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Religion! What Is It Good For?
October 29, 2002 12:32 PM   Subscribe

Religion! What Is It Good For? Absolutely nothing? Perhaps not. Michael Prowse, a lifelong atheist (and Financial Times columnist even!) had this to say in an article for Prospect:
"Having accepted that meanings are always contestable, I have found myself more able to focus on what religious people do, and less on what they say. Are they "better" people than the irreligious? Of course not. Are they better people than they would be were they not religious? Probably, and this is what counts for me.".
Meanwhile, another atheist, Jared Diamond, writing (brilliantly, as the author of Guns, Germs and Steel always does) in the current New York Review of Books, addresses religion in a (let us say) more scientific way and, though more sceptical, leaves a similar question mark hanging. So, in a nutshell: can there be something in (or about) religion for atheists too?
posted by MiguelCardoso (142 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
God only knows?
posted by hackly_fracture at 12:35 PM on October 29, 2002


god is wonderful and it is a shame He must be wasted onm the religious. There is a place for religion, of course, but I just wish the folks that run the churches etc would stop taking up the good parking places and pay some taxes.
Even the non-religious Darwinians know that there seems a built -in thing for religion and it has survived in various forms for a very long time. Besides, the church a good place for AA meetings.
posted by Postroad at 12:40 PM on October 29, 2002


We've all railed against the hypocrisy of the Catholic church, and the misogyny of various fundamentalist groups.

These are old debates, but recently I had a thought about a religion which is usually above reproach among the left-leaning progressives of the world: Buddhism. There are a lot of people in Northern California whom you'd otherwise describe as atheists but who seem to find something appealing in Buddhism.

My thought was that this religion is not so good for those people in times like these.

It led to a pretty furious discussion. Feel free to check it out and join in here:

http://www.maniahill.com/archive/2002_10_06_index.php#85533177
posted by scarabic at 12:42 PM on October 29, 2002


pause for thought! keke :D
posted by kliuless at 12:43 PM on October 29, 2002


Thanks for the Prospect link, Miguel. Diamond's article was previously discussed here, btw.

The NYTimes has an interesting article about The Roots of Today's Buddhism.
posted by homunculus at 12:52 PM on October 29, 2002


Four words:

Catholic School Girl Uniforms

Makes you want to be 16 year old catholic boy all over again.
posted by CrazyJub at 12:53 PM on October 29, 2002


Dammit. homunculus - I'm truly sorry, as that thread belonged up on the post. I hope those who, like me, missed it, will read it along with the articles. (My searching and reading of MetaFilter have been very sloppy and sketchy of late and I apologize for that too...)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 1:00 PM on October 29, 2002


I'll say this for religion: If I hadn't been raised in the Church, I wouldn't have had nearly as much fun drinking, fornicating, and taking drugs. Thank you, Jesus!
posted by Ty Webb at 1:02 PM on October 29, 2002


Off Scarabic's post - I do agree (though not as loudly) about Buddhism, but I (an atheist) do find myself wandering towards Taoism from time to time for my metaphysical needs. There's something comforting about "The way that can be named is not the true way." You can't give the way the world works a name and/or a personality - it's a big impersonal place out there, and things just happen. You can't ascribe events to karma or astrology or the will of God - things just happen the way they happen, and you only have control over so much, which is all the more reason to pay attention to your surroundings, keep alert, and change what you can instead of trying to figure out the mystical truth behind it all... Anyway, I'll stop preaching now. I think I've drifted from Taoism into some kind of humanist pragmatism.
posted by wanderingmind at 1:10 PM on October 29, 2002


I know these quotes aren't really about atheists, but I think it relates well to the topic of religion:

"Humanists try to behave decently and honorably without any expectation of rewards or punishments in an afterlife. The creator of the universe has be to us unknowable so far. We serve as well we can the highest abstraction of which we have some understanding, which is our community."

....

"The German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, who had syphilis, said that only a person of deep faith could afford the luxury of religious skepticism. Humanists, by and large educated, comfortably middle-class persons with rewarding lives like mine, find rapture enough in secular knowledge and hope. Most people can't.

"Voltaire, French author of
Candide, and therefore the Humanists' Abraham, concealed his contempt for the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church from his less educated, simpler-minded, and more frightened employees, because he knew what a stabilizer their religion was for them." -- Kurt Vonnegut, Timequake

That pretty much sums up my beliefs, I reckon.
posted by The God Complex at 1:11 PM on October 29, 2002


scarabic, you might find these articles interesting:

Boomer Buddhism

The Buddhist Teachings on Samvega & Pasada

On preview: no apology necessary, Miguel. This keeps the conversation going for those who missed it.
posted by homunculus at 1:14 PM on October 29, 2002


Thanks for the NYT article. Very good, except for this:

Not only did British ideas of Buddhism reflect Victorian anti-Catholicism, he said; sometimes they carried a whiff of anti-Semitism, too: Buddhism could be admired because, unlike Judaism, Christianity and Islam, it had no Semitic origins.

So any Eastern leanings by a Westerner are anti-Semitic?! Who writes this garbage!?
posted by goethean at 1:19 PM on October 29, 2002


Organized religion aside, I believe at least in that span of human experience that involves the innate sacred--what Rudolph Otto referred to as the Mysterium Tremendum:

Standing on the bare ground, my head bathed by the blithe air and uplifted into infinite space, all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or parcel of God. In the tranquil landscape, and especially in the distant line of the horizon, man beholds somewhat as beautiful as his own nature.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

But its relationship to ethical and moral matters is somewhat ambiguous, and from the evidence, honored far more in the breach than the observance.
posted by y2karl at 1:20 PM on October 29, 2002


Are they "better" people than the irreligious? Of course not. Are they better people than they would be were they not religious? Probably, and this is what counts for me.".

Hmmm......lets see, they are not better than the irreligious but they are better than if they themselves were irreligious ?? Wha ???
Having been brought up in a blindly religious environment and being a recovering Catholic now, I can only point to the fact that most of the practicing faiths and rituals of the most predominant religions are based on not so divine interpretations and misinterpretations of the so called "sacred books".
This are not religions build around God but an idealization instead. And the hundreds of different dogmas that follow,
are not necessarily innocuous as a quick assessment of world conflicts will show. Its indeed ironic, that which claims to save us is perhaps one of the biggest obstacles in reaching a common understanding and harmony as a race.
The most accurate description of this issue I've read comes from Martin Amis in The Voice of a Lonely Crowd:

The 20th century, with its scores of millions of supernumerary dead, has been called the age of ideology. And the age of ideology, clearly, was a mere hiatus in the age of religion, which shows no sign of expiry. Since it is no longer permissible to disparage any single faith or creed, let us start disparaging all of them. To be clear: an ideology is a belief system with an inadequate basis in reality; a religion is a belief system with no basis in reality whatever. Religious belief is without reason and without dignity, and its record is near-universally dreadful. It is straightforward - and never mind, for now, about plagues and famines: if God existed, and if He cared for humankind, He would never have given us religion
posted by finnegan at 1:20 PM on October 29, 2002


I have always found dismissals of religion on the grounds that it doesn't stand up to empirical proof particularly disappointing. Empiricists and those with faith argue past each other constantly, and it was good to see that acknowledged in the first link.

I went through my religious phase in my early teens and passed through the other side. I hold no religious beliefs, but one of my bugbears is that faith is too easily ridiculed by those who have put no thought into the question at all (not that there is no such thing as unthinking faith.) More often than not, I find myself thinking wistfully about that time in my life - I was at least trying to believe something then. Now I've given the whole thing up as too difficult.
posted by calico at 1:31 PM on October 29, 2002


Voltaire...concealed his contempt for the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church from his less educated, simpler-minded, and more frightened employees

How skillfully he concealed it, too!
posted by dilettanti at 1:35 PM on October 29, 2002


Miguel,

Where have you read that Diamond is an Atheist? I have never heard him discuss the matter. I hope you're not assuming- he is a rationalist, true, and that makes Atheism likely, but (if we are guessing) it is just as likely that he is an Agnostic, a Deist, or even a very liberal Christian for that matter.
posted by dgaicun at 1:44 PM on October 29, 2002


Prowse mentions "liberal Christianity" and I can relate to what he is saying. My family attends services at a church in Nashville that is constantly engaged in the struggle for social justice, equality, etc. I cannot, however, bring myself to attend on a regular basis. I support their cause, but feel dishonest in participating in the worship of a creature in which I do not believe.

