Sunday, July 29, 2012

Of Chrislam and Xtianity

There has been for some time an idea that eventually Christianity and Islam would put aside their differences and merge into one super-religion, pulling up aspects of each and perhaps dominating the Earth. It has been suggested, even, that the somewhat more polytheistically inclined Hinduism could absorb both, and what the heck, throw Judaism and Mormonism and Sikhism into the mix, thus creating for the first time in recorded history a single religion commanding the fealty of a majority of the world's population. The idea is given to several different authors, who have taken different angles -- Arthur C. Clarke for example writes in his 1992 The Hammer of God (not to be confused with the Led Zeppelin biography Hammer of the Gods) of a not-so-far-future fictional Earth where "The sudden rise of Chrislam had been traumatic equally to Rome and Mecca...." growing swiftly to a hundred million adherents, abetted by cultural and economic difficulties squeezing the parent faiths.

But as a matter of practical experience, consolidation is an unlikely path for any major faith; each is more likely to split into multiple smaller sects, and any reconciliation between sects of different faiths will tend to be far outside the mainstream of beliefs falling under the umbrella of the faith. And so, even as there are conciliatory voices today who would claim that all these different faiths are simply different paths to the same Creator, (indeed a position held, if somewhat more obliquely and indirectly by Pandeism), the greater tendency amongst the faithful is to ramp up greater indictment against beliefs discordant to their own. Even if, it turns out, those faiths fall under the broader ends of the umbrella of their own religion.

There is in fact, by the way, a faith group operating under the name 'Chrislam' and purporting to carry out the idea discussed here, attempting to meld assertedly reconcilable elements of Christianity and Islam. Or, actually, there are two groups. Both are in Nigeria. Oh, they started out as one, but had a schism somewhere along the way and are now, if not bitter enemies, passing acquaintances who don't pass up an opportunity to snipe at one another's divergent doctrines. Ironically, if unsurprisingly, this is what Arthur C. Clarke forecast for his fictional version as well. This, before a later inevitable eventual turn to a world where the only divide was between proponents of Atheism and Deism (presumptively including Pandeism).

Naturally, we might abbreviate this to Xlam (or perhaps Xslam?) by using the conventional substitution of the 'X' for Christ. People typically imagine that this arose with the intention of insulting Christians, but really the origin of the X as a substitute for Christ in Xtian, Xtianity, and, naturally, Xmas, is something of a mystery -- it might indeed have been intended by non-Christians in a derogatory sense, but it just might, as well, have been a Christian connivance. One perhaps intended simply to abbreviate, or perhaps complexly to obfuscate. The X is after all something like a leaned-over t in its resemblance to that most deathly of reminders, the cross. In some fonts (and in the multiplication sign) the lines are in fact perpendicular. And, even more interestingly, in ancient times, Jesus Christ was sometimes abbreviated by Christians familiar with the Greek alphabet with a symbol combining the letters "Chi" and "Rho" -- roughly represented in the Latin alphabet by X and P, respectively. It is very easy to see how those earnestly and noninsultingly referencing Jesus might have whittled their representation down to the point where X marks the spot.

But then again, if X means Christ, doesn't that mean our X chromosome is the Christ chromosome, the X-Acto knife is the Christ-Acto knife, and the Uncanny X-men are really the Uncanny Christ-men?


Further reading:

"Signs of Xmas" in Changing Signs of Truth: A Christian Introduction to the Semiotics of Communication, by Crystal L. Downing, pages 89-90.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Pandeism and the world of Sherlock Holmes

What can the fictional world of Sherlock Holmes possibly have to do with the theological theory of Pandeism? Well, really the question is, is this world consistent with Pandeism, and the answer: why wouldn't it be?

