Tuesday, 14 November 2006

Live and Let Live

I'm a bit behind here with the news, so please give me some slack. Not that I'm about to give it to others, but never mind.
If you're up to date with Australian news you would have heard about the state of Victoria's Senator Conroy, who - together with his wife (pictured on the left) - had a baby through a surrogate mother. His wife couldn't bring children due to a former (hopefully) case of ovarian cancer; they wouldn't even let them adopt because of her cancer. So the couple used an egg from a friend and had a surrogate mother in New South Wales give birth to a baby conceived through IVF - and that's because Victorian law would not allow for their version of surrogate pregnancy.
The news talked a lot about this senator that turned his back on his home state, but I don't think there's any reason to accuse the guy: people would go through much more than that to achieve something like having a child if that's what they want, so I think some slack should be given. Especially to the wife, who had to suffer much worse than media criticism.
What I did find most amusing about this incident are the comments that came from George Pell, the Catholic Church's Archbishop of Sydney (guess which of the photos is his) - the head of the Catholic Church in Australia, and from his counterpart the Archbishop of Melbourne. They both said things such as expressing their worries about the baby's future, calling surrogate birth "far from ideal", and saying the situation could unravel at the baby's expense. The reason why they bothered having their own say on the matter is because Mr Conroy is a Catholic.
Now, my question is: why did they bother saying those things in the first place? Obviously, Conroy is not really listening to them, otherwise he wouldn't have gone ahead with something that quite contradicts Catholic preaching (which basically says that if you can't have children - tough, because that's god's will). Obviously, Conroy's will to have a child was stronger than his Catholic faith.
Now I will take the liberty of answering the question I myself asked. I think these two arch-villains said what they had to say because they were afraid. And they are afraid because the foundations that hold the Catholic faith are shattering through the technologies that science provides, in this particular case - IVF. [Note, however, that I do agree surrogacy is problematic, but not due to religious reasons.]
Guys who have been through IVF will know that when the time comes for the man to produce his sperm, his instructions are to ejaculate 2 to 4 days before the actual donation. The reason for that is to get rid of old sperm stocks and to ensure that quality young sperm is ejaculated when it counts. This leads me to assume that masturbation, in that case, has to be one of evolution's mechanisms to ensure that the survival of the fittest; only that in this case, it's the wanker that is the fittest: by doing it he ensures quality sperm is there when it counts, thus improving the chances of his genes to go forth and multiply. I guess what I'm trying to say here is that in contrast to what the church is saying against it, masturbation is natural. Take one problem off IVF.
On to my next argument. One of the church's biggest problems with IVF is that the church has a problem explaining where the spirit of god is mixed into the formula when creating a new baby. Things were easy for them at the time when no one knew anything about the mechanics of creating new life and they could say whatever they wanted to, but now that times are tough for them because we know more the church is saying that the "soul" is created by the sexual act between the mother and the father (when and how this happens, exactly, is rather obscure - but that is quite consistent with most religious arguments). The church's new problem is that with IVF we can now create a new person without the sexual act, and so - according to their doctrine - the result has no soul because its making lacked god's intervention. To put it in other words, the result of an IVF treatment may look like a person to you and I, but in the eyes of the Catholic church it is more like an abomination.
For the record, it's not only the church that has a problem there; regular law has similar issues with genetic playing around. What if, for example, we create a clone that looks exactly like - say, George Bush - and then kill it. Have we committed murder or not? Or did we just play with a bunch of chemicals? Society can still take its time to think about this issue, but for the church the time has run out - they have a problem with IVF, a technology that has produced children for something like 16 years now. In fact, according to what I've heard, one in ten couples now resorts to IVF. Which means the Catholic church has a major ideological problem on its hands.
Now, for the record, I have nothing special against the Catholic church. It's clown like dressed archbishops can do whatever they want as long as they stay out of my life. The main problem is that they don't - they tend to get involved in politics from time to time, as in the above case. Personally, I never hid my views: I think all doctrine based religions are, in laymen terms, a bunch of bullshit - and that includes, amongst others, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
One good thing that came out of Pell's words is that at least now I can tell what has happened to the offspring of those that were in charge of the Spanish Inquisition and those that tortured Galileo around: they became archbishops.
In conclusion I would like to wish the Conroy couple all the best. Their child is bound to be one that will not suffer from a shortage of parental love.

