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 Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?

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Gilgamesh of Uruk
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Tue 05 Aug 2014, 21:56

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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Wed 06 Aug 2014, 08:26

There is also the In Our Time programme about Stoicism:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p003k9fs

Unfortunately not much about Christians, but the speakers do talk of how the Romans took to this philosophy like ducks to water - so many very famous Roman Stoics: Cato the Younger, Cicero, Brutus, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius.

The speakers discuss how "toughness, endurance and the willingness to take your own life" were all Stoic virtues which rapidly became more Roman than Greek, then more Christian than Roman. That's what made me link this philosophy to the theme of the thread. I was amazed to learn from the programme that there is no Latin word for "suicide" - only "mors voluntaria": " the willingness to die".

PS Many of the men who flocked into the Christian community during the second century had been educated in these doctrines (those of the schools of pagan philosophy) from their youth; the majority of them in the principles of Stoicism, since that system more than any other attracted the naturally religious type of mind..."Lead me Zeus and Destiny,' says the prayer of Epictetus, 'whithersoever I am appointed to go. I will follow without wavering; even though I turn coward and shrink, I shall have to follow all the same."

Perhaps not hard to see how the prayer of Epictetus could easily have become the prayer of those early Christians who were determined to martyr themselves - just alter the "Zeus and Destiny" bit?
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Wed 06 Aug 2014, 21:11

Gilgamesh of Uruk wrote:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04cc7cm

Sorry - lost the link!


Gil...listened to the episode...some "rapid" English for a Dutch speaking boy as I...I think I could follow at least...my first reaction: poor creatures who can not stand on themselves Wink ...it's so easy...make always that you have a "task"...so to not stay idle...and if you have nevertheless "some" difficulties...try to solve them by intelligent reasoning with yourself...after some ten minutes of intensive difficult listening, started to play with the "cursor" to speed up the program and at the end got bored not listening to the end...
Am I also that boring in my "serious" talks on these boards... Embarassed 

Gil, nevertheless thanks for challenging my attention to that subject...

With esteem from your friend, Paul.
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Thu 07 Aug 2014, 09:36

I thought the programme was interesting, although it shows how there is nothing new under the sun.

Fancy that young man from the University of London discovering the Stoics as a means of self-help when he hit what was for him rock bottom. Poor lad - the one who was left with what he called "post-traumatic stress disorder" after ingesting too much dodgy LSD - reminded me of the late 1960s/early 1970s and tales from the Bad Trip Tent, especially when he mentioned how discovering philosophy helped him through what he described as "a weepy phase of my life." I wonder if all those young men of a previous generation - those who suffered and died in the trenches - also found some comfort and "self-help" in reading Epictetus and Zeno? Their traumatic stress disorders, both when the stress was actually happening and "post" it must have been a tad more acute than the drug-induced sort.

I had never thought of Epictetus as being the father of cognitive behavioural therapy, but it does make sense. And drugs and war misery apart, how many other depressed/distressed young men have found comfort in the thought  "...for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so"? As good a means as any, I suppose, for coping with life.



I keep apologising for being off-topic, but perhaps, if straying keeps discussion alive here, we may be forgiven?
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Thu 07 Aug 2014, 16:51

Thank you very much Temperance for making a kind of a summary of the Episode 1. Seems that the two other episodes are still to come, the second one on 12 August...
If you would be so kind to a poor understander of the English language and not an erudite in philosophy, if there is something "worthwhile" in the other episodes, to make a kind of a summary again...while it is thanks to you that I am pushed to consider all these "difficult" (for me) subjects...in this thread...

Kind regards and with high esteem,

Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Mon 11 Aug 2014, 23:31

For a Stoic - Greek or Roman - to contemplate self harm or suicide would be contingent on first having ascertained a logic to the exercise, and preferably one with universal application and not just one that "made sense" for purely personal reasons. Stoics, unlike Cynics or other ascetics, regarded themselves as completely integrated with and inextricable from the society of which they were part. Indeed by Roman times stoicism became synonymous with an "ideal" civic notion, the inference being that it wasn't only desirable to live with such respect for empiricism, logic and material frugality but that it would be a far better world if everyone did likewise too. Leading by example therefore became an imperative for stoics in Roman society much more than it ever would have been considered as such by their Greek forerunners.

While of course this can therefore be considered a foundation of later christian principles as espoused especially within the Hellenistic sphere of that religion's nascent communities it must also by the same token be completely discounted - even through subversion or inversion of its core tenets - as a step in the development of christian beliefs which include self-harming, harming others, or even killing and suicide as tokens of worship for a deity and/or fulfilling that deity's supposed needs and wants through such actions. It is like saying that such behaviour is "stoicism without the logic", which of course just isn't stoicism in any shape or form.

At the root of Hellenic stoicism was a complete distrust of rationale if it resulted in fear, envy, adulation of individuals or gods, and indeed just about anything that betrayed a reliance on emotion rather than intellect. Human rationale, far from being perfect, was deemed by them inherently faulty as such results proved. Like any skill it therefore required careful training in order to perfect it. They did not go so far as to say that emotional behaviour was "wrong" but encouraged people to identify when and how emotion played a role in forming any view. Zeno's rule of thumb was that if, after applying stringent logical reason, one still ended up with the same view or reaction then one should attempt to understand how emotion had effectively provided one with a shortcut to a "truth" so that it might be replicated and managed later. However this was not possible without verification through rational analysis so even when behaving emotionally one had a duty to oneself to whet one's rational faculties constantly anyway.

