About Rationally Speaking


Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Friday, January 19, 2007

An inspiring sight indeed

Time to make fun of a different religious group than the usual Christian or Muslim fundamentalists, for a change. It's the turn of the Hindu. Today they have been bathing by the millions (at least 18 million, with an estimated 60 million over the last three weeks) in the river Ganges in northern India. Why? I'm glad you asked. You see, it's the main day of the Ardh Kumbh Mela, a time when bathing in the Ganges washes away your sins. Indeed, some experts quoted by the BBC claim that one bathing today is the equivalent of millions of ritual offerings. Wow, what a deal!

According to a radio report by BBC correspondent Geeta Pandey (who did not bathe herself, apparently), this is an “inspiring sight.” Why? What exactly is inspiring in witnessing the world's greatest gathering of human beings, all intent in showing to the rest of us how silly their superstition really is? To begin with (well, other than the business of offering-equivalents mentioned above), today is the day because of a relatively infrequent (though not particularly rare) alignment of sun, moon, Venus and Mercury into Capricorn. And you thought astrology was an exclusively Western piece of nonsense!

Moreover, apparently (according to an “expert,” but how can there be experts about nonsense?), “the planetary alignment is such that the sun rays, when they fall on the Ganges, turn the river water into nectar. So bathing here today is equivalent to drinking nectar.” Equivalent? How many calories are these people soaking up from all this water-nectar? And what's the connection between drinking nectar (but weren't they bathing?) and washing one's sins away? Moreover, what makes anybody think that “sins” (presumably, immoral actions) can be literally washed away by physically getting into water, holy or not? (Not to mention, of course, that every year several people drown during the ceremony, but I guess at least they're going to heaven with an extremely clean soul.)

Where is Richard Dawkins when you need him?

25 comments:

  1. A sigh of relief is heard at the Church of the Sacred Heart.

    "Thank God he's going after someone else for a change. Sheesh."

    ;)

    Excellent post.

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  2. Religion! Ain't it sumpin?

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  3. "... Not to mention that every year several people drown during the ceremony ..."

    Isn't this a bit of a cheap shot? When milions of people do anything, some of them will die. It's basic statistics. If a couple milion people lay in bed for a couple of hours, some will end up dead, but it will have little to do with their laying in bed.

    GCB.

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  4. Having that many people bathing at the same time I wonder how many are going to get ill.

    Catholics also have a washing of the sins, but as far as I know they do it only once--during baptism. And from those I've seen they don't dunk the baby in a polluted river. Be that as it may, it's just as silly.

    A visiting extraterrestrial will probably be fascinated with our religious beliefs and practices--how and why is it that a species at the brink of interstellar exploration, seen millions of lights years into the depths of the universe, and mapped their own genome still be so anachronistically superstitious, believing in sky daddies? Or maybe Earth religions would elicit a chuckle--it'll remind them of their own species' theistic beliefs (beliefs that may now be just a historical footnote).

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  5. edward: RE the RCC

    It is interesting to me that the concept of purification (within Judaism) is associated with "Hell" or "Gehinnom (g'hee-NOHM); Gehenna (g'HEHN-uh) A place of spiritual punishment and/or purification for a period of up to 12 months after death. Gehinnom is the Hebrew name; Gehenna is Yiddish.

    Definitions from "Judaism 101"
    http://www.jewfaq.org/cgi-
    bin/search.cgi?Keywords=purification

    OR...

    Mikvah (MIK-vuh)

    Lit. gathering. A ritual bath used for spiritual purification. It is used primarily in conversion rituals and after the period of sexual separation during a woman's menstrual cycles, but many Chasidim immerse themselves in the mikvah regularly for general spiritual purification."

    All ideas about purification (or baptism) must flow from some source. Some methods and reasons, however, for purifying oneself are without question more legit than others.

    cal

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  6. MIRACLE - I'm getting the Reader's Digest for Free!!!