13 comments:

Wicked Little Critta said...

2 questions:
In your opinion, can science go too far?
Even though your opinion of religion is that it's "bullshit," do you think that it is possible for religion and science to coexist harmoniously?

Moshe Reuveni said...

You know how to ask tough questions, don't you? I still owe you one from the past, but anyway - here goes:

Science cannot go too far. Science is there to discover things about the way this world goes along.
What can and often does go too far is the way we allow science to be implemented - through our governments, through companies, through our inaction...
Even the simplest things science discovers can be turned into something nasty in the "right" hand. As an example I will use something that is not that simple, though:
Let us say that we know how the brain works and can now cure cases of mental health. As a side effect, we know how to induce pleasure and pain to the brain, and some rogue government decides to apply this mechanism so that people feel good when they do the right thing and bad when they misbehave. Does that mean we should abandon the research of the brain, just because there's a possibility it would be abused?
My point is that it's the implementation that counts. Sadly, in this world of ours, there's always someone that would be willing to do the bad thing, thus causing science to appear as if it has gone too far.
...And so my answer is that in an ideal world, science cannot go too far by definition. In our world, though, we have to be careful.

Saying that I think religion is bullshit is a bit of an exaggeration. I am not saying "there's no god"; I'm saying "show me the proof". I'm also saying, and that's what gives me my reputation, that our mainstream doctrine based religions are bullshit based because they are based on assumptions created by people to make certain people more powerful than others, assumptions that just keep on being proven as wrong ones.
Anyway, to the question itself: I think science and religion can coexist if the religious side of the equation is open and tolerant. Our mainstream religions fail to qualify there; they all say something like "I know the truth" (even if they don't, really) and "it's my way or the highway". That is why the church has to come up with new interpretations to its existing concepts all the time in the face of scientific discovery - whether it's the earth circling the sun or IVF. That is why theories that match every observation we know of, such as the theory of evolution, is still unaccepted with some fanatics who still think Noah had some kangaroos with him on his ark, which he then posted by airmail to Australia.
I think that one of two things may happen with our doctrine based religions: they will either brain wash the world into believing in them under some totalitarian regime (ala Brave New World), or we will slowly get further and further away from them - as we have been doing since the Renaissance.
Then again, we could also just end up destroying civilization as we know it. I am not an optimist there.
I do admit I have an inherent problem answering this question: since I feel no need for religion and find it totally redundant (regardless of whether it's tolerant or not), I never really contemplated the question you're posing. What I'm trying to say is that I apologize if I had given you a rather shallow answer.

Feel free to illuminate me with your thoughts...

Wicked Little Critta said...

That was far from a shallow response. Especially for a blog entry, I think.
Anyway, I don't know about any illumination my thoughts will bring. To this day I'm taken aback when I ask my boyfriend a complicated, thought-provoking question and then he expects me to answer it as well.
Anyway, this particular blog entry piqued my interest because I find the science and religion field--well--interesting. The fact that my boyfriend works for a magazine called "Science and Spirit" probably helps there.
I agree with you that science cannot go too far, but generally speaking, people can. I guess that's what makes me uncomfortable with science. That and my strict Christian upbringing. Science has the potential to help people and accomplish many amazing things, but to what end? And who decides? Is it worth it?
I think it makes sense that religious leaders (Catholic or not) get nervous about these advances. "What will they discover next? Parishoners were never asking us these questions before, how do we deal with them? We're not scientists! We're PRIESTS!" Honestly, I think that the Catholic Church, considering how long it has been around, has been more flexible than other denominations. But that's not necessarily saying all that much.
Finally, I will make a similar claim about religion that we made about science: spirituality (religion, faith, belief/experience with a higher power) does not go too far, but people do. Religious people say "This is my experience, therefore it is true for everyone." Whereas scientists say "This is what we've discovered we can do, therefore it is OK for everyone." (I'm stretching it here on both counts) But I have a lot more to say on the religious front, since that is where my experiences are.
In other news, I read your most recent post on your current experience with IVF. Best wishes to you and your wife!

Moshe Reuveni said...