Just what's on my mind . . .
posted by mikrophon at 1:47 PM on October 29, 2002


Scarabic, as the comments ultimately concluded, you were way off in your assessment of Buddhism as presented in its teachings. Within Buddhism, your examples of problems with Buddhism are recognized pitfalls that are well documented in Buddhist teaching. Some of them are touched on in your comments section and are what you are accusing so-called Buddhists of: nihilism, thinking your spiritual accomplishment is greater than it truly is, escapism... These are serious misunderstandings, and I'm under the impression that there are people out there teaching this as an authentic path and calling themselves masters. Now that's a problem. The problem is that it isn't Buddhism and doesn't lead to enlightenment.
posted by mblandi at 1:48 PM on October 29, 2002


you gotta serve somebody
-Bob Dylan
posted by konolia at 1:58 PM on October 29, 2002


I think there may be something a bit off in one comment that suggestged tha far eastern notions were anti-semitic. What is a big difference is that there is no deity in Buddhism, where as in semitic religions--Christian, Jewish, and Muslim, there is a god. Those three god-filled religions are all from the land of the semites.

as for who needs what. My dominatrix always says: whatever works for you.
posted by Postroad at 1:59 PM on October 29, 2002


I don't usually self-link, but this may be appropriate. I wrote this story for Kuro5hin a while back. It's called "The Curse of Atheism," and it didn't go over all that well:

http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2002/10/6/183235/236
posted by grumblebee at 2:01 PM on October 29, 2002


Prowse is of course (knowingly or not) paraphrasing Spinoza, who claimed that the "truth" of a religion was measurable in the degree to which its teachings led one to act in accordance with Reason.
posted by nickmark at 2:03 PM on October 29, 2002


My favorite bumper sticker:

"Nothing fails like prayer."
posted by sharksandwich at 2:09 PM on October 29, 2002


I'm atheist, but when I'm able to distance myself from my general visceral disgust with religion, I can find a lot of beauty in the storytelling and artwork. Beyond that, an academic curiosity in the ways religion has shaped world history is always with me. But beyond the cultural artificats its produced, I think there's little that religion has to offer humanity.
posted by holycola at 2:11 PM on October 29, 2002


a few years ago (heck, nearly a decade ago now) i was going through a hard patch and wondered about turning to a religion for some kind of moral support. instead of buddhism (which sounds way to la-di-da for someone brought up in yourkshire, lad) i considered the quakers - i had this vague idea that you didn't need to actually believe in god to participate. which was obviously wrong (that i could entertain the idea shows how desperate i was at the time, i suspect). but anyway, i did chat with some quakers via usenet/email and they seemed a pretty sensible and friendly bunch. maybe when i'm closer to death... ;o)

holycola - religion offers community and some kind of shared responsibility. at times being an atheist (as i am) seems very hard/lonely.

grumblebee - that link doesn't work for me (although it appears to be the correct link - occurs in other places on the site)
posted by andrew cooke at 2:16 PM on October 29, 2002


I disagree with the premise that religious people are better than the irreligious; in fact I find it quite offensive. Some of the most self serving individuals I have ever come across are graduates of happy clappy indoctrination such as alpha. Fundamentalist Christians are intolerant in the extreme, as most fundamentalists are.
The religious use their faith to instill fear in fools. My nipper goes to a supposedly non denominational school which is actually run by a happy clappy chappy who has left my son in absolute fear, both of him, and God. According to this good person, people who are bad are bad because they don't believe in God, there can be no other reason.
I have had Christians ask me to lie for them, they couldn't possibly tell an untruth because their faith wouldn't allow it. When, outraged, I refused, they went ahead with their whoppers anyway.
posted by Fat Buddha at 2:20 PM on October 29, 2002


from my general visceral disgust with religion

Please realize that there is a difference between a religion and what certain people do in the "name" of religion. I definitely understand your reaction to people who try to force others to follow their beliefs, or judge others based on their beliefs. I would say that your disgust is with the actions of those specific people and not necessarily with the religion.

Because in the end, religion is a personal decision on how somebody wants to live their life. If they don't try to mess with your life, then I don't see how you can have "visceral disgust" with what they believe.
posted by jsonic at 2:27 PM on October 29, 2002


never mind this crap lets start posting about the real
hot topic right now , ulrika and john leslie.
posted by sgt.serenity at 2:28 PM on October 29, 2002


Fat Buddha - I disagree with the premise that religious people are better than the irreligious

Fine -- but that wasn't the premise.
posted by nickmark at 2:31 PM on October 29, 2002


Mblandi, I wouldn't have shared the link if I were mortally concerned whether I was right or not. Too much of the discussion centered around that squabble for my tastes, although I thought that some interesting points were made throughout. The most interesting were the most contextually-specific.

No one's going to eviscerate Buddhism as a whole in 20 lines. But everyone seems aware of the poser element on the grow in its midst.

I find that the most perfect blog postings elicit no comments at all. And usually the briefest, least considered, most indefesible ones elicit the best discussion. It was that discussion I was sharing.
posted by scarabic at 2:35 PM on October 29, 2002


Another "religion: good or bad?" thread? OK...

So any Eastern leanings by a Westerner are anti-Semitic?! Who writes this garbage!?

goethean, try reading before commenting. The quote was "sometimes they carried a whiff of anti-Semitism, too: Buddhism could be admired because, unlike Judaism, Christianity and Islam, it had no Semitic origins"; i.e., sometimes people explicitly admired Buddhism because it had no Semitic origins, which is on the face of it anti-Semitic. OK?
posted by languagehat at 2:42 PM on October 29, 2002


nickmark, I realise that wasn't the premise, I made a booby. However I don't think: Are they better people than they would be were they not religious? Probably, and this is what counts for me.". bears much scrutiny either.
posted by Fat Buddha at 2:45 PM on October 29, 2002


I am an atheist, but still lost in awe and wonder in the magic of Christian religion (among others) since a teenager; the tradition, the ritual, the myth, the artwork, the saints, the miracles, the Divine.

Optimistically, it seems this thing called "faith" has inspired great beauty and craftsmanship in the world; that if only my cold hard sense of Reason† would let me subscribe to this "faith" then I, too, could be participating in something beautiful.

Reason and Logic seem too perfect and blinding and cold in their beauty; I think there is great beauty in imperfection as well.
posted by elphTeq at 2:47 PM on October 29, 2002


I wonder, is Atheism finally gaining ground, and will the Internet help squash this religion thing once and for all?
posted by CrazyJub at 2:47 PM on October 29, 2002


So, in a nutshell: can there be something in (or about) religion for atheists too?

Bishop admits to promoting pedophile priest

Thanks, but no thanks. I don't feel the need to have faith in feel good concepts, join one of many corrupt organizations, engage in outdated rituals, believe in outdated cosmologies, praying instead of acting, believe in a ridiculous notion of some afterlife, etc.

I also don't see why "left-leaning folk" would turn to buddhism. Even if you ignore the tremendous amount of superstition that many buddhists around the world partake in there doesn't seem to be a necesary connection between liberalism and an embracing of non-traditional western religion. We had pop-oriental mysticism in the 70s and that more or less became the New Age. Picking between whether to teach creationism in Biology or The Healing Power of Crystals in geology is not really a choice. I would think that if there was a liberal ideal regarding religion it would be something more towards accepting diversity by keeping a strict barrier between church and state.
posted by skallas at 2:48 PM on October 29, 2002


Not only did British ideas of Buddhism reflect Victorian anti-Catholicism, he said; sometimes they carried a whiff of anti-Semitism, too: Buddhism could be admired because, unlike Judaism, Christianity and Islam, it had no Semitic origins.
...
So any Eastern leanings by a Westerner are anti-Semitic?! Who writes this garbage!?


But that's not what he said. He said "sometimes" and "could be admired." And he's referring specifically to the Victorians. I think the problem in this summation is a tendency to lump rather than split. "Anti-Catholicism," for example, makes sense. Victorian religious discourse is overwhelmingly Protestant, whether you're dealing with a Low Church evangelical or an "old" High Churchman. Most Victorian religious commentary works by analogizing other religions to either Protestantism or Catholicism; thus, many evangelicals argued that Judaism functioned like Catholicism, while some Jews (like the novelist and theologian Grace Aguilar) argued that Jews actually functioned like Protestants. So, his point about the role of anti-Catholicism in writings about Buddhism makes sense.