In my view this is the fundamental difference between stoicism and religions as exemplified by christianity. The former held thinking for oneself as a baseline without which nothing else of worth could be achieved. The latter - however many stoic deductions it incorporated doctrinally - drew the line way before that point in order to retain a centrally interpolated revelation-style series of tenets that must not be questioned, let alone superseded, by individuals thinking on their own behalf.

The point regarding Luther et al is apposite in this regard. However I would suggest that while Luther and others did indeed question, as individuals, the wisdom of many of these received doctrines, they still only managed in the end to replace one set of ideas that everyone should subscribe to with another. They were non-conformist in a strictly Catholic sense in their day but being constrained by the fact that they confined themselves to interpretation of religious revelation could only become conformist in another way. Stoics - in the purest sense - they were not.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Mon 11 Aug 2014, 23:54

Not sure if that really chimes with the Senecan take on suicide, as in http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Moral_letters_to_Lucilius/Letter_77 (I reckon the old Penguin Classics translation was a better read if not necessarily more accurate btw)

Of course Baudelaire seems to have felt Plato and Seneca had been of assistance in the acceptance of values usually now considered Christian - but Seneca is frequently suggested to have been less Stoic in his deeds than in his writings.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Tue 12 Aug 2014, 09:43

nordmann wrote:

While of course this can therefore be considered a foundation of later christian principles as espoused especially within the Hellenistic sphere of that religion's nascent communities it must also by the same token be completely discounted - even through subversion or inversion of its core tenets - as a step in the development of christian beliefs which include self-harming, harming others, or even killing and suicide as tokens of worship for a deity and/or fulfilling that deity's supposed needs and wants through such actions. It is like saying that such behaviour is "stoicism without the logic", which of course just isn't stoicism in any shape or form.


Yes, I see that - but then saying that "the development of christian (my emphasis) beliefs" included "self-harming, harming others, or even killing and suicide as tokens of worship for a deity and/or fulfilling that deity's supposed needs and wants through such actions"  is also nonsense: it's like saying such behaviour is Christianity without the love (of oneself or of one's neighbour), which of course isn't Christianity in any shape or form.

But didn't/don't such perversions of what were originally really good ideas - in philosophy or in religion - happen all the time? It gives a whole new meaning to that famously short sentence in St. John's gospel: "Jesus wept.".

Gil - thank you for the link to Seneca's letters. I've never read them. They're good, aren't they?
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Tue 12 Aug 2014, 10:30

PS

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2012/dec/04/stoicism-can-be-divine-stoic-week


Stoicism was the most successful of the ancient Athenian schools. What is perhaps not much appreciated now is that it is, in a way, alive and kicking to this day. When the first Christians searched for resources to try to understand what they had encountered in the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth, stoic insights made tremendous sense.

St Paul felt that his experience of the divine was like that of the stoics. "For in him we live and move and have our being," he taught, explaining he was quoting from stoic philosophers. St John was so impressed that he argued Jesus was the incarnation of the logos, celebrated in the opening line of his gospel: "In the beginning was the word." Practices such as saying grace before meals, or giving thanks for the day at night-time, are stoic.

Is it too cheeky to suggest that if you want to practise stoicism today, you might start in a church?


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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Tue 12 Aug 2014, 12:07

Temp wrote:
Yes, I see that - but then saying that "the development of christian (my emphasis) beliefs" included "self-harming, harming others, or even killing and suicide as tokens of worship for a deity and/or fulfilling that deity's supposed needs and wants through such actions"  is also nonsense: it's like saying such behaviour is Christianity without the love (of oneself or of one's neighbour), which of course isn't Christianity in any shape or form.

There's a "yes and no" response to this also. It is difficult to find an equivalent amongst all the different religions humanity has devised to what might be called "gratuitous self harm" as practiced or encouraged by various christian sects and mentioned at the start of this thread. When voluntary self-harm occurs outside of these instances it tends to employ the conceit of not being harmed at all despite the action, as with some oriental religions which encourage the practitioner and especially the witnesses to believe that the "spirituality" of the practitioner negates or overcomes in some way physical pain. The proof, in other words, of the practitioner's faith is in the absence of pain. This therefore removes the activity from the strictly clinical definition of true masochism as the intention is actually not to feel pain. Other religions might actually encourage masochism - pain and all - as with certain tribal rituals revolving around coming of age etc, but again they differ from the christian examples we have discussed in that they are seated in a very definite logic involving endurance of pain as "proof", for example, of adulthood. In other words, however misguided or barbaric they might seem they are actually rooted in quite secular social values considered necessary to define one's worth to the community, not one's devotion to any belief system per se.

It is extremely difficult to find close parallels with the activities mentioned above practiced by people professing a Christian faith in which the point is to experience agony or risk death simply to demonstrate one's devotion to one's deity.

Temp wrote:
Is it too cheeky to suggest that if you want to practise stoicism today, you might start in a church?