There's a very good reason for me putting a disclaimer saying I offend everybody at the header of my blog: If I was to tell you exactly what I think of religion, spirituality, and the people who live by these principles you would be offended, [almost] no doubt about it. For some odd reason, people can argue their guts off about politics with no bad feelings, but when it comes to religion - everybody hurts [by REM].
So I'll change my regular habit of answering and addressing issues presented on my blog and only give you a partial opinion, since I am the host of this blog and I'd like to think of myself as a guest welcoming host.
I will say this, though: I grew up in Israel, a place not known for exporting anything other than religion, and I still have no idea what it is that people talk about when they say "spirituality". What is it? I've never seen it or heard it explained. I've never felt a need for it. The only explanation I can think of for this term is "something we would like to believe in because we don't really have the answers to everything". But do we really need it? No. I think that those who say they feel it and need it only say so because they have been spoon fed with it when they were children.
You're asking about science whether it's worth it and what are its aims; my answer is that it is and that its aim is knowledge.
There are definite dangers when science is implemented badly, but look where science - and only science - have got us to: 100,000 years ago, our ancestors, physically identical to us, were living in caves and dying left and right from reasons we would consider unthinkable today. Today, however, I live in a house with ducted heating and a soft king size bed; several months ago, when it was discovered that I had a tumor, it was taken out and I'm still here today to tell the story. It's knowledge that was gathered through scientific analysis that's responsible for that. You can think I'm strange, but I think it was worth it.
Back to religion. My problem with it is that I've seen it being abused and actively abusing time after time (especially in Israel). Doctrine based religions, like the one you belong to (I'm assuming you're a Christian), may be based on noble ideas; but eventually things come down to "my god is bigger than yours". The result: bring forth September 11 (and I'm sure many Muslims would present you with plenty of opposite examples).
You're right that religion, like science, depends a lot on the way it's implemented; but in the case of religion, there can be no compromises by definition, because any compromise would contradict the doctrine (commonly referred to as the holy scriptures). Look, for example, at gay marriage: some in the church of England now say "let's allow that, we're living in modern times". I agree with them on that; but then I ask: why agree to gay marriages and not to flex on other stuff? And if one is allowed to deviate from the original doctrine on one thing, who is the one that determines what other deviations are allowed and by who's authority?

I'll leave it there. If you want to read more about my views on religion, you can have a look at an old post of mine (it was followed by a chain of several others due to a dialog I had with a friend of mine):
http://reuvenim.blogspot.com/2006/01/losing-my-religion.html

Before concluding, I have a question to ask. I'm assuming you're a Christian, as since I'm not and as I've only been exposed to Christianity since moving to Australia, I have a question that I was unable to get an answer for yet. Don't take it as a trap question or anything like that, I'm just trying to understand something.
People always say that Jesus died to save us all. My question is - how did his death save us?
The problem, the way I see it, is that if he died it was only because god willed it; and if that is the case, then god must be quite an evil dude to kill his son when he could have easily saved us all in a much nicer way.
If you'd be able to educate me here, I'd appreciate it. If not, don't worry about it.

And last, but not least - thanks for the support with the IVF. One place where "I saw the light" lately with my medical condition is how far support from family and friends can go. At times like this we want to be spoiled like babies (for some very good reasons that science has already identified, if I am allowed to add), so it's nice to be spoiled even if it is through the internet...

Wicked Little Critta said...

