Religion and the Moral Arc


Over the last century, throughout different parts of the western world, Catholics were denied equal treatment before the law; Jews were institutionally discriminated; black people were regarded as racially inferior; women could not vote for fear that they would become masculinised. As for marriage issues, African Americans could not marry white people because it was against the word of God, and the same was true for gay marriage.

And even though all of these horrendous inequalities and inhumanities were carried out under a religious mandate (a force which is still to be reckoned with in some societies), there are scholars who, thankfully, find reasons to be optimistic about the future of human civilisation. To quote Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine and and a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University,

“I like to paraphrase Winston Churchill in his description of Americans: You can always count on religions to do the right thing…after they’ve tried everything else. It’s true that the abolition of slavery was championed by Quakers and Mennonites, that the civil rights movement was led by a Baptist preacher named Martin Luther King Jr., and that gay rights and same-sex marriage were backed early on by some Episcopalian ministers. But these are the exceptions, and for the most part people who opposed abolition, civil rights, and gay marriage were (and still are, in the latter case) their fellow Christians. […]

The gay rights revolution we’re undergoing right now is a case study in how rights revolutions come about, because we can see who supports it and who opposes it: The vast majority of conservative and fundamentalist Christians have opposed (and still do oppose) same-sex marriage and equal rights for gays, whereas secularists and non-religious people support the movement; and those religious people who do endorse same-sex marriage are members of the most liberal and the least dogmatic sects.

So, while I acknowledge that many religious people do much good work in the world, manning soup kitchens and providing aid to the poor and disaster relief to those in temporary need, religions overall have lagged behind the moral arc, sometimes for an embarrassingly long time.”

“At every turn [the religious] try to make the public forget about their earlier obscurantism, in order that their present obscurantism may not be seen for what it really is.” – Christopher Hitchens

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Cocksure [Adj.]


Overconfident; confident in an excessive or arrogant way.

“Intellectuals are cynical and cynics have never built a cathedral.” – Henry Kissinger

The Destruction of Divergent Thinking


‘There was a great study done recently of divergent thinking. It was published a couple of years ago. Divergent thinking isn’t the same thing as creativity. I define creativity as the process of having original ideas that have value. Divergent thinking isn’t a synonym but it’s an essential capacity for creativity. It’s the ability to see lots of possible answers to a question, lots of possible ways of interpreting a question to think what Edward de Bono would probably call laterally – to think not just in linear or convergent ways. To seek multiple answers, not one.

So there are tests for this, I mean, one kind of cod example would be people might be asked to say how many uses can you think of for a paper clip; one of those routine questions. Most people might come up with ten or fifteen. People who are good at this might come up with 200. And they’d do that by saying, “Well could the paperclip be 200 foot tall and made out of foam rubber?” “Does it have to be a paperclip as we know it, Jim?” Now they tested this and they gave them to 1,500 people in a book called Break Point and Beyond, and on the protocol of the test if you scored above a certain level you’d be considered to be a genius at divergent thinking.

So my question to you is what percentage of the people tested of the 1,500 scored at genius level for divergent thinking. Now you need to know one more thing about them – these were kindergarten children. So what do you think? What percentage at genius level? 80? 98%. Now the thing about this was it was a longitudinal study, so they retested the same children five years later aged 8 to 10. What do you think? 50? They retested them again five years later, ages 13 to 15. You can see a trend here can’t you?’

– Robinson, K. (2008, June 16) Ken Robinson: Changing Education Paradigms. Retrieved from Ted.com

Chinese Box World


‘With the metaphor of the Chinese box Brian McHale in his book Postmodernist Fiction explains a frequent phenomenon in postmodernist literature. The phenomenon whereby a story-line is interrupted by another story, thus creating a discontinuity that may be subtle as in the case of Hamlet’s play-within-the-play, where each story represents a different ‘world’. The purpose of these novels-within-the-novel; still-photographs-within-the-novel; films-within-the novel in modernist literature “serves as a tool for exploring issues of narrative authority, reliability and unreliability, the circulation of knowledge, and so forth.” In postmodernist literature these different interrupting worlds/narratives are so frequent that the original narrative sometimes gets lost. Attention is drawn to the fact that we can never know the complete truth, we are only capable of knowing a truth, and different Chinese boxes will give us different (sometimes conflicting) information about different worlds.’

