Tag Archives: christianity

Where would Jesus keep his moral compass?

Moral CompassDo you know the difference between right and wrong?

Ok, we all flail around helplessly in the grey areas posed by philosophy teachers and medical and legal ethicists, but they are professionals and paid to be smart-arses. As an amateur, I have a fairly strong sense of practical ethics, as I am sure do you, gentle reader, in contrast, it seems, to Christians.

Twice recently I have come across Christians who claim that without divine guidance they wouldn’t know the difference between right and wrong. Since they didn’t say this to me (one was in a reported interview, the other in a conversation with someone else) I didn’t have the chance to say “woah, back up a minute there, do you mean what I think you mean?”

What they’ve said implies that their moral compass is kept in the giant map-drawer in the sky.

Do they mean this? It’s what they said, after all, so I have to assume they do. Even so, I find it hard to believe that they’d be out there, nicking things from Tescos, raping donkeys, falsifying their tax return and knifing people to death if it wasn’t for the Big Guy. Is the ONLY THING stopping them from doing this explicit divine instruction not to? Are they claiming to be barely controlled psychopaths who simply happen to have a nicer class of imaginary friend than Peter Sutcliffe did?

I don’t know.

I don’t want to rant, so I’ll stop here. I don’t know what it does to them, but what they’ve said makes me gibber and gives me a stabbing pain right behind the eyes.

The devil and the deep blue sea

We were discussing religion over a curry, as one does. The one I discuss religion with (and have curries with, for that matter) expressed the view that religion is incompatible with science. He is reading Dawkins at the moment. NLPer that I am, I started challenging the generalisations: “All religions?” “Entirely incompatible in every way?”

What bugs me about evangelical atheists, and I’ve drunk wine and broken bread with a few in my time (secularly of course) is that they assume that all religions are based on The Book and slag them off accordingly. Judaism, Christianity and Islam are all monotheisms and in that direction – if you ask me – madness lies. The problem with monotheisms is the dualities they set up: Good and Evil, Right and Wrong, Heaven and Hell, Sheep and Goats, God and the Devil. Someone once said to Abraham Lincoln “I am so glad that God is on our side” to which he replied “I don’t set my sights that high, Ma’am. All I hope is that we are on God’s side”. Bush and Blair and Bin Laden all know god is on their side, and so they have far more in common than they have differences. I’ll stop wandering off in that direction now, before get so enraged I forget to breathe.

I know very little about Hinduism which seems polytheistic (though the one I was having curry with knows a bit about it). I know barely more about Buddhism and Taoism, which are atheistic. Isn’t that a thought to conjure with? An atheistic religion. A religion without a god. Roll it around your mind’s tongue. Taste it, savour it, find out what you think.

If you strip god out of religion you are left with a whole load of other stuff which (because it is my post and I can do what I like with it) I am going to put broadly into four categories:

Societal

Ceremonial / Rites of Passage / Social glue / Social contribution / Ritual

Explanations

Creation myth / Higher purpose / Why bad things happen / Why are we here

The supernatural

Spiritual practice / The shamanic / Good luck charms

Social control

Ethical precepts / Moral guidance / Greater cause

Jesus as ShamanThe one that interested me the most, as we were discussing it over our curry, was the Shamanic. This is all mixed up with ritual, energy, altered states of being, sexual power and the power of the personality. In the 60s and 70s Rock stars were our shamans; in the 80s there was even a band which took the name. I’m not sure who our shamans are now, but I am pretty sure that the popularity of fantasy films appeals to our need for the shamanic. Looking at that list of nouns again – ritual / energy / altered states / power – maybe terrorists view themselves as shamans. I dunno. Which reminds me. The obvious thing that that is missing off that list is Sacrifice, which is common to so many religions. I’m not sure where it fits though.

It is interesting to see what is happening now to those areas of human life.