Well, you've posed several questions, so I'll try to answer a few of them.
You ask about "spirituality." What is it? Good question...I think it's a little bit different for everyone. Who knows? Maybe I only feel a draw towards it because I've been taught to. In any case, my experience tells me that spirituality is a way of living for more than just what lies in front of you. It is understanding that there is more to life than just the everyday grind, and that there exists something else aside from just human animals making their way in the world and then dying.
Now, this is only my understanding, regardless of whether it is true or not. Some people attribute this tendency to the fact that nothing in this world ultimately satisfies the core desires and drives that exist within each of us. Therefore, we must have been created for another world. (C.S. Lewis) Some people practice spirituality for spiritual experiences they have had(extraordinary peace, answers to prayer, speaking in tongues, enlightenment, healing...). Some people cannot make sense of a life without divine purpose or an afterlife, and therefore feel a pull toward spirituality. I can understand all of these reasons, whether or not I go by them now.
Religion-focused spirituality has a difficult time existing in our world. In my opinion, this is because that religious people, in most cases, do not believe that faith or spirituality can change over time. Denominations become inflexible because since it worked before, it has to work now.
In regards to what we allow when looking at Scripture, you're asking a question that many Christians are currently asking, and have asked in the past. How far can we take this very, very old book? To what degree is it applicable to our lives today? Many say that it is all we need, and that it is applicable no matter when or where it is read.
I personally think this view is silly, as most of the passages in Scripture are of an entirely different age. It just doesn't seem to work now. Yes, you can choose a number of passages that translate to today very well, but there are others that don't seem to, IMO. There are some laws in Scripture that aren't followed at all by Christians, and others that are seen as indispensible.
You assume I am a Christian, and you'd be right and wrong. :) I was raised a Christian, and the belief system is always present in my life. I went to school with Christians, I work with Christians, and most of my family and friends are also Christians. It is interesting that this comes up now, because at this point I am questioning a great deal of the things I've always assumed to be true.
Now, to get to your question: according to Christian doctrine, how did Jesus' death save us? This question needs a bit of background, and I'll assume that you don't know the story for clarity purposes. So bear with me.
At the creation of the world, God created man and woman (Adam and Eve). They lived with nature on earth happily, and they communed with God completely because they were without sin. God placed them in the Garden of Eden, in which they could eat the fruit of any tree except one: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They could pretty much do anything, just not eat from that tree.
God's enemy, Satan, disguised as a snake, talked Eve into eating the fruit, and then she shared it with Adam. Their "eyes were opened" and they knew shame for the first time, because they had sinned. This is known as "the Fall."
Christians believe that God cannot exist where sin exists, and so Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden. This is where Jesus comes in. Since Adam and Eve caused the fall of man, every single human being born after this is "born into sin." No one can possibly live perfectly. Since every human is sinful, every person deserves death: separation from God. This is because God is a just God, and cannot tolerate sin. However, since God is a merciful God as well, he still wanted communion with his people. So he sent Jesus. Not only was Jesus the son of God, he was God. God in the flesh, and so he led a perfect life.
As you probably know, the Jews at that time believed he was blasphemous because he claimed to be the messiah, and so they put him to death. (There's more to it that that, but I'm trying to be brief.) Since Jesus life had been perfect, and since he was God, his death was a replacement for all of us. God chose to take on the sin of the world in the form of Jesus and die as punishment. This is God's gift to humanity: purification through Jesus' death. We still sin, but when we accept Jesus as a savior from sin, we are forgiven without the punishment of death.
So, in answer to your question, God was merciful, not evil, by taking the form of Jesus and taking the blame for our sin. And, since the consequences of sin is death, God could not have saved us in a nicer way without compromising justice.
Whew! That was so much more than I intended to type. And I think I still didn't address some of your comments.
This will have to do...feel free to continue the questioning and/or dialogue. I'm open. Just don't assume that all I explain is all that I believe.

Moshe Reuveni said...

First, thanks for the elaborate answer, which I can probably safely say has more than doubled my understanding of Christian philosophies. Not that I agree with it in anyway, but at least I know where they're coming from.
I will definitely think about what you wrote and produce an answer, too, but before that I would like to apologize:
I openly admit that I mock the concepts of religion and god, perhaps to the point of despising them. I don't see anything wrong with that; we all mock what we consider to be bullsh*t.
However, I think I went too far in the previous editions of this dialog, putting in writing some things that could easily be considered to be a personal attack on you rather than expressions of my opinion on religion. For that I would like to apologize; this is something I've been doing way too many times, and obviously I lack the capacity to correct my ways in this regard (not that this is a valid excuse).
So until I answer you properly: thanks again for taking the time; and please accept my apologies.

P.S. The Garden of Eden, Christian version, is interesting: the old testament, with which I'm familiar (to one degree or another), does not have a "Satan" there. There's a snake, but not a "Satan". That concept was probably added on later.

Moshe Reuveni said...

