Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Conflict Between Science and Christianity

There has been some very silly talk lately about how the conflict between Christianity and science is very recent, and how the very idea that they conflicted in earlier times is just a recent notion, based in ignorance of history.

Well, it may be that it has only been recently, since the mid-19th century or so, since one has been able to say such completely obvious things as that Christianity has hampered the progress of science without endangering one's academic career, if one had one. (It seems one can't always say such things on HP today, hence this post.)

Freedom of inquiry is an essential part of science. Pre-Christian Graeco-Roman antiquity may not have been perfect, but it was very free in some ways. Philosophers, mathematicians, astronomers and others were free to speculate about the nature of the universe, and atheism, although not widespread, was certainly not life-threatening. Changing one's religion was an everyday occurrence, not the occasion for the batting of an eye.

Then the Christians took over, and for about 1,200 years, from around AD 400 to 1600, from when Christianity became the official state religion of the Roman Empire until the time that people finally began to fight back successfully against the madness, there was a complete, brutal clampdown on intellectual activity in the West. There was one one last gasp of paganism around AD 400, represented by writers such as Ammianus, Claudian, Symmachus and Ausonius, the last three of whom were all friends with one another. Later in the 5th century Hypatia, a philosopher in Alexandria, was ripped to shreds by a Christian mob acting under the orders of the local bishop. The recent movie Agorastars Rachel Weisz as Hypatia and speculates that she may have been speculating about heliocentrism at the time of her murder, and so that heliocentrism died with her, not to be rivived by Copernicus for over a thousand years, in a book his friends wouldn't let him publish while he was still alive for the fear that he would be killed for it. We don't know for sure what Hypatia was doing, other than that it was not Christian. Her works were destroyed with many other non-Christian philosophical and scientific works all over the Empire as Christianity tightened its hold over everything. Plato's Academy, the world's first university and by far the most prominent center of learning in the pre-Christian Classical world, lasted until the mid-6th century before the authorities shut it down.

It makes me very angry when apologists claim the scientific work of, for instance, Galileo as the work of the Church, when people after Galileo were killed for witchcraft and atheism and heresy, when Galileo himself knew that he had to have his later work smuggled to Holland to be published after his death. If you dispute that freedom of inquiry is essential on order for science to flourish, there's very little for us to discuss. If you think I'm exaggerating about the oppression conditions under Christianty, name one European atheist or pagan in the millenium between Hypatia and Hobbes, except, possibly, Boethius. It's true that not everyone in medieval Europe was a Christian. There were also Jews, who were allowed to live as second-class citizens suffering occasional massacres and deportation, and some Muslims whose very existence struck deep horror into the heart of every good Christian.

Yes, some science was done in medieval Europe. It was done in spite of Christianity, not because of it.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Today, More Than 2 Years After I started This Blogspot Blog With Ads By AdSense --

I have discovered that I can, indeed, have some input into the sorts of ads which appear on my blog. In case any of you have been thinking that ads for Scientology and psychics and dating services for Christian singles don't harmonize very well with the content of my posts -- I've been thinking the same thing. Today I discovered that I can do something about that. I've found a place where I can request that certain categories of ads be blocked.

Now, if I could also find a way not just to block some types of ads, but actually to suggest types of things which might be successfully advertised here -- books come immediately to mind. And, for instance, art-house movies. Fine stationary -- well, that'd be extra-special. I'll keep looking for such a thingy. Sorry about being so slow to do something about the psychics and so forth. And I should add, I don't know yet how effective what I've done will be. IT is, um... Well, I'm not a genius at IT. Some people on the autistic spectrum have a real knack for this sort of thing. But, clearly, not me.

Still: excelsior!

PS, June 14: Still not doing so well with blocking the ads by psychics, huh? Hm.

I suppose it's possible that one and the same person could like my blog, and want to hire a psychic. (Whether someone could understand my blog, like it, and want to hire a psychic -- well, I'm always saying that the word "impossible" is overused. But that would be one remarkable person.)

"Lenny Bruce died for your sins"

-- that's what a friend of mine said to me back in the 1980's. I think it may have been his way of telling me that I had an amazingly dirty mouth. I did. I do. Or maybe, as I thought at the time, he was merely making a remark about freedom of speech in general. I only know Bruce through Bob Fosse's wonderful movie about him,and I suspect the same may have been true of my friend. I don't know how much the Lenny in that movie actually resembled Lenny Bruce, but the guy in the movie was pretty deep on the subject of words, given individual words and their ability to hurt. He pointed out that they hurt and shock more when they're forbidden.

He was quite right about that. But lately I've been thinking that he died for nothing. I'm thinking about the complete contrast between a beautiful scene in the movie, when Dustin Hoffman, playing Lenny Bruce, talks some sense into a crowd who came to see his stand-up comedy act, and a public-service announcement that's currently playing on TV. Both pieces have to do with certain derogatory words -- almost exactly the same list of words in both cases. Hoffman/Bruce's point about these words is: they're just words. He starts off his schtick saying, "Hey, there's some ----s here tonight!" -- using a word I'm not going to type out because, one, I don't need the aggravation, and, two, you can pretty much imagine what I'm talking about anyway, which is just one more thing which shows how silly this all is. Bruce says "----s," and some people gasp. And he goes right on, cheerfully rattling off more offensive words: "Yes, and some ----s, and some ----s, and some ----s, and some ----s! I'm a ----! I think that guy over there is a ----. I know this guy here is a ----." (I'm paraphrasing from memory.) And people in the audience start to relax and laugh. And it's not hateful laughter, it's just pure relief. Bruce ends up that routine pointing out, "Hey, nobody died because of those words, did they? And it doesn't mean that I hate any of those people. They're just words. And they only hurt if we let them." The relief of sweet reason contained in that scene is truly magnificent.

