Vanity thought #1544. Objectivity

The other side of the argument about subjectivity is a critique of “objective reality”. Pointing out inevitability of one’s personal faults is a start and undermining the existence of reality itself should do it.

We aren’t the first ones to bring out this argument, though. Problem with objectivity first came up in ancient Greece as “Plato’s cave” and has been rehashed over and over again, it doesn’t stop atheists and if we use it in the same way they’ll probably overwhelm us simply because of the amount of work modern philosophy put into refuting it. More importantly, it’s PLATO’s cave, not ours, not the Vedic description of reality. We could possibly translate it into our language, it would be fun, but probably not very productive.

To the modern audience that cave argument is basically the same as the matrix from the movies – we are all locked up and prevented from seeing the world as it is, and there’s no way for us to discover our condition without external help. Put this way it does sound Vedic but relativism has been around long enough, since Greek times, too, and we stand no chance of solving this battle once and for all. They have ready made answers for everything.

Relativists say that humans are the ones who set values for everything and there’s no such thing as true objectivity. It’s this position that moved Plato to invent his cave, and the main problem with it is that it’s still an invention, we can only speculate about being in the matrix. Unless you have the blue pill (or was it red in the movie?) you can’t show the reality. In our case – if we can’t show God we can’t prove that He exists, they’ll just call it faith and vivid imagination.

Instead of arguing about the possibility of “real” objective reality we can show that what atheists assume as objective now is not so either. Instead of offering our solution to the Matrix and Plato’s cave, the existence of God and spiritual world. which they reject, we can attack objectivity of modern science on their own terms. What atheists essentially say, is that cave or no cave, science is objective, which isn’t true, and we can try to prove it.

To them objectivity in science means that the same thing measured over and over again by different people will be of the same size, and therefore it’s objectively one meter long.

Okay. How long is one meter? Originally they decided to measure it as a result of division of Earth’s meridian running through Paris by ten million. How do we know Earth’s size is constant? It most likely isn’t and fluctuates daily. Then they replaced that definition, for other reasons, by the one based on a wavelength of Kryptonite, but with Superman being a cartoon character it didn’t make much practical sense, so they went with Krypton gas instead (/s). Currently they define a meter as distance traveled by light in vacuum in 1/299 792 458 of second.

They’ve never actually measured this, of course, they fixed the speed of light in meters first, then reversed the equation to solve meter for this speed and time, so this definition is circular.

What we can point out, however, is that all these definitions are not objective but depend on time and place and the current state of science.

Take the Krypton based definition. Krypton is not a basic unit in the universe, it’s made of protons and electrons, protons are made of quarks, and quarks are made of something else, we don’t know exactly what. So, technically, instead of measuring meter in the wavelengths of Krypton we should be talking of the wavelength of a particular combination of elementary particles, some of which are still only theoretical, we don’t know how many have not been theorized of yet, and they might all turn out to be vibrating strings. Or not, depending on how the string theory progresses.

How’s that objective?

I bet we can ask string theorists to come up with their own definition of a meter, it would probably vary depending on the flavor of a particular variant of string theory, and we can call it a provisional definition, until confirmed experimentally. It might also happen that string theory will never be proven experimentally because of constraints imposedby the size of the Earth itself – we need a much bigger planet to run these experiments.

Forget the meter, without a fundamental theory of everything we can’t define anything, not the time, not the space, not colors. Right now atheists say that red color is the light with wavelength of about 700 nanometers. “About” here is because our eyes can’t tell the difference between 699 nm and 701 nm, but wavelength itself is objectively real. Is it, though?

Wavelength definition depends on the current state of scientific consensus, hundred years from now it could be considered as objective as Newton mechanics – close enough approximation for everyday purposes but fundamentally wrong representation of reality. In quantum theory wavelength depends on photons and photons are at the heart of quantum mysteries – they are both waves and particles and they can’t be measured, because measuring them affects their state. Quantum theory, however, is not the unifying theory of everything, it’s fundamentally incomplete, and therefore we can’t take it as a conclusive description of objective reality.

The Theory of Everything does not yet exists, one of the problem is that General Relativity is incompatible with Quantum Physics and vise versa, so something’s got to give, either photons, or gravity, or both. So how can they call anything defined by modern science as objective?

The very nature of science is that it will never be complete, it will always have unanswered questions, so absolute truth is like infinity in this sense – we can approach it but it is unreachable and, moreover, even if we move from square one to square two we are still infinitely far from the end. This means that current scientific understanding of light is as close to objective reality as “fire atoms” of ancient Greeks. It might even turn out that Greeks were closer to it and all development of science since then is one giant dead end, necessary to traverse but devoid of answers. It could be like astronomy when they thought the Earth was at the center of the universe – great for getting better at math but not much else.

In Vedic nomenclature light is the property of fire, fire emerges after air, which comes after ether, but it’s still a fundamental element in itself, probably best described as “energy”, ether being “space” and air being “movement” (or “force”, not sure). Gravity looks like property of water, which is probably why general relativity is incompatible with quantum mechanics – it’s a separate element in its own right, it cannot be described in terms of other elements. Though, since the elements emerge in progression, one from another, there might be gravity in energy in some sort of a seed form, so unification should be possible, but on the basis of “everything comes from ether”.

Back to atheism – their main error here is that they confuse current state of scientific consensus with objective reality. String theory might be closer to being objective but if it’s not a part of scientific consensus it is not accepted. Same with post-Darwinism with its consciousness driven evolution – they are consensus changing developments, and once it happens atheists would have to reinvent their arguments, meaning whatever they say now is bound to change, it’s only a matter of time.

From our perspective they live in a bubble of illusion but we can’t prove that unless we show Kṛṣṇa. In the meantime we can demonstrate that they live in a bubble constrained by time, that their understanding of objective reality is bound to go “pop” sooner or later and therefore is unreliable. Considering the chance that God might exist it would be more prudent to prepare for that possibility instead of playing with bubbles.

It’s an old argument, of course, but my point today is that atheists usually allow for new theories explaining new phenomena, but not for the possibility of overriding everything they accept as objective.

Vanity thought #1543. Subjectivity

I think subjectivity is the main weak spot in atheist armor. Atheism works only with objective reality and as soon as personal biases come into play logic loses its power. Problem is, atheists never admit their own subjectivity and behave as if they are free from all imperfections. We can exploit this, I believe.

They might not admit their own weaknesses but they are very good at spotting them in others. All we have to do is extend this universal law of imperfections to the observer himself. We have to argue that they are not special and make them think of the implications of this.

It was Śrīla Prabhupāda’s trusty opener – human attempts at acquiring knowledge are always covered by four faults and therefore we must accept Kṛṣṇa, the Infallible, as the source of absolutely perfect wisdom. Our senses are imperfect, we tend to make mistakes in our logical chains, we tend to cheat, and what’s the forth one? I guess unreliable memory. This is obvious and there’s nothing to argue there so Śrīla Prabhupāda usually quickly moved forward but I don’t think this argument ever sinks with modern day atheists.

They are too arrogant to admit it refers to them and generally approach debates with atheists with the goal to prove it’s the religious people who are covered with faults. Freedom from faults leads to atheism, they’d argue, which is exactly opposite of what we intend to prove ourselves. We say people are flawed and therefore we need to accept God. They say people accept God precisely because they are flawed. God is not a solution, concept of God is proof of human weakness.