P.S.
I haven't forgotten that I still owe you "an answer" regarding the way love is portrayed in films (a leftover from our Pride & Prejudice discussion).
Having read some of your views on the matter in your review for V for Vendetta, my views will probably disappoint you - I view love the way I view everything else, materialistically (that is, a chemical reaction). That said, our conclusion about the way it's portrayed in films is similar.
Anyway, just wanted to say I owe you two.

Wicked Little Critta said...

Ummm, apology accepted, even though it is unnecessary. At first I wasn't sure what you were referring to, but after reading through these again I think I see what you mean. No worries. Even though the Church feels more like home to me than anywhere else, that doesn't mean I agree with everything it does or proclaims to believe. Far from it.
In regards to the Satan/snake thing, that IS interesting. I hadn't realized I had made the two interchangeable. Now that I think about it, I'm not sure that the OT does mention Satan or Lucifer at all. But Christian doctrine always presents the serpent as being this character. Funny...
I would be interested to dialogue about the whole "love in film" topic. I'm ok with disagreeing with you...it seems at this point that we can do so agreeably.

Moshe Reuveni said...

Thanks - much appreciated. I still owe some of my best friends some similar appologies, but never mind for now.
Just a short thing about Mr Satan, which seems to be a rival god to the one and only god (contradiction #1) and who also shows that god is not that powerful otherwise he would get rid of unwanted interruption (contradiction #2; that is, unless you think god and satan are both different sides of the same coin, in which case you get to the conclusion that try as he/she/it might, god is a pretty nasty character):
I'm quite unfamiliar with the new testament. However, to the best of my knowledge, Satan is not mentioned in the old one barring one exception, and he/she/it is definitely not mentioned in the first 5 books which are supposed to be the word of god dictated to Moshe (Moses) on mount Sinay (I apologize, but I'm only familiar with the Hebrew terminologies; I'm sure you know which mountain I'm talking about).
The exception with satan is in the book they call Iov in Hebrew (could it be translated to English as Job?), which is pretty exceptional when compared to the rest of the bible; you can call it an atheist's delight. In the book, god and satan make a wager on this Iov guy's faith, and god kills all of his family and takes all of his stuff away from him and makes him sick to see whether he'll remain faithful or go with the baddies.
Religious interpreters of the bible claim this all book is just a fable made to prove a point, a philosophical discussion.
Anyway, my point here is that Satan seems to be a later invention, popping up after most of the old testament was already invented, yet another tool to explain why there are bad things in this world and why god is not doing much about it. Not a good tool, if you ask me.
Yet another later invention is the concept of heaven and hell, both of which are not mentioned at all in the old testament. Yes, they talk about the Garden of Eden, but nothing about going to heaven or hell after you die. Again, this is a later invention to try and say that yes, there is evil, but if you're wondering why evil is doing so well - we're postponing the outcome until afterlife, where that great accountant in the sky does the math and sends you to your proper place.
I think that in the case of heaven and hell it could even be that Judaism borrowed a concept invented by Christianity, but I could easily be wrong; the ideas on which both religions are based were around for quite a while before they organized themselves.

Anyway, all of this means I still owe you two. But most importantly - thanks.

Wicked Little Critta said...

I'm spending the weekend with family, and since I will be occupied (and since the internet connection here stinks)I won't respond in full. But there are a couple of points I'd like to address.
On a side note, let me just say that I've very much enjoyed these conversations on the various topics we've been discussing. I've been reading your blog entries periodically, and find an interesting change of tone in your posts than in these discussion forums. I must admit, my hope for lively discussion with the purpose of opening our minds was a bit deflated today when I read a post referring to a "stupid story" and a "loony guy on a cross." I suppose I've been spoiled by your very objective approach in our discussions. But it's better to know where your opinions are coming from.
Anyway, just to clarify, Satan is not considered a rival God. God created angels, one of these angels was Lucifer, who became jealous of God's power and praise. He and other angels became separated from God when he decided he didn't want to serve him any longer. And so he became God's enemy. He does not have the power that God has, but is still able to act in opposition to God.
Also, Christian belief in God is accompanied by the belief that God is all-powerful, yet grants all creatures free will. Hence the fall of man, hence the damnation of Lucifer, hence evil in the world, etc. And so, while God can do whatever God wants, God is just and loving, allowing people to make their own choices and live with the consequences. So God would not have just gotten rid of Lucifer. God desires the creation to choose God, not be programmed to obey God.
But you're right, mention of Satan and heaven/hell are limited in the Bible (when one considers how often people refer to them now) and I think a lot of those ideas did come about in the New Testament.
I feel like I need to read my Bible again...

