The Death of Big Ideas

Posted by Anti Citizen One on August 16th, 2011

We prefer knowing to thinking because knowing has more immediate value. It keeps us in the loop, keeps us connected to our friends and our cohort. Ideas are too airy, too impractical, too much work for too little reward. Few talk ideas. Everyone talks information, usually personal information. Where are you going? What are you doing? Whom are you seeing? These are today’s big questions. NEAL GABLER

PS Russell: The Divorce Between Science and Culture

Calvinism and Existentialism

Posted by Anti Citizen One on August 9th, 2011

I was recently considering Calvinism, from an existential viewpoint. Superficially, they could hardly be further apart, given that they disagree as to if our lives have an objective meaning! and also, if such a thing existed, to what extent it would be knowable to us. Calvinism has a number of defining doctrines that are believed to be supported by biblical scripture. The one I find most interesting is “total depravity”… I think of it as “original sin” on steroids. Total depravity states that man is both unable and unwilling to fully love God and to obey him, but are inclined by man’s nature to serve themselves. This, according to Calvinists, is a bad thing.

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. John 3:19

I was struck that total depravity, at least in it’s narrow interpretation, is actually in agreement with Nietzsche’s doctrine of the will to power. If you don’t already know exactly what Nietzsche means by that, I strongly suggest you abandon your preconceptions now, because the will to power is one of the most misunderstood of Nietzsche’s ideas. The will to power, according to Nietzsche, is the force that determines what is regarded as good and evil (and all values) in the minds of living things. All living things have will to power. We exercise our will to power if we choose to act independently or if we chose to obey another; either way we choose the basis of our actions and that is will to power. The will to power cannot be exercised using rationality alone – in fact rationality is typically not used at all (for one reason, the is-ought problem). Even if we were aware of a god, we still would have to exercise will to power in order to chose to obey or not (or even to recognise the concept “god”, or any other concept, requires a value judgement and WtP). Will to power is driven by psychology, not divine command. For that reason, our actions cannot be entirely guided at the most fundamental level by an external agent (be it god or anything else). This is the essence of total depravity – actions are fundamentally driven by human nature, not god. However Nietzsche strongly approves of the will to power, while Calvinists think total depravity is a negative thing – this contrast could hardly be more stark!

A new will teach I unto men: to choose that path which man hath followed blindly, and to approve of it- and no longer to slink aside from it, like the sick and perishing! Thus Spake Zarathustra

One odd quirk I notice in Calvinism is it’s striving to be spiritually dependant on god as possible, is if that could be increased even by their own doctrine. I do wonder what they think “poor in spirit” exactly entails, from the verse “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them” (Matthew 5:3). Calvinists seem to regard being “poor in spirit” as having the awareness of ones “spiritual situation” – particularly with regard to one’s own spiritual inadequacy. That is strange because I can be materially, educationally or artistically poor without being aware of it, at least for a time. From the doctrine of total depravity, it would seem everyone is equally poor but the awareness of that may vary from person to person. This confusion between the alleged fact and the awareness of the fact is a case of wishful thinking and loose interpretation of the word “poor”. Poor is certainly a lack of something – it is not necessarily knowledge of that lack.

A more serious objection to Calvinism might be that while they claim to be incapable of making reliable value judgements (particularly moral ones) without god’s intervention, they claim to know not only that the Bible is descriptively accurate, but that it should be used as a prescriptive basis for morality! This itself is a moral judgement. But without scriptural sanctioning, their justification for their self-doubt collapses. Given this, how are we to be reliable judgements of what holy book to follow? For all Calvinist’s know, with their fault moral compass, they are worshipping an entity other than god – possibly the devil. I mean, how would they know? To claim to know if either god or the devil are good or bad, or even to accurately distinguish them at all, is also to claim that they CAN make moral judgements independently of god or the devil, which again contradicts total depravity. (The argument that “god can help to you find god” doesn’t solve the problem because “the devil can help you to find the devil”.)

And many a one who cannot see men’s loftiness, calleth it virtue to see their baseness far too well: thus calleth he his evil eye virtue. Thus Spake Zarathustra

I imagine a problem for Christian existentialists is: assuming there is a god, why should we obey them? Merely from the fact that an entity created you, it doesn’t follow that it should be obeyed. And similarly, if someone is recognised as “King”, it doesn’t necessarily give them power over every aspect of their subjects (particularly post-Magna Carta). Playing semantic games to justify obedience to god simply fails to address the is-ought problem – which I consider to be a foundational part of existentialism: the lack of objective basis for moral actions, particular if this supposed basis is “rational”. Kierkegaard springs to mind.

Anti Citizen One

BBC: Dutch rethink Christianity for a doubtful world

Posted by Anti Citizen One on August 5th, 2011

It is part of the mainstream Dutch Protestant Church, and the service is conventional enough, with hymns, readings from the Bible, and the Lord’s Prayer. But the message from Mr Hendrikse’s sermon seems bleak – “Make the most of life on earth, because it will probably be the only one you get”.

“Personally I have no talent for believing in life after death,” Mr Hendrikse says. “No, for me our life, our task, is before death.” BBC