Yes, it is. There are vestiges of stoicism in Christianity but what is missing is the empiricism and devotion to logic which underpinned the original philosophy. If you really want to practice stoicism today (and many do outside of any faith system) you can also, and probably more advisedly, start in an institution more inclined to encourage questioning of received wisdoms or be exposed to situations where such received wisdoms are graphically and fundamentally challenged anyway. Warfare has already been mentioned as one example. The science faculty of any good university might be a less dramatic but equally valid alternative.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Tue 12 Aug 2014, 12:20

Gilgamesh wrote:
Not sure if that really chimes with the Senecan take on suicide, as in http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Moral_letters_to_Lucilius/Letter_77

On the other hand I'm pretty sure it chimes reasonably well. I see no great departure on the part of Seneca from what was considered stoicism in Roman times based on his letter advising controlled, voluntary departure from this life when the circumstances warrant it. The underlying logic is sound, adequately explained in non-religious terms, and revolves around one's civic deportment. This in fact is a very good example of where the Romans ran with the original Greek concepts as expressed by Zeno et al, in which advice regarding how to live "better" was engineered to dovetail with traditional Roman notions of how to be a good Roman. Roman stoics really believed they were espousing ancient Roman values as well as referencing Greek stoic principles. The latter were used to inform and help justify the former but there was still a belief that Romans had "got there first" anyway (and were naturally better than the Greeks at living by stoic principles too).
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Tue 12 Aug 2014, 14:22

nordmann wrote:


If you really want to practice stoicism today (and many do outside of any faith system) you can also, and probably more advisedly, start in an institution more inclined to encourage questioning of received wisdoms or be exposed to situations where such received wisdoms are graphically and fundamentally challenged anyway. Warfare has already been mentioned as one example. The science faculty of any good university might be a less dramatic but equally valid alternative.


Well, that leaves most of us out in the cold then, enduring away nicely without any help from the intellectual elite.  Perhaps there is more consolation to be found in this generous invitation:


Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

And what's more you don't have to have three grades, "B" or above at A-level, including an "A" in physics, to benefit from this man's teaching.

But I'm rambling, as usual. Will post a panda picture now.

You do make me cross sometimes, nordmann.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Tue 12 Aug 2014, 14:35

Temp wrote:
Perhaps there is more consolation to be found in this generous invitation:


Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Perhaps indeed, but how genuine is the offer? And more importantly in the context of recent posts in this thread, isn't this the opposite to what a stoic of the day would have believed? The notion that one can evade the consequences of one's duty to undergo labour simply by believing that some incorporate being has assumed them on one's behalf doesn't square at all with, for example, Marcus Aurelius's sound advice (which includes the very relevant notion that deity is within one, not an external animate being to which one relates):

Labour not unwillingly, nor without regard to the common interest, nor without due consideration, nor with distraction; nor let studied ornament set off thy thoughts, and be not either a man of many words, or busy about too many things. And further, let the deity which is in thee be the guardian of a living being, manly and of ripe age, and engaged in matter political, and a Roman, and a ruler, who has taken his post like a man waiting for the signal which summons him from life, and ready to go, having need neither of oath nor of any man's testimony. Be cheerful also, and seek not external help nor the tranquility which others give. A man then must stand erect, not be kept erect by others.

This is a philosophy of self-reliance and self-worth with no magic supernatural entity prepared to take up the slack on your behalf. A very practical principle founded on practical experience. Stoic in fact, and not a principle at all commensurate with that underlying Matthew's quote above.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Tue 12 Aug 2014, 15:42

Well, we can all quote Marcus Aurelius until the cows come home.

To those who insist, "Where have you ever seen the gods, and how can you be so assured of their existence, that you worship them in this way?" my answer is, "For one thing, they are perfectly visible to the eye*. For another, I have never seen my own soul either, but none the less do I venerate that. So it is with the gods; it is experience which proves their power every day, and therefore I am satisfied that they exist, and I do them reverence." (Meditations Book 12:28)

But why all this foolish argument? I suspect we all believe - in our different ways, according to our differing temperaments - the some thing. The rest is a dispute over trifles.


* The Stoics believed the stars to be divine, which is a lovely idea, I think.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Tue 12 Aug 2014, 16:30

And later in the same tract he says;

What dost thou wish? to continue to exist? Well, dost thou wish to have sensation? movement? growth? and then again to cease to grow? to use thy speech? to think? What is there of all these things which seems to thee worth desiring? But if it is easy to set little value on all these things, turn to that which remains, which is to follow reason and divine providence. But it is inconsistent with honouring reason and divine providence to be troubled because by death a man will be deprived of the other things.

Christian translations of "Meditations" inevitably translate "divine providence" as "god" (though this apparently contradicts Marcus Aurelius's more frequent mention of "the gods", as in your own quote). Divine providence resides within according to Marcus and this is a very stoic thing to believe - that one chooses and defines one's own divinity according to practical experience.

Temp wrote:
I suspect we all believe - in our different ways, according to our differing temperaments - the same thing. The rest is a dispute over trifles.

In this case the "trifle" is the fundamental difference between stoic philosophy and christian doctrine. The Matthew quote you provided above, along with "suffer little children" etc, have no place in stoic philosophy which in its most essential form is actually quite a heartlessly honest appraisal of reality, or at least such an unsentimental assessment of life is what the stoic will always aim at. When one therefore says "to become a stoic today one might begin in church" it is only fair to add the "trifling" proviso that in many ways one probably shouldn't.