We need another approach here. We can either address the logical step towards accepting a perfect source of knowledge, who is Kṛṣṇa, or we can argue against the idea that flawless logic is ever possible. In their view it is but science needs more time to apply it. We can argue that “more time” is not the solution and for that we need to bring the picture of the universe and our place in it, even according to their understanding, not Bhāgavatam’s.

This big picture is the one I had in mind when I started on subjectivity. We are not objective observers, we are part and parcel of universe and we obey universal laws. We cannot claim freedom without awarding ourselves a transcendental status. We either obey natural laws or we transcend them, which should be impossible in an atheist universe.

In reality we are kind of both, because we are transcendental souls covered by material bodies, but science does not accept existence of the soul and with soul we lose our transcendence. They can’t award transcendence to the bodies or even to the brains. They can’t argue that consciousness is confined to brainwork and then speak of it as if it’s outside of physical laws – because that’s what they mean by objectivity – independence of thought from physical constraints.

What they do instead is to skirt around the issue altogether and speak of themselves, and of all humans, as beings far above material nature. Something happens with those chemical reactions between braincells and neurons that creates an object which is unlike anything we’ve seen before. Or have we?

In atheist speak consciousness is real and it’s a property of highly complex brains, monkeys need not apply. On the other hand science deconstructs consciousness and comes to the conclusion that key parts of it are present in the simplest life forms. We say consciousness is a symptom of life, science generally agrees, though they don’t put it like that, but atheists can’t have it, they need consciousness to be special, and at the same time they insist that humans are a species of animals.

They can’t even define what makes humans so special. What is it that we have but animals don’t, albeit in rudimentary forms. That’s why science assigns consciousness to all life, after all. Atheists themselves treat pets as family members and speak of dog intelligence, for example. They can also give examples of animals communicating through sounds and signals, just as humans, some animals even have enough discerning patterns to qualify as a kind of speech. Animals certainly feel pain and some of them show remarkable sense of responsibility, which they can’t dismiss as simply genes or training. Dogs and dolphins sometimes save total strangers, which is not just self-awareness but empathy with other living beings across totally different and even alien, in case of dolphins, species, too.

They can’t point the time when apes evolved into humans, and I don’t mean gaps in fossil records but evolution of consciousness. We can identify Homo Sapiens as a species but these identification doesn’t say anything about what matters here, it’s all about size of a scull, length of fingers, posture etc – these things don’t create consciousness, they are irrelevant to our discussion. Tools were used long before Homo Sapience, social life existed long before Homo Sapiens, consciousness, if we speak of it objectively, existed long before Homo Sapience, too.

This means that we are not special, that we can’t claim objectivity but have to accept our position in the universal hierarchy. So far we are the pinnacle but this still means that we must obey the laws. Darwinism rejects consciousness driven evolution, natural selection does not leave space for consciousness, all the traits are results or chemical mutations, and this means that the universe is always in control, not us.

Atheists do not see the universe as a conscious entity, of course, they see it as an impersonal collection of cold, impossible to break laws, but it doesn’t matter. We can still allow for cold impersonal universe controlling our actions and our destiny and it will still strip us of objectivity. At best universal laws grant us randomness, but not independence and freedom.

Without freedom and purpose our thoughts and theories are no different from an arrangement of rocks on mountain slopes, could be random, could be the only possible combination if we had all the data about their composition, initial location, and acting forces of gravity, wind, rain etc.

Our “objectivity” is similarly controlled by our biology, exposure to the environment, exposure to the society, food intake, blood pressure, dopamine levels etc etc. Some of these factors might be random, most have solid causes and do not allow for any variations. There’s no objectivity in that. Slightly less caffeine in their morning drinks could affect their thought processes all through the day. Tweets would go our differently, blogs would be typed up differently, newspaper articles would have different focus. All these things potentially affect millions and millions of people. Where is objectivity in that? It’s all imaginary.

Atheists could say that they know they can’t maintain their mental concentration indefinitely but they can always pick up the next day, and if not, others can continue advancing their arguments long after they are gone. But can they, really? What control do they have over thought processes of the future generations? How many brilliant thoughts people keep discovering in old books that could have changed the course of history had they been widely disseminated? What stops the societies from disseminating good ideas right now, like the ones about global warming or income inequality?

Politics, they’d answer, and politics is the enemy of objectivity, but then politics always wins, or at least wins often enough to take the sting out of otherwise solid science. Objectivity always loses, and it has nothing to do with religion, people have only short moments of it, and only because they do not acknowledge that conditions for being objective are provided by politicians in the first place.

The cause of their apparent objectivity is someone’s subjective decision to allow and pay for this limited freedom, and as a tool of attaining knowledge it’s laughable.

And what is knowledge anyway? What are these insights into the nature of the universe for? Is it a property of some complex chemicals, too? If that’s the case, what’s its value? That’s an interesting topic because pursuit of knowledge is supposed to transcend our base desires and bodily necessities, but I’ll leave it for some other time.

Vanity thought #1535. Frontiers of science – it’s WWW out there

Not the internet, the Wild Wild West. Yesterday I just managed to introduce the subject and I’m not sure it merits such a build-up. Atheists on the warpath speak of science as if it offers solid, indisputable truths, and they see their mission in bringing these truths to us, the obtuse ones.

It works great with simple things like flat Earth or evolution, I mean who can deny, by looking at historical evidence, that various species appeared at different times, gradually becoming more and more complex.

We will deny it but that’s because we don’t value historical evidence very much, but even among us there’s a considerable doubt whether there was no evolution at all. Śrīla Prabhupāda once emphatically said that Lord Brahmā created all species at once, there’s no evolution. Others propose that Viṣṇu’s incarnations as fish, tortoise, boar, dwarf etc are examples of evolution, that He introduced life forms into the universe no one had known before.

I don’t know how to reconcile these ideas. Lord Brahmā might have created all the species at once – if we look at it from our point in history. The beginning of Lord Brahmā’s life is so far away and we had an untold number of creation/destruction cycles since then. Next time the Earth gets destroyed or flooded it will have to be repopulated and to scientists it will look like evolution, but not to Lord Brahmā himself because he doesn’t have to create all these species again. In our small time frame these species are always there, in a sense that design is always there, they are just waiting to be rebuilt.

Anyway, evolution as a gradual appearance/manifestation of species is accepted, even by us when we engage in debates with non-devotees on their own turf. It’s just too big of a challenge to take up in most of the cases and we’d rather focus on something smaller and more interesting at that particular moment.

The problem for atheist we can pick on, however, is when they talk about something far less certain, something discussed by those who want to push science forward, and it’s a jungle out there.

Atheists talk about emergence of life from dead matter as a sure thing, for example, but actual science on this is very controversial.

At this point wikipedia lists about a dozen theories of abiogenesis, as it’s called. Most of them contradict the others and there’s no agreement between scientists there. New theories are being added all the time and I’m not sure they all make it wikipedia.

Stanley Miller, the scientist who first zapped electricity through “primordial soup” and discovered that the process can produce complex molecules needed for life, is dismissive of all the alternatives. He did his experiment more than sixty years ago and he thought that in twenty five years scientists would surely know how life began. We are thirty five years past that, Miller himself is dead, and his theory is almost hopeless – or there wouldn’t be so many alternatives to it.

