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Monday, 6 February 2017

My crutch

Several Tone Deaf commenters belong to religions and I trust this post isn't seen as antagonistic. It shouldn't be, really. Despite the -ism suffix, my atheism is a nothingness, not to be compared with revealed somethings, never to be preached, merely a practice I've rehearsed in my mind for a decade and which happens to suit me.

As a youth I was uncertain and fearful, needing help I said my prayers. In adolescence the uncertainties grew but for identifiable (ie, sexual) reasons, and the vague entity I'd prayed to seemed irrelevant amidst this feverishness. Much later I needed a mental accommodation that allowed me to listen to and enjoy the Agnus Dei while remaining detached from its implications.

I turned to Occam's Razor - the principle that in explaining a thing no more assumptions should be made than are necessary. In short, go for what's simple.

So: I am able to think and thought can lead to understanding. Increasing my understanding of things seems desirable, since it keeps mystery at bay. Mystery may have its aesthetic attractions but accepting it as a guiding principle doesn't help when there's a need to penetrate political change, to explain why some books are more truthful than others, to compile a theory for friendship, and to arrive at a solution for a defective central heating boiler.

But thought and understanding need to be tested for their validity. The next useful step is to express them as accurately as possible in permanent form. Otherwise writing. I am now in a position to tackle the Agnus Dei which I will, but not now. My priorities say Trump. 

14 comments:

MikeM said...

There is actually a stench in the air here. Has that crossed the pond?

Roderick Robinson said...

MikeM: Not yet. In your case you're closer to the action and it seems only too likely that apprehension might convert to other senses. The analogy for me is that of a rabbit immobilised in the lights of an oncoming car: when, we ask fearfully, is someone, somewhere, going to mount a campaign of resistance?

Two points. Desperate to protect Britain from the economic consequences of Brexit our PM has toadied up to Trump for trade reasons, offering him all sorts of flattery and bribes. A state visit (which was accorded to Obama but only after 500-plus days in office) will be his; far worse, that he should be allowed to address both houses of parliament, normally confined to the great and the good (eg, Mandela) although standards have been slipping of late when the Chinese president was given the nod. Perhaps because he has had the good sense to keep his views on women, the press, and judges, etc, to himself.

One relevant person spoke out: the speaker of the House of Commons said he would be very disturbed if such an address went ahead. Whereupon various Tory MPs have criticised him saying his role was only that of impartial chairman. They fiddling while Rome burns. But in desperate times...

Second. Those islands in the China Sea that China has acquired. Clearly some sort of reaction is necessary but diplomacy should be the first option. Trump isn't interested in soft talk, reckons the US could whop China and says so. In the welter of more obvious topics of interest this one seems to have been rather ignored by the press and I only read about's Trump's pronouncement quite incidentally on Sunday. But this could be far closer to Armageddon than building Mexican walls.

A whiff of fear? Possibly.

MikeM said...

The account I read noted resounding applause for your House Speaker. Hopefully true, and if Trump does get to speak I hope he's shouted out of the building on the occasion of his first offensive utterance there. Such and all, I really visited TD this AM to remind you of the Armageddon deadline.

Lucy said...

Always did like Bercow, now all the more, a good (ex?) Tory if ever there was one. Apparently there's been a long standing faction against him in the Tory ranks, who are presumably the ones squealing 'outrageous!' at his current stance, an objection of head-shaking irony considering the outrage of what he himself is objecting to. Any ghost of a shred of respect I might have had for Teresa May, however, died the day of her US visit.

Let it be Macron rather than Marine in April, and perhaps one might allow the first stirrings of revived hope in democracy, or at least the feeling of a break in a run of bad luck, and enough to get me working on the citizenship papers again anyway.

Roderick Robinson said...

MikeM: Oh dear, my memory. Which Armageddon are we talking about, there seems to be a wide choice? Nor am I comforted by the fact that definitive Armageddon will wipe out all the others. Remember Tom Lehrer:

We'll all go together when we go,
Every Hottentot and every Eskimo,
There will be no more misery
When the Earth is our rotisserie,
Yes we'll go together when we go.

You will all go to your respective Valhallas,
Even if you pass Go you will not collect two-hundred dollars.


Or are you thinking of Trump's executive order for Valentine's Day; no roses ladies, just sign on the dotted line for voluntary enslavement and humiliation.

Lucy: I watched the video clip. He knew he was taking a risk and yet he resembled a bodybuilder at a Mr Universe competition; taking in a breath and gaining more muscle, taking in another and feeling taller, then from the gleam in his eye knowing he was on a roll.

