Deep for a Tuesday

During an election post-mortem breakfast on Sunday with Lexy, Ms X and my newest subscriber Janine (the button’s just there on the right), I was reminded that I move and work in small-l liberal circles. Of course there’s a ‘well, derr’ response to that, but when you’re surrounded by people who understand the correct order of things, it’s easy to forget that the rest of Australia isn’t quite there yet. I’m ok with that, because there’s room for lots of different views, but what I’m not ok with is the way politicians promote ignorance to get votes. They know that asylum seekers who arrive by boat aren’t a big problem, so when they stir up the issue they damage Australia. Journalists also know that asylum seekers who arrive by boat aren’t a big problem, yet they let the politicians get away with saying it is because they believe that simply ‘he said, she said’ reporting means they’re doing their jobs well, as though somehow it’s good enough. When did we all get so lazy?

Anyway, I’ve digressed. Back to the circles I move in. We talk about politics; about policy; about books and movies; about music; about experiences that got us to this point in our lives. We talk about meaning. Does this mean that this bunch of soulless atheists ain’t so soulless after all? No one tell Abbott and Pell, they’d go into shock.

I’ve been thinking about the monopoly religions have over spirituality, and this idea that if you don’t believe in something in the sky your spiritual life is barren (just like my deliberately barren womb of doom).

When people talk about having a spiritual life – not in the sense of believing in fairies and spirits, although to me that’s the same as believing in God – what do they actually mean?

Does having a spiritual life simply mean you think about stuff? I think about stuff, but I wouldn’t call myself spiritual. Yet I’ve worked with a few people who pretty clearly don’t think about stuff, so is that all it is? (My favourite insult is stolen from recovering philosopher Justin Tauber: “you have no internal monologue”. That’s freakin’ awesome!)

So, over to you – what is a soul?

32 responses to “Deep for a Tuesday

  1. I know you need comments from others beyond me but I’ll kick things off…..I was reading an article, during that month passed off as an election campaign, about Abbott’s Catholicism and Julia’s lack of God Squad agenda. The sentiment was that moral codes come from God, religion, the Church etc – that the basic teachings of (in this case) Christianity provide an excellent set of ethics, hence people who believe in God will apply excellent ethics to their life and (in this case) politics.

    The inference (not subtly written) was that people (in this case Julia Gillard but its irrelevant who they mean really) with no God/church belief have no ethics. Does this mean that people like me think that murder, rape, theft, greed, gluttony (actually I have no problem with this one, especially in my pregnant state) is just dandy. NO! and I’m fairly sure that “believers” (I’m tempted to paraphrase Abbott on gays and say some of my best friends believe in God, but actually they don’t!) do not think that I believe all of the above are ok. Yet, this is often inferred in public literature and media discourse or allowed to linger silently suggested. Personally I think racism and bigotry (‘stop the boats’ and ‘gays scare me’ from a professed Christian) is morally repugnant and unethical. It is also a long way outside the true ethos of caritas, love thy neighbour, turn the other cheek etc beliefs that Christianity claims as its central principles.

    “spirituality” is a different ball game – its is a word hijacked by religion, hippies, new age crystal healer types and environmentalists to fit their personal faith (whatever that means) and their internal monologues (thanks Justin). You can use it how you want and I guess that is quite nice really. I rarely say I am spiritual but I think I have a good soul.

    • Ha, Lexy you know I always love your comments. And yes, the idea that if you don’t believe in a God of some kind then you have no ethics is quite insulting. The idea that spirituality involves candles, incense and hippies is also a problem, although clearly it’s not quite up there with suggesting that people who don’t believe in God think murder is just fine.

  2. My maddeningly vague response would be: “Whatever you want it to be.”
    I’m going with a sum of your experiences, feelings, physical time on this earth, education, health, capacity for love and empathy, and energy. If you have more or less of any of these things, it doesn’t make your soul more or less shinier (or a more or less good person), just different.

    If you’re wondering how this pertains to someone who could be classed as “evil”, say a murderer, said murderer isn’t created in a vaccum. They are a product of their upbringing, experiences, privilege (or not), all of the above things I mentioned.

    So what does this tell me? That’s it’s not a soul that makes someone good or evil, it’s their experiences and education.

    I recently read Gail Carriger’s steampunk romance “Soulless” which put in a gorgeously subtle dig at the religious right, their insistence that “a soul equals moral superiority”, and that atheists can’t possibly be moral. The main character has no “soul”, which gives her special powers, but according to strict Victorian norms it means she wasn’t born with the ability for empathy and emotions. The character talks about having to work extra hard at “faking it” (snerk) when in actuality she is the heroine with the biggest heart of them all.

