Notes from New Sodom

... rantings, ravings and ramblings of strange fiction writer, THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!

Saturday, April 14, 2007



It is nigh on forty years since Duncanian made his wager with Pascalus, and not many years less since, shortly after that wager, he got into... a bit of trouble for grumbling discontentedly about Caesar being a "mad, megalomaniac, murderous bastard who could use a dagger or fifty-two in the back." Duncanian was lucky to have patrons in the Senate named Mercifulus and Progressivian, given that many have been put to death for less; rather than joining Spartacus and Yeshuah on their crosses, he was simply posted to a remote corner of the Empire -- Caledonia, a cold and miserable place in the grim north (so grim, in fact, that many of his comrades refer to it as the "Land of the Dead"), constantly under invasion from naked, hairy-assed, sheep-stealing barbarians who paint themselves blue for battle and come swarming over the wall erected to try and keep these "pirates", these Scotii, at bay. Duncanian, who by then was feeling mighty fed up with the whole concept of the Empire, took one look at these blue-assed barbarian baboons on the day of his arrival, and thought, bugger this for a game of sodjies. That night he leapt over the wall and went native.

What he did not realise was just how wild these "pirates" were, roaming free in time as well as space. Wherever he travels with them it is still actually 70 AD, according to one (possibly mad, possibly inspired) wodeworker known simply as Peekaydee, who insists that "the Empire never ended," but a simple left turn can lead one to all manner of anachronistic environments, which is rather fortunate (or, *ahem*, expedient) in expanding the range of metaphors one can use.


We are in a tavern, somewhere in this timespace, frequented by the "pirates" of many eras, serving alcohol and coffee, hashish and oxygen -- a tavern known as The Soulforge because it was once a smithy and, before that, a temple. In many ways, one could argue, it has not really changed its purpose. Duncanian -- as is not unusual -- is sitting in his favourite corner, blathering on at length about this wager he once had with a centurion named Pascalus. Those who have heard him before are sure the story grows more elaborate with each telling, changing to incorporate the interjections of listeners, with Duncanian sometimes maintaining but sometimes modifying his original position. Duncanian admits this freely. Consistency, he is wont to say, is the last refuge of the unimaginative.

One of the listeners is a traveller named Benjamin (whose background I'll not be so bold as to fictionalise), who listens as Duncanian finishes up his rant with a sweeping expansion of the wager which rather glibly categorises religious views as polytheism, monotheism and atheism, portraying the first as something of a free-for-all, the second as an endless series of coin-tosses between X One True God and Y One True God, and the third as a canny suspicion of all these dodgy doctrines and dogmas. Benjamin waits for him to finish then, quite rightly, pokes a large hole in this model.

It's worth noting, he says, that you keep using the word "monotheism" to mean "religions which assert that unbelievers are eternally damned", which is a little sketchy... Note that if you choose Jewish, you get to believe that the goyim are getting into heaven easier than you are (613/7 times easier).

Ah, says Duncanian. True. The whole wager does rather go up in flames if you reverse the polarities, doesn't it? Perhaps I should clarify that I mean this... cost/benefit analysis only for those who are approaching the question on Pascalus's terms -- religion as proselytising, salvation in faith, damnation for doubt. That this is aimed at "individuals looking to make a bet", that it's not so much about "whether you believe in your own god but whether you believe in someone else's, the god of the person trying to persuade you that this is the real winner." Which is to say, it's really about putting your money up against Pascalus's -- which means accepting that the "two horse race" is even a race in the first place. I mean, it assumes the monotheisms are looking to recruit you -- which Judaism doesn't -- and that they are doing so on the same basis, with an offer of salvation. Maybe this is more about Christianity in particular.

Benjamin challenges this though: even as a view of Christianity, he says, this is pretty 17th century.

Again, true, says Duncanian, but then I would argue that the 17th century view will persist even into, say, the 21st, that it permeates Christianity, is engrained in it. The Empire never ended, as they say. And I think that's because there's something integral to these systems, foundational to them, which inevitably leads to the emergence of Empire within them. That said, now that you mention it, Christianity is also a bit awkward within that model, with its Holy Trinity and Virgin Mary and saints based on the old gods. Some of it *is* iconoclastic in that monotheistic way, but there's an element of polytheism perhaps in the multiplicity of quasi-divine powers.

The mention of polytheism leads Benjamin to make a further point about the violence done to Hinduism and Buddhism in this model, if one labels them polytheist or monotheist. He goes on to lay out a distinction between the latter example of Buddhism and the monotheism Duncanian is portraying, as a morphology with something at its centre that is most distinctly not a Deus Irae.

It doesn't really admit of the merry chaos of "everyone for themself, go figure it out", says Benjamin; rather, the claim being made is that there is a Right Way. But it isn't a question of the Meanie Buddha pointing the finger at you and saying "it's the Right Way because I say it is, and you better do what I say Or Else!" It's more a matter of a sort of proto-scientist Buddha saying, given my investigations, this seems to be the Right Way.

In raising children, there's a difference between punishment -- coercive imposition of authority from above -- and natural consequences. Leave my tools in the rain and get sent to bed without supper: punishment. Leave your toys in the rain and have soggy toys: natural consequence.

If the Buddha advances, as a logical proposition, that only through nonattachment can a soul attain release from suffering, and you say "oh yeah? well, fuck you, you can't make me!"... you're not really having the same conversation as he is, are you?

Because here the non-attainment of nirvana is not a punishment -- it's a natural consequence. Stay attached, keep suffering. Duh.

Duncanian nods. He notes again that the wager collapses, as he argued against Pascalus, in the case of Buddhism. This is actually what he was trying to get at in asking Pascalus what happens if the "prize" is Nirvana rather than Heaven, and if dispensation of the "prize" is not a consequence of simple faith? Ben's example of "natural consequences" is not dissimilar to what he had in mind as a "Right Way" that doesn't require local, divine revelation, in fact. Yes, he focuses in on a specific Categorical Moral Imperative but that's just his own supposition. The real idea is simply that the "right path" would be one that anyone, anywhere, anywhen would be able to navigate. You could ver much look at it is about being ready, willing and able to look at soggy toys in the rain and think it through to the "duh", to learn from that, to apply that empathically to the toys of others too... rather than just following a set of rules about what can and can't be left out in the rain. The problem with that is that there'll always come a point where the child (or immature adult) can turn around and say, well, you didn't tell me that was wrong. How was I supposed to know you don't let people leave your tools out in the rain?

Indeed, Duncanian wonders, where would one fit Buddhism into that model of theisms, if one can at all? There are Buddhist traditions which admit of what is, to all intents and purposes, a polytheist pantheon of gods and demons. There is the singularity of true divinity in the Buddha himself, or the Buddha Nature, which gives it a monotheist flavour. And yet, at the same time, there's the Buddha's own denial of godhood, the tradition in which he says he is not to be worshipped, a tradition which verges on the atheistic as far as Duncanian is concerned.

I think, he says, I need new terms here entirely because, yes, not all monotheism is universalist and predicated on the faith/doubt, win/lose scenario of Pascalus's Christianity (as your example of Judaism illustrates), not all polytheism is of that Graeco-Roman nature (as your example of Hinduism points out), and the atheism I'm talking about really includes antitheist and agnostic outlooks in its focus on doubt. It's not so much about one god, many gods or no gods as it is about the focus on universal submission to one doctrine, local choice between multiple doctrines, and personal doubt in all doctrines.

But you were going to say something else?

Benjamin then brings to the table the core of his argument, that Duncanian's focus on atheism is an extreme of individualism. He begins to talk of the forging of souls, of autonomy and independence, rejecting Duncanian's attempt to sweep away all the grand projects of religion as illegitimate. This follows on quite logically from the notion of Buddha as proto-scientist, as an explorer of potential "Right Paths" which are a matter of natural consequences rather than imperative dictates.

Can't souls A and B collaborate on their ethical development, their ethical investigations? he asks. And if so, and if it seems to be working out, can they tell C and D what they've gleaned? And if they want to go further and tell E through ZZZ about them, and thus they package them up into a provisional morphology -- if they want to zip them up into a class library and let people download them -- why not? And if they want to declare protocols and standards, so as to say "well this is OurPath 3.4, and if you do something substantially different please have the courtesy to fork and relabel so we don't get confused in our investigations of what works..."Why not?And in fact if you look at the vast majority of religious people, tribal shamans, Unitarians and Anglicans, mellow Malaysian Muslim housewives, Taoists and neo-pagans and Buddhists and liberal Jews and partially lapsed Catholics, this in fact is what they are doing -- as are Existentialists and Marxists and Stoics and Epicureans and followers of the New Age philosophical life-changing seminar of the month.

They are muddling along, figuring out things as best they can, drawing on communally authored, collaborative traditions to do so, thinking for themselves when necessary or desired, relaxing into ritual when necessary or desired, and -- collectively -- wrapping their thinking in morphologies for easier communication and posting the latest build thereof to their corner of

Now, among the projects on, there are those who are dicky. They flame outsiders, try to suppress forks, they tell everyone that using other systems will crash your soulware and that unspeakable things will occur to you if you don't use the Only Authorized Version of their Super Special Download. They engage in monopolistic business practices.

But does the employment of such dicky practices, at various times, by a minority of the projects there ensconced, invalidate the entire enterprise in which is engaged?

Why does Duncanian, with and in his ethics, have to be so all alone?

Does he scorn only the projects that threaten him if he doesn't download their code?

Or does he scorn all code reuse at all -- all the busy projects on working at developing a Way?

Or does he scorn the idea of a Way at all?

I think he scorns all three; and, to be sure, he may be right to.

No, says Duncanian, no, actually I agree with you here to a large extent. Remember that my wager with Pascalus came out of an idea that, if some grand God existed, what he'd really expect of us is to act ethically, to exercise our ethical abilities to the best of our abilities. To reject a good idea because it isn't one's own is less wise than to not think of it in the first place. To discard a path simply because someone in authority says, "this is the Way", is simply being obtuse. I support all of the code reuse you describe, because if you don't allow for the fact that others have wisdom and expertise you lack, then you're hardly exercising judgement to the best of your abilities.

I think of autonomy and independence as interchangeable, I must admit, with both being potentially at an extreme of outright existentialist isolation, so I'm not sure which word you mean which way, to be honest. I would use autonomy and independence to mean self-rule and non-subjugation respectively (i.e. as different ways of looking at the same thing), with the focus not on a negative rejection of the propositions of others, but on a positive affirmation of those as one's own. My existentialism is about always, always seeing it as one's own choice at the end of the day.

But to use your metaphor, I think there is a problem that has been replicated throughout many of the projects on, based in one of the core modules that is used most widely. It's sneakier than the monopolistic practices you describe because it's in the code itself. See, all of these projects are designed to function as judgement systems, sometimes separated into pragmatics, aesthetics, ethics and politics modules, sometimes integrated, sometimes working by look-up tables of rules, sometimes working by heuristic algorithms. What they all have in common is that, when you implement them, the key test of how well they're working is the IntegrityCheck module.

This is itself an open source project, forked and branched into many forms: some types of IntegrityCheck measure personal comfort; some weigh that against empathic discomfort; some use pride/shame indexes; some construct abstract standards of ideal persona and apply these to actions. But however these work, they all return positive/negative values as a sense of integrity. If we're in the red, we need to tinker with the software to get it working properly. If we're in the black, everything is cool... as far as we know.

What I think the Deus Irae, the Empire, does is fuck-up the IntegrityCheck module's capacity to make a valid analysis by setting up a feedback loop between the idea of the social order and the pride/shame index. It's grounded in that sense that importance is important, that authority is an end in and of itself, emblematised, encoded in the reverence for supremacy itself in the form of a Supreme Being. That codes to a sense that (social) order is important as an end in and of itself. To act so as to maintain and propagate the social order -- which is to say simply by enforcing or establishing a rule, no matter what that rule might be -- nudges the pride/shame index in the direction of pride. So when we run an IntegrityCheck what we get is positive reinforcement, not for acting morally ourselves but for exercising moral judgement on others or ensuring they subscribe to our beliefs. That feedback loop can become a runaway process leading to obvious fundamentalism, but even if it runs slowly, quietly, less noticeably, what it's doing is viral replication of authority for the sake of authority.

