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Atheist Christians go to church.
August 8, 2011 12:27 PM   Subscribe

Dutch rethink Christianity for a doubtful world - There is no Supernatural God. 'The Rev Klaas Hendrikse can offer his congregation little hope of life after death, and he's not the sort of man to sugar the pill.' 'His book Believing in a Non-Existent God led to calls from more traditionalist Christians for him to be removed. However, a special church meeting decided his views were too widely shared among church thinkers for him to be singled out. A study by the Free University of Amsterdam found that one-in-six clergy in the PKN and six other smaller denominations was either agnostic or atheist.'

'Professor Hijme Stoffels of the VU University Amsterdam says it is in such concepts as love that people base their diffuse ideas of religion.

"In our society it's called 'somethingism'," he says. "There must be 'something' between heaven and earth, but to call it 'God', and even 'a personal God', for the majority of Dutch is a bridge too far.

"Christian churches are in a market situation. They can offer their ideas to a majority of the population which is interested in spirituality or some kind of religion."

To compete in this market of ideas, some Christian groups seem ready virtually to reinvent Christianity.

They want the Netherlands to be a laboratory for Christianity, experimenting with radical new ways of understanding the faith.'
posted by VikingSword (254 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite

 
I like to think of the existence of God as unproven.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 12:29 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is great. God the Father Son Holy Spirit Metaphor is something I can believe in with some confidence!
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 12:31 PM on August 8, 2011 [20 favorites]


This reminds me of the recent Rob Bell Hell controversy, generated by the release of his book questioning the existence of Hell.

His church is right by where I live, so I know quite a few people who were part of his congregation when it all went down.
posted by mean cheez at 12:33 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I like to think of the existence of unproven concepts as mythical.
posted by perhapses at 12:35 PM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Christian churches are in a market situation.

Ugh.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:35 PM on August 8, 2011 [7 favorites]


Where I come from, we call these people Unitarian Universalists.
posted by inturnaround at 12:36 PM on August 8, 2011 [49 favorites]


Reasonable person scorned by majority: News at 11.
posted by odinsdream at 12:36 PM on August 8, 2011 [9 favorites]


Christian churches are in a market situation...

Have they considered becoming a fertility cult? Sacramental orgies would help them compete with the red light district next door.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:37 PM on August 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


Being a religion with no creed, certain parts of Quakerism are filled with openly agnostic or atheist people.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 12:38 PM on August 8, 2011 [18 favorites]


Wow, so it's going to go the way of MTV, TLC, History Channel, etc. Does not do what it says on the tin.
Nice idea, to hang on to the fellowship that way, rather than everyone just gloomily disbanding. I hope it works.
posted by hypersloth at 12:39 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


It seems a little weird that the BBC is only just now noticing him. He's been around for years. His book, "Believing in a God that does not exist: the manifesto of an atheist pastor" was released in 2007. The Protestant Church of the Netherlands attempt to discipline him for non-conformist views in 2009, and dropped the case over a year and a half ago.

Timely journalism, BBC.
posted by zarq at 12:39 PM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


A study by the Free University of Amsterdam found that one-in-six clergy in the PKN and six other smaller denominations was either agnostic or atheist.'

Although I tend to be dismissive of calls to abolish or eliminate religion altogether, I think a lot of progress could be made in many ways by eliminating paid clergy.

Reasonable person scorned by majority: News at 11.

I do think he seems reasonable. But the headline should probably read: Professional religious leader in employment hot spot following religious change of heart.
posted by The World Famous at 12:40 PM on August 8, 2011


So wouldn't the removal of all supernatural elements change that branch of Christianity from 'Religion' to 'Philosophy', or maybe simply 'Ethos'? Sounds like a solid way to go for me. Once you get rid of all that 'because a sky wizard said so' garbage, and delegate most of the genocide and slavery and such of the OT to 'things that squabbling tribesmen did and the stories they told themselves to make it okay', you get a core message of 'don't be a prick'. I think everyone could get behind that... altho at that point perhaps the easiest way to start fresh would be to stop calling oneself 'Christian', just to avoid confusion with the various other myth-based dictatorships competing for mindshare of the public.
posted by FatherDagon at 12:41 PM on August 8, 2011 [18 favorites]


odinsdream: "Reasonable person scorned by majority: News at 11."

Assuming you mean Hendrikse, he's not being scorned by his congregation. Nor disciplined by his church.

So... it looks like actual news at 11. From you know... two years ago.
posted by zarq at 12:41 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Unitarian Universalists on Atheism
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 12:41 PM on August 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


An imposing figure in black robes and white clerical collar, Mr Hendrikse presides over the Sunday service at the Exodus Church in Gorinchem, central Holland.
(my emphasis)

Gorinchem is practically in Brabant.
posted by atrazine at 12:43 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


This reminds me of the recent Rob Bell Hell controversy

It seems quite different to me. Bell believes in Jesus as the son of God who redeemed everyone, whereas Rev Klaas et al take the approach of "life seems sacred, but who the hell really knows that is out there?"

Many people think this way. I'd even say, many people who are in more traditional Christian churches. Most leave church because it's generally not a place where you can say "who the hell knows", even if it is the most humble thing to believe.

I think it's positive that people are talking about it. If my church were more like this, I might still be going.
posted by beau jackson at 12:43 PM on August 8, 2011


You know who else didn't think much of the concept of Jesus' divinity but though the Bible had some important moral lessons?
posted by griphus at 12:45 PM on August 8, 2011 [7 favorites]


Mohammed?
posted by hypersloth at 12:46 PM on August 8, 2011 [11 favorites]


Professional religious leader in employment hot spot following religious change of heart.

Hah! Perhaps the best encapsulation of the core problem here. The rest, like all theology, is angels-dancing-on-a-pin nonsense.

While I understand that there is some historical inertia that leads to the conservation of the term "Christian," this worldview seems to blatantly reject the "touchstone proposition"* of Christianity, that there exists a god and this god has revealed itself through Scripture.

*Even though I don't share Ronald Nash's belief system, I find this to be a useful way to understand worldviews.
posted by dhens at 12:47 PM on August 8, 2011


griphus: "You know who else didn't think much of the concept of Jesus' divinity but though the Bible had some important moral lessons?"

The Jews.
posted by zarq at 12:47 PM on August 8, 2011 [16 favorites]


If you take the god out of Christianity, 90% of the bible is useless and whatever good is left in it can be gotten from better sources.
posted by empath at 12:48 PM on August 8, 2011 [22 favorites]


Metafilter: Gorinchem is practically in Brabant.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:49 PM on August 8, 2011 [10 favorites]


but to call it 'God', and even 'a personal God', for the majority of Dutch is a bridge too far.

Dag, as if I didn't envy the Netherlands enough ...
posted by EatTheWeak at 12:50 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is great. God the Father Son Holy Spirit Metaphor is something I can believe in with some confidence!

Totally. This is the middle path that may lead humanity out of the brink of self destruction. Growing up with a highly liberal Jesuit education, I'm confident that many of the priests who taught theology share this view -- that the bearded white hair god sitting on clouds ready to pass judgement is a myth. I think we were generally taught that Jesus was an historical figure who made people believe in "something" -- a difficult to articulate kind of something, but an important something -- and it has been permutated into various stories through history to adapt the message for different audiences who are only capable of understanding the story in very specific ways. It is dangerous to criticize or mock people's beliefs, as long as what they believe isn't harmful to others who don't share that belief. Of course, therein lies the problem.

This thread will clearly become a shouting match about whether god exists, but for me, I've always subscribed to a message of tolerance towards those who subscribe to the literal biblical interpretation, perhaps naively believing there are ways to prevent the harm these people cause.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 12:50 PM on August 8, 2011 [7 favorites]


Btw, I have just watched Father Ted in its entirety and it's true that it gets better season after season.
posted by nicolin at 12:52 PM on August 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


Re: Jesuits. That's been my impression based on the few times I've talked theology with catholic priests off-the-record. A lot of them are fairly agnostic. I dont think it's possible to go through a serious academic theological education and remain a steadfast believer.
posted by empath at 12:54 PM on August 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


If you take the god out of Christianity, 90% of the bible is a bunch of people begating other people.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 12:57 PM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Garrison Keilor would probably have something funny to say about this. Maybe like:
We in the lake country know what it means to have a late winter. A winter that pushes back Spring and all the lakes and rivers stay frozen. Hanging around into the first week of March like a houseguest who long since put away the last of the pie, and a slow cup of coffee after. Winter just sits there, reclining on your couch, with no place to be and no amount of time-checking or throat-clearing will kick him out. It is in those times that you come to redefine your relationship with God. In that cold, late, heavy winter even a Lutheran begins to feel like those Dutch, not disbelieving necessarily, just that you understand the meaning of doubt. All alone on a freezing tundra, anxious for the spring thaw and the fish fries, and the start of the too brief, too hot Lake Woebegone summer. Even mosquitoes sound like an improvement when Winter sticks around in March.

I understand that feeling defines what it means to be a Unitarian

[polite laughter].
posted by 2bucksplus at 12:59 PM on August 8, 2011 [8 favorites]


So what it all boils down to at the end of the day, God is just kinda there and his Dude abides?
posted by Slackermagee at 12:59 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


empath : "Re: Jesuits. That's been my impression based on the few times I've talked theology with catholic priests off-the-record. A lot of them are fairly agnostic. I dont think it's possible to go through a serious academic theological education and remain a steadfast believer."

One of my grandfather's closest friends in Texas was the local Catholic Monsignor, and I used to chat with him about theology every chance I got. My impression was that his faith was a path of discovery and learning, not a journey that had an end goal.

Guy had one BA in Philosophy and another in Theology. It's perfectly possible you're right and he's an outlier. But still, never got the slightest clue from him that he did not deeply believe in his religion.
posted by zarq at 1:02 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


You know who else didn't think much of the concept of Jesus' divinity but though the Bible had some important moral lessons?

I honestly expected to see a link to Gandhi from that.
posted by Hactar at 1:02 PM on August 8, 2011


Once you get rid of all that 'because a sky wizard said so' garbage, and delegate most of the genocide and slavery and such of the OT to 'things that squabbling tribesmen did and the stories they told themselves to make it okay', you get a core message of 'don't be a prick'.

I would disagree with this. Christian ethics call for more than "don't be a prick". Sure, the popular perception of liberal Christianity can be watered down into nothing more than a single kinda-sorta Golden Rule-ish platitude, but that's not really "Christian" any more than it is "Muslim" or "Buddhist" or "atheist". There's a set of specific ideals which are distinctly Christian in combination, sky-wizard or no; the fact that so many among us tend to conflate them with simple good behavior (a la "not being a prick") shows how deeply Christianized our society is.
posted by vorfeed at 1:03 PM on August 8, 2011 [12 favorites]


But still, never got the slightest clue from him that he did not deeply believe in his religion.

I wasn't implying that the Jesuit theologians I've known don't believe in their religion, just that it is a highly academic, reflective approach to religion, that many of the things in the bible and the written theological record that don't seem to pertain to life in the 21st century are products of certain historical and cultural settings. But I did still understand that there was a deep and abiding faith in something. My only point was that non-belief in a conventionally conceived supernatural "God" may be more widespread in the mainstream than reported.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:14 PM on August 8, 2011


Say what you will about the tenets of hardline Christianity, Dude, at least it's a fucking ethos.
posted by auto-correct at 1:25 PM on August 8, 2011 [7 favorites]


FatherDagon: “Once you get rid of all that 'because a sky wizard said so' garbage, and delegate most of the genocide and slavery and such of the OT to 'things that squabbling tribesmen did and the stories they told themselves to make it okay', you get a core message of 'don't be a prick'. I think everyone could get behind that... altho at that point perhaps the easiest way to start fresh would be to stop calling oneself 'Christian', just to avoid confusion with the various other myth-based dictatorships competing for mindshare of the public.”

This is a (admittedly very watered-down) version of the argument Spinoza laid out in The Theologico-Political Treatise – that is, that when you take all the useless mumbo-jumbo out of religion, you just get a very simple moral code that can be stated in a few words.

The import of this is, as you say, that religion is wholly unnecessary, because morality is very simple and obvious to everyone.

Needless to say, though this is very nice and Kantian, it's not just religious people who have reason to disagree with the notion that morality is so simple a three-year-old could understand it.
posted by koeselitz at 1:27 PM on August 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


[Also, I should point out that I don't think Spinoza was being entirely forthcoming when he made that argument. He apparently really believed that there were some harmful things inherent in religion, and that he could coax intelligent people away from religion by convincing them that all they really needed to adhere to was a simpler, briefer code that could be wholly abstracted from religion itself.)
posted by koeselitz at 1:29 PM on August 8, 2011


I dont think it's possible to go through a serious academic theological education and remain a steadfast believer.

No true academic theologian...
posted by Jahaza at 1:31 PM on August 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


I believe that God is what we can't readily see and understand. But mostly, God is bacteria.
posted by hanoixan at 1:37 PM on August 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


This is one direction that Christianity will go. As an Episcopal priest, the evidence in my own congregation is that most of them are functionally agnostic. We even have a few committed atheists who participate. They may not take communion, but they lack a deep hatred of religion and for personal reasons appreciate other aspects of the tradition. They love church music and ceremony, they enjoy the barbecues, and it's a convenient place to do volunteer work. I once polled my old ladies and half of them didn't believe in the afterlife. When I asked them if they were good for the purpose of going to heaven, not one of them thought that it was a good reason for doing the right thing.

There is a long history of "Christian" atheism, and it is worth remembering that for the Roman Empire, Christians looked a lot like atheists. To claim that God was more like a vulnerable man who couldn't save himself rather than a fickle God had the impact of naturalizing faith. Some have even argued that secularism is a direct outgrowth of Christian thought.

I suspect religious "identities" have become more balkanized. My grandmother was an agnostic and socialist who regularly went to various churches, depending on where the social gospel was preached. I can't imagine that many atheists in this day and age, because of the culture wars, participating in church in this way. But for some agnostics and atheists, religious language can be reconstituted naturally; for others it is a deeply offensive way to talk because it must only refer to the non-existent God.

The critics of scripture have plenty of reasonable points, but they do not exhaust how scripture can or does get read. It may be precisely from of its imperfections, its almost limitless interpretations, that the seeds of independent thought arises.

The challenge will be how pastors continue to bridge the different communities. By and large, most of us will continue to speak in traditional language, with interpretations that can satisfy believers and non-believers alike. Many clergy are not very good at this. Some are. Most of us will have to get better.
posted by john wilkins at 1:39 PM on August 8, 2011 [114 favorites]


Needless to say, though this is very nice and Kantian, it's not just religious people who have reason to disagree with the notion that morality is so simple a three-year-old could understand it.

Therein is the issue - while it may be that a simple moral code is very easy to communicate and understand, the real problem is convincing people not to give in to their immediate impulse to say 'eh, fuck it' whenever they feel it will benefit them and they can get away with it. That's where the superstition comes into play - you keep a populace convinced that there's a superman out there who will always figure out if you break the rules and then SET YOU ON FIRE FOREVER, and the impulse to put yourself before others gets tempered by fear. Then you balance it out by saying 'oh but if you follow the rules, you'll get... the best thing ever! eventually. theoretically.' A little stick, a little carrot...

Complications arise when the people in charge of the circus realize that when their entire fanbase is convinced of the 'burn forever vs. paradise' system, it's REALLY easy to abuse in order to get the base to do other things the ringmasters would enjoy. Like, say, take over Europe for a few thousand years.
posted by FatherDagon at 1:41 PM on August 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


Amazing post, john wilkins - so much wisdom and history packed into a few sentences. This is Metafilter at it's best, IMHO.
posted by VikingSword at 1:43 PM on August 8, 2011 [9 favorites]


Oops, by "post", I mean "comment", of course.
posted by VikingSword at 1:43 PM on August 8, 2011


Is the Netherlands one of those European countries where churches and pastors are supported by tax revenue instead of donations?

If so, that seems like a very large confounding factor if we're curious about how viable an atheistic Christianity can be.
posted by straight at 1:50 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Atheist Christians go to church.
Oh I heard this one. They're scientists and they're carrying a Higgs-Boson and the priest says "You can't bring that in here" and they say "But without the Higgs-Boson how can we have mass?"

that he could coax intelligent people away from religion by convincing them that all they really needed to adhere to was a simpler, briefer code that could be wholly abstracted from religion itself

True.
In a nutshell -
Spinoza: Why are you so worried about arguing over details in dogma? Consider the lilies of the field...
Rabbis (et.al): No.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:53 PM on August 8, 2011 [8 favorites]


I once polled my old ladies and half of them didn't believe in the afterlife.

It's particularly striking that they would be willing to admit this openly to their pastor, instead of politely feigning belief. Great comment.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 1:55 PM on August 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


'...Experimenting with radical new ways of understanding the faith.'

How about they go back a couple hundred years to Thomas Jefferson's Bible wherein he took out anything supernatural and left the parts about Jesus teaching people how to be good to one another?
posted by Rashomon at 2:05 PM on August 8, 2011


Amazing post, john wilkins - so much wisdom and history packed into a few sentences. This is Metafilter at it's best, IMHO.

Indeed thank you.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:06 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've long thought that Rowan Williams must be agnostic, based on the things he says.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:08 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you take the god out of Christianity, 90% of the bible is useless and whatever good is left in it can be gotten from better sources.
posted by empath at 2:48 PM on August 8 [8 favorites +] [!]


I suggest that you re-read Genesis (and the second part of Isaiah, Proverbs, Job, and the Gospel of Mark), and compare it to the best of world literature.
posted by goethean at 2:08 PM on August 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


I loved your comment, john wilkins, but I do have a couple bones to pick:

Some have even argued that secularism is a direct outgrowth of Christian thought.
...
It may be precisely from of [scripture's] imperfections, its almost limitless interpretations, that the seeds of independent thought arises.

I've heard these ideas expressed before. I've never heard them defended well, but I'd like to. So: what is it about Christianity, in particular, that was necessary for or powerful in the growth of secular thought?

