Ritual, Relativism, and Absolutism

In the discussion between Absolutism and Relativism, it may prove to be particularly revealing to discuss the nature of religious ritual. Indeed, in my view an inappropriate understanding of ritual is very much at the heart of the Absolutism/Relativism conflict.

Let us suppose a religion for a people called the Boogees. In one of their many practices, the priest must wash his hands before handling the Sacred Bowl. It has been their practice for the past fifteen hundred years. Needless to say, they are not prepared to change it. However, the recent invention of hand-sanitizer (which we will assume is more effective than water alone) brings exactly this point up for debate. Although water has been used for hundreds of years, if it is a question of cleanliness, hand-sanitizer offers a more robust option. Although, since it is a religious ritual, the replacement of water with hand-sanitizer faces resistance, most especially from longer term members of the faith. Yet, eventually, the reformers prevail and the water is replaced with hand-sanitizer. What does this mean?

At this point, I agree with the relativist to a certain extent. Clearly, since the water was replaced, it was not sacred in itself. The ritual can still go on while using hand-sanitizer. The sacredness of the ritual does not change in spite of this difference. How can this be? Only if the sacredness of the ritual is dependent upon something other than just the elements themselves. What is this something? I put it to you that it is the piety of the individuals involved in the ritual. It is this spiritual devotion to a higher power that is important, not the nitty-gritty details of the ritual that expresses this devotion.

Does this hand the relativist victory?

No. Emphatically, no.

Although many different rituals exist across the spectrum of human religion, it is the piety that transcends and unifies them all. And it is piety that stands as the absolute value of most common concern when one is discussing ritual. Perhaps, one might object that since rituals allow for a nearly limitless spectrum of possible expressions of piety, any and all such expressions are equally valid. Hence, there is no discernible moral difference between religious rituals. Rituals are relativistic things, all of which equally express the concept of piety.

If that is true, then there is no discernible difference between the Aztec ritual of human sacrifice and the Catholic ritual of Communion.

In one sense, that is true: the Aztec priest and the Catholic priest both perform their rituals with (probably) equal levels of piety.

But the comparison is still ridiculous.

The reply to the relativist is that he is confusing morality with piety. Morality has a much larger scope, of which piety is but a small part. There are more virtues to the human person than mere piety: mercy, love, compassion, respect for life, etc…. And in my view, respect for life is of greater moral significance than piety. Piously killing people is a grave error.

Of final interest is what I call the ritual hard-liner. Basically, these are the people who will probably take comfort in the relativistic stance. They don’t want to change the water to hand-sanitizer. Indeed, they refuse. Because it is their sacred ritual that they have been performing the exact same way for the past fifteen hundred years. And no one else has the right to tell them to perform it any other way.

To them, in the case of the water/hand-sanitizer issue, I’d make my case once, then leave them alone. They aren’t hurting anyone.

But in the case of Aztec human sacrifice, a different response is required. Historically, the different response was war, and it resulted in the destruction of the entire Aztec culture. Perhaps such is regrettable; but given our current struggles with Isis and Islamic extremism, perhaps not. I do not mean to impugn or threaten all Muslims, just the idiots who think strapping on a suicide vest is a good thing.

Anyway, prior to war (which is too late now), morality insists that we try to argue with them. Yes, I know it is their beliefs and they have the right to decide what they believe and don’t believe; but if they endorse suicide bombing I will not choose to remain silent.

I Have A Mathematical Mind

I have a mathematical mind. It is the curse of being a philosopher, or rather, having a philosophical bent. I studied mathematics and philosophy in college. Then, I went back and studied computer science. I’ve had more logic than I know what to do with. And sometimes that is a severe disadvantage. Because a mathematical mind is often an inflexible mind.

In my case, I look at things as either true or false. In mathematics, for example, most problems have definitive answers. If you do the work and follow it, you can establish the truthfulness or falsity of an assertion with certainty. When the answer to a mathematical question is found, it is established and irrefutable. Math is the only science like that; math is the only science in which the term “proof” has its truest meaning. Unfortunately, it is an open question whether or not the field of mathematics actually applies to the world. Back when I was studying philosophy, there were basically three (or was it five?) theories on what mathematics actual is. There was Plato’s view of mathematics; that is, it is about the eternal relationships between real properties (Plato’s Theory of Forms). There was Kant’s view of mathematics; that is, it is really the result of the structure of the human mind. And there were three other theories, I think, although I remember only one: that mathematics is just a game. In my view, the solution is either Kant or Plato. Either two plus two equals four because the property of twoness always leads to four when it is doubled (Plato), or because we can’t see the relationship any other way, because our minds are structured that way and limited. As far as math being a game … that never satisfied me. I’ve gone off on a tangent here; let me try to get back. The original point was: How does math apply to the world? If Plato is right, it is a part of the world. If Kant is right, it’s a part of our minds. If the game theory is right, it is an invention of our own making.

