Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Deliberate Barbarism and the Vacuum

Paris, November 14

Paris, November 14

In a reflection which will soon be posted to our website, I quoted a passage from Cardinal Henri de Lubac which I have often cited:
As soon as man ceases to be in contact with great mystical or religious forces, does he not inevitably come under the yoke of a harsher and blinder force, which leads him to perdition? It is what Vico called the age of “deliberate barbarism,” and that is the age in which we live.
Apropos of which, this from D. Q. McInerny: "There is no vacuum which cries louder to be filled than that created by the rejection of the transcendent."

And the quickest, cheapest, and most predictable way of conjuring up a facsimile of transcendence is by way of mob violence.

Is this the future of secularized Europe?

57 comments:

Doughlas Remy said...

Gil, I fail to see the connection between this event and secularism. Do you mean to suggest that riots did not occur in pre-modern Europe? Or that Muslims do not riot? Or that the rioters in this particular rampage were irreligious? The logical connections are very weak here.

Perhaps if these rioters had been devout Catholics, they would not have rioted. But neither, perhaps, would they have rioted had they been sensible secularists. I know many, many secularists who have never rioted. I myself have never done so.

Could Catholic theologians like de Lubac still be sore at Descartes after all these years? But it is hard to make the case, these riots notwithstanding, that Europe is worse off now than it was in 1600, 37 years before the Discours de la m├ęthode. Then, the life expectancy of a child born in France was only 28 years, and the Eighty Years War was ravaging the continent. Let’s not forget that Aristotelianism ruled then, and so the physical world was still believed to contain only four elements: earth, air, fire, and water, corresponding to the four “humors” of the body: blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile. If you got sick, you would probably be bled, and there was a high likelihood that the bleeding itself would kill you.

When I read histories of that era, I don’t get the impression that life was good.

Is 1600 too recent? Then roll back European history another 400 years and ask yourself if that is a world you would have liked to inhabit.

The Inquisition and the recent priest sex abuse cases may indeed have been results of Catholicism as it has been configured, but I fail to see that the recent riot near the Eiffel Tower is a result of secularism.

The claim that barbarism fills the vacuum created by the rejection of the transcendent (Henri de Lubac and D. Q. McInerny) is simply false. For one thing, there is no vacuum; there is simply an alternative. Furthermore, barbarism has been around for a very long time, whereas the rejection of the transcendent is a relatively recent phenomenon. The Canaanites who were wiped out by the Israelites under the leadership of Moses and Joshua could have told you a thing or two about barbarism, and so could Muslims who got in the way of the Crusaders. Jews and Muslims who were persecuted during the Spanish Inquisition also knew about barbarism, as did millions of native Americans who had the misfortune to encounter Christian conquerors, missionaries, and settlers. And then there was Nazi Germany, which simply reeked of transcendence. And what of the “Christian” America of our own day, with its drone air attacks and its Abu-Ghraibs?

Did a belief in transcendence “cause” any of these horrors? Or did it just facilitate and legitimize them? There’s a question to chew on.

Anonymous said...

Well, at least he admits his fail right up front.

I should add that Mr Remy certainly has high standards in this post Gospel world of ours.
Wonder where he got those?

Rick F.

Anonymous said...

Speaching of native Americans, a commenter on another blog summed it us thusly:

"Well, the tribe that was inhabiting the land when the Europeans got there probably took it from some other group, and pretty much all of Europe was taken from other groups before the ones that reside in each area now.

So, if you follow leftists group think to its conclusion, you should spend your life trying to figure out how to clone Neanderthals, apologize to them, and then kill yourself."

Gordon said...

Doughlas Remy,

The "connection between this event and secularism" is not obvious to those who share the assumptions about history and anthropology that inform our chattering class. Like most of Gil's blog posts, this picks up themes he has developed at length in his lectures, lectures that pick the best hanging fruit from Rene Girard, von Balthasar, and our last two Popes. Your counter arguments only illustrate precisely the "narrative" these men have called into question.

Anonymous said...

I don't belive in the Christianity that Douglas doesn't believe in either.

Doughlas Remy said...

Gordon, I’m all ears. Here’s your opportunity to explain all this esoterica to a member of the chattering class. I enjoy having my assumptions questioned. Don’t worry that you will have to start at the beginning. I’ve been reading Girard for the past 30 years; I’ve read Gil’s book several times and have been through some of his tape series; and I’ve have followed Cornerstone Forum for years. I’m the COV&R member, remember?

You’ll have to bring me up to speed on Urs von Balthasar and the last two Popes, however.

Doughlas Remy said...

For those of you who couldn’t follow the French in the video, here’s the story:

The riot had nothing to do with politics or religion or any of the other usual suspects. An Internet company had promised to distribute a large sum of money (about $64,000) to anyone who showed up at one of its promotions near the Eiffel Tower. And then they changed their mind and left the crowd in the lurch. I can understand the crowd's frustration, but not, of course, their behavior. Some of them had probably spent precious time and money getting to the promotion.

Here's the story from Agence France-Presse:

http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,26352453-2,00.html?from=public_rss

The crowd was mostly young men, from what I could tell. Some Muslims, some Christians, perhaps a few secular humanists and one or two Unitarians. Mostly heterosexual, in all likelihood. Hmmm. Racially a very mixed crowd. What are we to make of all this?

Dean said...

When events in the culture at large are seen as a litmus test or a template upon which to validate a "theory of everything", and when that theory becomes a sacrosanct creed who's detractors must be punished and ostracized or at least given short shrift for their contrary views, then you need to re-examine your theory, followed by a close re-examination of your sanity.

As for Lubac, how can one, "come under the yoke of a harsher and blinder force" unless it's first acknowledged what the language tacitly proclaims as fact in its own premise? That the "great mystical and religious" forces are themselves blind and harsh by corollary, and that the remedy that was abandoned was somehow superior to the one embraced? It's a distinction without a difference, perdition wise.

No one rejects the transcendent while they're in the very process of looking for it. If they cease to find it where they're told it was, they will not, of some massive and blind accord, rush like lemmings to "deliberate barbarism" as a means of revealing a solution that was never offered by those who claimed to already possess it.

Leo Tolstoy may have said it best:

"I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabrics of their life".

Athos said...

The claim that barbarism fills the vacuum created by the rejection of the transcendent (Henri de Lubac and D. Q. McInerny) is simply false.. And what of the “Christian” America of our own day, with its drone air attacks and its Abu-Ghraibs? Yes.

Did a belief in transcendence “cause” any of these horrors? Yes - but a different, false transcendence of what Girard calls the "primitive Sacred" posited on religion anthropologically speaking.

Or did it just facilitate and legitimize them? Never pay too much attention what what humans think they're doing. Pay attention to the behavior, structurally speaking.

Those who don't connect the dots between these events and the vacuum created by the deliberate rejection of the Judeo-Christian ethos and ethic need to resort to studying Girard's mimetic theory.

Reject that if you will, but, IMHO, Bailie is presupposing a post-lapsarian state of human "hard-wiredness" that is de rigueur wherever and whenever the revealed truth of the cross, i.e., the truth of what Hamerton-Kelly calls the "Generative Mimetic Scapegoating Mechanism", is ignored.

Once this occurs, mobs - let alone individuals - do not and cannot hear the "cock crow" in remorse for our violence. Instead, we feel justified by our violence.

Doughlas Remy said...

Thank you for your response, Athos. One of my principal reasons for visiting this blogspot has been to discuss mimetic theory, which has fascinated me since I heard Girard speak in the late seventies. I have had a number of major unanswered questions about the theory, and one of them has to do with the false transcendence that you mentioned. I believe there is great value in mimetic theory, but as a non-theist, I have to try to translate the idea of “true transcendence” into terms that I can understand, and so far I have been unable to do that. Girard’s account of the Passion is an impressive literary analysis, and the story in question is culturally momentous. There can be no doubt of that.

However, I believe this story can have meaning for everyone, not just believers. I have encountered a lot of resistance to mimetic theory in the secular community, and I believe this resistance is due to the perception that the theory is a subset of Catholic theology. I was originally drawn to it because of my interest in anthropology, which I do not regard as a subset of Catholic theology.

I don’t believe in the “all or nothing” approach to ideologies, theories, etc. I read everything as critically as possible, and I am not easily intimidated or “impressed” into awed silence before great thinkers and their ideas or cardinals in their robes. I read the Bible with great interest and appreciation, but I also recognize that it is a cultural artifact created by humans. At the other extreme, I read Richard Dawkins with great admiration for his intelligence and lucidity, but I also believe he has not read widely enough in the human sciences and is unaware of some perfectly plausible explanations for some of the mysteries that he puzzles over. (As a proponent of “meme” theory, for example, he seems totally unaware of “mimetic” theory.)

And I will say the same of Girard. I find most of his theory extremely compelling, but there is something about the “transcendence” part that always eludes me. I understand that we need good models, and that there are no really good human models. So why would modeling oneself on Jesus be the answer? In addition to being a human, Jesus is a character in what may be mostly a work of fiction. There is a great deal of controversy about who he actually was and what he really taught. If we are to imitate Jesus, then which of his actions do we imitate? Cursing the fig tree? Dying on the cross? It all becomes very problematic.

And what of imitating God? Which God? As Jack Miles has so brilliantly shown, God is also a character with a history and, as C. Hitchens has remarked, He is arguably one of the most unpleasant characters in all of fiction. Maybe it is folly to suppose that we can ever find a perfect model. And what if we don’t?

And I would also like to know what difference any of it makes. If the Catholic Church has embraced Girard, why has there been no visible change in its teachings? Why is scapegoating language still used in the Catechism regarding homosexuality? If we still cannot understand scapegoating after years of reading Girard, then what is the point?

I would like to see Girardians become less obscurantist, less elitist (viz, Mr. Gordon’s reference to the “chattering classes”), and more open to questions about their theological assumptions. I find that there are now a lot of “set phrases” or “memes,” “tropes,” etc., that are no longer examined, as if they were just self-evident. When a great theory reaches that point and is simultaneously being jealously guarded by an almost “priestly” elite, then we may be seeing fossilization set in.

