Monday, May 26, 2014
"Did they bite you or beat you?" the dean was saying to the slender woman seated before him.
The woman, head down, frazzled, was rubbing her temples. She mumbled something inaudible.
"I didn't hear that," the dean said. "What was it: bite or beat? Bite, you know, has a long vowel, a long i, because of the silent e at the end."
The woman raised her head.
"I know it has a long vowel," she said curtly. "I have a PhD. from Berkeley!"
"Yes, yes. . . . So what was it: bite or beat?"
"What do you mean both?"
"I mean both," the woman said. "They bit me and they beat me."
The dean's eyebrows went up. He really seemed almost shocked.
"No," he announced decisively. "They either bite you or beat you, but they never do both."
"Well, they did both," said the young academic, holding up her forearm to show him the two gauze bandages, then pulling aside her collar to show a dark bruise arcing round the base of her neck.
"You want to see my belly?" she asked, making as if to stand up.
"No, no, that won't be necessary," the dean waved dismissively. "Was there . . . Were there any offers to tattoo you?"
"One kid said he wanted to leave something tribal on my thigh," the woman said. "That's how he said it: 'I wanna leave something tribal. Right on your inner thigh.' Then he made a clicking noise."
"That's tattoo talk," the dean said.
"No kidding," the academic said.
The dean sat thinking a moment.
"And they bit you and beat you?" he said finally. "All the students? All of them did both?"
"Yes, they all bit me and they all beat me, all nine, repeatedly. It was the whole last thirty minutes of class!"
"Amazing," the dean said. "Really amazing."
The woman said nothing, went back to rubbing her temples. A moment passed.
"I think you've got a serious future here," the dean said in conclusion, closing the folder on his desk. "Really. This is unprecedented. In my experience at least."
"Great," the woman said, in a tone that was impossible to read.
"I mean, if they're biting and beating you already, after only a week! Well, let me tell you. With a strong start like that I wouldn't be surprised if we were already paying you something by the end of semester. Just symbolic of course, but something."
"Great," the woman said flatly. "Even symbolic is helpful. Great."
Saturday, May 24, 2014
Was in the living room watching the news today before lunch. A Japanese news channel with Chinese subtitles. There was an in-depth report about a panda that didn't want to be a panda, so it dressed up as a badger and applied to zoo authorities to live in the zoo as a badger. The zoo accepted the application, but soon the zoo's real badgers started complaining to the zoo keepers because the panda was too lazy to dig burrows like they did. So the zoo keepers decided that maybe the panda could dress up as an otter and float in the water with the sea otters. The next segment of the report showed the panda in an otter costume floating next to a talkative sea otter. The sea otter was just starting to teach the disguised panda how to crack clams when my wife came in and said: "Come to the kitchen already! You said you'd help cut the vegetables! And no more BS about how you have to watch the news. This isn't even a news channel. It's cartoons!"
My wife: always splitting hairs like that.
Sunday, May 18, 2014
It is very odd that the New Atheists and their supporters don’t really understand the meaning of the word secularism. It is especially odd because they throw this word around so much.
When we say, rightly, that the United States is a “secular republic”, we do not at all mean that it is an atheist republic. Rather we mean that our government does not make policy on the basis of any one particular religious denomination. This is the Founders’ concept of secular.
Our Founders recognized the wisdom of not allowing any of the competing Christian denominations to control the new state. They presumed, of course, that America would be a nation populated mostly by believers, but they legislated so that citizens of different creeds would each be required to allow space for the practices and teachings of those of other creeds. This is the American meaning of secular, as it is also the sense of our idea of separation of church and state.
Neither the concept of secularism nor the idea of separation of church and state suggest in any way that religious Americans must give up working to bring public policy into accord with their unique ideals and ethics. This is emphatically not the meaning of "secular government" or "separation". Rather, these concepts only mean: No particular religious tradition has a special right to make of the state its own instrument.
Many sharp minds have observed in recent years that the New Atheists behave as if they were a new religious movement--an especially aggressive religious movement with a clear agenda of pushing others out of the public square.
I fully agree: New Atheism is a kind of religion--in my view a kind of fundamentalist religion. For them, as long as they haven't hounded faith out of America, there can be no peace. They will work indefatigably to curtail the rights of Americans to practice their different faiths because, by definition, those faiths, not being New Atheism, are a menace to public well-being.
To the growing number of supporters of this aggressive new clique, as a Catholic, I would like to say the following.
Welcome to the American scene. Please try to behave as if you had some understanding of what this scene is all about.
Especially try to keep in mind that you are just one creed among many. You are certainly NOT America's default creed. That is not at all what Jefferson intended by "separation of church and state". Neither does it do justice to the American meaning of "secularism".
In other words, New Atheists: You've no more right to call the shots (whether in education, or public health policy, etc.) than any of the other creeds you spend most of your time trying to misrepresent and belittle. (Each of which, misrepresent and belittle, seems to be a sacrament in your church. Am I right about this? How many sacraments do you have altogether? Will censor be one of them soon?)
Your right to seek followers and promote your tenets will be respected. When, however, you try to take this right away from citizens of other creeds, then you are offending against our constitution and our nation's founding principles. And be sure that we of other creeds will fight back; we will do it to keep your un-American ideas from gaining hold. We will fight back not because you don't believe in God--that is certainly your right--but because you seek to undo the basic political order that has kept us together as a nation for almost 250 years.
To conclude: If you show that you understand the meaning of "secular democratic republic", you may continue with your proselytizing. To the degree that you try to change our secular democratic republic to an "atheist republic", to that degree we will do our best to shut you down. To the extent that your mission is predicated on taking our rights away (and sorry, but that's exactly how you've presented yourselves so far) we will really have no choice.
A word to the wise.
Or rather: A word to the wise if there are any such among you. Because, you know, "wise" and "wise guy" are not the same thing. Nor are science and scientism--this latter being the intellectual basis of your new pseudo-empiricist religion.
New Atheist Truthiness and How to Fight It: Three Words
Saturday, May 17, 2014
When I was 18, already aware that literature was my life, I came upon Paul Auster's anthology of 20th century French poetry. The first pages of that collection, after a brilliant selection of translations of Guillaume Apollinaire, presented a poet I’d never heard of--Max Jacob.
Jacob was a prose poet working in the Parisian milieu of Apollinaire, Picasso, the Montmartre Bateau-Lavoir crowd. His life was a study in contradictions: a gay Jewish man, he converted to Catholicism after a series of mystical experiences. His writing was extraordinarily odd. Something hypnotic and dull and irreverent in the voice stuck in my crop, and I immediately started writing pieces in a similar tonal register. In fact I wrote quite a few of them.
Two years later I was in university learning French so as to be able to read Rimbaud and this fellow Jacob. By sheer chance, my university’s French department happened to include Sydney Lévy, an Egyptian emigre who’d written a book on Jacob. Lévy’s short book, The Play of the Text, revealed to me some of the subtlety of Jacob’s rhetorical tricks. Lévy himself, a chain-smoking Jewish man of Mediterranean cast, was astounded that out of nowhere had appeared a hulking Midwestern boy interested in the obscure French joker-poet Jacob. What’s more, this milk-fed country boy had appeared in his office befuddled, indignant even, that Jacob’s most important work, a collection titled Le Cornet à dés [The Dice Cup], had yet to be fully translated into English.
I remember complaining to him--how was it possible, so many books on Picasso, the surrealists, Apollinaire, how was it that only Jacob was still untranslated? Why didn’t our library have more?
“Well,” he said with a soft laugh, “in fact there isn't much in any library. Not much has been written on Jacob. And believe me, I agree, it's a serious lack.”
Though still quite an amateur (!) I offered to begin work on a new translation with Lévy. And he was gracious enough to agree. Of course he knew my French wasn’t up to the undertaking. But we soon settled into a rhythm: we’d meet every two weeks and he would edit the drafts, catching my worst missteps. As it turned out, we got off to a promising start, but never finished. The following year, having finished about a third of the book with me, Lévy opted to take a new post in Santa Barbara. Continuing our work by post wasn’t feasible.
It is perhaps part of Jacob’s sad fate (arrested by the Gestapo, he died en route to a concentration camp in 1944) that his major work may forever remain only partly translated into English. Still today, decades later, Le Cornet à dés, his most important collection, remains untranslated.
My attempt with Sydney Lévy was one of three that I know of. The results, a rough start, are here: http://www.necessaryprose.com/jacob.html. One decent collection of Jacob's work in English containing many pieces from The Dice Cup is William Kulik's Selected Poems of Max Jacob. John Ashbery has done some of the best translations, but his collection is long out of print.
But why do I send you this letter? Because I’m hoping that possibly you’ll get the same bug for short prose that I got. You asked me if I had any ideas for you to begin working on as a writer, and I answer with this. Perhaps something will come of it. I recommend journal writing, muttering to yourself on the bus, writing things on folded sheets of paper you keep in your pocket. And of course: Constantly reading literature. Some of the pieces you come up with will then, hopefully, develop into short but sharp prose pieces. Certain of these, sharpened further, may be worked into prose poems. Or may have been rough prose poems from the first scribbling. Which is of course the best.
The genres on the border of which the prose poem can flourish are legion: rant, fable, folk tale, menu, editorial, plea, query, public service announcement, romance, fait divers, news report, joke. Many have tried to define the genre as it emerged (mainly over the last century) but most critics, in my view, have wasted too much time trying to pin it down in relation to verse poetry.
Another writer well worth reading, who worked in a similar register during some of the same years Jacob was active, is the Russian Daniil Kharms. Here are some links:
http://chneukirchen.org/tmp/www.geocities.com/Athens/8926/Kharms/Kh_E_Intro.htmlOr if you want to buy one of the collections in print, there's Today I Wrote Nothing: The Selected Writings of Daniil Kharms.
Of course I've no idea if this genre will get under you skin and engage you to take up the pen. But I promised you an idea.
P.S. There's now been quite a bit of work in English in the prose poem too. There's an excellent anthology out: Great American Prose Poems: From Poe to the Present. The writers who’ve most impressed me are Russell Edson and Gabriel Gudding. The latter especially is one of a kind, a verbal prankster of the first order. Some of the poems and passages in A Defense of Poetry and Rhode Island Notebook are stunning. Unfortunately Gudding is also a New Atheist, and ended by convincing me that, like many in that camp, he was incapable of dialogue with those who think the universe is more than what empirical science can tell us about it. A sad story, but not one that’s worth retelling here.
Both Gudding and Edson have work online, if you don't want to buy the book right off. And besides, I shouldn't throw too many voices at you all at once. Just start with Jacob and Kharms and see what you think.
Update 2015: My own work in the genre: Idiocy, Ltd..
Tuesday, May 13, 2014
I'm neither biologist nor professional theologian. I'm a Christian writer with a longstanding interest in working through Christianity's place in the modern world: understanding social changes in our post-Enlightenment culture and advances in our scientific knowledge through a Christian lens.
For some years now I've understood the history of life in a way that is both Christian and Darwinist. But is this possible? Are these two encompassing views of reality compatible or not? (Note: I've titled this page "No ID Required". I mean it in the sense of: "No intelligent design at the genetic level." Intelligent design in cosmology and physics, however, is a different matter, as Francis Collins has argued: the universe is designed to give rise to life. Some of Collins' arguments presented here.)
In a nutshell, below, I present my Christian thinking on the processes of creation, evolution, and redemption. Of course anyone with more knowledge in either Christian or Darwinian thought is welcome to weigh in on what I offer.