Now, the "Semitism" issue strikes me as very much a late Victorian line of argument, since by that time many commentators are fairly insistent on the links between race and religious belief. ("Anti-semitism" itself emerges as a term only in the 1870s: it was a conscious reaction against anti-Judaism, or prejudice against the Jewish religion, and was supposedly more "rational" and "scientific.") I'll double-check my copy of this book after I teach my night class.
posted by thomas j wise at 2:58 PM on October 29, 2002


Fat Buddha - Fair enough, although I think that if we ignore the "what counts for me" panacea, Prowse's second question is significantly more interesting than the first. It's easy to find examples of good and bad people in both the religious and irreligious set, but what if you only look at one person at a time? For instance, your kid's teacher: Would he be a better person without religious influence, do you suppose?
posted by nickmark at 3:02 PM on October 29, 2002


Men become civilized, not in proportion to their willingness to believe, but in proportion to their readiness to doubt.
--H. L. Mencken

Religion is fundamentally opposed to everything I hold in veneration--courage, clear thinking, honesty, fairness, and, above all, love of the truth.
--H. L. Mencken


The Dhammapada and certain other Buddhist texts describe a worldview much more in line with the reality I experience than the sick fantasies of Christianity. As with anything humans participate in, of course, Buddhism has gotten decorated with ritual and misinterpretation that clouds its original thoughts.

For instance, your kid's teacher: Would he be a better person without religious influence, do you suppose?

Absolutely! A teacher, above all others, should have a clear and rational thought process so he or she can impart same to those entrusted to them for teaching. It would help avoid tragic farces like this.
posted by rushmc at 3:37 PM on October 29, 2002


nickmark, in the first place, I shouldn't use personal anecdote as empirical evidence, but in the light of your point, which is a very fair one I shall continue to do so.
I believe that the particular individual is an odious bully. The answer to would he be a better person without religious influence is, who knows? But I concede, it is a very fair point.
However, in this particular case I think he would still be a bully whatever his religion. His particular brand of religion coupled with his exalted position though, informs his thought processes, he uses religion and God as means to terrify young kids. Everything is filtered through his particular version of Christianity, which seems to be a pretty intolerant one.
So regardless of whether he would be better, I certainly do not think he would be any worse.
I fully accept that I may be completely wrong and that even if I am right this wouldn't mean that my premise held true generally.
If a highly religious and very good person underwent some sort of reverse Damascene conversion and overnight became irreligious, I do not believe for one minute he would therefore become bad. I suspect the goodness is innate, or exists as a sort of quid quo pro with the polity in general, a recognition of rights and responsibilities, as it were.
posted by Fat Buddha at 3:48 PM on October 29, 2002


As Wilson points out, the success of a religion's moral code depends on whether the code motivates the religion's adherents to constitute a smoothly functioning society, not on whether the religion's claims happen to be fictitious: "Even massively fictitious beliefs can be adaptive, as long as they motivate behaviors that are adaptive in the real world"; "...factual knowledge is not always sufficient by itself to motivate adaptive behavior. At times a symbolic belief system that departs from factual reality fares better."

Rather obvious, I should think, but it seems to me that one should use more than just a simple utilitarian rule to measure moral issues (and I believe that truth is the highest moral quality). There is a difference--and often a gap--between adapting and understanding.

Diamond's perspective is interesting, though. I'm currently reading GG&S, as it happens.
posted by rushmc at 3:57 PM on October 29, 2002


The NYRB: how much is a subscription in Lisbon?
posted by ParisParamus at 4:19 PM on October 29, 2002


rushmc: the sick fantasies of Christianity

For thousands of years, people coulnd't prove that bacteria existed because they did not have the technology to do so. Using your logic, people who believed that bacteria might exist before it was proven are guilty of having "sick fantasies".

What is the point of this? The question of the existence of God has not been scientifically proven or disproven. Therefore saying that somebody who believes in God is absolutely wrong and "sick" is incorrect. Just as somebody saying that an athiest is absolutely wrong is also incorrect.

Scientists believe in things they have not yet proven or disproven all of the time. Before they run an experiment they probably have a belief that it will turn out a certain way. Sometimes they assumption is correct, sometimes not. Saying that the scientists belief is incorrect before the question has been proven or disproven is ignorant.
posted by jsonic at 4:23 PM on October 29, 2002


There are lots of things that probably could never be proven through logical thought or laboratory experiments.

Does love exist, for example? Well, we see people acting in ways that we have labeled as loving, but love itself cannot be seen, tasted, smelled, etc and so forth. If I cut open the brain of, let's say, a mother, would I be able to find "love" in there? Granted, I suppose one could find the part of the brain where such an emotion could be felt, but does that really prove the concept? There are lots of abstract "nouns" out there that we all have a basic concept of but that would be hard to prove logically.

Logic is very useful for lots of things. There are other things conceivable where logic is simply not a very good tool. The study of the Infinite is probably one of those things.
posted by konolia at 4:36 PM on October 29, 2002


I find it odd in a society with laws one would add religious beliefs to the list of do's and don'ts in their life. Most of the rules in religions are fairly beneficial to one's self being. Again I have no religion for those keeping score, just a faith.
posted by thomcatspike at 5:00 PM on October 29, 2002


left this off, whoops

So do folks find comfort in having more rules to follow even if they are already covered in the laws of the land?
posted by thomcatspike at 5:02 PM on October 29, 2002


Where have you read that Diamond is an Atheist? I have never heard him discuss the matter. I hope you're not assuming- he is a rationalist, true, and that makes Atheism likely, but (if we are guessing) it is just as likely that he is an Agnostic, a Deist, or even a very liberal Christian for that matter.

Oops, dgaicun, you got me there. I assumed he was, from what I've read - I shouldn't have made that assumption as the truth is I can't recall any passage which would allow me to back that up. I probably and inadvertently carried over Prowse's explicit statement. My bad.

Off-topic: The NYRB: how much is a subscription in Lisbon?

Paris: are you moving here or something? I've subscribed but it isn't worth it - you get it here two or three days after it appears in the U.S. and the newstand price is about the same; so it's faster and cheaper (and fresher!) just to buy it. So there's really no excuse for you continuing to slum it in dreary, old Manhattan!
:)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 5:06 PM on October 29, 2002


Using your logic, people who believed that bacteria might exist before it was proven are guilty of having "sick fantasies".

You misunderstand. "Fantasies," as I'm using it here, refers to a trafficking in ideas that are not only unproven but also (a) highly implausible, (b) not the most obvious explanation for the set of facts they seek to explain--without providing any logical justification for being additionally complex, (c) pretty clearly derived from (and explained by) patterns of storytelling, rationalization, wish-fulfillment and metaphor-making as old as known human history (and very well-known to us all from our personal experience in dealing with other humans during the course of our lives). If a person did not have additional compelling reasons for believing in bacteria, they would indeed be indulging in a fantasy, regardless of the actual existence of bacteria in the world.

The "sick" qualifier refers to something else altogether; i.e., the perverse and anti-human values inherent in the Christian doctrine (e.g., the "death cult" focus, the subjugation of individual rights and self-direction, authoritarianism over democratic power structures and self-tested knowledge structures, the edict to accept weak and often conflicting dogma over demonstrable reality, and so on).
posted by rushmc at 5:14 PM on October 29, 2002


Buddhism. There are a lot of people in Northern California whom you'd otherwise describe as atheists but who seem to find something appealing in Buddhism.
I just studied Buddhism and Taoism ethics in college, and as I understood the basic premises, there is no need for God in either ethical system. Though I am a Catholic, I found a lot a Buddhist ideas in line with my own, partically the middle-of-the-road ideas and "detatchment." In the end, though, with the ultimate goal to "burn out one's candle" to end their cycle or suffering, it seems that if anything, I would NOT believe in God if I truely followed the way of the Buddha. To me, God implies (well, at least 2 things) a) an afterlife and b) need/want for Divine assistance. The though of one's existance just ending kind of precludes a God and since everything that Buddhist does to eliminate their suffering is left solely to themselves (based off of Buddha's teachings), it seems there is no need for God on the issue. Maybe someone who is more schooled in the Buddhism can inform me on theistic ideas of the Buddhist (*note* this part is not on the existance of God in general, but more specifically to that of Buddhists based off of their teachings)

So do folks find comfort in having more rules to follow even if they are already covered in the laws of the land?
Actually, yes I do. I view society's set of rules as things that are made to, well, make one stay in line with what society says is right/wrong. On the other hand, I see religious rules as ones to help keep ones in line w/ God's rules. Of course, my own views lead to even more fun questions, but oh well.

the edict to accept weak and often conflicting dogma over demonstrable reality
Funny, many philosophers have set out to prove that you can't really know what reality is. So, does this cause them to be in their own "fantasies," or could it be that we are all, theist or not, in our own "fantasy." Plus, it seems all philosophy does is contadict other philosophies (religious or not) which seeminlgly makes it seem we can't know jack shit.
posted by jmd82 at 5:24 PM on October 29, 2002


The question that I think hasn't been addressed - though far more interesting ones were, so I'm not complaining - is whether religious beliefs have any inhibitory effect on people with, let's say, a tendency to do unto others what they wouldn't enjoy done unto them, because such behaviour would constitute sin and therefore solicit retribution from an omniscient and omnipotent entity.

