Posts Tagged ‘Jesus and Mo’

Hands off, glasses on

February 8, 2013

So, about that particular “Jesus and Mo” cartoon I mentioned here and in class yesterday, the one I like to use to introduce the free will/divine foreknowledge problem, the one a couple of students thought contrary to the spirit of cosmopolitan “citizen of the cosmos” acceptance of difference we’d been discussing in connection with Anthony Appiah’s PB interview

Maryam Namazie has some thoughts on standing by our Author.

Some atheists are not happy with One Law for All’s use of the Jesus and Mo cartoon on leaflets to promote the 11 February Day in defence of free expression [in the UK]. They feel that since the Jesus and Mo cartoons have been deemed offensive, it is best not to use them.

But that’s the whole point isn’t it? We’re rallying in order to say that the right to offend is part of free expression. No one needs to rally for inoffensive speech, do they?

Free expression is a big part of the point, and offense is something one can choose not to take.

But the issue for me is not about whatever “insult” might attend the scenario of cartoon caricatures depicted in bed, reading and talking. Author’s simply reminding us that the Abrahamic faiths have a great deal more in common than  their fervent partisans want to admit.

No, the issue is really to do with whether we’re up for an open exploration of ideas, diversity, and “the value of different points of view.”

The man who has not read is like the man who has not traveled — he is not an intelligent critic, for he has nothing with which to compare what falls within the little circle of his experiences… That to which we are accustomed we accept uncritically and unreflectively. It is difficult for us to see it somewhat as one might see it to whom it came as a new experience. George Fullerton

When we read a text or gaze at an image that makes us uncomfortable or angry or hurt, we’re broadening the circle of our experience. We’re “traveling” to the land of someone else’s consciousness, someone else’s way of seeing. If I can invoke one more metaphor, we’re putting on and viewing the world through someone else’s glasses.

And that’s what I try to do in my philosophy classes: get everybody talking, swapping glasses, seeing things as others see them.

You don’t believe in god? Slip on the Augustine or Anselm or Descartes- Rx lenses: clearer or fuzzier? Think you’re essentially an immaterial spirit? Take a gander through these Hobbes specs: matter in motion, finely resolved.

You believe in god? Here, Julia Sweeney, try the no-god glasses for a second.

…Let’s just try on the not-believing-in-God glasses for a moment, just for a second. Just put on the no-God glasses and take a quick look around and then immediately throw them off. So I put them on and I looked around.

I’m embarrassed to report that I initially felt dizzy. I actually had the thought, “Well, how does the Earth stay up in the sky? You mean, we’re just hurtling through space? That’s so vulnerable!” I wanted to run out and catch the earth as it fell out of space into my hands.

And then I thought, “Oh yeah, gravity and angular momentum is gonna keep us revolving around the sun for probably a really long time.” Then I thought, “What’s going to stop me from just, rushing out and murdering people?” And I had to walk myself through it, why are we ethical? Well, because we have to be. We’re social animals. We’re extremely complex social animals. We evolved a moral sense, like an aversion to wanton murder, in order for communities to exist. Because communities help us survive better in much bigger numbers. And eventually we codified these internal evolved ethics inside of us into laws against things like wanton murder. So… I guess that’s why I won’t be rushing out and murdering people! …[Begins at 1:32]

The aim is not uniform vision or a permanent “correction,” necessarily, just a momentary glimpse of insight that may eventually improve our mutual understanding and lessen the tension and mistrust between us.  It may make us slightly less blind to one another’s various ways of seeing and being in the world.

Guess who said this?

And now what is the result of all these considerations and quotations? It is negative in one sense, but positive in another. It absolutely forbids us to be forward in pronouncing on the meaninglessness of forms of existence other than our own; and it commands us to tolerate, respect, and indulge those whom we see harmlessly interested and happy in their own ways, however unintelligible these may be to us.

Hands off: neither the whole of truth nor the whole of good is revealed to any single observer, although each observer gains a partial superiority of insight from the peculiar position in which he stands. “On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings

No, not Monty Python.

Now… ready to try the google glasses?

Augustine, Boethius, Anselm & Aquinas, Appiah, Allen

February 5, 2013

AugustineBoethiusAnselm & Aquinas, and Appiah on cosmopolitanism are up today in CoPhi. But Allen‘s the philosopher who’s influenced me most. More on that in a bit.

Is anyone, from God on down, “pulling our strings”? We’d not be free if they were, would we? If you say we would, what do you mean by “free”? Jesus and Mo have puzzled this one:


Here too: Free Willy! But as usual, the Atheist Barmaid is unpersuaded.

