The peculiar interest of god(s) in human morality

 

Thor May
Adelaide, 2015

 

 

This page is an initial starter list for discussing the "Peculiar interest of god(s) " topic. The page makes no special claim to quality, and additions are welcome. 

 

 

Basic contact links:

 

meetup group: http://www.meetup.com/Adelaide-Active-Thinking-Meetup/

 

topic suggestions: thormay@yahoo.com 

 

 

topics already discussed: http://thormay.net/unwiseideas/DiscussionTopics/DiscussionIndex.htm

 

comments: Thor May - thormay@yahoo.com ;

 

 

Thor's own websites:

1. articles at http://independent.academia.edu/ThorMay  ;

2. personal site: http://thormay.net [an ancient site with many byeways]

 


=>Reading list: go to the end of these notes

 

Comments on the topic by Thor:

 

 

“It is not necessary to believe in God to be a good person. In a way the traditional notion of God is outdated. One can be spiritual but not religious. It is not necessary to go to Church and give money – for many, nature can be a church. Some of the best people in history did not believe in God, while some of the worst deed were done in his name.”  

[Pope Francis (?) – supposedly misattributed to Francis in 2014. Hedged in 2015 to say there is no proof that he didn’t say it [ref. Wikiquote]. Many of his public statements can be interpreted to carry the sense of the disputed quotation]

 

 

1. Some European aperitifs

 

The gods helps those who help themselves

by Aesop (c. 620-564 BC)

 

A wagon became bogged on a very muddy road.
When the bullocks pulled hard, the wheels sank in even further.
The wagon driver decided his situation was hopeless, so he knelt and prayed to Hercules.
Hercules was the strongest of the immortals.
Hercules did indeed come to help, but he scolded the wagon driver. 
“Put your shoulder to the wheel man, and push!
Don’t expect me to do everything”, demanded Hercules.

 

The pantheon of gods in ancient Greece (peaking around the 5th to 4th Centuries BC) peculiargod4.jpgwere a likeable bunch. They were so human in their passions, their failings and their occasional generosity. As a mirror for the wavering characters of mortal men and women, they offered moral choices for those who cared to reflect, and a reminder of consequences for those who were more rash. Living at Olympian heights and blessed (or cursed) with immortality, the gods could impress the many who always wish to be impressed. Yet the sceptical were also accommodated since the wise and quizzical eyes of philosophers like Socrates and dramatists like Aeschylus, Sophocles and Aristophanes, also showed a penetrating grasp of psychology, together with, through satyrs (comedies), a very sane capacity to laugh at the gods themselves.

Alas, some time later, in the Roman era there was a kind of Middle Eastern takeover of the European spirit by the much darker and less humorous monotheistic Abrahamic religions, principally Christianity ( which had been anticipated on its home territory by a slew of rather similar Middle Eastern religions, but most immediately by Judaism, and followed a half millennium later by Islam). The vengeful god of Abraham claimed not only a monopoly of divinity (his competition, Lucifer, was badmouthed and thrown into a fiery pit), but demanded submission, not laughter, from the fallen race of humans, who could only hope to reclaim some grace in an afterlife by following strict instructions back on earth. Maybe this was all a bit too heavy because eventually god’s prophet, Jesus of Nazareth, was able to scrape together a following by talking about love, compassion and forgiveness. After delaying for a spot of persecution to please the crowds, the Christian brand was taken on by Roman politicians and marketed with the face of Jesus, yet more often than not practiced over the next twenty centuries with the vengeful hand of Abraham’s Jehovah.  

 

2. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world

When I first moved to South Korea in 2000, my apartment was dug into the side of a forested mountain in Bansong-dong. Not long after my arrival, one afternoon I heard a kind of low chanting below the window. Later, I clambered through the bushes, trying to avoid nettles, and found that a small stream plunged down the rocky slope, sometimes over cliffs. At the foot of one such cliff was a kind of grotto of overhung stone, and on its earthen floor I found some oranges and a pitcher of clear water.

My Korean hosts were a bit evasive about my questions, as if I had stumbled upon something not meant for outsiders. Much later I came to understand that the steep hills and valleys of Korea were still populated with mudang spirits (무당). Outside of (now vanishing) traditional villages it was not uncommon to see clusters of sotdae (솟대) on long poles, wooden birds of warning against evil spirits and harbingers of good luck. The sotdae were usually ducks, wondrous creatures that survived floods, brought good harvests and flew off beyond the lands of men with the cycle of the seasons.  This was all a bit strange in one of the world’s most urbanized countries where most people now live in forests of 19 story apartment blocks, and every town is festooned with the large pink neon-lit Christian crosses of churches in fierce competition for converts.

In South and East Asia, asking questions about religious belief, and what such belief might imply, always throws up a mass of contradictions for Western minds accustomed to hearing neat classifications of believer (in one god) or non-believer. (Poke a little and the Western storyline actually becomes pretty blurred too, but we’ll look at that later). Reflecting the confusion, statistics for religion in the region vary wildly, depending upon the sources. There are of course stark differences among South and East Asian religious attitudes, but also some commonalities.

