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Are You an Apatheist, too? 
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Post Re: Are You an Apatheist, too?
[quote="geo"]Philip Larkin - Church Going/quote]

I love Philip Larkin.

"yet tending to this cross of ground
Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt
So long and equably what since is found
Only in separation - marriage, and birth,
And death, and thoughts of these - for which was built
This special shell?"

It is hard for me to imagine a time when so much of what was important in lives was contained within church walls.



Wed Feb 13, 2019 4:51 pm
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Post Re: Are You an Apatheist, too?
DWill wrote:
ant wrote:
what's discomforting about the teachings of Christ?
Sorry, I was thinking not of teachings but of creeds such as the Apostles Creed. If you can't stand and say that with conviction, you might feel you're in the wrong place.


Yes, the Apostles Creed. I have memorized it from having recited it over many years. I recited it not from conviction but because it was expected of me and because it would seem rude not to go along with everyone else. I went to mass recently with my father-in-law, the first time in many years, and started mouthing some of the words out of habit, but then I found I couldn't say the words, not even just to be polite. I felt like a hypocrite.

It's not just the Apostles Creed that represents Christian dogma, but the entire institution. The teachings of Christianity that are worth anything stand alone. You don't need the institution of religion to know it's wrong to kill or that we should try to get along with each other. Most of these universal truths were taken from other sources anyway. (Or they are innate to our species) and identified by many people throughout history as worthy.


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Thu Feb 14, 2019 6:22 pm
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Post Re: Are You an Apatheist, too?
Robert Tulip wrote:
I think the literal tendency in religion is a product of public demand. A reinforcing feedback loop between clergy, believers and the broader society means the political church endorses literal belief because that is what most people think religion is all about.
My comment was prompted by a sense that the feedback loop you refer to is one that is well worth studying. There must be vitally important mechanisms at work in the social interactions that make it operate.

People have a pretty good idea that religion doesn't operate by coercion. Maybe once the church could get the authorities to burn heretics, but their main threats were things like excommunication and refusing to bury you in the churchyard. Social enforcements, closer to the Amish "shunning" than to imprisoning someone.

That means the mechanisms of church politics were a lot like the later "social contract" approach that became democracy. Yet there was, is and probably will continue to be a drift toward supernatural claims about the nature of that social contract. A fascinating phenomenon.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Non-literal meaning in religion is more complex, demanding hearers understand that by saying one thing the Bible means something else.
Actually a lot of it operates below the level of conscious acknowledgement. I can't tell you how often the metaphors about Jesus calming the storm or even calling Peter to get out of the boat have been applied by people I know to their own life. Ask them point blank if they believe the story really happened as told, and many of them would stammer that they do. But the pull of its symbolic meaning is irresistible.

Robert Tulip wrote:
While this is partly explained in the teaching on parables, it is essential for a serious understanding of the Bible to see that the metaphorical method of allegory is pervasive. A metaphorical religion tends to be incompatible with exclusivity, because metaphor insists there are many layers of truth while exclusivity asserts its own dogma is incontrovertible. An exclusive attitude can reinforce a sectarian community approach to morality but is not suitable for a broader view.

Yes, I think you have identified some of the forces at work. A demand for clearly demarcating truth from error (even though there are 1000 other groups with different but equally firmly held "truths") is one. Exclusivity is strongly tied to that need for the security of absolute claims, as is the tribalist impulse in communities, to combine against outsiders.

Robert Tulip wrote:
People just love the idea in the Bible that the world is not as it seems, which in literal theology means that Jesus literally came back from the dead and performed miracles that broke the laws of physics. But that popular miraculous Jesus is strangely divested of all messianic power, losing any ability to transform the world.
Indeed! What a powerful observation! Since mystery-Jesus, settling matters on our behalf in the Big House, is no longer in our face demanding that we repent (metanoia - change of heart or of mind) he becomes a strangely inert Christ. St. Francis seems like more of an inspiration, oddly enough. It never occurred to me that this could be because St. Francis's story was not about the miracles.

Robert Tulip wrote:
The traditional 'washed in the blood of the lamb' faith in the literal saving power of the cross locates the work of Jesus in his death, whereas a progressive theology locates his work in his life of love and service.
Also in resurrection. The resurrection was the ultimate transformation, and gives reconciling power to the cross that is not there without it. The point that his Passion is continuous with his life of love and service is mostly recognized by all branches of Western theology now, but often ignored by the Calvinist-rooted denominations that dominate American Protestantism.
Robert Tulip wrote:
I find myself caught in the middle, since a merely social gospel loses the archetypal power of the myth of the resurrection, including as symbol for the sun.
Crossan and Borg and the Jesus Seminar have actually made great strides in re-integrating biblical "good news" with a focus on social transformation. By providing some narratives about the meaning of the Passion that don't depend on Hell, judgment and transactional spiritual accounting, they (and many others) have really freed up a healthy consciousness that connects social transformation (inescapable in the New Testament, even if it doesn't fit our image of firebrand rhetoric from the Enlightenment) with inner, personal transformation.
Robert Tulip wrote:
The problem always rests in the foundational assumptions, the attitudes about what is real. For example, Christian systematic theology builds vast edifices of thought, but if its axiomatic beliefs about God, Jesus and the miraculous are wrong, then the entire framework is built on sand.
Here's where I really disagree. "Beliefs" are an artificial structure, created over millennia, but they cannot undermine orthopraxis. What eventually dawns on the community of scholars is that the supernatural narratives were operating at the level of expression about what people find meaningful even if they used Bronze Age symbolic representations of it. We need a term for "right values" to correspond with "right doctrines" and "right practice."

