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Post Re: ex-christian.net
DWill wrote:
Then we have that tricky issue, discussed by geo and others, of what we mean, even approximately, when we say "God." Whether or not there may be a God becomes a matter about which less certainty or uncertainty is available, as we get to concepts much less like the Bible God and more like some diffuse spiritual presence that doesn't minister to individuals . . .

Yes! The word “God” means different things to different people. And yet no one wants to acknowledge the etymological diffuseness of the word. And so we talk past one another, shooting at targets the other can’t see.

The words “mind” and “soul” are similarly fuzzy, I think. Mary Midgely, the late philosopher (in her book, WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY FOR?) talks about this problem, saying we need not fear words like “mind” and “soul” and that there are nine and sixty ways to look at a problem and all of them are right. Richard Dawkins and Mary Midgley each take a dim view of Cartesian dualism, though for very different reasons. Midgley argues that finding common ground between disparate viewpoints is where philosophy can help.

But if there's no such thing as a soul, how would we discuss this Shakespearean sonnet?

Poor soul, the centre of my sinful earth,
[Why feed'st] these rebel powers that thee array?
Why dost thou pine within, and suffer dearth,
Painting thy outward walls so costly gay?
Why so large cost, having so short a lease,
Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend?
Shall worms, inheritors of this excess,
Eat up thy charge? is this thy body's end?
Then soul, live thou upon thy servant's loss,
And let that pine to aggravate thy store;
Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross;
Within be fed, without be rich no more:
So shalt thou feed on Death, that feeds on men,
And, Death once dead, there's no more dying then.


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Post Re: ex-christian.net
So, if it does seem to us that there is no immortal soul, that whatever we mean by "soul" comes to us by virtue of our living flesh, is there still a valid use of the word, or are we sort of mooching off religion when we use the word?

I'm not comfortable using the word, for fear of being misunderstood. I can see why it seems natural to use "soul," though. Each one of the 7-plus billion of us is unique, even genetically identical twins. That unique aspect is what we might be thinking about and calling "soul."



Fri Sep 20, 2019 8:33 am
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Post Re: ex-christian.net
WELL THIS IS THE END
I have given you folks enough time to dig into what I have been saying to comment. I am indebted to Chris O’Connor for his infinite patience with me it making my statement in this forum. He has always said to keep it short. So this time I will try to oblige.
Not one you, I have read, or ever read, seems to realize that we are 13.5 billion light years on the evolutionary scale of becoming. Every one of you, and I submit the authors you cite, seems to think the beginning of the universe of thought began with the Greek or Egyptian or some other thinkers.
Well a cursory of thinkers, being critically reviewed, establishes there are 7 critically logical explanations as to how a “god” could be established to validate our existence. For us, in this man declared 21st century, we have yet to decide which one is the “real” god to trust our lives, our fortunes, and our destiny to. . . and the followers of each of the seven religions are killing us…in the name of their religion. If that isn’t crazy I don’t have a better definition of crazy.
Everyone acknowledges that the current system of governments are all broken. We need to examine our system of providing for the social well being of the people in order to better provide for the health, wealth, and future of our people in order to have a better system for their future.
It cannot be by the use of force to impose your will on another. Right now, no one knows any better than anyone else. Where do we go from here? With love. A definition of love that changes the way we think. A deep appreciation of and gratitude for the object loved. Coupled with the idea you cannot use force to impose you will on another will guarantee we can figure out the better course for humanity.



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Post Re: ex-christian.net
Lawrence, what do you mean by saying this is the end?

Surely we all have more to think about and discuss. I mean it doesn't feel like the end to me. Yes, love is the glue that can hold people together but surely there is something going on at a deeper level than our human consciousness that keeps people separated and in competing groups. Knowing that love matters doesn't seem to be enough. Most people only love the members of their group.

The past few years have brought me to the realization or conclusion that the thing that keeps us fighting is tribalism. Tribalism happens at a subconscious level that the average thinker isn't even aware of. Long ago in our early days as a species we lived in tribes and villages. Basically small social groups. The members depended on each other for their survival. Loving the members of your group and considering the members of other groups as dangerous and to be feared and hated was what worked to keep us safe.

But times have changed yet we have this tribalism problem in our very DNA. Democrats hate the Republicans and Republicans detest the Dems. Neither actually listens to the others perspective. Why not? Because the other guy isn't a part of our tribe. We don't even know why we hate so much. It happens at a deeper level than most people are aware.

If you want to solve the worlds problems figure out a way to include ALL humans into a tribe called "humanity" and get the members of this tribe to recognize we're all more alike than different. Oh, but wait.... that doesn't solve the problem it just kicks the problem further down the field. We need to treat all creatures capable of suffering and/or pleasure with respect. That goes for all species on this planet AND all alien creatures we may one day come across. We need to get rid of tribe mentality completely.



