"He doesn't want anybody in his yard," said the human companion of New Jersey orange tabby Jack (left, lower inset), who twice treed a bear (upper inset) who made the mistake of stepping into Jack's territory the other day [via enrevanche]. Update: Blogfriend Barry Campbell of enrevenche emails: "Here's a better picture of Jack, who is clearly not to be trifled with." Meanwhile, sub rosa blog buddy Mitch of Chicago Boyz introduces his new love, Winston (right), to the blogosphere, confiding "The good news is that he knows enough to retract his claws when he play-fights." No such luck with the Chelsea Grays. For them, friend or foe, hard paw rules.
"For him, the visions of saints and mystics are only a phenomenon to be explained, like falling in love or hating people of a different skin color, mental conditions that may or may not be considered pathological," writes Freeman J. Dyson in a New York Review of Books review [via Arts & Letters Daily] of Daniel C. Dennett's Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon:
Dennett is a philosopher. In this book he is confronting the philosophical questions arising from religion in the modern world. Why does religion exist? Why does it have such a powerful grip on people in many different cultures? Are the practical effects of religion preponderantly good or preponderantly evil? Is religion useful as a basis for public morality? What can we do to counter the spread of religious movements that we consider dangerous? Can the tools and methods of science help us to understand religion as a natural phenomenon?
We've blogged that last question early and often here, and for us the answer is yes, and loving it. Our sis calls us the Catholic atheist, and we're with Oriana Fallaci when she says "If an atheist and a pope think the same things, there must be something true." As far as the visions of saints and mystics being akin to falling in love, as we blogged two years back:
What researchers at University College London have now found is that romantic and maternal love activate many of the same regions of the brain. The implication is that maternal love is the evolutionary basis, the foundation, for romantic love.
If saintly visions are akin to falling in love, then just as with sin, the woman -- mother in this case -- made me do it, Lord. As to the question of why religion has such a powerful grip on people in many different cultures, it's Darwinian, my dear Watson:
"If you look at three- to five-year-olds, when they do something naughty, they have an intuition that everyone knows they've been naughty, regardless of whether they have seen or heard what they've done," says anthropologist-turned-psychologist Pascal Boyer. His tests on children "go some way to proving our natural tendency to believe," reports Guardian Unlimited [via Arts & Letters Daily] in an article that asks the question "Why has belief proved so resilient as scientific progress unravels the mysteries of plagues, floods, earthquakes and our understanding of the universe?"
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen "support and participate in the Ottawa Humane Society’s Foster Program, which provides temporary homes for pets in the community who are not yet ready for adoption." Many thanks to our frequent commenter Michael H. Woodill for the heads up. We've always been partial to a man who loves cats. Tuck and Benedetto are the first among equals.
As a youngster, we were troubled when "under God" was arbitrarily added to our daily pledge of allegiance to the flag. We dealt with it at the time by simply remaining silent for that part of the pledge. Later we learned that lobbying Catholics had brought about this arbitrary intrusion of a sectarian note into the daily public school ritual:
Even so, this nation, under God, does the separation-of-church-and-state thing better than anyone else in history, allowing each of us to follow our own conscience without inquisitional interference or dhimmitudinous disrespect. We're horrified, of course, that a majority of our fellow Americans -- including, if we are to believe what we read, the divine Ann Coulter -- dismiss Darwin's theory of evolution. Ignorance can be a problem at any time and is especially worrisome when our leaders sweep the true motivations of the enemy under the rug with references to the "religion of peace." As we blogged the other day, quoting ritual-violence scholar and expert witness Dawn Perlmutter:
"The media have perpetuated an erroneous idea that Islamic terrorists have corrupted the peaceful religion of Islam, when in fact it is moderate Muslims who have altered the religion and actually practice a Westernized, watered-down version of Islam."
Freeman Dyson on Dennett gets it right:
The best source of information about modern Islamic terrorists that I know of is a book, Understanding Terror Networks, by Marc Sageman. Sageman is a former United States foreign service officer who worked with the Mujahideen in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In chapter 5 of his book, he describes in detail the network that planned and carried out the September 2001 attacks on the United States. He finds that the bonds holding the group together, during its formative years in Hamburg, were more personal than political. He concludes: "Despite the popular accounts of the 9/11 perpetrators in the press, in-group love rather than out-group hate seems a better explanation for their behavior."
We have no firsthand testimony from the young men who carried out the September 11 attacks. They were not as highly educated and as thoughtful as the kamikaze pilots, and they were more influenced by religion. But there is strong evidence that they were not brainwashed zombies. They were soldiers enlisted in a secret brotherhood that gave meaning and purpose to their lives, working together in a brilliantly executed operation against the strongest power in the world. According to Sageman, they were motivated like the kamikaze pilots, more by loyalty to their comrades than by hatred of the enemy. Once the operation had been conceived and ordered, it would have been unthinkable and shameful not to carry it out.
Isn't that what we have been saying forever in these pages? Peer group dynamics -- bands of brothers whose systems of honor are an alternative to mainstream moral orders -- are the root cause of terrorism of whatever stripe.
Update: Speaking of whatever stripe, animals with and without backbones are now aboard the 90th Friday Ark for your viewing pleasure at Modulator.
Update II: All cats all the time at the 116th Carnival of the Cats at Gigolo Kitty.