Centro Segoviano Alburquerque, 14 28010 Madrid 914457935 Metro: Bilbao -----------Ignacio------------ Open Tertulia in English every Thursday
from 19:30 to 21h at O'Donnell's Irish Pub, c/ Barceló 1 (metro
And although we are one week late after Easter, redemption is always an
apt topic during this time of the year. We all agree that redemption is
a religious term; the question is what comes after.
Ceit, Ruel and I have each written an essay on the topic, but of course
we all look forward to your point of view on Sunday.
Since redemption was my bright idea, I felt some obligation to compose.
In English, redemption is a word weighted with religious and spiritual
feeling; we are redeemed in the Blood of the Lamb, Christ is the
Redeemer, etc. Funnily enough, it also has a decidedly unreligious
usage. Many US states, trying to encourage recycling, offer 5 or 10
cent redemptions on beverage bottles and cans, which can be redeemed at
any store that sells the product. How can these uses be reconciled?
The main idea is that a person or thing is made useful after losing that
capacity through sin (people) or losing contents (containers). Of
course, for people in the religious sense, redemption is to make them
useful to their god(s), which may or may not have any benefit for their
physical environment. Redeemed containers, however, will be recycled;
some bottles are simply refilled, others, like cans, broken down and
remade into something else that has a use to the species of their maker.
To focus on people, while redemption is intimately linked to religion,
especially Christianity, it also has a secular usage. It is a state
connected to forgiveness and earning it from others. To redeem yourself
in the eyes of others is to atone for past wrong doing and be seen as
good and trustworthy. The song "Thrash Unreal" by the punk band Against
Me! includes the lines, "They don't know nothin' about redemption, they
don't know nothin' about recovery." The "main character" was a junky
but is now implied to be free of drugs, if not the clubbing lifestyle.
Most recovery programs for substance addiction and abuse have an element
of Christianity, or at least religiosity, highlighting the tie between
the idea of redemption and the supernatural redeemer once again.
Does this mean we have to have an outside force/judge/observer to
achieve redemption? Is it a state granted only by an external party or
can we claim it for ourselves? In the religious sense, the redeemer is
obviously removed from ourselves and from the real world entirely. When
changing bad habits, perhaps our families or program mentors take on the
role of redemption certifier, but we redeem ourselves. It seems to be
closely linked with forgiveness in this case, although the forgiveness
of whatever divine being is also a part of religious redemption. What
differentiates redemption and forgiveness then? It appears to be
sacrifice. For an addict to redeem themselves before their friends and
family, they have to change their lifestyle, which inevitably means a
sacrifice on their part even if it's for the better. For Christians,
the Redeemer was killed on their behalf before they were even born.
Forgiveness may be given with or without any effort on the part of the
object of forgiveness, but redemption requires active participation in
its earning and bestowal. It is not merely a gift or state we can
accidentally find ourselves in, it is an achievement, one might even say
a reward for our efforts. This is fairly obvious in secular contexts,
but where is our sacrifice for redemption in a Christian set of
circumstances? It looks more like some guy a couple millennia ago did
all the heavy lifting for us. Well, in order to be redeemed in Christ,
we do have to accept the sacrifice. We have to put aside any selfish
desires and work only towards the furthering of the kingdom, ignoring
personal ("earthly") pleasures. If we have never been tempted away from
the holy life (almost a miracle, that) we cannot truly be redeemed since
no change or real sacrifice/effort was made or necessary on our part.
Redemption requires change for "the better". Of course, some believers
get around this by saying we are all born with the stain of Original
Sin, so even if we never actually perform any ungodly acts in our whole
lives, we achieve redemption by not giving in to our inborn "sinful"
So, is the truth of redemption the effort and sacrifice behind it? Is
it a relevant idea in our lives or does it belong to the realm of
religious "mysteries" trotted out for effect but devoid of any real
meaning or substance? Also, should the religious be offended by bottles
and cans sharing their special reward, or do they see themselves as
objects of their lord as much as a soda can is an object to a regular
Here´s the link to what I wrote on Sunday´s PhiloMadrid topic:
Redemption is a religious term which broadly means doing something, some
form of atonement act, to be forgiven for previous sins. In the
Christian religion this sin would be the original sin of disobeying god
and eating from the fruit of the apple tree.
Of course, for a philosophical analysis we do not need to go into the
religious content and context; religion is beyond the scope of
philosophy. However, forgiveness is always a valid issue in ethics,
philosophy of mind and political philosophy. And because of the
influence religion has in the real world our hand is rather tied.