In South Korean (with which I have some familiarity) the standard response to an enquiry about beliefs is that the country is 30% Buddhist, 30% Christian, and 30% non-believers, with 10% fuzz for very new religions and very old shamanistic beliefs. The reality for individuals is vastly more complicated than that, with many overlapping circles of ceremony, practice and obligation drawn from any or all of the preceding mentions, and maybe more.

Just as Europeans say that a Christian ethic underlies their societies regardless of religious practice, in South Korea (and probably North Korea) the dominant ethic is neo-Confucian, which scholars may say is non-religious but folk practice treats exactly as a religion. This is true for all East Asian regions of prior Chinese influence, from Japan to Vietnam, and west to the borderlands of Central Asia. There are many layers to Confucian belief, but for a visitor certain behaviours mark it off sharply from Western Christian influence, even for those East Asians who profess Christianity:

1. Hierarchy is the default order of things, and understood as a moral dimension. (Communism with Asian characteristics performs all kinds of social somersaults to waffle about this, but hierarchy triumphs every time as the expected normal). On the ancient Temple of Apollo in Delphi, Greece, was inscribed “Know Thyself”. The equivalent East Asian inscription would probably have to be “Know Thy Place”.

2. The first duty in social relationships is to preserve everyone’s public status. This is a moral imperative, and may override, for example, truth-telling where truth-telling would cause a loss of face. Those seeking advantage may manipulate relationships by “giving face” to the other party (e.g. by flattery) or “taking face” from the other party (e.g. by shaming), although taking face will cause outrage, even to the point of violence.

3. One of the innovations of the Middle Eastern prophet, Jesus Christ, was to preach the values of a universal love and compassion, probably best expressed by the commandment “Love Thy Neighbour”. Practical adherence to this idea anywhere on the planet has been patchy at best. However, at least in my Australian culture there has been a default norm to think about the convenience of others in our daily actions, and offer some assistance to strangers without expecting reward (e.g. to someone with a broken down vehicle). Some people are thoughtless about this and criticized accordingly.

The neo-Confucian norm in daily experience gives little space to “Love They Neighbour”, in spite of the Confucian idealized concept of ren ()benevolence or loving-kindness, explained as the source of all other virtues, with the power to prevent ritual becoming a sterile formality (Berling 1996).  The lived reality is more about “Do Thy Duty”, which basically covers family and extends more weakly to acquaintances. Strangers don’t get a look-in. For an Australian like me coming to East Asia, this was one of the more shocking and discouraging facts of daily life.

I’ve seen a young woman collapse on the floor of a South Korean subway carriage without anyone moving a muscle to help her. Twice I’ve seen men dying with heart attacks outside of Chinese hospitals with not a soul pausing to help them. More prosaically, it is a daily experience to have people shoving in queues totally indifferent to everyone around them, and parking across exit driveways … the list is endless. There are exceptions to this dismal experience, both in non-Confucian Eastern philosophies and the actions of naturally kind individuals. The manager of a yogwan (cheap hotel) in Seoul insisted on giving me his own umbrella when I left during a rainstorm. A stall holder in Chonqing led me across the city for 15 minutes to a destination, then modestly excused herself … and so on.

 

3. Narcissistic humans versus narcissistic gods

 

We know about people. Well, we assume that we know about people, somewhat.  As for gods, they are unknown unknowns, even if they are there to be known. Nevertheless, for the entire recorded history of human affairs, there has been status and lots of social and/or monetary profit for those who have the chutzpah to claim they know about gods and have a franchise on running the human shop on behalf of these said gods.

Clearly there is a widely held wish a) to know about gods, whether or not they are actually there, and b) to solicit instructions from these gods on the proper way for humans to behave.  It is reasonable to put a) down to natural curiosity. The reason for b) is likely to take us down twisty paths of human psychology. We could ask, for example, whether other animals, if they were sentient, would wish to solicit instructions for their personal behaviour from gods also.

Regardless of animal psychology, or the psychologies of intergalactic creatures, it is perfectly clear that when enough humans want something, whether it is white socks or instructions from gods, then some other human entrepreneurs will always step in to supply the demand.

Therefore there is a rich literature and story telling traditions in every human culture on how gods purportedly wish and expect humans to behave. For the largest proportion of humans these claimed godly wishes have the complexion of truths which must be obeyed, or at least mollified. For anyone living on planet earth, purported godly wishes assume practical importance since they affect many things, from the structure and function of institutions to the behaviour of populations.

For the ungodly, even as they dodge being stoned to death for apostasy, it is a perpetual puzzle why any god, mere mountain spirit or kitchen god, or a thundering master of the universe, would give a damn what humans do. And given the misfortunes of virtuous humans, and the prosperity of countless scoundrels, the ungodly search in vain for actual, non-magical evidence that god, gods, spirits or leprechauns do actually play moral favourites in any credible way with humans. For the godly of course, this kind of evidence has never mattered.

