Thursday 31 January 2013

In praise of the eccentric scientist


The benefit of having all sorts of personality types in science is a theme of David L Hull’s Science as a process (Chicago University Press, 1988), which charts the history of evolutionary theory, and interprets it as a selection process.

Hull describes a galaxy of scientific personalities performing a wide range of scientific functions, and concludes that diversity is useful in providing the conceptual variations necessary to speed progress in unpredictable situations.


Past scientists usually worked alone and depended on conscientiousness and self-criticism for the validity of their research.

Therefore, scientists included a high proportion of shy, introverted, highly-focused and somewhat ‘autistic’ types – rather like the white-coated and stammering Nutty Professor played by Jerry Lewis in the 1963 movie of that title.

But under modern conditions different selection pressures apply, and Nutty Professors may not thrive except in the lower ‘technical’ levels of scientific careers (and in the mathematical and physical sciences where innate aptitude is so rare that all manner of weird personalities must be tolerated).


As medical and bio-scientific research has expanded, and Big Science ‘industrial’ modes of production have come to dominate, so the stereotypical successful scientist has changed.

The stars of modern science tend to be much more extraverted than the Nutty Prof, because they need the rhetorical, managerial and socio-political skills - and ‘type A personality’ – appropriate to a team leader.

They need to get grants, motivate large groups, enforce a high productive output, and act as a ‘front-man’ to present (and ‘spin’) collaborative research in specialist conferences, political arenas and for a broad media audience.


This leads to a greater dominance within science of characters who resemble the Nutty Professor’s alter-ego, night-club singer and womanizer ‘Buddy Love’ – into which the Prof temporarily transforms with the help of a potion he invented.

(Note: in modern science Buddy Love is often a woman, mutatis mutandis.)

The successful scientist nowadays benefits from being good-looking, charismatic, articulate – indeed, he may be an overbearing and manipulative psychopath, yet still highly effective at his job.


While the Nutty Professor was modest and understated, the Buddy Love-type is a master of hype – someone who pushes and exaggerates the significance of his work to the greatest degree he can get-away-with. In fact, Bud tends to go beyond this point, leading to fakery and fabrication.

In a nutshell, BL lacks exactly that capacity for self-criticism which was so common among scientists of the past.

As Hull describes, when there was little peer review, there was a strong incentive for scientists to self-regulate in order to protect their own future reputations.

Nowadays, research is so heavily peer-reviewed at so many levels that the major incentive of scientists is to satisfy the referees, not themselves.


Modern science encourages those who possess a fanatical and unshakeable belief in their own research, and a tireless industriousness in promoting it, which helps gain them a hearing in the crowded marketplace of ideas.

And one-sided zeal need not damage the progress of science, so long as the criticism of others makes up for lack of self-criticism.

However, this vital negative feedback from rivals may be blocked when - as is so often the case - Buddy is both powerful and vindictive.


The Jeckyll and Hyde transformation from Nutty Professor to Buddy Love should affect the way we interpret the public pronouncements of scientists.

While NP would usually provide a dull but accurate articulation of current informed opinion, BL provides appealing and memorable sound-bites – subtly calculated to benefit his self-interest.

After all, it is precisely this aptitude with people and words that enabled the elite cadre of Buddy Loves to discard their white coats for sharp suits, and rise above the mass of Nuttys.


This is an edited version of my editorial: From Nutty Professor to Buddy Love – Personality types in modern science. Medical Hypotheses. 2007; 68: 243-244.

Full version:


Tolkien's Father Christmas Letters - Audiobook reviewed



Wednesday 30 January 2013

Classical musicians who dominate public perception of their instrument


Not necessarily 'the best' but those who have indelibly stamped themselves on perceptions of their instrument.

This is a personal selection - Anglo-orientated - feel free to disagree/ make alternate suggestions.

Flute - James Galway

Oboe - Heinz Holliger

French Horn - Dennis Brain

Clarinet - Jack Brymer

Recorder - Arnold Dolmetsch

Trumpet - Maurice Andre

Guitar - Segovia

Lute - Julian Bream

Percussion - James Blades

Bassoon - Nobody

Harpsichord - George Malcolm


Question: How would someone find-out what "Christians" believe?


Reading the Bible? Well...

Reading an introductory book on the subject? - But which one? (All are from the perspective of one denomination or another).

Listening to Christian leaders - The Pope? The Patriarch of Moscow, or Constantinople? Billy Graham? The Archbishop of Canterbury...

(Just kidding about the Abp of C!)

Reading some 'objective' source like Wikipedia?

Observing the daily behaviours of devout Christians - but there is little similarity between a Roman or Orthodox Catholic and a Home Church protestant or the Salvation Army?


Tricky isn't it...

And I don't have any better answer than CS Lewis's Mere Christianity - but of course that is implicitly Protestant.


So... How would someone find-out what Mormons believe?


(My suggested Answer is not to read The Book of Mormon, nor even the Doctine and Covenants; but to spend a couple of hours randomly browsing from among the many hundreds of videos - short and long, mostly for internal-consumption - on: 

Then compare what you discover, with the descriptions of "Mormonism" that you find around and about the interweb.

Go ahead - try it!)


How does more money make an organization worse - in fact destroy it


One of the great triumphs of the Left in recent decades has been the discovery of how, systematically and strategically, to use wealth to destroy.

The great increase in per capita wealth and abolition of objective material poverty in the West might have been presumed to be destructive of the Left, since the Left was originally primarily an economic theory that based its moral appeal on the need for alleviation and abolition of poverty.

However, the Left has instead grown and thriven and become near-monopolistically dominant as objective poverty disappeared (or needed to be imported) and then societies become wealthier,

Yet understanding of how this has worked remains rudimentary - since there are no explanations in the dominant mass media, government propaganda and mainstream education - which fill our minds daily.


Asa simple and uncontroversial example, few recognize that government 'subsidy' functions - objectively -  as government control.

Once an organization gets a significant proportion of its income from government it cannot survive the removal of this 'subsidy' - especially when, as in all modern societies, an organization is absolutely prevented from making the necessary adjustments to save money (which would, usually,  involve rapidly shedding the least effective and efficient staff).

All organizations with significant government subsidy become, therefore, branches of government- first responding-to, then preemptively anticipating, government policy (which is itself driven by the mass media - which is intrinsically secular and Leftist).


Operating on the insight that the Left is evil, hence its primary strategic objective is destruction of Good, a specific example of the use of wealth to destroy comes from recent UK history.

Under the Blair/ Brown New Labour government of 1997-2010 there was a massive and very rapid transfer of money into the National Health Service (approx doubling of income) and Education system system of schools and higher education (approx fifty percent increase in funding).

The large and rapid increase in funding necessarily wreaked serious destruction in both health services and education - as has been apparent over the past several years.

How did it work?


In a nutshell, the increase in funding was used to destroy core function - so health services abandoned the primacy of health care, and education abandoned the primacy of education.

This happened because rapid increases in funding cannot be used to build primary function in expert functionality, due to manpower constraints.

While funding of a large and complex organization can be increased at ten percent a year, the supply of doctors or teachers cannot - because these jobs come at the end of a long pipeline of education and specialized training.

So it was impossible that the hiring of frontline doctors and nurses in the NHS, or of classroom teachers could be increased at the rate of expanding resources - therefore the increased resources were used to hire managers.


Management therefore expanded rapidly, and in strength (because it controlled the resource stream).

Frontline workers (doctor and nurse clinicians, class teachers) were subjected to new managerial demands.

Rapidly management became more powerful than frontline staff - frontline staff were pulled-out-of frontline activities with clients (patients and pupils) and set to work on managerial-imposed tasks of many kinds.

A typical doctor spends as much or more time on management-imposed tasks as actually seeing patients - more doctors are part time, and for these the proportion of time spent on management tasks may be considerably greater than clinical activities.  