Once I was in a stock room trying to put together a shelf. The shelves didn’t quite fit right. I could tell by looking at the shelf that the angle was off slightly, and that geometrically, the shelves would never fit. Hence, it was no use trying to make them fit and I gave up the cause as hopeless. Whereupon, my boss and another individual promptly forced the shelf into place through brute force and completed the shelf. As rigid as metal is, it does bend; it is not as rigid as a perfect geometrical line. Metal can be distorted. Errors can be forced. So what was the geometry of the situation? It could describe the shelf effectively, but in a manner that led one to believe the problem had no solution. In such a situation, it doesn’t seem that the mathematics was “real.” Brute force could conquer it. The real world could resolve the problem where math indicated there was no solution. Upon reflection it appears that geometry, my Euclidean understanding of it, anyway, was derived from the real world; that pure math exists only in the  human mind. That said, if pushed, I can give you a few examples from Number Theory where the opposite is true; situations that absolutely can’t be forced, where a mathematical determination of “the solution is impossible” guarantees that the solution is, in fact, impossible. So, what is mathematics? I don’t know. All I know is that I tend to think along mathematical lines.

It’s great to have an analytical mathematical mind, but it also stinks like a rotten egg; I have the common sense of a stone. I’ve spent most of my life proving that last and it’s something I don’t think I can change.

Book Review: The City of God by St. Augustine (4 *’s)

I’ve been wanting to read St. Augustine’s City of God for quite some time. At the same time, I’ve been dreading it as well. I was expecting a book in philosopher-speak. Those who have studied philosophy, or those who have tried to read a philosophy book without having studied philosophy will know what I mean. Normally, a philosophy book is a pretty tough slog. I earned a B.A. in philosophy when I went to college, but that was years ago. These days, my philosophy brain has pretty much gone to rot.

Yet, as far as philosophy books go, Augustine’s City of God was pretty mild. I didn’t have to work too hard to understand what he was saying most of the time. Mine was an abridged edition so it was largely cohesive in nature; I understand that the unabridged version has numerous “discursions” into ancillary topics—a common practice at the time Augustine was writing.

Anyway, the book is a defense of the Catholic faith. More specifically, the stated purpose of the book is to describe two different types of humanity/lifestyles or, as he calls it, cities. On the one hand, is the City of Men. This basically describes the lives of those who are attached to earthly affairs. The other city is, of course, the City of God which describes the lives of those who are focused on spirituality and the divinely sanctioned life. Naturally, he lauds the latter of these two cities while condemning the former.

Was it well argued and supported? I guess so. I sometimes have difficulty concentrating when I’m reading stuff these days—especially philosophy—so, I may have not absorbed as much as I should have.

The things in the book that struck me as the most interesting, though, were the details he gave concerning pagan deities (Jupiter, Mars, etc…); more specifically, how it is the Church’s position that these “deities” are really demons in disguise, as evidenced by the depraved practices involved in their worship. I just found that curious. I also liked his commentary later in the book about the various mysteries of the world, mysteries we, 1700 years later, have explained or disproved. It’s just interesting to contemplate his wonder … and his errors. For example, at one point he claims that goat’s blood can dissolve diamonds. I mean, that’s kind of a curious myth (I assume it’s a myth—actually my antichrist stuff might have something to say about that, but I’ll leave that discussion to another day) and I wonder where it came from. He also claims that peacock meat does not decompose like human flesh does. He claims that he even verified this with an experiment, and that even after several months the peacock meat only dried out—it did not decompose. Very curious. If that truly did happen, how does one explain it? I can … but only with a theory that has earned me a number of psychiatric meds.

Anyway, I found the book to be decent overall, but not fantabulous. I’ll give it four stars out of five.

Killing in the Name of God, and Satan

Let us begin this brief discussion with a fact: Members of different religious sects have killed each other in the past using the justification of moral or religious superiority. It is my contention that this blunt fact pleases Satan far more than any other. Indeed, according to me, Satan wrote the religions for the express purpose of watching zealots slaughter each other (Yes, I just offended pretty much every person on the planet. Sorry. But that is what I believe).

