The Varieties of Faith and Reason, Take Two

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One hundred and forty (and counting) satisfied and disastisfied listeners to last night’s Christopher Hitchens show can’t be all wrong. Hitchens (along with Chris and Eddie Glaude) seemingly touched everybody’s nerves, and we figured we’d try another go-around tonight.

This time we hope to frame the hour around varieties of religious meaning, ritual, and experience. Hitchens’s portrait of religion in America — around the world, really — was painted with big gobs of black and white; we’d like to add some grays.

A few questions for starters, spurred by last night’s show and the robust comment thread: Is there a sharp dividing line between religion and “spirituality” anymore? (Was there ever one?) Whether or not you agree with Hitchens’s style, can we talk calmly about this early 21st-century moment of religious fervor and anti-religious fear?

And, taking a step back, what’s the best hope for a smart, probing, civil conversation about faith and reason?

The Rev. Dr. A. K. M. Adam

Professor of New Testament, Seabury-Western Theological Seminary

Blogger, AKMA’s Random Thoughts

The Rev. Dr. Allen Dwight Callahan

Interim Associate Protestant University Chaplain, Brown University

Professor of New Testament, Seminário Teológico Batista de Nordeste in Bahia, Brazil

Author, Talking Book: African Americans and the Bible

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  • chilton1

    Rather religion MAKES the sharp dividing line(s). Should not religion (a reductionist set of rules, distinctions and lines) be considered counter-spiritual?

    Scientists when they make rules do it for pragmatic reasons knowing (maybe hoping) they will fail eventually e.g. taxonomic rules and ring species. For me, the sense of wonder, mystery (spiritually) has more power here than anything I can experience from religious organizations (although, admittedly, I am limiting religion to the fundamentalist kind).

  • W.M. Palmer

    One thread to explore, which Hitchens pointed to, is what are the essential characteristics of religion that make it such – conditio sine qua non. He suggested that at its core was a blind rot – arising from the unconditional certainty of the correctness of its faith in the existence of a god – that, while it could be buried by a tempered practice and mindset – would again and again gain strength and spread as a blight (or, in his metaphor, as bubonic plague carried by the rats in the cellar).

    The very thrust of your show suggests a basic disagreement with Hitchens stance – that the variations in religion inoculate it against an essentialist attack.

    ROS seems to be saying, what religious communities believe is complex, varied and nuanced and cannot be reduced to x, y and z.”

    What I took to be the thrust of Hitchens attacks on the other guest was exactly along these lines – that by failing to make unconditional proclamations of the object of his faith – and what defined faith – the young scholar of religion was dissolving the foundational aspects of religious faith Hitchens in his book sought to condemn. I see Hitchens as right – and honest enough to define nonsense as such, rather than couch his view in more pleasant terms.

    The upshot, it seems to me, is that this topic, unless handled deftly, invites a meandering discourse that will not squarely address the arguments Hitchens makes.

  • Sutter

    Given my efforts to separate religion and spirituality on the last thread, I’m going to cross-post the below, which is a sort of summary of my own posts on that topic over the last few days:

    My argument all through this thread (and I’m scared to count how many times I’ve posted on it!) has been:

    First, that we can have “weak faith” — faith in things like hope and pride and community and connectedness — without also carrying around faith in what I’ve called “Truth claims” about (1) the nature of the physical world (including but not limited to creation) or (2) moral precepts.

    Second, that it’s ok to base this kind of “weak faith” on unprovable a prioris beliefs.

    Third, that it’s even ok to believe in empirical or normative “Truth claims” (the world was created in this way or that; this or that is the right way to act; BUT

    Fourth, that once we use our belief in such empirical or normative Truth claims as the basis for what someone else, or ther state, should or should not do, we need to bring more to the table than that a priori Truth claim itself. At that point — and only at that point — it’s no longer enough to say “I believe it because my religion tells me so.” Up until that point, I’m happy to grant people their faith, and I even suggest above that it might be sensible for those without faith to trick themselves into believing in something greater than the cold hard world of science.

  • hurley

    Your “best hope for a smart, probing, civil conversation about faith and reason,” especially in the US, would be to call Gary Wills.

