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Letter to the 6 billionth person - Salman Rushdie

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  • Letter to the 6 billionth person - Salman Rushdie

    from here: http://dailyrumination.blogspot.com/...billionth.html

    meh... I suppose this could have gone in the religulous thread...


    Dear little Six - Billionth Living Person: As one of the newest members of a notoriously inquisitive species, it probably won't be too long before you start asking the two $64,000 questions with which the other 5,999,999,999 of us have been wrestling for some time.
    How did we get here? And, now that we are here, how shall we live?

    Oddly - as if six billion of us weren't enough to be going on with - it will almost certainly be suggested to you that the answer to the question of origins requires you to believe in the existence of a further, invisible, innefable Being "somewhere up there", an omnipotent creature whom we poor limited creatures are unable even to perceive, much less to understand. That is, you will be strongly encouraged to imagine a heaven, with at least one god in residence.

    This sky god, it's said, made the universe by churning its matter in a giant pot. Or, he danced. Or, he vomited creation out of himself. Or, he simply called it into being, and lo, it Was. In some of the more interesting creation stories, the singly mighty sky god is subdivided into many lesser forces - junior dieties, avatars, gigantic metamorphic "ancestors" whose adventures create the landscape, or the whimsical, wanton, meddling, cruel pantheons of the great polytheisms, whose wild doings will convince you that the real engine of creation was lust; for infinite power, for too easily broken human bodies, for clouds of glory. But it's only fair to add that there are also stories which offer the message that the primary creative impulse was, and is, love.

    Many of these stories will strike you extremely beautiful, and therefore seductive. Unfortunately, however, you will not be required to make a purely literary response to them. Only the stories of dead religions can be appreciated for their beauty. Living religions require much more of you. So you will be told that belief in "your" stories, and adherence to the rituals of worship that have grown up around them, must become a vital part of your life in the crowded world. They will be called the heart of your culture, even of your individual identity.

    It is possible that they may at some point come to feel inescapable, not in the way that the truth is inescapable, but in the way that a jail is. They may at some point cease to feel like the texts in which human beings have tried to solve a great mystery, and feel, instead, like the pretexts for other properly anointed human beings to order you around. And it's true that human history is full of the public oppression wrought by the charioteers of the gods.
    In the opinion of religious people, however, the private comfort that religion brings more than compensates for the evil done in its name.

    As human knowledge has grown, it has also become plain that every religious story ever told about how we got here is quite simply wrong. This, finally, is what all religions have in common. They didn't get it right. There was no celestial churning, no maker's dance, no vomiting of galaxies, no snake or kangaroo ancestors, no Valhalla, no Olympus, no six-day conjuring trick followed by a day of rest. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

    But here's something genuinly odd. The wrongness of the sacred tales hasn't lessened the zeal of the devout in the least. If anything, the sheer out-of-step zaniness of religion leads the religious to insist ever more stridently on the importance of blind faith.

    As a result of this faith, by the way, lt has proved impossible, in many parts of the world, to prevent the human race's numbers from swelling alarmingly. Blame the overcrowded planet at least partly on the misguidedness of the races spiritual guides. In your own lifetime, you may witness the arrival of the nine billionth world citizen.

    (If too many people are being born as a result, in part, of religious strictures against birth control, then too many people are also dying because religious culture, by refusing to face the facts of human sexuality, also refuses to fight against sexually transmitted diseases.)

    There are those who say that the great wars of the new century will once again be wars of religion, jihads and crusades, as they were in the Middle Ages. I don't believe them, or not in the way they mean it. Take a look at the Muslim world, or rather the Islamist world, to use the word coined to describe Islam's present day "political arm". The divisions between its great powers (Afghanistan against Iran against Iraq against Saudi Arabia against Syria against Egypt) are what strike you most forcefully. There's very little resembling a common purpose. Even after the non-Islamic NATO fought a war for the Muslim Kosovan Albanians, the Muslim world was slow in coming forward with much needed humanitarian aid.