Mike said...

Mr. Remy,
I think you raise some interesting points in your last post.
We must not forget that the bible was written by humans. We shouldn't imagine that it somehow fell from the sky. So it is helpeful to understand each book, and each letter within the context it was written. This is not an easy task but it is here that anthropology has been particularly helpful.
With faith, we look at the bible as written by humans, but also inpired by God. Did God put these writers in a trance so that they could transcribe word for word what he wanted to be put down? No. When we look at the bible as a whole, we begin to sense that humanity is on a pilgrimage. In Deuteronomy, for example, we see a covenant theology develop, whereby those people who follow God's law are rewarded and those who do not are punished. In Job, however, this theology is questioned. Even those who follow God's law suffer. Then in the New Testament this theology is corrected when his disciples ask Jesus who sinned, the blind man or his parents? he answers neither. This is just one example of how man has been conversing with God throughout history. God reveals himself in the New Testament as the one who would rather suffer himself than punish those he loves.
As for imitating God, not only is it O.K. in Christianity, it's the whole point. This may sound exciting but we shouldn't think that the cross is somehow peripheral to it. The cross is the center of any legitemate imitation. If we all learned to desire to suffer rather to punish, what a beautiful world that would be. It's not easy though, and it takes time to change. It's only possible though if we look to the worthy model.
We need to recover an appreciation for mystery. In my view Dawkins is one who has lost that appreciation. He is very smart but he has no humility, and that is what blinds him from having any wonder for all of the things he does not know.

Athos said...

M. Remy - While I don't want to engage you point by point, I will say that the "scandal of particularity" is generally off-putting to most post-modern individuals (so-called), as aptly penned in the quaint couplet:

How odd of God
To choose the Jews


And more specifically, How odd of God to choose a hanged man.

I'm no apologist for the Christian faith in general or the Catholic Church in particular, and we all find ontological, anthropological, epistemological, and soteriological certainty where we find it - like gold, as they say.

Yours, Dawkins, Hitchens, et al I have always found more than a little IN-substantial in all four fields (above). Like the self-made man, the self-defined person is one made with unskilled labor and poorly forged tools.

The Church, otoh, has millenia of tradition, knowledge, wisdom, and substantiality the likes of which I have found no where else. Of course, the Church has a history of ill-conceived, ill-implemented choices and actions. But find me another human institution so penitent and potent for the good for so long, with no foreseen end in sight (regardless of what Dawkins would like to see).

I am just humble enough - tho' not very - to know that I can't with a puny, human processor grasp the big picture; I need help. IMO, the Church is what the "external mediator" - Jesus Christ - provided and provides for all who know this about themselves.

Particular or not. Cheers

Doughlas Remy said...

Mike, the concept that our world would be more beautiful “if we all desired to suffer rather than to punish” is a stretch for me. Even Jesus did not desire suffering, did he? He simply accepted it rather than enter into a relation of violent mimesis with his persecutors. His choices were limited by the very specific religious and political circumstances that he was in, and he had no credible means of marshaling support for himself or his followers.

But here’s a hypothetical: What if Jesus had lived in, say, Mississippi or Alabama in the 1960s and had preached against the South’s segregation policies? After repeatedly receiving death threats in the mail, he was offered police protection. Would he have accepted that protection, even if it meant that the police might have to resort to force?

And what of ourselves? We live under the protection of the state, and if we are threatened, we contact the authorities, who then act as our proxies to deter violent actions against us, even if they must use violence to do so. We like to think of ourselves as non-violent, but in fact we delegate our violence in myriad ways, through our highway patrols, our municipal police and court systems, our penal systems, and our military.

In my home town, Seattle, a policeman was shot a few weeks ago by a man who had no other motive than his hatred of the police force. The man was eventually apprehended, but he was seriously wounded after pulling a gun on the officers sent to arrest him.

I cannot imagine anyone proposing that the police should have modeled their behavior on that of Jesus. When an armed and dangerous criminal is on the loose, the community is not going to stand idly by while he goes on a killing spree. We pay the police to do our work for us, and we want the killer apprehended and locked away. I do not feel a spirit of vengeance toward the man, but I certainly do not want him on the streets.

I could multiply the examples endlessly, but I think you get the point. All animals, including humans, want to survive at least until they have passed their genes on to the next generation. This is just a biological imperative. When individuals or groups are in conflict, their survival is often at stake and they will naturally pursue courses of action designed to enhance their own prospects for survival. The more enlightened they are, the more nuanced their reactions will be.

I would not be at all confident in saying that the Cross models non-violence for us. Or, if it does, is it a model that we can follow, given our biological imperatives? And if we can, why don’t we? Why do we talk of love and non-violence when we are ready to dial 911 and let the police handle threatening situations in any way they deem appropriate?

However, I believe Girard is correct in reading the Passion Story as a revelation of the mechanisms of sacred violence—specifically, the scapegoating process—and in seeing the huge anthropological significance of the event. It was certainly not the first time that a story of persecution was told from the perspective of the victim (consider Joseph, and later Job), but it was perhaps the most perfect telling of such a story that had yet appeared in literature.

I see no need for transcendence in any of this. The story works perfectly well for me when Jesus is understood to be a man who believed in his “Abba” and saw his life’s meaning and purpose within the framework of the Jewish religion. If we really want to leave the “old sacred” behind, then let’s not divinize him. (Divinization of the murdered victim was a feature of the archaic sacred.)

And finally, regarding Dawkins: To a Christian, any atheist will appear to lack humility, so there’s no way that Dawkins is personally going to dodge a charge of pride. But, having read three of his books, I would strongly disagree that Dawkins lacks a sense of wonder. Just open up his latest book, “The Greatest Show on Earth” and read a few pages. You will see what I mean. He is an inspiring writer, and he does for biology what Carl Sagan did for the Cosmos.

Anonymous said...

Douglas,
That is quite a lot of confused thinking there. I don’t have the time or energy to address all of it and it’s even difficult to know where to begin.
But I’ll start with the “suffering” that has come up. What ever has been said previous here and, at risk to what other Christians who visit this blog (or even host it) may think, I do not believe Christ wishes us to suffer. Or rather, to suffer always, or to "only" suffer. That would be to suggest that was the reason He was asked to suffer. His role was to be a model for us, of course, but first to “wake us up” to “the victim” which we could not see (at that time in history). Keeping in mind, of course, that because of His waking-us-up way back then, as I said before, we have such high standards now. And he could only do this by being “the” victim, not just “a” victim. This may be difficult to grasp from your mindset, but it is quite silly and unnecessary, actually, to hypothetically place Jesus in the south in the 60’s when we already know into which precise situation and time He “entered”. I mean, also, you set up your own template there and then in a sense accuse Jesus of what he would or wouldn’t do. We know what he did. Whether you believe it to be the work of fiction or not, it is what we continue to point to 2000 years later, and as I can clearly see has had quite an affect on you.
But back to the “suffering”. Clearly there is a difference between “a” victim and “the” victim. By being “the” victim He suffered for “all” victims of all time. He suffered for “innocence” for “injustice” for the "Truth". And this is all the Lord wishes us to ever suffer for: the Truth. Keep ourselves in alignment with it at all costs to our person. But especially “for” our soul. So there is no demand to suffer “for no pupose”.
To let a thief rob you or attack you (innocence) and get away would simply be an injustice. It would not be “violence” to go after him and subdue him in order to accept the consequences of his actions. Violence would be if the consequences were excessive or beyond those necessary to subdue him.
And further to the confused thinking, I wish you could see how strange you sound; enthralled by this person Dawkins for his service to “biology” of all things. Certainly the thing that makes a human a Human is much greater, I say infinitely so, than his mere biology.

Rick F.

Doughlas Remy said...

Thank you for replying, Rick. I would agree that the story of the Passion has the power to “wake us up to the victim,” as you say. It reveals the mechanisms of sacred violence more effectively than any story that preceded it, and I believe Girard’s analysis of the Biblical literature that prepared the way for that revelation is brilliant. Unlike you, however (and perhaps even Girard), I don’t see divine purpose as driving this revelation. In my view, it was a purely cultural process that can best be understood by anthropologists who position themselves outside religious frames of reference.

The idea that scientists have no “soul” and no sense of wonder is an old conceit that reveals how embedded we still are in the archaic sacred and its myths and mystifications. There is no “difference” quite as important to us as that between faith and reason, and the vaguely dehumanizing language we resort to in accounting for that difference is telling.

I was not surprised at the variance between you and Mike about the meaning of suffering in the context of the Cross. There seem to be about as many interpretations of the Passion as there are Christians, few of whom ever seem capable, however, of putting any of it into words that an ordinary person can understand. But if there is so little agreement, then why not apply the scientific method, which only requires stripping away everything that we don’t know for sure and starting from there. You’ve probably heard of Ockham’s Razor: “Entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity.” This approach has yielded astonishing results in the case of Jesus. We now recognize that nearly the entirety of what we thought we knew about him is just “story,” albeit a very important and meaningful story. Even the Gospels don’t agree in their accounts of his life, and new scriptures from Nag Hamadi and elsewhere are muddying the picture even more. The real historical figure is receding further and further into the mists, and all that is left is myth.

But that’s only the “reductive” part of the process. If myth is what we’re left with, then what can we say about the role of myth? For an answer to that question, we examine data collected over the centuries about world religions, the various analyses of these data, and the anthropological theories (including Girard’s own) that attempt to account for them. Religious myths have been studied for centuries, and the similarities between them are too striking to be ignored. All this accumulated understanding of human culture and the ways in which it generates the sacred must be objectively applied to the religion that is nearest and dearest to us—the one that we have so much trouble “seeing” because we are standing inside it looking out.

The key question, in my view, is not, “What was God’s purpose in sending Jesus?” but rather, “How did this particular myth—of a hero who died and went into the underworld and then returned—serve the needs of the community who fashioned it?” The human sciences have been taking up this question for a very long time, and the literature is impressive.