The societal stuff (ceremony, rights of passage, social contribution) is pretty hollow without religion. Don’t get me wrong, it is all much better done with integrity by atheists than with hypocrisy by those who claim to be religious, but I am not sure how well atheists do it. I’d rate the ceremonial of a Russian Orthodox Eucharist over the Oscars any day of the week. Mind you, I prefer my schools, hospitals, orphanages and childrens’ homes to be run by the state, so maybe I am arguing myself out of that one after all.

Structures and explanations. This is the scary one. This is the one that gets Dawkins’ blood boiling. “Where is the evidence?” the atheists cry. And they are right of course. There is no evidence that the world is the result of Egyptian gods masturbating or of great cows licking the ice, and plenty that it isn’t. Sane Christians yield this ground gracefully admitting that the world is not flat and does in fact go round the sun. Insane ones promote something which is neither intelligent nor design and call it science. (Breathe, Aphra, remember to breathe). Unfortunately these follies lead evangelical atheists to throw the baby of spiritual practice out with the bathwater of creationism. Or something like that.

The supernatural. This one is trickier than it looks. It’s a mixture of stuff which has quite clearly demonstrable effects such as meditation, and other stuff which is just wishful thinking. Add in the human need to seek patterns, mix it with the human inability to estimate odds, and sprinkle with the human responsiveness to spontaneous hypnotic suggestion, and you end up with all sorts of nonsense like numerology, astrology, Bach flower remedies and (goddess help us all) spiritual channelling. Scientists can now see the parts of the brain which fire off when someone is having a spiritual experience. The question is, of course, whether the brain is responding to an external stimulus analogous to its response to sounds, or whether the sparks are flying at random or for some electro-magnetic or chemical reason. The fact that stuff like meditation works doesn’t make it spiritual any more than the fact that the world exists proves that it was hatched out of a giant egg.

Social control. This is the one where religion leaves the biggest gap behind it. Ethical precepts just aren’t the same if they aren’t backed up with violent weather, rugged mountain scenery, Charlton Heston and the threat of everlasting damnation. (This is the place where I point out that I rather like the idea of terrorists achieving martyrdom and waking in Paradise to find that their sherbet will be delivered by 70 Ann Widdicombes). We’ve lost our moral compass and don’t appear to be able to adopt irreligious ethics in the way the Greeks did. They took pantheistic shamanism to blood-thirsty extremes, but came over all rational and philosophical when considering ethics. The Norse gods couldn’t be bothered with all that Good and Evil stuff either so far as I can make out. Monotheism makes me spit.

I rather like the idea of a Schroedinger Deity; a god comprising the sum of an increasingly complex and sophisticated life force, evolving in power and sophistication in the way that the chemical richness of our world is based on elements which evolved from hydrogen and that all living things have evolved from random amino-acids losing their randomness and forming RNA. This would be a god who may or may not exist, whose existence will only become apparent at the end of the universe at which point in time (and space) it will turn out has existed all along. Or not, as the case may be.

Sorry to whitter on for so long. It was a good curry. Thank you for asking.

Abortions, sex changes, genetic defects

I offer you two thoughts from two different sites.

First – 21st century data in the UK: “A patient will not be entitled to refuse to make their personal data available to the [NHS] Spine [data systems]. Data about all patient events may be routinely communicated to the Spine without the consent of the patient. … The citizen has no legal right to stipulate what will and will not be recorded … nor where those records will be held.”

And secondly – 20th century data in Germany: “Only after Jews were identified — a massive and complex task that Hitler wanted done immediately — could they be targeted for efficient asset confiscation, ghettoization, deportation, enslaved labor, and, ultimately, annihilation. It was a cross-tabulation and organizational challenge so monumental, it called for a computer. Of course, in the 1930s no computer existed. But … punch card technology did exist. … [and] Hitler was able to automate his persecution of the Jews … from the identification of the Jews in censuses, registrations, and ancestral tracing programs to the running of railroads and organizing of concentration camp slave labor.”

The problem of course is not with data, per se. NHS staff are a pretty benign bunch. The problem comes when people with strong convictions have relatively friction-free access to data, and it is compounded when data becomes more enduring.

