Sunday, 9 November 2014

Letter to my Cousin whose name is program...

Dear Cousin 

Karkun Ukko
I am pleased that the quote [*] from the book of Lin Yutang, “The Importance of Living” has you found your interest. Admittedly, it may contain some "strong stuff", for some fundamentalists at least. 

As you might know, the German translation of his book had moved with me since the time when I, still a teenager, had 'rescued' it from the library of my parents.

The sections about growing up that appealed most to me then and now [#]: "... but there comes a moment where the pagan looks at the perhaps warmer and cheerful Christian world with a feeling that it is also childish, as I want almost say, is less mature. You may have a more colourful and beautiful look, but it is precisely for this reason not so true and therefore in a sense of lesser value. The truth has to have a certain price to be worth, and you must not hesitate to take its consequences on yourselves ... ".

You refer to thoughts in the last sections of the quotation in which Lin Yutang "ousted" himself as a religious person: "…the Chinese pagan [is] ... honest enough to let the creator of things in an orbit of mystery, wherein his sense of awe and shy reverence is expressed. With this feeling, he is content. The beauty of the universe, the incredible artwork of countless things of creation, the mystery of the starry world, the grandeur of the heavens, the dignity of the human heart - that is all the Chinese heathen quite present. But again, he is content. He takes the death back and also the pain and suffering, and he weighs up against the gift of life, the fresh farmwind and the clear mountain moon - and he finds nothing to complain. To bow to the will of heaven, he appears as a truly religious, awesome attitude ... that is all what he requires. ... ".

Drawing by Escher
Lin Yutang reflects transcendentally; thus he reflects in a religious manner. He refers to what in turn you call cautiously as "something" (as "something" that helps us humans to survive). However, you theist cannot do different, a few lines further in your essay, but to deify that "something" by letting "it" live somewhere. You're a theist!

Regarding your excursus into the wickedness of the world, I let you do that today without entering into debating that misanthropic view. The issues of "cui bono" (who benefits from this?) can be tackled elsewhere. This particular worldly finesse of religious (Christian) ideas, e.g. about God's justification and consolidation of earthly powers, had been dealt with at a different time already [1] and "political" consequences were discussed also.

Back to Lin Yutang; a non-theistic Lin Yutang would write something like the following when ousting him: "... the Chinese pagan ... he is content ... [with the] mystery of the world of stars, ... , [the] dignity of the human heart - that all is quite present to the Chinese pagan. But again, he is content. He takes the death and also the pain and suffering, and he weighs up against the gift of life, the fresh farmwind and the clear mountain moon - and he finds nothing to complain ... that is all what he requires. ... ".

It remains for now to touch the question why we humans are so easily to be fascinated by something "supernatural"? Why is it difficult for many to find a non-theistic world-view satisfying. Research, cognitive science of religion into the development (evolution) of religious impulses, ideas and behaviours provides a first insight; in a "nutshell":

Images illustrating early, "primitive" religious concepts 
The modular architecture of the human mind and especially the human capacity to understand other "agents" to whom beliefs and desires are attributed, is the basis of the notions of "supernatural agents". Likewise, social insights (cultures) emerge in which supernatural agents as interested part of social life are postulated. These beliefs are products of biological and cultural evolution. Evolution favoured the "supernatural actors" to a degree that people across cultures use such concepts in an intuitive and automatic way. The mental reaction is automated and thus is similar to the mechanism "that two points and a straight line automatically trigger the idea of a face".

The human mind is composed of a plurality of such modular mechanisms, so certain "types of spiritual convictions" have a selective advantage over others. These "types of spiritual convictions" are accepted with more ease because they were reflecting a kind of "natural" ("primitive") thinking. Abstract theological concepts are elaborate versions of initially simple but contagious "spiritual" people's ideas, which have developed to costly constructs. And in turn, atheistic concepts are recent and costly de-constructions of both, of these simple "spiritual" people's ideas and their elaborate further developments in the world religions.

Ukko El'Hob

see German version of the quote at; [#] My translation back into English; [1]