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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.



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.



Fri Feb 15, 2019 6:14 pm
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Post Re: Are You an Apatheist, too?
geo wrote:
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.

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.



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.



Sat Feb 16, 2019 10:47 am
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