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    The Commission of Ecumenical Translators

    Postby Cpt. Aramsham » 08 Nov 2012 08:30

    What inspired the idea of the CET, the gathering of representatives of all major faiths to compose a common document that would become the Orange-Catholic Bible?

    Syncretic religions (based on combining separate traditions) are a big part of the backdrop in Dune, with the Zensunni as the most obvious example. FH was probably inspired by the religious turmoil of the period, when new religions, sects, cults and spiritual movements were springing up almost daily. Scientology is perhaps the most famous one to have survived (and FH was obviously familiar with it, given its science fiction origins and link with Analog magazine), but others such as Rastafari, Wicca and Nation of Islam were also relatively recent religions or sects that were increasing their profile at the time. (The Rastafari movement in particular has intriguing parallels to Dune, with a living Emperor - who started out as a Duke - being deified by a poor and oppressed people, but the timeline makes it unlikely that this religion specifically was a significant influence.)

    Many of these modern religious movements were syncretic, such as Theosophism, Wicca, Rev. Moon's Unification Church, Unitarian Universalism, Baha'i (though its adherents deny it) and the spiritual movement later known as New Age. The thought of unifying the major world religions (or forming new, strange mixtures of them) was natural in that context.

    The main inspiration for the CET itself is no doubt the 1962-1965 (i.e. contemporary with the writing of Dune) ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic church known as Vatican II. It was, in the words of Tom Lehrer, a "big news story of the year," certainly to someone of Herbert's Catholic upbringing. In the statements attributed to CET delegates, we can hear echoes of Pope John XXIII's opening address to the Second Vatican Council:

    What is needed at the present time is a new enthusiasm, a new joy and serenity of mind in the unreserved acceptance by all of the entire Christian faith, without forfeiting that accuracy and precision in its presentation which characterized the proceedings of the Council of Trent and the First Vatican Council. What is needed, and what everyone imbued with a truly Christian, Catholic and apostolic spirit craves today, is that this doctrine shall be more widely known, more deeply understood, and more penetrating in its effects on men’s moral lives. What is needed is that this certain and immutable doctrine, to which the faithful owe obedience, be studied afresh and reformulated in contemporary terms. For this deposit of faith, or truths which are contained in our time-honored teaching is one thing; the manner in which these truths are set forth (with their meaning preserved intact) is something else.

    The liberal ideas and practices produced by the reformist and modernizing Vatican II council proved controversial within Catholicism, just as the OC Bible proved in Dune.

    More generally, Vatican II was just the latest in a long line of church councils, some of which did indeed lead to riots and charges of heresy, as representatives from disparate strands of Christianity tried to come to agreement on theology and ritual. The most famous is the First Council of Nicaea, which produced the Nicene Creed defining what it means to be Christian. FH was probably familiar, at least to this extent, with this part of church history.

    Finally, I would speculate that the Commission of Ecumenical Translators was inspired in part by the various Biblical translators, particularly the committees who did the King James translation, a work that was unpopular in its own time but came to be seen as definite. The CET Commentaries may also be an indication of a Talmudic template, which brings to mind the legendary 70 scholars (the inspiration for the CET's "Fourteen Sages"?) who produced the Septuagint, translating the Old Testament into Greek.

    So, are these the most likely inspirations, or are there others I have missed?
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    Re: The Commission of Ecumenical Translators

    Postby lotek » 08 Nov 2012 08:51

    I always think of the Council of Trent when I think of the CET.
    Not sure if it's because I read about the relation or if it's just the most famous Ecumenical Council.
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    Re: The Commission of Ecumenical Translators

    Postby Cpt. Aramsham » 08 Nov 2012 09:09

    I'm not sure I see a connection to that Council in particular, since it was rather conservative and characterized by reaffirmation of orthodox beliefs (one of its main points was condemning Protestantism), not creative or unifying like the CET. If it has been suggested, I'd be interested to hear the reasoning.
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    Re: The Commission of Ecumenical Translators

    Postby lotek » 08 Nov 2012 11:48

    As I said, I mentionned it because that the name that comes to my mind when I think ecumenical council.
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    Re: The Commission of Ecumenical Translators

    Postby Jodorowsky's Acolyte » 08 Nov 2012 16:17

    I like where you're going, Cpt. Aramsham. I would say that probably the most probable influence for the CET was the Church of All Worlds in Heinlein's STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND. In that book, a Martian raised human, Valentine Michael Smith, is inspired to combine all the world's main religions and practice them all through a Martian mentality (with nuances such as water sharing and promiscuity). His radical fusion and alteration of religion sets him at odds with the futuristic Evangelicals, who feel threatened by him and slaughter him on live television. Anyway, Heinlein's SIASL influenced a lot of ideas found in DUNE, and I think the CET was meant as a subtle homage to Heinlein as well as a reflection of the religious changes in the 60s.