A typical UK university now has numerically more non-faculty than faculty. The state education has (in man hours) about as many non-teaching teachers as class teachers actually teaching.


More fundamentally, the vast injection of resources into management shifted the balance of power such that management demands are now primary, and are taken as structuring of reality.

The nature of the organizational core function (what counts as health care, what counts as education) is now defined and redefined by management in an open-ended fashion and as driven by political demands from the mass media via government.

Functionality is now defined in terms of that which can be managed; so the activities of providing health services and of education are constrained by the necessity that they be auditable, hence explicit and precisely measurable.

That the manageable, auditable activity is not, in fact, the core function - may indeed be unrelated-to, orthogonal-to, actively opposed-to the core function of an organization - is simply unsayable within the bounds of management discourse...

since such a distinction is ruled-out as destructive of managerial legitimacy (or rather, revealing of the illegitimacy of management).


Thus we can see how the rapid, large scale flooding of an organization with money will, in general, objectively destroy that organization in terms of its function.

The shell of the organization will, or course, persist and expand in size - much the same people and the same kind of people continue to be employed in much the same buildings...

Doctors see patients, prescribe drugs, do procedures; teachers show-up in classrooms and say words in front of students; academic faculty get grants to do what is called research and publish stuff labeled as research...

But these activities are now orientated towards satisfying management constraints - in essence the activities are conceptualized primarily as auditable units.


In the hands of the Left, prosperity has successfully destroyed that which austerity and poverty and even war could not destroy.


Tuesday 29 January 2013

How to make a sub-teen pop group


The keyboard player is the musician - he is the one who reads music, teaches the others what to play, tells them when to start and stop playing.

If there isn't a keyboard player, then none of this will be done.


The drummer is the one who owns a set of drums.

(Otherwise you have to have a tambourine, or maracas - or nothing. And hope that nobody notices.).


(The drummer and the keyboard player are the only ones permitted to wear a cape.)


The main or "lead" guitarist is the one who can play the guitar.

The rhythm guitarist is his younger brother.


The bass player is the quiet one (obviously). Ideally, he should play a bass guitar; in the real world he plays inaudibly on the bottom strings of an acoustic.


The lead guitarist is regarded as the most attractive to women - that is why he took-up the instrument.

However, if there is a singer, then he is the most attractive to women - which inevitably causes conflict with the lead guitarist, and leads to the break-up of the band.


Monday 28 January 2013

Is the exclusiveness of Christian denominations an issue for Mere Christians?


Yes it is an issue; but then so is the opposite view an issue - with people believing that only their own micro-denomination is Christian.

Both views have their problems. 

However, if we think of all real Christian denominations as being fundamentally not about beliefs (because beliefs tend always to conflict incommensurably. History shows examples where a very specific and high level, real or merely perceived  difference in a specific sub-doctrine can cause permanent schism as with the Coptic (supposed) Monophysites and the Eastern Orthodox church.  

But if we regard belief in a less micro-specific manner and instead think of denominations as different ways of practizing the Christian way

then the differences amount to no more than a recognition incompatible ways of life - if we live one when they we are not living another way - and this is a difference which does not really matter at the primary level.

A real Christian denomination is a 'package' - and parts of the package may be absolutely necessary for the whole package to be a strong and sustaining way of life. 

Therefore denominations cannot usually be blended, and if certain elements are extracted from the package, then the package will collapse as a way of life. 


For example, The Book of Common Prayer was, it turns out, necessary to the cohesion of the Anglican Communion - and when BCP text and usage was rewritten/ made multi-optional - the whole denomination became catastophically fissile and weak. 

Yet it would be silly to argue that all Christians (of all denominations) must embrace the BCP or else not be Christians. 

So, the BCP was necessary for Anglicans, but not for all Christians. 


I think that's an example of how it works; and why on the one hand denominations ought-not to regard themselves relativistically but as having the truth (if not The Truth) - yet should not just tolerate other real Christian denominations but recognize them as fully Christian, but with different pros and cons for different individuals/ groups/ times and places.


Note added: My intention  is not to deny that explicit affirmation and acknowledgment is unimportant, that would be an error, but to emphasize that belief means living-by; and therefore to understand the belief of another person - or another church or denomination - is not something than can be achieved merely by study of their explicit affirmation and acknowledgements.

In particular, this is not the case for the children, the inexpert, the simple in these churches - and yet for Christians it is clear that the greatest faith, the best of Christians, are to be found among these groups. Their understanding - and not the understanding of intellectuals, scholars, logicians -  is, in fact, the essence.

Thus, the simple understanding of the simple is the truth of Christianity. In the world, this is necessarily and rightly embedded and sustained by the church - which is complex, theological; and being a public body consists of affirmations and acknowledgments. 

Mere Christianity is to focus on the lived simple understanding of the simple as the unity of Christianity. 

Two basic existential stances on the afterlife


The view that a belief in an afterlife devalues this world; that an eternal perspective makes for callousness: ignoring the sufferings of mortal life.  

The view that without belief in the afterlife any values ascribed to this world are arbitrary, contingent, subjective, labile, weak...  that only in the context of eternity does compassion make sense, that the sufferings of mortal life have significance because of, not in spite of, the afterlife.


Saturday 26 January 2013

Harmonizing mainstream and Mormon theology - example: The Holy Trinity


Although I have been reluctant to debate the heterodoxy of Mormon theology, this is not because it is intrinsically difficult to show that Mormon theology is compatible with mainstream Christian theology - it is because almost nobody is actually interested in showing this harmony.

Mainstream Christians are (almost always) concerned to show that Mormonism is heterodox and beyond the pale, while Mormons are generally happy to acknowledge fundamental differences such that restoration of the gospel can be shown to have been necessary.

Therefore both Mormons and Mainstreamers bring to the task the assumption of incommensurable theological differences - and with that assumption it is trivially easy to find incommensurable theological differences.


But bringing to the task, as I do, an assumption that differences are superficial and mask a deeper harmony, then it is easy to discover harmony.

The key is to recognize that Mormon theology is concrete, personal and simple - such that it can all be fully understood by the average eight year old; and armed with this principle (and with an assumption of harmony) it can be seen that when Mainstream and Mormon appear to diverge this can be seen to be superficial only.

In fact this isn't at all difficult to do! (Else I would not myself be able to do it; since I am not a deep theologian and am indeed impatient with theology.)


For example, Mainstream Christians say that God created everything from nothing, while Mormons say that he created form from chaos and that there never was 'nothing'.

So for Mainstream 'the void' is nothing, but for Mormons is it formless 'stuff'; matter and energy and the rest of it.

But the Mormon view simply recognizes that humans cannot think about something coming from nothing; but can imagine God as a sculpting the world from eternally existing stuff.


Or, the contrast between Mainstream Christians saying that after death, humans - which are not gods - are (potentially) adopted to become Sons of God, and above the angels and adopted brothers of Christ; and the Mormon belief that humans are the actual spirit children of God with Jesus as an elder (and higher) brother, who have volunteered to be clothed in bodies for mortal life to learn important lessons, then (if they pass the tests) potentially returning to live with God at a higher spiritual level and in perfected bodies after death.

The Mormon concepts can be seen as explaining how it is that we could become what Christ promised - Sons of God. If (on the Mainstream view) we are not already divine then since 'adoption' seems too weak to make us divine, because adoption would seem to leave our essential natures unchanged (in this world, adopting a boy is a matter of granting them the rights of a son but not of changing their essence).

But if we were already divine sons before coming to earth, then it is all understandable.


Of course, to go along with this style of explanation requires an acknowledgement of the inadequacy of Mainstream Christian theology - on the basis of 'if it ain't broke, then what is the point of fixing it'; to be sympathetic to the rise of Mormonism one has to feel that Mainstream Christianity is, at least for some people, 'broke', inadequate, ineffective.