Of course I'm well aware that the scenario I'm presenting is speculative. That it is laid out in declarative sentences shouldn't be taken to mean that I consider it in any way authoritative. And yes, my writing here is somewhat abstruse and perhaps a bit too condensed for its own good. But that is a result of trying to stay concise.
How, then, do the universe and consciousness arise? What role does evolution play in what is, nevertheless, a willed and intelligent creation?
God creates the universe with certain fundamental laws that entail the possible rise of life. Given that the created universe is vast, the likelihood of life arising somewhere or other (or indeed in various places) is certain.
With the rise of life, in any given place, begins a process of evolution, which in turn may eventually bring about the rise of a creature capable of consciousness. Such a creature is capable of recognizing both the creation's origin in God and its own likeness to God.
The process of evolution, up to this point of recognition, is as Darwinism has it: it is entirely a matter of random mutations resulting in variation then subject to natural selection. People may call my thinking here deism if they like, I don't care, because once the creature "in God's image" (i.e., having consciousness) arises, God begins a process of bridging to this creature.
The initial stage of what I call bridging is the endowment of spirit, which Genesis figures as God's breathing in of "the breath of life" (an action described there only in relation to humankind).
The spirit, sensing its origin, begins to seek that origin and connect with it. Thus we have the history of religion(s). Then God sends his Word: initially the Word as prophecy and law; eventually the Word as His very own Son. Through the Word, in these two stages, the process of redemption is begun.
Note that in all of this I see no need for God's intervention in the natural process of evolution before the rise of humankind, that such extra-evolutionary intervention only begins with humankind through the gift of the spirit. It continues with the rise of religion (the spirit trying to make sense of its having been given) and finally advances through biblical prophecy (the election of Israel) on to the Christ. Four stages of intervention then: spirit; religion(s); biblical religion; Christ.
That the initial stages of spirit and religion(s) are paralleled by the acquisition of language (a crucial element of our ability to know God) is a wonder (the wonder of language) and provides an almost inexhaustible wellspring for study and speculation. We are in fact matter, spirit, and language--language mediating the matter and spirit in us and providing one of the crucial channels through which we relate to God.
Recap: Yes, the process of evolution took billions of years before consciousness arose. So what? And consciousness may never have arisen on this planet at all, given that evolution is a random process. Again: So what? God needn't be overly concerned with time, which I take is only an element in the creation of our universe, and likewise God needn't be concerned with the question of where consciousness may arise, since the whole of the universe is God's creation. In short: This way of thinking does not conceive God as a deist watchmaker.
The Creator God can let physical matter follow its own laws for eons, then can love and sustain the creature that has arisen in one or another place at one or another time. I believe this because here and now there is in fact a planet where consciousness has arisen, and God is in fact present among us not merely as creator (the one who set the laws of the universe) but as sustainer (the one who sustains us in being like unto Him).
Again, that I say he is present as sustainer shouldn't be taken to mean that I think everything in the universe is a direct expression of his pre-determining will. The three positions I do not subscribe to are atheism (obviously), radical deism (the God who creates then departs), and occasionalism (the God who is willing every physical event as it happens). My sense of God as creator and sustainer combines deist with orthodox thinking. Do I believe in miracles? Yes. Do I believe in natural selection? Yes. Are they the same thing? Well, except to the degree that Being itself is a miracle: No. Miracles and natural selection are two different things, but they needn't cancel each other out.
Have I been clear here in these various points? If clear, am I persuasive? Comprehending how this universe is both theologically and scientifically feasible, getting beyond the false dichotomy of randomness vs. divine intervention, is a matter of slightly widening and deepening the perspective. But the upshot of this combinatory view of reality is that I've come to accept certain basic givens: 1) There is and has always been a consciousness behind the physical universe. 2) There is here and now a consciousness in the physical universe. 3) The consciousness behind the physical universe has instilled in us a sense of its presence and communicated something of Itself to us. 4) We have thus been given, first, the gift of being and, second, the gift of sensing the Being in which we are grounded. 5) We have also been given the gift of a saving grace through God's Son, the Christ. 6) Redemption is now in process.
With the rise of the creature of consciousness, then, God's plan, gaining a foothold in this time and place, began to work its way forward in a more interventionist mode, in contrast to previously, the few billion years during which the earth was host to only a naturalist mode of evolution.
I do not see any conflict with evolutionary theory except vis-a-vis those evolutionists who subscribe to scientism, whose enthusiasm for their method has led them to insist that said method renders our experience of the divine obsolete. Neither am I convinced by any tendentious waving of Occam's razor, because I do not believe positivist science is our only, or even our most important, mode of knowing.
In March my friend Steve Johnson posted a link on his Facebook wall to an essay of mine on Marcus Borg. In the essay, a review of one of Borg's books, I present a couple of the double-binds that have confused the thought of both modern Christians and modern secular people. On Steve's wall, however, the link ended up being a fuse that, once lit, set off a wide-ranging discussion: at times a hard-nosed debate between myself, a Catholic, and newthers, fans of the militant New Atheism; at other times a discussion of pantheism, biblical interpretation, etc.
I'm posting a slightly shortened version of the discussion here on my blog for interested readers. I post it for two reasons: first, it seems a quite representative slice of American thinking on religion (at least for a certain spectrum of people in their 30s and 40s); second, the discussion prodded me toward formulating some of my own thought which I hadn't gotten into writing elsewhere.
So: a cultural document showing different people's thought in discursive action; a writing out of my own thought. (I've also written an explanation, in a nutshell, of why I personally don't think Darwinism is incompatible with Christian faith. Somewhat abstruse and written with perhaps too much concision, it may be useful for readers who've followed the raging evolution/ID debate recently rekindled by New Atheists and their newther hordes: No ID Required: Why Darwinism and Christianity are Compatible.)
Though I've edited out parts of the following discussion, I've largely left the remaining parts intact, chunky and often facebookish. Which I hope doesn't drive readers away. Because this is the way people really discuss these things at present.
I encourage anyone who begins reading to stick with it. Also to comment below if you'd like to add something.
To begin from the beginning then . . .
Steve Johnson post March 23, 2014
Do you practice a religion? Do you believe in the Bible being a Holy Scripture? Here is something to consider, from a deeply believing Christian, and a life-long best friend: Eric Mader. Link: Marcus Borg and the Language of the Bible
Lena Dannon: I know Marcus Borg--correction, I met him and talked with him (he lives in a town about 30 minutes from me). I haven't yet read the article, but he loomed large in my investigation into truth, about 7 years ago . . . he wrote two books, "Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time" and "Reading the Bible Again For the First Time." He helped me to ask some of the deeper questions that were percolating for me. March 24 at 12:58am · Unlike · 1
Lena Dannon: Skimming it (shall read more later) . . . I fully concur with how Christians have been taught to take metaphoric truths and literalize them . . . absurdity to the max. And the results have been disastrous. Of course, they/we do it selectively . . . Jesus says that if you sin, you should cut off your hand, or gouge out your eye . . . and yet you don't see eyeless, handless christians walking around . . . March 24 at 1:00am · Unlike · 2
Natalie Kroeger: Trying to read, will read later. My daughter is playing soccer in finals in Vegas Players Showcase Tournament. Getting updates min by min from team manager. Score 2-1 with 20 min to go. Can't concentrate. March 24 at 1:38am · Like · 2
Darren Morse: Read Mader's review of Marcus Borg's book. I was scratching some notes as I was reading and realized that this response could be rather exhaustive, so I think I should start with a few points.
I actually agree with Borg's understanding that not all of scripture is to be taken literally. I think most people who attempt to study the bible honestly would agree that there is much written in figurative and metaphorical language. Where I would disagree is where he argues that the bible is a purely human "product". I would say that even this type of prose, metaphorical and figurative, may be divinely inspired. For example, I don't see the conflict in interpreting the parables of Jesus as metaphorical and yet understanding that there is a divine massage attached to these parables that is 100% true and authoritative. It seems to me that when Borg refers to fundamentalists and inerrancy he concludes that those who believe the bible to be 100% literal are those who are in danger of using the bible as a "facts-based" fundamentalism. I don't know many people in evangelicalism that would purport that the bible is such a literal presentation. We just don't see using figurative language as any less authoritative.
When referring to "Enlightenment thinking", I do also agree that the church has bought into the language that most of we know must be logical and in doing so we have neglected the mystical nature of the Spirit of God. However, my understanding of scripture is that what I believe to be true and right should not be born just out of religious experience. I think most would agree that what is considered sacred would be vastly different from one person to another if we base our views of the character and nature of God only on our own personal experience. It would lead to each of us "creating God in our image". With the huge variety of religious experiences, this would naturally lead to a pluralistic and relativistic view of who God is. As I read this review, it seems that Borg has already done so.
All that being said, it has always been my goal to understand who God is and how I fit into that grand narrative. There are many types of literary genre in the scriptures. I believe it benefits me to understand something of the genres the biblical authors used to convey truth. I understand that didactic literature is different than poetry which differs from historical narrative and so on. It is my responsibility to read it as such and gain a deeper understanding of the truth being given. I don't see any need to "throw the baby out with the bath water".
To conclude, I see a danger in re-interpreting the bible in a post-modern context where experience is the driver for deciding what is and is not biblical truth. It should always concern us when new interpretations arise. As one writer put it: "We are all theologians. Each time we open our mouth and speak of God we are engaging in theology. The problem is that if it has fallen from biblical orthodoxy, it most likely is heresy."
I do understand the need to take what is written and experience it. It should cause in us a desire to become more like the One in whom we read. I also understand the Church has failed to do so. It makes modern Christianity seems lifeless and irrelevant. I would prefer that we re-engage the Word (logos) of God and understand the practical implications. It should lead us to love, and because we have rejected that, we search for a new meaning.
Again, Steve, thanks for inviting me into this discussion. March 24 at 3:37am · Unlike · 2
Natalie Kroeger: My beliefs and understandings line-up very closely with Eric's. I enjoyed his article on Borg's writing immensely. Thank you for including me.
I agree that fundamentalists and post-enlightenment thinkers are hampered my fact-based thinking and restrictive literal interpretations of the Bible.
I agree that of course the writing in the Bible can be divinely inspired even though much of it is in figurative language. Because that is the best way to communicate God's message so we can understand it. These metaphorical messages are true & divine & sacred even if not factually accurate.
With all the talk in Borg's work of language, I can't help bring up that the Bible was not translated into the vernacular until Martin Luther did so during the Reformation. Certainly one of the most important events in history. This concern with accurate translation must be a somewhat recent phenomenon as only priests & scholars were able to read the Bible through much of European history, and they read it in only one Latin translation.
I especially liked Eric's views on language. I agree and found his ideas original. Language itself does have divine and sacred qualities. I love the examples he listed. There are passages in the bible that speak to one's soul, certain Psalms, in which I would say, the language is divine; I can sense God speaking to my soul when reading it over & over; the language is a vehicle for God's voice; I can feel it. To me that is divine & sacred. Many of the most meaningful bible verses & psalms all have a basic understanding, but also have a personal & divine meaning because one feels the presence of God when reading them.
Thanks again for this great discussion. March 24 at 1:21pm · Like · 2
Natalie Kroeger: BTW, my daughter tied in finals, then lost in PK's at the Vegas Players Showcase Tournament. Great recruiting turnout. Tough loss, but good experience playing that level of competition & practicing PK's under all that pressure. March 24 at 1:27pm · Unlike · 2
Eric Mader: Darren Morse: I agree with you on most points. Your argument that conservative evangelicals also recognize the figurative aspects of Scripture, but that this figurative quality doesn't make the texts less authoritative, is obviously correct. Of course evangelicals recognize figurative language, and of course biblical texts in figurative language are also authoritative. Where many Christians differ from these "Bible-believing" Christians, however, is where to draw the borderline in terms of what is figurative.