My interest in the matter (being Jewish) is that Christianity allows for confession through a priest (who can absolve sins against others) whereas in Judaism only those you've harmed can forgive you. G-d only forgives the sins against G-d. This is a simplification, of course.

But scenes such as those in the Godfather movies, where a murderer can confess, be absolved and likened to a dying tree that can be rejuvenated by repentance, penance and through the grace of G-d, still strike me as being quite shocking, inasmuch as the victims have no word in the matter.

This was why I reacted positively to Michael Prowse's change of mind. I tend to think that someone religious is pressured in some way, if he's prone to hurting others (a small percentage of humanity, I'd say, but still...), to consider not doing something sinful before he or she does it or to repent or, at least, to seek forgiveness after he has.

If the answer is "after", my intuitive response is that it makes no difference whatsoever. If it's "before", then I think Prowse has a case.

I should add that, in my experience and though I'm deeply religious, atheists are in general better people than religious people. I've said it before here but, in short and very generally, they keep religious fanatics from tearing each other apart - the point of Diamond's article, I think. There's a reason why religious people instinctively rely on secular power. The struggle to establish secular power is, in brief, the struggle for something more similar to universal justice than the prejudiced, temporal regime it replaced with such difficulty.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 5:38 PM on October 29, 2002


I see religious rules as ones to help keep ones in line w/ God's rules.

Assuming for a moment that he DID exist, what entitles God to your obedience? The fact that he's bigger/stronger than you and threatens you with punishment if you don't do as he says? The fact that he "created" you and therefore, in some sense, "owns" you (and, if so, do you believe that you are also morally compelled to obey your parents in all things, without complaint or second-guessing?)? Something else?
posted by rushmc at 5:41 PM on October 29, 2002


I tend to think that someone religious is pressured in some way, if he's prone to hurting others (a small percentage of humanity, I'd say, but still...), to consider not doing something sinful before he or she does it or to repent or, at least, to seek forgiveness after he has.

I have not personally seen this in operation very often--people are way too good at rationalizing the choices they want to make--but say it DOES occur. Of what value is it? It may decrease the total sum of harm that gets done in the world--and that is of some value, certainly. But do we really want people to base their morality and the choices they make in life on such base, behavioristic conditioning? on--let's be blunt--fear? What a negative basis for a world view and a philosophy!
posted by rushmc at 5:45 PM on October 29, 2002


My interest in the matter (being Jewish) is that Christianity allows for confession through a priest (who can absolve sins against others)
Actually, Catholics are the only ones who have confessions with Priests.

The fact that he "created" you and therefore, in some sense, "owns" you (and, if so, do you believe that you are also morally compelled to obey your parents in all things, without complaint or second-guessing?)? Something else?
Good question. The difference between my parents (and, YES i am morally compelled to obey my parents when they are not out of line) and God is that God is infallible, and that is why I follow what He says. I'm don't know if you believe in God (i'm guessing not), but one of the basic principles of a x-ian is that God is perfect (hence one of the premises of "Dogma"). On a side note, I am also an absoluteist. I have a hard time concieving how morality is left up to the person. I don't think hard-line morality (think Kant, who also happened to be a very devout x-ian) can come from humans alone, and requires Divine intervention.

Miguel- As far is being religious makes someone a better is entirely based on each person alone. I think following God's teaching is the BEST way to live one's life (if I didn't, i wouldn't believe in God). Alas, I think we all know that calling one's self religious or even believing in God doesn't necessarily make anyone act better than another who does not believe in God. In essence, being religious doesn't necessarily make someone better or kinder or anything like that than a non-religious person (which, of course, gives rise once again to why I believe in God...this could go on forever)
posted by jmd82 at 6:02 PM on October 29, 2002


do we really want people to base their morality and the choices they make in life on such base, behavioristic conditioning?

"We" have nothing to do with it, rushmc. "We" may want a lot of things but it's beside the point. There's no we. Every one is separate and independent and we can want others to base their morality on X or Y but it's not up to "Us". Or are you referring to education?

Otherwise, I agree almost entirely with your last comment, although I'm still not sure whether religion does "decrease the sum total of harm that gets done in the world", specially if you set it against the harm that gets done in the world because of religion.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 6:04 PM on October 29, 2002


BTW, if you really want Catholicism's views behind what you were describing about forgiveness from your viewing of The Godfather, feel free to e-mail me: _deso_@yahoo.com
posted by jmd82 at 6:05 PM on October 29, 2002


Actually, Catholics are the only ones who have confessions with Priests.

Quite right, jmd82. What an clod - but that's what comes from living in an almost 100% Catholic country (Portugal). Though it is true, is it not, that in Christianity in general there is no requirement to seek forgiveness from those you have harmed? I.e., that G-d can forgive our trespasses against others?

Your third paragraph expresses perfectly what I believe too. Thanks for the correction and the exposition!
posted by MiguelCardoso at 6:09 PM on October 29, 2002


Here's a good kuro5hin thread on practicing zazen meditation.
posted by homunculus at 6:09 PM on October 29, 2002


You can tell by that revealing an before clod that I considered idiot and oaf, can't you? ;)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 6:11 PM on October 29, 2002


rushmc: The "sick" qualifier refers to something else altogether; i.e., the perverse and anti-human values inherent in the Christian doctrine...

I agree that you have the right to have this opinion, but I'm not quite sure how you came to it. A quick reading of the New Testament would easily show that the core of Christianity (as I've seen it) is about tolerance, love for one's neighbors, actively trying to improve yourself, and not judging others (especially if you have shortcomings of your own).

I think a lot of actions by religious people might contradict a lot of the teachings in the New Testament, but their actions should not be confused with what Christianity actually teaches.

Just my opinion.
posted by jsonic at 7:16 PM on October 29, 2002


Assuming for a moment that he DID exist, what entitles God to your obedience? The fact that he's bigger/stronger than you and threatens you with punishment if you don't do as he says? The fact that he "created" you and therefore, in some sense, "owns" you (and, if so, do you believe that you are also morally compelled to obey your parents in all things, without complaint or second-guessing?)? Something else?

How about the idea that an omniscient being may have insights into happy living that a mortal might not? That's the premise that most good religious people I know run off of. To them, religious writing and dictates aren't arbitrary rules, they're signposts and guides to a happier life.

Of course, this is hard to argue objectively... because what you are and what you see are a feedback loop. Maybe you've had a wonderfully happy life regularly disregarding a set of standard religious mores. Maybe you've subscribed to a particular belief system and found that it seems to have power in it. There are unhappy people in both categories, that's for sure.

But I don't get the people who automatically believe obedience is out of fear of a punitive God. Believer or non-believer....
posted by namespan at 7:17 PM on October 29, 2002


In other news, optimists live longer than pessimists; pessimists not surprised...

And one more thing....

Actually, Catholics are the only ones who have confessions with Priests

Actually, Mormons also have confession with clergy, but from what I can tell, it's markedly different.....
posted by namespan at 7:22 PM on October 29, 2002


>What is the point of this? The question of the existence of God has not been scientifically proven or disproven.

But the difference is that there are macro effects of micro phenomenon. Germ theory sprang from noticing that leaving out garbage and being filthy led to certain consequences. Yet, the externalities regarding gods like cosmology (no we are not on a giant turtle, earth is not center of universe), miracles (many shown to have natural casuses), the words of prophets being holy (there are hundreds of messiahs alive today each with their own special message), etc have all shown to be false. So what we have is called the god of the gaps. Something gets explained away and the religious push their god back to another unexplained gap ending with your delicious "gods have not been proven or disproven" line. Willie Nelson has not been proven or disproven to be Jesus either.

Regardless, the god of the gaps argument is weak and makes me wonder if the concept of god was pushed so far back that the religious had to drop fantasies of afterlives would many of them even continue to bother.
posted by skallas at 7:25 PM on October 29, 2002


namespan:
But I don't get the people who automatically believe obedience is out of fear of a punitive God.

How many times do you think those who think that have heard from others, "I'm a god fearing man?" Or what exactly is prayer when most of it thanks the gods for the status quo (food on the table) or is asking for a favor (cure my sick son)? Sounds like they're reacting out of some fear/anxiety. Perhaps more the fear of the uncertainties of life than an angry god, but I'm sure its a fine line.

Not so coincidentally, Freud linked religion and neurosis in the early 20th century.
posted by skallas at 7:34 PM on October 29, 2002


Buddha.
posted by Satapher at 7:38 PM on October 29, 2002


skallas, the point of my comment was that people who say someone is wrong and stupid FOR believing are just as bad as people who say someone is wrong and stupid for NOT believing.