  • herbert browne

    I will reiterate my own presumption about religion, ie that it has its roots in family (clan)-preserving rules of behavior, which worked OK… but the rules were “challenged” (of course), and the response was the creation of explanations- resulting in edicts- about why the rules were valid. Where better to go for Authority to affirm the rules than to the places beyond our everyday reality (ie the Great Beyond… or the Mind)? Isn’t religion pretty much the same, ultimately, as “..because I’m your Father… THAT’S why!”? ^..^

  • orlox

    hurley – I found Eagleton by far the most persuasive of the critics, thanks! Do you have any links for Wills to suggest?

  • I would echo that religion is an imposed set of rules and an imposed set of beliefs. One is taught the precepts and expected to follow them.

    Spirituality is more open. It is an embracing of the idea that we can’t know whether something beyond our perception is a part of our universe. That we may never understand fully what life is and whether there is a reason for it. It is an embracing of mystery. A wilingness to look into the mystery and keep looking even if you never solve it. To even enjoy the idea that it may not be solved. And to accept that some parts of the mystery may be solved and seem rather mundane once they are.

    You can’t be excommunicated from spirituality.

    Civil discourse can only happen when everybody agress that no one has all the answers and each one of us is willing to accept that our deeply held convictions may turn out to be foolish. Sometimes it’s difficult to hold strongly to your convictions while embracing the idea that you could be wrong, or it may be right for you, but not for anyone else. It takes an inordinate amount of humility and mutual respect.

    Why are we so afraid that what we believe might be false? What’s at stake? This fear is at the heart of a lot of conflict. Why do we prioritize our belief systems over living creatively with others?

  • orlox

    Because the universe will crush you if your wrong?

  • orlox

    you’re – I wish we could edit.

  • hurley

    orlox, I don’t, but he’s been one of the best of the dying breed of public intellectuals for 40 years now, and he’s published a lot, so I suspect some of his work should be available online. Check the New York Review of Books archive. Also, there’s a long interview available on CSPAN, I think, a leisurely affair, but then what’s the hurry. My point about Wills, or one point about Wills in this matter, is that he’s taught me something, given me another prism through which to contemplate religion, whereas Hitchens tends to provide me nothing more than a smarter, ruder version of my own. If you’re really interested, the book I have most in mind regarding this conversation is Under God, out of print but available like so much else you know where…Thanks for asking.

    By the way, his first name is spelled Garry — my mistake.

  • herbert browne, I was thinking the same thing about the “because I’m your father….” line. A way to claim authority just because you want it. Admittedly, as a mother, there are times when I feel that I simply have to claim that authority. But usually there are good reasons that a child simply can’t operate from, so I’m imposing a reasoning on her. I generally tell her, if we get to a point where she feels that I’m imposing power where I say, “As the adult, I know a little more and have more wisdom than you. When you’re older we’ll see if you can understand my perspective.”

    But religions don’t usually allow for that second half of the discourse. The possibility that the child will not agree when she is old enough to process your claims and may have equally valid reasons for her conclusions.

  • orlox says, “Because the universe will crush you if you’re wrong?”

    Well, then you wouldn’t have to worry about being right anymore! ;-D

  • Hurley: A good suggestion. We like Garry Wills, too. And we’ve tried enlisting him for this show and for last night’s, but so far to no avail. Keep your fingers crossed.

  • hurley

    Religion, as defined by Jung, is the term that “designates the attitude peculiar to a consciousness which has been altered by the experience of the numinosum” — the supernatural, that which is mysterious, spiritually inhabited, impossible to describe or to understand. In more mundane terms it might be seen as analogous to a legal fiction, in which the court, obliged to support its decision resolving a controverys, makes and adopts a factual assumption which is not based on reality, thus driving us inevitably into the teeth of Voltaire’s stale aphorism, “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.”

    It takes little effort of the imagination to picture primitive man, assailed by plague and accident, floods, thunder, lightening, and, perhaps most potently — as Sir James Frazer would have it — by fear of the human dead. Eventually he abandons the charms, spells, and sorcery devised to hold such calamities at bay and seeks refuge in rituals of prayer and supplication, as magic despairs and becomes religion.

    Etc. An excerpt from the great William Gaddis’ great essay, Old Foes With New Faces. On this subject, see also his novel Carpenter’s Gothic, especially timely in the wake of Falwell’s death.

