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Ch. 3 - In the Shadow of God 
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Post Ch. 3 - In the Shadow of God
Ch. 3 - In the Shadow of God


Please use this thread to discuss Chapter 3 - In the Shadow of God. You're also free to create your own threads.




Wed Mar 29, 2006 12:55 am
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Post Re: Ch. 3 - In the Shadow of God
p86 has an interesting quote from Will Durant:

"Intolerance is the natural concomitant of strong faith; tolerance grows only when faith loses certainty; certainty is murderous."

I find it interesting that Sam Harris uses this quote to back up his arguement; however, the quote actually works against Harris himself since Harris seems to be advocating not tolerating faith any longer. His intolerance is akin to strong faith in his beliefs and he certainly seems certain about those beliefs.

Just wanted to make a quick post since I am only halfway through the chapter and haven't found much to comment about. The discriptions of past atrocities, mass killings, torture, and other nasty stuff done by organized religion certainly turned my stomach. Amazing that such stuff was done at one point, especially in the name of god. I think looking at the past is important, but we can not judge faith based on the mistakes of organized religion. Those were excellent points about what organized religion can do to an entire culture and peoples, but it doesn't really apply to an arguement against "faith" in general.




Mon Apr 03, 2006 6:15 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 3 - In the Shadow of God
Harris begins addressing the issues of Witch hunts which is less about the "Shadow of God" and more about a lack of Reason. A reliance on myth and superstition intead of science.

Fastfoward to the modern world (at least in the United States) and we no longer have witch hunts, burning the witches for forced false admitance of guilt. I used to live in Salem, MA which is for all intensive purposes, has one of the largest populations of wiccans and other such followers of the ocult. You won't find intolerance of witches any more in a city that treasures its witch heritage as a source of pride and tourist revenue. Once again we notice a bad event inspired by organized religion and a lack of reason, but hardly caused by faith alone.




Mon Apr 03, 2006 6:34 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 3 - In the Shadow of God
The most intense portion of the chapter was Harris's account of the nastiness of Christian religious persecution. That's enough to turn me against religion. While many immoral acts have nothing to do with religion, Harris demonstrates how religious faith (within the Christian church) led to a great deal of suffering.

Harris made an intriguing claim that the idea of the virgin birth arose from a mistranslation of certain Biblical verses from Hebrew. Are any of you familiar with the validity of that claim?

Harris's discussion of the Holocaust was less compelling. The links between Christian anti-Semitism and the Nazi genocide are weaker than Harris indicates, though they exist. It seemed odd when Harris commented that the Catholic Church didn't excommunicate Hitler, since Hitler was a practicing Christian as an adult, even if he was brought up Catholic.




Tue Apr 11, 2006 12:13 am
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Post Re: Ch. 3 - In the Shadow of God
I think there are a few problems with Harris's arguements that are being reinforced by the history of the Church. These sure are great arguements against the church's past and do indicate that organized religion can make people do terrible things and can set humanity backwards on the path of progress. A really good setup to discuss the end of organized religion. But we must also consider these are events in the church's past. I see genocidal Christians in the world today nor do I see Christians preventing a secular government from existance by laying down fundamentalism as law (we are obviously in a current situation in which fundamentalism is trying to do so though). In any case, I think the arguements and history is compelling but the premise Harris begins from is not. He sticks with the main religions but avoids other faiths that have not commited such atrocities. As seen later in the book, Harris has criticism for faiths that are too passive and would never do what the Chrisitian church has made people do/become (although Harris makes the arguement strictly against pacifism later in the book, I interpreted it to mean both in reference to people and organized religion such as the quakers). Once again I see the big problem with these terrible events in history how people manipulated and interpreted religion rather than the religion itself. I think that is an inherent problem with organized religion, that it can be interpreted and people must follow blindly or be rejected, and is one of many reasons I reject organized religion.

The translation issue is intriguing, I would also love to see more information about that topic. It would be interesting to learn that the church regected proof to further and sustain a false dogma. Also, I agree that Hitler not being excommunicated from the church is rather startling. Though did not Gallileo not get a pardon until just recently? The church cares not for reality sometime and is more interested in maintaining appearances that it can do no wrong when I fact, it does wrong way way way more than people care to admit. Not to suggest that the church never does any right.




