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Hitchens Harris Rabbis Afterlife Debate
March 9, 2011 8:08 AM   Subscribe

Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris Debate Rabbis David Wolpe and Shavit Artson on the existence of an afterlife (video)

Direct links to mp3s of the audio: Part 1, Part 2
posted by AceRock (92 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
If only they had staged this in an octagon.
posted by Joe Beese at 8:10 AM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, I for one am glad that someone has finally decided to figure this out!
posted by mr_roboto at 8:14 AM on March 9, 2011 [9 favorites]


Interesting; especially since (if my layman's knowledge doesn't fail me) the earliest conception of the afterlife in Judaism is sheol, which is portrayed as an absolute unknown, and could be taken in context to mean there actually *is* no afterlife. If memory serves, this was one of the more notable religious positions taken by the Sadducces from the time of the "historical Jesus", contemporary with the more well-known Pharisees.
posted by The Confessor at 8:18 AM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


The audio files aren't great in quality, but they're the only ones I could find. Will try to rip directly from the video later if I have time.
posted by AceRock at 8:20 AM on March 9, 2011


This sort of thing always makes me think of BIG TALK.
posted by you're a kitty! at 8:23 AM on March 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


I like Hitch a lot, but the guy is a seriously smart dude with an array of interests and he really, really, really needs to move on to another topic. This is tired.
posted by xmutex at 8:25 AM on March 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


Woo! Time to get my confirmation bias on!
posted by cross_impact at 8:26 AM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


That was interesting, until Hitchens opened his mouth.

I am stuck by how the other speakers make a point of avoiding caricature and trying to give their answers without needless antagonism. In other words they are interested in having a discussion in which finding common ground, while highly unlikely, is at least possible. Hitchens seems interesting only in delivering polemical rants.
posted by oddman at 8:27 AM on March 9, 2011


I'm always open to new "evidence" or whatever, but I can't possibly imagine how I could ever be convinced by words alone there is likely an afterlife, beyond some extraordinary demonstration, rigorously confirmed. As they say, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
posted by gagglezoomer at 8:31 AM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well, I'm convinced.
posted by rocket88 at 8:32 AM on March 9, 2011


Weird -- in (orthodox) Hebrew school I was always taught that we didn't believe in an afterlife. But the rabbinic tradition is very rich and there are not many philosophies you can't find a strand of in there somewhere.

Still, am I wrong to think that most Jews, observant or not, don't believe in life after death?
posted by escabeche at 8:36 AM on March 9, 2011


Frankly, nothing Hitchens has to say interests me. Particularly on the subject of religion. he is so biased that even *if* incontrovertible proof of an afterlife came he would deny it. I am not holding my breath for some sort of incontravertable proof. Anyway if you do what is right because you want to go to a good place in the afterlife or fear going to a bad place, you've missed the whole point as far ad I am concerned.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 8:39 AM on March 9, 2011


MetaFilter: interested only in delivering polemical rants.
posted by Joe Beese at 8:43 AM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Having Hitchens arguing for your side strikes me as sort of like having your drunk, abusive uncle stick up for you during a family squabble. It's nice to have the support, but you wish it were from someone else entirely.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:46 AM on March 9, 2011 [9 favorites]


he is so biased that even *if* incontrovertible proof of an afterlife came he would deny it.

If his turn around on Bush is in any way representative, he would merely deny it until about 5 years after it mattered.
posted by doctor_negative at 8:54 AM on March 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


I like Hitch a lot, but the guy is a seriously smart dude with an array of interests and he really, really, really needs to move on to another topic. This is tired.

Well, to be fair, he is probably going to die of cancer soon, so the afterlife has more relevance to him right now than it might have before.

