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Lakeshore
An author of no particular popularity

Jay Lake
Date: 2008-04-06 19:46
Subject: [personal|religion] Blind to faith
Security: Public
Location:Nuevo Rancho Lake
Mood:thoughtful
Music:house noises
Tags:personal, religion
Here's me blogging a lot. Must not be working on a book right now, huh?

I've been thinking about my mental blind spots lately. I displayed one quite prominently recently, in the home schooling post. Another one is how I look at faith. It's very difficult for me to credit that people actually hold a deep, sincere belief in spiritual counterfactuals. To me at some level all preachers are Elmer Gantry. There's this voice in my head that sees faith as fundamentally an abdication of rationality, and likewise believes my fellow human beings to be rational people.

This is profoundly unfair of me. I am the first to recognize and talk about spiritual truth. (As any decent fiction writer must be.) In everyday life I know plenty of people of faith, both clergy and laity, whose sincere and serious belief I don't question for a moment — daveraines for example, or ellameena.

It's a prejudice, pure and simple. Yes, I am a Low Church atheist, but my quarrels with faith begin outside the temple door. The mysteries within the temple are just that — mysteries of the faith. I have to continually calibrate my thinking to avoid the easy traps my mental blind spot about faith leads me into, such as assuming that anyone who is a Young Earth Creationist is prima facie an idiot.

If I don't believe that the beliefs of a person of faith are sincere, how can I take them and their faith seriously? My belief in civility and human dignity requires that I do so. Even if my purpose is to argue against them (such as over school curriculum), I cannot argue successfully against someone I do not understand.

As with most such prejudices, this says far more about me than it does about anyone else. What I do about that prejudice says even more about me.
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nomissnewo
User: nomissnewo
Date: 2008-04-07 03:15 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'm a pretty vocal atheist myself. For me there's that weird disconnect -- I like to point out how incredibly stupid and irrational religious faith is, but at the same time I respect many people who are religious (not for their religion obviously), and I don't want to try to imply that religious people are necessarily stupid (though some of them, I just can't help but reach that conclusion. I'm specifically thinking of the kind of Christian who might speak in tongues, or other similar crazy shit.)

I definitely think that atheists, on average, are more intelligent than the average population. I remember seeing an article recently pointing out a disproportionate number of Nobel prize winners are atheists, and many of the world's most prominent scientists are vocal non-believers.

I dunno, I rarely feel guilt when criticizing religion. I think there's way too much of a shield that tries to ban people from criticizing religion (by accusing them of being bigots), a shield that doesn't apply to other moral belief systems.
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User: dirkcjelli
Date: 2008-04-07 03:17 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Have you seen the piece making the rounds about not being a wishy-washy liberal?
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2008-04-07 03:18 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
If you think I'm being wishy-washy, you're not paying attention.
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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand
Elizabeth Coleman
User: criada
Date: 2008-04-07 03:52 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I look at everything as an agnostic. I believe that there are some things our limited human minds can't understand. (And I strongly believe this, which is why I get pissed off when people call agnostics indecisive.) So to me, if there's this big void in our knowledge, we can imagine whatever we want in that void. So to me, saying "god made the universe" isn't in itself irrational. Who's to say that "god," however you choose to define it, didn't do that? I tend to think some definitions are more sensible than others, but that's just me. Now, if you say god made the world out of the testicles of some dead giant, and I'll probably go, "oooo-kay..." but I'll still accept it as a useful mythic/psychological mirror, and let you go on your way. I like to think I understand why people think the many strange things they do. They'll probably get pissed at me for thinking about their god as a big psychological construct, but to me, being a big psychological construct doesn't diminish god's power.

And PS, thanks for being one of the most respectful athiests I know.
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Brent Kellmer
User: skaldic
Date: 2008-04-07 04:05 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
except that the assumption that a young earth creationist is an idiot is an accurate one -- anyone who decides that the thing they believe in, whatever it is, trumps fact is an idiot by nature. That doesn't preclude faith or religion -- although I don't, I do know plenty of folks who are believers of one sort or another, and yet are fully in line with scientific thinking. The two things aren't mutually exclusive -- but when someone thinks that their belief is an effective counter to fact, that's a whole 'nuther kettle of fish.
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User: joycemocha
Date: 2008-04-07 04:32 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Not all people of faith are or ever have been Young Earth Creationists. For myself, I've not seen a disconnect between religious faith and science--anyone who would deny science, in the name of religion, is confining their God to too small a box.

