illusion of an invisible author

I thought this New York Times article about superstition might interest some of you!

Another law of magic is “everything happens for a reason” — there is no such thing as randomness or happenstance. This is so-called teleological reasoning, which assumes intentions and goals behind even evidently purposeless entities like hurricanes. As social creatures, we may be biologically tuned to seek evidence of intentionality in the world, so that we can combat or collaborate with whoever did what’s been done. When lacking a visible author, we end up crediting an invisible one — God, karma, destiny, whatever.

This illusion, too, turns out to be psychologically useful. In research led by the psychologist Laura Kray of the University of California, Berkeley, subjects reflected on a turning point in their lives. The more they felt the turning point to have been fated, the more they believed, “It made me who I am today” and, “It gave meaning to my life.” Belief in destiny helps render your life a coherent narrative, which infuses your goals with a greater sense of purpose. This works even when those turning points are harmful: in a study led by the psychologist Kenneth Pargament of Bowling Green State University, students who saw a negative event as “part of God’s plan” showed more growth in its aftermath. They became more open to new perspectives, more intimate in their relationships and more persistent in overcoming challenges.

It boggles the mind (my mind at least) that a belief that a negative event was god’s plan should lead to increased openness. I have no doubt, though, that magical beliefs and superstition are very human indeed and that they correspond to human needs. It’s kind of self-evident almost.

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129 comments

  1. Fascinating.
    Do you think belief makes people happier?
    I wonder sometimes if it would make me a happier person, but how would that work?
    Apart from the fact that ‘the genie is out of the bottle’ as regards religion,
    for me I find the whole idea of an omniscient or omnipotent being very depressing – ditto any life after death, once around is enough.
    I am still not sure about the relationship between anthroposophy and ‘God’ , even after reading what people here such as Falk have to say on it, although Diana did say that there is a conflict within Waldorf between Christianity and the occult.
    Why do people find comfort in belief in the supernatural? To me it is not comforting. Or reasonable.
    Alicia, you say
    ‘I have no doubt, though, that magical beliefs and superstition are very human indeed and that they correspond to human needs. It’s kind of self-evident almost’.
    Which needs are you thinking of?
    Surely many of us are not comforted by the thought of life after death.
    I am aware I may seem obsessed with death, but I’m not, honestly. I just think religious believers are.
    A sign on the front door saying ‘No Death Cults’ is aimed at detering church members from knocking, but it doesn’t work. They don’t see themselves that way, but to me that is exactly what they are.

  2. The need to understand/deal with death, non-existence, might be one such need (*not* believing anything ‘continues’ after death fulfills the same need, doesn’t it? just in another way, from another perspective, so to speak). Another one might be coherence — it’s more comfortable if life seems glued together by something (meaning, purpose, et c).

    A for belief (in a higher being, god, i e) — I’m not at all sure it makes people happier. As for life after death, well, not knowing what that would look like ‘in reality’ (only knowing what people imagine it to be), it’s difficult to say if it’s a depressing prospect or not ;-)

    I never get door-knockers… But sure — it’s about death, isn’t it? It’s about humans not wanting to be like the random ant, transient, and insignificant to the universe. Pretending something else is the case lessens the angst.

  3. This is really interesting!

    I haven’t read the original articles, but “belief” is only one kind of meaning-making. And in the US it is the most widespread and accepted way of aligning your personal life with a grand narrative. Global research on happiness shows that the happiest countries are more secular than more religious. See: http://yhoo.it/IsVl1l

    And “Why Religion Makes Only Some of Us Happy” at http://bit.ly/zssyWl

  4. I see what you mean about
    “(*not* believing anything ‘continues’ after death fulfills the same need, doesn’t it? just in another way, from another perspective, so to speak). ”
    Well I don’t think I have that need to understand, but I do enjoy looking at the evidence science has provided us with. The fact that evidence points to life having no purpose has a charm for me.
    I enjoy being insignificant in the universe, don’t you?
    Looking back with hindsight on a negative event and turning it in to a positive is what one would expect a superstitious person to do.
    It is similar to doing a rain dance and then watching the rain fall as a consequence, or going to Lourdes and recovering from an illness.
    People project their wishful thinking on to real life and make in to the will of a deity to justify their beliefs.
    There seems to be a contradiction too about believing in God’s plan and then trying to alter it by one’s own actions.

  5. Fascinatingly, even in the most secular countries (with the lowest church attendence/adherence to organized religion), lots of people seem to still believe in ‘something higher’, that death is not the end, ‘ghosts’, invisible worlds, and so forth. I’m not sure about numbers and statistics (or even the state of current research…), but perhaps these beliefs and ideas have taken a place that was previously held by organized religion. Or perhaps taken up a place never abandoned in the first place, in the cases where there’s an overlap.

    (Quite odd, though, that they used a dating service to find subjects for that piece of research…)

    ‘I enjoy being insignificant in the universe, don’t you?’

    No, not really, I have to say ;-)

    ‘People project their wishful thinking on to real life and make in to the will of a deity to justify their beliefs.’

    Yes, have you read what Steiner wrote about that when he was young?
    http://zooey.wordpress.com/2009/12/27/inventing/

  6. ‘Religious affiliation appears to boost happiness and wellbeing in societies that fail to provide adequate food, jobs, health care, security and educational opportunities, the researchers found.’
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/08/110808170052.htm

    (Here’s a study that might be unsettling for some anthros, who conflate atheist with unspiritual: ‘”There’s spirituality among even the most secular scientists,” Ecklund said. “Spirituality pervades both the religious and atheist thought. It’s not an either/or. This challenges the idea that scientists, and other groups we typically deem as secular, are devoid of those big ‘Why am I here?’ questions. They too have these basic human questions and a desire to find meaning.”‘ http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110505124039.htm)

    (I just had to post this one, Helen: ‘Believers’ Inferences About God’s Beliefs Are Uniquely Egocentric’ http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091130151321.htm)

  7. Ulf’s list of happy countries is interesting as is the piece about religion making only some of us happy. I see it says religious people have higher self- esteem and are better adjusted pshychologically… those sorts of conclusions do make me wonder, maybe it’s worth a try – but which one to choose…?
    It must be the fact that they have deviated from reality that makes them happy, or it makes reality easier to deal with.
    I do consider those mentioned by Alicia who ‘still believe in ‘something higher’, that death is not the end, ‘ghosts’, invisible worlds,’ as religious though, do you not? It is still a belief in the supernatural. Do not spiritualists consider themselves religious? (don’t know).
    Did Steiner consider himself a religious man when he wrote the essay on Individualism in Philosophy?

  8. Beginning from the end: No, he didn’t, as far as I can tell. He wasn’t even a mystic back then.

    I agree that it is a belief in the supernatural, clearly. I think though that often in these religion surveys that measure how secular a society is, the focus is organized religion (church attendence, for example). Private beliefs in the supernatural falls outside the scope of religion in that regard. Few swedes go to church, so in that regard Sweden is very secular. If you survey them on beliefs in after-life and in ghosts… you get a different idea!

    It’s my impression that many spiritualists don’t consider themselves religious. (Of course, lots of people who hold anthroposophical beliefs don’t want to call themselves anthroposophists either, so…)

    Re the happiness — it seems to be related to what kind of society you live in and the social surroundings. In most western european countries, at least in the most secular ones, religion seems to offer few benefits as far as happiness goes. Well, that’s how I interpret it.

    ‘which one to choose…?’ — may I suggest canineosophy? The most fulfilling spiritual belief system… sorry science… in the universe! /mr Dog.

  9. I like that, thank you.

  10. Although that flow-chart is very useful, my guru tells me it’s woefully incomplete, from a canineosophical viewpoint. Other than that — it’s splendid!

  11. If someone believed in the spiritual world just because it made them happier, I would call that a prudential reason. I.e., I want to be happy, belief is reputed to make me happy therefore it is prudent to believe. The problem comes when someone turns up with a better solution. “Oh, you want to be happy! I have a very good pill here. No need for any absurd unfounded beliefs, swallow this and you will be happy!” Then it may become more prudent to swallow the pill.
    The only reason to believe is because either experience, inspiration or reasoning or some combination of the three has brought it home to you that something is true. This is why many people who believe refer to some crucial experience or turning point.

    The later Steiner ( see Alicia’s link to Steiner’s thoughts on religion when he was young,http://zooey.wordpress.com/2009/12/27/inventing/)
    created his own narrative which has many of the characteristics Ulf refers to. It is a teleological narrative. It is about how life can be understood in terms of intentions and purposes.

  12. A couple of years ago I stood in the High Street where I thought I was supposed to meet my husband, and he didn’t show up. I racked my brains to think of where I had made the mistake (he’s very reliable) and during the racking a young woman approached me and handed me a flyer about a meeting later that day for an Alpha Course (an opportunity to
    explore the meaning of life).
    She clearly recognised me as a confused and needy person, who could benefit from this opportunity.

  13. ‘The problem comes when someone turns up with a better solution.’

