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Humanist Feelings - Comments

dochmbi's Avatar Comment 1 by dochmbi

Well, I for one believe that there are no ideals higher than pleasure, as long as it contains both physical and intellectual fulfillment.

If we are willing to gamble to win a perfect world, we need to create a God for ourselves (super AI) that optimizes the balance between freedoms and restrictions and governs us so that we can have the best of both happiness and freedom. I say gamble because it's quite risky to do, what if something goes wrong and we get a terrible dictator instead?

The other more stable and safe way to a reasonably good society is increasing education and knowledge among the population, so we can have a functioning democracy which makes reasonably good decisions.

Tue, 24 Mar 2009 15:42:00 UTC | #338957

rod-the-farmer's Avatar Comment 2 by rod-the-farmer

Nice response. Bravo.

Tue, 24 Mar 2009 15:57:00 UTC | #338961

prolibertas's Avatar Comment 3 by prolibertas

Dochmi, I think the argument against hedonism is the argument against SELFISH pleasure-seeking, that is, seeking one's own happiness even at the expense of the happiness of others. I think it's just the conservative fundies who take it to mean 'all pleasure period', therefore making any fun 'bad'.

Tue, 24 Mar 2009 16:01:00 UTC | #338962

GOD?'s Avatar Comment 4 by GOD?

Agree with Rod, a good response which helps set the record straight.
I'm sure many of the people that posted on here to the original article are glad to see.

Tue, 24 Mar 2009 16:06:00 UTC | #338964

Ned Flanders's Avatar Comment 5 by Ned Flanders

Scruton sounds like scrotum. Ha ha.

Tue, 24 Mar 2009 16:06:00 UTC | #338965

Diocletian's Avatar Comment 6 by Diocletian

Excellent response to the all too predictable knee jerk reaction when religion is challenged.

Tue, 24 Mar 2009 16:46:00 UTC | #338986

Russell Blackford's Avatar Comment 7 by Russell Blackford

Good responses by both Caspar Melville and Stephen Law.

On reflection it probably wouldn't have been helpful for them to open this particular can of worms, but as I said in the thread on Scruton's curmudgeonly piece, I dislike the assumption that asceticism has the high moral ground. Why - from any viewpoint based in reality and reason - is "hedonism" a term of shame?

I certainly don't deprecate the activities of art, science, and scholarship. Quite the opposite. Nor do I doubt the importance of fighting injustice. By all means let's put much of our energy into those things, in whatever ways suit our individual talents. But nor should we deprecate the pleasures of the body - the joy of dancing, the liquid velvet of good red wine, the caress of sunshine on our skin, the visual delight of beauty in its all forms, the ecstasy of sex ...

I'm not going to bullied into shame about those pleasures. They are wonderful things, there to be enjoyed without reservation.

One of the most deplorable aspects of religion is its pathological rejection of sexuality, the body, and ordinary physical pleasures, as if we need some excuse to engage in them. As if we thereby lower ourselves. This entirely unearned ethic of misery is just one reason why traditional religion is a cancer of the mind.

Tue, 24 Mar 2009 17:40:00 UTC | #339004

Dr. Strangegod's Avatar Comment 8 by Dr. Strangegod

I love the British.

Tue, 24 Mar 2009 18:35:00 UTC | #339016

Styrer-'s Avatar Comment 9 by Styrer-

Comment #355149 by Russell Blackford on March 24, 2009 at 5:40 pm


While I was reading the article here, I thought of your robust and heroic endorsement on another thread here of 'hedonism', if its alleged profligate edges are able to contain all of the other intellectual pleasures we hanker after and which you mention, and I wondered quite why Melville seems to have shied away from presenting such an inclusive view to his readers.

I'm glad you've come along to join me in support of your idea (!) There is a flavour of defensiveness in Melville's piece which, while it may or may not be a tactical endeavour, is certainly not for me, replacing as it does the idea of what is 'right' for his almost dismissable notion of 'fun'. This is certainly not my humanism he's describing, and neither have you, Russell, coaxed to its full expression my notions of it.

But you are more on the money than Melville is, despite his worthy effort.