It is also worth remembering that Marcus Aurelius wrote his meditations in Greek and assumedly only for his own benefit, like a series of stoic memos to self which he used to marshal his thoughts. That which has been translated as "soul" in English was invariably "psyche" in the original and not "animus", the Latin equivalent that corresponds with the notion of that which forms the essence of a living being and a good portion of the reason behind that life. The Greek psyche however, while being the essence of a person, is also that which is controlled and nurtured not by the gods or by its owner but by the fates, and this was central not only to Roman stoic philosophy but to Roman military philosophy (for want of a better term). MA summarised this surrender to fate in Meditations with his observation 'A cucumber is bitter. Throw it away. There are briars in the road. Turn aside from them. This is enough. Do not add, "And why were such things made in the world?"'

Apart from his dubious view of cucumbers this in plain language is an exact piece of advice regarding managing one's fate or at least one's interaction with fate. One's first responsibility is to deal intelligently with what fate throws at you. Once this is out of the way then can one indulge in the luxury of debating why fate threw it. Again there is no need for a deity, an intermediary or indeed anyone else at all in fulfilling the task. It is - as any good stoic would agree - one's own responsibility. You and you alone can understand your psyche and its debt to the gods. Anyone else who pretends to do so on your behalf is actually neglecting to look after their own!
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Tue 12 Aug 2014, 17:33

nordmann wrote:


Apart from his dubious view of cucumbers this in plain language is an exact piece of advice regarding managing one's fate or at least one's interaction with fate. One's first responsibility is to deal intelligently with what fate throws at you. Once this is out of the way then can one indulge in the luxury of debating why fate threw it. Again there is no need for a deity, an intermediary or indeed anyone else at all in fulfilling the task. It is - as any good stoic would agree - one's own responsibility. You and you alone can understand your psyche and its debt to the gods. Anyone else who pretends to do so on your behalf is actually neglecting to look after their own!


Humph, as MM would say. You're a clever so-and-so, nordmann, but I'm having none of it. They tried to make me go to philosophy classes, and I said, "No, no no."
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Tue 12 Aug 2014, 17:41

Don't get me wrong - I don't even rate Marcus Aurelius (whose writing I like very much) as a genuine stoic. By his day the notion had been so thoroughly filtered through Roman sensibilities that it bore as much relationship to the original ideas of Zeno and his pals as so-called "christian stoicism" has to either Greek or Roman versions.

Incidentally "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's" is not only excellent tax advice for first century Roman citizens (the Inland Revenue penalties of the day were harsh) but also eminently stoic advice by Roman standards. Jesus might have been prepared to pretend to adopt your burdens for you but the offer definitely petered out once your tax liability was involved!
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Wed 13 Aug 2014, 09:33

This was published in 2010 - you can "Look Inside" on Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Stoicism-Early-Christianity-Tuomas-Rasimus/dp/0801039517/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1407918016&sr=1-1&keywords=stoicism+and+early+christianity


Highlighting the place of Stoic teaching in early Christian thought, an international roster of scholars challenges the prevailing view that Platonism was the most important philosophical influence on early Christianity. They suggest that early Christians were more often influenced by Stoicism than by Platonism, an insight that sheds new light on the relationship between philosophy and religion at the birth of Christianity.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Wed 13 Aug 2014, 20:18

Temperance,

how I admire the discussion between you and Nordmann...I follow it with great interest...

Kind regards and with esteem,

Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Thu 14 Aug 2014, 08:25

You are a kind man, Paul, but you really should keep your admiration and esteem just for nordmann: I am making an awful mess of things here. I can quote bits of this and bits of that, and I can dig out relevant books on Amazon and post links, but really what good is any of that that when I argue so weakly and so unconvincingly for what I have come to believe in so passionately? Trusting in one's own strength, you see, and it gets you nowhere.

nordmann wrote:
Apart from his dubious view of cucumbers this in plain language is an exact piece of advice regarding managing one's fate or at least one's interaction with fate. One's first responsibility is to deal intelligently with what fate throws at you. Once this is out of the way then can one indulge in the luxury of debating why fate threw it. Again there is no need for a deity, an intermediary or indeed anyone else at all in fulfilling the task. It is - as any good stoic would agree - one's own responsibility. You and you alone can understand your psyche and its debt to the gods. Anyone else who pretends to do so on your behalf is actually neglecting to look after their own!



Dealing intelligently with what fate throws at you without running for help. Doing it - dealing with it - on your own. No crutches allowed, not even those you find within yourself (*see below)? Just keep reading your Marcus Aurelius and remember you are a man and a Roman. A seductive and convincing message, and no doubt perfectly sane advice: it's just it doesn't seem to work for an awful lot of people - even those who have a copy of MA to hand for those nasty, dark moments. And is it so wrong to admit you need help; that you can't do it on your own - or rather by depending on your own ego or will? Is that being weak or being honest? Well, I don't know. I can deal very efficiently with bitter cucumbers - even with the odd watery lettuce - but with fate? I'm a lousy Stoic, I'm afraid.

I'm re-reading The Screwtape Letters at the moment. Seems old Screwtape is alive and well.

I wish I hadn't mentioned trifles now. That was particularly foolish of me - trying to be clever, you see by quoting Elizabeth I. But to be fair to me, I suppose I was thinking of the one moment back a few posts when there briefly seemed some common ground:


nordmann wrote:
God made man make god make man make god make man make god ... and so what? Does it matter who gets the credit for Mercy, Love and Pity? They're the real constant. A wonderfully affirmative sentiment for faith in humanity.