    The real wars of religion are the wars religions unleash against ordinary citizens within their "sphere of influence." They are wars of the godly against the largely defenceless - American fundamentalists against pro-choice doctors, Iranian mullahs against their country's Jewish minority, Hindu fundamentalists in Bombay against that city's increasingly fearful Muslims.

    The victors in that war must not be the closed-minded, marching into battle with, as ever, God on their side. To choose unbelief is to choose mind over dogma, to trust in our humanity instead of all these dangerous divinities. So, how did we get here? Don't look for the answer in story books. Imperfect human knowledge may be a bumpy, pot-holed street, but it's the only road to wisdom worth taking. Virgil, who believed that the apiarist Aristaeus could spontaneously generate new bees from the rotting carcess of a cow, was closer to a truth about origins than all the revered old books.

    The ancient wisdoms are modern non-senses.

    Live in your own time, use what we know and, as you grow up, perhaps the human race will finally grow up with you and put aside childish things. As the song says, "It's easy if you try."

    As for mortality, the second great question - how to live? What is right action, and what wrong?- it comes down to your willingness to think for yourself. Only you can decide if you want to be handed down the law by priests, and accept that good and evil are somehow external to ourselves.

    To my mind, religion - even at its most sophisticated - essentially infantalizes our ethical selves by setting infallible moral Arbiters and irredeemably immoral Tempters above us; the eternal parents, good and bad, light and dark, of the supernatural realm.

    How, then, are we to make ethical choices without a divine rulebook or judge? Is unbelief just the first step on the long slide into the brain death of cultural relativism, according to which many unbearable things - female circumcision, to name just one - can be excused on culturally specific grounds, and the universality of human rights, too can be ignored?
    (This last piece of moral unmaking finds supporters in some of the world's most authoritarian regimes, and also, unnervingly, on the editorial page of the Daily Telegraph,UK.)

    Well, no, it isn't, but the reasons for saying so aren't clear-cut. Only hard-line ideology is clear-cut. Freedom, which is the word I use for the secular-ethical position, is inevitably fuzzier. Yes, freedom is that space in which contradiction can reign, it is a never-ending debate. It is not in itself the answer to the question of morals, but the conversation about that question. And it is much more than mere relativism, because it is not merely a never-ending talk show, but a place in which choices are made, values defined and defended.

    Intellectual freedom, in European history, has mostly meant freedom from the restraints of the Church and not the state.

    This is the battle Voltaire was fighting, and it's also what all six billion of us could do for ourselves, the revolution in which each of us could play our small, six-billionth part; once and for all we could refuse to allow priests, and the fictions on whose behalf they claim to speak, to be the policemen of our liberties and behavior. Once and for all we could put the stories back into the books, put the books back on the shelves, and see the world undogmatized and plain.

    Imagine there's no heaven, my dear Six-Billionth, and at once the sky's the limit.
    Last edited by WhiskeySix; 04-16-2009, 01:54 PM. Reason: [code] for length

  • #2
    Re: Letter to the 6 billionth person - Salman Rushdie

    Originally posted by WhiskeySix View Post
    Imagine there's no heaven, my dear Six-Billionth, and at once the sky's the limit.
    By comparison to heaven, I'd say the sky is a fairly restraining limit. >.>

    This letter is a soup of blurry emotional exhortations and misdirections. It doesn't have anything to do with the 6th billionth person in particular, and only tangentially references population growth in passing, making the title misleading as well. No props to Rushdie for his anti-religious rant.

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    • #3
      Re: Letter to the 6 billionth person - Salman Rushdie

      It kinda starts out like a Douglas Adams Hitchhikers Guide Book.. RIP Douglas ADAMS...CLASSIC... (Now it doesnt have to go in the religion thread!!)
      |TG|ARMA Pathfinder
      ..now where did I put my keys?

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      • #4
        Re: Letter to the 6 billionth person - Salman Rushdie

        I agree, but Carl Sagan did a better job writing with this line of thought than Rushdie has. The ultimate fact is that they're both right, as are a great number of other modern intellectuals. We, as a species, are evolving away from the mythical, primitive grip of religious belief. Provided that we do not destroy ourselves or our planet first (of which there is about a 40-50% chance that we will), religion will someday in the distant future be relegated to the annals of human anthropology.