    Finally, I would speculate that the Commission of Ecumenical Translators was inspired in part by the various Biblical translators, particularly the committees who did the King James translation, a work that was unpopular in its own time but came to be seen as definite. The CET Commentaries may also be an indication of a Talmudic template, which brings to mind the legendary 70 scholars (the inspiration for the CET's "Fourteen Sages"?) who produced the Septuagint, translating the Old Testament into Greek.


    Don't forget the Jerusalem Bible, which was translated with a similar purpose as the King James Bible. Except this time, the Catholics commissioned it, because even they felt the Bible needed a more up to date presentation for modern readers. It was first published in French, and was then translated into English with some help from J.R.R. Tolkien. It was done in 1966 (a year after DUNE was published), and I think it's the most accurate translation of the Bible available because it translates directly from the original texts in Hebrew/Aramaic/Greek. It was pretty radical, because it translated from those texts instead of the traditional Latin Bible which the KJ Bible and others were translated from. Considering that the Catholics commissioned this long after they tried to stop the KJB from being translated was rather ecumenical on their part. (It's a text a definitely want to use when writing messianic science fiction at some point.)
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    Re: The Commission of Ecumenical Translators

    Postby Naïve mind » 09 Nov 2012 01:16

    My favourite association is the Diet of Worms, even though it's wasn't a religious gathering in the strictest sense, because it sounds unintentionally hilarious in English

    To be honest, I think there's no direct historical analogue for something like the CET. Religions large enough to hold councils, synods or commissions tend to attract officials who have become institutionalised in their religion. Such individuals aren't seekers of universal truths, they're people who want to safeguard their identity. And don't be mistaken, identity is the most important service religion provides. What observable, practical difference in behaviour is there between the Catholic and the Protestant? Is one more moral than the other? Happier? More able to bear the burdens of life? I don't think so. But humans have an instinctive need to belong to a tribe, and religion can be that tribe.

    And so religious councils tend to be about identity. They can tighten the boundaries of 'acceptable' faith (Nicea, Dordt, Trent) or even become more inclusive (Vatican II). In all cases, their actions are attempts to strengthen the communal identity.

    I don't think I can imagine a pan-religious council that would essentially vote to dissolve the tribal boundaries. Maybe it was imaginable in the 1960s, though.

    As a side question, we should ask ourselves how this pan-syncretic faith is depicted in Dune? Knowledge of the Orange Catholic Bible seems to be an upper-class phenomenon. Doctor Yueh reads it, Paul, the Bene Gesserit concubines are obviously acquainted with it, and I believe Gurney quotes from it. Hoi Polloi? They have their own faiths, with Mahdis and Messiahs and Much less Introspection.
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    Re: The Commission of Ecumenical Translators

    Postby georgiedenbro » 19 Sep 2014 10:19

    Naïve mind wrote: Such individuals aren't seekers of universal truths, they're people who want to safeguard their identity. And don't be mistaken, identity is the most important service religion provides. What observable, practical difference in behaviour is there between the Catholic and the Protestant? Is one more moral than the other? Happier? More able to bear the burdens of life? I don't think so. But humans have an instinctive need to belong to a tribe, and religion can be that tribe.


    This is not so. It should be blatantly obvious even as a thought experiment that different life-training systems and systems of thought will produce different kinds of people. That this can be easily seen in the world doesn't necessarily make it simple to judge which system is better, but it seems to me foolish to ignore the differences.

    Looking at Catholic versus Protestant nations there are some immediately apparent differences. Let's group a few of each for clarity:

    Protestant: Germany, USA, England (you may not want to count England, up to you)
    Catholic: Italy, Spain, France, South America

    Other than the fact that the Catholic countries speak Latin languages, we may immediately notice something about the economic climate in these two groups. The Protestant countries have a huge cultural emphasis on hard work, feeling inadequate unless successful, and to some extent on feeling culturally superior. They also tend to be alcoholic cultures. The Catholic countries, by contrast, tend to have more openly passionate people, more culturally interested in food, art and dance, and are much less hung-up on life being about work. There are other major differences as well, but these are the most evident to me.

    Trying to disqualify the effects the two religions have on their believers seems to me to be a way of dismissing the religions themselves as irrelevant other than as social control. They may be that, but they are other things as well. Dune's Appendix II seems to suggest that religion is used in the Empire as a control mechanism, but it doesn't follow from this that the nobles in the Empire think the O.C. Bible is nothing but a tool of statecraft. There is a lot of evidence in the books that the nobles actually take it quite seriously, although we don't know to what extent.

