Madonna dressed as the Whore of Babylon and/or Baphomet at the Superbowl half time performance (2012); first depicted on this blog here. Image Source: Reuters via Stuart Wilde.
In the mid-16th century, Martin Luther attacked the use of reason in the absence of faith. He also abhored the idea that reason and faith were at odds. He felt that when reason was used in opposition to faith, reason became the 'Devil's harlot.' When reason was divorced from faith, she could deceive men into believing anything - any terrible idea - while thinking that they were acting with good sense. The famous remark is widely quoted on the Web; from Whole Reason:
Reason is the Devil’s greatest whore; by nature and manner of being she is a noxious whore; she is a prostitute, the Devil’s appointed whore; whore eaten by scab and leprosy who ought to be trodden under foot and destroyed, she and her wisdom … Throw dung in her face to make her ugly. She is and she ought to be drowned in baptism …. [Martin Luther, Works, Erlangen Edition, vol. 16, pp. 142-148. (I haven't confirmed the footnote; see a comment about the Erlangen Edition here.)]
A now-common misunderstanding of Luther's argument. Image Source: Ideation.
These comments were part of Luther's attack on what he saw as a resurgence of pagan Aristotelianism in the Catholic Church and the early universities. Today, Luther's attack on faithless reason is often misquoted as an attack on all reason. This misreading supports a contemporary rift between atheism and religion.
The point to this post is not to get into that Millennial feud. Rather, it is to seize on the larger value of Luther's allegory. This larger meaning also appears in the metaphor of the Whore of Babylon. She is described in the Bible as πόρνη (pronounced porna), which can be translated as 'Idolatress.' Moral failure as it descends into pure evil - symbolized in this misogynistic narrative by a fallen woman - simultaneously equates with bad judgement, intellectual arrogance, and the worshiping of false idols.
Similar themes appear in the original tale of the Fall in Genesis, where Eve's bite from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil coincides with her belief in Satan's words. According to Wiki, the Hebrew phrase 'good and evil' may be a merism which means 'knowledge of everything.' Some earlier Hebraic and controversial gnostic interpretations of this text equate Eve's new intelligence with seduction, suggesting that Eve mated with Satan before Adam ('eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge' implies sex), thereby producing two offspring: first, a son by Lucifer (Cain), and second, a son by Adam (Abel). This unconventional doctrine attempts to explain why half of humanity is enlightened and seductive, yet soulless and nasty - and the other half is humble, flawed, but basically good.
Thus, a long tradition in Christianity and its older source faiths maintains that total knowledge poses a central moral challenge.
In light of these scriptural symbols, Luther's meaning becomes clearer. He meant to say that people who rely on reason to seek knowledge in the absence of faith are capable of justifying any evil. They may understand things. They might believe that understanding something constitutes an ultimate good. But they will lack higher moral reference about the nature of what they understand. Without a component of faith, they will never truly see reality - or unreality - no matter how much they rationally analyze it.
In today's secular times and circles, the spiritual dimension of these metaphors can be removed. But their old cultural message still stands. The need for a moral compass in hyper-rationalized circumstances remains essential. The Technological Revolution appears to be the high water mark. The new Millennium is the dawning triumph of the Age of Reason. But what is right, and what is wrong, in the Information Age?
Quartz reviewed the performance of the tech sector in 2013 with a damning indictment; it was a dud year: mobile phones stagnated; wearable gadgets were a letdown; former giants continued their decline; mergers and acquisitions replaced innovation; social media became profitable but not compelling; the media bought into techno-hype stories, feeding excitement over Bitcoin; and the NSA spying scandal put a chill on the biggest technological shifts in coming years. Nevertheless, the arrogance of tech's ruling class grew:
All in [all], 2013 was an embarrassment for the entire tech industry and the engine that powers it—Silicon Valley. Innovation was replaced by financial engineering, mergers and acquisitions, and evasion of regulations. Not a single breakthrough product was unveiled—and ... Google Glass doesn’t count. ... 2013 was a great big dud for technology as a whole. ...Even as one entrepreneur declared that Silicon Valley should be a separate US state, economists made the case that much of what the internet has accomplished in the past 20 years is the impoverishment of the majority of Americans. ... [T]here isn’t much manufacturing left in rich countries to automate ... . Some in Silicon Valley even made explicit their goal of eliminating workers and their labor protections. And Uber’s CEO alienated customers by insisting that exorbitant “surge pricing” was nothing more than a way to ensure supply at busy times. Meanwhile, American tech firms flocked to Ireland in order to avoid regulation, while companies like Uber and AirBnB made it apparent that their business model is dependent on avoiding regulations in the states.
Non Sequitur, Data Mining.