    Do you believe in all the Miracle articles they publish? And those that show the value of Prayer? Its conservative, right wing focus?

    I stopped paying for my subscription 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 years ago, yet it keeps coming every month.

    Of course, when I stopped paying they called and sent many months of letters, offering me just one more last chance. Then about six months ago I got another raft of last chance letters, but here it is today, like every month still coming.

    So if you subscribe already, you might as well try this. You will still be paying too much if this causes you or any of your unsuspecting kin to waste time reading it. And perhaps if you are really, really lucky or pray hard enough they will actually cut you off.

    For a really needy person, I would offer to change the address on my free subscription, yet I could not bare the guilt -- not for ripping off the magazine -- but the responsibility for someone reading this trash.

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  7. I'm concerned about what's going on down stream. The Ganges is already highly polluted. 'But let's all take a major bath in it just to make darn sure.' Sin is very toxic to the environment.

    Where's a school of mosasaurs when you need one?

    How long has this insanity been going on?

    Life was so much simpler in the Cretaceous.

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  8. Marcus A,

    Were I foolish enough to be bathing at the pictured site (I wouldn't be caught dead doing so) I would be worried most about what was going on UPSTREAM!

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  9. What is rather funny (and not quite so insane) is the Finns and their Saunas. Similar but not identical concept - communal bathing. ???? But the insane part comes where after one has been sitting in the Sauna for 10 minutes give or take and then throws oneself out into a snow bank!! (or rolls in the snow)

    And no one catches pneumonia either.

    Sometimes the neighbors have been known to complain...

    The first civil suit between Finns and non Finns, mid 1800s, (over saunas and people standing outside unclothed) resulted in the county having to pay to have our family's Sauna moved to a more remote location. :)
    source: Finnish Historical Society

    Ain't 'culture' grand!?
    cal

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  10. Can't spell "Ardh Kumbh Mela" without D-U-M-B!

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  11. I took many a Finnish sauna whilst growing up in Astoria, OR (substituting a cold shower because of lack of snow) but thankfully there was not 10,000,000 people crapping or peeing in our bath water.

    At any rate the Finns do not use the sauna as some sort of whacked out religious rite. It just makes you feel damn good physically!

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  12. "Dennis said...

    I took many a Finnish sauna whilst growing up in Astoria, OR (substituting a cold shower because of lack of snow) but thankfully there was not 10,000,000 people crapping or peeing in our bath water."

    Yes, swimming a cesspool is a remarkably bad idea. At least you and I can agree on *one real simple thing. ;)

    My dad took a Sauna several times a week for his whole life and he had the best skin tone (don't laugh), very good health and the sharpest mind of anyone over 90 that I have ever seen.

    So I do totally think going to Sauna is terribly good for a person. It might tend to raise the body temperature a little bit and give a person a kick in the immune system, or something like that. That is, possibly simulating the effect of having a fever without the bad side effects from "x" disease that would have normally caused it.

    Just a guess tho.

    cal

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  13. And the feeling of unbelievable cleanliness that a sauna imparts has to be worlds apart from that of bathing in one of the worlds biggest sewers.

    Your father must have been a hell of a man (or a glutton for punishment) since this Scots/Irishman found that 1 possibly 2 saunas per week was about all my constitution would take. I knew some of the older Suomilainen who went every day - I always marveled at them. Hyyvaa iltaa

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  14. Dennis

    wish I were more fluent in Finn. I know most greetings and some general dialogue but couldn't remember how to spell many of the words if my life depended on it! My parents use to speak Finn, of course. but when a person seldom has anyone to speak it with that extra language kind of fades into the background.

    (& these are not my natural parents, btw, tho my dad really was a very hard working, determined person as you suggested)

    A Sauna as punishment? Why on earth? I never have looked at it that way. Have felt that it tends to put a person in a relaxed yet kind of euphoric state. I suppose it all depends on what one grows up on.

    cal

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  15. As I have indicated I don't think of the sauna as punishment - but a sauna in the short run is something that for the uninitiated (and I think that anyone not born Finn can be counted as such) can be temporarily exhausting. I know I always felt that I had had a hard two hour workout doing nothing more than sitting there splashing water on the rocks. Given a little while to recoup one feels invigorated.