 

4. How necessary is religion to morality? - contries compared

 

 

5. Just supposing

 

What we purport to know about god(s) comes from the hands and mouths of humans. In many cases these humans have named themselves as witch doctors, mediums, shamans, prophets, priests and so on, putting out messages from the supernatural, sincerely or opportunistically. In any case, they have been widely believed, which is what counts. More ancient cultural traditions have passed on such notions orally, organized into song and story cycles with the original author-mediums lost in the mists of time. In the case of major belief systems, whole moral philosophies have been accumulated, written down and attributed to a god or gods. It is the tenor and content of these documents which leads us, using whatever insights we have from human psychology, to project and reflect on the character of whatever god(s) the philosophies are supposed to have emanated from. There are libraries full of this stuff, stretching back centuries, and more libraries filled with tomes debating the original belief systems, their embellishments, and how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. For a summary of the Western tradition in this dusty theological pastime, see Hare (2006, 2014 in the reading list).

Personally I suspect the whole god-obsession is the outcome of complex systems configurations in the human brain (May 2014), but that is not an idea within fashionable understanding or discussion at the moment since it requires some insight into the relatively recent general science of complexity systems (e.g. see the e-book by Holland, 2014, in the reading list). Therefore, I will mostly maintain more traditional speculation in this essay.

As a mere human exercising the tools of my human mind, and as the product of a particular cultural experience, the best I can do when trying to make sense of the godly beliefs and actions of others (which I don’t share) is to let these folk go their way when they do me no harm, and perhaps speculate without malice, but a little playful humour, on the possible ways a (fictitious) god might behave when touched with the gift or curse of immortality. Given my limitations I am bound of course to draw analogies with what humans might do, if given the gift or curse of immortality.

Is immortality itself such a big deal? In terms of psychological effect I think it is. Old gods never die, they simply fade away. It is true that in the story scripts there is often an end-time, an Armageddon, usually for the human creatures, though sometimes for the gods themselves, as in the Norse Ragnarök. The general tendency for the human spectators though is to talk of a supernatural eternity where stuff never actually ends, and where agents operating within such a sphere are therefore gifted with particular power, especially over humans whom they can snuff out on a whim like ants. In short, gods are “peculiar” in an old version of that word which means something like “exceptional” used with the sense of, for example, “American exceptionalism”.

We know that when humans are persuaded that they are exceptional as a group, they tend to behave badly given half a chance, and decline to subject themselves to the same checks as less fortunate beings. The current American empire is forever in our face, so it becomes a candidate for negative examples. Thus in the context of exceptionalism the United States refuses to be subject to the International Court of Justice, and refuses to ratify the Law of the Sea conventions. (Empires past and future, whatever their core ethnicities, tend to high-handedness in the same way).

Humans mostly require their gods to be peculiar, to show the properties of exceptionalism. If power corrupts, powers of omniscience and omnipotence are surely a test of the will of god(s). The Abrahamic religions took up on this idea by having the boss god’s number one archangel, Lucifer, corrupted by just such power and cast into Hell from where, however he/she/it continues to make mischief. For my puny human imagination, this simply looks like a case of poor personnel management by the boss god, but who am I to judge?

 

6. Asking for favours

 

Human religions have a myriad of social and political uses. When it comes to deep down and personal though, if it is hoped that a god has something which we don’t then folk have never been shy about asking the god for a favour. What gods are supposed to have available for dispensation could roughly be summed up as luck, meaning good fortune for the supplicant. The good fortune hoped for may range from the trivial to being saved from a life-threatening situation. The manner of asking for such divine intervention varies with the religion. It may be a prayer which involves promises or flattery (“adoration”). It may be an offering of some kind. The offering might be a plate of food, or smoke from incense, or some kind of sacrifice. Sacrifices usually involve the death of animals, but in some times, cultures have been known to offer up captured enemies, or even the supplicant’s own children.

An advanced social version of supplication has been a kind of human-to-supernatural contract where one particular group of humans, say a tribe, offers absolute loyalty to a particular god in return, supposedly, for special long term care and attention. Students of anthropology know that covenants of this kind have been found in a variety of cultures, and are generally rather ethnocentric or racist, marking one group off as exceptional/peculiar from other humans. In other words, the human holders of the covenant claim to take on some of the long term privileges attributed to a god themselves. In the Middle East, a Semitic tribe long ago favoured this kind of deal, claiming a first covenant struck by Abraham for his descendants, and later an updated version overseen by Moses. Covenants of this kind impose certain conditions on the followers, conditions which are interpreted as moral, lend a kind of group focus, and become part of the fabric of that culture. Being exclusive, a source of division from other people, they have also been fault lines for discrimination, persecution and conflict down the ages.

If we can empathise for a moment with the viewpoint of a hypothetical god or gods, presuming with our dull human senses that their motivations bear some analogy with our own, it is hard not to wonder what any god would find attractive or even noticeable about human prayers, sacrifices or covenants. It is possible perhaps to imagine some eminence sitting on a thunder cloud, playing the whole human circus as a kind of elaborate computer game. If we look at what 21st Century humans put their own hapless electronic avatars through in computer games, second-guessing godly behaviour in this sphere doesn’t look promising.

