Tuesday, 23 March 2010


Now for a musical break.

Following are the lyrics to one of my favourite tracks. The relevance to this blog will be immediately apparent.

I wanted to post them because, for some reason, this track and its undeniable quality (especially if you like Afro-Cuban influenced deep house) seems to have escaped the attention of the myriad lyrics websites, and doesn't feature (even as an overdubbed backing track) on any Youtube videos.

The Man 'Question?' featuring Ashley Slater (Phillysophical Soul Mix)

Question: What are we here for?
It’s a question that has hounded us since the dawn of humankind.

(Instrumental break)

Question: What are we here for?
It’s a question that has hounded us since the dawn of humankind.

And if you look at all the texts, all the teachings of the prophets
From Zen to Zion, from Gideon to Kabbalah, and so on*
It boils down to this: The human heart is just screaming to be set free

So, how do we do this? How do we free the spirit, the god that lives within?

Question: What makes your heart sing?
For some people it’s the acquisition of power, wealth or fame

But from everything I have read, all of the wise words I’ve heard spoken
When all the theories and principles of life have been taken into account
There seems to be some kind of common thread, a universal understanding
That the human spirit aspires to be somewhat more

So, How do we get there, how do we achieve this evolutionary goal?

Well… now, I’ve reached the part of the song
Where I’m supposed to come up with the answer
Some quintessential catch-phrase
To define the meaning of life and all other such things

But after all my philosophising, and theorising
And contemplating and meditating
And generally just complicating things
I have discovered what really works for me
What truly works for me
Is to just shut the fuck up…

And Dance!

(Instrumental break)

And Dance!

And Dance!

*I know it’s not ‘and so on’ but try as I might I can’t figure out what he says – it sounds like ‘Co-wa’ - any suggestions as to texts or schools of thought that this might relate to greatly appreciated)
If the lyrics have piqued your interest and Afro-Cuban jazz or Deep House feature in your regular listening then by all means check it out:

Download and/or 90 second preview of the track at Juno Download

If the above preview and/or Afro-Cuban jazz/Deep House are your thing you could do worse than pick up the album - here's link to 2nd hand CDs from the indispensable Discogs.

Finally, download the single track or the whole album from the label: AfroArt.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Atheist Dogma

OK, I know that the title is immediately going to get some hackles up, but that’s kind of the idea. Atheism may not have a book of parables, or an organised unifying body, but there are memes and arguments that get trotted out again and again when debating the religion vs. atheism bit. Even generally unimpeachable people like Professor Dawkins are guilty of it…

A child should be a child… not a Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, [insert religion of choice], child.

This argument actually demeans the person making it. The standpoint of a broad comparative religious education with no single theistic tradition being pushed is the stance of the more open-minded atheists and secular humanists. Just as education in a parent’s chosen theistic tradition is an identical choice by a religiously devoted parent. Please note I said ‘education’ whereas many of the more militantly minded would call it ‘indoctrination’.

If a parent believes their chosen religion to be right (and that is rather the idea) why would they then compromise their views and teach their child anything else. I would suggest that such a dichotomy could be psychologically damaging to a child – just as 'don’t do as I do, do as I say' has always been.

Is it indoctrination to teach a child manners in the tradition of your country, family, household? What about language? If you teach your child the language spoken in your home country and leave the speaking of a foreign language until they are at school, is that indoctrination?

Without the weighted meaning that ‘indoctrination’ has taken on in the theistic debating chamber the answer is yes, but by the same token it is therefore education.

A religious upbringing is absolutely analogous to the teaching of language and manners because religion encompasses these very things. Religion has its own language, it has a set of values and expected behaviours; manners.

Who is anybody to say to anyone that the choice to raise a child in a particular faith tradition is wrong?

What IS wrong, and both sides of the debate can agree with this to a greater or lesser extent, is where the religion of choice is impinging upon other people’s human rights.

Of course that is still a judgement, and a judgement that secular humanists will generally make in a way that seeks to find a compromise, where people of one faith or another will lean more towards their faith than that of their fellow people.

Bringing your child up in the tradition of your chosen faith is not wrong - doing so without the genuine tempering of non-judgemental acceptance that many religions do claim to teach ('judge not that ye be not judged', and all) is.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Prophet and Loss

Rationalists, humanists, atheists, all, if so inclined, try and find a logical reason why religion exists at all in humanity – what function, evolutionary or otherwise, does it fulfil?

Straight away we have a problem. Religions may start from a germ (or seed, if you don’t want the negative connotation) of dealing with a particular issue, but they very quickly gather other ideas around them as nuclei in snowflakes, or grains of sand in pearls (wisdom optional).