Robert Tulip wrote:
Taking the mythology of the gospel as a foundational story for community values is compatible with what Leonard Cohen calls the broken hallelujah, and does not need to insist that anything in the Gospel is literally true, apart from the fact that Pontius Pilate was Roman Governor of Israel (or whatever the Romans called him and it).
Yes, when you know that the significance of a story does not depend on whether it is true or not, then you understand how mythos works. It could be true, but it doesn't really matter if it is or not. Literalists cannot wrap their mind around that. If the founders of the American Republic did not really believe in equality before the law and protection from majoritarian overreach, then their courage and vision are somehow nullified for a literalist.

Robert Tulip wrote:
The key myth of Christendom has been that everything in the Gospels happened as described, including impossible miracles and contradictions, so their hallelujahs are unbroken. Even pointing out contradictions is unwelcome for some apologists.
I agree with your observation, but there is a whole stratum of meaning-making that underlies all this demand for clarity and exclusive truth claims. It tends to be invisible to outsiders, but I have seen many, many examples of literalists struggling with the personal implications of the symbolic side, as they are supposed to do. The story of the Prodigal Son is quite literally as powerful in the (Protestant, Evangelical) Christian process as the story of "he died in my place." Not in dogma, but in spiritual engagement.
Robert Tulip wrote:
The existential problem is that human survival is in question, due to the psychological inability to solve the climate stability problem. The fundamental problem of ethics is what humans must do to survive and flourish. Of course the answer to that problem is conditioned by complex meta-ethical interactions of ideas, but it is wrong to decouple moral enquiry from the physical existential framework of planetary restoration. The meaning of life is the good of the future.
I disagree here. I am not suggesting a decoupling of moral reasoning from existential issues, but rather a subordination of the latter to the former. Moral inquiry is about the right way to live, and it would be highly artificial to exclude issues of survival, including survival of the species or of civilization, from that set of questions. But to subordinate the issue of the right way to live to issues of species survival or cultural survival would be artificial in the sense of pre-judging the right way to live. Just as one can think of circumstances in which the right way to live might call for choosing one's own death, the possibility of, say, risking species survival might sometimes make sense. It all depends.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Harry Marks wrote:
A kind of (pagan) sacred status is given to being better than someone else, and the intrinsic zero-sum nature of such comparisons is elevated to the position of imperative rather than being seen as something a person has a choice about.
The goal of sport is to win. Victory in competition does have an evolutionary imperative in that genetically the winners reproduce their genes. In nature competition serves to keep the gene pool strong.
Not necessarily. The gene pool might be much better for humanity if there is less urge to be "better than" someone else and more urge to jointly maximize our success. These "gene pool" arguments always try to hide the actual choices being made into the black box of "fitness" without being willing to engage what we mean by fitness and whether that matches with good criteria.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Harry Marks wrote:
Aristotle's conception of virtue was fundamentally about what helps the whole polis, rather than what exalts one person above others.
That looks like a distorted reading of Aristotle. I can’t help but see Aristotle through the lens of his job as tutor to Alexander the Great, whose ethical system certainly exalted himself. Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics[/url] focuses on the individual, while his Politics is about the social ethics of law. His Ethics focuses on excellence of character, a theme that has become something of a political flashpoint in the division between social and individualist conceptions of morality.
Well, I am actually not all that familiar with Aristotle, but after reading the Wiki article it seems to confirm my impression about this landmark in the field, namely that what defines "good" is either directly what is good for others (a good friend, a good leader) or indirectly about what internal qualities of character lead to capacity for benefiting the community.

I think a dichotomy between social and individualist conceptions of morality would be quite confused - neither domain can be neglected as "morality" is clearly situated in the intersection between the two. "Excellence" or "character" as well.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Religion is to blame for the rise of this so-called apatheist attitude in the broader population, since religion fails to inspire people with meaningful vision. Once people are inspired, their apathy about spiritual identity starts to shift into a more dynamic concern.
It isn't too surprising that a thousand years of coopting Christianity into a tool for pacification of the subject peoples would result in a framework without moral coherence or meaningful inspiration. I like your conclusion about the dynamism created by inspiration.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Liberal politics certainly emphasises equality, while the critique of equality emphasises how the tendency to see no one as better than anyone else can have perverse consequences.
Well said. I prefer to think that liberalism is based in a suspicion of claims to superiority, since these will naturally lead to claims to legitimacy of greater power.

When Sheldon Adelson can become a wielder of power by successfully navigating the mafia-infested waters of casino ownership, anyone with a conscience should be on alert against claims of rightness for the power of the rich. That doesn't mean we should ignore the correlation between fitness and success, only that we should be alert to the ease with which its recognition becomes a poisonous pattern for exploitation by the unscrupulous.