I believe the only way to understand the Jesus story is to step completely outside the framework of belief in supernatural interpretations. When we remain in that framework, we remain trapped in mythical thinking whose only purpose can be to conceal the truth.

Mike said...

Mr. Remy,
I think if you want to read the Gospel purely as a work of fiction, then you should let it speak for itself. To suggest that Jesus "had no credible means of marshaling support for himself or his followers" is not an honest treatment of the text. Time and again we read that Jesus knew the danger that he was in and avoided it because "it was not his time." When it is "his time," he goes freely, not because he wants to suffer, rather, it is because his love for the world is so great that suffering is worth enduring on its behalf. All this we can gather from the text without "reading in faith." This is why the cross is not peripheral to a legitimate mimesis of Christ.
Does this mean that we as his followers should look for the nearest buzz saw to run into? This is what I think you imply when you say "When an armed and dangerous criminal is on the loose, the community is not going to stand idly by while he goes on a killing spree."
Imitating Christ as the perfect model does not mean ignoring our desire for justice. Afterall, he suffered and died for the injustice that humanity caused and could not set right on its own.

In faith, we realize that not only did Christ desire salvation for all, he also desired for us to share in his glory. When we offer our suffering up through Jesus, we participate in his work. This means that our suffering actually has meaning.

I can't make the leap that you propose by suggesting that dialing 911 condones police violence. Law enforcement are a part of an imperfect system put in place because we recognize the importance of justice. I think a better analogy to use would be capital punishment. However, Gil addresses this, I think, very adequately in his book.

As for Dawkins, when you say "He is an inspiring writer," I'm not sure if you're teasing or not. Assuming your serious, to suggest that any atheist could possibly be "inspiring" is a contradiction in terms. The most profound scientific discovery put forth in an atheistic world view would only cause bitterness because of a clearer view of what is being lost at death. I dont know what is inspirational about that.
When I say that Dawkins has lost an appreciation for mystery I do not suggest he has no sense of wonder as you suggest in a later post. To him all things fit neatly in a box that he has arranged, or they don't exist. There is no need to contemplate something that he cannot understand completely. This is a lack of humility that is not exclusive to atheists and I did not suggest that. Sorry for the length of the post.

Anonymous said...

Douglas,
You’re welcome.
However, I never said scientists don’t have souls. That does not compute according to me so I could never say it never mind think it. I don’t know where you got that impression nor why you even bring it up. I simply began in this thread by responding to the tired-old conceit that attempts to prove that the failure of people (even or especially Christians) to live up to the teachings of Christ is somehow Christianity’s fault, or the fault of religion properly understood.

“I was not surprised at the variance between you and Mike about the meaning of suffering in the context of the Cross. There seem to be about as many interpretations of the Passion as there are Christians, few of whom ever seem capable, however, of putting any of it into words that an ordinary person can understand.”

For one, this ordinary person (aka me) realizes the concept is beyond Man to completely understand. So if one does not understand any of it, this must also be possible. There may be as many non-conflicting interpretations of Christ as there were places to stand around the cross and observe without error the same myth-shattering event. However, as we know, it was still myth-shattering. To suggest it was some slightly-improved version of the previous myth is to not see the difference between false and true. Or between something which did not exist and now does.

“then why not apply the scientific method, which only requires stripping away everything that we don’t know for sure and starting from there.”

The difficulty in understanding such a large and difficult concept as God is akin to the clock fully understanding the clockmaker. We do not operate in the same “realm” so to speak as that of a God capable of creating a cosmos, life, consciousness or time itself. This is not to suggest we can’t know anything. I believe, and actually am an enthralled fan of science, certainly as much as the next guy. We can know God exists, we can know there are creations, that God is a big fan of the laws of physics, yet still cannot completely know the creator. And as far as the difference between faith and reason is concerned, I recognize many who think they know all that faith means, but actually don’t know it as well as others. Same with the word mystery. My faith is not at all blind. It’s not that I merely “want to believe”, I can’t not do it. Not anymore. And to boot, I quite literally have all the empirical data I need, as a matter of fact. Of the atheists I’ve run into, they have a lot more faith in things, theories, concepts, such as consciousness springing from matter, for one, than I do. But these have probably gone beside our points now.

“In my view, it was a purely cultural process that can best be understood by anthropologists who position themselves outside religious frames of reference.”

Says you. However, I would like to duplicate this in a laboratory before I subscribe to it.
(Just kidding, but not entirely :-)

“I believe the only way to understand the Jesus story is to step completely outside the framework of belief in supernatural interpretations.”

There you go again. Well, if you ever get a new belief let us know. That’s what I did!
:-)

Rick F.

BTW, thank you Gill for allowing us to go on and on here.

Doughlas Remy said...

Hello, Mike. I don’t read the Gospel purely as a work of fiction, because there seems to be a kernel of historical fact embedded in it. At the very least, we have a brief independent report of Jesus’s activities and his crucifixion from the contemporary historian Josephus. And then we also know a fair bit about the political scene in that region at the time. This is why I suggest that Jesus and his followers had no credible means of marshaling support. There was no system of just laws to protect them, and they could not appeal to the government for protection. In the story that has been passed down through the Gospels, the unanimity against the victim was complete. This sounds highly plausible not only because we recognize the pattern of mimetic contagion that is familiar to us from other accounts—and perhaps from our own experience—but also because we know the historical background of the Crucifixion. My hypothetical asks, “If Jesus and his followers had lived in a liberal democracy and had received death threats, would they have sought legal protection?” If the idea of transposing Jesus to another era is offensive for any reason, then I would ask, “If you (a follower of Jesus) received death threats, would you seek legal protection?” Legal protection, of course, assumes state power and the violence to back it up.

It all comes around to the original question that I asked, “How can we adopt Jesus as our model?” What did he do that we should do? And that was in response to your saying that the world would be more beautiful “if we all learned to desire to suffer rather than to punish.” But I do not desire to suffer and, though I am not in any way interested in punishment, I do believe that justice is sometimes served through the inherent violence of the legal system that protects all of us. The challenge is always to ensure that this system uses violence sparingly and only as a last resort, and that requires our vigilance.

The Passion story is indeed beautiful and moving, and it can be very meaningful for each of us, regardless of our faith or lack thereof. Human history is littered with innocent victims who were led like sheep to the slaughter. Christ stands for each one of those and proclaims their innocence. This is why I value the Crucifixion story and would not agree with any atheist who thinks we can jettison it from our cultural heritage.

But again, why is transcendence a necessary part of this? I can appreciate that the mythical elements add power to the story. If I wanted to engage listeners or readers, I would certainly add literary embellishments of whatever kind were available and effective for my audience. But different embellishments are appropriate for different eras, and each culture has its own tolerance for mythical elements. In “The Crucible,” Arthur Miller tells the story of the Salem witch trials in a completely naturalistic way. Indeed, he could not have woven supernatural events like the virgin birth or the resurrection into his tale of John Proctor’s death by hanging. Audiences wouldn’t have accepted it. We would have recognized these elements as mythical right away. If Girard is correct, it is because of the Passion story that we finally recognize these mythical elements for what they are. All the more remarkable, then, that these elements were tacked on and that they’re still accepted at face value.

So why is it that we read the Gospels in pretty much the same way that early Christians did while not believing the mythical elements in other stories from Antiquity? Indeed, we seem unable to recognize that those mythical elements are present in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’s life.

And finally, no, I am not teasing about Dawkins. I find inspiration in all sorts of scientific phenomena. Anything that puts me in touch with the reality of my creatureliness, my finitude, and my fragility on this earth is an inspiration to me to live every moment as fully as possible. We must discuss death anxieties some time.

Doughlas Remy said...

Greta Christina says it so much better than I can. Read her piece here.

Mike said...

Mr. Remy
This article reminds me of an interview I saw of Dawkins. The thing that was so mind-boggling was how someone dedicated to rational thought could be satisfied by so blatant a gap in his own logic. The interviewer asked him "so you don't know how life began?" After rambling on about the evolutionary process for several minutes, the interwiewer asked the question again, to which Dawkins replied, "well, no. But nobody else does either."

Dawkins then went on to suggest a theory about how life on earth was inseminated by an alien life form.
Richard Dawkins, our contemporary apostle for the cause of atheism, dedicated to reason, could not guess the next logical question. How did alien life begin? Was is it just another process?
I think if he can't believe in the Judeo-Christian God, fine. But for him to ostracize anyone within the scientific community for simply allowing for the possibility of a supreme being is irrational, and intolerant. He claims atheism is liberating. I think it gives people liscense to ignore their conscience. I think it strips people of meaning and hope in their lives. This is not just and intellectual exercise. It has real consequences. As an EMS worker, I see the real consequences of hopelessness. All of this discussion about belief or unbelief is just an intellectual exercise unless we recognize what hangs in the balance.

I think atheists have important role in the Christian world view. They ask the questions that otherwise might not be asked. They demand an accounting for the faith the believer professes. But as the article you posted implies, any religion that has not been stripped of its meaning is a threat to the atheistic world view. I think the article by Christina demonstrates the intolerance she claims to denounce.

Doughlas Remy said...

Mike, this question about the origin of life is one of Dawkins’ FAQs. He’s addressed it in several of his books, most recently in “The Greatest Show on Earth.” I doubt he would have been unprepared for it in the interview you refer to. If the interviewer asked “Where did life begin,” it would have been highly uncharacteristic of Dawkins to answer with a glaring non-sequitur about its having been brought here from other planets. Perhaps you could find a link to that video so that we can examine the evidence?

In fact, no one knows how life began. That is true. There are plausible theories, however, having to do with the effects of ultraviolet radiation on matter. But the fact that no one knows quite how it happened is not a proof of God, if that’s what you are suggesting. It is only an example of a question that science has been unable to answer. There are many such questions.