That said, I've been uneasy about some recent trends in Christianity in the past year, mostly Protestant but I'm seeing Benedict infecting the Catholic Church with this perspective. But hey, I base a lot of my faith in the social justice interpretations of biblical faith--I've studied enough Old Testament and enough Hebrew to know that way back when, many Hebrew prophets were accurately connecting environmental land abuse with greed, violations of basic human dignities, deprivation of the poor and downtrodden, and so on and so forth. Those things are upheld not just in Protestant Christianity of a certain stripe, but also of Catholic Christianity. I'm holding on to that aspect of my faith, even though currently it's less fashionable than to be anti-Vagina Monologues. For one.

For me, it's not about Leviticus, it's about the Sermon on the Mount, Jeremiah, Hosea, and those guys. And if y'all have problems with that, on both sides of the question--so what. I've been called a "cafeteria Catholic" by atheists and conservative believers alike. At this point, I figure it's my business and not theirs--which is pretty much the way I feel about other people as well. I won't convert, but I'll sure be open to discussing the perspective.

I think I'm ready to start rereading Charles Williams this summer. I just have to find his books, seeing as I can't even locate them in downtown Powells, that could be an interesting challenge. I suspect he might could just be a wee bit too mystical in a way that the modern church doesn't care for, as opposed to his fellow Inkling C.S. Lewis (and I'm heartily sick of Lewis). Hmm. Maybe I need to read some Chesterson.
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mbroaddus
User: mbroaddus
Date: 2008-04-07 05:17 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
i've been meaning to get some chesterton myself. i've started reading a lot of greg boyd and nt wright to stretch myself theologically/spiritually.

but, wow, it's been a while since i've been labeled as generally less intelligent than a part of the population (he says, speaking as a scientist, writer, and church planter)
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Zachary Spector
User: blackmonkeymage
Date: 2008-04-07 05:47 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
This is profoundly unfair of me. I am the first to recognize and talk about spiritual truth. (As any decent fiction writer must be.)

Could you expand on that parenthetical comment? I don't understand why any decent fiction writer must be the first to recognize and talk about spiritual truth.

Perhaps you meant that a decent fiction writer should be ready and willing to expound on any topic of conversation?
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2008-04-07 13:25 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Perhaps you meant that a decent fiction writer should be ready and willing to expound on any topic of conversation?

Well, I should hope so, but that wasn't my point. Rather, fiction isn't about empirical reality. If it was, it wouldn't be fiction. Fiction is about the human experience. I submit that the human experience is profoundly spiritual.

The empirical outlook isn't natural to us — that's why there has been such a profound struggle to first develop it at all (from Aristotle to the Enlightenment, roughly), and why there continues to be such a vigorous counterrevolution (evolution denialism, Wahabbism, etc. today).

The spiritual outlook, on the other hand, is hardwired into our brains and minds. Fiction is a conduit not to spirituality per se (though it can be), but to nonrational experience which exploits that tendency in human thought. Hence we talk about the moment of satori at the end of a short story, or the sense of wonder inherent in speculative fiction.

When I say spiritual, I don't mean religious, I mean falling outside the empirical — a realm which includes the religious experience, but also the internality of the human experience. Non-rational would be a better word, perhaps, but it implies negativity I don't intend.
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manmela
User: manmela
Date: 2008-04-07 06:50 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I think it is a human trait to want to believe. For some it's organised religion, but as civilization matures there are more abstract belief structures, whether they be science, things like 'jedi-ism', UFOs or to some degree being an atheist (it's still a belief even if it is a belief in nothing)

I think a core to all of them (but not the only core) is 'moral guidance'; we use faiths to shape our morals - to be the person we think we ought to be. The god or spiritual leader can be a mythology in the eyes of the believer in these instances because the important thing is the 'life lessons'. And all faiths seem to have them: how to approach death, what you should do when the world is getting you down.Aethism is interesting here because it is an anarchic structure that sort of tries to tear away at the structure of belief - a sort of punk movement of belief.

I think this is why so many people find faith when in a low point in their life. Not because, as some people think, they are weak and open to suggestion, but because they need answers, and these faiths and pseudo-faiths offer that.

Even atheists in the western world may find themselves with a Christian set of beliefs even if they don't susbscribe to the christian faith (It was called "christianity with a small c" by a leading pagan I once talked to). Our laws have been shaped by christianity, as well as (more importantly) our morals.

There was a stage where I thought anyone with a faith was a bit of a fool and a weak person. I no longer believe this to be true. This was because I was unable to look past the mythology that comes with faith. Now I can look past that to the moral core, and anything (as all beliefs seem to share) that promotes good citizenship, a moral approach to life and honesty can't really be that bad a thing. It's when that gets misused (as it so often does) that the problems occur.

