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Are You an Apatheist, too? 
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Post Re: Are You an Apatheist, too?
Harry Marks wrote:
I guess I am fine with fox thinking, to borrow Isaiah Berlin's terms, and view hedgehog thinking with suspicion.
Thanks very much Harry for mentioning Isaiah Berlin. I read his biography by Michael Ignatieff a few years ago, and remain impressed by his pellucid wisdom. His famous Fox and Hedgehog essay is available here, with summary here. Apathy towards religion seems more aligned with the fox attitude of variety than with the single-mindedness of the hedgehog, although I think the religious attitude can incorporate both.

My own view on systematic thinking, reflected in my recent Jung essay, is that an emerging New Age Aquarian Christianity can integrate the best elements of the fox, knowing many things, and the hedgehog, knowing one big thing. Knowing many things in a Christian framework links closely to the moral framework that the meek shall inherit the earth, as an ethical basis to respect diversity. In my view the one big thing, which has been my preoccupation all my adult life, is that zodiac ages are the scientific basis of systematic philosophy. I know that may sound outrageous, but it is not to argue for belief in astrology, rather that the empirical planetary cosmology of precession can explain the memetic evolution of culture in a coherent way.

I agree with your suspicion about the tendency to monomaniacal ideology that Berlin critiqued in hedgehog thinking, but there are ways to address this problem. Combining the scientific respect for evidence and logic with the Gospel respect for diversity and love suggests how an integrated path can emerge. The integrating theme should be the primacy of planetary existence. The systematic cosmology emerging from planetary studies can then serve as a coherent basis for ethical action and interpretation of history. That for me is incompatible with an apatheic attitude.
Harry Marks wrote:
A systematic worldview is a good thing as far as it goes, but all the systems are incomplete and the more they strive for unearned completeness, as with Jordan Peterson, Hegel or perhaps Sam Harris, the more likely that they uncover inconsistencies.
I agree that all alleged systems to date have serious weaknesses, but that does not mean a future system is impossible. 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. I studied Martin Heidegger, the founder of systematic existentialism, who grounded his systematic ontology in the Greco-Hindu idea that all is one, but his coherence collapsed due to his emotional political commitments to German primacy. My view is that as we grow into the reality that we have one planetary cultural world, the underlying long term orbital drivers of evolution will emerge as the primary framework for systematic thinking.

Speaking of Sam Harris, he argued in The Moral Landscape that neuroscience provides a basis to integrate facts and values in a systematic ontology. I did not find that a coherent argument. My own view is that a better basis to ground values in facts emerges from cosmology, not from biology, interpreting cosmology at terrestrial scale to analyse how human existence connects to the universe.
Harry Marks wrote:
I feel that the main block to acting in the public interest is not absence of thought or awareness but inner preoccupation with the measuring sticks we use for self-esteem. A good appreciation of grace can go a long way to undoing that, but not because it clarifies anything about the science.
That is a complicated and valuable statement Harry for deconstructing the problems with an apatheist attitude. “The measuring sticks we use for self-esteem” are mainly about success in the world, in money, relationships, career and public and personal achievements. Against that hyper-individualised mentality, the big religious questions of what is intrinsically good for the world are matters of distracting indifference. Hence the paradox known in theology as kenosis, that divine action involves emptying of the self, a rejection of the values of the world. The apathy of Alfred E Neuman, candidate patron saint of apatheism, fastidiously avoids any such higher commitments.
Harry Marks wrote:
Although I resist relativism (at least, the absolute version) (sorry, couldn't resist), I really am not understanding about the views that could virally destroy liberalism. I'm kind of with Fukuyama on this - tolerance is the pinnacle, because diversity is baked in.
Viral is putting it too strongly, but setting tolerance as the highest value only works while everyone is tolerant. The problem with fanaticism arises when a fanatical belief is demonstrably wrong, including beliefs that are violent, dangerous and harmful, and yet its expansion is tolerated due to liberal apathy.


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Post Re: Are You an Apatheist, too?
I posted an article here a few years back by Henry Rollins called "Why I Am Not An Atheist" which basically covered this. Rollins said he didn't consider himself as atheist because he didn't care to do the requisite study it requires in order to debates its merits. He didn't believe in religion himself but acknowledged that it might even be good for some unbalanced people. Maybe it kept them from going off the deep end. Of course, it seems far more likely that it forced unbalanced people off the deep end but Rollins's point was that there are a lot of people who don't believe but who are not atheists because they don't care enough about atheism to be be one.



