Christianity and Cohesion

    Bruce Charlton's post "It seems that all actual religions are honest about what they themselves offer (but wrong about other religions)" makes a fascinating and important observation: 

    "I find it very striking - although I don't know of anybody else who does - that actually existing religions seem to be honest about what they offer their adherents."

    I understand "actually existing religions" to mean religions that aren't just made up (like Scientology), but are based on some insight into the nature of reality.  (And this includes philosophies like Stoicism or Platonism).   

    I would go farther and say that not only in what they promise, but in a broader sense, religions are constrained by their underlying nature.  They cannot change open-endedly and retain spiritual power and if their adherents try to change them in a way that is incompatible with their underling nature, things will go wrong and the change will cease to be viable (though maybe not all at once).  The exact details will be different depending on the religion and on the change. 

    In this post I want to think through this in relation to Christianity and cohesion.  My motivation comes from thinking about the fact that there are many different denominations of Christianity and wondering if they ever will become one again and if not, can they find cohesion in some other way? 

    At this point, I do not think there ever will be a single denomination of Christianity again.  Human beings are fallen, different from each other, and also the split between the denominations has gone on for so long and is involved with many other doctrinal, cultural, and historical issues.    

    But is this purely a result of human weakness or is it somehow part of the nature of Christianity?  After thinking it over, I do believe that differences (though not acrimonious divisions) among Christians would always have occurred since freedom and individuality are inherently part of Christianity.  

    To begin with, consider the 11 Apostles after the Ascension of Jesus.  Early on, we see that Peter was their leader.  He spoke at Pentecost and is shown taking a leadership role in other parts of the Acts of the apostles.  But from the descriptions given in the book of Acts, it appears that Peter's role was more that of "first among equals" rather than the ruler of the other Apostles.  Christians reading about these events after they took place are familiar with this fact.  However, one might have guessed that Jesus would have chosen one successor to be the unquestioned authority over all other Christians, just as Soloman was the king after David.  

    In addition, at some point, the Apostles went their separate ways, preaching in different places.  It does not appear to be the case that they were commanded by another human being to go to any particular place; they went where they believed they should.  Paul says in the letter to the Galatians (1:15-24): 

    "But when it pleased him, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the Gentiles, immediately I condescended not to flesh and blood.  Neither went I to Jerusalem, to the apostles who were before me: but I went into Arabia, and again I returned to Damascus.

    Then, after three years, I went to Jerusalem, to see Peter, and I tarried with him fifteen days.  But other of the apostles I saw none, saving James the brother of the Lord.  Now the things which I write to you, behold, before God, I lie not.  Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.  And I was unknown by face to the churches of Judea, which were in Christ: but they had heard only: he, who persecuted us in times past, doth now preach the faith which once he impugned: and they glorified God in me."

    In other words, Paul viewed his mission as in parallel with the other apostles; it was complementary to their ministry, but was not ruled over by them.  If Christianty from the beginning was meant to be a religion fundamentally based on submission to external authority, Paul could never have written these sentences.  

    Also, what about the Ethiopian eunuch described in Acts 8:26-40?  Philip meets the eunuch returning to Ethiopia and baptizes him, but after returning, the eunuch may have had no contact with any other Christians for a long period of time.  Surely Philip knew that the eunuch would tell others of what he learned, but there is no mention in this passage about Philip forbidding the eunuch to teach anyone else about Christianity or telling him to submit to the authority of the apostles.  

    Also, the character of the teaching of Jesus was not based purely on submission to authority.  Jesus taught both the Apostles and ordinary people in such a way that they would be able to understand and internalize the teachings for themselves.  One the other hand, those among the Pharisees whom Jesus criticized probably did not teach the common people in this way.  Their goal was order (as they envisioned it).  

    Yet, despite the lack of a single centralized authority which demanded submission, there was indeed cohesion among the Christians after the Ascension of Jesus.  It was a variety of individuals all working towards a single goal.  Therefore, cohesion among Christians can come about by some other means than unity under external authority and indeed did come about in just such a way at the very beginning.