Is it even a worthwhile exercise to try to speculate about what the culture of, e.g., the Romans would have been capable of by the 1700s or so, if they had held things together and their religion had simply continued evolving?
posted by gurple at 2:10 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think of God as the sum of all intelligence, meaning, and significance relevant to humanity. So in a very real sense we create God through our behavior, dreams, ideas, an so forth. Does this composite God have its own sentience? I doubt it, but maybe. I don't have the brainpower to know what a ubiquitous sentience would be like. But I know this: I'd rather we create a good God than a bad one.
posted by jwhite1979 at 2:11 PM on August 8, 2011


So... it looks like actual news at 11. From you know... two years ago.

Noughty Vicar! Atheist Minister Shock - News at 2011
posted by Sparx at 2:11 PM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


We have this type of pastors here in Denmark, as well. And I'm an atheist Church member. I Think it's fairly common in Europe, in both Protestant and Catholic countries. Maybe it is the same in the US, only the fundies have taken over the media?
Oh, and on preview, Goetheans post favorited..
posted by mumimor at 2:11 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I like to think of the existence of unproven concepts as mythical.

You mean like string theory?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 2:11 PM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


I suggest that you re-read Genesis (and the second part of Isaiah, Proverbs, Job, and the Gospel of Mark), and compare it to the best of world literature.

"Compare it to the best of world literature" indeed.
posted by gurple at 2:16 PM on August 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


FatherDagon: “Therein is the issue - while it may be that a simple moral code is very easy to communicate and understand, the real problem is convincing people not to give in to their immediate impulse to say 'eh, fuck it' whenever they feel it will benefit them and they can get away with it. That's where the superstition comes into play - you keep a populace convinced that there's a superman out there who will always figure out if you break the rules and then SET YOU ON FIRE FOREVER, and the impulse to put yourself before others gets tempered by fear. Then you balance it out by saying 'oh but if you follow the rules, you'll get... the best thing ever! eventually. theoretically.' A little stick, a little carrot... Complications arise when the people in charge of the circus realize that when their entire fanbase is convinced of the 'burn forever vs. paradise' system, it's REALLY easy to abuse in order to get the base to do other things the ringmasters would enjoy. Like, say, take over Europe for a few thousand years.”

An esoteric text can have more than one meaning, and all can be true. The carrot-and-stick metaphor "god will reward you if you're good!" image, for instance, seems to be absolutely true in real-world terms; justice benefits the human race as a whole. There are also other meanings of scripture which are equally valid, if not more so. Abstracting them away from the religion robs it of its inner meaning.
posted by koeselitz at 2:22 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, my own view of this whole athiests-as-Christians thing is this: it's deeply provincial, I think, in the sense of "temporal provincialism" of which T S Eliot once wrote. Christians now instinctively believe that the tradition is flatly wrong, and that it's silly and stupid and wrong.

People in the modern era like to believe that we're above all other humans that have ever existed, that any ideas we have are naturally intrinsically more valid than ideas that people in the past held, and that old things are stupid and pointless and bad. By giving in to this provincial impulse, I think ministers are shooting themselves in the foot; it won't take more than a few years for those people who go to church merely to feel like they did right by their parents to die off, and then we'll be left with people who have no reason whatsoever to care about religion at all.

If you don't think it's true, why do it? It really seems stupid to me, a monumental waste of time. There's nothing wrong with staying home on Sunday, if that's your wish. If morality is dead simple, if justice is easy, if the world is black-and-white and you don't need a complicated faith to understand it, why expend energy on a bunch of pointless pomp and circumstance? It doesn't make any sense.
posted by koeselitz at 2:32 PM on August 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Some have even argued that secularism is a direct outgrowth of Christian thought.

So, what, was Confucius chopped liver?

I'd argue that the single largest and oldest contiguous world civilization is secular, and has been for over a millennium. Frankly, the idea that Christianity is the only religion which became secular in the West also counts for little, especially when you realize that Christianity wiped out several competing systems of thought, and that a revival of the ancient pagan classics was strongly associated with the development of Western secularism.
posted by vorfeed at 2:34 PM on August 8, 2011 [10 favorites]


If morality is dead simple, if justice is easy, if the world is black-and-white and you don't need a complicated faith to understand it, why expend energy on a bunch of pointless pomp and circumstance? It doesn't make any sense.

...didn't you just argue that Christian morality -- even "when you take all the useless mumbo-jumbo out of religion" -- isn't that simple? If so, why should the "pomp and circumstance" be "pointless" if it still teaches Christian morality?
posted by vorfeed at 2:38 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


john wilkins: “Some have even argued that secularism is a direct outgrowth of Christian thought.”

vorfeed: “So, what, was Confucius chopped liver? I'd argue that the single largest and oldest contiguous world civilization is secular, and has been for over a millennium. Frankly, the idea that Christianity is the only religion which became secular in the West also counts for little, especially when you realize that Christianity wiped out several competing systems of thought, and that a revival of the ancient pagan classics was strongly associated with the development of Western secularism.”

Yeah, there have been atheists and secularists and even strict materialists since before the birth of Christ.

Not to mention – secularists disagree with Christianity, so it's more than a little annoying and disrespectful to go around claiming that they're just intellectual children of Christianity somehow. It would be like saying "oh, you Democrats are really just Republicans deep down." Argh. People are allowed to disagree. We have to talk about the ideas, not dismiss them as being the same when they're not.

vorfeed: “...didn't you just argue that Christian morality -- even "when you take all the useless mumbo-jumbo out of religion" -- isn't that simple? If so, why should the "pomp and circumstance" be "pointless" if it still teaches Christian morality?”

That was precisely my point. If you're the type of Christian who thinks that Christianity really just boils down to "don't be an asshole" – and there are a lot of such Christians nowadays – then I don't see why you'd waste your time going to church. It seems pointless, and moreover a betrayal of your own actual principles for the sake of something like social contact and something to do on Sunday mornings. It'd be like voting to make abortion illegal even though it's against your beliefs, just because you happen to like the folks in the pro-life group at your church.
posted by koeselitz at 2:51 PM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


(That is: I am not that type of Christian – and I happen to believe there's more to Christianity than a simple little moral code. But if I didn't believe that, I'd hardly want to waste my time.)
posted by koeselitz at 2:53 PM on August 8, 2011


Proof of God's existence will never be available, and for good reason. Not because God doesn't exist, but because of sound biblical reasoning. Even if you are not a believer, I beg you to consider:

IF, for the sake of discussion, we assume the bible reflects an accurate portrayal of certain events, then:

1) Man was cast out of Eden (separated from God) for sinning against him by eating from "the tree of knowledge."

2) At some point, God decides to forgive us by coming down to live amongst us AS one of us (Jesus,) and offers to "take us back" if we will once again believe in him and live as we are taught to live BY him (said teachings being unarguably wonderful examples by which to live.)

3) He performs just enough miracles to prove he really is who he says he is. Note that Jesus declined to be a miracle-on-demand kind of guy specifically because he wanted us to come by faith alone, hence the "Blessed are they who have not seen, yet believe" quote.

4) He is killed to fulfill his role as the sacrificial lamb, who took upon himself all of man's sin so that each man's sin could be forgiven if he simply believed on the one who paid the price for him.

#3 is most important, because it shows why God will not allow himself to be "proved" in any way. Proof removes the need for faith, so we would have no other choice but to acknowledge God as real, whereas he wants us to come to him by faith alone, because that is the way he can separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. He wants us to follow him because we want to, and not because we have to.

This is why God has never "sent" anyone to hell. It is not his choice that we go there, it is through our own free will that we choose it for ourselves by not believing through faith, which is just another way of thumbing our noses at God and denying him simply because we lack "proof." That is our own pride and arrogance coming through.

So, it seems obvious to me at least why no proof will ever be found for the existence of God. It was set up that way for good reason.
posted by Quasimike at 2:58 PM on August 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


> We even have a few committed atheists who participate. They may not take communion,

Would you please say a bit more about that? On what grounds? It isn't as if we Anglicans were required to sign the 39 Articles any longer. If Bishop Spong (who is about as close to Richard Dawkins in a dogcollar as I can imagine) can remain a Bishop, and more importantly a priest, able for instance to bless the Host, why shouldn't any ordinary hedge-atheist receive it?
posted by jfuller at 2:58 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


koeselitz: " That was precisely my point. If you're the type of Christian who thinks that Christianity really just boils down to "don't be an asshole" – and there are a lot of such Christians nowadays – then I don't see why you'd waste your time going to church."

People who attend churches and synagogues are often looking for something that they feel is missing in their lives. Even if that something is as simple as "I am having trouble coping" or "I want to be a better person."

Going to church because one wants to learn how to be a better person would be a valid reason to go, and most likely in their minds not at all pointless.
posted by zarq at 3:00 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you're the type of Christian who thinks that Christianity really just boils down to "don't be an asshole" – and there are a lot of such Christians nowadays – then I don't see why you'd waste your time going to church. It seems pointless, and moreover a betrayal of your own actual principles for the sake of something like social contact and something to do on Sunday mornings.

What I think you're missing is that there are at least some Christians who do not believe that "Christianity really just boils down to 'don't be an asshole'" -- that is, they have a much more developed sense of Christian ethics -- but they nevertheless do not believe in the divinity of Christ. I share your annoyance with people (not just Christians) who have an unchallenged and unexamined moral life, but I don't see why there must necessarily be a simple, one-dimensional dichotomy between JESUS IS RISEN and CHRISTIANITY IS JUST BE-NICE.
posted by vorfeed at 3:03 PM on August 8, 2011


So, what, was Confucius chopped liver?

I agree with your main point about secularism, but yes, Confucius was chopped liver. :-P

They may not take communion,

I don't think that was saying they're forbidden from taking communion, but rather an example of the English construction in use when you say something like "Bob may not be a huge football fan, but Bob's not going to post anti-football screeds on sports messageboards."
posted by kmz at 3:03 PM on August 8, 2011


I agree with your main point about secularism, but yes, Confucius was chopped liver. :-P

Damn, I do believe you just illuminated that oft-questioned line in The Analects about the proper alignment of grilled onions under Heaven...
posted by vorfeed at 3:06 PM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Therein is the issue - while it may be that a simple moral code is very easy to communicate and understand, the real problem is convincing people not to give in to their immediate impulse to say 'eh, fuck it' whenever they feel it will benefit them and they can get away with it. That's where the superstition comes into play - you keep a populace convinced that there's a superman out there who will always figure out if you break the rules and then SET YOU ON FIRE FOREVER

Christianity would not solve this because all it would take is remorse to be saved from such the fate of eternal hellfire. Forgiveness of sins is kind of an important theme in Christianity. My own feeling is that threat of hellfire is unlikely to be the thing that stops anyone other than a small subset of deeply religious psychopaths from saying "aw, fuck it." Christianity allows for breaking the rules as long as you recognize you broke the rules and are sorry for it.

The point for me is that the rules seem to be, to some degree, inherent in being human and certainly larger than Christianity. Some people will always say "aw, fuck it" and do wrong when they can get away with it. yet still most people seem to see some good in doing good, and refrain from saying "aw, fuck it" even when they can get away with it.
posted by Hoopo at 3:09 PM on August 8, 2011


Ramen!
posted by Renoroc at 3:13 PM on August 8, 2011


To compete in this market of ideas, some Christian groups seem ready virtually to reinvent Christianity.

From a cultural standpoint it seems like Christianity hit the skids when it dominated the market of ideas (say the dark ages). There are systems of belief that serve as unifying forces that facilitate communication between disparate elements of society whatever the core concepts.
And it seems Christianity has served as one of those systems at some points in its history.
But perhaps the difference now is simply technological. There's no need for unity on a cultural level because communication systems can exist without it.

How Christianity would compete, I have no idea. Back in the day big cathedrals were built. Stained glass, gold, etc. were the spectacle to capture the lowest common denominator who might not have understood the symbolic meanings behind the words or had the time or inclination to get involved in contemplation and abstract world created by the symbols, but could understand Big. Gold. Cross.
Now?
I don't think any system can compete (without coercion of some kind, even the friendly kind) if it maintains a hierarchy no matter how great the ideas, whether they're separate from a God concept or not.
I think we do need some social coordination for volunteerism and giving aid to each other. But I can't see anything a given religious body can do a secular body can't.

I suppose that's a minimalist vs. eliminationalist argument. If you're sold on the "be nice to each other" moral, why do you require additional color if a framework to execute that imperative can exist without it?

" 'I like to think of the existence of unproven concepts as mythical.'
'You mean like string theory?'"

No, I'm a frayed knot.

jeez I'm in a goofy mood...sorry, I'll go straighten myself out.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:20 PM on August 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


No, I'm a frayed knot.

jeez I'm in a goofy mood...sorry, I'll go straighten myself out.


Well, I should rope so.
posted by eoden at 3:40 PM on August 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


1) Man was cast out of Eden (separated from God) for sinning against him by eating from "the tree of knowledge."

This is wrong, and reflects a common misunderstanding of Genesis 2. Man was cursed by God as punishment for eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, but "cast out of Eden" because God was scared that he would eat from the tree of life.
GEN 2:21 The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. 22 And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” 23 So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.
I'm always amazed at how many self-proclaimed Christians don't know this. It's central to the moral character of their fictional God, that from the beginning of the Bible he is the cause of all our suffering, not just out of righteous anger, but out of fear.

(For extra fun, ask a Christian which, of God and the serpent, tells Adam and Eve the truth about the fruit of the tree, and which one lies.)
posted by Now I'm Prune Tracy! at 3:49 PM on August 8, 2011 [24 favorites]


No, I'm a frayed knot.

jeez I'm in a goofy mood...sorry, I'll go straighten myself out.

Well, I should rope so.


This thread would be a lot better if it weren't laced with strings of puns.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 3:52 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Proof of God's existence will never be available, and for good reason. Not because God doesn't exist, but because of sound biblical reasoning.

Fun, but I'm not sure why we should believe the New Testament's historical content while rejecting its constant prophesizing of the Second Coming and the Resurrection of the Dead, both of which would be ample proof. Grabbed this from Wikipedia:

The coming of Christ will be instantaneous and worldwide.[5] "For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be." —Matthew 24:27
The coming of Christ will be visible to all.[6] "Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." —Matthew 24:30
The coming of Christ will be audible.[7] "And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." —Matthew 24:31
The resurrection of the righteous will occur.[8] "For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first." —1 Thessalonians 4:16
In one single event, the saved who are alive at Christ's coming will be caught up together with the resurrected to meet the Lord in the air.[9] "Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord." —1 Thessalonians 4:17

posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 4:07 PM on August 8, 2011


I've heard these ideas expressed before. I've never heard them defended well, but I'd like to. So: what is it about Christianity, in particular, that was necessary for or powerful in the growth of secular thought?

I believe that the argument is not that Christianity was necessary for secularism but that secularism arose from developments within it.

The Reformation with its call "Sola scriptura" reduced the authority of the church. Each Protestant believer, or at least the literate ones, now had some authority and responsibility to interpret the Word of God themselves. The meaning of the text, and the world as well for that matter, did not have to be mediated by Christ's representative in Rome. As more time passed and Bibles became more widely available a variety of interpretations competed for believers with no interpretation universally acknowledged correct. Sects proliferated. Many wars later there is an increased appreciation for religious tolerance. Keep going down that road and you get secular humanism.

If Christianity had not rapidly spread through Rome, would secular humanism have evolved more quickly? It depends on how much the pagans believed their own myths, which is a tough question to answer. But considering the wide respect given to the Stoics and Epicureans it seems probable.
posted by BigSky at 4:08 PM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


3) He performs just enough miracles to prove he really is who he says he is.
...
#3 is most important, because it shows why God will not allow himself to be "proved" in any way.

Except of course, that way mentioned in number 3*.

By the same argument. I am totally a wizard, and would absolutely prove it except that the wizard council won't let me do as it would freak your tiny muggle mind. But here is a video of me doing wizardly magic that should be proof enough, and if you think that's proof enough, you're so amazingly cool that I am going to give you an icecream. I don't have any icecreams on me now, but when you're dead I'll be getting a huge supply and you can have one then.

QED

* (decades after the event by people who weren't there)
posted by Sparx at 4:11 PM on August 8, 2011 [8 favorites]


Quasimike: Proof of God's existence will never be available, and for good reason. Not because God doesn't exist, but because of sound biblical reasoning.


You forgot Acts 1.

Now I'm Prune Tracy!: This is wrong, and reflects a common misunderstanding of Genesis 2. Man was cursed by God as punishment for eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, but "cast out of Eden" because God was scared that he would eat from the tree of life.

It doesn't say or even imply that God was scared. It implies that there is some compelling reason for God not to want Adam to live forever in the garden. It does not say (at that moment) what that reason is. You assume that fear is that reason. Why do you assume that?

It's central to the moral character of their fictional God, that from the beginning of the Bible he is the cause of all our suffering, not just out of righteous anger, but out of fear.

Again, you're taking vast liberties reading fear into that passage, particularly when you do so ignoring everything that the New Testament purports to teach about God's reasons and motivations.

For extra fun, ask a Christian which, of God and the serpent, tells Adam and Eve the truth about the fruit of the tree, and which one lies.

I'm up for a little extra fun. Which of God's statements do you think is a lie? Which of the serpent's statements do you think is wholly and completely true? In answering those questions, I'm OK with you throwing out all the rest of Christian theology for the sake of simplicity.
posted by The World Famous at 4:12 PM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


koeselitz: I'm sorry. I'm looking at your claims and I'm just plain baffled. Traditions of thought that pre-date Christianity are temporal provincialism? Secularists disagree with Christianity, ignoring the Christians participated in writing the laws, advancing the court cases, and writing the first Humanist Manifesto?

I guess I agree with john wilkins about culture-war balkanization. Some of the responses by Jewish feminists to this thread shocked me out of my religious provincialism that religion can primarily be defined in terms of a system of shared beliefs about God rather than community, ethnicity, or practice.

Something I heard in a UU congregation once was "Christ the message or Christ the messenger." Certainly we have multiple other religions based on the "message" of an insightful figure--not necessarily real in historic terms--who wrote about how to live the good life.