Just let people have their own opinions as long as they don't try to force them on you.

fantasies of afterlives

I think a large part of Christianity is finding happiness, love, and tolerance here on earth, not following rules and being miserable trying to achieve something later. A quick reading of the New Testament would give many examples of this.
posted by jsonic at 7:38 PM on October 29, 2002


YES i am morally compelled to obey my parents when they are not out of line

I find that entirely incredible. How very far apart we are in our views! Even if there were a God and he were infallible (two major concessions), how is it to my benefit to dance to his tune like a puppet on a string? Far better, to my way of thinking, for me to try to perfect myself to the degree that I am able, rather than blindly following the dictates (presumed, with no evidence of authenticity, but nevermind) of a being who claims to be perfect (a claim I'm not qualified to judge the accuracy of).
posted by rushmc at 7:39 PM on October 29, 2002


I believe in invisible people.
posted by Satapher at 7:39 PM on October 29, 2002


There's no we.

Substitute "one," if you prefer. Of course we (one) shouldn't dictate other people's morality (hard glare at the religious types), but my point is that there is neither dignity nor honor in basing values on lies, nor on perverting our nature as thinking, assessing, judging beings. And there's nothing wrong with pointing that out to people.

although I'm still not sure whether religion does "decrease the sum total of harm that gets done in the world", specially if you set it against the harm that gets done in the world because of religion.

That was a concession I made to you for the hypothetical sake of the argument. Obviously, I don't believe that it does in actuality.
posted by rushmc at 7:45 PM on October 29, 2002


I don't have to take responsibility for anything that happens to me or occurs as a direct result of my own actions. It is all a part of His plan. If I die tomorrow in a terrible car wreck, it was just Him calling me home. However if my life was spared in the car wreck: it was a miracle, divine intervention, proof of His love and existence.
posted by Satapher at 7:50 PM on October 29, 2002


A quick reading of the New Testament would easily show that the core of Christianity (as I've seen it) is about tolerance, love for one's neighbors, actively trying to improve yourself, and not judging others (especially if you have shortcomings of your own).

I know that a lot of modern Christians make this claim, but that's not my reading of it. In any case, I am naturally suspicious of any doctrine that is so vague/complicated/conflicting that the average person cannot understand it with some ease. The fact that very few Christians--within the same congregation, much less across sectarian, geographical or temporal boundaries--can agree on the specifics of the doctrine (are we obliged to persecute homosexuals? women? practitioners of other faiths? must we confess? pray? turn the other cheek? tithe? eat fish on Fridays? etc., etc.) renders it almost meaningless, a sort of religious Rorschach blot, upon which people impose their own idiosyncratic meaning.

It could be argued that life is much the same, on a larger scale. But then, life makes no claims about itself to invite falsification.
posted by rushmc at 7:57 PM on October 29, 2002


That was a concession I made to you for the hypothetical sake of the argument

Wait! Don't take it back just yet! I was just about to slip you a "May you one day see the light, my son"...
posted by MiguelCardoso at 8:00 PM on October 29, 2002


I believe that my actions are more important than the true nature of my thoughts. As long as I show up to pay my tides and act accordingly to His holy guidelines, that is enough to save my soul. Regardless of my true intentions : the center of my Tootsie Roll Pop.
posted by Satapher at 8:00 PM on October 29, 2002


How many times do you think those who think that have heard from others, "I'm a god fearing man?"

You have to remember that the word "fear" as used in the King James Bible does not mean being afraid, but something more akin to respect or awe.
posted by kindall at 8:01 PM on October 29, 2002


I can't accept death so instead I believe my body will float in invisible soul form and go way far away to another place where I can finally reunite with the other deaths I couldn't accept while I was still alive.
posted by Satapher at 8:04 PM on October 29, 2002


How about the idea that an omniscient being may have insights into happy living that a mortal might not?

One might well. But how do you judge that such a being is, in fact, omniscient, and not just more knowledgeable than you? I am always happy to listen to good advice from those in a better position than I to know a thing, but when they seek to compel me to follow their advice, I balk (and become quite suspicious that they clearly do not have enough confidence in their own "wisdom" to let it float to the top on its own merits). And what of the happiness you would derive from striving and achieving for yourself, without being handed the cheat sheet? Is it even possible to achieve anything of any significance if it is handed to you on a silver platter, through no effort of your own? I seem to remember a parable from somewhere about teaching a man to fish vs. giving him a fish or two....
posted by rushmc at 8:06 PM on October 29, 2002


Scarabic, I just wanted to point out that the things you found abbhorent are likewise recognized as problematic within Buddhism. I didn't mean to emphasize that you were wrong or that you were sullying Buddhism. I should work on tone.

basing values on lies

Rushmc, I believe we have sparred on the lies/myth front before, but I must point out again that myth and ritual are a method of describing and participating in (potentially) truth. To call a myth a lie (and the religion based around it) just because it never really happened in a concrete way is to miss the point entirely. This is not to say that some myths have rotten seeds in them, but that the 'this is silly and childish' line is something of a strawman.
posted by mblandi at 8:09 PM on October 29, 2002


You have to remember that the word "fear" as used in the King James Bible does not mean being afraid, but something more akin to respect or awe.

That's as may be, but any sane person would fear (in the common sense) the God of the Old Testament, based solely upon his actions. The same way one would fear a rampaging Godzilla.
posted by rushmc at 8:09 PM on October 29, 2002


Well, maybe that wasn't the line you meant.

And, I meant strawman argument
posted by mblandi at 8:10 PM on October 29, 2002


Please realize that there is a difference between a religion and what certain people do in the "name" of religion.

What difference is that? I realize that religious people often have strongly held ideas about who is and is not a member of their religion, but it's often difficult for an outsider to see the claimed dividing line.
posted by Mars Saxman at 8:13 PM on October 29, 2002


Please realize that there is a difference between a religion and what certain people do in the "name" of religion.

Either way you believe in invisible people.
posted by Satapher at 8:14 PM on October 29, 2002


Ok, here's a question....

Old Testament god - (part 1) mean, angry, vengeful, spiteful, and changes his mind.

New Testament god - (the sequel, "God Strikes Back)
Nice, loving, gives own son to the people of the world just so they can kill him. "Hey man, you killed my son, that's cool"

Are we missing a chapter here? Or does this god have some sort of bipolar syndrome?!?!?!
posted by CrazyJub at 8:22 PM on October 29, 2002


Please realize that there is a difference between a religion and what certain people do in the "name" of religion.
Mars Saxman: What difference is that?


World Trade Center?

On a much lesser note, anytime people use religion as a tool to judge and descriminate against people who aren't the same.

I wasn't trying to comment on the validity of different ways of following a religion, just when people use it to do things that are blatantly in contrast to what the religion teaches.
posted by jsonic at 8:22 PM on October 29, 2002


To call a myth a lie (and the religion based around it) just because it never really happened in a concrete way is to miss the point entirely.

And I would say that to confuse the nature of myth and fact is to miss the point entirely, so we get no closer. I most certainly recognize the power of myth and metaphor--I wouldn't want to live in a world without it, or in a mind incapable of understanding and utilizing it. Where we disagree is when you claim that it is equivalent to demonstrable, verifiable fact, which to me is simply absurd. To say "But soft, what light through yonder window breaks" conveys many things, but it does not make the claim that Romeo believes that Juliet is composed of photons. Similarly, it seems equally silly to imagine that "Let there be light" implies that God turned on a cosmic flashlight.

If a religion does not wish to base its doctrine on lies, then it should not represent them as literal truth. Parables about lovely gardens and nasty snakes, great floods and giant ships, and preachers returning from the dead are all well and good--when presented AS parables, to teach certain values. But once the line is crossed and they are claimed as literal, historical truth, they enter a realm where they can (and must) be judged as truth or lie on a different level. If I tell marvelous stories to my grandkids about my adventures in WWII, they are judged on one level; if I submit them on my resume when applying for a job in military intelligence, I, myself, have chosen to move them into a different arena, where they will be judged by a different standard, and I should not complain to those who then judge them so.
posted by rushmc at 8:23 PM on October 29, 2002


Please realize that there is a difference between a religion and what certain people do in the "name" of religion.

Mars Saxman: What difference is that?

World Trade Center?


And how is that different from God commanding his followers in the Bible to murder entire populations of villages, men, women and children? The only reason he didn't command his people to fly planes into buildings then is that they had no planes.
posted by rushmc at 8:27 PM on October 29, 2002


rushmc, Please point out where Jesus ordered the mass murder of people in the Bible.

Guess what, you won't find it. Trolling??
posted by jsonic at 8:31 PM on October 29, 2002


Er, jsonic, steady on, neither is G-d is necessarily Jesus nor is the New Testament necessarily The Bible.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 8:47 PM on October 29, 2002


rushmc, Please point out where Jesus ordered the mass murder of people in the Bible.

jsonic, Jesus is not the sole protagonist of the Bible; in fact, he's not even mentioned in a lot of it (besides which, I clearly said "God," not "Jesus").

