Cultural Christianity and Church Identity

I wrote this in late January. Can’t find my English translation at the moment, but since there is no wealth like knowledge, I urge anyone reading this to work their way through it.

Den 19. august 2011 skrev Anne Holt i Dagbladet at hun regnet seg selv for å være ‘kulturelt kristen’, et begrep som har fått stadig økende popularitet, og som brukes hyppig i det offentlige ordskiftet. En av de fire «ateismens ryttere», Richard Dawkins, har endatil stått frem som kulturelt kristen.
Denne betegnelsen beskriver angivelig en form for identitetsbinding mellom individet og kirken som ikke er avhengig av at man tror på Gud. Man definerer altså sin egen identitet gjennom tilhørigheten i et religiøst samfunn uten religionen. Hele beveggrunnen for at det nevnte religiøse samfunnet eksisterer – troen på Gud – er altså forbigått.
Her er det noe jeg ikke skjønner. Man ønsker en slags tilhørighet i et samfunn hvis grunnleggende premiss er at man enes i troen på Gud, men man vil ikke med nødvendighet stille seg bak dette premisset. Absurditeten i dette er temmelig åpenbar.
Samtidig er det mange velformulerte og gjennomtenkte personer som har talt «de kulturelt kristnes» sak. «Du kan ikke nekte for at det norske samfunnet har vært kristent i tusen år,» sier de. Nei, jeg hadde sett ganske dum ut hvis jeg forsøkte å påstå at Norge hadde vært uten statsreligion de siste århundrene. Det er heller ikke poenget. «De kristne verdiene ligger til grunn for det norske samfunnet,» sier de. Hvilke verdier? Nestekjærligheten? Omsorgen for de svake? Forbudet mot å jobbe på søndag? Man skal ta seg i akt for slike sveipende, altomgripende utsagn som at «Norge er et kristent land», for man blir nødt til å kvalifisere dem.
Mye av denne debatten bærer preg av at ingen har lyst til å definere hva som omfattes av kulturbegrepet, og om religion kan anses som tilstrekkelig og nødvendig premissleverandør for en nasjons kultur. Det hele bærer preg av den samme runddansen som har preget det norske nyhetsbildet den senere tiden; man utber seg en definisjon på hva som er ‘norsk kultur’, og hvordan den norske kulturminister Hadia Tajik kan ivareta denne.
Hva er det som gjør det så innmari mye bedre å legge definisjonsmakten på kultur i hendene på kirken enn hos vår muslimske kulturminister? Hvorfor skal noen av disse ha forrang? Hvordan inngår man i en religion på kulturelt grunnlag?

Jeg har fortsatt til gode å lese en ENESTE god, tilstrekkelig og nødvendig definisjon på hvem som er «kulturelt kristen.» «Vi er alle kulturelt kristne,» sier de. Til og med muslimene? Ateistene? Richard Dawkins? Anne Holt?
Jeg foretrekker å kalle dere det dere er: kristenfans. Det er greit å være kristenfans. Men dere kan la være å inkludere alle andre i klubben deres, som om dere hadde noen definisjonsmakt over dem.

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How To Shave

I wasn’t blessed with sons, and since I don’t think teaching my daughters how to shave their pits and legs is very manly, I’ll just have to teach the Internet.

Take one unshaven punk.

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Yeah, you’ll do.

Now, find something sharp.

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Sure, why not.

Next, apply lather. Lots of lather.

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Looking good. Now scrape it all off. First with the hairs, then against. Leave eyebrows. Very important.

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Good, good. The jugular is tricky to shave. Go easy.

One trip to the emergency room later, you should look like this:

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Because we shave one side of the head at a time. We just do. Because screw you, that’s why.

End result:

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Because now you no longer look like a hairy knob end, but a shaven one.

An improvement, I’m told.

Good luck.

The Scientific Method, or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned How to Love Hard Science.

“Science doesn’t have all the answers! It shouldn’t be the way we try to solve our problems!”

If I had a penny for every time I’ve heard people express their skepticism towards science, I would be a wealthy man. Scientism, it is claimed, leads to a colder, heartless society in which our humanity will be lost.

Horseshit.

Science works precisely because we are human. Science is a way to approach objective truth by employing strict experiment design routines, parsimonious theory formulations, stringent data analysis and meticulous scrutiny of our own work. Don’t worry, I’ll explain.