The two necessary conditions for forgiveness are: 1) an act that has
done harm to the victim, 2) an act by the victim not to hold the
perpetrator to any emotional feeling of guilt for his her action. But
this does not necessarily neutralise any legal guilt nor the reputation
of the perpetrator. At the very least it means that the victim does not
However, redemption requires some special act, directly or indirectly,
performed by the perpetrator before forgiveness is granted. In the
religious context it required Christ, as a human, dying on the cross; in
South Africa it required a confessions of one's racist crimes under
Therefore, the normal meaning and use of forgiveness is quite soft
compared to redemption. Forgiveness can be granted without the
intentions after the act or behaviour of the perpetrator. Redemption is
a trade between the two parties although the forgiveness part is still a
free and voluntary act by the victim. Redemption is like a formal
contract (South Africa) or even better, a gentlemen's agreement (god and
In both contexts of meaning (formal contract/gentlemen's agreement), a
necessary condition is that of feeling of guilt by the perpetrator. We
can empirically verify if some individual really feels guilty, or not,
for an act even if it is a bit difficult to do so sometimes. Moreover,
we can also verify, up to a point, the acts of an individual, the
problem is collective guilt.
There is something inherently wrong in blaming a whole society for an
act perpetrated by a few members. Not all South Africans were racists
against the indigenous African population of the region; not all Germans
were racists against the Jews or gypsies. I would argue that guilt is
like being pregnant; I cannot be pregnant just because my neighbour is
And although we can argue that in both SA and Germany people generally
feel a sort of collective guilt, hideous wrong doing does not, of
itself, lead to a feeling of collective guilt, maybe similar to how
individuals feel. For example, we do not sense a feeling of collective
guilt in the USA for the racist policies against Afro-Americans or the
indigenous population. Political correctness is not, in my opinion, a
feeling of guilt: we can say the same of Japan towards China.
The question for us is whether today we can validly speak of collective
guilt. There is no doubt that collective guilt is a primitive concept;
and small tribal societies make it easier for everyone in that society
to take an active part in the relevant act wrong doing. Thus in a tribe
of say 200 people we can empirically "establish" those who participated
in a wrong doing and also those who supported them. Even if we accept
that guilt by association is a different type of guilt from guilt by
commission, But guilt by being in the vicinity of a wrong act in a non
starter to establish collective guilt. Basically, not everyone bought a
house during the property boom and not everyone over spent on the credit
Furthermore, today, with a little bit of help from technology, despite
there being more people from a primitive tribe, we are not a collective
mass, but rather identifiable individuals; my telephone number is
different from yours. Thus contrary to religious belief, guilt is no
longer an empirical fact about everyone; today a collective is a
probabilistic possibility and not an absolute event; there will always
be those who refuse to play the game. Many Germans hated the Jews, but
not everyone did, many white South Africans oppressed the indigenous
Africans but not everyone, many white Americans discriminate against
Afro Americans, but not everyone. Today's ethical standards do not allow
us to proffer guilt on everyone simply because a few or even not so few
perform a wrong act.
It might be argued that redemption and collective guilt can be
considered as following the herd immunity model familiar in infectious
epidemics. A vaccine against polio or measles would protect everyone if
administered properly. Thus, certain vaccines give universal protection
if enough people are vaccinated in the community; but herd immunity does
not require that everyone is vaccinated only a sufficient number. But
this is not the case with redemption in a Christian religion. Although
Christ dying on the cross was the redemption against the original sin,
we are still born with the original sin and we still have to go through
the act of baptism to be saved.
But even outside the context of religion redemption does not give herd
immunity. In SA the forgiveness meant not being legally responsible but
it says nothing about stigma and people who did not confess their crimes
were not immune from legal accountability. The Jewish nation is still
regarded as guilty for Christ's suffering despite the fact that Jesus
forgave those who did him harm by condemning him to the cross. Thus
redemption is not a bullet proof jacket.
Given that forgiveness is a voluntary act, there is no causal link
between an act of contrition and forgiveness. Unlike say herd immunity
or a legal set up. I would therefore be reluctant to argue that
redemption would have any valid common use that would include automatic
forgiveness or collective guilt. However, a strict meaning of "doing an
act before forgiveness is granted" is a valid common use of the concept of
redemption; even though it might seem unfair and more of a business deal
rather than an ethical or moral act.
Unfortunately, redemption in the context of religion is fraught with
conundrums and irrational paradoxes. This not only reconfirms my claim
that religion is not the business of philosophy, but certainly
philosophy has no business in trying to solve the conundrums of the
imagination of other people. By trying to solve the conundrums of
religion we, as philosophers, are going to get ourselves into a tiswas.
Basically, if my neighbour is pregnant, that's her business.