That being said, I agree that, given his vast knowledge, he focuses disproportionately on attacks against religion. This is probably because his mother killed herself as part of a religious suicide pact.
posted by bingo at 8:54 AM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


he really, really, really needs to move on to another topic.

so sick of these damn atheists shoving their rationality and reason down our throats
posted by DU at 8:55 AM on March 9, 2011 [22 favorites]


Amazing how many people have managed to watch a 100-minute-long video in its entirety since this was posted!
posted by hippybear at 8:57 AM on March 9, 2011 [11 favorites]


I thought he was pretty restrained and funny. The most ridiculous claim was that the evils perpetrated under communism were due to people not believing in the afterlife. But I guess that's alright, because it wasn't presented 'antagonistically'.
posted by Summer at 8:59 AM on March 9, 2011 [4 favorites]



he really, really, really needs to move on to another topic.


Considering he has THE CANCER, it might be understandably on his mind.
posted by spicynuts at 9:00 AM on March 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


Here's Hitch on 60 minutes from this past Sunday. Regarding the afterlife - he says is open to the concept if there is proof and he is willing to change his position accordingly. I love his final line "I like suprises." Ha! Understated, witty, and warmly funny. If he the classic Drunken Uncle - it strikes me that he is the kind to ruffle your hair affectionately. Just don't get him started on Israel...
posted by helmutdog at 9:10 AM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


the earliest conception of the afterlife ... is portrayed as an absolute unknown, and could be taken in context to mean there actually *is* no afterlife.

Well, that's no good. How are you going to keep people in line without threat of eternal torture if they don't behave in accordance with your wishes? How will you prevent people from agitating for better conditions in their current, shitty life without promise of something much better after they're dead? How primitive.
posted by Mayor Curley at 9:12 AM on March 9, 2011 [8 favorites]


I have to say despite my sympathy for critiques of theism and the kind of "heaven" concept that usually accompanies theism, I have more problems with Sam Harris (his statements condemning all of Islam as inherently terroristic, in particular) than I do with Hitchens these days.
posted by aught at 9:12 AM on March 9, 2011


What would evidence of an afterlife look like to Hitchens and Harris? These are unobservable states, right? Isn't by definition therefore non-falsifiable?
posted by scunning at 9:28 AM on March 9, 2011


> so sick of these damn atheists shoving their rationality and reason down our throats

The problem is not the structure, the quality, the thoroughness, or the irrefutability of the matter of atheism.

The problem is that thumping on the same irrefutable position on the principle that pure reason and rationality alone will win any argument, with sufficient persistence, is an ineffective way to win converts among anybody who does not think like you do.

There aren't many people here complaining about the quality of Hitchen's rhetorical structure or logical progression from a fundamental thesis - they're just making digs about his personality and reputation.

There isn't anything else for people to do in threads like this. And that is why the remaining posters are here mostly to remark that their eyes rolled at yet another Atheism->Hitchens post.
posted by ardgedee at 9:33 AM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


scunning: Dead people coming back to life with coherent descriptions of what they'd been up to in the interim would be a good start.
Anyway, falsifiability is a bit overrated. If something is implausible and a more complicated description of how things are and there is no evidence one way or the other, then it is justified to discard it for the simpler explanation.
posted by edd at 9:34 AM on March 9, 2011


Well, that's no good. How are you going to keep people in line without threat of eternal torture if they don't behave in accordance with your wishes?

The serious answer? Judaism doesn't, and never has. The call to justice in Judaism is exclusively based on it being the right thing to not, not a promise of reward or a risk of punishment in the afterlife. In fact, the call to justice, in the books of the prophets, supersedes all other demands -- it's clear that God doesn't want empty ritual if justice is neglected. The Book of Lot makes it clear that we are in a world where the wicked may prosper and the good suffer, and that's just the way things are.

There is no heaven nor hell mentioned in the five books of Moses. There is one very oblique reference to Abraham dying and going to join his ancestors, but who knows what that means. It could mean that he's joining his ancestors in feeding worms.

The unserious answer: Lots of bagels and lox.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:34 AM on March 9, 2011 [12 favorites]


Jesus. A bunch of douchebags having an annoying public conversation. It's like they never stopped being philosophy undergrads.
posted by clvrmnky at 9:34 AM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


The problem is that thumping on the same irrefutable position on the principle that pure reason and rationality alone will win any argument, with sufficient persistence, is an ineffective way to win converts among anybody who does not think like you do.