    I wouldn't be so quick to assess who is or isn't 'happier' than each other. If you could produce a calculus of happiness and show that there is no difference among different types of religious believers I'd be interested to see the results.
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    Re: The Commission of Ecumenical Translators

    Postby D Pope » 19 Sep 2014 11:52

    ...as a side note

    A few years ago, a friend of mine wrote a paper about his belief that protestants ended up
    in charge of America because of the differences between denominations. It boiled down to
    east coast protestants beating west coast Catholics because of education. His thought was
    since protestants believed they had to read the bible for themselves, they were taught to read
    and developed a more emboldened imagination and spirit than their Catholic slave/vassal
    counterparts.
    While not without some holes, it does lend its self to some interesting thoughts.
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    Re: The Commission of Ecumenical Translators

    Postby Freakzilla » 19 Sep 2014 11:55

    georgiedenbro wrote:Dune's Appendix II seems to suggest that religion is used in the Empire as a control mechanism, but it doesn't follow from this that the nobles in the Empire think the O.C. Bible is nothing but a tool of statecraft. There is a lot of evidence in the books that the nobles actually take it quite seriously, although we don't know to what extent.


    Appendix II: The Religion of Dune
    Any comparison of the religious beliefs dominant in the Imperium up to the
    time of Muad'Dib must start with the major forces which shaped those beliefs:
    ...
    3. The agnostic ruling class (including the Guild) for whom religion was a
    kind of puppet show to amuse the populace and keep it docile, and who believed
    essentially that all phenomena -- even religious phenomena -- could be reduced
    to mechanical explanations;


    I think that makes it pretty clear.
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    Re: The Commission of Ecumenical Translators

    Postby georgiedenbro » 19 Sep 2014 14:00

    That is just the passage I was thinking of. The error that I'm referring to is to think that because religion is used as a puppet show to control the masses that there is also no merit in its passages. That everything can be reduced to mechanical properties doesn't discount the amazing from existing, it only means they believe it can eventually be explained mechanistically. I don't think religion has as a prerequisite that its metaphysics has to have a supernatural character. A Catholic might argue this with me, but I think one can take a 'religious code' as having some value even if one doesn't believe in it as fundamentalists do. We might even wonder whether the supernatural was taken out of religion in the case of the O.C. Bible, since its authors were either lynched or forced to retract.

    Take the Atreides, for example: From whence comes their strange sense of honor and loyalty? Is it purely a tool of statecraft, completely manipulative, or do the Atreides really believe in these principles? If they do, why do they? At a certain point there is nothing to fall back on other than saying they believe in certain axiomatic first principles. Compile a set of those and adhere to them strictly and what do you have - but a religion. It doesn't have to be spooky campfire stuff or alters in cathedrals to be religious, at least not in my view.

    That being said, even Frank alludes to certain principles in the universe that don't seem mechanistic in a straightforward way. For instance, prescience, which defies rules of formal logic. And then there's his concept of humanity being a form of group organism, sometimes acting in unison and having a collective mind of sorts. Maybe these things can be reduced mechanistically, but either way if they were true they could certainly lead to some real religions around them, based on facts, that didn't require the supernatural as their basis.

    I definitely agree with you, though, that Frank shows the nobles as completely rejecting faith-based religions that aren't based on observable phenomena. The only question is whether the O.C. Bible is a document of faith, or of reason. I begin to wonder whether it's a completely philosophical text that is really not religious at all.
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    Re: The Commission of Ecumenical Translators

    Postby Naïve mind » 22 Sep 2014 13:39

    georgiedenbro wrote:This is not so. It should be blatantly obvious even as a thought experiment that different life-training systems and systems of thought will produce different kinds of people.


    It is; I'm just not sure religions actually constitute different life-training systems. They may have different systems of thought, but those don't become relevant until you venture into apologetics, which is not something the majority of followers do.

    georgiedenbro wrote:That this can be easily seen in the world doesn't necessarily make it simple to judge which system is better, but it seems to me foolish to ignore the differences.


    Call me a fool, but I think emphasizing them is exactly what's called the narcissism of small differences

    georgiedenbro wrote:Looking at Catholic versus Protestant nations there are some immediately apparent differences. Let's group a few of each for clarity:

    Protestant: Germany, USA, England (you may not want to count England, up to you)
    Catholic: Italy, Spain, France, South America

    Other than the fact that the Catholic countries speak Latin languages, we may immediately notice something about the economic climate in these two groups. The Protestant countries have a huge cultural emphasis on hard work, feeling inadequate unless successful, and to some extent on feeling culturally superior. They also tend to be alcoholic cultures. The Catholic countries, by contrast, tend to have more openly passionate people, more culturally interested in food, art and dance, and are much less hung-up on life being about work. There are other major differences as well, but these are the most evident to me.