Tue, 24 Mar 2009 18:39:00 UTC | #339018

Silvia's Avatar Comment 10 by Silvia

I liked the response and I liked even better the post by Russel Blackford. One of the worst things about Christianity is its praise of asceticism and its despise of pleasure - not only sex, remember the Catholic church considers Gluttony a capital sin. It seems that avoiding all kind of material pleasure would make us better servants of God.

That is certainly one of the aspects that make religion such an unhealthy thing to so many people.

Tue, 24 Mar 2009 18:47:00 UTC | #339021

NewEnglandBob's Avatar Comment 11 by NewEnglandBob

7. Comment #355149 by Russell Blackford:

I concur with the post by Russel and Sivia's also. The despising of pleasure is certainly not unique to Christianity. It is ingrained within Judaism and Islam.

It is also not just the deprecation of pleasures by religion, but the forbidding of free thought and free actions, whether it be dietary laws or critical thinking or required reverence for whatever nonsense the religious dream up or opposition to gay marriage, ad nauseum.

This reminds me of Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot: 'No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.'

Tue, 24 Mar 2009 19:14:00 UTC | #339024

Goldy's Avatar Comment 12 by Goldy

Comment #355149 by Russell Blackford
Indeed. If they are so bad, why then is the pleasure derived from them so universal?

Tue, 24 Mar 2009 19:15:00 UTC | #339025

Styrer-'s Avatar Comment 13 by Styrer-

With respect, folks, and with due respect for Russell's notion of pleasure, which I am glad he's repeated here from an earlier thread, let's please remember that poor old Melville was on the spot here: that he was up against some really fucking terrible 'philosophy' from a repeatedly exposed dickheaded 'philosopher' whose own ontology presents more of a mystery than any other kind.

Melville did a great job. Sort of. Quite why he didn't include the notion of pleasure for ple... Oh, don't start me again...

Blackford, you've ruined this fucking thread. Shame on you.


Tue, 24 Mar 2009 19:33:00 UTC | #339031

j.mills's Avatar Comment 14 by j.mills

Yeah, I keep hearing that Scruton is a brilliant philosopher, and whenever he crosses my path he's talking garbage. Smugly. I suspect he's simply a philosopher who's gotten himself known to the media.

Tue, 24 Mar 2009 20:16:00 UTC | #339041

Bonzai's Avatar Comment 15 by Bonzai

Why do religions dispise pleasure?

In many ancient myths the gods were capricious beings who embodied our ancestors' fear and anxieties about natural forces and the changinging fortunes in life. These gods were vengful and jealous of human happiness and success. So say, if someone had a boy who was too smart he would have to hide him or make him sound stupid so as not to arouse the gods' jealousy.

The repudiation of pleasure probably has the same origin. We have to be miserable because otherwise the gods might get jealous of our happiness and punish us in some cruel ways. Eventually somehow being miserable becomes a virtue when people forgot how it all started.

Tue, 24 Mar 2009 20:16:00 UTC | #339042

j.mills's Avatar Comment 16 by j.mills

I think religion's condemnation of pleasure and desire is simply about control. We can't help feeling these things; by condemning them, religion usurps authority, creates unavoidable guilt and takes power over your mind. It's a gutter-huckster's tactic.

Tue, 24 Mar 2009 21:00:00 UTC | #339064

Peter Clemerson's Avatar Comment 17 by Peter Clemerson

If Scruton had really wanted to know what the 'New' Humanists were for, and he clearly doesn't as knowing would deny him a cause, he could have visited where he would have found both clarity and nobility.

There are 3 possibilities,
1. Scruton was ignorant of the existence of Amsterdam declaration.
2. He knew of its existence but kept himself ignorant of its content.
3. He wrote the article despite knowing its content.

In no case does he emerge with credit. If the first applies, he was guilty of failing to educate himself about the people he chose to belittle, a useful ploy but utterly condemnable in an article reeking of claims to moral superiority, and in the other two cases he is guilty of dishonesty.

Wed, 25 Mar 2009 01:50:00 UTC | #339113

hungarianelephant's Avatar Comment 18 by hungarianelephant

16. Comment #355210 by j.mills

I think religion's condemnation of pleasure and desire is simply about control. We can't help feeling these things; by condemning them, religion usurps authority, creates unavoidable guilt and takes power over your mind. It's a gutter-huckster's tactic.

