Mary Douglas delivers the Terry Lectures 2003 in streaming audio

thinking-in-circles

In this series of four public lectures delivered at Yale University in October 2003, anthropologist Mary Douglas explains the thinking behind her work on ‘ring composition’. These are the lectures on which her book Thinking in Circles (Yale University Press) is based.

Writing in Circles: Ring Composition as a Creative Stimulus

Is God literally real?

3247937322_0f82afc8c1Philosopher A.C. Grayling writes about  the illiterate roots of religion.

The ‘roots’ of religion may be illiterate, but this is hardly a cogent argument since the roots of everything, including writing, are illiterate.

Further, it’s unhelpful to disparage illiteracy in a generalising way. Australian Aboriginal culture, for instance, has been ‘illiterate’ for most of its existence, yet is one of the high points of human achievement. Far from being ‘primitive’ as European theorists such as Durkheim claimed, it is highly advanced and has a highly advanced relationship with its environment. In a sense, country is the ‘text’ with which Aboriginal culture is ‘written’, or the page on which it is inscribed. Or rather, literacy in the sense we understand it is a pale shadow of its former glory (was it Socrates who thought writing was an inferior form compared with face to face discourse?). Continue reading “Is God literally real?”

Good Intentions: is rational choice the only choice?

A new book called Good Intentions proposes that Christians should stop judging economic matters on the basis of pre-conceived moral positions and start judging them on the basis of what actually works. A prime example is the debate about the minimum wage… Continue reading “Good Intentions: is rational choice the only choice?”

Virtual Goods and the Greatest Story ever Told


Virtual goods make money

In a recent post about the profitability of online social networks in the US, China and Japan, venture capitalist Bill Gurley presents evidence that the more financially successful social network sites are those that downplay advertising revenue and focus on revenue from virtual goods. He points out that Users in Second Life are doing $450m annually in this business and taking out of Second Life $100m a year.

But why would anyone buy them? Continue reading “Virtual Goods and the Greatest Story ever Told”

Room for One More on the Atheist Bus

The Battle of the Bus Adverts has begun in earnest. Now the Christians have taken up the challenge and responded with ads of their own, including the Russian Orthodox Church who, with tongue firmly out of cheek, produced ‘There IS a God’.

There is probably a geographical or cultural specificity to the effectiveness of these adverts. After all, one message probably wouldn’t play equally well in every city. So here’s a couple of suggestions for the atheist riposte, which is sure to come… any time now, depending on traffic conditions.

In New York:
HE’S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU.

In Jerusalem:
TYPICAL – YOU WAIT AGES FOR ONE THEN THREE COME ALONG AT ONCE.

Any others – or is it all just too silly?

Grid-group cultural theory and hierarchical churches

The Gag WarehouseIt came to my attention recently that there are still churches which don’t let women preach or lead worship.

Choosing the leaders because they are men is a hierarchical approach to social organisation and needs to be set in a context. The other ways of choosing leaders should be noted:

Egalitarian – ‘priesthood of all believers’ (become more like the Quakers and be suspicious of activities that require structured leadership)

Individualist – ‘work out your own salvation’ (become more like the new age and construct your own tailor-made religion out of bought pieces. Leaders are entrepreneurs).

Fatalist – ‘the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles’ (Acts 1.26) (become more like a lottery and embrace chance. After all, leadership is pointless –  who remembers what Matthias ever did?) Continue reading “Grid-group cultural theory and hierarchical churches”

Is it misleading to say there probably isn’t a God?

The Atheist Bus Campaign story just keeps rolling along.

The latest is that after more than 400 complaints, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority is considering an investigation.

Meanwhile in Australia no such problems have been encountered, since the advertising industry is already censoring itself by refusing to work with anti-God ads.

mithras-westminster-museum-chester

It seems the ASA may be putting itself in the unenviable position of ruling on whether the claim that ‘There’s probably no God’ is misleading. To help the process along I can definitively advise that there is in fact a God in England and he has been located  in Oxford, York, Manchester, London and Chester (see image), as well as at a number of places in Northumbria. This is obviously bad news for atheists, but it may be equally bad news for Christians, Jews and Muslims. The God in question is none other than Mithras, the subject of a popular ancient Roman mystery cult. In fact, evidence of his existence is to be found all over western Europe.

Paganism was banned in 341, but London’s Mithraic temple is due to be re-established by developers in 2009.

There is a serious point to this: by denying a certain type of god, contemporary Atheists risk lending that god some backhanded credibility.


How to Combine Eastern and Western Philosophy

It’s Christmas time and all around people are revisiting the cultic practices of an ancient oriental sect, as though they were at the very heart of Western culture.Three wise men?

The longer I live the more annoying I find the maintenance of the fairly rigorous distinction between two traditions of philosophy – Eastern and Western. This can be defended as a necessary specialisation – as though ‘world philosophy’ would be just too much for any one brain to comprehend. But the more I think about it the more it seems like an ideology, a deliberate dualism to go with those rightly exposed and criticised by some feminists and some readers of Foucault. The West is active, the East passive, the West emotional, the East inscrutible, the West masculine, the East feminine and so on. Do we really need this distinction between East and West? What is it for? Who does it benefit? Continue reading “How to Combine Eastern and Western Philosophy”

So… what should I believe?

Psychologist Dorothy Rowe has a book out about religious belief, entitled What Should I Believe? She says,

it is possible to create set of beliefs, which allow us to live at peace with ourselves and other people, to feel strong in ourselves without having to remain a child forever dependent on some supernatural power, and to face life with courage and optimism.

What I find interesting about this is the acceptance of the idea that belief  as such presents itself as some kind of choice, while the content of belief is in need of construction by each and every would-be believer. It seems that DIY religion is not so much an option – it’s the only real possibility.

But I think there may be at least three alternatives… Continue reading “So… what should I believe?”