As for why? I'm coming to the realization after a couple of weird philosophical coincidences and a few burning-bush moments that I need a community that speaks to both my atheism and my experiences.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:16 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I really like the idea of a post-God religion. Churches weird enormous social power. A lot of that power is logistical: simply by holding regular meetings at least once a week they reinforce beliefs and maintain enthusiasm. What other organizations have such fanatical followings? (The only thing I can think that even comes close is college/pro sports, which heywaddacoincidence also holds regular, semi-ritualized meetings en masse and has its own "fans".)

Some good comes from religious organizations, for sure. The problem is that so much of that social power either goes to waste (repeatedly telling God how awesome He is = dumb) or to actively hurting other people (racial/gender/homophobic bigotry, child abuse, etc.).

What if, instead, we could channel that social power into actually solving real world problems? What if, instead of the Catholic Church and the Presbyterian Church, we had the Church of Ending World Hunger Church and the Church of Space Colonization. Draft up a "Bible" of what Joe Normal can do to support the cause. Meet every week to reinforce beliefs and maintain enthusiasm. Tithe 10% of your paycheck to supporting X research. Vote accordingly. Judge yourself and your fellow "church"goers by how well you're supporting the cause.

Even if I didn't think curing cancer was the most important thing ever, I'd still tip my hat when passing the Church of Curing Cancer and feel a little guilty for not attending.
posted by LordSludge at 4:27 PM on August 8, 2011 [6 favorites]


For me, this sounds awful familiar--as the folks who sounds the best to me on spiritual matters are people like the New England transcendentalists, who were (in the main)--working to have a sacramental sense of the world without hugging too tight to any individual prophet or any individual instantiation or message. New bibles for new times, and a religion of seeking rather than enforcement of someone else's ideas.

The poet Walt Whitman, and some others (up to and including mid-career Wallace Stevens) seem to have taken it farther with their own : humans are more important than stories. Stories come from humans. Enjoying and being able to use a story for what it's worth, to see with the aid of it while knowing it to be a fiction are the province of poetry. I always thought that it's a shame that that kind of poetry tends to be a very niche market.
posted by LucretiusJones at 4:50 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Protestant Church of the Netherlands attempt to discipline him for non-conformist views in 2009,...

It's just what I love about religious institutions, the need to make everyone believe the same way.

If you take the god out of Christianity, 90% of the bible is useless and whatever good is left in it can be gotten from better sources.

Leaving god in raises that to about 99%. Someone ought to produce a Bible that's just the good parts.
posted by Mental Wimp at 5:01 PM on August 8, 2011


If Smedleyman's goofiest moments are the price we have to pay for his most insightful moments, I'd say we're getting a hell of a bargain.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 5:22 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I like to think of the existence of God as unproven.

You know, that's exactly how I feel about XRDN (not His real name, that would be blasphemy!), the incorporeal, immortal, pan-dimensional rabbit, currently observing us from His comfortable, invisible, undetectable teapot-shaped throne in orbit around the moon. Presumably, as you cannot disprove His exalted existence, you will adjust your behaviour here on Earth to align with His commandments:

- use no light emitting diodes on Wednesdays

- consume not eggs and ketchup in the same meal, unless with toast and Worcestershire sauce, for these condiments are most pleasing to Me; and

- if thy neighbour hath secured his wi-fi, thou shalt not suffer him to live, but rather take him to a high place, and bury him in the ground up to his shoulders, and stone him to death.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:31 PM on August 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


You know, that's exactly how I feel about XRDN (not His real name, that would be blasphemy!),...

Whew! I thought that was going to be about Flying Spaghetti Monster, a totally false god.
posted by Mental Wimp at 5:42 PM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


You know, I'm a Christian. I also grew up with a larger-than-average number of Jewish folktales for a kid in my shoes, so maybe it's not all that surprising that I grew up with a different attitude than a lot of people I know.

But as far as I'm concerned, it goes like this: Maybe God is a real thing like my shoe is a real thing. Maybe Jesus really existed like my Aunt Adelaide really existed. Maybe he walked on water just as surely as I ate leftover pizza for breakfast this morning. But I don't believe in God the way I believe in my shoe, or my Aunt Adelaide, or my leftover pizza. Those things matter in one way; faith matters in another.

What is true in that other respect remains true regardless of the science or the history. Stories are powerful. If you don't believe any of them, you've got nothing. If you believe all of them, you're an idiot. We walk our lives somewhere in the middle, and this is my story, and this is the story that works for me. I think parts of it might work for you, too, but they might not be the same parts as mine. And maybe something else will work for you that I wouldn't respond to at all.

So I believe in Eden, but I also believe in evolution, in different ways. I believe in other things, too. I believe in Alice, for example, and I think that believing six impossible things before breakfast is natural and healthy. As is asking all kinds of questions and figuring out exactly why they're impossible and believing that, too. I think that a church that moves in the direction of those questions is moving in the right direction. What doesn't bend, breaks. But the fact that I bend doesn't mean I don't believe in anything at all.
posted by gracedissolved at 5:58 PM on August 8, 2011 [7 favorites]


I appreciate the thread. Let me remark about a couple things.

When reading scripture, there are several traditions. The Talmud, for example, is one that includes active argument rather than advocating a single interpretation. Another is to read it is a scientific argument, as do the fundamentalists and atheists (who reject it on those grounds). Another is to see it is etiological. There are others - as ways to engage some deep assumptions about the human condition. Unfortunately in our current context, the public argument is essentially about the fundamentalist readings. There are other conversations (it's literary quality, its beauty) which may have merit. However, there may be good reasons, for example, for boring parts such as the "begats" - including an inherent demythologizing (and humanizing) element. The general point is that reading scripture as a community need not be valuable only to people involved in "religious" institutions. Perhaps there are good reasons to expand the canon, but it's closed nature better ensures a coherent conversation. A book club chooses one book, not three. And the bible is many books already.

Jfuller, the atheists in my congregation don't take communion because they choose not to, and in their way honor the beliefs of others. My unitarian (born Episcopalian) mother does the same thing. There is a way for a community to function with clear rules and mutual respect. If they suddenly decided to take communion, we would have an open conversation about their change of heart. Simply put, the atheists present don't believe anything happens in the mass, but they appreciate good preaching, music and some time to think. And they lack the anti-religious instinct that other atheists do.

Regarding the secular / religious thesis: I'll agree that it's not possible to argue with complete certainty that Christianity led to secularism, without knowing what a counterfactual universe would look like. However, the argument has something to do with the invention of the concept "religion" which came out of Christian universities. Many traditions do not consider themselves "religions." They are laws, or ways of life. Christian academics, however, tried to organize other traditions under this term (and perhaps wrongly). But understanding itself as "religion" and separating itself from the secular sphere institutionally, it intrinsically participated in the construction of the secular. Historically, also, ordinary priests were considered "secular" because they actively participated in the public. I would also add that plenty of religious people in the world are mighty glad that there is a "secular" sphere for a wide variety of reasons. Secularism becomes the safe space where religious institutions can discuss their beliefs.

Regarding the Renaissance, who funded the study of the ancients? Did the Catholic Church had something to do with that?

I think Lordsludge articulates a familiar yearning. It requires a deeper response, but part of the issue has to do with the different ways Churches respond to needs. Is it the family needing a little more cohesion? The school in Tanzania needing people to support their schoolchildren? Schools in Haiti? Sometimes churches (not all the time) are more efficient. I don't get paid the salary of the most not-for-profit executives, but organize a fair number of relationships that connect the prosperous with the disinherited. I wonder, however, why do we expect the church to be more perfect than other institutions?

I like this article because I think there is a place for atheists in church. I believe that the corrosion of an organized, ceremonial, voluntary society where people can imagine grand dreams about the possibilities of the human spirit (which is what we're really talking about right, as Fuerbach would note) would be a great loss to the culture, as the only convincing replacement on the horizon, in my view, is money. I tell you, its priests wear grander clothes than I do, and for most people, they are far more convincing. Upon the death of the Christian faith, the prophet Ayn Rand lies waiting to replace it.
posted by john wilkins at 6:51 PM on August 8, 2011 [12 favorites]


John Dominic Crossan's 'blasphemous' portrait of Jesus
posted by homunculus at 7:51 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I believe that these ideas were anticipated in Dietrich_Bonhoeffer's letters from prison.
posted by $0up at 8:01 PM on August 8, 2011


john wilkins, according to your profile, you're dead. Why are you still commenting on MetaFilter?
posted by Crabby Appleton at 8:11 PM on August 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


KirkJobSluder: “koeselitz: I'm sorry. I'm looking at your claims and I'm just plain baffled.”

Okay, I'll do what I can to explain them.

“Traditions of thought that pre-date Christianity are temporal provincialism?”

No - sigh. I've made myself woefully unclear, it seems.

I don't know what "traditions of thought" you thought I was talking about – in fact, I was sort of talking about the opposite of "traditions of thought." There's something that bugs me about Christians today who value their own tradition so little, and modern fads so much, that it seems to them that even their own faith is painfully outdated and embarrassingly untrue. It doesn't bother me that there are people for whom this tradition has no value – as long as they're honest about the fact; but now there seems to be this sneaking suspicion in all of us that every tradition is nearly worthless. And that's what bothers me. I've spent too much time arguing with Christians themselves that St Paul's writings are legitimate and worthy of study – this is vexing to me.

But I admit that that's a rather personal vexation, and I made it obscure enough.

“Secularists disagree with Christianity, ignoring the Christians participated in writing the laws, advancing the court cases, and writing the first Humanist Manifesto?”

Ah – heh. Yeah, I did kind of say "secularists disagree with Christianity" – but my point was rather that they're allowed to if they choose, without Christians high-handedly claiming that secularism is just an outgrowth of Christianity. I've met a lot of secularists that find this suggesting insulting. Maybe they're taking it too personally, but my point was mostly to agree with vorfeed: there was secularism in the world long before Christianity.
posted by koeselitz at 8:14 PM on August 8, 2011


I wonder, however, why do we expect the church to be more perfect than other institutions?

Because the church puts itself forth as a moral authority. If the church is not moral, what's the point?

But I didn't mean to pick on the church for its foibles so much as envy its structure and logistics -- man, you can make people believe ANYTHING if you preach at em week after week, sing about it, heap on social pressure to conform (reward those that do, shun those that don't), etc. It just seems we, as a society, could leverage the church's model for so much more -- problems and goals that exist and matter in the real world.
posted by LordSludge at 8:52 PM on August 8, 2011


God bless those atheists.
posted by storybored at 9:18 PM on August 8, 2011


Lordsludge, your comment resonates with me. The church is fundamentally a trust-building institution. When it is not, my own heart breaks. I get ashamed and angry at those with whom I share a language and tradition. I have to care for many Roman Catholics who've had to deal with that broken trust. Sometimes I feel I have a mission to fight the abusive theology of the protestants who believe in the penal substitution theory of the atonement. But I think that people stay in those traditions for a variety of reasons.

Still, I would interrogate the picture of the "real world" and its problems. I don't know what that means. The single mom who just needs space, to the intellectual former catholic who needs liturgy but not God, to those who only want to serve in the soup kitchen or make contributions to Haitian hospitals. Or our imminent global catastrophe? What I love about the work of the church is that the local needs of brokenness as well as the global are all present every Sunday in our work. It's integrated.

But yes, we still stand condemned for not doing what we could or should. But isn't this also a condemnation of our culture at large? The relationship of church to the culture has not been settled, although I do have an opinion.
posted by john wilkins at 9:20 PM on August 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


But understanding itself as "religion" and separating itself from the secular sphere institutionally, it intrinsically participated in the construction of the secular.

How are you defining secular? If you've got time, can you expand on that concept a bit?
It sounds as though (and I may be wrong) your position is Christianity developed the difference between worldly matters and religious matters in the west. Which, given the Roman empire and some other early western government forms I'd have to agree (given religion was wholly institutional in a lot of ways in government; Greek 'democracy' had offices chosen by random lots which was a way of letting the gods choose the best man, etc.)
I suspect you're also referring to Christian teaching that asserts the difference between the attitude toward worldly things and spiritual (specifically there Christ's spirit) things as different. Which was an innovative in that region at the time and encountered thousands of years of resistance (ongoing really).

Again, that's presumption on my part.

I believe that the corrosion of an organized, ceremonial, voluntary society where people can imagine grand dreams about the possibilities of the human spirit ...would be a great loss to the culture...

Is a religion up to organizing elements of that society, given the great changes in civilization?
I can't argue against your position there, or on asking more from a religious organization than a secular one. I think ritual has an important place in life and in shared living. And the latter idea (equal treatment) is only fair.

But concerning secularism - the root of that word is 'saecularis' (of or belonging to an age) and related to 'saeculum', which was an Etruscan concept (although the Romans, Augustus/Gallienus, etc. ran with it with New World Order type Saeculum Aurem Novum thing) that referred to the moment something happened to when everyone who had experienced that moment had died.

Do churches, as a form of organizing and delivering a communal experience, belong to an age that has passed? Literally becoming host to secular membership.
It seems that's what the piece is revealing, at least from the membership, I don't know that this (the revelation or the participation of Christianity in separating religion from worldly concerns that ends religion's utility as a forum for the expression of altruism) is by design.

Given all that (all that to say - and sorry it took so much space) and given (ass pull here but it comes to mind and it's related) fundamental ontology and even given Heidegger's idea ( specifically - "chooses the tradition when it is confronted by a paradox within the tradition and must choose to dismiss the tradition or dismiss the experience of being confronted with choice" - and with 'God' in mind there who clearly has a 'being' problem with some folks) - the response is either to reduce the system to smaller, perhaps discrete components, or forget the whole thing.

Given the piece here, some atheists are in the former camp, some are in the latter.

This isn't to say atheists who go to church have values inconsistent with their claims, but rather that it's possible to do all the same things in a non-religious setting. So why have a religious setting? It's an engineering argument really.

I could be argumentative and posit that perhaps religions impede other kinds of altruistic organization (irrespective of whether by design or not, but because they fill a void - it's already there, why make the effort to change it).

But I'm not saying the symbols from Christianity are in themselves purposefully obstructive, but that Christian symbols do belong to another age and another way of understanding the world that was valid and meaningful for the age they belonged to, but not anymore.

One can have an altruistic organization without them or can have new symbols with the organization that are more appropriate, less cryptic where they're universal, and more responsive.

There are a number of character education programs. Some are commercial and people look to make a buck with as little effort and thus as little quality as possible.
But that's been a hazard of any altruistic organization since long before Luther created another discrete component by nailing up his list.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:31 PM on August 8, 2011


It doesn't say or even imply that God was scared. It implies that there is some compelling reason for God not to want Adam to live forever in the garden. It does not say (at that moment) what that reason is. You assume that fear is that reason. Why do you assume that?

It shows God reacting to a new and compelling reason to get Adam away from the tree of life by taking drastic and immediate action that he was not previously inclined to take. This is a depiction of a character motivated by fear. Why do you assume otherwise?

Which of God's statements do you think is a lie?
GEN 2:17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.
Did Adam and Eve die that day?

Which of the serpent's statements do you think is wholly and completely true?
GEN 3:4 And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:

GEN 3:5 For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
Did eating of the tree let Adam and Eve know good and evil?
posted by Now I'm Prune Tracy! at 9:40 PM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think Paul's reaction to this sort of thing sums it up best:

For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:16-19)
posted by vorpal bunny at 9:52 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Just this Sunday I listened to a sermon by a self-declared humanist atheist at my UU church. It was good but I enjoyed the talk we had a few weeks ago when members gave reviews/reports of books they found meaningful more. I don't believe anymore but find the singing,music, and meditation something I crave. Any real religion for me has always been like that, about that craving to be with others and contemplate.
posted by emjaybee at 10:00 PM on August 8, 2011


It shows God reacting to a new and compelling reason to get Adam away from the tree of life by taking drastic and immediate action that he was not previously inclined to take.

What? It was the anticipated result from the beginning: Eat from the tree of knowledge and you don't get to eat from the tree of life anymore. That was the commandment.

Did Adam and Eve die that day?

Yes.

GEN 3:4 And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:

A lie. See above.

GEN 3:5 For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

Is that all it takes to be a god, then? Because in that case, you know, kneel before me or something.

Surprise! There' more than one way to interpret scripture and even reasonable people (assuming you can find one) can disagree a lot.
posted by The World Famous at 10:23 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


posted by vorpal bunny at 9:52 PM on August 8 [+] [!]

XRDN walks among us! Cower, unbelievers! Bring out the good china!
posted by obiwanwasabi at 11:04 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Smedleyman, one purpose of the church, suggested by some, is to teach people how not to believe in God, and to allow themselves an exit into the difficult world of that blissful void, that where there is no God, but still reason to hope. We are one stopping point from belief in spirits who are fickle, mean and destructive, to unbelief.

Your challenge about symbols is interesting. It requires some examination, but I suggest that the symbol of the cross is an entry to understanding the perspective of the victim, a fundamental part of the language a humanism worth believing. I hesitate to give that up easily, for it seems to clearly represent what we do to each other, God or no god.
posted by john wilkins at 11:08 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


What? It was the anticipated result from the beginning: Eat from the tree of knowledge and you don't get to eat from the tree of life anymore. That was the commandment.

No, the threat was "in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die". Not "you will become mortal and die on some other far-off day". Or are we delving into that "Christian theology" you promised I could throw out?


Did Adam and Eve die that day?

Yes.


Then when did they have Cain and Abel?


GEN 3:5 For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

Is that all it takes to be a god, then? Because in that case, you know, kneel before me or something.


To be "as" a god, you mean? According to God, yes: GEN 3:22And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil.

This is what I mean, it's amazing how many professing Christians don't know the story Genesis actually tells. The language the serpent uses to describe the effect that eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil will have is exactly the same as that God uses later to describe the effect it has had – but you are quite sure that the serpent lied.

Really, it's a much more interesting story as written; certainly, God is a more interesting protagonist.


There' more than one way to interpret scripture

Yes, there are no end of ways the apologists will mangle and misquote the plain language of the Bible when it contradicts and embarrasses them.
posted by Now I'm Prune Tracy! at 1:32 AM on August 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


/cue 'Oh, but it was a spiritual death, you see, because they'd fallen from divine grace, and they weren't immortal anymore, so it was as though they were as good as dead, really...'
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:13 AM on August 9, 2011


This is a weird thread. There seems to be a lot of things here that have been left unsaid, or only implied in the discussion.