Now, I do think that sense of reverence-for-supremacy is an inextricable aspect of the God symbol where it's an entirely monotheist "God of Kings", but that's not to say it's not just as present in the polytheist "King of Gods". In fact, you can find it in atheism too, I think, in the scientistic reverence for the absolute truth of a "Grand Equation". I think many forms of "monotheism" or "polytheism" seek to deconstruct the feedback loop (with Buddhism or Taoism being good examples -- and I'm sure you could make a case for how Judaism does this) but I think that loop is so deeply coded into the "God" class that what we've got is a dangerously malfunctional module at the heart of way too many projects on That's what I'm really arguing against. But...

Duncanian strokes his chin.

I'm thinking that we need to go deeper than the religious terms, that maybe the notion of heterodoxy could use corresponding notions of "homodoxy" and "antidoxy", he says. These ideas aren't truly formulated yet, I confess, so they need some thrashing out, definition and redefinition in the use of them, and in the end they may be no more relevant than the superficial taxonomy of one-god-ism, many-god-ism and no-god-ism, but I think there's an idea in here which I've been struggling to put into words.

Let's imagine three cities, New Jerusalem, New Sodom, and Nihil, one where every temple is to the same god, one where every temple is to a different god, and one where every temple is to nothing. It's not the cities I want to critique but the temples, and while I'm fond of New Sodom and Nihil, and have issues with New Jerusalem, I do recognise that, in all of these cities, not all temples have the same doctrines and practices. In fact, there is much I respect in some of those temples in New Jerusalem, as much as there are temples in New Sodom and Nihil whose doctrines and practices I would challenge.

So what do I mean by "homodoxy" and "antidoxy"? How, for instance, would homodoxy be any different from orthodoxy? Well, I think the distinction I want to make pivots on the difference of focus in the roots, homo meaning "same" and ortho meaning "right". An orthodoxy which asserts its own correctness does not necessarily seek to replicate itself beyond its own culture, to expunge difference, make everything the same. Hence in the Temples of Judaism in New Jerusalem, they do not subscribe to homodoxy. For all that they believe in a One True God, the goyim are simply not his Chosen. They're not encouraged to convert; as often as not they are discouraged (so I've heard). Was there a time in the far past, when the city was being built, when these temples did practice homodoxy, when the Holy Land was being claimed from the Philistines, the city being built, idols smashed and foreskins gathered? Maybe, but that was then; wouldn't it be more acurate to say that they now practice heterodoxy -- that as much as they believe there is only one truth, the goyim are left to believe and practice whatever they damn well please? Is that fair to say? Is there a homodoxy / heterodoxy argument between Orthodox and Reformed temples, where the former doesn't extend its homodoxy beyond the ethnic/religious group, but does still seek to assert itself over the group as a whole, while the latter is essentially accepting of difference? Is there an inherent heterodoxy in the focus on rabbinical argumentation as a method?

Actually, what was it you were saying about God being always and never personified? Being exactly the Greatest Cocksucker I suggest he must be.

Of course God has a penis, says Benjamin; of course God is the Greatest Cocksucker (your depiction of Him as such is a marvelous poem of religious devotion); of course God has a vagina, and wings, and an animal head, and no features at all but a howling voice, and is the still small voice at the center of the whirlwind, and NEVER appears personified and ALWAYS appears personified, and is an incomprehensible emptiness about which nothing can be said and who can only be contemplated through negatives. Of course God should be revered, worshipped, defied, killed when you meet him on the road, made love to with a strap-on and cuffs, and (for the Discordians out there) used as toothpaste.

Right, says Duncanian, that's about as good a statement of heterodoxic monotheism as I can imagine. And that's not what I'm arguing against... or at least what I mean to be arguing against. I do think we need to be wary of these as the Anthropic Fallacy, though.

Benjamin looks dubious.

It's a very good point, he says, to point out, as I have endeavored to do many times myself, that Will, Law, Creation, etc., are just as much anthropomorphizations as the lingam of Shiva and the helmet of Athena. It's silly to assert that they are therefore fallacies. What they are is imaginative pictures, ways of talking about something that actually doesn't resemble them much at all. The literalism of saying "but does God REALLY have a will?! That's like saying 'He' REALLY has a penis!" is akin to the literalism of saying "but are electrons REALLY particles or REALLY waves?" They're not either. They're electrons. We just made them up.

Sure, says Duncanian, and as art those sorts of imaginative pictures are all we have to describe the divine. But it's from art that I get the term "fallacy"; the meaning I'm trying to get across with that term is... something on a par with the "Pathetic Fallacy" of Romanticism. It is a conventional projection we use in a certain aesthetic form, a projection of our own natures into the divine, just as the Pathetic Fallacy in fiction is the projection of a character's emotional state into the natural world around them. It's the literalism of the religious view in which God is seen as an Agency rather than as something like but not actually an Agency that I'm challenging.

Isn't that, to some extent, not unlike the Judaic opposition to the literalism of idolatry? Or maybe not.

Anyway, elsewhere in New Jerusalem, it seems to me, in the myriad Temples of Christ, we can see a similar division between homodoxy and heterodoxy. There are, in fact, great arguments right now between homodoxic temples in argument with each other, homodoxic temples in argument with a loose coalition of heterodoxic temples, even arguments within temples between homodoxic and heterodoxic priests -- such as that in the Temple of the Anglicans -- as to the nature of the church. It seems to me that there is an inherent homodoxy in these temples due to the evangelical imperative, and a centuries-long tradition of eradicating "heresy", but that the same evangelical imperative has led to such diversity, simply from an evolutionary process of isolation and adaptation, that many temples have not just come to terms with heterodoxy but fully committed to it. Much the same might be said of the Temples of Islam.
Similarly, as much as I might extol the libertine liberalism of New Sodom, maybe there's homodoxy hidden within the heterodoxies of its temples. After all, there may be temples of Apollo and Dionysus and Athena and Ares and Krishna and Ganesh and Shiva and Kali and so on, with a diversity of doctrines and practices ranging from the sort of gods-of-the-hearth systems I characterised polytheism by through to the far more subtle, philosophical and mystical beliefs which approach monotheism in their assertions of an underlying or overarching Unity, immanent or transcendant (or both). The Temples of Brahma and Atman might not seem entirely out of place in New Jerusalem rather than New Sodom in some respects, enough so that monks from one city may be hard to distinguish from monks from the other when you listen to them speak.

But that's not where the homodoxy lies, because while these temples of Grand Unified Divinity believe in a singularity of truth, they don't seek to impose that belief. But there is the Temple of Zeus Irae, and the Temple of Marduk, and the Temple of En Ilil, Lord God of Gods. These are in disrepair, but in the past have been mighty powers within the city, demanding tribute from all temples at the points when they held hegemony. Back before New Sodom was New Sodom, before it was even Sodom, when it was Babel, it invented homodoxy... back when all the tribes and nations "to Enlil in one tongue gave praise". The message was, yes, you can have a little heterodoxy, freedom to follow your god, but you must also subscribe to our homodoxy, also follow our God of Gods, God of Kings and King of Gods.

As the story goes, New Jerusalem was founded by fugitives from this Empire, and for millenia there were great struggles between them. One might see any homodoxy in the early era of New Jerusalem in terms of the old axiom that to fight the Empire is to become it. In celebrating Abraham's smashing of Nimrod's idols, damning the fallen Babel rebuilt as Sodom, cursing the Sidonian, Byblian and Tyrean Quarters, the Temples of Judaism in New Jerusalem took on some of the features of the very homodoxy it was fighting. But from the ashes of Sodom rose first Babylon and then Rome, where the Empire truly came into its own, where that homodoxy within the heterodoxy of polytheism held inordinate power.

And then...

It took a long time after the Temples of Jesus started rising in New Jerusalem but eventually this new proselytising monotheism came to the attention of the Emperor himself, Constantine, and he moved the Empire to a Jerusalem by now called Byzantium, fusing the hierarchic homodoxy of his old culture with the not-truly-heterodoxic monotheism of his new faith. That's the point, as I see it, where what I glibly and wrongly referred to as "monotheism" really takes root in New Jerusalem, when it becomes the seat of Empire.

Did that Empire really never end? While the city abandoned by Constantine languished in nameless decline, the city of New Jerusalem, for all its power, has been schismed into East and West, riven into Christendom and Caliphate, torn apart by failed crusades, undergone Renaissance and Enlightenment. During the latter periods, the Grand Tours of Romanticists and Rationalists brought them back to that abandoned city, and some stayed, I think, to rebuild. The Temple of Prometheus was restored first, there has been much rebuilding since, and New Sodom has arisen to a strength that rivals New Jerusalem. Though there's no worship in the temples in the old ways, there are still priests -- poets and artists, philosophers and curators -- who, I think, in their travels back and forth between the two cities, have played a large part in undermining the homodoxy of Empire in New Jerusalem to the point that the most homodoxic temples there lament their loss of power, decry a new Republic newborn or in the process of being born, saying that it's truly run from this New Sodom.

And in many ways it was only the Western Quarter of that polytheist city that was abandoned in the first place, only the Western Quarter where this story really has any meaning at all; those in the quarters where the temples of Shiva and Krishna and Kali and Ganesh stand -- they have their own story, in which the Buddha plays a large part. While the West was waging its wars of Empire, the East was founding the city of Nihil.

See, in all these temples, I think, there have also been priests whose very faith led them to antidoxy. What's "antidoxy" when it's at home? In some ways, I think, a product of homodoxy and heterodoxy, a homodoxic rejection of homodoxy, like a One True Law which states only, "There is only One True Law", and at the same time a heterodoxic reversal of heterodoxy, a turning of it upon itself: if everything is "true", then it is as "true" to say, "Nothing is true." Maybe this is as much a method as a belief. One might imagine the antidoxic priests not just as apostate critics foreswearing the temples, but as actually serving a function within them, as devil's advocates, doubters whose role is to reject, subvert, revise. They're the shaitan seen as an integral part of religion as a dialectical process, a antithesis. They end up splintering sects, building new temples, feeding into the heterodoxy and often, sadly, establishing new homodoxies. The role of antithesis is an important one, but its function is more to stand against the thesis, to force the synthesis, than to stand as thesis in its own right. But as often as not that's exactly what happens, and you end up with a new dogmatism, Calvinist, Stalinist or whatever. Many of the most homodoxic Temples of Christ started out as antidoxic oppositions to other temples.

Atheism might seem an inherently antidoxic system, but I'm not so sure. We might think of Nihil, the young upstart of these cities, with its temples of atheism espousing (largely but by no means universally) the antidoxy of the scientific method, as being constructed by those Enlightenment travellers who, after visiting New Sodom maybe, set out to get away from it all completely, but I think its history goes further back. I think we can trace the temples of atheism back to the Buddha, because the "atheism" of this city is not always a denial of the spiritual, the metaphysical; it may simply be a denial of the theistic. Your own characterisation of the Buddha as proto-scientific is in line with this, I think, so focused on praxis that it's commonplace to describe Buddhism as a "way of life" rather than a "religion", an informal distinction that, I think, is trying to put this idea into words.

I'd argue that the Temples of the Buddha were the foundations of the city of Nihil -- that though we can find some Temples of the Buddha in New Jerusalem and others in New Sodom, we can also find many in Nihil, because they are very much at home here. They are, perhaps, outnumbered by the new atheistic Temples of Darwin and Marx and so on, many of which have become fervently homodoxic, but in denying a God without denying the notion of the "divine", they offer a more complex picture of "atheism" than an outsider might expect of this most modern city.

It's also possible to note, I think, that in recent centuries this city has risen to a level of power that rivals that of New Jerusalem and New Sodom. It has sought Empire just as much as those other cities -- with the Temples of Stalin and Mao particularly brutal and expansionist in their homodoxy. When the homodoxic temples in New Jerusalem are not pointing to New Sodom as the evil puppetmaster, it is Nihil that is painted as villain. The truth is maybe that "the Empire" is currently riven between the three cities, with none of them having true hegemony.

The homodoxies of each city are at war with each other, cannot co-exist peacefully because they are homodoxic. I respect the heterodoxies of all three cities which defend the rights of other temples to their own practices and doctrines, and in truth I hope they win the day in all three cities; the result would be a federation of city-states, a Republic. But I guess I'm an antidoxic priest in one of the Temples of Humanism based in Nihil. I'm not sure exactly what temple that is, but I know it's opposed to Empire. I'm still looking for the best language to articulate that opposition, to challenge the Deus Irae at the root of monotheist or polytheist homodoxies, but with an ultimate aim of establishing heterodoxy rather than simply engendering a new atheistic homodoxy. It's the homodoxic aspects of all three types of temples in all three cities that I'm really fighting.