If we look at the lumpy historical fates of good people and bad, families, tribes and nations, it also doesn’t seem that any god has played favourites with consistency or anything we could recognize as reason. Such arguments have never mattered to believers of course. Regardless of whatever biological reality or supernatural influence plays beyond their own personas, systematized belief itself proves enough of an organizing scaffold and energizer to be of value to them.

 

7. We are all pantheists now

 

This essay has run with the metaphor that a god or gods display at least some characteristics which humans can identify with. Most of the history of human interaction with gods indicates that such an overlap of common properties was presupposed. If not, how could any human signal the need or wish for divine intervention, and how could the divinity respond in a way  meaningful to the human? I have implied that such a human-divine interdependence soon seems incoherent in terms of the actual fates of men, or any argument from reason, but has some value for the faithful as an energizing and organizing concept.

Most people have a preference for simple questions and simple answers. Magic meets that need wonderfully, and some version of magic may be all that is required as explanation for many, whether it is a question of how a mobile phone actually works, or where the universe came from, or who is managing the big cosmic shop.

There are other folk with somewhat more subtle minds who find magical answers dissatisfying, but who nevertheless still have little idea of how a mobile phone actually works, where the universe comes from, or what is making the big cosmic shop work the way it seems to.  On the magic/god angle, they may profess to be atheists, or more cautiously agnostics. Or to diffuse the issue culturally (since believers in gods are apt to be a bit aggressive when challenged) they may simply agree that pantheism makes more sense.

Pantheism is the idea that god is present in everything. The immanence of god concedes an argument for deity, yet concedes nothing. It is hard to think of an immanent god, of which you and I are a part, of which friends and enemies and cane toads a part, somehow twisting into a bit of independent consciousness which saves Little Red Riding Hood from the wolf at the door because of her earnest prayers.

The idea of a pantheistic god seems to have been around at least as long as the idea of particularistic gods, perhaps because different kinds of human personalities have different kinds of needs and are able to live or not live with different kinds of answers.

Now, on an abused and polluted planet earth, environmentalism for many has acquired quasi-religious overtones. Perhaps there is some value in challenging the concept that mankind is the centre of all things, and work with a more pantheistic approach which sees the whole of nature as interdependent. As voyagers in such a cosmos, our consciousness could be a tool to render us carers and wardens for a small planet.

 

__________________________________________________________

 

 

Reading List*  (other suggestions welcome)

 

Alberge, Dalya (21 December 2014) "A zealot, a rebel, but no miracle-worker: film studios plot a secular take on life of Jesus". The Guardian online @ http://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/dec/20/bible-epics-zealot-rebel-studios-plot-secular-take-on-life-of-jesus  

Allen, Nick (July 30, 2012 ) "US church refuses to marry black couple at last minute". Brisbane Times online @ http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/world/us-church-refuses-to-marry-black-couple-at-last-minute-20120730-237p7.html#ixzz2243n9RhP  

Anderson, nn (September 2010) "The Scientific Method". Bozeman Science, online Youtube video @ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GKGtkzgKfkc  

Angel, M.J. (February 12, 2014) "It seems half of Australia believes in the supernatural". Sydney Morning Herald online @ http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/life/it-seems-half-of-australia-believes-in-the-supernatural-20140211-32gnu.html#ixzz2t9NF2Ef6  

Arlandson, James M. (13 January 2013) "Thirty Shariah Laws That Are Bad For All Societies - Can Modern Islam Reform Old Islam?" Jihadwatch website, online @ http://www.jihadwatch.org/2012/09/james-m-arlandson-thirty-shariah-laws-that-are-bad-for-all-societies.html

Armstrong, Karen (25 September 2014) "The myth of religious violence". The Guardian online @ http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/25/-sp-karen-armstrong-religious-violence-myth-secular  

Asian Religions, pp. 5-7, Fall 1982. AskAsia (Asia Society), online @ http://www2.kenyon.edu/Depts/Religion/Fac/Adler/Reln270/Berling-Confucianism.htm  

Baker, Richard (June 27, 2014) "Senior orthodox Jewish leaders face cover-up inquest over child sex abuses". Sydney Morning Herald online @ http://www.smh.com.au/national/senior-orthodox-jewish-leaders-face-coverup-inquest-over-child-sex-abuses-20140627-zsoqz.html#ixzz35ysveprV

Barber, Nigel (24 October 2013) "Is Religion of any Practical Use?" Huffington Post, online @ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nigel-barber/is-religion-any-use_b_4157085.html?utm_hp_ref=world  

Baroud, Ramzy (2014) "The beginnings of the angry Muslim". Asia Times online @ http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/MID-01-270614.html  

Baylor University (June 12, 2013). “‘Spiritual’ young people more likely to commit crimes than ‘religious’ ones”. Psypost, online @ http://www.psypost.org/2013/06/spiritual-young-people-more-likely-to-commit-crimes-than-religious-ones-18416?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter  

Beng, Ooi Kee (06/30/2014) "Islam -- Up for Grabs?". Huffington Post online @ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ooi-kee-beng/islam-up-for-grabs_b_5535992.html?utm_hp_ref=world