    I'm sorry, but that's a bundle of stereotypes, arranged to describe a vague correlation, and we're supposed to believe that this correlation points towards religion as the main cause. Does language not dictate its own patterns of thinking? Doesn't shared history have its influence on customs and habits? The fact that these countries are geographically close and share similar climates, can not explain anything?

    And then there's the pieces of the puzzle that don't fit in. The Polish have a reputation for being hard workers, with a very alcoholic culture. They are also much more Catholic than the Southern European countries. The Germans would say that, of all groups among them, the Bavarians have a reputation for being stolid, succesful hard workers (I'll say nothing about alcohol); again, the population of Bavaria is Catholic, and always has been.

    georgiedenbro wrote:Trying to disqualify the effects the two religions have on their believers seems to me to be a way of dismissing the religions themselves as irrelevant other than as social control.


    Well, ask yourself, for the average person, how many everyday decisions are influenced by their religious beliefs? Do Protestants drive on the other side of the road from Catholics? Do they live in underground holes rather than in flats, does one group avoid tv completely, when the other group drowns itself in reality shows?

    If there are differences between these groups--within the same culture--at all, they're small deviations from the average, not categorical differences.

    Of course, there are the prescriptive religions. Judaism, Sikhism, the ones that have a whole lot of rules intended to never make you forget what group you belong to, and to make sure nobody else forgets either. But then, it's hard to argue that identity is not a huge component of those religions.

    You might argue that religion isn't about everyday life, that it's about meaningful life decisions. Fortunately, we've had a practical, live experiment about that just twenty years ago, in the former republic of Yuguslavia. Catholics, Muslims and Orthodox, mostly sharing the same culture and speaking very similar languages, had ample opportunity to prove themselves more or less moral than the other group. In practice, they all behaved in the same way.

    georgiedenbro wrote:I wouldn't be so quick to assess who is or isn't 'happier' than each other. If you could produce a calculus of happiness and show that there is no difference among different types of religious believers I'd be interested to see the results.


    Well, if you're happy to take countries as a proxy for religions, atheism seems to be winning.
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    Re: The Commission of Ecumenical Translators

    Postby georgiedenbro » 23 Sep 2014 10:39

    It seems like you're trying to say that while different religions may have varying metaphysics, they seem to share a common ethics? Or in other words, that they more or less advocate similar general behavior, even though they justify it differently? This would be the 'most religions are actually similar to each other' argument.

    Or are you trying to say that even though different religions do advocate different systems of behavior that it has no effect, that they can say anything they like but people are going to behave the same regardless? This would be the 'human behavior isn't changed by a belief system' argument.

    These are very different so I just want to make sure I understand you.
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    Re: The Commission of Ecumenical Translators

    Postby Naïve mind » 24 Sep 2014 02:15

    georgiedenbro wrote:Or are you trying to say that even though different religions do advocate different systems of behavior that it has no effect, that they can say anything they like but people are going to behave the same regardless? This would be the 'human behavior isn't changed by a belief system' argument.


    Neither, but this comes close. I'm not saying that religion doesn't alter behaviour, but that most people's actions aren't religiously informed. Sure, someone's religion might stop them from cheating on their wife—don't depend on it—but how many times a day do people cheat on their wives?

    And on the scale of a population, it's not a categorical difference. Religious people aren't absolutely and completely faithful to their spouses, not every Atheist is an adulterer. Instead, the difference is likely to be a few percent here and there.

    If there were strong, definite advantages to a religiously prescribed behaviour, and religious belief actually was the only way to ensure this behaviour, there would be queues of people wanting to convert. Other than Apple stores, I can't think of houses of worship that currently produce this level of enthusiasm.

    And I think this is logical. Think of religions as pebbles, lying close together on a river bed. Over the millennia, they've bumped against each other so many times they've shaved off their rough edges. Impractical commandments forgotten, difficult theology re-interpreted and explained. Can you tell them apart? Maybe by colour, but not by shape. People have adopted each other's good point, and have gotten rid of the things that are obviously bad, outdated, or cause a lot of strife. What remains of the Christian religions is a little flag saying "I am Protestant" or "I am Catholic", and not much else.
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    Re: The Commission of Ecumenical Translators

    Postby georgiedenbro » 24 Sep 2014 10:20

    Wouldn't you have to look at specific statistics if you wanted to address categorical differences across populations? For instance, if adultery is the topic, you'd want to look at Protestants who admit to committing adultery; those who go to Church regularly, those who go occasionally, and those who don't go. Then you'd do the same for Catholics. Then you'd do the same for atheists, although this group gets sticky because if the atheist in question has a concrete belief system that doesn't happen to have a supernatural metaphysics then you'd have to ask yourself whether they count as 'religious' (even though not part of an organized religion) or whether they are 'secular' (perhaps indicating that they accept standard mores). And how do you differentiate between 'atheist believers (in something other than god)' versus 'atheist amoralists' versus 'atheists who believes things but deny first principles'?