This broken-ness seems obvious to me (as evidenced by chosen sub-fertility, to go no further with the evidence).

And one has to be unhappy with the abstractness of what purport to be mainstream 'explanations' - such as attempts to explain the Holy Trinity.

Examples of attempted explanations would include the Athanasian Creed:

And the Catholick Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons: nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son: and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one: the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son: and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate: and the Holy Ghost uncreate. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible: and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible. The Father eternal, the Son eternal: and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three eternals: but one eternal. As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated: but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible. So likewise the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty: and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties: but one Almighty. So the Father is God, the Son is God: and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods: but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord: and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not three Lords: but one Lord. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity: to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord; So are we forbidden by the Catholick Religion: to say there be three Gods, or three Lords. The Father is made of none: neither created, nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone: not made, nor created, but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son: neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons: one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is afore, or after other: none is greater, or less than another; But the whole three Persons are co-eternal together: and co-equal. So that in all things, as is aforesaid: the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved: must thus think of the Trinity.

The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible: and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible... He therefore that will be saved: must thus think of the Trinity.

In which case, how may anyone be saved?

(Let alone the children, who Christ assured us would be saved).


Of course, I am being mischievous, but I have studied many, many descriptions of the nature of the Holy Trinity from Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican and Conservative Evangelical theology - and I find all of them incomprehensible (if I am honest).

Yet I understand the Mormon description of The Godhead, and so would most children. From Teachings/ Gospel Topics

...The members of the Godhead are three separate beings. The Father and the Son have tangible bodies of flesh and bones, and the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit (see D&C 130:22). Although the members of the Godhead are distinct beings with distinct roles, they are one in purpose and doctrine. They are perfectly united in bringing to pass Heavenly Father's divine plan of salvation.


Or, from Articles of Faith by James E Talmage 1890 (1962 edition).

Three personages composing the great presiding council of the universe have revealed themselves to man: 1. God the Eternal father, 2. His Son, Jesus Christ, 3. the Holy Ghost. That these three are separate individuals, physically distinct from each other, is demonstrated by the accepted records of divine dealings with man... The Godhead is a type of unity in the attributes, powers, and purposes of its members... The unity is a type of completeness; the mind of any one member of the Trinity is the mind of the others; seeing as each of them does with the eye of perfection, they see and understand alike. The one-ness of the Godhead... implies no mystical union of substance, nor any unnatural and therefore impossible blending of personality. Father, Son and Holy Ghost are as distinct in their persons and individualities as are any three personages in mortality. Yet their unity of purpose and operation is such as to make their edicts one, and their will the will of God.


While Mainstream Christians see this as clearly heterodox, indeed heretical; I see a clear and comprehensible explanation of the Holy Trinity which does the job - something that Mainstream definitions fail to do.

And 'The Job' is to enable us to have a personal relationship with God in His three persons, to understand God's character, motivations, intentions, emotions and so on - so that even a child can live in communication with God as Father, Brother, and Protector/ Comforter/ Teacher.

Faith is Trust; and we can only trust a person - not an abstraction. Thus the value, and perhaps (for some people) the necessity of the kind of concrete, personal and simple version of Mainstream theology which Mormonism provides.


Robert Frost's influence on my life


Robert Frost is just about my favourite poet - in the sense that he wrote more of my favourite poems than anyone else.

He wrote a lot of superb poems.


I began to engage with his work in 1984, but from the mid 1990s for a decade I read Frost - and everything I could find about Frost (biographies, memoirs, letters, criticism) - with great intensity; it was a spin-off from my fascination with the earlier generation of New England Transcendentalists to whom Frost was an heir, of sorts.

Around the peak of interest I visited the Frost Farm in Franconia, New Hampshire, and stayed in Bethlehem NH where he spent his summers. Frost's presence - or rather his world - was so vivid that it felt like a time-slip.

(The same semi-delirious mood had come-upon me several times the week before wrt. Emerson and Thoreau and their circle in Concord Massachusetts, and Walden Pond early in the morning - it was that kind of vacation.)   


Aside from his literary genius, I now perceive that this interest was driven by the fact that Frost seemed to offer a spiritual path that, I thought, might solve the main problem of life: alienation, driven by ultimate meaninglessness and purposelessness.

Frost was, I think, a Deist (believing in an impersonal God that provided structure) - within which his life was 'poetry' - conceived in a broad way. The creation of poetry, its performance, teaching poetry - and with its ideal 'a life that goes poetically' - I quote from memory - Frost was describing how his wife Eleanor wished this for the Frost family; and how she preferred the early days of the family when the children were young and Frost was unpublished (part-time farming/ teaching in Londonderry, Franconia and visiting England).

This notion was what I aimed for - a life that goes poetically... and I tried to understand whatever that might mean in practice.


This is, more or less, the aim of most artists and many intellectuals in the post religious era - at least since Romanticism in the early 1800s.

What sustains it, in the face of overwhelming forces that tend to destroy the poetry of life? Unfortunately, one necessary component, as exemplified by Frost himself, is selfish pride. 

I am certainly not one of those who regard Frost as an exceptionally bad man - that is a falsehood assiduously cultivated by his embittered official biographer Lawrence Thompson. But Frost got close to living poetically for extended periods by virtue of his pride - which sustained him in the face of opposition; and his selfishness - which sought a suitable niche for his activities and, essentially, saw the rest of the world as organized around that niche.

At any rate, that was the lesson I drew from my extensive examination of Frost and his life.

And Frost got close to achieving his goal because he was a poetic genius, and became recognized as such (but only relatively late in his life, from his forties onward) - so life organized-itself around him; and because his will was strong and his intelligence acute.


So, learning from Frost, the problem of life becomes How To Be A Genius - which is difficult enough - but then in addition there is the matter of How To Become Recognized As A Genius... and that question leads into all kinds of seedy and dishonest shenanigans, which subvert the Genius (if it even exists).

And leads onto what is so common in the arts - which is people scheming to be treated as a Genius, but with no genius whatsoever to back it up  - merely egotism.


In a secular (or Deist) world view, there is a hunger for genius, almost a greed for it; precisely because only the genius can live at the highest level.

For most people, most of the time, all this is little more than a day-dream; yet such a day-dream may be a secret and sustaining thing (for good or ill) - a vital fact of life.

This is a thread which runs through much or even most successful post-romantic art: there are many great artists, writers, thinkers, poets, musicians  (and many more non-great artists) whose work is mostly about-genius; and especially about their own genius, its nature and its relation to the world.

And the reason is that they are post-religious individuals who perceive the meaning and purpose of life as something self-created; and thus their own creative activities become the focus of concern: their sense of life depending on their own activities.


How common this is among intellectuals!

We strive to convince ourselves of our own importance, indeed indispensability; then having finally convinced ourselves of this fact we recognize that if 'everything' (or everything that matters)  depends on our own efforts, then 'everything' will end sooner or later and - anyway - if everything depends on our genius then nothing really matters anyway.

It is a self-subverting activity; to succeed is to fail.


C.S Lewis commented on this when he said that after any particularly effective and well-received Christian apologetics he felt at his worst, most vulnerable, most despairing; because at that moment Christianity felt like it depended critically on the efforts and abilities of CS Lewis - which made Lewis feel that Christianity must be a false and futile kind of thing if it depended on himself for its defence...

In my own feeble way I have noticed exactly the same thing at work in my life, on a daily basis.

If ever I have written something decent on this blog, or had an effective 'evangelical' conversation perhaps; then I first of all feel puffed-up with smugness; then, almost always and quickly, plummet down into the same kind of crash that Lewis described.


Which explains why I could not find anything I wanted to blog about yesterday...


(Reminder: Tomorrow is the Sabbath - so I intend not to blog then.)


Thursday 24 January 2013

What, specifically, must mainstream Christians learn from Mormons?