For example, I personally don't believe there was a literal Adam and Eve--that if one could go back in time one might find Adam and Eve in the Garden and film them going about their day. I think these are mythical figures. In that respect, then, I think the whole story is largely figurative: it figures forth an entirely true perception, inspired by the Spirit, that we are somehow fallen from what is our divine nature; that there's a connection that was broken and needs to be reconnected; that our sense of a spiritual meaning to the world but of something gone awry is not just an aftereffect of our material suffering, but rather points to a truth in our being, the meaning of our being. The story is authoritative, then, but demands wise interpretation. And this is what is often lacking in the Bible Belt crown.
In my view people who imagine these stories are journalistic or literal historical narratives are not so much respecting the Holy Bible, as they believe, but simply missing the point. Of course many folks over history missed the point in just this way and still lived very holy lives: their naivete on this score or the state of knowledge of the era in which they lived didn't make them lesser Christians. But now we have much greater resources of knowledge and a much expanded view of actual human history. The Bible Belt folks are wrong to keep denying this wider knowledge.
Meanwhile, on the other side, we face a different but equal stupidity. Shallow positivists, like the New Atheists, take our expanded factual knowledge and say: "See? Now we must throw out all this biblical tradition, because, hey, it's just not true."
I find it hard to express the contempt I've come to have for these people: Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, etc. Their problem is they don't understand the degree to which they themselves depend on story to continue living in the culture they live in. Their assertions that science is all that is needed to provide a ground for our human experience and togetherness are themselves based on an Enlightenment myth--one that has proven pretty shabby historically and is still proving itself shabby in obvious ways. Please don't misunderstand my point here: I am not saying that evolutionary theory or the Table of Elements are a myth, but simply that the pertinence of these things for our lives have been wrongly inscribed in mythical structures. And these New Atheists have their heads so deeply embedded up their positivist asses that they can't even see the transparently mythical nature of their own social thinking. But enough on this. I begin to rant.
I also agree with you, Darren, that experience is not the only arbiter of truth. Rather, a Christian should live in a dialectic of personal experience with the tradition, each correcting the other on points, each garnering the respect it deserves. So that I as a Christian may come to doubt this or that traditional Christian teaching, but I must never abandon any teaching for anything less than very solid reasons. In my view, if a teaching is part of the tradition or part of the biblical record it is worthy of respect per se. Some of these teachings, however, are not correct, I believe, but we must not deem them incorrect simply because they don't happen to agree with current liberal thinking. They must not be judged by current secular standards and then simply jettisoned because they don't fit the Zeitgeist. Doing so is both cowardly and epistemologically naive. Even in terms of teachings that seem evidently wrong, one cannot simply throw them out, as I believe many liberal Christians do. There must be a process of study and engagement with the traditional line.
Biblical orthodoxy is not a fixed thing for all time. Theology is always developing and growing, perhaps risking the loss of this or that truth, but also recognizing new truths. Thus, on some things, one may find grounds to disagree with the tradition. This is so especially when it is a matter of peripheral issues. To take one instance, I personally believe Saint Paul's clear assertions that homosexuality is an outward sign of inherent depravity are mistaken. He is a first-century man, a great genius inspired by the Spirit, but this does not mean every sentence he wrote is on the mark. I'm content to let it rest with 97% of what he wrote being very much on the mark. I can say this because I do not believe the Bible was directly faxed to man by God. The fact that we have four Gospels that disagree with each other on particulars should prove this point. But neither do I believe, with Borg, that the Bible is simply a human creation. Again--it is the result of a dialectic.
But speaking of experience and its role in grounding beliefs I naturally come to Lena Dannon. I think Lena is a good example of someone who went through a long period of experience and questioning and therefore has won her new spiritual life in an admirable way. She doesn't impress me as a person who just drifted away from conservative Christianity because of her distaste for its social teachings or because of a new social set she fell among upon entering college. Rather, she's done some serious climbing, and must be respected. I'll have to discuss things with Lena more at some time in the future (I'm kind of busy now, partly because there's possibly a nascent revolution gaining steam here in Taiwan) but today I want to address one thing I've noticed cropping up in the different posts Lena has written. In her "Credo . . . So Far" she puts it like this: "Once I saw that I could not possibly be separated from the Source of All Life (and that to have thought so was supreme arrogance), then I saw that we humans had invented an egoic problem, and an egoic solution to the non-problem. I now no longer believe I ever needed to be saved from anything other than the erroneous thought that I needed to be saved in the first place." [To help the reader of this blog post, Lena's "Credo" text in its entirety, posted on a different Facebook page, reads in part as follows:
I was a bona fied, born-again, altar-altered, spirit-filled, charismatic/evangelical/liturgical, bible-believing, blood-washed, gen-u-INE christian for 30-odd (often very odd) years. My ex-husband went to seminary, and was ordained, and I read those big, fat, wearisome books, as I'm a voracious reader ... and I got an eye/mind-ful!
Then, I got a kundalini experience (out of the blue) which rocked my world, and ended up getting the entire family excommunicated by an international denomination, and even landed us on national television, to discuss it . . . and resulted in my thorough investigation into "truth at all costs" (which took years, went deep, and was excruciating, no pun intended) causing me to see that I had to leave all things institutional and religious. I was the real deal. And I deeply questioned and thoroughly investigated what I believed and why . . . the etymology of words, the origin of beliefs, the canonization of the scriptures ... I BEGGED the God I then believed in to keep me safe from deception, and to take my life if I were being led astray. It wasn't a "let's chuck this so I can do what I want" thing . . . though I get why believers feel the need to discount the veracity of either my beliefs, or my process.
Along the way, I used the bible to debunk "hell", the second coming, and eventually, the origins of the bible itself. The Spirit (or Presence, or Source, or S/He/It) led me out of all that . . . didn't exactly choose to leave, so much as I saw one day that I had merely outgrown it, and had simply and thoroughly shed what was once a valid and required stepping-stone.
My comment continues:] It seems clear here that Lena has learned to reject the Christian teaching that we are all fallen and sinful and thus, to some degree, separated from God. She no longer believes we need the grace that comes through Christ to save us. Fine and good. Technically speaking, based on her remarks, Lena's spirituality has become pantheistic. This is not to say that she worships nature or animals, but rather: all things that live are always already inseparably connected to God (which she here calls the "Source of All Life"). For Lena, then, the Christian Fall is a myth then not simply in the sense that the Garden of Eden story is figurative, but in the sense that it doesn't even convey a spiritual truth. Because it would be "arrogant" to assume we could be separated from God in any case.
Here's the question I'd pose to Lena. It's about Ted Bundy. I'm thinking about Ted Bundy because I recently talked with a woman in her early seventies who remembers Bundy coming in to the car dealership where she worked trying to get her to go out with him. She was living at that time in Washington, Oregon. Bundy was a charmer, she said. She remembers he brought her flowers, and that if she hadn't been going out with someone else at the time, she'd likely have dated him. In which case I'd likely never have heard her story.
In the 1970s Bundy killed at least 30 women, beheading around a dozen of them, keeping their heads as mementos. He also often returned to the decomposing corpses of victims to groom them and have sex with them. Bundy was executed in 1989.
My question is this: Given that we are all connected to the Source of All Life and that it would be arrogance to assume we could ever be unconnected, does this mean that Ted Bundy was somehow expressing the Divine Nature during his rampage in the 1970s? Is this kind of victimization and violence an inherent part of the Divine Nature that is in all of us? Indeed, some religious traditions believe so. I just don't know how Lena thinks.
The tradition I believe in would insist that all of us are to some degree separate from the Divine Nature and in need of grace to pull us from the evil that is ever pulling us in other directions. That our souls, in fact, may ultimately be overrun by evil to the extent that we might completely lose them. Thus in my tradition no one, aside from Christ, is perfectly in accord with the Source of All Life (it would be arrogance to think so) and some become so out of accord that the divine spark in them is, perhaps, virtually snuffed.
Technically, I believe that God is in the world, the Spirit is here with us, but we are not necessary in harmony with that Spirit. We can in fact be radically separated from it, and all of us are in some large measure separated from it always already.
So tell me about Ted Bundy. Would it have been somehow arrogance to go to him and say, "Hey, Ted, I think you've more or less fallen out with the Source of All Life."
I have to stop writing for now. Thanks much, Natalie Kroeger, for your kind remarks. And thanks to you Steve for posting my article. Anyone who wants to dig further into (a slightly earlier stage of) my thinking on these questions can link from the Borg article to my main page Necessary Prose. But I don't presume to say you'd learn much from me. The folks weighing in here are pretty heavy already.
But Steve, I know there's another smart guy you know, Michael Herbert, whose comments over the years I've appreciated. Why not invite him to weigh in here too?
Back to helping the revolution. March 24 at 5:34pm · Like
Darren Morse: I think the trepidation in re-inventing how we interpret the biblical language is somewhat pointed out in your last correspondence referring to Ms. Dannon's personal growth story and the possible implications that you draw from it.
I hope to show how easy it is to come to this conclusion that since we are a part of God's creation, we are never separated from Him and there is therefore no need for salvation.
If the assertion that Adam is not a historical figure than what can happen to biblical texts such as this from 1 Cor. 5:21-22: "For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive."
I think Paul is making an assertion that death came through a historical figure (Adam) rather than a mystical idea that he is attempting to convey though a man named Adam.
I think the non-literal interpretation of a historical Adam and Eve now casts doubt on texts like these. Here would be some natural questions that might arise:
1) Since the story of Adam is figurative and metaphoric and is now attached to the story of Jesus, is he also a metaphoric figure? If so, how now do I view his deity and the authority of his teachings?
2) If Adam never really "died", than conversely, is there also no real "resurrection"?
3) If Paul represents Adam as a physical, historical figure, then how does that affect our view of the balance of his teachings? If Paul is not to be believed here, than why should we believe his assertions that justification comes by faith in Christ? (Who now is possibly a metaphorical, mystical figure.)
It becomes quite easy to re-define the spiritual significance of the texts when we begin the practice of re-interpreting passages that are already well received and understood in Christendom.
Personally, I don't see the need to de-construct our current understanding of the bible. I think it's been well interpreted by great thinkers, scholars and theologians for almost 2000 years. I rather see it as an attempt to undermine the authority of scripture, even if done implicitly. I would prefer we faithfully exegete and apply. Again, I think the lack of love for our neighbors causes us to search for something more. Rather than re-interpreting Paul's teaching on homosexuality, perhaps we should love them in the midst of it. This would then become an issue on par with any other transgression described in scripture. Love will always win but hasn't been well represented in the church.
Heading out. Have a great day, all! March 24 at 10:14pm · Like
Eric Mader: I think some of what you say is to the point, Darren. But I don't think what I'm suggesting amounts to a deconstructing of the biblical text by any means. The texts themselves often tell us much through genre and language chosen. And so, the Hebrew name Adam means basically "the human" and also can mean "the ground". This is not necessarily proof one way or another whether the man himself actually existed, but in my mind it looks like we're reading a story about the creation of "the human" rather than a particular man. Likewise Eve in Hebrew is Hawwah and means "source of life". I would say these figures are very different in this respect from Jesus, who most certainly was a historical figure, as even the vast majority of atheist scholars will agree.