    Obviously not every single person who is a Catholic, or a Protestant, will be a perfect one, even those who try very hard; but since both religions insist that humans are flawed beings that seems to follow. It also can't be discounted that European and North American culture is all derivative of some kind of Judeo-Christianity, and that most people can claim all they like that they aren't Christian, except for the fact that their entire way of life and upbringing is largely Judeo-Christian in ways they don't even realize. The average American atheist is very much a Christian moralist in most ways, other than rejecting the official metaphysics and tradition. They've already been trained, if you will, even though they now, in their adult life, reject the training system.

    The real difficulty, in my opinion, in suggesting that belief systems have no correlation to important behavior is that you have to define what you think important behavior is. In an economic system where many people are effectively drones who go to their desk and do their work, and then spend the evening recuperating, those people are in a position where their personal habits won't have much of an effect on systemic things; they may change their family environment or friends' lives with their beliefs, but not GDP, not average income, and not general quality of life (as it's currently classified). So how do you measure whether a person's inner life is more tranquil; by what calculus? Social science tries to measure these things but is 100 years from saying anything interesting about real human experience. Right now we're still at the point where we're seeing some sparse data (like from surveys and psych experiments) and speculating about what it might mean.

    If the possibility of making important choices is removed from most people's lives you might be right to say that religion won't affect important choices; but this is simply a tautology, and is just another way of saying that when you take control away from individuals their beliefs won't matter. In a political realm where most choices are really false choices, where A and B are both two shades of the same thing and even voting no longer feels meaningful to many people, the only important choices left to define a religious person's life will be private ones, small ones, like whether you are kind to a stranger, or choose to avoid accusing someone even though you think they're wrong. But I do think these subtle activities and mentalities will manifest on a large scale over hundreds of years in a population at large; the more so if we accept Frank's assertion that humanity has a sort of subtle collective will and is subliminally aware of itself.

    PS - I'm not a Christian, but as a thinker I have to hope that a concrete belief systems matters, and so therefore I have to hope as well that religious systems matter. And they definitely are systems, whether or not they're followed properly.
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    Re: The Commission of Ecumenical Translators

    Postby Naïve mind » 25 Sep 2014 15:32

    georgiedenbro wrote:Wouldn't you have to look at specific statistics if you wanted to address categorical differences across populations? For instance, if adultery is the topic, you'd want to look at Protestants who admit to committing adultery; those who go to Church regularly, those who go occasionally, and those who don't go.


    The first link in my post does just that, and the results are what you'd expect them to be. But even then, you can wonder, is the difference due to their greater faith in their belief system, or due to increased social pressure enforcing that belief system, and is this difference meaningful at all?

    But we are talking at cross purposes—you seem to be arguing that a true believer, living his life in accordance with the prescriptions of his faith, would lead a very different life from a true believer with another faith. And there are plenty of examples of that of course; monks, saints, boddhisatvas, classical philosophers like Epictetus or Diogenes. I am arguing that us non-remarkable people who make history, on average, don't use religion for this purpose.

    georgiedenbro wrote:And how do you differentiate between 'atheist believers (in something other than god)' versus 'atheist amoralists' versus 'atheists who believes things but deny first principles'?


    Not even atheists themselves seem to care about the distinction.

    georgiedenbro wrote:It also can't be discounted that European and North American culture is all derivative of some kind of Judeo-Christianity, and that most people can claim all they like that they aren't Christian, except for the fact that their entire way of life and upbringing is largely Judeo-Christian in ways they don't even realize.


    The first time I encountered the concept of "Judeo-Christianity" (which, despite its popularity amongst conservatives, would've been an unusual expression a century ago, and outright offensive to many people fifty years before that) it was written as "Judeo-Greco-Christianity", and it always seemed to me like that was a more honest assessment. Our thinking is not just the product of those boring moralistic religions. It is also the child of the Romans and the Greeks, who fucked everything that moved (or at least considered it even when they didn't approve) and had wild dreams about the nature of the universe.

    georgiedenbro wrote:The average American atheist is very much a Christian moralist in most ways, other than rejecting the official metaphysics and tradition. They've already been trained, if you will, even though they now, in their adult life, reject the training system.