1. Theology must be simplified by being made concrete and personal. God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost should be talked about as persons with motivations, dispositions, intentions; and with whom we have relationships over mortal time and beyond.

2. In such terms, Christians need to know as a story what we are doing on earth, God's plans and our intended purpose - how we engage with the purposes and plans, how we should exercise our free will.

3. Christian life should be framed in terms of God's direct involvement in the minute details of daily life: to be engaged by frequent prayer, for thanks, worship and repentance; with expectation of personal answers and revelations, guidance and strength and encouragement, personal miracles.

4. Marriage and families must become central to the Christian life: men and women seen as complementary and mutually dependent and with a divinely ordained role in family; but marriage and family as primarily sacred relations, in recognition that we all are literally God's children, and therefore brothers and sisters.


This last centrality of marriage and family is not a necessary nor universal Christian doctrine in terms of the history of the faith; but it is absolutely necessary here and now and in these circumstances.

Although it is not primary (individual salvation is, of course, primary) the sacred centrality of marriage and family is the major secondary imperative around which Christian society should be organized, here and now and henceforth.


If the response to this is "But you don't need to be a Mormon to do all that stuff" - then I reply: "That is exactly my point!"


What are Christian denominations? Ways of Christian life


Exclusivism is not really about truth claims, but about practice, about living. If you are living a Catholic life, then you are not leading a Protestant life; and vice versa - and there are many subdivisions within this.

Each denomination has a different ideal of how to live, and that ideal is exclusive - at most you could switch from one to the other, or back and forth; but that would limit the degree of attainment within any one of them.

Each way of life has pros and cons, and would be more or less suitable for different individuals (who have different faults and abilities); each is incomplete and distorted - but each could be organized around the same simple principle. What is it? 

As WmJas said: "Faith does not mean “accurate knowledge.” It means trust. That’s why Christ said little children are capable of it..." 

Trust in Christ as Lord and Saviour. 

Different ways of life, built around that simple principle. 


Note added: False alarm - didn't continue to work - presumed freakish interaction...

News only two days old is that 75 mg aspirin (the tiny tablets used to prevent heart attacks and strokes) produces about 75 percent relief from the pain in my arthriticky knees!

Getting up from a chair or climbing stairs is no longer a torment/ comic book parody of decrepitude; and I am not distracted by continuous burning sensations.

(Of course the joints will objectively be just as bad as before, but it was discomfort rather than functionality that was the major problem.)

Such striking pain relief within a couple of hours, in the context of months of increasing pain and restriction and side effects despite a variety of supposedly much stronger pain killers... well, this is like penicillin for pneumonia all over again - a therapeutic miracle!

The rationale for this treatment? I have none. (75 mg is a long way sub-analgesic, and sub-sub-anti-inflammatory - the effect of this small dose is supposedly on preventing platelet aggregation.) It was just an idea that popped into my head (and thanks to whoever popped it there). 

I award myself a spiritual Nobel Prize for this n=1 triumph.

Will it last more than a coupla days? Will side effects prove intolerable? - We shall see what we shall see...


Wednesday 23 January 2013

What is the most gratuitously bad drug class - my vote goes to the 'atypical antipsychotics'


And within this class, to the egregious, multi-billion-dollar poison by the name of Olanzapine/ Zyprexa: my personal choice for the most worse-than-useless, evil-nasty-dishonest drug blockbuster of all time.

Any other candidates?


What follows is a shortened and edited version of:


The perversity of currently operative incentives in the drug development, research, marketing and clinical use can be illustrated by considering the example of the so-called ‘atypical’ neuroleptics, which have grown to become a standard part of modern psychiatric practice.

Atypicals represent a backward step in therapeutics, probably being no more effective, much more dangerous, and greatly more expensive than already-existing agents.


The traditional antipsychotics (aka. neuroleptics or major tranquillizers) are very powerful agents for controlling agitated and psychotic behaviour when compared with the drugs in use before their discovery. The pre-antipsychotic behavioural control agents had been mainly sedatives (e.g. antihistamines, barbiturates, bromides and paraldehyde).

However, the antipsychotics, such as chlorpromazine, haloperidol and fluphenazine decanoate – are now seen to be neurotoxic. They achieve their distinctively powerful behavioural control by making patients Parkinsonian in a dose–dependent fashion, with permanent neurological disease (tardive dyskinesia) as the long-term consequence of prolonged high dosages.

Furthermore, it is now apparent that antipsychotics induce dependence, so that withdrawal tends to provoke psychotic episodes, and patients who have never taken antipsychotics have a better prognosis than those who are maintained on them. Short-term benefits are achieved at the cost of long-term harm.

On top of this, antipsychotics are notoriously unpleasant. Indeed, patients hate them, since the emotional effects of Parkinson’s disease include emotional blunting, mental dullness and demotivation; and sometimes agitated feelings of akathisia (inner turmoil and physical restlessness). These are not ‘side effects’ of antipsychotics, on the contrary they are the core therapeutic action.

In a nutshell, antipsychotics work by causing the psychological symptoms of Parkinsonism.


So, traditional antipsychotics are exceptionally nasty drugs whose use should be minimized as a matter of policy, and for which safer and less unpleasant replacements should be sought. So much is probably uncontroversial, at least at a personal level among informed psychiatric scientists, although for structural, professional reasons this conviction is seldom clearly stated as such.

The main response to this state of affairs has been the displacement of traditional antipsychotics by a group of drugs self-styled as ‘atypical’ antipsychotics, such as clozapine, risperidone, quetiapine and olanzapine. Clozapine is not a 'neuroleptic', by classical definitions and the others of this class are much weaker neuroleptics than traditional drugs.

Because atypicals have less tendency to cause Parkinsonian symptoms and tardive dyskinesia than traditional agents, they are consequently less powerful at suppressing behaviour than traditional antipsychotics; but atypicals are powerful enough (it turns out) for most purposes.

It seems that in their clinical effect, atypicals are essentially the pre-chlorpromazine sedative antihistamines, re-invented and re-packaged for modern times.

Indeed, an old antihistamine such as cyproheptadine might well be counted as functionally an ‘atypical’ antipsychotic by today’s criteria i.e. it blocks serotonin 2 and cholinergic receptors, it is (probably, like many old antihistamines) only weakly anti-dopaminergic, it is powerfully sedative and it causes weight gain. Yet cyproheptadine, is an off-patent drug, and available cheaply over-the-counter.


But if most of the atypicals are only weakly neurotoxic they are instead ‘metabolic poisons’; having poorly-understood (this poor understanding itself being a damning indictment of the structural biases of contemporary psychiatric research) but clearly damaging effects on various aspects of energy metabolism.

Atypicals tend to cause physiological damage, such as glucose intolerance, diabetes and perhaps pancreatitis; gross weight gain and cardiac conduction problems.

Atypicals are also associated with significantly increased mortality, from a variety of causes.(Clozapine, notoriously, causes lethal blood dyscrasias, requiring continuous monitoring.)

These lethal side effects occur in the context of long-term prescription for psychiatric disorders which are often self-limiting and rarely fatal.


Perhaps the main useful lesson from the emergence of the ‘atypical’ (i.e. weak) antipsychotics is that psychiatrists did not actually need to make all of their agitated and psychotic patients Parkinsonian in order to suppress their behaviour.

Atypicals are highly sedative agents. Apparently, the kind of sedation provided by the ‘atypicals’ is sufficient for behavioural control in most instances.

This should not have been a surprise, since sedation was the standard method of controlling agitation and acute psychoses before the emergence of antipsychotics and in situations where antipsychotics were not available (e.g. in the Eastern Bloc and underdeveloped countries).