Atheists are also absolutely sure of evolutionary biology and they relentlessly promote what is known as neo-Darwinism (“neo” to add genes to original Darwin’s theory). This neo-Darwinism, however, emerged more than half a century ago and has been challenged many times since. Science moved past that already, or rather individual scientists who gradually gather more and more following. Their theories might not be accepted by neo-Darwinist orthodoxy but they are exciting enough to attract more and more people to trying them out.

One such theory is Gaia. Actually, it’s not a single theory but a unifying concept. There are many theories with many names under this umbrella, sometimes a small or capital “t” in Gaia theory can make all the difference – these people are very sensitive to being mislabeled.

Gaia is a Greek goddess of the Earth, which is not a good name if you want to convince atheists, and the idea is that life on earth lives in constant interaction with physical environment, which is bloody obvious but is an anathema to Darwinists who insist only on natural selection as a driver for evolution. They don’t want to talk about living beings affecting the environment which, in turn, should direct evolutionary process, which would become conscious rather than natural.

Another theory in this vein is neo-Lamarckism. Lamarck was a French scientist who preceded Darwin and who argued that giraffes got long necks because they were stretching them for a long time to reach the topmost leaves on the trees. Lamarckism was solidly rejected but now it’s making a comeback, ever since scientists discovered a mechanism for living beings to manipulate their genes. Not genetic makeup per se but which genes get activated, which leads to higher probability of mutations (as a tribute to Darwin).

This mechanism is a no-brainer now, it exists, they are only filling in the details, as Richard Dawkins love to say about Darwinism itself. It forms the basis for Chopra’s claim of consciousness driven evolution in the debate with Dawkins I wrote about nearly a month ago.

Not all of the new theories are anti-Darwinian, though. In fact, all of them must pay tribute to Darwin or else they’ll get bundled with creationism and their authors will never be able to publish or get a job again. Stephen Gould, for example, proposed a theory of punctuated equilibrium back in the seventies where he argued against Darwinian gradual process of speciation. Originally, he declared that his theory was an alternative to Darwin’s but then he got dragged into testifying in court by creationists who wanted to prove that Darwinism is just one of the many theories and there are accepted alternatives. Gould couldn’t possibly grant them victory and so he changed his label from “alternative” to “complementary” to Darwin’s.

The fact of the matter is, however, that Darwinism does not answer lots of questions to everyone’s satisfaction and science is ready to move past it, complement it, improve it – whatever they want to call it. That’s where frontiers of science nowadays are, and while they are all post-Darwin in some sense, they can’t agree with each other on anything.

Gaia is still viewed by many as pseudoscience but adherents of some saner versions of it are adamant that it’s an unfair characterization. A lot of what they say makes total sense, much of it is bloody obvious, as I said, and Gaia is very strong politically in environmental drive against global warming.

One argument against Gaia’s theory that the Earth is a living organism itself is that living organisms reproduce while the Earth doesn’t. Fine, but then there’s panspermia theory of origin of life which postulate that life could have been brought to Earth from outer space, which means that the Earth IS somebody’s offspring, and it will probably eject some micro-organisms capable of starting life elsewhere in the universe itself.

And it so happens that one proponent of this panspermia theory is Neil deGrasse Tyson, Richard Dawkins fellow popularizer of science. Isn’t it ironic how one of them can completely undermine the other? Dawkins insist that Darwinism is universal, that it works on all other planets just the same, but Gaia theory convincingly argues that natural selection is an incomplete explanation of how evolution happens even down here, and panspermia tells us that we have to look for original evolution and its mechanisms elsewhere in the universe, so Dawkins is left with no leg to stand on.

Perhaps biggest enemies of atheists are not us but their fellow scientists who constantly push frontiers of science farther and farther away. Atheists hope that scientific advancement would validate their mechanistic view of the world but it just doesn’t happen, it rather goes in the opposite direction, at least for now. Instead of physics controlling biology it’s biology that controls physics nowadays. Consciousness shapes matter and works in symbiosis with it – Gaia, and it increasingly doesn’t look like consciousness is a property of matter as atheists hoped to prove. And there’s no scientific consensus on anything new.

Perhaps we should go jujitsu on atheism and let them invest their energy into their own ruin – make them argue science until science proves that they are wrong, and leave us alone.

Vanity thought #1533. Morals, too

Just like science, morals are not special as long as they have the same source. It’s been only recently that atheists have been challenged to come up with their own moral norms. They haven’t yet, they still go by the same old Bible inspired sense of right and wrong. Afaik, they only got as far as asserting the possibility of non-Bible morality but there’s nothing measurable yet.

Speculation about our empirical experience, ie science, is available to everyone, it doesn’t transform into anything else if you do more of it, it would still be speculation about empirical experience. It will never progress beyond “I don’t know but I have an idea”. Similarly, there’s no principal difference between various levels of Bible based morality and so measuring whether atheists or Christians teach it better is pointless. They teach the same thing and so to the law of karma it doesn’t matter who teaches it as long as lessons are learned and followed.

I’m back on the children’s altruism study I covered a few days ago. They’ve measured morality outcomes among children from atheist, Christian, and Muslim families and concluded that atheist children are more altruistic. There are other aspects of that study that raise serious questions that I discussed earlier but I want to go back to this particular conclusion – that atheist children are more moral.

First of all, children are children, they might have some innate sense of morality but it’s rudimentary, if we are speaking of child’s morals we are speaking of what this child has been taught. In that study they decided to judge Christian/Muslim morality by how well it is reflected in their children. They didn’t explain why there should be a direct correlation. Say a person has a sense of morality, he decides to teach it to his child, the child learns some of it, then the researchers comes to the school, measure something else entirely, and assign all responsibility for whatever they found to the parent.

I remember they, the researchers, explained that while in individual cases the connection might get interference from outside forces, when taken as a large enough group the correlation between children sharing stickers and parent’s level of morality must be direct. However, large groups might have large interference common to everybody. As I said in the previous post, sharing stickers might be a cultural thing, children who don’t usually get stickers treasure them more and so are less likely to share regardless of their religious background.

But let’s say it’s true that atheist children are more altruistic, there’s still a big leap from there to the conclusion that religions are weak on morals, and that’s what the researches tried to prove, as evident from their interviews and quotes. All it means is that atheists teach the morals better, pay more attention to it, pay more attention to reinforcing good moral behavior, pay more attention to explaining the reasons in the way that a child can understand and so on. It means that they are better teachers and more attentive parents. The morals, however, are still the same – sharing is good, non-sharing is bad.

In eastern countries with their concept of individual karma sharing is morally neutral. It can be as sign of compassion but it’s not compulsory, not a natural state of the world and not a prescribed behavior. In Vedic civilization there are clear lines of authority, some people must share with some others, they have responsibility for their dependents, but it’s not random and you should be very careful with crossing lines.

From the POV of a Vedic kid, sticker distribution then would be seen as an observation of karmic results and it’s a prerogative of the teacher, kids are not supposed to infringe on teacher’s authority and tell her how to distribute stickers better, or change teacher assigned results themselves. Why? Because kids are taught not to trust their own, selfish nature. Perfect moral behavior for them is following the authority, not doing whatever they think is right.