Duncanian picks up his beer and takes a swig, lights up a cigarette.

But I understand why you're arguing against this, he says. I mean, it sounds like I'm arguing against all morphologies with a unifying principle, right? And this sounds glib.

Benjamin nods.

It's actually perfectly possible, he says, to have what I think you'd call a morphological system of understanding the universe -- a model, indeed with something at its center, which is not ethically bankrupt.

And, in truth, I agree, says Duncanian. The distinction I'm trying to make is between centrality and primacy, the sort of unification you get in the idea of an implicate order, Buddha Nature, the Tao, the shekkinah, even the Holy Spirit, as opposed to the unification you get in the idea of a Supreme Power, a Being with supremacy to which all that can be is subordinate. My argument is that this is where the "bad code" resides. This is where you get a feedback loop established which renders the IntegrityCheck module's functioning faulty. It's that core component of the various projects on that I'm trying to unpack, to rip apart with, OK, a somewhat stridently antidoxic approach. Cause, well, that's my own "path".

God forbid, says Benjamin, I don't want you to stop being a nihilistic, existentialist, atheistic fuck-crazy gadfly firebomb. Far from it. I think that is precisely the religious story you have to tell, and, damn, you tell it well, and Vellum -- as religious art -- is a fine start on your divinely ordained mission.

But I do want you to stop claiming you've discredited monotheism and banished any right-thinking person's belief in God, just because what you've just said would have sent your old Sunday School teacher into apoplexy.

OK, says Duncanian, my rhetoric tends towards a superficial equation of monotheism and homodoxy which I hope this explication has countermanded to some extent. What I'm really seeking to discredit is a specific component of homodoxy exhibited most notably in monotheism but just as present in polytheist and atheist homodoxies.

As for God... well, I don't really think the term "God" is salvageable because it's too much a development from that component; it's gone through so many developments while keeping that component at its heart -- God 0.1, God 1.1... God 2007.1 -- that I think we'd be better off ripping it out completely and redesigning a new class entirely (based on TheDivine 0.1, maybe?) so as to be sure we're rid of the Empire virus. But I guess that's a pragmatic judgement, as much as anything, about how difficult I think it is to get a new heterodoxic version of "God" to catch on where the homodoxic version is so widely used and regarded as entirely valid. I have no argument with those who're working with a... "God Pro" that has expunged that aspect. I'm just not convinced their versioning approach foregrounds the problem with the legacy code enough. I think you end up with "developers" who've migrated but "users" who continue to see the old version as a workable solution because, well, it's still basically the same software, this "God" class, as far as they're concerned.

I suppose you might say that what concerns me is where the projects on are using a component that doesn't actually help them "forge a soul" but rather is, well, a forgery which, once installed, actually works against the whole goal of all those quite worthy projects.

Triptych Event

For those who might be interested and in the Glasgow area, a couple of Sundays from now (April 29th), the Tramway Theatre will be playing host to a rather huge one-day festival event spinning off from the Ballads of the Book album, kicking off at 3.00 pm and going on till late. Tickets are... well... quite expensive, but the line-up of bands/musicians and writers includes:

King Creosote,
Sons & Daughters,
James Yorkston,
Emma Pollock,
Lord Cut-Glass,
Alasdair Roberts,
Aidan Moffat,
Mike Heron,
Karine Polwart,
Norman Blake,
Trashcan Sinatras,
Rodge Glass,
John Burnside,
Bill Duncan,
Alan Bissett,
Robin Robertson,
Laura Hird

My slot is provisionally scheduled for 5.00 or 5.30 if I remember right, and it's looking like being in the 45 mins to an hour range, so I'm reckoning on three 15 min readings -- at least one of which is almost certain to be scabrous and sonnetic in nature.

Anyhoo, be glad to see you there if you can make it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A Response to a Response

Firstly, your assertion that God need be instantiated in a reality that is both seperate from Himself and seperate from the one in which we reside is clearly incoherent. If the first seperation is true, it would deny the omnipotence that God, by definition, embodies insofar as such a place would be necessary for God's existence.

That's rather my point about the anthropomorphic and sociomorphic absurdities of the concept of God. If we treat God as a figure (a Being) distinguishable from a ground (the Cosmos) by, say, having such features as a face, a voice, a name, a will, a law or, indeed, masculinity, if we personify the divine in this way, we are representing the divine as a Being distinct from but embodied within a Medium. The definite (which is to say de-finite) nature of such characteristics means that the attribution of said characteristics involves an act of delineation, of limitation, of establishing a boundary between Being and Cosmos, figure and ground, text and context. Absolutely this contradicts any assertion of the omnipotence of God over Cosmos. This is an inherent self-contradiction in the very language by which you describe your God, defining, delineating, limiting, bounding the divine into a figure distinct from the ground, into an Agency distinct from the Medium in which or upon which it is an agency.

To put it in the bluntest of terms, as John C does: Does your "Himself" have a cock? Why, then, do you refer to it as "Himself"? Does it have XY chromosomes? Surely not. Surely the physical definition implicit in ascribing masculinity to the divine is a contradiction of omnipotence in and of itself. Is this divine It, then, androgynous or hermaphroditic, with both sets of organs? No, no, that would be a similar heresy, a similar ascription of crude physicality. This God is neuter, then, and therefore properly spoken of as it. To ascribe features of masculinity to the divine is as blasphemous as to ascribe features of bestiality -- as in the theriomorphic deities of pagan religions so abhorred by monotheism -- the very blasphemy that iconoclasm reacts against. The failure of even the most stringently iconoclastic monotheists is that while they reject the animal heads, the horns and the hooves of theriomorphic deities they nevertheless maintain the absurd anthropomorphism of not just humanity but masculinity.

Even in its most abstracted form, if we are to understand the "masculinity" as metaphoric mapping of the relationship between this divine It and the Cosmos, a figure of speech, the notion of Agency as working upon or working within the Cosmos as Medium carries through this inherent self-contradiction of an omnipotent Being distinct from the Cosmos it must have absolute power over... an idea you rightly describe as incoherent. This is what I will henceforth refer to as the Anthropic Fallacy.

The Anthropic Fallacy is not my assertion, but that of those who have faith in a God as a Supreme Being distinct from the material Cosmos. This belief sits in contrast to more animistic beliefs and the developments from them -- such as the Tao, the Buddha Nature, the Kami -- which would happily posit divinity in its ultimate nature as instantiated in this reality and indistinguishable from it, a pervasive force lacking in the credulous limitations of God as Deus (never mind the even more ludicrous notion of God as Deus Irae, with his petulant craving for fawning sycophancy and brattish tantrums in the face of refusal, that infantile "Himself" forever throwing his Divine Teddy out the Window of Heaven). I'm rather fond of the idea of the Tao; it's not me that's dealing with Old Nobodaddy.

So... The Holy Spirit is an obvious move towards a rapprochement of God and Cosmos which depersonifies the divine in order to escape this Anthropic Fallacy. The concept of shekkinah in Judaic beliefs seems to me to embody a similar rapprochement which attempts to de-invest the divine of anthropomorphic mumbo-jumbo. It is notable, however, that these are considered secondary and subordinate forces, emanations of God as Agency. For if we were to consider these depersonified forces as primary, as equivalent to the Tao, God as personified Being is relegated to the status of demiurge.

I have no problem with putting that tinpot tyrant in his rightful place and positing an utterly impersonal divine force which is omnipresent, omnipotent and, to all intents and puposes, "omniscient" in so far as a hologrammatic implicate order would render the Big Picture available in every shard of reality. I simply don't think it has a cock. Or, for that matter, a will. That would be anthropomorphic nonsense -- the Anthropic Fallacy.

Likewise, your objection that a logically coherent statement could be made to the effect that God necessarily doesnt exist makes the mistake (so commonly made by those challenging arguments of this sort) of ignoring the nature of God as a concept. As Anselm and Plantinga would both remind you, it is a part of the definition of God that He necessarily exists. If, then, you are to hold to this definition, your reversal is simply not possible.

I would be very interested to know why you consider asserting God's existence ot be contingent rather than possible is any less a "biased" statement than the other two possibilities you mentioned. You are merely manifesting a bias towards contingency.

A more detailed dissection of propositions regarding necessary existence, then:


1. Dubiety: A proposition, p, may be possible (not necessarily false), necessary (not possibly false), contingent (neither necessarily false nor necessarily true), or dubious (not necessarily true).
>>1a. A contingent proposition, p, is both possible and dubious.
2. Objectivity: For a hypothesis of a proposition, p, to be objective, it must be held falsifiable (not necessarily true) unless proven, and provable (not necessarily false) unless disproven. Where S5 collapses any possible necessity into a necessity and any dubious necessity into a non-necessity, it demonstrates that excluding falsifiability or excluding provability renders a hypothesis biased to the point of no longer being a hypothesis of potential truth and potential falsehood but a polar assertion of truth or falsehood.
>>2a. An objective hypothesis must be held contingent.
3. Supposition: An assertion about a proposition, p, is a proposition in its own right, p1. An assertion that "p is true" is a meta-proposition, a statement about the nature of the proposition, p. An assertion of a proposition, p1 ("p is true"), is a proposition about the truth-value of the proposition, p.
>>3a. An assertion of the necessary truth of a proposition, p, is a proposition, p2 ("p1 is necessary"), about the necessity of a proposition, p1 ("p is true"), about the truth-value of the proposition, p. It is a supposition of a supposition.
4. Rearticulation: Where a proposition, p, asserts only p's own necessary truth ("p is necessarily true"), for the hypothesis of this to be objective it must be rearticulated as a proposition, p2, that a proposition, p1, is necessary, where p1 is a proposition that p is true.
5. Reality: An assertion of existence is a claim of manifest reality in an actual world, W. "X(1...n) exists" is equal to "W manifests X(1...n) as a feature".


1. If "God exists" is an objectively hypothetical proposition, P, then it is contingent. If "God exists" is not contingent then it is not an objective hypothesis.
2. If "God exists necessarily" is an objectively hypothetical proposition, P, then it must be rearticulated as, "It is necessary (P2) that it is true (P1) that God exists (P)."
5. If P2 is contingent, P1 is a contingent necessity, possible but also dubious; "God exists" is not necessarily necessary but neither is it necessarily not necessary.
6. If P1 is contingent, P is itself a contingency, possible but also dubious; "God exists" is not necessarily true but neither is it necessarily false.
7. If the proposition, P, "God exists," is rearticulated as an objectively hypothetical proposition, P2, that "It is necessary that it is true that God exists," then P1 is therefore possibly necessary and possibly not necessary.

By the logic of S5:

1. If possibly necessarily p, there is a possible world, w1, where p is necessary.
2. If possibly not necessarily p, there is a possible world, w2, where p is not necessary.
3. If necessarily p, then the negation of p would be a self-contradiction, but if not necessarily p, then the negation of p would not be a self-contradiction.
4. If the negation of a proposition, p, is self-contradictory (or not) in one world, then it is self-contradictory (or not) in all possible worlds.
5. A contingent necessity, p, therefore results, under S5, in the self-contradiction that the negation of p is self-contradictory in all worlds and not self-contradictory in all worlds.

For the case of God's existence.

1. If possibly necessarily "God exists," there is a possible world where God's existence is necessary, where its negation would be self-contradictory.
2. If possibly not necessarily "God exists," there is a possible world where God's existence is not necessary, where its negation would not be self-contradictory.
3. By the logic of S5, God's existence is both necessary and not necessary in all possible worlds.


1. The assertion of God's existence is a claim of manifest reality in a world, W: "W manifests God as a feature."
2. To be an objectively hypothetical proposition, the assertion of the necessity of God's existence must be rearticulated as a proposition that "It is necessary (P2) that it is true (P1) that W manifests God as a feature (P)."
3. P2 can be postulated for n values of X in place of "God", as a proposition that "It is necessary (P2) that it is true (P1) that W manifests X(1...n) as a feature (P)."
4. By the logic of S5, all objectively hypothetical propositions pertaining to the necessary existence of any X whatsoever result in the self-contradictory assertion that the negation of X is self-contradictory in all worlds and not contradictory in all worlds.
5. By the logic of S5, any propositions pertaining to the necessary existence of any X whatsoever which are not objectively hypothetical -- i.e. which are held to be possible (implicitly not falsifiable) or dubious (implicitly not provable) are simply blank assertions of truth or falsehood.