    Side Note: About a year ago, I had another idea related to this, which was that three of the biggest denominations among Christians were there from the beginning.  We can associate Peter with the Roman Catholic church, based on the tradition that he was first bishop of Rome, Paul with the Protestants as he preached based on his own knowledge of the scriptures, and John with the Eastern Orthodox as he was traditionally bishop of Ephesus, the captial of the Roman province of Asia and was also more mystical than the other two.  

    Interestingly enough, in his story "A short tale of the Anti-Christ", Vladimir Soloviev includes Peter II as the representative of the Roman Catholics, the Elder John the representative of the Eastern Orthodox, and Professor Pauli as the representative of the  Protestant churches.  If two people have had this idea, then probably many more have as well, so there is certainly more thinking to be done along these lines.

Leftism is not the state of nature

    A common rhetorical trick among leftists is to draw an equivalence between rejecting leftism and authoritarian governments.  They take an authoritarian government from the past or present which rejected leftism or existed before leftism and say that to go against leftism is to favor that government.  Bonald has an excellent post on this subject: "Rejecting the Enlightenment is only the beginning of thought" in which he writes: 

    "It is no doubt a great thing to free oneself from the cloud of humbug into which we are all born.  However, clearing one's vision is only the start of seeing; next we must actually look around.  One way that the Enlightenment controls the minds of billions, locking them into a degrading and absurd mental slavery, is by making people imagine that they know what's on the other side. 'Without the social contract ... tryanny!  Without separate of Church and state ... religious warfare!  Without feminism ... rape!  Without capitalism ... communism!  Without cosmopolitanism ... Nazis!  So love your chains, and repeat the slogans like a good boy.' "

    The refutation comes in next two paragraphs of the post:

    "However, those blinded by the Enlightenment have no idea what is on the other side.  How could they, with such a narrow, unimaginative, and parochial worldview?  In fact, the world of alternatives is vast, so vast that anyone beginning to step outside Enlightenment strictures should be warned that the greatest intellectual challenge is still ahead. 

    The key to rejecting liberalism (the political expression of the Enlightenment project) is to realize that it's all a swindle.  It claims to stand above every particular conception of the Good, granting freedom to all and favoritism to none, when in fact it imposes its own narrow vision on all of us.  Its claims to neutrality just mean that it gets to impose itself without every being forced to argue (or even assert) that its claims are objectively true, and that it never has to assume the responsibility that comes from being a recognized establishment."

    Related to Bonald's point, there is a similar assumption made by both leftists and even many non-leftists, which is that leftism is the "state of nature."  In other words, it is believed that leftism is just what happens when people are allowed freedom to choose what they wish.  Hence, any non-leftist society in history could only have come about by a forcible imposition from a government.  Therefore, any such society that has existed or could exist is illegitimate because it is a forced disruption of the state of nature.  

    But of course, this is completely false.  The sexual revolution provides a good example, because besides the fact that it is one of the linchpins of leftism, this assumption is particularly widespread in that case.  Even non-leftists who deplore the actual consequences of the sexual revolution still believe that it is natural.  

    But the problem is, the sexual revolution is about as far from the state of nature as you can get.  It is currently sustained by the most pervasive propaganda system ever devised.  Indeed, most people throughout their lives have been subjected to hundreds of hours of propaganda for the sexual revolution in ways both overt and covert through practically all mass media, social media, and official discourse.  And in addition to the propaganda, the sexual revolution is facilitated by efficient transportation, safety (from a world historical perspective), mass living conditions made possible by modern sanitation, and modern communications technologies, not to mention contraceptives.  In particular, modern transportation is often overlooked, but without it the sexual revolution in its current form would be almost impossible.  

    This is not to say that sanitation, peace, and transportation are bad because they are not.  But thinking through all the technologies needed in order for the sexual revolution as it currently is to exist reveals the falseness of the leftist claims that it is natural.  Not only that, one can look at the contradictory nature of leftists' own statements.  On the one hand, the SR is supposedly natural, but on the other hand we are told that it needs a vast apparatus to manage it safely.  And this even goes back to the beginning, with all the talk of "repression."  If people are repressed and this is truly unnatural, why need to argue against it?  On the other hand, if it's universal and needs to be confronted, doesn't that mean the supposed repression is natural?