    No argument here. But I suspect it is also harder for American atheists to avoid religion in the way that's possible elsewhere in the world. It seems to be more important for them to define themselves in opposition to religion.

    georgiedenbro wrote:If the possibility of making important choices is removed from most people's lives you might be right to say that religion won't affect important choices; but this is simply a tautology, and is just another way of saying that when you take control away from individuals their beliefs won't matter.


    Ahh, but we have an enormous amount of control about our lives, and the notion that there are no important, meaningful choices to make is patently false. We can choose to reduce our consumption to a level we believe to be sustainable in an uncertain future. We can choose to homestead communities powered by sun and wind instead of coal and oil. We can reject digital technology outright, or embrace it completely. We can choose to be vegetarian—I am not, but it's an important choice. Most of us living in Europe and North-America have enormous economic power that can do many things if spent on the right things. The idea that important change can only come through our political system is one of the great lies of our age. One that will hopefully seem ridiculous to future historians.

    But notice how conventional religion has very little to say about these things. Live your life as your father and mother did. Get a job, a wife, have kids, consume. This is the way it has always been, this is the way it shall always be, amen.

    georgiedenbro wrote:But I do think these subtle activities and mentalities will manifest on a large scale over hundreds of years in a population at large; the more so if we accept Frank's assertion that humanity has a sort of subtle collective will and is subliminally aware of itself.


    I don't share your optimism, I'm afraid.
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    Re: The Commission of Ecumenical Translators

    Postby georgiedenbro » 25 Sep 2014 23:34

    But we are talking at cross purposes—you seem to be arguing that a true believer, living his life in accordance with the prescriptions of his faith, would lead a very different life from a true believer with another faith. And there are plenty of examples of that of course; monks, saints, boddhisatvas, classical philosophers like Epictetus or Diogenes. I am arguing that us non-remarkable people who make history, on average, don't use religion for this purpose.


    I think there's a continuum of how strong a person's belief will be, or what path they'll take given their beliefs. Some Catholics, for example, choose to become priets and others parents, but it isn't the case the 'the best Catholics become priests'; they believe strongly in different vocations depending on the person. In this sense it becomes very very hard to parse who is a true believer but living a low key life, versus living a similar life while being a 'weak' believer. But that doesn't mean the minutiae of these two different lives will be identical - it just means that grand sweeping surveys won't be effective in seeing the differences.

    georgiedenbro wrote:And how do you differentiate between 'atheist believers (in something other than god)' versus 'atheist amoralists' versus 'atheists who believes things but deny first principles'?


    Not even atheists themselves seem to care about the distinction.


    Yes, and this is a major problem in American thought at the moment. So far all 'atheism' has managed to become is a nay-saying dogma, that denies certain belief systems but offers none of its own. It tacitly assumes Christian morals, rejects the philosophy behind it, and doesn't forward a new metaphysics or set of first principles. The nation's founders may or may not have been secret atheists, but one thing is sure: they had very serious principles that went beyond merely saying "monarchy sucks." They were not just against something, but were for something else; this is the building step that I have yet to see any self-proclaimed atheist take. So far all we are hearing is "science" as a doctrine, but science is just engineering and will never be a belief system.

    Ahh, but we have an enormous amount of control about our lives, and the notion that there are no important, meaningful choices to make is patently false. We can choose to reduce our consumption to a level we believe to be sustainable in an uncertain future. We can choose to homestead communities powered by sun and wind instead of coal and oil. We can reject digital technology outright, or embrace it completely. We can choose to be vegetarian—I am not, but it's an important choice. Most of us living in Europe and North-America have enormous economic power that can do many things if spent on the right things. The idea that important change can only come through our political system is one of the great lies of our age. One that will hopefully seem ridiculous to future historians.

    But notice how conventional religion has very little to say about these things. Live your life as your father and mother did. Get a job, a wife, have kids, consume. This is the way it has always been, this is the way it shall always be, amen.


    I think that most behaviors will be dictated by a system, and most individuals will fall into patterns set by the system. This is just like particles in a magnetic field; most will behave as expected, some few won't and will do unpredictable things. Deciding how to change the system may be the best function of a thinker or believer, since it will change average behavior across the board. In this sense I disagree with you about minimizing the importance of politics. I don't think being vegetarian or not is very important in the grand scheme, but I do think the issue of individual freedoms vs government mandate is of huge importance to everyone. You won't be wondering about whether to eat tofu versus beef when the local Soviet governor tells you what you can buy. Religious or philosophical belief is exactly what will make people back one type of society versus another; that is, assuming the system of representation works.

