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Aug 20 2013

TJ Luhrmann needs to study the works of Alan Moore

I was pointed to this wonderful interview with Alan Moore after that post about TJ Luhrmann, the anthropologist who tries to explain psychological phenomena with God. Moore has some weird beliefs — he talks about worshipping an ancient Roman god, Glycon — but he is absolutely crystal clear on the fact that this god has no existence outside the territory of the human mind.


“I understood that everything that people talk about with regard to magic is all absolutely true, as long as you understood that it is happening inside people’s minds.”

Give that man a Ph.D. and a tenured position at Stanford. Religion is interesting because it is a bizarre human phenomenon that tells us something about how our minds work: it is an anthropological and sociological and psychological process that should not be ignored. But when you come at it as if it is an accurate description of the physical universe, rather than a map of the world strangely filtered and modified by passage through the black box of our brains, you will be led astray, and you will be refuted by the evidence of the physical sciences.

Moore also makes the important point (one that I have also made in some of my lectures), that modern fundamentalist religion really is a recent event, within the last century. It is not universal, it is not conservative, it is not a return to the true path of the original church — it is a reactionary response to modernity, and it is a product of our times.

15 comments

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  1. 1
    latsot

    Alan Moore and his wife are completely charming.

  2. 2
    marko

    This is part of a program that Stewart done in response for being sued for blasphemy, the whole thing is well worth a watch.

  3. 3
    marko

    Of course, his less polite but arguably more effective response can be found if you search youtube for “vomiting into the gaping anus of christ”

  4. 4
    Bernard Bumner

    Alan Moore is an intriguing figure, whose work lends itself to grotesque misinterpretation by people who fail to carefully follow the detail. So too, Stewart Lee.

  5. 5
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    [Religion] is an anthropological and sociological and psychological process that should not be ignored. [...]It is not universal, it is not conservative, it is not a return to the true path of the original church — it is a reactionary response to modernity, and it is a product of our times.

    In other words, it is also a historical process. New Atheism is big on tearing religion apart as a scientific hypothesis for the origins of the universe, and for the origins of life. Also good on exposing its futility as a philosophy–whether ontological or moral. New Atheism does pretty well (though perhaps should do more) to undermine the notion of mind/body duality. A+ers are taking religion on, on the grounds that it is an obstacle to human well being and social justice here and now. Not much attention is paid* to religion as a historical phenomenon: the fact that we have evidence of how it was constructed and how it developed over time–by human beings (mostly men). We should do more of that.

    *That’s not to say there isn’t some; it’s just not as prevalent as the focus, say, on evolution.

  6. 6
    David Marjanović

    Glycon is Greek, as you can see from his y and his -n. Means “sweet”.

  7. 7
    raven

    an ancient Roman god, Glycon

    Sounds like the ancient Roman god of sugars and sugar metabolism.

    Glycon is OK, but I prefer the goddess, Alcoh. You do have to be careful with Alcoh, sometimes she is a kitty cat, sometimes a tiger.

  8. 8
    otrame

    @7

    Raven, you remind me of a friend, long ago, who talk me how to drink tequila. He looked me in the eye and said solemnly “The goddess Tequila expects to be treated with respect. Do not abuse her, or she will abuse you right back.”

    He explained that he meant that you should decide while sober how much you should drink (at least in that form, straight up, with lemon and salt) and keep an accurate count of how much you’ve had, because you wouldn’t feel all that drunk at first and might make the mistake of drinking too much, a mistake for which you would pay dearly.

  9. 9
    Sastra

    Really, PZ? Did we watch the same video?

    Although I’m not familiar with Moore, based on this clip I’m a lot less enamored than PZ apparently is — and think that Moore and Luhrmann would get along together swimmingly. He seems very wise and very fun and very nice but he’s almost certainly an accomodationist who — from what I can tell here — would likely echo Luhrmann’s criticisms of the gnu atheists as prejudiced against people who believe things about God which are “different” and rude to try to change them.

    The specific part that concerned/puzzled me was in the beginning, where Moore goes beyond simply recognizing that there is a wide range of religious belief to seemingly approving and celebrating this fact:

    “I believe that every single human being should probably make their own peace with the universe. I mean, we’re all of us different emotionally, we’re all different physically, intellectually — it would be really odd if we were all the same spiritually. So, I mean that’s why I have a problem with religion per se. Because religion, the very word, it comes from the same root word as literature and ligament and it means to be bound together in one belief — which I find a bit creepy, and a bit unnatural.

    A purely scientific approach to religion might also creep him out, since it unnaturally limits and binds beliefs by failing to consider what helps a person make their own “peace with the universe.” Frankly, this guy sounds like a UU: respect all “paths” to truth. The more diversity the better! And outspoken atheists are thus “just another kind of fundamentalist” and atheism is their religion. He’s not religious: he’s spiritual.

    That’s my take, at any rate. I could be mistaken since I don’t know Moore and the entire body of his work. But that quote I extracted could have been taken from the Accomodationist’s Handbook.

    Despite that nod to “it’s all in people’s minds,” I suspect Moore would agree with Luhrmann’s hands-off attitude to the Little People who don’t know that or don’t want to know that. No judging. No condemning. No right, no wrong; just different. Isn’t glossolalia fascinating! Why would anyone try to mock it or convince people to reconsider from a rational perspective? It works for them.

    Moore also makes the important point (one that I have also made in some of my lectures), that modern fundamentalist religion really is a recent event, within the last century.

    Well, yes. Modern fundamentalism is modern.