To say that God created life only begs the question, “Who created God?” Christians, unlike Hindus, do not posit an infinite regression of causality. (You’ve probably heard the one about the Hindu who, when asked what is holding up the elephant that is holding up the tortoise that is holding up the earth, replies, “From there, it’s elephants all the way down.”) Thomas Aquinas gave five “proofs” of God, and the first three involve an infinite regress (e.g., “Nothing moves without a mover...”) with a terminator (“...except God.”) But of course this is not a proof in any accepted sense of the word. Why conjure up a terminator who is immune to the regress, and then assign all sorts of attributes to that terminator—e.g., omniscience, omnipotence, omnibenevolence, and all the rest.

I don’t think Dawkins or Greta Christina are actually ostracizing anyone, except in the sense that a Mac user might “ostracize” Windows products by not buying them. Is explaining one’s objections to Windows a form of intolerance? Why is it perfectly legitimate to favor Republicans over Democrats but not to favor one worldview over another? Dawkins isn’t forcing anyone to read his books, and I don’t believe he is advocating any sort of illegal discrimination against believers. He is concerned about the fact that nearly 40% of Americans believe the Earth is less than 10,000 years old, and I share his concern about the implications of such religion-based beliefs at a time when we urgently need to act to avert climate catastrophe.

Does atheism in fact give people license to ignore their consciences? Does it strip people of meaning and hope in their lives? I don’t think there is any evidence for either of these claims. At this moment, I am thinking of a close friend of mine who is 55 years old, is happy and settled, works in financial services, and has one of the most positive attitudes you will ever see. He was raised in a family without any religious affiliations and has never believed in God. He’s college-educated, healthy, has no addictions, no DUIs, no criminal record, and no history of psychiatric disorders. I realize hopelessness is a real problem in this world, but I don’t think you need to correlate it with atheism. There is actually not much atheism in this country, but there seems to be a lot of hopelessness. Maybe you could provide some research about this?

And finally, in reference to our earlier exchange about inspiration, I offer the following two quotations:

I don’t try to imagine a personal God; it suffices to stand in awe at the structure of the world, insofar as it allows our inadequate senses to appreciate it.
Albert Einstein

How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, “This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant.”? Instead, they say, “No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.” A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.
Carl Sagan

Anonymous said...

Global warming, now. You don’t say. And the all so tiring “who created God” argument. If I said aliens created God you’d probably be happier with that. I predicted you would arrive here, Douglas. From the first comment to this post I detected your passive-aggressive hostility toward Christianity. It never fails. You guys will believe or consider any, and I mean any alternative to a creator. Anything but that. In this one case it has been decided. I find this very interesting. Don’t you? That the “atheist anthropologist” does not consider this phenomenon worth “looking into” further?

Rick F.

Mike said...

I do not see how the burden of proof falls on the believer to prove God's existence. There are many questions I cannot answer, like how does matter come to be? Saying that I believe that God created it does not mean I don't have the desire to find out how it was so.
The burden of proof is on the one wishing to disprove God's existence. Don't tell me that God doesn't exist when you can't answer the same question. If you tell me that God didn't create it, and that I'm superstitious for thinking so, then tell me, "how did life begin?" What about matter? Don't create a vaccum unless you have what it takes to fill that vacuum.

I'm happy that, by all indications, your friend is at peace. But this is hardly scientific evidence that atheism does not lead to hopelessness. I wonder, how does an atheist comfort someone who has lost a loved one? What do they say. "Hey, at least he got to propogate the species."

"He is concerned about the fact that nearly 40% of Americans believe the Earth is less than 10,000 years old"
Maybe instead of bashing religion, he should be encouraging bible study so that this 40% might come to understand that Genesis is not a science text book. It is written for a people who lived at a time when polytheism was the norm. It was written to teach them that one God created everything. It was not written to tell them exactly how he did it.

Doughlas Remy said...

Mike, no one is asking you to prove that God exists. But believers very often seem to want to try, as Thomas Aquinas felt compelled to do. And when they do, and their “proofs” are shaky, then it is legitimate to point that out. Atheists are simply saying there is no such proof and that the entire God hypothesis is unscientific and not even susceptible to proof because it is not falsifiable. I.e., there is no conceivable way to disprove that any imaginable supernatural being with any imaginable set of attributes created the universe. Get that: not just the Judeo-Christian god but any god whatsoever. Maybe the world did spring out of a giant cocanut. In fact, we can’t prove that the universe wasn’t created yesterday complete with your five-o’clock shadow that needed shaving from the day before.

There is another set of atheists, like Victor J. Stenger (emeritus professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Hawaii and adjunct professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado), who treat the existence of God as a scientific hypothesis that has failed: “Life on earth looks just as it should if it were not designed, and indeed, the universe looks and operates just as it should if it appeared spontaneously from nothing.” Sound like hocus-pocus? Well, astrophysics often does. And yet we send men and women into space all the time, and Stenger is one of the ones who helps with that.

As for atheism leading to hopelessness, I’m not sure what you mean. Do you mean that if one is atheist, sooner or later one is going to experience hopelessness? ...that atheism actually causes hopelessness? Well, if that were so, then I think my smiling friend, at 55, would have shown some signs by now. As for me, I am 65. Do you detect any signs in my writing that I am either hopeless or without conscience? If I were without conscience, wouldn’t I at least have done some jail time, or perhaps died an early death from some sort of excess? What about Einstein? He was an atheist. I could go on, but there’s a character limit. So I think that the connection, if it is a causal sort of connection, is weak.

How does my friend comfort a loved one? Well, there are generic ways to offer such comfort. It happens all the time. If the one needing comfort can only be satisfied by assurances that God will make everything right, then of course the task becomes more difficult. But being an atheist does not mean that one is nasty, inconsiderate, and abrasive. Take Einstein. Do you think he would have been unable to comfort a loved one?

I’ve known many Christians in my life and consider many of them to be my dearest friends, though I can’t honestly say that I hang out with many hardline fundamentalists, for reasons that will be clear to anyone who has read many of my posts. When I look at my bookshelves, I see books by Karen Armstrong, Jim Wallis, Michael Lerner, Bruce Bawer, Gil Bailie, and other Christian writers who write about their faith. But I get the impression from your caricatures of atheists that you don’t know many of us. I think one of the things some of the secular humanist societies are trying to do is to introduce ourselves. Sure, you will find us irreverent because we violate taboos that you consider sacred, and our ordinary language is blasphemous by your standards. But I believe there is value in the exchanges that happen between us, and I encourage you to continue talking.

Anonymous said...

"I share his concern about the implications of such religion-based beliefs at a time when we urgently need to act to avert climate catastrophe."

I'll tell ya, Douglas, I am still laughing at this one. Especially in light of the recent CRU email bombshell.

Maybe Dan Brown will write his next book about this religious fraud.

Doughlas Remy said...

Rick, you might want to read this, from Seth Borenstein, the Associated Press's science writer.

And this, about the e-mail hacking episode.

Anonymous said...

You miss my point, Douglas, which happens to be “THE” point. If these so-called scientists believed in science half as much as this dope (aka me) does, they’d never treat their sacred ‘facts’ the way they do. Thanks to them, and many like them, I don’t know who to believe except my trusty lying eyes. And just like them, you are STILL selecting the “stories” that appeal to you.

You see, I remember the last time people like this tried to pull the wool over our eyes over 30 odd years ago when I was just an innocent boy. Maybe you’ve read about those urgent ice age prophecies. Well, according to my records and sensors, the sky today has never been bluer, the air and water never cleaner, cars never more fuel efficient...
Maybe you're too young to remember when you could tell what was wrong with a car by the color of the smoke coming out the tailpipe.
But I'm not.

Rick F.

Doughlas Remy said...

Rick, I realize that it is easy to get confused when you hear so many voices disagreeing about climate change. One wants to just say, “Well, if it’s happening, why don’t I see it?”

But there are at least three good ways to cut through the confusion. The first is to use your own eyes. Granted, you cannot see CO2 in the atmosphere because, unlike the particulate-laden smoke from your car’s exhaust, it is an invisible gas. But you can view summer photographs of ice cover at the North Pole and compare the 2004 photos with the current ones. Just Google “North Pole ice cover photos.” The total area now free of ice is as large as the state of Alaska. There are many, many other ways in which you can examine the evidence yourself.

The second way to cut through the confusion is to rely on reputable science. This requires identifying reputable sources. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is probably the best such source, because they speak for the National Academies of the G8 countries. These National Academies—and the IPCC—have concluded that anthropogenic climate change is real. But it’s not just the National Academies. Every major scientific organization in the world has endorsed the conclusions of the IPCC. I have a list if you’d like to see it.

A third way, though perhaps less reliable than the first two, is to watch where the big money is going. I’ll just give you one example that comes to mind. Allstate Insurance recently announced that it’s not taking new homeowner policies in New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware—or the five boroughs of NYC. And it’s not renewing 30,000 of the more than 600,000 policies it carries in and around NYC. The reason? An increase in “extreme weather events” that they believe are linked to climate change.

You can verify what I am saying by a simple search on the Internet. But be careful when you find someone denying the reality of catastrophic climate change. Check their credentials.

Anonymous said...

Oh boy! Now I know you're pulling my leg! Jokes on me. Alright, very funny. Very funny. Where's the hidden camera, Gil? :-) I give already! I give!
Uncle!

Good night, Douglas.

Mike said...

Mr. Remy,
Sorry for not getting back sooner, but I was away from the computer over the weekend.

"Mike, no one is asking you to prove that God exists. But believers very often seem to want to try, as Thomas Aquinas felt compelled to do."

It is not a desire to try to prove the existence of God so much as to be accountable for our faith. This is something we are called to do as it is written in the 1st letter of Peter, I believe.

"In fact, we can’t prove that the universe wasn’t created yesterday complete with your five-o’clock shadow that needed shaving from the day before."

I suppose anything is possible if we don't stay grounded in reality. I doubt, though, that anyone who is in tune with there own suffering could be duped into thinking that their pain is a day old or less.