Centro Segoviano Alburquerque, 14 28010 Madrid 914457935 Metro: Bilbao -----------Ignacio------------ Open Tertulia in English every Thursday
from 19:30 to 21h at O'Donnell's Irish Pub, c/ Barceló 1 (metro
This Sunday we are discussing: How relevant is the past?
Many politicians, business people and probably us have justified many of
our actions by appealing to some event or some lesson from the past.
Of course, we are all familiar with the problem of induction: what
happened in the past does not mean that it will happen in the future. In
my few paragraphs I try to identify a different problem: the relevance
of the past is a direct function of the quality of information we have
about the past. Whilst we cannot make the problem of induction disappear
we can try an tame its viscous bite!
In the meantime, Ruel has sent us a link to his essay, but before
anything else, Alfonso would like to share with us his complete works
which we can find on his website:
The past I am thinking of relates to our history, personal past, our
social past, our political past, and, maybe, even the past of our
civilization. And as for the relevance of the past we need to ask
ourselves four questions: is it our personal past, as opposed to some
collective past? What can we learn from the past? And when should we
give up the grip the past has on us and move on? And the fourth
question, what the quality of information we have about the past?
In our context, our past is our memory. Either literally, what we
remember, or think we remember, or what we have collectively recorded,
or think what we have recorded, of the past. Therefore, our past is our
experience, and what is our past is what we remember of it.
This means that our history, i.e. our past, is our empirical journey on
this planet, following the cause and effect flows of the physical world
and therefore, in principle, our experiences can be explained by
empirical methodologies. Indeed, a lot of our empirical journey can be
explained or identified through various sciences, such as archaeology,
forensic archaeology, medicine, our genes, etc.
Of course, just because there is a lot we can find out about us that is
independent of our memory, it does not mean that we can find out
everything, nor fully explain why it happened nor why we acted in a
certain way. Nor does it mean that we have to find out. But the more we
can explain our past the more legitimacy we give to how we should or
ought to behave in the future. Learning from the past does not mean,
doing what we did in the past!
For example, the fact that trains and buses are very often late,
explains why I might over compensate by leaving very early for an
appointment. On the other hand, the fact that in the past some people
let me down it does not necessarily justify that that I become paranoid
about trusting others. Thus, the challenge is not, necessarily, not to
trust anyone, but to be more intelligent when it comes to trusting
people. But because these two examples are accounted for empirically,
they are, therefore, valid examples to learn from and maybe to change
the views we formed after these events.
Compared to our personal past, our collective past is very complex. Our
history, and more importantly, our collective memory, is more difficult
to account for and to establish its veracity. But our collective past,
and our collective memory, is no less empirical than our personal past.
Thus the questions, "what can we learn from our collective past?" and
"what influences ought we give up from the past?" are just as valid for
a society, or a country, as for us personally.
Thus because the past is an empirical event we can always try to tease
out information from the forensic evidence available today: this not
only makes the past relevant today but makes the past a valid source for
new lessons in life for today. For example, evidence from recent
excavations in London suggests that during the Black death people (also)
died from the more serious pneumonic plague, that is passed directly
from human to human, instead of the bubonic plague (rat) fleas to humans
was. This changes out views of past history and maybe reinforces modern
need to control pandemics.
This explains why malevolent dictators or individuals go to great
lengths to hide evidence of their crimes. They also understand the value
of misleading information, withholding information and basically
fabricating information. Some would also go so far as to create myths
and dogmas to thwart any attempt of empirical investigation.
One implication of this is that accounts of the past do not necessarily
hold all the real information about a past event. Basically written
accounts can at best give a representation of the actual events, or
maybe have the status of hearsay evidence, and just downright
fabrication. Basically we shouldn't believe what we read or are told.
But this of course does not mean that the past is irrelevant. On the
contrary, the past is very relevant, what might be irrelevant are our
accounts of the past that we inherited from the past.
We can, therefore, safely assume that our past becomes relevant the more
we can confirm the quality of our information about the past.
Despite the efforts of some radical politicians, societies are
influenced by two shaping forces. The first is the internal dynamics of
the society itself that plays a pivotal role in defining the makeup of a
society. The other force is the influence of other external societies,
including individuals from other societies. Indeed, given that societies
are constituted by biological open systems, i.e. human beings, societies
cannot be hermetically sealed systems.
In a stable society with a well established mechanism to channel the
interaction of individuals we can expect integration to be a key issue
for two types of individuals. Firstly, those individuals who are born
within the society but who find it difficult to conform to the accepted
norms so they forced to function at the peripheral margins of society.
As Matilda argues last week, there are people who try to escape their
harsh reality by writing poetry and others who take drugs; those who
take drugs are assumed not to have integrated in society. The second
would be the group of outsiders who join, or try to join, a foreign society.
