See Ann Althouse if you want to be annoyed at some prat who feels rejected and lonely when people wish her a merry Christmas.
I have retired to the country for a week of quiet, book reading, listening to the fire in the stove hiss and pop, listening to big music, and messing with tractors.
A Merry Christmas to you all, heathens and Christians alike. Be well. Blogging will continue as the spirit moves me.
I got fed up with Harari after reading Sapiens and my impatience with his doctrines has been clarified by a reading of 21 Lessons for the 21st century.
Basically Harari insists we do not have free will. More importantly, he asserts that all human stories – myths, religions, creeds – are wrong answers. He uses the words “wrong answers” in the same sense as someone who dials the wrong number, or answers “42” to the question, “what is the meaning of life?”. Instead of political correctness, it is philosophical correctness.
Harari is a gay vegetarian who practices meditation for two hours a day. He is a Buddhist. In that sense, his views are the expression of what I think is orthodox Buddhism.
The core of his argument is contained in the chapter ‘Meaning’ in 21 Lessons, at page 285.
“While a good story must give me a role and must extend beyond my horizons, it need not be true. A story can be pure fiction, yet provide me with an identity and make me feel that my life has meaning. To the nest of our scientific understanding, none of the thousands of stories different cultures religions, and tribes have invented throughout history is true. They are all just human inventions. If you ask for the true meaning of life and get a story in reply, you know this is the wrong answer. The exact details don’t really matter. Any story is wrong, simply for being a story. The universe just doesn’t work that way.”
Any Christian, Jew or Muslim will tell you, if they have thought about truth and story deeply enough, that the Story they live by is the criterion of truth, that meaning in the world is given by the story, not the story given the meaning by forces extraneous to it. They have different stories and hence constitute different religions, because they link back to different ideas of what story the adherents shall be guided by.
Each religion contains disparate elements, and thus allows for different stories to be told. Try reconciling the Gospel of John with those of Mathew, Mark and Luke, if you need evidence for differing elements in the sacred texts of a major world religion. Religions spring up as new stories are told: think of Islam, Mormonism, Communism, Christianity, and so forth, without end.
Truth is not therefore a proposition, such as 2+2=4, or e=mc², though both are truthful equations.
Harari also disputes the liberal version of storytelling, that it is I who gives meaning to the world. The world has no need of meaning, he says, following the Buddha.
We do not govern our brain, our feelings, or our reactions to our feelings, he says. With that I agree, but he nowhere seems able to get beyond a truly presumptuous arrogance that, because our “truths” are embedded in stories, there is no truth, no meaning, nor need to create a meaning. This may be orthodox Buddhism. I do not know enough about Buddhism to be sure.
If I have no control over my desires, or my urges, I see no way in which to educate myself, my feelings, or my behaviours. Nor can we expect anyone else to effectively influence my behaviours. This idea is immediately refuted by the experience of every child growing up under the influence of parents and educators.
Harari constantly emphasizes our inability to tell the difference between fiction and reality, as if “reality” were itself not a fiction we have invented. I have bad news for Harari: it is all fiction. We change by having new metaphors, and guiding ourselves by them. Reality does not exist outside of our fictions. Our sufferings take place inside our maps of meaning. Some people just have different maps of meaning, but no one, not even Harari, is without his fictions. He thinks his Buddhism has brought him to the place of no fictions. Suffering without a fiction to explain its meaning: that is his remedy for dependence on stories.
Just as you cannot pick up the gross national product with a set of tongs, because they belong to two different orders of being, so you cannot pick up meaning without having the metaphorical instrument by which to apprehend it, which is a story. That is all we have had so far, and even if the stories are illusory in some sense, they are also our proven ways of getting as far as we have, from wandering the Serengeti devouring dead food to running the planet.
He concludes his book with:
“So if you want to know the truth about the universe, about the meaning of life, and about your own identity, the best place to start is by observing suffering and exploring what it is. The answer isn’t a story”.