I disagree. There are some theists who become atheists after hearing the reasoned and rational arguments of atheism. I know because I was one of them. Yes, the arguments are old and "tired" to those who have heard them a hundred times, but there are always people who haven't yet heard them, and many of them will be listening to these debates.

The call to justice in Judaism is exclusively based on it being the right thing to not, not a promise of reward or a risk of punishment in the afterlife.

"Judaism" is kind of a broad subject, but it's safe to say that in Biblical Judaism, the promise of reward is present, but it happens in this life. God explicitly says that if the Jews follow his orders, he will reward them with rain and crops, etc.

Before Judaism had a concept of Heaven, per se, there was still the belief that the dead would be resurrected. This is one of Maimonedes's 13 principles of faith, which some take to be the core beliefs of Orthodox Judaism. The Talmud has a ton about "the world to come," which may refer to Heaven and may refer to the Messianic age and it's explicit about getting somehow "more" of it as a reward and less as a punishment.
posted by callmejay at 9:45 AM on March 9, 2011 [8 favorites]


That was a great discussion.

It's interesting to hear people who are well-read deep thinkers talking about topics which are basically unknowable like this one. And interesting, too, to have the discussion not be all about the Chick Comics vision of the throne of judgement. Such a diverse set of views coming from that entire group.

I enjoyed this a lot. Thanks for posting!
posted by hippybear at 9:55 AM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I do know people who were given quite explicit threats of afterlife punishment in Orthodox Jewish study schools. Vivid and unpleasant ones about being boiled and burned for eternity (similar to my experience in Christian schools). I honestly don't know how widespread it is, but my ex-Orthodox chums seem to have experienced it a lot.
posted by communicator at 9:56 AM on March 9, 2011


Dead people coming back to life with coherent descriptions of what they'd been up to in the interim would be a good start.

I found the story of Lazarus incredibly frustrating for this reason. Guy came back from the dead and you're just going to leave that there? I understand that the Orthodox tradition includes stories about him, but you'd expect this to be a central piece and included in the write-up. Also, it's pretty hilarious that in the story as written "most" of the people who saw that were impressed (I understand that there are cases of people appearing dead who aren't).
posted by a robot made out of meat at 9:56 AM on March 9, 2011


Amazing how many people have managed to watch a 100-minute-long video in its entirety since this was posted!

I haven't watched the video (or commented until now), but why do you think this video didn't exist until it was posted on Metafilter?
posted by Thoughtcrime at 9:59 AM on March 9, 2011


I don't think that. But why should I assume that all the people who were dissing the video actually watched it? It's not like it's that uncommon for comments to be made without actually clicking through and RTFA (or WTFV). Like the comment about how it was interesting until Hitchens opened his mouth. That happens what? 10 minutes in? And suddenly there is nothing of interest to be found in the entire rest of the video?
posted by hippybear at 10:04 AM on March 9, 2011


What would evidence of an afterlife look like to Hitchens and Harris? These are unobservable states, right? Isn't by definition therefore non-falsifiable?

I think you mean that these states are by definition non-provable. Responsibility rests on believers to provide proof, not for the non-believers to disprove their claims.
posted by papercake at 10:14 AM on March 9, 2011


Responsibility rests on believers to provide proof, not for the non-believers to disprove their claims.

There's no responsibility on either side to prove or disprove anything.
posted by rocket88 at 10:21 AM on March 9, 2011


There's no responsibility on either side to prove or disprove anything.

That's not true. If you make an assertion, the burden is on you to prove it. Otherwise, don't make that claim.
posted by grubi at 10:28 AM on March 9, 2011


If you make an assertion, the burden is on you to prove it. Otherwise, don't make that claim.

This is a strange demand. I couldn't most of what I say in a given day. I'm usually not challenged on, say, how old I was when I moved to St. Louis Park, or that I have never broken a bone, but, if I were, am I obligated to answer all challenges?
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:32 AM on March 9, 2011



I don't think that. But why should I assume that all the people who were dissing the video actually watched it?