    Actually, yes. Although that may alternatively be regarded as an asset and not a problem. Abandon the old solution when a better one turns up. This would be so, whether the ultimate objective is happiness or something else. Prudential indeed — but is that necessarily bad? It’s perhaps not very spiritual, but then… other reasons for spirituality or religion aren’t always more noble…

    ‘She clearly recognised me as a confused and needy person, who could benefit from this opportunity.’

    Happened to me at least once. But I was younger then. I remember one slightly older young person (I was probably around or even under 20 at the time) approaching me at a subway station, talking seductively about ‘group of young people who meet and discuss’ whatever it was. I mean, it was meant to be attractive. She talked very softly and silently, it seemed as if the whole point was to be ‘sensitive’ and not pushy. I have a feeling this group targeted those who seemed ‘confused and needy’ too ;-) I said, no thanks, bye bye.

  14. I don’t think I was quite so polite to my recruiter.

    Talking of superstition we don’t have bed 13 in our hospitals in the UK. Are we unique in this?
    Also at the end of this article, there is a warning about magical thinking – it can lead to obsession, fatalism and psychosis. Not so beneficial to some people, then

  15. Well, she didn’t do anything offensive, so there was no reason to do anything more than say I’m not interested.

    I don’t think you’re unique at all — though I don’t know about hospital beds. Most airline companies avoid having a row 13, don’t they? As silly as it is…

    Clearly, it’s not so beneficial to some people. Moreover, spiritual and religious belief can ‘help’ people do nasty things towards others.

  16. I think it is offensive to pick on what they see as vulnerable people, to boost their own numbers and therefore their coffers.

  17. It may be offensive, but I’m not actually sure it’s that much more offensive than commercial sales people who do the same thing (and often quite aggressively, also picking out their targets, I’m sure). After all, that young woman who approached me had probably been recruited the same way (unless she had been raised by her parents in that cult), and I don’t know what she felt about doing what she did — I’ve read about young people who are forcing themselves to go out recruiting even though they feel embarrassed and uncomfortable… They have to, if they are to be accepted by the religious group. I’m not sure what treating such a person in an unfriendly manner would achieve. The only offense is her selling me her faith. If she were aggressive or unfriendly herself, then it would be a different thing. Or if she had pursued me beyond a brief encounter on a metro station or if she hadn’t accepted my refusal. But the world is full of people who don’t think the way I do, and not infrequently they try to convince me their ideas are better than mine.

  18. I see what you mean.
    But I think maybe a wake- up is what the young people could do with. How else are they to realise they are being used and in a damaging way?
    You know by now I am really offended by religion, It is the great problem we have as a species – I don’t expect you to agree with me, but I think we waste so much effort on it.
    I wonder what humans could have achieved by now without it.
    I have mentioned before, religions are always careful to cultivate a kindly image, even ‘loving’! But try wanting a gay marriage, a peaceful death or eating the wrong kind of meat and the veneer soon rubs off.

  19. Sorry, thought I was on the Foundation for Reason and Science discussion page for a moment.
    I’ll get back there now…(smiley face!)

  20. Unfortunately, it may just serve to make them more committed — despised by the world, where to turn? To the cult. Though, to be honest, the relative usefulness of different approaches didn’t cross my mind; in that particular instance, it was more a question of someone I didn’t know who didn’t do anything to harm me and I had no reason to react in a bad way to her. In other situations, I might challenge someone’s ideas, but not in that situation (she didn’t even preseent them, although she said they discussed jesus in her group).

    In principle, I agree with you. Not that I’m exactly offended by religion as a whole, but I do consider religion a problem, in particular various brands of fundamentalist religion that desire to dictate other people’s lives, including the lives of non-believers. People having personal, spiritual experiences that don’t interfere with other’s lives — well, I can’t object to that.

  21. ‘Sorry, thought I was on the Foundation for Reason and Science discussion page for a moment.’

    Somehow, it seems that the ethereal kiosk was not built on a foundation of reason ;-) I should start a Foundation for Unreason and Champagne.

  22. ‘…. religion, It is the great problem we have as a species ‘.
    This an interesting claim made by Helen.
    My wife, who was not religious, would have said the great problem we have as a species is the male urge for dominance which probably blights the lives of at least half the population of the world in some way or other.
    Helen starts her sentence, ‘You know by now I am really offended by religion……….’.
    This makes me sad, that someone should be offended by a global category of phenomena. Yes, if someone tells me that they are about to have a centimetre cut off their male child’s foreskin, or they are going to genitally mutilate their daughter, then I am offended, in so far as I feel resposibility for the welfare of every being who can’t defend themselves. And in this scenario I am confronted by a clear and present evil and not something theoretical.
    But to be offended by religion, per se, is something I find hard to understand.

  23. I have to sleep but…

    ‘the male urge for dominance which probably blights the lives of at least half the population of the world in some way or other’

    … often using religion as the means to this end. Not in western europe anymore, not as much — there are subsets of society where these manners of living subsist as generally accepted — but in areas where religion is strong (and where there’s also poverty, lack of education, et c… somehow these things seem to go together), there seems to be a much stronger urge to oppress women than there is in secular societies. And to justify oppression of women with arguments based in religious beliefs. And, of course, one of the traditions you mentioned is still accepted in europe too. It’s religious practice. The other is outlawed but still practiced. And they’re offensive practices. Burning witches and killing heretics wasn’t so nice either. Or forcing religion upon people in general. Looking at the the criminal record of religion can certainly offend almost anyone. I guess I have to say religious belief does seem to come with some inherent risk. Other beliefs do too, political beliefs, cultural beliefs, e g. And it’s not just the evil acts that are appalling, sometimes the beliefs in themselves are appalling.

  24. As usual I will keep my comment brief :-)
    There is something in it for us: by believing supernatural things we can participate in a particular paradigm in society. Other people are involved in clubs and groups, some of them hate filled, some beneficial.
    As Bertrand Russell put it “Philosophy, if it cannot answer so many questions as we could wish, has at least the power of asking questions which increase the interest of the world, and show the strangeness and wonder lying just below the surface even in the commonest things of daily life.”
    But then, that’s only what I believe.

  25. I hope this link works [link removed /a]. An interesting read.

  26. No it doesn’t work.Will try and fix it.

  27. Here it is :-) [link removed /a]

  28. Hello and good evening, Shane! Keep in mind that that article may be subject to copyright. It is already available online, see here: http://bit.ly/HD81CU (I’m saying because publishing the entire article on your website without the copyright holder’s consent might get you in trouble. Linking to it on an external site, like the one I linked to, would avoid that risk.)

    I agree with both you and Russell. Haven’t read the article yet, but it looks very interesting!

    [Edit: Shane’s links were removed after we talked about it on twitter and he asked me to do it. The article he’s talking about is, as was mentioned already, available here: http://bit.ly/HD81CU.%5D

  29. ‘there seems to be a much stronger urge to oppress women than there is in secular societies.’

    Yes, religion is used to justify the suppression of women, and the burning of heretics, etc. But these things also happen without the religious justification and the morality underlying religious belief is one of the things that has helped some men to wake up to the fact that the suppression and abuse of women is wrong.
    One of the bad things about religious belief is that it IS used to justify evil actions, I would not deny this. But that is done by people who surrender their own moral sense to a spiritual authority to a person or a book, or who deny there is any moral sense (there is only power and what IS). But those actions are evil regardless of religion.
    People have used many justifications for evil actions, the good of the state, the historical imperative, the good of the many, evolution when seen as a blind drive, the will to power (Ayn Rand , Neitsche).
    Steiner taught that the moral sense of the individual was the fundamental basis for morality – though of course everyone is born into and immersed in a culture which colours their morality or at least their starting point.
    Steiner’s narrative was created in the european cultural context but in essence it could stand in other cultural contexts. This is one of the things that makes his revelation unacceptable to conventional christians
    When a human being crosses the threshold of the spiritual world (and we are doing this all the time without being aware of it!) she/he enters a world of living beings which are constantly in a state of flux. When that person is back in the ‘sense’ world words and images have to be found to describe or in some way represent what has been experienced. This is extremely difficult. The language such people use is almost wholly mythological/analogical/poetic/affective – including Steiner’s.

    I call a particular being ‘The Christ’ but a member of the Sami people (for example) might use a different name/ image/ narrative.
    The question can arise, how do I know we are referring to the same Being? This is partially answered through the characteristics of that being. For me The Christ is the being who sees every individual exactly as they are, loves them unconditionally (though maybe sorrowing at the wrongs they do) and stands beside them helping them to achieve the spiritual purposes they have set themselves, and when they are in a crisis.
    It doesn’t matter to the Christ whether anyone ‘believes’ in Her/Him or not. What matters to Him/Her is how each person treats their fellow human-beings. Are they understanding, compassionate, merciful, loving?
    The Christ is a being without gender, or race. So what does S/He look like? What colour is She? I can’t imagine a human being whose skin has no colour, I have to assign some sort of colour when i imagine this being. Maybe I should go for blue or green?
    Same problem with the facial characteristics associated with gender. Except for a child’s face I have never seen a human face which did not tend towards either the male or the female.