"As for atheism leading to hopelessness, I’m not sure what you mean."

Mr. Remy, if you don't already see the connection between atheism and hopelessness, I doubt that I have the capacity to connect the dots for you. It is very clear to me, however. If there is no higher power, then there is no meaning. If there is no meaning, then why follow your conscience? If there is no meaning, then why put up with suffering, and self-denial? Why not indulge yourself?

"I'm NOT an atheist and I don't think I can call myself a pantheist.
We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangements of the books, but doesn't know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God."

Towards the Further Shore (Victor Gollancz, London, 1968), p. 156; quoted in Jammer, p. 97

"I am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what really makes me angry is that they quote me for the support of such views."
http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Was_Einstein_an_atheist

"But I get the impression from your caricatures of atheists that you don’t know many of us."

This is true. I have known a few that say they don't believe in God, but I'm not sure I believe in Atheists. Many who say they are are really just doubters. Some are challenging God to prove them wrong. Others have been injured by people within a certain religion. When they attack religion, they think they are hurting the one that hurt them. Others take issue with certain moral teachings and wish to discredit the moral teaching by attacking the foundation for living a moral life to begin with, i.e. there is no God, therefore there is no meaning. If there is no meaning in life, why not self-indulge? Why can't we choose right and wrong? Gen 3:5 "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."
Of course, when it comes to pointing out immorality, Christianity is an equal opportunity offender. It teaches that we are all sinners. But this is not an obstacle to grace. It is actually what makes us realize the need for a savior.

I too, see value in this discussion and hope that this continues.

Doughlas Remy said...

(Part one)
Thank you, Mike. I will just begin by addressing your claim that there must be a higher power for there to be meaning. By “higher power,” I am assuming you mean God. You wrote:

If there is no higher power, then there is no meaning. If there is no meaning, then why follow your conscience? If there is no meaning, then why put up with suffering and self-denial? Why not indulge yourself?

I fully agree that humans need meaning. Meaninglessness can be extremely corrosive in a host of ways. However, I am looking at meaning from an anthropological, not a theological, viewpoint. What I see, mainly from having studied the works of Ernest Becker, is that our culture provides many systems of meaning within which we can symbolically achieve victory over death. In Europe of the Middle Ages, there was only one system of meaning, and it was provided by the Catholic Church. In the pluralistic world in which we now live, there are many such systems available.

A belief in literal immortality is not a necessary condition for meaning. Nor is a belief in a higher power. According to Becker, who draws his insights about this from psychologists like Otto Rank, we derive meaning from our ability to make a contribution that is recognized and valued. We raise a child. We write a series of books. We invent a new tool. We work in a soup kitchen. We play the cello in the local orchestra. All of these things give us meaning because they signify that we are a valued part of our community.

Many people need to believe that they will live forever, but that is more about something that they’re going to “get” than something they’re going to give. So I’m not sure that belief in the afterlife, by itself, does provide meaning. It provides comfort.

But to say that a belief is comforting does not imply that it is true. Once I had decided there was no evidence for the existence of the God of the Bible—now nearly forty years ago—I learned to live without the comfort of believing I would never die. But I was young, and I didn’t believe that anyway, and so I didn’t much miss the comfort.

What you regard as an issue has simply never been an issue for me. I once had a near-death experience without once thinking about God or an afterlife. The thought that I was about to die within the next few seconds gave me a wonderful sense of release.

I realize the thought of death can be frightening and, in my current state of consciousness, I am sometimes frightened by it. But I will not enter into denial about it. Otto Rank said that humans are the animals that make the unreal real. Our powers of symbolization allow us to not only imagine things that are unreal, but also to “make” them real, in a sense, by believing in their reality. Conversely, we make the real unreal by denying that it is real. Denial of imminent environmental collapse is a prime example of this.

How can we know the real? Well, I think that is difficult in some cases, but easier in others. One thing we must never do, however, is to stop reasoning and examining evidence. If there is no evidence for something we believe to be real, then I think we can assume that it doesn’t exist. And then we learn to deal with that.

Doughlas Remy said...

(Part two)
First, a correction to Part One: Where I wrote “But I was young, and I didn’t believe that anyway,” I should have written, “But I was young, and I believed that anyway.” (I believed I would never die.)

Mike, this is not an “attack on religion,” as you suggest. It is simply a discussion about whether something that people commonly believe is real or unreal. Atheists, who are very real, believe that God is not. We are not trying to “hurt” anyone, as you say, and we are no more self-indulgent or immoral than anyone else. Why should you think these things? I shared a dinner table Sunday evening with two charming ladies, neither of whom is particularly self-indulgent or immoral, from what I know of them and can observe. Both are retired and both are happily married. One had worked in physical therapy but also had training and experience in palliative care. The other was a nurse who had specialized in hospice care. Both are atheists. I told them about your belief that atheists could not comfort their loved ones. They seemed surprised, and they explained to me how it is done. Neither of these women plans to torch any churches, and neither of them expressed any anger whatsoever toward Christians.

I don’t know where you live, but my guess is that it is somewhere where atheists are not very visible for some reason. I live in one of the most unchurched cities in the nation, so I never assume that someone I’ve just met is a Christian. And my city has high literacy, low crime, and low divorce rates compared to most cities in the Bible Belt. If you are looking for correlations, maybe there are some to be found there. As I said before, there seems to be an enormous amount of hopelessness in our culture, judging from the divorce rates and our huge reliance on anti-depressants and various means of self-medication, including alcohol. But there is very little atheism.

My point is that your characterizations of atheists are simply stereotypes. Some atheists may indeed be self-indulgent and immoral, but I think it is a mistake to conclude that atheism “causes” these traits. I hope I do not make comparable generalizations about Christians and that you will let me know if you catch me doing so.

I know many atheists, and every one of them has a moral system. The real test of these systems is whether they allow people to work and to love, i.e., to make a contribution to their community. And for the most part these systems function just fine. I myself could not have been a teacher for so many years, or raised a child, if I were immoral. To my knowledge, I have never been described that way by anyone who knows me.

If you define morality so narrowly than only a Christian can be moral, then you would have to conclude that most Japanese are immoral. Or that most Jews are immoral. I can’t believe you would seriously propose such a thing.

And finally, the discussion about Einstein would take quite some time. I have lots of information, including some other quotations, but it’s really just a quibble. I was trying to think of a famous atheist whom you could recognize as having made a great contribution to mankind. But there are plenty of others, and if you have any doubt about that, then I may set aside some time to begin a list for you.

Mike said...

"we derive meaning from our ability to make a contribution that is recognized and valued. We raise a child. We write a series of books. We invent a new tool. We work in a soup kitchen. We play the cello in the local orchestra. All of these things give us meaning because they signify that we are a valued part of our community."

So does a child have meaning only when they are able to be productive, or do they have meaning based upon who they are? What happens when they become too old to contribute? What happens when the child dies, the book goes out of print, the tool is no longer needed?
"I realize the thought of death can be frightening and, in my current state of consciousness, I am sometimes frightened by it. But I will not enter into denial about it."
I'm not denying the reality of death. I am saying in faith that there is life after death. You claim to base your beliefs on evidence, yet you deny the possibility of life after death before you die? I think your trying to have it both ways here.

You want to apply the scientific method to the theory of God but you can't so you say God is a myth. Can you apply the scientific method to love? What about joy? What about sorrow? Are these things real? Do they have meaning?

It is not science that proves the reality of these things, it is our very real lived experience of them. I know about love, joy, sorrow, and yes I know about God because of my lived experience. It does not come from a desire to explain away fear, it comes from an openess to the truth, even when the truth means something uncomfortable. There is an old spanish saying that says the shade you get depends upon the tree you choose to stand under. Reading Christian authors is a start, but why are you reading them? Is it because you want the truth regardless of where the truth leads? Or is it to know the enemy?

"I once had a near-death experience without once thinking about God or an afterlife."

If we live our lives denying the existence of God, why is it assumed that at the moment of death our thoughts will be of him?

"The thought that I was about to die within the next few seconds gave me a wonderful sense of release."

Release from what? I think this proves my point.

"Conversely, we make the real unreal by denying that it is real."

So if you come over for breakfast and I pour us both a glass of what I think is orange juice, but you see that it is radiator fluid, are you going to drink it with me? According to your logic, all we have to do is deny that it is really radiator fluid, and it shouldn't kill us. Right? I think, therefore I am?

Mike said...

"If you define morality so narrowly than only a Christian can be moral, then you would have to conclude that most Japanese are immoral. Or that most Jews are immoral. I can’t believe you would seriously propose such a thing."

Mr. Remy, we are not to the point of talking religion yet. I am simply trying to point out where I think there are gaps in an exclusive belief system, particulary exclusive of the possibility of God. I do not believe that people who call themselves atheists are inherently immoral. I know that many people who call themselves believers live immoral lives. What is important is that we distinguish between bad examples and bad philosophy. In my view living life without the even possibility God is detrimental to society and there are many examples I could site here. But the failures of so many believers general to live up to the faith is not a condemnation of the faith. Afterall, there are more good examples than there are bad ones.

Anonymous said...

Mike (and Gil),
You may enjoy this. Douglas would too if he could get his own jokes.

“When microscopes were discovered, there where some clergymen who thought that with sufficient magnification, it would be possible to see a little Jesus in the host -- which is hardly less silly than the hyper-rational atheist who rejects religion, in effect, because he can't see God with the tools of empirical science.”
~ Robert Godwin, PhD.

Rick F.

Doughlas Remy said...

(Part one)
Mike, in response to your first point, I think we can agree that there are immoral atheists as well as immoral Christians, and that anyone, Christian or atheist, may feel hopeless at times. The real question is whether either Christianity or atheism causes immoral behavior or hopelessness. You had earlier suggested that atheism leads to hopelessness, but I refuted that claim on the basis of my own personal experience and my observation of others. We have not brought in any research to support our claims. I suggested almost facetiously that high divorce rates in the Bible Belt might correlate with hopelessness, but now that I think of it, divorce is often a deliverance from hopelessness. So, I am not going to speculate further about that except to say that I don’t think there are any correlations.