    • I’m going with a sum of your experiences, feelings, physical time on this earth, education, health, capacity for love and empathy, and energy. If you have more or less of any of these things, it doesn’t make your soul more or less shinier (or a more or less good person), just different.

      I like this a lot. Beautifully put.

    • ah yes the old nuture vs. nature debate. Always an interesting one.

  3. Thanks for the plug, but I can’t take credit. That goes to Homer (no, not the Greek one, the other one).

    • Justin! Hello! Homer, really? Say it isn’t so…

      • Hi nipples!
        I’m afraid it is. Of course, when Homer said it, he was bemoaning the fact that he couldn’t resist saying things out loud. Which leads me to my point: spirituality is an internal monologue. Unlike religion (sadly), it’s the kind of thing that doesn’t really make any sense unless you keep it to yourself.

  4. very interesting!!! just the other day i thought of getting a group of like minded atheists together to discuss things like values and spirituality and ethics and so forth.. without the need to have a place of “worship”

    lets start it up! (or if you dont mind.. i could join your spiegeltent of spirituality)

  5. oh also.. i realised i didnt answer your question..
    this was of course deliberate because i dont have the answer or answers
    and if i did.. id be far richer for it (not the moolah kind either)

    that said, i dont think there is a definitive answer.. and although it has been turned into a mind-numbing jingle.. there is something to be said about the fact that it is the journey, rather than the destination

    ive been studying positive psych lately.. and pretty much all roads lead to roam. roam the world, roam your mind, roam the experiences that life has to offer and along the way you might find some useful tidbits for a better existence

    ok.. time for bed.

  6. Too tired to say anything sensible, except that when you set up your church of soulless atheists, can I come too? And talk about ideas and life and how it ought to be lived and stuff?

  7. I am a materialist and I don’t think we have souls or spirits etc. We have minds (I suppose I see this as the work our brain does that doesn’t relate to physical control of the body) and do all manner of things with them. Some of us plod through life getting stuff done, having good times and bad and not reflecting much on things beyond that. Others of us do reflect, consider, struggle to find meaning and make choices. There are ‘religious’ people in both categories I think.

    Count me in for your club!

    • Hi Tamara, and welcome to the News with Nipples. I don’t believe we have a soul either. Once we’re gone, we’re gone. You’d think that would make me waste less time on stupid card games on the computer, but nooooo.

  8. I may need to get Superdik to comment on this – he has strong, if a little black and white, views on morals and ethics. He thinks there are set morals and ethics for the world based on Plato (or was it Aristotle I forget who he was quoting) and it all comes to down to a rational logic with only one conclusion. I don’t agree, but for him, there is less grey and religion and culture is irrelevant cos its ‘logic’. yes its a v superdik point of view.

    • Particularly when he’s in Benevolent Dictator mode…

      • Ok, not sure how I got stuck with ‘SuperDik’ but here goes….

        Yes, I think ethics should be based on logic (in a very broad sense). I’m not suggesting it is the magic bullet that answers every ethical conundrum but it IS an excellent way of teasing out bleedingly obvious flaws in people’s attitudes. These are usually the one’s that start with “I’m not a racist but…” Logic is a great way to illustrate to these people their own hypocrisy when it comes to ethics and their world view. Ethics is rarely black and white when it comes to complex issues. However, there are some pretty simple ‘no-brainers’ that a lot of (Australians) have seemed to have missed.

        I don’t think religion and culture are irrelevant. They certainly are relevant. But I think religion should certainly be put in its place. Most religions were developed millennia ago when different social attitudes were prevalent and certain technologies didn’t exist. The laws surrounding Kashrut (Jewish dietary laws) were originally designed to fall into three categories: morality, health and mysticism. A lot of the health reasons have been taken care of by modern-day refrigeration. Do these laws still serve the community or do they restrict choice?

        Even if you accept that for certain religions their laws were passed down from God, you still have to accept the fact that were transcribed by men. Considering the number of spelling mistakes I’ve made typing this email, is it not possible that one of those ancient scribes screwed up a couple of passages, or like Coleridge woke up from their trance-like stupour only remembering half of their divine visions and faked the rest? But let’s then assume that they DID transcribe accurately all of God’s words – it still leaves us in the same position we’ve been in for hundreds of years: namely that everyone has a very different idea of what those words MEAN.

        Taking ALL of this into account, can any rational person really hold religion up to a high standard upon which we should base our lives and the way we run them as well as the way we treat others?

