November 2013

* frozen

"A donkey that carries a lot of books is not necessarily learned."

It is when we stop believing that religions have been handed down from above or else that they are entirely daft that matters become more interesting. We can then recognize that we invented religions to serve two central needs which continue to this day and which secular society has not been able to solve with any particular skill: first, the need to live together in communities in harmony, despite our deeply rooted selfish and violent impulses.

And second, the need to cope with terrifying degrees of pain which arise from our vulnerability to professional failure, to troubled relationships, to the death of loved ones and to our decay and demise. God may be dead, but the urgent issues which impelled us to make him up still and demand resolutions which do not go away when we have been nudged to perceive some scientific inaccuracies in the tale of the seven loaves and fishes.

As victims of hurt, we frequently don't bring up what ails us, because so many wounds look absurd in the light of day. It appalls our reason to face up to how much we suffer from the missing invitation to the unanswered letter, how many hours of torment we have given to the unkind remark or the forgotten birthday, when we should long ago have become serene and impervious to such needles. Our vulnerability insults our self-conception; we are in pain and at the same time offended that we could so easily be so. Our reserve may also have a financial edge. Those who caused us injury are liable to have authority over us - they own the business and decide on the contracts - and it is this imbalance of power that is keeping us quiet, yet not for that matter saving us from bitterness and suppressed rage.

Alternatively, when we are the ones who have caused someone else pain and yet failed to offer apology, it was perhaps because acting badly made us feel intolerably guilty. We can be so sorry that we find ourselves incapable of saying sorry. We run away from our victims and act with strange rudeness towards them, not because we aren't bothered by what we did, but because what we did makes us feel uncomfortable with an unmanageable intensity. Our victims have to suffer not only the original hurt, but also the subsequent coldness we display towards them on account of our tormented consciences.

(Alain De Botton, Religion for Atheists)




"We call people sentimental when they express unusually strong emotional attachments to people, events, objects, places, eras and beliefs. Even if syrupy, we are used to viewing sentimentality as non-threatening.

But there can be a sharp downside to sentimentality. It is not always as tied with goodness and warmth as many think. Indeed, sentimentality can be dangerous to our health, well-being and collective future.

We normally associate super "nice" women and men with sentimentality. Their feelings have a way of seeming innocuous and pre-packaged. But sentimentality also arises in creepy people, including demagogues, oligarchs and murderers.

Many of the Nazi commandants who ran concentration camps also became known for practicing horrendous torture and mass murder by day. Meanwhile, in the evening, they would cry at their child's piano recital.

It can be the root of irrational passions and misplaced idealism; the fuel of ideology and fundamentalism. Hitler, after all, thought the answer to Germany's problem lay in his "sentimental" utopian vision of racial purity.

Before we go further, it is crucial to define sentimentality, because the meaning has changed.

Before the 1800s, "sentimental" was simply a synonym for "feeling." Nothing wrong with emotion.

But, about 150 years ago, Britons began adding a twist to the word. They began using sentimental to describe excessive feeling, particularly emotions that don't have a basis in actuality.

Oscar Wilde, the 19th-century British playwright and wit, summed up this edgier meaning when he wrote: "A sentimentalist is one who desires to have the luxury of an emotion without paying for it."

Similarly, the Irish poet W.B. Yeats wrote, "Rhetoric is fooling others. Sentimentality is fooling yourself."



"The existence of the ego is actually contained in pure logic, it is the condition of intelligible existence. Thus, we find our selves in cognition; all error, all failure of cognition, should feel criminal. Criminality, Weininger maintains, is the abandonment of the duty to truth. One gives up along with it the guarantee of selfhood, one loses the ego, leaves the realm of freedom and becomes just the plaything of unnumbered causal determinants. Paradoxically, the criminal is a "social" being, determined by others. In this sense, the moral person is profoundly non-social."
(Steven Burns, on Otto Weininger)

"Insanity can be localized to particular parts of the brain. You may be perfectly rational when doing mathematics, yet become quite mad when religion or relationships are involved. This is because we divide our minds into insulated departments which we do not permit to interact logically on each other. We divide our lives into idea-tight compartments, which we believe is for our own safety, blinding ourselves to the contradictions and evils that permeate our existence. Consequently, the so-called "aspects" of our lives are completely independent dreamworlds."
(Kevin Solway)

"A fixation is very stubborn: it burrows into the brain and breaks the heart. There are many fixations, but love is the worst."
(Isabel Allende)

"As a child I felt strangely threatened by those who enjoyed losing themselves in blissful absorption in music: what were they running from? No-one could mistake their passionate love of music - but love grows in direct proportion to hatred! To be able to generate so much love, there must be something truly hateful. What is it? Ramakrishna used to say that women and gold were alone responsible for a man's failure to realize God. May I take the opportunity to extend it to women, gold, and song."
(Kevin Solway)