    I don't speak the language either, but I did learn the greetings and such. My girlfriend during most of highschool was Finn and I worked for her father after school who spoke it fluently. I also learned to cuss pretty good to as I hung out a lot on the waterfront among the fishermen.

    The Finns were really great people and I still enjoy going back to Astoria and hob-nobbing with them, and yes taking an occassional sauna at Union Steam Baths, down in the Finn end of tow, known as Uniontown

    The Norwiegians hung out in the east end known as Uppertown. The Swedes and others were scattered all over

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  16. "The Finns were really great people and I still enjoy going back to Astoria and hob-nobbing with them, and yes taking an occassional sauna.."

    dennis,

    Finns, their culture and governance are a bit unusual. I suppose that you may have noted this since you lived so closely.

    Had been reading an article about Game theory and the explanation of why socialism works well in Finland and not so well in most other places. In short, people cooperate. But the reason they cooperate is very the reason the rest of the world is not going to adopt their views any time soon.

    It is "ethnically homogeneous" in its collective thinking.

    http://chocolateandgoldcoins.blogspot
    .com/2005/06/what-can-finland-teach
    -us.html

    It is also kind of enigmatic to me how a culture that is so super ethical and cooperative has
    virtually no problem with small groups grown adults standing out in the snow 'nekked'.

    A recipe for world peace I guess. :) Total openness and vulnerability.

    If all the terror types in the world had stand "out there" "that way", there would be so much fewer stupid things said and done.
    maybe...

    cal

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  17. Then again, I can say stupid things whether I am standing out in the snow or not.

    So much for saying whatever comes to mind...
    cal

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  18. Can you say "cholera?"

    I do love the fact that people can be considered "experts" in nonsense, grandly proclaiming truths about things that don't exist.

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  19. I've heard that American troops have gotten baptized in the comparably contaminated Tigris and Euphrates rivers. This makes about as much public health sense as the Hindu shit-bath in the Ganges.

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  20. If a couple milion people lay in bed for a couple of hours, some will end up dead, but it will have little to do with their laying in bed.

    But this bathing has everything to do with the deaths. Very weak comparison.

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  21. mark: "I've heard that American troops have gotten baptized in the comparably contaminated Tigris and Euphrates rivers. This makes about as much public health sense as the Hindu shit-bath in the Ganges."

    At Glenrose Texas, in the River where the dino tracks are found, there have been incidents of a bacteria that gets into the brain and causes swelling. (and in some cases, unfortunately, death) Apparently the water gets too warm for too long of a period, and then human evolution cannot develop its defenses fast enough to overcome bacterial evolution.

    Gee, can I possibly find an angle to turn this into a 'deconstructing evolution' thing? Hmmmm....

    what fun ;)

    cal

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  22. I know what it is! I know what it is!

    It must be a "pre-historic" bacteria that was lodged in the bone marrow of something buried under he river bank, that the human genome has never had a chance to ADAPT TO!

    or something..

    just kidding

    cal

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  23. Well, this is no different from Jewish mikvah and Christian baptism. And it's a pretty innocent superstition, unlike the idea that killing innocent will earn you 72 virgins in paradise, or that you should pull out your eye if it makes you sin.

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  24. All ideas about purification (or baptism) must flow from some source.

    Wide-spread delusions? Cynically-manipulative social-parasite religious leaders? Simulation magic, based on the observation that water is somewhat effective at removing water-soluble dirt from surfaces, expanded beyond reason to some delusional and fictional concept of 'sin'?

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  25. This is nice. We all can steal, murder, cheat etc. and then go to a priest and ask for forgiveness or take a dip in a river. Talk about a 'Get out of jail free' card

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