Why does it work?

Many religious people tend to the masochistic, but correlation is not causation. What if religion simply provides a framework for certain individuals to indulge their masochism? Certainly the tenor of the Abrahamic religions is strikingly masochistic in places, with the founder of the second "sacrificing" himself, and the whole basis of the third being "submission". It is hard to imagine how they could have been attractive in the first place unless they fulfilled some perceived need.

And as Scruton shows, it is not just religious people who are opposed to fun.

Wed, 25 Mar 2009 02:30:00 UTC | #339121

Prieten's Avatar Comment 19 by Prieten

I hope I'm not doing a no-no here, but I searched the Internet for the secular/humanist schools in Uganda that Mr. Melville mentions in his response to Scruton and I found this site:

It looks like a worthwile effort.

Wed, 25 Mar 2009 04:51:00 UTC | #339163

Alexis Yourcenar's Avatar Comment 20 by Alexis Yourcenar

I agree with jmills.

Religions hate pleasure just because it's out of their control, therefore inherently dangerous from their twisted point of view. What can you expect from religions invented by illiterate goatherds (AC Grayling dixit)?

Being the enjoyment of life clearly in disagreement with strong religious beliefs, I really cannot understand why on earth so many people think a Humanism movement is inherently better just because it has a religious element or component. Why this sick romanticism? It all comes down to the usual RB (Religious Bullshit). Why so many people believe that belief in something (no matter how stupid) is rather better than rationality and scepticism?

Wed, 25 Mar 2009 06:03:00 UTC | #339189

SaganTheCat's Avatar Comment 21 by SaganTheCat

good to see this being responded to

yes, i am in absolute agreement with Ned on this. Scruton does indeed sound like scrotum as i mentioned on the other thread and I think it's something we'd all do well to remember

this whole "pleasure" thing, enjoying ones life etc. is really starting to get to me as well as others here.

Is it so hard to realise that to many of us, living by codes of ethics and caring for our fellow humans is essential to enjoy life.

I refuse to appologise for this fact, or that i must be worse than a christian who cares for the plight of other people at the expense of his own hapiness.

I am hedonistic. again, no apology. I don't enjoy my life at anyone else's expense and as suggested above, I require the hapiness of others for my own evil hedonistic needs. we call it partying.

I don't ask for handouts. When I blow money on drinks and nights out etc etc. it's money i worked for, quite happily thank you very much. some of it goes to more boring things like food and rent, some of it goes to pay taxes to help ensure the welfare of my fellow countryfolk, some of it, yes - here's the shocker, goes to charity.

I love to learn. learning makes me, I believe, a better person. someone with a greater understanding of others. and I enjoy it.

In fact, apart from the unpleasantries of chance (car breaking down, loved ones getting sick/dying, TV on the blink, illness etc). the only thing that really prevents me from not worrying and enjoying my life is, well, going to church an stuff

Roger Scruton does indeed have a poor understanding of the humanist cause, is not in my opinion really an atheist (I can't understand how an atheist can cling to religious virtues of suffering) and he does indeed have a very silly name that sounds a bit like scrotum. indeed his whole name sounds a bit like "fuckbollock"

Well done Caspar Melville. you have given a good, courteous and well written response to some waffly blether that hardly deserved your time and you have a very cool sounding name :oD

Wed, 25 Mar 2009 06:41:00 UTC | #339200

X-Muslimman's Avatar Comment 22 by X-Muslimman

Religion is as beign as some people think wheb it comes to enjoying life. Guilt is associated with ejoying life and that messes up pleasure. I don't know how God benefits by spoilig our fu.