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Post Re: ex-christian.net
Hi. I didn't see this thread this past summer, and I have not read the posts at all thoroughly. Without understanding all that is being said, I can yet tell that it's a deep and sincere discussion. My only contribution to it will be a mention of the broader topic of other groups that support former believers of the other two Abrahamic faiths, Islam and Judaism. Ex-Muslims find support from other apostates (as their faith would see them); conservative Jews also have other "formers" to talk or meet with. Interestingly, Judaism seems to have sufficient latitude within it to accommodate those who have few or no traces of literalism. It wouldn't make sense, really, to declare oneself an ex-liberal Jew. But isn't that flexibility true also of Christianity, to some degree? A non-literal Christianity is what Robert pushes for and believes could revitalize the faith.

Eastern religions, Hinduism and Buddhism, have people leaving, too, and seeking support from others who've made the same decision. Westernized Buddhism has provided the non-literal, non-supernatural alternative to popular Buddhism, giving many Westerners some religious identity. I'm not aware that there exists an equivalent for disaffected Hindus.



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Wed Sep 30, 2020 9:22 am
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Post Re: ex-christian.net
I recently saw an interesting argument about what makes religion. Following the analysis in Alastair MacIntyre's "After Virtue" the author argued that science addresses questions of explanation, but not of purpose. A teleological perspective, arguing that certain priorities "are our purpose" gives a very different set of questions. And that religion inherently approaches life from those questions.

It's easy to flatten out teleological issues to refer to "values" with "values clarification" being the standard approach that is approved in public education. But once you sense the community dimension to thinking about "our purpose", essentially that we cannot avoid social influence and the need for a social sense of purpose, you begin to recognize that "choice" of values happens only through "consideration" about values. Answers don't spring up from our inner impulses, at least, not the answers we usually care most about. Instead they are the result of interaction between animal motivation, about which we have very limited choice, and aspiration to be something more. To be a living soul, a being with the capacity to shape its own goals and deliberate about its choices, is a kind of participation in eternity, by which a philosopher like Kierkegaard would mean the life requiring itself to be independent of the time-bound issues of advantage and success.

The main problem with conceptualizing purpose in terms of soul, for me, is that a soul is always conceived of as individual, but really there is a vital social dimension to our soul (or lack of one). The negative side of that is captured by thinking of the soul mainly in relation to sin, but avoiding or being saved from sin is an impoverished view of what it means to be a soul. These days we are more likely to think in terms of being "in touch with yourself" and at peace with your relationships.



Thu Oct 01, 2020 4:54 pm
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Post Re: ex-christian.net
What if assigning "purpose" is just more of the same anthropomorphizing humans love to do in order to cope with existential angst?



Fri Oct 02, 2020 11:23 am
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Post Re: ex-christian.net
ant wrote:
What if assigning "purpose" is just more of the same anthropomorphizing humans love to do in order to cope with existential angst?


I think that's a great question. Certainly that is one of the chief answers that philosophers give, these days. That we try to find, or choose, meaning but ultimately it doesn't matter. Which is kind of circular futility, really. That's what you get when you try to use explanatory questions to pursue issues of meaning.

One secular approach is to start with death, and how it tends to destroy the meaning of individual accomplishments, so that individual purpose might easily be interpreted as futile. That's one version of existential angst ("we must count Sisyphus happy"). The purposes of the people we are connected to are not so limited, however. The group, and the human race in general, are not condemned to death in any time frame that matters to us. And I think that omission is one aspect of meaning and value that Cartesian rationalism got wrong.

It probably came from the fact that an individual must assent to the values of the community for them to be his or her values, in a proper sense, but that doesn't mean he has to start from a void and then somehow deduce these values. I think it is more like a process of discerning them, of sorting through the many impulses and social priorities to make some sense of what "really" matters. And there is always an element of "what matters most to me" involved, but we don't have to be reductionist about it and say that therefore our community has no say in our values.

A more vital part of the tension between individual and group values comes from the fact that we can only actually do something about the things we have some influence with. Christianity gives two kinds of answers to that tension. First, we note that an individual can have a "calling" or a "gift" that is personal, but that it fits within the overall community sense of purpose by the agency of the Holy Spirit. Second, we have the example of Christ ("take up your cross") to inform us that we can be satisfied with contribution and don't need achievement and recognition.

I have lately been thinking of the way the individual sphere fits with all of society in terms of soccer as played by eight-year-olds. They tend to think everyone is supposed to chase the ball at all times. But of course the team is much more effective if you limit yourself to a role that fits with the other roles, and makes a kind of coordinated team. That's the problem with seeking recognition. You are always chasing sexy "achievements" instead of thinking about what is important within the sphere you belong in.

