Archives for posts with tag: religion

If I don’t know which piece of cake I’m going to get, I’m more likely to cut fairly than if I do.

The world, as a cake, is very unevenly cut – look at it.

Global GDP Cake

History suggests that uneven distribution of capital is sought for. In International Relations we talk about the balance of power or rising powers. It’s almost every day that someone quakes because soon China will regain it’s world number one position after a 500 year slumber. So it seems self evident that uneven distribution is sought for by the powerful, and fought against by the weak.

In day-to-day life it’s the same. Most of us are individualistic. We have been trained this way by society because, short of a first-date, your dinner is not bought for you. To survive you must look after yourself (and your children) above others. If you had to cut the cake into four pieces, and you knew you were going to get first pick, you would cut yourself a massive slice, and then leave three small pieces behind. Life doesn’t work like that though. You didn’t choose your slice, nor did anyone else, nor any supernatural force (as if you are a chosen special-case, or doomed soul).

Picture this impossible situation: you have not been born – you don’t know where you will be born, who your parents will be, how much money you’ll have, or what your life chances will be. Indeed your conception of the world is covered by a ‘veil of ignorance‘. Now, all of a sudden, you have the power to decide for everyone how wealth will be distributed. How much do you give to who? Equal amounts to all so that luck doesn’t play a role? – or perhaps gamble? lots to some and far less to the rest; you might be rich, you might be destitute. I can tell you the result of this actual research: most of us choose a fair distribution.

The Lottery of Life

You can apply this conception (a little more realistically) again by swapping wealth for talents / disabilities. You do not know if you will be born into a wheelchair or as Usain Bolt. You can also do this with race, creed, height, hair colour, everything.

What’s the implication? Well basically, next-to-nobody would choose this global or national situation we are ‘in’, yet plenty of people get in the way of development goals globally or look poorly upon taxation domestically. (p.s. I don’t mean we should give to charity, in fact please do not give to charities. This creates a horrible cycle. I condone properly administered redistributive taxation as a form of compensation to the people with small slices).

This conceptual situation combines two ideas from John Rawls – one of the most influential philosophers of the 20th Century. He calls this the ‘veil of ignorance’ and the ‘original position‘. As you can see, the ‘veil of ignorance’ is not knowing where you will be born or what the situation is; and the ‘original position’ shows that your situation from birth is unfairly determinate to the rest of your life – something no-one would choose. Talents and fortunes fall like manna from above, as do you, so there’s no telling how good or bad your life will be.

The end of the world came and went this Saturday as predicted. Not for me, nor for you, but nonetheless a few million people died on that fateful day. God may or may not have had anything to do with it – perhaps old age, poor health or bad luck may explain things with more ‘reality’ attached.

That is the question, ultimately. Is God responsible? real? there? here? Sometimes we like to define ourselves according to the question, ‘do you believe in God?’. The answers appear to be: Yes, No, I don’t know. If we’re being pedantic we would suggest the alternative response ‘which one?’ . But I contend that the only ‘truthful’ response can be: ‘who cares?’.

I do not mean this in a derogatory way at all, in fact I mean the opposite. It is exactly that belief, the ability to believe, and the uncertainty of our perceptions, which creates the ultimate enigma. The in-vogue philosopher, Slavoj Zizek (see youtube), quite rightly points out that religion and atheism (but christianity in particular) does not make the command, ‘trust me’, but says, ‘I trust you’. You might think that this definition of what Christians call ‘faith’, supports the noble side of religion or the atheistic confidence in humans to discover, but you would be wrong. It simply identifies our human capacity to dissociate ourselves from reality.

When atheists attempt to explain how God cannot exist, or when religious types explain how God must, they are both believing something. They both have faith that their version of reality reflects life accurately and what is more, they are willing to argue about the ‘non-world’. This is why the answer to the question must not be: religious (Yes), atheist (No) or agnostic (yes/no). In fact we must cut the whole question to pieces. There is no satisfactory answer because the question is based on a misnomer, it is based on mental fatigue – we are so tired of thinking and questioning that we resort to believing.

Strong and blind belief is a virtue. Oh then I will strongly believe that you don't know much of anything.

Belief doesn’t stop here. Belief exists in everything we do. It is the concept that blinkers our ability to perceive alternative horizons. Of course, to a large and overwhelming extent, we cannot escape ideology and we will inevitably have a perspective on things. But the point is to reflect on this fact and reconsider the angle of the blinkers, the tightness of the fit, the accuracy of our vision. We ought not succumb to belief; we ought to strive to uncover our less obvious ideas. The real ‘biggest question’ is: what are the things that you don’t know, you know?