Mono a Mono?

Was monotheism an advance in human understanding?

What if the historical trend towards monotheism were principally reinforced by its utility as a pretext for authoritarianism?

The animism and polytheism (or pantheism) of early humanity did not preclude the appropriation of religious motifs and beliefs by sociopolitical institutions or hierarchies, but they may have made it more difficult for such hierarchies to grow into permanent monopolies of orthodox dogma.

The word orthodox is from the Greek orthos (“right”, “true”, “straight”) + doxa (“opinion” or “belief”, related to dokein, “to think”) (Wikipedia)

Perhaps ideology is a stage in the development of authoritarian culture analogous to monotheistic theologies. Each “brand” of theology and ideology rolls up and obscures a pantheon of diverse ideas. Converts don’t need to drill down very deeply.

Ironically, the growing influence  of science on society may contribute to a popular misconception of scientific or academic certainty that can be exploited to forge even tighter monopolies on culture and thought. The evil twin of science, pseudo science or “scientism,” is seductive to many.

Theology, ideology, and scientism lend themselves equally to the agenda of authoritarianism. The real war for the hearts and minds of humanity is not between the Right and the Left, or any of their many academic, theological or ideological proxies. The real war that underlies everything else is between orthodoxy and pluralism. Conformity and conflict are two sides of one coin. We need forms of civic equality and conviviality that are not based on uniformity.

Nature abhors a monoculture.

“The etiology is psychiatric” — Helen Caldicott

PR

Related: Town Hall Meeting: Class war, Culture war, or Holy war?

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Atheism 2.0

Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion

Alain de Botton is a philosopher with some very constructive suggestions for improving secular society by selectively plucking  useful heirlooms from the traditions, practices and organizations of religion while leaving the rest. He surveys the cultural and social capital of three major religions– Christianity, Judaism, and Buddhism– and suggests some assets worth salvaging.

Leeds Student Radio Web page article about the...

(credit: Wikipedia)

Botton isn’t asking atheists and agnostics to kiss and make up with religion. He is a non-believer. He may not be the confrontational type, but he’s no double agent with a secret religious agenda, as some atheists might fear. His mission is to initiate a humanistic renaissance in secular society that will bring us up to speed in some areas where religions may have superior social and cultural know-how.

“The starting point of all religions is that humans are weak and vulnerable and needing direction, but as I look at secular society, I see how we’ve been abandoned to make our own way through life and how challenging that is.”

“Religion has a lot to say about how to live and love, caring for others, handling suffering, dealing with death and all the other universal experiences that make us human.”
“The error of modern atheism has been to overlook how many aspects of the faiths remain relevant even after their central tenets have been dismissed.”

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Religion for Atheists suggests that rather than mocking religion, agnostics and atheists should instead steal from it—because the world’s religions are packed with good ideas on how we might live and arrange our societies.(Amazon.com)

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Religion for Atheists

“It is when we stop believing that religions have been handed down from above or else that they are entirely daft that matters become more interesting. We can then recognize that we invented religions to serve two central needs which continue to this day and which secular society has not been able to solve with any particular skill: firstly, the need to live together in communities in harmony, despite our deeply rooted selfish and violent impulses. And secondly, the need to cope with terrifying degrees of pain which arise from our vulnerability to professional failure, to troubled relationships, to the death of loved ones and to our decay and demise.”

Note: I have not read the book (so it could be awesome or awful), but based on the interviews and articles below, I like this guy. I think he is measured, pragmatic, and non-polemical; and he has one of the most constructive arguments I’ve heard in a very long time.  It strikes me that the approach taken by Botton could go a long way towards ratcheting down the hostility between atheists, agnostics, and our superstitious brothers and sisters :). It is the kind of thing that might be a useful balm for folks in the Occupy and 99% movements who struggle to maintain solidarity with each other despite differences that are sometimes deeply rooted.

Interviews

My favorite interview is from C-SPAN’s Book TV. You can view the whole 58-minute  After Words interview with Chris Hedges here or watch a ten-minute segment below, followed by other interviews from You Tube.

BookTV: Alain de Botton and Chris Hedges

Alain de Botton on atheism 2.0 and what secular ideologies can learn from religion

Alain de Botton: Religion for Atheists

Philosopher and author Alain de Botton says non-believers can learn a lot from religion – without believing in God.

1. Believers 2. Religion 3. Atheists 4. Science

1. Believers 2. Religion 3. Atheists 4. Science

 

Age of Enlightenment emerges from birth canal

The Earth flag is not an official flag, since ...

Image via Wikipedia

The Age of Enlightenment has been in gestation for about 300 years. Recently I saw a video that made me feel like I was in the delivery room watching it finally be born.

If I were stranded on a deserted island, this is the one video would I want everyone else in the world to watch:

Neil deGrasse Tysonfrom the Beyond Belief Conference at the Salk Institute, 2006.

Related Videos:

Neurobiology of Love, Ethics, and Religion

A fMRI scan showing regions of activation in o...

Image via Wikipedia

The articles below are just what I happen to have stumbled across lately–they are more a random sampling of material on the topics than a representative one.

Poor Richard

Love

The Brain in Love (BigThink.com)

–Fisher, H., et at., “Romantic Love: And fMRI Study of a Neural Mechanism for Mate Choice.”

–Ditzen, B., et al., “Intranasal Oxytocin Increases Positive Communication and Reduces Cortisol Levels During Couple Conflict.”

Ethics/Morality

Sam Harris
Toward a Science of Morality, (Huffington Post, May 7, 2010)
Sam Harris, Author, Neuroscientist

THE NEW SCIENCE OF MORALITY An Edge Conference

A scientific consensus on human morality (openparachute)

How Neuroscience Is Changing the Law (BigThink.com)

— Langleben, D., “Detection of deception with fMRI: Are we there yet?

— Jones, O. et al. “The Neural Correlates of Third-Party Punishment.”

The Neurobiology of Evil (BigThink.com)

— Gao, Yu, et al. “Association of Poor Childhood Fear Conditioning and Adult Crime.”

— Davidson, R. et al. “Dysfunction in the Neural Circuitry of Emotion Regulation — A Possible Prelude to Violence.”

— Raine, A., and Yang, Y. “Neural foundations to moral reasoning and antisocial behavior.”

— DeLisi, M., et al. “The Criminology of the Amygdala.”

— Raine, A., et al. “A neurodevelopmental marker for limbic maldevelopment in antisocial personality disorder and psychopathy.”

— Raine, A. “From genes to brain to antisocial behavior. Current Directions in Psychological Science.”

Neuroethics & Law Blog

Neuroethics: The Neuroscience Revolution, Ethics, and the Law (Santa Clara University)

The Neuroethics Project (The Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics (CCLE))

Religion

The Neural Correlates of Religious and Nonreligious Belief

Harris S, Kaplan JT, Curiel A, Bookheimer SY, Iacoboni M, et al. 2009  PLoS ONE 4(10): e7272.

The Neurological Origins of Religious Belief (BigThink.com)

—Borg, J., et al. “The serotonin system and spiritual experiences.”

—Kapogiannis, D., et al. “Cognitive and neural foundations of religious belief.”

—Urgesi, C., et al. “The Spiritual Brain: Selective Cortical Lesions Modulate Human Self-Transcendence.”

Religion and visual attention. Also for an eyewitness? (Andrea Lavazza and Mario De Caro) (kolber.typepad.com)

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