Unlike the magical world of Harry Potter and the alien-filled science fiction realms of Star Wars and of Star Trek, the world of Sherlock Holmes is utterly mundane. Like the earlier Scooby-Doomysteries, every mystery has as its resolution purely human activity -- and, indeed, even those cases brought to Holmes under the pretense of supernatural activity -- ghosts, curses, demonic possession -- are inevitably shown up as man-made manipulations of mind and matter. And so, to speak of the theological model underlying that world is to speak of a world with no especial metaphysical activity ongoing. We might just as well be speaking, then, of any such mundane world, of that of adventurers like Tom Sawyer, actioners like James Bond or Jason Bourne, the mundane mysteries of CSI and Law & Order, or any other sort of media in which things simply happen, without second thought, in accordance with the laws of physics and without any appearance of divine intervention or other metaphysical causation (or, at least, without any such appearance not ultimately debunked as being of human manufacture).

This is not to suggest that these sorts of media are absent of displays of religiosity, for they depict the real and present world, and naturally people in this world have religious beliefs, all sorts of them.

Religion, as she is depicted in the stories of Sherlock Holmes:

In the course of the Sherlock Holmes stories, there are references to Jews and Gypsies, Muslims, Hindus, and various denominations of Christians. Perhaps the most famous treatment of religion in the Sherlock Holmes canon is to be found in A Study in Scarlet, one of only four full-length Sherlock Holmes novels (the remainder of the literary contributions being short stories). It is eventually uncovered in the story that the mysterious deaths being investigated are of Mormons against whom the killer was taking revenge, for years before their community had kidnapped his love and murdered her father, forcing her into a marriage which resulted in her own death a short time later (the story attributes the girl's death to a broken heart, but implies that she was ill-treated by her forced husband, who ultimately seemed more interested in inheriting what had previously been her father's land). The treatment of Mormonism generally is of a dangerous cult which exercises rigid control over its members and condones lawlessness against outsiders, who are distrusted. Author Arthur Conan Doyle is claimed to have later privately apologized for this depiction, though this report is itself somewhat dubious.

But the general treatment afforded to religion by Sherlock Holmes and his compatriots is apathy. In one story, Holmes dismissed knowledge of astronomy as useless to his work; doubtless he would have so opined on theological questions. Holmes occasionally uses idioms incorporating religious terminology (as in, "my God" and "for God's sake," or suggesting that a doomed man is bound "to meet his maker"), and one story mentions Holmes as being on his way to a chapel (for reasons not specified). But on no occasion is Holmes shown to attend a purely religious service, utter a prayer, or explicitly voice a belief in any higher power. Indeed, in one of the earliest stories -- The Sign of the Four -- Holmes commends to compatriot John Watson a book titled The Martyrdom of Man by one Winwood Reade, which as it happens incorporates a secularist and materialist antireligious examination of world history, especially in depicting Jesus as delusional. And yet, Holmes calls this work "one of the most remarkable ever penned," which would in that day be tantamount to endorsing atheism, as much as if somebody modernly were to declare Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion to be amongst the finest books ever written.

Sherlock Holmes contemplates the meaning of life:

But even Holmes waxes morosely philosophical from time to time, as depicted in the 1892 story, The Cardboard Box:
"What is the meaning of it, Watson?" said Holmes solemnly as he laid down the paper. "What object is served by this circle of misery and violence and fear? It must tend to some end, or else our universe is ruled by chance, which is unthinkable. But what end? There is the great standing perennial problem to which human reason is as far from an answer as ever."
Similarly in The Retired Colourman, Holmes decries, "But is not all life pathetic and futile? We reach. We grasp. And what is left in our hands at the end? A shadow. Or worse than a shadow -- misery." And in The Veiled Lodger Holmes declares, "The ways of Fate are indeed hard to understand. If there is not some compensation hereafter then the world is a cruel jest." Such contemplations suggests at the same time a wish to find a larger purpose to our Universe, even while rejecting all the explanations which have been considered up to that time. Holmes is equally dismissive of supernatural explanations for mundane crimes, refusing to contemplate for example the proposition that The Hound of the Baskervilles is anything but a flesh-and-blood beast, rejecting the possibility of unearthly agency again in The Adventure of the Devil's Foot, and commenting in the late-written story, The Sussex Vampire, "But are we to give serious attention to such things? This Agency stands flat-footed upon the ground, and there it must remain. This world is big enough for us. No ghosts need apply."