This is to say that Anselm's and Plantinga's definitions are in and of themselves logically incoherent as objectively hypothetical propositions. They are of a form by which any X -- the Flying Spaghetti Monster, for example -- could be defined as having necessary existence, and then similarly "proven", "disproven" or rendered self-contradictory, depending only on whether we hold the P2 proposition to be possible, dubious or contingent.


1. If X is a substitute term for W, then P, "W manifests X as a feature," is tautological, as this equates to "W manifests W as a feature".
2. If "W manifests X as a feature" is not tautological, X must be meaningfully distinct from W as a feature that is manifest continuously or discontinously within W.
>> 2a. If X is continuously manifest within W then P, "W manifests X as a feature," is always true at any one point within W. Within W, P is necessary.
>>2b. If X is discontinuously manifest within W then P, "W manifests X as a feature," may be true or false at any one point within W. Within W, P is contingent.
3. "Essential" and "existential" are informal terms which generally relate to the inherent nature and the manifest actuality of a specific object, A. For these to be useful in logical terms they must be defined formally. In common usage, when we speak of X as an essential feature of W we mean that it is continuously manifest within W (W being the A whose essence is being discussed), and when we speak of X as an existential feature of W we mean only that it is currently manifest within W (X being the A whose existence is being discussed). So:
>>3a. A negation of essentiality for X in terms of W is a negation that it is continuously manifest within W. A proposition of essentiality for X in terms of W is a proposition that it is continuously manifest within W.
>>3b. A negation of existentiality for X in terms of W is a proposition that it is not continuously manifest within W. A proposition of existentiality for X in terms of W is a proposition that it is true at one or more points within W.
4. An existential proposition, P, of the form "W manifests X(1...n) as a feature" is a proposition of the manifest actuality of X, that it is manifest as an object. It simply makes a claim that may be true or false for any value of W and any value of X, at any one point within W.
>>4a. Nietszche's "God is dead" is an existential proposition that at this point in our W, it is no longer true to say, "This world manifests God as a feature."
5. An essential proposition, P1, of the form "W manifests P as a feature" is a proposition of the inherent nature of W, that it manifests P as a principle. It makes a meta-propositional claim that "W manifests the proposition, P, that 'W manifests X as a feature', as a feature."
>>5a. Anselm's "God exists" is an essential proposition that for all points in our W, it is true to say, "This world manifests God as a feature."
6. If X is an essential principle of W it is definitional, but it is still limited to W. We can consider an essential principle as a form in the morphology of W (e.g. a constant in physics) which is integral to W, definitional of W, but which, as a definition of W has nothing to say about other possible worlds, W(1...n).
>>6a.Anselm's "God exists" is not definitional of God but definitional of our world, an assertion that our world continuously manifests God as a feature, which has nothing to say about other possible worlds, W(1...n).
7. A necessary truth is an essential principle establishable as a priori by logical deduction, a fundamental form of any morphological system (e.g. a law in mathematics), one where (P2) for all values of W(1...n) (all possible worlds), it is always true that (P1) "W manifests the proposition, P, that 'W manifests X as a feature', as a feature."
>>7a. Anselm's "God necessarily exists" is not definitional of God but definitional of the superset of all possible worlds, an assertion that this essential principle is established by logical deduction, a fundamental form of any morphological system (i.e. a law of logic), one where for all values of W(...n) (all possible worlds), it is always true that "W manifests the proposition, P, that 'W manifests God as a feature', as a feature."
8. We can define any obect Y, such that "Y manifests P2 as a feature", and further define X, such that "X manifests Y as a feature".
>>8a.This is a circularity and it is the specific circularity that underpins the ontological argument, with X equalling "God" and Y equalling "perfection".

Anselm's argument is no more than bootstrapping, taking a premise as proof. We might equally define X as "the Flying Spaghetti Monster" and Y as "the power to do anything with his noodly appendage". Y, we can then argue, requires existence at all points within W in all possible worlds, requires necessary existence. By definition, then, the Flying Spaghetti Monster also necessarily exists. This is the problem with defining anything as having necessary existence.

Your assertion that existence is necessarily predicated of manifestation in reality seems an impoverished view of reality. Do pure mathematical principles exist? How about rules of logic? The Principle of Non-Contradiction? These things have existence only in the mind and, further, exist as eternal principles within the mind. If your view excludes these most essential things, surely it is possible that it excludes God as well.

Do unicorns and gryphons and dragons and exist? These things have existence only in the mind. If your view excludes these entirely frickin imaginary things, surely it is possible that it excludes pirate ninja robots as well. Which is clearly wrong. Or if your view includes these entirely frickin imaginary things, surely it is possible that it includes God on the same principle.

The sort of serious propositions you're talking about, though, are either essential principles -- which is to say, the feature, X, is universally manifest in our world, W -- or they are necessary truths -- which is to say, the feature, X, is universally manifest in all possible worlds. As such they do not and cannot be said to "exist within the mind". To talk in such a manner is utter nonsense, the sort of sophomoric sophistic prattle you get in Philosophy 101 regarding the "existence" of imaginary creatures, as becomes clear if we negate such "existence". If we say "W does not manifest X as a feature," where W is the mind of a schoolchild and X represents Pythagoras's Theorem, we would be denying that an essential principle is continuously manifest in our world (which contains W) were we to directly equate X with the mathematical relationship we call Pythagoras's Theorem. If an idea can not exist in the mind, the idea can hardly be the essential principle "existing within the mind". What may or may not "exist within the mind" of a child with or without an idea of Pythagoras's Theorem is just that -- an idea. Not the essential principle but a linguistic structure of arbitrary symbols in syntactic relationships, the structure of which maps to the morphological form of the essential principle.

At this point we should perhaps bring in the notion of validity and relevance. Because this is the real core issue of the distinction between existential object, essential principle and necessary truth. In fact, as a basic grounding in any of the more morphological disciplines -- logic, maths, theoretical physics -- will tell you, "truth" is actually not a matter of a priori provability but of a posteriori falsifiability. All these disciplines seek to develop morphological models which are rigorously valid -- with no self-contradictions. A necessary truth is actually just a universally valid proposition, which is to say in any morphological system whatsoever its negation would be self-contradictory, invalid. The Principle of Non-Contradiction (as discussed already in the section on chaos and morphogony) is the premise on which this notion of validity rests, but it is only a premise. From this premise we can develop complex morphological systems approaching completeness and consistency (though Godel limits this, saying that no formal system can be both consistent and complete) in which every proposition is valid.

Here's the rub, though: No such system can be proven a priori to be actually relevant in respect of reality.

Instead, we test its relevance by treating it as falsifiable and attempting to disprove it by empirical observation. An entirely valid morphology (such as the model of the solar system where planets, sun and moon all revolve arond the earth) may seem more relevant in many respects than a less intuitive and more complex one (such as the heliocentric model which retained the "perfection" of circular rather than elliptical orbits and was thereby less practically accurate) which later, by observation and further refinement (such as by discarding circular orbits in favour of elliptical ones), is shown to be more relevant. By this process we never prove that a valid morphology is absolutely relevant, only that it is more relevant than one which has been falsified by observation of a fact which contradicts it.

A product of this process is the essential principle as an adopted premise observed as a constant feature (e.g. the speed of light). This feature is not derived within the morphological system as a valid proposition but introduced as a hypothetical required to make that morphological system fit observed fact. Physics is, as I understand, full of such hypothetical essential principles, continually being falsified and superceded along with the models -- as the Newtonian mechanistic model is superceded by the Einsteinan relativistic model. Relativity and Quantum Physics offer conflicting morphologies, both of which are as valid as they can be with the essential principles they take as premises, both of which seem to be relevant, but both of which will likely be falsified and superceded by another morphology (Superstring Theory being one contender).

The point about this is that no matter how valid the morphology, it may well be entirely irrelevant, a map which is perfectly coherent and comprehensive (given that perfectly consistent and complete is out of bounds) but which doesn't actually map to reality. It may be validly constructed in terms of isometric contour lines, compass points in the right relationships, and so on. Most essential principles of topography may be correct -- mountains, towns and cities in the right place. But an error in calculating latitudes which artificially shortens north-south distances or situates an island in entirely the wrong place -- any number of such problems -- might render this map simply not true in the sense of relevance.

This is why we distinguish existential propositions from essential propositions by predicating existence on manifestation in reality. What we are dealing with is not validity but relevance. Even if Anselm's argument were not of a level of circularity that one can hardly help but picture him with his head well and truly stuck up his own arse, even if Plantinga's argument exhibited airtight validity rather than sophistic sleight of hand, there would still be nothing to the morphological structure of their logic that requires it in any way shape or form to be remotely relevant. The perfectly valid map is entirely worthless if it is simply not relevant, if the morphology it represents is not manifest in the actual reality of a world. A definition may be no more than that, a definition of something that is not now, has never been, and never will be instantiated.

I'm sorry if this fine point of the distinction between reality and fantasy seems, to you, an "impoverished view of reality". I suppose that, yes, it does rather sweep away all the apophenic wonders of the paranoid schizophrenic delusion that is God. A delusional worldview where no such distinction is made between existential reality and conceptual fabrication is, of course, so much richer, what with all the angels and demons and the voices in the head telling you the Word of God. But sanity can be fun too. Trust me.

Your oral sex example is likewise characteristic of a misunderstanding of the argument in question. Notable is the neo-Platonic objection that certain of what we call "things" or "acts" are only impoverished versions of actual things or acts. Sins would fall into this category. Thus, to sin is not to do something (properly speaking) but to fail at doing something (insofar as sin is merely a deprivation of something pure and true and perfect). Therefore, God's not sinning cannot be called an inability, but rather evidence of His ability to engage in all actions perfectly (as a result of which, none of his actions would have the deprivation that is sin). Your argument basically boils down to saying that God cant do what is not and therefore is not omnipotent, which is, of course, manifestly absurd. So much for your Pan.

And the Neo-Platonists would make piss-poor object-oriented programmers if they can't distinguish the functional perfection of a specific method with a specific function from some sort of arbitrary hierarchisation of discrete methods with entirely discrete functions. I understand what the Neo-Platonists are trying to do, in not simply listing the absolute prescriptions and proscriptions of crude morality as a set of arbitrary imperatives where actions are required or forbidden. They're trying to deal with the modalities between the must and the must not, the area in which actions are permitted-but-not-approved-of or approved-of-but-not-obligatory, the modalities of could and could not, should and should not. They're trying to organise these contingent imperatives into a hierarchy of events, a set of protocols, such that given a choice between two actions which are both approved-of-but-not-obligatory the action allocated a higher status can be selected.

The main problem with this is that it does not account for the absolute prescriptions and proscriptions, where actions lie outside any such hierarchy. Religious injuctions against eating pork, say, or requirements to cover one's head in a synagogue, for example, are imperatives that cannot be construed as more or less perfect versions of other actions. Not eating pork is not a more perfect version of eating pork. Covering one's head in a synagogue is not a more perfect version of not covering one's head. These are simple boundary rules where a certain action must or must not be carried out in order not to sin. One could attempt to construct higher-level actions of which these are components, saying that what we're talking about is more or less "perfect versions" of eating and more or less "perfect versions" of worship, but what we arrive at is only a high-level abstract action the perfection of which is defined in terms of low-level concrete rules. Which is to say, the "perfect version" of eating is simply that in which none of the complex rules of eating kosher are breached, while the "perfect version" of worships is simply that where all of the complex dogma of devotion are followed.

Perfection, in that sense, becomes purity, as the symbolism of sin-as-stain makes obvious. It is not impoverishment that is the issue but pollution, the miasmatic taint that comes with trangressing the low-level boundary rule. This becomes even clearer when we deconstruct the hierarchisation of sex acts. According to the Neo-Platonic rationalisation, one can only presume that fellatio is an "impoverished" version of penetrative sex, gay sex an "impoverished" version of straight sex, and extra-marital straight sex an "impoverished" version of intra-marital straight sex. But in functional terms fellatio and penetrative sex are entirely discrete methods with discrete goals -- we'll call them SuckCock and Fuck. These can be subordinated to a higher-level method we'll call MakeSweetSweetLove. The "perfection" of MakeSweetSweetLove, in Neo-Platonic terms, is not a matter of being able to execute a function well, achieve a larger goal well, by efficient utilisation of these sub-methods which are themselves so designed as to execute their own sub-functions well, achieve a lesser goal; rather it is defined in terms of the non-execution of certain sub-methods. It is simply that MakeSweetSweetLove is parameterised with injunctions. It must not be executed on a non-spouse. It must not be executed on a person of the same sex. It must not involve execution of SuckCock or FuckAss. When we ask what exactly makes that hierarchically privileged version of sex "perfect", we find that the "perfection" simply deconstructs to a non-functional and arbitrary set of mores, the transgression of which adds the impurity of "sin". For all the Neo-Platonists' rationalisations, sin is defined throughout Christian morality in additive terms, as an impurity which has been introduced and must be removed (specifically, "washed clean in the blood of the Lamb"), not as a deficiency which must be compensated for.

