Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: The true meaning of Tutaekuri

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  • Russell Brown,

    Hmm. The RSS feed doesn't seem to be updating with this morning's post, so perhaps I should just kick off a thread by observing that I finally took delivery of my special Christmas whisky yesterday. Mmmm, Breath of the Isles ...

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22830 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    You old atheist you. I think it's good to know the arguments for and against God, but I'm yet to meet the believer who cares a fig for argumentation other than as a way of wasting even more of your time.

    It seems to me that most philosophical debate about God actually gives the whole foolish concept a lot more time than it deserves, and is actually a rather cunning trap to frame the debate in terms favorable to believers, rather like most modern election campaigns. They seek to crystallize the issue into simple binaries to give the punters a feeling that they have been confronted with a real choice, and when the choice is made, that it had some significance. All of the important issues are thus left to a later date, after the election, wherein a mandate is claimed from that all-important choice, that was never really intended by the punters.

    In the end, whether God exists or not, doesn't really change very much at all. We are still actually faced with all the same questions about our codes of behavior. We still don't know how we can come to know God's will, and it is still simply an assertion to follow one set of monotheistic dogma over another. Nothing has actually been settled at all by establishing God's existence. But if you do accept it, a subtle shift is usually made, in that because that is typically a leap of faith, it is tempting to make another one - to trust some church or other.

    That is why Christians try so hard to meet all the arguments against God, and to come up with arguments for. It is not to convince anyone that God does indeed exist, logically. It is actually to convince people that it's a huge and complicated debate, with so many facets, and the final decision will always boil down to faith. Even the purely logical can be tempted to make this leap. That way the faithful don't have to feel that they are illogical. It is not aimed at the logical, who are already lost.

    And every salesperson knows that once you've convinced someone that it would be good to have a car, it's most likely they'll buy the one you're pushing.

    This whole angle became very clear to me as a philosophy undergraduate when I was sinking piss in Shadows with a Japanese professor. We got on to the subject of religion somehow, and it became clear to me that he didn't so much not believe in God as not care. That I professed to be an atheist didn't convince him at all. He said that I must have a deeply religious motivation to waste so much time on such a simple question, whatever my conclusions were. He continued to tease me about being religious every time I saw him from then on. I think he had a good point. I did waste a lot of time on God.

    Actually, studying philosophy, I wasted a lot of time, period. My only consolation is that, as Edison would say, I now know 1000 ways *not* to make intellectual progress, which is progress of a kind.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10650 posts Report Reply

  • Francisco Blaha,

    very good interview to Dawkins by Kim Hill in the RadioNZ site
    http://www.radionz.co.nz/nr/programmes/saturday/20061216

    Beyond the existence of god or not, is just great to see people thinking about it, and the power we give religious notions. Love the example about why is ok to label a child as catholic, but is not ok the say he is a postmodernist.

    Since Dec 2006 • 18 posts Report Reply

  • Neil Morrison,

    I'm not a big fan of organised religion but I think it's worth remembering that the biggest crimes of the 20th century were done in the name of various forms of secular materialism, not religion.

    Not believing in God is no guarantee of goodness.

    There's also no need to throw the baby out with the bath water, there's more mystery now, since the advent of modern science, about the universe and the nature of consciousness than there ever was. All those philosiphical questions about existance, moraityl etc that religious thinkers pondered are still up for grabs.

    Since Nov 2006 • 932 posts Report Reply

  • Idiot Savant,

    It seems to me that most philosophical debate about God actually gives the whole foolish concept a lot more time than it deserves, and is actually a rather cunning trap to frame the debate in terms favorable to believers, rather like most modern election campaigns.

    Pretty much. But its also a good way of teaching people about bad argumentation and logical fallacies - which might, if they are smart, help them spot similar bullshit about things which actually matter.

    Palmerston North • Since Nov 2006 • 1716 posts Report Reply

  • Nick Westgate,

    Love the example about why is ok to label a child as catholic, but is not ok the say he is a postmodernist.

    I think it is naturally and absurdly ok: a child can be catholic. It just has to believe what it's told, like any other catholic.