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Fri Feb 15, 2019 5:57 pm
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Post Re: Are You an Apatheist, too?
DWill wrote:
My wife and I have been attending a UU church for about 7 months. I had previous experience in a UU setting, but Sue had been a longtime Presbyterian. The difference you point to is indeed there, I think. People choose the non-religious UU out of discomfort with the Christian creeds, and as a result there is less spirituality. Is it also about a preference for head over heart? I don't know, maybe. We do have a few moments to share joys and concerns, and with the group being as small as it is (40-50), this has a fairly intimate feel.

I'm really glad to hear you have found the UU group to be worth returning to. I think any group with joys and concerns (well, as long as they aren't promoting anti-social ideologies at the same time) is satisfying a basic human need. Obviously there will be lots of "heart" interaction, and I feel sure I could be happy in a UU group if I found a reason to choose it.
DWill wrote:
I've talked with Sue and another member about the different type of feeling one gets in Christian churches, which I experienced too, when I was Presbyterian. It's a loftiness or peacefulness, maybe another word is holiness. I believe the vaulted space itself plays a significant role, along with the organ. Nothing like an organ to open one to eternity.

Yes, the feeling of sanctity is contact with transcendence. For me, singing together brings that into awareness. It is "the Holy Spirit", without Pentecostal folderol, and I feel some of the inner warmth that led people to call the supposed entity responsible "The Comforter."

Thanks for sharing.



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Fri Feb 15, 2019 6:14 pm
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Post Re: Are You an Apatheist, too?
DWill wrote:
Did you happen to get a sense of what your father-in-law feels about all of those creedal statements? I've never actually asked someone who believes at that level what feeling is produced by saying those words or contemplating those supposed truths. We often call such beliefs "literalism," but what they really might be for those who believe them are instances of transcendence. I'm not even sure I know what I mean by transcendence, but maybe it's simply a yearning for something miraculous, escaping the bounds of normal experience and perception. I don't know where I stand on a God gene, but I'm more certain that wanting some experience of transcendence is hardwired, although having said that, it could be that such a trait goes from weak to strong in the population. Perhaps many of the people saying the creed don't feel much more than than they would reciting any historical event.


My father-on-law is a dear man, but his views are rather outdated. For example, he'll freely admit that he doesn't like black people. Part of it is a generational thing. In his mind an atheist is probably not quite human. He was interested in going to Sunday mass while his wife--my mother-in-law--was in the hospital and I happened to notice that a Sunday mass was scheduled right in the chapel of the hospital. He simply assumed that I was interested in going too and I was willing to go.

To answer your question, I'd say going to mass and saying the creed probably makes him feel a part of something bigger. He loves the rituals and sense of familiarity. Your description of transcendence seems spot on.



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Fri Feb 15, 2019 8:58 pm
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Post Re: Are You an Apatheist, too?
geo wrote:
started mouthing some of the words out of habit, but then I found I couldn't say the words, not even just to be polite. I felt like a hypocrite.
Yes, we have all been taught that these pre-modern creeds are meant as truth, as description and reporting and propositions of fact. I can't say them that way anymore either, even though there are some parts, like the communion of the saints, that still mean pretty much their literal content to me. The rest I hear as a particular kind of poetry, the kind I would expect the chorus in a theater production to say. One percent description and 99 percent evocation of imaginative response to life.

geo wrote:
It's not just the Apostles Creed that represents Christian dogma, but the entire institution. The teachings of Christianity that are worth anything stand alone. You don't need the institution of religion to know it's wrong to kill or that we should try to get along with each other. Most of these universal truths were taken from other sources anyway. (Or they are innate to our species) and identified by many people throughout history as worthy.
Wow! I can hardly imagine it.

"They shall beat their swords into plowshares." How to hear that without feeling an evocation of an exiled leadership of a people with a justice cult, being called (by what? good question) to lead all of humanity into a different mode of living. I don't think I could do it, any more than I could isolate "On the willows there, we hung up our lyres, for our captors required of us songs, saying "Sing us one of the songs of Zion"" without thinking of the exile.

Leonard Cohen has a song, "If it be your will". He considered it one of his two best and most enduring, (along with "Hallelujah".) How can a person make sense of that song without knowing the story of Jesus in Gethsemane?

How would you make sense of T.S. Eliot or "The Power and the Glory" "standing alone"? A person doesn't have to endorse the content of Christianity to understand that it is much more complex than the Golden Rule, intricately woven with courageous and humanitarian aspirations, questions and colors of response.

For all the horrors brought by Christianity over the millennia, I cannot imagine just letting it go like a balloon in the breeze, as if life from here on out could function without such a social infrastructure. No more would I expel Shakespeare or Shaw or Dickens. They are in us.



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Sat Feb 16, 2019 10:47 am
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Post Re: Are You an Apatheist, too?
DWill wrote:
We often call such beliefs "literalism," but what they really might be for those who believe them are instances of transcendence. I'm not even sure I know what I mean by transcendence, but maybe it's simply a yearning for something miraculous, escaping the bounds of normal experience and perception.
I don't know that anyone knows exactly what is meant by transcendence but the main idea seems to be something that is qualitatively superior, not just quantitatively surpassing. The imagery for it includes notions like "God's ways are not our ways" or the "mysterium tremendum".

