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[religion] A bit more on theism - Lakeshore
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Jay Lake
Date: 2012-11-02 05:47
Subject: [religion] A bit more on theism
Security: Public
Tags:personal, religion
Yesterday's post on theism [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ] produced some nice, civil discussion in comments on both sides of my blog. I appreciated that. I did want to elevate a couple of remarks from comments to highlight just a little further.

Me, on losing my religion:
The initial crack in my unquestioning childhood theism was when I was 6(ish) and found myself in Sunday School wondering why we were celebrating Passover as a miracle, when thousands of little boys were being killed. Not that I phrased it that way at the time, of course, but that was the thought. That was not the deed of a loving God.

I realize that for someone who holds Christian faith, part of the challenge and mystery is reconciling the inherent contradictions in scripture and God's message. Some people reconcile this through denialism, claiming Biblical inerrancy and asserting that it is a human failing, not God's, when contradiction is perceived. Others reconcile this through acceptance. Others yet through lifetimes of fearsome logic chopping. All of that is fine with me. I quarrel with no one else's faith, not at its roots. (Faith in politics is of course another matter entirely.) But it seems to me a lot like acquiring a taste for Scotch, which to me is like drinking paint thinner. Why would I want to go to all that trouble for something that doesn't make sense to me in the first place? Personally, I cherish my rationalism.

[info]mmegaera, on the self-reinforcing logic of faith:
Well, as I was told growing up, he is what he is whether you believe in him or not.

Saying you don't believe in God, I was told, is like saying you don't believe that you yourself exist.

Scary, huh?


To which I responded:
Wow, does that fail the pink unicorn test hard. Nothing like self-reinforcing nonsense passing as logic.


The pink unicorn test is essentially an Internet version of Russell's teapot. Put simplistically, it says faith claims aren't provable, and therefore aren't subject to external logic. My point to [info]mmegaera was that claim made to them as a child has no meaning outside its own hermetically sealed internal logic, and is therefore meaningless beyond whatever meaning the believer chooses to assign to it.

And I suppose as an atheist, that's really where I land. Faith has whatever meaning the believer chooses to assign to it. The toxic swamp rises up when faith holders confuse their inner meaning with external reality. I will defend to the bitter end to your right to your faith. I will defend to the bitter end my right to live free of the strictures of your faith.

I don't find those the least bit contradictory. Frankly, anyone who does is deeply confused in their thinking, or possibly has never heard of majoritarianism.

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PolyDad
User: polydad
Date: 2012-11-02 14:38 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"Thor, Krshna, Ba'al -- there are lots of gods that you as a Christian don't believe in. As an atheist, I just go you one god further."
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cathshaffer
User: cathshaffer
Date: 2012-11-02 15:19 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The whole discussion is frustratingly tainted by American fundamentalism. These objections are only valid in the framework of biblical literalism. From another point of view, the stories of the old testament are myths that have survived of a people trying to understand and explain the world around them and their place in it, rather than an exact log of the exploits of a capricious supernatural being. It is only in one narrow corner of Christianity where it is even an interesting question how the world was created. A majority of Christians in the world accept scientific observations on that question and concern themselves instead with questions like WHY am I here? What is my purpose? Why do bad things happen to good people? and so forth.

I do support my friends who are of different faiths and those that are atheists, but it can be wearying to hear so many arguments against "religion" based on religious premises that I and most other people of faith don't even accept.
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daveraines
User: daveraines
Date: 2012-11-02 15:37 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Well put.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2012-11-02 16:24 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I appreciate your frustration, but look at it from an external, non-faith holding, perspective. We have an entire political party representing roughly half the country that is dedicated to the American fundamentalist narrative. That narrative taints every important political conversation from healthcare to climate change to women's rights to taxes and wealth redistribution. It is woven through the media top to bottom as well.

For persons who do not hold faith, the American fundamentalist narrative is in our face every day, and pushed in our political system every day, at every level from local school boards to the GOP Congressional delegation. The only major alternative faith narrative prominent in American culture is the Catholic narrative, which itself is so compromised by the horrible mishandling of decades of clergy sex abuse, as well as the American bishops' current outright mendacity and political maneuvering on healthcare reform and women's health that trust me, seen from the outside, it isn't really any improvement. The Church's long-term alliance with American fundamentalism over suppressing reproductive health does nothing to endear them to me either.