Indeed, the value of sedation should not be underestimated. Sedation is not merely a relatively safe way of controlling agitated behaviour; sedation also provides a potentially ‘curative’ benefit for psychotic patients with a causative element of delirium. Sleep has profoundly restorative qualities where sleep disturbance is severe and prolonged, as is the case for many psychotic patients. In sum, drugs which promote sleep likely have an ‘anti-psychotic’ effect, as well as making patients both feel and function better.


In terms of therapeutic value, it therefore seems likely that ‘atypicals’ are merely an unusually dangerous way of sedating patients. In therapeutic terms these drugs therefore represent a significant backward step.

Rationally, the atypicals should now be dropped and replaced with safer sedatives. Potential antipsychotic-substitutes which already exist would include benzodiazepines and sedative antihistamines, such as promethazine plus of course that original but unacknowledged atypical: cyproheptaidine.


So - if psychiatrists want a drug to make patients sleepy, then why not use cyproheptadine?

True, cyproheptadine may lack the advantages of vast expense, plus numerous and potentially lethal side effects of the modern 'atypicals' - but at least it shares the same basic mechanism, including the side effect of causing significant weight gain.

Since psychiatrists apparently want their patients to be both sleepy and fat - this would seem like the perfect answer.

Unless they really insist on using pricey poisons...



The year ahead


As usual these days, I feel generally-worried, pessimistic and hopeful...

When I compare my state of mind with that of my earlier life; one of the biggest differences is related to institutions, to 'civil society' - that layer of organization which comes between the family and the state.

I used to live by the conviction that social institutions (the medical profession, universities, science... law, government, the media) were basically good; and was optimistic that their problems were temporary and would be fixed - but that even at its best life was a matter of finding a pleasant and comfortable niche; and not worrying about what I could not effect and the cosmic pointlessness of it all...

Now I feel the opposite.


Tuesday 22 January 2013

Discerning truth and goodness from experience of fruits: the example of Mormonism


In 1830 it was possible and reasonable to regard Mormonism as a covert and potentially dangerous Christian heresy, since all there was to go-on was the theology and assertions of the founders.

But the expectation would have been that Mormonism would reveal its true nature over time.

And so we now have eight generations of evidence, and 'still' no sign (except, perhaps, the early Old Testament-like 'plural marriage' polygamy until 120 years ago) that Mormonism is producing the evil fruits of  heresy - indeed it is apparently the most alive, most devout (e.g phenomenal numbers of full time missionaries) and most decent of the big self-identified Christian denominations in the developed world.

I have read or watched on video many of the modern LDS Church leadership, and overwhelmingly they are honest, forthright and essentially uncorrupted (in stark contrast to the bishops and most clergy of my own Anglican CoE denomination, for example!).


So (I would argue) that either Mormonism is the best concealed anti-Christian evil heresy of all time (which some people do indeed believe) and this evil will eventually reveal itself, or else it is truly Christian - despite whatever our theoretical analysis may say.

(Because that which claims to be Christian and shows no evil, must be good - since falsely to claim to be Christian would be a heresy revealing itself in evil.)

These may seem stark alternatives. Why should Mormonism necessarily be Christian simply because it is revealed as not being anti-Christian.

The answer is because the LDS church self-identifies strongly and explicitly as Christian, and places Christ at the centre of institutional and personal devotions.

If these claims and practices are false, then they cannot be neutral - since they would be blasphemous, idolatrous etc; and must be evil.

And yet we see no evidence of evil fruits. Quite the contrary.


The big question here is whether human experience is of any validity in evaluating a religion or denomination.

To reject Mormonism on grounds which were apparent at its foundation (I mean of course specifically to reject the CJCLDS - mainstream Mormonism) seems inevitably to suggest the rejection of human experience as being of importance in evaluating truth.

(Is 180 years not enough? How many years would be needed? If the fruits are still good at, say 300, or 500 years - would that make any difference to evaluations?)


I believe that we cannot dispense with experience, since human reason is so feeble and corruptible and human knowledge is so incomplete and distorted: therefore we cannot rely purely on analysis but must also take note of experience, of 'fruits' as they become apparent over time.


(At a personal level there is the crucial matter of one's own informed and prayerful discernment as to good and evil, truth and falsehood - but clearly on this topic individual discernment is divided!)


One topic that should be addressed in this light is how mainstream Christians/ Mere Christians/ real Christians should regard 'Liberals' (I mean theological Liberals) within their own denominations.

It seems clear that - for example - the minority of real Christians in the Church of England Anglican communion, among Roman Catholics and the Lutheran Church are in practice very tolerant indeed of Liberals in their own denominations (working with them, accepting their authority to a greater or lesser extent); and this tolerance is for Liberals who often aggressively deny or invert central doctrines and creeds, rewrite scripture, make public statements without historical or scriptural basis, introduce major anti-Christian organizational changes etc.

This tolerance of Liberalism is very clear and unambiguous since most mainstream church leaders in the West are Liberals - and these leaders include some of the most extreme anti-Christians. Yet criticism of these is generally muted; real Christians bend over backwards to give them the benefit of any doubt, give them chance after chance to change, go along with their anti-Christian wickedness for the sake of what should be subordinate values.  

It seems undeniable that Liberal pseudo-Christians represent a very powerful and effective anti-Christian force in modern life; yet Liberal pseudo-Christians are tolerated and treated with patience and respect by real Christians in their denominations; meanwhile the same real Christians shun Mormons.


Am I accusing mainstream real Christians of hypocrisy or inconsistency with respect to Mormonism? You bet I am!

This combination of tolerance of real mainstream Christians towards actively-subversive unbelieving Liberals (the enemy) - indeed active cooperation with Liberals especially within the big denominations, combined with clear, uncompromising and strong anti-Mormonism (rejecting those who should be friends and allies), is something I despise! - indeed, I believe it is Satan's work and must delight the forces of evil.


I am saying that anti-Mormonism is common among serious mainstream Christians, who persist in treating the LDS church as if it was a set of theoretical ideas, rather than an enduring reality.

I am suggesting that the goodness of Mormonism is hard data which must be taken into account, not argued away.

I am pointing out that most mainstream Christian denominations are currently in a position of de facto inferiority with respect to Mormonism; they are in no position to criticize - on analytic grounds - that which is demonstrably and uncontroversially superior in its current Christ-centredness, devoutness and works.

In doing so, mainstream Christians are implicitly denying the value of actions in discerning the truth - and making Christianity a thing of abstraction, disconnected with observable realities.


In particular, I am drawing attention to the specific matter of marriage and families; and the fact that very few Christian denominations have sustained the centrality of these to the human condition in the way that Mormons have; and Christian denominations with low levels of marriage and few children have demonstrably gone wrong in some very serious and significant way.

The choice of above-replacement fertility in a church is a crude and simple measure; but is a summary of many other variables including the roles of men and women, leadership, an other-worldly perspective, devoutness; and attitudes to sexuality, marriage, family and children. When denominations chose to have fewer than two children on average, they have become corrupt.

Of course, chosen above-replacement fertility is not evidence of truth! But fertility is necessary to a denomination being essentially true, and net uncorrupt.


So we must, I believe, use experience in our evaluations.

And experience shows that most mainstream Christian denominations have become essentially corrupt; yet Mormonism has not (or, not yet).

And this understanding is confirmed by many other sources of evidence.


What is my conclusion?

That the current attitude of mainstream Christians towards Mormonism is unjustified - the LDS church should be regarded with respect by mainstream Christians, and indeed in a spirit of deference - as being demonstrably superior to mainstream Christianity in many ways.

And, for Heavens sake! - real Christians ought not to be so tolerant and deferential to pseudo-Christian Liberals in their denominations!

The strength and goodness of Mormonism is, I emphasize, hard data; and the question posed to mainstream Christians is how to deal with this hard data, and learn from this hard data - not how to explain-it-away.

The potentially lethal danger of Liberal pseudo-Christianity also is hard data - yet the same real Christians who have negative, suspicious, condescending, and aggressive attitudes to Mormons are very prone to assume the good intentions and basic decency of these Liberal pseudo-Christians - many of whom lead the major Western denominations.