Either you haven't been around MetaFilter long enough or your being intentionally dense.
posted by spicynuts at 10:40 AM on March 9, 2011


Am I obligated to answer all challenges?

Haha, likely you are being a bit wilfully obtuse, but no, to start with just the ones about eternal life.
posted by LVdB at 10:42 AM on March 9, 2011


"Like the comment about how it was interesting until Hitchens opened his mouth. That happens what? 10 minutes in? And suddenly there is nothing of interest to be found in the entire rest of the video?"

Yeah, silly me, I find it entirely possible to lose interest in a project near the beginning. I'm sure you've never bailed on something early when you realize it's not your cup of tea.
posted by oddman at 10:44 AM on March 9, 2011


This is a strange demand. I couldn't most of what I say in a given day. I'm usually not challenged on, say, how old I was when I moved to St. Louis Park, or that I have never broken a bone, but, if I were, am I obligated to answer all challenges?

If most of what you assert is not self-evident or based purely on opinion, then yes, you are obliged to back up all assertions.
posted by grubi at 10:48 AM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I believe Muhammad Ali would beat Mike Tyson if they both fought each other at their peak. It's an unprovable claim, as is any rebuttal. There is absolutely zero burden, however, for me to attempt to prove my claim.
Also, a 100-minute video of the related debate would be a shitty FPP for Metafilter.
posted by rocket88 at 10:49 AM on March 9, 2011


I haven't watched the video (or commented until now), but why do you think this video didn't exist until it was posted on Metafilter?
Don't ruin the funny.
posted by dougrayrankin at 10:53 AM on March 9, 2011


I believe Muhammad Ali would beat Mike Tyson if they both fought each other at their peak. It's an unprovable claim, as is any rebuttal. There is absolutely zero burden, however, for me to attempt to prove my claim.

Because it's based purely in opinion. If you were to claim it were fact (and therefore I was expected to live my life as if it were so), it's a simple matter of Put Up or Shut Up.
posted by grubi at 10:53 AM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Not that there's anything else to do here, really, but can we not get into yet another big fight about this?
posted by shakespeherian at 10:58 AM on March 9, 2011


If most of what you assert is not self-evident or based purely on opinion, then yes, you are obliged to back up all assertions.

Why?

I mean, if you're pitching public policy, or counting somebody's change, or something else that effects somebody else, or writing a news story, sure.

But if you're just stating something that you believe, like there is a heaven? Why does this demand proof?

Sometimes I think the world would be a much quieter place if we just let people be wrong when it doesn't affect us. I know the Internet would be.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:04 AM on March 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Sometimes I think the world would be a much quieter place if we just let people be wrong when it doesn't affect us. I know the Internet would be.

..but you posted that, didn't you.
posted by lumpenprole at 11:05 AM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


But if you're just stating something that you believe, like there is a heaven? Why does this demand proof?

Don't you think it's unreasonable to assert fantastic claims and expect not to be challenged on them? Saying that there is a heaven isn't like saying "Muhammad Ali would beat Mike Tyson if they both fought each other at their peak," it's like saying "Muhammad Ali would beat Mike Tyson if they both fought each other this afternoon."
posted by callmejay at 11:09 AM on March 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Perhaps you minsunderstood. I was referring to civility, not the presence of words.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:09 AM on March 9, 2011


"Muhammad Ali would beat Mike Tyson if they both fought each other this afternoon."

Have you seen Tyson lately?
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:10 AM on March 9, 2011


As my health has declined and I have faced my mortality (I'm still expecting to outlive Hitchens significantly), I have thought about what comes after death and have come to the conclusion that whatever it is doesn't matter.

Life after death only has any relevance in relation to your level of regret for your actions during your life. As my one concession to the concept, I try to avoid anything that I may regret if it becomes impossible to rectify it later (which also prevents any long period of regret while in a coma). Otherwise, it's all a matter of what one's own religion considers the basis for Eternal Damnation. And after some study of Modern Religion, I see that the odds are solidly against me picking the right one to avoid Eternal Damnation, and even if I did, I doubt I could ever rise to the minimum level of True Believer. So I will just deal with it when it happens and if nothing happens, I didn't waste my time.