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User: dirkcjelli
Date: 2008-04-07 14:27 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
So Christians are normal and atheists are freaks... would any feminists or gays in the audience like to speak to this normative line of reasoning?
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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand
lt260: WWTFSMD
User: lt260
Date: 2008-04-07 09:04 (UTC)
Subject: A Different Viewpoint
Keyword:WWTFSMD
I don’t think that Jay has a prejudice so much as he is confused. Respecting the rights of others does not necessarily mean turning a blind eye. Young Earth Creationists are stupid in that the evidence is so overwhelming, ample, and readily available that anyone purporting a faith in a belief that this planet is only a few thousand years-old is being stupid. Check out the definition of stupid:

1. Slow to learn or understand; obtuse.
2. Tending to make poor decisions or careless mistakes.
3. Marked by a lack of intelligence or care; foolish or careless.
4. Dazed, stunned, or stupefied.
5. Pointless; worthless.

YEC are guilty on all counts. Does this mean that all religious people are stupid? No. Just remember the old axiom that just because all poodles are dogs does not mean that all dogs are poodles. However, when any segment or faction of people have a general tendency toward a common idiom or dogma, then it is fair to judge all the people of that segment or faction with that in mind. Does it make it right? No, but it is correct while certainly not being ideal.

The problem with people is that no two brains are 100% wired the same way. We are the product of our genetics, childhoods, educations, experiences, and everything else that makes up our personalities and thought processes. In every person that I have ever met, I can find common ground and something about which to argue. I can find ways wherein we think alike and subjects that will separate us. That is the nature of humanity. It is one reason why we are the supreme adapters.

Thus there is the practical problem of having to deal with people in very short bursts of time. This is especially true in our culture. We simple do not have the time to fully investigate each person we meet, discover who that person truly is, and make all our choices/decisions based on a complete knowledge base of that person. Is that being prejudicial? Let’s check it out:

1. Detrimental; injurious.
2. Causing or tending to preconceived judgment or convictions

The first definition is strictly circumstantial. In some cases, this could be true. In other cases, it may turn out to be very beneficial. I’m guessing here but I’ll wager that in most cases it will turn out to be neither harmful nor helpful.

That brings us to the second definition. True, the view that YEC are stupid is a “preconceived judgment or conviction.” No two doubts about it, but then so what? Just because a person is stupid in one instance does not mean they will be just as stupid with everything else.

In the case of YEC, is Jay being both detrimental and injurious while tending to a preconceived judgment or conviction? No. In this case the harm is being done by the YEC. Belief in “civility and human dignity” does not necessarily require that one must tolerate a constant belaboring of a point that has already been disputed and disproved. Freedom of religion is the law of this land, but the first requirement of that freedom is the freedom from religion. Free speech means that YEC have the right to voice their stupidity. It also means the rest of have the right not to have to hear it.
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David Moles
User: scarypudding
Date: 2008-04-07 09:31 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I have to continually calibrate my thinking to avoid the easy traps my mental blind spot about faith leads me into...

But Richard Dawkins thinks all believers, even the non-Creationist ones (presumably including, e.g., Ben Rosenbaum and the Nielsen Haydens) are deluded morons, and he's a frickin' supergenius, so how could your blind spot possibly be wrong?
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nomissnewo
User: nomissnewo
Date: 2008-04-07 22:48 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
He believes nothing of the sort. He's just unapologetic in pointing out how irrational religion is. People who have grown up in mainstream America just are so used to a protective shield being placed around religion that his unapologetic mockery of it is viewed as some sort of bigotry, when it isn't.
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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand
User: ellameena
Date: 2008-04-07 11:53 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
We all have prejudices. It comes from the fact that we cannot personally know six billion people in the world and take time to understand every different viewpoint. There are two truths about people. One, we are all absolutely unique individuals, often with experiences that are hard to understand unless you've been through them personally. Two, we are all pretty much the same, and the inner workings and motivations of another person are likely to be pretty similar to your own.

Mostly, I try to operate on number one, but when there's conflict or things start getting unpleasant, I find it's useful to shift to number two. Sort of like an escher print, both things are true at the same time.
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J.K.Richárd: Coffee!
User: neutronjockey
Date: 2008-04-07 12:28 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Coffee!
I came into my position of staunch agnosticism at around the age of 7 or 8. While living in TN my mother tried the "good country wife" thing of attending the local Baptist Church.

It took two sessions of fire and brimstone for me to renounce God and my mother to drive into the ditch. There are certain things your child to say... renouncing God and religion are probably not it...