NOTE: I intend to be very selective about publishing comments on this post.  When I say hard data, I mean hard data. Only those who are ignorant (most common) or untruthful or insane argue against hard data. But not on this blog!


Monday 21 January 2013

Roman Catholic polygamy - temporarily permitted in 19th century Paraguay


This is something I knew nothing about until a couple of weeks ago.

Following the incredibly destructive Paraguayan war in the mid-1800s

so many men had been killed, and so few remained, that there was apparently a temporary but official Roman Catholic dispensation allowing 'polygamy' in the sense of plural marriage - in order to enable repopulation.

This is of interest in the context of Mormon polygamy which was official policy for about 40 years up until 1890 when it was forbidden within the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

For a fascinating contextual framing of the nature and function of Old Testament polygamy, listen from 1:59 in Alastair Roberts' latest (extraordinarily long! - but in places extremely important) podcast:


Proverbial wisdom


Traditional wisdom is often in the form of proverbs; modern wisdom very seldom so - instead modern wisdom is in the form of abstract principles (such as 'rights'). 

On this basis, we ought to try and be less abstract, more proverbial. 


But proverbs are not abstractly coherent, the one with the other; and may suggest contradictory forms of advice - therefore proverbs must be embedded in narrative, in order that their specific application can be known.

For example, in trying to understand some difficult matter the proverb 'two heads are better than one' suggests we bring-in other people for advice and assistance; while the proverb 'too many cooks spoil the broth' warns that getting too many people involved in a job can sabotage it. 

Thus proverbs cannot work if they are regarded as detachable abstractions (proverbs are not laws). 


So, a proverb should refer to a story. 

The first 'two heads' example does not have an attached story, but the 'too many cooks' proverb was indeed linked to a nursery tale about cooks adding salt to soup, each adding the correct amount of salt without realizing that salt had already been added; and the story provides some guidance as to its applicability. 


For example, consider the proverb: "The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot for ever fence it out."

This gets proper applicability from its literary context: 

"I knew that danger lay ahead, of course [said Frodo], but I did not expect to meet it in our own Shire. Can't a hobbit walk from the Water to the River in peace?"

"But it is not your own Shire,' said Gildor. 'Others dwelt here before hobbits were, and others will dwell here again when hobbits are no more. The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot for ever fence it out."

And this, in turn, is embedded in the larger story about the childlike innocence of hobbits being protected by the 'parental' care of the Rangers, which leads back to the historical narrative of  Middle Earth, the fall of Arnor, the fall of Numenor and beyond.


So what does the proverb mean? "You can fence yourselves in, but you cannot for ever fence the world out."

It is not (for example) a denial of the validity of boundaries or fences, or an encouragement for hobbits to spread themselves widely; but a reminder of the big context of history, and the way that fences serve different functions at different times - and also that we may not understand what is going on in relation to fences.

The hobbits had been safe inside their self-imposed fence - until the Rangers departed, when the Shire was invaded by Ruffians.

The fence had value, but it had not been the fence that was protecting them. Yet the hobbits knew nothing of their guardian Rangers.


To understand a proverb you must know the story in which that proverb is located; you must know that the proverb is an aphorism of the unfolding of narrative history.

Saturday 19 January 2013

When did luxury set in?


At some point the problem stopped being poverty and became luxury.


At some point the mass of people stopped being over-worked and became idle; at some point they stopped starving and being thin or began overeating and becoming obese; at some point they stopped having too few amusements and began spending most of their time on amusements; at some point poverty stopped being austere and became self-indulgent (tobacco, alcohol, drugs, pornography, life as psychodrama); at some point people stopped having nothing to do and found that they could not escape the relentless distractions...

At some point ugliness became a vast and tidal force, fashion became an imperative, the mass media came to define reality - we saw our own lives and the world through ideological lenses.

- But when?


In the USA it was earlier than in the UK; but in England it was about the mid 1960s.

But I recall in the early 1970s when I realized that the Old Left world view I had imbibed from William Morris, Bernard Shaw and the early socialists had gone.

I always supposed that when people had enough, they would be satisfied with enough, and not want more and ever more, and would move onto higher things.

I assumed that people would be satiated with food, toys, fashion, holidays, news, sports, pop music, gossip about remote or imagined stuff - yet these are ever more dominant.

I hoped that people would flip from consuming and amusing, to conserving, creating, appreciating'; would recognize the dead end of materialism and would spontaneously become more spiritual.



There has indeed been recognition of this within mainstream culture, since the Beats of the 1950s, then the Hippies of the 1960s, then the beginnings of the Small is Beautiful/ ecology/ Green movement in the 1970s...

But this movement has been incorporated into consumption on the one hand (consuming ever more Green products and ideas) and New Leftism on the other hand (the soul destroying corruptions of political correctness - and the intrinsic dishonesty of that world view).

Thus this impulse has been ineffectual because - even when utterly sincere - it has joined with Leftism and been assimilated to modernity.


Leftism is nihilism; and destroys whatever it incorporates; and by now the Left is so large and inclusive and its propaganda so relentless and universal that people have lost the ability to comprehend any alternative. Thus they are trapped.


Yet, this movement of thought which we see so perverted and made counter-productive and corrupted to evil in the modern 'Green' movement, is based-on a good impulse and recognition and aspiration - to live in a world where Nature is regarded with reverence and Natural Things are treasured: a world where water, trees and landscapes are loved.

Leftism intrinsically and necessarily perverts and inverts all this - if not immediately then sooner or later (usually sooner).


The craving for Nature is a reactionary impulse that can only be defended and lived by in a reactionary context and will be perverted by and form or taint of Leftism, progressivism, modernism; a yearning for The Natural is a world view which is rooted in respect-for-tradition, the ancient, the existing; instead of belief in progress, the new, the future...

If all the goodness and wholesomeness of the world is not to be destroyed incrementally, then there must be a world view which regards the spontaneous and universal and old by assumption (an assumption which can be overturned in specific instances, but is nonetheless the assumption), superior to the contrived, local and recent.

That is the only foundation upon which we may build. Anything built upon Leftism will collapse due to lack of foundations, if not swiftly demolished and replaced by something 'better'.


Friday 18 January 2013

The Book of Mormon as literature: unexamined implications of its authorship


Excerpted from Joseph Smith: Rough stone rolling, by Richard Lyman Bushman (Gouverneur Morris Professor of History Emeritus, Columbia University) - 2005: pages 84-88


The Book of Mormon is a thousand-year history of the rise and fall of a religious civilization in the Western Hemisphere beginning about 600 BC... A briefer history of a second civilization, beginning at the time of the Tower of Babel and extending till a few hundred years before Christ, is summarized in thirty-five pages near the end...

Contemporaries thought of the book as a "bible," and that may be the best one-word description...

The table of contents has a biblical feel. It lists fifteen books with titles like "The Book of Jacob," "The Book of Mosiah," "The Book of Helaman," and so on through Nephi, Enos, Jarom, Alma, Mormon, Ether, and Moroni, just as the Bible names its divisions after Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, and Micah. But unlike the Bible, these books are not divided into histories and prophetic books. History and prophecy are interwoven, sermons and visions mingling with narrative.

The Book of Mormon tells the story of a family founding a civilization. The main story opens in Jerusalem on the eve of the Babylonian captivity. 4 Lehi, one of many prophets foretelling the city's doom, is told to flee the city with his wife and children and one other family. Drawn by the lure of a promised land, they are led into the wilderness of the Arabian peninsula. Like Abraham leaving Ur and Moses departing Egypt, Lehi is told God has a place for them. Lehi's band wanders in the wilderness for eight years (not forty like the children of Israel), until somewhere along the seacoast (seemingly the Arabian Sea) they are told to construct a ship. After a protracted voyage, they reach their promised land. The name America is never used, but readers universally thought Lehi's company had arrived in the Western Hemisphere...