You have read it, right?
posted by rushmc at 8:55 PM on October 29, 2002


You have read it, right?

Our previous responses to each other were clearly discussing Christianity. Seeing how Jesus is the person Christianity is based off of....

Maybe you missed that whole second part of the book?
posted by jsonic at 9:08 PM on October 29, 2002


besides which, I clearly said "God," not "Jesus"

Maybe this is also part of the confusion. In Christianity, they are one and the same.

Anyway, my point in discussing this on this website is this:

Just let people have their own opinions as long as they don't try to force them on you. If someone does try to force them, then fight those people and not the religion in general. As an example, I'm not trying to denounce your athiest opinion, but I am trying to make you see that you are attempting to force your opinion by insulting others.
posted by jsonic at 9:22 PM on October 29, 2002


Please realize that there is a difference between a religion and what certain people do in the "name" of religion.

Nonsense. If in practice something turns out to horrible then its theory is in question. Religion is the sum actions of the religious. Quoting obscure, the to layperson, verses and claiming to have the right religious (as opposed to the misguided) persepective to defend your religious cohorts only invalidates your position. By accepting faith, the strong belief of things with absolutly no proof to back it up, you are opening a can of worms which allows us to judge the religious en masse, everywhere, and through history because of their claims of possesing eternal truths.
posted by skallas at 9:26 PM on October 29, 2002


Though it is true, is it not, that in Christianity in general there is no requirement to seek forgiveness from those you have harmed? I.e., that G-d can forgive our trespasses against others?
Actually, one of my most influentual teachers pointed out this exact qustion out in religion class as the one qualifier as to being forgiven: I dunno if you're familular w/ the Lord's Prayer, but a verse goes "forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who tresspass against us." If we don't forgive those who harm us, then it stands to reason that God won't forgive us for our trespasses against Him.

YES i am morally compelled to obey my parents when they are not out of line
I find that entirely incredible. How very far apart we are in our views!

I'm sure you'll love my response to that: One of the 10 commandmants is Honor thy father and mother. And part of that honoring, imho, is to obey them when they are in line. Of course, if they are totally whacked out (and I mean they ARE, not just the teenager "my rents are too strict" thing) then it is OK to disobey them.
posted by jmd82 at 9:33 PM on October 29, 2002


I was trying to stay out of this thread, but like a moth to a flame, so are the MeFi Mormons to religion threads....

Our previous responses to each other were clearly discussing Christianity. Seeing how Jesus is the person Christianity is based off of....

Christianity is not based on Christ, at least not in the way most people think it is. The notions that the Old Testament is just a book full of boring, irrelevant history; that Christianity started with the birth of Christ; and that the New Testament is the only relevant Christian scripture are a common misconceptions held by Christians and non-Christians alike.

The problem is that most Christians never really bother to read the Old Testament, except to find the occasional quote to support a point. The Old Testament is entirely about Christ. Every prophet in the Old Testament is a foreshadowing of Christ.

Christianity did not "start" with the birth of Christ (or his death, either). His birth was the fulfillment of the teachings of the Old Testament peoples. Christ is in the middle of Christianity, not at the beginning of it.

(I'm speaking as one Christian to another to clarify a point - please excuse my lack of qualifiers for all the atheists and buddhists and whatnot in the audience)

Christianity, if one accepts the teachings of the Bible, is the same religion that Adam, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob followed. They knew about Christ. They were foreshadowing him, as did John the Baptist. The difference between was that for them his earthly ministry (and the Atonement) would be in the future, while for us it was in the past.

I guess what I'm basically trying to say is that if you believe in the Bible, then Christianity is a single, unbroken religion dating from the time of Adam, not a "branch" off of Judaism that started with Jesus Christ.

Regarding "Jesus" and "God": In Christianity, they are one and the same.

That's debatable. Many Christians don't believe in the concept of the "Trinity". The concept is based on traditions formed in the early church, and then rationalized with frequently quoted scriptures (while ignoring the scriptures that imply that they're completely different individuals). Most Christians don't realize that many verses referring to "The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost" (or similar phrases) were added after the fact, rather than being parts of the original documents. (This isn't conspiracy theory -- you can verify this by asking your local Bible scholar).

Mormons (Yeah, I know I'm a cultist, blah blah blah) reject the doctrine of the Trinity entirely. We accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, but we do not believe that He is the same individual as God the Father, or the Holy Ghost.

Before accepting the Trinity doctrine, do a little digging in the scriptures. Would an unbiased reader really come to the conclusion that the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are the same? Or did that belief come from "accepted" (but scripturally unsupported) doctrinal tradition?
posted by oissubke at 10:10 PM on October 29, 2002


I am trying to make you see that you are attempting to force your opinion by insulting others.

Trying to separate truth from fiction, gullibility from rigorous investigation, delusion from reason...these are neither compulsions nor insults. Pointing out when someone is in error is not insulting them; patronizing them by pretending that their beliefs, however outrageous, are equal to demonstrable truth--or that they are too simpleminded to appreciate the difference--THAT is insulting.
posted by rushmc at 10:38 PM on October 29, 2002


This whole God-or-no-God thing had better be solved before this thread is closed for archival purposes.
posted by condour75 at 10:40 PM on October 29, 2002 [1 favorite]


One of the 10 commandmants is Honor thy father and mother.

Often impractical, ill-advised, or even dangerous. In any case, where is your evidence that these "commandments" were divine edicts, rather than simply codes representing the most enlightened social mores of the day? And if you don't know that they were, in fact, precise and accurate representations of God's will, then how can you respond to them as though they were infallible, denying countless experiences in your own life that clearly demonstrate that they are not universally applicable?

And part of that honoring, imho, is to obey them when they are in line.

It is quite a leap from "honor" to "obey," one that probably is not warranted. It might well be in some cases that the best way to honor someone is to DISobey them (for example, if they have taught you to think for yourself and then try to impose an arbitrary or harmful demand upon you).

And who gets to decide when they are "in line?" You? On what basis do you reserve that right? I don't see any caveats or conditions in "Honor thy father and mother." Therefore, you are presuming that you know better than God when you qualify the command. Wow!
posted by rushmc at 10:46 PM on October 29, 2002


I don't see any caveats or conditions in "Honor thy father and mother."

Does it really bring honor to your father and mother when you do something stupid or wrong, even if they told you to do it? There's a reason it doesn't just say "Obey thy father and mother."
posted by kindall at 11:23 PM on October 29, 2002


And I would say that to confuse the nature of myth and fact is to miss the point entirely, so we get no closer. I most certainly recognize the power of myth and metaphor--I wouldn't want to live in a world without it, or in a mind incapable of understanding and utilizing it. Where we disagree is when you claim that it is equivalent to demonstrable, verifiable fact, which to me is simply absurd. To say "But soft, what light through yonder window breaks" conveys many things, but it does not make the claim that Romeo believes that Juliet is composed of photons. Similarly, it seems equally silly to imagine that "Let there be light" implies that God turned on a cosmic flashlight.

while in general, i'd have to agree with your position, rushmc, not all sects/denominations takes the entirety of the bible as literal/historic fact, and it only weakens your position to indict all of christianity as if they shared the same view.
posted by juv3nal at 12:20 AM on October 30, 2002


There is a reason that religion exists, and humans have been re-inventing and expanding upon that reason for as long as there have been humans.
posted by hama7 at 2:52 AM on October 30, 2002


Devil's advocate here:

What if one of these "religions" turns out to represent reality? Then all the arguments in the world, logical or otherwise, wouldn't change the facts. Whether they can be logically proved or not would be irrelevent.

I have to concur with hama7-why DOES religion exist? IF we are thinking logically, why would people voluntarily put themselves under religious rules of one kind or other (sexual mores come to mind here) when it seems it would be more "fun' to leave the rules out of it? You wouldn't have to have "rules" if all you wanted was assurance of an afterlife (assuming of course that it was all made up in the first place.)
posted by konolia at 3:57 AM on October 30, 2002


I admire people with faith. I have none and I'm sure my life would be better with it.

Religious people in my experience fall into two categories, those who are happy because they believe and those who are unhappy because I don't believe it too.