I freely admit that when I studied philosophy of science at university I was more concerned with how my study group had a high percentage of females, but I have since come to appreciate the elegance of the scientific method. The scientific method as we know it is a fairly new invention, although its previous incarnations were important steps on the way. Since Thales of Milet decided to question reality all those thousands of years ago, we have been steadily at work, formulating new and better ways to establish something close to facts.

The thing we all need to understand about science is that, very simply, it isn’t about what we can prove – it’s about what we can’t disprove. This distinction is very important.

You see, one of the major problems of science the way it existed before our current stage was that it allowed for unparsimonious theories to abound. All the prospective scientist needed to do was to indicate some congruence between his hypothesis and the accrued data, and hey, presto! – science. Scientific facts.

We set down the rules very basically: make a prediction, test it against reality and/or lab conditions, interpret data and formulate a theory. Either the hypothesis is strengthened or weakened. Very simple, right?

However, this is where I will piss in your cornflakes: the highest degree of scientific accuracy is established by employing critical faculties. We actually try our hardest to disprove our own theories. To the up-and-coming scientist, this may seem like killing one’s own babies, but it really is the best way to ensure certainty. Besides, if you have established a theory and haven’t been stringent enough in proofing it, you can bet your ass the next guy will relish the opportunity to take it apart. He may even make some brownie points doing it. This may buy him future funding.

So what about those entrenched scientific truisms and tropes we hear about, like how Big Science is withholding or suppressing cures for cancer, AIDS/HIV, Ebola, the Nile virus and a partridge in a pear-tree? Like how vaccines contain mercury, liquid cancer, aborted fetuses and the tears of child labourers forced to endure the most horrible of vicissitudes every single moment of every single day? I wish I could say I was sorry to burst that particular bubble, but I’m not. Truth is robust. The truth is resistant to slander and outright lies. Because the truth doesn’t care about your opinion.

One excellent example of truth winning out is Richard Lenski’s long-term evolution experiment, in which he amply demonstrated how evolution does take place in living organisms, thus proving creationism and intelligent design proponents wrong. This, of course, was no obstacle to them, and they blithely carried on, rehashing old, long-falsified claims as though they were true.

You see, no matter how much we would like reality to behave in one way or another, it doesn’t care. It. Does. Not. Care. Reality will simply unfold before us, and it is up to us to design ever stronger theories to explain it and build an ever stronger understanding of reality.

But what separates good science from bad science? Well, to put it simply: the good science works. It can be tested, it can be picked at, it can be attacked and it will not be any less true. Reality is that which does not go away when we stop believing in it.

(I know that many of my fellow skeptics apply the same Ockham’s Razor to religion, dismissing all religious claims as unfalsifiable bunk, but this is one area where I will simply disagree. Religion is far more complicated than a simple yes/no question, and I for one have decided to support religious freedom.)

So basically, what we do know about science is that it progresses with time, and it gets more precise with time. It does not, I repeat NOT, care what you, I or anyone else thinks should be true. Of course, there are abuses of the system even in our time, and people suppress or hide findings to promote their own agenda, but this can only be compared to pissing your pants to keep warm. You will be found out, and when you are found out you will be discredited and no one will listen to you again.

Unless, of course, you are a practiced quack with an agenda and devoted followers who have invested too much into your crackpot theories to accept anything less than being completely right. Then you are fucked. Doomed to an existence of science denialism, opposing scientific progress at every turn, working hard to prove black white and up down. Ben Goldacre has written extensively about this, and I strongly urge anone who has bothered to read this far to check him out. Some of the science denialist stories almost seem too insane to be true, but the worst part is that they’re not.

Science, in its purest form, isn’t about fiddling about with something delicate or fragile. It’s about building increasingly robust edifices and trying to destroy them. Only when we fail to destroy them can we say we are successful. This is why science is perfect for humanity. It will progress both thanks to our increasing scientific ability and our inherent human weakness.

Of course science isn’t everything. Of course it doesn’t know everything. Of course it doesn’t dictate values. It simply tells us what is the closest thing we have to truth.

And don’t you forget it.

Barenaked Buxom Babes

According to some neurologists, decision-making is primarily emotional. This contention has been making the rounds for some time, and your decision to read this blog post was probably swayed by its title. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Where the emotions lead, we follow.