        “But religion tells us how we should act towards out fellow man”. Yes, and when it’s not telling us to stone to death an adulterer or chop a thief’s hands off (both of which are just plain messy!) its effectively telling us the same kind of arguments that ethical philosophers have been practicing for years. A practice which by the way is based on reason.

        That’s actually the word I’ve been looking for this whole post: REASON. Logic is great, but reason is the real one that should be used to determine the direction of our ethical compass.

        As far as spirituality goes (getting back to the original post’s topic)… I don’t believe in God. I think science has answered a lot of questions and I don’t think it will ever answer ALL of them (because that’s not science’s goal). Nevertheless I think of myself a spiritual being. I believe in myself and in people in general (despite my own misgivings). But here’s what I suppose spirituality is for me: a sense of wonder and awe. You need to have this whether it’s directed at a God or a pantheon of of deities or at ‘life, the universe and everything’. A cold, purely logical worldview won’t help you feel anything because as Spoke says “logic and feelings are contradictory states, captain”. But you need a sense of wonderment at it all. Science can explain how water beads down a windscreen but it can’t explain **why** I find this fascinating and beautiful when I’m stopped at a red light. For me, that’s what spirituality is.

        Phew! :o)

        • SuperDik! Hello!

          That is beautifully written. You should come here more often.

          And you love the nickname SuperDik. Bet right now you’re sitting at your desk, up straight, one shoulder slightly tilted forward, head tilted a little, and saying in your head in your deepest voice, ‘Hi, I’m SuperDik’.

  9. awwwwwwwwwwwwww Superdik hello!!!! get you and your excellent post and not just cos you managed to bring Spock into an ethics and religion discussion….which by the way was nicely done and super pertinent.

    and yes the word you have been searching for in our prior discussions is reason or ‘rational’ – which philosophers and political concepts 101 students debate ad nauseum.

    My concern with large statements like ‘racism is intrinsically bad’ therefore no one can logically argue that it has value, is that people attach what they consider rational (often self interested reason) to their response hence the…”I’m not a racist ‘but’ I don’t think we have the infrastructure to cope with more migrants” arguments. They worry that more people means less water, for example, for them…which is quite a reasoned argument (given the importance of self interest in rational responses). If taken on face value many would and do argue that is a rational and reason driven statement and actually protects other ethics. The problem is tho, in Oz is that they don’t mind white migrants on planes just not the brown ones in boats anjd this negates the argument.

    Oh v deep for a Wednesday – maybe cos I just did lunchtime yoga for the first time in God (who?) knows how long!

    • If it was a boat of blonde Swedish backpackers paddling for our shores, we’d be pushing our grandmothers out of the way to get to them. My feeling is that people use their water and housing concerns (which are legit) to hide the fact they don’t want Asian and Central Asian people here. But calling them racist doesn’t help because they switch off. And we switch off when they say “I’m not racist but…”.

  10. How about showing them some hard facts (which is what Julia should have done the second Tony brought up the ridiculous topic). Average MAXIMUM number of asylum seekers per annum in Australia is about 5000 people.

    Run the numbers: 5000 people per year in a population of 22 million. This comes to about 0.0136%
    Yes. Even if the numbers quadrulpled it would STILL be less than one tenth of one percent of our population. How is this an election issue? REASON dictates that we should be worried about bigger things, whether you’re a racist or not. For example from the ABS: “In 2004-05, 3.6% of the Australian population, approximately 700,000 persons, reported that they had diabetes.” This certainly trumps ‘boat people’, as do about a million other issues that should have come across the political debate this election.

    Mr Abbott is not a smart man but he is smart enough to realise that a fear campaign that worked for Howard should also work for him … and it did.

    • I have to disagree with you here although I disagree with a lot of what Abbott says and agree with your view of the asylum seeker issue, Abbott is nothing if not an intenesly intelligent man. Sure it offends the Left no end that this is so as it calls into question their worldview that anyone who disagrees with them are stupid.
      If you want an example of a daft leader I give you the PM who allowed Karl Bitar to run the campaign.

    • I think the problem with the asylum seekers by boat issue is that the facts (there’s very few of them, 85-98% are genuine, and most of them come from countries where there is no “queue” for them to join) are well known in the media, so the journos just let the politicians talk, believing that their audience knows better. Or maybe not. Maybe it’s more sinister, and there is an effort by the MSM to keep the issue inflamed in the hope it sells papers/generates traffic.