    Think about the Duniverse, though, for a moment. Do you really think that the citizens in the Duniverse more or less all have the same kind of life no matter the particular belief systems? Do people on Giedi Prime enjoy the same kind of life as those on Caladan? We don't know in detail, but I'd suspect that life on Caladan in a lot better. The reason is purely because of the belief system of the rulers. Most great powers in Dune seem to be 'godless' in most senses, believing in absolutely nothing except for pure power. The BG may be an exception, as we don't know quite for certain what their inner teachings are. The Imperium and the Great Houses seem to care for nothing except for power, and some notion of 'nobility', the latter of which is no doubt just to maintain the faufreluch system and prevent the lower classes thinking they can usurp the rulers. The Guild apparently has no beliefs on anything whatever that we ever see. The only people we see with deep beliefs unrelated to pure power are the Atreides. We might describe them as the only 'god-fearing' House around, in that they believe in some first principles a priori, regardless of whether or not they're convenient to follow. The Atreides are in some contemporary sense 'good people', as far as it goes. Surely you wouldn't suggest that Duke Leto is any kind of similar person as mercenaries like Shaddam or the Baron or a Guildsman?

    Look at the differences between Paul, brought up by Leto and Jessica, and then at Feyd. I'd say that Frank, at least, believed in the strong power of a belief system to shape someone's upbringing and their life. You may not want to call the Atreides religious since they belong to no major religion, but I would suggest that one of Frank's points in Dune is to suggest that we should all be deeply religious, and that our religion should consist of a church with a congregation of one. The Atreides may have shared a code, but each Atreides we see has a very different way of reading the code. Look at how different Leto II's way is from Paul's father, and what Duncan has to say about that. But they both have the Atreides honor and intent. The Atreides believed in something, and that made them special; enough so that others noticed and would have followed them.

    You may choose to disbelieve in the efficacy of a religious or philosophic upbringing, but I'd suggest that Frank would be against you on this one. The key thing is to make sure that the code is really believed and lived and isn't just a mimicking of phrases and rituals like the Museum Fremen. You might suggest that this upbringing would only really affect certain choice individuals, and the rest would sort of all turn out similar to each other regardless; I'd suggest that this is a result of the system which acts to homogenize and minimize human thinking, and to subtly enslave men's minds. I think Frank was writing about contemporary government and men just as much as future ones, and was suggesting that we already have the trappings of giving our minds over to bureaucracy and machine-logic. In a system like this, no kidding that belief systems lose out to the system's effects.
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    Re: The Commission of Ecumenical Translators

    Postby Serkanner » 26 Sep 2014 04:53

    georgiedenbro wrote:So far all 'atheism' has managed to become is a nay-saying dogma, that denies certain belief systems but offers none of its own.


    Seriously?
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    Re: The Commission of Ecumenical Translators

    Postby Freakzilla » 26 Sep 2014 06:43

    Why do Atheists have to "believe" anything? We accept the world as it is. Science will do, if we have to claim a "belief". If you can't tell right from wrong without someone or a book dictating it to you, you need empathy, not religion.
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    Re: The Commission of Ecumenical Translators

    Postby lotek » 26 Sep 2014 08:18

    . It tacitly assumes Christian morals, rejects the philosophy behind it, and doesn't forward a new metaphysics or set of first principles.


    I don't know many Christians who follow their imposed morals as closely as atheists follow their personal set of morals.
    And metaphysics is science, not religion.

    Dune shows religion is a sham, and that it's humans that give it its power, not some magical being that behaves like a spoilt brat.
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    Re: The Commission of Ecumenical Translators

    Postby georgiedenbro » 26 Sep 2014 08:58

    Freakzilla wrote:Why do Atheists have to "believe" anything? We accept the world as it is. Science will do, if we have to claim a "belief". If you can't tell right from wrong without someone or a book dictating it to you, you need empathy, not religion.


    You're quite right that a person doesn't necessarily need to adopt any kind of belief system. I could have been more clear; what I mean to say is that atheism hasn't replaced religion with a new secular belief system, it has, for the moment, done away with belief systems. I just think that many people mistakenly think that science is their new belief system that gives them values, but in reality science is no more than a description of how things work and doesn't address how people should live or what is ethical. Many people do treat science like a religion, though, and this may be evidence that people at large desire a belief system of some kind, even though they don't fancy supernatural ones any more.