    Tokyo • Since Dec 2006 • 8 posts Report Reply

  • Neil Morrison,

    Certain it is that a conviction, akin to religious feeling, of the rationality and intelligibility of the world lies behind all scientific work of a higher order. The firm belief, which is bound up with deep feeling, in a superior mind revealing himself in the world of experience, represents my conception of God, which may, therefore be described in common parlance as `pantheistic' (Spinoza).

    Albert Einstein (__Einstein, The World as I See It__), engaging in the apparently foolish philosophical debate about God.

    Since Nov 2006 • 932 posts Report Reply

  • Deborah,

    Ben Wilson made this point:

    In the end, whether God exists or not, doesn't really change very much at all. We are still actually faced with all the same questions about our codes of behavior. We still don't know how we can come to know God's will, and it is still simply an assertion to follow one set of monotheistic dogma over another. Nothing has actually been settled at all by establishing God's existence. But if you do accept it, a subtle shift is usually made, in that because that is typically a leap of faith, it is tempting to make another one - to trust some church or other.

    And what do you know? Neil Morrison leapt in straight away to prove it with this little gem.

    There's also no need to throw the baby out with the bath water, there's more mystery now, since the advent of modern science, about the universe and the nature of consciousness than there ever was. All those philosiphical questions about existance, moraityl etc that religious thinkers pondered are still up for grabs.

    It's the old 'god of the gaps' argument. There's a mystery about [fill in whatever you like here] so there must be a god.

    New Lynn • Since Nov 2006 • 1447 posts Report Reply

  • David Ritchie,

    Allow me to be the obligatory twit who adds nothing except to say Richard Dawkins' wife is Lalla Ward, who was Romana #2 on "Doctor Who" and used to be married to Tom Baker. They were introduced at a party by Douglas Adams.

    There. That'll do.

    Since Nov 2006 • 166 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    >Not believing in God is no guarantee of goodness.

    Of course. But there's a very large constituency in American society (see the Pew surveys) that believes that not believing in God is actually incompatible with goodness. That seems to be more the more acute point.

    There's also no need to throw the baby out with the bath water, there's more mystery now, since the advent of modern science, about the universe and the nature of consciousness than there ever was. All those philosophical questions about existence, morality etc that religious thinkers pondered are still up for grabs.

    I agree. The implications of modern science are provocative and astounding, and worth discussing. And it's reasonable to ask about the motivations for morality etc in the absence of religious doctrine. The thing that struck me (so far) about the Dawkins book was how lame the traditional arguments for God's existence actually are.

    Interestingly, Dawkins is inclined to be quite gentle on pantheism, which makes sense to me. Attributing some holiness to natural phenomena doesn't disrupt science a great deal. It's just another means of modeling nature. Subscribing to the bitchy, capricious God of the Old Testament, on the other hand, seems so irrational to me that I can't work out why anyone would do it.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22830 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Albert Einstein (Einstein, The World as I See It), engaging in the apparently foolish philosophical debate about God.

    Dawkins deals with this explicitly. In context, the Eiensteinian God is basically the essence of the Universe, and not incoimpatible with knowledge. He quotes Einstein:

    "It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie, which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of our word so far as our science can reveal it."

    I'm down with that.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22830 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Scoones,

    I was going to post about the Doctor Who connection but David Ritchie got there first... However I can add that Lalla Ward's suggestion in The God Delusion that Shakespeare could have been prevented from writing Hamlet might have actually been inspired by an incident in one of Lalla's Doctor Who stories. City of Death (by the late great Douglas Adams) 'revealled' that the Doctor wrote Hamlet on Shakespeare's behalf...!

    Auckland • Since Dec 2006 • 7 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    Pantheism appeals to me - gods who either don't care, or are not all-powerful, strikes me as less directly contradicted by the existence of evil than the Christian version.

    But why bother inventing gods really? The childish comfort of personifying a teddy bear is understandable to a point. After that, when the child insists everyone else talk to the bear, and starts using it as an excuse for naughty actions ("Teddy made me do it", or even worse, "Teddy did it"), then it's time for the bear to be gently, kindly, but firmly removed from the picture.

    We deify science and scientists too. There's a few posts here, and I'm guessing Dawkins does it too, that suggest science is not incompatible with religion, because Einstein said so. And that makes religion OK because our other religion doesn't clash with it. I think both science and religion are just frameworks to be treated with skepticism at all times.