(As I always must say, when referencing this strip: that’s not Jesus of Nazareth, nor is it the Prophet Mohammed. They’re just a couple of cartoonish guys who often engage in banter relevant to our purposes in CoPhi. It’s just harmless fun, zealots, not blasphemy. But if it provokes a little thought, it’s useful.)

Augustine proposed a division between the “city of god” and the “earthly city” of humanity, thus excluding many of us from his version of the cosmos. “These two cities of the world, which are doomed to coexist intertwined until the Final Judgment, divide the world’s inhabitants.” SEP

Boethius was consoled by the thought that God’s knowing he was about to be tortured to death in no way impaired his, Boethius’s, freedom. That’s apparently because God knows things timelessly, sees everything “in a go.” I don’t think that would really make me feel any better, in my prison cell. The real consolation of philosophy comes when it contributes to the liberation of mind and body. But it’s still very cool to imagine Philosophy a comfort-woman, reminding us of our hard-earned wisdom when the going gets impossible.

And then, of course, they killed him. The list of martyred philosophers grows. And let’s not forget Hypatia and Bruno. The problem of suffering (“evil”) was very real to them, as it is to so many of our fellow world-citizens. You can’t chalk it all up to free will. But can we even chalk torture or any other inflicted choice up to it, given the full scope of a genuinely omniscient creator’s knowledge? If He already knows what I’m going to do unto others and what others will do unto me, am I in any meaningful sense a free agent who might have done otherwise? The buck stops where?

[Christians 2, Philosophers 0… Christians & MuslimsJandMoandPaulMystics, scholastics, Ferengi… faith & reason…]

Undeterred by such questions, Anselm continued to stump for the divine moral perfection (and omnipotence and omnscience) of a being “than which none greater could be conceived.” His Ontological Argument is either ingenious or ridiculous, but is not persuasive. Strange argument indeed.

Aquinas was sure there had to be an uncaused cause in back of everything, or else we’d never get to an end of explaining. Well, we probably won’t. Not ’til the would-be explainers themselves are gone. But is an uncaused cause really a step forward, explanatorily speaking?

The appeal of Anthony Appiah’s Cosmopolitanism is summed up, for me, in his observation that the fundamental aim of our philosophical conversations is to enable us “to live with people, whether you agree with them or not.” That’s helpful.

Appiah is the headliner at this year’s annual March meeting of the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy, this time in New Jersey, with the conference theme “American Philosophy and Cosmopolitanism.” [Appiahn WayThe Real Cosmopolitans]

I’ve found members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, for instance, to be amongst the most agreeable people on the planet – and I couldn’t disagree more with many of their ideas. Simon Critchley’s Stone essay last September includes one friendly Mormon’s cheerful announcement that “we, too, can become Gods, American Gods, no less.”

Well, that was the premise and the title of an entertaining fiction from Neil Gaiman. But what would Augustine, Anselm, Boethius et al think about it? Not much.

The great secret is that, through heroic effort and striving, God was a man who became exalted and now sits enthroned in the heavens. You see, God was not God from all eternity, but became God.

A Woody Allen character was once accused of playing God. “I have to model myself on someone.”

Woody’s not God, nor even remotely a God (a Phil Connors/Groundhog God). He’s very human. But he asks great questions (recently answered some too), shoots great scenes, and cares. [DS]

(My favorite Manhattan scene, btw, asks What Makes Life Worth Living?)

But everyman a God is really not a serious proposition, is it? Anymore than the notion of one man, one planet? Can it really be true that Joseph Smith’s followers anticipate living forever off-world with their families and robots, Jetson-like? Or is that just another example of uninformed bias? (We could ask that Mormon Girl on Twitter what they really believe. Or check out the Book of Mormon.) Anyway, live and let live. It’s a big cosmos.

Reconnecting with the world

December 12, 2012

And you know what else is cool, besides the Internet?

jesus and mo Internet

Walk softly & carry a big philosophy club

January 19, 2012

This sign popped up all over campus yesterday, including here in front of my building.

The philosophy club is already laying plans to respond with

Philosophy Study

& Free Food

for thought

They usually meet on Thursdays at 5 in JUB 304, for those in the neighborhood. Gotta fight fire with fire. Or better yet, with intelligence and smart conversation. Maybe a film now and then. (Did you guys ever finish screening Life of Brian, Ryan?)

So in CoPhi today we’ll be looking at JMH‘s Olympian Gods, pre-Socratics, Democritus, Socrates & Plato, and Aristotle.

And later in A&P, it’s the first of two classes devoted to Cass Seltzer’s (Rebecca Goldstein’s) 36 Arguments, split five ways:

Arguments 1-6 , Cosmological Argument through Argument from the Beauty of Physical Laws; 7-12, Argument from Cosmic Coincidences through Argument from the Hard Problem of Consciousness;  13-18, Argument from the Improbable Self through Argument from Free Will; 19-29, Argument from Personal Purpose through Argument from Human Knowledge of Infinity;  30-36, Argument from Mathematical Reality through Argument from the Abundance of Arguments.