So they're just arguing over how many Angels can dance on the head of a pin, without specifying: Los Angeles Angels baseball players or Charlie's Angels actresses?
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:16 AM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


But if you're just stating something that you believe, like there is a heaven? Why does this demand proof?

Because the people who believe this are not simply stating that they believe this. They're trying to get the rest of us to believe it and act accordingly. If i don't follow their arbitrary rules, I will BURN FOREVER.

Sorry, but that sort of thing requires evidence.
posted by grubi at 11:23 AM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Because the people who believe this are not simply stating that they believe this. They're trying to get the rest of us to believe it and act accordingly. If i don't follow their arbitrary rules, I will BURN FOREVER.

All people who believe this?

I'm sorry, but you seem perfectly comfortably making statements without evidence. This one is absolutely untrue.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:26 AM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Uh-huh.
posted by grubi at 11:30 AM on March 9, 2011


Perhaps you minsunderstood. I was referring to civility, not the presence of words.

As always, "civility" is not the same thing as "agrees with me about what 'doesn't affect us' and/or what other people believe".
posted by vorfeed at 11:30 AM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: A bunch of douchebags having an annoying public conversation.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:33 AM on March 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


As always, "civility" is not the same thing as "agrees with me about what 'doesn't affect us' and/or what other people believe".

Oh, sure. But disagreements can frequently turn uncivil.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:34 AM on March 9, 2011


But if you're just stating something that you believe, like there is a heaven? Why does this demand proof?

Sometimes I think the world would be a much quieter place if we just let people be wrong when it doesn't affect us.


The obvious answer here is that it doesn't demand proof. If a person chooses to believe something and it stays within the confines of their own head, it hurts no one. Live and let live, and all that.

But...

It never stays within people's heads. Their belief in the existence of something bigger always eventually drives them to force others into their world view, and that's when everything begins to go wrong. So expecting proof for a bold statement becomes a reasonable request, when you consider that, once it stops being a thought on one's head, and becomes "The way things are" it begins to affect the lives of those who haven't chosen to embrace it.

I'd be happier to live in your quieter world, but I haven't really seen it yet. I'm not sure people are able to let others be wrong (from either direction).
posted by quin at 11:38 AM on March 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


All people who believe this?

Yes. All people who believe that there is a hell and that I will burn for not believing and who I've spoken to about this subject... yes.

Now, maybe you've gotten lucky, and people don't ever assert their beliefs without expecting you to believe it, especially when they feel that your not believing it condemns them to eternal torment. But that's you, I guess.
posted by grubi at 11:39 AM on March 9, 2011


I had learned, or thought I had in any case, that there was no real conception of an afterlife in the Jewish tradtion--this noted in a comment--but that one lived on in memory for what one's life had been. But then I have seen vague references to angels etc so I have to assume there is truly clear-cut positon on a Jewish Heaven, or afterlife. A sidenote: Jewish, if orthodox, do not believe in cremation or tatoos, yet of course this was "given" them in some of the concentration camps.
But then it is Ash Wednesday so I am not going to say anything about death, heaven, rebirth, etc because what others believe is what they believe and who am I to tell them otherwise?
posted by Postroad at 11:42 AM on March 9, 2011


My understanding is that, in the afterlife, you are pursued by a little kid in a hoodie who kicks the ever loving shit out of you.
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:43 AM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


All people who believe that there is a hell and that I will burn for not believing and who I've spoken to about this subject... yes.

Well, that's not what you said. Now you've changed the discussion. Prevision it was all people who believed, now it's the ones you have had contact with. Quite a few religious traditions have afterlives that have no hell in them, and quite a few religions don't base your access to either on faith. I'd point out which ones, but you are just as capable of using the Internet as I am.

