Blogalogue

Blogalogue


What About Other Religions?

posted by jmcgee

Dear Michael:
Thank you so much for your candid and probing response; it is most illuminating.
Before addressing your final question, I am going to risk characterizing your presentation of religious faith. Some of our readers, if not you yourself, may find this presumptuous; if so, I accept their criticism.
It seems to me that your version of religion is a highly intellectualized one–admirably reflecting your own passions. But those aspects of faith which you label “kitsch,” Michael, are as central to many believers’ experience of religion as a drive to ask questions. The Church itself has not discouraged–one might even say it has authorized–such manifestations of kitsch as relic worship, rosary counting, and saint idolatry (see, for example, the cult of the Virgin of Guadalupe). Papal Rome has even done its own brisk business in “buying and selling.”
These manifestations of “peasant piety,” as you call them, suggest to me that for many people, religion is as much about providing an amulet against misfortune and a shelter from fear and death as it is about intellectual inquiry.


And a non-believer looking in sees not just the metaphysics but also the Fra. Galvao pills and the reliquaries and has to decide whether the entire package makes sense in light of what he already knows about the world. That’s why I would have loved to know how you approach claims from other religions. Do you think there’s any difference in efficacy, for example, between a rabbit’s foot and a monkey’s paw in protecting against misfortune, say, if a devout practitioner of the Yoruba religion insists that the monkey’s paw channels his ancestor’s spirits for his benefit? Do you think it’s appropriate in deciding whether the monkey’s foot possesses such a divine power to ask basic questions of proof and causality? And is there a difference between an animal appendage and a St. Christopher’s medal?
In your latest post and in No One Sees God , you make the drive “to keep questioning, infinitely” the hallmark of humanity and the sign of God’s presence within us. I do not understand why that particular drive, as admirable as it is, requires or suggests a Creator or Answering Presence any more than any other human trait. There are probably as many if not more people with an insatiable drive for power as there are individuals with an insatiable drive to ask questions. There is also a widespread desire for a free lunch–witness the number of people who play the lottery. Many individuals put “enormous energy” into the drive for sex. I do not, however, infer from the prevalence of such drives that there is a priapic divinity or one who lusts for dominance, or that there is an Answering Presence that provides windfalls to people and an all-you-can-eat banquet in the sky.
I do not follow what you mean by “‘the light of faith’” that is “not . . . reason alone” but a “further use of reason.”
As for whether I am aware of the “presence of God in [my] own mind,” the answer is no. I share your wonder, Michael, at the amazing fecundity of human creation. But I experience the insupportable beauty of a Schubert song or the astounding reliability of an economy that daily brings us clean water and fresh milk as a human triumph. Far from living in a meaningless world, as you suggested in First Things (“Atheists invent a heroic image for themselves . . . to cover up the emptiness of meaning in human life”), I find the world awash in meanings, more than I can possibly take in.



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Albert the Abstainer

posted November 13, 2008 at 11:54 pm


I cannot actually speak for others, though I can observe that the ecstatic states cross traditional and cultural boundaries. This suggests at the very least that neurophysiology creates states in people which come to be associated with exoteric religion. Reading the mystics of various traditions (Rumi, Hafiz, Meister Eckhart, Kabir, et cetera), I am struck by the similiarity of inner state which I experience upon reading them. Their voices are different and related, and it seems as though each is like a musical line in a complex and overwhelmingly beautiful fugue.
My point, is that what we call Primary Religious Experience (PRE) is not dependent upon holding a particular belief-set or necessarily any religious belief at all. If, as I surmise, PRE is something which is essentially neuro-chemical, (and this is strongly supported by the effects of entheogenic/psychedelic agents), then there is no reason that these states cannot and are not experienced by atheists and agnostics as well as the religious.
Art and music express powerful inner states and have the potential to trigger those states in the viewer/listener. If I see Michelangelo’s Piata, it requires no religious background to be moved by it. If I listen to Mahler’s 3rd symphony, I do not have to believe in Christianity, but by allowing myself to be played by the music, I experience ecstasy.
What each of us can probably agree upon is that there are horizon’s to our knowledge, and that religion is that structure which is used to frame the unknown and unknowable. Those who require greater certainty are drawn to religious traditions which provide a context and which provide a large “T”-truth. Others require little or no structure and may be very happy with PRE that is not anchored to a belief set.
The really important thing to realise here is that PRE is the common ground and that religion is the edifice built upon it. Without the edifice, the ground still exists, and by nature of our common physiology, most people are able to have PRE’s, without regard to the edifice.
The meeting ground is the neuro-chemistry of our brains, whether one is an atheist or a holy roller. Once we recognize this common ground, the difficulties of divergent beliefs become less of an obstacle. (For the skeptics of whatever flavour, if it were legally permitted, 300 micrograms of LSD will demonstrate my point far more clearly than any argument.)