The researches freed kids from their authorities and asked them to make their own minds, and it ended in disaster, predictably. The strength of religious morality lies not in individual choices but in imposing a common code of conduct regardless of how individuals feel. Atheists, OTOH, can’t wait to let people make their own choices and if it happens that these free choices are better then they claim moral superiority. Maybe so, but religious people never make their own choices, they always go with the scripture, their own sense of morals is never to be trusted. It’s common for everyone – Christians have their original sin and we know that these so-called “free” choices are the work of the false ego and will lead to further entanglement.

When we grow up we learn to follow our religious moral code in all circumstances, our kids are not there yet, left on their own they are not ready. Atheist kids might be more independent and appear as capable of making their own moral choices but wait until they grow up – will they always be able to put morals above their own desires? Are they really ready to face life’s choices, control their minds, and make morally correct decisions for the rest of their lives? That is not guaranteed. What is guaranteed, just have one look at the internet, is that they will always be able to justify their decisions on their own authority and so make their own morals as they go. Today sharing is good, next time they’d argue it’s bad, as long as arguments are there it’s acceptable, right?

The purpose of sādhana is to gradually influence our nature. In our case we hope that one day it will squeeze out our base material desires altogether but we will never reach the point where we would be able to walk on our own, we will always be dependent on our guru and Kṛṣṇa. Atheists can say “but on our own we are better and more moral that you”, to which we would reply that we are never on our own so it’s a moot point. We KNOW that we will always fail when acting by ourselves. Atheists think they won’t, that they can achieve moral perfection by their own efforts.

Same foolishness as with science – they achieve some puny results and think that the rest will be just as easy. Then they die. They think that eventually science will find answers to all the important questions but everyone dies still in ignorance.

Oh, and there could be various reasons why atheist parents are better teachers. They have no God, for them children and associated obligations are the biggest manifestation of the Absolute Truth in their lives so they pay more attention to them while religious people might be distracted by prayers. Or it could be that atheists have less children and so more resources and energy allocated per child. Or it could be that Christian morals is their last connection with religion and so they value them very highly. Or, being without God, they could feel the need to explain morals to themselves, justify their own decisions, spend more time thinking about it, and that would naturally lead to spending more time explaining it to their children. You don’t really understand something unless you teach it, as they say.

Raising children is still dharma and with dharma comes morality, what about atheists who never bother to have kids? Can we say that they are as moral as the subjects of this study? I don’t think so, but that’s what the authors and everyone else presenting this study seem to imply. Bottom line, it’s shoddy research to begin with.

Vanity thought #1532. So not so special

I want to go back to atheists and their statistically superior morals, and to that study on altruism in religious children I covered three days ago. Let’s start with science and why it is so successful.

First let me reiterate yesterday’s point – all success comes from following sādhana, meaning voluntarily submitting oneself to a process and telling your mind to shut up about it. Once you learn to follow the rules and get enough practice you are bound to succeed, and it’s the only way to the top.

There are various special circumstances like past karma or apparent absence of authorities in case of pioneer work and these can muddle the picture but past karma gets accumulated according to the same rules, and pioneers never attribute their success to themselves, to them it comes naturally, they just find themselves at the right time in the right place and things fall into place so that they don’t have to agonize over how and what to do. It’s like explanations on how to become rich – it just happens, and mostly by luck. “Rise early, work hard, and strike oil,” as the famous quote goes.

Next, we expect atheists to fall flat on their face so that we can claim superiority of religion and relying on God instead of one’s puny brainpower. It doesn’t happen often enough and rather the opposite is true. Atheists keep advancing science and making world a better place, and thus proving their vitality. We can point out at the shaky foundation of their custom build world, global warming or population decline, but these things are not obvious to people.

Science works in their daily lives while global warming is something they see discussed on TV, and population decline is very hard to accept when we are constantly told to worry about overpopulation instead. Most people would give more value to easy to see proofs of science than contemplate long and hard the long term effects, it’s just how human nature works, that’s why life here is called an illusion.

Why does it work for them, though? Shouldn’t God blow them to smithereens for their atheism and degrading behavior? Shouldn’t they go to the darkest regions of hell, as said in our scriptures? This is where it gets complicated.

They are not as atheistic as we make them to be. They might openly reject God and that’s a punishable offense, but most of the time they are ambivalent to religions, the subject doesn’t come up and offenses aren’t being made. Take the historical case of Hiraṇyakaśipu who escaped punishment until he tried to lay his hands on Prahlāda. He was openly inimical to Viṣṇu but the Lord didn’t take his offenses personally, stepping in only for the sake of His devotee.

Kṛṣṇa is a well wisher of all living beings, He doesn’t punish them for being “free thinkers”. He is a person, however, so He might take it personally, but normally He is far too cool to react to our childish tantrums. There’s a long way to go before our tantrums become truly offensive – just look at the chapter on demoniac nature in Bhagavad Gītā. It took Kṛṣṇa ten verses, 7-16, to describe step by step their path to hell, and another three verses to come to the point where their envy of the Lord becomes personally offensive to Him.

Look at where it starts from, in verse 7: “Those who are demoniac do not know what is to be done and what is not to be done.” This is not true of the current breed of atheists yet. It’s been only a couple of decades since they started manufacturing their own way of life (feminism, gay rights etc.) while all their achievements are due to work they had done earlier. The effects of things like gay marriage will take decades to manifest and even longer to affect the rest of the society. Feminism started earlier and people are already questioning whether it makes women happier and the society stronger.

Neither of these affect material progress directly and in that area people, however atheistic, still do what is prescribed by the authorities. They do not create their own rocket science, so to speak, but follow the process that has been followed for centuries. They might lay claims but they didn’t invent the scientific method, nor did they invent logic. Look what they ascribe their success to – strictly following reason and logic, being honest and truthful in their pursuit, and going along with the laws of nature.

Nothing in this method is offensive to the Lord and there’s nothing here that we would have done differently if we practiced science ourselves. Atheists somehow don’t get it but religion is not an obstacle to their material science, it has been advanced by openly religious people for centuries. The Inquisition might have stood in the way and be used as an example of religion hampering scientific progress but the progress was still pushed by religious scientists.

The point is that scientific method MUST produce results because it fits with Lord’s instructions on how to behave in the material world – utilize your intelligence and don’t lie. Atheistic or not, they must get rewards for doing that.

I should also note that properly applying scientific method requires great discipline and it implies controlling one’s mind and base materialistic urges. A true scientist must be free from bias, he should not falsify his results for money or fame, nor should he be driven by envy. He must have a cool head and always be rational, not letting human emotions lead him away.

We don’t normally say it and they never acknowledge it, but science is jñāna yoga in its essence. Advaitins require twelve years of grammar study before one gets to expound Vedānta, science requires even longer before one gets to practice it on his own. Vedic learning must also be done under the guidance of a guru. Science requires people to write their dissertations under the guidance of a mentor, too. We have a set of rules regarding personal conduct and students are supposed to lead clean lives as well. Gambling and drinking always ruin academic careers.

They think they’ve discovered some unique path to success but this same method has been practiced for thousands of years, and as long as they follow it they will get good results regardless of whether they are atheistic or not, that’s just the law of the universe laid out by Kṛṣṇa.