Any time men kill other men, the devil is pleased, but his delight is greatly amplified when such killing is performed in the name of God. God is Love. Acts of Love please God. Acts of Hate, He understands, but does not condone. Some might claim that God is merciful to everyone except the infidel, or the pagan, or the heathen, or whatever other unbeliever there may be. I find such discrimination on God’s part to be odd and out-of-character.

To further the point, let us consider what kinds of things might please the devil, but not God. Blasphemy, impiety, cruelty, murder, fornication (although most in the West no longer agree with that), lying, theft, etc… Are such things listed above uniquely Christian standards (As I, the author of this post, claim to be a Christian—roughly Catholic to be more precise)? I’m inclined to say no, but others may disagree. Of the infractions listed above, to my mind, the worst is murder. However, combinations may yet be even worse. Consider the possibility of impious murder or blasphemous murder. Is this not killing in the name of God?

Does God value Life? Or Death?

What is an impious murder? Does the term not suggest that there is a pious manner for committing murder? Are we that far divorced from morality? In other words, are we now going to justify human sacrifice because it is murder committed in a pious manner? I hope not. So, what do we make of blasphemous murder? Is it murder done in direct contravention to God’s will? Anything else? Murder done with the specific intent to violate God’s spirit, will, and commands—that seems to sum up the meaning. To me, the clearest example is killing in the name of God. Also, human sacrifice fits the bill as well.

In my view, the ultimate blasphemy is the ending of another’s life, so killing in the name of God is a blasphemy heaped upon a blasphemy. Satan rejoices when man kills man for any reason. Satan rejoices in death and killing, most especially, as I said, killing in the name of God. Although there may be such a thing as a “just war,” which, regardless of its justice, is regrettable, there is no such thing as a “holy war.” Creeds which endorse such are tragically mistaken.

Yes, I’m talking to you, you followers of Isis … not that I expect you to give my words a moment’s thought. You should. But you probably won’t.

Chi, Hellfire, and Witchcraft

Readers of this blog are likely aware that I believe I had an encounter with Satan a few years back. During that encounter, I was exposed to hellfire, or so I believe. It felt like a hot, burning fire in my chest that threatened to consume my soul, erasing my very identity from existence. Basically, it promised the oblivion that atheists associate with death, but with a much more painful exit from existence.

A number of years ago, I earned a black belt in the martial arts. In the studio at which I studied, black belt is the rank at which you begin learning about chi. According to Eastern philosophy, chi is the life force that animates all things. You have your chi. I have my chi. In martial arts, one learns first to feel one’s chi, and then control it. If you can control your chi, you can learn to do a variety of curious feats with it, like, strike a stack of six bricks and break the fifth one in line, hit harder and faster, etc….

Back in August of 2016, I had a mild relapse in my “antichrist” condition. I say “relapse” not because my beliefs about the matter changed—I have believed that I am the antichrist for about five straight years now—but because my condition changed to an extent that it seemed my mental “illness” was amplified: my mental faculties became a little more erratic, and I became a little more “hyper.” Anyway, the point I was getting to was that during these times of “hyper”-activity I sometimes feel hellfire again. Usually, it is not as powerful as that first experience, but it is very pronounced; I feel it coursing through my body. Fortunately, it doesn’t do any damage but it is recognizable. During this last episode, I came to a stunning realization. What I experienced as hellfire was actually/also chi. The hellfire I experienced was just like chi, just amped up to an incredible degree.

That’s really not too surprising if one thinks about it. If the universe consists of yin and yang, or fire and light, chi could very well by a form of the fire-like energy. What is worth stressing is that knowing that the universe is evil (because it is Satan), and chi is hellfire, Satan’s greatest, most destructive power, Satan can manipulate hellfire far better than we can as it is a part of him. So, basically, I’d like to warn people that it seems likely to me that he can take your chi away, manipulate it in any fashion he likes, on his whim. I know that sounds kind of extreme-fundamentalist-ish, but that’s where I am today. Not only can he do such a thing with chi, I suspect he can do the same with witchcraft (though I have never made a prolonged study of witchcraft—all I’ve done is read a few books on the subject out of curiosity). Lastly, I think he can do the same with science. The scientific principles we have discovered are not as reliable as we think. Satan can change them on a whim (I don’t know how that should alter someone’s behavior, though, because we can’t get along without assuming science for our daily lives. It’s not like I expect someone to walk to work instead of drive a car. Just consider the above a warning.).

Anyway, as I said, I know that sounds a bit too fundamental-ish, but that is where I am. Satan is a Liar, and Jesus Christ is the Lord.