    Most religions have shown themselves to be capricious and cruel at times. And most scientific theories end up debunked. What has proven useful has often been put to equally capricious and cruel uses as religion. Einstein himself was instrumental in one of the worst examples.

    Neither provides us with an infallible moral compass. Religion does not because it slides too easily into dogma, serving evil directly, regardless of whatever noble sentiments it is founded on. Science does not because morality is not really a scientific question. Morals are human inventions, not facts in the world to be discovered. Certainly some facts may show how bad some morals really are, but it doesn't really show why - it can only show how one set of morals practically clashes with another that we may hold more deeply.

    I don't claim to know what ideal morality is - I said in the previous post that years of study just showed me 1000 things it ain't. I don't really agree with any of the famous secular ethical theories either - they all come down to dogma in the end - you either accept the basic principles or you don't.

    Nor would I say that philosophy is a better arbiter. It concerns itself with many of the same issues as religion but tends to have a logical approach in the western tradition, and some subsections of the eastern. But I've studied enough logic to know that it is every bit as powerful a mechanism for dogma as simple dogma. Ultimately any logical system rests on axioms, and those are where all our problems lie. You can put any case whatsoever, so long as you choose your axioms carefully.

    The only superiority I acknowledge to such an approach is that at least the mechanism for moving forwards from the axioms, or refuting illogical systems, is something that most of us can eventually agree on. At least philosophers can sometimes by convinced that their system sucks arse because of some logical fallacy. On the other hand, the insistence on logic can often make them completely incapable of accepting simple intuitive counterexamples that might show a religious person why their religion sucks arse. So swings and roundabouts. I think that Jap was right, that I was really just studying theology and kidding myself I wasn't.

    So, <scratches head> I guess I don't know shit. Or more specifically, I don't know good shit, even if I know bad shit when I smoke it.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10650 posts Report Reply

  • Neil Morrison,

    Another Einstein quote -

    The individual feels the futility of human desires and aims and the sublimity and marvelous order which reveal themselves both in nature and in the world of thought. Individual existence impresses him as a sort of prison and he wants to experience the universe as a single significant whole. The beginnings of cosmic religious feeling already appear at an early stage of development, e.g., in many of the Psalms of David and in some of the Prophets. Buddhism, as we have learned especially from the wonderful writings of Schopenhauer, contains a much stronger element of this.

    What tends to get lost in the debate about (organised) religion is that religion does meet some very deep human needs. If God is dead then so are we - we live a short and often brutal life and to top it off it's all for nothing. That's a pretty hard thing to come to terms with and it's little wonder people want something to provide meaning, to deal with death.

    Philosophically, Einstein had an affinity with the pantheistic views of Spinoza and he also appears to have been sympathetic to Buddhism. Most religions have had a mystical side not far removed from Buddhism - Islam has Sufism for example. I can't quite bring myself to believe in reincarnation but I can see the attraction.

    I think it's possible to seperate those sorts of issues out from the darker side of religion. It seems to me that the problems caused by religion are really instances of in-group out-group discrimination. That dynamic can also be based on non-religious differences such as nationalism and ethnicity. People don't need religion to act badly, although it can help.

    Since Nov 2006 • 932 posts Report Reply

  • Zippy Gonzales,

    First time I heard "tutae kuri" was when I performed in the Vincent O'Sullivan play Shuriken back in '87. I wouldn't be at all surprised if Outrageous Fortune was Hat Tipping Vincent.

    "Deus does not exist, but if he does I always talk to him." - Bjork from The Sugarcubes.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 186 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    Deborah, it's funny you make that 'god of the gaps' point, as it was almost an identical description for philosophy in one text I read - the gaps in our 'firmer' knowledge. Damn that Jap.

    We really should just get over the fact that there's a lot of things we don't know, and of that, quite a bit we couldn't anyway.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10650 posts Report Reply

  • jon_knox,

    What would happen if everyone simply got over the BIG question, be that getting either the same satisfactory reason based answer (as opposed to "unreason") and/or simply deciding that it's insignificant?...and I realise that this unlikely to occur and that frequently people do not decide that religion is insigificant to them, it just is....I think I've just answered my own question. (Ha ha...I just read Ben's comment about getting over it which was posted as I composed my reply.)

    Belgium • Since Nov 2006 • 464 posts Report Reply

  • Idiot Savant,

    If God is dead then so are we - we live a short and often brutal life and to top it off it's all for nothing.