    But I don't mean to suggest listening to a book and turning off your own mind; in terms of atheism it would be more plausible to be a student of philosophy or of a great thinker and to learn thinking for oneself. Frank's writing is as high up as any philosophical work I've ever read, and I think studying the Dune Chronicles, for instance, is an excellent way to elevate one's thinking. Why elevate it at all? That's a tough question, but I believe does so has value, and this is sort of the issue I was raising in the thread. I think religion tries to do this too, but we may dispute whether it is the best way to do so.
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    Re: The Commission of Ecumenical Translators

    Postby lotek » 26 Sep 2014 09:13

    You don't need a god or religion to have beliefs.
    I don't know anyone who thinks science is a system of moral values. It's just science.

    And to me, quantum physics are supernatural. And science.
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    Re: The Commission of Ecumenical Translators

    Postby lotek » 26 Sep 2014 09:21

    I'm not begrudging the fact that some people like religion, good for them, but I find it supremely annoying when religious people try to put their mumbo jumbo on the same plane as science.
    It's not.

    I doubt you could find any sane person saying elevating/bettering yourself is a bad thing. But I'd rather be nice to someone because of the result, not because I'm afraid of eternal fires. And I'd rather learn to avoid the ignorance that led people to believe the things(edited) they saw after finding those funny shrooms in the desert were real.

    Look up DMT if you want some crazy science meets mysteries stuff.
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    Re: The Commission of Ecumenical Translators

    Postby Freakzilla » 26 Sep 2014 09:30

    I wasn't trying to say science was a belief system, that's why I put it in quotation marks.

    I just don't think you need religion to tell you how to be moral or ethical. If you can't figure that out on your own you probably have a screw loose and religion isn't going to fix that anyway.
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    Re: The Commission of Ecumenical Translators

    Postby Serkanner » 26 Sep 2014 09:53

    georgiedenbro wrote:Many people do treat science like a religion, though,


    I think you are incorrect. People believe the scientific way to be true and trust science to give the answers they look for. This is not all comparable with religious mumbo-jumbo.
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    Re: The Commission of Ecumenical Translators

    Postby georgiedenbro » 26 Sep 2014 10:07

    Freakzilla wrote:I wasn't trying to say science was a belief system, that's why I put it in quotation marks.
    I just don't think you need religion to tell you how to be moral or ethical. If you can't figure that out on your own you probably have a screw loose and religion isn't going to fix that anyway.

    When suggesting that the Atreides can be seen as 'religious' I am using the term in the same way I used it when I suggested that Frank might advocate being a member of a religion with a membership of one. I just mean 'religion' in this sense to suggest a belief system that governs action, even when it is inconvenient to do so, like a convention. I don't think that every religion has to have a supernatural component or god, and you could just as soon substitute "my person code" for "religion" and it would mean roughly the same thing. Actually I think the major problem with religion is that followers don't accept it as their personal code, but just call themselves religious and leave it at that with no further thinking.

    @Freak: I know you didn't mean to imply that science is a religion, but I believe that legions of people do treat it as one. How could "studies show" and "7 out of 10 XYZ recommend..." ever work in advertisements otherwise? I don't think you need someone else's religion to teach you right from wrong, but you do need to 'make your own religion', which is just a funny way of saying to develop a personal code. I think you'd agree it's no good to always just do what you feel like, so it's about determining what sorts of things should replace your natural inclination. Someone insults you - do you hit him, or shrug it off? I don't think there's an automatic right answer here, it depends on how highly honor is valued as opposed to non-violence, and the balance between these two needs to be established. What about mercy vs justice/prevention? Or patience vs decisive action? I don't think people are imbued with 'the answer' to these things, they have to be decided. If you don't want someone else to tell you the answer - great! But then the job is yours, I don't think it should be avoided. I think it's reasonable to call a 'complete' set of decisions of this type a belief system, and although the term "religion" is presently held in low regard by many, nevertheless there is nothing to distinguish a personal belief system from a personal religion. Either one can include supernatural beliefs, or not, and can include prescriptive suggestions for others, or not.

    Is this a bit more clear? I realize I unleashed a few undefined terms that may have led to confusion, sorry about that. I'm just trying to liken the Atreides to 'true believers' as compared to others in the Imperium, and so show that Frank didn't necessarily have a completely cynical view on belief systems, even though most Houses Major did.
    Serkanner wrote:
    georgiedenbro wrote:Many people do treat science like a religion, though,


    I think you are incorrect. People believe the scientific way to be true and trust science to give the answers they look for. This is not all comparable with religious mumbo-jumbo.

    Science can provide “is” statements, but not “ought” statements. The former is information, the latter is a decision. But I think many people act as though science provides both, that “believing in science” will also tell them the best way to live. To be sure science can refute statements of how to live that rely on false premises, but other than refuting wrong ideas it can’t provide any of its own.
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