American fundamentalism has come to define religion in the public square, in the media, and in politics. In reacting to it, people like me are reacting to the everyday reality of the country around us. American fundamentalism has gone to a lot of trouble to define themselves as Brand Christian, and they've succeeded beyond even their own wildest dreams.

If other faith narratives can find a countervailing voice with even a fraction of the political and cultural influence of fundamentalism, then people like me will respond to them.

Edited at 2012-11-02 04:47 pm (UTC)
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daveraines
User: daveraines
Date: 2012-11-02 17:13 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
D'accord. What I see coming up is a massive pruning of the Christian vine. In fact, it's already happening. If we can reconnect with the Jesus narrative, and live it out, I think we'll be all right.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2012-11-02 17:16 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
After two millennia, I'm pretty sure Christians know how to stay in the game. :)

It's us post-Enlightenment secular liberals who are johnny-come-latelies, and whose long term cultural survival is decidedly not assured.
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cathshaffer
User: cathshaffer
Date: 2012-11-02 17:59 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I don't disagree with you at all on the problems of fundamentalism, or with your assessment of the failings of the literal god of the old testament, or even with most of your criticisms of the Catholic church. There's just this thing that happens with atheists sometimes where they say, "Religion is stupid because [cartoonish description of religion that does not really match what I or most people believe]." I think very few people, actually, would agree that they believe in a God that kills children for no apparent reason, and that kind of tragedy is a question almost every religious person struggles with at some point--why do bad things happen to good/innocent people? So it's not that the non-believer is enlightened to something the believer is not. It's that the non-believer and believer have come to different conclusions or have in different ways reconciled the essential unfairness of life. In a majority of religious thought, suffering and evil are seen as a sort of collateral damage associated with free will and living in a natural world. I see your fundamental message, that everyone has a right to their beliefs or not to believe, and that they shouldn't have anyone else's religion forced on them, and it is a good and correct and valuable belief that we all should share and support. No atheist deserves to be forced into prayer or religious practice, or to have their health care or other life decisions made on the basis of someone else's religious beliefs. That is a really important and true thing. But when you go looking for reasons that religion leads them wrong, I think YOU go wrong, because you invariably define and characterize a sort of one-size-fits all wrongheaded belief system that descends to the lowest common denominator, a composite of every ignorant, thoughtless, self-righteous, self-serving, hypocritical religious person who never actually reads their scripture and is possibly a bit mentally ill. The kind of Christian you put forward as the norm is the kind of person we all hate to sit next to at Sunday service. In nearly every denomination of Christianity, there exists the potential to be tolerant and compassionate, and in every single one of those churches, even the biblical-literalist churches, you will find parishioners who agree with you, that religion should not be forced on others, that different beliefs should be tolerated, the golden rule, etc. etc. If anything, I think politics taints religion. I don't agree with many types of religious thought, but I think very few doctrines actually lead to bad behavior. Instead, I think the bad behavior goes looking into religion or wherever else it can for justification for its own ends, and you can find a justification for anything in the bible.

(By the way, it's not just the Catholic church that doesn't subscribe to biblical literalism. That particular doctrine is very new in Christianity, popular as it is in American religion. The older, mainline denominations generally take the Catholic view that the scriptures are a human interpretation of the word of God, not the direct, literal, true word of God.)

Lastly, I don't think you can have it both ways. You wrote, "If other faith narratives can find a countevailing voice with even a fraction of the political and cultural influence of fundamentalism, then people liek me will respond to them."

Well, I don't think you can ask religion to stay out of the public square for the good of all, and also enter the public square to provide an alternate narrative to religious voice that has inappropriately entered the public square. Outside the public square, outside secular political debates and newspaper headlines, and within the churches and discussion groups and writings of religious people in America, I think you will find a very strong narrative largely in agreement with your beliefs about social justice, but you would have to go looking for it.
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cathshaffer
User: cathshaffer
Date: 2012-11-02 21:01 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Just want to clarify here that I'm not trying to attack Jay, and this is offered in the spirit of friendly debate.
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daveraines
User: daveraines
Date: 2012-11-02 16:21 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
>> faith claims aren't provable, and therefore aren't subject to external logic

This seems to me a standard impossible to live up to. For instance, the few biologists I've talk to don't say the Theory of Evolution is "proven," just that the evidence supporting it is overwhelming. Ditto for climate change and a host of other things.