Personally I can read Paul saying "death came through Adam" as a statement meaning something like "death came through our (fallen) human condition". What precisely Paul himself believed about the historicity of Adam is an interesting question, but needn't be decided. For me, death came through the fallen human condition, which I take to be the human condition per se, and life came through Christ, who entered history as an individual. My own faith isn't any the weaker for this interpretation of Adam and Eve, although some people might argue that I should shut up about this kind of interpretation as I might undermine the faith of folks whose belief depends on the literal historicity of almost everything in the Bible. Yes, there probably are such folks out there. On some days I think their faith is actually pretty weak--as if after scouring Mount Ararat for pieces of Noah's ark, they'd finally, after finding nothing, declare: "Alas! There is no God!" Again, I find it is to a large degree a matter of what Borg points to as our shallow "fact fundamentalism". You write: "Personally, I don't see the need to de-construct our current understanding of the bible. I think it's been well interpreted by great thinkers, scholars and theologians for almost 2000 years. I rather see it as an attempt to undermine the authority of scripture, even if done implicitly." But you seem to be forgetting the quote from Origen in my essay, part of which reads: "Who is foolish enough to believe that, like a human gardener, God planted a garden in Eden in the East and placed in it a tree of life, visible and physical, so that by biting into its fruit one would obtain life?" We are hearing one of the Church Fathers here, a very great scholar of the early Church whose work was seminal in terms of biblical exegesis. Origen had no problem seeing the story of Adam and Eve as figurative. He even sort of cautioned against believing everything literally. I think his cautioning here might teach us something. March 24 at 10:53pm · Like
Darren Morse: It’s interesting to me how our presuppositions (mine included of course) are so powerful. When I read of Adam meaning “the human” or “the ground”, I think of a created being. I read how the bible states that God formed him from the dust of the earth and “breathed life” into him as a “hu-man.” I read how God gave him responsibilities and actually interacted with him and this brings me great comfort. I don’t understand how God would “breath life” into a “fallen human idea”. Furthermore, the Apostle Paul states in 1 Cor. 15:45 : "So it is written: 'The first man Adam became a living being'; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit." I think it’s rather clear that Paul understood Adam as a literal person as he even refers to Jesus as the last “Adam” and we know he historically existed.
I get the idea that what is proposed doesn’t change the idea of a need for Jesus. I guess my question at this point is one of re-interpretive motive. If this issue and those like it shouldn’t change our view of how we approach our faith, then why the desire for a re-interpretation? Is there a need to find deeper truth or is it our desire to use a new interpretive rule in order to modify it in some way? When Borg takes on a contemporary hot-button issue such as homosexuality in the scriptures and then attempts to alter the orthodox interpretation, it should cause us to raise an eyebrow and wonder: "Why?"
I would approach the question of the quote from Origen in the same way. When I read the early church fathers I see many disagreements on how they respond to the claims of Christianity. When I read Augustine, Athanasius, Calvin, Luther and the like, much of their correspondence was to correct one-another’s theology. Origen’s view in this instance is non-normative and that alone should put it into question. I would venture to guess that all four of the others I mentioned would take issue with Origen’s position on the historical reality of a literal Adam. March 25 at 2:49am · Like •
Steve Johnson: Michael Herbert: I know you said something on V's page, but you were paged here by Eric Mader, so you get to dive in. March 25 at 10:29am · Like · 1
Michael Herbert: Crap! That means I need to read all this then. HMPH! March 25 at 10:33am · Like · 3
Michael Herbert: I'm afraid I can't offer much to this dialog that might seem positive being a Gnew Atheist (no such thing by the way). Firstly, thank you Eric, for the designation of "smart guy". When it comes to the topic of religion and said "belief", I am afraid I am a torch in a dry grass field. I find it all laughable. To have faith in anything is to assert strongly THAT which there is no evidence to support. Think about that for a moment. In what OTHER part of your lives would you EVER do that? Furthermore, ask yourself why you don't believe in Zeus, Allah, Ra? Why are you not a Jainist or a Hindu? When you can answer that question honestly, then apply it to your god and Viola, you are now an atheist. It's all nonsense, man-made nonsense. I understand your deep rooted desire to WANT to believe it. Amazing how the petulant god of the old testament adheres to many MANY human failings. It's because it was written by flawed humans, cults if you will, all trying to prove who was the biggest bad ass. "Oh, the bible was divinely inspired." I would like to see your proof of that, being that a great many of the stories were lifted from other older texts, from other cultures, and most biblical scholars KNOW the NT is mythical allegory. My takeaway is, believe in flying monkeys if it brings you peace, it really doesn't matter. Just keep it out of my government, keep it out of my classrooms, and please let your children think for themselves. There is more at stake than whose imaginary friend is the biggest and strongest. Now, unlike Ken Hamm, I am open to possibilities. If there is a god, any god, let the evidence for said god show itself and I am all in. It's just not bloody likely. Prepare for the arrows to fly in three, two, one . . . March 25 at 11:07am · Like · 3
Bill O'Neil: How can so many obviously intelligent people spend so much time and energy debating the nuance of their shared delusion? March 25 at 11:42am · Like · 2
Eric Mader: I only have time to reply to Darren for now. I think your remarks show you imagine there is something called an "original" or "standard" interpretation and that in relation to this I am doing something you call "reinterpretation". But the fact is that all interpretations, even the "standard" one you refer to, are reinterpretations. Even when we imagine we are "going back to the sources", in fact, we are always to a large degree just re-inscribing those sources in a structure built of our own (historically determined) concerns. We are making the sources speak to our own time and situation and to do so we inevitably ignore elements of them that don't fit. This is a basic problem of hermeneutics, and the point is that it really is impossible to avoid. The best we can do is be aware of it. What's more, this thing you call "reinterpretation", and which I would insist is simply interpretation, goes back into the biblical canon itself. It is by no means a modern "liberal" or "deconstructionist" phenomenon. The case of Martin Luther, whose brilliant but very selective understanding of Paul gave us Protestantism, is instructive here. The scholars working in the "new perspective on Paul" have demonstrated how Luther's "return to the sources" meant in effect creation of an entirely new Paul. See: Review of Garry Wills: What Paul Meant. March 25 at 11:54am · Like
Eric Mader: Bill O'Neill and Michael Herbert, briefly: I would guess that both of you are confident that God doesn't exist because there's no, as you call it, physical evidence. For instance, we can't see God coming down out of they sky and can't film God or record God's voice, etc. And so, not offering such physical evidence, God likely doesn't exist and therefore believing in God is naive. What you perhaps don't realize is that this whole approach to the problem, and the attendant critique of the faithful for being "naive", is grounded in the dull positivist view of theological questions that New Atheists presume religious people now hold to, but many religious people do not.
For me the question is emphatically not whether God exists, but rather how God exists. Because God does exist, for me and many millions of others. The New Atheists sound like children to me. They are applying a methodology suitable for chemistry or biology to an entirely different realm of human experience. And yes, whether you like it or not, chemistry itself, as all of science, is but one of the "realms of human experience". The New Atheists burn straw men of their own making. None of them has ever yet taken on the work of a single serious modern theologian. The theologies they refute are easy to refute because they're either utterly shallow to begin with or, if they are in fact serious Christian theologies, they are restated (mis-stated) by the New Atheists in utterly shallow ways. I'm interested in serious questions, and will take the materialist arguments seriously, but the prominent materialists won't take any arguments seriously but their own. This is why I scorn them.
So, quickly, let me pose an obvious question to you two: You insist God doesn't exist, and that this means my Catholicism is meaningless and delusional. But how would you prove to me God doesn't exist? And, having proven this, why should I think your proof, and its likely materialist ground, have any bearing on my faith? Why should I accept your proof if I find your epistemology weak to begin with? In your answers, I would ask you stick to the questions: 1) How do you know God doesn't exist? 2) What does your knowledge imply for what I insist is the truth of my faith? March 25 at 12:12pm · Like · 2
Bill O'Neil: Eric, I am not capable of reasoning you out of your faith. You are clearly an educated man who has made a choice to believe something that is objectively not true. But you do have all the tools you need to see truth--and they are found in your own questions. 1) How do you know that Thor and Ra and Allah do not exist? 2) What does that imply for your Christian faith? March 25 at 12:23pm · Edited · Like · 3
Eric Mader: Well, Bill, in fact I wouldn't try to argue that Thor or Ra or Allah don't exist. I would consider these these deities to be different cultural reactions to the Divine. I would say that these cultures likely got some things right about the Divine, but not all things. Just as my Catholicism cannot get all things right. I believe however that the Islamic conception is closer to truth than Thor or Ra. And I believe that the Christian conception is even closer. But still we see "in a glass darkly".
Did you read my linked article above? If not, you may find it interesting; at least there will likely be something new for you in it.