Real atheism starts when they invent their own ways. It’s been happening, too, but the cases they shove in our cases, like modern medicine, have all been done according to the tradition. I mean doctor or pilot training is so reliable precisely because they follow the authorities better than anyone else.

And then they compare these trained doctors to some charlatans selling colored glass to cure cancer. Yes, it doesn’t look well for religion, but charlatans are charlatans and should be compared not to doctors but to peddlers of snake oil. Apples to apples, oranges to oranges.

Once again, lots of modern atheists are not as atheistic as they claim to be, they still know the rules and follow them very strictly, and rules are set by the Lord.

Vanity thought #1530. Depressing death of the American Dream

Speaking of social studies, another eye catching one was published a week ago, by a Nobel Prize winner, nonetheless. Not for this study but still. It was on the suspiciously high mortality among middle aged white Americans and it was widely reported, here’s The Atlantic’s take on it.

These guys were looking at something else and noticed a strange increase in white American mortality. They investigated it further and found that it is really happening and not a fluke. It has been on the rise and, compared to the expected rates, practically doubled. Not in absolute numbers but everyone else, blacks and Hispanics, and pretty much the rest of the world, saw a significant decrease and, if you look at the charts in the article, American whites are twice as likely to die in middle age than any other group now, save for blacks.

What happened? No one knows for sure but the researches attribute it to increase in suicides and drug and alcohol poisoning. They discounted heart disease and diabetes but took note of side effects of increased drug consumption. I don’t know if it was justified and whether they missed some other possible connections but in their view it’s all due to legal drugs, like prescription medicine and alcohol. There’s also a significant rise in heroin consumption but I think it’s statistically low to affect the entire population.

Up until now everyone thought that drug abuse wasn’t a big problem, certainly not big enough to show any demographic effects but it turns out that it’s not the case anymore. They compared this increase in mortality to the effect of the AIDS epidemic, or to a sudden life expectancy drop in post-Soviet Russia.

The reasons are pretty much the same, too – people’s dreams crashed. Russians drank themselves to death, seeing their once great country going down the drain, and Americans had their inflation adjusted incomes shrink by 20% since the turn of the century.

Why whites, though? Because their expectations were unrealistically high. Hispanics can compare their present day life to what it could have been back in Latin America and they see an improvement. Blacks never had high hopes at all, nothing to be frustrated about, but white Americans were supposed to live the dream and it didn’t happen.

College educated ones are still doing okay, mortality wise, higher education still pays, I guess, but those without college degrees ruined it for the rest of the group. Perhaps in the near future debt laden graduates competing for part time jobs with fifty year olds will turn to drugs, too, who knows, but for now it hasn’t happened yet. They still have high hopes, being close to one percenters and eager to exploit income inequality for themselves.

For those who never went to college, however, life is essentially over and it won’t get better, there’s no hope. They fell through the cracks, they didn’t make it, they see themselves as losers in a society where everyone else projects only wealth and success.

Why different from the rest of the white world, especially Europe which, if you believe mainstream media, still hasn’t recovered from 2008 crisis? Because in Europe everyone’s retirement is guaranteed, thanks to socialist policies. Same whites in the US have no savings, no plan B, no comfort and safety in their future, and this drives them to drugs and suicidal thoughts.

There could also be a problem with religious disaffiliation, there are lots of studies showing that religious Americans have better health, but the authors of this one didn’t mention the correlation. It’s not difficult to find relevant studies on the subject, like this one, for example.

Depression is a big problem in itself and it affects the whole white world, not just the Americans. Recently I saw someone praising Iceland as an exemplary country where they do everything right. They jailed their bankers, for example. Some say that while the bankers are in jail, the money stolen from other countries are still in Iceland so it’s not really a perfect lesson in morality, but still, Iceland has a lot going for it on the surface and it’s one of the least religious countries in the world.

What it is the undisputed world leader, though, is in taking antidepressants. More than one in ten adults is hooked on them, more than in any other country in the world. 30% of their women over 65 are on antidepressants, everyone is taking “happy pills” all the time, twice as many as in Norway. Denmark, the other statistically happy country, is on antidepressants, too. Americans were not included in this article but they give the number of 23 million in 2010, which would make it ten percent of the white population. I would think that blacks and Hispanics do not use/can’t afford prescription drugs as much as the whites so it could be that whites are seriously depressed there and have been depressed for the past fifteen years. Consumption of these drugs has doubled.

What’s interesting in that article is that gays are twice as likely to be on antidepressants than straights. Why? I don’t know, but these past fifteen years have been very kind to them as a social group, they leaped from one victory to another. Somehow gay dream doesn’t pay off either.

You know what else has doubled since the turn of the century – the number of atheists (or “Nones”), as shown in this “Friendly Atheist” article.

Correlation doesn’t imply causation (hkcd) but it does gesture furtively while mouthing “look over there”.

Crash of the American dream is a significant step towards freeing people from the illusion of success but crash of atheism would be much more welcome. So far atheists are on the rise and they believe the future belongs to them but I think they ignore much deeper and potentially more dangerous problems, like the ones I discussed today. When these problems come to claim their toll no one would turn to atheism for solace, that’s for sure, and their rosy statistics will go down like Wall Street stock indices.

Hmm, I wonder if its true – that belief in atheism follows the same boom-bust cycle as people’s belief in stocks? Could be, but it’s beyond today’s post scope.

We shouldn’t shy away from capitalizing on people’s realization that the promised materialistic success is a mirage, now is the best time to appeal to their higher nature, otherwise they’d be too distracted by sense gratification. I bet lots of people have direct experience of these problems even if they do not admit so on the internet, or at least they personally know someone affected by these problems, so no matter their posturing, our message will get through and will make people think twice about importance of their spiritual health. They can deny God all they want, when going gets tough it will all be forgotten. We just have to make sure we delivered our message so they can remember it when the time comes. It’s not going to be in vain.

Vanity thought #1529. Mean kids

There was a study out this week that was reported all over the world. Kids raised in religious households are meaner, less altruistic, and lack empathy. There are many variations of this assessment with slightly different wording in the headlines and blurbs. The study itself, which was often not linked, is here. It’s a very respectable science journal, peer reviewed and everything.

What to make of it? One way is to simply ignore it as atheist propaganda and successfully forget it. The opposite reaction is to take it as real and dismiss it as related only to Christians and Muslims, two groups who are not known for their tolerance anyway. Yet another reaction is to challenge its validity and dismiss it as not reflective of real life. None of these solutions appeal to me, however. As far as I can see, the study is kosher and I have no reason not to believe that its results are correct. For me, the problem lies in interpretation – it simply doesn’t mean what people assume it means.

The study was conducted on over a thousand kids (5-12 y.o.) from several countries, as diverse as Canada and Jordan. Only Christians and Muslims were counted, though, because other religions weren’t represented in statistically useful numbers. There were two different components to the study. Kids were given a number of stickers, told that there aren’t enough for everybody in their groups, and asked if they’d be okay with sharing – with their own friends, not with hypothetical strangers. Kids from religious families were less likely to share.