(I've had my test of no-faith btw as I was wheeled into a room where a nice man with sharp knives saved my life, I was suprised not to be praying like crazeee)
posted by fullerine at 4:06 AM on October 30, 2002


rushmc: Pointing out when someone is in error is not insulting them

I agree.

rushmc: the sick fantasies of Christianity

Yup, no insult there. I guess I was mistaken.
posted by jsonic at 6:18 AM on October 30, 2002


re: the power of myth and metaphor, jrr tolkien had something to say (paraphrased :)
We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming a "sub-creator" and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbor, while materialistic "progress" leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil.
although sentimentally luddite, i think it contains an important admission that it may be misguided. cs lewis seems to embrace it!
[t]he heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens—at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences. We pass from a Balder or an Osiris, dying nobody knows when or where, to a historical Person crucified (it is all in order) under Pontius Pilate. By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle.... God is more than god, not less: Christ is more than Balder, not less. We must not be ashamed of the mythical radiance resting on our theology. We must not be nervous about "parallels" and "pagan Christs": they ought to be there—it would be a stumbling block if they weren't. We must not, in false spirituality, withhold our imaginative welcome. If God chooses to be mythopoeic—and is not the sky itself a myth—shall we refuse to be mythopathic?
while in the same vein, richard powers generalizes even further -- from religion, to myth and then fiction:
At the end it's as if a digital Byzantium has somehow crossed over into the real world. That is my metaphor for reading; that's what reading does. In the end, the book becomes an apology for the virtuality of fiction, fiction not as a replacement for the real world, but as a hybrid place where the real world is suspended and reconstituted into something more survivable.
or like jeffrey niesel:
Reading is perhaps cannibalism par excellence. Through reading, one dissects and consumes with the intent of making the object one's own. As Kilgour writes, "Reading is therefore eating, an act of consumption. For homo sapiens, to think is to taste, as in the act of knowledge we imagine that we draw the outer world into our minds and possess it." Again, this is the way we relate to each other in consumer culture, coveting and being coveted, reading and being read.
in other words, harold bloom puts it simply, "We read, frequently if unknowingly, in quest of a mind more original than our own." and if you don't know, now you know! warren buffett is a democrat :D
posted by kliuless at 6:53 AM on October 30, 2002


warren buffett is a democrat :D

Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooo....!
posted by oissubke at 7:10 AM on October 30, 2002


baikonur! is all i'm sayin' :D
posted by kliuless at 8:06 AM on October 30, 2002


rushmc

There is a difference between someone being in error and having the OPINION that someone is in error.

Can you see the difference?

1.) 2+2=4: FACT
2.) Religion is false: OPINION
3.) Religion is true: OPINION

If someone disagrees with 1 they are in fact in error.

If someone disagrees with 2 they are not in error. It is your OPINION that they are in error. It is fine to have this opinion, just don't portray it as FACT.

If someone disagrees with 3 they are not in error. It is an OPINION that they are in error. It is fine to have this opinion, just don't portray it as FACT.


Can you see the difference? If more people did, then I think the majority of religious flame wars would not occur.
posted by jsonic at 8:33 AM on October 30, 2002


Often impractical, ill-advised, or even dangerous. In any case, where is your evidence that these "commandments" were divine edicts, rather than simply codes representing the most enlightened social mores of the day?
Like I had said, i knew you'de like my reasoning. As far as where the divine edict comes from, God gave Moses the 10 commandments. If that isn't divine edict, I don't know what is. Of course, i will qualify this saying that if you don't believe in God, you have no reason to believe what I do, nor would i expect you to. The difference b/w you and me is I have faith in God and that the Bible is in fact the written word of God. If I didn't believe the 10 commandments were in fact divine edict and Moses was flippin out and made it all up, then I would have no reason to believe anything else written in the Bible. As far as I see it, the Bible (in this case, I am referring to both the OT & NT) is an all or nothing thing. Interpretation, though, is a whole other matter,
posted by jmd82 at 8:47 AM on October 30, 2002


There is a reason that religion exists, and humans have been re-inventing and expanding upon that reason for as long as there have been humans.

It seems to me that far and away the main reason religion exists is for its followers to hide from the concept of oblivion, a complete and utter end to the individual. Sometimes I wish I had faith, because when I inadvertently peep into the void, I get scared of my inevitable non-being. I have to admit that while I think those who are 100% sure that there's an afterlife waiting for them are living in denial, I can't help being somewhat envious. Buddhism comes far and away the closest to accepting the end of the self, but that whole reincarnation thing botches it for me.
posted by picea at 8:49 AM on October 30, 2002


not all sects/denominations takes the entirety of the bible as literal/historic fact, and it only weakens your position to indict all of christianity as if they shared the same view.

Of course they don't. You'll note that nowhere did I imply "entirety" in my remarks. Also, you must concede that one is limited in discussing Christian beliefs, given the massive confusion and variation between what different groups (indeed, different individuals) believe. As a result, if one is to discuss "Christianity," one must generalize somewhat to the more common/popular beliefs. It would take many volumes to independently address each variation.
posted by rushmc at 9:08 AM on October 30, 2002


There is a reason that religion exists

Of course there is! And that reason is that our brains have evolved in such a way as to predispose us to fill in gaps in our understanding with imaginary explanations (resulting in the very powerful survival tools of imagination, extrapolation, and creative problemsolving). There are many legacy "problems" with the way our brains (as with the rest of our bodies) are wired, and it is up to us to overcome them.
posted by rushmc at 9:12 AM on October 30, 2002


rushmc: the sick fantasies of Christianity

Yup, no insult there. I guess I was mistaken.


Yes, you were. You insist upon taking offense, but the statement itself is no different from referring to "the sick fantasies of Jeffrey Dahmer." You may agree or disagree with the assessment, but to be insulted is as ridiculous as being insulted by someone's saying "the unrealistic expectations of communism."
posted by rushmc at 9:16 AM on October 30, 2002


This whole God-or-no-God thing had better be solved before this thread is closed for archival purposes.

Don't worry, condour75, there'll be another one coming down the pike well before that.
posted by languagehat at 9:20 AM on October 30, 2002


[t]he heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact.

The same claim could equally be made of any myth or story ever conceived by man.

I agree with the last three quotes you provide, btw.
posted by rushmc at 9:21 AM on October 30, 2002


1.) 2+2=4: FACT
2.) Religion is false: OPINION
3.) Religion is true: OPINION


You leave out the most relevant choice:

4) Certain specific aspects of particular religions are fantastical, illogical, and/or demonstrably false. The fact that the religion (and the religious) stubbornly clings to its claims that these are true casts strong doubt on the remaining, untestable, claims that they also make.
posted by rushmc at 9:26 AM on October 30, 2002


As far as where the divine edict comes from, God gave Moses the 10 commandments.

Prove it.

The difference b/w you and me is I have faith in God and that the Bible is in fact the written word of God.

On what basis?

If I didn't believe the 10 commandments were in fact divine edict and Moses was flippin out and made it all up, then I would have no reason to believe anything else written in the Bible.

Precisely. So, because you want to believe the whole thing, you choose to believe a thousands-year-old story, handed down through many hands, repeatedly transcribed and translated (with all the errors that such processes incur), of unknown and unverifiable authorship. I might as well choose to believe that the story of Gilgamesh was literal fact and truth...or Beowulf. It's a totally unsupportable choice.
posted by rushmc at 9:31 AM on October 30, 2002


I have to admit that while I think those who are 100% sure that there's an afterlife waiting for them are living in denial, I can't help being somewhat envious.

I don't get this. If my neighbor was convinced that a great striped serpent with scales of gold and silver were going to deposit a mound of candy on his doorstep, I would certainly imagine that he was deluded, but it would be silly to either envy his delusion or to covet his non-existent candy.
posted by rushmc at 9:35 AM on October 30, 2002


If this weren't such a serious thread, I would have to point out that rushmc's example would either be an awesome practical joke, or the start of yet another belief system...heh. Hopefully the serpent's deposit would be European chocolate.

Now, with my apologies, back to the serious discussion.
posted by konolia at 9:49 AM on October 30, 2002


ACTUALLY jsonic, in a base 2 numbering system (not binary) :

2+2=11

So there, invisible people don't exist.
posted by Satapher at 10:40 AM on October 30, 2002


haha, did i mean base 3?
posted by Satapher at 10:41 AM on October 30, 2002


rushmc

So anyone who doesn't agree with you on matters of opinion is wrong?

Ok, fun world view.

I think there is room for many opinions, but hey, thats just my opinion, right?
posted by jsonic at 10:48 AM on October 30, 2002


No, you are seeking to claim the right to define *everything* (or at least *anything*) as a "matter of opinion" and I am denying that argument.
posted by rushmc at 11:02 AM on October 30, 2002


I can't prove that there are invisible pink fairies that always seem to move things from where I left them resulting in a mad hysterical naked cursing search.