However, I’m due a rant on this topic. Just because we are swayed by our emotions does not give us licence to abdicate sense, reason and logic in all things. I’m sure the motivational quote by St. Exupéry making the rounds on the Internet – the one about how you can only build a seaworthy craft by making people long for the ocean – is very nice and all, but without a person on your team with a rudimentary grasp of engineering you won’t get very far.

In fact, if you put a bunch of motivational speakers with no shipbuilding know-how on a beach and told them to get across the ocean, they would most likely fail, and fail spectacularly.

We have turned into a culture in which the most important thing is to never change your mind, to always believe in yourself and to maintain your chosen course in spite of indications that you should rethink it. Basically, we have done away with realism and common sense.

Everyone can be an olympic athlete, a Nobel prize-winning scientist, a state leader, a supermodel, a test pilot… All you have to do is believe in yourself.

Horseshit.

Yes, Henry Ford personally bankrupted himself 42 times before founding Ford Industries. Yes, Leonardo Da Vinci painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Neither was the result of pure willpower, but by the unique combination of ability AND willpower. I cannot stress this enough. If all you have is blind faith in what you WANT to be good at, you are not only wasting your time on something that will most likely bring you heartache and disappointment, you may never discover your real talent.

Because, at the risk of sounding like a gosh-darn structuralist, I believe everyone harbours a special tendency, ability, gift or potential that just begs to be fulfilled. Most of us waste our lives on something else, because we’re too emotionally invested in something we would LIKE to be good at.

And we choose our sides, we pick our paths, we apply ourselves and deal with the fallout.

I would like to make the following suggestion to everyone who thinks all you need is willpower and tenacity:

Know Yourself.

If you don’t know yourself, how can you know what you would be good at, or happy doing?

True happiness is found by knowing yourself, knowing why you make the decisions you make and what makes you tick. Use your brain. Think. Of course you need drive and determination, but you don’t want to end up like a dog that finally catches a car, do you?

Or, to quote Einstein, one of the most mis-quoted men of history: “I do not feel compelled to believe that the same god who has endowed us with sense, reason and intellect has intended us to forego their use.”

Oh, Brave New World that Hath Such People in It

Agoraphobia is defined as the irrational fear of crowds.

I do not have agoraphobia. I have a very rational and well-founded distrust of people in large groups.

I told this joke a year ago, and felt terribly clever. I mean it too. People in groups frighten me, even groups I am a part of. This does not mean I distrust any particular people on these grounds, just that whenever people agree about something, they’ll end up conspiring against others. I know this happens, because I do it myself.

This makes me focus a lot on individuals, and I find people – individually speaking – are just mind-numbingly awesome. If we have been in touch, it’s probably because I find you fascinating. I have an unhappy crush on humanity.

Being a teacher and a politician, I get to spend a lot of time around people, and I’ve never really gotten the hang of it because they scare me. Not individuals, just groups, and not really groups themselves as much as the tyranny of consent they represent. A consensus is a powerful thing. It transcends individuals, creating a higher self that accumulates more followers. In the end, the individuals are led by their adherence to this consensus.

This makes it sound like I think there’s a conspiracy or an evil plan at work, which I don’t. It’s just us.

There are individuals I respect, because they are true to themselves and still make room for the doubts of others. They do not proselytize or dictate terms, but will fight their corner when they must. They keep their individualism.

I have seen it in my pupils. They’re young, idealistic, aggressive and brash. Many of them suffer alone, in silence, because they do their own thing and refuse to be dictated. I love them for that.

I have seen it in my friends. They are stubborn, wise, strong and full of doubts. They do what they know to be right and follow their convictions, even to the point of intransigence. I love them for that.

I have seen it in my parents. They taught me to do my own thing, and to learn from my mistakes. They are islands in oceans of people, often alone, even when socializing with crowds. I love them for that.

I have seen it in my fellow politicians and voters. They ALL seek to do the right thing, even when fighting each other tooth and nail. I love them for that.

I see it in my wife and children. They love people, but sometimes need to socialize on their own terms or remain alone. I love them for that.

I just want you all to know this the next time you feel alone about your opinions or your beliefs: I may not agree with you, and may even be violently opposed to your opinion, but I am with you.

Because individuals are always more important than a consensus.