Throbert's Theatre of Thinkologizing main page


23 October 2004


One of the things I've resolved to do with this blog is to use it for archiving my better posts from Little Green Footballs, which is where I do most of my "thinky" writing these days.

I was actually encouraged to do this by some positive comments I got from other LGF readers after posting a retort to a particularly snotty atheist. I don't think I smacked him too hard, nor did I intend to, since I was once a zealous young atheist myself, eager to show how I'd vivisected Jehovah with the glittering scalpel of pure logic.

Anyhew, it started like this, in a thread linking to a great piece of Flash animation that presented a visual montage of images -- 9/11, Dubya, mujahideen, Dubya, Iraq, Dubya -- to the accompaniment of Johnny Cash's ''When The Man Comes Around.'' Some posters immediately noticed that "The Man" of the song is J.H. Christ himself, which caused a little bit of consternation -- non-Christian readers were put off by the apparent Jesus boosterism, while some Christians objected that the implied comparison between the Son of Mary (in the lyrics) and the son of Barbara (in the visuals) was just a smidgen over the top. I waded in about 160 posts into the thread:

#99 levi from queens:
alpha and omega do make it a Christian song. whirlwind is in the thorntrees-- not bilblical by my reading -- but a great image. virgins trimming their wicks -- the parable of the wise and foolish virgins at Matthew 25:1-10. At 7, the wise virgins trim their wicks.

It is indeed a Christian song, and I hope that Jews and my fellow agnostics/atheists and other non-Christians are not put off by that fact. I look at it this way: I can enjoy classical Greek and Roman mythology without being a worshipper of Zeus or Diana; I can appreciate artistic depictions of Vishnu or Ganesh without believing a word of Hindu cosmology; likewise, I can find wisdom in Christian scriptures and sacred music even though I don't believe that Jesus was the Son of God (and in fact I doubt that there's a God for him to have been the Son of).

Meanwhile, another poster, Julia, beamed down from the planet Vulcan to intone:

I caution anyone in basing their support of any candidate on any emotional elicitation, be it from the Republicans or the Democrats. It's not about feelings. It's about survival. But marketing makes it otherwise.
I found this film to be smarmy

...which provoked a really excellent response from Nuclear Tinkerbell (who, by the way, is a nice lady and a Friend of Rugby the Rat):

Julia's aversion to becoming an automaton reminded me of this: Memetic virus exchange
A controversial application of this "selfish meme" parallel is the idea that certain collections of memes can act as "memetic viruses" [...]
There is a tendency in memetics to disparage religious memes. However, some authorities speculate that traditional religions act as mental immune systems to suppress new memes that can be harmful. For example, Christianity forbids both murder and suicide, and its precise definitions of heresy assure that new religions that advocate such actions cannot be accepted by educated Christians.
There is nothing wrong with fighting for control of the meme - especially in an election which will determine all of our futures. We need more flash-shows like this - any positive piece of information which can be inserted to counter (or over-write) the current meme which is saturated with detrimental messages.

Nuclear Tinkerbell and I must've pointed to the same tub when G-d was dishin' out 31 Flavors of Brains with his big neurological ice-cream scoop, because I immediately understood how she'd made the mental segue from Julia's plaint about the "smarmy" Flash animation to the topic of memetics. Namely, there are times when the most important thing is to propagate that meme, even if it makes you feel like a bit of a buffoon. Even if people laugh at you for spreading the meme, you've got to go on spreading it, like a boy doggy who's determined to spurt his jizz into as many girl doggies as he can possibly find, never mind that the "girl doggy" sometimes turns out to be another boy doggy, or a human's leg, or a fur slipper. And in a time of war, we shouldn't be shy about using schmaltzy or goofy packaging in order to spread pro-America, pro-Western, pro-liberty memes. Because our enemy is ugly, and very real.