This is very reminiscent of a conversation on this blog a while back which entered into distinctions between types of "crime" in Judaic and Hittite cultures, where Ben Rosenbaum brought up the notion of khate -- sin as flaw, as failing. This led into my own referencing of cheit a sin of error (cognate, it seems to me, with khate), but also avon, a sin of passion, of surrendering to one's impulses, and pesha or mered, a sin which is intended, a deliberate act of malice. We can clearly compare these with the Hittite distinction of haratur (general misdemeanor), hurkel (sexual crime) and shallakardatar (deliberate outrage against the gods).

The Neo-Platonic conception is clearly a post-fact rationalisation of the misdemeanour/error crimes, an attempt to abstract these into a theory of mores as functional ethics. The project is quite laudable in many ways in so far as it seeks to (re)ground mores in ethical protocols based on an implicit function of social integration; the crime is an error, a misdemeanour because it is socially disruptive, the introduction of protocols an attempt to minimise error, to minimise conflict. A view of crime as failure, as error is a judgement that a goal has not been achieved, a method has been executed with the wrong results, that an individual's "programming", so to speak, makes them bad at being a (social) human being because it creates conflict. The result is the sort of conventional morality, in Kohlbergian terms, which encapsulates the whole set of protocols as an abstract and unifying social order but which is defined bottom-up in terms of specific mores (though it will also be redefined top-down under the influence of post-conventional morality's universal ethical principles).

The difficulty with this is that the moral systems it generates incorporate mores which are based purely on sexual and religious taboos -- avon or hurkel and pesha/mered or shallakardatar. These are the sort of crimes we label, in English, as obscene, profane, blasphemous, heretical, abominations, and so on and so forth. It's very clear, when it comes to fellatio (or sodomy or heresy or any number of similar taboo-breaching transgressions), that what we are dealing with is not a failure to commit an act properly (or perfectly), but rather the commission of an act which is, in and of itself, forbidden. This is not a matter of an act conforming to an ideal morphological form, but rather of it transgressing a boundary.

It is these latter forms of mores wherein the construction and reconstruction of God's Law/Will becomes most evident.

Your distinction between mores and ethics and your assertions of construction and reconstruction of the Law/Will seem once again to come from a certain narrowness of perspective on your part. I would suggest you engage in more thorough review of both history and theology. I believe you will find that many of the changes you seem to see in views of the will of God, especially in some of the older religions (Orthodox Christianity, Judaism, Islam and, to some extent, Hinduism) are hardly changes at all but are, in fact, continuous with the beliefs upon which these systems were originally founded. Extensive efforts (intellectual, spiritual and structural) have been undertaken to establish this continuity and preserve it in light of the changing fabric of the human experience and to ignore these efforts in favor of some revisionist notion of religion as changing out of pure expedience is as cynical as it is ignorant. And this is, of course, ignoring the possibility (held by the faiths mentioned above) that God Himself influences the development of these traditions.

The continuity of beliefs is not in dispute. A conventional morality is inherently conservative since the abstracted encapsulation of mores as a "social order" becomes itself the subject of a moral imperative to preserve and promote that order and of a moral injunction against breaking that order. It is taboo to challenge all taboos, forbidden to challenge the legitimacy of the mores. I would suggest, though, that you engage in your own review of history and theology and comparative mythology from a wider perspective, focusing on, for example, the Neolithic roots of these "older" religions, which evidence a continuity going back to Hittite ablution rituals, the Law Code of Hammurabi, the divine legislature of Sumerian society which sociomorphically reflects the unkin or "assemblies" of the earliest of city-states -- in which, most interestingly, the King of Gods is explicitly subject to the Law, impeached and exiled for a crime of rape. I would suggest you look to the transitions between primitively democratic systems of governance based on unkin, en (religio-economic figurehead) and lugal (temporary military leader) and autocratic systems of governance based on the ensi, the fusion of en and lugal as monarchic sovereign. I would suggest you look to the transitions between federation and empire in Sumer and its reflection in the mythology of ownership and control of the me, in which we can see, laid out for us, a story of the gradual usurpation of the Law and its subordination to the Will of the King of Gods (of which Marduk is probably the prime example). I would suggest you look to the Assyrian, Babylonian and Hittite empires for the transitions between King of Gods, God of Gods, and God of Kings, from Enlil to Ilil to El Eliyoun.

Throughout history, yes, a continuity of moral system is visible, in structural terms of conventional morality, in symbolic terms of the sin-as-stain metaphor, and in specific terms of actual prohibitions and dictates, and in all of these systems a conservatism is evinced which clings rigidly to taboos in the face of ethical progress. But there is also a constant revisionism exhibited which is perhaps most obvious in the case of Christianity, going back through Revivalism, Counter-Reformation and Reformation to its very formation. Even just looking at the fractured state of modern Christianity, with a myriad sects each with their own God with his own Law, where on the one hand you have the "God Hates Fags" Westboro Baptists and on the other hand congregations set up by and for queer Christians, it becomes undeniable the extent to which the conception of God is negotiated according to social pressures. The most notable thing about this fracturing is the extent to which it results from attempts to divest the moral orthodoxy of boundary rules which are no longer considered valid. In Christianity we can see this beginning in the Gospels, with Jesus's breaches of the Sabbath and the abandonment of rituals of circumcision or ablution, and carrying through to the present schisming within the Anglican church over the issue of gay marriage, which is fundamentally an argument over the legitimacy of taboos on homosexual acts.

The appeal to divine influence is simply an attempt to have it both ways which undermines any legitimacy the conservatives might have in claiming divine inspiration, and therefore unquestionable authority, for the Law they seek to preserve, as the Law then becomes entirely contingent, subject to a constant process of revision by whoever can persuade enough followers that their alteration is a product of divine influence. Indeed, it strikes at the very heart of morality in characterising it as a process of learning, of maturation, entirely in line with conventional morality's position in a Kohlbergian schema of moral development. In line with religion's own characterisation of its adherents as "children", in fact, it portrays the religious as infantile and immature, incapable of independent ethical judgement but rather "sheep" who must be led by their "shepherd". The grand narrative it constructs is actually one in which the end result is maturity and autonomy, in which conventional mores are superceded by post-conventional ethics, in which we are no longer passive recipients of the divine decrees of an anthropomorphic authority figure, but rather the active executors of the capacity for ethical judgement symbolised in the Eden story as the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

In the end, of course, it is your quaint supposed rebellion against God that truly fails. It fails intellectually to establish a coherent set of objections to religion, and, for that matter, it fails to establish anything more than an impoverished, dogmatic neo-positivist reductionism in its place (under the false assumption that its place is vacant, of course). It leaves its children in a world devoid of metaphysical foundation, leaving them with only appeals to history (such as your own) that are empty of all meaning, and the hollow satisfaction of "liberation" and entry into either nihilism or the atavistic and finally unsatisfying effort to define oneself apart from all context.

These are not objections to religion but deconstructions of the Empire that perpetuates itself within it, and saying that this is not coherent does not make it so. None of your attempts at rebuttal, I believe I've shown, hold water, and, contrary to your claims, the actual philosophy I'm attempting to establish here is, I would argue, richer in its rejection of the anthropomorphic and sociomorphic limitations you project upon the metaphysical, less dogmatic in its rejection of the irrational, taboo-based features of infantile morality, and far from neo-positivist reductionism in its assertion of morphogony as the fundamental condition of chaos from which order is an emergent feature, and in its openness to theories such as memetic entities, quantum interconnectedness, etc., which might indicate an actuality to metaphysics over and above mere metaphor for psychological and cultural processes. Rather, it is the notion of "God" that is impoverished in its crudity, dogmatic in its authoritarianism, and an essentialist reductionism in its assertion of morphology's precedence over morphogony, in the form of an absurdly humanoid Deus Irae as Supreme Being and Prime Cause. Your position is about as limited and limiting as any philosophy could be, and unified by the cohesive pattern-making of the paranoid schizophrenic rather than the coherent reasoning of rational thought and empathic imagination.

So, in the end, your last resort is the appeal to authority for the sake of authority -- for the sake of the security of absolutes, the solace of the sense of certainty those absolutes create, without which, you fear, we cannot live safe and satisfying lives but can only descend into the deep dark void of nihilism. This is not a rational argument, simply your incapacity to face and conquer an existential angst which projects hostility upon indifference, danger upon the darkness, cruelty upon the emptiness of a Cosmos without a Divine Father. This is a child's fear, immature and weak, a lack of faith compensated for with the comforter of God.

Even in your own scriptures this comfort is subverted in the story of the exile from Eden. We live in a conceptual world of dust from which we are born, which we must cultivate ourselves in order to survive, and to which we will return, one day; and we exist in this world naked, and cognizant of that nakedness, with only the knowledge of good and evil, gained from the serpent who has always represented wisdom, as the skill by which we must decide our paths through it.

I suggest you learn to deal with that.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007



Magnificence and Existence

At the heart of ontological arguments for the existenceof God is the idea that reality is based upon morphology, combined with a claim that this morphology must necessarily contain a certain form called God, these arguments pivoting on ideas of existence and a vague magnificence labelled "greatness" or "perfection". What Anselm, Descartes and the rest are claiming is that any morphology which does not contain a form of absolute magnificence and necessary existence just can't be made to work.

How do they do this?

A theoretical sub-class of Being, God, is assigned the attribute of "greatness" or "perfection", this being treated as a quantifiable value. If challenged to parse this into something more choate, this magnificence can be defined in terms of omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence. If challenged to make sense of this as a meaningful attribute, that magnificence can be attributed to other classes, three sub-classes of Being, for example -- Animal, Man and Angel -- each of which has an attribute of this vague magnificence, but each with a hard-wired value higher than the last if we take them in the order given. Abstracting this sequence we can construct an ultimate class,God, having the ultimate value of greatness or perfection -- magnificence. The trick is to then define this magnificence as dependent on existence, to say that not having the property of existence would render God less magnificent than any mere Man who did possess that property.

In Anselm's logic, ultimate greatness is defined as the value of greatness for that being than which nothing greater can be imagined. In essence, since this is always greater than any finite value we can imagine, Anselm is talking of infinite greatness. He uses the analogy of a painter with an image in his understanding of what he is about to paint in order to establish his own notion of the class versus the object, existence in the understanding versus existence in reality. His version of the trick is then to say that if the class was all that existed we could imagine the object which is greater than it. That very thing than which nothing greater can be imagined is something which we can imagine something greater than, which is a contradiction in terms.

God is really, really, really great, then. Great to the power of infinity.

Descartes takes a similar stance by claiming to have an idea of a supremely perfect being, following that with the assertion that to be that perfect being, God must exist. He complexifies his argument with a defence of the legitimacy of clear and distinct attributes as descriptors of objects, saying that where these attributes are clear and distinct in the class they must be true of the object. He finds necessary existence clear and distinct in the class, God, so it must be true of the obect, God. Descartes could never, presumably, be mistaken. If we think this idea bogus, his assertion is that, as an imperfect being, he would be unable to create a concept of a supremely perfect being on his own, and that the concept must therefore have come from God.

It would be generous to describe Descartes blank assertions as an actual argument. Confusing the sense of certainty with actual truth, he is characterising the God class as a divine revelation that must be true because he is convinced it is true. Beyond that, he is simply regurgitating Anselm's proposition that the most magnificent Being has to exist in order to be the most magnificent Being.

Plantinga gives us a more modern version in which he defines the God class likewise, his terms being ultimate excellence and ultimate greatness. He is more specific, at least. Ultimate excellence is omnipotence, omniscience and so on in a possible world, W. Ultimate greatness requires ultimate excellence in all possible worlds, and this equates to necessary existence -- to be ultimately great there can be no possible worlds of non-existence. The God class is then treated as a "possible necessity" (it is possible that God necessarily exists), the trick here coming from a little gem of sophistic modal logic known as S5, which collapses that "possible necessity" to straight necessity. If something is possibly necessary, S5 says, that means there is a possible world where it is necessary, where it would be self-contradictory to negate it. If it is self-contradictory in one world, though, it is self-contradictory in all worlds; hence a possible necessity is actually a necessity. Which means, if you buy this sleight of hand, that the God class must have necessary existence.