Sat Feb 09, 2019 1:59 pm
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Post Re: Are You an Apatheist, too?
DB Roy wrote:
Rollins said he didn't consider himself as atheist because he didn't care to do the requisite study it requires in order to debates its merits.
Since I no longer think of religion or Christianity as primarily a matter of beliefs, I don't take seriously the idea of "the requisite study." If you want to assess theism as a theory of where things originate and how they got to be the way they are, it doesn't take a whole lot of study to reach a conclusion. If, on the other hand, you want to assess people's response to justice and benevolence in spiritual terms (spirit refers to one's relationship to oneself, and therefore to universals as well), then the effort required is not intellectual but internal. Agnostics are often accused of moral laziness, which in some ways is more appropriate than intellectual laziness.

DB Roy wrote:
He didn't believe in religion himself but acknowledged that it might even be good for some unbalanced people. Maybe it kept them from going off the deep end.
I think the practice of religion may be good, on balance, for the majority of people who have trouble with a strictly logical and calculating approach to life. By giving them a sense of their own significance, a sense that they matter, and by creating social support structures (talk to womenfolk about the support structures of the church - this is not a minor issue), it creates inner resources for staying in touch with reality. If that sounds paradoxical, consider whether it is important for them to stay in touch with the reality of evolution or the reality of their family commitments.



Sat Feb 09, 2019 2:33 pm
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Post Re: Are You an Apatheist, too?
Harry Marks wrote:
Since I no longer think of religion or Christianity as primarily a matter of beliefs, I don't take seriously the idea of "the requisite study." If you want to assess theism as a theory of where things originate and how they got to be the way they are, it doesn't take a whole lot of study to reach a conclusion. If, on the other hand, you want to assess people's response to justice and benevolence in spiritual terms (spirit refers to one's relationship to oneself, and therefore to universals as well), then the effort required is not intellectual but internal. Agnostics are often accused of moral laziness, which in some ways is more appropriate than intellectual laziness.


Religion is a matter of belief (as opposed to "beliefs). If you don't have any belief in the religion you claim to follow then why are you following it? Theism isn't a theory, it's a belief. It is the belief of where things originate and they got to be the way they are. There is no study involved. Their response to justice and benevolence is even more of a sham than their belief in where things originate. "God chose Donald Trump to be president." Really? "Yes, because God can use anybody." So, he picks the most morally vacuous, selfish, narcissistic, intellectually stunted and incurious anybody he could find and decided to make HIM president??? Seriously??? Oh, I know, not ALL Christians voted for Trump, I know. They have just remained utterly silent about how the loudmouth Christians are presenting their religion to the world and the inestimable damage they have done to it as a result. Not that it's anything new. It has been happening for centuries. If it only affected them, I wouldn't care.

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I think the practice of religion may be good, on balance, for the majority of people who have trouble with a strictly logical and calculating approach to life. By giving them a sense of their own significance, a sense that they matter, and by creating social support structures (talk to womenfolk about the support structures of the church - this is not a minor issue), it creates inner resources for staying in touch with reality. If that sounds paradoxical, consider whether it is important for them to stay in touch with the reality of evolution or the reality of their family commitments.


Anyone who has trouble with a strictly logical and calculating approach to life is a threat to our very existence because such people can and ARE frequently recruited into religious and political cults that can and frequently do commit atrocities because they were unable to reason things out because logic is too troublesome to bother with. If most of them haven't, it's because most of them have never been approached.



Sat Feb 09, 2019 3:05 pm
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Post Re: Are You an Apatheist, too?
Robert Tulip wrote:
Apathy towards religion seems more aligned with the fox attitude of variety than with the single-mindedness of the hedgehog, although I think the religious attitude can incorporate both.
Yes, this seems to me to be true, IMO unfortunately. Religious studies researchers should study the tendencies within religion to drift toward literal claims of supernatural forces, and the tendencies within religion to insist on exclusive claims to truth, even moral truth. Something to do with lack of empirical grounding, I suspect, but also something to do with the forces at work in politics.

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.
It probably won't surprise you to hear that I disagree. Since I see the talk of supernatural things as a language for deeper matters, I think a framework of broken myth, in which one can think about spiritual matters through the imagery of myth but without the literalist insistence on the supernatural as a more real reality, can lead us to function very effectively in social interaction.