If I can make a try at applying this to your question, we don't have to settle the problem of existential angst with some answer that clearly satisfies everyone and persuades everyone. Instead we demonstrate, by applying ourselves to the challenges before us, that life matters and doing well for the community matters. And other people will be "persuaded" by seeing life well lived and trying to emulate that.



Fri Oct 02, 2020 3:47 pm
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Post Re: ex-christian.net
DWill wrote:
Hi. I didn't see this thread this past summer, and I have not read the posts at all thoroughly. Without understanding all that is being said, I can yet tell that it's a deep and sincere discussion.
Pleased to see this thread resurrected. I started a thread at the Ex Christian Forum to discuss my ideas, and have found some excellent engagement.
DWill wrote:
Judaism seems to have sufficient latitude within it to accommodate those who have few or no traces of literalism. It wouldn't make sense, really, to declare oneself an ex-liberal Jew. But isn't that flexibility true also of Christianity, to some degree? A non-literal Christianity is what Robert pushes for and believes could revitalize the faith.
The problem with Christianity is that its core myth of Gospel Truth involves the false assertion that everything in the Gospels occurred in history as described. Non-literalism has been gradually walking away from that pathology, but has still not been able to entertain a conversation that might see Jesus as an invention as much as Adam and Moses.
DWill wrote:
Eastern religions, Hinduism and Buddhism, have people leaving, too, and seeking support from others who've made the same decision. Westernized Buddhism has provided the non-literal, non-supernatural alternative to popular Buddhism, giving many Westerners some religious identity. I'm not aware that there exists an equivalent for disaffected Hindus.

The non-supernatural reading in Buddhism is actually something that derives directly from its scriptures, as much as a Westernised reading. The problem with popular Buddhism in its ancient cultural traditions is that it involves the accretion of folk superstition in which the enlightened vision of the Buddha in texts such as the Dhammapada is only a small part.


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Post Re: ex-christian.net
Harry Marks wrote:
I recently saw an interesting argument about what makes religion. Following the analysis in Alastair MacIntyre's "After Virtue" the author argued that science addresses questions of explanation, but not of purpose. A teleological perspective, arguing that certain priorities "are our purpose" gives a very different set of questions. And that religion inherently approaches life from those questions.
Hi Harry, so nice to see these metaphysical reflections. I wrote a paper on MacIntyre’s After Virtue in my undergraduate degree back in about 1983, but found it a totally confusing book. I found Heidegger’s axiology more congenial, interpreting his main idea that care is the meaning of being as a fundamental ethical axiom for a systematic existential philosophy. That generates the idea that our purpose is to care for each other. Your points from MacIntyre raise the question of which priorities are our purpose for religion. Is it to give glory to God? Is it to maximise human flourishing? Is it to promote the values of faith, hope and love? My view is that in some sense it is all of these, but the challenge of integrating faith and reason is to put these goals into a systematic existential theology that entirely coheres with scientific knowledge.
Harry Marks wrote:
It's easy to flatten out teleological issues to refer to "values" with "values clarification" being the standard approach that is approved in public education. But once you sense the community dimension to thinking about "our purpose", essentially that we cannot avoid social influence and the need for a social sense of purpose, you begin to recognize that "choice" of values happens only through "consideration" about values. Answers don't spring up from our inner impulses, at least, not the answers we usually care most about. Instead they are the result of interaction between animal motivation, about which we have very limited choice, and aspiration to be something more.
Choice of values also happens through unconsidered inheritance of past values. Prevailing answers have a social inertia, which can be questioned in a systematic ontology. That problem of debate over values is a big part of the motivation for ex-Christians, to see how the social inertia of Christian values is often highly irrational and damaging.
Harry Marks wrote:
To be a living soul, a being with the capacity to shape its own goals and deliberate about its choices, is a kind of participation in eternity, by which a philosopher like Kierkegaard would mean the life requiring itself to be independent of the time-bound issues of advantage and success.
That is certainly a beautiful line from Kierkegaard, echoing the distinction ascribed to Jesus Christ between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world. I find Freud’s psychoanalysis helpful as a way to understand the soul as a combination of id, ego and superego, who we really are, as distinct from how we appear. To say care is the meaning of being means that human identity is intrinsically relational, standing in conscious relation to our familiar world and in unconscious relation to the entire fate of the earth. Our unconscious relationships are often where we participate in eternity.
Harry Marks wrote:
The main problem with conceptualizing purpose in terms of soul, for me, is that a soul is always conceived of as individual, but really there is a vital social dimension to our soul (or lack of one).
It is true that soul is generally seen as individual, and yet soul is also imagined at the level of the world – Yeats speaks of the Anima Mundi, the soul of the world, an intrinsic connection between all living things on the planet. You are right that our personal soul is intrinsically social, in the sense that no man is an island, so there is something highly damaging and perverse in imagining the soul as separate from our connectedness.