    Similar considerations can be applied to other aspects of leftism.  

    As far as the belief that historical societies could only exist because they were forcibly imposed on their people, this is also completely false.  People really did think completely differently.

    For one thing, even though may governments of the past were authoritarian, their ability to control people at the micro level was far less than today.  To begin with, any propaganda before the mass communications of the 20th century was far more inefficient.  It was necessary to have people actually go out and tell people what they were supposed to hear and then repeat as necessary.  Furthermore, to compel the population to do something required physically forcing people.  This requires people to go about and do the forcing.  Of course it is true that the harsh punishments of many such societies were a powerful deterrent, but these societies could not exert widespread control of people's behavior at the micro-level; they simply did not have the manpower.  

    Furthermore, if a change in society truly is imposed only by the government, once that government goes away, the change will go away as well.  For instance, had Henry VIII been the only person who wanted to break away from the Catholic Church, once he died, England would have happily reverted to Catholicism.  Since that did not happen, we can assume there were many others who wanted to break away.  In other words, changes that are purely forced do not look the same as changes that are not.  

    Another example, borrowed from Bruce Charlton is Ancient Egypt.  As he has pointed out, this is pretty much the most conservative and stable society ever, existing for about 3,000 years.  Egypt certainly was authoritarian, with the pharaoh being regarded as a god and having immense power, but had the society as a whole been imposed on the populace purely through force, there is no way that it would have lasted so long with such stability.  


Chess, Chaos, and Creation

    An occasional subject for debate among chess players is whether great players of the past, if they were to come back today would be able to hold their own against or even beat the great players of today.  The reason the question is interesting is because knowledge about chess has increased over the hundreds of years the game has been around, in particular from the late 1800s to the present day.  Therefore, the greatest players of the past, if they were to play top modern players without learning the new developments, would probably have little success.

    On the other hand, because of their aptitude for the game, they might be able to learn the new developments quickly or even introduce new ideas.  But there is more to the debate.  By its very nature, chess is a game with fixed rules and a finite (though enormous) number of possibilities.  This means that over time as more is learned, new ideas become more difficult to find because they build on old ideas.  The simple concepts have already been learned, so the new ideas will be more complex.

    Furthermore, even though the number of possibilities is enormous, some moves just are better than others, so a skilled player can beat someone who makes a mistake (or even a less than optimal move) if he knows how to take advantage of it.  So, after a period of time, there is less opportunity for creativity.  

    So, as a thought experiment, I wondered, what about a different kind of game?  A game with an unbounded number of possibilities where at every move creativity is possible.  The opposite of tic-tac-toe, so to speak.  Imagine a game with an infinite number of playing cards, where each player plays a card in sequence and each card influences others in the sequence.  In such a game anything could happen.  

    In this type of game, it would be quite disruptive to play with a player of genius who was reinventing the game at every move.  Without being a genius oneself, you couldn't keep up.  In a game like this, even preparation would be difficult.  One could learn from past games but the victory would go to the more creative and intelligent almost every time.  A game like this would be analogous to the mythological stories where human beings must share the world with gods who can reshape reality at a whim, for instance, changing themselves and human beings into animals.  

    I would call this active chaos.  It is "too much" creativity in the sense that those who are most creative dominate entirely and the rest can't find a footing.  This would be in contrast to passive chaos.  Imagine a chessboard and pieces, but no rules.  In that case, nothing can happen because there are no rules to get anything started.  

    I find this helpful to think about our situation on Earth.  Passive chaos would be the chaos before creation.  Just like a set of pieces with no rules, there are endless possibilities.  Any set of rules can be imposed, but before they are, nothing can happen.  On the other hand, total open-ended creation does not allow for the less creative (in the sense of power to create as well as creativity in thinking) to learn.  They are powerless before those who can sweep away everything that has gone before.  
    The best situation is some rules that allow for creativity, but not too much so there can be both learning and invention.  Both active and passive chaos need to be kept under control.  And this is the situation that we do see on Earth.

The real AI agenda

    On a post  by Wm Briggs, about artificial intelligence, a commenter with the monniker "ItsAllBullshit" writes:           "...