Events that are outside normal experience have certainly always been markers for "intervention" by the transcendent, whether a burning bush or a memorable dream or an earthquake. But we also look for significance, so that it isn't easy in the modern age for a peyote experience to seem transcendent. Kierkegaard's very prosaic definition, that matters independent of temporal circumstances are "eternal," captures one dimension of transcendent significance. Another dimension is incommensurability, the inability to define and work with trade-offs between goods on different "levels" of priority, also discussed by Kierkegaard. What is a life worth? How much money should it take to bribe a judge?

I think a lot of the overlap between mystical sense of transcendence and imaginings of otherworldly forces comes from the sense that people awaken to "eternal significance" and "sacred inviolability" in sudden epiphanies, similar to how they react when they realize the earth is not solid but can shake around.
DWill wrote:
Perhaps many of the people saying the creed don't feel much more than than they would reciting any historical event.
I'm pretty sure this is true. Reciting creeds is one way of preserving experiences of epiphany, but it is also one way of regularizing the power claimed in the name of otherworldly forces. If people get a huge emotional charge, well and good for the religion, but in its absence, a formulaic invocation will have to do.



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Sun Feb 17, 2019 3:19 am
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Post Re: Are You an Apatheist, too?
Harry Marks wrote:
A person doesn't have to endorse the content of Christianity to understand that it is much more complex than the Golden Rule, intricately woven with courageous and humanitarian aspirations, questions and colors of response.


I believe we will need to distinguish between religion, which is what I was talking about, and the Bible, a historical and cultural document. True, some see the Bible as a sacred text, and in doing so, turning it into dogma. And religion has an agenda as political as it is spiritual. DWill had mentioned the Apostle's Creed, its main purpose to provide a doctrinal statement of correct belief or orthodoxy. The main points are:

- Belief in God the Father, Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and the Holy Spirit
- The death, descent into hell, resurrection and ascension of Christ
- The holiness of the Church and the communion of saints
- Christ's second coming, the Day of Judgement and salvation of the faithful.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christianity

It could be that I just didn't go to the right kind of churches. But in all my years of standing in church and mouthing the words of the Apostle's Creed, I never really learned much of anything of use, beyond the self-serving doctrine (see above) that gives the Church its spiritual authority, at least to those who are looking for such a thing. Only when I grew up and learned about the Bible on my own terms did I come to enjoy and appreciate it for its historic and cultural significance. I have come to know the Bible through Shakespeare, Milton, Blake and others. I do love literary allusions and I recognize the value of biblical tradition in western culture and how it fostered the arts and sciences. The Bible arguably is an artifact of the past, one that we should get to know for its cultural significance.

I appreciate your personal connection to religion, and I understand that many do find personal meaning in it. However, you certainly can appreciate T.S. Eliot, Dickens, and Graham Greene (and poets already mentioned), and listen to Cohen, Cockburn, Dylan, etc. without being religiously indoctrinated, as you have already said. I believe we are more or less on the same page. Our culture is steeped in religious tradition and its good to be informed of that, just as we should be informed of history in general.

Harry Marks wrote:
For all the horrors brought by Christianity over the millennia, I cannot imagine just letting it go like a balloon in the breeze, as if life from here on out could function without such a social infrastructure. No more would I expel Shakespeare or Shaw or Dickens. They are in us.

I'd like to hear your argumement that Christianity is still relevant and still provides a social infrastructure. I just don't see it.

But regardless, hopefully I come across less abrasively here. It could be that Thomas Jefferson was on the right track with his "Jeffersonian" Bible and deistic worldview. In some ways he was ahead of his time. In other ways, very much not.


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Post Re: Are You an Apatheist, too?
Harry Marks wrote:
Robert Tulip wrote:
I think the literal tendency in religion is a product of public demand. A reinforcing feedback loop between clergy, believers and the broader society means the political church endorses literal belief because that is what most people think religion is all about.
My comment was prompted by a sense that the feedback loop you refer to is one that is well worth studying. There must be vitally important mechanisms at work in the social interactions that make it operate.
This conversation, beginning from observations about people who just don’t care much about religion, has led to this valuable point about the sociology of religion, the question why fervent belief appears so much more effectual from within. Believers can see that any chink of doubt carries high risk of a loss of the energy of faith. From outside this fervency looks absurd, but from inside it is psychologically necessary.

I have been interested in the general causal principle of amplifying feedback loops, based on observation of such effects in climate science. The principle is that a very small steady force pushing a system in one direction will generate changes that increase the effect exponentially. This seems to be a universal causal principle of evolutionary systems, whether physical, biological or cultural.

In religion, advocates want to make sure that all the influences are pointing in one direction, towards deepening of faith and commitment, so they suppress anything perceived to undermine that purpose, in order to generate an amplified change, generally the deepening of faith in the believing community. Of course the problem is that when outsiders look at this system they readily see its failings, to which adherents have become wilfully blind.