Where to begin? The gods, of course. Whatever happened to them, anyway?

JMH points out how human they were, Zeus and Hera and the gang. The pantheon was close at hand, just up the hill.

They were imminent in human life and in the environment: they brought meaningful dreams to sleepers and threw thunderbolts when they were angry. They even lived nearby, on Mount Olympus. They also gave an external cause for human inconsistency or illogic…

Cupid hurled his arrows and your fate was sealed. Gods and daemons pulled our predecessors’ strings and they felt relieved of responsibility for their world. The gods may have been flighty and injudicious and unpredictable but at least they imposed a kind of chaotic order on our human chaos, “invisible bvut made apparent by the authority of the poets.” Until a few pre-Socratic philosophers and Socrates himself came along to question authority of every kind, their rule stood unchallenged by mortal men. But “under the gaze of philosophy”…


Richard Dawkins has famously observed that

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic,  homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

Outrageous,” say some. I say he’s too kind, and Seltzer/Goldstein say

The God of the Old Testament commanded people to keep slaves, slay their enemies, execute blasphemers and homosexuals, and commit many other heinous acts. Of course, our interpretation of which aspects of Biblical morality to take seriously has grown more sophisticated over time, and we read the Bible selectively and often metaphorically. But that is just the point: we must be consulting some standards of morality that do not come from God in order to judge which aspects of God’s word to take literally and which aspects to ignore. (Argument #16, “The Argument from Moral Truth”)

And that’s why we philosophers always go back to Plato’s Euthyphro, again and again, when we begin talking to students about philosophy, ethics and morality, and religion. (full textLast Days of Socrates)

The point which I should first wish to understand is whether the pious or holy [or good] is beloved by the gods because it is holy, or holy because it is beloved of the gods.

“Reference to God does not help in the least to ground the objective truth of morality.”

Or you could take it on the authority of two guys called Jesus and Mo.

clever Ruse

March 13, 2010

Michael Ruse gets Jerry Coyne‘s goat, but I like him. I haven’t read Ruse’s new book yet either, but the blurb makes me– unlike Coyne– eager to read it:

“In Science and Spirituality: Making Room for Faith in the Age of Science, Michael Ruse offers a new analysis of the often troubled relationship between science and religion. Arguing against both extremes – in one corner, the New Atheists; in the other, the Creationists and their offspring the Intelligent Designers – he asserts that science is undoubtedly the highest and most fruitful source of human inquiry. Yet, by its very nature and its deep reliance on metaphor, science restricts itself and is unable to answer basic, significant, and potent questions about the meaning of the universe and humankind’s place within it: Why is there something rather than nothing? What is the ultimate source and foundation of morality? What is the nature of consciousness? What is the meaning of it all? Ruse shows that one can legitimately be a skeptic about all of these questions, and yet why it is open for a Christian, or member of any faith, to offer answers. Scientists, he concludes, should be proud of their achievements but modest about their scope. Christians should be confident of their mission but respectful of the successes of science.”

[Ophelia Benson thinks Ruse is gratuitous, random, childish, and frightful. Maybe living in Florida can do that to a Brit.]

But like Coyne (and unlike J&M) I reject the inquiry-blocking assumption that theologians possess special knowledge forever beyond the reach of science.

divine command

December 15, 2009

Exam day turned into one last lively class session, yesterday morning. Before the exam there were two report presentations on morality, one on power, and one on free will. The many points of interesting overlap were too numerous to trace, in the short time that remained to us.

Shenae began, wondering what power really means. I had some fun with her Barney Fife spelling of “Frued,” and his “penis envy,” and “SuperEgo” safe sex. But her Nietzschean point was fundamentally correct: the most impressive demonstration of power is self-directed.

Nick gave us a nice report on free will and determinism, featuring John Searle talking about the problem of squaring consciousness and free will with the idea of universal causation. (“Brain Story,” BBC)

Then Yasser defended the “divine command” theory of morality, and Brian insisted– notwithstanding his own brush with armed robbery this very week-end–  that morality is subjective.

All of these topics deserve a lot of critical attention. But I have papers to grade, so I’m going to turn it over J & M. The implicit view supported by their little colloquy here: even if you think the correct values and morals are objective, you have to use your “subjective” reason to make the case. Read Plato’s Euthyphro for elaboration.

Mr. Deity

September 20, 2009

Spent a lot of time yesterday thinking about how to approach “God” in class this week. People are touchy. Many of them have been raised to think of  Him (or His son) as a personal acquaintance, and don’t want to be present for conversations in which the very concept of divinity and supernaturalism is questioned. But we must have that conversation, in philosophy. And I can’t have it without laughing at the silly things humans have said and done in the name of piety. There’s just too much good God humor in circulation to ignore, and much of it is dead on target.