As you say, there are more good examples than bad ones, so I think we should focus on the best and the brightest that either of these worldviews can produce while avoiding claims that either worldview is responsible for all that is best and brightest. You may remember that this conversation started as a response to Gil’s implication that the recent Paris riots were a result of secularism. I pointed out that the rioters were not necessarily secularists and reminded him that, even if they had been, Christians sometimes misbehave as well.

Regarding my point about raising children, I think you are reading too much into what I said. I simply said that raising a child is a source of meaning, as is writing a book or inventing a tool. The meaning that we derive from these things may satisfy us, and it may not. If it does not, then that may be because, as you say, the child dies, the book goes out of print, or the tool is no longer needed. So we adapt. Humans are good at that. We find meaning in other ways, for as long as we can. I’m not saying that death is easy for non-believers. I’m only saying that we have as good a chance as anyone else of living our lives meaningfully. And,...I might add, we are unburdened by concerns about whether we will go to heaven or to hell. From the moment hell is added into Christian theology, there is bound to be fear and anxiety around death.

I did not exist for eons before I was born, and I am perfectly happy to think I will not exist for eons after my death. I don’t have to worry about whether I have pleased God or not, and I don’t have to worry about whether I am going to be either bored or lobotomized in heaven. To me, the very concept of heaven is just a monumental absurdity, and thank you but no thanks. I do not desire eternal life in heaven. In my view, life is all the more precious and beautiful because it is just ephemeral, transitory, like a camellia.

You may have misunderstood me. I don’t deny the possibility of life after death any more than I deny the possibility that I didn’t exist yesterday. I just don’t see the evidence.

Doughlas Remy said...

(Part two)
Why do I read Christian authors? Well, as I explained earlier in this thread, I am interested in Biblical literature partly because my degrees are in literature and I regard the Bible as very great literature. In addition, I am very interested in anthropology, especially the anthropology of religion. I am interested in why people believe the things they do. You hinted that I might be trying to “know the enemy.” On the contrary, I am trying to break down some of the walls that separate Christians and atheists because I do not like the atmosphere of fear that is developing between us.

The wonderful sense of release that I felt just prior to nearly dying was the release that people everywhere experience when they have accepted their deaths. Did you ever hear of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross?

I think you missed my point about making the real unreal or the unreal real. Maybe I did not explain it clearly. I was saying that these modes of thinking can produce behavior that ranges from the bizarre to the dangerous. Transubstantiation (making the unreal real) is an example of the bizarre, and climate change denial (making the real unreal) is an example of the dangerous. I like your example of the radiator fluid, however. The point is not that we have made the real (radiator fluid) into the unreal (orange juice, which it is not), but that we believe that we have done so. And that is where the danger comes in.

Doughlas Remy said...

Mike, you may remember my regretting that neither of us had cited any research into correlations between religion and hopelessness/happiness. Well, somebody out there must have overheard our conversation. I stumbled on this article, just published this morning on AlterNet.

Mike said...

Mr. Remy,

How can you possibly consider this research?

"Paul is less compromising, characterizing organized religion, particularly the conservative Christian brand widely practiced in the U.S., as societal anathema, conspiring against real progress."

Do I really need to read anything beyond this point? What in this statement makes you think that this fellow is actually interested in getting to the truth?

Not to mention many of the other radically biased links on this website. You cannot claim to be interested in the unbiased truth and use this website as research.

"While it's possible that good governance and socioeconomic health are byproducts of a secular society, more likely, he speculates, people are inclined to drop their attachment to religion once they feel distanced from the insecurities and burdens of life."

"Popular religion," Paul proposes, "is a coping mechanism for the anxieties of a dysfunctional social and economic environment."

Really? A=B and B=C so A must equal Q?

How about this. When people are in touch with insecurities and burdens of life, they remember how weak and powerless their situation is and realize that they are not God. When those insecurities and burdens are relieved, there is danger that they will forget that they are not God.

Mike said...

The point is not that we have made the real (radiator fluid) into the unreal (orange juice, which it is not), but that we believe that we have done so. And that is where the danger comes in.

Exactly. The truth is independant of our perception. Faith and Reason help focus our perception so that we see what is true, what was true, and what will always be true. If I think the sky is green, the problem is with my eyes, not that the sky is somehow really a different color for me than for everyone else.

Doughlas Remy said...

Mike: Yes, these studies by Paul, Zuckerman, Bloom, and others are indeed research. The conclusions they draw from their data are not part of the actual research component, however, and you are free to disagree with them. I’m not sure I agree with all their conclusions, but I am keeping an open mind. I am assuming, until shown otherwise, that their data is reliable.

As for the credibility of the AlterNet site, I read pretty widely. I just finished reading the new Manhattan Declaration, for example, and I read Gil Bailie’s posts all the time. What does that say about my interest in the truth? Not much. It just indicates that I read widely. As I have pointed out several times, I read Christian writers pretty often and consider their points of view. Have you by chance read any atheist writers? I thought this article might be a good portal into a world you might not have explored.

Yes, your interpretation of Paul’s data (in your concluding paragraph) makes perfect sense from the perspective of one who believes in God. However, if one does not, then Paul’s interpretation of the data makes sense. In other words, you may be right if your God exists, but Paul may be right if He doesn’t. Paul doesn’t claim to be looking for an answer to the question, “Is there a God?” I think he has already concluded from available evidence that there is not.

Doughlas Remy said...

Mike, I think we are getting in synch. However, in your sentence, “Faith and Reason help focus our perception...,” I would not include “faith” as I understand it. Maybe you can clarify this. Isn’t faith what sustains our belief that the radiator fluid is orange juice and that the communion wine is the blood of Christ?

If you think the sky is green, there may indeed be something wrong with your vision, or there may have been a nearby volcanic eruption that spewed sulfur into the atmosphere. In some cases, however, people disregard the evidence before their eyes because they are under the influence of strong social forces such as religion. Again, I cannot think of a better example than the doctrine of transubstantiation. (Check out Rick’s earlier quotation about viewing the host with a microscope.)

Mike said...

Mr. Remy,
Just a thought. For me, atheism relies on one key concept: coincedence. I can understand that because I myself have believed in it in many aspects of my own life.

But when I take a step back and start to look not only at my own life, but all of life, and all of creation that we are aware of, coincedence becomes a difficult concept to hold on to. Without even knowing how it all began, understanding that the earth had to reach a certain temperature for life to begin would have required that the earth be a certain distance from the sun. Knowing what we know now about the complexities of cells and DNA we can't begin to fathom the coincedences that must have taken place in the right order in the right time for it to have been possible. Once life began, it had to be sustained. It needs a continuous supply of water, but not to much at once. The hydrologic cycle, coincedentally, allows for water to be stored and released in the proper amounts that life may be sustained but not overwhelmed. Coincedentally, the aforementioned hydrologic cycle requires the also-aforementioned earth to rotate in a way that allows for a heating and cooling process, thereby allowing for water to be store in different states. Not to mention all of the necessary coincedences necessary for beginning and sustaining human life.

You get my point. I am not smart enough to clearly articulate the vast coincedences that are absolutely essential for you and I to be alive right here, right now, having this discussion. What is the probability that it just happened? Once again, I am not smart enough to say. I realize that there is that possibility, but as it was once said, "Considering the data, it requires more faith to be an atheist than it does to be a believer."

Anonymous said...

Mike,
Have you been to the blog "One Cosmos"?
I'm pretty certain you'd find the author's work of interest. In fact, your last comment here sounds like you've read his book.

Rick F.

Mike said...

Hey Rick,

I have not read it, but I appreciate the reference. I also also liked your earlier post.

Anonymous said...

Douglas and Mike,

Mike first.
I’ve seen these types of debates many times. Participated in them. Maybe you have too. Talent, intelligence, quantity of knowledge, debating skill has almost nothing to do with the outcome.
When they reach a certain point it comes quite clear what type of person we are dealing with here. In the beginning of course you can’t tell. I had a hunch about Douglas but one has to give each a chance and some exchanges. But it’s like this. You are both arguing from different planes. It’s as if Douglas has designed the game of baseball and you this thing called music. Douglas has climbed into the game and the rules which apply there cannot tell him anything about the rules of music. He can’t take himself out of the game to experience music because the rules of baseball can’t let him out. Only those things which can be compared to baseball are absorbed or they bounce off. He must “lead” with baseball post climbing in. Because to not lead with baseball is to break every rule of baseball as far as he knows. Notes, rhythm, harmony have no effect on the outcome of a homerun as baseball always knows there is nothing but baseball. Read the rule book. Nothing but baseball. Nothing about climbing in. At best, there are simply “participants” of which he is one.

That’s a long way of saying I’m quite convinced that Douglas will not be convinced no matter what we say. I hope both of you can tell that I don’t think Douglas is being untruthful or disingenuous in his arguments. I sincerely believe what he believes he believes sincerely. I would be happy if at best I could serve as some small conduit to a little grace penetrating Douglas. With people like Douglas, as I’ve said I’ve seen it countless times, it may take some Saul/Paul blast to get through to him. Those also happen.

Douglas, I hope you can tell I don’t think you are a bad person. Nor stupid or any such thing despite the little bit of fun I’ve had with you at your expense. Keeping in mind, it’s not so easy to sit here and listen to someone who doesn’t know talk about something as deeply personal to me, Mike and Gil. If you have a son or daughter and I was saying horrible things about them or mocking them behind your back that might be pretty close to how what you say most times is received here.

So it would be good if we could reach you, Douglas, but I can live with the fact that my studies show it’s highly unlikely.

However, what bothers me a great deal is the thought that you may be trying, effectively, to talk other people, especially kids, out of a belief in God. I’m not talking about people who are already on solid ground in that sense, like Gil and Mike. I’m talking about the vulnerable, the on-the-fence, the doubters, the ones who can’t seem to rule it out.