Faith in humanity? Faith, that is, in "the god within your breast" or "the Kingdom of Heaven is within you*", whichever version you prefer? Yes. That's what I meant by saying the rest is a dispute about trifles. Perhaps it wasn't completely foolish after all.



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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Thu 14 Aug 2014, 14:37

And it seems that Marcus Aurelius - much as I admire the man and his writing - did need more than his Stoic philosophy to help him cope. I've been reading a couple of articles from the reputable Jstor site about MA's opium addiction. This famous article, by Thomas W. Africa, originally published in the Journal of the History of Ideas in 1961, tells us:

"The testimony of his physician and his own notebooks suggest that a wall of narcotics insulated the emperor from family disorders and all but public calamities."


http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/2707876?uid=3738032&uid=2129&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&sid=21104055487131


I've read elsewhere that Africa's judgement is nowadays considered rather harsh, but that MA was nevertheless probably addicted to mandragora - a potent Roman equivalent of benzodiazepine:


The root is hallucinogenic and narcotic. In sufficient quantities, it induces a state of oblivion (my emphasis) and was used as an anaesthetic for surgery in ancient times.[4] In the past, juice from the finely grated root was applied externally to relieve rheumatic pains.[4] It was also used internally to treat melancholy, convulsions, and mania.


Yet another article suggests that MA used his Stoicism as an "escape" which is a very interesting thought. We all know that "religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions: it is the opium of the people", but it seems that for this great emperor philosophy served much the same function - along with a bit of the real thing every now and then.

But oddly enough that doesn't bother me - if anything it makes me warm towards the man even more, although that is - so I've been told - no longer a fashionable thing to admit. Apparently Marcus Aurelius is now regarded as something of "a prig and an hysteric". That I find baffling, but then there's no pleasing the youngsters these days. Seems they don't have a kind word for anyone.

I wonder if Marcus Aurelius did rather secretly admire the loopy Christians who went apparently without fear or any other unseemly emotion - and presumably without helpful drugs - to their extremely painful and utterly ridiculous deaths? Were they, when push came to shove, actually more stoic than the Stoics?
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Fri 15 Aug 2014, 00:08

Temp wrote:
I wonder if Marcus Aurelius did rather secretly admire the loopy Christians who went apparently without fear or any other unseemly emotion - and presumably without helpful drugs - to their extremely painful and utterly ridiculous deaths? Were they, when push came to shove, actually more stoic than the Stoics?

Not according to the Stoics, they weren't, who seemed to regard them simply as obstinate bordering on stupid. Marcus Aurelius even says as much in his Meditations. The Christians didn't help their cause either by appearing to gloat - at least in Roman eyes - when Rome's heartland underwent a series of really bad calamities (are there ever good ones?) during MA's reign. A string of earthquakes, floods, pestilence and famines led to imperial edicts from MA ordering everyone to implore their favourite gods to stop messing about and get things back in order. The Christians on the other hand, and especially the high profile Justin who went so far as to write an open letter to the emperor (ironically called his "Apology") saying as much, were not only sure that their god was behind all this disaster and hardship but seemed actually pleased about it. Marcus, thanks mainly to Eusebius writing much later, has been labelled a persecutor of Christians. However in the absence of any hard evidence suggesting mass executions of Christians in his reign (he did go after the most vociferous of them, including Justin, and much has been presumed by Eusebius on that basis) it might also be conjectured that he actually showed some very remarkable restraint and forbearance if he didn't order a "final solution", especially since any decent Roman of the period could well have been forgiven for hating these sanctimonious and indeed triumphalist doom-mongerers with a vengeance.

On a more serious philosophical point however Marcus Aurelius, or indeed any Stoic Roman-style, would have pointed out the huge difference between a person going with fortitude and acceptance to their death in the certain belief that this would somehow reap them a reward in the afterlife and on the other hand a person who had no notion of or belief in such a reward system behaving similarly. The latter, to them, was stoic. The former was something much much inferior.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Fri 15 Aug 2014, 08:33

Mmm. Nothing worse than a bunch of sanctimonious and triumphalist doom-mongerers. No wonder the Roman aristocracy found the Christians immensely irritating. But many of the "decent" plebeian Romans didn't, I believe: wasn't the new religion proving alarmingly popular with the lower orders?

Which makes me wonder why Marcus Aurelius didn't wipe out the new cult. Was that a wise political decision or a humanitarian one? Maybe - whatever he jotted down in his notebooks (comments which do indeed betray some exasperation) - he had a sneaky admiration for their crazy courage, even if it was "inferior" to that of the Stoics. Did this second-rate courage (without benefit of opium or mandragora) rather frighten the Roman elite? Inferior or not, facing wild beasts in front of a jeering crowd takes some guts after all.

That thought reminded me of the Jews at Masada - another bunch of religious fanatics who stood up to the Romans in a ridiculously stubborn and stupid fashion. That mass suicide on "a rock in the middle of a wasteland on the shores of a poisoned sea" (Peter O'Toole) was a magnificent gesture. Was it an act of faith, or simply an act of political defiance against a tyrannical regime or both? Did it actually happen? I know it's been disputed.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/22/israel-masada-myth-doubts


The Romans advanced but found only "an awful solitude, and flames within and silence, they were at a loss to conjecture what had happened. Here encountering the mass of slain, instead of exulting as over enemies, they admired the nobility of their resolve".

