Barnum and Bunkum

Zoltan, mechanical fortune teller

I’ve been think­ing over the Project Barnum debate, as seen on Jourdemayne’s blog. It’s a good example of how two intel­li­gent people sin­cerely try­ing to work out what is best can dis­agree. Following alleg­a­tions against Sally Morgan, should psychic events be banned from theatres? Jourdemayne argues no and Michael Marshall says yes.

Zoltan, mechanical fortune teller

Zoltan, a fortune-teller who prob­ably won’t sue for libel.

I agree with Jourdemayne, but not with how she gets there. Continue read­ing

On Gods and Ghosts

A sad ghost
A sad ghost. Photo (cc) Deathwaves.

Following on from the pre­vi­ous ramble I think I may have finally dis­covered the dif­fer­ence between a God and a Ghost.

It’s con­text.

Any defin­i­tion of a ghost you come up with based on its form could be applied to a minor god. However my god­less defin­i­tion of a reli­gion may provide a key. At the moment I have three strands to a reli­gion: cos­mo­visión, mor­al­ity and power. No god is neces­sary in this defin­i­tion. However a ghost asso­ci­ated with a reli­gion becomes a god. Ghosts can serve a moral pur­pose, but it’s not usual to build a power struc­ture around them, nor to invoke them in mak­ing the world work. It’s only the reli­gious func­tion of a god which makes it dis­tin­guish­able from a ghost. Throw in con­cepts like Lares, Roman house­hold spir­its / gods and the fuzzi­ness of the bar­rier becomes explic­able. The dif­fer­ence is functional.

This will annoy some Christians because my defin­i­tion of a ghost, when I get round to it will be a super­nat­ural being cap­able of inter­act­ing with the world — which would encom­pass saints. However the reli­gious func­tion of saints in turn makes them minor gods. For instance Saint Adrian of Nicomedia, pat­ron saint of arms deal­ers is, for all prac­tical pur­poses the god of Arms Dealers. The Greeks didn’t spe­cific­ally have a god of arms deal­ers to the best of my know­ledge, but the actions to pro­pi­ti­ate Hephaistos or Ares are, from a view out­side of the reli­gions, equi­val­ent to the actions of a Christian ask­ing Adrian to cre­ate a help­ful slaughter.

Interestingly the idea of pray­ing to spe­cific saints appears very early in Christianity. I’m won­der­ing if its suc­cess is that it man­aged to take an ori­ental cult and present in an access­ible Roman poly­the­istic way.