I should clarify that I don't mean you don't have the right to ask for proof. Sure you do. We always have that right. I am just surprised by the sense that the person being asked is then obligated to provide proof. I suppose in some instances this is understandable -- if you are to libel somebody, the libeled party has a right to demand proof of your claims. If you are to make arguments of public policy, it's certainly a reasonable demand that they prove their claims. If they're doing science, proof is important.

But in matters of personal believe, I don't really care what somebody else believes, as long as it doesn't affect me.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:45 AM on March 9, 2011


Prevision? I think I just made up a word.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:45 AM on March 9, 2011


Well, that's not what you said. Now you've changed the discussion.

No, I haven't. Everything we've been talking about has been within the context of a debate. The entire thread has been in regards to a particular debate and an over-arching debate over this issue. The word "debate" is in the title. Are you actually assuming that my statement is context-free? Seriously?

But in matters of personal believe, I don't really care what somebody else believes, as long as it doesn't affect me.

You're making a mistake when you say "doesn't affect". It might affect how they treat you, but just because you're not aware of it doesn't mean it doesn't affect you. And if people believe something and, as a result, believe something about me, then it always affects me.

And if I use "doesn't affect me" as a standard, then I might as well not worry about how the Westboro Baptist Church feels about homosexuals, as it "doesn't affect me". But when people use their beliefs to justify their behaviors, it affects me. Maybe indirectly, but it affects me. And whether it "affects me" doesn't matter. I'm not the center of the universe. But the issue is still important, because it affects someone.
posted by grubi at 11:54 AM on March 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


And if I use "doesn't affect me" as a standard, then I might as well not worry about how the Westboro Baptist Church feels about homosexuals, as it "doesn't affect me"

If they sat at home and thought about how much they disliked gay people, it wouldn't affect you. It's their behavior that is a problem.

Not every erroneous belief motivates action. I believe everybody looks better with glitter on. I have yet to picket the funeral of a non-glitter-wearer.

And with the Westboro folks, if they were to try to engage me in a debate, I'd walk away. Some discussions are not worth having.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:02 PM on March 9, 2011


You find me people who believe I'm going to hell but don't act on that belief. Then your point is made. Until then, you're being absurd.
posted by grubi at 12:05 PM on March 9, 2011


Well, that's an awfully strange demand. But, okay.

Buddhists think you're probably going to hell -- sooner or later, we all do our time there. I would be quite surprised if you have been bothered about it.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:17 PM on March 9, 2011


Because the people who believe this are not simply stating that they believe this. They're trying to get the rest of us to believe it and act accordingly.
...
It never stays within people's heads. Their belief...always eventually drives them to force others into their world view,
...
Now, maybe you've gotten lucky, and people don't ever assert their beliefs without expecting you to believe it.


I'm confused...are we referring to the Rabbis or to Hitchens?
posted by rocket88 at 12:19 PM on March 9, 2011


But if you're just stating something that you believe, like there is a heaven? Why does this demand proof?

Strictly speaking, if all I'm stating is that I believe that there is a heaven, the truth of that statement is more or less self-evident. Who actually does this, though? I've never met anyone for whom "I believe y" isn't backed up by an implied "...and I'm right about it." Otherwise, conversations about the afterlife would just be a bunch of unrelated statements of belief, followed by some respectful group hugging.
posted by IjonTichy at 12:34 PM on March 9, 2011


Agnosticism FTW!!!!!
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 12:37 PM on March 9, 2011


Well, I'm right about the glitter thing, and nobody has demanded any proof so far.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:37 PM on March 9, 2011


Get a room, you two!
posted by unwordy at 12:47 PM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I had to do a lot of cleaning today and this gave me something interesting to listen to while I did it. So thanks very much.
posted by stinkycheese at 12:57 PM on March 9, 2011


Hichens: There could be an afterlife and no god. There could be many gods and no afterlife. There could be a god with a sense of humor where good people went to hell and evil people carried on ... ruling the roost.

I like to imagine that the afterlife (whatever that might be) ignores that part of our self in which we invest our identity. Sure, life (whatever that is) goes on, but all this petty bullshit that we're so narcissistically focussed on just vanishes. We become light.