Berg, Chris (July 22, 2012) "Let the cult begin: Olympic Games symbolism is steeped in fundamentalism, militarism and fascism". Brisbane Times online @ http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/opinion/politics/let-the-cult-begin-20120721-22gxf.html#ixzz21IkdImhM  

Brooks, David (November 30, 2014) "Capitalist winds expose the spiritual void". The Age online @ http://www.theage.com.au/comment/capitalist-winds-expose-the-spiritual-void-20141129-11w9g9.html

Brown, Andrew (15 July 2013) "The six types of atheist". The Guardian online @ http://discussion.guardian.co.uk/discussion/p/3hakx?commentpage

Bunyan, John (February, 1678) "The Pilgrim's Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come; Delivered under the Similitude of a Dream". Wikipedia online @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Pilgrim%27s_Progress  

Burke, Jason (27 November 2015) "The story of a radicalisation: 'I was not thinking my thoughts. I was not myself'". The Guardian online @ http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/26/radicalisation-islam-isis-maysa-not-thinking-my-thoughts-not-myself?INTCMP=the-essential-read-automated  

Burkeman, Oliver (15 January 2014) "The one theology book all atheists really should read". The Guardian online @ http://www.theguardian.com/news/oliver-burkeman-s-blog/2014/jan/14/the-theology-book-atheists-should-read  

Crooke, Alastair (08/27/2014) "You Can't Understand ISIS If You Don't Know the History of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia". The Huffington Post online @ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alastair-crooke/isis-wahhabism-saudi-arabia_b_5717157.html?utm_hp_ref=world  

de Botton, Alain (July 20122) "Atheism 2.0" TEDtalk video, online @ http://www.ted.com/talks/alain_de_botton_atheism_2_0.html

de Spinoza, Benedict (1677) Ethics. republished translation by R.H.M. Ewles in the Gutenberg Project, online @ http://www.gutenberg.org/files/3800/3800-h/3800-h.htm  

Dennet, Daniel (April 2012) "Secular Ecstasy". video online @ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L9qh0OnrcRk  

Dhillon, Amrit (October 31, 2013) "Who ya gonna call? Gurubusters!". Brisbane Times online @ http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/world/who-ya-gonna-call-gurubusters-20131030-2whap.html#ixzz2jFXMTjui  

Doidge, Norman (30 April 2012) "Neuroplacticity". TVObigideas series , online Youtube video (1hr) @ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Z1nLJNqpLk

Dow, Aisha and Emma Schenk (June 19, 2014) "Fear and loathing in Bendigo over multi-million dollar mosque". The Age online @ http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/fear-and-loathing-in-bendigo-over-multimillion-dollar-mosque-20140618-zsdw4.html#ixzz352ONtxiT  

Einstein, Albert (9 November, 1930) "Religion and Science". New York Times Magazine pp 1-4. Posted Sacredtexts.com, online @ http://www.sacred-texts.com/aor/einstein/einsci.htm  

Feeney, Katherine (March 31, 2013) "Aussie churches 'aren’t judged fairly". Brisbane Times online @ http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/aussie-churches-arent-judged-fairly-20130331-2h12y.html

Fuller, Robert (2009) “Spiritual but not religious”. Beliefnet website, online @ http://www.beliefnet.com/Entertainment/Books/2002/07/Spiritual-But-Not-Religious.aspx?p=2  

Gardels, Nathan (09/29/2014)"Xi Launches Cultural Counter-Revolution to Restore Confucianism as China's Ideology". The Huffington Post online @ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nathan-gardels/xi-jinping-confucianism_b_5897680.html?utm_hp_ref=world  

Ghotbi, Nader (27 August 2015) "Religion, Moral Values and the Ethics of Japanese Society". International Assoc. for Asia Pacific Studies, Volume 6 Number 1, Spring 2015 pp. 21-32, online @ http://www.apu.ac.jp/iaaps/modules/publication/apw/vol6/no1/content0003.html/  

Gottlieb, Jenna (December 23, 2013) "Iceland's elves blamed for road project delays". Sydney Morning Herald online @ http://www.smh.com.au/world/icelands-elves-blamed-for-road-project-delays-20131223-hv6pv.html#ixzz2oHV2ootG  

Hansen, Friedrich (2013) "Judaism's ancient voice of reason - The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture by Ora Harmony". Asia Times online @ http://atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/OB09Ak01.html  

Hare, John (2006 & 2014)"Religion and Morality". [recommended. A very long but thorough account of the Western history of the religion & morality issue] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy online @ http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/religion-morality/  

Harris, Sam and Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett (15 July 2013) "Spiritual Experiences". video online @ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uo0GUPTjUjY

Hasan, Usama  (24 November 2015 ) "Are Islamist terrorists pious conservatives or drug-taking hedonists?". http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/nov/24/islamist-terrorists-drug-taking-jihadist  

Hays, Jeffrey (2013 ) "Hinduism, karma, reincarnation, life and morality". Facts & Details website online @ http://factsanddetails.com/world/cat55/sub354/item1355.html

Hefner, Robert W. (editor;  1997) "Market Cultures: Society And Morality In The New Asian Capitalisms". publisher: Westview Press. promo' online @ http://www.bu.edu/cura/market-cultures-society-and-morality-in-the-new-asian-capitalisms/   