– McHale, B. 1987. Pöstmödernist Fiction London, United Kingdom: Methuen Inc. p. 113

Control Of Fire


Burn stuff
1 million years ago?

Nobody knows when our ancestors learned to control fire. The oldest direct evidence comes from Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa, which contains ashes and burned bones from 1 million years ago. But there is evidence hominins were processing food even earlier, and that might have included cooking with fire.

See other: What Makes Humans Human?

Speech Acts


‘Actions that are carried out through language are called speech acts, […] six have received particular attention:

  1. Representatives represent a state of affairs: assertions, statements, claims, hypotheses, descriptions, suggestions. Representatives can generally be characterized as true or false.
  2. Commissives commit a speaker to a course of action: promises, pledges, threats, vows.
  3. Directives are intended to get the addressee to carry out an action:  commands, requests, challenges, invitations, entreaties, dares.
  4. Declarations bring about the state of affairs they name: blessings, hirings and firings, baptisms, arrests, marryings, declaring mistrials.
  5. Expressives indicate the speaker’s psychological state of attitude: greetings, apologies, congratulations, condolences, thanksgivings.
  6. Verdictives makes assessments or judgements: ranking, assessing, appraising, condoning. Because some verdictives (such as calling a baseball player “out”) combine the characteristics of declarations and representatives, these are sometimes called representational declarations.’

– Finegan. E. 2008. Language, Its Structure And Use Stamford, CT, United States: Cengage Learning (2012) p. 305

The Samaritans and Jesus’ Racism


Jesus: And he walked by on the other side leaving the man helpless, but then who should wander by, but a Samaritan, of all people, and he actually helped the man.

Disciple: Hang on, master.

Jesus: – No, he did, he went over and actually…

Disciple: – No, sorry…

Jesus: – No, no. I mean, this is what I’m saying. That a Samaritan, all right – so, have a good think about your attitudes – went and helped…

Disciple: – Yeah, no, I see.

Jesus: – No, no, stick with it. Because what I’m saying is that he was a “Good” Samaritan. That’s “Good Samaritan”, if you could imagine such a thing.

Disciple: Yes, yes, I can. I think we all can. I know there’s a lot of prejudice against Samaritans, which is terrible, but I’m sure I speak for everyone when I say that there are loads of really nice Samaritans!

Member of the public #1: Yeah, some of my best friends are Samaritans.

Member of the public #2: Me and the wife went on holiday to Samaria last year, and they were lovely people.

Member of the public #3: – Couldn’t do enough for you.

Disciple: – Yes, so. What I’m finding offensive – and I’m sure I’m not the only one – is your unreflecting acceptance of this cliché that all Samaritans are wankers.

Jesus: No, I’m saying he was good!

Disciple: But you’re implying that “the fact that he was good” is worth a story in itself. It’s some kind of weird curiosity, like an albino Nubian.

Jesus: No, I’m saying that goodness comes in unexpected places.

Disciple: And I’m saying that the fact that you wouldn’t expect goodness from a Samaritan betrays your inherent racism!

Jesus: OK, OK. Alright, that’s a big word. Let’s just take a deep breath here. I didn’t mean to offend. That’s the last thing I intended. I didn’t realise there were any Samaritans in the room.

Disciple: – That’s not the point!

Jesus: Or Samaritan sympathisers. You know, Sammy lovers.

Disciple: – I can’t believe I’m hearing this.

Jesus: No, no, no, no. I didn’t realise it was such a PC environment here and I suppose I thought that having what was only intended as a fond pop at our Samaritan neighbours, friends even, if you like, would not be inappropriate in the context of a story which is after all about goodness, and at the end of the day, it is only a parable.

Disciple: – What? It didn’t really happen?

Jesus: – Of course not. A Samaritan tosser wouldn’t do that for his own grandmother!

That Mitchell and Webb Look (2006) Season 1, Episode 4. [No. 4]