  • RobertPeel

    Thanks for this show. Hans Kung, Swiss Catholic Priest, has devoted his life to studying World Religions to bring about Peace. He has published books on Judaism and World Relglion. Recently, his extended study of Islam has been published (available in Brookline Booksmith.) Kung argues that there will be no world peace without peace amongst religions.

    Kung,since his retirement at Tubingen, now is president of the Global Ethic foundation.

    Perhaps Kung would agree with Al Gore’s new book on the need for a return to reason. Richard Hofstader studied the irrational in American politics and religion.

  • chilton1

    To quote a very favourite philosopher …

    “I wish god were alive to see this”

    H. SImpson

  • Nick

    lol, chilton.

  • Bev

    I wish we could channel Buckminster Fuller. In his essay, “No More Secondhand God” which he wrote on April 9, 1940 when the headline of the day was: OSLO KEY BASES TAKEN BIG SEA AIR BATTLES ON. Typical Bucky is solving all the worlds problems but he beautifully defines God:

    “Here is God’s purpose- for God, to me, it seems, is a verb not a noun, proper or improper; is the articulation not the art, objective or subjective; is loving, not the abstraction ‘love’ commanded or intreated; is knowledge dynamic not legislative code, not proclamatede law, not academic dogma, nor ecclesiastic cannon. Yes god is a verb, the most active, connoting the vast harmonic reordering of the universe from unleashed chaos of energy. And there is born the unheralded a great natural peace, not out of exclusive pseudo-static security but out of including, refining, dynamic balancing, Naught is lost. Only the false and nonexistant are dispelled.”

    In Fuller’s postscript 1961 he writes:

    “Man will discover that he is dealing intellectually in a universe of intellectually differentiated, co-operative yet nonsimultaneous equations governing the interrelationships of purely abstract principles, no more no less.”

    I think Hitchens’s ideas and comments are much needed to help us redefine religion, spirituality and faith so they can become mans strengths not his weaknesses. It seems we need to find faith in man not god to discover more of the workings of the universe through science so we can survive a little longer.

  • nother

    In many ways last night, Chris and Chris (whoops…Christopher!) were close in sentiment. Chris’s main thrust was religion without arms, and Christopher basically said his anti-dogma dogma does not apply to “culture.”

    So it seems that we can all at least agree on the necessity of separating church and state.

    Only that would entail Christopher Hitchens agreeing with something, and apparently that would translate to a weakness of appeasement, or another words – a few less books sold.

    (I’m still trying to decide if Christopher Hitchens suffers from not enough love from his mother growing up…or too much.)

    Anyhow, in a general sense, it strikes me that the “information age” or “globalization” has progressed so quickly as to create a vacuum of spirituality – a vacuum that is merrily filled by a new “din of mourners and polemics.”

    Even when I contemplate the god-awful hypothetical of Hitchens being right about it all…I find myself choosing a bit of blissful ignorance, and I leave to him the downward spiral of browbeating bitterness. I have “faith” that Hitchens will end his days as a lonely soul…albeit a clever lonely soul.

    I can only imagine that this miserable man has already gleefully written some ingeniously crabby epitaph for his gravestone…the bully will get his last word in…but will anyone come by to read it?

  • I’m inclined to aviod blogging & commenting at all costs, but I’m compelled to comment on this topic for the first time. Seems to me there’s 2 connected but separate issues here that Hitchens addresses together: 1.) Is there a God, and 2.) If there is a God, do we know what he/she/it wants? As Hitchens might say, “those among us who claim to know the mind of God”.

    Hitchens argues (pretty compellingly, I must say) that the answer to both questions is “No”. I think most people who argue with him conflate these two questions into one, which I think is the cause for some of the heartburn.

    Me personally, I don’t know if there’s a God or not… I’d like to think “Yes”. Everything I’ve learned about the world, and the facts & evidence seem to point to “No”. But there’s that little twinge in my heart that says “there must be Something”– I want to believe in something bigger. But logic, sensibility and reason lead me to believe I must question my hope (or faith) that God is real.

    And that, to me, is the crux. That nagging DOUBT– it’s essential. I embrace it, it’s the most important thing about everything/anything I believe. Man, I wish more of the world had some dobut in their faith. Earth would be a much safer place.