As for my two questions to you and Michael Herbert, they still stand. I'm not asking either of you to try to reason me out of my faith by the way. I'm hoping Michael will give me brief straightforward answers to them, 1) and 2), and then I'll be able to assess his position better. March 25 at 3:48pm · Like · 1
Eric Mader: Again, shouting out to Michael Herbert: I'm hoping you can give me concise answers to the two questions I pose, then I can go from there. You might presume the questions are lame, that the burden of proof is in my court, or that you've already answered the questions, but I've a reason for posing the questions this way. In any case, with your indulgence, I'm curious where this discussion will lead. March 25 at 3:58pm · Like
Eric Mader: And Bill, I would only add: I threw you a particular ball with two simple questions written on it. You are certainly in your rights when you pick up a different ball and throw it back at me. But again, I would ask that you not presume to guess what's in my mind by throwing the ball I chose. And so, until I hear concise answers from you and Michael to my questions, I won't bother to continue this debate further, as I can't be sure exactly where you two stand or how you stand. And so, I'll wait to hear your answers, then go from there. In fact, there's something fundamental here that I suspect neither of you can see, and don't know of a better way to make it clear than the Q&A format I have in mind. March 25 at 4:40pm · Like
Darren Morse: Eric, I want to thank you for the discussion. It was enlightening and I appreciate the spirit in which you presented your positions. March 25 at 7:10pm · Like · 1
Jim Isaacson: Should we believe unicorns exist until we can prove they don't? March 25 at 9:59pm · Like
Steve Johnson: Eric, I have waited a touch to see what others would say so I could see the rational matrix and intellectual devices that were utilized to make the arguments for why people believe what they believe when it comes to the Big Questions, such as: Why are we here, what is real, what is MY purpose, am a part of something larger? And I want to say that I am very very happy that I can count you all as my friends. I know each and every one of you personally, and I can say unequivocally, you would all enjoy each others company if we were to have a "sit in a room and have a beer" hang out. And what is cool is I spent some quality time at one level or another with all of you, at different times/stages in my life, and you are all good, very good people. So, my two cents after I do this conference call at 10:30. March 25 at 10:20pm · Like · 2
Steve Johnson: I find it only natural that when one parses the Bible, they are left with an intellectual conundrum. Shall I see this information as 'actual fact' (the Enlightenment Trap as Eric calls it) or shall I imbue a sense of understanding, derived from personal experience, and the larger historical contexts that have been shared with me, to understand it? (This would be the notion of allegory and interpretive understandings.) Since the bible has been around a long time, and is arguably one of humanity's foundational texts, I can see why for many this is a very interesting and highly valuable exercise. But for me, it points specifically to the fact that the text itself is meant for a number of purposes, among which I'd cite as a very important one its role in providing a construct or basis for governing, establishing dominions of order, providing 'rights', establishing 'wrongs', and so on. It would be hard to argue that only good has come from those who have used the bible in their various ways to establish different kinds of 'order'. In a way, it is easy to make a comparison with firearms. That old and tired argument of "it is not gun that does bad, but the user". I think the same argument can be applied here. But what is missing (and I think it is because when faced with duality choice, 'all or nothing', we either believe in a god, or we don't) in terms of getting our heads around the value of the bible is a whole pile of nuances and ambiguities and, in my current understanding, unexplored notions of how one might be able to look at the bible in the construct of our CURRENT knowledge. So, if you are ready to go for a ride with me, then perhaps you will read the next post, cause I am going to leave orthodoxy way behind. March 25 at 10:51pm · Like · 2
Eric Mader: Yes, Darren, I much enjoyed it as well. And if I'd had more time, I'd have gone into a bit more depth on the question of Adam and history, because in fact your way of presenting the problem was also thought-provoking for me. Steve: Thanks for the good word. Yes indeed, you gather an interesting collection of people here. I hope some of these who have commented so far will continue, as I'm not even started on them. Jim Isaacson: In case you haven't noticed, nobody believes in unicorns, but hundreds of millions of people worldwide believe in God. And have a strong inner relationship with a God they experience in their lives. Your implied equivalence between unicorns and God is shallow and irrelevant. And worst of all: utterly boring. March 25 at 10:55pm · Like · 1
Eric Mader: Alright, Steve, I just read your most recent post, and say, Fine and good. But when you tell me that you are "going to leave orthodoxy way behind", please remember that there are many defenders of orthodoxy who have probably thought through most of what you are going to write, and who in effect, on the intellectual front, may easily leave you, and me as well, "way behind". And then remember also: You don't really know what orthodoxy is. I could ask you a dozen simple questions of the doctrinal or philosophical bases of Christian orthodoxy and you wouldn't get a single one right. So: As I listen to you, I'm sorry, but I kind of think: "How would it sound to Steve if in a discussion of sales or marketing or futures trading I were to tell him, 'Hey, Dude, in my next post I'm going to leave your whole knowledge framework way behind?'" How would that sound given the fact that if I added up all the time I've spent studying sales or futures trading in the course of my life it would amount to, say, less than ten hours? Whereas Steve, in at least one of these areas, has made a career. So: Please realize before you go on a long ride where you are coming from. March 25 at 11:04pm · Like
Steve Johnson: OK, to start, the Bible has proven to science to be an excellent random code generator. Many other texts have been used and as far as my reading goes, computers are able to find patterns in all 'large works' with the sole exception of the bible. In the 1990s a book came out called the Bible Code. I read it. I eventually bought the computer program that would 'work' on it, and to my amazement, it did in fact work. It worked more impressively on the Hebrew texts than the English translations, but it did in fact work. I would be happy to explain what I mean by "worked" if you are curious. Additionally, if we take a step back, and take a broader look at some of the 'stories' in the bible, one could argue that it is POSSIBLE that some of the texts are childlike descriptions written for uneducated goat herders, of what could be the DNA seeding of the human being on this planet. The ideas of "angels" and "gods", Nephilims and what have you, could be stories meant to tell a much broader and more plausible story in the context of our current world views and technology. Of course this is something that neither side of the 'bible as fact' or 'bible as trash' folks would want to engage in. The factual bible folks as succinctly stated by Darren Morse are less likely to accept such notions simply because there is "no evidence" to overthrow the old notions that are time-tested and passed down. The 'bible as trash' folks have no patience for it either as they have seen how the bible has been used, and how often it is self contradictory, whether one uses allegory or factual understandings, and most importantly, how there is no evidence to back up a DNA seeding narrative in our current science. I would argue that in fact the bible does use both allegory and fact to make its case, but that a calling to 'take a side' on the notion of god is part and parcel with what is wrong with bible analysis in the first place. March 25 at 11:05pm · Like · 2
Bill O'Neill: Man has created God over and over again throughout history in many different and evolving forms. Eric, you seem to presume that this is some cultural reaction to the divine. This is a convenient assumption that supports your own delusion as there is absolutely no evidence of any sort to support this position. There is however ample evidence supporting a clearly reasoned alternative position that does not require the creation of an illogical supernatural being. It goes something like this--FB can not do it justice: Man creates gods as a way of understanding and interpreting his own existence, which I readily admit is still quite mysterious (but becoming less so every day thanks to Science). The burden of awareness that comes with consciousness is knowledge of our ultimate and inevitable death. This can be a fairly terrifying prospect. Add to this the crushing loss when (biologically engineered) loved ones die, and the world can be a pretty harsh place. Enter evolution, to create and sustain a delusional belief in a god who removes the fear and reality of death, eliminates the sense of loss, and provides an explanation for existence (with meaning too!). A perfect psychological trick to keep people focused on living and reproducing instead of dreading their inevitable deaths or pondering the big existential questions. So a belief in god exists to sooth the painful realities that become apparent with the emergence of consciousness. The implications of these insights for me is that it is long past time for us all to leave this childish nonsense behind, grow up as a species, and stop indoctrinating children to believe the delusions of our forebears. This thread started with a book review about a book rehashing exhaustive reinterpretations of the bible. What a waste of time. To believe that the Bible is divinely inspired is ludicrous. It is a collection of ancient stories passed down orally for hundreds, maybe thousands of years, which were eventually written down and then organized, translated, reorganized, re-translated, again and again. The book is logically inconsistent, full of contradictions, and describes a mean and spiteful god that I would be ashamed to call a friend. I would never worship such a fiend. God is unnecessary for morality. God is unnecessary for civil society. God is unnecessary to understand existence. God is unnecessary to live a life rich with meaning. And the dogma that comes with all religion is a burden on us all. March 25 at 11:14pm · Like · 3
Eric Mader: Alright, Steve, I just read your first entry in your "leaving orthodoxy behind" and I see where you're going. And personally I'm not denying the interest of this tack or saying, "Hey, that's a lot of crap." I'm an amazingly open-minded person in this regard, fascinated by almost any direction discussions take. But as for me, I'm not going to engage this particular discussion now--would love to some time, but am too busy now. So sorry to leave you hanging, and this IS your wall besides, but at least for me, I won't be going into DNA seeding theories. I feel there are too many threads hanging already: Bill and Michael haven't gotten back to me, and Lena Dannon hasn't either. So could we put the DNA seeding on hold for awhile? March 25 at 11:14pm · Like · 1
Eric Mader: Very glad to see you replied, Bill. I'll be responding when I get a chance. For now I'll just say I find your remarks bracing. I hope you'll accept that our dialogue from here may take a few instances of back and forth. Am hoping also that Michael weighs in. I may have a couple other dumb-sounding questions for you when I log in again. March 25 at 11:21pm · Like
Steve Johnson: I cannot prove there is a god. Any attempt to do so, in my view, beyond the use of personal experience, is going to fall short. But science is getting closer to name the animus that appears in space time, both in what time is, what holds our universe together, and what binds things . . . what passes for experience, and what different aspects of our brain and perceptions can tell us about what is "real". It is my personal experience that guides me to believe there is a god. A god that is a priori judgment, right and wrong, up and down, left and right. It is in the rocks, and the earth, and is part of the 'dark matter' that makes up most of the known universe. IT is not an anthropomorphized entity that has any concerns for individuals, any more so than societies, or the wants and needs of the mosquito. But scientists who study "roaches" have come to say things in their writings that amount to this: "Although I cannot prove it, with over 20 years of studies and testing, I can say that every aspect of what we call sentience is there, when it comes to roaches." So, if science can inform us, then it has. Life is a complicated, highly sophisticated, incredibly unbelievable amalgam that we are now only fully starting to understand. And it is that broader construct that we should now embrace to gain a deeper understanding of our place in the world, our purpose, and to give us meaning. IT is true, as Eric states, and as Darren has intimated, that the bible brings lots of excellent notions that science has been built upon, but this does not make science second fiddle, nor does it negate the contributions of what was good in the professors of the bible. I know there is a god, but the bible has done nothing for me to confirm it. Science however has helped me attempt to build a construct that can inform me of a god that could actually be what I consider the notion of a "god" to be. That's my two cents. Or in this case, $1.50. March 25 at 11:22pm · Like · 1
Steve Johnson: Bill O'Neill: Great post. Xaipe. March 25 at 11:26pm · Like · 1
Steve Johnson: Eric Mader: there is no need to go into the whole DNA seeding notion, my larger point was that allegory can lead us to some un-said or un-authorized allegories. March 25 at 11:28pm · Like
Natalie Kroeger: I find this all fascinating. I can tell you how I know there is a God. I have felt His presence. He answered my prayers. I have read that Lena Dannon had an experience similar to mine perhaps, of growing up in the church. For me it was the Lutheran church. I had one of the best educations--directly from the pastor of the church who had a Divinity degree from an Ivy League school--3 years of confirmation classes. In fact at Northwestern, I took "Luther & the Philosophy of Faith," a 300 level course, by a German professor whose deep accent lulled me to sleep in lecture & received an A because I knew all the material from church school!
As with many older teens & young adults in college & grad school, I started having questions about faith and what did it really mean & there was no way I believed literally some of the texts in the bible, like the creation story in Genesis. I was very troubled by the way women were treated by the church & by the apostle Paul.
A pivotal point for me was a discussion about faith I had with a family member who said, "Just believe. If you are wrong, you have nothing to lose."
I was so disgusted & heartbroken at this hypocrisy--this was not faith in my opinion--that it led to a long time of disbelief. Grad school led to critical thinking. Deconstructing everything: the Bible; the Constitution. I read everything from "the Church & the Second Sex", major philosopher. I truly was at a point where I thought "religion was the opiate of the people".
Flash ahead 10 years. Now I am in a position where brains, hard work, strategic thinking, research, connections, etc., will not help me. I have a newborn & a 20-month-old--no extended family--& my newborn continues on for 4 months not sleeping more than 2 hours at a time.
I used all the methods that normally solved my problems & brought success--sometimes great success. Nothing worked.
I was literally brought to me knees. I prayed. After hours of praying, I could feel God's presence. I just knew what to do. Normally, I would have researched all the best options, evaluated them & made a list, ranked them & picked from there.
This was the first time I just knew what to do. I did it & it worked. My infant daughter slept through the night.
Since then, I have had many other experiences when I have felt the presence of God. My faith is rock solid.
I am grateful to writers like Eric. If I had access or had known about such material at an earlier stage in my life, I would have not been without faith for such a long period. Anne LaMott is one of my favorite writers about faith.
If you think of it, you need faith to truly love someone. Obviously, the way a parent loves their child is unconditional & faithful--especially when they are teenagers. :) As for a spouse or significant other, you need to have faith to love them, want the best for them, love the good & the bad, be grateful for the good in them & be open to seeing that. It takes faith to see that on days you are drained & cranky or they are drained & cranky. It takes faith to know who they are, Know their character and treat them with the love & respect & trust they deserve. March 26 at 12:17am · Like · 3
Murray Moen: I like seeing the different points of view. With me faith is personal, like an opinion. However, proof is in the miracles that had been asked for throughout the Bible. Many who had eyes witnessed the miracles yet still denied them.
Faith in the Creator is a personal miracle itself. All who have eyes witness to Creation. However, I believe God wants us to challenge His existence which makes that journey of faith happen.