Relativism and the Path Forward

Moral relativism. My personal nemesis. What is it? Generally speaking, relativism means that the truth of a belief is relative to the culture of a group of people (cultural relativism) or just to an individual alone (individual relativism). I think it was Shakespeare (I could be wrong) who said something like “Nothing is true or false, except that thinking makes it so.” And that is something I wholeheartedly disagree with.

The strongest case for relativism is usually associated with religion and the sacredness of something. For example, a relativist might argue that the 25th of December (Christmas) is sacred to Christians while cows are sacred to Hindus. I’m kind of of the mind that neither one is truly sacred; at the very least, I do not think anyone should be put to death for violating either tenet. Call me silly. Additionally, I don’t think celebrating Christmas should be grouped together with the practice of human sacrifice. Call me silly. That all said, relativists do have a point.

It is a strange phenomenon of war that, often, in a conflict between two parties, both parties usually regard the other as the aggressor. It is this phenomenon that has led to an embrace of relativism (in this case cultural relativism) in our modern society. In other words, there is a vast causal web that forms our cosmos. Our position in this web determines how we react to causal influences (you know, cause and effect); so, at that level our position is kind of relativistic (as in relativism, not relativity). The challenge is to get beyond our own relativistic limitations and seek to understand others from their own point-of-view. And the same should be said for these others. That is, both sides should flip-flop from point-of-view to point-of-view to gain knowledge (not truth; truth is a separate animal; knowledge is relative, truth is not). It is a process I will call, in fancy-shmancy language, reverse relativism or relativistic flip-flopping.

The problem with the Left is that they get hung up on their opponent’s point-of-view. They seem to apply relativism to one side and one side of the debate only. They say that the Right should look at their enemy’s point-of-view (at the present time, Isis’). And they stop there. They don’t seem to realize that if we are going to flip-flop into Isis’ point-of-view, Isis should flip-flop into ours. They don’t seem to realize that “talking” is a two-way street. They think we can have peace with an enemy just by being willing to talk to them. Yes, talking is the way forward (a.k.a. reverse relativism) but only if both sides are willing to talk. One side being willing to talk doesn’t get you anywhere when the other side is crucifying people with whom they disagree.

So, is there a way forward? I, in my vast cosmic wisdom (:)), would hesitantly suggest reverse relativism to the sane parties on the planet in their international correspondence. As for the terrorists like Isis … I just don’t know. In other words, diplomacy is preferable to war; but, we all knew that anyway.

I kind of meandered a bit, but I hope this was a useful post.

Demons and Angels Battle vs. Argue

As noted in a previous post, a short while back I was reading a book about exorcisms written by a real-life official exorcist in the Catholic Church (Interview With An Exorcist by Fr. Jose Antonio Fortea). The book gave a brief rundown of some of the doctrinal points in demonology according to the Catholic Faith. It was all very interesting, but, to me, at least, it seemed tied to the ancient view of the cosmos such that the universe consisted of so many invisible concentric spheres with the stars at the outer most edge and the earth closer to the center. You know, that whole “Music of the Spheres” cosmology. Not particularly up-to-date. And I’m not sure how modern Catholicism resolves the difficulties of the original origin story of demons with our current understanding of the cosmos.

Anyway, the book discussed demons, how to deal with them, and how they came to be. We all (or most Christians, anyway) are aware that they are supposed to be fallen angels. That is, they once held prestigious places of honor in Heaven and then some event served as the catalyst for a revolt led by Lucifer. I found the demonologist’s description of this battle very peculiar. Prior to reading this book (and ignoring my own invented antichrist theology), I always thought that when the angels battled they really went at it. I thought they drew swords, or spears, or whatever, and hurled earth and fire upon each other. Not according to this demonologist. According to him, the angels and demons, being pure spirits without form, were unable to affect each other. What we describe as a battle was really just … an argument.

And that struck me as very strange.

Basically, the demons just took different positions and argued back and forth about the issue at hand (I think it was the destiny of humanity in the hierarchy of heaven or something along those lines—for some reason, God wanted to put them higher than the angels, and Lucifer refused to accept that—which is another thing that was news for me: I always thought we were lower than the angels and always would be). Words flew back and forth, but nobody was injured, or maimed, or killed, or anything like that. When it was over, the rebel angels were thrown down from heaven to the earth, or more specifically, the air where they took up residence and took on the mission of undermining all of God’s plans to the extent possible.

Anyway, I just wanted to mention that. Because, it is counter to what I always believed. I always thought that demons were these vaguely reptilian-like spirits who were already condemned to hell where they oversaw the torturing of the damned. Apparently, that’s in their future, but it hasn’t happened quite yet … depending on who you talk to. Because Marian prophecies certainly seem to indicate that.

Toodle-loo.