I have learned to separate spirituality and religion into two distinct facets. I have met very religious person with little to no spirituality and very spiritual people with little to no religios upbringing or background. The world is a vast varied place ... the intracacies of the human animal are certainly worth exploring with an open ear.

My opinion of most athiests that I have met...and I want to key in on that phrase: that I have met... is that there are usually early life or developmental instances of prejudice against them that either pushes them away from organized religion; an instance of emotional or physical abuse by clergy (of whatever faith); a high sense or need for self-survival (often from childhood experiences or severe neglect); or an quite simply self-centeredness.

My view of athiesm is based upon my life's experience and most athiests I have met are very humanocentric and egocentric individuals.

Again, of the athiests I have personally met. As a clause to this Jay, you have never stricken me as an egocentric or humanocentric (humanist yes, humanocentric no) individual...and I think what snippets into your personal life (through this blog) are evidence of this.

I consider myself a very scientifically minded person. I think with a background in nuclear mechanics and a personal love of physics and cosmology I can't make myself much more clear as to where I stand on HARD PROOF and EVIDENCE. Do I think all Young Earth Creationists are prima facie idiots?

No. I do think that their extreme religious views clouds their judgement. Even when faced with scientifically proven models and facts (not theorems but models and facts) they refute the evidence and point to a religious device (such as a holy book or a piece of obscure scripture written a two thousand (or more) years ago and taken out of time, context and place).

With that said. I still can't take an athiet's standpoint. To be an athiest to me is living in a universe without meaning or value. Instead I chose to take an agnostic standpoint and take on a role as a seeker. Instead of seeking answers I'm looking for the right questions--- and so far the right questions have boiled down to two: 1) Who am I? and 2) What is my purpose? Life without meaning would be pretty drab in my personal opinion.
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Matthew S. Rotundo: Radioactive
User: matthewsrotundo
Date: 2008-04-07 13:33 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Radioactive
Atheism, to my mind, requires just as much a leap of faith as any theistic belief system.

There are limits to what we know, and Heisenberg showed there are even limits to what we can know. When we come up against those limits, we are basically faced with two choices: we either say, "That's just the way it is," or we attribute the unknown to some form of deity.

These choices strike me as equally ridiculous.

At which point, I pull out Occam's Razor, and ask myself which is the simplest of the two. For me, it's atheism.

But I'm perfectly willing to concede that my opinions on this matter--and truly, what is faith but strongly-held opinion?--are just that. I could be wrong, and I have no problem admitting it.

(Sad to say, I have yet to meet a born again Christian willing to extend to me the same courtesy. And I've met a lot of them.)

Perhaps looking at it this way may help with your blind spot, Jay. Just a thought.
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User: dirkcjelli
Date: 2008-04-07 14:19 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
You're equivocating on the first two definitions of 'belief' in your handy dictionary.
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mcjulie
User: mcjulie
Date: 2008-04-07 15:14 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I have a pretty much a Fortean approach to religion, spirituality, and faith. I think all these things are primarily subjective phenomena. Does that make them false or stupid? Not at all. Love and art are also pretty subjective.

Some religious people have very stupid beliefs -- like Young Earth Creationism -- but that doesn't necessarily make them stupid people. People who are brilliant in one area can have remarkably stupid beliefs in areas outside their areas of expertise.

Likewise, some atheists have very stupid beliefs -- such as the belief that human nature is something other than what it is.

I'm not worried about what you think the voices in your head are. I'm worried about what you think they're telling you to do.
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sheelangig
User: sheelangig
Date: 2008-04-07 16:16 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"I'm not worried about what you think the voices in your head are. I'm worried about what you think they're telling you to do."

Eh, erm, I would worry more about what the individual *actually* does in response to the voices in their head. I occasionally have urges that could get me into trouble of one form or another. What I ACTUALLY do in response is the most important bit.

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User: dirkcjelli
Date: 2008-04-07 16:07 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
You may wish to reflect on the incivility of the women's suffrage movement. Censorship by any other name would smell as foul.
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sheelangig
User: sheelangig
Date: 2008-04-07 16:26 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)

Now, this thread has gotten a lot of replies, and I'm not sure what censorship you are talking about. Could you clarify, please?

I wonder if I might agree with you on a lot of your points, but I just cannot tell because of your vinegar/honey problem. (grandma' told me that I'd catch more flies with honey than with vinegar)
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biomekanic
User: biomekanic
Date: 2008-04-07 18:13 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
My apologies Jay for my share of the drama llama above.
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