To give a non-Christian example, it seems that mythology gave us a gift in the form of the term "narcissism" which came to label the obsession with markers for self-esteem, and the compulsion to attack others and degrade others as a path to shoring up self-esteem. That remarkable insight that might not have happened as early or as effectively without the imagery from the story of Narcissus.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Speaking of Sam Harris, he argued in The Moral Landscape that neuroscience provides a basis to integrate facts and values in a systematic ontology. I did not find that a coherent argument. My own view is that a better basis to ground values in facts emerges from cosmology, not from biology, interpreting cosmology at terrestrial scale to analyse how human existence connects to the universe.
I suspect it is futile to argue moral principles from requirements of survival or from cosmological analogies, but I am okay with being proven wrong. I think moral imperatives are recognizable from the requirements for people to be able to get along with each other.

Obviously survival is a requirement for people to get along with each other, but I am suspicious of basing a system of deducing moral imperatives from some method of extrapolating the requirements of survival. It sounds to me like a cart of survival requirements being put ahead of horse of moral inquiry, rather than resting the deduction of the importance of survival on the primacy of moral issues.

Robert Tulip wrote:
“The measuring sticks we use for self-esteem” are mainly about success in the world, in money, relationships, career and public and personal achievements. Against that hyper-individualised mentality, the big religious questions of what is intrinsically good for the world are matters of distracting indifference.
I think I object not so much to their individualized mentality, which is certainly an accurate observation, as to their glorification of competition and conflict. 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.

Just to pull out one strand of that for examination, I am told Aristotle's conception of virtue was fundamentally about what helps the whole polis, rather than what exalts one person above others.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Hence the paradox known in theology as kenosis, that divine action involves emptying of the self, a rejection of the values of the world. The apathy of Alfred E Neuman, candidate patron saint of apatheism, fastidiously avoids any such higher commitments.
I really like your contrast with "higher commitments" here. Although I struggle with them in reality, in my view of meaning it is clear that higher commitments are the basis of a meaningful life. The two concepts are almost synonymous. So if apatheism means mere apathy, mere avoidance of those commitments which lack an instrumental and fundamentally reciprocal basis, then I would definitely oppose apatheism.

Robert Tulip wrote:
setting tolerance as the highest value only works while everyone is tolerant. The problem with fanaticism arises when a fanatical belief is demonstrably wrong, including beliefs that are violent, dangerous and harmful, and yet its expansion is tolerated due to liberal apathy.
Well, I don't think a typical liberal account of matters makes tolerance the highest value. Tolerance is a means, not an end in itself, and it is a means to the goal of a society in which one may think for oneself, and values are more chosen than enforced.

In a liberal framework, one may disapprove of choices or opinions of others, such as unwed motherhood, polyamory, flat-earthism and racism, without taking violent means in hand to suppress them. Only those paths which insist on themselves taking up violent means are to be restrained (that's a bit of an exaggeration, but that's the typical formulation of the core logic of tolerance).



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Post Re: Are You an Apatheist, too?
DB Roy wrote:
Religion is a matter of belief (as opposed to "beliefs). If you don't have any belief in the religion you claim to follow then why are you following it? Theism isn't a theory, it's a belief. It is the belief of where things originate and they got to be the way they are.

Well, I disagree, obviously. One can reject the literal version of "belief in the religion you claim to follow" while still following the truer, more defining version. I know this is not the common view people hold, and talk about religion is dominated (at least on the net) by literalists who insist you are not a real Christian if you don't take talk of the supernatural literally. But it simply isn't true that one has to keep the incorrect elements of the ancient worldview to be a believer and a follower.

Even most of the literalists know you don't have to believe in witches and demons to take Christianity seriously, yet they are attached to the authoritarian view of religion and its bad theology. So they still try to insist on "belief" in supernatural stuff as the basis for salvation. Thorough misunderstanding based on the church's ancient effort to enforce morality.

To try to understand what is going on, consider psychotherapy. It has been understood for a long time that if Freudian psychotherapy works it is not because particular aspects of the patient's past are uncovered so that the person is forced to confront them. Rather it works by transference, in which the patient becomes able to relate to the therapist as a substitute parent and, emotionally, reach the point of sufficient confidence to get out suppressed sources of inner conflict and let the rational mind work on them. The particular things they talk about are irrelevant - the way they relate is what matters. If you insisted that one must believe that Oedipal conflicts are what psychotherapy is about, one would be falling for the literalist fallacy - it isn't the content, it's the context, that causes the effect.