I wonder how much relief this new public-service announcement could possibly be spreading. It consists of head shots of representatives a series of oppressed groups, each one saying in turn: "It's not okay to call me a ----." Identical sentences except for the "----" at the end. Then at the end of the announcement it is solemnly declared that one more word is being added to this list of words that are not okay.

(I am not using the word "oppressed" here in a sarcastic way, not in the slightest. The groups in question most definitely are oppressed. But this chickenshit PC silliness isn't helping them. It's a waste, a waste, a waste.)

The sooner we all figure out that these words are not even the point, that a person can use each and every one of those "bad words" on a regular basis and still approach everyone he meets, representing each and every one of those oppressed groups, with love, and that someone else can scrupulously avoid all of those words, and even industriously hunt for still more words which must be forbidden, and not love anyone at all, the better off we will all be, and the more capable of addressing other problems.

It is telling that it seems to be mostly comedians who understand such things. (I myself am not a comedian, that is a talent I do not possess, as I pointed out in a recent post on this blog.) It reminds me of medieval courts where only the jester had the privilege of speaking the goddam truth! This whole nonsense with our fixation on individual words, the way we give them the power to hurt by insisting that they hurt, is a thoroughly medieval stupidity. I hope I live to see it decline and wither and die.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Relativity

I have a hard time remembering what happened when. The sequence of things often doesn't seem right. I know I got that mostly-amber-colored piece of rock crystal -- maybe heated-treated amethyst, a small part of it is not amber but very pale violet -- for two dollars or so at a little roadside store somewhere in the Rocky Mountains where I stopped for gas or lunch, when I was driving cross-country solo. Which means that I've had that piece of crystaline quartz since 2003 at the very earliest, because that was the first time I drove cross-country solo. That seems wrong, though. It seems like I've had that rock a lot longer than that.

It seems like I saw The Cure's video for "High" in 1990 on the same old burnt-out TV in Bonn, a TV which was more sepia than color, where I saw "Pictures of You." But "High" wasn't released until 1992. Actually, it feels like I first heard "Pictures of You" in 1992. I know this has to do with the lyrics to "Pictures of You," and to missing someone who still hadn't left me when "Pictures of You," from the 1989 album Disintegration, was first released as a single in March 1990.

I spent an awful lot of time looking at pictures of women I used to know and being very miserable. I'm working on not being so very miserable like that anymore. There's no doubt I really used to overdue it. Just like the guy singing "Pictures of You." It's like I was making myself miserable looking at pictures of someone when "Pictures of You" came out, but she hadn't been my girlfriend yet and I didn't have any pictures of her.

The woman I since got pictures of and whom I associated with "Pictures of You" told me she remembered the first time we met. I don't remember it. There's only one person I remember seeing one for the first time. It was 1975. We were both fifteen years old at the time. My memory is ordinarily anything but photographic, but I remember what she was wearing. I never remember what anyone is wearing. I remember the shape her hair was in at the time. She was having a bad hair day At first she was standing with her back to me and I couldn't see her face. Then she turned her head and I saw her very beautiful face in profile. I saw that her eyes were green. I never notice eye color. He eyes were wide and sad at that moment, and somehow the bad shape her hair was in -- quite atypical for her, it turned out. She was usually very well-groomed -- just made her more adorable. I wanted to rush to her and fold her into my arms and take care of her.

She really was breathtakingly beautiful. We became rather close for a short while. I remember her face as vividly as any face I've ever seen. Every contour. Other women I've known have been just as beautiful, I've been much closer to some of the others, but I don't remember their appearance as vividly. I have no idea why.

In the 1990's I joined the house staff of the Promenade Theatre in New York while Steve Martin's play Picasso at the Lapine Agile was playing there, about a fictional encounter between Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso at the Lapine Agile, Picasso's Paris hangout, in 1904. I loved that play, I love it, I spent many evenings in the back of the house watching it, several dozen evenings and matinees, easily. It was this play that helped me to feel relativity, physically feel it, and I haven't stopped feeling it since then. It makes me a bit woozy at times but it's worth it. Leaving the theatre after having watched it for the very first time, in the midst of New York's blizzard of 1995-96, I literally felt as if I were floating above the sidewalk. I slipped on the snowy crowded sidewalk and fell flat on my backpack, which cushioned my fall quite nicely. Someone asked me if was alright and I said, "Yes, I'm just fine." I was indeed fine and dandy at that moment. I was great. I was flying.

In the play one of the several women with whom Picasso is dallying at the time says to him, "You notice every woman, don't you?" and Picasso says Yes. She goes on, "Young women, old women, women in wheelchairs," and he says, Yes. And standing in the back of the theatre I said to myself, Ah, yet another way in which I am like those geniuses Picasso and Einstein.

What a strange thing to have said to myself. I notice a lot of very pretty women, sometimes I don't notice much of anyone or anything else. Completely different from Martin's Picasso. But I wanted very badly at the time to feel like a genius and so I clutched at that straw and said falsely to Picasso's ghost, Ah yes. My brother.

Occasionally I'll catch myself re-arranging reality like that, telling myself I share traits with a genius which I do not share in order to flatter myself, or not remembering the year the video of a sad song came out because it matched the miserable way I felt about a woman two years later, who when I was watching the video on the sepia TV was merely a friend and not yet an occasion for neurotic misery. In my mind I take fragments of remembered things, twist them around so that I'm viewing them from a different angle and then paste them back together in a composition like a Cubist painting.

(Of course, Picassso did that sort of thing on purpose, and with actual paint, and before anybody else except possibly Georges Braque, and so on and sort forth, and I don't mean to imply I'm doing anything remotely similar.)