All three arguments, then, pivot on absolute magnificence requiring necessary existence.

A Dubious Proposition

We'll deal with Plantinga's argument first, because it appears more formal, more rigorously logical in its contemporary language. It is, however, simply a subtle play on modal logic's specialised terminology wherein "possible" means not necessarily false, "necessary" means not possibly false and "contingent" means neither necessarily true nor necessarily false. The problem is, the God class is being passed off as possible when, as a hypothesis, it should correctly be considered contingent, for objectivity's sake. A hypothesis is not necessarily false but it is also not necessarily true. So, even if we accept that if the hypothesis is true at all then it is necessarily true, that aspect of necessity is still itself contingent on the God class's truth. If it is not true then it is not necessarily true.

We could go further and turn the argument on its head. In the terminology of modal logic given above there is clearly a missing modality we might label "dubious" for statements that are not necessarily true. Where Plantinga says that it is possible that God necessarily exists, we might equally say it is dubious that God necessarily exists. This is an equally valid premise.

What do we get if we apply the logic of S5 to something that is dubiously necessary? Adapting Plantinga's own phraseology:

1. If dubiously necessarily P, then there is a possible world W at which P does not hold necessarily,

2. Then, it is true at W that P is not a broadly logically necessary truth, that its negation would not in a broadly logical sense be self-contradictory,

3. But if something is not self-contradictory at some possible world, then it is not self-contradictory at all worlds,

So a dubious necessity collapses into a non-necessity, and in this case that means the God class. Further, since it is agreed that God, if he exists, must necessarily exist, and we have here established that he does not necessarily exist in all possible worlds, God cannot exist.

It should be obvious that the result of the argument is simply a factor of our bias as regards the premise, of whether we present the hypothesis of God as possible, contingent or dubious. One might well carry on with our critique of Plantiga's argument, though, by assuming the more objective attitude that God's necessity is contingent, by avoiding the bias of "possible" and "dubious".

Actually, if we apply the logic of S5 to a "contingent necessity" rather than a "possible necessity", the folly of this whole type of argument becomes clear. We get a situation where, because P's necessity is contingent, neither necessarily true nor necessarily false, there must be a world, W1, where it holds necessarily (its negation would be self-contradictory) and another world, W2, where it does not hold necessarily (its negation would not be self-contradictory). Given that something which is self-contradictory (or not) in one possible world must be self-contradictory (or not) in all, W1 and W2 mean God's existence must be both necessary and not necessary in all possible worlds. Personally, I would take from this that all hypotheses relating to "necessary existence", all such speculative suppositions as the necessary existence of God, which might or might not be true, which are neither necessarily true nor necessarily false -- all of these are entirely illogical, since by the logic of S5 they lead to complete self-contradiction. This sort of sophistic fiddling with necessary existence as possible, dubious or contingent proposition is just an exercise in confusing premise and proof.

Stripping it down like this, we find that for all Plantinga's modal logic, what he is offering us is little more than the same old Supreme Being of Descartes and Anselm. Greatness, perfection, excellence? Check. Omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence? Check. Necessary existence? Check. The ontological argument again boils down to existence as a prerequisite of absolute magnificence.

Magnificence and existence. Yes, God is so cool he has to be real!

All I can say is I consider that a dubious proposition.

A Madman's Dream

The immediately obvious response to this sort of argument is that existence is not a property or existence is not a predicate, but this approach has a tendency to run into the minefield of abstract and general terms -- abstract events, abstract types of things, abstract properties and abstract behaviours -- and the tedious ontological nonsenses that surround them, where philosophers seem incapable of getting their heads around the idea of signifiers without concrete referents, where the fact that we talk about fictional characters as if they were real just does not compute, and where a whole new pseudoscientific jargon must be developed in order to deal with the simplest of statements. I'm not even going to get into this because it's simply tiresome. I'll simply advise a crash course in object-oriented programming. There are classes of objects and objects of classes. It's really not that hard. Existence is not a method or an attribute of a class, what it does or what it is. It is the instantiation of a class in an object.

Put it this way: We can happily accept the premises of the ontological argument, construct our theoretical God class, assign it these attributes of Greatness (or Perfection, or Magnificence) and Existence. We can instantiate an object of that class in our imagination and set these attributes to whatever we want.

Create Object DeusIrae as God Class
Set DeusIrae.Greatness = "infinity"
Set DeusIrae.Existence = "necessary"

And then we can wipe it out of existence.

Destroy DeusIrae

Those attributes don't seem terribly meaningful if we can do that.

A simple way to understand this would be to imagine a class called MyNovel with an attribute Published. This is instantiated as an object only in the writer's imagination, with its Published atribute set to "false". This is one complicated motherfucker of a class, complicated enough that the writer can't actually hold it all in his imagination at once. He didn't even try to build it in his imagination; what he did was break it down into sub-systems of smaller classes -- Chapter, Scene, Paragraph, Sentence, Word. Even with these it wasn't just a matter of working on them independently as pure abstractions and gradually putting them together into the class; no, what he did was use this complex IDE (Integrated Development Environment) called Writing 2007, a sort of program to help you develop classes.

See, Writing 2007 is a great piece of kit. You have this library of predeveloped sub-classes of Noun, Verb, and so on, which you can instantiate as objects in ink on paper, and build into instances of Sentence objects, Paragraph objects and so on. The software translates these into an object of the class DraftMyNovel as you work, constantly updating the abstract definition coded into the concrete objects you're working with. It's also got this nifty little add-on called Reading Express whereby you can directly instantiate in your imagination an object of the class DraftMyNovel in its current state, in order to test if it's working the way it should. The great thing about the imagination, of course, is that it automatically translates that object of the DraftMyNovel class into an object of the MyNovel class and stores the definition of that class in your head. You can then call up an instance of that object and use Thinking 3.0 to analyse it in terms of other sub-systems of classes like Theme, Plot and Character. Thinking 3.0 doesn't let you work with the MyNovel objects in the same way as Reading Express does, right enough. With Reading Express you scan through the linear structure of the object and it fires off commands like Laugh, Cry, Frown. It actively implements the methods of the object of the MyNovel class, which are designed to directly affect anyone who uses Reading Express to scan it. With Thinking 3.0 you examine that object structurally. It doesn't call the methods, so you don't have the sequence of experiences. You don't have the same sense of having the story playing in the run-time of your imagination, so in many ways it doesn't actually feel like your working with a MyNovel object at all, more like you're working with an idea of one. Indeed, it has to be said that the storage media for classes of the complexity of MyNovel can be quite kack, so many writers prefer to use Thinking 3.0 in tandem with Reading Express, working on an object of the DraftMyNovel class rather than an object of the MyNovel class which is corrupted by forgetfulness to a vaguely discernable structure of Theme, Plot and Character objects.

But anyway, this is how the writer developed his MyNovel class, discovering at the end of the process, incidentally, that the MyNovel class he ended up with was quite different from the MyNovel class he only had a vague idea of at the start (and which he actually still only has a vague idea of now without reference to an object of the DraftMyNovel class). Now that he has his MyNovel class, he could set its attribute to Published. But it's a little premature for that.

The other great thing about this Writing 2007 and Reading Express is that it's nearly as ubiquitous as Microsoft, so if you send off an object of the DraftMyNovel class, which is to say a manuscript, to a publisher, an editor can run Reading Express on it, and with a bit of luck he might even buy it. Or rather he might license the right to use it, to create objects of the MyBook class developed from it. With a good editor that development won't involve alterations to the MyNovel class that make it no longer, as far as you're concerned, the MyNovel class you want it to be. With a good editor there'll actually be alterations that make it even more the MyNovel class you want it to be. With a good design team working on the MyBook class you can end up with something, if you're lucky, that's better than you ever hope for.

And finally, finally, one day they feed an object of the PDFMyBook class into a BigAssPrintingMachine object and out come lots of little objects of the class MyBook, with a publication date on the copyright page, and then, but only then, you get to set the Published attribute of the MyNovel class in your head to "true". You could have done this anywhere along the way, of course, but only if you want to be a delusional loon, because it's the instantiation of the MyBook objects that matters for the MyNovel class. (Note to pedants: I know, I know, publication doesn't actually have to be in ink on paper; it's not the printing that's instantiation here but the publication in a medium, so we could substitute MyEbook objects for MyBook objects and it's all the same.) Point is, all those countless DraftMyNovel objects you created to build the MyNovel class, all those countless MyNovel objects you created to test and analyse with imagination and abstraction, even that object of the PDFMyBook class which you held in your hand, in the form of the page proofs -- none of that matters when it comes to setting the Published attribute to "true".

Any Existence attribute, of a God class or otherwise, is equally dependant on instantiation, so setting that attribute to "necessary" means nothing if that instantiation has not taken place. You can construct your idea of God, your MyGod class. You can develop it using Writing 2007, Reading Express, Thinking 3.0 -- because philosophy uses these as much as fiction. You can work your way through DraftMyGod after DraftMyGod. In fact the process here is even grander, even more complex, because the construction of a MyGod class doesn't just involve drafts but finished books, and not just books but scriptures and psalms, ceremonies and sacraments, other arts entirely. You can use Sculpture 2.1 and Architecture 1000 and the whole vast suite of software that is Religion 4004, but for all the objects you use to construct the MyGod class, at no point can you simply set its Existence attribute to "necessary" and imagine that this makes it so. Just as the MyBook objects must be manifest in the medium of print to be considered published, the MyGod object must be manifest in the medium of reality to be considered as existing, never mind necessarily existing. Otherwise all you have is a spurious idea, a dream of a God with necessary existence, like a madman's dream of a "published" novel that's never seen a printing press.

A Predicate of Sorts

Existence can be considered a predicate of sorts. It is a predicate of manifestation in the medium of reality, of the instantiation of a morphological form within a framework of actuality. That means it is, by definition, spatio-temporal. To exist is to continue to exist, to not cease to exist, and it generally means to do so here and now. Just as "manifest" means literally "hand-struck", right there in front of us to touch, to slap, to rap a knuckle on, so the term "existence" comes from the Latin ex- meaning "out" and stare meaning "stand" -- in its origins, then, to exist is to stand out. It is to be a figure on a ground, not just a form but the delineation of that form in its inscription upon a substance, like the delineation of the form of a god upon a marble bas-relief. To say this God exists is like saying that god is carved, here in this relief, before our eyes, a figure standing out from the ground, one that we can touch, slap, rap a knuckle on.

Every "is" is a predication of reality, of now-ness, of here-ness. The latter is no more specific than all of reality, which is why it is meaningful to respond to a claim that X exists with the question, "Where does X exist?", seeking a greater specificity that might be location ("in Glasgow") or medium ("in sculpture"). But the former is as specific as the very moment in which the claim is made, which is why it is pointless to ask the question, "When does X exist?", since the answer is implicit in the original claim -- now.

We can, of course, seek to establish a spatial distinction between our sub-reality and a hyperreality beyond it, imagining ourselves as the sculptures on the bas-relief, carved by a sculptor whose existence is spatiotemporally orthogonal to our own. We can imagine that time, on this relief, is represented in a progression from scene to scene, left to right, such that the sculptor may change our future, or our past, or our now, simply by shuffling this way or that and recarving this or that scene. But the claim that this sculptor exists is still a claim of his instantiation within his own reality, within a reality, within -- in simplest, universal terms -- reality as the hyperreality within which all sub-realities are models-in-whatever-media. To talk of this God class, this sub-class of Being, as being beyond reality entirely is to talk of it as not being at all.

The teleological arguments for God do not make that last leap, but simply hierarchise realities, positing a God class instantiated on a higher plane, as the object which shapes our subreality. Working with the anti-morphogonic myth of creation, they seek to analyse the morphology for a direct revelation in the form of an engraved signature, or for evidence of execution in the form of chisel-marks, or for evidence of design in the form of a distinct coherence to the complexity, a meaning encoded as the point of the story laid out in the relief. In denying morphogony they lead only to infinite regress, for the complexity of a morphological form capable of design, by this logic, must indicate that the hyperreality in which that form is instantiated is itself a product of design.

The actualities of the evidence they utilise in making their cases, in fact, bring the advocate's very sanity into question; they interpret hallucination and delusion as revelatory signature, anomalous irregularities in morphology as chisel-marks, and the cohesion of coincidental juxapositioning as the coherence of patterning. These are the symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia.