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        • #5
          Re: Letter to the 6 billionth person - Salman Rushdie

          What he said and what you said have an important difference though: You are predicting what will happen, and Rushdie is describing what should happen.

          That means you are operating on a completely different set of evidence. You can point to trends and world opinion to say "less people will be religious", and your conclusions can be disagreed with but can't really be objected to. Rushdie isn't concerning himself with what will happen, he's telling me that what SHOULD happen is that I, or more likely all the younger people who haven't made up their minds already, should abandon our beliefs in God and be pure humanists instead. For this, trends are meaningless, what matters is the truth or falsehood of our beliefs (which he doesn't significantly address).

          Rushdie's message can be objected to, and I do in fact find it objectionable. He mischaracterizes religion at every step, and groups vastly different belief systems together for the purpose of ridiculing all of them for the foibles of a few. He wants me to believe that my religious belief set is responsible for a great portion of the suffering in the world, and the world would be so much better if only my kind would disappear. Am I supposed to appreciate that with only, as he calls it, a "literary response"?

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          • #6
            Re: Letter to the 6 billionth person - Salman Rushdie

            Originally posted by AMosely View Post
            Provided that we do not destroy ourselves or our planet first (of which there is about a 40-50% chance that we will),
            You are pretty optimistic.
            Iím not racists, I have republican friends. Radio show host.
            - "The essence of tyranny is the denial of complexity". -Jacob Burkhardt
            - "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds" - Emerson
            - "People should not be afraid of it's government, government should be afraid of it's People." - Line from V for Vendetta
            - If software were as unreliable as economic theory, there wouldn't be a plane made of anything other than paper that could get off the ground. Jim Fawcette
            - "Let me now state what seems to me the decisive objection to any conservatism which deserves to be called such. It is that by its very nature it cannot offer an alternative to the direction in which we are moving." -Friedrich Hayek
            - "Don't waist your time on me your already the voice inside my head." Blink 182 to my wife

            Comment


            • #7
              Re: Letter to the 6 billionth person - Salman Rushdie

              Originally posted by Kerostasis View Post
              What he said and what you said have an important difference though: You are predicting what will happen, and Rushdie is describing what should happen.
              Perhaps, but I happen to agree with the philsophy behind his message.

              Originally posted by Kerostasis
              He mischaracterizes religion at every step, and groups vastly different belief systems together for the purpose of ridiculing all of them for the foibles of a few. He wants me to believe that my religious belief set is responsible for a great portion of the suffering in the world, and the world would be so much better if only my kind would disappear. Am I supposed to appreciate that with only, as he calls it, a "literary response"?
              I think it's a mistake to personalize any general criticisms of religion like that. A true humanist only sees one 'kind,' and that's a human being - perhaps of different ethnic or cultural background, but religion or belief shouldn't be a factor. I don't think that Rushdie's point is to single out any particular brand of faith - in fact quite the opposite, his arguments (at least to me) are against the concept of religious belief as a delimiter of human character. And to that, I agree.

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: Letter to the 6 billionth person - Salman Rushdie

                Originally posted by AMosely View Post
                I don't think that Rushdie's point is to single out any particular brand of faith - in fact quite the opposite...
                Well yes, that's part of my point. By avoiding singling out any particular brand of faith, he avoids having to deal with the possibility that some brands might be more beneficial and/or believable than others -- they're all simply "religions" and can all be dismissed with the same hand-wave.

                Originally posted by Rushdie
                And it's true that human history is full of the public oppression wrought by the charioteers of the gods.
                In the opinion of religious people, however, the private comfort that religion brings more than compensates for the evil done in its name.