The Bible warns against this pervasive psychological tendency, especially in the condemnation of the hypocrisy of institutional religion, but also the very subtle but deep comment from Christ that the truth will set you free.
Harry Marks wrote:
People have a pretty good idea that religion doesn't operate by coercion. Maybe once the church could get the authorities to burn heretics, but their main threats were things like excommunication and refusing to bury you in the churchyard. Social enforcements, closer to the Amish "shunning" than to imprisoning someone. That means the mechanisms of church politics were a lot like the later "social contract" approach that became democracy. Yet there was, is and probably will continue to be a drift toward supernatural claims about the nature of that social contract. A fascinating phenomenon.
The clan psychology of belonging makes loyalty a key to popular religious ideas of salvation, but I think the messianic core in Christianity is more existential than popular. Against the traditional herd mentality of unquestioning obedience to established authority, modern science has tried to make evidence and logic the highest values. Similarly, existential philosophy sees the authenticity of the individual, through openness to being, as a framework that deconstructs the primacy of the clan.

Of course the traditional tribal approach is deeply embedded in our neurons so people find it impossibly risky to assess claims without reference to criteria such as the social respect that the maker of the claim can demonstrate. That means heretics are hung out to dry, even where they are simply drawing attention to evident facts.
Harry Marks wrote:
Robert Tulip wrote:
Non-literal meaning in religion is more complex, demanding hearers understand that by saying one thing the Bible means something else.
Actually a lot of it operates below the level of conscious acknowledgement.
Sure, unconscious psychological processes are how archetypal symbols get their social power. One of my favourite such symbols is the four living creatures, used as the symbols of the four evangelists. From a scientific perspective, the ox, lion, eagle and man are obviously based on looking at the sky, since ancient constellations put these four living creatures at the four corners of the heavens. But I have encountered an amazing obstinate refusal to engage with this empirical interpretation of these symbols, apparently because of the unstated unconscious fear that any admission of a natural basis for supernatural myths will undermine faith.
Harry Marks wrote:
I can't tell you how often the metaphors about Jesus calming the storm or even calling Peter to get out of the boat have been applied by people I know to their own life. Ask them point blank if they believe the story really happened as told, and many of them would stammer that they do. But the pull of its symbolic meaning is irresistible.
The necessary reformation of Christianity is to see stories in terms of what they mean for us today, not as accounts of what really happened. Unfortunately that shift is very slippery, since any admission of doubt has historically led to a collapse of faith. I think part of the answer is to open a more pointed criticism of how literal belief is defective, seeing this recognition as part of what Calvin identified as the first point of salvation, the humble acceptance of the total depravity of human psychology.

The scientific method is very humble in its refusal to move beyond evidence.
Similarly it is possible for religion to accept that empirical method while fully retaining the powerful parabolic meaning of Gospel stories.
Harry Marks wrote:
Yes, I think you have identified some of the forces at work. A demand for clearly demarcating truth from error (even though there are 1000 other groups with different but equally firmly held "truths") is one. Exclusivity is strongly tied to that need for the security of absolute claims, as is the tribalist impulse in communities, to combine against outsiders.
That religious method of clear demarcation of truth from error is obsolete, belonging to the absolute Christendom mentality of dogmatic conversion. The scientific enlightenment partly superseded it with Baconian induction, recognising truth more as a matter of empirical probability than absolute faith.


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Post Re: Are You an Apatheist, too?
geo wrote:
I believe we will need to distinguish between religion, which is what I was talking about, and the Bible, a historical and cultural document.

It could be that I just didn't go to the right kind of churches. But in all my years of standing in church and mouthing the words of the Apostle's Creed, I never really learned much of anything of use, beyond the self-serving doctrine (see above) that gives the Church its spiritual authority, at least to those who are looking for such a thing.
Well, I was making the case that one can't just snip out the moral ideals and leave behind nothing of value, but the case for understanding Christianity is more than just the richness of what is found in the Bible. Since there has been an ongoing struggle over spiritual practice and understanding, much more complex and nuanced than caricatures like "how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" discussions, the residual variation across many denominations and teachings contains fascinating questions and tentative answers about human life.

Today we generally understand the problematic nature of claims of spiritual authority, but kings were humbled by it and dynastic marriages made or broken by its exercise. All based on the more or less valid claim that the average person was not very good at separating worthless emotional chaff from exalted principles that guide a worthy life. For all the cynical manipulation of the church in the Middle Ages, it did have issues entwined in its practice that were far more worthy than the principles which had guided imperialism before that.

Today we have similarly problematic behavior to address over gender relations, but none of us is in a position to declare that the time-tested division of labor in the family, between men and women, is unimportant. Conservative churches adhere to traditional notions about that division of labor, and much of their stupidity follows from the way they go about that, but anyone who thinks evolution has created patterns that should be respected (looking at Jordan Peterson) is going to have to acknowledge that adherence to tradition is not in itself fundamentally stupid.

Among the other practices in Christianity that I think deserve study and, to some extent at least, preservation, I would list confession and pastoral counseling;
small group sharing about moral issues in life and practical issues in child rearing;
Sabbath rest;
forgiveness as a blessing to both parties;
communal singing;
communal sharing of needs and successes (joys and concerns were around before Facebook);
expression of community values in prayer;
contemplative practice in prayer;
commitment to moral upbringing of children;
voluntary charitable giving of time and money;
and "prophetic" self-criticism. That's not a bad list. And I didn't even get into the ordinary process of socializing with others that goes by the name of "fellowship" in churches.