In this world of increasing fundamentalism, I am not comfortable that the health service can record abortions, gender re-assignments, genetic abnormalities, and other politically, socially or financially sensitive information, that they can record it in ways that mean that the data is pervasive and enduring, and that they can record it against our will.

Mary Kay II

When I came to my rather frightening conclusions about Mary Kay, I did so in the course of other musings about multi-level-marketing in general as well as Mary Kay in particular. While neither as big nor as hairy, they are still substantial and hirsuit.

The first and obvious thing is that multi-level-marketing simply does not work. I’m not sure if it ever did, but the internet has blown it out of the water altogether. Lovers of irony are delighted that Mary Kay’s mansion is available on ebay. One of the fascinations of Mary Kay Sucks (now moved to www.pinktruth.com) is that it gives such insights into an imploding world. Train crash. Slow motion. Cannot take my eyes away.

The second thing is that there is an unresolvable tension in the business. The consultant wants to sell retail, but every single other person higher up in the organisation wants her to buy wholesale. The business model is not about selling retail: the reward model is based on wholesale sales. If the reward model was changed so that retail sales were rewarded the great big lies about how easy or hard it is would be exposed. Yes, the schpiel is that it is about selling retail, but it seems that the only person who benefits from retail sales is the consultant herself. It is no surprise that the consultants are at odds with the rest of the organisation, the rest of the organisation really is out to get them.

This also means that the true customers for MK Corporation are not the public at large. The true customers are the consultants. Most business models are based on fair exchange: I get softer skin, you get money. However this business model is based on exploitation: I use my credit cards to buy wholesale and you get money. The product is irrelevant, to be honest.

This highlights what is so deeply shocking and exploitative about the MK model. People are encouraged to go into personal debt to finance inventory. It really is a scam. Some friends of mine who were involved in the multi-level-marketing of water filters in the 1990s invited me to join them on the basis that I could make umpty thousand a year. Fortunately at that time I had just started a real business which actually was netting the sort of money they were talking about, so I passed on that ‘opportunity‘. Hustlers and con-artists say that you can only con a greedy person. Well, the situation I was in meant that I did not need to feel greedy and so I was protected. But MK are working a con. Some of the women they draw in may be greedy, but I suspect that most are just aspirational. The schpiel about ‘executive level incomes’ simply does not work when people are ok with their situation in life. Not only is it a con. It is worked like a con, and I keep on coming back in horror to the thought of tens of thousands of women who are in poor financial circumstances to start with who then take on debt to finance inventory. Doing that to people is wrong. The hypocrisy of doing that and claiming to be doing it in a Christian way sticks in my throat so badly that I cannot bring myself to discuss it.

MK’s use of cult techniques has already been discussed extensively so I won’t add to it other than to say “what she said” and point you at the original.

As I said, I find the whole thing deeply shocking. I was relieved not to be involved in the MLMing of water filters in the 1990s, but far more relieved that my ex husband did not become involved in the selling of fake perfumes in the 1980s. I was desperate that he should not. It felt seedy. My skin itched. The reason he did not was pure chance. At about this time we threw a 75th birthday party for my father who was a particularly clear and honest man. Talking to my father’s friends, my ex realised what a greedy-seedy world MLMing is, and decided not to plunge into it. I was grateful for that throughout my marriage

Mary Kay: an abusive business model?

Like most people on WordPress I’m sure, I’ve become an addicted reader of Mary Kay Sucks (now moved to www.pinktruth.com), and originally this post was a series of musings on multi-level-marketing in general and MK in particular. However, it morphed half way though into one single Great Big unaMusing on the subject which, to be honest, has spooked me. I’d welcome any thoughts from any ex MKers, or anyone else for that matter.

You see, it seems to me that the dynamic of Mary Kay is very similar to the dynamic of abusive relationships.

