At the end…

You thought that love’s a bit like gold
Or like the stories you were told,
Or that true love is like the fire
That burns to make the night a liar.

You thought that love is like a thief
Who steals your linen handkerchief–
Or, like the lightening in the skies,
A mere electrical surprise

You thought that love would never come
Or’s gone too soon like pirates’ rum.
You thought that love had cheated you
You thought of love in all you owe.

You saw your love personified
In roses and in girls who cried;
In messages that never came
Or when they did were all the same.

And in the end you came to know
That love is just the to and fro
The rumpled sheets in bed and nest
From girls who loved you, but not best.

The Poetics of Unbelief

Originally posted on The New Oxonian:

riting about not believing is not easy.  We are accustomed to poems about neurotic seizures, personal crisis, lost love and suicidal consequences, but the big questions of belief and religion have more commonly been objects for satire.

Let me call attention to two exceptions.

Philip Larkin (d 1985) was a soft-spoken intellectual, quietly angry young and middle-aged man, who hated the limelight and preferred ridicule and mild eroticism (he was a defender of soft porn) to the intellectual poetry of his era.  He was encouraged in what he liked to do best– jabbing at the hypocrisies of religion, politics and family life–by writers like Kingsley Amis and imitated Yeats and Hardy before developing his own mid-century “symbolist” vocabulary:

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.   
    They may not mean to, but they do.   
They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for…

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Muhammad Iqbal: The Mosque of Cordova (1932)*

Originally posted on The New Oxonian:

Mosque of Cordoba” (c.1932)

Masjid  e- Qur-tubah

Silsilah-e roz-o-shab

In the flow of light to dark

the jeweller is hard at work.

In the spaces between light and dark,

in birth and death:

Silsilah-e roz-o-shab:

With coloured silken strands,

he works a royal robe.

In the flow of light to dark,

Azal: The pre-eternal sadness,

where the Jeweller speaks

or hisses his decisions,

Weighing you,

dangling me in the balance,

The master assaying

in the shadows, day to night.

If you are wanting–

If I am wanting:

Terii Baraat–

Marii baraat.

Death for the all the worlds

in the kingdom where

there is no day and night.

The works of our hand,

all glister and fashioning

will flash away–

Kaar e jahaa; N be-;  sabaat!

The world comes at last to this!

In the beginning was the end.

Within the form…

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Deep-end Dawkins

Originally posted on The New Oxonian:

“Put the kids in the basement Mother, there’s one of them scientist fellers at the door.”

Religion as Child Abuse

Short of saying, “The sun is shining today,” I’m not one to make scientific pronouncements.  I’m too afraid that a physicist who happens to be passing by will say, “Actually, no.  The sun may appear to be shining to you, but it does not shine. It gives off radiant energy in the form of heat and light. In fact using the formula (32 x 106) / (3.46 x 1016) = 9.25 x 10-10 where the area through which the sun’s radiation is pouring = 4 (pi) R2 = 3.46 x 1016 square miles only about  -90.3 dB, or one billionth of the sun’s radiation reaches the earth.  So ‘shining’ is not the word you want.”

Naturally you would not follow a correction…

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A Barely Historical Jesus


From earlier

Originally posted on The New Oxonian:

I read a blog written by Ian at Irreducible Complexity a day or so ago that attempts a useful feat: offering a typology of Jesus mythicism ranging from something he calls Jesus minimalism to maximal mythicism, with some shades and positions in between–postive, analogical, and methodological forms of the approach. It’s a nice try (though, oddly, it seems to owe a lot to the Wiki on Jesus Mythicism) to bring some coherence to a process that he cleverly describes as trying to “nail jelly to the wall.”

Typologies are useful things, and there’s no doubt that people have different levels of confidence in the primary artifacts for knowing anything about Jesus.

It’s also true that people will come to these artifacts with different ideas of how they should be handled: with kid gloves, if your approach is overly theological or apologetic, or a sandblaster if you think the whole structure…

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On the Dignity of Humanism

Originally posted on The New Oxonian:

Joseph Hoffmann

As a humanist I have often done what humanists do: hide behind the great thoughts of significant men and women to give my own ideas heft and importance.

The possibility of doing that came to an end in 2009, when America’s oldest humanist society, the AHA, bestowed its “Humanist of the Year” award on a man named P Z Myers, someone whose simplistic views, bare-knuckle style towards his critics, and lack of literary depth embody everything I abhor about contemporary humanism and new atheism.

But I have written plenty about what I abhor.  And I have written a fair bit about why organized humanism, infused and high-jacked by the “new” atheism, has been turned into a parody of serious humanist principles and ideals.  Myers, blogger Jerry Coyne, and a few other swains who hang out at the Free Thought Ghetto, wasted no time trying to frame me as a pompous…

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Nietzsche: Of Love, Trees, and Religion

Originally posted on The New Oxonian:

Reading Nietzsche is not always the easiest thing to do. He is the okra of philosophers, and his moments of lyricism are offset by yawpish moments like this one from “On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life”:

Consider the herd grazing before you. These animals do not know what yesterday and today are but leap about, eat, rest, digest and leap again: and so from morning to night and from day to day, only briefly concerned with their pleasure and displeasure, enthralled by the moment and for that reason neither melancholy nor bored. It is hard for a man to see this, for he is proud of being human and not an animal and yet regards its happiness with envy because he wants nothing other than to live like the animal, neither bored nor in pain, yet wants it in vain because he does not want it like…

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The Discovery of History

Originally posted on The New Oxonian:

From The Morality of History (© 2014) R. Joseph Hoffmann

The fundamental discovery of the Enlightenment was the discovery of history or rather, of a historical consciousness. History had, of course, been written for two millennia. The Hebrews wrote it. The Greeks wrote it. The Romans wrote it. Often it was intertwined with interest in legend and legendary beginnings, making important men into great men or demigods; making bloody battlefield victories into providential triumphs; making stubborn evangelists and confessors into saints.

The idea of a history that could be detached from the parochial interests of writers and patrons cannot flourish when the patrons are kings and popes, who want history told in a certain way, a way consistent with giving glory to the sovereign, or glory to God and his holy church. The idea of a history faithful to impartial description and free of the demand for exaggeration and…

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Love in Transoxiana

Originally posted on The New Oxonian:

The first thing to know is that Transoxiana (Transoxania) is a western fiction: The name stuck in Western consciousness because of the exploits of Alexander the Great, who extended Greek culture into the region with his conquests of the 4th century BC. Transoxiana was the far north-eastern point of Hellenistic culture until the Arab invasion. During the Sassanid Empire (>7th century CE) it was often called Sogdiana, a provincial name taken from the Achaemenid Empire, and used to distinguish it from nearby Bactria. These now sound like names out of mythology. Perhaps they are, partly. But their purchase on the land, the culture, the people, and the cities is permanent.

Once upon a time this was a center of Arabic learning—in the so-called Sassanid period—due to the immense wealth the region derived from the silk road. The Arabs knew it simply as the “land beyond the river” (Ma wara’un-Nahr…

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