    So I don’t share Hitchens’ conviction (or Sam Harris’, who I also really appreciate) that there is No God. I truly don’t know, though I’d like to believe so. But what we do agree on is the more important question– neither of us knows “the mind of God”.

    When you think you KNOW God, that’s when the trouble starts. (What is that bumper sticker– “No God, No Peace/Know God, Know Peace”? That couldn’t be further from the truth.)

    Spirituality is one thing, Religion is something else. Hitchens, et. al. may not believe in either but I think they & I would agree that Spirituality is harmless compared with Religion. Nobody kills in the name of “spirituality” but they’re hacking people to bits for religion RIGHT NOW.

    So I keep hearing this expression “weak faith” and I’m not even sure what that MEANS, it certainly doesn’t sound like anything anyone would aspire to (good luck if you go home & claim “weak love” for your spouse…). To me, you’re talking about spirituality– the sense that there’s SOMETHING out there that’s bigger, if you’re luvky you get some feeling of hope or serenity from that. I don’t think anyone, even Hitchens at his most biting, wishes to take that away from you. But when you claim some Book gives you clear insight into God’s mind or heart or whatever, you are doing something that is arrogant at best and downright dangerous at worst.

    So it seems to me that hanging your spirituality onto the traditions of Churches & Bibles and such are ideas that you really ought to let go. If you believe the Bible is literally the Word Of God, then the traditions of Church (or Mosk or Temple or whatever) makes sense, but if you’re professing “weak faith” then I just don’t get why you don’t “cut the cord” and move forward, rather than awkwardly straddle both worlds as so many weak faith’ers seem to do…

    Sorry for the rant. I’m going back to my quiet cave in the hills of New Hampshire now…

  • Nick

    I began drafting this for the previous thread, and for Sutter’s evaluation. But this new thread allows me a chance to invite more reaction than Sutter’s – but I still want Sutter’s.

    Anyone familiar with my posts can comfortably class me as non-religious (and let’s not object to this premise via that tired, old, and terribly mischaracterizing “science-is-another-kind-of-religion” claptrap, please). I find the idea of the supernatural absolutely delicious (hence my fascination with religion), but I don’t find the supernatural discernable anywhere save within the imagination of humans – including mine.

    However…I love the word and meaning “numinous”. Especially its alternative meaning, “the spirit of a place”: the feeling that something ‘supernatural’ is immanent in a given location, usually a natural location but not necessarily, and that this feeling can strengthen at certain times of day or season.

    I love that meaning because I have experienced it regularly and still do, several times a year. I’ve experienced it on the shores of the Aegean under cloudless skies (I agree with whoever it was that wrote that Greece is possibly the only place in the world you can feel is haunted at noontime), on top of a mountainous Aegean island amid swirling tendrils of cloud, in the evening and in a canoe on northern lakes still as oil and surrounding by pines, and on the summits of the Olympic Mountains I climb every summer.

    It makes my hair stand on end, and hastens my heartbeat. It’s as ‘real’ a feeling as that of headlong love or of unthinking terror – and it seems to be comprised of both. But I don’t – and can’t – personify it. It’s more than a mere ‘ambiance’ – it’s an full-fledged atmosphere – or even, for lack of a better word a “haunting.” It’s absolutely wonderful. I hope to feel it in my life’s last conscious moments – but I don’t and can’t assign any mythological personage to it.

    It links me – intimately – with the biosphere and universe I am a “holon” of. It makes me proud and elated to be a self-aware part of the universe. But I don’t really think it’s supernatural. Nor do I think it a kind of delusion, but I could be wrong. Moreover, I don’t really care.

    What I want to ask you all (and Sutter) is this: is this reliable, predictable subjective personal experience ‘spirituality’? Even though I can’t glean any ‘real’ supernaturalism within it?

  • Sutter

    bpage, as I explained on the other thread, “weak faith” is a suboptimal label, but what it means is this: Belief in a high power, in connectedness, in something more than can be observed and tested, but NOT including belief in specific religious claims about either (1) creation or the nature of our physical world or (2) what is “right” and “wrong,” i.e. what God (however defined) “wants” us to do. Sounds like you adhere to it. It’s not a half-way house; it’s a recognition that the two aspects of faith (belief in eternity and belief in specific Truth claims)can be disentangled, and that real spirituality can be freed from the burdens of scientific proof so long as we give up on those moral and empirical claims that should be subjected to those standards.