Holland, John H. (September 2014) "Complexity: A Very Short Introduction". Kindle edition online @ http://www.amazon.com/Complexity-Very-Short-Introduction-Introductions-ebook/dp/B00L4CK0M6/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=&qid=  

Hopkins, Gerard Manley (May, 1877) “Windhover” poem. Quoted in The Guardian, online @ http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2010/apr/01/windhover-gerard-manley-hopkins  

Hughes, Bettany (April 8, 2012) "Secrets of divine women exposed: Powerful females were at the very roots of early faiths". Brisbane Times online @ http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/world/secrets-of-divine-women-exposed-20120407-1wi1j.html#ixzz1rOzttpGv  

Hussain, Murtaza (09 Jul 2013) "The myth of the 1,400 year Sunni-Shia war - The 'Sunni-Shia conflict' narrative is misguided at best and disingenuous at worst, suggests author". Al Jazeera online @ http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/07/2013719220768151.html  

J.D. (Sep 29th 2013) "How many people convert to Islam? ". The Economist online @ http://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2013/09/economist-explains-17  

Jackson, Wayne (n.d.) “The Spiritual Person”. Christian Courier, online @ https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/500-spiritual-person-the  

Jones, Milton (4 October 2013) “Is Christianity Weird?”. Guardian video, online @ http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/video/2013/oct/04/milton-jones-is-christianity-weird-video  [comment: inane video, but the 736 comments are worthwhile ]

Kenneally, Christine (October 14, 2014) "The Mormon Church Is Building a Family Tree of the Entire Human Race They already have 32 times the amount of information contained in the Library of Congress". The New Republic online @ http://www.newrepublic.com/article/119785/extensive-mormon-genealogy-offers-limited-vision-history

Khawaja, Mahboob A (2014) "Farzana Parveen stoning shames Pakistan". Asia Times online @ http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/SOU-01-020614.html  

Knight, Kevin (2013) "Belief". Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, online @ http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02408b.htm  

Lee, Dave (17 July 2013) "How Scientology changed the internet". BBC online @ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-23273109  

Li Yehang (07 August 2012) "A trip to Qinghai". [reflections on Tibetan Buddhism]. Danwei blog, online @ http://www.danwei.com/a-trip-to-qinghai/  

Max Planck Institute (n.d.) "Religion and Morality in South-East Asia". Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology online @ http://www.eth.mpg.de/3541387/religion_and_morality_in_south_east_asia   

May, Thor (1998-2013) The Agnostic’s Survival Manual. e-book collecting many of Thor’s (not necessarily consistent) thoughts on this subject over a number of years. online @ http://www.academia.edu/3486693/The_Agnostics_Survival_Manual  (pdf), as well as an html version @ http://thormay.net/unwiseideas/TheAgnosticsSurvivalManual.htm

May, Thor (2013) "The Probable Language Brain". Academia.edu online @ http://www.academia.edu/2563032/The_Probable_Language_Brain  

May, Thor (2014) “Does religion emerge as a product of complex systems? – exploring an allegory”. Academia.edu online @ https://www.academia.edu/9924682/Does_religion_emerge_as_a_product_of_complex_systems_exploring_an_allegory  

Michaelson, Jay “How is a "Spiritual Person" Supposed to Act?”. Reality Sandwich blog, online @ http://www.realitysandwich.com/how_spiritual_person_act  

Milbank, Alison (24 Dec 2012) "The riddle and the gift: The Hobbit at Christmas". Australian Broadcasting Corporation online @ http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2012/12/24/3660152.htm?WT

Moaveni, Azadeh (06/25/2014) "Here Are Some of the Day-To-Day Differences Between Sunnis and Shiites". Huffington Post online @ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/azadeh-moaveni/differences-between-sunnis-shiites_b_5526484.html?utm_hp_ref=world  

Nicolis, Gregoire and Catherine Rouvas-Nicolis (2007)"Complex Systems". Scholarpedia, 2(11):1473. online @ http://www.scholarpedia.org/article/Complex_systems

Oeuillet, Julien (November 24, 2015) "Belgium cats, raids and religious differences explained by a Belgian". Brisbane Times online @ http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/world/belgium-cats-raids-and-religious-differences-explained-by-a-belgian-20151123-gl690d.html  

Olding, Rachel (November 3, 2014) "Hostage's insight into terrorists' MO: brainwash Western children to take the jihad home". Brisbane Times online @ http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/world/hostages-insight-into-terrorists-mo-brainwash-western-children-to-take-the-jihad-home-20141103-11g3nr.html  

Orr, Deborah (24 January 2015) "It’s not surprising women are more religious than men. What else do they have to believe in?". The Guardian online @ http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jan/23/its-not-surprising-women-are-more-religious-than-men  

Palermo, Elizabeth ( September 11, 2014) "Religion Doesn't Make People More Moral, Study Finds". Live Science website, online @ http://www.livescience.com/47799-morality-religion-political-beliefs.html  