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Sat Oct 03, 2020 9:41 am
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Post Re: ex-christian.net
Robert Tulip wrote:
I wrote a paper on MacIntyre’s After Virtue in my undergraduate degree back in about 1983, but found it a totally confusing book. I found Heidegger’s axiology more congenial, interpreting his main idea that care is the meaning of being as a fundamental ethical axiom for a systematic existential philosophy. That generates the idea that our purpose is to care for each other.
MacIntyre's argument is that our ethics have become, in his words, "incoherent" because we have tried to escape teleology. There is certainly no conflict with Heidegger's framework in that.

I fear that the book can be quite confusing, because it is more of a critique than a construction. However, the reason it is confusing could be as simple as the breakdown in teleological language, in which "our purpose" is no longer a suitable topic for discussion by major philosophers such as Richard Rorty, for a variety of reasons intrinsic to modernity. We have, for example, the excellent ethical analysis of John Rawls still lacking a rich discussion of why we want to be ethical people. Why is that a vital part of living excellent lives? We are better at adjudicating than at persuading, let alone leading, because our material capabilities have so far outstripped our sense of who we are as social beings. It almost seems that analytical discussion is the only kind that highly educated people can engage in without throwing up our hands in despair.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Your points from MacIntyre raise the question of which priorities are our purpose for religion. Is it to give glory to God? Is it to maximise human flourishing? Is it to promote the values of faith, hope and love? My view is that in some sense it is all of these, but the challenge of integrating faith and reason is to put these goals into a systematic existential theology that entirely coheres with scientific knowledge.
The good news is that a humbler discourse about living well has emerged from the margins, out of the void into which so many lives have fallen. Instead of a systematic existential theology, which still rings of adjudication to me, we have a vocabulary of resilience, of relation, of accountability, of loneliness and emptiness and companionship and joy. And lo and behold, from the marginalized has come the essential truth that ordinary people are not looking to leaders for final answers as to how life is to be lived, but rather are seeking examples to show that living well is possible in a life embedded in mutual obligation and caring.

When you know people who really care about giving glory to God, not in a shallow, cheerleading sense but in their considered inner core, who, day by day and year by year seek to reassure and accompany and appreciate other people, then you see that it is possible and worth the effort. It does not require any heroic or superhuman effort but just a continual willingness to turn one's face to the Good.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Choice of values also happens through unconsidered inheritance of past values. Prevailing answers have a social inertia, which can be questioned in a systematic ontology. That problem of debate over values is a big part of the motivation for ex-Christians, to see how the social inertia of Christian values is often highly irrational and damaging.
Well, obviously I do not disagree, but I am shifting my thinking to a dissatisfaction with "worldview", in which the values are not the problem but rather the path envisioned for realizing our common values. The means, in other words, not the ends. To be as blunt as possible, I think the traditionalists still believe in imposed values. They are not satisfied with the path of persuasion, viewing it as an effete and empty pipe dream that is not capable of dealing with the turmoil of the world's fight for resources and status. They have not seen, as many of us have, the system of persuasion working quite effectively and satisfactorily. Mesmerized by the periodic eruption of conflict, they do not realize how much of the perpetuation of morality has always depended on merciful deeds and words, on caring and connection and cultivation. The research demonstrates it, but of course that is just science.

Robert Tulip wrote:
To say care is the meaning of being means that human identity is intrinsically relational, standing in conscious relation to our familiar world and in unconscious relation to the entire fate of the earth. Our unconscious relationships are often where we participate in eternity.
More than that, to be human is to be internally relational. Trinitarian theology drinks deeply from the waters of id, ego and superego, and sees caring as the element that enables these three internal (but also social) processes to dialogue rather than just struggling amongst themselves.

Robert Tulip wrote:
It is true that soul is generally seen as individual, and yet soul is also imagined at the level of the world – Yeats speaks of the Anima Mundi, the soul of the world, an intrinsic connection between all living things on the planet. You are right that our personal soul is intrinsically social, in the sense that no man is an island, so there is something highly damaging and perverse in imagining the soul as separate from our connectedness.

Well said. The American Transcendentalists talked sometimes about an Oversoul. Same idea. With our recent intimate experience with tribalism, we may long for a cool, individualized rationalism to slay the dragon, but there are reasons to think that is a futile quest. In teaching we talk about cognitive regulation, by which a person learns to recognize consequences for foolish behavior and to reason their way to moderation of their own emotional excesses. However, the opioid crisis and other revelations are showing us that this is a path that works best with the economic security of the college educated, while the path out of emotional chaos really depends more on a social system capable of offering material security and relational accompaniment to most of society.



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