Further, any ethical construct depends on assumptions that cannot be proven. You can't even "prove" that people shouldn't smoke. You can say the evidence is, it will shorten lifespan, make emphysema more likely, etc. Science would also have to admit that smoking delivers hundreds of shots of a psychoactive substance a day, which is pleasurable; it calms you when you're nervous and picks you up when you're down; etc.

You can't "prove" logically that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights is a good thing, yet people give their lives studying it and defending it. Shoot, you can't even "prove" that other people have minds.

A critique of religion on moral grounds assumes certain moral values, which ultimately rest on beliefs and assumptions which cannot be proven.

But we commit ourselves to all these worldviews without absolute proof, asking rather, "is it reasonable?" I hold that Christianity is at least reasonable.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2012-11-02 16:38 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I do believe my friend that you're falling into the common fallacy of misusing the terms "proof" and "theory". The Theory of Evolution isn't "proven" any more than the Theory of Gravity is "proven", but I defy you to jump off a tall building and pray your way down, no matter how strong your faith. The evidence for evolution is beyond overwhelming — a statement is that it is unproven is a comment on the completeness of that evidence, which will never be 100%. "Proof" in the technical, scientific sense doesn't mean what it means in either casual conversation or theological narrative. Neither does "theory". That argument is a red herring.

Likewise, I can't personally prove that the sun is currently fusing hydrogen into helium, any more than I can personally prove the existence of God. I can, however, fairly readily demonstrate my understanding of the Scientific Method, of evidence gathering techniques, and of basic physics — all of which are (largely) objective things subject to external review, revision and reaffirmation — and if need be (re)educate myself on nuclear physics and stellar astronomy. So to say I can't "prove" that is merely a comment on my personal methods and available time, not on the fundamental ontology of the problem. Likewise, smoking.

I would also affirm that's eminently provable by essentially the same process that people shouldn't smoke. This of course assumes you accept the baseline proposition that more years of life in better health for both the smoker and for the people who must breathe their second-hand smoke is a desirable goal.

The issue here, really, is the basic assumptions, as you yourself point out. One of my basic assumptions about religion in the public square in America today is that it is far more often a poisonous force undermining our collective welfare than it is a constructive force. The evidence for this is overwhelming, assuming you share my basic assumptions about liberal, humanist values. (Which admittedly not everybody does, though I am baffled how anyone who claims to follow the Christ can oppose the importance of helping others.)

Not to mention if you share my basic assumptions about the worth of a good scientific education; the value of fighting climate change for the sake of preserving lives, infrastructure and our economic future; the need for improved maternal and child health; and caring for the sick and the poor in our society. All of these are propositions which the political/media version of Brand Christian, and American conservatives in general, have explicitly dedicated themselves to opposing.

As an atheist in Christianist America, I can only dream of a thoroughly secular society that supports all its members regardless of their politics, religion or wealth, and fosters everyone's private faith (or lack thereof) in equal respect and peace.

Edited slightly for clarity

Edited at 2012-11-02 04:48 pm (UTC)
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daveraines
User: daveraines
Date: 2012-11-02 17:10 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
First of all, let me grant the basic assumptions about good scientific education, climate change, etc. I don't think we disagree about those things, you and I.

>> falling into the common fallacy of misusing the terms "proof" and "theory"

What I intended to do was point out just what you pointed out, that upholding the standard of 100% proof is unrealistic, not only for faith, but for pretty much anything else. And that therefore the standard was not 100%, but "what does the evidence say?" And I'm willing to be held to that standard. Faith, like smoking, is a question of meaning, and unprovable. Even the statement "rationalism is good" rests on unprovable assumptions, let alone "rationalism is the supreme good." Note, I certainly think rationalism is good; but I can't prove it.

>> This of course assumes you accept the baseline proposition that more years of life in better health for both the smoker and for the people who must breathe their second-hand smoke is a desirable goal.

Sure it's a desirable goal. But does it trump the undeniable momentary pleasure that smokers experience? And which they can experience tomorrow and the day after? Might it be worth the cost? That's a question of meaning and rests on basic assumptions.