    Life is what you make of it. Demanding that it have meaning beyond whatever you manage to imbue it with seems more than a little greedy.

    Palmerston North • Since Nov 2006 • 1716 posts Report Reply

  • James Griffin,

    Just to bring things back down to a much more earthly level, sorry Zippy but OF wasn't hat-tipping Vincent's play. Tutaekuri Bay came from the Tutaekuri River in Hawkes Bay, the fine province in which both the co-creators of the series spent many of their formative years.

    Since Nov 2006 • 28 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg,

    What tends to get lost in the debate about (organised) religion is that religion does meet some very deep human needs. If God is dead then so are we - we live a short and often brutal life and to top it off it's all for nothing. That's a pretty hard thing to come to terms with and it's little wonder people want something to provide meaning, to deal with death.

    to which I would say...so what...the ants I sprayed this morning led a short sharp brutal existence, as did the lamb I had for dinner last night. Any assumption that we are any different. and the arrogance that implies, simply bemuses me.

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3283 posts Report Reply

  • Neil Morrison,

    Demanding that it have meaning beyond whatever you manage to imbue it with seems more than a little greedy.

    I prefer the Buddhist term "attachment" over "greedy", makes it all sound less venal. But it seems to be something difficult to overcome. Letting go of everything one had, relationships etc.

    Since Nov 2006 • 932 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Litterick,

    ...both science and religion are just frameworks to be treated with skepticism at all times.

    Most religions have shown themselves to be capricious and cruel at times. And most scientific theories end up debunked.

    Scientific theories are debunked by other, more convincing scientific theories, which may be debunked in their turn. Science does not claim to have all the answers. It is skeptical about itself. All scientific theories are provisional.

    Religions on the other hand, provide answers with certainty to questions that properly are unanswerable: where do we come from, where are we going and how should we live. The trouble with these 'big' questions is that they don't have answers, so people have invented religions to provide the certainty they desire.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1000 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    Paul, I get that. I'm merely saying that it's tempting to deify the current set of prevailing beliefs in science, to hold them as totally true with a dogmatic sense of certainty. Tempting for non-scientists, that is, who are the vast majority of people.

    I'm not saying science is identical to religion, but rather that if the religious impulse is turned towards science that devalues it. Which is why I don't really enjoy reading scientists who wax philosophical unless their philosophical angle really is wider than simple scientific dogmatism. I don't really think Einstein knew more about God than the next man. Yeah it's interesting that he believed, but I don't find that especially compelling, just because he was a famous scientist.

    I always found the writings of scientists on the philosophy of science to be rather simplistic. The professional philosophers of science had taken the same ideas a whole lot further.

    Not that I think the philosophers actually help science any with their after-the-fact observations, and their theories of method (or no-method, in some cases). Scientists generally don't need philosophy at all. When you're all about discovering exciting new things about the physical universe, you don't need some ivory tower pedant to tell you it wasn't really science because of some obscure issue in your method.

    My personal favourite work on science was 'Against Method' by Feyerabend. He basically said 'anything goes', which pretty much means anything could be science, and a set of rules defining it is only going to limit it. It's kind of postmodern, deconstructive and unhelpful. But I think science needs that for real 'revolutions' to happen, otherwise it becomes another religion. A very successful one with many fruits, but self limiting and dogmatic nonetheless.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10650 posts Report Reply

  • reece palmer,

    When it comes down to it organised religion and in particular catholicism is really just a construct of social control. I never liked going to church because of all the little things that greedy people in postions of trust have done in the name of 'insert deity here' not to mention the horrors perpetrated upon 'non-believers' in the name of 'insert deity here' I have my own ways of being and they're just fine thank you.
    How exactly is it that the man responsible for overseeing the payoff of abused parishoners and the spiriting away of pederasts to other locations where they continue their ways can rise to be the head of that church hmmm? We're supposed to respect this person as the font of wisdom of a 'loving' god?

    the terraces • Since Nov 2006 • 298 posts Report Reply

  • reece palmer,

    Am I to infer then from the material on this thread, that the true meaning of Tutaekuri is religion?











    Ooooooh, you're going to hell for that one boy.

    the terraces • Since Nov 2006 • 298 posts Report Reply

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