Kids were also shown videos of slightly violent behavior, pushing and shoving, and asked to grade the seriousness of the offense and select appropriate levels of punishment. Religious kids scored higher, with Muslim kids assigning heavier punishment than Christians.

This was interpreted that religions fail in instilling morality, contrary to popular opinion. We have three layers of interpretations here. First, the study itself is accompanied by “discussion” where authors offer their take on the results. They also offer an introductory note and a summary explaining their position and reasons behind this research. Then there are quotes from the authors reported by the media where they go beyond what was given in the paper itself. And then there are journalists once again explaining what it all means to the readers. Personally, I can’t figure out the conclusions at the very first of these steps, and then these wrong, in my view, conclusions got amplified completely out of proportion, especially in the internet commentary on the subject.

Kids opting for heavier punishment were deemed to have less empathy. How come? Are they expecting them to act as if they were heart bleeding liberals whose main concern is welfare of the criminals? That’s a stereotype but it’s the only explanation I have. It’s as if they measured empathy by how much kids felt for people they punished rather than for victims of bullying and other aggressive behavior. Empathy towards real victims somehow didn’t register here at all. Religious kids thought it was unacceptable, a very serious offense deserving heavy punishment, and the researches didn’t think it as a sign of empathy?

Maybe I’m missing something here but no one down the reporting line thought of this point at all. They just latched onto “religious kids are mean” conclusion and magnified it.

Do I need to explain how not taking aggressive behavior seriously and not trying to correct it through punishment is a sign of indifference? What if it was a freshman (freshwoman?) student raped at a college party and “empathy” was how much people felt for the rapist when he was dragged to the police? I just don’t get it.

The first experiment, about stickers, is a more complicated one. I don’t see any obvious faults in their methodology there but I don’t see their conclusion that religious kids are more selfish as justified. It could still be true but my first question is – could it be that kids from Turkey and Jordan are more selfish, for example, and it has nothing to do with religion at all.

The paper doesn’t show breakdown of results by the country so it’s entirely possible that Canadian Muslims were the most generous but they were lumped with Muslims from Middle East, and when compared to Canadian atheists they scored lower. Conversely, if there were any Turkish atheists there they could have been the meanest but because they were so few of them they didn’t affect the overall atheist score, lifted by Americans and Canadians. I’m talking stereotypes here again, sorry. In the west sharing things like stickers is taught in schools as part of the curriculum but in the Middle East it might not be the case, and it has nothing to do with religion but with quality of education and focus on an aspects specific to some countries but not to others. What if Jordanian kids never get any stickers at all, like ever, so they are perceived as truly precious, while in western schools stars and stickers is a popular form of grading?

Never mind that. Judging religious lessons on morality by behavior of children is questionable, too. Kids might have been taught things but, if you know anything about spiritual progress, it’s not enough. In the atheistic West it might be enough to label someone as religious but from Kṛṣṇa conscious perspective it’s nothing, it’s a nice platform to start from but kids are kids, they are naturally self-centered and they have a long way to go before they learn to see Kṛṣṇa as a true proprietor of everything. It takes years and decades of dedicated practice, it takes massive efforts, it takes conquering one’s mind, and still one would regularly catch himself acting selfishly.

There’s also a question of routine – it’s easier to control one’s egoistic impulses when one is in a familiar situation and feels comfortable with surroundings, when one is trained to act selflessly and practiced it a million times. Any break out of the routine and the mind goes crazy. Not literally crazy, of course, but it reacts stronger and so one might instinctively make bad choices while his intelligence is still trying to make sense of the new situation.

Atheists might argue that this shows low level of maturity but that’s how it works, we don’t expect religious kids to be mature, kids are kids, and kids from religious families might be less impervious to disruptions in their routines and less able to think independently in unfamiliar situations. Religious upbringing provides safety and filters out bad influences so it might take longer for religious kids to learn to think for themselves, we won’t argue with that.

There’s another possible explanation – all children are taught moral lessons and all children take them seriously, on the strength of the authority. This study didn’t take any kids from “advanced” countries like Sweden or UK where children are taught to do whatever they want, teachers there are only to provide help. When the authority is there it doesn’t matter whether its religious or atheistic, kids will follow it. If children are taught to share things and other moral values the degree to which these lessons will be absorbed depends on the strength of the authority, not on personal understanding. This might mean that atheist parents are stricter, not that their moral values are any better.

With atheists children become disillusioned, too, by the age of twelve or thereabouts. They learn from personal experience that morals is just a facade, a social norm used for one’s own advancement, not anything of any intrinsic value. By fifteen they are in the full blown rebellion, which doesn’t normally happen in religious societies. It’s quite possible that a similar research with older kids would bring completely opposite results.

One last thing – the authors do not even try to hide their bias, they knew what they set out to prove right from the start, and this bias was confirmed again when they gave other historical examples, like Christian supported apartheid in South Africa, to prove that religions are not strong on morals at all. This kind of bias undermines their entire study, because in such cases researchers ALWAYS find what they are looking for. They design their experiments with certain outcome in mind and they interpret the results to fit with their worldview. It could be different but in this case I don’t see anything speaking for researchers integrity – see their observation that religious kids are meaner I discussed above.

At the end of the day – yes, it does look like another atheistic effort of no actual value, but at least now I know what went wrong with it.

Vanity thought #1523. Money as the root of all…

Usually they say that money is the root of all evil. It’s actually a Biblical quote and, interestingly enough, comes from the same letter to Timothy that has “Don’t let women into any position of spiritual authority” injunction by Paul I mentioned a couple of days ago. We, the Hare Kṛṣṇas, are not particularly fond of this saying about money but we understand the sentiment.

We can refer to Mahārāja Parīkṣit banishing the personification of Kali to reside in gold, ie money. The other four places allowed to Kali were where gambling, drinking, illicit association with women and animal slaughter are performed (SB 1.17.38-39). Śrīla Prabhupāda explained that gold was asked and permitted because during the reign of Mahārāja Parīkṣit there were no places where four illicit activities were practiced but gold would eventually attract all of them. Thus our actual beef is with breaking regulative principles rather than money itself.

Being attached to sinful activities is an offense against the holy name and committing them while hoping that the holy name would clear our sins is another offense on top of the first one. Offensive chanting keeps us from realizing the Name’s full glory and, therefore, there’s no spiritual life for those who keep sinning. It’s simply impossible no matter what they claim. God can forcefully reveal Himself to anybody, of course, but sinful people do not have necessary clarity of vision to perceive Him otherwise.

Hmm, one could say that without Lord’s mercy no one can see Him, sin or no sin, and it is true, but spirituality is a big area, seeing personal form of Godhead is a pinnacle of it and lesser aspects of it are automatically revealed according to our purity. Impersonal Brahman realization, for example, can be achieved by anybody through his own efforts (or so it seems to advaitins themselves), and it’s usually the impersonalists who claim to have spiritual visions while still leading gross and sinful lives. They can’t have them, these claims are fraudulent. Same goes for Christians who think that reading the Bible qualifies them to have a personal vision of Christ – jñāna in this case won’t work for them just as it doesn’t work for sinful advaitins. It’s a separate topic, though.

Anyway, money as the root of all evil, or love of money and greed, to be exact, is a common realization across the whole western world. Stephen Fry brought it up during the debate but, as usual for him, he twisted it to imply that money makes Catholic Church evil, too.