    But the scorn heaped on fundamentalist thinking itself as somehow “not the way religion ever really was” is usually accompanied by a friendly whitewashing of the past, so that the most liberal theologians in their most liberal moods turn into the mainstream view and thus the Bible was of course meant as metaphor and nobody ever really took any of it literally you know. Think Karen Armstrong. Religion is an art form, theology is poetry, God is a symbol of transcendence, Jesus was an enlightened liberal and model of tolerance, and nobody in the true path of the original church ever thought in fundamentalist black-and-white terms. Really? That’s not what you mean, I’m sure — but I’m not sure what you mean.

    The modern day fundamentalist’s attempt to breach of the separation of church and state may be a reaction to modernity, but it shouldn’t be taken as an aberrant “product of our times.” It’s a deliberate regression to the means.

  10. 10
    salty-horse

    Back in 2011, I listened to this lengthy interview with Moore: Expanding Mind – 07/14/11.
    The conversation puzzled me, at least in trying to understand his mindset. I wasn’t sure if some of his ideas regarding magic and alchemy are to be taken metaphorically or literally.

  11. 11
    Bernard Bumner

    Moore’s attitude to atheism in his work is not simple.

    His character Rorschach in his seminal work Watchmen is a brutalised and brutal vigilante, who dispenses violent justice because he doesn’t believe that supposedly civilised society will. He also rejects any notion of divine justice. In discussion with a prison psychiatrist, he recounts savagely killing a paedophilic murderer by burning him alive in his own home, concluding:

    Stood in firelight, sweltering. Bloodstain on chest like map of violent new continent. Felt cleansed. Felt dark planet turn under my feet and knew what cats know that makes them scream like babies in night.

    Looked at sky through smoke heavy with human fat and God was not there. The cold, suffocating dark goes on forever and we are alone. Live our lives, lacking anything better to do. Devise reason later. Born from oblivion; bear children, hell-bound as ourselves, go into oblivion. There is nothing else.

    Existence is random. Has no pattern save what we imagine after staring at it for too long. No meaning save what we choose to impose. This rudderless world is not shaped by vague metaphysical forces. It is not God who kills the children. Not fate that butchers them or destiny that feeds them to the dogs. It’s us. Only us. Streets stank of fire. The void breathed hard on my heart, turning its illusions to ice, shattering them. Was reborn then, free to scrawl own design on this morally blank world.

    Was Rorschach.

    Does that answer your Questions, Doctor?

    Rorschach is the realist of the piece and possibly the only character with the pure motive to drive some of the darkness from the world, but he is also utterly unsentimental and unsympthetic. In the end, Rorschach’s obsessive quest for truth may or may not be the undoing of everything, but in the end he is the only hero willing to attempt to make society responsible for its own fate.

  12. 12
    Ing

    Glycon IIRC was a god infamous for being obviously a hand puppet.

  13. 13
    anchor

    “But when you come at it as if it is an accurate description of the physical universe, rather than a map of the world strangely filtered and modified by passage through the black box of our brains, you will be led astray, and you will be refuted by the evidence of the physical sciences.”

    Precisely. Whether we like it or not, we are all modelers – we construct conceptual models of the world. None of us can actually be the real world to ‘know’ with perfect fidelity what any of it actually is or what its actually up to or how it actually does it.

    That’s a reason we should never worship anything, since all of our notions of what a thing is are necessarily conceptual models posed within the territory of our mind. Whatever it is we hold in thought there, we can be assured of one thing: it is certainly not the actuality outside of our heads. It can only be a conceptual representation or model of it and it can never be 100% comprehensive or accurate.

    Certainly, some models are better than others. Science is an indispensable method of arriving at and refining models of the real world with exceptional self-consistency and accuracy. Many other models, though eminently valued, are comparatively inadequate in that regard, suffering as they often do from a difficulty in validating them against a noisy or hidden aspect of reality, particularly as they pertain to complex phenomena like culture and psychology and the arts. Yet they may be informed, amended and refined by the more direct explorations of science, especially in ways that move toward a self-consistent worldview.

    But there is one class of conceptual models that exempts itself entirely from any connection to the territory outside of the mind: the ‘supernatural’ (meaning ‘not of nature’, not superior to it). Surely, a model cannot be more dubious as an object of worship when it is a pathetically inadequate stand-in for anything as lofty as an omniscient and omnipotent deity.

    We can’t even test that concept against any discernible evidence from the territory outside of our minds (unless we presume that reality is the product of such deity, a presumption which lacks the slightest evidence or justification as anything else other than as a preferred interpretation manufactured in the mind). The idea can’t even be refined! That kind of ‘supernatural’ concept is the very least worthy of our credulity, let alone the exhaustive effort, intricate trappings and the expense we pump into its worship.

    Science and art supplies us with a stupendously rich and versatile array of concepts of the real world and our place in it which we are free to provisionally accept. It is what emancipates us and transcends our limitations. With such a tremendously fruitful conceptual bounty available, any inclination toward superstitious belief in magical systems – the ‘ligature of religion’ as Moore points out – is tantamount to intellectual if not mental incompetence, a defect in reasoning ability. Its not only a divorce from the reality outside of the territory of our minds, its denial of the territory within our minds. Its a rejection of the one thing we do well, making models, and in that it is a strong deterrent to the quest for understanding ourselves. The condition had better be carefully studied, alright, but not by the infected.

    /rant.

  14. 14
    Mark Weber

    Fun fact: Glycon was a god explicitly fabricated by a charlatan. He put a hollowed out a head and trained a snake to wear it and used tubes to project a voice into its mouth. The best part, he managed to convince the emperor at the time it was real. As a result coins were minted featuring Glycon. In fact, the story behind Glycon is so bizarre it was treated as legendary until archaeologists discovered some of the coins.

  15. 15
    salty-horse

    Here’s the story of Glycon as told by Steve Moore, a collaborator of Alan Moore (no relation): http://www.forteantimes.com/features/articles/5614/snake_or_fake.html

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