The television and film adaptations of Holmes' stories have tended to remain faithful to general irreligiosity of the character, or more likely to have ignored theological questions altogether. In the first Robert Downey Sherlock Holmes film, Holmes dismisses, and later disproves, an apparent miraculous resurrection from death; in Young Sherlock Holmes mystical explanations are similarly disproved as Holmes discovers hallucinogenic drugs to be responsible for seemingly supernatural experiences (and the villains are attempting to perform an ancient Egyptian ritual to boot); in the modernly-set BBC reimagining Sherlock, the character is if anything more scornful of religious beliefs and explanations.

Could the world of Sherlock Holmes occupy a Pandeistic Universe?

But all of this relates to what Holmes believes, perhaps to what Arthur Conan Doyle believes -- which is, in the larger scheme of no matter. Were Holmes depicted as a devout Christian or a devout Muslim, or a Jew or a Sikh, such depiction would not work to make real the religion believed. There may be a billion devout Christians in the world (Christians will claim there are more, but that requires some sleight of hand with who they would call 'devout') but that has never operated to convince Hindus, Jews, or Mormons of the truth of Christianity; and the same can be claimed of the comparable number of Muslims, or of Hindus, or most any denomination. That it is believed simply proves that it is believed, not even that it is rationally believable, much less true. So, whatever the religion of Sherlock Holmes or James Bond or any other figure existing in a nonsupernatural world, from Robin Hood to Rocky Balboa, the question remains whether the world which they inhabit isconsistent with a pandeistic Universe.

And the answer in all of these cases is indeed that it is. For, although Pandeism fully accounts for miracles and other apparently metaphysical or supernatural events, and so would account for the magic of Harry Potter's world, the Jedi powers exhibited in the world of Star Wars, and the superpowered and telepathic aliens often encountered in Star Trek, none of these sorts of things arerequired in Pandeism. They are simply accounted for, if they exist.

It is entirely possible to conceive of a world -- indeed, of this world -- where no miracles, no telepaths, no supernatural events of any sort exist, where all reports ever made of such are theconsequence of coincidence, mistake, hallucination, imagination, or deception, and yet where the fundamental explanation for the existence of our Universe, at all, is pandeistic Creation. Even if all other religions are disqualified in such a world, where all of their reported miracles and wonders and fancies are by default simply false, Pandeism may yet be true.

In the final analysis (and in the world of Sherlock Holmes, there always is a final analysis), it is even somewhat surprising that Sherlock Holmes, to whatever degree he speculates on religious questions, has not come to contemplate at least Deism (which was well known in his day), if not the more obscure Pandeism, or some comparable variation of Pantheism. But, then, if the orbits of the planets are of no matter to Holmes, perhaps these even greater orbits would be of even less interest.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Thoughts on Aurora

I am certain I speak for Pandeists everywhere in offering our heartbroken condolences for the victims of the Aurora shootings -- those injured by the gunman's bullets, those who escaped physical injury but experienced the trauma of being there during this horrid event, and those who lost loved ones this day.  The perspective of Pandeism may do little to salve such pain, but know that Pandeists believe that we are all simply fragments of our Creator, existing so that our Creator could share in the awesome variety of experiences attending existence as our Universe, though it could not have known before such Creation the depths of pain which life in such a Universe could experience.

But, in the end, Pandeists believe, all things return to one, and all lives share in oneness with our Creator, there for those whose lives brought joy and happiness to others to experience this joy and happiness just as it was received by others; and for those who bring anguish and suffering to other to equally experience this anguish and suffering as it was received by others.

Let us walk from this experience holding in our hearts the possibility that those who have suffered so undeservedly will experience an ultimate reward of sharing in lifetimes of positive experiences; and that, for the anguish and suffering brought into the world on this day, all men work together to create an overwhelming response of joyful and positive experience for all the world to share in.