Now you may say, “Hey, I’m not doing that, I’m just defending my positions.” But people see you and hear you, so that is what I mean by “effectively”.

I care about you, Douglas, of course. But if you want to believe there is no God, so be it for you. I'm glad I can't do it. It should be in God's hands. But you cannot possibly, honestly, claim that you know it for a fact that there isn’t one. There is no way around this, and that is why I am asking you not to do it for that reason, because for that reason it would be wrong. You don’t know. And we know you don’t know. I don’t even have to get into that this warning is made throughout the NT.

I’m asking. Please don’t do it.

Doughlas Remy said...

Mike, everything you’ve said about the extraordinary improbability of our existence in this universe is true. The more I learn about our planet and the evolutionary history of the species that inhabit it, the more amazed I am that any of it could have happened.

At first, it seems statistically improbable that organisms could have developed in the ways they have, but when you begin to understand random mutation and natural selection over countless eons of time, it starts to make sense. Natural selection is a cumulative process, and it breaks down the problem of improbability into small chunks. The biggest unsolved mystery concerns the origin of the original living cell, but there are plausible theories to account for it.

Intelligent design is not a plausible solution to the riddle of statistical improbability. It just adds to the riddle by raising the question of the origin of the intelligence that carried out the design. Any entity that is capable of designing something as improbable as a hedgehog would have to be even more improbable than a hedgehog.

Even if you redouble the improbabilities by positing an intelligent designer, how do you get from there to the Judeo-Christian god who listens to our prayers, punishes evil-doers, and rewards the virtuous with eternal life?

You quoted someone who said that being an atheist requires more faith than being a Christian. In light of what I’ve just said, I couldn’t agree less. The intelligent design position requires vast leaps of logic and ignores scientific evidence. It is a faith-based system, whereas evolutionary theory is not.

Doughlas Remy said...

(Part one)

Hi Rick. I took the liberty of reading your message to Mike (about me). I hope you don’t mind.

“It becomes quite clear what type of person we are dealing with here,” you write. And later: “With people like Douglas [sic],...it may take some Saul/Paul blast to get through to him.”

One of the reasons I decided to engage in this conversation is that I believe many Christians stereotype atheists, just as they do gays and lesbians. We are not people. We are “types” and we are all alike. At the beginning of the conversation, I learned from Mike that I am immoral and hopeless, and we now seem to have agreed that perhaps I am neither of those things after all—or at least no more so than anyone else.

Contrary to what you appear to think, I am not trying to convince you of anything. My hope is to introduce you to a worldview unlike your own so that you will not understand it better. I think it is unfortunate when negative assumptions are made about anyone because of their religious affiliations (or lack thereof), their sexual orientation, race, gender, etc. I do not join with atheists who slam all Christians, because I have known Christians all my life and believe that most of them are good people.

If you think that atheism has certain bad effects, then say so. I would be interested in hearing your thoughts, and you may have a viewpoint that I have never considered.

I think that certain religious beliefs have bad effects, and I am thankful to live in a country where I can say so. For example, I don’t like to see children suffering and dying because their parents believe a visit to the doctor would betray a lack of faith in God’s healing power. And I would like to see the Catholic Church liberalize its position about homosexuality, because I think that position causes a great deal of suffering among people whom we all know and care about. These are all legitimate concerns, and I think we should be discussing them.

You write: “It’s not so easy to sit here and listen to someone who doesn’t know talk about something as deeply personal to me, Mike, and Gil.”

Mike, the conversation is not mandatory. You may leave it at any time. If you feel uncomfortable discussing such things, then you are free to stick your fingers in your ears, as you did before. I notice it did not take you very long to return, however.

And yes, these matters are very personal, and we all have our sensitivities. Discussing faith is always a balancing act. We want to avoid being disrespectful, but at the same time, there’s not much point in having the discussion if we are unwilling to have our beliefs challenged. Are your beliefs so fragile that you cannot bear to hear them questioned? Mine are certainly not. I enjoy the challenge, and it is unlikely that you are going to hurt my feelings. (I object to stereotyping, however, because I think it leads to discrimination and even to persecution.)

Doughlas Remy said...

(Part two, also to Rick)
Does it bother you that I might talk to kids? Well, I have talked to many kids, including my own son. Are you suggesting that hearing my views about God might cause them to turn out like me? Thanks, Rick. For your argument to make sense, you would first of all have to show that being an atheist is somehow a bad thing, and you haven’t shown this.

And finally, once again, you are quite correct in saying that I cannot prove that there isn’t a god. I have confirmed that several times during these discussions. There is a virtually unlimited set of propositions that I cannot disprove, and this is because they are not falsifiable—i.e., they are about the supernatural. I cannot disprove the claim that god looks like an oyster or that the world sprang out of a giant cocanut. And I cannot disprove any of those myriad god theories that the Hindus believe in, because they are all about supernatural beings.

The important point, as I said before, is that I see no evidence for the existence of the Judeo-Christian god or for any other god. History and anthropology have shown us so much about the genealogy and variety of religious beliefs concerning supernatural beings. We cannot ignore the implications of that knowledge.

You write, “I’m asking. Please don’t do it.” ...as if I were about to incur the wrath of God. But you needn’t fear. I have been talking this way for a long time, and no thunderbolts have landed anywhere near me yet. This topic obviously makes you very uncomfortable—dare I say “fearful,”—as if you or I were about to touch a high-voltage cable. I now find myself hoping that you will drop out of the discussion. I don’t wish to cause emotional distress to anyone, but neither will I agree to be silenced because of your distress. As an atheist, I don’t fear eternal punishment and I do not wish to be constrained by anyone else’s fear of it.

Anonymous said...

Part one :-)

“Hi Rick. I took the liberty of reading your message to Mike (about me). I hope you don’t mind.”

Hi Doughlas. Why would I mind? I addressed it to you right at the top. Go see. Sorry about misspelling your name. My spellchecker must think my spelling is more common. I’m always surprised how sensitive people are when others misspell their names. My last name is Fernandes and almost everyone puts a “z” on the end instead of an “s” without ever a thought to it. I stopped bringing it up 30 years ago.

“One of the reasons I decided to engage in this conversation is that I believe many Christians stereotype atheists, just as they do gays and lesbians”

Now this is exactly what I’m talking about. I believe this is called projection, among other things. Amazingly this happens in one sentence. Are you aware you just stereotyped Christians?... to prove your point about it being a bad thing to stereotype atheists? Not to mention the projection part, which is to bring up gays and lesbians, which no one has except you.

Let me add this since you bring it up. As a Christian, a serious student, admittedly not anywhere near a great one, I am not anti-lesbian or anti-homosexual. I believe all are welcome in the church. A church shouldn’t even need to say this. Now I understand some churches will turn people away. Some friends of mine had to find a different church to get married when the one their family went to wouldn’t marry them. They found another church and they were married last weekend. They were turned away because they weren’t attending the family church. Not meeting the standards. They found another church. It evens out. The first church shouldn’t change their standards. The couple may appreciate them some day and return to it. Just as I do, but once didn’t. They can start their own church if they like.

This is already tedious. No offense. However, I’ll just run down your message and hit the big stuff. Maybe it’s all big stuff.

To be continued..

Anonymous said...

Part 2

“For example, I don’t like to see children suffering and dying because their parents believe a visit to the doctor would betray a lack of faith in God’s healing power.”

This stuff makes great news clips. Like those one in a million blue lobsters. I’ve never met a person like this. And I’ve probably met thousands upon thousands of people. I’m certain most of them Christians – the standard, default variety. In other words, I can’t imagine starting a personal crusade or wasting any time worrying about such things. I promise you if I ever meet anyone like this I’ll try to do something about it.

You bring up homosexuality again. That’s fine. I think I covered my perspective about the “openness” of the church on this matter, which I think is its actual perspective. I understand other Christians would disagree with me.

I will add this if it’s helpful. The only time I have a problem with homosexuals is when they “lead” with their sexuality. My sexuality is my business. It’s hardly the greatest thing about me. I don’t see why this matters when you enter a church. No one asks you if you are one. They shouldn’t, or they are getting their Christianity wrong.

“Mike, the conversation is not mandatory. You may leave it at any time. If you feel uncomfortable discussing such things, then you are free to stick your fingers in your ears, as you did before. I notice it did not take you very long to return, however.”

I don’t know why you are dragging Mike into this.
Just kidding – that was a joke about spelling my name wrong. And boy did you!
:-)
Your mood seems to be changing right about here.

“We want to avoid being disrespectful, but at the same time, there’s not much point in having the discussion if we are unwilling to have our beliefs challenged”

I’m quite certain you started it. I don’t cruise atheist blogs to challenge their beliefs. I know you would have no way of knowing something like this. I know I don’t know any Christians who do cruise those blogs. Are there any such blogs? You were originally and are on the offensive. I’m trying to remember if I challenged your belief in atheism… I’m not coming up with anything. But if I did, I believe I should have expressed it like this: Atheism is simply an insufficient or inadequate belief system for me. I haven’t always been a religious person you know. It used to creep me out as a kid. The particular religious people around me at the time were not a good fit for me. They were for many others. And I was quite ignorant to the depth of Christianity. Like you (maybe), my own intellect was my stumbling block. It has never been disappointed since. I had no idea.

Anonymous said...

Part something

“Are your beliefs so fragile that you cannot bear to hear them questioned?”

If anyone sounds fragile, it’s not me. I think you have a stereotypical view of Christianity. I think I covered earlier how I don’t believe Jesus wishes us to suffer without purpose. In other words, my feelings can be affected but I don’t have to just “take it”. That would be injustice. When I said Gil and Mike are on solid ground, of course I meant me as well. I was the one saying it after all.

“I enjoy the challenge…”

I actually don’t enjoy it. I’m not a real thrill seeker anymore. I was pretty certain I wouldn’t change your mind. I worry about the kids as I said.

