From the Editor’s Perch

Does Christianity Help Us to Think Better?

(It’s what the evidence may say.)

 

It seemed to be a tradition of the Great Poets such as Blake and Yeats to fashion a personal cosmos of irrational actors and energies to describe underfuries of the real world; that is, the cosmological subtext.  And Poets various as Donne, Dickinson, Milton, Hopkins, and Elliot have used the testimony of religion to inspire and vivify their writing. And whereas we all expect of Poets a little irrationality, it’s little noted that the Great Sir Isaac Newton was a practicing Alchemist nearly all his life.  Or that Kepler, Voltaire, Paine, Washington, Franklin, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Edison, Gandhi and Duchamp held beliefs quite at odds with the modernist society they helped to create.

Einstein is famously quoted to have said, “God does not play dice with the Universe.”  All these personages held a belief in the irrational which is scorned in our scientific and atheistically oriented age.  But I wonder if such belief does not help us to realize on a grander scale and to orient our thinking towards what might be most successful?

Neurologists have found something contrary to what is nominally believed, which is that rational thought gives us our best decisions.  In fact, on the contrary, when the affective portion of our brains is severed from our rational thinking processes, the brain can reach no conclusions at all.  The person’s thinking is greatly impaired.  Apparently we need our emotions to orient and to direct us.  So, it would seem to follow, that some experience navigating irrational thoughts would be of benefit to the mind in its entirety.  So that rather than being just a useful tool to balance the checkbook, the mind can achieve its grander purpose, which is genius.

A lot of modern thinkers are repelled by the chaos of irrational thought and by the infinitely ambiguous quality of myth, as if it were contemptible to contemplate whatever is fanciful with a process less than ‘scientific’ and more than ambiguous.  But if we want our thinking to take us somewhere, doesn’t it make more sense to anchor our ‘vessel’ to a current, no matter how deceptive and inexplicable, than a fixed buoy?  How can we to travel to somewhere new, if we insist so upon knowing exactly where we are at each instant?

A Religion’s great benefit (aside from possibly being True J) is allowing the Believer to know where they are, even when their rational mind cannot identify any landmarks.  Religion lowers the anxiety threshold.  A strong faith helps us to endure when we find ourselves in strange terrain.  A great Religion is like a great river explorers follow, because they figure correctly that the river best knows the landscape.

It’s often said that all religions are the same, and so should be equally respected.  This is most often said, in my experience, by people who have very little respect for religion at all.  In truth, there are great differences between various religions; and some are better than others.  And how do we know which is which?  It is the age-old problem of locating the false prophets.  “By their fruits ye shall know them.”  What could be more practical – or even ‘scientifically minded’ for that matter – that to measure things by their results?

By this gage, Islam right now is looking like a few desiccated, blackened figs which smell of cordite.  Buddhism is still hunkered around its rice bowl in many poorer areas of the world, while pretending its mind is elsewhere.  And Christianity is looking for all intents and purposes to be in the lead.

Of course all of history is not yet written.  But if you want to use your mind to its best advantage, to gain the best life possible, it currently looks like Christianity is the best river from which to chart the landscape.  Why?

Don’t know for sure.  But it’s what the evidence may say.

Photo by Carl Nelson

Addendum:  After mulling the responses, I’m thinking…  Hey, conflict is fun.  But mostly, this tiny essay’s urge is just to toss this thought (which had occurred to me) out there:  That all of experience and happening is like rain falling on the landscape of our brains.  And the channels these experiences exploit and the rivers of thought they create say something about how the brain has found best to handle this overwhelming onslaught of experiential data which rains down upon it every day and night since time immemorial.  And the great religions might be thought of as the great rivers which move and channel this experience through our brains towards some productive end.  And if these religions mark the best way to drain these watersheds of experience; perhaps they also give us an insight into how best to follow a current of thought to its most successful conclusion… any thought.

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17 Responses to “From the Editor’s Perch”

  1. dangblog Says:

    It seemed to be a tradition of the Great Poets such as Blake and Yeats to fashion a personal cosmos of irrational actors and energies to describe underfuries of the real world; that is, the cosmological subtext.  And Poets various as Donne, Dickinson, Milton, Hopkins, and Elliot have used the testimony of religion to inspire and vivify their writing. And whereas we all expect of Poets a little irrationality, it’s little noted that the Great Sir Isaac Newton was a practicing Alchemist nearly all his life.  Or that Kepler, Voltaire, Paine, Washington, Franklin, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Edison, Gandhi and Duchamp held beliefs quite at odds with the modernist society they helped to create.

    >>>Agreed.

    Einstein is famously quoted to have said, “God does not play dice with the Universe.”  All these personages held a belief in the irrational which is scorned in our scientific and atheistically oriented age.  But I wonder if such belief does not help us to realize on a grander scale and to orient our thinking towards what might be most successful?

    >>>> Einstein thought of God as the laws of nature. He believed that the anthropomorphic, personal god and (and the idea of an afterlife) was absurd and naive.