So I won’t tip-toe around God in respectful silence. But I will offer this disclaimer: just as “Jesus” and “Mo” in the eponymous cartoon are not to be understood as The Son of God (Man?) and Savior of Humanity, or The Holy Prophet and Messenger of Allah, but just as a couple of caricatures of a couple of guys… similarly, when I say “God” I just mean the blank canvas onto which humans have projected many amusing speculations about a Supreme Being. None of those projections is itself a Supreme Being, none is itself something one can blaspheme against. The humans themselves deserve respect, as humans. But they also deserve a nudge to the ribs and a prod to the mind. We all owe that to one another.

That disclaimer may or may not disarm anyone’s feeling of offense, but I hope it clarifies my attitude. No offense intended, and I think none can possibly be taken by anyone who does not intend to be offended in the first place.

Now, look at some of this stuff and tell me, whatever your particular “raisin,” if you don’t agree: humans have said and done and believed a lot of silly things in the name of God:

First, there’s a lot of gratuitous groveling and averting of eyes and fearful ducking from thunderbolts. Did you see the New Yorker cartoon last week in which a man returns from work, walking through the front door with a bolt through the back, as his unsympathetic spouse says “I told you not to buy that book by Christopher Hitchens!

Then, of course, there’s all the tortuous bending and stretching to make sense of gratuitous pain and suffering in the world.

The late George Carlin– don’t look for him in Heaven– asked, having heard enough about “God’s will” accounting for the deaths of innocent children in tornadoes (for example), “Who does this guy “God” think he is?!” George’s routine probably will offend even many of those who find his act funny, with its relentless, scatalogical profanity. But I’d defend his humanity any time.

And then, there are all those misplaced formal arguments attempting to prove, logically, the existence of God.

BTW: “The Lord” does make an appearance in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide. He’s a cat.

One thing seems clear. If a God is watching all this, He must have a sense of humor: He made a bunch of silly humans, and is tolerating a bunch of smart-ass critics. What would they say, were they to make it so far as the Pearly Gates? Bertrand Russell, Mark Twain, and many others have said something along these lines: “Sorry, Lord. The evidence was against you.”


August 13, 2009

Plato’s dialogue Euthyphro is a classic Intro to Philosophy text, nicely challenging students to question authority and think for themselves. The initial pedagogical challenge is to not get stuck in the convoluted Socratic syntax (do the Gods love something because it is good and holy, or is something good and holy because the gods love it, and so on).

The more subtle self-critical challenge is in realizing that we’ve all illicitly credited our own intransigent and unexamined opinions and assumptions with an unwarranted authority that must be questioned before we can even begin to think.  This old cartoon on my office door tries to make that point.

jesus and mo euthyphro

In the latest installment, Jesus helps Mo “resolve” a crisis of faith when Mo admits he no longer finds Holy Writ credible but “Ive preached it for too long and I don’t have a face-saving exit strategy.”

The “solution”: try “clinging to your belief with an increased fanaticism which threatens to erupt into violence should anyone question it.”

Isn’t that what we all do, to some degree, in religion and politics and interpersonal disuputes generally: invest so much of ourselves in the particular perspectives we’ve privileged and grown comfortable with, that they ossify into solid chunks of personal identity and dogma that we can’t imagine losing without losing face?

And so, barely suppressing the instinct for violence, we threaten to lash out verbally or worse. We’ve been seeing too much of that lately, surrounding what ought to be a civil and sober debate about how best to secure the health of the nation and its children. The continuum from such displays to “cult“-like mental suicide is all too clearly direct.

What would Socrates do?


July 12, 2009


But seriously, Jesus and Mo, and Atheist Barmaid, are you ok with naturalized spirituality? I understand being impatient with equivocal agnostics and ecumenical Unitarians and pseudo-scientific superstition mongers and would-be Red Sea-parting miracle workers, but can’t we acknowledge the reality of geist and still fully affirm our commitment to “the scientific image”?

Can’t we still admire the rainbow, as Dawkins has said, even after we’ve learned something about light spectra and the visual  cortex?

Can’t we admit our own materiality while yet treasuring its human instantiation? William James: “To any one who has ever looked on the face of a dead child or parent the mere fact that matter could have taken for a time that precious form, ought to make matter sacred ever after. . . . That beloved incarnation was among matter’s possibilities.”

“To any one who has
ever looked on the face of a dead child or parent the mere fact
that matter could have taken for a time that precious form, ought
to make matter sacred ever after. . . . That beloved incarnation
was among matter’s possibilities.”

More on this soon…