I’m reminded of the character in Terry Pratchett’s book Guards! Guards! who ends up enslaved to a mind-reading dragon. All he can do is mouth “help me” in silent desperation to the head of the Assassin’s Guild. And what sort of help can an assassin provide? Quite.

Taken as a whole, posts and comments and all, it would appear that the entire organisation is made up of just such people; women who know that they are destroying their own lives and who are actively destroying the lives of others, but who are caught so deep they dare not think for themselves and cannot escape.

This is so like an abusive relationship that there is a doctorate in sociology or psychology right there, waiting to be done.

  • Testimony from women who were in too deep to leave? – Check
  • The realisation that their thought processes were not their own? – Check
  • The experience of being lied to?
  • The conclusion that they had been brainwashed?
  • A history of being alternately praised and damaged and praised again? Check, check, check.

In an abusive relationship, the abuser isolates the abused person from friends and family members and strips away the abused person’s sense of self and their sense of self-preservation. Once the abused person is stuck in the situation, then the abuser creates and fosters guilt and duty and, more than anything else, creates and feeds a fear of leaving. Meanwhile somewhere in the back of the abused person’s brain there is one part which whispers “help me”, but it has to whisper it silently in case the other part of the brain hears.

I am not for a moment suggesting that the people currently still involved in MK realise that this is the dynamic that they are presenting to the world, and everything I have said here is my opinion only. However, the more I consider my own experience of relationships and of MLM, and compare it with what I read on MKS and on the internet, the more the thing chimes in my head.

Really nasty, isn’t it?

I’ve got other thoughts on MK, but this was the Great Big Hairy one.

Good god, bad god

The devil may have all the best tunes, but god certainly has all the best choral music. I was listening to a Byrd Magnificat on the way in to work last week and started thinking about the good things about religions.

So: choral music, from plainsong to gospel taking a diversion through Buddhist and Hindu chanting, is definitely one of the best things about religion.

Also the concept of stewardship. This is a Christian one really, the idea that we are answerable to a deity for how we look after and manage their creation. Unfortunately some interpretations of this concept assume that we have been given the rights to own the world rather than the duty to act as its caretakers. No creator worth believing in would just hand over a jewel like this planet of ours for us to to destroy in the way we are.

Reciprocity. Christianity is keen on reciprocity. Luke 6:31 And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. This is is an exhortation to pay attention to karma really, isn’t it? However, Christianity does not seem to be as hot on cause and effect as Buddhism and Taoism are, with the Great Big Escape Clause In The Sky offering to let you off the hook: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:15.

Meditation. Stilling the mind. One of the things I really like about eastern religions and philosophies is just how damn practical they are. They give clear instructions. Breathe in-two-three, breathe out-two-three-four-five-six. Look at the candle. In-two-three. And guess what? Their instructions work.

Parables. All the great religions have wonderful parables, metaphors and fables. Love ’em.

Architecture. Hard to beat a good medieval Cathedral in the impressive architecture stakes. Modern bridges do it, but not much else. Robes. Most good religions have impressive robes. Padded embroidery. Gold thread. I’m rather fond of the Orthodox tradition of long beard, square hat and fancy copes myself, though a mitre is very satisfactory in its own way and the red and orange robes of Buddhists are rather jolly. And ceremonial, there is something very calming about slow and measured movements which have been repeated for centuries and a good procession is always a pleasure to watch. And then there’s the smell of incense and the walking around with a censor so the smell of it gets everywhere. Ach, let’s face it: I’m a ritual-bunny.

But I think that’s about it. Good things about religions: choral singing, the concepts of reciprocity and cause and effect, instructions on how to meditate, a rag-bag of stories and metaphors, some neat buildings and robes and some soothing ceremonial. Mind you, any half decent military service should be able to deliver the goods in terms of costume and ceremony but they have a bad habit of doing it all to the sound of marching bands.

It’s not a long list, really, is it? And you are more than bright enough to know what I’d put on a list of things that are bad about religions. Me, I’m going to listen to that Byrd Magnificat