    Neurologists have found something contrary to what is nominally believed, which is that rational thought gives us our best decisions.  In fact, on the contrary, when the affective portion of our brains is severed from our rational thinking processes, the brain can reach no conclusions at all.  The person’s thinking is greatly impaired.  Apparently we need our emotions to orient and to direct us.  So, it would seem to follow, that some experience navigating irrational thoughts would be of benefit to the mind in its entirety.  So that rather than being just a useful tool to balance the checkbook, the mind can achieve its grander purpose, which is genius.

    >>>> Agreed. I see you’re appealing to scientific evidence.

    A lot of modern thinkers are repelled by the chaos of irrational thought and by the infinitely ambiguous quality of myth, as if it were contemptible to contemplate whatever is fanciful with a process less than ‘scientific’ and more than ambiguous. 

    >>>> I don’t know who these “modern thinkers” are who deny the powers of mythology. Can you name the anti-mythologists?

    But if we want our thinking to take us somewhere, doesn’t it make more sense to anchor our ‘vessel’ to a current, no matter how deceptive and inexplicable, than a fixed buoy?  How can we to travel to somewhere new, if we insist so upon knowing exactly where we are at each instant?

    >>>>Agreed. Both scientists and artists swim in currents of speculation. We all do.

    A Religion’s great benefit (aside from possibly being True J) is allowing the Believer to know where they are, even when their rational mind cannot identify any landmarks.  Religion lowers the anxiety threshold.  A strong faith helps us to endure when we find ourselves in strange terrain.  A great Religion is like a great river explorers follow, because they figure correctly that the river best knows the landscape.

    >>>> You mean religion allows the believer to *believe* he knows where he is. Agreed that this can lower anxiety. A strong curiosity and an ability to spot patterns can also help us navigate strange terrain.

    It’s often said that all religions are the same, and so should be equally respected.  This is most often said, in my experience, by people who have very little respect for religion at all.  In truth, there are great differences between various religions; and some are better than others.  And how do we know which is which?  It is the age-old problem of locating the false prophets.  “By their fruits ye shall know them.”  What could be more practical – or even ‘scientifically minded’ for that matter – that to measure things by their results?

    >>>>This is tricky business and not at all scientific. How do you judge which “fruits” are due to Christianity? Christians supported slavery for centuries (the Bible supports slavery), other Christians helped end slavery. The fruits of Christianity are not clear in this area. I’m guessing that for you, most anything good is by default a fruit of Christianity.

    By this gage, Islam right now is looking like a few desiccated, blackened figs which smell of cordite.  Buddhism is still hunkered around its rice bowl in many poorer areas of the world, while pretending its mind is elsewhere.  And Christianity is looking for all intents and purposes to be in the lead.

    >>>> This is an uninformed view of both Islam and Buddhism. In the poor areas of the world, everyone is hunkered around a rice bowl, no matter what their religious beliefs. They are poor. Are the people in our own homeless shelters and food banks mostly Muslims and Buddhists? That would be the case if religion is the deciding factor in their economic status. Have you really looked into, say, the Muslim and Buddhist communities in the USA and Europe? Do we judge all of Christianity by pedophile priests and people who think the earth is 6,000 years old? I can’t believe I’m defending religion here, but let’s be a little fair in our judgements. I agree there are many Muslim extremists and they are currently more extreme than Christian extremists.

    Of course all of history is not yet written.  But if you want to use your mind to its best advantage, to gain the best life possible, it currently looks like Christianity is the best river from which to chart the landscape.  Why?

    >>>>Because Carl says so.

    Don’t know for sure.  But it’s what the evidence may say.

    >>> I notice you haven’t presented any evidence. Here’s something to consider: by at least one measure, the happiest, healthiest nations in the world –
    http://www.gallup.com/poll/147167/high-wellbeing-eludes-masses-countries-worldwide.aspx

    Are also the least religious:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Importance_of_religion_by_country

    • schn00dles Says:

      Ha! I was wondering if I would get a bite from Dangblog. Okay. Here we go: A- If Einstein thought of God as the Laws of Nature, why does he use the term, “God”? I can pronounce “Laws of Nature” and I bet he could too! A- I have a list in my hand of one hundred modern thinkers who ridicule mythical thinking, and I am now going to reveal the first one: Dangblog! A – A proper double blind study is hard to design for whole civilizations over the period of thousands of years. So I would guess that scientists (and their ilk – love the word ‘ilk’) cannot properly address this question. Best to butt out. 🙂 A – If you will notice in the example you give, the Muslim and Buddhist communities are prospering beneath the liberal umbrella of a Christian country. A&A – I visited your links and and don’t see any damning information. The least religious nations (Europe) doesn’t appear to be doing very well currently. The predominantly Christian nations report fairly good lives. (Except perhaps for the South American contingent… which may say something about the Catholic Church’s particular take on Christianity.) And the Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu religions don’t appear to be making any happy inroads at all. Oh, and I forgot one more answer to your remark: “Because Carl says so.” A – so listen up!

