Excruciatingly Large Things

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On the Nature of Shattering God in a Stained-Glass Universe

→ by Danieru
On the Exile of Mankind
The people became numerous...
The god was depressed by their uproar
Enil heard their noise,
He exclaimed to the great gods
The noise of mankind has become burdensome...

- from the ancient Sumerian epic Atrahasis

Having come from the light and from the Gods, here I am in exile, separated from them.

- Fragment of Turfa 'n M7 (Fictional text cited in Umberto Eco's, Foucault's Pendulum)
On Transcending Elitism
These texts are not addressed to common mortals.... Gnostic perception is a path reserved for an elite... For, in the words of the Bible: Do not cast your pearls before the swine.

- Kamal Jumblatt, Interview in Le Jour, March 31, 1967

For who would lose,
Though full of pain,
this intellectual being,
Those thoughts that wander through eternity,
To perish rather, swallowed up and lost
In the wide womb of uncreated night...

- John Milton, Paradise Lost
On Reinterpreting Reality
One of the reasons why religion seems irrelevant today is that many of us no longer have a sense that we are surrounded by the unseen.

- Karen Armstrong, A history of God

But still, we must realize that the universe although kind to us in its entirety (it must like and accept us, or we would not be here; as Abraham Maslow says, "otherwise nature would have executed us long ago") does contain grinning evil masks which loom out of the fog of confusion at us, and it may slay us for its own gain.

- Philip K. Dick, Man, Android and Machine
On Exponentially Realised Complexity
I cannot think it unlikely that there is such a total book on some shelf in the universe. I pray to the unknown gods that some man—even a single man, tens of centuries ago—has perused and read this book. If the honor and wisdom and joy of such a reading are not to be my own, then let them be for others. Let heaven exist, though my own place may be in hell. Let me be tortured and battered and annihilated, but let there be one instant, one creature, wherein thy enormous Library may find its justification.

- Jorge Luis Borges, Library of Babel

Somewhere in that great ocean of truth, the answers to questions about life in the universe are hidden....Beyond these questions are others that we cannot even ask, questions about the universe as it may be perceived in the future by minds whose thoughts and feelings are as inaccessible to us as our thoughts and feelings are inaccessible to earthworms. The potentialities of life and intelligence in the universe go far beyond anything that humans can imagine. Theology should begin by recognizing the vastness of the ocean of truth and the pettiness of our search for smoother pebbles.

- Freeman Dyson, Science & Religion: No Ends in Sight

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Blogger Danieru said...

Here is an extract from Daniel Dennet's new book, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon :

"If somebody wants to put a sticker on my new book, saying it presents a theory, not a fact, I would happily concur. Caution, it should say. Assuming these propositions are true without further research could lead to calamitous results. But I would insist that we also put the stickers on any books or articles that maintain or presuppose that religion is the lifeboat of the world, which we dare not upset. I argue that the proposition that God exists is not even a theory. That assertion is so prodigiously ambiguous that it expresses, at best, an unorganised set of dozens or hundreds - or billions - of quite different possible theories, most of them disqualified as theories in any case, because they are systematically immune to confirmation or disconfirmation.

The refutable versions of the claim that God exists have life cycles like mayflies, being born and dying within a matter of weeks, if not minutes, as predictions fail to come true. (Every athlete who prays to God for victory in the big game and then wins is happy to thank God for taking his side, and chalks up some "evidence" in favour of his theory of God - but quietly revises his theory of God whenever he loses in spite of his prayers.)

Even the secular and nonpartisan proposition that religion in general does more good than harm, either to the individual believer or to society as a whole, has hardly begun to be properly tested. So here is the only prescription I will make categorically and without reservation: do more research."

- article about the book

Also, check out my past post The Evolution of Religion and the Loss of Oneness for more on this broad-reaching topic...

March 09, 2006 2:36 AM    

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice post, some good quotes there. However, I don’t think that Milton quote is really about transcending elitism? At least, not the definition of elitism that I'm familiar with. He (Belial, I believe) is talking about how he would rather go on living in Hell than to be destroyed for goodby God, which would result in a loss of consciousness and self-awareness, and which he believes too important a gift to relinquish. S’what I thought, anyway.

March 09, 2006 11:50 AM    

Blogger Danieru said...

Thanks for the input (I often wonder if all my site's Anonymous quotes are the same person/people...)

I placed the Milton quote under the Elitism banner because for me it outlines aspects of religion, or specifically Christianity, which I find hard to understand from any other perspective. That is, the concept of hell, salvation and so forth ring of elitism for me. There is simply too much on this topic to get a completely coherent grasp of my position here, but I'll try.

In the strictest sense of the Christian conception God is eternally good. Love God and cast off your sins and you'll revel in this goodness for all time. BUT also in strict Christian belief there is, they can ONLY be, one truth to behold, i.e. all other beliefs, religions etc. are nothing but false. Therefore if one rejects the Christian view, or alternatively never comes upon it, then eternal damnation is awaiting you when you die (a 're-born' Christian friend of mine actually told me this to my face once.)

For me these two dictums scream of elitism. What's more, to hold that God is all loving etc. and yet KNOWINGLY (for he knows all) allows the VAST majority of his human subjects to burn for all eternity in the depths of infinite, pain, suffering, guilt, loneliness, etc. in hell... Well, the incompatiability of these two positions is where my respect for the Christian conception breaks down.

The Milton quote then is there to outline basically what I said above, yet in Milton's poetic vision of eternity we see glimpses of a splendour which I believe science not only explains more fully, but in doing so grants us greater access to.

I didn't intend to flesh out these quotes so much, it's interesting to ponder how a reader might tie them together (or not tie them together, as the case may be). I tend to believe that although science grants us access to the same glory in creation, without the true elitism inherent in religion, what remains is still but a window looking out on that universe. We perceive the stars, oh so beautiful, but nothing will ever quite shatter the window of science in the way that science is shattering the concept of God.

Read into that what you will.

Am I ranting here? I hope not. Stream of consciousness posts never quite make the grain do they. And I didn't say anything yet about the elitism imbued in 'the Gods' (in polytheistic belief systems) for casting man from heaven in the first place (The Garden of Eden too)...

What do you think?

March 09, 2006 12:17 PM    

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh right, well I agree with what you’re saying there, I just didn’t catch the link between the quote and that… it was a bit obscure without the reasoning behind it. Hell is of course a mighty fine contradiction on God’s supposed goodness, but let’s face it: Hell was invented to scare people into believing in God. It’s just one of the three main facets they use to encourage (see: brainwash) people into taking up Christianity. Heaven, Hell, and God. Heaven is where you wanna be, Hell is where you don’t, and God is who you get to pray to whenever you’re in distress in order to feel more secure, and also who you can pray to for the benefit of others (instead of _actually_ helping them) to make yourself feel better. Such a dandy religion.

March 10, 2006 5:44 AM    

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