If those turned off by authoritarian traditionalism had not been so quick to dismiss the core values of Christianity, we might have a more coherent and cohesive society today.
geo wrote:
Only when I grew up and learned about the Bible on my own terms did I come to enjoy and appreciate it for its historic and cultural significance. I have come to know the Bible through Shakespeare, Milton, Blake and others. I do love literary allusions and I recognize the value of biblical tradition in western culture and how it fostered the arts and sciences. The Bible arguably is an artifact of the past, one that we should get to know for its cultural significance.
My point about that would be that you can't make sense of the Bible without thinking in terms of spiritual issues. Blake came to rather radically democratic conclusions from those meditations, Dante to rather conservative conclusions, but neither one strays far from issues of character and relationship to the needs of the community (which of course occur in Plutarch and the Stoic tradition as well - no lock for Christianity by any means.) And these issues are perennial, so that neither Plutarch nor the Bible belong primarily to the past.

geo wrote:
I appreciate your personal connection to religion, and I understand that many do find personal meaning in it. However, you certainly can appreciate T.S. Eliot, Dickens, and Graham Greene (and poets already mentioned), and listen to Cohen, Cockburn, Dylan, etc. without being religiously indoctrinated, as you have already said. I believe we are more or less on the same page.
Yes and no. I think we agree rather broadly on issues of authority and the factuality (or lack of it) of religion, but I wonder whether you have much respect for either the power or the value of "mythos", or communication about values in story and imagery. We agree in not giving mythos the same kind of respect we give science or verified truth, but I sense that we differ enormously on the role mythos should have in shaping life. Probably I could tell a lot by how you react to David Brooks' columns in the New York Times. He doesn't pronounce about mythos, but he practices the evocation of social values through its use.

geo wrote:
I'd like to hear your argument that Christianity is still relevant and still provides a social infrastructure. I just don't see it.
Well, we could start with marriage. I know more and more couples do without it, and more and more children are born outside of it, but there is really very little alternative social infrastructure in that place. Those who reject marriage are either careless, and don't want society looking over their shoulder about it (I know some of these people, and it isn't pretty - think in terms of the mom in Hillbilly Elegy) or they aspire to do commitment on their own terms, without giving conformity and the rest of society a say in how it goes.

The latter tend to be in a wider orbit around the gravitational pull of social expectations, but they have not succeeded in defining any alternative sets of values about how such commitments should be structured. The closest thing to such an alternative is polyamory, and they are, in my view, only really different on the issue of how open to be about sexual attraction to others, without actually finding any kind of new equilibrium between child care commitments and self-indulgence.

But the biggest reason for starting with marriage is not the power captured in traditional arrangements but the continuing attraction to its sacred status. Let's face it, most people understand the problem with pre-nup mentality: marriage as a pragmatic temporary arrangement just fails to satisfy. Most of us would rather perish on the rocks of dashed hopes for a sacred commitment than accept marriage being no more meaningful than a business partnership. The sacred demands from us, and in general we know we are better off for it.

Religion continues to exert a strong influence on society in matters where the sacred has some such pull. The conservative mania over abortion is one of these. I respect the vital role of a woman's right to choose about her own body, but I am disgusted at the idea of abortion for reasons of the gender of the child, and this informs an awareness that sacred matters are involved. How those get sorted out is a vital issue, with on-going disagreements within my denominations, but none of us think "God doesn't care about it." It would be good to recognize that the crusade against infanticide, captured in literary examples like George Eliot's "Adam Bede," was motivated by religious communities. So was the Social Gospel movement of the late 19th century, and much of the opposition to Social Darwinism and eugenics.

This then gets us into end-of-life care, truth and reconciliation responses to former political tyranny, and the power of the Civil Rights movement. Perhaps you are wondering "what has it done for us lately?" (meaning, done politically) but if you look carefully at the exemplary post-Presidency of Jimmy Carter, at Obama's ability to evoke religious motivation and touch deep aspirations toward mutual acceptance, and at the agreement across the aisles to act on the opiate crisis and on criminal justice reform, you will find religious groups and religious thought involved heavily. Similar efforts against gerrymandering and toward climate action are drawing heavily on religious organizations and religiously-defined ideals. Wendell Berry is practically regarded as a saint among Progressive Christians.

Much has been said about the differences between urban "blue" areas and rural "red" areas, and that is certainly a critically important cleavage these days. But the location of the religiously vital part of American culture is often in the suburbs, which are exactly the part of American political life that is up for grabs. If urban cosmopolitan culture continues to refuse to consider the valid parts of the case for religion, it runs the risk of driving the suburbs back into the Red camp.

Orange County, the home of Calvary Chapel and the beating heart of the charismatic movement, just went Democratic. If university culture continues to see only "anti-science" in religion, it will return to the Republicans as soon as Trump is off the scene. Watch John Oliver sometime, with his open contempt for religion, with an ear open for how he sounds to someone whose family commitments and meaning in life are built around their faith. If you can hear the arrogance, the self-congratulatory sense of superiority, you will begin to understand how important religion will continue to be.