    Sorry for such a long post. i am trying to respond to some of the points made by Helen and others.

  30. Shane wrote:
    “As Bertrand Russell put it “Philosophy, if it cannot answer so many questions as we could wish, has at least the power of asking questions which increase the interest of the world, and show the strangeness and wonder lying just below the surface even in the commonest things of daily life.”

    That’s a lovely quote! Thanks!

    Falk wrote:
    “When a human being crosses the threshold of the spiritual world (and we are doing this all the time without being aware of it!) she/he enters a world of living beings which are constantly in a state of flux. When that person is back in the ‘sense’ world words and images have to be found to describe or in some way represent what has been experienced. This is extremely difficult. The language such people use is almost wholly mythological/analogical/poetic/affective – including Steiner’s.”

    That’s very interesting! How are we in the spiritual world “all the time”?

  31. Some of the things Falk. says are typical of the arguments people use when defending religion.
    The issue of morality is brought out yet again. That is offensive, I am afraid. because I do not have a Christ on my shoulder I don’t know what is right or wrong?
    The next one is the ‘can’t be a Christian’ argument(or mislim, Jew, whatever) because a Christian would not behave like that. No, they are behaving like that because they are religious, not despite the fact.
    Next one -
    ‘ the morality underlying religious belief is one of the things that has helped some men to wake up to the fact that the suppression and abuse of women is wrong.’
    No, not getting away with that one. Religions are some of the last bastions of cruelty and suppression left in the world, and were some of the last to speak out against slavery too.
    These arguments he has made, plus the negative affects of legislation influenced by ‘faith groups’ on my life, are reasons I am offended by religion.
    Clearly Falk. is a mild and tolerant person and I am not, in this area. That’s why it’s so hard to argue against religions in some environments. They play the ‘loving kindness’ card, and who could possibly be right who opposes that? That’s one way religion/superstition has managed to survive so long. It’s a clever tactic,(the facade only detected when we deeply scratch the surface of a faith), and may well continue to be successful for some time yet.

  32. “Imagine no suicide bombers, no 9/11, no 7/7, no Crusades, no witch hunts, no Gunpowder Plot, no Indian partition, no Israeli/Palestinian wars, no Serb/Croat/Muslim massacres, no persecution of Jews as ‘Christ-killers,’ no Northern Ireland ‘troubles,’ no ‘honor killings,’ no shiny-suited bouffant-haired televangelists fleecing gullible people of their money”

    Don’t know the source of this, maybe someone does?

  33. Helen says, ‘The issue of morality is brought out yet again. That is offensive, I am afraid. because I do not have a Christ on my shoulder I don’t know what is right or wrong?’

    I don’t think I said morality was in any way dependent on religion. I thought I was saying the opposite, that some things are evil/good regardless of religion, that it is one’s own personal morality that counts – though that does not exist in a vacuum. Thus one may have grown up in the Soviet era in Russia the child of ideologically sound ‘communists’, but one will have some sort of morality, even if it is only ‘one ought to obey the party’. Hopefully with experience and maturity such a person would move on from such a simplistic stand-point.

    Ulf says, ‘How are we in the spiritual world “all the time”?’.

    Well, I fell into my own narrative there, I accept that many people would not agree with ‘all’ or even ‘some’!

    But I would suggest that at least some experieneces available to all can be characterised in this way, for example, the experiences one can have when deeply immersed in a piece of music. One may be deeply moved -some english speakers would use the word, ‘transported’ – and yet be unable to say what it was that moved you and may continue to live in your inner world.

    I also think that when someone is confronted by a situation in which conventional wisdom does not guide them, then they may act out of a completely other impulse – what I would call a higher morality. There are many stories of such things happening in times of war.

    It is very interesting to read about the work of Adam Kahane, and see how he changed from being a successful engineer/ negotiator in the oil industry with a powerful drive for self-realisation , to someone working in an altruistic way in the effort to achieve reconcilliation between all the different interest groups in the re-born South Africa. Every time that people really listened to each other, defying the conventions of race, class, gender, retribution for past evils,.. I would characterise as a spiritual experience. But that is my narrative, not Adam Kahane’s.

  34. “Imagine no suicide bombers, no 9/11, no 7/7, no Crusades, no witch hunts, no Gunpowder Plot, no Indian partition, no Israeli/Palestinian wars, no Serb/Croat/Muslim massacres, no persecution of Jews as ‘Christ-killers,’ no Northern Ireland ‘troubles,’ no ‘honor killings,’ no shiny-suited bouffant-haired televangelists fleecing gullible people of their money”

    I don’t imagine Slobadan Milosovic and Benjamin Netanyahu (seen by some as a terrorist) to be deeply religious people, nor Mountbatten who forced the partition of India along religious lines, nor the English Imperialists who enforced a deply unjust social division on religious grounds in Northern Ireland. I think so-called ‘honour killings’ are more to do with male fear of female sexuality and independence.

    “Imagine no Stalin who is reputed to have killed possibly 12 million of his own people, no Polpot, no Mao, no Idi Amin, no ‘disappearances’ in Chile and Argentina, no destruction of the eco-system by rapacious capitalists, no McCarthyism, no exploitation of child-workers…. etc”

    Hitler’s antipathy to the Jews did not arise out of religion, nor does that of the Palestinian peoples who were displaced from their land.
    Apart from the crusades I think it is quite difficult to find a war or persecution which can simply be understood as ‘one faith against another’. It has to be remembered with the crusades also that there were issues of territory and political influence.

  35. Jesse M Bering (Shane’ s post ) does some odd experiments with children re belief, which seem based on an assumption they have not been influenced by adults.
    But his theory about our ability to reason about the minds of others could explain why so many people think that although they themselves do not need religion to be a .’moral’ person, others do.
    This is most evident in UK politicians. They seem to think society wiill collapse without Christianity.

  36. Have to go now, but so much to answer here.

  37. Try this. That other link is on my computer :-) http://tinyurl.com/6m2xy9z

  38. I’m not trying to say that Bering has “the answer” but he has a point of view that might be helpful.

  39. In reply to Shane, yes it is an interesting point of view. If humans are ‘hard -wired to be superstitious or believe in things that are imaginary, that would not be surprising.
    In modern society we have developed our ability to reason.
    Children love stories, and adults do too. But as adults it seems reasonable to enjoy a book or a film and see it for what it is – fiction.
    Most belief systems seem to be based on wishful thinking to me.
    When my son was young he asked what happens when we die. I told him some people believe we go to heaven. he asked if I believed that and I said no.
    That satisfied him at the time.
    Now I would say I think being dead is like not being born, since there is no evidence to the contrary. What is so bad about that?
    When reading to my children I never told them the stories were real, and I never told them they were fiction, They made up their own minds, but when you put a child in church or read from the bible and say it’s all true, it must be hard to shake off that belief.
    ( I guess it’s the same if their teacher at school routinely mentions angels and spirits. I wonder what happens if a child innocently asks about whether those are real?)
    A child is very suggestible, and they use their imagination, it’s what childhood is all about I suppose.

  40. In reply to Falk – we are on such different orbits it is difficult for me to even know what you are saying. But just briefly;
    You were the one who brought up the issue of morality and then you say
    ‘I don’t think I said morality was in any way dependent on religion’
    And then
    ‘Apart from the crusades I think it is quite difficult to find a war or persecution which can simply be understood as ‘one faith against another’.’
    Not one faith against another, but deeply rooted in faith. Would not have happened without religion.
    The persecution of the Jews goes way back before WWII, and they were a convenient target for the Nazis.
    Pol pot I thought was a Communist and some kind of Buddhist, not sure.
    I guess you have read some Dawkins but he explains in detail about some cult leaders including Hitler being religious, not atheists as purported by some.
    (Dawkins does not include himself as a cult leader btw!)
    I am not qualified to give a history lesson, but the hatred between people of different faiths is so deep it will surface at the slightest provocation – rivalry between the two top football teams in Scotland is even rooted in Faith and regularly erupts into violence.
    I think maybe I do have a rose-tinted view of a world without religion or superstition, but it is hard to imagine worse scenarios than those which have unfolded as a result of it.

  41. A couple of times Falk has mentioned ‘rapacious capitalists’ and then ‘a successful engineer/ negotiator in the oil industry with a powerful drive for self-realisation’ who unbelieveably turned out to be a ‘good’ person.
    Maybe he thinks to live a worthy life you have to be unambitious, unworldly, and an eco- warrior.
    I think we are back with Waldorf again.

  42. To imagine a world without superstition is to imagine people without unreason. People without unreason (I’m not talking about belief in god here or the bible or anything, mind you, I’m talking about unreason, any belief in or adherence to what cannot be rationally argued or proven) — I’m sort of thinking those are robots, not human. How much of unreason can we peel away, in the search of perfect superstition-free utopia and the perfect human, before we also peel away human emotion, human experience, and so forth? Robots may have no reason to kill each other, of course. But people who are emotionally robotic have seemed capable of callous action in the past. As have people who justify their actions through religion — or any other purpose that is placed higher than ordinary considerations for other people and the world.