      Disclaimer: These are the views of our Editor and Chief, Carl, and in no way represent the views of an otherwise non-existent entity. And we appreciate all comments to the Editor. Especially long and well thought out ones which require some time and effort to write.

      • dangblog Says:

        After unsuccessfully trying to post a response several times, decided to remove the links in my response to see if that would make a difference:

        >>>>>>Yeah, I took the bait, dangit! It was a juicy worm.
         
        A- If Einstein thought of God as the Laws of Nature, why does he use the term, “God”? I can pronounce “Laws of Nature” and I bet he could too!
         
        >>>>>I’ll let Einstein speak for himself and you can duke it out with him personally. “I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it”. From the book, Albert Einstein, The Human Side: New Glimpses from His Archives, page 43.
         
        A-   I have a list in my hand of one hundred modern thinkers who ridicule mythical thinking, and I am now going to reveal the first one: Dangblog!
         
        >>>>You wound me, sir. On the contrary, I love mythical thinking. I’m particularly fond of Greek mythology and the mythology of King Arthur, Sir Gawain, and so on. Beloved comic book superheroes of my youth function as a kind of modern mythology. I believe mythology has depth and nuance and mystery and speaks to the human experience in its own thrilling way. So take me off your list of 100 modern thinkers who ridicule mythical thinking. I’m a fan.
         
        A – If you will notice in the example you give, the Muslim and Buddhist communities are prospering beneath the liberal umbrella of a Christian country.
         
        >>>>Are they prospering because they live in a country full of Christians, or because they live in a country with a healthy economy? Did the industrial revolution occur because of Christianity? Like you said, you can’t design a study to demonstrate these things, but a good case could be made that prosperity really began to take off when Europe became secularized (that is, when institutions separate from the church first appeared).
         
        A&A – I visited your links and and don’t see any damning information. The least religious nations (Europe) doesn’t appear to be doing very well currently. The predominantly Christian nations report fairly good lives. (Except perhaps for the South American contingent… which may say something about the Catholic Church’s particular take on Christianity.) And the Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu religions don’t appear to be making any happy inroads at all.
         
        >>>>>It wasn’t supposed to be damning information. You said: “But if you want to use your mind to its best advantage, to gain the best life possible, it currently looks like Christianity is the best river from which to chart the landscape.” I’m trying to plant some seeds of doubt in your mind about this. Quality of life is extremely high in some of the least religious nations on earth: Sweden, Denmark, Finland. In the U.S. we can take the 10 most religious states in the union. (Link to a Gallup poll removed.) Mississippi, Utah, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, and Oklahoma; and find that six of these 10 are among the 10 highest teen pregnancy states (Link to CDC statistics removed), and five of these 10 are among the 10 states with the highest violent crime (Link to crime statistics removed). I know this doesn’t prove anything. I’m just hinting that Christian religion doesn’t necessarily bestow a measure of success or morality.

  2. yacman Says:

    I dunno why, but when I read your post, Carl. I immediately though of this song:

    only with replacement lyrics:

    My God’s Better than your God
    My God’s Better than yours!
    My God’s Better
    ‘Cause he brings me salvation.
    My God’s Better than yours!

    Catchy, huh?

  3. schn00dles Says:

    It does have a kind of swing to it.
    The marketplace for Gods really is tough, though. When their people aren’t doing well they tend to abandon them. And when their people are doing well they tend to ignore them. It’s really hard to get the equation right. There’s a lot of old discarded Gods out there.

  4. dangblog Says:

    So where’s the reply I posted?

  5. yacman Says:

    I don’t really care what Einstein said. I said “God Damn it” yesterday and I don’t believe in God either. Furthermore, all kinds of great people have said and believed in dumb things. Thomas Jefferson might have been a great statesman, but he also owned slaves. I don’t believe in slavery. The argument that Einstein believed it, therefore it’s true, is just a silly posthumous “argument from authority” logical fallacy.

    • dangblog Says:

      You are are right about the argument from authority. And you’re the one who used it by bringing up Einstein in first place. You’re refuting your own argument, which is fine by me.

      • dangblog Says:

        Whoops. Thought I was talking to Carl, there. Never mind.

      • schn00dles Says:

        Eldon Cene here. I do know a ‘Carl’. He’d not doing 4 to 10 is he?

      • dangblog Says:

        I’ve spotted mysterious signs all over town that say “Who is Eldon Cene?”

      • schn00dles Says:

        Editor replies: Eldon claims to have palled around with John Galt when he was a Hollywood bit player years and years ago. Then John dissappeared off the map, only to be eulogized in Ann Rand’s novel. Rumors of an hot affair with the commonly thought promiscuous authoress figure into the mix, of course.

  6. schn00dles Says:

    Hey, I think the feedback is working now. At least I can see all of the comments and replies. God bless you all! 🙂

  7. yacman Says:

    This should put an end to the Einstein question.

    http://seattletimes.com/html/nationworld/2019372245_einsteingod08.html

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