And some additional observations....

Let us not join in the blame game instantly, if inevitably, sprung up over this sorrowful event. Rick Warren, who pastors one of the nation's leading mega-churches, tweeted on the shooting: "When students are taught they are no different from animals, they act like it." He fairly quickly deleted that tweet, once controversy sprouted. In the same vein, US Congressman Louis Gohmert commented that people have asked where God was on that day, and concluded that God didn't intervene to prevent these killings because secularists have banned God from high school graduation ceremonies and the like.

At the other end of the theological spectrum, Atheists have reacted with equally broad pronouncements, pointing to the Christian upbringing of the shooter (and that faith being shared by most of the victims) and contending that it is the violence of theistic scriptures which leads to such acts. Across the spectrum of politics as well blame has been aimed, against lax gun laws, movie and video game violence, lax policies allowing someone like this gunman to be admitted to a graduate program, and most everything else one can think of.

And the bottom line, the truth of the matter, is this. Some people are off-balance. It's not because of religion or politics or policies. It's simply the occasionally hampered workings of nature. If it were a product of religion or lack thereof, there'd be more of it, or it would correlate with the religiosity of nations. And sometimes, no matter what rigor is put into checking the mental health of people in whatever situation, whatever restrictions are put on access to weaponry, some tiny portion of people are born with an ingrained snapping point, whereupon they will find a way to wreak some degree of havoc. Such people are like a force of nature, like a tornado. And blaming religion or politics for people tipping past the fold is no sounder a thing to do than to point fingers of blame for the happening of the weather.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Work being done in Pandeism

I realize I ought to be blogging more on Pandeism, as there is so, so much to discuss about it!!  I tend to slowly wend my way through big pieces, but I'm going to try to keep up more here on a day-to-day basis.

Today I'd like to shout out to other Pandeists, and others who, whether themselves Pandeist or no, have made interesting strides in the study of Pandeism.  First up, Nick Tafacory has consistently posted interesting ideas on Pandeism on his own (better kept-up) blog, Conflicting Thoughts.  These include, to be specific:

The last one of those happens to contain links to scans of seven pages of handwritten notes -- I've been promising to provide my thoughts on those, especially with respect to many questions raised which are deserving of answers, and will have them!!

I have, as well, been privileged to meet Personified Music, a new YouTube friend (naturally through the Official YouTube PanDeism Channel.   Personified Music wrote to me (and has kindly permitted me to reproduce) the following:

Hi fellow pandeist!
I've been seeking someone who had the same beliefs as me! At last someone who understands the true nature! Since you seem to have a great grasp of logic, I'd like for you to examine my argument in favor of this belief.
1) The universe has a creator
- Premise 1: The universe is finite
Considering that the Big Bang is considered to be the beginning of time, this universe is finite
- Premise 2: All finite things have a beginning and an end
Basic definitions:
Infinite means without beginning or end. Finite is the opposite of that.
- Premise 3: Finite things must be created
To begin, one must have a cause, and that cause must be initiated by something.
- CONCLUSION 1: The universe was created
2) To create the universe, one must be omnipotent.
- Premise 1: All things that exist must be perceivable in space
If not perceived, one cannot be comprised of matter. If not comprised of matter, one cannot exist.
- Premise 2: Through premise 1, we discover that the universe and all its contents is everything, as it is the only thing perceivable in space and time,
- Premise 3: To create everything, one most be able to do everything.
Explains itself
- CONCLUSION 2: That creator is omnipotent
3) To be omnipotent, one must be omnipresent.
- Premise A1: To be omnipotent, one must be able to execute every action
- Premise A2: Instantaneosity (to do something instantly) is an action
- Premise A3: To execute something instantaneously, one must be the action in itself, as being next to something, or even its immediate vicinity would require a given amount of time
- Premise B1: Matter occupies space
- Premise B2: To be omnipresent, one must occupy all space.
- CONCLUSION 3: To be omnipresent, one must be the matter
- CONCLUSION 1: The universe was created
- CONCLUSION 2: That creator must be omnipotent
- CONCLUSION 3A: To be omnipotent, one must be omnipresent
- CONCLUSION 3B: To be omnipresent, one must be matter.
FINAL CONCLUSION: God is the universe