Tue Apr 11, 2006 5:30 am
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Post Re: Ch. 3 - In the Shadow of God
JulianTheApostate: Harris made an intriguing claim that the idea of the virgin birth arose from a mistranslation of certain Biblical verses from Hebrew. Are any of you familiar with the validity of that claim?

As I understand it, the passage in question is a prophetic passage in Isaiah. The Hebrew uses a word which means "young woman" or "girl", without any connotation of her being a virgin. The word used in the Greek translation, however, did evoke the connotation of "virgin", which allowed for the translation which emphasizes Jesus' supposed virgin birth.

That doesn't necessarily mean that a mistranslation is responsible for the virgin birth narrative. There are lots of passages in Isaiah that weren't cited as evidence of Jesus' Messiahship -- that the gospel writers chose this particular verse is likely because it allowed for the interpretation they were looking for. It's important to understand that the virgin birth narrative plays a distinct and deliberate role in the Messianic interpretation of Jesus' life. In particular, there is an apparant conflict between the claim that Jesus is the long-awaited Jewish Messiah and the fact of Jesus' rather ignomious death at the hands of the Roman state. Paul and others seem to have reconciled this contradiction by interpreting Jesus' life in reference to a cosmological scheme, that is, by literalizing the "Son of God" title. The virgin birth supports this cosmological scheme by providing a metaphysical avenue through which God could have incarnated as a full-realized human -- one that is born, lives and dies as any human does. The misinterpretation of the Isaiah verse may have lended the support of Judaic tradition to this interpretation, but I don't think it's likely to have been the origin of that interpretation.

riverc0il: These sure are great arguements against the church's past and do indicate that organized religion can make people do terrible things and can set humanity backwards on the path of progress.

I think it's over-stating the case to say that organized religion "can make people do terrible things". It certainly aides and abets atrocity from time to time, but more often than not, what you see is people appropriating religion to justify their own ends.

I think that is an inherent problem with organized religion, that it can be interpreted and people must follow blindly or be rejected, and is one of many reasons I reject organized religion.

This, as I see it, is an aspect of religion that arises from its function as a kind of community. All communities have their standards for belief and behavior (remember our little tangent on what it means to be "un-American?"), and all communities are prone to reject members who defy those standards. There's nothing particularly horrible about excommunication unless you sincerely believe that it prevents you from entering the Kingdom of Heaven, and for that reason, excommunication has lost its force since the Reformation called that capacity into doubt. Even in a secular community, exile or stigmatization can be far more devestating to a person, as we see with the masses of German Jews who betrayed their religious community or merely chose not to escape when they had every indication that it was prudent to do so.

Though did not Gallileo not get a pardon until just recently?

I don't believe Galileo was ever excommunicated. It was threatened, but he relented and lived with the penance they gave him, resentful though he may have been. I think the Church recently admitted that Galileo was right, though that was, of course, mere formality, as the Church has been behaving according to the Copernican model for centuries.




Tue Apr 11, 2006 1:06 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 3 - In the Shadow of God
Quote:
Jesus' supposed virgin birth.


Was the Jesus birth the FIRST virgin birth myth?

Quote:
It certainly aides and abets atrocity from time to time, but more often than not, what you see is people appropriating religion to justify their own ends.


I see that as a BIG rationalization of the truth. Poor religion. Everybody is always using it to hurt others, but it is really a good old thing! Shucks.

Quote:
All communities have their standards for belief and behavior (remember our little tangent on what it means to be "un-American?";) , and all communities are prone to reject members who defy those standards.


People are just destined to be sheep huh? Why do we stigmatize those who are different from us? And anyway...I think that it is much more prevalent in a religious context than an atheist context. I speak from my personal experience, and my observations of those I know who profess a faith lead me to accept my findings.

Quote:
It was threatened, but he relented and lived with the penance they gave him


So this makes that whole situation better? Ignorance is ignorance.

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Tue Apr 11, 2006 1:16 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 3 - In the Shadow of God
Mad wrote:
Quote:
It certainly aides and abets atrocity from time to time, but more often than not, what you see is people appropriating religion to justify their own ends.

