Octavo Dia

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Energy Star

In a conversation with Noumenon, I mentioned that thatched roofs were energy-efficient enough to receive an energy star rating. Noumenon said that the energy star rating had been captured by the corporations and was essentially meaningless. As is my wont to do, I came up with a solution for the capture problem. Give the energy star label only to the top 20% of products. In such a manner, the market would become self-policing and self-improving. Companies seeking the energy star rating would have to prove that their product is more efficient than their competitors', and their competitors would have an incentive to (a) improve their products to retain their rating, and (b) check that their competitor really is more energy efficient.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Battle For God: Part Eight

Page 286-8: "Absolute principles had to be accommodated to practical political considerations and policies." "The religious members of the Gush were experiencing 'the great disappointment' of a messianic hope, which oculd lead to more desperate measures."

These two quotations together were an EUREKA moment for me. "When the good guys are in power, and the bad guys are in jail" comes a period of immense disillusionment as ideology confronts the practical reality of give a little, get a little. Ideology can only be maintained in theory. The vaunted tolerance of secularism grows not from its inherent attributes, but from the dominant position in society it has held since the emergence of democracy. If one refers to the early history of secularism, when it was challenging the ruling monarchies of the day, it was at least as intolerant and ideological as any fundamentalism movement.

The Battle For God: Part Seven

Page 216: Armstrong explains why the "religious right" exists. During the Cold War, the Communists dominated the far left, and since Communism was virulently anti-religious, religious people began moving towards the political right.

Page 217: Armstrong discusses The Rapture as a fantasy of revenge. I have never understood where the idea of the Rapture comes from, but Wikipedia gave me the answer: from Matthew 24:40-41 "Two women shall be grinding together, the one shall be taken, and the other left." I would propose a different proof passage, Matthew 13:24-30, "Jesus told them another parable: 'The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. The owners servants came to him and said, "Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?" "An enemy did this," he replied." The servants asked him, "Do you want us to go and pull them up?" "No," he answered, "because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.'" I guess the Rapture just underscores the Second Commandment of Bible Interpretation: Thou Shalt Not Take Verses in Isolation.

Page 235a: "They would have to challenge ideas which had once been radical and revolutionary but had now become so authoritative and pervasive that they seemed self-evident." In other words, one should be careful being dogmatic about things which seems self-evident.

Page 235b: "In the premodern period, myth had never been intended to have a practical application." Okay, this is just so far beyond the pale of rationality that I feel sullied by commenting on it. Primordial religion is entirely practical. The marking of signs and seasons, planting times, harvests, rain dances, weather gods, they all were meant to mark and control life patterns. The Torah is chock full of practical advice on how to deal with various infectious diseases, the set up of the camp, dietary restrictions, military tactics, and the movement of the tribes during the migrations. If it was unintentional, they surely did a stupendously bad job of making it look unintentional.

Page 237: In Muslim tradition, Allah is the only authority. Any human government is thus usurping God's authority. In hindsight, it makes insurgency seem a part of Muslim culture, since no government has any inherent legitimacy.

Page 262: "State-building, military campaigns, agriculture, and the economy had all been the preserves of the rational disciplines of logos." See the comment above the last for reference to agriculture and the economy, military campaigns were highly religious affairs, as they sought the signs of victory through soothsayers. State building was also very religious, as they all sought a foundation of legitimacy through religious origin myths, such as the Aeneid, which is one giant Roman origin myth that links them with direct involvement of the Greek gods.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Battle For God: Part Six

I lost my notes for the chapter entitled "Fundamentalism", and it wasn't worth rereading, so you'll never know what I thought about it. I was enraged, incensed, and otherwise bored, but I had too many comments to remember, so to heck with it.

Page 270: In the next chapter, "Counter-Culture", Armstrong describes how, in traditional Christian theology, hell is defined as the complete abscence of God. She then makes an interesting comparison of how the Holocaust, which was extremely efficient and scientific, and wholly devoid of God, was considered an earthly incarnation of hell. Strict secularism as hell--that's an interesting concept.

Now for a meta-critique. Armstrong continues to stress how fundamentalist movements are essentially modern, because they incorporate modern viewpoints. A modern viewpoint, in her definition, is future-oriented. Rather than looking to the past for inspiration, and seeking to reclaim some lost golden age, the modern ethos seeks improvement. I have two problems with this:

First, it limits the natural growth of religious belief. Even without a new revelation, the understanding of religious doctrine can grow phenomenally. Think of all the great scholars who have emerged solely in Christianity since the end of direct revelation, the foremost of whom would be Augustine and Luther, who dramatically expanded our understanding of the divine. Religion does not have to be past-oriented, even if direct revelation has ceased.

Third, Armstrong parses the virtues and vices of fundamentalism and secularism in a very biased way. When a fundamentalist movement does something praiseworthy, she describes it as an incorporation of the modern ethos. When a secular movement does something evil, it is categorized as a conservative, reactionary, un-modern move--the not-as-yet purged remnants of the conservative ethos. Thus any of fundamentalism's virtues are accorded to the adoption of secularism, while its vices are its own, and the reverse is true for secularism.

If they same distinctions were applied by the adherents of a religion, if a Christian, for example, disavowed the Crusades and the Inquisition as the misuse of religion by evil people with non-religious aims, they would rightly be accused of hypocrisy. A religion with no evil adherents is like the Confederate General Johnston, who had a marvelous reputation as a sharpshooter, but he never took a shot. The birds always flew too high, or too low, or the wind was wrong. He didn't want to shoot and ruin his marvelous reputation. If we limit a religion's children to only the saints among them, then that religion is useless and dead. In fact, a religion that brings in the scoundrels and rogues--a religion that is truly working with the dregs of society--will have many more crimes committed by its adherents. Secularism does not have this excuse; it does not deliberately target the immoral and unethical in order to improve them.

This is probably why the chapter on Fundamentalism seems desperate in its attempt to foist evil off on non-modern elements. If Secularism was held to the same standard as religion--that the actions of all of its adherents be counted against it--religion would appear far more benign and tolerant than secularism (but Armstrong would label these as modern developments).

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Root of All Evil

I just read an article about a Congressman's wife is acting as his personal fundraiser, and taking a cut of the proceeds for her efforts. It is apparently perfectly legal, but what it says to me is that money is always and irrevocably joined to politics. Attempts to separate them lead either to creativity, as in this case, or, when creativity fails, to corruption.

What if, rather than trying to annul the sordid marriage of money and politics, we simply made them live in a glass house? What if everyone and anyone could donate any amount to any political entity they chose, but that donation would be completely public? What if those political entities could spend their money on anything they wanted to, but everyone penny spent was reported? One could see who was giving money to which groups and how they were spending it, and change one's views accordingly.

It all comes down to transparency. There are times when openness can harm, but secrecy always harms.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Citizen McCain

I just watched one of the funniest interviews I've seen in a while: Jon Stewart interviewing Senator McCain.


I was reading an article about Libya from the November 2000 issue of National Geographic. They had this picture of a woman sitting alone in the Libyan airport, with only one eye exposed as tradition demanded. I would think that would do absolutely horrid things to your eyesight.