>> One of my basic assumptions about religion in the public square in America today is that it is far more often a poisonous force undermining our collective welfare than it is a constructive force. The evidence for this is overwhelming, assuming you share my basic assumptions about liberal, humanist values.

I might go along with this assumption. I would for sure on the political or national level. But the flip side is, on the micro level, the local level, the evidence is nowhere near overwhelming. There are lots of soup kitchens. There are people like Hillary Clinton whose social action values were activated in a United Methodist youth group (free plug). Or Barack Obama, for that matter.

My computer battery is dying and my charger is miles away... bad me. If I disappear, it's nothing personal! I am enjoying this conversation.
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Julie: Contemplative
User: quaero_verum
Date: 2012-11-02 22:10 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Contemplative
Just yesterday, my brother and I had a brief FB conversation in response to one of his posts, in which he reported reading about an incident that apparently just recently occurred somewhere in the middle east: a 14-yr-old Muslim girl was murdered by (both) of her (fundamentalist Muslim) parents, who used acid as their weapon of choice.

And what, might you say, was this young girl's terrible, unforgivable, inexcusable crime?

Talking to a boy.

My brother, somewhat understandably, then proceeded somewhere along the lines of "f*** ALL religion" and about how ALL religion should be completely abolished, now and forever, from the public square - and additionally, if he had his way - from existence altogether.

Knowing my brother and his personal life experience, and because of the horrendously evil nature of this story, a small part of me was inclined to agree with him - but only for a moment.

My eventual response to him was that it really is not fair - or accurate - to paint all Christians, all Muslims, all Hindus - with the same paintbrush. Especially the rotten, stinking, clearly ill-guided and ultimately, ill-intended paintbrushes that belong to the extremist fringes. Or even the "not-quite-extremist-but-still-effed-up" fringes. Even *without* the religion card in play, there are extremist fringes to every idea and ideal that is out there - yin/yang, good/evil. There is always a balance, always a pushing against the pulling. There is no true neutrality to anything.

I am pretty sure he agreed with me on this point, but it unfortunately went nowhere near towards softening his opinion on religion. I hope that someday he can see at least a little bit of light in what I tried to express to him.

I agree with you how the fundamentalist right has completely hijacked the public discourse on many key issues - and while not being the final say on those matters (may that NEVER happen!!) - it is defintely true that (they) have done nothing but muddy the water and further drive the wedge between the two political sides. But they do NOT represent the true faith - of *any* honestly God-honoring religion whose tenets rest on the bedrock idea of "the least of these are the truly blessed" - and as long as there are folks out there who DO represent the true faith - there is hope - for everyone - atheist, agnostic, religious, or otherwise.

All this being said, I encourage you to really do some digging beyond the things that are so obnoxiously blaring on the front pages and find, like several hearty souls right here on your FL like daveraines or cathshaffer seem to have found, the pockets and folds and otherwise "under the radar" places where those who really and truly strive to "live out their lives in love" are trying to make a difference.

They are there, I promise - and in more abundance than you might suspect.

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Karen
User: klwilliams
Date: 2012-11-03 01:03 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
What I've found is that faith in God is a lot like what happens when I throw someone around the room in aikido. There is actually very little left brain involved in either. In fact, I can tell when the other person is thinking while doing aikido, because the other person is frozen and can't respond quickly and easily. Religious faith also doesn't work well with the logic side of the brain. There are definite benefits to the flow of energy involved with the kind of open feelings of love that come with faith. The Christian God is a metaphor for those feelings of ki, but the feelings of ki are what is important, because that lets you bond emotionally with those around you (an important part of aikido, as well). When you try to put left-brain ideas into religion, things get ugly, just as in aikido, which tells me that all of those pronouncements about "thou shalt not" and "Jesus hates" have nothing to do with the real religion, and just make the people saying them frozen and not able to respond.
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mmegaera
User: mmegaera
Date: 2012-11-03 01:23 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I hope I made it clear to you that my comment was what I'd been told as a child, and not what I believe now. It now sounds a bit as if I may not have.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2012-11-03 01:33 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Oh, I was quite clear on the point. :)

I'm sorry if my phrasing above didn't reflect that.
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