But hey, I can't disprove it either! Horray! I think I'll start killing in the name of the invisible pink fairies! I think I'll construct buildings of worship for my invisible pink fairies! Come one, come all, we need some donations, I mean, offerings to keep this well oiled grease machine running!
posted by Satapher at 12:41 PM on October 30, 2002


My interest in the matter (being Jewish) is that Christianity allows for confession through a priest (who can absolve sins against others) whereas in Judaism only those you've harmed can forgive you. G-d only forgives the sins against G-d.

If only the ones you've harmed can forgive you, haven't you sinned to God. Thus by not abiding by his set rules which you crossed by harming your fellow man. So God would have to forgive you? Plus iI thought were not to judge our fellow man or one should always forgive thus any wrong doing on my part will be forgiven by my fellow man.

Jmd82 thanks for sharing your thoughts too my question.
posted by thomcatspike at 1:01 PM on October 30, 2002


No, you are seeking to claim the right to define *everything* (or at least *anything*) as a "matter of opinion"

Uh, no. Anything that is not a fact (proven/disproven) is a matter of opinion.
posted by jsonic at 1:16 PM on October 30, 2002


How simple life must be for you.
posted by rushmc at 1:32 PM on October 30, 2002


Addressing Miguel's point much earlier, while Christianity (at least the versions I'm familiar with) doesn't place ultimate priority on asking and receiving forgiveness from those whom you have wronged, it is a necessary step. While God can cleanse you of the sin, and take the burden of knowing you've sinned against someone off your shoulders, asking forgiveness from the sinnee is important, to heal the strain or fracture you've caused in your human relationships. I don't remember any Bible references off the top of my head on this, but sermons I've heard have referred both to the Old Testament and to the various writings of Paul in the New Testament. If anyone's interested, I'll try to dig some out when I get home.
posted by deadcowdan at 1:36 PM on October 30, 2002


How simple life must be for you.

How else could I define a matter of opinion?
posted by jsonic at 1:38 PM on October 30, 2002


You know, this thread was really good for the first bit, discussing a topic known to be a tender one for many people with nary a snark or an insult in sight. But, inevitably, it had to end.

I only have this to say to rushmc: Christianity is not too difficult for the average person to understand. There are contradictions and ambiguities both in the Church and in the Bible, but it seems to me that life itself has these qualities as well, so this shouldn't be surprising. And yes, the New Testament does spend a lot of time talking about love, and tolerance, and showing respect for others. Paul was one of the first writers I'm aware of who spoke up against the institution of slavery; for some reason he has gotten an awful and undeserved reputation outside the Church. I would encourage you to pick up a Bible and actually read through the Epistles. Whether you believe in the concepts those books are based on or not, I think you'll find it remarkably non-hostile and inoffensive .
posted by deadcowdan at 1:55 PM on October 30, 2002


There are contradictions and ambiguities both in the Church and in the Bible

And contradictions and ambiguities do not successfully coexist with absolutist thinking and dogma. If one is "certain" in his beliefs and closed to other options or interpretations, then it is impossible for him to acknowledge contradiction or ambiguity, since for him, all is clear and inarguable. You may not feel yourself to be this kind of Christian extremist, but it takes little observation to discover that the majority are. The basic tenants of the faith demand it, and to hedge on those points is to flirt heavily with hypocrisy (which many do, of course).
posted by rushmc at 3:04 PM on October 30, 2002


but it takes little observation to discover that the majority are

Really? Ok.

The basic tenants of the faith demand it

Guess I missed those.

If one is "certain" in his beliefs and closed to other options or interpretations, then it is impossible for him to acknowledge contradiction or ambiguity, since for him, all is clear and inarguable

Interesting. Thats exactly how I would describe your arguments.
posted by jsonic at 3:42 PM on October 30, 2002


How simple life must be for you.

God's Will is our peace.

4) Certain specific aspects of particular religions are fantastical, illogical, and/or demonstrably false. The fact that the religion (and the religious) stubbornly clings to its claims that these are true casts strong doubt on the remaining, untestable, claims that they also make.

One's Faith Rest of life.
posted by thomcatspike at 8:32 AM on October 31, 2002


I rest my case.
posted by rushmc at 2:52 PM on October 31, 2002


If one is "certain" in his beliefs and closed to other options or interpretations, then it is impossible for him to acknowledge contradiction or ambiguity, since for him, all is clear and inarguable.

To the Jewish Mind, Christianity is difficult to fathom. Judaism allows for doubt, and questioning, an uncertainty. In fact, it is debatable whether it's necessary to consciously believe in God, so long as you follow's God's teachings.
posted by ParisParamus at 3:08 PM on October 31, 2002


No Miguel, not moving to Lisbon, but perhaps we can arrange a house swap?

Actually, haven't you figured out that my favorite thing to do is post virtually off-topic?
posted by ParisParamus at 6:31 PM on October 31, 2002


In fact, it is debatable whether it's necessary to consciously believe in God, so long as you follow's God's teachings.

Now, that's interesting. Why would you follow the teachings of someone/something you didn't believe existed? Because you independently judged them to be worth following?

And if so, why do you need a god?
posted by rushmc at 8:50 PM on October 31, 2002


And if so, why do you need a god?

well, it goes back to Paris's point--it's not about obeying or doing certain things to please a god or go to heaven, but about how you live your life and treat other people...whether people ascribe those behaviors to a god or not is not the point...if we have intelligence and free will then questioning is to be expected otherwise we would be sheep (and here's where us jews differ from christians--no jewish person has ever been told to blindly believe everything, whether torah- or bible-based or not--even ultra-orthodox and hasidic jews don't take the bible as literal truth)
posted by amberglow at 12:20 AM on November 1, 2002


whether people ascribe those behaviors to a god or not is not the point

Au contraire, it is precisely the point when you are questioning why some people choose to adopt and practice a religion and worship a god. I agree that "how you live your life and treat other people" is and should be a key concern, and that everyone should expend considerable thought and effort on these matters. But God is not necessary for that (and may, in fact, impede such efforts, but that's a different matter). So you haven't answered my question at all.
posted by rushmc at 7:32 AM on November 1, 2002


I guess it's not about God (or Gods) being necessary but that it's a helpful animating idea or force behind the tenets and structure and principles of religions for a lot of people...religions aren't created and constructed by God but by people.c
posted by amberglow at 10:24 AM on November 1, 2002


Also, part of the premise is that acting will lead to a belief in God.

And if so, why do you need a god?

Because morality and ethics can't be democratically decided.

The most interesting question is that, since, according ti Judaism, it sufficies to be ethical and decent, why go to the extra trouble of being Jewish? There's no clear answer to that.
posted by ParisParamus at 12:07 PM on November 1, 2002


I guess it's not about God (or Gods) being necessary but that it's a helpful animating idea or force behind the tenets and structure and principles of religions

I don't care about "helpful;" I care about (and seek) "true."

Also, part of the premise is that acting will lead to a belief in God.

So if I pretend it's true long enough, I'll come to believe it? Isn't that the definition of delusion?

Because morality and ethics can't be democratically decided.

Nor should they be. That's why we have laws, to create a consensual and enforceable approximation of many individuals' morality and ethics.

The most interesting question is that, since, according ti Judaism, it sufficies to be ethical and decent, why go to the extra trouble of being Jewish? There's no clear answer to that.

Well, at least that's honest.
posted by rushmc at 10:58 PM on November 1, 2002


The second most interesting question is: why can't I see typos on Previev?
posted by ParisParamus at 7:33 AM on November 2, 2002


why can't I see typos on Previev?

Ha! Thanks, Paris, you finally made this thread worthwhile.
posted by languagehat at 7:57 AM on November 2, 2002


The most interesting question is that, since, according ti Judaism, it sufficies to be ethical and decent, why go to the extra trouble of being Jewish? There's no clear answer to that.

Well, you don't have to be Jewish to be Jewish. In the sense of ethnicity or nationality, you're Jewish if your mother is Jewish. However, this is different from believing that, because of being ethnically Jewish, you are required by divine decree to follow the Mosaic Law, or even just following the Law out of a sense of tradition or community. Do you see what I mean? I don't know how many observant Jews feel that they have a choice of being Jewish or not, any more than black people feel they have the option of not being black.

The question of Jewishness versus Judaism is more than a little confusing, because of the long association, both inside and outside of Jewish communities, of Jewish ethnicity with Jewish religious practice, and then the rise of "race science" just as that pattern started to break down and many Jews became secular. Maybe there should be a different name for people who have a Jewish mother, a tribal affiliation, etc. versus those who practice or espouse Judaism the religion. B'nai Yacub for the former, perhaps? Or maybe Hebrews?

Also, the gods cannot decide for us what is right or wrong. Only we poor humans can decide for ourselves, and try to reach a consensus that we can all live with. The gods say so because it is right; it is not right just because the gods say so.

[apologies for my wild stab at Hebrew]
posted by skoosh at 8:43 AM on November 2, 2002


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