Palmer, Lisa (Nov 11, 2012) "Emerging Force on Climate Change: Religion, Ecology, Ethics, and Morality". Yale Climate Connections website, online @ http://www.yaleclimateconnections.org/2012/11/emerging-force-on-climate-change-religion-ecology-ethics-and-morality/  

Pancholi, N.D. (5 September 2015) "Religion and Morality". South Asia Citizens Web online @ http://www.sacw.net/article11602.html

Pavlac, Brian A. (2 May 2012) "Ten Common Errors and Myths about the Witch Hunts, Corrected and Commented". Prof. Pavlac's Women's History Resource Site online @ http://departments.kings.edu/womens_history/witch/werror.html  

Pew Research (2012) “Muslim beliefs about morality”. Pewforum online @ http://www.pewforum.org/2013/04/30/the-worlds-muslims-religion-politics-society-morality/

Pew Research Centre (2014) " Worldwide, Many See Belief in God as Essential to Morality". Pew Research Centre online @ http://www.pewglobal.org/2014/03/13/worldwide-many-see-belief-in-god-as-essential-to-morality/ 

Rizvi, Ali A. (05/03/2013) "An Atheist Muslim's Perspective on the 'Root Causes' of Islamist Jihadism and the Politics of Islamophobia". Huffington Post online @ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ali-a-rizvi/an-atheist-muslims-perspective-on-the-root-causes-of-islamist-jihadism-and-the-politics-of-islamophobia_b_3159286.html?utm_hp_ref=world  

Robson, Steve (2 January 2013) "Spiritual people are more likely to be mentally ill (but at least they think life has more meaning)." Daily Mail (UK), online @ http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2255894/Spiritual-people-likely-mentally-ill-think-life-meaning.html#ixzz2h6FH2SXC  

Rubenstein, Ben & Nicole Willson, Manuel_Montenegro (n.d.) “How to become more spiritual”. Wikihow, online @ http://www.wikihow.com/Become-More-Spiritual

Safi, Michael (26 November 2015)"Police rush in after man heard screaming 'I'm going to kill you'; discover noise caused by him attacking spider". The Guardian online @ http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/nov/26/youre-dead-police-thought-man-trying-to-kill-spider-was-attacking-wife  

Smith, David and agencies in Khartoum (Thursday 26 June 2014) "Meriam Ibrahim freed again after rearrest at Sudan airport/ Lawyer says woman whose death sentence for apostasy was overturned has been released after pressure from diplomats". The Guardian online @ http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/26/meriam-ibrahim-freed-rearrest-sudan-airport    

Smith, Julia Llewellyn (July 1, 2014) "What god does to your brain - The controversial science of neurotheology aims to find the answer to an age-old question: why do we believe?". Brisbane Times online @ http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/world/what-god-does-to-your-brain-20140630-3b467.html#ixzz36BnhOVF5

Sparrow, Jeff (30 November 2015)"There must be another way for nonbelievers than to transform, as Dawkins and Harris have done, into toxic know-it-alls". The Guardian online @ http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/nov/30/we-can-save-atheism-from-the-new-atheists  

Sporns, Olaf (2007) "Complexity". Scholarpedia, 2(10):1623. online @ http://www.scholarpedia.org/article/Complexity

Sunday Assembly (2013). Non-theistic assemblies for congregation without god(s) (assemblies worldwide). SundayAssembly online @ http://sundayassembly.com/  

The The Economist (20 September 2013) “How many people convert to Islam?” The Economist, London, online
@ http://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2013/09/economist-explains-17  
[comment: interesting to consider this from the viewpoint of religion-as-a-social-environment Vs religion-as-a-spiritual-environment, although followers may rationalize the former as the latter]

The Economist(Nov 01 2014) "Cracks in the atheist edifice: The rapid spread of Christianity is forcing an official rethink on religion in China". The Economist online @ http://discover.economist.com/?a=21629218&p=CA&cid1=disp|1012930|50126&cid2=
AUPPLAWorldBeyondOwnChinaAndChristianityCTFacebook|
[TRACKING]

Thompson, Peter (22 September 2012) "Eastern Germany: the most godless place on Earth. East German atheism can be seen as a form of continuing political and regional identification – and a taste of the future". The Guardian online @ http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2012/sep/22/atheism-east-germany-godless-place?CMP=ema_632

Todd, Douglas (January 11, 2013( "Smart atheist heads $3-million grant into religion and morality". The Vancouver Sun online @ http://blogs.vancouversun.com/2013/01/11/wise-atheist-wins-3-million-to-research-religion-and-morality/  

Valiant, Leslie (2013) "Probably Approximately Correct: Nature's Algorithms for Learning and Prospering in a Complex World". Basic Books. Kindle edition available online @ http://www.amazon.com/Probably-Approximately-Correct-Algorithms-Prospering-ebook/dp/B00BE650IQ/ref=tmm_kin_title_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=&qid=  

Waterfield, Bruno (February 6, 2013) "Workhouse survivors reject Irish PM's apology". Brisbane Times online @ http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/world/workhouse-survivors-reject-irish-pms-apology-20130206-2dxg8.html#ixzz2K4chHJfF  

