Sunday, December 03, 2006

Burning Harry Potter

Forbes mag reports here on book-burnings, especially of Harry Potter novels. Now these fundamentalist views are right - author J K Rowling is indeed influencing your people in the direction of mystical, magical realms that probably have little foundation in truth. They are built on faith and belief, not testable fact. Sure, some of it is "fact", in the sense that it's been researched and is citing previous work. In the Harry Potter series we read about the Philosopher's stone and Nicholas Flamel, to pick just 2. And sure enough there was a real enough belief in such a stone and its power in Alchemy, as indeed there was a Nicholas Flamel. We can look all of this up in other books, check it out and see how "real" it all is for ourselves. Now some of us - especially the young and impressionable - may fall for it in a big way and just "believe" without questioning. Others will know instinctively that it's a modern fable. So do we burn it because it's a fable, and probably burn Grimm and Aesop as well? Do we do this because it's wrong, or because it threatens our own beliefs?

If we burn Potter should we not burn all myth and legend, or any belief we don't, umm, believe in ourselves? And ban it from our minds, just to be sure?

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

One basis for religious myths

It's not hard to guess why we have epic myths about creation, but religion goes much further. The typically well formed religion offers buffers against all sorts of ailments, distress and indecision. If you aren't sure about something - perhaps an ethical question, or how to treat loss - you can always seek an answer from a priest or from a book. In fact religion goes deeper again and provides solace and protection against even the thought of our inevitable death. Or so the research tells us. This is from SCIENCE, Volume 314, Issue 5803
dated November 24 2006 (originally published in J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 91, 553; 2006) and is worth quoting at some length:

"PSYCHOLOGY: Managing Terror by Gilbert Chin. Our awareness that we exist exposes us, unfortunately, to the inescapable terror of dying. Jonas and Fischer have explored the role of religious beliefs in allowing people to manage their terror in situations where mortality is made salient. In particular, they focus on the distinction between extrinsic (searching for safety and solace) and intrinsic (searching for meaning and value) religious beliefs. Just after the November 2003 bombings in Istanbul, customers in a Munich coffee shop were more likely to rise in defense of their cultural worldview (to disagree with newspaper articles that were inconsistent with their own assessments of the likelihood of an attack in Germany) if they scored low on an intrinsic religiousness scale than if they scored high; this difference in behavior dissipated with time as the reminder of death became less salient. In follow-up experiments involving students from a Jesuit school and a local university, they found that intrinsically religious people did not think more about dying when reminded of mortality (in contrast to extrinsically oriented individuals) and that this capacity to buffer one's state of mind contributed to their not having to mobilize terror management defenses in the face of death."



Now I see the word 'psychology' and imediately have doubts. I haven't seen the research but my rule of thumb is to doubt. Firstly how do you define someone on the 'intrinsic religiousness scale'? By survey, or by their actions? If by survey, how strongly correlated are their actions against the scale? Secondly how do you actually know what someone thought? Electrodes? Mind merge? They told you? Hmmm.

Could it be that the 'extrinsically oriented individuals' told something closer to the truth (as they had not been indoctrinated or 'taught' what to think)? And perhaps the 'intrinsically religious people' simply had been taught how to respond and merely did so? Now you may say 'ah-ha!' as if that's the point, but simply because people can't express a fear of death and instead mumble an incantation that they have learned at Church on Sundays doesn't mean they don't actually have a fear of death, rather that they just that they don't like telling researchers about it.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Revelations

I can't not write about Revelations. It's apocalyptic. It's about the end of the Earth. Or of our days on Earth, maybe. Supposedly written by John, Revelations is based upon the "visions" that he received on the isle of Patmos. The first vision was related by a manlike, perhaps Christ-like figure in robes who spoke with a voice like a trumpet (which could mean very loud - perhaps he used a megaphone!). The second vision is creepier still with a a door opening in heaven and a description of the coming of the end of the world. Basically Satan has a last fling at Armageddon and loses, restoring peace to the world. You can read into it what you will but it's great stuff, full of imagination. Read more here.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Zeus - Greek god of the sky and thunder

In Greek mythology Zeus is the highest ranking of the Olympian gods and the god of the sky and thunder. He was the son of Cronus and Rhea, and the youngest of his siblings. He married to Hera, although he consorted with whoever he chose. Typically he took other forms to engage in trysts, often to win favour with local dieties who often preceded him (presumably by human design to winover followers to the new religion) . At the oracle of Dodona his consort was Dione, the "goddess". According to Homer's the Iliad, he is the father of Aphrodite by Dione.

Zeus is known for his numerous erotic conquests of nymphs - and one pederastic relationship with Ganymede. His numerous offspring included Athena by Metis; Apollo and Artemis by Leto; Hermes by Maia; Persephone by Demeter; Dionysus by Semele; Perseus by Danae; Heracles by Alcmene; Helen by Leda; Minos by Europa, the Muses by Mnemosyne; and Ares, Eileithyia, Hebe and Hephaestus by Hera. His Roman counterpart was Jupiter, and his Etruscan counterpart was Tinia (not to be confused with a foot fungus).

Zeus also slayed the monster Typhon.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Want to search the Bible?

Try this! Biiible search (no offence to Google!) And then counter it with this (the Evil Bible Top 10 list).

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Palimpsests - revealing the past

Occasionally I see a word that just has to be used, somewhere - anywhere. Today's word is palimpsest. According to Wikipedia a palimpsest is a document that has been wiped clean and used again (comes from the Greek to 'wipe clean', roughly speaking). Cicero and his fellow Romans used wax-coated tablets that - you guessed it - could be wiped clean and reused. Sounds like a technology we could (re)use today. Historically speaking palimpsests are especially useful when we are able to decipher what was written before. One 'original' document may have overwritten a previous version, like the Christian churches scrubbing out and writing over pagan beliefs (if not adapting them to suit their needs). It's a window into the past.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Haruspices

Haruspices - you know, the ancient form of divination trusted by the Etruscans and refined by the Romans. The Babylonians were also into it. In its essence we are looking at the duck's guts - or a chicken's, or whatever animal conveniently comes to hand. It's messier than tarot cards and you can fall fowl (hehe) of the animal protection authorities. It was however a much respected practice and worth a read.

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