That's Josephus, of course. Was he making it up - another cracking Jewish story? Did Lucius Flavius Silva ever comment?
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Fri 15 Aug 2014, 09:05

The "sanctimonious and triumphalist" assessment might of course not have been shared necessarily by Marcus Aurelius, who despite every effort by Eusebius still manages to sound eminently reasonable (especially for an emperor) after two thousand years. By the way - what's with the constant remarks about MA's drug intake, as if somehow that explains something about his philosophy? It still amazes me how much Christians are still so desperately encouraged to despise or distrust this man, and the wild conjecture I've seen written about him presented as verified fact borders on the insane at times. The guy struck a Christian nerve, it seems, and thanks to his foresight in writing things down still does.

But getting back to the sanctimony and triumphalism. Forget the official line here. Picture yourself as a Roman plebian around 175CE. Three earthquakes in as many years has brought the insula down around your ears and killed granny. Just last year the Tiber overflowed and washed away the public granaries so the bread dole has been suspended by the senate until further notice. As if no bread and no home isn't bad enough word has just reached you that the crops have failed (again) out in Rus Ruris and the augurs are predicting seven years of famine. Two of the remaining kids have just started sweating and postuling so that's a couple of coffins you'll need to be shelling out for by the weekend. You mention your woes to that strange Jewish-sect couple next door, the ones so weird that even the Jews think they're weird (and that's something!), and what do they say? "Oh Yes. It's your own fault, you know. You've been bad, you see, and that's our god punishing you! Can't wait to meet him ourselves. He'll be here shortly."

Even a stoic would have a problem not rearranging their visages, don't you think?
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Fri 15 Aug 2014, 09:26

I like Marcus Aurelius! But taking opium is cheating a bit for a Stoic - even you must admit that, nordmann. Didn't Galen prescribe for him then? I read about that on Jstor which I thought was a reputable source of info. Obviously not.  Embarassed 

nordmann wrote:
Even a stoic would have a problem not rearranging their visages, don't you think?


Yes - we all know that feeling - God forgive us - when dealing with a certain type of Christian, especially when they look at you with that infuriating "smile of the saved" and assure you that you are going to hell. I just smile back now, which I think MA would say was a sensible thing to do. But the triumphalist lot were early fundies weren't they; not everyone was like them. Some of the early Christians were admirers of Greek philosophy too, and quite reasonable people (most of the time).

No comment on Masada then?
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Fri 15 Aug 2014, 09:49

I regard Masada in much the same way as I regard Mount Sinjar and the Yazidis' plight at the moment, ordinary people caught up so tragically in the military ambitions of a minority. It turned into a "heroic last stand" but really it was the geography of the area coupled with Rome's ruthless reaction to what it perceived as seditious rebellion that led to the event. How it was spun afterwards by Josephus and others reveals much about Jewish nationalist sentiment of the period.

Opium surely wasn't the hardest drug prescribed by doctors for rich clients? However implying that Marcus Aurelius was going around stoned out of his head all the time and jotting things down philosophically while hippy tripping doesn't square with his long career and reputation as a highly skilled administrator and military commander.

Temp wrote:
Some of the early Christians were admirers of Greek philosophy too, and quite reasonable people (most of the time).

Like Justin, a man who presented himself as just such a reasonable person ready to discuss philosophy even with emperors. Until of course he strayed eventually into the woo-woo stuff, mistook the tolerance of others for agreement with his claims, overestimated his own importance in their eyes and then paid the price (much to the delight of his co-believers who then proclaimed him a martyr). But I get your point and even agree with you - for Christianity to spread under its own volition without official sponsorship at the time must have meant that even reasonable people saw some value to it. We know that military men definitely took it on board early as something worth holding as a religious belief, a development regarded as anomolous by Christian historians so not really discussed much and one therefore that is probably very significant indeed. However there is one other crucial aspect to the Roman (as opposed to Greek) mind-set of the day that simply does not figure in Christian retrospectives of the period and is to me all the more prominent for its absence - namely the tendency not to ditch gods when a new one came along but simply add the novel god to the pantheon. There must have been a lot of that going on (as we know it went on in several other cultures when Christianity first appeared in their midst), but we just don't have much of a record of it anymore, I suspect due to the profound theological implications in a Jewish monotheist system that Christianity also wished to impose, especially by its top men.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Fri 15 Aug 2014, 09:58

Masada - here's a brief, fairly dispassionate account of how the story has developed. http://www.haaretz.com/archaeology/.premium-1.563888
Ben Yahuda's book, 'The Masada Myth', is available here. http://muse.jhu.edu/books/9780299148331/
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Sat 16 Aug 2014, 11:44

Thank you for those links, ferval, but I am still confused as to what really went on at Masada.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Sat 16 Aug 2014, 17:22

"But getting back to the sanctimony and triumphalism. Forget the official line here. Picture yourself as a Roman plebian around 175CE. Three earthquakes in as many years has brought the insula down around your ears and killed granny. Just last year the Tiber overflowed and washed away the public granaries so the bread dole has been suspended by the senate until further notice. As if no bread and no home isn't bad enough word has just reached you that the crops have failed (again) out in Rus Ruris and the augurs are predicting seven years of famine. Two of the remaining kids have just started sweating and postuling so that's a couple of coffins you'll need to be shelling out for by the weekend. You mention your woes to that strange Jewish-sect couple next door, the ones so weird that even the Jews think they're weird (and that's something!), and what do they say? "Oh Yes. It's your own fault, you know. You've been bad, you see, and that's our god punishing you! Can't wait to meet him ourselves. He'll be here shortly."