Watkins' Books (Issue 33, Spring 2013) " Watkins’ Spiritual 100 List for 2013: 100 Most Spiritually Influential Living people". Watkins' Books website, online @ http://www.watkinsbooks.com/review/watkins-spiritual-100-list-2013  

Weinberger, Ilan (2008) "Japanese budo: an East Asian religious paradigm for self-cultivation, morality and conflict resolution". Georgetown University repository online @ https://repository.library.georgetown.edu/handle/10822/558075?show=full

Weingarten, Elizabeth (Nov. 16, 2011) "How two British atheists convinced a crowd of New Yorkers that the world would be better off without faith at last night’s Slate/Intelligence Squared U.S. debate". Slate online @
http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/intelligence_squared/2011/11/the_nov_15_slate_intelligence_squared
_u_s_debate_why_the_atheists_triumphed_in_last_night_s_slate_intelligence_squared_u_s_debate_on_the_merits
_of_religion_.single.html
 

Wikipedia (2013) "Eschatology". [the study of end-times and afterlife] Wikipedia online @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eschatology   

Wikipedia (2013) "Ethics, by Baruch Spinoza". online @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethics_%28book%29  

Wikipedia (2013) "Religious Views of Albert Einstein". online @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_views_of_Albert_Einstein  

Wikipedia (2013) “Spiritual but not religious (SBNR)”. online @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiritual_but_not_religious  

Wikipedia (2013) “Spirituality”. online @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spirituality  

Wikipedia (2014) "Agnosticism". Wikipedia online @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agnosticism

Wikipedia (2014) "Atheism". Wikipedia online @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atheism  

Wikipedia (2014) "Buddhism". Wikipedia online @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhism

Wikipedia (2014) "Christianity". Wikipedia online @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christianity  

Wikipedia (2014) "Confucianism". Wikipedia online @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confucianism

Wikipedia (2014) "Extremism". Wikipedia online @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extremism

Wikipedia (2014) "Fundamentalism". Wikipedia online @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamentalism

Wikipedia (2014) "Hinduism". Wikipedia online @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hinduism

Wikipedia (2014) "Islam". Wikipedia online @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam  

Wikipedia (2014) "Pantheism". Wikipedia online @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pantheism

Wikipedia (2014) "Polytheism". Wikipedia online @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polytheism  

Wikipedia (2014) "Psychology of religion". Wikipedia online @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
Psychology_of_religion

Wikipedia (2014) "Religion". Wikipedia online @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion

Wikipedia (2014) "Religious liberalism". Wikipedia online @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
Religious_liberalism
 

Wikipedia (2014) "Secularism". Wikipedia online @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secularism

Wikipedia (2014) "Spiritualism". Wikipedia online @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiritualism  

Wikipedia (2014) "Taiping Rebellion". [a Chinese millinarian movement; 20 million deaths]. Wikipedia online @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taiping_Rebellion  

Wikipedia (2015) "Cheondoism" [a syncretic Korean agnostic religion] Wikipedia online @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheondoism   

Wikipedia (2015) "Korean Shamanism". Wikipedia online @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_shamanism

Wikipedia (2015) "Shinto" [Japan] Wikipedia online @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shinto

Wikipedia (2015) “Ethics in Religion”. Wikipedia online @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethics_in_religion

Wikipedia (2015) “Theatre of ancient Greece”. Wikipedia online @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theatre_of_ancient_Greece

Wikipedia (2015) “Sun Wukong”. Wikipedia online @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sun_Wukong

Wikiquote (2015) “Pope Francis”. Wikiquote online @ https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Pope_Francis

Wroe, David (November 27, 2015) "How Australia plans to stop radicalisation in its tracks". Brisbane Times online @ http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/how-australia-plans-to-stop-radicalisation-in-its-tracks-20151126-gl9evt.html

Zennie, Michael (27 March 2012) "New Age followers still waiting for aliens to beam them up 15 years after Heaven's Gate cult suicides left 39 people dead". Daily Mail (UK) online @ http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2120869/Heavens-Gate-cult-committed-mass-suicide-15-years-ago.html

 


Professional bio: Thor May has a core professional interest in cognitive linguistics, at which he has rarely succeeded in making a living. He has also, perhaps fatally in a career sense, cultivated an interest in how things work – people, brains, systems, countries, machines, whatever… In the world of daily employment he has mostly taught English as a foreign language, a stimulating activity though rarely regarded as a profession by the world at large. His PhD dissertation, Language Tangle, dealt with language teaching productivity. Thor has been teaching English to non-native speakers, training teachers and lecturing linguistics, since 1976. This work has taken him to seven countries in Oceania and East Asia, mostly with tertiary students, but with a couple of detours to teach secondary students and young children. He has trained teachers in Australia, Fiji and South Korea. In an earlier life, prior to becoming a teacher, he had a decade of finding his way out of working class origins, through unskilled jobs in Australia, New Zealand and finally England (after backpacking across Asia to England in 1972).

 


The peculiar interest of god(s) in human morality ©Thor May 2015 ŠThor May Noevember 2015

index of discussion topics