    Of course, there’s nothing to say you have to have some christ on your shoulder or be led by some other deity. That has all too often helped people to do bad things. I’m only doubting that robotic rationality — life bereft of human whimsy — is all that helpful. I wonder if a fully rational society of fully rational humans doing the most rational thing at all times is all it’s cracked up to be. Certainly, such a society would immediately have to dispose of the ethereal kiosk!

    Sorry — am too busy thinking of and doing other things, don’t consider this a full response to the comments in the thread, but it’s all I can think of right now. (Falk — don’t say sorry for long post, long posts are good. The way the damn comment box behaves right now — auto-collapsing nuisance, I’ve been complaining to wordpress, I want you all to know I’m very unhappy with it and so are many other bloggers, and it’s nothing but an irritation for commenters — I’m very glad people comment at all, even more happy for long comments.)

  43. Ulf: ‘That’s very interesting! How are we in the spiritual world “all the time”?’

    As far as I understand it, it’s because the spiritual realm is all around us all the time. It’s just an invisible, supersensible ‘layer’ to reality. It’s an invisible part of everything. Every tree, every thought, every dog have physical properties and spiritual ones.

  44. Just a quick and not very original thought. Falk wrote about the difficulties in finding words to describe inspirational or mystical experiences. What if some religious conflicts could be seen as an escalation of a war of words (a perfect battlefield would be a blog or a seminar in the field of literary criticism)? But Steiner’s claim to have found scientific truths doesn’t help here …

    And now I’m off to study the Bering article! I’m sure there are some interesting links between this kind of theorizing and “literary darwinism”, the attempt to give stories a place in evolution. A project which in itself could be seen as an attempt to replace the western grand narrative of cristianity with more or less religious interpretations of darwinism ;-)

  45. Alicia, the spiritual realm as a “layer” of reality makes sense. And falk has explained the process of coming closer to this layer:

    ” … for example, the experiences one can have when deeply immersed in a piece of music. One may be deeply moved -some english speakers would use the word, ‘transported’ – and yet be unable to say what it was that moved you and may continue to live in your inner world.”

    A nice word för this in swedish (there should be a german equivalent) with a slightly spiritual flavour is “hänförd”. But why not just believe in Art?

  46. Alicia-
    ‘To imagine a world without superstition is to imagine people without unreason’
    To me it is to imagine people with reason.
    ‘People without unreason … I’m sort of thinking those are robots, not human.’
    I don’t know anyone like a robot in that way – maybe you could say someone with autism is behaving without unreason.
    So do you think we are all superstitious to some extent?
    I would say I am not superstitious, although I do feel certain reluctance for example to hope for something too much – maybe it won’t happen.
    Also now I think about it more, the expression ‘putting the mockers on’ is something I can relate to. Saying someone is likely to win a prize would be’ bad luck’ and may scupper their chances. That is irrational, but I am guilty of it.
    Also ‘unreason’ could be substituted for ‘emotion’, maybe, in that context? Oh yes I see you did mention emotion. And whimsy is good, too.
    But your post about the article seemed to be likening superstition to a belief in destiny which is different and does affect people’s behaviour in quite drastic ways.

    Maybe this shrinking text box is a good thing- it will drive me outside to do the gardening I have put off.

  47. It’s not that reason is a bad thing — it’s very good when trying to achieve certain things. But where would literature and art end up with only perfect reasonableness for inspiration? Even inspiration itself could seem irrational.

    Re something Ulf wrote (I’m replying from phone and can’t go back and check), clearly the spiritual can ‘just’ be synonymous with art or the experience therof. If it were, the concept would seem partly superfluous. And what about spiritual worldviews — that would mean nothing substituted for art appreciation.

  48. Helen — Perhaps it’s not possible to call it superstition but I do think everyone holds beliefs and do things they can’t justify with rational, logical, scientifical arguments. Why is it more reasonable to trust your feelings than to have certain ‘magic’ideas — the feelings can be mistaken, unfounded and often plain irrational? It’s not like feelings correspond rationally to reality at all times.

  49. I only just found the article on ’20% scientists are spiritual’ you posted a link to above.(mixed it up with the other science daily one).
    Do you know anything about ‘Rice’?
    I didn’t so I googled it and found some gnomes.

  50. Have no idea — I didn’t even read all of it! I’m sure gnomes write good science ;-) It was sort of interesting though, because I think it all depends on what you manage to squeeze into the concept of spirituality — depends on how broad you make it. Is it experiencing art? Is it ‘transendence’ — whatever that is? I know Jan Luiten was challenged on this before — when assuming spirituality is something good, he was asked for a definition. 20% of atheists may very well be spiritual… if you count enjoyment of art or high car speeds or flow in playing golf or… whatever… you certainly can end up with more than 20%…

  51. Well I find that kind of thing annoying. It is a startling statistic to say 20% scientists are spiritual until you realize the author of that book is director of the religion and public life program at a suspect university in Texas. She picked her own study group.

    It was a prominent study I remember when it was reported in the news last year.
    I think it is fashionable nowadays for people to say’ I am not religious but I am spiritual’.
    Religious is seen as old fashioned or mainstream, spiritual is seen as right -on and acceptable.
    But people who say they are spiritual kind of think there is ‘more to life’ (presumably an afterlife).
    And believing in an after life is what I think has an adverse effect on the rest of us.
    I am in the wrong company here to be saying that, but I am not trying to make friends, I am trying to get at what makes people beiieve in things that there is no evidence for.
    As you know, I enjoy music and books and art, but I am not spiritual.
    Saying we are all spiritual is like the Mormons baptising everyone without asking – it seems harmless but can directly affect all our lives.
    I think Sweden and other Northern European Countries are more secular. You don’t have the beknighted bishops in your parliament spouting about human life being too sacred to allow us to have assisted dying, but we do.
    And that is wrong

  52. Actually, one must also look at whether the article was peer-reviewed and which journal published the study — in this case, it seems to be a reputable one. I surely hope that that particular journal is not prone to publishing just any unfounded crap. So — no, I don’t think that if she hadn’t followed the standard procedures (in selecting the participants, e g), it would have still been published, not by that journal.

    If you define spiritual as ‘desire to find meaning’ or something similarly generic, I don’t find it the least bit shocking or even mildly annoying that 20% would say yes.

    ‘And believing in an after life is what I think has an adverse effect on the rest of us.’

    If you apply this belief only to yourself — no, it doesn’t. I know that’s not what many religions can’t refrain from doing.

    ‘I am in the wrong company here to be saying that, but I am not trying to make friends, I am trying to get at what makes people beiieve in things that there is no evidence for.’

    I’m not sure what the wrong or right company is, but for what it’s worth, I’ve been an atheist all my life, I don’t subscribe to any religion, I’ve never attended a church service, et c. If I asked for evidence for everything in my everyday life, I would get nowhere, however. If I required perfect rationality of myself or of the world, I’d be perpetually bored.

    But I don’t long for religious people to make decisions about me or my life over my head — I don’t want that any more than you do. (And I don’t think falk wants that either.) I find that sort of thing highly offensive, not to say utterly unacceptable. But people’s personal spiritual experiences that they don’t force on anybody else and that they don’t use to try to rule the lives of others — why would I oppose that? It would be to oppose their freedom to seek what they want in their lives, and if I don’t want people to restrict my freedom that way — I can only imagine what life would be like had the hegemony of the church not been broken, and I’m thankful it was — then why would I want to do that to them? I’m not suggesting that you’re asking for prohibitions or anything, but rather that you argue people should leave such beliefs behind in favour of reason. That’s perfectly fair. But I just want to point out that there is a difference between swallowing all the crap that religious folks try to sell and to say that it’s their freedom to choose to believe it as long as they don’t impose it on others.

    ‘Saying we are all spiritual is like the Mormons baptising everyone without asking – it seems harmless but can directly affect all our lives.’

    For what it’s worth, I’m not saying we’re all spiritual. I don’t even have a definitive definition of spiritual. I’m saying we’re all irrational, if we’re not robots, and I guess we aren’t.

    And perhaps those mormons are simply assholes who use religion to justify their assholiness? People do feel a need to impose themselves on others. People do feel superior for pretty shitty reasons. Often religion provide such reasons. But the basic drive to behave like that is surely a human trait. I agree religion doesn’t improve things. But I also think people would find other reasons to be assholes, were they deprived of religion or spiritual beliefs.

    ‘You don’t have the beknighted bishops in your parliament spouting about human life being too sacred to allow us to have assisted dying, but we do.’

    That’s right. We have politicians who say the same things, but at least they’re democratically elected. But the problem remains: lots of people want to impose their beliefs on others, often in the name of their gods. But would they not find other outlets for their desires to dominate, if they didn’t have god as their support wheel?