There’s no point in a religion that only answers one question, so answers to other questions are added to the mythology in order to make the religion holistically believable. Some issues, of course, are not answered, but are satisfactorily deemed unanswerable (when I say ‘satisfactorily’ I just mean in line with the tone of the mythology style-book).

Religions then provide inclusivism – a sense of belonging – ironically leading to exclusivism, allowing a superior ‘us and them’ mentality to occur which actually strengthens the feeling of belonging.

There’s nothing like belonging to something if you can feel superior to those that don’t belong.

This plays on the deeply ingrained mammalian-brain instinct of xenophobic protectionism. That which is not us is bad, wrong, evil, dangerous, or at the very least to be treated with suspicion.

The key answer that religions try to provide, and often the one from which they spring, is comfort regarding the demise or the expiration. To provide a maker in order to head off to meet same. To give one peace in which to rest at the cessation of metabolic processes, the kicking of the bucket or the shuffling off this mortal coil. Ultimately, providing a choir invisible to join.

Of course such an ‘answer’ is two-fold – it allows one to feel comfort in the contemplation of one’s own death, and it seeks to make the loss of a loved one more bearable.

The strongest indication, I think, of how deeply ingrained religion is in many minds is how completely it takes over the processing of grief and loss, to the point where some even greet their end because of the plot of land and harem they’ve been promised in the afterlife. (What did those virgins do to deserve that end, though, one wonders.)

Even in non- extremist believers of whichever religion, if the day dawns where they can suddenly no longer reconcile the teachings of their religion with logic, common-sense, and widely accepted scientific theory the effect of such an epiphany is often a feeling of grief or loss not unlike what one might associate with the loss of a loved one. Of course this is in part due to the breadth and depth of the teachings of the religion, and just how much has to be re-learned, it is also the intentional self-exclusion from the group and the consequent loss of the sense of belonging.

For millennia, and even up to this day, death is a part of life in a very ‘front of mind’ kind of way. So humanistic fatalism is completely understandable - a palatable way of dealing with the concept of death and accepting the reality of death has been a genuine need for humanity.

Where previously, with available knowledge, religion fulfilled a genuine need, that is no longer the case. We live longer, can lead more fulfilling lives and have great deal of information (a long with a tragic amount of mis- or dis-information) at our fingertips.

Religion was an answer based on incomplete information, shrewd marketing and stirring storytelling. Today the available information is more complete, the target audience more jaded, and the distinction between fiction and non-fiction more readily discerned.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Rationalising Religion…

Think of the Christian God not as the entity presented to you in Church but as a 2000 year-old allegory or anthropomorphisation based on a well-used concept that was many thousands of years old by the time Christianity cropped up. If you think of God as an unsophisticated explanation for the things that happen, and religion as giving that idea a form and function and a story to follow (though evermore complicated as we’ve become more sophisticated as a species).

Mankind is innately drawn to patterns. We invariably look to make these patterns make sense from a somewhat egocentric, human standpoint. Apophenia (seeing patterns in meaninglessness) causes us to see human faces in clouds, on pieces of toast, or in the topology of the moon - it's also what's caused us to see a humanesque intelligence behind inscrutable acts of random in the universe.

Mankind loves stories - our ability to speak, communicate and impart information both directly and indirectly is part of our evolutionary rise.

Give an unsophisticated mind a "plausible" reason and a captivating story and you've got their heart and their mind - then get them to indoctrinate their young from birth and you've got their minds, too, for the same level of effort. Then explain the apparently inexplicable fact of prayers not being answered or tragedies happening and it's God's will (and is our failure to understand God's will so far different from our inability to understand the acts of another human, especially one of the opposite gender?).

Think of spirituality in the same way – we try and find humanistic patterns and stories to help us explain our experiences to ourselves.

To my way of thinking a non-theistic belief system that is elastic enough to accept change and still maintain a credible ‘story’ about us and our place in the universe is science. Science is a way of telling ourselves stories using observable fact or logical deduction.

The language of science is generally not that of a storyteller in the traditional sense, but of maths and abstraction, but there are people out there, Carl Sagan being one of them (RIP), Terry Pratchett (and recent collaborators) being another, that can talk about science beautifully, poetically and in a humanistic way.

I believe it’s this ability in humanity to tell true stories (fact dressed as fiction rather than the prevailing fiction dressed as fact of the last 2000 years) that is the next stage in our mental (and spiritual) evolution.

The universe is more awesome when there isn’t some little guy behind the curtain pushing the smoke, mirror, or bullshit buttons.