Even a stoic would have a problem not rearranging their visages, don't you think?"

Good, good from you, Nordmann...

With high esteem for the narrative, Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Sat 16 Aug 2014, 17:27

Oh, Paul, I thought you were on my side, not that beastly nordmann's.  Smile 

And I bet I only get a smidgen of esteem today.


Last edited by Temperance on Sat 16 Aug 2014, 23:05; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Sat 16 Aug 2014, 17:45

For the "narrative"! I said Temp... Wink 
You know very well that for the "rest" my heart goes to you...
Your faithful Paul.

PS: Looked in the dictionary...to have no misunderstandings...Collins paperback from 1991: faithful: adj. 1. remaining true or loyal...
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Sat 16 Aug 2014, 17:47

I'll let you off then.  Smile
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Sun 17 Aug 2014, 12:53

"Beastly nordmann" is not on the side of the Stoics "against" the Christians. They don't even belong in the same arena. One is a philosophy and the other is a theology which by its very nature assumed elements of diverse philosophies in order to attempt to construct a logic regarding why its fundamental and logically untenable core precepts should be considered sensible.

Stoicism, as I tried to say earlier, is in any case a very difficult philosophy in many ways - not just to adhere to in everyday life but also to analyse as a single and uniform set of distinctive values. Greek Stoics and Roman Stoics were not the same and even within these broad categories there were several competing and contradictory interpretations going around all the time. The Christian take on stoicism is of course simply yet another strand in its own right. I merely wished to point this fact out before a false impression of continuity and agreement might have been made here by the way in which the term was being used (and is in fact employed in everyday speech where it is often used rather simplistically as a synonym for "quietly brave"). Of all the identifiable "schools" of Greek philosophy Stoicism is the one which poses the most complications in its analysis precisely because it was so completely subsumed into Roman culture afterwards. Teasing out the bits that were added on, subtracted, retained and developed is almost as challenging as doing the same exercise with the Christian theology that underwent the same subsumation. But beyond that I would be reticent about drawing close parallels or claims of continuity, especially in the case of such a magpie "ology" as is Christianity's accumulated, redacted and compacted philosophical content over the years.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Mon 18 Aug 2014, 08:37

Steering away from potential stoicism in Christianity and back to its accommodation of self-harmers, I read an interesting article (by a Jesuit priest in an old National Geographic, if such is not a doubly surprising combination) who had spent time examining the San Pedro Cutud Good Friday "re-enactments" which have flourished especially since the mid 1980s in the Philippines. He had initially set out with the intention of demonstrating a link to the islanders' native beliefs predating Christianity but quickly found this to be non-runner. What he did uncover however was an apparent link to the sudden growth in popularity of American TV evangelist programmes in the period immediately before the sudden rise in the phenomenon's popularity - not so much as an influence on those who underwent the self-imposed torture but on those around them who apparently effortlessly in terms of conscience and value judgement, and with great enthusiasm, incorporated the activity into their existing Good Friday rituals. Interviews with these people revealed a high level of absorption of these programmes' style and content in how they expressed their faith and how they described their attitudes towards the practise. This was backed up by local Catholic Church officials who condemned this addition to the rituals of the day and who had also noticed beforehand a perceptible change in congregation behaviour at masses which they ascribed to this source.

His own conclusions were left quite open - unsure whether the phemonenon suggested the danger of hybrid riutualism in general or simply in this one case for particular local reasons. He also suggested that when control of ritual is compromised in this way the "human" tendency is to more basic animistic beliefs which therefore appear more primitive than their context would suggest. I found this interesting - he was basically saying that unless the Catholic Church retained absolute control over these people's forms of ritual expression they would inevitably become more barbaric in tone. He did not go so far as to highlight that the malevolent influence had been Protestant, but he did at one point indicate that he believed fringe and extreme Christianity was invariably Protestant (as in non-Catholic).

An extraordinarily self-serving notion for the Jesuit, I thought, given that the gruesomeness of the crucifixion is an aspect to the "passion" much vaunted by the same Catholic church (along with other rather gruesome imagery concerning "sacred hearts" etc) - so whatever the "outside influence" might have been there was always going to be a likelihood in certain communities that it might find expression in a switch to this specific form of community-sponsored masochism and that the inspiration for the form of this self-harm would come from traditionally Catholic imagery.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Mon 18 Aug 2014, 13:26

Mmm. I wonder if it's all actually a matter of "Chechez le banker" - whether we are talking about American TV evangelists or worried Vatican officials.

All this gruesome nonsense is a huge tourist attraction, isn't it? Who stands to gain?
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Mon 18 Aug 2014, 14:09

The profit motive explains officialdom's (lay and religious) reticence to step in and end the practise for once and for all, at least to an extent. However it doesn't really help to explain the emergence of the practise or the willing participation on the part of those who undergo torture.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Mon 18 Aug 2014, 14:13

Do they get paid? I've mentioned hunger artists earlier - are some of the participants "crucifixion artists"?

