Friday, November 26, 2010

Food for thought

Although this is an old post on Corpus Callosum, I thought it worth highlighting:
As we sift through history, we see that there have been many who would have changed the course of events for the better. Sometimes, the geometry of the Universe permits this; sometimes, it impedes it.

History has a lesson for us.  As the Roman empire was crumbling, and the Dark Ages began, there was a great struggle among theologians.  They cast aside Plato, and with him, his beloved tetrahedron, cube, octahedron, and dodecahedron. Worst of all, even the supremely elegant icosahedron was tossed back into the sea.

They thought the cross would solve everything.  Alas, they could only think in two dimensions.

One of them dared to dissent.  He carried the peculiar name Pelagius.  He promoted the idea that humans are basically good, and that it is through their free choice of actions that they keep themselves good.

In contrast, the predominant view at the time was that of St. Augustine, who believed that humans were fundamentally tainted by the original sin, and any good they had, came from the grace of god. 

The geometry of the Universe was not kind to Pelagius, although ultimately he managed to avoid the worst of fates.  From Wikipedia:
When Alaric sacked Rome in 410, Pelagius fled to Carthage, where he came into further conflict with Augustine. His follower Coelestius was condemned by a church council there. Pelagius then fled to Jerusalem, but Augustine's followers were soon on his trail; Orosius went to Jerusalem to warn St Jerome against him. Pelagius succeeded in clearing himself at a diocesan synod in Jerusalem and a provincial one in Diospolis (Lydda ), though Augustine said that his being cleared at those councils must have been the result of Pelagius lying about his teachings.

Augustine's version of Pelagius's teachings about sin and atonement were condemned as heresy at the local Council of Carthage in 417.
Those are the people who told us to put away childish things.  Those are the people who cast aside the icosahedron as a mere trinket.  But it so doing, they brought us the Dark Ages.

The online Catholic Encyclopedia contains the following commentary about Pelagius:
Meanwhile the Pelagian ideas had infected a wide area, especially around Carthage, so that Augustine and other bishops were compelled to take a resolute stand against them in sermons and private conversations.
Imagine that, being infected with the notion that humans are fundamentally good.  Is it some kind of virus?
I saw in this passage a reminder that the concept of ideas going "viral" has been with us as a species for a long time - easily predating the current era of YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook (within the context of which we usually discuss news, ideas, gossip, videos, and such going viral) and undoubtedly going well back to a time when we relied upon the oral tradition as our medium for communication. Clearly, the power structure of the Church of Pelagius' era considered his ideas viral in a negative sense, due to their subverting the prevailing dogma. And yet one could make a case that Pelagius' ideas were viral in a more positive sense, as a potential cure to the oncoming darkness, to the extent that those open to his ideas might see the path to salvation in a much more positive view of themselves and their fellow humans. Under better circumstances, Pelagius' ideas might have had more success.

I remember a scene from the film I Am Legend in which the protagonist Robert Neville discusses Bob Marley with Anna:
He had this idea. It was kind of a virologist idea. He believed that you could cure racism and hate… literally cure it, by injecting music and love into people’s lives. When he was scheduled to perform at a peace rally, a gunman came to his house and shot him down. Two days later he walked out on that stage and sang. When they asked him why – He said, “The people, who were trying to make this world worse… are not taking a day off. How can I? Light up the darkness.”

We seem poised at the brink of a new Dark Age. What ideas, what actions, might go sufficiently viral in order to instead make this world better rather than worse? Who will light up the darkness?

4 comments:

Don Durito said...

Interesting post.  I just read and reviewed a book you might find interesting; NONZERO by Robert Wright.  You'll find the review on my blog.  Based upon what I see on your site you may also like my poem Holy Hell.  Check it out at:

http://thoughtsfromthestreet.com

I'm going to follow your blog; you obviously think deeper than the average person.

Don Durito said...

Interesting post.  I just read and reviewed a book you might find interesting; NONZERO by Robert Wright.  You'll find the review on my blog.  Based upon what I see on your site you may also like my poem Holy Hell.  Check it out at:

http://thoughtsfromthestreet.com

I'm going to follow your blog; you obviously think deeper than the average person.

Don Durito said...

Interesting post.  I just read and reviewed a book you might find interesting; NONZERO by Robert Wright.  You'll find the review on my blog.  Based upon what I see on your site you may also like my poem Holy Hell.  Check it out at:

http://thoughtsfromthestreet.com

I'm going to follow your blog; you obviously think deeper than the average person.

Don Durito said...

A terrific post. I think I am more and more with Pelagius. Unless a doctrine is based on trusting humans to be good to each other, it's just going to end in the same top-down imposed bullshit we deal with already.

Thanks Don, I hadn't been here for a while but I see you're still well worth a visit.

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