As to Mother Teresa why has no one asked her: Wasn't the question posed in the referendum incomplete? Did it really imply "at any cost"? (Thus: Even if we have have to sell off Wales to a property developer? Force the Queen to attend Bercow's public execution? Save on public expenditure by turning the Thames back into a sewer?)

Macron, surely a name randomly generated by a computer. But never mind, he'll do for me. I am heartened that the citizenship papers remain unsigned even though if you did go I'd understand.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Yes, bravo to Bercow and bravo to all who applauded him. I doubt that Trump reads (does he read?) international news or watches BBC News at Ten but maybe some of his entourage tell him what goes on outside his bubble. He needs to know how we and the rest of the world, those who are not his fan club, feel about him even though he dismisses it and tweets his disdain of it. Maybe a gradual drip-drip of unfavourable public opinion will start to erode his megalomania. On the other hand, when has unfavourable public opinion ever changed any megalomaniac in history?

As for Ocam's Razor "...the principle that in explaining a thing..." it generally works very well when applied to things. But what about things that are not, um, things? The existence (or non-existence) of a Deity, for instance. For such insubstantial, non-material but possibly consequential sujects, Ocam's or any other razor just doesn't cut it.

Roderick Robinson said...

Natalie: Your premise is artificial; a thing can be anything, even a non-thing. I am not proselytising, as I strenuously made clear. For me analysis and self-development (both abstractions themselves) can easily be applied to intangible as well as tangible matters, may be the logical result of my growing up and are the simplest and most obvious aims of my existence.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

"Your premise is artificial"

With this one put-down sentence you turn what could be an interesting conversation into a competition. The subject itself is sidelined, all that remains is, apparently, a desire to prove how right and logical you are and how artificial and irrelevant my comment is. The Ocam's razor subject (which I still think worthy of discussion, not necessarily of agreement) is forgotten. What I really meant to do is not to respond at all and here I am responding, predictably, in a defensive way. Feel free to be the winner in this artificial competition.

marly youmans said...

I expect it would be interesting to subtract every work of art made in and influenced by Christendom and assess what the Western world has left to build on. With your pursuit of the "Agnus Dei," you remind me of Vaughan Williams, the sometime atheist and "cheerful agnostic" who loved Bunyan and Chaucer, Herbert and Milton, etc.

Although I don't know much about this concept, I know that there have been theologians who argue that God is metaphysically simple....

Roderick Robinson said...

Natalie; You tell me my personal philosophy is defective. I tell you your reasoning is flawed. Umbrage ensues. A familiar tradition is revived. So what else is new?

Roderick Robinson said...

Marly: That's a very kind thing to say even though I tried to word my original post in a way that avoided suggesting I was downplaying Christendom.

Here's my situation. I am moved by the Mass in B minor, by the Dream Of Gerontius, even by one or two CofE hymns and am aware from whence their nobility proceeds. I have read, re-read and obviously appreciated novels by Catholic authors (the usual suspects) about Catholic characters involved in elegant dilemmas that only Catholicism can bring about. I am conscious that piety played a huge and vital role in making the cathedral at Ely what it is. I am less equipped to respond to paintings with Christian antecedents but I make an exception for Raphael's Madonna And Child. One of my heroes is Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Closer to home I acknowledge I was born into the Anglican tradition when that was a much more powerful influence than it is today and that I am partly shaped by its morality.

My development has not been coherent enough to support any rounded cultural pretensions but what there is contains a skein of Christianity which I would not want to give up.

When very young I prayed to what I suppose was a Christian god but as I've got older my sympathy with the supernatural aspects of Christianity has waned. I'm amused that God may be considered metaphysically simple, but not simple enough for me. I needed comfort from that which seemed most likely and Occam's Razor seemed to point to self-realisation. To think more clearly and to write more imaginatively are goals that apply to no one else but me and clearly run the risk of selfishness. At best. For the moment at least, in the words of Martin Luther: Ich kann nicht anders.

marly said...

"Elegant dilemmas that only Catholicism can bring about" amused me.

Curious how often Occam's Razor is invoked in this sort of context when William of Ockham is such an important medieval theologian and philosopher. It is really too bad you can't have a good conversation about that airy implement with him.

Roderick Robinson said...

Marly: You're doing a terrific job, standing in for Old Bill. And where, I asked myself, is Ockham? Wiki tells me it is only a few miles down the road from where we used to live in Kingston-upon-Thames, a hop and a skip from Martyr's Green. Was he making his presence felt until we moved to Hereford in 1998 on VR's birthday? Am I tempted to visit Ockham which I have never knowingly seen? Yes I am but alas for him I have an idea for a post. And then there's French

marly said...

Be sure and take some pictures, if you go...