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Your Name

posted November 14, 2008 at 1:51 pm


Ouch! Heather, in an attempt to repudiate Michael’s assertion of atheists living in a meaningless world, you have precisely made his point. As an engineer, I have a word for a world awash in meaning: white noise. If all things express equally valid meaning (or each person can select whatever meanings they wish), then we have no meaning at all – just white noise. This is precisely the claim Michael makes. Please take a run at that one again.



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RD

posted November 15, 2008 at 3:47 am


Do you find meaning in what Hitler, Stalin, pol pot, etc did? Did those who went along with them find meaning in what they did?
Why is your definition of meaning different? Why the majority view of meaning still inclined towards beauty, peace, love , friendship, etc… ? Can you reduce that inclination to a mere Darwinian survival advantage? Then is it not applicable to the opposite of those virtues too(power, dominance, selfishness…)which helps survival?
See! the point is we are not able to find the meaning in this world…there is too much contradiction… however deep in our heart/mind we know (or at least wish) there has to be something more than what we could see… theists all over the history try to find that meaning which eludes physical reality but some how imprints its presence in us so strong that we cannot completely free us from its influence.
As Psalmist sang (verse from the Bible)”As the deer panteth for the water so my soul longeth after thee”, the universal thirst to know the source of meaning or the meaning itself cannot be taken lightly if one really seeks the truth.
In Christian world view, there is no difference between meaning and the source from which the meaning emanates. Jesus said he is the truth – meaning.



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Albert the Abstainer

posted November 15, 2008 at 11:10 am


Abandon meaning at the door of the wedding chamber. Gaze deeply into the eyes of the Beloved and become unmade in ecstasy.
When not in the experience of ecstatic union, the world of forms returns as the rational mind assumes its normal position of interpreter of experience. Being that we are both rational and non-rational, (the bicameral brain), it should not be surprising that our states fluctuate and that a large range of complex state-chains results.
Where I have difficulty with religious narratives and the talismans which are created within them is where strong identification results in filtering experience to fit the frame, rather than adapting my beliefs to fit experience. The mystical approach and especially the way of negation, is about relinquishment of these talismans, idols and beliefs to the primacy of experience. The experience happens, and then it is interpreted as the rational attempts to create coherence. A truly empirical approach avoids these sticking points but it requires that the experiential be regarded as primary and interpretation as secondary. Religious interpretation must bend to the primacy of experience or we have the schisms and conflicts that result from dogmatic attachment to religious forms. To be faithful in the sense of penetrating illusion in the pursuit of what is in itself requires a flexible approach, one in which sacred cows are set aside, be they secular or religious in nature. A child can do it easily, but we who have less plastic minds are easily trapped in thought prisons where fear is tempered by the talismans.



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nnmns

posted November 15, 2008 at 2:40 pm


“And a non-believer looking in sees not just the metaphysics but also the Fra. Galvao pills and the reliquaries and has to decide whether the entire package makes sense in light of what he already knows about the world.”
I (a non-believer looking in) don’t see it that way. I can consider both the claimed bases of the religions and the religious structures built on them.
There is no proof, to my knowledge, for the mythologies of any of the major religions so of course their theological constructs, being built on sand, crumble too.
As for the various churches, while almost all have the failing of urging people to believe in the fantastic, they can also be judged on the effects they have. I see a broad spectrum of value to the world in religions. Some are almost purely harmful, some do a lot of good.
As far as finding a lot of meanings, that just shows a mind open to seeing and thinking about a variety of things. Michael, “white noise” might reasonably be used to describe a set of non-patterned data but not a multitude of conclusions from a variety of kinds of data.