Likewise, if I said, "You have to believe the Holy Spirit is giving a supernatural gift to believe in the gift of tongues," you could probably see the fallacy. Glossolalia happens, and the secular interpretation of it doesn't stop it from happening. It can have effects on a person in terms of giving them energy to confront difficulties in their life, giving them calm to face their troubles, etc. without the supernatural interpretation of it being required at all.

The supernatural was the way ancient people thought about spiritual forces. If an event was significant, that might be signaled by an earthquake or a comet. Why? Because if the gods (or God) took an interest, then "supernatural" events were likely to happen, as a sign of the pleasure or anger of the gods. But since this leads to further thought about what the gods care about, talk of the supernatural eventually became a way of expressing what was significant in human affairs. What mattered.

DB Roy wrote:
There is no study involved. Their response to justice and benevolence is even more of a sham than their belief in where things originate. "God chose Donald Trump to be president." Really? "Yes, because God can use anybody." So, he picks the most morally vacuous, selfish, narcissistic, intellectually stunted and incurious anybody he could find and decided to make HIM president??? Seriously???

Well, I could give you the complicated ideas behind such an interpretation, but since I don't agree with them, I would prefer not to. Suffice it to say that the Religious Right has convinced themselves that abortion is the equivalent of the Holocaust (you may not agree, but you have to realize that justice and caring are involved) and so Trump bringing an end to Roe v. Wade is like Stalin defeating Hitler. Not just the lesser of two evils, but rather an instrument of sufficient hardness and bluntness to win a battle.

DB Roy wrote:
Anyone who has trouble with a strictly logical and calculating approach to life is a threat to our very existence because such people can and ARE frequently recruited into religious and political cults that can and frequently do commit atrocities because they were unable to reason things out because logic is too troublesome to bother with. If most of them haven't, it's because most of them have never been approached.

I have trouble with that interpretation because I live in a world in which Washington State just turned down an initiative to do something about climate change. That is not a few fringie idiots, it is a majority of a fairly enlightened electorate, choosing slow suicide. Our life as humans is shot through with irrationality, and the place to start on it is not someone else's irrationality but one's own.



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Post Re: Are You an Apatheist, too?
Harry Marks wrote:
Even most of the literalists know you don't have to believe in witches and demons to take Christianity seriously, yet they are attached to the authoritarian view of religion and its bad theology. So they still try to insist on "belief" in supernatural stuff as the basis for salvation. Thorough misunderstanding based on the church's ancient effort to enforce morality.


But you DO have to believe in demons. Jesus is said to have exorcised demons from people. In one case. he drove the demons into a herd of pigs and the pigs then ran into a river and drowned. How did that happen if there no demons? If you say you don't believe in demons, then you don't believe the exorcism stories and if you don't believe them, why believe anything in the bible since it all could be a phony as the exorcism stories? This is what I despise about liberal Christianity--the cherry-picking of bible stories to believe and to reject. That amounts to making up your own religion. To me, take it all or throw it all away. Moreover, salvation is just another supernatural belief.

Quote:
To try to understand what is going on, consider psychotherapy. It has been understood for a long time that if Freudian psychotherapy works it is not because particular aspects of the patient's past are uncovered so that the person is forced to confront them. Rather it works by transference, in which the patient becomes able to relate to the therapist as a substitute parent and, emotionally, reach the point of sufficient confidence to get out suppressed sources of inner conflict and let the rational mind work on them. The particular things they talk about are irrelevant - the way they relate is what matters. If you insisted that one must believe that Oedipal conflicts are what psychotherapy is about, one would be falling for the literalist fallacy - it isn't the content, it's the context, that causes the effect.


Well, why didn't Jesus explain this to people instead exorcising demons that he HAD to know didn't really exist if he really was divine or in any way wise? Do you see the problem of bringing up modern psychology while believing in a religion that had no idea that so-called demonic possession was simply mental illness? That they so accepted possession that it never occurred to the writers of the gospels making up phony stories of Jesus exorcising demons would reveal them to be liars and frauds in the future? For that matter, WHY haven't you abandoned this religion for this reason alone??