I have some questions:

1. What do we think religion, like the larger sects of Christianity, are good for, specifically? I think I've read that it's a good place to meet other people in your community, the music is nice, the words are pretty, there's an underlying moral code and you can think about "stuff" with other people. Is that it? Seems pretty weak-sauce to me. Especially when you consider the amount of bloodshed and horror committed in the name of religion (yes I know we commit bloodshed and horror in the name of lots of other things too). I've also heard that our brains like it and it makes us feel good.

2. To those arguing the text of the bible... Weren't most of those words written fairly recently, at least compared to the age of the religion itself? You're basically arguing over the 700th revision of something and asking which is the "real" interpretation. The answer: none of them because the actual words were written in like hebrew or aramaic or something thousands of years ago.

3. This relates to question 1, but if you don't believe in god, or Christ, or life after death, then why would you go to church or become a priest? I mean, the only difference between that and my new church of J.R.R. Tolkien is that one is older than the other. So, it seems like the only reason you choose one over the other is that one is older (and quite a bit more widespread I guess). This is understandable but also seems a pretty weak-sauce way to choose a religion.

4. If all religions disappeared today, what the hell would Richard Dawkins do with himself?
posted by runcibleshaw at 2:30 AM on August 9, 2011


I'm kinda with Tracy! here. If there's "more than one way to interpret scripture", then his or her interpretation seems as reasonable as any other. It's not exactly a new idea, anyway; the Gnostics also celebrated the Serpent as a truth-teller, and the seeming irony of Genesis has been remarked upon by many important Christian thinkers (Hegel comes immediately to mind), even if they interpreted it differently.

I think "it's a much more interesting story as written" pretty much sums it up. It would be easy enough to tell a story in which God tells the clear and absolute truth, and the Serpent unambiguously lies... but that's not Genesis. Part of the richness of the story is in the contradiction.
posted by vorfeed at 2:38 AM on August 9, 2011


4. If all religions disappeared today, what the hell would Richard Dawkins do with himself?

Go back to his science research, which is what he was doing before he started getting attacked for teaching the "wrong" science.
posted by rodgerd at 2:51 AM on August 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


runcibleshaw: on your point 3, I think one answer is that the very notion of "which religion do I choose?" is a somewhat peculiar one, and one at odds with the way religion has worked for many people throughout history, particularly outside Europe.

Kirkjobsluder's comment about his "religious provincialism that religion can primarily be defined in terms of a system of shared beliefs about God rather than community, ethnicity, or practice" cuts pretty close to the heart of this. In many times and in many places, religion wasn't defined as a separate body of truth propositions which could be accepted or not based on a weighing of evidence (or benefits, even, to get to the rest of your question). It was simply part of how things were, or are. If you're up for some heavy reading, linguistic anthropologist Webb Keane's Christian moderns is a fascinating account of how this dualist (or "purifying") proposition (that religious and secular are something different) was brought to Indonesia by Dutch Calvinist missionaries.

This also speaks to John Wilkin's point about how, arguably, the history of secularism itself (at least as it exists in Western Europe) has been intimately connected with Christianity. To my mind, that insistence on separating the religious sphere from the rest of life and treating it as a set of truth propositions is part of the story. See also Bruno Latour's We have never been modern, one of Keane's key theoretical starting points.

If you don't feel like diving straight into some monographs (and I wouldn't blame you), the SSRC's Immanent Frame blog has a collection of posts on Keane's book by prominent students of religion here (including an introductory one by by Keane himself. They look interesting and quite readable to me. That blog is actually a good place to look for discussion on these topics in general: some of the biggest current thinkers on religion and secularism (Talal Asad, Charles Taylor) have posts up there.
posted by col_pogo at 3:59 AM on August 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


Metafilter: Reasonable persons scorned by majority.
posted by palbo at 4:18 AM on August 9, 2011


It's just what I love about religious institutions, the need to make everyone believe the same way.

Actually, I misstated the situation. They did not attempt to discipline him. They convened a panel to examine his book and statements and decided that he did not warrant disciplinary action.

Here's the link again, emphasis mine:
The 3 February decision to allow Hendrikse to continue working as a pastor followed the advice of a regional supervisory panel that the statements by Hendrikse, "are not of sufficient weight to damage the foundations of the church".

"The ideas of Hendrikse are theologically not new, and are in keeping with the liberal tradition that is an integral part of our church," the special panel concluded.


Canon law prevents the national leadership of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands' – its board of the general synod – from initiating disciplinary measures against serving clergy, the synod board stressed from the outset. According to the church's constitution, that task falls to bodies such as the church's regional authorities.

Hendrikse said he was, "very satisfied with the result", the Dutch news service Ikon Kerknieuws reported. He added that he was particularly pleased with a parallel announcement that the general synod, the national church's governing body, is to discuss the issue he raised about how to declare one's belief in God. "I have always pushed for this," said Hendrikse. "Now I have reached my goal."
In other words, the panel wasn't empowered to do anything except recommend he be disciplined or removed, and they didn't do so because the drew the conclusion that (a) what he was saying fits the "liberal tradition that is an integral part of the church" and (b) what he was saying could not damage them as an institution.
posted by zarq at 4:35 AM on August 9, 2011


XRDN walks among us! Cower, unbelievers! Bring out the good china!

Interesting. I didn't think anyone would ever make me nostalgic for the Inquisition.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 6:46 AM on August 9, 2011


koeselitz: Thank you for answering my questions. My deepest frustration as an atheist who might be described as a religious humanist is that there's a heck of a lot of arbitrary boundaries that appear to be set up to put atheists at fault either way.

Smedleyman: Why do you define "religious setting" strictly in terms of the worship of God?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:01 AM on August 9, 2011


Religion is mental cosplay.
posted by eoden at 7:11 AM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


> 4. If all religions disappeared today, what the hell would Richard Dawkins do with himself?

Go back to his science research, which is what he was doing before he started getting attacked for teaching the "wrong" science.



....what's stopping him from going back to his science research now?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:42 AM on August 9, 2011


This relates to question 1, but if you don't believe in god, or Christ, or life after death, then why would you go to church or become a priest?

The only honest answer I can give is this; when I pray, or sit in meditation, or sing, in a church setting, it feels exactly like the verse about "water in a dry land." I do it because I need to do it. I can't speak for anyone else, nor would I dare say I believe/know anything about the ultimate reality or whatnot. Functionally, I'm an atheist, in terms of how I see the world/what I expect from the world. But there is a part of me that craves this experience or set of experiences and suffers when I don't have it.

Quite possibly this is some sort of biological twist that not everyone shares, or a coping mechanism. I'm ok with that, and at least in a UU church, don't worry that my organization of choice is hurting anyone.
posted by emjaybee at 8:46 AM on August 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


Yes, there are no end of ways the apologists will mangle and misquote the plain language of the Bible when it contradicts and embarrasses them.

Ok. If you're going to argue based on the "plain language" of a single English translation, I guess I'll leave you to discuss it with religious people who do the same.

I do wonder why, if the language of the translation you chose is "plain" and no further interpretation or inquiry is needed beyond that exact language, you re-worded it when you asked me about it. But it doesn't do us any good to discuss that, since you're convinced that understanding the meaning of the Bible requires no more than a superficial interpretation of a single English translation.

Let me repeat: There's more than one way to interpret scripture and even reasonable people (assuming you can find one) can disagree a lot.

No, the threat was "in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die". Not "you will become mortal and die on some other far-off day". Or are we delving into that "Christian theology" you promised I could throw out?

We're not delving into any theology. We're reading "in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" differently. By the way, why did you choose that particular translation?

/cue 'Oh, but it was a spiritual death, you see, because they'd fallen from divine grace, and they weren't immortal anymore, so it was as though they were as good as dead, really...'

Well, no, actually. They ate the fruit, and, as promised, the immediate result of eating the fruit was that they would surely die (as opposed to their state immediately before eating the fruit, which was that they would surely not die).

But all that's sort of beside the point if we don't ask what the point of the account is. Is it intended as merely a history lesson about something that literally occurred? Or is it intended to teach some principle or principles? Or is it some combination of those things? Or something else altogether?

If, as Now I'm Prune Tracy! contends, one can easily divine simply by referring to one interpretation of the "plain language" of a single English translation that the serpent is truthful but God is a fearful liar, how does that fit with the answers to the above questions? If we assume (foolishly) that a single English translation of Genesis is merely a literal and flawless account of every relevant detail of actual events, and that Tracy! is right that the serpent is truthful and God a scared liar, what should we do with that information?

....what's stopping him from going back to his science research now?

Are you kidding? His science research is a labor of love and atheism is his day job. Watch videos of interviews and speaking engagements he has done over the last few years. When the topic is atheism or debating religionists, he is clearly just tired of it and exasperated at the dumb arguments that he is called upon (and paid) to swat away like the chaff they are (you can swat chaff, right?). When he's talking about evolution and biology, there's a real fire in his eyes - you can see that he loves it and loves talking about it. He appears to me to be tired of being the God Delusion guy who everyone wants to attack all the time. I suspect that if it didn't pay, he'd go back to just doing science.

In fact, based on having read a lot of what he has written and watched a lot of interviews and panels and things like that that he has done, I'm convinced that I would love to just sit and talk with Dawkins about biology and organic evolution and that, as long as I didn't try to fight him about religion or convince him of any of my non-scientific beliefs, there's a good chance he wouldn't talk about religion at all.

Religion is mental cosplay.

Mental? Dude, there are actual costumes.
posted by The World Famous at 8:52 AM on August 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Are you kidding? His science research is a labor of love and atheism is his day job. Watch videos of interviews and speaking engagements he has done over the last few years. When the topic is atheism or debating religionists, he is clearly just tired of it and exasperated at the dumb arguments that he is called upon (and paid) to swat away like the chaff they are (you can swat chaff, right?). When he's talking about evolution and biology, there's a real fire in his eyes - you can see that he loves it and loves talking about it. He appears to me to be tired of being the God Delusion guy who everyone wants to attack all the time. I suspect that if it didn't pay, he'd go back to just doing science.

But....science pays too. this is why I'm confused.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:56 AM on August 9, 2011


Crabby Appleton: " Interesting. I didn't think anyone would ever make me nostalgic for the Inquisition."

No one ever expects to be nostalgic for the Inquisition. And yet....
posted by zarq at 8:56 AM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


But....science pays too. this is why I'm confused.

Sorry if I wasn't clear. When I said "pays" I meant "pays well."

I could be wrong, though. Are there a lot of wealthy, globe-trotting, internationally famous evolutionary biologists?
posted by The World Famous at 9:03 AM on August 9, 2011


Mental? Dude, there are actual costumes.

Ah, there are costumes available, but to take on a religion (IMO) is to put on a mental costume and wander around in it. Actual costumes are optional.
posted by eoden at 9:08 AM on August 9, 2011


The World Famous: " If we assume (foolishly) that a single English translation of Genesis is merely a literal and flawless account of every relevant detail of actual events,

If you really want to delve into this discussion properly, try using the original source material, not a flawed translation translated from the Torah's Hebrew and Aramaic by way of Greek. :D.
posted by zarq at 9:19 AM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's absolutely right, zarq. Even then, I would argue that a "plain lanugage" approach is hopelessly flawed.
posted by The World Famous at 9:20 AM on August 9, 2011


Anyone else struck by the irony of atheists attempting to justify their varieties of religious/spiritual experience to skeptical theists?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:24 AM on August 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


The World Famous: " I could be wrong, though. Are there a lot of wealthy, globe-trotting, internationally famous evolutionary biologists?"

A lot? No. Not at all.

E.O. Wilson and Mark Ridley come to mind. David Suzuki is more of a geneticist than an evolutionary biologist, but he has become quite famous. I don't think they could become household names without being more controversial, though.

Stephen Jay Gould and Maynard Smith are dead, but both were internationally famous in their day.

The others that come to mind, like Bergstrom or Haig are known within their circles and have their fans, but they're not internationally known.
posted by zarq at 9:26 AM on August 9, 2011


My actual point, world famous, is that if he really dislikes being Teh Face of Atheism, there's nothing to keep Richard Dawkins from saying "bugger all thyse for a larke" and going back to doing the science research that you said he a) started with, and b) seems to prefer. the only reason you've given me for him continuing to be a talking-head on atheism is that "it pays well enough for him to be a globe-trotting, internationally famous person."

So the only conclusion I can come to is that either a) he actually really does like being such a gadfly, deep down, or b) he likes being famous. And, well, if you'd rather be famous than do work you enjoy, then...that's your choice, but don't say you never had such a choice.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:31 AM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


But let's extend the circle for a moment, and reach outside of evolutionary biology into general science. The pickings are probably a lot more plentiful then., such as Goodall, Hawking, de Grasse Tyson, Watson (of Watson and Crick), etc.
posted by zarq at 9:32 AM on August 9, 2011


Unless Dawkins has identified himself as a religious humanist, rather than an atheist who happens to live in a culture influenced by Christianity, I'm not certain he's all that relevant.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:39 AM on August 9, 2011


Unless Dawkins has identified himself as a religious humanist, rather than an atheist who happens to live in a culture influenced by Christianity, I'm not certain he's all that relevant.

Ask runcibleshaw. He's the guy who brought him up in the first place.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:40 AM on August 9, 2011


I'm willing to assume that Dawkins is sincere in his anti-religious speaking and writing and that he thinks what he's doing is important. I don't see any reason not to.

And, yeah, I agree with KirkJobSluder that this is a bit of a derail.
posted by nangar at 9:43 AM on August 9, 2011


The thing is, Dawkins really does care about his anti-religious work, and it pays well. When you get a call from someone who wants to pay you a speaking fee plus expenses to come talk about something you're famous for and that you really do care about, it makes sense to say yes and go do it, even if you might enjoy staying in the lab and researching instead. The RDF is, likewise, something that he certainly cares about. But I follow his twitter and read the RDF site regularly and I get the impression that it's more of a clearing house for vaguely-connected atheist ranting than something that very often reflects Dawkins' own views. I don't begrudge him any of his various activities. But there really is a look of "oh, please, not this again" in his eyes when he talks about religion lately.

My actual point, world famous, is that if he really dislikes being Teh Face of Atheism, there's nothing to keep Richard Dawkins from saying "bugger all thyse for a larke" and going back to doing the science research that you said he a) started with, and b) seems to prefer. the only reason you've given me for him continuing to be a talking-head on atheism is that "it pays well enough for him to be a globe-trotting, internationally famous person."

Obviously, he doesn't dislike it enough to give it up along with the benefits that come with it.

But let's extend the circle for a moment, and reach outside of evolutionary biology into general science. The pickings are probably a lot more plentiful then., such as Goodall, Hawking, de Grasse Tyson, Watson (of Watson and Crick), etc.

Sure, but becoming an internationally-famous and rich anything takes either a lifetime of work, lots of luck, or both. Dawkins has his career - which is in an area that he actually does care about - and he apparently doesn't want to give that up to roll the dice on maybe becoming the next Hawking, Goodall, etc. He's a good scientist and his writing on evolutionary biology is enjoyable. But I don't think anyone in the sciences holds him up as the Hawking of evolutionary biology, do they?

On the other hand, I sort of see his most recent book, The Greatest Show On Earth as a return to biology rather than religion bashing. But then I see that he has a new book coming out in October that appears to be a return to form.

Here's the greatest complement I'll ever give Richard Dawkins (and I mean this sincerely): He is like the Eric Clapton of evolutionary biology. It's where his roots lie and every once in a while he returns to it in an inspiring, exciting way or reveals some of those roots in his main work. But it's mostly just album after album of Lay Down Sally and Forever Man.
posted by The World Famous at 9:43 AM on August 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos: "My actual point, world famous, is that if he really dislikes being Teh Face of Atheism, there's nothing to keep Richard Dawkins from saying "bugger all thyse for a larke" and going back to doing the science research that you said he a) started with, and b) seems to prefer. the only reason you've given me for him continuing to be a talking-head on atheism is that "it pays well enough for him to be a globe-trotting, internationally famous person.""

I've read most if not all of his books and essays, and watched quite a few of his talks and interviews. My impression is slightly different than The World Famous'. I think he speaks about religion not for monetary reasons (at least, not solely) but because he feels it's important to deliniate the difference between true, replicable scientific analysis and understanding and blind faith. And I truly believe he feels that blind faith is dangerous in part because it creates a false reality from which people can justify horrific acts against one another.

I happen to agree with him that raising awareness and speaking about such things is important, especially when we consider the various atrocities that have been commitred over the centuries in the name of religion. He loses me when he moves from condemning blind faith to all faith, including examined, questioned, challenged faith. But, that's just me.
posted by zarq at 9:43 AM on August 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


EC: Ask runcibleshaw. He's the guy who brought him up in the first place.

Yes, and if one mefite jumps off the cliff, everyone else must as well.

What are your views on Klaas Hendrikse or the roles of atheists/agnostics within religious traditions and congregations?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:47 AM on August 9, 2011


Kirk, someone made a comment, I responded. Soemone else asked me why I was talking about something off-topic, I explained I was responding to something else.

We can talk about this if you like, but you just said it wasn't germane, and I was happy to drop it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:52 AM on August 9, 2011


KirkJobSluder: " What are your views on Klaas Hendrikse or the roles of atheists/agnostics within religious traditions and congregations?"

I realize this question wasn't directed at me, but I'd like to point out the obvious: the answer will no doubt vary wildly depending on what religion, sect and level of observance the question is posed to. An evangelical bible-literalist would probably consider the very idea of an atheist / agnostic heretical. Many sects of reform Judaism probably wouldn't have any problem with an agnostic congregant. An atheist one might be embraced or viewed askance. Etc.
posted by zarq at 9:57 AM on August 9, 2011


EC: My initial comment wasn't directed at you personally, and it wasn't a question.

zarq: Thank you.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:00 AM on August 9, 2011


KirkJobSluder: " zarq: Thank you."