  53. And, just to emphasize it, I think religious people should stop doing that. They should focus on their own salvation and enlightenment, not the salvation or enlightenment of others. But I don’t draw the conclusion that, because this is my firm opinion (no, demand — a demand not to have my freedom interfered with), I need to be offended by the spiritual beliefs or experiences of people who don’t try to do anything in the way of imposing, by the way of force, their beliefs on myself or others.

  54. Ulf: ‘What if some religious conflicts could be seen as an escalation of a war of words (a perfect battlefield would be a blog or a seminar in the field of literary criticism)?’

    If we accept that humans are just another animal — anthroposophists might not want to! — then it seems likely to me that the conflict is really about something else, something even more basic to human existence and survival and that religions and words are mere decorations on the cake of struggle and war. Words are perhaps more helpful in avoiding conflict than causing it… one would hope… (being optimitic, after all…)

    Falk: ‘I think so-called ‘honour killings’ are more to do with male fear of female sexuality and independence.’

    That begs the question. Were it merely about male fears, we’d see it more equally distributed, wouldn’t we? Unless it’s possible for a certain fear to spread like an epidemic within a certain culture or religion. I guess it is. I know the parallel is slightly distasteful, but would it work to say that the holocaust was about the perpetrators’ fears? And thus, in any way whatsoever, exonerate the ideology? Must there not, at least, be both? Of course, if a religion teaches that women are extremely dangerous — so dangerous they must cover themselves up so as not to lead (powerless!?) men astray… then, naturally, this could inspire irrational fears of women… but then we’re back to religious belief (in this case — in another we could be talking about political beliefs).

    Helen: ‘These arguments he has made, plus the negative affects of legislation influenced by ‘faith groups’ on my life, are reasons I am offended by religion.
    Clearly Falk. is a mild and tolerant person and I am not, in this area. That’s why it’s so hard to argue against religions in some environments. They play the ‘loving kindness’ card, and who could possibly be right who opposes that? That’s one way religion/superstition has managed to survive so long. It’s a clever tactic,(the facade only detected when we deeply scratch the surface of a faith), and may well continue to be successful for some time yet.’

    I don’t think there’s any need to pay respect to religion as ‘loving’ or ‘kind’ or accept that card being played by religion’s adherents on its behalf; a belief system is not a human being. I don’t see how this has to be at odds with recognizing that individual adherents of some belief or other can be loving and kind. It’s those people who want to impose their beliefs on others who create the problem that offends you — quite rightly. If their beliefs interfer with your life, that’s offensive.

    What I’m thinking of — do you not think that even without religion, people would still want to interfere in the lives of others? Religious beliefs just provide handy excuses. And that, if they didn’t have religious beliefs, they would conjure up some other important reason that other people must follow their commands?

    Maybe I said that already. Getting tired ;-) Sorry to pick up ‘old’ things, but I missed a lot earlier… Good night, sleep well, dream irrational dreams!

  55. Speaking of war, as according to Sune (among others, I suppose), we’re actually in one: I wonder how much of that ‘war’ (not that Sune uses many words these days, damn, I haven’t seen him mentioning the crusade in weeks — are you all right, Sune?), I wonder how much that ‘war’, that religious conflict, is not a result of words rather than at all times opposed, clashing realities or views of realities. We’ve found different words. In some cases I think that’s the dividing issue. In some other… ah, well. But are Steiner’s scientific truths the problem here — other than the fact he used the terms ‘scientific’ and ‘truths’ to describe these thoughts? Words again.

    Sorry for rambling, now going to bed.

  56. You are right people (men) will probably conjure up other excuses for war. And evil acts have been carried out by atheists. But I think it is safe to claim that no wars have been started in the name of atheism.
    Religion somehow manages to inspire unique kinds of hatred in its followers.
    But why do I feel unable to discuss these matters with my religious friends? I worry they will think I am unkind for attacking their faith and maybe kicking away a crutch.

  57. If I lost my religious friends I would have hardly any left.
    A Catholic neighbour of mine who I used to see regularly (she tried to teach me to do cryptic crosswords) now won’t speak to me – she crosses the road to avoid me- because I wrote a letter to my local paper about the possibility of not ticking the ‘Christian’ box on the census return if you are not a Christian. I didn’t see it as controversial at the time but clearly people are sensitive about their religion, and take things personally.

  58. I’ve come across some women who seem quite capable of waging war too ;-)

    But, actually, someone who can’t take it that someone else wants to tick another box or no box — in a manner that in no way interferes with anyone else’s beliefs — is simply a moron. I don’t think anyone should have to be silent about not being religious, christian or not believing in god — why should one? As long as she’s allowed to tick her christian box, what’s her problem? Certainly shouldn’t be controversial.

    As for friends, maybe discussing things isn’t always the best idea… I don’t know. It depends, I guess. But apart from discussion, I do think I would be driven nuts if I kept myself from telling someone that I don’t believe what they believe. I mean, if I’m accepting they need whatever it is they need, personally, I would expect them to respect that I have other needs. Or else… well. Bad situation. But you don’t necessarily need to discuss everything or try to or hope to convince the other person. Sometimes it’s just better to leave it — knowing that at least there’s mutual respect *for the fact that* the viewpoints differ. Doesn’t mean one has to accept the other viewpoint, of course. But to accept that that viewpoint (however unacceptable to oneself) is the other person’s viewpoint.

  59. Melanie · ·

    I am very much with Helen on this one. Plus I have little idea what a person means by ‘spiritual’ unless they define it. It’s often just an excuse for bad behaviour.

    I have not one spiritual bone in my body. I can behave badly for all that, but at least I’m not
    smug while I do it. All this religious and spiritual nonsense has the same hierarchies as
    elsewhere, with those at the top often not believing a word of it but frequently sporting
    tremendous beards. In the CofE that observation applies equally to female clergy.

    I would say I’m sorry if that offends anyone, but it would be dishonest.

    Look at this piece today about Lord Carey: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/9203953/Britains-Christians-are-being-vilified-warns-Lord-Carey.html

    He’s just an average guy who wants to express his bigotry and intolerance in peace without interference from advocates of human rights and indeed, human decency.

  60. Melanie · ·

    this disappearing wordpress box wants to turn everything into blank verse,
    obviously.

  61. It’s really hopeless… the comment box.

    I’m not suggesting we should care much about the feelings of lord Carey. He appears like someone who does want to impose his beliefs on others — and demand that others pay his belief particular respect, even if they don’t agree with it. Believe me, I don’t know if I’ve expressed this in an unclear manner: I don’t want my life to be ruled by bearded old men who hold beliefs I don’t agree with. I don’t want that anymore than any of you do. That would be shit, honestly, because I don’t share their beliefs, I don’t live the way they want us to live, I’m way too liberal, et c… — and even if I did (which I do NOT) share their beliefs, et c, it would still be wrong to impose these beliefs on people who don’t share them. Am I still being unclear!?

    Anyway, as far as I’m concerned — lord Carey can believe what he want, live how he wants to, as long as he doesn’t have any demands on my adherence or my respect for these beliefs or lifestyles.

    What I don’t get is what lord Carey (and even worse people who really want to dictate the lives of others) has in common with someone who has a personal religious spiritual experience (spiritual, whatever that is), and does not force this upon anyone else.

    And, yes, that’s the whole problem with the word spirtuality. If someone defines it as the experience of art, well… it could be anything. Again, we could have a long discussion and still talking past each other because we don’t even know what we’re discussing. If I say I think people are entitled to their spiritual experiences (personal, non-intruding ones), it can be interpreted as saying I approve of stoning of women since that too is of supersitious origin. Even though that was certainly not what I meant.

    I guess that is the big problem. I’m not here to defend fat, bearded, bigoted bishops’ perceived rights to command adherence to or respect for their particular brand of faith even from people who don’t share it. I never was. For what it’s worth. I think all of that is purely, simply idiocy. Evil idiocy. I don’t care the least bit for that kind of ‘spirituality’.

    Doesn’t mean I would find it entertaining or fulfilling to live in a completely rational world. Whatever that is. Perfect rationality seems like another utopia, and when did the attempt at realisation of utopia (and the remodelling of humans to fit this utopia) ever come without a cost? You’d have to make people different than they are — which is exactly the same thing the bishops want, want people to become what they’re not.

    Again, this doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing to argue for rationality in many contexts — public policy, et c. It’s a democratic right, if nothing else. But I don’t think *people* will fundamentally change — and become perfectly rational beings…

  62. I wasn’t responding to you, Alicia – our last comments appeared at the same time. I feel quite the same about personal experiences.

    I have lots of irrational experiences, reflexes, whatnot. I think of them as emotional, or
    hormonal, or the process of turning experience into something else (creativity) but spiritual implies supernatural. All the magic is within these walls.

  63. Oh no, I know you weren’t, it was just the general discussion, that I somehow felt I came across like that, although I know you know what I think about bearded bigoted bishops and all that… I thought maybe not everyone does ;-)

    But so — spiritual implies something of a supernatural nature. I think that’s a valuable step towards… a definition that is not just ‘experiences’ in a broader sense.