What I have not seen here is Plato or Aristotle on the matter of the existence of God, as Eric states HOW God exists rather than the question of WHETHER He exists. To me that is the difference between the areas touched upon through the wisdom of these great men and the proclaimed revelation of the Bible. As for Plato and Aristotle, after pondering the world and our existence in it, the conclusion was to pursue the one true living God. Their faith in logic and reason led them to a singular all powerful Creator. The how God exists is to look at the Bible.
As for our question of the existence of God it is a matter of time before those with the question will know. As for me I will go with Natalie. I felt His presence and know my personal experience of His presence. I do however know that truth is sometimes clouded by religion and those who practice religious legalism, which distracts from the Spirit. In terms of Church, I am a practicing Catholic, but know Catholics also can fall into such legalism and distraction.
My question for those who are atheists: Why let the religious make your decision, why keep yourself locked into a framework of being sure in your knowledge God does not exist? You may likewise ask me to be open-minded and not locked into my faith, but how do you know that I do not go through periods of doubt? Blind faith is a bad thing because it is faith for faith's sake. So I ask you to not only open your mind but also your heart. St. Augustine, Roman rhetorician of high standing, one of the best educated men of his day, try reading some of his writings on the matter of faith. He has an excellent book, his Confessions. It will take you through his conversion, partly a matter of reconciling his vast philosophical knowledge to understanding Creation as known through Christianity. Why indeed were so many great ancient minds, deeply versant in philosophy, even the creators of Western philosophy, convinced of the truth of the One God? Even, as with Plato and Aristotle, before any contact with the Hebrew Scriptures? March 26 at 12:51am · Like
Steve Johnson: I think Michael Herbert and Bill O'Neill pretty much nailed the question of God as it is laid out in the Bible. I really don't understand why it is so hard for believers to "not get" their perspective. We have no issues with the mention of trees, since we see them. We have no issues with the concept of love, as we experience it. But a guy, and you might find it boring and pedantic, Eric, but is still entirely true . . . an invisible MAN who only reveals himself to "whomever", who has no specific ethics, or morals, except to his own understanding, which he neither deigns to explain in a way that is consistent, and whose teachings are promulgated by those who want money and power . . . what's to second guess here? I sure don't blame the Dominoes Pizza delivery guy for his shitty pizza, but after awhile, I have to take issue with that pizza, especially since every guy that brings me pizza from Dominoes turns out to bring me shit. So either it's the delivery guys or the source of the pizza. After 2,000 years, or is it 10,000, we can safely say that individuals of religion may not be on balance bad, but we can say that as they have organized themselves, they have not the track records that they expect of their adherents. March 26 at 2:59am · Edited · Like · 2
Lena Dannon: Reading back through this, and then I shall comment/respond directly to questions.
Some notes along the way--before I get to my dissertation:
LOVE me some Anne Lamott! Her books, "Traveling Mercies" and "Plan B" (along with her treatise on writing, "Bird by Bird") loomed large in my own spiritual journey! (I adored her "inviting Jesus into her heart" story . . . wherein she envisioned Jesus as this stray black cat, following her around silently . . . she kept slamming the screen door behind her, to keep him out. One day, she opened the door, and said, "Oh fuck it - come on in!" It was THE perfectly irreverent message for me, at the time!).
I'm not an atheist, or even an agnostic (first typed "ignostic" which is rather amusing) . . . I just no longer limit The Divine to the word "God", nor to the male gender, nor to any religion, nor to any particular manifestation . . . I have "felt The Divine" in the shower head, in the moon, in the presence of my dead Nana, in nature, in billboards, in Beatles' songs, in books, on my knees at my Freudian sofa (yes, I have a real one of those), while birthing my 8 children, during a life-altering Kundalini-experience, during ayahuasca ceremonies in Poland, and during sex. I also don't limit the nature of Christ to merely Jesus (actually Y'shua, or Joshua--"Jesus" is a bastardization of Ye-Zeus, which is an entirely different topic) of Nazareth. I believe in a Creator, or Source, or Presence, or First-Cause, or Intelligent Designer, or All in All.
I very much remember the "Bible Code" book . . . and, was also astonished as to its veracity.
As for Adam and Eve--Adam means "mankind" and Eve means "mother of life" . . . those names were never again used as personal first names throughout scripture (something unheard of in Hebraic tradition) . . . further, the Garden of Eden story was borrowed/stolen from a much-earlier culture, the Sumerians (the city of Ur, in Sumer, is Abraham's original hometown . . . natural that he would bring his oral-tradition stories with him to his new homeland), 2,500 years prior to when Genesis was written. Referring to "Adam" and contrasting Adam to Christ, merely shows the state of mankind in an unenlightened vs. enlightened state (as Jesus said, "when your [third] eye is light, the whole body [all of you] is light; but when the [third] eye is dark, you shall be doubly-dark"--this speaks to the third-eye enlightenment, associated with the pineal gland, which has also been referred to as the "seat of Christ Consciousness" in other Eastern cultures--and we often forget that the Hebraic culture was an Eastern tribal culture). Adam and Eve, and the Garden of Eden story were told in every culture, in various versions. It speaks of a time, prior to 7-8K years ago, when the now arid regions were lush, and food was plentiful, and males/females were living in an egalitarian manner, when graves indicated no size/preferential status (i.e., males were not superior to females), when life was seen to come out of the female body, and thus it was assumed that there was a Goddess (Cunti, the Goddess of All Life, from which we get the word "cunt") who spawned all life (the Great Yoni) . . . when there was NO sign of violence (i.e., "no death") beyond the occasional hunting accident, no war, and despite our "neanderthal" teachings, humans were quite advanced, with flourishing civilizations, including plumbing and the arts (See Steve Taylor's brilliant book, "The Fall: The Insanity of the Ego in Human History", which contains almost as many footnotes as it does expository verbiage. Honestly, EVERY Christian should read this book). IOW, Adam & Eve, and the story of the Garden of Eden is merely one of many metaphorical renderings of the Golden Age prior to the Fall of the ego, due to a severe climactic change. NOT a literal rendering of a literal couple.
Many of Paul's writings were taken out of context, due to misunderstandings about how the letters were written at that time. His Greek used no punctuation, and few vowels/spaces. He is often quoting what the churches wrote to him, and then scoffing at those quotes . . . and we have traditionally and erroneously assumed that he was making declarative statements. A case CAN be made that he and Jesus/Y'shua were champions of the rights of women (see "Woman: God's Plan Not Man's Tradition", a book written by a personal friend of mine). I no longer hold a Christian view, but when I did, that book was invaluable regarding how the Bible has been misinterpreted to enforce an egoic/misogynistic view of women. March 26 at 5:14am · Like · 2
Lena Dannon: And now for the more personal questions . . . to which I shall respond after arriving at my destination. March 26 at 5:35am · Like
Eric Mader: I'm eager to get back into this thread, but there's just too much going on here, both politically and in my personal life. My wife and I are considering a house change. I definitely intend to get back to Bill and Steve and look forward to what Lena has to say--just haven't had time to write my replies or read everything carefully. Maybe a day or two! March 26 at 9:04am · Like · 2
Lena Dannon: Got waylaid a bit . . . my intention is to share a bit of my spiritual journey, in as much a nutshell as I can manage, and then respond to the EXCELLENT Ted Bundy question. March 26 at 9:48am · Like · 1
Steve Johnson: Eric we can all appreciate the possibility of a revolution . . . but we still await your shredding of my Dominoes analogy. March 27 at 10:31am · Like
Eric Mader: Bill O'Neill: As I said, I find your comment of 3/25, your last comment, to be both challenging and interesting. I didn't have time then to respond and am still strung out with all that's going on here in Taipei. But I'll try to unpack your remarks and address them one by one, following which I intend to pose you another question. Michael Herbert apparently is too busy for these discussions.
In your comment you refer to one of the various evolutionary explanations for the existence of religion. I myself believe in evolutionary theory. Many religious people do. My church also subscribes to the theory. I only find the application of the theory is often misguided. But that is a different question. For now I will only address what I see as wrong and far too narrow in your application of it here.
Whereas our species arose around 200,000 years ago, your 3/25 comment explains what you call the "human creation of God" by reference to conceptions of the divine that, by our best knowledge, are only a few thousand years old. You claim we invented gods in order to calm our fears of death and allow ourselves as a species to, as it were, put these fears aside and get on with the rough business of communal survival. There's a serious historical problem with your claim.
Human consciousness, and awareness of death, are very ancient indeed, and in explaining how man "invented God", you are forgetting that very many religions over history, and particularly polytheistic religions, offered NOTHING by way of comforting teachings regarding either life after death or existential meaning. To take only quite recent and well-documented traditions, neither the Hebrew Scriptures nor the religion of the pre-classical Greeks offered cheery stories of where one went after death. Most religions in history in fact understood gods to be troublesome beings to be feared and appeased rather than beings who offer us meaning or hope. The gods "kill us for their sport".
The upshot of these facts is that, in terms of your evolutionary explanation here, you're basing it on something like 4 or 5% of known historical religions. The human sense of the divine, and the function of the divine in human culture, are much wider and variegated than your little summary presumes.
The conclusion is clear: Our sense of the divine did not in fact "evolve" in order to stave off fear of death or provide meaning for life. It is both prior to and wider than these two aspects. In terms of evolutionary theory, then, what you're presenting here is what we call a "just so story". And it's not a very good one at that.
Following which, very typically, you write that "it is long past time for us all to leave this childish nonsense behind, grow up as a species, and stop indoctrinating children to believe the delusions of our forebears." As if the faithful are faithful in order to have something to teach their children! As if Christians don't actually believe in God, but simply have no better plan for making their children into ethical members of society! Why do I always hear this line from atheists? Is it because they are so shallow as to think religious faith actually is more or less parallel with believing in the Tooth Fairy--also a story taught to children? In fact they DO often tend to equate Christian faith with believing in the Tooth Fairy, don't they? Or unicorns. So perhaps maybe most of them really are that clueless as to what religious people mean by God or the divine.
I personally don't have children, but assure you that if I did I could reach for many secular ethical systems in order to raise them. And they might turn out to be good people too. I don't doubt that many secular people are loving, community-minded, trustworthy, etc. But I still would raise my children as Christians because I've found no scientific way of understanding human experience that has a similar depth and explanatory power. My faith, after all, has the depth of a relation to the divine, which materialist systems by definition do not. And however the divine may or may not exist in some physical space is not what most concerns me. What concerns me is that it exists very concretely in my own experience, through my soul; and that it exists as a constituent of humanity besides, concrete and verifiable across Judeo-Christian history: the sense of an Other that is also somehow within us or just across a border from us and to Whom we are beholden.
Secular philosophies or ethics, on the other hand, will nearly always, as your own remarks suggest, refer to the physical sciences for their grounding. To me this is not a grounding that can take in what is essentially human. Such systems begin, then, by excising an essential and indeed universal part of human being as such: the awareness of the divine. You write in conclusion that "God is unnecessary for morality. God is unnecessary for civil society." And you may be right for certain particular civil societies (those with relative material success; those where people are not tempted by hunger to murder their neighbors for food or eat their neighbors' children). Yes, often the cheery and optimistic followers of the New Atheism refer to northern European nations as examples of upstanding moral societies which are also secular. But the truth is that I find this argument laughably unpersuasive. It rings false for a number of reasons, the most salient one being that all these Northern European societies were deeply religious only a few generations ago. In other words, one might very logically argue that the social spirit in these cultures is mainly a matter of living off the capital built up by the culture of the forebears. When the crisis comes, true historical stresses, we will see how well these communities hold together with their secularism.