Moshe Reuveni said...

Happy Thanks Giving. I would say, without knowing a thing about your personal circumstances, that being with the family is worth the crap internet connection.
Again, I will not attempt to "answer" you other than say that the god you're describing sounds like a mighty underachiever to me.
What I will address is your point on me being harsh with descriptions such as "a loony guy on a cross". You see, I really think this way; I mean, Jesus might have been a really nice guy and I really wish him all the best, but the stories about him portray the notion of a loony guy to me. What I'm trying to say is that I blame the stories.
Now you might say I'm offensive to your beliefs, and you'd be 100% right. What I was trying to say there is that this is the way Jews tend to regards Christianity, and what I will say now is that we are all "guilty" of being atheists towards others' gods.
For example, I am sure the ancient people of Europe would be offended if they heard what you had to say about Thor. The Greeks wouldn't appreciate your opinion on Zeus, and the Hindus would probably have a thing or to to tell you about Shiva.
My point is, we all tend to mock the gods we weren't born to; I'm just taking things to the extreme, both on purpose and because I'm not that good at expressing myself, to make the point that the system that takes you out of this chauvinistic approach altogether is atheism.

I can say that my extreme way of presenting issues does tend to raise an eyebrow from time to time at work, when I do system analysis and use this technique to understand people's requirements. Especially in Australia where people are very politically correct, whereas not as much in Israel where people are very cynical. I guess it's a culture thing.

Wicked Little Critta said...

Happy Thanksgiving to you, a little late...
It very well could be a cultural thing. Here in the US there are both extremes, and I tend to be quite PC.
Regarding your comment that "we all tend to mock the gods we weren't born to." I see what your saying, that when someone else's philosophy of whatever sounds unintelligent or even simply unlike what we know, we tend to dismiss it (one way or another). It's a tendency, but not necessarily a helpful one. And I'd like to add that I don't think Atheism is exempt from this tendency, either way.
I'd also like to question what you say is "the way Jews tend to regard Christianity." I am, to a point, familiar with Judaism and have discussed with some practicing Jews the person of Jesus, and I've never been exposed to the idea that your presenting. But, once again, this could be culture playing a part.
I don't have enough time for this blogging thing. I'll try to say more tomorrow!

Moshe Reuveni said...

You can take your time with the Thanks Giving greetings. It's an American only holiday and I mainly know about it this year because I was wondering why there was no new episode of Battlestar Galactica this week.
With regards to certain views being exempt from criticism, I'm totally with you: nothing should be exempt. It just happens to be that this "no exemption" view is exactly the scientific way of criticizing and looking for evidence before jumping to conclusions. I think that was what I was trying to say all along in my very distinct non PC way.
However, I disagree with you about not dismissing "other" religions. Would you give the nod to a religion that says someone's hand should be cut for stealing a biscuit? Would you approve of a religion that "puts women in their rightful place"? In Papua, for example, there are people who believe that women are witches. As you are obviously a woman, would you not dismiss such a religion? (Or should I be on the lookout for angry looking brooms over the Melbourne sky during the upcoming nights?)

Last, to the issue of Jews' views. What I said was obviously a generalization; there are excpetions to the rule. Some may even count me as one, because to most people I am still a Jew no matter how loudly I deny that. The fact you haven't met those Jews probably means that you've been privileged, if anything.
My point was that Jews, despite all they've been through, are not exempt from the same sins the others have done. In Melbourne, for example, the Jews tend to concentrate in certain area, and all you need to do is walk about there to get that distinct feeling of "we are superior". My wife has noticed it as well, with certain people at her work giving her added attention just because she happened to marry to a guy from Israel (and therefore the imminent conclusion is that the guy's a Jew).
In Israel you don't get exposed to anything other than Judaism, so this phenomenon is mainly reserved to Jewish communities living as a minority. The term Israelis use for that behavior when they mock it translates to something like "Diaspora Jews".

Talk 2u soon...