The product of these teleological arguments is the God class, the Deus Irae, the Empire, for it is through them that the attributes and methods of an assumed creator are imputed from the morphology of what is assumed to be that creator's creation. The notions of attention and intervention are imputed from "revelation". The notions of ineffability and obscurity are imputed from "anomaly". The notions of intent and action are imputed from "coherence". Further, in the sociomorphic and anthropomorphic nature of the morphology that is paranoically and schizophrenically projected upon realty, the God class comes to articulate the discourses at play in our notions of society and humanity. The attention is that of a shepherd to his flock. The intervention is that of a father in the squabbles of his children. The ineffability is that of a judge whose wisdom we cannot follow. The obscurity is that of a priest whose teachings we cannot fathom. The intent is that of a king for his kingdom. The action is that of a tyrant upon his rebellious subjects.

This is how the Empire was built.

The ontological arguments seek to abstract beyond the limitations of the teleological case, but they take as a given the definition of God constructed through the history of such arguments. In abstracting from the morphology of our bas-relief towards a Grand Unified Morphology with a cardinal morphological form as Prime Cause, they seek an articulation of the ground as a figure in its own right, the frame as form, not a sub-class of Being but a class of NonBeing, something beyond reality itself. They see the unreality which is the definitional boundary of reality. They seek the condition of chaos considered as a thing, the process of morphogony considered as an action, the combination of these considered as an event. But they carry with them into this quest a notion irreconcilable with the inherent chaos of NonBeing simply because it is, by definition, a sub-class of Being. This notion is rendered not just irreconcilable but absurdly so by the specific attributes and methods it carries as the legacy of its process of generation. And in a final act of insanity that which, by its nature is not, the uninstantiated and uninstantiable class-as-pure-form is claimed to be existential.

We can imagine an Empire, they say, that has all the features of the Golden Kingdom we have imagined through the millennia, the Silver City at the heart of it, and the Ivory Tower at the heart of that, an Empire as the teleological arguments have defined it. But we recognise that if we claim all empires to be necessarily mere models within an Ivory Tower, if we claim all realities require hyperreality, we must accept an infinite regress of greater and greater Empires, each level a wider Golden Kingdom with a vaster Silver City at the heart of it, and a taller Ivory Tower at the heart of that, containing the sub-reality as a mere model. So we accept this. We abstract to the infinite, to the essential, to the perfect, to the very morphological form of Empire, this GoldenKingdom class with its SilverCity class and its IvoryTower class, liberated from the infinte regress by being beyond reality itself, by not being a figure upon a ground that must have been carved, by not being an object instantiated in some medium that must have been made manifest, by not being outwith all frameworks of actuality. And now we say that it is real, for in abstracting out of reality we have reached perfection, and perfection requires reality. It must be real because it is not real. Can you not see our logic?

This is how the Empire falls.

Supremacy In Magnificence

So we arrive at the notion of Empire as an object which is, was and ever will be by an act of assertion of instantiation applied to a concept of Empire as a class which is not, was not and never can be, this concept itself an abstraction to essentiality based upon the very real and actual empires of earthly existence, those which exist now, whose which have existed in the past, and those which will most likely exist in the future, projecting sociomorphic and anthropomorphic notions born of paranoid schizophrenia onto reality itself. It is in the definitive features of the Empire that we can find the how and why of this insanity.

The key feature of the Empire is power.

We can understand this if we return to the idea of a MyNovel class, and an object of the class MyBook that instantiates it, and now ascribe to these an attribute of Perfection. The Perfection of this MyBook object is dependent upon many things. The book must contain no errors in copy-editing, type-setting or printing, no missing or transposed pages, no stains or blots or tears upon the dustjacket, no wrongly-allocated blurbs or mistakenly off-centred cover art. It must be perfect as an instance of the class. But more than this, in the development from the MyNovel class to the MyBook class we can require more perfection. We might require a deliberate variation between US and UK spellings to be maintained, a deliberate variation of fonts to be carried through, an environmentalist message to be reflected in printing on acid-free paper. We might require the cover art to be fitting, the copy to be accurate and effective, the blurbs to be from recognised authorities. It must be perfect as a translation from one class to another, from the base narrative to the physical vessel designed to carry it. But more than this, in the development of the MyNovel class itself we can seek a further perfection, the aesthetic perfection of a novel which lives up to the standards it is intended to, with elegance of style carrying through from the level of words up through sentences to paragraphs, to scenes and sections, chapters and volumes, with drama at these levels too, constructing a plot which is dynamic and coherent, with characters who do not lack dimensionality but are enfleshed and vital, developing through the action of the book, and with themes that are not trite but profound, not crude but complex, not confused but clearly articulated. It must be perfect as a model of what it is meant to model, as a program which does what it is meant to do.

We can only dream of such perfection in a book, but we can at least dream of it. What, then, is the perfection that we dream of in a god?

It is notable that when we talk of perfection, here, in every example we are talking of a measure of how well specific features match an ideal standard. We are talking of perfection not as a discrete attribute in its own right but as the sum of measurements of attributes and methods according to standards of quality. We are measuring how well an aim has been achieved in instantiating the MyBook class, how well an aim has been achieved in translating the MyNovel class to a MyBook class, how well an aim has been achieved in articulating the aesthetic standards applied in writing the book, and -- at its ultimate -- how well an aim has been achieved in the very selection of the aesthetic standards the writer has sought to articulate, how ambitious, how audacious these aesthetics are in terms of scope and acuity of insight. To ascribe perfection to the book as a book is to ascribe perfection in all these aspects, which is to say, when we ask how well any of these aims have been met, the answer is always, "as much as could possibly ever be".

This is why Anselm's "perfection" equates to Descartes' "greatness", to Plantinga's "excellence", to my "magnifence". It is a quanititave measure of a quality, a position on a scale from zero to infinity, from least to most, where what is being measured is the extent to which that quality is manifest. Perfection is being the greatest of the great in this respect. Being the greatest is the ultimate excellence of manifesting a quality as much as is possible. Ultimate excellence is being supremely magnificent when measured against all other things which might manifest that quality.

And the Empire, it is claimed, is supreme in its magnificence.

The Importance of Being Important

But magnificence, greatness, is not an attribute in its own right, then, but rather a modifier of attributes. It's an abstraction, an extreme one, at the positive end of a nominal scale for quantifying some quality. To illustrate what I mean: A road has two simple attributes -- width and length. You can quantify this attribute by applying a ratio scale to it, a scale divided into points in a series equidistant by an arbitrary unit. That unit could be yards, miles, kilometres, or leagues -- different units, different scales -- but as long as the ratio between points remains the same you can quantify (twenty yards, one mile, ten kilometres, a hundred leagues) the quality (width or length), modify the attribute.

How long is a great road? How long is a piece of string?

A nominal scale is just the simplistic version of this where the points are no more than benchmarks with no constant ratio between them, no unit of distance. To take a different example, a city might be described as tiny, small, medium, big or great. We talk of great rivers and great plains, great mountains and great monuments. In each of these examples we are applying a nominal scale to quantifiable qualities or combinations of them -- length and breadth, height and mass. But this is all utterly relative; if you're used to dirt tracks that stretch a few yards, your concept of a "great" road will be modest compared to someone used to driving down an autobahn. If you lived in ancient Uruk you might well have thought its walls were great; Gilgamesh did (but then he did build them). If you live in modern China, though, you have a whole new scale to measure a "Great Wall" against.

We can find a universality to these measures though, in the very act of ascribing them, in the motive and meaning of that act. My own flat in the West End of Glasgow is just off Great Western Road, so named because it runs west out of Glasgow and was historically a major throughfare, wide and long. It's not remotely as wide or as long as any number of roads that aren't described as great -- the M1, for example; few people ever describe the M1 as "great". But it was an important route out of Glasgow to the ports further west up the Clyde. Access between those ports and Glasgow was important for trade. Indeed, the very length and width of that road is a measure of the economic importance of that access. Hence the "Great" in "Great Western Road" is as much a signifier of the importance which led to the size as it is of the size in and of itself.

When we talk of great rulers, great leaders, physical size has nothing to do with it; what we're talking about is purely and simply their importance, their impact on history, their ability to rule, to lead, successfully. Greatness in this sense is not just a quantifer of an attribute, how much that attribute is manifested. That attribute is itself the property of having and using a capacity, of executive ability. What we are measuring then is not attributes at all, but methods. A great ruler is someone who is great at being a ruler. A great monument is something that is great at being a monument. Similarly, when we talk of great poets, great painters, great composers, and so on, we are talking of those who are great at performing the methods which define these roles.

A great poet is an object of the HumanBeing class whose WritePoetry method results in objects of the class Poem which are considered great. A great poem is an object of the Poem class which is inordinately effective at doing what a poem is meant to do. But this application of the term makes things a hell of a lot more complex because we must agree upon the aesthetics in order to agree on the evaluation. Saying that X is great because it is inordinately effective at doing what things of its kind should do, requires a clear idea of what its kind is, what that kind does, what its kind could and should do, and how its effectiveness can be measured. We cannot take a measuring tape to a method. It must be abstracted and analysed, theorised. How do you measure the greatness of an object of the calss Tragedy? Aristotle might well throw some ideas at you about its capacity to invoke pity and terror, its conformity to the classic forms, and so on, but we're talking complex and arguable sets of aesthetics here that are difficult to gain agreement on.

The Empire seeks to circumvent all such arguments by casting greatness as the greatness of an Empire, of a ruler and his monuments, and defining the aesthetics as purely that of impact, of importance. If we can describe Margaret Thatcher as a great leader, as many would, this is to deny any standards of diplomacy or empathy (qualities that might equally be judged to make a leader great but which would likely have made her less historically significant) and focus only on her impact on British politics, her importance. If we can describe the Arc D'Triomphe as a great monument, this is to deny the humanist standards by which we might better describe the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin as a great monument and to focus only its aesthetic impact, the extent to which it imposes itself on our awareness, its success as a monument, as a thing designed to express its own importance.

In the aesthetics of Empire, of rulers and their monuments, the definitive measure of greatness is simply importance. The methods being evaluated are those which are aimed at being important, at having import, at making an impact, at imposing oneself upon the world. The attribute being evaluated is the capacity to do this. And the supremacy of that evaluation in ascribing greatness within that aesthetics implicitly establishes that the most important thing to be is important.

These are the terms in which Anselm's Great God is defined -- omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient as the ultimate totalitarianism. The perfection, the greatness, the magnificence here is only the power of a Deus Irae, an Empire whose sole raison d'etre rests on the importance of being important. It is the circularity of this notion that establishes the Empire as a reality, for this aesthetics in which supremacy is all that matters, in which the importance of being important over-rides all other considerations -- of ethics, aesthetics or even pragmatics -- is what transforms it from a mere morphological form into an agency in psyche and culture.

The notion that "Might is Right", instantiated in even the simplest form of an idea initiates a vicious circle of reinforcement, a rapture in rapture. Once we have accepted the prime axiom of the Empire, that whatever is imposed upon us is to be evaluated by its capacity to impose itself upon us, we have fascism in its essential form, where power is the test of truth. We have the equation of certainty with the sense of certainty. Like Descartes, we have "clear and distinct" ideas which must be true, of course, because they are "clear and distinct", because they impose themselves upon us with the absolute force of the importance of their importance. All the Empire must do from here on in is imbue its arbitrary dictates with authority. What the Empire is, in fact, is no less than the imbuing of arbitrary dictates with authority considered as a theoretical system. It can also be considered as the superset of all actual systems -- physical in the sense of socio-political, and metaphysical in the sense of psychological and cultural -- which implement this methodology, but it is in a very real sense that superset as a system in its own right, for in all such systems the aim is supremacy for the sake of supremacy, the legitimation of authority as an end in and of itself.

How can we deny authority's legitimacy when authority is legitimacy?

We can remember this: the Empire began.

The Greatest Cocksucker

We have, through the long and complicated processes of teleological argument, abstracted from a class called God, which was assumed to be multiply instantiable in objects called gods, to another class, also called God, which is assumed to be only singularly instantiable. We can better term this as a OneTrueGod class. This is the Deus Irae, the Empire.

The Deus Irae has one cardinal attribute -- location -- and three cardinal methods -- KnowShit, JudgeShit and DoShit. The attribute of omnipresence defines the OneTrueGod object's location as a multi-dimensional array containing the co-ordinates of every point in reality. The OneTrueGod object's omniscience is an ability to run the KnowShit method on every variable of particle position and velocity in every reality, past, present and future. His omnipotence is the capacity to apply the DoShit method on any number of those variables directly and instantaneously, and change them, regardless of the laws of physic, regardless even of the dictates of causality and logic. The JudgeShit method is the intermediary process by which the output of the KnowShit is processed into the input of the DoShit method.