                As human knowledge has grown, it has also become plain that every religious story ever told about how we got here is quite simply wrong. This, finally, is what all religions have in common.
                He sees all religion as being the same, equally worthless to him and equally devoid of any truth. Equally responsible for all the ills of human history. But if you ask any two practitioners of different faiths whether their religions are equal, you'll get a vehement "no". Why should I believe Rushdie that my faith should be judged on the average result of all faiths? Through what consequence should our agreed-upon disbelief in Zeus' creation story make all other creation stories less likely as well?

                It might be replied that with dozens if not hundreds of competing views on the origins of humanity and morality, it would be a great and time consuming task to have to examine each one individually. And indeed, that is a great task, but what other task could be more important?

                Comment


                • #9
                  Re: Letter to the 6 billionth person - Salman Rushdie

                  Originally posted by Kerostasis View Post
                  By comparison to heaven, I'd say the sky is a fairly restraining limit. >.>
                  Dude. The sky is really, really, really big. Like, as big as Texas, but bigger. Like, if Texas was New Hampshire and the Sky was Texas, the sky would be bigger. There is all sorts of cool stuff out there, too. Like quasars and neutron stars and weird relativistic phenomena.

                  *sigh*

                  I wish I had an FTL drive...

                  More to the point, the sky is actually there. It's real, and we can see it and eventually visit it. It might take a very long time, but we can go to the stars. Religion doesn't really offer that. the gods haven't been returning our calls lately, if they ever did. I prefer the reality of the sky to the fiction of heaven. I prefer the reality to this world to the cold lie of an afterlife.

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                  • #10
                    Re: Letter to the 6 billionth person - Salman Rushdie

                    If one can be convinced that snakes can talk they can be talked into believing anything. Many Religious leaders have abused their influence and have stepped out of the religious realm and into people lives with power as thier motivation. They are making personal, medical, financial, lifestyle, life and death decisions for people who let them having very little expertise. They are perpetuating/creating suffering instead of making life better which is the essence of all religions. Salman Rushdie's message of thinking for yourself is a very good one. Unfortunately his anti-religious rhetoric immediately turns off the people who need to hear the message most.

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                    • #11
                      Re: Letter to the 6 billionth person - Salman Rushdie

                      Originally posted by FrankManik View Post
                      I prefer the reality of the sky to the fiction of heaven. I prefer the reality to this world to the cold lie of an afterlife.
                      And I prefer the warm reality of the afterlife to the cold isolation of this world. So where does that leave us?

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                      • #12
                        Re: Letter to the 6 billionth person - Salman Rushdie

                        Originally posted by Kerostasis View Post
                        And I prefer the warm reality of the afterlife to the cold isolation of this world. So where does that leave us?
                        People of religion making up stuff to make themselves feel better? That they don't like and avoid the cold truths and create realities so as to have warm fuzzies?

                        Isn't that the point of Rushdie? That if you base your life on stories of dubious, at best, origins you can never ever hope to make judgments of quality. If a person can delude themselves about something that is so obviously wrong, how can we trust any judgment they come to? If they base a large part of their life on warm fuzzies while avoiding cold facts how can we trust their decisions?
                        Iím not racists, I have republican friends. Radio show host.
                        - "The essence of tyranny is the denial of complexity". -Jacob Burkhardt
                        - "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds" - Emerson
                        - "People should not be afraid of it's government, government should be afraid of it's People." - Line from V for Vendetta
                        - If software were as unreliable as economic theory, there wouldn't be a plane made of anything other than paper that could get off the ground. Jim Fawcette
                        - "Let me now state what seems to me the decisive objection to any conservatism which deserves to be called such. It is that by its very nature it cannot offer an alternative to the direction in which we are moving." -Friedrich Hayek
                        - "Don't waist your time on me your already the voice inside my head." Blink 182 to my wife

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Re: Letter to the 6 billionth person - Salman Rushdie

                          Originally posted by El_Gringo_Grande View Post
                          If a person can delude themselves about something that is so obviously wrong, how can we trust any judgment they come to?
                          Now hold on just a moment. What makes you think that the concept of an afterlife is "so obviously wrong" anyway?The vast majority of the human race has believed it was right since time immemorial, making your "obvious" claim look like a joke, and your "wrong" claim doesn't have much evidence either.