Quote:
Likewise, if I said, "You have to believe the Holy Spirit is giving a supernatural gift to believe in the gift of tongues," you could probably see the fallacy. Glossolalia happens, and the secular interpretation of it doesn't stop it from happening. It can have effects on a person in terms of giving them energy to confront difficulties in their life, giving them calm to face their troubles, etc. without the supernatural interpretation of it being required at all.


Because they never would have wrote about it if they knew of glossolalia because they would know how foolish it looks. Yet, there it is in Acts--speaking in tongues being given a supernatural cause. Why follow a religion whose literature is clearly wrong and mistaken?

Quote:
The supernatural was the way ancient people thought about spiritual forces. If an event was significant, that might be signaled by an earthquake or a comet. Why? Because if the gods (or God) took an interest, then "supernatural" events were likely to happen, as a sign of the pleasure or anger of the gods. But since this leads to further thought about what the gods care about, talk of the supernatural eventually became a way of expressing what was significant in human affairs. What mattered.


But they were wrong!

Quote:
Well, I could give you the complicated ideas behind such an interpretation, but since I don't agree with them, I would prefer not to. Suffice it to say that the Religious Right has convinced themselves that abortion is the equivalent of the Holocaust (you may not agree, but you have to realize that justice and caring are involved) and so Trump bringing an end to Roe v. Wade is like Stalin defeating Hitler. Not just the lesser of two evils, but rather an instrument of sufficient hardness and bluntness to win a battle.


But the silence of liberal Christians on the matter makes it look like complicity. If you don't agree, you have to shut these people down or be lumped in with them. I don't have time nor the inclination to sort you all out. If you're silent, you're complicit.

Quote:
I have trouble with that interpretation because I live in a world in which Washington State just turned down an initiative to do something about climate change. That is not a few fringie idiots, it is a majority of a fairly enlightened electorate, choosing slow suicide. Our life as humans is shot through with irrationality, and the place to start on it is not someone else's irrationality but one's own.


It wasn't just aimed at religious people, it was aimed these co-called apatheists as well. A lot of cultists weren't religious but claim they were these people who didn't really believe in anything and were just floating through life spiritually adrift until this or that cult reached out and grabbed them. If they studied and lived by logic, that would not likely happen. They would know why they can't join these groups. They would know bullshit when they hear it and they wouldn't rationalize it as people from some bygone age talking a bunch of crap which they can disbelieve but still belong to the group.



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Post Re: Are You an Apatheist, too?
DB Roy wrote:
But you DO have to believe in demons. Jesus is said to have exorcised demons from people. In one case. he drove the demons into a herd of pigs and the pigs then ran into a river and drowned. How did that happen if there no demons?

It probably didn't. The best explanation I've seen is that it was a thinly disguised reference to the Roman legion stationed in the area, with a boar as its insignia, similar to the sort of thing Salman Rushdie would put in a story.
DB Roy wrote:
If you say you don't believe in demons, then you don't believe the exorcism stories and if you don't believe them, why believe anything in the bible since it all could be a phony as the exorcism stories?
Because, contrary to what the fundamentalists claim, it isn't about "believing something because it's in the Bible." When we pay attention to why the stories were written, it adds up to an inspiring narrative that's worth reflecting on, even if some (or all) of it is mythology.
DB Roy wrote:
This is what I despise about liberal Christianity--the cherry-picking of bible stories to believe and to reject. That amounts to making up your own religion. To me, take it all or throw it all away.
Well, you are certainly entitled to your preferences about religion. Since it is about creating common ground for people, linking them together, I have some sympathy for the view that people shouldn't pick and choose what parts of a religion they like. When I go to a Unitarian service, it leaves me with a feeling of being all about the head and the heart as an afterthought, compared to the pathos of the African-American spirituals that animate the services we attend.

But we live in a world with a big role for science, and if I am going to have both understanding of science and common ground with other people (many of whom don't have a clue about science) I have some figuring out to do. What that feels like in practice is not "making up your own religion" but rather lifting up the parts of our tradition that work, and leaving the ones that don't to sit on the floor and be stepped around. Which a careful reading of the New Testament shows to be the way Jesus and Paul used scripture and tradition.

DB Roy wrote:
Moreover, salvation is just another supernatural belief.
The theme of salvation started out as redemption from the Exile, which is anything but supernatural. By Jesus' time, it was about a re-make of "the order of the world". Jesus seems to have recognized that this stems from the heart more than the sword, or at least those were the parts of scripture that his followers lifted up.