  64. Two things. I was just listening to historian Eric Hobsbawn talking about what it was like in Germany and Austria after the first war, how the world as they had known it had collapsed, and how people felt something – they were not sure what – had urgently to be done about it. This reminded me of an account of hungry, penniless young Germans arriving after a long train journey at the Goetheanum, where there was food, and eurythmists in draperies moving briskly, purposefully, toward the great building..

    Of course if you and I saw a group of eurythmists moving purposefully in a particular direction we would be inclined to go in the opposite one, but we are not starving.

  65. what was the other thing? It was a conversation about hierarchy in a Waldorf school, but it might have to wait for another time.

  66. This is a really interesting thread.
    Melanie says, ‘spiritual implies supernatural.’
    I am not sure that it does.
    In the example I quoted of Adam Kahane and his work, here is an example of a man who changed. He shifted from using his great skills as an engineer, economist and negotiator in the exploitation of natural resources to the benefit of his company (Shell) to using his skills to benefit the victims of power struggles.
    There is nothing hippyish nor overtly spiritual about Adam Kahane, he is not a bliss-ninny. It is really interesting to read how he challenges the ‘peace-mongers’ as well as the war-mongers in various situations.
    I call this shift in how he chose to use his talents a spiritual one, because from operating in the interests of a few (his company, capitalism, the luxurious life-styles of people in the West) he changed to operating in the interests of all humanity. There was nothing compelled him to do this, only his own sudden insight into how his actions impacted on others and a deepening of compassion. He chose to serve a higher cause.

  67. I feel a sudden temptation to consult a dictionary.

  68. That could be Ahriman whispering to you, Alicia!

  69. Could? It is! On the other shoulder, however, sits Lucifer, urging me to feel myself, in the most dramatic fashion, towards a definition of a kind so overcome by emotions it’s entirely bereft of all logic… well, you know what Lucifer likes… I’ve always been prone to go with Ahriman’s advice though.

  70. ‘Sometimes it’s just better to leave it — knowing that at least there’s mutual respect *for the fact that* the viewpoints differ. ‘
    The trouble is there is not much respect in the UK for the fact that many people take an atheist view, sadly. For example it is common for prayers to be said at Council meetings. And anyone who questions this is being uncharitable. It’s just sooo last century.
    But yes I have to respect the views of others even though they are often based on a bronze age understanding of the world. I do try.
    I think too there is great fear here that a vacuum created by disappearing prevalence of ‘Christian’ attitudes will be filled by those of Muslims – Sharia law etc. It is a fear that dares not speak its name.

  71. Falk is winning me over by his ability to turn the other cheek. But ‘Melanie says, ‘spiritual implies supernatural.’I am not sure that it does.’
    Yes, it does. I have decided.

  72. Helen — very quick answer — I was thinking not about public debate when I wrote that but about what you wrote about friends. That, sometimes, on that personal level, one has to leave it — but it’s mutual, of course. As for what you’re mentioning — religious practices in public settings — I definitely don’t suggest that leaving it is a good idea. It’s not a personal matter then.

  73. Another example of my line of thinking would be the late Senator Bill Wiseman.
    He it was who introdeuced the ‘humane’ method of execution in the USA, the lethal injection. He was, in fact, always opposed to the death penalty but did not declare his views publicly becasue he wanted to win the Republican nomination for the senate. In order to assuage his conscience he, with a friend developed the cocktail of 3 drugs which would kill ‘humanely’.
    This resulted over the next decade in enormous increase in the number of executions being carried out as they weren’t so gruesome as the electric chair, or hanging.
    Seeing the result of his actions Bill Wisema experienced deep regret.
    He spoke up in opposition to the death penalty, lost the Republican nomination and eventually lost his seat in the senate.
    He displayed real Moral Courage in accepting the consequences of his actions.
    I would say that when this realisation, came, that he wanted to take responsibility for what he had done, and he formed the resolve to try to redress matter – at risk of sacrificing his political career, then he stepped over the threshold of the spiritual world.
    His actions were no longer being solely determined by self-interest. In a certain way he acted against his own interests.

  74. No, I did know what you meant, but I think what happens on a National level affects what people do and say on a personal level, it does me anyway.
    The fact that the zeitgeist is saying ‘religion good, atheism bad’ just means people aren’t looking at their faith in the same way I am. I think they see their faith as an admirable trait which shouldn’t be questioned.
    Actually, they probably just don’t want to talk about it, which is why I am here in the kiosk with you instead!

  75. ‘I’ve always been prone to go with Ahriman’s advice though.’
    Yes, he has inspired some really cool inventions. I love my little MacBook Air
    And he is the antidote to Lucifer! – who can make one very hot and feverish and fanatical.
    I am glad they sit one on each shoulder.

  76. That last comment was in reply to Alicia!
    But Falk again you are saying any ‘good’ decisions people make are based on spirituality.
    Bill Wisema was just acting on his princilpes, which is what we all should be doing.
    spiritual, religious or heathen.

  77. Helen, what interests me is that AFTER some years of a very successful political career he WAS somehow inspired to be open about his beliefs and to try and live by his ‘principles’. One can have principles whatever one’s beliefs are but ist is a different thing to try and live by them.
    In this case Wiseman had a successful political career in by publicly supporting the principles of the majority of the people in Oklahoma. He could have gone on like this all his life. But one day there was a ‘wake-up’ moment and he felt that it would no longer do. He had to declare his opposition to the conventional wisdom of the people of OKlahoma.
    It’s this ‘wake-up’ moment that I call a ‘threshold’ moment and I am speaking in the context that I don’t agree with Melanie that spiritual also means supernatural.

  78. Got that wrong. Heathen probably comes under spiritualist – or vice versa!
    spiritualist, religious or atheist.

  79. Have we all indulged in some wine over lunch, our spelling has deteriorated!
    But Falk just because someone changes their view from what you see as a bad one to a good one you would call that spiritual?
    I would definitely not. We can all learn through life and can all change for better or for worse. If someone becomes a more selfish or bitter person suddenly, would you call that spiritual too?

  80. Melanie · ·

    If the word spiritual doesn’t mean supernatural there are many other better words. One can make a change in one’s direction due to an intellectual process – the process of *thinking*. Even ‘intuitive’ responses in humans are generally a product of our capacity to use our highly developed brains. Instead of ‘threshold’ call it ‘lightbulb’ and we need not invoke the improbable.

    Anyway there are all sorts of pluses to altruism, in the evolutionary sense. Here’s the best hint of this for Alicia’s canineosophical context: http://richarddawkins.net/discussions/482418-dogs-and-the-evolution-of-altruism

    In the Steiner sense though the meaning of ‘spiritual’ is clear. Let us not beat about the burning bush.

  81. Melanie says, ‘In the Steiner sense though the meaning of ‘spiritual’ is clear. Let us not beat about the burning bush.’

    Steiner rarely speaks of ‘supernatural’, his big thing is the ‘super-sensible’ – what is experienced outside the limits of the usual 5 (or 12) senses.

    Better to beat yourself with a super-sensible bush, then presumably you wont feel it.

  82. Helen says, ‘If someone becomes a more selfish or bitter person suddenly, would you call that spiritual too?’
    In a way I would. There is a dark side to spirituality. It isn’t just about being beatific and full of bliss.

  83. Melanie · ·

    oh, come on. Higher Powers? Angels, archangels, elementals.. ? That’s just sophistry.

    Better not beat yourself with any bush. Beating about it is quite another activity.

  84. Melanie · ·

    Falk – you are an anthroposophical Humpty Dumpty.

  85. Melanie · ·

    .. in the Lewis Carroll version..

  86. I will take the last as a compliment. Carroll was a fine logician.

  87. ‘Higher Powers? Angels, archangels, elementals.. ? That’s just sophistry.’
    The problem for me is that ‘supernatural’ implies something outside the natural order of things. Something where the laws goevrning our cosmos are suspended.
    And I don’t see spiritual experiences in that way. Neither did Steiner.

  88. Another reference in the same spirit as the article which sparked this thread:

    “Robert N. McCauley, “Why Religion is Natural and Science is Not”
    Publisher: OUP | ISBN: 0199827265 | November 1, 2011

    The battle between religion and science, competing methods of knowing ourselves and our world, has been raging for many centuries. Now scientists themselves are looking at cognitive foundations of religion–and arriving at some surprising conclusions.

    Over the course of the past two decades, scholars have employed insights gleaned from cognitive science, evolutionary biology, and related disciplines to illuminate the study of religion. In Why Religion is Natural and Science Is Not, Robert N. McCauley, one of the founding fathers of the cognitive science of religion, argues that our minds are better suited to religious belief than to scientific inquiry. Drawing on the latest research and illustrating his argument with commonsense examples, McCauley argues that religion has existed for many thousands of years in every society because the kinds of explanations it provides are precisely the kinds that come naturally to human minds. Science, on the other hand, is a much more recent and rare development because it reaches radical conclusions and requires a kind of abstract thinking that only arises consistently under very specific social conditions. Religion makes intuitive sense to us, while science requires a lot of work. McCauley then draws out the larger implications of these findings. The naturalness of religion, he suggests, means that science poses no real threat to it, while the unnaturalness of science puts it in a surprisingly precarious position.”