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                          • #14
                            Re: Letter to the 6 billionth person - Salman Rushdie

                            But they've believed in it with absolutely no evidence for its existence. It doesn't matter how many people have believed in it, there is no evidence for a soul, or an afterlife. Once the lights go out that's it, the brain dies and all personality dies with it. And I would rather accept that and get on with my life than pretend that all this suffering is going to be magically relieved in an afterlife for which there is no evidence.

                            Okay, fine.

                            Evidence for the existence of ghosts, spirits, any gods, any afterlife, magic, etc? I know of none, whatsoever.

                            On the other hand medical research into the structure of the brain suggests that the personality, all memories, the ability to control your behavior, recognize other people, control your emotions, speak, think, and so forth are all rooted in the physical brain, not a spiritual soul. People get brain damage, alzheimer's, and various other diseases because something is wrong with their brain, not their soul. Supposedly the soul is what survives death to go into the afterlife. There is no evidence that this 'soul' exists. You get smacked in the head just right and it can change your whole personality. You can even have the brain die while the body lives on, a shell without a person inside. Where does is the soul in a brain dead body?

                            Frankly, I don't expect to change your beliefs. If you care enough you can do some research on your own, consider both camps, and come to your own decision. Personally, I've studied the major world religions and a number of the minor ones, and I'm passably familiar with human anatomy, neurology, and psychology, at least enough to conclude that it is overwhelmingly more likely that gods, ghosts, souls, and spirits are things imagined by humans than actual, real things.

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                            • #15
                              Re: Letter to the 6 billionth person - Salman Rushdie

                              Originally posted by Kerostasis View Post
                              Now hold on just a moment. What makes you think that the concept of an afterlife is "so obviously wrong" anyway?The vast majority of the human race has believed it was right since time immemorial, making your "obvious" claim look like a joke, and your "wrong" claim doesn't have much evidence either.
                              You are again pointing out what Rushdie is asking people to avoid.

                              Just because the vast majority believes something doesn't make it correct.

                              Religious people offer nothing except their belief. That should be good enough? Why? Religious people seem just as delusional as those that believe close encounters of the third kind happen regularly. Both groups offer the same kind of evidence.

                              I don't deny the beliefs. I do see proof that the beliefs help many cope with life. I do see proof that religious beliefs help in social organization. In fact I see some proof that spirituality may be an innate human trait.

                              But I see no proof of an after-life of any kind. I see nothing that suggests gods or devils exist.

                              All I see are people sharing and fighting about their emotions. I see a system in which individuals feelings are only trumped by the power brokers of the church.

                              I just don't think religion offers much to the future of the human race that is good outside self centered pleasure (which is very usefully, BTW). Just like communism is good at getting a third world country into the industrial age, religion is good at getting a people to a morality that recognizes a larger percentage of the people. But it quickly plateaus in it's effectiveness.

                              Ultimately I think Rushdie and people like him are pursuing a fools path. Religion is not going away because it is just too useful to a large part of the human race. Like I mentioned before it may be the manifestation of a basic, maybe even essential, human trait. Trying to stamp out religion is like trying to stamp out drugs or sex. It ain't gona happen.

                              Rushdie and his ilk are Victorian progressives.
                              Last edited by El_Gringo_Grande; 04-20-2009, 09:50 AM.
                              Iím not racists, I have republican friends. Radio show host.
                              - "The essence of tyranny is the denial of complexity". -Jacob Burkhardt
                              - "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds" - Emerson
                              - "People should not be afraid of it's government, government should be afraid of it's People." - Line from V for Vendetta
                              - If software were as unreliable as economic theory, there wouldn't be a plane made of anything other than paper that could get off the ground. Jim Fawcette
                              - "Let me now state what seems to me the decisive objection to any conservatism which deserves to be called such. It is that by its very nature it cannot offer an alternative to the direction in which we are moving." -Friedrich Hayek
                              - "Don't waist your time on me your already the voice inside my head." Blink 182 to my wife

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