Np. It's a fascinating question. And I'd love to know how a self-identified agnostic or atheist would fit into say, a Catholic congregation.
posted by zarq at 10:13 AM on August 9, 2011


The World Famous: "Even then, I would argue that a "plain lanugage" approach is hopelessly flawed."

Oh, definitely.
posted by zarq at 10:31 AM on August 9, 2011


Ah, the translation dodge. Let's take this digression to <small>, shall we?

The World Famous: If we assume (foolishly) that a single English translation of Genesis is merely a literal and flawless account of every relevant detail of actual events,

I certainly don't assume that, since I'm quite sure there are no actual events being accounted. There are only many translations of an old myth, and even the most literal of them agree on the language of God's threat:

GEN 2:17 וּמֵעֵ֗ץ הַדַּ֙עַת֙ טֹ֣וב וָרָ֔ע לֹ֥א תֹאכַ֖ל מִמֶּ֑נּוּ כִּ֗י בְּיֹ֛ום אֲכָלְךָ֥ מִמֶּ֖נּוּ מֹ֥ות תָּמֽוּת׃

כִּ֗י in
בְּיֹ֛ום the day
אֲכָלְךָ֥ you eat
מִמֶּ֖נּוּ at
מֹ֥ות will surely
תָּמֽוּת׃ die

Young's Literal Translation: for in the day of thine eating of it – dying thou dost die

New American Standard Bible: for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.

Amplified Bible: for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die

English Standard Version: for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die

King James Version: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die

Holman Christian Standard Bible: for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die

I could go on, but it's all the same: "in the day", "in the day", "in the day"... and the most literal translation, Young's, doesn't have "surely" at all. Just a doubling of

They ate the fruit, and, as promised, the immediate result of eating the fruit was that they would surely die (as opposed to their state immediately before eating the fruit, which was that they would surely not die).

Do you really not see how tortured this is?

TWF, I make you this promise: "on Friday I will surely give you five dollars." When will I give you five dollars? Not on Friday, that is only the day when you may become sure that I will give you five dollars on some future day.

Right?

PS. Not actually giving you five dollars.

posted by Now I'm Prune Tracy! at 10:34 AM on August 9, 2011


TWF, I make you this promise: "on Friday I will surely give you five dollars." When will I give you five dollars? Not on Friday, that is only the day when you may become sure that I will give you five dollars on some future day.

I missed the part where God said "on Friday." Where was that?

And again, you're arguing what you think is the plain meaning of English sentences. Why would you do that? And why do you think there's only one plain meaning of the word "day" in English?

I could go on, but it's all the same: "in the day", "in the day", "in the day"

What does "in the day" mean? Please don't just tell me your interpretation (you already have). Show your work.

I certainly don't assume that, since I'm quite sure there are no actual events being accounted. There are only many translations of an old myth, and even the most literal of them agree on the language of God's threat:

Given that it's an old myth, and not a literal account of actual events, what reason do you have to believe that the meaning of the myth has ever included a lie on God's part?
posted by The World Famous at 10:47 AM on August 9, 2011


....Fascinating as the analysis of the language of the Bible can get (and I do mean that sincerely), I'm not sure whether it's germane to the subject at hand either.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:48 AM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


If, as Now I'm Prune Tracy! contends, one can easily divine simply by referring to one interpretation of the "plain language" of a single English translation that the serpent is truthful but God is a fearful liar, how does that fit with the answers to the above questions? If we assume (foolishly) that a single English translation of Genesis is merely a literal and flawless account of every relevant detail of actual events, and that Tracy! is right that the serpent is truthful and God a scared liar, what should we do with that information?

Well, let's see: you could choose to study Gnosticism, or Satanism (whether philosophical or religious). You could, as Hegel did, see both God's lie and the Serpent's truth as gifts of knowledge which ultimately made Christ's redemption of mankind possible. You could consider the contradiction a mystery which deepens the nature of the story, widening our conception of "God". Or you could see the story as a metaphor: a window into the nature of Christianity, or humanity, or even the suborder serpentes (who are commonly reviled, but are surprisingly nice once you get to know them).

Your insistence that only your interpretation can possibly be anything less than "foolish" is pretty tiring, especially since you and I both know that Tracy!'s interpretation was considered throughout history. Your sudden dislike of "plain language" is also pretty funny -- I thought the deal was that people mean what they say and say what they mean!
posted by vorfeed at 10:50 AM on August 9, 2011


Your insistence that only your interpretation can possibly be anything less than "foolish" is pretty tiring

I said no such thing. If you're tired, it's because you're wearing yourself out reading things that aren't there.

Your sudden dislike of "plain language" is also pretty funny -- I thought the deal was that people mean what they say and say what they mean!

I don't dislike plain language. I dislike Biblical interpretation based on superficial analysis of the alleged plain meaning of an English translation.

You're apparently pissed off about another thread from several days ago, since you're trying to drag my statements in that thread into this one without context.
posted by The World Famous at 10:56 AM on August 9, 2011


Can either of you explain -- in plain language, if you like -- how this relates to Christianity in Holland?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:58 AM on August 9, 2011


MeFi commenter backs self into a corner. Won't relent. Film at 11.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:59 AM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Can either of you explain -- in plain language, if you like -- how this relates to Christianity in Holland?

I'm sure we could make up some connection. But your point is well taken.
posted by The World Famous at 11:05 AM on August 9, 2011


EC, pretty much nothing in this thread relates to Christianity in Holland.

At this point, I'm more than willing to let the subject drop, but if you have a serious problem with this "derail" I suggest you open a MeTa thread rather than scolding people here.
posted by vorfeed at 11:06 AM on August 9, 2011


I'm done with the derail. Y'all are welcome to MeMail if you want, but I don't think it's going anywhere useful.
posted by The World Famous at 11:09 AM on August 9, 2011


There's a wiki on Biblical contradictions for those that are interested.
posted by LordSludge at 11:10 AM on August 9, 2011


I'm more than willing to let the subject drop, but if you have a serious problem with this "derail" I suggest you open a MeTa thread rather than scolding people here.

I'm not scolding people for a derail, I'm sincerly asking how we got from point A to point....whatever this is. I got lost somewhere along the way.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:12 AM on August 9, 2011


Now I'm Prune Tracy!: “Yes, there are no end of ways the apologists will mangle and misquote the plain language of the Bible when it contradicts and embarrasses them.”

There's nothing plain about it. The contradictions have been known for millennia; Maimonides wrote a whole book about them, and what purpose they serve.

There are two contradictory creation stories offered immediately in Genesis; there are people who go through silly backflips in order to make them congruent, but it isn't possible. In fact, it's hard to see how these contradictions could be inadvertent. They are so starkly obvious as to be almost certainly intentional.

Those of us who believe the Bible to be divine find this very interesting. There's not necessarily anything wrong with contradiction, as Maimonides points out. In fact, contradiction can be instructive.
posted by koeselitz at 11:17 AM on August 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Uh, no, Now I'm Prune Tracy!

Ki (כי) means something like "for", "since", "becuase".
B'yom (ביום) means "on (the) day", frequently just "when".
Mimenu (ממנו) means "from it", not "at".

This doesn't really change much about the interpretation. Literalists can go on all day about "when" obviously, if they want to.

I think it's a bit silly to get into an argument about whether the snake was telling the truth or not in this context. I don't see how this relevant to talking about Christian atheists or religious humanism. Why did you bring this up again?
posted by nangar at 11:23 AM on August 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


heh. I came in to say what nangar did. :)
posted by zarq at 11:26 AM on August 9, 2011


Thirding that question.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:36 AM on August 9, 2011


There are two contradictory creation stories offered immediately in Genesis; there are people who go through silly backflips in order to make them congruent, but it isn't possible. In fact, it's hard to see how these contradictions could be inadvertent. They are so starkly obvious as to be almost certainly intentional.

Or they just mashed up two older oral traditions that their audience would have been very familiar with.
posted by empath at 11:38 AM on August 9, 2011


EmpressCallipygos: "Thirding that question."

I wasn't seconding nangar's. I was seconding nangar's pointing out that the Prune Tracy's Hebrew translation was erroneous. I am enjoying this little side discussion and do not particularly care whether it is directly related to the FPP.
posted by zarq at 11:42 AM on August 9, 2011


Oops. That should read: "I wasn't seconding nangar's question."
posted by zarq at 11:43 AM on August 9, 2011


Well, hell, I have no idea what's going any more.

Where's the room with the puppies? I'm gonna go there for a while.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:44 AM on August 9, 2011


empath: “Or they just mashed up two older oral traditions that their audience would have been very familiar with.”

Yes, and since everyone was stupid in the past, their audience didn't notice this at all.
posted by koeselitz at 11:46 AM on August 9, 2011


I suggest that the symbol of the cross is an entry to understanding the perspective of the victim, a fundamental part of the language a humanism worth believing.
Good point.
There's an argument to be made that the entire story shouldn't be scrapped. I don't know that it won't fade of it's own accord long term. Not a lot of people now connect with the feathered serpent though the symbol there is universal (and worth retaining). In some ways it remains, but in a secular fashion. Maybe that's the trend. 10,000 years from now, what will the world look like?

"Why do you define "religious setting" strictly in terms of the worship of God?"
KirkJobSluder - I'm looking from a utilitarian perspective. Where you have a reduction of the precepts of any religion to core functions vs. the elimination of precepts and retaining just the core functions.
Some symbols pass or change and others are made redundant. I suppose I'm trying to hash out which this (in the OP) is.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:51 AM on August 9, 2011


EmpressCallipygos: " Where's the room with the puppies? I'm gonna go there for a while."

Ha! :)

Well, Bill Clinton was breastfeeding them...

Out of curiosity, since it's sort of a re-rail, how do you think a typical Catholic congregation would respond to an outspoken atheist or agnostic in their midst?
posted by zarq at 11:55 AM on August 9, 2011


Out of curiosity, since it's sort of a re-rail, how do you think a typical Catholic congregation would respond to an outspoken atheist or agnostic in their midst?

I'm not sure there is such a thing as a "typical" Catholic congregation.

But from a practical standpoint -- how would they know? My experience with Catholic congregations is limited to when I was a kid, and no one really talked about their Personal Faith Journey after mass or anything. (The longest conversation I ever had with one of our priests we had was about Genesis the band, rather than Genesis the book.)

I think the only way anyone would have known that there was an atheist in their midst would be if after mass, the atheist in question started suddenly proclaiming "you know, I honestly don't believe in any of this," and the biggest reaction would be that everyone would quietly think to themselves, "...it's kind of weird you came to a church, then, but okay."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:04 PM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


zarq: "how do you think a typical Catholic congregation would respond to an outspoken atheist or agnostic in their midst?"

Typical Catholic? Outspoken atheist? I assume you mean someone who says they don't believe openly buy still respects the religion itself (like the main article, only Catholic). At worst the congregation would be chilly and the priest would deny communion. At best (as is the case in my Catholic church), the reaction from the congregation would be puzzled as EC mentioned, but welcoming, and nothing would be denied (which would technically be against the rules, but we've got a lot of Jesuits).
posted by charred husk at 12:08 PM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Another data point -- one of the regular members of my childhood parish wasn't even Catholic, and I didn't know that about her for 17 years. Mrs. Moran from our street just showed up at our church every week, and had been doing so since I was about five, and it wasn't until my younger brother was getting ready for his Confirmation and Mrs. Moran showed up in his classes that I learned she'd been Methodist or something and was finally converting. There only would have been cause for a stink if she'd tried to take communion before that point, I think, but as for coming to church in general, that was totally cool. She even joined the choir.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:15 PM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Smedleyman: KirkJobSluder - I'm looking from a utilitarian perspective. Where you have a reduction of the precepts of any religion to core functions vs. the elimination of precepts and retaining just the core functions.

Well, a large part of my disconnect with the New Atheism is that I've been told, point blank from multiple sources, that religion is not necessarily about belief in God. It can be about maintaining and passing on tradition, about cultivating a set of beneficial habits, or sharing varieties of religious and spiritual experience.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:17 PM on August 9, 2011


Thanks. Was just curious. (And yes, that's what I meant, charred husk.)

Over the years I've attended a lot of services and masses in various Churches. I always feel self-conscious. Especially since I never kneel or cross myself during prayers. But people generally leave me alone to do my thing, which is exactly what I'd expect in a synagogue -- at most, people around me might offer to tell what page we are on, but that's it.

However, I've never really been part of a Christian congregation except as a visitor. And it's not as if it's obvious that I'm Jewish.

(The longest conversation I ever had with one of our priests we had was about Genesis the band, rather than Genesis the book.)

May I humbly suggest that you're either doing Christian theology wrong, or very very right. :D
posted by zarq at 12:26 PM on August 9, 2011


May I humbly suggest that you're either doing Christian theology wrong, or very very right. :D

(smile) I was fifteen, and just as surprised as you that it happened. Even better -- he started that conversation.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:35 PM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yes, and since everyone was stupid in the past, their audience didn't notice this at all.

You can call them stupid or not, but that's the generally accepted theory about how it happened.
posted by empath at 12:43 PM on August 9, 2011


You can call them stupid or not, but that's the generally accepted theory about how it happened.

Really? I'd like to read more about that. Why do scholars think people didn't notice what was in the book for any significant amount of time?
posted by The World Famous at 1:03 PM on August 9, 2011


Really? I'd like to read more about that. Why do scholars think people didn't notice what was in the book for any significant amount of time?

Documentary Hypothesis.

Personal speculation: I imagine that early on they knew full well where the stories came from, as they would have heard them many many times before the Bible ever existed, but over time as the book became more important than the oral tradition people started glossing over the inconsistencies and forgetting the origin, particularly once it became dogma that the Bible was handed down from God.

And once Christian theology comes into the picture, it became standard practice to read the whole old testament as coded prophecies for the coming of Jesus so the literal exoteric meanings became less important than the esoteric reading that made the whole old testament a prelude to the Gospels.
posted by empath at 1:29 PM on August 9, 2011


I like your personal speculation, empath.
posted by The World Famous at 1:42 PM on August 9, 2011


empath: “You can call them stupid or not, but that's the generally accepted theory about how it happened.”

Yes, I'm aware that it's the accepted theory. But the accepted theory is extraordinarily silly, and says more about the provincialism of modern specialists than it does about the origin of religious texts.

It may very well have been that two earlier texts were brought together to make Genesis. The notion that that indicates that they were thus brought together for no reason at all, with no actual meaning at all, is ludicrous, and requires us to believe that ancients were idiots.
posted by koeselitz at 2:11 PM on August 9, 2011


empath: “Personal speculation: I imagine that early on they knew full well where the stories came from, as they would have heard them many many times before the Bible ever existed, but over time as the book became more important than the oral tradition people started glossing over the inconsistencies and forgetting the origin, particularly once it became dogma that the Bible was handed down from God.”

Given that there has apparently never been a time when the Rabbis have not viewed these stories as symbolic and dealt directly with their inconsistency, when exactly was this time of forgetting and glossing over that you're talking about?
posted by koeselitz at 2:13 PM on August 9, 2011


Given that there has apparently never been a time when the Rabbis have not viewed these stories as symbolic and dealt directly with their inconsistency.

That's a pretty strong claim. What are you basing this on?
posted by empath at 2:32 PM on August 9, 2011


You do know that Jews and the Bible were around for a couple of thousand years before Rabbinical Judaism became the dominant form, yeah?
posted by empath at 2:40 PM on August 9, 2011


Given that there has apparently never been a time when the Rabbis have not viewed these stories as symbolic and dealt directly with their inconsistency, when exactly was this time of forgetting and glossing over that you're talking about?

It's the folks who, throughout history, have jumped to interpret the "plain language" of the text outside of the context and without any sort of study who have "forgotten" and glossed over things. Those have usually not been Rabbis, as far as I understand it.
posted by The World Famous at 3:04 PM on August 9, 2011


> There are two contradictory creation stories offered immediately in Genesis; there are people who go through silly backflips in order to make them congruent, but it isn't possible. In fact, it's hard to see how these contradictions could be inadvertent. They are so starkly obvious as to be almost certainly intentional.

> Or they just mashed up two older oral traditions that their audience would have been very familiar with.


I don't really get the impression that whoever wrote the second story, the one about Adam and Eve, the trees, and the talking snake, intended for it to be taken literally. It's a very well crafted story, full of puns and word play and carefully balanced sentences, and I think it was designed teach something, but I don't think it was meant as story about 'here's what actually happened.' It doesn't come across that way.

This is just my take on it. I'm not making a theological argument that this is the correct interpretation. I don't actually claim to get it. I'm not part of the author's culture, and not part of their intended audience. I get that it's something about moral responsibility, sex and gender. But I'm aware that there's a lot I'm not getting.

The idea that God isn't totally honest about what will happen if the first people eat from the 'good and bad tree' is not inconsistent with the tone of the rest of the story. This is the same story, remember, where God forgets to create a female human, and it only occurs to him after he's gone through a long rigmarole about finding Adam a "helper."
posted by nangar at 3:18 PM on August 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Those of us who believe the Bible to be divine find this very interesting.

As a curious atheist, I would like to understand why you believe it to be divine and what you mean by the term. Do you mean divine as the direct word of a supernatural, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent deity or as "That dish was simply divine," or something in between?

Do you also believe books like the Quran, the Mahabharata, etc. are also divine or does your belief exclude them from that category?
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:57 PM on August 9, 2011


The notion that that indicates that they were thus brought together for no reason at all, with no actual meaning at all, is ludicrous, and requires us to believe that ancients were idiots.

It's a strange notion that presenting two well worn and loved creation myths because they had been passed down is ludicrous or that it requires believing that "the ancients were idiots."

Yes, and since everyone was stupid in the past, their audience didn't notice this at all.

I suspect most who call themselves Christians today are ignorant of these discrepancies. In fact, I'd bet on it.
posted by Mental Wimp at 4:07 PM on August 9, 2011


Do you also believe books like the Quran, the Mahabharata, etc. are also divine or does your belief exclude them from that category?

KJS - this question is sort of what I'm looking at. One specific type of God is a minimalist sort of thing. You have this wide field of God-concepts but the field is paired down to -this- one.

