Believe It Or Not!

The Religious Case Against BeliefThe Religious Case Against Belief by James P. Carse
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book in one sentence ...

Belief is the antitheses of Religion which is closer to poetry and people conflate knowledge with belief to the detriment of all mankind.

Here he means Belief to be "Belief Systems" and religion is defined by him as an open inquiring look at existence, much like poetry. And Religion is a process of learning ignorance that prompts us to strive ever harder toward higher aspiration. Or something like that.

For me the most intriguing part is his example of Galileo before the pope when he is asked to deny the truth of his scientific conclusions.

“When the pope assumed that belief (for him knowledge) represented the end of ignorance, Galileo saw it as the beginning of ignorance, Galileo was not a convert. The truth was not revealed to him. He came to it after a lifetime of study. He knew, as any critical thinker would, that knowledge is corrigible, and that belief is rarely so. Open to correction himself, he had not inclination and no reason to take an immovable stand. He could not perform an heroic act like Luther’s not because of cowardice but because there was nothing to stand on. Belief systems are already complete. No new knowledge can reverse their finality. Knowledge, in other words, is never knowledge against….” Pg 60

I feel this touches on so much, so much that is tantalizing and appealing for me. But it somehow misses the mark. The books comes close to showing how "higher ignorance" actually fuels knowledge AND religion but never quite gets there.

In my hackneyed and often inebriated explanation of Religion I have tried to use the poetry analogy but it never really makes an impression. People who "believe" don't need it and unbelievers don't care.

All in all I think he highlights and important and true but hard to pin down intersection of belief and knowledge AND how faith and ignorance are tied to them.

The problem is that, I think, that for the majority of people Religion IS a belief system, and various religions are simply an accumulation of enumerated beliefs. This is so for non-believers as well as "believers".

Looking at the way conservative Christians view the world it is easy to see the confusing of Belief with Knowledge. But then again, the non believer's view of the world can be just as rigid as the fundamentalist. They both thrive on anger and disdain of the other view.

I once watched "Flock of Dodos:" on Netflix and the amazing thing was the scientists were just as angry and dismissive of the fundamentalist as the Creationists were of the scientists. The manner and rhetoric was the same. Don't be confused, teaching science via the Bible is crazy, but still...maybe what bothered me was the fundamentalist were trying to use their religion as a belief system to explain science and the scientists acted like the creationists where attacking their religion, an everybody reacted emotionally. To be sure the fundamentalists ignored obvious evidence ("willful ignorance") but in one scene the anthropologists were almost apoplectic in their denunciation of their opposites and would never accept there might be a spiritual motivation for the other side. So the question is, should scientists even try to understand with compassion this alien point of view?

Perhaps related, decades ago I read a book that pointed out fundamentalists want to take the spiritual and turn it into the material in a perverse and flawed mimicry of science. That way you can prove that which truthfully can never be "proved".

The author struggles to define Religion, sometimes as poetry, comomunitas, longevity of existence, and more. But really I find the Dali Lama's definition more convincing, where religion as that which engenders "compassion". Simple and inspiring. (I have no attribution for this but I heard it somewhere). But compassion is something missing from this book and may explain why I find it lacking.

In fact there seems to be a gaping hole in this book; for me there is never a real feel of why people are religious at all. He mentions Jesus and Islam and Buddhism throughout, but never really indicates why one should bother. He is pretty good pointing out that the Religion as belief system is rigid and really the heart of all the bad press in any religion. But aside from this yearning for Religion as a poetic expression of a spiritual truth (although I don't think he ever used the word spiritual, which is odd to me)he is pretty unconvincing on why people should go down that road at all.

All in all the audience for this books strikes me as limited since if you think Religion is all bollocks anyway you see no point to entertaining these ideas. And those who are into some sort of religion seem to be pretty well set, why bother thinking about it any more.

Here are some quotes I like...
“Belief systems are stunningly resistant to such correction, for the simple reason that deeply held committed believers are not offering a variety of debatable proposals about the nature of the world. They see the world through their beliefs, not their beliefs from a worldly perspective” pg 28

“…belief marks the line at which our thinking stops…” pg 44

"Believers and warriors tend to merge into one another: the military sees itself in religious terms, while believers take one the images of warfare." Pg 77

"Religion in its purest form is a vast work of poetry." Pg 111

"Belief systems offer a rational and consistent view of everything...” pg 145

sacred texts...”They must be interpreted. That is they do not come to life until there is a living response to them.” pg 189

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A Shocking Development

The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster CapitalismThe Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The short version is...it is all hopeless and corporations are set to take as much public money as possible, and good governance is demeaned to the point that public works becomes an evil idea.

As far as the book itself and how the title fits in, I can see part of her argument as analysis with metaphor, where the Psychological treatment of shock therapy (of the worst type) corresponds to Milton Friedman's idea that his free market policies are best implemented quickly to shock the economy out of its old bad ways.

FYI The history of the shock treatment that was later taken up by the CIA sanctioned torture guides was pretty gruesome to read about.

The other metaphor used is a cancer metaphor where to get an economy to a free market state you have to cut out all the bad parts of the economy taking perhaps colateral flesh along the way as a means to stop the disease.

While reading Shock Doctrine I checked some reviews and critiques of it...I don't know what I expected but BOY some people really, really hate her. I mean despise and insult in the crudest fashion.

For all the railing by free market fans against her for talking ill of Friedman, it is completely true that his only interest in people was the capitalist world he thought we should be living in. If people suffer and die it is not on his radar. He simply advises or admires anybody who implements his ideas, he is just the technician. Kind of like Werner Von Braun shooting bombs in the air but where they come down was somebody else's department. Freidman and his followers are shocked and incredulous that anybody sees any connection between a regime embracing the Chicago School and using brutal means to prevent any dissent from that view. For me, if I was a famous economist and you used my theories as an excuse to murder and torture...THAT'S a DEAL-BREAKER!!

The Chicago Boys had confidently assured Pinochet that if he suddenly withdrew government involvement from these areas all at once, the “natural” laws of economics would rediscover their equilibrium, and inflation— which they viewed as a kind of economic fever indicating the presence of unhealthy organisms in the market— would magically go down. They were mistaken. pg 97

Even if you accept Klein has her own biases, I think this does confirm the religious nature of neo conservative and the current Ayn Rand enthusiasts. It is a article of faith that lower or no taxes, less or no public services will result in a blossoming of economic success and happiness

“What was particularly exciting were the same qualities that made Marxism so appealing to many other young people at the time,” recalled the economist Don Patinkin, who studied at Chicago in the forties—“ simplicity together with apparent logical completeness; idealism combined with radicalism.” 10 The Marxists had their workers’ utopia, and the Chicagoans had their entrepreneurs’ utopia, both claiming that if they got their way, perfection and balance would follow." pg 63

Bruno conceded that deepening or creating a serious economic meltdown was frightening— government salaries would go unpaid, public infrastructure would rot— but, Chicago disciple that he was, he urged his audience to embrace this destruction as the first stage of creation. “Indeed, as the crisis deepens the government may gradually wither away,” pg 328


The book goes on and on with one depressing story after another, but it boils down to the fact that big corporations will do anything to make money. And when you couple that with a political movement that thinks government can't be part of any solution and private business is always better than public servants...then a cycle is started where poorly implemented governing produces poor results which makes things worse, which reinforces the original premise which means more privatization is required.

It seems so inevitable one just gives up and retreats to the bed room and watches endless episodes of 30 Rock on Netflix.

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