And I like to imagine that I might someday illuminate the Justin Beiber concert where he reveals himself to be Cthulhu and then swallows the world.
posted by fartknocker at 1:00 PM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


That's not true. If you make an assertion, the burden is on you to prove it. Otherwise, don't make that claim.

We do do this, when we make falsifiable claims that are meant to add to our understanding of the objective world we inhabit. By carefully demonstrating our claims with different kinds of experimental evidence, we show that they probably do have some actual basis in the world, and our collective knowledge is richer for having been so rigorous.

By why should we hold this burden of proof upon the poetic observations mankind has always made about the subjective worlds we truly live in? Must I demonstrate, within rigid empirical standards, why the wind in the wheat fields will make me weep, or why the sight of a sunset still stirs my heart?

World religion is more often the latter than the former, although this is commonly confused by both believers and non. Adding to our understanding of how the world works and painting meaning over our experience are both noble goals that enrich our lives and the cultures we create. There is not a great struggle between knowledge and imagination, except in the already dull witted.
posted by byanyothername at 1:00 PM on March 9, 2011


why the wind in the wheat fields will make me weep, or why the sight of a sunset still stirs my heart?

That is a matter of opinion. Your opinion. Read what I said about that. Or keep addressing the part you choose, I guess. Whatever makes you happiest.
posted by grubi at 1:19 PM on March 9, 2011


why the wind in the wheat fields will make me weep, or why the sight of a sunset still stirs my heart?

That is a matter of opinion. Your opinion.


How so? It sounds empirical to me. Subjective, but empirical.
posted by rocket88 at 1:25 PM on March 9, 2011


Say what you like, Jesus would do better in a pissing contest than science.
posted by dougrayrankin at 1:49 PM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is it so small a thing
To have enjoy'd the sun,
To have lived light in the spring,
To have loved, to have thought, to have done;
To have advanced true friends, and beat down baffling foes;

That we must feign a bliss
Of doubtful future date,
And while we dream on this
Lose all our present state,
And relegate to worlds yet distant our repose?

Not much, I know, you prize
What pleasures may be had,
Who look on life with eyes
Estranged, like mine, and sad:
And yet the village churl feels the truth more than you;

Who 's loth to leave this life
Which to him little yields:
His hard-task'd sunburnt wife,
His often-labour'd fields;
The boors with whom he talk'd, the country spots he knew.

But thou, because thou hear'st
Men scoff at Heaven and Fate;
Because the gods thou fear'st
Fail to make blest thy state,
Tremblest, and wilt not dare to trust the joys there are.

I say, Fear not! life still
Leaves human effort scope.
But, since life teems with ill,
Nurse no extravagant hope.
Because thou must not dream, thou need'st not then despair.

--Matthew Arnold
posted by IjonTichy at 1:56 PM on March 9, 2011


I like to imagine that the afterlife (whatever that might be) ignores that part of our self in which we invest our identity.

Sounds something like what I've understood from lectures and reading on Buddhism.
posted by aught at 2:03 PM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Because the people who believe this are not simply stating that they believe this. They're trying to get the rest of us to believe it and act accordingly. If i don't follow their arbitrary rules, I will BURN FOREVER."

Perhaps other monotheisms try that story, but mainstream Judaism not only has no requirement of an afterlife (or what that afterlife is like), Judaism doesn't claim to be universalist, either. The rules and beliefs of Judaism are only incumbent upon Jews. Forever. We're not permitted to forcibly convert non-Jews (indeed, we have ambivalence about whether conversion is possible, though currently it has more to do with who can become an Israeli citizen).
Other peoples are welcome to their own systems and deities (should they have any). Jewish tradition suggests there are seven "Noahide" laws (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_Laws_of_Noah) for civilized peoples; taking up Judaism, or the one deity of the Jews aren't on the list. As an incentive, those follow the Noahide laws get an express track to the good afterlife (if there is one).
posted by Dreidl at 2:17 PM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here is a direct link to the video player so it will completely fill up your browser window instead of being teeny in the upper left.
posted by Vallenwood at 3:55 PM on March 9, 2011