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TOUCANDAN

posted November 15, 2008 at 4:19 pm


MY PHILOSOPHY THROUGH EINSTEIN
Albert Einstein, one of my greatest heroes, was arguably one of the most famous, most important, and most significant scientists of all time. With the development of a short and seemingly simple equation E=MC2 he unlocked what defined the mysteries of the universe, changed forever our perception of time and space and challenged future scholars to understand basis for all of creation and destruction of matter and energy. He then devoted his whole life to knowledge and understanding of the “Theory of Everything”.
Over the past century his passion for science and knowledge has been passed to thousands critical thinkers who are devoting their lives to understand and expanding the details of the universe, our world and even life itself.
In his later years Einstein, a devout Jew, observed, “The study of science was like trying to read the mind of God.” This is a simple and elegant concept that merges science and faith. It postulates that science is truly an extension of faith and provides natural and verifiable answers to many questions to the meaning of life. Today this concept seems to be widely accepted by most informed, educated, open-minded people. Like millions of others I have learned that faith is totally separate from religion.
Science sees the wonders and mysteries of the universe and constantly seeks evidence and the natural truth to the questions of “who, what, why, when, where and how.” It is this course of action that is very basis of all knowledge and truth and in truth it supports our faith and spirituality.
For many, faith in a god gives meaning and purpose to their lives and provides them with a personal sense of security and stability. It gives them a feeling of hope and belonging to something bigger. However, for some, faith, ruled by fundamental religion in many forms, has a dark side that offers only supernatural speculations, which are often twisted and manipulated by religious zealots and their misguided closed-minded followers to promote arrogance, intolerance, prejudice, hypocrisy, hatred, bigotry, torture, murder, and even war in the name of their belief in god.
Religion of all kinds is a belief system born out of human ignorance, insecurity and fears from many thousands of years of superstition, myths, magic, and mystery. Variations in religions range from the benign to the horrific. Religions contrive supernatural explanations for natural but so far unexplainable events. Most religions elevated a few, who claim to speak for their god, to power, glory and wealth while followers, voluntary or not, remained ignorant and dependant. It is ironic that many religions with similar beginnings that claim to revere the same god have developed such animosity and hatred for each other. Unchecked religion has often become demanding of adherence and intolerant of skeptics, dissenters, and heresy. Even now, some humans still seem to need myths the supernatural to explain events of good and evil even when there is often a simple rational scientific or secular explanation.
Fundamental religion seems to call for, “stupidity”, blind faith, with no questions asked. Science, interested only in knowledge, questions everything, and requires evidence.
I see it happen almost every day. When evidence contradicts religious beliefs the ruling orthodoxy denounces or ignores the evidence and prosecutes none believers. In reality, evidence supports and promotes theory and provides a direction to physical law, truth, and real faith.
Currently, religious authorities would have us believe that all truth was laid out in a few books, the old testament, the new testament and the Koran, written by a few people about 2000 years ago and has not changed even in the face of overwhelming contradictory evidence. This promotes close mindedness, ignorance, and even stupidity. Science has consistently shown that evidence, theories, facts, and truths have been revealed everyday buy many learned and intelligent men and women and this enlightenment has been laid out in millions of books written over many thousands of years.
“Ignorance” is simply, “not knowing”, which is generally acceptable, since all that is required to overcome this is open mindedness, information and enlightenment.
“Stupidity” on the other hand is, best defined as “not wanting to know”, which normally indicates a closed mind and seems to be acceptable in most fundamental religions.
Science promotes knowledge, logic, and verifiable truths and still leaves room for faith. Religion promotes dogma, ideology, closed mindedness, and has no room for scientific evidence.
The point that seems to be missed by the religious right (wrong) is the only thing that separates humans from the animals is our morality. The most important human endeavor is the striving for morality in our actions. Our inner balance and even our existence depend on it. Only morality in our actions can give beauty and dignity to life. Why then is the most pious the very people who drive us to war and ignores the very thought of helping our children and the planet that cares for us.
Now, in the 21st century, a time of rapidly escalating scientific revelation, science and faith are often accepted as working together by the predominantly secular world. I hope that over the next century, enough of the human race will gain wisdom to overcome our historical failures and we can evolve as a specie that can take our place alongside others throughout the cosmos that we are just beginning to discover. Knowledge and enlightenment should prevail but, as Einstein also said, “We can never underestimate the power of human stupidity.”
WHAT DOES A FISH KNOW ABOUT THE WATER IT SWIMS IN ALL ITS LIFE?
WHAT DO WE HUMANS KNOW ABOUT THE UNIVERSE WE LIVE IN ALL OF OUR LIFE?
“THE IMPORTANT THING IS TO NEVER STOP QUESTIONING… CURIOSITY HAS ITS OWN REASON FOR EXISTING.”
BE A SEEKER OF TRUTH: NOT ALL YOU SEE IS REAL, NOT ALL YOU HEAR HAS VALUE, NOT ALL YOU BELIEVE IS TRUE, SEARCH FOR EVIDENCE! “EVIDENCE PROVES KNOWLEDGE, KNOWLEDGE IS TRUTH, TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE.”
Toucan Dan
October 17, 2006