He was ranting about limbo and introduced purgatory and was about to reveal the real evil purpose behind it – money. Here’s what he said:

“A soul needs to be prayed for in order to go to heaven… And for many hundreds, indeed over a thousand years you’d be amazed what generous terms those prayers came at. Sometimes as little as two thirds of a year’s salary could ensure that a dead loved one would go to heaven. And money could ensure that your baby, your dead child, your dead uncle, your dead mother could go to heaven. And if you were rich enough you could have a chantry built and monks would permanently sing prayers so that that existence in heaven for a child would go up and up and up until they are at the table of the Lord themselves.”

I don’t think I have any illusions about Vatican greed throughout history, I still remember stuff about selling ingulgencies so that one may commit any sin safely. I think this argument resonates deeply with the public but we should look at the bigger picture and consider Church’s own view on the subject, too. I can’t claim to speak for the Church but I see where they might be coming from.

In the modern world money isn’t only the root of evil, it is also the common currency to determine the value of practically everything. There are insurance payments for the death of a child on terms that parents have negotiated and agreed on. It’s not exactly a price of a child but it certainly a monetary expression of child’s value. Insurance companies calculate values of everything, no one loves them for that but our modern life wouldn’t exist without insurance. It’s not just insurance either – we have the price for everything and, at the end of the day, everything is expressed in dollars and cents. Maybe not all the time but people with money know that they can buy practically anything they want, it’s only a question of price.

Why should the Church be ignorant of the value of money? Why wouldn’t it use such a convenient yardstick in its everyday dealings? Note how it was the price of two thirds of one’s yearly salary, not an absolute amount, demanded for the prayers. This distinction is significant, let me explain why.

What earns people points with God is sacrifices. Unless one has pure devotion, acts completely selflessly, and sees everything as God’s property, he must make sacrifices. Sacrifice is, at its heart, a relinquishment of one’s claims over Lord’s property. We, the spiritually condemned thieves, see at least parts of the world as ours to enjoy and control. This vision is born of ignorance, of course, and there’s no other way we can cure ourselves from our thieving propensity – we must give whatever we can back to the Lord.

People were asked to sacrifice two thirds of their work, not money. I don’t know where the specific number mentioned by Fry came from but I don’t think it was actually “salary”. Most likely it was two thirds of whatever one produced, probably in the form of grain or chickens. Until very recently no one paid salary big enough to donate two thirds of it and survive anyway.

Fry made it sound like fraud, implying that no way anyone in the Church could have prayed any dead soul into heaven and it was a simply money grab but he didn’t consider the personal sacrifice aspect of it. As long as the priest comes from line of disciplic succession, which is still the case with Catholics, his personal qualifications do not play a big role in the success of a sacrifice and how the Church spent the money should not be a consideration either. Once the work/money is offered to the Lord the sacrifice is over, in fact one should offer it without reservations and conditions and without trying to keep an eye on it as if it’s still his.

And the Church asked for money so that their priests could pray, which is another form of sacrifice – saṅkīrtana! It was especially clear in the case of building chantries. Somehow even Catholics recognized that the most spiritually efficient way of passing someone’s sacrifice on to the Lord is chanting.

It wasn’t about money, it was a pure karma yoga elevated by the Church to pure saṅkīrtana. Well, not pure but close enough, and Fry didn’t understand any of it, making it into a caricature and missing all the important points. We should know the principles of it and spot such attacks a mile away if anyone tries it with ISKCON.

Oh, and money in this case becomes the source of one’s liberation, just as it’s taught in Bhagavad Gīta.

Vanity thought #1522. Moral relativism

With only a minute before the end of the short animated summary of the debate about Catholic Church I might finish the whole thing today. There are two big topics packed in there, however, so let’s see how it goes first.

There’s a rant from Stephen Fry about moral relativity and, for a change, this time the accusation is leveled against the Catholic Church rather than the atheists. He said the Church is loose on moral evils and he said that although they try to accuse people like him, who believe in empiricism and enlightenment, of moral relativism, as if it’s some appalling sin, what moral relativism actually means, according to Fry, is “thought”. Audience applauded.

I don’t know how he came up with this definition, I can only speculate, and I guess that “thought” here means intelligent weighing of pros and cons on every moral issue. That might be the case and thinking might be involved but it’s a very weak argument, bordering on dishonest. First come the wants, then justifications, it has always been this way in every human endeavor. Thinking here is always compromised by biases so while “thought” is there, it is not the driving nor the primary factor in decision making.

Take the attitudes to sex, for example. People want it, they want lots of it, they want it in various increasingly sophisticated or titillating forms. Then they think with their dicks, pardon my French, and that’s how they rationalize everything from contraception to threesomes to homosexuality. If they wants it they must get it, and they are going to dismiss any arguments about sin and consequences. They also think about it all the time, so, in a way, Fry is right – it’s “thought”, just not the kind that deserves consideration in a debate.

Fry then turned to examples of moral relativism in the Church itself. He started with slavery, that it was acceptable for a long time and then it wasn’t. This is an interesting point – is slavery absolutely wrong? It’s not in the ten commandments and it has been practiced in many societies both before and after they became Christian. Catholics themselves were not shy from owning slaves even though the debate about slavery has been going for a very long time.

I think the term itself is confusing and not everybody understands it in the same way. These days slavery is a big no no, it’s so loaded that trying to defend it will result in an immediate social sanction. What is wrong with it, though? What exactly is wrong there?

Cruelty was always a very big part of it but cruelty does not equal slavery per se. Many slave owners throughout history would deny being cruel and many slaves would admit that they have been generally treated well. Cruelty is an absolute moral sin but if it’s absent in a particular slave’s situation, is slavery absolutely immoral, too?

Exploitation is another ugly feature of slavery but exploitation can be found everywhere, it’s not unique to slavery. Chinese workers assembling Samsung and Apple products are definitely exploited while butlers and personal servants had rather cushy lives by comparison. There were exploited slaves on plantations, true, but there are also “free” but illegal workers picking tomatoes all day long for below sustenance wages. Should slavery free from cruelty and exploitation be acceptable?

Freedom is probably the main thing cited against slavery today but freedom is never absolute, too. Wives, for example, have never had freedom to travel just as their family slaves. Husbands, who were as free as possible, were constrained by their finances and by the necessity to provide for their dependents, including those same slaves and wives and children and servants and pets and cows and what not.

From the Vedic perspective slaves should never be given freedom anyway, for their own good, because they would surely misuse their independence. Afaik, there was never slavery in India but there were always servants and śūdras. Ideally, the relationship should be symbiotic, with both masters and servants depending on each other and each “outsourcing” service of his particular needs to somebody else. Masters did the thinking, servants did the cleaning, and the entire household worked like a single organism, with no member being mistreated or disrespected.

Śūdras were provided with comfort and safety, and so should have been the slaves in the western world, and brāhmaṇas and kṣatriyas took full responsibility for their well-being. There’s nothing morally wrong with this arrangement, unless one would suddenly value career choice over career safety. They, the atheists, can say that choosing your own path in life is very important but this is exactly the kind of moral relativism that religions condemn and decry. You don’t let legs to walk wherever they want, outside of brain’s control, and śūdras are society’s legs. Their intelligence is certifiably weaker, their self control is weaker, and left to themselves they are bound to be mislead by their mind and senses.