I'm not criticizing the process in a "why YHVH and not Thor" atheistic vein, but asking rather - why any God-concept rather than none? With regard to the resulting systems in mind.
What are the strengths of a system with symbol 'X' vs. one without symbol 'X' which performs the same tasks.

john wilkins' point about the symbol of the cross as respecting the perspective of the victim goes to that. You don't necessarily need God in that equation to have Jesus' story remain the derivation for that symbol. It helps in some ways. Maybe hurts in others.
I think Bob Dylan put it well "'y'know they refused Jesus too' 'You're not him'"

"It can be about maintaining and passing on tradition, about cultivating a set of beneficial habits, or sharing varieties of religious and spiritual experience."

My question is, can this be done without certain symbols? In the past most systems required unifying symbols to be effective.
You had Christianity uniting people, giving them common reference (in the mythos) and enabling actions - beneficial habits, and communication - sharing
spiritual experience but also things of a secular nature.
Given technology (and systems of modern civilization) enables communication, sharing, etc. to occur independent of unifying concepts, is maintaining that necessary?
Is that in some cases tradition for tradition sake rather than the passing on of wisdom from one age to the next?
I dunno.

Apparently churches are useful independent of God according to the OP. Is God then a necessary symbol for spiritual experience (et.al)? What then can be said about the system that is supported by those unifying symbols?
This is regardless of the consideration of their relative validity. One can argue whether God really exists all day. Doesn't concern me here. Just whether God as a symbol - or any religious symbol - helps or hinders what might be considered religious action or actions with secular symbols, or no symbols, are more ... what, efficient? Utility function?
What are the functional requirements of an altruistic organization?

In some ways churches seem vestigial, like an appendix. You don't necessarily need it, but you don't necessarily want to have surgery to pull it out unless something goes seriously awry with it.
Contrast this with, say, libraries which are adapting as centers of communication and information.
Were I Joe Systems Analysis I could probably write more clearly (and briefly) on this.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:29 PM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't think that utility matters here. What's the utility of a Jaco Pastorius recording, a brilliant basketball play, or a Monet painting? The older I get, the less I'm interested in trying to rationalize a utilitarian purpose around everything. Especially when the needs filled might be individual and subjective.

That said, I need a support group for the fact that something is throwing mystical experiences at me.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:42 PM on August 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


What's the utility of a Jaco Pastorius recording, a brilliant basketball play, or a Monet painting?

Well, they've never led to mass suicides or the Inquisition. Or denying whole classes of people their human rights.
posted by Mental Wimp at 6:44 AM on August 10, 2011


Mental Wimp, I've heard of mixing metaphors, but that's kind of ridiculous.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:51 AM on August 10, 2011


Mental Wimp: " Well, they've never led to mass suicides or the Inquisition. Or denying whole classes of people their human rights."

The US government is guilty of slavery, genocide/mass murder as well as denying whole classes of people their human rights. As are many other governments.

We can discuss utility without resorting to hyperbolic theatrics.
posted by zarq at 8:07 AM on August 10, 2011


Well, I'm going to risk a Godwin and point out that music, sports, and art have been appropriated along with religion to support brutal totalitarianism and colonialism. The enormous popularity of minstrel shows probably did more to justify decades of Jim Crow than the KKK.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:51 AM on August 10, 2011


Mental Wimp, I've heard of mixing metaphors, but that's kind of ridiculous.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:51 AM on August 10 [+] [!]

Mental Wimp: " Well, they've never led to mass suicides or the Inquisition. Or denying whole classes of people their human rights."

The US government is guilty of slavery, genocide/mass murder as well as denying whole classes of people their human rights. As are many other governments.

We can discuss utility without resorting to hyperbolic theatrics.
posted by zarq at 8:07 AM on August 10 [+] [!]


The point is that we do need to discuss and debate the utility of governments and religion, because they have such enormous negative as well as positive consequences, whereas great works of art do not have the potential for massive harm that these institutions do. I'm sorry I wasn't clearer about my meaning.

Well, I'm going to risk a Godwin and point out that music, sports, and art have been appropriated along with religion to support brutal totalitarianism and colonialism. The enormous popularity of minstrel shows probably did more to justify decades of Jim Crow than the KKK.

Well, you can say it, but without the institutional backing of the government and religion, it wouldn't have had much of an impact on the victims. Supporting is not the same as implementing.
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:59 AM on August 10, 2011


Mental Wimp: " The point is that we do need to discuss and debate the utility of governments and religion, because they have such enormous negative as well as positive consequences, whereas great works of art do not have the potential for massive harm that these institutions do. I'm sorry I wasn't clearer about my meaning."

That's fine. No problem. I agree.
posted by zarq at 9:00 AM on August 10, 2011


Mental Wimp: Well, you can say it, but without the institutional backing of the government and religion, it wouldn't have had much of an impact on the victims. Supporting is not the same as implementing.

I find that to be very short-sighted. Popular media is the primary method through which ideologies are communicated within a culture.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:15 AM on August 10, 2011


Mental Wimp: "without the institutional backing of the government and religion, it wouldn't have had much of an impact on the victims."

Depends on the art.

Grassroots propaganda campaigns can cause great harm. Antisemitic posters produced by non-government-affiliated German Nazis were spread throughout Europe during WWII, and undoubtedly helped foster anti-Jewish sentiments at the time.
posted by zarq at 9:23 AM on August 10, 2011


Antisemitic posters produced by non-government-affiliated German Nazis were spread throughout Europe during WWII, and undoubtedly helped foster anti-Jewish sentiments at the time.

Yes, "art" can be used to persuade. However, compare "Many citizens were encouraged to dislike Jews by viewing posters representing them as a threat to their well-being," to "The Nazi party's control of the German government allowed them to herd Jews and other 'undesirables' into death camps where they were worked until they were no longer useful and then gassed," or "The Roman Catholic Church, in order to consolidate its power, ruthlessly hunted down anyone who dared to challenge their orthodoxy and tortured them until they admitted their 'sins' and then consigned them to executions." You see the difference there?
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:35 PM on August 10, 2011


I agree that the Church, and for that matter the Nazis, wielded the weapons and committed the atrocities, sure. Absolutely.

But I'd argue that art and other forms of media can help incite change by shifting public opinion and creating an environment where such organizations can gain and maintain a foothold. For example, an extensive grassroots propaganda campaign starting in the 1870's also helped contributed to the rise of the Nazi party in Germany 50 years later.
posted by zarq at 1:03 PM on August 10, 2011


Mental Wimp: I'm pretty certain that we're not talking about the same thing with the word, "religion."
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:06 PM on August 10, 2011


Nor "art." I think this whole "art is not as destructive" argument can only be made if you somehow manage to pigeonhole "art" in a way that's very difficult, especially in these times. Literally, "art" is just anything made by human hands. Insofar as gas chambers might be called "art" if you wanted to call them that (and I don't think there's any way to say they aren't) I think it's clear that "art" can be quite destructive.
posted by koeselitz at 1:38 PM on August 10, 2011


Literally, "art" is just anything made by human hands. Insofar as gas chambers might be called "art" if you wanted to call them that (and I don't think there's any way to say they aren't) I think it's clear that "art" can be quite destructive.

Literally, "religion" is just any "cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith". Insofar as the Nazis might be called "religious" if you wanted to call them that (and I don't think there's any way to say they aren't) I think it's clear that "religion" can be quite destructive. /eyeroll, hamburger, etc

We can play this definition game all day, but I think most people would scoff at the idea that the gas chambers were "art" in any way, shape, or form, just as they would at the idea that Nazism was a religion.
posted by vorfeed at 2:49 PM on August 10, 2011


koeselitz: "Insofar as gas chambers might be called "art" if you wanted to call them that (and I don't think there's any way to say they aren't) I think it's clear that "art" can be quite destructive."

Um.... yeah I'm not really with ya there on the whole "gas chambers as art" concept.

I mean, the definition of art is complex, I know. And am fully aware that it can be utilitarian and not all ars gratia artis.

But... damn.

No.
posted by zarq at 3:47 PM on August 10, 2011


vorfeed: “We can play this definition game all day, but I think most people would scoff at the idea that the gas chambers were "art" in any way, shape, or form, just as they would at the idea that Nazism was a religion.”

I don't really know what's at stake here, but I guess I agree that Nazism isn't a religion, really.

It seems kind of pointless to bring art in here, anyway. Religion is either destructive or not; it doesn't need to be judged in relation to art.
posted by koeselitz at 5:05 PM on August 10, 2011


Hebrew does not have the verb "to be"...the translation of Hamlet's soliloquy is "This or not this".
posted by brujita at 10:10 PM on August 10, 2011


Hebrew does not have the verb "to be"...the translation of Hamlet's soliloquy is "This or not this".

להיות, או לא להיות

Hebrew does have a verb that means "exist."

(Answering random facetiousness with pedantry.)
posted by nangar at 2:54 AM on August 11, 2011


Gas chambers are only art if you redefine "art" to include engineering. That's not how the word is used in modern English.

You can argue, though, that political ideologies can act an awful lot like religions. The anthropologist Felicitas Goodman, who I like a lot, did in fact describe large-scale urban societies as tending to replace religion with secular ideology and rituals, including political ones. (You can, of course, be both a liberal, conservative, socialist, libertarian and be a member of a religion, unless one of your ideologies prohibits it.)

Political ideologies, though, seem best at replicating the bad things religion can do, promoting tribalism and justifying the elimination of non-believers, and less good at at providing the benefits people get from participation in a religious community.
posted by nangar at 3:41 AM on August 11, 2011


Mental Wimp: I'm pretty certain that we're not talking about the same thing with the word, "religion."

Pretty sure I said "institutional support from...religion."
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:09 AM on August 11, 2011


Well, I think that we've established that MeFites can intellectualize away any distinctions whatsoever between things, regardless how dissimilar, in passionate defense of their favorite things. I mean, where else would you find anyone even attempting to argue that the potential harms of bad governments and bad religions equate with those of a jazz tune or a baseball game? *eye roll*
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:15 AM on August 11, 2011


Are the Yankees playing? Because if the Yankees are playing....
posted by zarq at 11:31 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's a very good point, zarq. Nobody wants to hear the Yankees play jazz tunes.
posted by The World Famous at 12:34 PM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


That's a very good point, zarq. Nobody wants to hear the Yankees play jazz tunes.

I have to admit, not only funny, but devastatingly so. I retract my argument.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:47 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Mental Wimp: “Well, I think that we've established that MeFites can intellectualize away any distinctions whatsoever between things, regardless how dissimilar, in passionate defense of their favorite things...”

Look, you're the one who claimed that religion is comparable to works of art. I thought that comparison wasn't really coherent, and I said so.
posted by koeselitz at 12:49 PM on August 11, 2011


On preview: eh, doesn't matter. Sorry, not trying to drag it out again.
posted by koeselitz at 12:49 PM on August 11, 2011


Look, you're the one who claimed that religion is comparable to works of art. I thought that comparison wasn't really coherent, and I said so.

I did? When?
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:50 PM on August 11, 2011


You said it here.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:56 PM on August 11, 2011


The World Famous: "That's a very good point, zarq. Nobody wants to hear the Yankees play jazz tunes."

HA! :D
posted by zarq at 12:59 PM on August 11, 2011


You said it here.

It looks to me as if that's a reply to a comparison between religion and art. That does not make Mental Wimp "the one who claimed that religion is comparable to works of art".
posted by vorfeed at 1:03 PM on August 11, 2011


Vorfeed, I wouldn't quite say that it's as much of a comparison as all that. The link you quoted was talking about the "utility" of religion, and someone else was pointing out that "we don't talk about what the 'utility' of art is, either." They could just as easily have said that we don't talk about what the "utility" of sports is.

It was Mental Wimp who cemented the connection with that "art doesn't cause Inquisitions" retort.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:11 PM on August 11, 2011


You said it here.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:56 PM on August 11 [+] [!]


Whoa! EC, I'm trying to figure out how
KJS: I don't think that utility [of religions] matters here. What's the utility of a Jaco Pastorius recording, a brilliant basketball play, or a Monet painting? The older I get, the less I'm interested in trying to rationalize a utilitarian purpose around everything. Especially when the needs filled might be individual and subjective.

MW: Well, they've never led to mass suicides or the Inquisition. Or denying whole classes of people their human rights.
became
MW: religion is comparable to works of art
In fact, I was saying that in terms of the need to consider utility, there is no comparison between things like government and religion, on the one hand, and works of art, on the other. In the context of the discussion, I was making the opposite point of the one you and koeselitz claim I made.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:28 PM on August 11, 2011


Oh, and one more thing, then I'll shut my bleeding pie hole.

Thank you, KJS, for pointing me to Jaco Pastorius. I guy I hadn't heard before and should have. I'm not worthy.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:30 PM on August 11, 2011


If you haven't yet read about his decline and death, you're in for a really, really sad story.
posted by The World Famous at 1:31 PM on August 11, 2011


In fact, I was saying that in terms of the need to consider utility, there is no comparison between things like government and religion, on the one hand, and works of art, on the other.

Then why didn't you just say that?

And since now you have, can you explain why you think there's no comparison?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:44 PM on August 11, 2011


Mental Wimp: In fact, I was saying that in terms of the need to consider utility, there is no comparison between things like government and religion, on the one hand, and works of art, on the other.

I don't think it's remotely that simple to say that modern religion is completely like government and completely unlike art. Part of my objection here was that Smedleyman was insisting that we look at participation in modern religion within secular societies in terms of sociological utility, and I'm not certain that's relevant when you're looking at why atheists participate in religious traditions like Christianity.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:40 PM on August 11, 2011


And since now you have, can you explain why you think there's no comparison?

I tried my best above. I have no other words for you.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:05 PM on August 11, 2011


I don't think it's remotely that simple to say that modern religion is completely like government and completely unlike art.

I don't think I ever said that religion is completely like government or that it was completely unlike art. I'm trying to express myself and doing a bad job, I think. Either that, or I am expressing a completely alien idea not rooted in reality and thereby missing all a y'all.

Because I'm such an optimist, I'll try one more time.

I was addressing your suggestion that considerations of utility for religion is as irrelevant consideration of utility for art, sports, or music (I hope that paraphrasing captures what you were getting at, because it accurately states the sense I got from your reply).

Being aware that religious institutions, integral components of religions, have directly perpetrated heinous crimes against humanity and that songs, basketball games, and paintings never have, I hold that consideration of the utility of religion, in the sense that we consider the utility of a form of government, is quite important to do, because a religion, including its infrastructure and its divinely mandated value system, could have (and, in the past, has had) direct negative consequences for life and limb of whole classes of people. We need to decide as a society whether the positive aspects outweigh those negative aspects.

I am not suggesting, in any way (and thinking I am suggesting it may be the reason for the disconnect), that we should implement a governmental or extra-governmental mechanism to decide democratically or otherwise that this or that particular religious organization should exist; I think most of us would agree that that, in and of itself, would be a heinous act. Rather, I'm saying that collectively, as we each choose our own course of action, we need to weigh the benefits and costs (utility, in a word) and decide to either support a religion (e.g., to join it, give it money, devote time to it, promote it to our friends, teach it to our children) or not, and not purely on aesthetic grounds. A church might have great music, but it might such in the way its clergy treats children, for example.

If I wanted to, I could blur the line saying, well, some pieces of art are so powerful, or some songs so poignant, or some behind-the-back-passes so awe-inspiring, that they could cause people to elect governments or create religions that eventually commit equally heinous crimes. But I maintain that is a categorically different level of relation. Of course, communication is necessary to create governments and religions and, of course, people have to be induced or coerced into forming them, and, of course, art, where ever it is found, is a form of communication and so can induce and coerce. But to me, those are tenuous, conditional relationships to the committing of heinous acts directly undertaken by religious organizations or governments and not directly attributable to the song, painting, or basketball skill. And, to get back to the original point, the relevance of a song's or a painting's or a jump-shots social utility is not really germane to our appreciation of it.

So that's my idea, as clearly as I can state it. I hope this will do for you, too, EC.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:34 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


"...it might suck in the way..." Jesus, I need an editor.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:36 PM on August 11, 2011


Mental Wimp: “Jesus, I need an editor.”

I'm pretty confused at this point. I have a feeling praying about it won't help, but maybe painting a picture would.
posted by koeselitz at 4:13 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I still say goddamit, too.
posted by Mental Wimp at 4:36 PM on August 11, 2011


"I don't think that utility matters here. What's the utility of a Jaco Pastorius recording, a brilliant basketball play, or a Monet painting? "

KirkJobSluder - I'll boil it down as simply as possible. The FPP is about atheists who do to church. One of the reasons atheists do this is to act within a pre-established organization to altruistic ends.
I ask (bringing a great deal of other detail to the equation) - why do you then need the symbols of the church to perform those ends?

By your analogy - not only why does Jaco Pastorius need with old model distribution in order to play jazz - but why does he need multi-layers like the RIAA which is a trust that
represents music distributors - given modern technology has outmoded the old models?
What does he need with certain kinds of representation that builds up who he is in a certain way? That creates a symbol of him that may, or may not be accurate but is perhaps not necessarily conducive to him playing and you hearing.

The symbols themselves, what color they are, details, are not the point.

I couldn't care less about the utility of aesthetic in this regard, or the masturbatory rhetoric that usually follows, it's ground that's long been covered and in my mind settled as self-supportive.
It is it's own ends. For good or ill, moot point. Music is to be experienced not deciphered. If it's being deciphered, it's not music, it's decipherin'. Same deal with anything else.
The thinking about it isn't doing it, being it, experiencing it.

The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named is not the eternal name
The nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth
The named is the mother of myriad things

Easy as pie and long settled. (At least for me)

And I couldn't care less about crimes committed by the church or the RIAA as arguments against their existence.

Only the symbols. I play jazz. People like to hear jazz. That's the essential. Not even 'I'm Jaco Pastorius.' I play jazz, that's it.
From there it's a matter of the utility of form this takes.
What do I need to continue to play jazz? What are people willing to do to hear it?
What systems do we need to support those activities and appreciation of those experiences?