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Bob

posted November 17, 2008 at 12:40 pm


The Church itself has not discouraged–one might even say it has authorized–such manifestations of kitsch as relic worship, rosary counting, and saint idolatry
Woooahh, hold on there. Relics and saints are revered, not worshiped (refer to the Cathechism). That would be idolatrous. Idolatry is forbidden by the 1st commandment.
As to the Rosary, beads are an easy way to keep track of prayers. What’s the problem there?
I wish people like you, Heather, would bother to actually learn a little from official Church sources (the Catechism, encyclicals, etc.) rather than just make stuff up as you go along. You leave a lot of people misinformed that way.



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Brian

posted November 17, 2008 at 4:01 pm


Toucacdan__I think you have some great ideas but one major fallacy…you presuppose we can understand thru science or whatever…but can you create a glass vase with a hammer? or repair a stone wall with a paint brush? You have (and this is not meant as an insult)the arrogance that most humans have…that this mess of cells at the top of our bodies is the know all end all tool for comprehension…I would say just the opposite…it creates more pain and aimless mindless activities than truth seeking…perhaps it is the limit of the mind that is the greatest truth …what is our greatest science that might be able to tell us an iota of how but will never be able to explain why? Because why is part of the infinite eternal and we are mortal and finite.____I still cannot accept how anyone can be an atheist…not believe in religion?…sure but an atheist? no. As they say “To he who believes no explanation is necessary…to he who does not believe…no explanation will suffice”.



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nnmns

posted November 17, 2008 at 5:29 pm


To be an atheist is not to believe no explanation is necessary; lots of scientists are atheists. To be an atheist is to not look for a supernatural explanation.



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Your Name

posted November 19, 2008 at 8:50 pm


nnmns, I wonder if you are aware of laws of negation in logic? I find it a curiosity with people like you. If you can not logic correctly or you simply do not write what you apparently are trying to think, and you become aware of this, and set out to understand how logic and reason work and to say what you are trying to think, do you automatically take the position you previously held? In this case, a ignorer of supernatural, apparently. Isn’t it worth consideration that the position you held may have led you astray?



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nnmns

posted November 20, 2008 at 11:13 pm


YN, I’m familiar with logic, including negation.
Brian said “To he who believes no explanation is necessary…to he who does not believe…no explanation will suffice”.
My comment was that he was wrong about atheists; a lot of us do want explanations and in fact a large fraction of us are scientists who look hard for explanations. But what atheists don’t do is look for supernatural explanations.



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nnmns

posted November 21, 2008 at 8:56 am


So, Your Name, do you understand my post now? Any other remediation I can try to help you with?