Augustine and the earlier Desert Fathers seem to have played a large role in putting sexual temptation in the center of the issue of salvation. Augustine's own life shows that status was strongly intertwined with sexual "sin". To be brief, men of standing could easily take advantage of the situation of women of low status. So the bridge from Jesus' preaching about taking a low status voluntarily to Medieval understanding of salvation from sexual temptation was not exactly unnatural.

DB Roy wrote:
Well, why didn't Jesus explain this to people instead exorcising demons that he HAD to know didn't really exist if he really was divine or in any way wise?
It is another misunderstanding to think of Jesus' divinity in terms of a pipeline to secret understanding of the world's material processes. It's an understandable misunderstanding, but it isn't what we should mean by "divine" and, in one reading of the New Testament, it isn't what the disciples thought. Hard to say with any confidence.

Exorcising demons is a practice going back to shamanistic times. Like hearing messages from the dead, it leans heavily on imagination. Maybe Jesus was a person so intense that he could administer a kind of "shock therapy" to people tormented by social rejection. Maybe it was all made up. Once you recognize that we have no way of knowing, the poetry of it begins to shine through.

DB Roy wrote:
Do you see the problem of bringing up modern psychology while believing in a religion that had no idea that so-called demonic possession was simply mental illness? That they so accepted possession that it never occurred to the writers of the gospels making up phony stories of Jesus exorcising demons would reveal them to be liars and frauds in the future? For that matter, WHY haven't you abandoned this religion for this reason alone??
The simple answer to why I didn't leave Christianity when I moved on in understanding from the evangelical setting in which I grew up is that I had experienced the power of social support. To me it was clear that something valuable was going on in church, and I wanted to know: if I don't buy the explanation I was given, what is it that's happening? Now I am in what I would call a community of idealism, and we find the imagery and traditions of Christianity to be extremely helpful, but better without the literalism.

We don't easily get past the fact that our Christian heritage included awkward beliefs in demonic possession, witchcraft, Adam and Eve, and other troubled concepts, and it continues to cause stumbling and strife. But the struggle to re-imagine Christianity is a bit like the struggle to re-imagine democracy: it feels rewarding in itself, not just as a way to keep the baby while throwing out the bathwater.

DB Roy wrote:
Because they never would have wrote about it if they knew of glossolalia because they would know how foolish it looks. Yet, there it is in Acts--speaking in tongues being given a supernatural cause. Why follow a religion whose literature is clearly wrong and mistaken?
You might want to ask the question from a completely opposite perspective: given that social good comes of sharing stories about what it all means, is there any set of stories that could have survived from the ancient world that would still inspire people today? My answer is, not if you take them literally, but if you see them as pre-scientific grappling with the big questions of meaning, they have a lot of value.

DB Roy wrote:
But they were wrong!
Wrong about mechanism, yes. Pretty good on meaning. We can try to do better, but often that involves listening more than pronouncing judgment.

DB Roy wrote:
But the silence of liberal Christians on the matter makes it look like complicity. If you don't agree, you have to shut these people down or be lumped in with them. I don't have time nor the inclination to sort you all out. If you're silent, you're complicit.
Liberal Christians have hardly been silent about our Dear Leader. I am reading rants several times a week against him, and against the Christians who support him, written by leaders within Progressive Christianity and by ordinary followers. Trauma is not too light a word, nor is resistance. We organize ourselves to attend marches for science and marches for women and to push climate action, always with one eye out for authoritarian creep. Just because we don't throw rocks doesn't mean we aren't taking stands.



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Post Re: Are You an Apatheist, too?
Harry Marks wrote:
Religious studies researchers should study the tendencies within religion to drift toward literal claims of supernatural forces, and the tendencies within religion to insist on exclusive claims to truth, even moral truth.
Hello Harry, I have been busy with other work, but always a pleasure to see your analysis. 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.

Non-literal meaning in religion is more complex, demanding hearers understand that by saying one thing the Bible means something else. 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.
Harry Marks wrote:
Something to do with lack of empirical grounding, I suspect, but also something to do with the forces at work in politics.
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.