That is as unprovable an assertion as that God manifested himself in Jesus, and it is, inevitably, just another story that Harari is peddling. Truth is found in fictions, it is such stuff as we are made of. I doubt we can do better than to try to live in better fictions and, as I have already related, our fictions are often the criteria by which we are obliged to judge the fictions, the world and its inhabitants. We need fictions by which to live as birds need feathers to fly. Some of those fictions we hold to be true, and others we hold to be self evident, even as they are the results of previous iterations of our governing fictions. If this seems circular, it is, in part, but there is a crack in everything, and that is how the light gets in. As that is yet another story, I rest my case.
I get over-Hitlered. I have read too much about the man and I resist, in vain, yet another tome on the subject of this revolutionary modernist mass annihilator. I know that Stalin makes Hitler look like a piker when it comes to mass murder, but Stalin is fundamentally a communist, and Communism is stupid, dumb, mechanical, and eliminatory. In Communism we find the modern university, obsessed with false explanations for inequality, but with death quotas and actual mass murder.
“Fascism”, as Fran Leibowitz said, “is too exciting, communism, too boring”. So it was with some trepidation that I ordered Martin Van Creveld’s pseudo-autobiography “Hitler in Hell”. Hitler writes from a sort of air-conditioned featureless, shadowless world where the demons take his tray and keep him fed, but he faces an eternity of nothingness as a punishment for his sins and crimes.
Martin van Creveld is a military historian, an Israeli Jew of Dutch origin. He has written plenty of serious important books on warfare, logistics, and strategy.
His Hitler in Hell is a hoot. It is a way of telling Hitler’s story in an amusing way while Creveld (alias Hitler) gets to take a few shots at Joachim Fest, David Irving, Allan Bullock, John Toland and Ian Kershaw, Hitler’s historians, and, in his fictional voice, the German generals whom Hitler thinks betrayed him.
It presents Hitler in straightforward terms as acting rationally to defend and avenge Germany in the wake of World War 1, as long as you can accept the absolutely demented notion that the Jews are the world’s parasites. Van Creveld presents Hitler as sane, save only that he was obsessed with the Jews, obsessed, and ready to murder them the way you take insect spray to a hornet’s nest.
Just as Stalin was a pure communist, and sought to eliminate all capitalist-market relations in the Soviet Union, even at the price of destroying his farmers and peasantry, so Hitler was a pure anti-Semite, and sought to eliminate all Jews wherever he could get his hands on them.
All the rest of his behaviour was sincerely anti-democratic, expansionary, war-mongering, cruel, and suited for the obloquy of man, but it was rational if you accept the premises of German cultural and racial supremacy, and hatred of everything Jewish.
One other book that comes close to capturing Hitler’s mindset is the most outrageous book I have ever read, Norman Spinrad‘s “The Iron Dream”, which purports to be a book authored by one Adolf Hitler, who emigrated to the United States in 1919 and illustrated science fiction books, and who eventually turned his hand to writing science fiction. You know, with titles like “Lords of the Swastika”. I recommend it if you can find it as a book, or go to the Intertubes and find it as a pdf.
There was yet another book about Hitler in which a team of Israeli commandos find him in the jungles of Paraguay. They cannot get him out for some reason so they put him on trial before a jury of one Guarani Indian. It was The Portage to San Cristobal of AH, by George Steiner. In his self defence, Hitler is allowed to speak. The Indian juror does not understand a word of the oration, but understands his meaning perfectly. The Guarani Indian decides that Hitler is a shaman. As such he could not be guilty, since he is a magician. In his defence, Steiner’s Hitler defends master race ideology as nothing more than what the Jews believe about themselves, and claims to be the real founder of Israel. You can imagine the controversy that Steiner got himself into.
It is curious that, in reading van Creveld’s commentary on writing Hitler in Hell, found at the back end of the book, and George Steiner’s comments on writing the Portage to San Cristobal of AH, they each admit that once they got the idea, the books practically wrote themselves.
Steiner, Van Creveld, and Spinrad – all Jews – are a lot quicker and less ponderous to read than Joachim Fest and Ian Kershaw. Of the three of them, Spinrad captures the anti-semitism of Hitler as no one else ever has. I repeat my warning that Spinrad’s book is outrageous. Frankly I think only a Jew could get to the core of anti-semitism as well. Van Creveld’s take on Hitler will convey more facts and accurate chronology. If you want to read about the Third Reich for a rapid and insightful overview, van Creveld is greatly recommended.