I respect john wilkins' point because there may be a unique perspective that is brought to an organization by a specific set of symbols (Christ as victim in this case).
The details about the symbols themselves, I'm not addressing.
That'd be interpretation. ONE point of view is that J.C. & the boys were victims. Many people adhere to that POV. The validity of it is indisputable because it's not a left field sort of comment.
Some people think Christ came with a sword, and that's the thing. Ok. He said that. That's another interpretation.
Because the detail in the symbols themselves are not a point of contention (for me) then anything interpretive (aiming at reasonable discourse) is in-bounds.

Is that interpretation of Christianity at one with whatever system john wilkins' works with?
I'd suspect it's considered so.
My question would be - is that interpretation - or any interpretation - necessary to that organization working?
If it is, is it necessary to it working as it does? Or could it work better with some other interpretation (as many religious folks who have different perspectives say) or none at all or doesn't matter (as some atheists say) or is having no reference for an interpretation to be possible (as other atheists say) more conducive to an organization working for an altruistic goal?

Obviously it varies on the larger scale. But clearly some atheists (the ones who go to church) think that some interpretation (even if they think that interpretation is wrong) is good as john wilkins' alludes.

So, what then is the minimum there before it falls into erasing the symbol the interpretation is based on?
Is that desirable? At least as far as being identical in how a system operates?
I don't know.
What I do know is that loss of control over symbols is inevitable if you're on the web (I'm thinking Greenpeace and Mr. Splashy Pants.
It's been my experience that participatory sharing of information and design and system collaboration is superior to hierarchical top down command in this regard (Friction? Military? Me? Yeah. ) And not for touchy feelie "it's just better" or "those guys did/do bad" reasons but extremely practical considerations beyond static events.

Well hell, nearly all of you wouldn't be here if you didn't think that way.

But Metafilter has a sort of 'flavor' or 'color' to it.
Is that at one with how it operates? Are people here because they like the operation or the flavor?
If the flavor changed, or could change such that the operation would be 'better', would people go for it? Or is 'better' part of the utility function? (Again - alloy with the economic idea there - "Utility is taken to be correlative to Desire or Want. It has been already argued that desires cannot be measured directly, but only indirectly, by the outward phenomena to which they give rise: and that in those cases with which economics is chiefly concerned the measure is found in the price which a person is willing to pay for the fulfillment or satisfaction of his desire." - the outward phenomena is atheists going to church.)
Let me emphasize that bit - economic utility. The symbols themselves are fluid. What one gets from them is utilitarian. The system itself is what you plug into to employ whatever symbols you have/want to use. There are other systems to use. Why aren't they using them? What is the nature of the relationship between what someone desires from an organization and the nature of the language, culture, symbolism of that organization?
Will I use those symbols if they're optimal in some other organization? Will I take them with me? Will I not leave one outfit for a better one simply because of my attachment (positive or negative) to the symbols? Or is it the synthesis of form and symbol? Is there one? And if there is, isn't that changing all the time - by different generations historically (see my above comment on "secular") if not in the immediacy thanks to technology?

For people involved in this particular medium, there are a lot of literal minded folks. Is that part of the thing here? Dunno. Tough to have a 'good guy' without a 'bad guy'. I shoot bad guys so I don't really think that way unless someone's life is in danger (if you thought I was kidding about letting Paris kill me, you're mistaken. I think with finality in mind). But sometimes folks just have to have a counterpoint or villain, whatever. Normally I'm seeking an end, resolution if not understanding, not looking to be a hero or villain.

That's no complaint there. It's a dramatic principal. Good drama. A film like "Heat" might have a calm rational juxtaposition of perspective, but action films aren't made on two guys having coffee.
People like it. So that experience is self-supportive in that regard. And so, part of the flavor here sometimes. Particularly when other people don't like it. ("It's gotten so shallow/irrational/etc.")

And that's all still on topic. Is that what's happening with atheists who go to church?
That's the forum? It's the community principles and symbols writ large even when, perhaps especially when, you don't agree with them - thus are you defined and thus you define yourself?

I don't know myself, man. I just play jazz. Some people have big ears, others don't.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:38 PM on August 11, 2011


The problem as I see it with identifying religions with institutional oppression is that in most cases, practically everyone, including the resistance movements at any given point in time, identifies as religious and interprets religion in accord to their political aims. I don't know about the rest.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:55 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Being aware that religious institutions, integral components of religions, have directly perpetrated heinous crimes against humanity and that songs, basketball games, and paintings never have, I hold that consideration of the utility of religion, in the sense that we consider the utility of a form of government, is quite important to do, because a religion, including its infrastructure and its divinely mandated value system, could have (and, in the past, has had) direct negative consequences for life and limb of whole classes of people. We need to decide as a society whether the positive aspects outweigh those negative aspects.

See, here is where you've lost me, because this is an incorrect premise.

What I mean is: you claim that "songs, basketball games, and paintings" have never "perpetrated heinous crimes against humanity."

However:

1. A good number of Beatles songs caused Charles Manson to slaughter several people. ("Helter Skelter" wasn't the only one, either.)

2. The U2 song "Exit" inspired a fan to kill the actress Rebecca Schaefer.

3. The book Catcher In The Rye inspired the murder of John Lennon.

That's a handful of songs and a book, all of which caused heinous crimes. And there are more.

Now, I know what you're saying -- that it's not accurate to say that "Helter Skelter" caused Charles Manson to commit his acts -- Charles Manson was already insane and interpreted the song in an unforeseen and tragic way.

And I agree with you on that. But what I invite you to further consider, though, is that -- perhaps it is possible that the same is true of religions, in that the people who perpetrated these heinous crimes in the name of religions also interpreted the religion in an unforeseen and tragic way.

If that is possible, should we not absolve religion of such blame, the way we've done with Catcher In The Rye or "Helter Skelter"?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:32 PM on August 11, 2011


And I agree with you on that. But what I invite you to further consider, though, is that -- perhaps it is possible that the same is true of religions, in that the people who perpetrated these heinous crimes in the name of religions also interpreted the religion in an unforeseen and tragic way.

When there are only a handful of people who have "interpreted the religion in an unforeseen and tragic way", the way there are a handful of people who've misinterpreted pop songs or Catcher in the Rye, then maybe I'll consider this. Until then, I can't help but notice that there are entire million-person movements centered around harmful interpretations of religion... interpretations which usually seem much more reasonable, given the religious ideology in question, than Manson did given, um, Beatleism.

As a system of values, a given religion is inherently ideological. Art isn't; it is value-agnostic (heh!) in ways that religion simply can't be. IMHO, this distinction makes it difficult to "absolve religion of such blame" across the board, especially since the "unforeseen and tragic" interpretation is often endorsed by religious leaders and/or mainstream members themselves. If the Beatles had directly told Manson to go out and kill people -- as religious leaders have occasionally told their flocks since the beginning of recorded history -- you'd have a much better case. And even then, the massive power difference makes it very hard to judge go-out-and-kill-people art the way we judge go-out-and-kill-people religion.

I mean, I don't even think the Beatles could have pulled off a holy war, and they were bigger than Jesus.
posted by vorfeed at 7:25 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Nangar, זה או לא זה was the translation my fourth year Hebrew school teacher used. The play wasn't part of the syllabus; she told us this as an anecdote.
posted by brujita at 11:19 PM on August 11, 2011


I was talking to Mental Wimp, actually, but since you chimed in, vorfeed, I have another question just for you.

If religion is indeed ideological, and you believe this ideology endorses slaughter -- then why do we not hear of more such slaughter in the present?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:04 AM on August 12, 2011


Organized religion has been the source of some of the nastiest, most violent catastrophes and attempted genocides in history. This is still a serious problem.

Terrorist acts in the name of Islam have been a constant problem for decades. The genocide in Darfur (400,000 killed, more than a million displaced) has its roots in religious oppression. So did the Serb/Bosnian genocide. Sunni/Shiite conflicts throughout the last few decades have resulted in multiple conflicts and hundreds of thousands of dead. Israel/Palestine. Holy wars certainly haven't disappeared.

Most religions promote othering to some degree. Christianity and Islam being two of the worst offenders. Any ideology that does so can potentially use dehumanizing tactics against outsiders and/or perceived enemies. We see this happen consistently in both religious and nonreligious extremists.

What we hear about is damning enough. We don't need more frequent incidents to prove that there can be a religion/holy war connection in the present day.
posted by zarq at 5:55 AM on August 12, 2011


What I'm getting at, though, zarq, is that murder and killing and atrocity is not religion's function, goal, or use. No more so than "bludgeoning people" is a hammer's function, goal, or use.

The fact that people have used hammers to kill other people is not intrinsically part of hammerdom. The urge to kill was something that the killer in question brought to the hammer. I posit that the same is true of religion -- that the urge to kill is something that some bring to religion. A good many, yes, but that's why I bring up my original argument -- there is an even greater number of religious who don't kill, which tells me that in the case of those who did kill over it, that the urge to kill was something they brought to religion in the first place.

That was why I asked the "why don't you hear even more instances of killing in the name of religion." If religion really were causing it, the people participating in Holy Wars would be in the majority of each religion, rather than the minority.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:51 AM on August 12, 2011


EmpressCallipygos: "What I'm getting at, though, zarq, is that murder and killing and atrocity is not religion's function, goal, or use. No more so than "bludgeoning people" is a hammer's function, goal, or use.

I think you're wrong here. A given religious sect's purpose is what its leader (and perhaps its followers) determines it to be -- and that usually changes from generation to generation.

Here's an obvious example: The Crusades. Note that several Popes gave religious sanction to miltary campaigns, waged for a dual-purpose: restoring Church control to the so-called "Holy Lands" and to repurpose and remove a potential local revolutionary threat to the Church and Church supported political leaders. The Crusades committed atrocities and destroyed the Byzantine Empire. At the time they were Holy Wars, sanctioned by the Pope with a clear religious purpose and goal. Nowadays, Popes are thankfully not bloodthirsty. ;)

But a religion's purpose use or goal is what its leadership says it is.

To declare that religion only has laudable goals and wave away atrocities and human rights violations that have been sanctioned by those in power is wrong.

Note please, that vorfeed was not just talking about genocide but "harmful interpretations of religion." Homophobia. Antisemitism. Curtailing women's rights. Curtailing civil liberties. Forced or unwilling conversion. All of these things do not require extremism. In fact, one could argue that large, majority segments of at least a handful of religions actively promote such things every day to their followers. How many Christian groups openly declare homosexuality to be deviant behavior, that can be "cured?" Or actively push for legislation that would remove a woman's right to choose? How many Jewish and Muslim groups preach to their flocks about sharply proscribed gender roles -- depicting a world in which women shouldn't have the same rights as men?

The fact that people have used hammers to kill other people is not intrinsically part of hammerdom. The urge to kill was something that the killer in question brought to the hammer.

Sorry, but I believe this is a false analogy. Religion has been used as a social control for many generations, and frequently throughout history as a way to incite people to kill. To drive mobs into a killing frenzy. To strike fear into people's hearts so they will act against others. To warp people's perceptions of others.

I posit that the same is true of religion -- that the urge to kill is something that some bring to religion. A good many, yes, but that's why I bring up my original argument -- there is an even greater number of religious who don't kill, which tells me that in the case of those who did kill over it, that the urge to kill was something they brought to religion in the first place.

What are they being taught? Are they being taught that killing is wrong and against the principles of their religion? Or are they being taught by their religious leaders that Othering is an inherent part of being an Observant Muslim/Christian/Jew/Hindu etc., etc.?

Each person experiences their faith differently. And each religious sect emphasizes different aspects of religious faith over others.

Let's go back to homophobia for a moment. A large swatch of Christians in this country are taught that homophobia is wrong. That gay men and women should not be allowed to "pervert" children by teaching or adopting them. That male homosexuality = pedophilia, that homosexuality is a danger to society and that homosexuality can be cured, even though there's no evidence to support this.

If the goal of the Christian religion is to teach that we are all brothers, equal unto the Lord, and is not to promote the idea that any man is less than or less worthy of G-d's love than another, why aren't we seeing more Priests and Ministers speak out against homophobia, and teaching that being gay is neither a deviant behaviour nor something that can be beaten out of someone?

That was why I asked the "why don't you hear even more instances of killing in the name of religion." If religion really were causing it, the people participating in Holy Wars would be in the majority of each religion, rather than the minority."

If Pope Benedict said tomorrow, "The Jews are an abomination. They are Satan's tools. They must be destroyed," I have absolutely no doubt that a large number of Catholics would take up arms against us and try to wipe us out. No doubt whatsoever. Perhaps not in America. But in third world countries where the Church has more supremacy? Absolutely. And how can I be so sure about this? It's happened before, historically.
posted by zarq at 7:29 AM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think you're wrong here. A given religious sect's purpose is what its leader (and perhaps its followers) determines it to be -- and that usually changes from generation to generation.

This just proves my point, to my mind. It's each new leader and each new generation bringing a new interpretation to the religion that changes its course. It is not something inherant in the religion itself.

Here's an obvious example: The Crusades. Note that several Popes gave religious sanction to miltary campaigns, waged for a dual-purpose: restoring Church control to the so-called "Holy Lands" and to repurpose and remove a potential local revolutionary threat to the Church and Church supported political leaders. The Crusades committed atrocities and destroyed the Byzantine Empire. At the time they were Holy Wars, sanctioned by the Pope with a clear religious purpose and goal.

But how much of that "clear religious purpose" was being informed by the current political state of affairs, though? Don't forget that this was in the time of the Borgias, when the Popes were in the pocket of the kings.

If Pope Benedict said tomorrow, "The Jews are an abomination. They are Satan's tools. They must be destroyed," I have absolutely no doubt that a large number of Catholics would take up arms against us and try to wipe us out. No doubt whatsoever. Perhaps not in America. But in third world countries where the Church has more supremacy? Absolutely. And how can I be so sure about this? It's happened before, historically.

...."It's happened before historically" is kind of thin ground, to be honest. I mean, blood sacrifices during solar eclipses have also happened before historically, but we don't expect them to happen today, because the times are different. As for the rest -- doesn't the fact that "perhaps not in America" tell you that the acting on the homophobia you're talking about would not be coming from the church, but rather from the culture of the third world countries you're talking about? (what I mean, is -- are you sure that those particular third-world countries you're talking about are free of homophobia right now, and that there isn't violence going on there already?)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:39 AM on August 12, 2011


EmpressCallipygos: " This just proves my point, to my mind. It's each new leader and each new generation bringing a new interpretation to the religion that changes its course. It is not something inherant in the religion itself."

Ideological institutions aren't static entities. Neither are religions. And what remains inherent to a religion changes over time. You're trying to argue that there is some sort of unchanging essence to each religion, and that may be so, but clearly that's not *all* a religion is.

But how much of that "clear religious purpose" was being informed by the current political state of affairs, though? Don't forget that this was in the time of the Borgias, when the Popes were in the pocket of the kings.

You've skipped a tremendous amount of my supporting argument. I'm curious as to what your opinion is of the rest of what I said.

Anyway, this seems like a non sequitur, no? All religious teachings are guided and influenced by current affairs, even if they're setting themselves apart from modern mores. Church teachings wouldn't have vilified abortion in previous centuries to the extent that they do today because abortion really wasn't readily accessible to so many women.
posted by zarq at 9:32 AM on August 12, 2011


You've skipped a tremendous amount of my supporting argument. I'm curious as to what your opinion is of the rest of what I said.

More of the same, really -- you say religion has been used to incite violence. But it has also been used to incite charitable works and compassion, and been cause for inspiring people to bring about a net good. That just confirms for me that what people get out of a religion, or what they use it for, is something that comes from the people themselves. It's not like if religion never came along, they'd be all, "why, I would never have thought of treating other people this way!"

Church teachings wouldn't have vilified abortion in previous centuries to the extent that they do today because abortion really wasn't readily accessible to so many women.

That's an example of a religious reaction to something, though, rather than religion causing something -- which is what the claim is, that religion was created for the express purpose of causing bad things.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:44 AM on August 12, 2011


The tl:dr of my argument is:

The claim is that religion has made a lot of people act like shits. My argument is that these people always were going to act like shits anyway, and religion was just the excuse they happened to use to justify it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:50 AM on August 12, 2011


I'm pretty much convinced at this time that any kind of a post-religious society is about as realistic as other utopian dreams. As a result, blanket criticism of religion (setting aside the problem that I can see no consensus that it remotely means the same thing from comment to comment here) is substantially less interesting to me than what kinds of political networks we create with people who happen to be religious.

I have a particular animus against "If ___, why don't we see more of them ___?" as an argument that's loaded with multiple forms of bias. But then again, I just saw the Muslim Americans/denouncing terrorism formulation elsewhere. I don't think it's possible to change institutional opposition by religious organizations on gay rights without supporting growing numbers of out LGBT ministers and congregants.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:00 AM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have a particular animus against "If ___, why don't we see more of them ___?" as an argument that's loaded with multiple forms of bias.

Not sure I follow you, can you rephrase?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:01 AM on August 12, 2011


It's specifically a response to zarq:

If the goal of the Christian religion is to teach that we are all brothers, equal unto the Lord, and is not to promote the idea that any man is less than or less worthy of G-d's love than another, why aren't we seeing more Priests and Ministers speak out against homophobia, and teaching that being gay is neither a deviant behaviour nor something that can be beaten out of someone?

It's an argument that rubs me the wrong way both as a general argument and specifically as applied to gay-rights reform within Christianity.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:10 AM on August 12, 2011


Ah, okay. I used the "if [blank], then why don't we see more [blank]" structure for an argument first, and wasn't sure what the objection to that structure is.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:13 AM on August 12, 2011


The because the answer is almost always, "we do see it." You then get into a pissing match about how much "more" is necessary to falsify the accusation. How many more Muslim Americans need to criticize terrorism? How many more Christians need to lobby for gay rights? How many more Jews need to criticize the worst elements of Zionism? How many more atheists need to participate in multi-faith community?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:35 AM on August 12, 2011


A fair point.

For the record, I personally mean "more" to be "more than 50%."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:12 PM on August 12, 2011


The claim is that religion has made a lot of people act like shits. My argument is that these people always were going to act like shits anyway, and religion was just the excuse they happened to use to justify it.