In truth, because each of these is considered to be an infinite capacity -- there is nothing that cannot be known, judged or done -- the JudgeShit method and KnowShit method are clearly sub-functions of the DoShit method. If your greatness is such that you can do anything without even the click of a finger, this includes, by definition the ability to observe or to adjudicate. It also includes, by definition, the ability to write a novel, to rule a kingdom, to build an empire, and to make sweet, sweet love to a lady. The DoShit method might be broken down into methods like KnowShit, JudgeShit, WriteNovel, RuleKingdom, BuildEmpire or MakeSweetSweetLoveToALady but if so there must be an infinity of such specialised methods which the DoShit method would be able to call upon, depending on the input of intent it recieves from JudgeShit.

For the DoShit method to be complete it must be able to call upon a WritePornography method, an OppressMasses method, a DestroyRepublic method and, of course, a MakeSweetSweetLoveToAMan method. What other methods must we imagine, all of which the DeusIrae must be capable of executing more efficiently than any being imaginable? Baking gingerbread? Blowing smoke rings? Escaping the police when fleeing down the highway with them in hot pursuit? These are all methods that can be evaluated in terms of efficiency, all things that one could excel at, be excellent at. To have maximum excellence, in Plantinga's term, to be the thing greater than which none other can be imagined, in Anselm's term, to have all these perfections, the OneTrueGod must be the greatest bisexual gingerbread-baking smoke-ring-blowing fugitive there could ever be.

I can imagine a cocksucker greater than which no cocksucker can be imagined. I can imagine God down on his knees in front of me giving me the best head that I or anyone have ever had or ever will have. To imagine God incapable of this would contradict his omnipotence. Further, I can imagine a cocksucker whose generosity in giving head is greater than which no other cocksucker's generosity can be imagined. I can imagine him sucking on my cock not just well but willingly, eagerly and with relish. Again, to imagine God incapable of this would contradict his omnipotence. If we are assuming benevolence as a perfection, as Anselm does, and assuming perfect generosity to be a requisite of perfect benevolence, then to deny this generosity would be to deny his very benevolence, his very goodness.

We can apply Anselm's argument for existence as superior to non-existence here, and with even more force, for a cocksucker who does not suck cocks is clearly less great than one who does, and a generosity which is not enacted is clearly less great than that which is. Indeed, these are contradictions in and of themselves. A cocksucker who does not suck cocks is not a cocksucker at all. A generosity which is not enacted is not generosity at all. We can, using Anselm's logic, imagine this virtuoso generous cocksucker down on his knees in front of us as an object implementing the method or as an uninstantiated class with an unimplemented method. If the object was never instantiated and the method never implemented, but the class was all there was, then we can imagine the thing (the object in action) which is greater than that thing (the class in potential) than which nothing greater can be imagined. Which is a contradiction.

So, if I might be so bold as to address a rhetorical question to a hypothetical God...

When exactly can I expect you to get down on your knees before me and suck my salty spunk-staff, my most darling cocksucker?

When do I get my blowjob, Lord?

The Mores of Men

This may sound like a reductio ad absurdum, but I am quite serious. If God so loves the world that he sent his only begotten son to die on the cross and save us from our sins, why does he not so love the world as to wander in it in disguise, unbound by time, eternal as he is, to meet each of us in turn, in whatever shape we most desire, and in a single night of passion give each of us the most generous gift of the greatest oral gratification we have ever or could ever receive? We might even offer a scenario of a more sacred blessing. Imagine that God is love, as the Christians say (while regularly failing to follow through the ramifications of so sweet a sentiment in terms of beliefs and actions). Might we not picture him, in the form of the Holy Spirit, being there in the sacrament that is the consummation of a union of true lovers, there in the body of one, guiding his or her lips, then there in the body the other, guiding her or his tongue? On a wedding night, or on a night long into the marriage when such an act was needed to melt a hardening heart and return it to true love, or on a night shortly before the engagement when such an act was needed to dissolve all doubts in bliss and release a love repressed? Might we not picture this God as a love not just agape but eros also?

Why would such a thought be in the least shocking? Simply because it's sex, sordid and fleshly? Because it's oral sex and not missionary style coupling in the name of reproduction? Because he'd have to manifest as a woman to satisfy straight men, and God must only be imagined as male, with a cock he didn't even use to father his son? Because he'd have to be a man for a woman but kneeling before her to pleasure her with his tongue in unmanly subservience? Because he'd have to be a dyke for lesbians and a faggot for gays, and same-sex fornication is abhorrent? Because God must follow the mores of men?

Who are these men to impose such limitations on God?

The usual answer given to such questions is not the mores of men, but the Will of God. The basic solution offered for the limitation of limitless power is to say that God could do all this, but he doesn't because he chooses not to. This does not satisfy the scenario of the sacred gift I outline above, because it makes God ungenerous, ungiving. It contradicts the principle of benevolence, and the principle of free will does not come into play, because the gift in this scenario is simply the skill for the enthused lover, the lover with the divine within, to do what they have already decided on, but to do it, just this once, to perfection, or even just a little closer to perfection. Perhaps God would not have us spoiled for sex forever after, would not have us so ecstatic as a recipient that we pine to recapture the bliss of the experience we will never have again, or so skilled as the enthused lover that we are shamed by our inability to repeat that perfect act of fellatio or cunnilingus. All he need do is hold back just a little, guide just enough to make the pleasure sufficient to melt a heart, to release a love, to seal a union, just enough to teach the enthused lover, to put them on the path that they might go on to surpass even that sacred gift. Or all he need do is let us forget.

There is a story of Pan as the Piper at the Gates of Dawn, of how, at the first rays of the rising sun, between sleep and waking, it is possible to hear this most sacredly sexual divinity playing on his pipes a song so sweet, so seductively sensually sweet, that to hear it is sheer bliss, such bliss that to remember it would mean sorrow till your dying day, for you might never hear it again. And so, all those who are granted such a gift as to hear the pipes of Pan are also granted the gift of forgetfulness, as a mercy, waking from that half-slumber with only the joy that is an echo of a memory of sheer bliss.

But the Christian God, it seems, is not a fraction so generous as the wild, wayward and wonderful Pan. I say it is a churlish God who is not willing to grant this little boon.

So the next usual answer to such questions is not the Will of God, but the Law of God. In his wisdom, justice and mercy, he would be willing, it is said, but in his wisdom, justice and mercy, he knows this would be wrong. He has set out his Law with his great judgement, revealing to us what's right and wrong, good and evil, sacred and profane, and he himself is not just God but Good. So he doesn't suck cock because that would be carnal. He doesn't bake gingerbread because this would be trivial, beneath his station. He doesn't blow smoke rings because he doesn't want to set a bad example to children. He doesn't flee down the highway with the police in hot pursuit because he never commits crime. He would be great at these things if he ever did them, perfect at them, but he doesn't do them because he's good. And no, before you ask, it's not that he's limited by universal and immutable moral truths of right and wrong which are beyond his will. He decides what's right and wrong, because he's God. He sets his own limitations.

But if his will is unbound by universal moral truths God is binding himself with arbitrary decisions as to what is right and what is wrong. They must be arbitrary. If he was basing his decisions on reason, logic, this would be a binding of God to universal propositions derived from universal premises -- universal moral truths. If those premises are only universal truths by his decision they are arbitrary. I, in contrast, can imagine a God who doesn't set those limitations on himself, who must therefore be greater than this self-limiting God. He can do anything this self-limiting God can, but he also gives the best head in the cosmos. He has decided that there's nothing wrong with carnality, hetero or homo, and opened himself up to a whole new range of options in terms of what he can do and be great at.

He is not bound by the mores of men, my darling Pan. And he's very good with his lips.

The End of Empire

It is quite clear that the real reason my scenario of God as cocksucker might be a tad controversial is that the construction of the God class is not even remotely as abstract as it claims to be. Instead what we have is two simple abstract methods, KnowShit and DoShit, combined with a third method, JudgeShit into which we have projected a whole complex structure of Law and / or Will, veneered with abstractions of wisdom, justice and mercy, but almost entirely constructed, on closer inspection, of mores as specific and concrete as the prescriptions of Deuteronomy and Leviticus. Granted, there are axioms of a more universalist and ethical quality to be found here and there, in the Judaic focus on rabbinical argument, the Islamic focus on charity as one of the five pillars, the Christian focus on humility. There may even be found suggestions of purely ethical imperatives such as the Golden Rule, Kant's Categorical Moral Imperative, even the socialist principle of, "from each according to ability, to each according to need." There are many of the more mystical or theoogically minded who seek to redefine the structure, to modernise it, liberalise it.

This does not change the fact that God's Law and / or God's Will, as it is articulated most widely by those who believe they understand it well enough to do so, is not a matter of ethics but of mores. It does not change the fact that even a cursory examination of the current concepts of God, with even the most limited of historical perspectives, reveals that the Law and / or Will inextricably bound into those concepts is the legacy of millennia of human construction and reconstruction, of the projection of the mores of men into it. It does not change the fact that God's Law and / or God's Will as it stands today, in the majority of minds, could not possibly extend to giving sacred gifts of blowjobs and muffdiving, because such sexual practices have in the past and still are now subject to moral condemnation by conservative, reactionary and fascist morons driven by their unreasoned disgust.

It does not change the fact that, at its heart, this Law, this Will is nothing but the Empire, and the God who personifies it a Deus Irae, a Demiurge darker than any Gnostic ever imagined. If we look into the face of God, as Lucifer did, we see the Empire.

If we would deny this deconstructionist approach to the Law of God, the Will of God, we have only two choices: we must admit of God's responsibility to a higher Law of universal moral truths; or we must admit that his Law is a mere extension of his Will. If we accept the latter then we have the Empire, for this is authority legitimised only by the capacity to impose itself upon reality, truth as power, Law as Will, the importance of importance. If we accept the former though, God himself becomes subject to judgement against that higher Law. We might, as many do, simply insist that he is Good, that the higher Law is exactly that which, it is claimed, he has revealed to humanity over the millennia, through this prophet or that, this scripture or that. It is evident, however, in those prophecies and scriptures, that the Law revealed is to be understood as legitimated by the authority of its source, that the primary imperative of this Law is that we take it, on God's word alone, as God's word alone. As his Word, in fact, final and absolute, authoritative. Again, we have only the Empire.

And yet, to return to the very beginning of this examination, those very scriptures contain their own final and absolute negation of this authority. For all their demands of humility, submission and acceptance of the Empire, they contain the seed of their own destruction, a seed spat from the mouth of a girl, a seed from a fruit given to her by a serpent.

We have eaten of the fruit of the tree.

We have the knowledge of good and evil.

We do not need the revelations. We do not need to take anyone's word. We do not need to simply submit, obey, do what we are told as good servants of the Empire. We do not need to recognise the importance of importance. We do not need to bow to the illegitimate authority of a system which seeks supremacy for the sake of supremacy. We do not need the Will of God, for we have access to the Law in our own capacity as human beings. We have the knowledge of good and evil and that means we can face the Empire, face the Deus Irae, see it for what it is and call it to account for its crimes against humanity.

The Empire's weakness is that it is built on a lie and it knows it. It claims eternity, Platonic perfection, supremacy over reality itself but it is no more than and no less than the morphological system of the gestalt ego, the system by which mores are imposed upon cultures and psyches through the aggrandisement of the system itself. It is the memetic virus which replicates by imposing prescriptions and proscriptions of how we must react with anger and fear, disgust and surprise, in the face of moral transgression and which exploits those reactions to consolidate its hold. It is the feedback loop whereby the archetypal symbols of ego become enrapturing embodiments of authority, reifying that authority with shock and awe. The minions of the Zeus Irae who chain Prometheus are named Might and Violence. It is the soldiers of Pentheus who bring Dionysus into Thebes in chains. The archangel Michael who throws down Lucifer is God's warrior of angels, angel of ice.

This is the Empire, and as it began, as it begins again and again, with each newborn citizen sold into slavery on an empty promise of eternity, so it will end, so it has ended, and will end again and again, with each newborn citizen who rejects its rule. The Empire never ended, but it is forever ending, with ever thrawn little punk who spits the seed of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil out into their hand or, better still, spits it out into the face of God.