Political forces have used religion for stability, making messianism a difficult problem, implied by its own texts but socially suppressed as incompatible with the alliance of church and state. To illustrate this conflict between traditional and progressive religion, there is a debate about the phrase “Jesus Saves”. 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. 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.
Harry Marks wrote:
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.
It probably won't surprise you to hear that I disagree.
Nothing surprises me very often Harry, but I am not sure exactly what you disagree about.
Harry Marks wrote:
Since I see the talk of supernatural things as a language for deeper matters, I think a framework of broken myth, in which one can think about spiritual matters through the imagery of myth but without the literalist insistence on the supernatural as a more real reality, can lead us to function very effectively in social interaction.
The broken hallelujah is very different from a wrong axiom. 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). 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.
Harry Marks wrote:
To give a non-Christian example, it seems that mythology gave us a gift in the form of the term "narcissism" which came to label the obsession with markers for self-esteem, and the compulsion to attack others and degrade others as a path to shoring up self-esteem. That remarkable insight that might not have happened as early or as effectively without the imagery from the story of Narcissus.
Yes, but my comment about wrong axiomatic beliefs would be equivalent to a dogmatic claim that Narcissus actually lived and that anyone who says otherwise is a reprobate. Taking meaning from myth as poetry requires no axiomatic belief in miracles, or indeed in any dubious historical claims.
Harry Marks wrote:
I suspect it is futile to argue moral principles from requirements of survival or from cosmological analogies, but I am okay with being proven wrong. I think moral imperatives are recognizable from the requirements for people to be able to get along with each other.
My view, as I most recently argued at length in my essay on Carl Jung, Climate Change and the Answer to Job, is that a new approach to religion can ground psychology in cosmology, through evolutionary biology. The planetary cosmology that drives climate change also drives the evolution of human mythology and culture.
Harry Marks wrote:
Obviously survival is a requirement for people to get along with each other, but I am suspicious of basing a system of deducing moral imperatives from some method of extrapolating the requirements of survival. It sounds to me like a cart of survival requirements being put ahead of horse of moral inquiry, rather than resting the deduction of the importance of survival on the primacy of moral issues.
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.
Harry Marks wrote:
I object not so much to [the] individualized mentality, which is certainly an accurate observation, as to [the] glorification of competition and conflict.
Surely individualism and the glorification of competition are two sides of the same coin?
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.

What I think is really interesting here is to view the Gospels as promoting an equal ecological imperative for cooperation. With the rise of human intelligence as the basis of urban civilization we need a moral framework of love that expresses respect for the dignity of all as an equal ethic, in tension with the ethic of competition. That is how I read the juxtaposition of the parables of the talents and the last judgement in Matthew 25, that both cooperation and competition are central to salvation, understood on the scientific basis of ecological flourishing.
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 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.
Harry Marks wrote:
I really like your contrast with "higher commitments" here. Although I struggle with them in reality, in my view of meaning it is clear that higher commitments are the basis of a meaningful life. The two concepts are almost synonymous.
Sure, unless we transcend our personal situation to imagine a broader vision of hope, any meaning we claim in life will be weak.
Harry Marks wrote:
So if apatheism means mere apathy, mere avoidance of those commitments which lack an instrumental and fundamentally reciprocal basis, then I would definitely oppose apatheism.
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.
Harry Marks wrote:
I don't think a typical liberal account of matters makes tolerance the highest value. Tolerance is a means, not an end in itself, and it is a means to the goal of a society in which one may think for oneself, and values are more chosen than enforced. In a liberal framework, one may disapprove of choices or opinions of others, such as unwed motherhood, polyamory, flat-earthism and racism, without taking violent means in hand to suppress them. Only those paths which insist on themselves taking up violent means are to be restrained (that's a bit of an exaggeration, but that's the typical formulation of the core logic of tolerance).
Yes, the claim that liberal politics makes tolerance the highest virtue is a caricature. But as with any mockery, the grain of truth here is in the critique of the widespread relativist attitude that denies the legitimacy of moral concepts such as Aristotle’s excellence. 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.


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Post Re: Are You an Apatheist, too?
Harry Marks wrote:
When I go to a Unitarian service, it leaves me with a feeling of being all about the head and the heart as an afterthought, compared to the pathos of the African-American spirituals that animate the services we attend.

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'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. At the UU, we sit in an ordinary room. We have good live music, but it's more like sitting in a coffee shop listening. We have a time for silent meditation, but I'm never able to put myself in the mood for this. The UU has been a very good social resource, though, and promises to develop into some deeper relationships. The part-time minister actually has a churchy presence about him, which I like. When he's not there, we members get up and expound for 20 minutes or so.