      • My only problem with ugh ‘boat people’ is that the current policy encourages evil traffickers in human misery to take huge ammounts of money from desperate people in order to chuck them in an unseaworthy vessel and send them to Australia.
        The refugees are in incredible danger of sinking the whole time and more than a few boats which are reported as having departed for Australia never arrive, presumed sunk.
        The government has an obligation to help refugees so they should – maybe send one of our own boats across to collect them – but they shouldn’t allow people smugglers to operate the way that they do.

        • And this is the problem – the Government and Opposition say they want to be tough on people smugglers, but they demonise the boat people. They lock the boat people up for years while they’re being “processed”. If the Government was serious about stopping people smugglers, then they’d fling open the doors of the East Timor “regional processing centre” and tell people that they can just turn up and ask for asylum and have their claims processed there. The claims would have to be processed quickly, and they’d have to also build accommodation for the thousands and thousands who will turn up. Gets rid of the need for the people smugglers to get them to Australia.

          At the moment, if you’re in a refugee camp, you can’t work and your kids can’t go to school. After five years of that, wouldn’t you promise anything to a smuggler to get you someone else? Particularly since three years earlier, the UN gave you refugee status because your claims checked out, and you’ve been waiting years for a country to take you. So, the processing centre would need to provide accommodation, and grow food, and have schools – there’s jobs right there for people who are waiting but also for people who live nearby.

  11. I don’t know about that. I think Abbott is opinionated and firm in what he thinkgs is right but I’m not certain that he’s the A-1 brain you would want running the country. He looks and feels like a front man – someone that knows people perhaps better than he knows ideas. having seen him on QandA I didn’t get the sense that this was a man who could confidently speak on this topics he professes to beleive in strongly.

    I don’t think all those on the Left think everyone who disagrees with them is stupid. Certainly there are those who do but I don’t think it’s the majority. But I also dont’ think it’s OK to be just smart enough when it comes to running the country. I want someone SUPER brainy – the kind of person that when you hear them speak make you want away feeling like there’s a whole lot you don’t know and that make you want to correct that by reading heaps. I don’t want a leader who thinks it’s more important that I believe them to be good at sports. I don’t care if my PM plays or watches cricket because that’s not going to help them in their JOB of running the country.

    But maybe you’re right. Maybe it isn’t about intelligence. However, and this is not solely directed at Abbott, but perhaps the sign of the ‘thinking politician’ I would have liked to have seen some actual policies. And not the pander policies that they came out with this election either ($x million for this, $x million for that). I’m talking about the big issues.

    What do they believe in and how are they going to fix it EXACTLY. Most of the stuff that came from Abbott was basically the promise of funding to do studies!

    • No, he’s certainly not the A-1 brain, nor up to running the country, but he is smart. He thinks he’s clever too, and often lets that get in the way (hello, no means no joke, which he looked pretty pleased about making).

      I want someone SUPER brainy – the kind of person that when you hear them speak make you want away feeling like there’s a whole lot you don’t know and that make you want to correct that by reading heaps.
      You want President Bartlet, don’t you?

  12. Yes. Yes I do….
    Come back, Jed!

  13. Ah but Superdik – what you are talking about is the charismatic leader’ and this is not just about brains. You want a leader that doesn’t just lead or ‘manage’, but inspires. You want to feel inspired, you want someone to follow. A leader is no one without followers, remember. Obama made people feel inspired, so did Kennedy so did Hitler, so did Margaret Thatcher and Pinochet and Maosedong – and people stopped feelign inspired when they stopped doing or sayign stuff they agreed so later some of them made people feel afraid instead.

    Rudd was a manager-leader. He is a very smart man, he is also a details man who you always felt did understand his own policy even if he couldn’t explain it to the general populace in simple terms and he is (was) dedicated to his job and agenda (policy back flips aside) to the point of being tyrannical with his cabinet. But he has the charisma, warmth and engagement of a wet fish and people are neither inspired by, nor want to follow him – so super smart doesn’t fit your bill either.

    I think your comments on Abbott being a front man are spot on. He is far from stupid but not an intellectual (if that makes sense) but I think he is driven and recently drove his party and half the country to believe in him cos of pure alpha-male ness. He is the epitome of the dick-slinging school bully and I think this is why I find him repulsive (that and his appalling policy agenda – when he could be bothered to put one of there). The sight of him racing the Billy carts was enough – I could picture him shoving 5 year olds out of the way cos he JUST WANTS TO WIN! winning is everything to the alpha (which is why they often love phyisical sports) and that kind of attitude gets a nation into wars.

    Did you know LBJ got his dick out at a press conference once to make a point about the Vietnam war. Says it all I reckon.

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