If religion is "just an excuse" for the things people "always were going to do anyway", then it has no meaning or purpose whatsoever, either positive or negative. I doubt most people would agree. And if it's all just an excuse, then what's the point of supporting or opposing any ideology at all, religious or otherwise? Do you mean to suggest that ideas can never be said to "cause" anyone to do anything, or does this just apply to religious ideas?

Besides, the problem with your argument is that religion seems to have made a lot of people act like shits in specific ideological ways. The same oppressions tend to come up again and again within a given society, along the same religious lines. The anti-abortion/anti-contraception crusade is a great example. It may seem "new", but it's actually not -- some have argued that the witch-hunting hysteria which started in the 14th century had a lot to do with this, since "procuring abortion" and "hinder[ing] men from performing the sexual act and women from conceiving" were among the supposed acts of a witch (and still are; the idea that Planned Parenthood offices and abortion clinics are rife with "witches" is a common bit of anti-choice propaganda.)

Different religions have different ideologies which lead to different oppressions, also. If religion truly had nothing to do with how and why people "act like shits", we wouldn't expect to see oppression specialize along the lines of religious ideology... but that's exactly what we do see, both historically and today.
posted by vorfeed at 12:18 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's also worth noting that religions (and the rest of us!) constantly suggest that any number of ideas and behaviors (sin/attachment/greed/etc) cause negative outcomes (punishment/suffering/cruelty/etc). It's only when this idea is turned against religion itself that cause suddenly becomes a slippery notion, and certain beliefs and actions necessarily become an excuse for problematic behavior rather than its source.
posted by vorfeed at 12:30 PM on August 12, 2011


If religion is "just an excuse" for the things people "always were going to do anyway", then it has no meaning or purpose whatsoever, either positive or negative.

You don't consider that it may have a meaning or purpose OTHER THAN "causing people to do certain things"? Might not "providing a sense of shared community" be such a purpose? Or "helping people find words to express un-nameable ideas they have about things larger than themselves"? Or hell, even "giving people something to do on sunday other than watching TV and eating Pop-tarts in their underwear"?

Do you mean to suggest that ideas can never be said to "cause" anyone to do anything, or does this just apply to religious ideas?

Ideas not being able to "cause" anyone to do things is precisely what I mean. An idea does not kidnap your motor function and animate your limbs. It is simply an idea. Whether you agree or disagree with any given idea depends on you, your background, your culture, your upbringing, your life experience, your unique personality, your unique psychological makeup, and a host of other factors. For every idea that you hear, consider, and decide you agree with, there was probably another idea that you heard, considered, and decided you didn't agree with. An idea in and of itself cannot "cause" you to do anything -- it is your choosing to agree with an idea that does this.

And grinding that down even further, there are multiple interpretations of certain ideas -- and it is very possible for a person to not agree with an idea interpreted one way, but to agree with it interpreted another way. For example: "You have the scripture where Jesus said 'the only way to the Father is through Me.' I'm not too cool with the idea that what Jesus meant was 'the only way to Heaven is to be Christian', but He could have also meant 'the only way to Heaven is by following My example,' and I can grok that."

Besides, the problem with your argument is that religion seems to have made a lot of people act like shits in specific ideological ways.

It's also made a lot of people act noble in specific ideological ways. Sounds like the shits were going to act like shits, and the good people were going to act like good people, and they just used religion as a framing device for what they wanted to do all along anyway. Or that they used the shared language and/or references as a way of reaching out to other people who may not be on their side in an attempt to sway them. The onlookers still had the power to look at how the shits were using the religion and think, "wow, those dudes are fucked up."

Different religions have different ideologies which lead to different oppressions, also. If religion truly had nothing to do with how and why people "act like shits", we wouldn't expect to see oppression specialize along the lines of religious ideology... but that's exactly what we do see, both historically and today.

....since the link you've posted seems to refer to people being outcast because of a societal construct rather than a religious one, I would say that that confirms that yes, religion truly had nothing to do with people acting ilke shits.

It's also worth noting that religions (and the rest of us!) constantly suggest that any number of ideas and behaviors (sin/attachment/greed/etc) cause negative outcomes (punishment/suffering/cruelty/etc).

I'm not sure you can classify "sin", "attachment", or "greed" as "ideas", but rather as "behaviors" or "character traits".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:48 PM on August 12, 2011


And I agree with you on that. But what I invite you to further consider, though, is that -- perhaps it is possible that the same is true of religions, in that the people who perpetrated these heinous crimes in the name of religions also interpreted the religion in an unforeseen and tragic way."

EC, I think you're working too hard at trying to draw a false equivalence. The religious crimes I'm pointing to are massive in scale and, this is key, perpetrated intentionally at the behest of the leaders of the religion if not by those leaders themselves. The few isolated examples of songs maybe being related to an individual nutcase taking out a life or two are in no normal sense of the word comparable.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:23 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


EC, I think you're working too hard at trying to draw a false equivalence. The religious crimes I'm pointing to are massive in scale and, this is key, perpetrated intentionally at the behest of the leaders of the religion if not by those leaders themselves.

Well, can you name the specific crimes you're pointing to, then? I suspected I was thinking of the same ones that you were -- which is why I took pains to point out that the society itself may have been a stronger influence than you thought -- but I shouldn't assume, and it would help ascertain whether I am drawing a false equivalence or not.

The few isolated examples of songs maybe being related to an individual nutcase taking out a life or two are in no normal sense of the word comparable.

By that logic, you could say that a song would be comparable if it had a higher body count. (Hey, I wonder whether national anthems could then be included?)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:39 PM on August 12, 2011


You don't consider that it may have a meaning or purpose OTHER THAN "causing people to do certain things"? Might not "providing a sense of shared community" be such a purpose? Or "helping people find words to express un-nameable ideas they have about things larger than themselves"? Or hell, even "giving people something to do on sunday other than watching TV and eating Pop-tarts in their underwear"?

Sure, but by your argument, it's just as reasonable to suggest that people were going to provide a sense of community, express un-nameable ideas they have about things larger than themselves, and do something on sunday other than watching TV and eating Pop-tarts in their underwear anyway, and religion was just the excuse...

Again, if you are to be believed then there's no point in supporting or opposing any ideology, because none of them can fairly be said to have any effect at all.

Ideas not being able to "cause" anyone to do things is precisely what I mean.

Like I said before, most people won't agree with you on that. Epictetus-ly speaking, I appreciate the argument that ideas cannot force you to do something, but I strongly disagree that they can never be among an action's cause(s). That flies in the face of just about everything we know about human motivation... and it makes of history a most interesting series of wild coincidences. Why, Germans in the 1930s and 40s just happened to have wanted all along to toss people into gas chambers, when along came a guy who suggested that very thing... and only then did it happen! And the Russian Revolution makes so much sense now that I realize that Russians had always wanted to rise up in proletariat action, even thought they didn't know what a proletariat was. Good thing they managed to hold back until Marxism became popular, otherwise it would have been really confusing for everyone!

....since the link you've posted seems to refer to people being outcast because of a societal construct rather than a religious one, I would say that that confirms that yes, religion truly had nothing to do with people acting ilke shits.

"Shinto notions of kegare (穢れ "defilement")" are a societal construct rather than a religious one, and "truly had nothing to do" with religion? Interesting.

I'm not sure you can classify "sin", "attachment", or "greed" as "ideas", but rather as "behaviors" or "character traits".

Character traits are an idea -- in particular, an ideological category. You cannot point to an object in the world and objectively claim that "there is a character trait", nor can you point and say "there is sin" without first defining the idea of "sin".
posted by vorfeed at 1:46 PM on August 12, 2011


Sure, but by your argument, it's just as reasonable to suggest that people were going to provide a sense of community, express un-nameable ideas they have about things larger than themselves, and do something on sunday other than watching TV and eating Pop-tarts in their underwear anyway, and religion was just the excuse...

I have no problem with that.

I appreciate the argument that ideas cannot force you to do something, but I strongly disagree that they can never be among an action's cause(s). That flies in the face of just about everything we know about human motivation... and it makes of history a most interesting series of wild coincidences. Why, Germans in the 1930s and 40s just happened to have wanted all along to toss people into gas chambers, when along came a guy who suggested that very thing... and only then did it happen! And the Russian Revolution makes so much sense now that I realize that Russians had always wanted to rise up in proletariat action, even thought they didn't know what a proletariat was. Good thing they managed to hold back until Marxism became popular, otherwise it would have been really confusing for everyone!

That's not quite an accurate assessment of what I was trying to say, but I blame only myself. Let's unpick this.

Why, Germans in the 1930s and 40s just happened to have wanted all along to toss people into gas chambers, when along came a guy who suggested that very thing... and only then did it happen!

No -- Germans in the 1930's and 1940's were struggling under the weight of crushing unemployment and economic hardship, and their frustration was at a peak. They wanted to do something about it because being helpless in the face of economic hardship just sucks. So the idea that they could blame an entire class of people for that hardship was one that a lot of people were ripe for. I am not as certain that the same idea would have caught as much of a toehold if the economic situation were, on the whole, better; moreover, I am not as certain that the same idea but with a different scapegoat wouldn't have done just as well in the same situation.

And the Russian Revolution makes so much sense now that I realize that Russians had always wanted to rise up in proletariat action, even thought they didn't know what a proletariat was. Good thing they managed to hold back until Marxism became popular, otherwise it would have been really confusing for everyone!

This is a similar instance of a class of people being the perfect audience for an idea. If the proletariat were in better straits, Lenin's ideas would not have caught the same kind of toehold.

Although, interesting that you bring that up -- because it strikes me that the Russian Revolution is a very good example of people going against the ideas that religion is trying to instill upon them, no? If religion is as powerful as you claim it is when it comes to trying to convince people to kill, then why was religion suddenly powerless in the face of Lenin's ideology?

Character traits are an idea -- in particular, an ideological category. You cannot point to an object in the world and objectively claim that "there is a character trait", nor can you point and say "there is sin" without first defining the idea of "sin".

Okay, explain to me the difference between

"greed"


and

"Greed is good."


Are you saying both of those are "ideas"?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:58 PM on August 12, 2011


No -- Germans in the 1930's and 1940's were struggling under the weight of crushing unemployment and economic hardship, and their frustration was at a peak. They wanted to do something about it because being helpless in the face of economic hardship just sucks. So the idea that they could blame an entire class of people for that hardship was one that a lot of people were ripe for. I am not as certain that the same idea would have caught as much of a toehold if the economic situation were, on the whole, better; moreover, I am not as certain that the same idea but with a different scapegoat wouldn't have done just as well in the same situation.

All this is fine, but none of it changes the fact that Nazism caused the gas chambers. In a more economically equal world, perhaps the gas chambers would never have happened; in a world with a different scapegoat, perhaps something similar would have happened because of some other idea. This world is not those worlds, however, and what actually happened here happened for a reason. I agree that economics was also a cause -- even a primary one -- but that doesn't mean that Nazism wasn't a cause (and, obviously, a primary one).

"Struggling under the weight of crushing unemployment and economic hardship" could have led to any number of things, including some rather nice ones... but as you yourself admit, it was the idea that they could blame an entire class of people for that hardship that led to this specific outcome.

Although, interesting that you bring that up -- because it strikes me that the Russian Revolution is a very good example of people going against the ideas that religion is trying to instill upon them, no? If religion is as powerful as you claim it is when it comes to trying to convince people to kill, then why was religion suddenly powerless in the face of Lenin's ideology?

I'm not claiming that religion is the only possible cause of things, nor that it is necessarily always the most powerful. Merely that it is, quite clearly, a powerful cause of things.

Are you saying both of those are "ideas"?

Yes, they're both ideas. Actions, people, etc. are not inherently greedy, whether "greed is good" or not. Instead, they are considered so within a given moral framework. The words "excessive", "inordinate", "inappropriate", etc in this article are a tip-off that greed is an idea(l), not just an objective "behavior" -- the "behavior" associated with greed would be acquisition or possession.
posted by vorfeed at 2:50 PM on August 12, 2011


Well, can you name the specific crimes you're pointing to, then?

I've clearly pointed some out. If I seriously believed that you needed to be pointed to crimes committed by religious institutions, I would have to be convinced I was dealing with a very ignorant soul. I know you are not one. I won't waste my time. I really don't think you are willing to see my point well enough to debate it cogently. My demurral will not in any way absolve religious institutions of their crimes, nor will it foster a sense that religious people are open to discussing the shortcomings of their faiths. Sorry.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:05 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


The problem still remains that in just about every case cited, you had equally fervent religious belief on all sides. It certainly is true the religion creates oppression, it's also true that religion creates resistance to oppression. It also doesn't appear to be the case that non-religious ideologies have a better track record of these things. Politically, I'm much more inclined to religious peace activists than I am to the jingoistic saber rattling of Hitchins and Harris.

Realistically, a post-religion world isn't going to happen in our lifetimes, so organizing alongside religious humanists and pacifists is a critical necessity.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:39 PM on August 12, 2011


Blarg, Friday afternoon, "organizing alongside religious humanists and liberals is a critical necessity."
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:46 PM on August 12, 2011


I've clearly pointed some out.

Can you LINK me to where you posted the one's you're referring to, then? It's a big thread.

All this is fine, but none of it changes the fact that Nazism caused the gas chambers. In a more economically equal world, perhaps the gas chambers would never have happened; in a world with a different scapegoat, perhaps something similar would have happened because of some other idea. This world is not those worlds, however, and what actually happened here happened for a reason. I agree that economics was also a cause -- even a primary one -- but that doesn't mean that Nazism wasn't a cause (and, obviously, a primary one).

I'm afraid you've lost me. The argument on the table, as I have proposed it, is "Naziism caused the gas chambers, but if Naziism never came along, something else would have done it instead." I'm not certain how "but Naziism still caused it" does anything to refute that.

Let me try again. I have a feeling you are calling a "cause" what I am thinking of as a "catalyst". Naziism was the catalyst for a reaction that was bound to happen -- it was like the fuse that happened to be attached to the bomb. But -- if there was no bomb to begin with, the fuse wouldn't have done anything.

The argument I THINK you all are trying to make sounds to me like, "this fuse CREATED the bomb that blew up." And that doesn't wash for me -- I agree that was the particular fuse that LIT that bomb, but the bomb had to be there first in order for the fuse to work.

The fuse does not CREATE the bomb. The fuse TRIGGERS the bomb, but it does not BUILD and ARM the bomb. That is the distinction I am trying to make.

It certainly is true the religion creates oppression, it's also true that religion creates resistance to oppression.

Replace "creates" with "lets people find an outlet for," and that's what I've been trying to say.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:05 PM on August 12, 2011


Let me try again. I have a feeling you are calling a "cause" what I am thinking of as a "catalyst". Naziism was the catalyst for a reaction that was bound to happen -- it was like the fuse that happened to be attached to the bomb. But -- if there was no bomb to begin with, the fuse wouldn't have done anything.

I disagree. Historic events can have more than one apparent cause (or "catalyst", if you prefer), but the bomb metaphor implies a sense of order and inevitability which is not necessarily present. When you say "Naziism was the catalyst for a reaction that was bound to happen" and "if Naziism never came along, something else would have done it instead", you are way overstating the case. If social and economic pressure creates a "bomb" in which things like this are "bound to happen", then you'd rarely see similar periods without paroxysms of fascism and/or Nazi-style mass murder.

Likewise, I don't think it's impossible (or even all that unlikely) that something else would have happened if Nazism hadn't come along -- a socialist Germany, maybe. A lot could have gone differently during 1932-33.
posted by vorfeed at 8:57 PM on August 12, 2011


Nazism had to come along largely because Germans of the time hated Jews. One might claim that racism and religion come from the same impulses, but I think that would be difficult.

Sadly, most people don't live their lives according to their consciences or personal beliefs, even when those consciences are mythical constructs involving old sky wizards. Most people act like they care about such things but actually don't. This is how it's always been. In the end, people are motivated by more common things – like hunger, greed, lust, and hatred of people who are different from oneself. And this seems to be the case whether people believe in a rational universe or a weird mythical one that's only 2000 years old and populated by angels – people simply do not act rationally enough to govern their actions by what they believe about the world. For better or for worse, religion has thus far not been successful in changing this fact, though indeed it tries.
posted by koeselitz at 11:12 PM on August 12, 2011


As a Dutchman I view this event through my own experiences with atheist christians. Here are some of my thoughts.

I had an atheist christian ex father in law who was a minister. It struck me as rather sad that you'd devote your university years and working life to something that you don't believe in.
But maybe that perceived sadness is just because he was clinically depressed and really struggled with his lack of belief. Maybe atheist christianism can be vibrantly energetic.

Somehow I used to vaguely believe in the 80s that humanist semi-socialist secularism was a natural outcome of development of societies. I think there were quite a few Dutch people that thought that. So it was quite a surprise to see the rise of staunch 'only-we-are-right' religion in recent years.

A university friend of mine decided to switch to studying theology at the same university that did the research mentioned above. Somehow he reacted against the atheist-christian 'everybody has a point' interpretation and chose an interpretation where the oldest definition of his church, The Martyrs Mirror (1660), was his benchmark of right and wrong.
One of the reasons he mentioned was that the 'everybody has a point' iets-isme (something-ism) lacked conviction. And I understood his point even if it meant that it made it harder to relate to him as a friend.

Some Dutch literary wit once described Dutch christians as 'down-with-us christians'.
I sometimes feel that WWII left the Netherlands, where a lot of people collaborated with the genocidal occupiers, with a moral dictum that you can show you're a good person by criticising yourself and your own and not criticising other groups. And sometimes I think I see that same dictum at work among the left.
Just like there is 'ask-culture' vs 'guess-culture' where in guess-culture one is supposed to pre-empt the wishes of others, so is there a culture where you're supposed to criticise yourself before others do to show that you're a good person. If people from a 'we're right' culture meet people from a 'we're wrong' culture you get interesting dynamics. Because the former group doesn't reciprocate with self-criticism. To the undefinable distress of the latter group.
posted by joost de vries at 2:00 AM on August 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Right, vorfeed, if you disagree, I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree then.

Good talking to you all.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:27 AM on August 13, 2011


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