In a Vedic society everyone has dharma to follow, freedom is not advocated for anyone, not just for śūdras, we should always remember that.

Next Fry mentioned limbo again, which, as I said yesterday, was presented in a form unrecognizable by Catholics themselves. In any case, I don’t see how the nature of limbo is a moral issue. Yes, it probably caused distress, but distress alone is not enough to call it a moral transgression.

And then Fry subtly changed the subject to discussing the “truth”. Nature of limbo was the case of Catholic Church not knowing the truth. What is the point of Catholic Church, he raved, if they couldn’t know better because no one did. “Then what are you for?”, he emphatically ended his rant and the animation itself.

Once again, reason and logic were sacrificed for the sake of flourish – in the subtle substitute of morality with “truth”. Even so, the Church does claim to know all the answers but not in the absolute degree. They, just like science, just like us, cannot know the absolute truth in full. They keep discovering it all the time, just as we constantly increase our realizations of Kṛṣṇa.

It’s the atheists’ job to reconcile their caricature of religious dogma with progress of religious thought. It’s not an issue for us, it’s not an issue for Catholics, it arises only for atheists because they made their own, wrong models of religion.

A lot of criticism of religions can be traced to this kind of straw arguments. First they misrepresent the actual situation and then find faults, but these are faults in their own models, not in religions themselves.

Coming back to the subject of moral relativism. The fundamental morals of any religion are more or less immutable. Practical application, however, depends on situation and on historical and cultural context. Slavery is a cultural and historical phenomenon, it could have been practiced without breaking any moral codes and it could have been practiced with breaking every Christian precept, too. It does not make religion itself morally relativist.

There’s also the fact that religions are made of people and people are found to commit all sorts of immoral acts, even people in position of religious authority. Does it reflect badly on their religions? Absolutely. Does it make their religions morally relative? No.

Okay, I’ve reached the end, there are two things I still want to discuss – moral relativism in our own society and the role of money in religions. Obviously, not today.

Vanity thought #1521. Female diksha guru, bending lower, and various odds and ends

There was one poignant question in that debate about merits of the Catholic Church that echoes our own, ISKCON discourse – female priesthood. There’s a short answer here and a longer, uncut version continues here. Since there was a little confusion about the question itself, here it is in the original form.

When the moderator relayed it to Anne Widdecombe she asked “Why not women priests in the Catholic Church?”. Widdecombe objected and reminded that the original question was, shortened for brevity: “Why is it wrong for a woman to become a priest but perfectly okay for her to become an MP?” Quite an important distinction even if the subject is still the same. Moderator stripped it of the comparison to an MP, a comparison which, in Widdecombe’s answer betrayed “vast ignorance”. There was an undecipherable reaction from the audience to the “vast ignorance” phrase but in a second it turned to laughter and even applause, they really wanted to hear Widdecombe explanation.

“A member of parliament, a male of female, does not stand in persona Christi at the point of consecration,” she said. In Vedic language in persona Christi means as God Himself, a bona fide guru, and consecration is dīkṣā, initiation. In Catholic doctrine God does not manifest Himself as a female for the purpose of consecration. Or, in our speak, Kṛṣṇa does not manifest Himself as a female for the purpose of dīkṣā.

Catholics have their own ways to explain it but, in general, that’s how the church conducted their consecrations throughout history. They have this straightforward instruction from Paul, for example: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.” 1 Tim 2.12. One of the recent Popes said “I do not have the authority to consecrate women,” which was a clever way to nip the subject of women’s rights in the bud. Whatever the reasoning, the verdict is clear – women can’t stand in place of Christ for the purpose of consecration. As Widdecombe clarified it’s different from ministry, which is preaching or discussing Lord’s pastimes, I guess, she said that this rule is specific to the priesthood and people should know the theology of the priesthood to understand it. She finally said that it is no more possible for a woman to represent Christ at the point of consecration than for a man to be a Virgin Mary. Clear enough.

Why can’t we have the same clarity? I guess because guru is a principle for us and guru manifests himself in a variety of forms, including female. The question then becomes about peculiarity of dīkṣā. Catholics have a simple “can’t be a woman” rule that seems to be lacking in our tradition. We need to deduce it from statements on different subjects, like in the case with Dhruva and his mother. We also have historical precedents and the basic fact that our material genders have nothing to do with our spiritual identities at all.

Well, until very recently the question of female dīkṣā gurus didn’t exist and everyone was very clear on this, too. Catholics still stay clear but maybe one day somebody will challenge them just as people challenge GBC in ISKCON.

Next up was Fry’s rant about Church being likely to kick out Christ himself if he showed up at its door today. It was a good rant but it means nothing. If he is suggesting that the Church lacks any introspection and no one there ever thinks of how his actions would be perceived by JC then Fry is clearly wrong. Yes, it would have made for an appalling picture of the Church but it’s not the real life, it’s a caricature, and a rather pointless one for the purpose of the debate. It scored him easy points with the public, though, and was followed by a long applause. This rant was one of many misrepresentations of the Catholic Church and its doctrine, just see what follows.

The short continues with Fry’s rant about limbo and how it was legislated out of existence in the year 2000. This prompted Widdecombe to respond directly. She said she was raised a Catholic, went to Church, read the books, etc etc and she didn’t recognize the limbo he was talking about. Now, the actual Catholic version expressed in her own words isn’t much better but the main point is that a civilized debater, if he wants to explain the position of the other side, would always check that his representation is correct.

That’s what Prabhupāda always did when discussing other people’s philosophy. He didn’t just hammer his own visions of it, he asked people to explain it themselves first and if he volunteered his own version he’d always check that it was acceptable and not a wild distortion of it. Fry is simply no gentleman here, and Hitchens was guilty of the same behavior, too, even though it escapes me on what aspect of Christianity exactly. In this rant Fry declared that concept of “purgatory” is not in the Bible and Catholics simply invented it. He assumed the position of authority on Catholic doctrine and thought it was perfectly okay for him to teach Catholics proper Christianity, which is going lower and lower (limbo, get the reference?)

Atheists do this all the time, which is fine in their own circles but they should know better in public. We do this all the time, too, but anyone who thinks we can easily convince advaitins of the error of their ways because advaita looks so illogical and easy to refute in our own classes simply hasn’t tried. The fact is that for each and every argument they have long and convincing responses. Advaita was taught by Lord Śiva himself, after all, our intelligence in minuscule compared to his, we should remember that. I believe this is one of the reasons Lord Caitanya explicitly forbade us to hear advaita explanations of the scriptures – it’s too big for our little brains and we can’t defeat it by intellect alone, we should know our limits, just like with association with women – won’t work, lust will surely develop.

This is basically it, the short version of the debate is practically over. There are only a couple more points I wanted to discuss and I don’t want them to be short ones because they apply to us, too, and so we need to understand them thoroughly.

PS. I wish I had a simple, conclusive, and also comprehensive answer to female dīkṣā controversy. I don’t, there isn’t a way to easily put the matter to rest. Personally, I think it’s nonsense but there’s always a chance that there’s a qualified vaiṣṇavī out there who deserves the honor and I don’t want to get in the way of her service.