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Post Re: Are You an Apatheist, too?
what's discomforting about the teachings of Christ?



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Post Re: Are You an Apatheist, too?
Eli Jenkins prayer;

Every morning when I wake
Dear Lord -- a little prayer I make
Oh please do keep thy loving eye
On all poor creatures born to die
And every evening at sundown
I ask a blessing on the town
For whether we last the night or no
I'm sure as always -- touch and go
We are not wholly, bad or good
Who live our lives under milkwood
And thou, I know, will't be the first
To see our best side, not our worst
Who let us see another day
Bless us this night, I pray
And to the sun we all will vow
And say goodbye, but just for now

Dylan Thomas.,,,Under Milkwood

I have seen such ornate churches....the more ornate, The more I think, ‘This is where they hide Jesus ‘

He never spoke Latin, he had a dialect. His language was of the common man.

He never wore ornate embroidered robes.

He never lived in marble halls.

He lived in quiet, natural places, among the people,


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He was born with the gift of laughter and a sense that the world is mad....

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Post Re: Are You an Apatheist, too?
As I get older, I have become more "apathetic", mainly because I realize that people approach life from very different perspectives. Some of us are wired to believe in something bigger than ourselves and don't feel the need to dissect that belief. That's fine with me. My outlook is probably wired too. Belief in a deity also comes in many gradations and I don't particular see the need to blame all "believers" for the rigid literalism of a few.

Part of my "apatheism" comes from a cynical observation that stupid behavior coming from many quarters of society. Many religious people seem to have their religion confused with their politics. But there are many avenues to unelightenment. I have to come to despise the anti-reason movement that continues to dumb down America. I do also get fired up when I see opposition to the teaching of evolution in schools, or the very disingenuous tactic of teaching creation "science" as an alternative to evolution. Otherwise, I don't care if someone derives personal meaning from their religious faith.

And that was my first thought when I read this article. I have heard that in certain mostly secular countries like Norway and Sweden, there's very little controversy or confrontation between believers and nonbelievers. People just don't really care either way. And this makes sense to me since I've always seen atheism as mostly a reaction to entrenched religious beliefs/values. In the United States, where we see a fairly large percentage of Americans in active denial of evolution and climate change, atheists have to wage a more vocal battle. Perhaps in the absence of fundamentalism, the residents of Norway/Sweden don't need to fight for reason. And perhaps that's what it is in America too--a fight for reason, and not so much against faith


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Post Re: Are You an Apatheist, too?
Philip Larkin - Church Going

Once I am sure there's nothing going on
I step inside, letting the door thud shut.
Another church: matting, seats, and stone,
And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut
For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff
Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;
And a tense, musty, unignorable silence,
Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off
My cycle-clips in awkward reverence.

Move forward, run my hand around the font.
From where I stand, the roof looks almost new -
Cleaned, or restored? Someone would know: I don't.
Mounting the lectern, I peruse a few
Hectoring large-scale verses, and pronounce
'Here endeth' much more loudly than I'd meant.
The echoes snigger briefly. Back at the door
I sign the book, donate an Irish sixpence,
Reflect the place was not worth stopping for.

Yet stop I did: in fact I often do,
And always end much at a loss like this,
Wondering what to look for; wondering, too,
When churches will fall completely out of use
What we shall turn them into, if we shall keep
A few cathedrals chronically on show,
Their parchment, plate and pyx in locked cases,
And let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep.
Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?

Or, after dark, will dubious women come
To make their children touch a particular stone;
Pick simples for a cancer; or on some
Advised night see walking a dead one?
Power of some sort will go on
In games, in riddles, seemingly at random;
But superstition, like belief, must die,
And what remains when disbelief has gone?
Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky,

A shape less recognisable each week,
A purpose more obscure. I wonder who
Will be the last, the very last, to seek
This place for what it was; one of the crew
That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were?
Some ruin-bibber, randy for antique,
Or Christmas-addict, counting on a whiff
Of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh?
Or will he be my representative,

Bored, uninformed, knowing the ghostly silt
Dispersed, 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? For, though I've no idea
What this accoutred frowsty barn is worth,
It pleases me to stand in silence here;

A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognized, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
If only that so many dead lie round.


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Post Re: Are You an Apatheist, too?
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.



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