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Post Re: Are You an Apatheist, too?
Robert Tulip wrote:
This conversation, beginning from observations about people who just don’t care much about religion, has led to this valuable point about the sociology of religion, the question why fervent belief appears so much more effectual from within. Believers can see that any chink of doubt carries high risk of a loss of the energy of faith. From outside this fervency looks absurd, but from inside it is psychologically necessary.
Good observation about the supposedly tepid nature of non-triumphalist "apatheist" religion. I am continually surprised by how many of my fellow Christians have had some mystical "epiphany" experience that anchors their commitment. My transformational experience had nothing to do with apparent alternate realities, and everything to do with the power of empathy and human connection, but that's me.

The only conclusion I would add to your interesting way of analyzing this is that ginned-up "energy" tends to betray in the long haul. This is a familiar story in the charismatic or Pentecostal branches of Christianity. Some people experience other-worldly intervention in the manifestations that come from emotional overload to their nervous system, but when their fellow Pentecostals try to rev themselves up to get the same kind of experience, they are left with a sense of fakery. So energy and fervency are fine as markers, as guideposts one might say, but when they are the only road map for understanding the process they are likely to lead to the wilderness.

Maybe I will try to take it one step further. You said fervency is psychologically necessary, and that is true when religion focuses on "sacrificing" one's attraction to sin, or "submission" as Islam puts it. But for a long time there has been an alternative focus to understanding the effect of faith. Illicit desire is not going to go away, but its power is removed by constructive and genuine relationship. In modern parlance, sinful desire operates like an addiction, and a person who has solid "feedback loops" of relationship with others will have a much easier time fending off addiction.

I feel sure that there is an ecclesiology at work in this alternative perspective that has the power to revolutionize society. Again, reference David Brooks. The pervasiveness of social sanctions against illicit behavior has substituted for fervency in the past, but that has created a system in which power was also freedom from constraint. The result is Harvey Weinstein.

Robert Tulip wrote:
I have been interested in the general causal principle of amplifying feedback loops, based on observation of such effects in climate science. The principle is that a very small steady force pushing a system in one direction will generate changes that increase the effect exponentially. This seems to be a universal causal principle of evolutionary systems, whether physical, biological or cultural.
Yes, it's the insight behind "Bet on the bugs." Feedback loops are fascinating, and one of the great gifts I gave my sons was to help them understand what makes a good board game (they are both fans) in terms of positive and negative feedback and the balance between the two.

Robert Tulip wrote:
In religion, advocates want to make sure that all the influences are pointing in one direction, towards deepening of faith and commitment, so they suppress anything perceived to undermine that purpose, in order to generate an amplified change, generally the deepening of faith in the believing community. Of course the problem is that when outsiders look at this system they readily see its failings, to which adherents have become wilfully blind.
Yes, I think the resistance to willful blindness is one reason "non-dual" Christianity is picking up among Progressive Christians. Father Richard Rohr is the undisputed leader and face of that movement. The non-dual approach, for which there is an astonishing amount of scriptural support, works by decoupling from fervency. It meshes well with the Girardian non-violent approach and the traditions of restorative justice and reconciliation cultivated for centuries in the Peace Churches.

Essentially the feedback loops work completely differently, setting up a process that is independent of social reinforcement and its need for willful blindness.

Robert Tulip wrote:
The Bible warns against this pervasive psychological tendency, especially in the condemnation of the hypocrisy of institutional religion, but also the very subtle but deep comment from Christ that the truth will set you free.
There are a number of discoveries made in early Christianity that have been passed down until they were re-discovered in modern times. One is the freedom created by spiritual, rather than conformist, community. I suspect society had to reach the level of education seen in the Protestant communities of northern Europe before this approach could be either appealing or intuitively reasonable.

Be careful not to equate the criticism of institutional religion with spiritual insight. There are two strands: one is the antagonism between Jesus (and John the Baptist) and the temple authorities, who were allied with the Hasmonean collaborationists; and the other is the Johannine opposition to diaspora Judaism, based probably in the Jewish rejection of Hellenized Judaism (aka Christianity). Both critiques tend to emphasize the spiritual shortcomings of the opposed institutions, but the undertones can be very different and to read the text well you have to be able to tell which branch it belongs to.

Robert Tulip wrote:
The clan psychology of belonging makes loyalty a key to popular religious ideas of salvation, but I think the messianic core in Christianity is more existential than popular. Against the traditional herd mentality of unquestioning obedience to established authority, modern science has tried to make evidence and logic the highest values. Similarly, existential philosophy sees the authenticity of the individual, through openness to being, as a framework that deconstructs the primacy of the clan.
Fascinating way of cutting into the matter. The process of policing the "boundaries" of clannish religion look a lot like the mechanisms of selfishness in ordinary society. Priority on limiting threat by suspicion of outsiders, transactional thinking about other people, very grudging acceptance of relationships that do not obviously serve the concrete motivations of the deciders.

Existentialist preoccupation with authenticity may be an artifact. While authenticity is an obvious attribute of autonomy, the near-obsession with it by Sartre and Camus may be generated more by the compromises required of the French after being overrun by the Nazis than by the inauthenticity that prevailed within both Naziism and bourgeois European society.