  89. Ulf – ‘Religion makes intuitive sense to us, while science requires a lot of work’
    Yes,that is true. And we feed religion to our children in large helpings, whilst science is for pudding, only if you have room.
    Nightmare.

  90. Melanie · ·

    Falk – but your definition of the natural order of things is veery broad, darlink.

    Well, science is hard. But as a species, we’re developing out of our infancy. Only Dog is Great.

  91. Melanie · ·

    My son, who is 17, recommends Epicurus. Why have we wasted so many centuries?

  92. Melanie · ·

    ‘And we feed religion to our children in large helpings, whilst science is for pudding, only if you have room.’ wonderful image!

  93. Unless you belong to a some kind of cult, religion is not served to children in large helpings in Sweden. At least I don’t see much of it, but I don’t really know families — in general people don’t seem too into organized religion anyway. Sadly, that doesn’t mean science education is any good.

    Sadly, too, we hear to little about Dog’s greatness.

    falk: ‘I am glad they sit one on each shoulder.’

    Sometimes they both climb up on my head, have a fight, one falls off, that’s always Lucifer, btw, and he’s got lots of running and climbing to do to catch up again. Ahriman sits there, grinning, laughs a chilly, metallic-sounding laugh. Content with himself.

    Re the supersensible and supernatural — one has to concede that some of Steiner’s beings seem both supersensible and supernatural, or?

    Helen — ‘ but I think what happens on a National level affects what people do and say on a personal level, it does me anyway.’

    It does, of course.

    ‘The fact that the zeitgeist is saying ‘religion good, atheism bad’ just means people aren’t looking at their faith in the same way I am. I think they see their faith as an admirable trait which shouldn’t be questioned.
    Actually, they probably just don’t want to talk about it, which is why I am here in the kiosk with you instead!’

    :D

    But, actually, might it not be that, if thsi is so, the supposed zeitgeist is battling against the zeit, then? Is this backlash — or what could be conceived of as a backlash — not a result of atheism having gained a voice, having become a force to reckon with; I mean, isn’t it a reaction against the fact that people now find it increasingly ok to express their atheism… or at least indifference to organized religion? That this threatens some folks and gets them into a fit of panic — too late to actually turn back the clock to the time when people listened more to bearded bishops — is quite predictable. One might wonder if the ‘true’ zeitgeist is actually saying that religion is good or if it’s more a question of a number of loutmouthed people, who sense a loss of power, who say so.

    Falk: ‘Helen says, ‘If someone becomes a more selfish or bitter person suddenly, would you call that spiritual too?’
    In a way I would. There is a dark side to spirituality. It isn’t just about being beatific and full of bliss.’

    At least in anthroposophy, the explanation of evil is certainly spiritual, too. But going that way would be bad for spiritual advancement ;-)

    Ok, my higher I must leave now, because I must sleep. I’ll be under one of the sofas, while my higher I goes… well, it didn’t leave a note. Presumably on some adventure.

  94. “Sometimes they both climb up on my head, have a fight, one falls off, that’s always Lucifer, btw, and he’s got lots of running and climbing to do to catch up again. Ahriman sits there, grinning, laughs a chilly, metallic-sounding laugh. Content with himself. ”

    Lovely image! Isn’t it a bit luciferic?

  95. Oh it is. It has to be. If it were purely ahrimanic, it would look something like this: 2-1=1. It would be about logic, not verbal bling-bling.

    Talking about the spiritual, I’d like to recommend this post:
    http://egoistenblog.blogspot.com/2012/04/spirituelle-schmetterlingssammler.html

  96. I have a question — if state schools in the UK are feeding children religion in large helpings when neglecting to teach them science, how can one justify denying funds to waldorf schools? It becomes very problematic, doesn’t it?

  97. …if that is what’s implied. But even if not — in a society that’s soaked with religion in the manner described, certainly anthroposophy can’t be a huge problem?

    (Being deliberately provocative!)

  98. Melanie · ·

    there’s very little religion in my daughter’s CofE primary school. Everyone seems embarrassed by it.

  99. What I thought, sort of. Not significantly more religious thanb schools here. But I find it hard to grasp anyway. Wherefrom do the large helpings of religion come? Parents? Are people really so religious? I know some are… But many? Most?

  100. What I thought. But if people are embarrassed, who’s serving the large helpings? Some fanatically religious parents? I know they exist, of course. More religious schools, run by cults? But I find it difficult to believe many or most parents would want those religious large helpings?

  101. Here is a fun map of the distribution of “values” in different parts of the world. Could be seen as a global menu of what parents serve their kids. I’m sure Steiner would have appreciated that areas of nation-souls have different colours ;-) It’s not quite clear how to interpret it, but an approximation could be: Up = secular, Down = religious and Left = Survival most important, Right = Self-expression most important

    http://bit.ly/98uO1L

    You might notice a certain country at the upper right, not bigger than a major city in any decently sized normal nation ;-) And I’d love to see Ahriman and Lucifer argue about this map …

  102. Oh! I remember seeing that map a while ago but had forgotten where! The Brits are only half as secular as us, apparently. I find that a bit surprising.

    In our corner of the map, Ahriman and Lucifer have struck a deal, become friends and ganged up on the Christ impulse to cast him out of the country. In other words, they have learnt to balance themselves, without help or interference. Interesting dynamic it is. Presumably, the Christ impulse is still alive and well in other parts ot the world, particularly in Croatia. A fascinating book that came out a while ago asked if the Swede is human (http://www.adlibris.com/se/product.aspx?isbn=9113021915); seeing this map makes you wonder.

    Apt observation about the folk souls, though preferably the map should have been divided into the five root races.

    (Oh! The relief! Dog has listened to my prayers — the comment box seems to behave like a sane and rational comment box again, not a belligerent and irrational one! I hope it remains this way.)

  103. I would not call the UK secular. It may be changing slowly, but each time there is a step in that direction we seem to take a lurch backwards.
    Cameron made an Easter speech to Clergy at a reception for Christian leaders in Downing Street in which he welcomed the ‘Christian fight-back ‘ in Britain.
    About a third of our schools are officially faith schools. There were two primary schools close to us about a mile apart when our children started school. I remember being pleased that the nearest one was not Cof E. But it may as well have been. The head was friendly with the vicar and he came once a week to preach. There were assemblies with prayers and hymns and at Christmas everyone walked to church.
    There is a requirement for schools to include a daily act of worship, although this does seem to vary according to the head . I think secondaries, unless they are faith schools, make less time for religion, although everyone has to study RE to the age of 16. And of course ‘Morality and Ethics’ are taught in this subject, not separately as I would wish.
    I was quite shocked the head of my son’s sixth form invited in an organisation Damaris for a day.
    http://www.damaris.org/schools
    When he told me about it he didn’t know what it’s purpose was or who the group were.
    This lot don’t feel the need to be open with the students about their aims.
    As for science well, achievement in the subject is not high generally and I would say it is not such a high priority as religion seems to be. It is certainly not talked about so much.
    Certain campaigners who shall be nameless are fighting off attempts to ‘teach the controversy’ in schools, with ‘Truth in science’ attempting to bring creationism in to the curriculum.
    My daughter went to a youth club nearby – I don’t believe in driving them everywhere -and that turned out to be run by a Christian group who showed them a video each week. She and her friends were amused by it but still it was exposure they could do without. Also Cubs, Brownies, Guides, all based on doing their duty to God. Even the youth orchestra also had a definite Christian flavour. Surely I don’t live in some weird Christian enclave? If you want to keep your child away from religion here you have to exclude them from quite a lot of ‘normal’ activities.
    There is a strong Woodcraft Folk group where the ‘Steiner kids’ go…

  104. yes, you’re right. Our school is CofE but my sons’ secular senior school has a more christian flavour – the children in the former are ‘freethinkers’. But that’s down to the head.

    I’m surprised at the reaction to secularism from anglicans I always thought were milder – I’m especially surprised by the strength of feeling about same-sex marriage. I shouldn’t be, I can’t have been paying attention.

    And I’ve heard of similar campaigns in schools, in Exeter. So you’re not alone.

  105. I like the sound of the ‘freethinking Cof E school – are the board of education happy with that?

  106. Helen — what does religious education mean? Studying religions is compulsory in Swedish schools too, doesn’t imply religious instruction or preaching a religion. It’s about learning about religions. Surely that’s a different thing than prayers and stuff, which I agree have no place in education.

    Alo, I don’t know how ‘morality and ethics’ can be ‘taught’ at all. Moral and ethical implications and considerations seem to be embedded naturally in almost all school subjects — philosophy, religion, history, et c –, but is it a separate subject? Seems quite boring and nonsensical if ethics and morals are disconnected from any context?

    But the brownies and cubs are part of the scouts movement aren’t they? They were always christian, although compared to before, they seem to have lost some of it (at least here where they have to appeal to non-christian parents too).