    To be frank, it sounds like you actually support “weak faith” — whatever you call it — at least as much as I do.

  • Sutter

    Nick, I’ll think more about this, but my quick reaction is this: My posts over the weekend focus on this more than my posts today and yesterday, but I think “yes,” because once one retreats to “weak faith,” and abandons the “Truth claims,” it really doesn’t matter whether the spiritual feeling imagines a supernatural source or not. As I put it over the weekend, in my first post on the Hitchens thread, I think that at that point it really doesn’t matter that much whether one believes in God or not. I think your example is actually pretty central: I too feel most spiritual when gazing at the vastness of the ocean. Am I feeling God? Or just my own smallness compared with the vast universe? I don’t know, and frankly, it doesn’t matter that much, because even if the former, I can’t get from that spiritual feeling to a need to do X or Y because I think God requires it.

    Is that responsive?

  • Is there a sharp dividing line between spirituality and religion? I have always assumed that spirituality is a personal experience, and that religion is a group construct. Religion might be a construct that is designed to explain, enhance, or evoke spiritual experiences but spiritual experience can happen outside religion. One might simply call it, “awe”. Some may simply take it as a sign that it’s time to hydrate. This experience seems to be universal, and a basis for the generation of religions. It also seems to prop up substance abuse.

    Can we talk about it though? I am sympathetic with Hitchen’s position that it is non-sense to put religion and religious discourse off limits for public discussion. It is a taboo with a long history.

    How is that taboo to be breached? Hitchen’s approach seems to be akin to kicking a dog and then complaining that the dog is mean. If he kicks every dog he comes upon some of them will be genuinely mean. It doesn’t follow that, they all are. That some of them prove genuinely mean seems a clownish defense for the rudeness. I do admit that from a distance it is very good entertainment. It’s fun watching lion tamers too, but only because you know sooner or later they’re going to get chomped by a lion who decides it doesn’t care about the whip and chair.

    I don’t quite know how religion is to be breached, which is why this is so interesting. It’s the lion tamer again. For starters I think the room has to be pretty crowded so that the black and the white quarters can’t ignore the colors in between. I’d find it very interesting not to here what each person has to say about the other, but hear what each’s views/experiences are on certain questions.

  • nother

    Aldous Huxley’s last essay was “Shakespeare and Religion.”

    Towards the end of the essay, words from Hotspur:

    “But thought’s the slave of life, and life time’s fool;

    And time, that takes survey of all the world,

    Must have a stop.”

    Huxley’s last words to his last essay (dictated from his death bed):

    “Thought is determined by life, and life is determined by passing time. But the dominion of time is not absolute, for “time must have a stop” in two senses, from the Christian point of view in which Shakespeare was writing. It must have a stop in the last judgment, and in the winding up of the universe. But on the way to this general consummation, it must have a stop in the individual mind, which must learn the regular cultivation of a mood of timelessness, of the sense of eternity.

    We are all on the way to an existential religion of mysticism. How many kinds of religion! How many kinds of Shakespeare!”

  • Nick

    Thanks Sutter. I think my experiences are ‘spirituality’ of a kind, too — but I’m open to other opinions.

    For this thread and for the show’s guests too: can we add please a few thoughts on the differences between religiosity and religion and spirituality too?

    In its narrowest sense, religiosity deals more with how religious a person is, and less with how a person is religious…

    I suggest that the activism of folks like Hitchens (and me, too) rises at least as much from growing religiosity as from the growing influence of religion in our governments and in our global conflicts.

  • joshua hendrickson


    of course you can edit; just correct yourself before you hit submit. There’s no law that obliges us to hammer the keyboard as fast as possible and then throw out (up?) our mental spew before the hourglass runs out.

    I must say, it seems difficult (for me, anyway) to say anything new or original about the great faith vs reason debate. I don’t believe in God; I think that the concept is mere wishful thinking. As bpage admits, he/she would like to think that there is a god. I believe that is true of all of the faithful–they would like to think. Period. Faith means wandering through life in a haze of wouldn’t-it-be-nice. No thinking required … certainly not about the issue that haunts us all: our mortality.