Wed, 25 Mar 2009 07:42:00 UTC | #339219

cristinabories's Avatar Comment 23 by cristinabories

I think religion condemns pleasure as a way of ensuring that no one is getting more than their fair share. This is a natural instinct (perhaps the fuel behind our moral values of justice and fairness). But they do go too far... After all, the church does want their tithing.
As far as sexual pleasure, the main religions enthusiastically regulate sexual activity and use it as a means of ensuring the next generation membership. Make sure both mom and dad are members and then indoctrination at early age will do the rest. And of course, there is the backhanded strategy for stopping women having too much pleasure, and thus making sure a guy knows which kids are his and which are not. (If you go and read the ten commandments, adultery is defined as a man having sex with a married woman). It is about women as property. It is only in more progressive cultures that women have achieved less of a double standard. In South America (where i come from) it is understood that the man will cheat at one time or another. Good husbands are the ones that have the courtesy of not getting caught.

Wed, 25 Mar 2009 09:33:00 UTC | #339271

zengardener's Avatar Comment 24 by zengardener

Hungarian Elephant,

"Why does it work?

Many religious people tend to the masochistic, but correlation is not causation. What if religion simply provides a framework for certain individuals to indulge their masochism? Certainly the tenor of the Abrahamic religions is strikingly masochistic in places, with the founder of the second "sacrificing" himself, and the whole basis of the third being "submission". It is hard to imagine how they could have been attractive in the first place unless they fulfilled some perceived need."

Perhaps, like abused children, We do not run away, out of fear. People are told that there is no alternative. example.. 1st commandment..

Wed, 25 Mar 2009 21:42:00 UTC | #339513

a.j.g.wolf's Avatar Comment 25 by a.j.g.wolf

Re asceticism vs. hedonism:

The 1970's band Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show summed it up in eight words in "Freaker's Ball", another unforgettable Shel Silverstein song listing numerous non-canonical ways of obtaining pleasure:


To the extent that one practices asceticism in order to feel good about oneself because one is "better" or "holier" than others, one is of course just as hedonistic, albeit in a anorexic way.

Now, back to Wein, Weib und Gesang...

Wed, 25 Mar 2009 22:39:00 UTC | #339516

Sean's Avatar Comment 26 by Sean

Couldn't the condemnation of pleasure have a simpler origin? Fun = less work being done. As a ruler/cleric, I'd rather have people feeding my priests than sitting around enjoying a drink and some fun.

Thu, 26 Mar 2009 06:41:00 UTC | #339564

Eric Blair's Avatar Comment 27 by Eric Blair

It’s hard to speculate about why religions “despise pleasure” if we haven’t established that they do actually despise it in any consistent and unusual way. The three-way tension between asceticism, hedonism and moderation is not peculiar to religion nor is it likely to go away soon.

I think the anti-pleasure stereotype arises mainly from the cultural legacy of Puritanism (especially in the US) and the stern Methodism of the Victorian era. Otherwise, the history of Christianity shows such attitudes were hardly uniform or constant.

Asceticism – distancing oneself from the world, its pleasures and troubles, to better focus on thought – is not just a religious attitude, and dates back to the ancient Greeks like the word itself.

For Christianity (and the other Abrahamic faiths) such a lifestyle was intended for priests, monks, nuns, and the like so they could better contemplate the divine – though often serving people at the same time. And abstinence from sex was just one of many “virtues,” which included humility, poverty, piety, service (of common folk, not church leaders), and shunning pride, gluttony, vanity, etc.

But for the common people, as long as sex was within marriage and aimed at procreation, the fact it’s pleasurable made it easier to encourage parents to have lots of children, as the Roman Catholic Church did (and still does). Otherwise, the church tended not to frown too sternly on such moderate pleasures as drinking and dancing, which, along with sex, for most people in European history anyway were among the few pleasures they might ever expect.

The industrial age brought with it new expectations of discipline in the working poor, so it's not surprising Christianity changed along with the dominant culture to preach against all pleasurable distractions from hard work - notably alcohol. But this doesn't mean such attitudes are inherent in its tenets.

Clearly, Christianity, Judaism and Islam encouraged moderation rather than excess in all physical pleasures, as did the Greeks and many others. The church obviously tended to encourage common folk to live a simple life (what other life could they live?), but in theory at least they also urged the higher classes against ostentatious displays as well.

So while it’s true at times religion has preached against pleasure, this hasn’t been a constant, central theme for all faiths or variations, and at times simply overlapped with cultural attitudes. Moreover, it's not clear such attitudes were unwise in a social context.


Sat, 28 Mar 2009 12:48:00 UTC | #340766