  107. Helen – everyone seems happy with the superficial stuff. But you get the real lowdown at children’s parties. There also seems a lack of god in the various events, especially the Nativity. You get a real sense of the sea of faith rushing away over the pebbles even this far inland.

  108. re the scout movement – my friend who sent her daughters to the Waldorf Kindy wouldn’t let them go to Brownies because of the ‘God’ part.
    My two went to Brownies and Cubs, I just accepted that part. Maybe the subtle way God is included works well on kids? Make it too obvious and there is something to object to.
    I oppose morality and ethics being taught in RE because it links moral behaviour with religion. I saw a GCSE RE paper and was very surprised at the way Christianity was used time and again to show what was the ‘right’ way to behave. It was so subtly done, I can see how it gets past the exam board. Until that point I may have agreed with you about Re being harmless.
    Maybe learning about religions should be part of history lessons.(I wish!). if there is a place for some kind of philosophy, maybe citizenship lessons would be a good place to include this as it already covers critical thinking and justice etc.

  109. Childrens parties are a distant memory for me, thank goodness!

  110. I don’t know about Sweden but in a state school here philosophy is not a subject until you get to post 16.

  111. My mother didn’t want me to go to the scouts either, partly because of the god stuff and because she thought the whole going on camps thing was silly. You know, where hundreds of people gather in tents and eat barbecued sausages. I’m not so sure, but I certainly wouldn’t have enjoyed huge groups of people living communaly in tents like that, so from that perspective it was probably good… ;-) Probably less god stuff now than when I was a kid though. And even then it was less than when she was a kid.

    ‘I oppose morality and ethics being taught in RE because it links moral behaviour with religion.’

    I think that very much depends on the quality of the education. When it is more like a non-confessional ‘worldviews and philosophy’ kind of thing, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you have a priest coming in to lecture about christian morality, well, then, different game…

    But in a way, discussing values and ethics and responsibilities and rights and stuff is not so bad in the context of learning about religion and particularly the history of religions. First because of the actual abuses of ethics. Secondly because it is — both bad and good — a part of the cultural heritage.

    I feel that morality and ethics is pretty pointless when it’s detached from the cultural, social and historical context?

    But of course you’d have to hold the education up to high standards.

    Re philosophy — I don’t know what it’s like now, but I think back when I was at school it was a subject taught after 15/16.

    Nowadays there are so many school subjects that seem utterly pointless. For example, they do some kind of ‘life skills’ shit. Presumably that’s about ‘it’s nicer to be nice than not to be nice’ and love and emotions and sex and things that adults don’t trust kids to find out about on their own or through art or literature or through engaging with other human beings. Perhaps it’s sorely needed in a time when kids learn about ‘life’ through docu soaps on the telly. (I’m beginning to sound like an old waldorf loon now. Bear in mind I have no idea, perhaps they aren’t *all* glued to video games and communicating with each other via grunts, like schimpanzees.) I googled it just to find out more, and found this publisher for books to use in ‘life skills’: http://www.livskunskap.net/livskunskap.html (sorry, you have to google translate if you want to read it…). Partly a sad display of utterly tedious junk, it seems to me. And when a school subject is about instilling certain values, one might ask where the line between ok/nice/good and brainwashing goes. And this isn’t even about teaching kids some particular religion or anything; it’s ‘neutral’ and ‘multicultural’… and perhaps even secular enough. It’s about getting them to adopt values and behaviours that someone has decided are good. Sometimes, I’m sure, without any good arguments behind at all. That’s how it seems. It didn’t exist when I was in school, so I don’t know from personal experience.

    Sorry, I’m straying off topic slightly. But I wonder if there is not more to be gained from letting children experience art and literature and nature and to get acquainted with history and philosophy and also religions, beliefs and their history… and let them, through personal experience, through reading, thinking and talking and reasoning, arrive at their own conclusions and ideas. Basically, to give them the tools and let them think, not to serve them moral truths — be they religious, political or of any other kind. Teaching life skills seems more like religious instruction and proselytizing — although in a manner detached from any particular religion. (It’s more political, I suspect.) It seems much worse than the religion education I got in school, which was certainly never about equating being religious with being moral. Again, i don’t know what it looks like today — maybe religion education has deteriorated.

    And why not begin with the fairytales. To proceed to literature. Then perhaps you don’t have to explicitly teach teenagers ‘life skills’… Oh, what am I talking about, an ideal world.

  112. My recipe would be cases/stories + questioning/reflection + philosophy. Could be done within any subject, especially if there is room for some interdisciplanary inquiry.

    And I stumbled upon “Teaching Happiness and Well-Being in Schools”, written by Ian Morris, philosophy teacher at Wellington College. They have a “holistic” approach, described here:

    http://www.wellingtoncollege.org.uk/eight-aptitudes

    Obviously, the waldorf holistic and spiritual approach isn’t without contenders. Now that I have learned that the UK is in general much more religious than I could have imagined, I’d guess that morals and spirituality would have a christian flavor … Especially with the military history of this school.

    It is easy to criticize the Morris book, for example because of the freqent quotes of recent fads in psychology which haven’t really matured yet. Like “EQ” and the “Positive Psychology” movement. But I think that these approaches deserves to be tried and evaluated.

    Does anyone know more about the Wellington College?

  113. *Teaching* happiness… that title alone; I feel depressed.

    Will take closer look later.

  114. I find it dumb and in this particular instance possibly objectionable…:

    ‘Awareness of personal responsibility, of right and wrong and steering clear of the wrong; openness and honesty with those around you; having firm principles and sticking to them’

    Is it actually a good idea to have firm principles and stick to them — no matter what? Shouldn’t one be prepared to reevaluate one’s principles and find out whether it’s the right thing to do to stick to them or to change them?

    The intro text to the eight abilities — does it actually mean anything? I get an impression of empty, fancy-sounding babble. One notch above inane new age junk.

  115. Melanie · ·

    I agree!

    A similar (and perhaps more honest) list from Wellington College approx 1979:

    a) rugby. If you’re good at it you can be Head Boy. If not, what are you doing here?

    b) Christian values. Surely we don’t need to talk about that. See you in Chapel, Byng major.

    c) we are better than the hoi polloi.

    d) we assume that you’re all Tories. You have a responsibility to those who are less fortunate, so buck up. Play the game. And get your hair cut.

    e) you are here to get used to appalling food and working in a team with people you don’t like. Remember: you are British. Well, some of you are. At least you’re not Marxists, like those horrible Swedes. What would Mrs Thatcher say?

  116. Ha!

    Sometimes I have this feeling that if what waldorf pretends to offer was actually true (in regard to what actually takes place in schools) there might be something to it. I’ve never seen a waldorf school claim to be *teaching* happiness (or well-being, that’s equally ludicrous, didn’t notice it first…). Or *teaching* morality. Or *teaching* ‘emotional intelligence’. The flip-side of this is that waldorf students aren’t *taught* that it’s wrong to hurt each other either. Maybe that’s a small price to pay. Coming to think of it.

  117. secular is not rational (with english subtitles).

    (The lady with the dark hair is a rather daft tv personality known for, I believe, her belief in ghosts. The guy is the chairman for the Swedish Humanists.)

  118. Thank goodness for the humanist.
    I am reluctant to call myself a humanist however.
    I think Sweden is truly secular, so a few new -agers won’t do much damage.

  119. Less damage, I guess, than religion does elsewhere. But remember that we have around 40, fully state-funded waldorf schools and even a publicly funded anthro hospital — there’s more room for these things when organized, traditional religion loses its grip ;-)

  120. Btw, I can’t call myself a humanist either. My deep canineosophical convictions prevent me…

  121. so, you can’t be both?

  122. tell me about the anthro hospital – the mind boggles. Do they have bed 13?

  123. I think it’s about words. Humanist sounds like it’s got to do with the word human… Lower wisdom, probably not wise at all, my guru tells me. Wisdom with two legs instead of four.

  124. The hospital — I don’t know. I don’t think anthros have issues with no 13!

  125. Re whether Religious education is a good or bad thing – a story today about one of the questions for 16 year olds ‘why are some people prejudiced against Jews?’ is featuring in the news. I think it shows how difficult it is to teach these issues in this context. I would love to know what is deemed to be the correct answer. This article

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/9288585/Pupils-asked-why-do-some-people-hate-Jews-in-GCSE-exam.html

    seems to suggest the problem is the attempt to explain anti-semitism – oh, I forgot, we can’t question people’s religious beliefs. That would be too free-thinking and analytical.

  126. Er. Don’t know what to say. One does wonder about the correct answer; they do give a hint, but one wonders what else might count.

  127. ‘we can’t question people’s religious beliefs’
    I mean in schools, not here.
    I assume the children have been taught about the Judeo-Chritian conflict over the centuries, not just about the Nazis.
    It’s ok, I’m rambling.

  128. Well, yes, in schools, of course. Here you can mock any belief, except canineosophy, but that’s not a belief but a truth. We confine people to a basement dungeon for questioning canineosophy. You may come back up after you denounce cats. If mr Dog is in a good mood, bribing him may work too.

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