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Kevin

posted November 21, 2008 at 7:27 pm


I was Your Name in that post. I had some trouble.____Athiests and Evolutionary scientists do look for supernatural explanations. That is the great irony of this entire thing. All of the major plateaus of Evolution are unnatural, unobserved, imaginative events. Read about abiogenesis or panspermia, and mutations being creative. Creationists are the ones who seek to understand the natural world. They also have the correct framework, that is, all under God – the only logical starting place. Without even considering design in nature and systems it is only feasible that existance comes from an original conciousness. It is deductable that such an original consciousness must be all powerful and always right in order to justify and uphold it’s own existence. Evolutionary thinker’s and athiest’s just-so tongue and finger flapping will mean nothing when they face the Truth. Creationists look to see how God has set the world’s parameters. Creationists also look at the aspect of creation within the spiritual framework of Scripture. The latter is what they are ridiculed for, but when an Evolutionists or skeptic says that they find meaning in technology the world says that this is an acceptable consideration. I wonder why. ____The fact about technology is that it is evil, but God can use evil for His own means and purposes as He pleases, and He does. Christians and all people live with evil everyday, but who of us is aware? There is a parallel point here about extremist thinking. Those who think that calling technology evil makes life polarized and unbearable are the real extremists. They can’t bare the truth without jumping to an extreme. The only things in this world that are good are those things that God will bring back to Himself. When athiests are exposed to truth they become extremists. That is why athiests hate religion. They hate something about themselves.



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nnmns

posted November 22, 2008 at 12:08 am


Amid a small torrent of unjustified claims these were among the funnier:
“Without even considering design in nature and systems it is only feasible that existance comes from an original conciousness. It is deductable that such an original consciousness must be all powerful and always right in order to justify and uphold it’s own existence.”
If it were true existence must come from an original consciousness that begs the question of what the original consciousness comes from. Another, earlier original consciousness? Which itself comes from a still earlier original consciousness? Etc. etc. Sorry, Kevin, but your logical problems don’t go away. And the part about all powerful and always right is utterly non-obvious, and that’s all if we assumed the existence of such a consciousness, which of course I and a lot of others don’t.
“When athiests are exposed to truth they become extremists. That is why athiests hate religion. They hate something about themselves.”
You get a big kick out of making baseless claims, don’t you. But they are baseless.



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Your Name

posted November 22, 2008 at 10:13 am


Try to think outside of the box. Anything that is created needs a beginning. God is everlasting to everlasting. God does not need a beginning. That is our realm. I see God’s everlasting nature as being the true nature. Our reality is real enough (Christ’s blood and body make it real), but God’s reality is the foundation to our existence. Where do the parts of the matrix come from? From the eternal. It is only because of the curse of sin that we must deteriorate and eventually die in our bodies. Understanding God is not about how many molecules are in a beaker. It is understanding the underlying foundations of existence.



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nnmns

posted November 22, 2008 at 2:50 pm


” Anything that is created needs a beginning. God is everlasting to everlasting.”
By your claim, nothing else. You’ve found something comfortable to you to believe in and cling to it even though it has no foundation.



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Kevin

posted November 22, 2008 at 3:08 pm


You’re right about something, though, that an individual must first be open to the concept of God. (Since, God has made the universe it would go without saying that even when a person denies the Creator they would still find a working logical universe, hence the Evolution just-so story based off of the organic and inorganic matrix, and they being closed off to God could still find solutions – because God is just) However, keep in mind that it doesn’t matter if anyone assumes that God exists or not, it wouldn’t change the fact of His existance. What I’ve been trying to show you is that God, as a concept, must have certain characteristics, and that characteristics of Logic in our world coincide with what could be presumed about God. In this, without formally believing in God one could understand that Logic merely says that if God exists He would have to be all powerful and always in the Right. ____When we say that 2 plus 2 equals four we know that it is a logical outcome. If someone suggested that 2 and 2 is five we would toss it out as illogical. This is the nature of the physical world. Illogic is tossed out. Logic is upheld. Illogic is not self-sustaining. When we toss it away it stays away. If logic is tossed away it comes back. What upholds logic is the mystery. So, the question is what justifies Logic? There is an instigator that suggests that there is a Creator to everything made. Beginning with the assumed proposition of a Creator, we could also say that such a creator, if it existed, would, along with being the source of Logic, be Right in all of its doing and be all powerful. This we know because Logic is our invisible tool to discern true from false, and if anything existed that could create the universe it must be Logical in itself and self-sustaining. ____There is more that can be said in this, but the point I am making is that if God exists then God must be Good and the source of Logic. It also means that if God exists such a one would always be right, or God could not exist. Do you understand this, disagree with this?



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nnmns

posted November 22, 2008 at 4:29 pm


It makes no sense at all. You are still making baseless claim after baseless claim. And I think we are the only two here, so I’m leaving. Turn the light out when you leave.



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