Christopher Hitchens' book God is Not Great contained one singe assertion that considerably lowered my respect for his position: He asserted that Orthodox Jews have sex through holes in a sheet, which is one of the oldest, dumbest and most incorrect tropes in What People Think They Know About Jews. I mean, dude, that's a pretty stupid thing to trip up on.
posted by holterbarbour at 3:57 PM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Sounds something like what I've understood
from lectures and reading on Buddhism.
posted by aught at 2:03 PM on 3/9


Hmm... I thought Buddhism was all about reincarnation, which sounds just as hopeful and silly to me as the Christians' heaven/hell mythology. But then, I haven't studied it. Some day, maybe.
posted by fartknocker at 4:26 PM on March 9, 2011


You find me people who believe I'm going to hell but don't act on that belief. Then your point is made. Until then, you're being absurd.

I think Grubi will eventually go to Hell, but could care less how he feels about that. I shan't be sending over any mail to him, if he's worried.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 4:37 PM on March 9, 2011


One of the better discussions I've seen of those that are organized as a debate around this kind of question. Among other things, it was interesting to hear a religious person talk about and support the metaphorical reading of the religious texts.
posted by ottimo at 4:41 PM on March 9, 2011


Hmm... I thought Buddhism was all about reincarnation, which sounds just as hopeful and silly to me as the Christians' heaven/hell mythology. But then, I haven't studied it. Some day, maybe.

There are just as many flavors (if not more) of Buddhism as there are Christianity. Many Buddhists don't believe in the supernatural at all. For those who believe in reincarnation, it's my understanding that what we would call the ego is not passed on. Reincarnation is more like one candle being used to light another, the cause we put in motion in this life resulting in an effect in the next.

/not an expert by any means
posted by Thoughtcrime at 5:55 PM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah, it really depends. Buddhism is traditionally supernatural (if not always theistic). There are some strains that doubt the existence of everything, even the supernatural, and yes, those are the ones Americans tend to adopt, but the most Buddhists believe in some level of the supernatural (i.e. reincarnation). Those who don't are of course just as Buddhist as Seventh-Day Adventists are Christian. (And also the line between supernatural and natural is often times blurred in many religions. I talked to Japanese who are self-proclaimed atheists but believe in river kami and the like.)
posted by Lord Chancellor at 6:16 PM on March 9, 2011


why the wind in the wheat fields will make me weep, or why the sight of a sunset still stirs my heart?

That is a matter of opinion. Your opinion. Read what I said about that. Or keep addressing the part you choose, I guess. Whatever makes you happiest.


I'm sorry. I really wasn't trying to quote you out of context. You seemed to have not understood me at all, though.

I was making a distinction between fact--the observable, falsifiable claims we can make and share about our world--and poetry--the weaving of meaningful narratives to frame our experience, which isn't falsifiable and isn't intended to be a statement of fact. My examples were poetry (not opinion)--they are experiences shared by many people, most of whom I do not know and many of whom I don't even share a common language with. They're true statements about the world, but they aren't facts.

Religions often speak to what I'm calling poetry here (you can call it something else; I'm not overly attached to my terminology or anything), not facts, and they can make the world a more beautiful place when we remember that. To argue over the factness of religion, to me, is a confusion of categories, or simply foolishness. I often have the impression that overly-religious people want to think primarily in poetry, and will argue that poetry is greater than fact; and that many overeager atheists mostly think in facts, and will argue that facts are greater than poetry.

My own view (this part is opinion) is that both facts and poetry are valid in different ways, and that a life lived exclusively in either domain is ultimately empty.
posted by byanyothername at 6:36 PM on March 9, 2011


I wish people would stop paying attention to Christopher Hitchens. Then he might go away.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:55 PM on March 9, 2011


Christopher Hitchens is basically Stephen Fry, if Stephen Fry were an asshole.
posted by holterbarbour at 8:03 PM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


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