In the meantime, for me, over here in Asia, I look more naturally to Mainland China as a country that shows us what civic ethics might be in a society that has largely banished the divine. And the picture isn't pretty.
You write further, in consonance with Michael Herbert, that "the dogma that comes with all religion is a burden on us all." I find this statement historically naive in the extreme. Here you are like a child who lives in a house but doesn't understand that the house has been BUILT--that it's not simply an excrescence popped up out of the ground for you to live in. In fact both yourself and Michael Herbert are living precisely in a society that has been deeply informed, in its legal structures and ethics, by the Judeo-Christian tradition. The very understandable struggle we saw against clerical power during the Enlightenment does not at all diminish the fact that Enlightenment thinkers themselves would never have formulated the concept of inalienable human rights had they not been living and thinking in the cradle of Christian civilization. There's a reason our modern concept of human rights arose in Europe rather than, say, Burma or Japan. The reason is that Judeo-Christian root.
Not quite 2,000 years ago Paul wrote the following line in his letter to the Galatians: "In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. . . . There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Jesus Christ." In fact this is the very first time in human history that anyone had used any basis on which to formulate the notion that regardless of class or race or ethnicity or gender people were fundamentally equal. And the basis on which Paul made his formulation was, yes, Jesus Christ.
After all the badmouthing of the Bible I've seen in this thread, I wonder if you folks have anything to say to the fact that the first person in history to formulate the concept of human equality in something like the way liberals now understand it was Jesus' Apostle Paul. What does it say to your silly quibbling about biblical inconsistencies that among these inconsistent and "illogical" texts we find the first historical formulation of human equality?
And so I get close to laughing when I read some of what folks you say. Michael Herbert, in one of Steve's threads a couple weeks ago, wrote that in his view religious people could believe whatever nonsense they wanted--"just don't let them have any influence on the laws" that govern our society. And you, Bill, now claim the dogma that comes with religion is "a burden on us all." I have to conclude then that the two of you find our culture's respect for the inherent and non-negotiable dignity of all individuals to be a burden on your freedom somehow. This respect is codified in our law, because, as Thomas Jefferson summed it up: "All men are created equal." (Now please don't assume I think Jefferson was an orthodox Christian--that is not my point at all. Rather, Jefferson and the Founders had inherited and recast a fundamentally Christian concept of the individual, a religious inheritance on which our civilization still very heavily depends.) So is this what you guys mean by not wanting Christians influencing your laws? I'm guessing it has to be, because if you are just talking about conservative Christian sexual morality trying to tell you premarital sex is sinful--well, I'd have to conclude you were pretty shallow and pampered and tetchy if that were your gripe. Because contemporary America has an enormous amount of sexual freedom. You want to be free from even hearing from people who disagree with you on such things? You're suffering terribly there because you have to hear such folks sometimes?
But putting aside all these questions of whether the Christian faithful have been a benefit or a burden on our culture (to me the answer is glaringly obvious) I want to conclude by going to the heart of the matter. At the end of the day, you as a convinced atheist will insist on the following: There is no material evidence for God's existence, therefore believing in God is wrong and delusional.
Am I right? Isn't this what you'd argue "at the end of the day", as it were? No evidence = give up your delusion.
If I am right to characterize your thinking like this, I've another question to pose you, another quite simple one. But I'll wait to hear your reply. And God bless. March 28 at 2:24am · Like · 2
Eric Mader: I know I've other threads to answer here, Steve's Dominoes analogy for instance, but I'll have to get to them when I get to them. March 28 at 2:26am · Like
Bill O'Neill: @Eric: I simply do not care enough about this topic to dig into the nuance here nor have enough time to craft water-tight logical arguments, particularly in the medium of FB. I discourage you from spending more time on this because I cannot and I have not honestly read you comments that closely. But quickly: (1) You have offered a couple of narrow counter examples that I would quickly dismiss by broadening the scope of how I believe these beliefs evolved--my original comments are admittedly based on my own personal experiences and focus on the current Christian incarnation of religion--but none of your objections are general enough to support a meaningful counter to what I believe. (2) I really do not care what you or other religious people believe--so you have point. I should narrow the scope of my recommendation to i) stop indoctrinating children with dogma, it is abusive and retards critical thinking skills and ii) stop trying to impose your religious views as law--I do not accuse you of either of these points, but your christian/religious compatriots do these things, and ultimately I think your magical thinking legitimizes the extremists. (3) Not to be rude, but I think what you wrote here is nonsense. Your claim on the tradition and benefits of western thought are just silly. Christianity played an undeniably large historical, economic, and political role over the past 2,000 years (certainly debatable if this role was net positive or negative) but it did not set the whole ball in motion. Athens had a fully formed and well functioning democracy in 550 BC. The tradition of your beliefs and church are certainly real, but were they ever necessary? Maybe, but I return to my early conclusion--they are completely unnecessary moving forward and the notion that they are based in reality is objectively false. I wish you peace. March 28 at 8:58am · Like · 1
Eric Mader: @Bill: Sorry, but I have to insist the silliness rests on your side for not paying attention to the specificity of terms. My point regarding what Christianity has given the West was not at all that "democracy" could only arise on Christian soil. It was rather that our concept of "inalienable human rights" arose on Christian soil. And would be hard to imagine without such soil. Democracy and inalienable human rights are very different beasts.
It's too bad you find you aren't interested or don't have time to continue. It was a pleasure debating with you. I think we scratched the surface here. Actually my own more substantive arguments may have appeared in the next phase. And so it's too bad.
We could make a pact to keep our dialogue from here on out down to short-paragraph size. No rejoinders longer than this current comment of mine. So the choice is yours.
In any case, I wish you peace as well, Bill. March 28 at 9:54am · Like · 1
Eric Mader: Alright, Steve, regarding the Dominoes pizza analogy, I'd say it's a pretty good one and leads to two levels of consideration. Before I address the two levels, however, I need to state from the get-go that I disagree with the basic premise: namely your assertion that the pizza is always lousy. I think you and many others in this thread are simply focussing on those times when it is lousy, and generalizing from there. Which is narrow and judgmental. Churches provide community and a communal connection to the Spirit for hundreds of millions of believers worldwide. Yes, sometimes these churches have been oppressive and sometimes they've been abusive, but unlike the literal Dominoes pizza, oppression and abuse don't characterize the churches' deliveries in general. It is a matter of the church in question and the social milieu. Many are doing important work, others are making soggy pizza.
But assuming your analogy is a true one, just for the sake of argument, we must answer the question of why the pizza is always lousy. We have two possible answers here: 1) the very source, i.e. Dominoes, is lousy; 2) the delivery guys muck up the pizzas en route.
Analogically, with Christianity, then, either 1) the religion itself--its doctrines, its concept of God--is lousy, or 2) the church hierarchy, bishops and priests and pastors, are mucking it up--they are corrupt vehicles.
I think the answer, my answer at least, is both 1) and 2) are true.
Probably you're surprised to hear me say this. After all, I'm spending my time here defending Christianity, no? Let me clarify.
I think the doctrines of the Church are inevitably "lousy" in that they are merely the best possible human formulations of what has been revealed, mainly during the biblical period, about God and God's relationship to humankind. The doctrines are, in short, formulations in language of truths we only grasp partially. As such, they are open to endless debate and conflict, various kinds of maniacal misapplication, etc.
One of the most crucial areas where this is true in Christianity is in the the concept of grace and the question of how grace is given to us. I won't get into these issues here, but only want to stress the following: Whenever we seek to formulate and then apply complex doctrines or theories in our lives, there is inevitably a lot of space to go wrong, to fall into conflict, to overstress A or understress B. This doesn't just happen with religion of course, but with every complex human endeavor. Look at the problems we have implementing economic theory in society; look at the sectarianism among economists and how it leads to warring factions in policymaking, punditry, etc. The history of Marxism in the last century provides an even better example: A roughly unified socialist movement falls into different camps over questions of how to bring about or secure the revolution, how to organize the new society, etc. And the need for any given faction to cling to power once it has achieved power leads to the persecutions that end up bringing opprobrium on the whole project. Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc.--they all face a similar tendency to faction; and they all depend, further, on flawed individuals to carry out their agendas, whatever these agendas might be. So: no surprise there. What did you expect?
As someone who has studied semiotics and linguistics, I'm keenly aware of language and how slippery and unreliable it is. Still, we humans have no choice but to depend on language. And as I've stated above, replying to Bill, Christianity has a depth and explanatory power I don't find in any other intellectual tradition.
If a new mini-nation were to form on some chunk of ground somewhere, a mini-nation made up entirely of New Atheists, the same kinds of institutional problems would immediately arise. And when the nation reached its centennial, there'd likely be plenty of evidence available for anyone who wanted to argue that "Atheism is like Dominoes pizza--the product is always shit."
The earth will allow no utopias, simple as that. I can already see in many of the stresses of these virulently anti-religious folks the seeds of lousy social policy, overreach, etc.
By the way, since we're on the subject, I actually have a viable piece of ground on which this New Atheist nation might root itself. You know that vast flotilla of debris that swirls round in the middle of the Pacific Ocean? Well, it won't be long till it coalesces into chunks large enough to actually be walked on. And with the glorious power of science on their side, who's to say the first generation of Atheists won't come up with some awesome new cellophane tape to help stick the pieces of floating junk together? I predict that in just a couple years they'd have a ground large and stable enough to start broadcasting TED talks from. And once the TED talks start, it's a cakewalk from there on out, no?
I even have a name for their floating country: Athesia (ah-THEE-zha). If I had more time, I'd do the novel. Kind of like an Animal Farm sort of thing. "All neuroscientists are equal, but some of more equal than others." Etc. March 29 at 10:55am · Like · 2
Eric Mader: Steve (2): But to get back to the Dominoes analogy, my first Dominoes point would be, as I've hinted: The pizza is lousy because we are here on earth, in the prison house of language.
And my second Dominoes point would be: The pizza is also lousy because the delivery boys are corrupt.
But I think you're cherry-picking and exaggerating to say so.
In your view institutionalized Christianity mainly serves corrupt people trying to rake in big bucks from unsuspecting naifs. I think this isn't true. It's certainly true of many Protestant megachurches or TV ministries in, say, North Carolina (!), but it's not true globally. In fact my own church, the Catholic Church, and many others serve their communities with dignity, feeding the poor, caring for the sick, standing up for social justice. In Latin America and elsewhere, many priests and others have been persecuted or murdered for their faithfulness to Jesus' teachings.
But why do I even have to type all this out? Why don't you see, Steve, that you are again just picking your data selectively when you evoke Dominoes Pizza to compare to Christianity? Given how smart I know you are, it's really surprising to see how often you engage in such selectivity. It seems that the following holds true here: Since you already "know" Christianity is "bad", you will only allow yourself to notice the data that fits your "knowledge". We might call this the Fox News Effect. It's what they do whenever the subject is Barack Obama. But you're smarter than that, and so you know the world is more complex.
Remember when we discussed Christian history some time back--the history of how Christianity was spread? That time your comments showed that you'd allowed yourself to be completely taken in by a kind of comic book version of the history, a version where was spread throughout the Mediterranean and Europe by murdering Crusaders or Inquisitors. You actually presented this version to me at length, never once showing any sense that you were in fact taking two specific movements within Christian history (the Crusades, the Inquisition) and spreading them over the whole 2000-year history as the explanation of how the religion spread from Palestine. Imagine if I tried to explain American history to you only on the basis of the US-Mexican War and the California Gold Rush. Never mentioning the American Revolution or the Civil War. And that I did it with a straight face and as if I were informing you of uncontested facts. "So after President Washington occupied the Alamo Mission and had killed off all the Indians and herbal healers in the surrounding areas . . . " Etc., etc. This is not the way to debate issues seriously! Give it a thought or two, old friend.