Anyway, I wrote back to Tinkerbell:

By the way, Tinkerbell, thanks for bringing up memetics. I think the meme concept is one of the all-time most brilliant scientific metaphors ever, and it breaks my heart that the originator, Richard Dawkins, can't apply his own idea in a positive way to Judeo-Christian thought.
Because not only does the meme concept provide an excellent framework for understanding the endurance of phenomena like Islamofascism and Bush Derangement Syndrome, but for me it provides a comfortable way to explore Judaism and re-visit Christianity even though I'm personally an atheist. I view religious belief systems as akin to genomes, and I can go in and extract beneficial memes to be spliced into my own worldview, without taking all the potentially harmful baggage of traditional religion.
Of course, people could do this before the "meme" concept was devised; I just think that the memetics approach makes it easier.
Incidentally, one of the things that first sparked my interest in Judaism was a Talmudic passage that someone quoted right here on LGF. The Talmud author imagines G-d declaring, "Oh, would that mankind even forget My name, but at least keep My laws!"
That struck me as a very memeticist thing to say...

At this point you may be wondering, "What in tarnation does all this have to do with smacking down a hot-headed atheist?"

Well, I was just getting to that. A little later, in a different LGF thread, the aforementioned hot-headed atheist groused:

I have no religous affiliation because they are all man-made crap.

To which I responded by quoting my thoughts on memetics as a framework for non-believers to explore the positive side of religion, as above. And I added:

The atheist who says "the Bible has nothing to teach me because there is no Supreme Being and the miracle-stories are lies made up by men" is as big a fool as the guy who says "I have nothing to learn from Aesop's Fables because everyone knows that tortoises and ants can't actually talk."

The hot-headed atheist had been taking sniper fire from all sides by this time, and emitted a sniffy little help-I'm-being-censored speck of snot:

when I state my opinion that "religion is crap", it somehow transcends the mores of acceptable discourse?

So I said:

Either I wasn't clear enough, or you're being deliberately whiny. Let me make it plain: I wasn't accusing you of being mean to religious believers; I was accusing you of being an intellectual sluggard who's too lazy to examine religions and find that there's often considerable wisdom there -- accumulated human wisdom, not infallible divine wisdom, but wisdom nonetheless.
Not all traditional religions have wisdom in the same proportions, however. Judaism and Islam provide the starkest possible contrast, and one needn't assume the intervention of G-d or Satan to understand why Jews have made such outstanding contributions to philosophy, to science, to philanthropy, while Muslims, for almost all of their history, have excelled only by pillaging and scavenging the creativity of other cultures. The key difference is that Judaism constantly encourages debate and argument and self-examination and skeptical scrutiny of tradition, while Islam declared itself complete and perfect early on, slammed the door on debate, and has been a stagnant intellectual swamp ever since.
I used Judaism and Islam as examples, but the wise atheist should recognize that other religious traditions as well have wisdom mixed in with the supernatural claptrap. As an atheist, you're free to take the wisdom and discard the hocus-pocus. But you're a fool if you throw away the wisdom because you disdain the miracle stories.
So when you say "religion is crap," you aren't crossing the bounds of acceptable discourse; you're crossing the bounds of intelligent discourse.
Or, more bluntly, you're not being TOO RUDE; you're being TOO STUPID.

posted by Throbert | 10/23/2004 01:46:00 AM |
"...while Muslims, for almost all of their history, have excelled only by pillaging and scavenging the creativity of other cultures."
That statement shows your inherent prejudice and ignorance of Islamic culture and the history of scientific invention in general. The word zero comes from the Arabic 'sfir', meaning 'empty'. Indeed, all of our numbers are Arabic in origin...much easier than I - I = ?, don't you think? And alegebra comes from al-jabr, meaning 'reuniting'. And alchemy from al-kimiya meaning 'alloying metals'. Six hundred years before Galileo, Alhazen wrote about concave lenses affixed in a tube. And fifty years before Battista della Porta, Taqi al-Din wrote of a steam engine. Does this mean that they, in turn were not building upon earlier works from other cultures? No. But that just stresses the point that no culture lives in a vaccum. No culture has ever been scientifically independent. We have borrowed as much from China, India and the Muslim world as they have from us. By the way, be sure to give a tip of the pen to the Summerians for developing writing, without which you wouldn't be reading this at all...
Post a Comment
throbert says:
me and mine
greatest hits
добро пожаловать на