This is an interesting and fruitful series of propositions.  I would be cautious to discern relative omnipotence (the ability to do anything which can be done) from the absolute omnipotence proposed by some theists (the ability to do anything, including logically impossible things). But, indeed, the comment relating omnipotence and omnipresence brings to my mind the proposition of Duke University PhD Physicist Robert G. Brown in A Theorem Concerning God, and especially in the core of that work, The Pandeist Theorem -- recommended reading for all!!


Wednesday, July 04, 2012

A scientific methodology for determining whether homosexuality is sinful

The nature of religious belief has always made it difficult to scientifically test the truth of its announced principles. After all, most 'causes' in theological systems are metaphysical, and so inobservable in their action. Indeed, one of the great give-and-takes of challenges to the scientific testability of religious beliefs is that the responsible superior metaphysical entities are aware of the 'test' and refuse to play along. Simply put, it is claimed that if a miracle is demanded such as the restoration of an amputated arm, the entity capable of so performing will refuse to do so, cleverly denying those who do not believe in it any rational basis for adopting such belief.

But what if there were a scientifically testable metaphysical occurrence which did not require the intervention of a metaphysical entity -- indeed, one which counted on nonintervention of such entities in order to be able to occur? Exactly such an occurrence manifests in the Biblical doctrine of the origin of carnivorous life out of the idyllic utopia of the Garden of Eden. Specifically, it is a popular doctrine in fundamentalist Christianity that sharks, alligators, tigers, scorpions, crocodiles, wolves and other animals of this sort were, in the days before Adam and Eve bit into that unfortunate fruit, all dedicated plant-eaters, living together in harmony, incapable of killing or dying. So it is written in Genesis 1:30:

And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—-I give every green plant for food. And it was so.

And so, when skeptics question why the 'good' and 'loving' deity of Christianity would drop man in a world full of biting, bloodsucking, and man-eating beasts, the Christian answer is that no deity had anything to do with this, oh no; our Creator created a world with no sin and no death (and, indeed, Christians point out that if the Creator had created a world wherein death existed, then man had no fall and there would be no point to the sacrifice of Jesus, falsifying all of Christianity!!) It was instead, so goes the claim, man's sin which caused this to become a fallen world, and caused all of those previously happily herbivorous creatures to experience super-fast evolution into bloodthirsty carnivores, who had no choice but to kill for their sustenance. No deity had any hand in that; it was sin and sin alone which caused this transformation.

Okay, so let's test this out!!

First, we must find some dedicated homosexuals. Preferably, for thoroughness sake, we ought to have at least one male homosexual couple, and one lesbian couple. Next, we take a well known herbivorous animal such as a cow. We will place the cow in a room adjacent with a gay couple having a gay wedding and thereafter engaging in hardcore gay sex -- all activities generally classed by those fundamentalist Christians as 'sin.' And, simply put, if the cow then turns from a peaceful grass-muncher into a flesh-rending, saber-toothed, razor-clawed carnivorous predator, then we will know that homosexuality is indeed a 'sin.' On the other hand, if no such transformation occurs, then we will know at the least that homosexuality is no sin at all; and quite possibly that the whole of Christianity is false. In fact, the latter proposition can be tested by performing unquestionably sinful acts in that bovine proximity, blasphemy, adultery, wearing fabrics made of the fibers of two different plants, working on the Sabbath, worshiping idols, coveting their neighbors' asses -- we can run through quite a list and still stop short of anything which harms any person or property.

So, with this exciting prospect before us, of scientifically determining whether homosexuality is sinful (or, indeed, whether 'sin' at all is real), let's gather up some gay folks and some cattle, and do some science!!