How sickening it all is.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Mon 18 Aug 2014, 14:24

I don't think so, at least not initially I don't reckon they were.

I read a lovely (for me anyway) news story one time about a doctor in Italy who in the 1960s had been struck off the register for publishing a paper about septicemia induced by would-be "stigmata" victims cutting themselves with dirty implements. He reckoned their number at that stage was sufficient for their treatment to include not only antibiotics but psychiatric care as standard. When he threatened to go to the press he was "compensated" with a well paid appointment as a GP in the Vatican City. Just before he died some time in the 90s he spilled the beans on the lot of them - he wanted to clear his conscience while it mattered. Unsurprisingly the story hardly made a ripple in the national conscience however and cases are still being reported of these little septicemic "miracles" even today.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Sun 11 Oct 2015, 16:20

I came across thie following article and swithered as to where to post it, here or in the benefits thread since it is pertinent to both, however since it mainly addresses evolutionary mechanisms for the evolution of religion within a Darwinian framework I've resurrected this but it also concerns the benefits and the costs of religion.

http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199640911.001.0001/acprof-9780199640911-chapter-3

If you don't have access, here is the abstract and some extracts. Apologies for all the quotes but I enjoyed this and found it quite persuasive but you do need a a log in to access it and I fear my version would not mat ch up. (I'm not nordmann, I can't explain the origin of the universe in a paragraph.) I have left out far too much to give a proper summation of his argument but I hope it's still interesting. I do wish there was a facility to attach documents here, I could then do a naughty copy and paste job.

abstract:

Religion has continued to remain one of the more difficult phenomena to explain in evolutionary terms, mainly because its ubiquitous association with conformism, altruism and self-sacrifice make it look suspiciously like a candidate for group selection. Since group selection (in the formal sense) is generally considered anathema within evolutionary biology (for generally correct reasons1), most evolutionary scientists have preferred to leave the topic to social scientists and instead assumed that its apparently maladapted features are by-products of the proximate mechanisms that underpin other evolutionary processes.
This chapter suggests that religion arose as a mechanism to facilitate social cohesion in (for primates) unusually large communities in order to ensure that these communities provided the ecological benefits they were intended to provide. It argues that, precisely because religion evolved to bond what were very small scale communities, therein lie some of the tensions that are found in contemporary world religions.

I rather like the idea that religion is a kind of social grooming but without the constraints of requiring actual one to one contact:

My claim here that religion—and, especially, the rituals of religion—evolved because they allowed more individuals to take part in activities that were effective at triggering endorphin activation. Many of the rituals of religion (dancing, singing, adopting awkward postures for long periods during prayer, the explicit infliction of pain through flagellation and other practices) are extremely good activators of the endorphin system precisely because they impose stress or pain on the body (Dunbar 2004).

Some thoughts on why so many religions hate each other and even more vehemently those amongst their own who deviate from the true path.

The issue here is the role of religion in creating a sense of belonging on a very small scale, of membership of a mutual alliance against the world “out there”. My contention is that, precisely because religion (or more correctly, perhaps, religiosity) evolved to bond very small communities and to do this through a more mystical, experiential form of religion (i.e. shamanic religions that involve collective practice rather than theological reasoning), there is a natural tendency for religions to fragment and recreate these small communities. This much is evident even in the language of the Abrahamic religions in particular, which tend to emphasize the close kinship of their members through the use of terms like brother and sister, father and mother. This may be why the major religions are so antagonistic towards mystical sects (Christians against the Gnostics, Islam against the Sufis, mainstream Judaism against the Kabbalah): mysticism threatens to undermine the authority of the hierarchy and destabilize the rather fragile coherence of super-large communities by encouraging a focus on individual charismatic leaders in small, mutually antagonistic communities (Lewis 2003).

This perpetual tension between the need to ensure large-scale social cohesion and our natural psychological predisposition to prefer small, intimate religious settings creates a problem that, in many ways, has dogged the history of most world religions. Most religious traditions seek to suppress this fragmentation.



and the conclusion:

Conclusions
I have argued that religion has its origins in a small-scale phenomenon, the bonding of the very small communities typical of hunter-gatherer societies. Although the psychological features that underpin religion in this form have the capacity to be exploited so as to create much larger social groupings (i.e. well beyond the 150), nonetheless these are by no means perfect exaptations and there remains a tension between the natural small-scale processes and the large-scale contexts to which they have historically been adapted. This endogenous tendency to fractionate means that the larger (usually “doctrinal”) religions are always fighting against themselves, creating a perpetual tussle between theological discipline imposed from above and more mystical, charismatic grass-roots movements that perpetually seek a more idiosyncratic independence.

The origin of religion as a small-scale phenomenon may explain why religions often become pathologically aggressive towards each other. Religiosity involves a psychology that was designed to maximize in-group cohesion at the expense of out-group relationships. In doing so, it created a powerful xenophobic psychology that was well adapted for exploitation in large-scale contexts. Religion in small-scale communities is based on face-to-face interaction and personal knowledge, and these no doubt act as a natural break on any tendencies to over-react towards others. In very large communities, however, this break does not exist: we find ourselves among strangers. Religion becomes one of the ethnic markers of community-membership, and especially when local community size exceeds the 150 or so with which we have been designed by evolution to cope.


And breathe.

I'll keep  HADD, hypersensitive agency-detecting device, and its role in the origin of religion for another time.
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