The book explains itself as largely the work of Mormon, a military figure who leads the Nephites, from about 327 to 385 CE, in the twilight of their existence as a nation. Mormon is one of more than a score of powerful personalities to emerge in history. Precociously eminent, he is appointed at fifteen to lead the Nephite armies. (He gives no reason for his elevation except that "notwithstanding I being young was large in stature.") In the same year, "being somewhat of a sober mind," he is "visited of the Lord," making him both prophet and general. From then until the Lamanites cut him down, still fighting in his seventies, Mormon and his people are swept this way and that by the tides of battle...

Mormon undertakes to compile a history... One gets a picture of Mormon surrounded by piles of [inscribed historical] plates, extracting a narrative from the collection, and not completely aware of all there is. At various points while hurrying through the records, he interjects a comment about how much he is leaving out, as if overwhelmed by his abundant sources. Mormon makes no effort to hide his part in constructing the book. The entire Book of Mormon is an elaborate framed tale of Mormon telling about a succession of prophets telling about their encounters with God. Read in the twenty-first century, the book seems almost postmodern in its self-conscious attention to the production of the text.

Mormon introduces a large number of characters and places into his saga. Nearly 350 names are listed in the pronunciation guide at the back of modern editions -- Paanchi, Pachus, Pacumeni, Pagag, Pahoran, Palestina, Pathros. Quite out of nowhere, Mormon describes a system of weights and measures in senines, seons, shums, and limnahs, following a numerical system based on eight rather than the conventional ten. He moves the armies, the prophets, and the people about on a landscape, taking time to sketch in the geography of the Nephite nation. Naturally, Mormon the general gives special attention to armaments, military tactics, and battles. Architecture, animals, and trade are dealt with. Although the book is above all a religious history of prophesying, preaching, faithfulness, and apostasy, Mormon evokes an entire world...

A writer in 1841 commented that "it is difficult to imagine a more difficult literary task than to write what may be termed a continuation of the Scriptures." Yet Joseph Smith dictated the bulk of the Book of Mormon from early April to late June 1829. When forays for food, travel from Harmony to Fayette, and applications to printers are deducted, the amount of time available for translating most of the book's 584 pages was less than three months.


I have been interested in Mormonism for about six years, since before I converted to Christianity and rejoined my baptismal Church (of England). I have (co-) completed three small research projects on Mormon fertility with another ongoing and further planned.

Naturally, just about the first thing I did when I got interested in Mormonism was to try and read The Book of Mormon. It was not at all what I expected, and left me completely bewildered.

Since I knew that missionaries gave out this book to prospective converts, I expected that it would set out the Mormon religion, but it does not. It was mostly (so far as I could tell) what purported to be historical annals - and it was hard to see what this had to do with Mormonism as I understood it.

I put the book aside and looked instead at Doctrine and Covenants - which was much more the kind of thing I expected: a setting-out of the religion in terms of a series of revelations.


But I have returned to the Book of Mormon from time to time, and now feel a bit clearer about it; or rather, I am now clear that it is qualitatively unlike any other book.

In terms of its literary quality, it is good. Not, of course, in the same league as the Authorized Version of The Bible - but then what is? Nothing approaches anywhere near the AV in terms of non-fiction English prose - but The Book of Mormon is vastly superior to most modern translations of the Bible.

Of course, it is hard to read, and I have not read it all - but then again the Old Testament is hard to read and I have not read it all.


But The Book of Mormon is a remarkable book, qua book.

What it most resembles in my experience is JRR/ Christopher Tolkien's 1977 The Silmarillion. The BoM presents an extremely intricate and self-consistent world across a large historical timescale presented as Annalistic history in an uncompromizing and unmediated fashion.

Another superficially plausible comparison would be Ossian (1760 onwards) compiled by James Macpherson (probably) from numerous oral sources of song and stories in the Scottish Highlands. This became a foundational text of romanticism and nationalism - with an influence stretching across Europe and the Atlantic, and lasting a couple of generations.

So, considered as a work of subcreative invention, as the depiction of 'a world' - and from an agnostic perspective as to its provenance - The Book of Mormon is of world historical stature - or, at least, it should be thus considered.


Adding to this fascination is the circumstances of its production - given in great detail by Bushman. It seems clear that The Book of Mormon was produced by Joseph Smith, dictated by him, in a single and seemingly unrevised draft, in the space of just a few months and with no apparent sources.

Joseph Smith dictated the bulk of the Book of Mormon from early April to late June 1829... the amount of time available for translating most of the book's 584 pages was less than three months.

When it is taken into account that Joseph Smith was no Tolkien, nor even a Macpherson - being uneducated and uncultured, having a rather chaotic personality, and with no access to educated and cultured people, or to literary and scholarly resources - this was, to say the least of it, an absolutely amazing, unprecedented, and unrepeated feat.


The usual ways of dismissing the significance of The Book of Mormon do not remotely hold water; or, at least, if the kind of explanations used to explain-away the Book of Mormon were accepted in mainstream literary history, then nothing would be left standing!

I personally am quite happy to accept that - in some way and at some level - Joseph Smith was genuinely divinely inspired (an inspiration not necessarily complete, and not necessarily without error) - and that of course explains the whole thing.

(I believe that the idea of the Book of Mormon as having been demonically-inspired, is decisively refuted by the subsequent history of the CJCLDS Church.)

But for those who do not acknowledge the reality of divine inspiration as a possibility; the 'case' of The Book of Mormon is, or ought to be, a matter of extreme interest - rather as if The Silmarillion had been serially dictated, off the top of his head, by a semi-literate rustic gardener such as Sam Gamgee.


Did modern man discover that truth is relative?


Was there something about the modern condition - science or technology, or anthropology perhaps - that constituted the discovery that there are no absolute but only relative truths?

Of course not - since this is logically impossible.


Relativism cannot be discovered - relativism is, in fact, a metaphysical assumption, something brought-to experience and used to interpret experience

(and relativism is an incoherent metaphysical assumption, as has been known since ancient Greek times, if not universally to common sense).


So what do people mean by relativism - to what aspect of modern experience do they refer when they make the assertion (or live by the assertion) that all 'truths' are relative?

By relativism they actually mean change.

The 'discovery' was change - and specifically it was the experience of change in oneself, and more specifically it was change in one's own morality - and even more specifically it was the experience of moral inversion: most crucially the experience of changing one's mind and accepting that what one had thought was sin is instead virtue.


To experience the novel conviction that sin is actually virtue: that is what is meant by relativism.

Thus the evil of relativism. 


Thursday 17 January 2013

History must be cyclical *and* linear


Pure linearity would be just one darned thing after another; and nothing could be learned from it because the past is no guide to the future.

Pure circularity would be mere repetition, with no possibility of breaking out, we would be bound by fate - and nothing could be learned from it.

The first condition of pure linearity is modernity - indistinguishable from the incomprehensibility of chaos; the second condition of pure cyclical history is the hunter gatherer (or Hindu) world view, with  a constant state of reality (now and always, past and future) varied only by the temporary swirlings of energy and recyclings of form.


Christian history is a a linear, purposive, and end-stopped sequence of multiple repeated themes or leitmotiven - recognizable recurrences, but inexact recurrences.

We may perceive pattern, in large and in small, but the outcome is not fated: there are at least two outcoes to each story - one positive, one negative (e.g the outcome of repentance, or of pride), and at the crux of each recurrent theme is a choice.


Wisdom is in applying the correct story to the current situation; recognizing the choice, then making the right choice.


Wednesday 16 January 2013

What is a disease? Or, living in a madhouse


What is a disease?

It's an interesting question.

The most obvious answers would be along the lines of something which reduces functionality, or which causes pain, being a disease - but these are not really tenable biologically.