I think Harris is taking this arguement that Islamic suicide bombers are appropriating religion to justify their own ends. But I think you simplify it too much in reference to organized religion causing people to get in line and leading to not so great things happening. How much of the Dark Ages of Europe would have occured without religion? Any one proposing scientific ideas for what the church stated was Devine was executed. Did the executioners do their job because they believed the church? They did so because if they did not, they would be executed too. A climate of fear was once caused by organized religion, in this example, that caused people to behave differently than if they had not be religious influence. I suspect religious influence impacts people's actions quite a bit, especially during a time in the example provided in which the church could force it's will onto the government and thus onto the people. That is all the past though, I but I think there could be found several more examples of people behaving a certain way because of the environment created by an organized religion. Look at the witch trials for example? Justification by people in power? Or manipulation through fear of other people? Perhaps both, but once the bucket gets kicked, the people all get wet.




Tue Apr 11, 2006 4:20 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 3 - In the Shadow of God
misterpessimistic: Was the Jesus birth the FIRST virgin birth myth?

Nope. So far as I know, mythology isn't a race.

I see that as a BIG rationalization of the truth. Poor religion. Everybody is always using it to hurt others, but it is really a good old thing! Shucks.

Scoff all you want. Until you can demonstrate the validity of the opposing argument, your jeering just makes your position seem weak.

riverc0il: How much of the Dark Ages of Europe would have occured without religion?

If by religion you mean specifically Christianity, I'd say most. The Dark Ages was the result of the collapse of the empire that had weakened native custom and displaced it with a tenuous and distended infrastructure. The collapse of the Roman Empire was likely inevitable regardless of whether or not Christianity even got started, and there was likely no safeguard against the implosion of social order that followed. The crumbling of the Imperial military left Europe open to the continuous raids from tribes like the Huns and Magyars, and without the centralized culture and government provided by Rome, a brief spate of anarchy was unavoidable. The Church was one of the few institutions capable of extending the influence to bring some order to the intervening periods, and efforts like the Truce and Pax of God were fairly effective at curbing the exploitation of the peasantry at the hands of those who could afford horses and swords. It would be misleading to paint to pacific a portrait of the Church during the Dark and Middle Ages, but it's equally misleading to blame the Christian religion for what we regard as a particular bleak period of history.

Any one proposing scientific ideas for what the church stated was Divine was executed.

I think that's overstating the case by quite a bit. Do you have any evidence for your claim? In fact, unless I'm mistaken, the execution of scientists was characteristic of later eras, particularly the Renaissance, and not of the Dark Ages. To the contrary, the Chruch of the Dark Ages was typically opposed to the use of force, and until the 16th century, for example, the Roman policy of using torture to ellicit confessions was explicitly banned by the Church.

Look at the witch trials for example? Justification by people in power? Or manipulation through fear of other people?

The studies I've read on the witch-crazes of the 16th and 17th century have concluded that it was an outbreak of hysteria that fed on the stigmatization of a minority group (isolated mountain-dwellers in the region of the Pyranese, for example) in order to provide a scape-goat for the political tensions of nationalism and the Protestant and Catholic Reformations (which were, themselves, intwined with nationalistic causes). Such crazes were made possible, first of all, by revoking (for state reasons) the previously upheld Papal bull which had banned torture as ineffective and immoral. They made extensive use of religious belief, but too narrow a focus on that aspect of the phenomenon creates distortion. I doubt that any serious and deep consideration of the available evidence would lead to the conclusion that the witch-crazes were solely the result of religion. Even if that could be maintained, the examples of Nazism and McCarthyism should demonstrate that such outbreaks of stigmatization and persecution are just as possible in secular contexts as they are in religious movements.




Thu Apr 13, 2006 7:04 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 3 - In the Shadow of God
Mad:

To the contrary, the Chruch of the Dark Ages was typically opposed to the use of force,

Except for the Crusades, Reconquista, Inquisition, etc.




Fri Apr 14, 2006 3:03 am
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Post Re: Ch. 3 - In the Shadow of God
None of those occured during the Dark Ages. So far as I know, most historians agree that the accension and reign of Charlemagne signalled the end of the Dark Ages and the beginning of the Middle Ages proper. Charlemagne ruled in the beginning of the 9th century, the Peace and Truce of God occured in the 10th century, they were given specific application during the 11th, which signalled the beginning of the Crusades, these continuing until the 14th; the Inquisition took place during the 15th and 16th centuries, that is, during the High Middle Ages and Renaissance.




Sat Apr 15, 2006 1:55 pm
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