A final word on the Dominoes before I go for a needed smoke.
Another reason I'd say the pizza is not optimal is that we haven't quite gotten the recipe right yet. On this point I think we're making great progress however. At least I see in Pope Francis so far a seriously Spirit-inspired rethinking of the recipe, one that should lead to better pizza in the short term. And hopefully the new recipes will stick, and even some of the Protestant shops, now making some pretty crappy pizza indeed, will learn a thing or two.
Myself I rarely get pizza in those Protestant places. Recently I was handed a slice of Joel Osteen pizza. I regret having even taken a bite. Tasted like a cold Big Mac spread with toothpaste. Not even vaguely like pizza.
I suppose that's why his teeth are so fucking white. March 29 at 10:55am · Like · 2
Eric Mader: @ Steve, Bill, the silent V, Michael, etc. I'd like to put in a final word or two about science and how it relates to the questions we've been debating.
Modern science offers one of the methodologies by which we know. The scientific method is extraordinarily effective for answering certain kinds of questions and building up certain kinds of knowledge. But there is a large spectrum of human knowing to which scientific method has virtually zero applicability. Art is one of these areas. Another is religious experience. The attempts to apply neuroscience to literary criticism are pathetic and shallow. Likewise the attempts to use science to assess the meaningfulness or otherwise of people's religious experience.
For these other crucial kinds of experience and knowing we have other methods, other faculties. To ignore the validity of these other ways, to insist they're not trustworthy unless science can ground them in material reality is not simply wrong intellectually, it's a kind of homicide. It is an attempt to kill off essential areas of what is human.
When I hear Sam Harris wheeze and whine about neuroscience being able to offer us a philosophy and an ethics, I feel almost ill.
Exactly how inapplicable is physical science to theological or existential questions? Let me give you some idea.
Say I wanted to compile an exhaustive dictionary and grammar of a newly discovered indigenous language in the Brazilian rainforest. And while working on this project I refused to use my ears or any recording devices. Because ears and recording devices were judged unreliable. Instead I insisted on using microscopes as my means of gathering data. So there I am trying to apply my microscope to parts of the speakers tongues or lips while they speak.
Call me Sam Harris the anthropologist. Or Richard Dawkins. Because this is about how idiotic these men's statements are in terms of applicability to the religious issues they claim to address.
That people choose to side with them arises out of a natural disgust with some of the excesses of religion in the modern world. People are willing to make cheap shots against faith because they are eager for ANY way to shut up the right-wing Christian fringe. That the right-wing Christians deserve to be criticized doesn't, however, mean that these methods of attack are intellectually valid. They're not.
The New Atheist: "We can say confidently that God doesn't exist because physical science has found no proof of God's existence."
Anthropologist Sam: "We cannot verify here whether they're speaking about a 'macaw' or the concept 'hunger'. In any case, compared to when they seemed to be saying 'fire' earlier, the data show precisely similar readings for the surface of the tongue. What did you get for the lower lip, Richard?"
Richard: "Same on the lower lip too. The readings are the same for both times."
Sam: "In fact nearly all our several thousand readings so far are virtually identical. I'm starting to wonder if this is even a language we're studying here, Richard."
Richard: "I tend to agree, Sam. This isn't a language. The verbal communication that appears to be going on between these tribespeople isn't actually linguistic. My best guess is that it's a kind of mumbo-jumbo ritual they're doing. But that they use complex series of sounds rather than body movements. Let's pack up and get out of here."
Sam: "Agreed. We've wasted enough time with this so-called language."
I'm not exaggerating. This is really how dumb these positivists sound to me.
Science misapplied is no longer science, Steve. It is scientism.
The implication was frequently made in this thread that religious people are merely being silly or childish. Bill's remarks especially, or the flippant remark about unicorns. Such a presentation of religious people is not only insulting, it misses the point in a serious way. Pope Francis is a childish man? Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who stood up against the Nazi regime and was executed for his trouble, was childish? Salvadoran Bishop Oscar Romero, assassinated for standing up for the poor, was childish? No, I think it is rather the New Atheists, who think they can reduce the human to physical science, that are being childish. They are boys with a neat decoder ring they got from a cereal box. They think their ring can solve any problem they put to it--social, spiritual, aesthetic, ethical, psychological, political, everything. It's justscientism. And their shallow scientism further allows them to think they needn't bother understanding the thinkers they glibly refute. Terry Eagleton pretty much summed up the problem with Dawkins and Co. in his spot-on review of The God Delusion.
Steve Johnson: Eric Mader: This has become an exceedingly long thread, so I think this will be my last post on it. Essentially, when I make what you characterize as essentially shallow and unthoughtful points, on balance what I am doing is nothing out of the ordinary. I am speaking at the aggregate level, from the perspective of this week. Not 2011, or 2005, or 24 BC. I am certain that there are good actors and bad actors in every endeavor, those who have good hearts, and minds, and are in earnest, and those who are not. And I believe this is true with all religions, governments, and political parties as well. If it is impossible to make generalizations, to deploy stereotypes, or see the 'broader' picture, then we can hash out all the good actors and their good deeds first. Once that list is complete, then we can take the time to go through the bad actors. What Bill O'Neill said was 'on balance' true. Teaching people that there is a GOD does a number of things psychologically that are not in the best interests of that human being, or our society, or our species. However, if an individual comes to a spiritual understanding that parallels their experience, and provides a dialect for them to personify and imitate being a good actor, then you will not find any objection from me. Discovering a God is a completely different thing than being taught it is a fact. A fact that cannot be proven by the same set of standards that are required to make a car work, a flower pollenate, a person go to jail, or measure the weight of dark matter in the universe. And since we cannot actually 'prove' something as all-encompassing as a god would be, then I think, after taking a look at the aggregate of what the religion itself does, our civil society is better off leaving 'religion' to individuals, outside the areas of formal governance, education, and policy. That is my larger point. It changes nothing for the individual who is so guided one way or the other, but it does relieve the system from having to 'shore up' the religiosity of humanity. I hope this makes sense. And I don't think I have contradicted any of your points. Murry Moen, I'm sorry but I won't be posting more in this thread. March 31 at 2:45am · Like · 1
Murray Moen: Steve, I will agree with the fact that discovering God is personal, however once God has been discovered a shared knowledge is a good thing, and teaching children by those who discover God is required. How it is done is another story and yes it can be abusive and detrimental to God. Nonetheless, indoctrinating people into believing they came from an unintelligent source--rock, pond scum/the magical primordial soup--is not equally damaging or abusive it is ultimately damaging and abusive. Besides which it takes a whole lot of indoctrination. March 31 at 5:19am · Like
Eric Mader: @ Steve, Murray, Bill: I don't think answering the question whether or not "discovering God is personal" has anything to do with the substantive issues our society must debate and legislate. America is a pluralist society. There is no standard, default doctrine (liberal humanism, science, Christianity) in relation to which others may be marginalized. The common good in such a society is defined minimally: it is to give functional equality to all citizens and maintain open debate and tolerance. What you or Bill think about educating children needs to be heard, but is not decisive. In the project America, my own view is precisely equal to yours.
And so: The New Atheists say that God does not exist and that teaching children religion leads them astray. Christians think that God exists and that teaching children only materialist science leads them astray. In this debate the state does not take sides. When the state begins to take sides, it is betraying the American project.
Pope Francis: “A healthy pluralism, one which genuinely respects differences and values them as such, does not entail privatizing religions in an attempt to reduce them to the quiet obscurity of the individual’s conscience or to relegate them to the enclosed precincts of churches, synagogues or mosques.”
Francis is absolutely right here. As citizens, religious people have every right to see their traditions as a crucial part of their children's education. They also have every right to push for laws that reflect their values.
Regarding the latter, I'll give one example: Murder is illegal in our country. If religious people consider abortion murder, their view carries precisely as much weight in making law as the view of secularists that it is not murder. That religious people hold this view in relation to a wider view of the value of human beings informed by their faith tradition does not make their view less worthy of influencing legislation. Because, to begin with, everyone agrees that murder is a crime.
In terms of legislating America's values, there is no "default" or standard position. I personally believe we'd soon be in dismal straits if neuroscience and Harris' scientistic so-called ethics became the grounds on which our laws were justified.
We have plenty of historical evidence of regimes whose official ideology is atheism. Such regimes have had decades upon decades in power to dictate legal norms and we can carefully study the legal culture that arose. Suffice it to say that in the Soviet Union, Mao's China, etc., the results were not encouraging. I see no reason to believe the results would be particularly better under authoritarian capitalism--which is what we may soon end up with in America, given the steady slide toward oligarchy. There is a fatal problem that I predict will always arise in the case of a purely scientific ideology taking over the state. Quite simply, when a purely materialist or scientific epistemology becomes the arbiter of all truth, the dignity of each individual inevitably is put into question. Because a materialist epistemology can only tell us that we are collections of carbon-based molecules. Molecules as such will get scant respect when push comes to shove. As in politics, in times of stress, push always will come to shove.
I agree completely that creationists should not be dictating the content of science classes. But that is only because science is science. Schools would do well to offer a class called World Views, in which various competing major intellectual systems are taught in detail: secular humanism, Christianity, Islam, etc. A class called World Views would be more honest than "World Religions" because it would put secularism on equal footing with theistic views, compare and contrast them, and help students understand the various camps that struggle in our public space. And biology class could go on doing what it does best: tell us about biology--an interesting subject, an important one, but not Everything. March 31 at 9:43am · Like · 2
Eric Mader: Steve (and others): I must say, I think most of my opponents here have basically flaked out. I don't know a better word for it.
Michael Herbert is on vacation and so deserves a pass; Jim only knows about unicorns and how to use the Like button; V, who apparently has strong opinions, is another Liker; Bill himself, who threw out some serious arguments at first, finally admitted that he "simply [does] not care enough about this topic to dig into the nuance here" (which to me at least suggests something about how carefully thought out his arguments are to begin with) and Lena Dannon is still nowhere in sight with her explanation of Ted Bundy in relation to the He/She/It that is the All.
I think the upshot is pretty clear. You and Murray and I are the only three left standing. You made some noise about backing out, but I think you'd be willing to pursue these issues further, so I will consider you as standing.
I don't know about the two of you, but I must say that my arguments here haven't gotten anything like adequate responses from my opponents. Most of my points haven't even been recognized as such, much less addressed.
In any case, we three, being the only ones dedicated enough to remain at the table, basically win the debate. And since Murray and I are Catholics, Steve, that makes, uh, two against one.
As it was a link to one of my reviews that set this ball rolling, I want to thank everyone who took part in this discussion, even those who were somewhat confused in their arguments or unwilling to stick with it. Or both.
Murray and I will be donating our prize money to ACEI: the American Catholic Education Initiative. Right, Murray?
Steve for his strong showing wins a dinner for two at Longhorn's and a copy of Sam Harris' new memoir of his adolescent years: Getting Bigger: My Life 1980-2013 (Reductio Press, 229 pp.).
Cheers all. April 1 at 11:11pm · Like · 1
See also: No ID Required: Why Darwinism and Christianity are Compatible