Biology is not about performing a function, nor is it about remaining pain free.

For example, parasites don't really perform a 'function' - and there are an awful lot of parasites in nature. All of the viruses are cell parasites, for a start - and you can just work-up from them. In a sense, all animals are parasites on plants.

And much of biology is about deliberately risking, even self-inflicting, pain - for some over-arching purpose. For example, stags and bull elephants will fight and sometimes die to become the dominant male; spawning salmon will swim up river until they die of exhaustion.


Of course that thing which all these living creatures do - what all parasites do, what all animals that risk pain and death do - is reproduce.

Reproduction is the imperative, in the sense that it is only the entities that successfully reproduce which we are in a position to talk about.

So, the bottom-line definition of disease must be along the lines of 'that which impairs reproduction'.


When it comes to humans, it is the effect on impairing reproduction which most conveniently unites all solid examples of disease - and this applies to both to physical and to psychological diseases such as schizophrenia, psychotic depression, dementias.

Because (real) diseases which do not kill prematurely, or cause suicide, will (on average) reduce reproductive success either by premature death, or by some other means such as the effect on sexual selection - as when skin diseases make an individual unattractive/ repulsive and unable to attract a long-term mate.


All of this is a prelude to a consideration of the fact of sub-replacement fertility on average in every developed nation in the world; and grossly sub-replacement fertility in some groups (the wealthiest, the most intelligent, the least religious) - and especially among women of these groups.

Is this evidence of disease in such societies and such specific groups?

Yes of course it is.


Does it make any difference that the sub-fertility is chosen rather than a result of incapacity?

No it doesn't - the same applies to psychiatric diseases such as schizophrenia, melancholia and any illness which leads to suicide - these are instances of chosen low fertility.

Especially among women - since any fertile woman can conceive if she chooses to get pregnant, and in modern society almost all babies born will survive to an age when they themselves can reproduce.

On strict biological grounds, when chosen sub-fertility happens on average in a group over a generational timescale, it must be due to psychiatric disease.


So is modernity a disease?

Of course modernity is a disease, a psychiatric disease; and a very severe psychiatric disease at that - since it has the same effect as a severe psychiatric disease in generating very significant chosen sub-fertility.

Indeed the severity of modernity as a psychiatric disease is likely to be more extreme than in most psychiatric patients, since the prosperity and conditions of the average citizen in a developed nation are vastly better for child rearing than the average severe psychiatric patient - and yet reproduction is rejected.

So the conclusion seems inescapable that in conditions of modernity there is conclusive objective evidence of endemic, near universal, and very severe psychiatric disease.

Look around - that is what we see almost everywhere. We are living in a madhouse!


Note: I suppose I should add what I believe to be the nature of the severe, endemic psychiatric disease that afflicts modernity: it is addiction. Moderns are addicted to distractions - pleasurable distractions for preference, but lacking pleasures then any kind of distraction will suffice. Addicts orientate their lives around getting the drug they crave, ignoring normal human instincts, imperatives, aversions. We resemble the 'wireheaded' rats that press a lever to stimulate the pleasure centre in their brains - a compulsion that over-rides eating, drinking, sex, sleep... 


Evil at work: people Just Don't Get-It


In the coverage of mainstream news, with its unrelenting and aggressive search-and-destroy attitude to marriage, family, Christianity; with its upfront and explicit and covert and strategic promotion of ugliness, moral inversion and dishonesty... I am continually surprised at the attitude adopted by traditionalists and reactionaries who persist and persist in regarding the forces ranged against them as well-meaning but misguided.


The fact is that we are at war: we are under attack: we are being harassed, bombed, invaded.

The enemy know what they are doing, they are engaged in genocide: and they know it at many levels from the implicit and taken-for-granted to the battle plan.

To survive (let alone win) real Christians simply must recognize the reality of what is euphemistically caused the Culture Wars - but which is actually Spiritual Warfare.


This is the battle between Good and Evil, God and Satan - it is not a battle between good and evil people, but between good and evil spiritual forces with people variously aligned and nobody wholly on one side.

At times the fight between good and evil has resembled a melee, collections of more-or-less-good individuals on various sides, mixed together, hacking and brawling.

Yet in these modern times, the sides in the battle are becoming sorted more clearly. The evil alliance is becoming larger and larger, more and more coherent, and it should be becoming more and more obvious. 


The nature of this modern spiritual war is the assembling of such a vast coalition of evil that it seems only scattered individuals stand outside it. In our world there is no Gondor or Lothlorien, nor even an Edoras or Lonely Mountain.

The odds in the Culture Wars are so unbalanced that they become almost incomprehensible - in order to guard against despair, those on the side of good are tempted to explain-away the evil alliance, to think to themselves that maybe they are not so evil after all... to believe that good can eventuate from this evil by some natural process of reaction: a pendulum swing.

The odds in the Culture Wars are indeed so adverse that we are tempted to deny that there is a war - and therefore we guarantee that we not only lose the war (which may be what happens either way), but lose our souls in the process.


What we ought to be doing is to acknowledge the War, acknowledge the catastrophic prospects, but continue to fight and remain hopeful of victory by divine assistance of some unforeseen kind.

Acknowledgement of our own essential helplessness could, itself, be the greatest boon of our modern situation.

But it can only happen if we acknowledge our situation - if we recognize the enemy as the enemy.


We need to recognize that keeping up a pretense that the enemy is only a misinformed-friend, is not an act of kindness nor goodness: it is in fact dishonest, a denial of reality: it is indeed sinful, a snare of the enemy.

The failure to recognize the reality and seriousness of the Culture Wars, the failure to recognize that hidden behind Cultural War is the perennial Spiritual War in its modern form, is not therefore merely to lose the war by failing to defend - but to align with the wrong side: actually ourselves to join the forces of evil.


Tuesday 15 January 2013

An Inklings Reader?



Can love be bad? Lessons from the life of Charles Williams


On earth, during mortal life - yes, of course love can be bad; and often is.

If the love is illegitimate, then its fruits will be bad, and thus we we know.

Love of God cannot be bad, but love of neighbour can be bad - often, perhaps usually is bad - insofar as it usurps rather than sustains the love of God.


Charles Williams adulterous love of Phyllis Jones was bad, and can readily be seen to be bad by its fruits.

On earth these fruits included immediate and growing dishonesty, then hurt, then destruction of wholeness, then misery - and in ultimate terms this unrepented evil earthly love, led to displacement of Williams' love of God.


From about 1937 C.W focused on the idea of coinherence by means of exchange and substitution; and this increasingly became conceptualized as a non-Christian technology, a magical not religious thing.

From Alice Mary Hadfield's An Introduction to Charles Williams (1959):

Page 138: From [1938] on, the word 'love' has always a double meaning in his thinking, as personal love, and as love in the City which may be felt in any of the concerns and relationships of people everywhere.

[Note: no reference to love of God.]

Page 141: Can [coinherence] be done without belief in Christianity, without belief in God at all? I [AMH] would say not, though C.W clung to his claim to talk on equal terms with agnostics and non-believers. My objection to [C.W's novel] Descent into Hell [of 1937] is that by silence about Christ it is implied that the life of exchange can be lived without knowledge of Him.

Page 133: Just as he was not particularly interested in people's personalities but much more in their ideas and behaviour, so he was not curious about the personality or human details of Jesus and His life at Nazareth in the Gospel story... It was the paradox of the union of God and Man which held C.W's ,ind, as it had Karl Barth and again the modern theologians of the century.


Thus we perceive that fatal flaw in C.W, along with 'modern theologians' which has led to the current anti-Christian heresy of Liberalism - the deadly heresy of forgetting or displacing of love of God, and the consequent and false assertion of the Goodness and indeed primacy of love-as-such, of earthly love, of love of any-thing under any circumstance - of even illegitimate love.