“…and it is unlikely that you are going to hurt my feelings. (I object to stereotyping, however, because I think it leads to discrimination and even to persecution.)”

We’re talking about Christians again, right? :-)

“Does it bother you that I might talk to kids? Well, I have talked to many kids, including my own son.”

Yes. I believe I said it would bother me. That’s all that would bother me, just as I said. Your son is your business. I wish I could go 10 minutes where I wasn’t being told how to raise my son or my son wasn’t surrounded and being constantly pummeled by a culture set on turning him anti-God. I would prefer it if they would leave me and my son alone. We’re not bothering anyone.

“Are you suggesting that hearing my views about God might cause them to turn out like me? Thanks, Rick.”

No. There’s that projecting again. Let me be clear, I’m concerned about them ruling out God. Being talked out of it. Period. I barely know you.

“For your argument to make sense, you would first of all have to show that being an atheist is somehow a bad thing, and you haven’t shown this.

I would first have to change my mind that I thought I could ever convince you with any evidence. I can only produce abundant evidence to support my first position. However, as far as whether I think “being an atheist is somehow a bad thing” or not, I might phrase it this way. I think atheism is or rather, I’d prefer to say “someone who thinks there is no God” (since you suggest it’s a term misunderstood by me, so be it) I say it is an inadequate understanding of Man properly understood and his needs for a complete and fulfilling life. Nor is it a sufficient personal philosophy, which we all operate by, whether we are aware of it or not, or whether we have a sufficient one or not. We can’t not have a philosophy. But we sure can have an insufficient one.

Anonymous said...

part something plus one

“cannot disprove the claim that god looks like an oyster or that the world sprang out of a giant cocanut”

I understand your point; proving a negative. This is not news to me. However, we are talking about (or at least I still am) being or non being of God. Unless you have a time machine and you’re not telling me, you may find out tomorrow you were wrong. Now if you’re wrong about coconuts, big deal. Incidentally, I am perfectly comfortable, actually delighted, that God may present himself to different people via different religions, at different times in history. I don’t talk to my son this way. Nor my accountant. I’m a big fan of individuality and that God is too.

Now the rest of your post just gets crazier and angrier.

“You write, “I’m asking. Please don’t do it.” ...as if I were about to incur the wrath of God. But you needn’t fear. I have been talking this way for a long time, and no thunderbolts have landed anywhere near me yet”

You know, if Christianity, properly understood, were anything like this, I’d have no part of it. Did I sound at anytime like one of those literalists? Talk about stereotyping. Projection. And we’re the bigots. This is what I mean by inadequate.

“This topic obviously makes you very uncomfortable—dare I say “fearful,”

You may say it.
But it’s not true.
See how you can be wrong?

“I now find myself hoping that you will drop out of the discussion. I don’t wish to cause emotional distress to anyone”

What if I promise I’m not distressed? Will you believe me?

“but neither will I agree to be silenced because of your distress.”

You’re projecting again. Sorry to keep bringing it up. But I will not be silenced. (Hint: you said you want me to drop the discussion.)
As I alluded to before, why do I deserve a culture that is constantly trying to change me, while it has the nerve of accusing me of trying to change it?

This was so much fun.
You enjoy this?

Doughlas Remy said...

Hi Rick,

To address your points:

I am very careful not to stereotype Christians. Notice that I used the qualifier “many” before “Christians” in the sentence that you quoted back to me: “I believe many Christians stereotype atheists.” Without the qualifier, the sentence would have been a good example of stereotyping.

I am not sensitive about my name. If I were, I would have corrected you. I inserted “[sic]” because I was quoting an error, and that is standard practice for quotations.

I deliberately bring up homosexuality quite a lot on this site because I believe the Church’s position about it is morally wrong and I avail myself of every opportunity to point that out for the benefit of anyone who happens to be reading my comments. Sounding like a broken record is just one of the burdens of fighting for justice.

The suffering of children whose parents’ faith forbids them to seek medical care is a much greater problem than you imagine. I thought of it because there was an article about it in our local newspaper just yesterday. You can easily find more information on the Web, but I’ll share what I’ve got if you want to become better informed about this.

I’m not here to change your mind.

If you’re interested in visiting atheist blogs, there are plenty of them. Just search on “atheist blogs.” Here’s one I’d recommend.

I’m always interested in discussing these matters with you, Rick. Interpreting people’s moods is difficult through this medium, but my sense was that you were becoming fearful about the consequences of joining in this debate and I did not want to cause you any anguish. I remember that my first conversation with an atheist (in high school) was very unsettling to me. I must have thought God was eavesdropping or that my mother would find out. I’m glad to hear that I you are not distressed.

Mike said...

Ok, I have been away for a while, however, I have read the dialogue between the both of you (Rick) and you (Doughlas). (I hope it's ok that I call you by your first name by now.) I have much I would like to say but not a lot of time. Maybe over the next couple of days I can respond.
To start:
"If you feel uncomfortable discussing such things, then you are free to stick your fingers in your ears, as you did before. I notice it did not take you very long to return, however."

I have yet to feel uncomforable about any of the discussion here. I have other pressing responsibilities that prevent me from responding as frequently and as readily as I would like. Don't take that to mean that I am somehow plugging my ears.

Rick, I like your analogy of baseball and music. I think you have a point. I am afraid, however, that an atheist view may interpret the analogy to mean that baseball equals reason and music equals faith.
This is the point I am arguing against. I think that a world view that excludes even the possibility of a creator is completely illogical and not reasonable. If Doughlas wants to proclaim the scientific method as the only means for knowing the truth, fine, but be true to the scientific method, be open to whatever conclusion comes. In that case, one cannot rule out the possibility of God. But atheists do. If we want to play baseball (using the misinterpreted analogy) lets play using all of the rules, not just the ones that are convenient. And explain to me how one can know things like love and joy, if science is the only means for knowing the truth?

Doughlas you went on to misqoute what I said about atheism requiring more faith than belief in God, I didn't say Christianity.

At this point, I don't see the need to discuss the particularities of the Catholic faith with you if you still do not believe in God. This is why I have not engaged you in regard to the mystery of transubstantiation. It is not because it's not worth discussing, it's that I believe it would prove to be fruitless at this point.
You see, knowledge of the existence of God does not require faith, knowing who that God is, does.

"Natural selection is a cumulative process, and it breaks down the problem of improbability into small chunks."
Please explain how the problem of improbability is broken down. So is this is how you are able to believe in coincedence?

"It just adds to the riddle by raising the question of the origin of the intelligence that carried out the design. Any entity that is capable of designing something as improbable as a hedgehog would have to be even more improbable than a hedgehog."

Exactly! Don't try so simplify before you have the entire equation.

Mike said...

"Even if you redouble the improbabilities by positing an intelligent designer, how do you get from there to the Judeo-Christian god who listens to our prayers, punishes evil-doers, and rewards the virtuous with eternal life?

As stated above, one thing at a time.

"The intelligent design position requires vast leaps of logic and ignores scientific evidence."

I wonder if you are not lumping ID in with creationism. If that's the case, I can see why you would say this, but it would be untrue about ID.

Just a little FYI for both of you now. I have had my fair share of discussion with believers and non-believers alike. The latest was with a friend who I work with and admire a great deal. He is a self-proclaimed atheist. He is very smart. He strives to be an ethical person. He has read the bible in its entirety. He is the one who told me he was doing it to "know his enemy." He says the world would be better off without religion. What he doesn't seem to understand is that when he talks in anger about Christians, he is talking about me. It's almost like he is in denial that I am a Christian. He has been wounded in the past by someone, obviously a Christian. In talking to him, it is fairly obvious that he has spent very little time contemplating the possiblity of God, and a great deal of time trying to figure out how to payback this person from his past.

This is just one example of the list of what you call stereotypes that I have personally encountered. All of the other ones I mentioned have a story behind them as well. If it's true, I don't think we can call them stereotypes.

You say that you don't harbor ill will toward Christians. For that I am glad, but as a Christian, I can tell you that there are many atheists who do. Rick can probably attest to his own stories and I can fill many blogs-worth of my own personal stories of discrimination in school and at work. This is why I think it is necessary to dialogue. It may not always be fun, but I think it is necessary.
I hope you both had a wonderful weekend, Thanksgiving or no. I will try to write more later.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mike,
Of course you may call me Rick.

Like you, and I think we are of a similar mind on much of this subject, I’m pressed for time – especially this time of year. Trade Show this week…

Anyway, you are right about the inadequacy of the baseball/music analogy, and how it may be interpreted by atheists. After I came up with it I thought it may come across like one was better than the other – which may be true, but not the point. Only that the rules or “language” of one is not in the other. I would prefer an analogy that would show the language of one is in the other, but not vice versa – such as say physics/mathematics. But since most of our subject deals with a form of consciousness, there really is no metaphor for consciousness. There is nothing to compare it to.

But getting back to my point about our debate dilemma; that you and I are speaking from a different plane than Doughlas, Hermes perhaps was the best to describe them respectively as the vertical and the horizontal planes. This is not to say the planes are equal. Lets say we assign (not to mention it is proper to) religion or Christianity or philosophy (properly understood), humanity, Man, to the vertical plane. And likewise, to the horizontal we assign mathematics, physics, our planet, science, biology, biological evolution, materialism, etc. A proper view of or from the vertical plane will account for the existence of those things on the horizontal plane to the satisfaction of people who operate exclusively, lets say, on or in the horizontal plane. But the people on the horizontal plane can no nothing of the vertical plane without betraying the rules of the horizontal. In other words, mathematics knows nothing of theories, evolution can not know even the theory of evolution. For to have a theory is to exist on the vertical plane, even if you don’t know it or deny it.

And yes Mike, I have stories. It is why we have maintained the Jesus Fish symbol for centuries; the reason proven to this day by the Darwin Fish and Science Fish car placards. The Jesus Fish is meant to be an inconspicuous expression of like mind/heart. The others are passive-aggressive, immature, ignorant attacks on it. Nothing new, nothing of value, no one improved by the latter.

Rick F.