Openness to being turns out to be more or less a search for a calling or mission that offers fulfillment. Without mission, authenticity easily becomes fraudulent, with the philosopher claiming to have chosen honesty by projecting his or her own quest for self-esteem on those who have not reached his or her exalted consciousness of fact. Knowing what you don't believe in does not bring any added authenticity to your life if you don't know what you do believe in.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Of course the traditional tribal approach is deeply embedded in our neurons so people find it impossibly risky to assess claims without reference to criteria such as the social respect that the maker of the claim can demonstrate. That means heretics are hung out to dry, even where they are simply drawing attention to evident facts.
This outlines the actual process of inauthentic, bad-faith endorsement of existentialist nihilism. Because markers of respect go to those who process things at a highly abstract conceptual level, citing these "authorities" becomes a substitute for authenticity itself. There is a strong kinship between SJW's shouting down conservative speakers on campus and burning of heretics: not so much as categories of case law (shouting down is far from burning) but in terms of the internal dynamics and the dangers ignored.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Sure, unconscious psychological processes are how archetypal symbols get their social power. One of my favourite such symbols is the four living creatures, used as the symbols of the four evangelists. From a scientific perspective, the ox, lion, eagle and man are obviously based on looking at the sky, since ancient constellations put these four living creatures at the four corners of the heavens. But I have encountered an amazing obstinate refusal to engage with this empirical interpretation of these symbols, apparently because of the unstated unconscious fear that any admission of a natural basis for supernatural myths will undermine faith.
Well, it depends on who is resisting and what they say as explanation. Maybe it is nothing more than the fact that modern people have very little sense of meaning for any of those, much less one that they can sense in the four evangelists.

Robert Tulip wrote:
The necessary reformation of Christianity is to see stories in terms of what they mean for us today, not as accounts of what really happened. Unfortunately that shift is very slippery, since any admission of doubt has historically led to a collapse of faith. I think part of the answer is to open a more pointed criticism of how literal belief is defective, seeing this recognition as part of what Calvin identified as the first point of salvation, the humble acceptance of the total depravity of human psychology.
That's a cogent analysis, but I see escape from literalism as necessary but not sufficient for genuine reformation. If it is part of an experiential feedback loop in which mutuality is cultivated and seen for the Comforter that it is, moving beyond literalism can be very liberating and empowering. If it's all about rejecting structure in one's life, then seven devils may come in to replace the one expelled.

Robert Tulip wrote:
The scientific method is very humble in its refusal to move beyond evidence.
Similarly it is possible for religion to accept that empirical method while fully retaining the powerful parabolic meaning of Gospel stories.
Well, it isn't easy. I saw a Facebook claim that more than half of those interviewed by a marketing firm thought A&W was overcharging because their price for a 1/3 pound burger was higher than a 1/4 pound burger at McDonalds. The McDonald's burger, in their mind, was bigger because 4 is bigger than 3. In this age of echo-chamber endorsement of such idiocy, it would be wise not to expect too much of organized religion.



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Post Re: Are You an Apatheist, too?
DWill wrote:
ant wrote:
Quote:
Aside from your narrower criticisms, how do you feel about the validity of the label, and do you think Rauch has identified a real trend?


It's really an unnecessary label. I can see though how the label might be comforting to atheists that have a strong dislike for theism and religion.

Haven't you missed Rauch's meaning? An apatheist is one who according to him doesn't have a strong dislike for theism and religion. Those aren't his thing, but if others like them, "let it be."
Quote:
He's identifying a trend that's been apparent for several years now. I've known "religious" people that have never once hooted about other people's religious beliefs.

He never said or implied anything like that, as far as I can see. And I myself didn't imply that religious folks in general go around abusing others about their beliefs.

Let's be clear about the events of 911. The perpetrators were from a very small band of religious extremists who's goals were a blend of socio-political, and religious goals and ideas. The underlying reasons for the attacks were not driven purely by the divisiveness of their particular religiousness. Also, outbreaks of religious wars are now tiny in comparison to the wars of bygone eras that were driven primarily by religion. Those have declined dramatically. in "modern" history. https://www.pornjk.com/tags/spankbang/ https://www.redtube.social https://www.porn600.me/tags/beeg/



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Post Re: Are You an Apatheist, too?
kamelkamel wrote:
Let's be clear about the events of 911. The perpetrators were from a very small band of religious extremists who's goals were a blend of socio-political, and religious goals and ideas. The underlying reasons for the attacks were not driven purely by the divisiveness of their particular religiousness. Also, outbreaks of religious wars are now tiny in comparison to the wars of bygone eras that were driven primarily by religion. Those have declined dramatically. in "modern" history.
This makes sense to me. I am trying to compare religious extremism to extreme versions of greed, of nationalism and ethnocentrism, of sexual desire, of status resentment, and of desire for power. All of these cause some people to commit murder.

The common thread seems to be that large-scale killing requires ideology in which membership in a group and agreement on particular values and structures causes people to agree to strike a blow on behalf of the ideology. I agree that religious violence is in decline, and I believe this is because of the construction of the modern economy around education and democracy. If you don't have democracy, then desire for power will lead to individuals turning others into killing machinery (a process that plays some role in terrorism). If you don't have education, people are less able to weave nets of meaning that fit elements like religious ideals and technical competence into relative balance.

One of the things that should concern us about Wahabi Islam is that, within it, education seems to increase the likelihood of terrorist behavior and extremist ideology. I don't think we have a reasonable account of why that should be, as of yet.



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