Of course, a weakness of open systems is that they are very susceptible
to instability. The advantages of having genetic diversity in a society,
is counterbalanced by the inherent instability created by the changing
dynamics of having to introduce new members into the society. And
although we can all agree that maintaining a reasonable equilibrium
between these two forces is not easy, we can also agree that having a
stable society is a very desirable objective.
But the issue is not a choice between a stable society, through
stagnation, or a dynamic society because of genetic diversity. The issue
is how to arrive at an equitable equilibrium without reaching a critical
mass that can lead a disintegration of society itself.
Some closed societies will try to achieve equilibrium by simply
"stagnating" the very society itself. Thus dissidents within the society
are somehow removed from society before they become a danger to that
society. And outsiders are aggressively kept out for the very same
reason; China and N Korea are prime examples of these types of stagnant
societies. The question is whether stagnant societies are determined to
become incestuous societies (at least metaphorically speaking) or simple
become extinct with time?
Many African countries are examples where the colonial distribution of
tribes into geographical demarcations resulted into a mixture of
ancestral backgrounds that just made it impossible for each separate
society to live within a given confine. Burundi is one such example.
The integration of individuals in a society is a balance between
individual survival and to maintain the equilibrium that is necessary
for a stable and functioning society. We can safely assume that
individuals both try to achieve an acceptable level of happiness and an
acceptable level of comfort. This does not mean that we all want to be
rich but rather we all want to reach a level of living standard we are
happy with. I would argue we can all be reasonably well off and have a
comfortable life if remuneration and wealth is a function of our
legitimate contribution to society and not through illegitimate gains we
can make at the cost of society.
When we just look at the bottom line we fail to see how we arrived at
that profit balance. Thus there is always the danger that a society can
become a means to extract wealth from rather than a means to create
wealth for equitable remuneration. I would also argue that integration
of individuals in society becomes a major problem, for both the
individuals and society, when society puts more value on the
accumulation of wealth rather than the method of accumulating wealth.
Whilst money can solve a lot of problems for individuals and society, it
is not the only issue that affects integration in society: there are two
other issues that play a major role in the integration process. The
first is culture and tradition, which I will include the legal system
and religion, and the second is language.
Culture and tradition have a causal effect on the moral and ethical
standards of a society. Thus the more a society needs dogma to keep it
together (N. Korea, Iran etc) the more its ethics feels flawed. The more
an ethical system is based on empirical evidence the likelier we are
able to relate to it and accept its precepts. Countries that pay fair
wages tend to be more stable; e.g. Sweden despite the flaws one would
expect in any society.
Thus, the more an individual deviates from the moral and ethical
standards of a society the more integration would become an issue. For
example, a major issue today in European countries is the so called
"female circumcision". From all aspect on life in Europe we find this
practice abhorrent and barbaric; many societies in Africa and the Middle
East find this normal. The challenge is to find the balance between two
different ethical systems, but the bottom line is that empirically this
practice is dangerous, painful and discriminatory and therefore unlikely
to be morally acceptable by any objective standards.
Finally, the second issue is language. By its very nature, language is
both discriminatory and, up to an extent, racist. Discriminatory because
people who do not speak a given language are excluded from the
communication loop of that language. And racist because until now
languages have been closely, if not causally associated, with a given
race or society. And within a given language accent would be a further
complication of the issue.
The misconception about learning a second language is that we have to be
as proficient in it as a native speaker to claim that we can speak the
target language. This will never happen unless one is prepared to spend
a life time living in the culture of target language. Second generation
immigrants have no problem learning and using the target language of
their parents. This evidence suggests that although learning a second
language is difficult it is not impossible. The positive side of
language is that we don't need to reach any equilibrium or a balance to
integrate in a society; knowing the language enough to enter and stay in
the language communication loop is sufficient.
If we accept this language argument, i.e. that language can help us
access the society language communication loop, it gives us a relatively
effective foot hold in that society.
Thus, language and an empirically based ethical system should probably
help us much better to integrate into any society that have these two
membership criteria, rather than a society based on some irrational dogma.
A final observation is that with issues and money and ethics we are
really looking at a balance between extremes, language gives us a
threshold for easy integration, but is the relationship between an
empirically based society and a dogma society? Can these live side by
side or too contradictory that there is no room for both?
The essays are meant to give some ideas for the discussions we have. That is, if people feel like using them that way. I also use these essays to express some of my ideas and thinking on the subject.
However, because I usually write these essay at short notice, I have no time to do in depth research on the subject. And any ideas I feel are my own, might have already been expressed by others. But I did not come across them in the limited research I some times do.
Finally, most times I do not have time to polish my essay as they ought to be. I apologise for this.