    As Robert Smith puts it,

    “Your god is fear … fear that all you are is all there is.”

    And as he also puts it,

    “There is no terror in my heart … death is with us all … we suck him down with our first breath and spit him out as we fall.”

    Today on the news I heard Jerry Falwell’s daughter crying and grieving over her father. I heard her talk about how she’ll miss him, and it reminded me of our common humanity, how even someone I despise is still a beloved father whose children will miss his face. I sympathized with her … until she mentioned how happy Jerry has been this last week up in Heaven. Thus was I reminded that though we have humanness in common, we don’t have minds in common–that no matter how intelligent that woman may be, she refuses to face reason, and instead embraces wishful thinking, and thus rejects her own brain.

    In short, Christianity is a crutch for those who fear death more than they accept life. It is, in fact, an anti-life faith, and dangerous to our existence on this Earth.

  • Joshua,

    Do you experience anything you might interpret as spirituality?

  • nother

    Personally when I’m feeling the most “spiritual”, I’m congruently feeling the most humble. Whether I’m lost in the wonder of some morning mist, or I’m lost in rumble of some Samba drums, I feel a healthy perspective of “self.”

    The humility fades away though when I discuss “religion.” The next subject is inevitably about doctrine…and it all starts to feel like judgment – mine and theirs.

    So I go down to Walden Pond for a dip, and all is right again.

  • nother

    Or I put on some sweet Sonny Rollins…

  • joshua hendrickson


    do you experience anything I might interpret as spirituality?


    When I contemplate the vastness and intricacy of the universe, when I am deeply moved by music or philosophy or fiction, when memory takes me back to the depths of childhood and the pure wonder of that youthful mentality … all of these I judge as “spirituality.”

    I have no problem with spirituality; it seems to me an essential part of the human experience. But I don’t think that it follows from spirituality that there is a Creator God, or that there is life after death, or that any of the various religious laws and restrictions on sexuality and have any value whatsoever.

    I also like mythology quite a bit; studying theology is an interest of mine. In my fictional writings, my subject usually is God or gods. In fact, I find I agree whole-heartedly with Homer Simpson:

    “I love God. He’s my favorite fictional character.”

    Spirituality is not a fiction. God is.

    I hope that answers your question.

  • joshua hendrickson

    I should add:

    I consider spirituality to be a variety of emotion; it’s a feeling. Like other feelings, it is always true to the one feeling it at that time, though its cause may be a fiction, and the conclusions to which it leads one may be fictional.

  • katemcshane

    It’s interesting to me that this issue is so important to people — whether Christopher Hitchens believes in God or anyone believes in God — or doesn’t. Perfectly nice people on these threads have extremely strong feelings about other people who believe in God or go to church — or don’t. If you’re a member of the religious right, then you’re nuts. It’s none of your business what ANYONE believes and you should get over yourself. I’m with Christopher Hitchens as far as that goes. And the rest of us should not underestimate that the religious right has in mind for us, because it’s more frightening than we want to believe. If Hitchens wrote about that, as Chris Hedges has, I can see doing a show on it, but he didn’t, really, and he’s just a provocative pr*ck — actually fairly adolescent.

    I will probably find the guests on the show tonight to be somewhat conservative for me, mainly because after growing up in Catholicism and living in a convent for a while, I’m not interested in having any authority figures in my spiritual life. It’s one place where I don’t have to listen to anyone who dictates rules. I walked away from a convent and realized I wasn’t interested in religion anymore. About 20 years later, I discovered that there was such a thing as a soul, that orthodox catholicism had broken apart all my experiences with my own soul before I was 21, and now I could investigate these experiences unmolested, so to speak. Many times I have felt as if my soul were speaking to me. It has been one of the most unspeakably wonderful and exhilarating parts of my life. I’m not crazy. There are people who know me who will vouch for that. I’ve been meditating and I have found that I should not be casual about that. I’ve been reading mystics, people I began to read in the convent, e.g. Teilhard de Chardin, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, people who meant a lot to me before I was thrown out for not being the kind of person Catholicism expected me to be. Fortunately, I’m old enough and sane enough to know who was right.

  • Ben

    The intertwined mythologies of faith and independence in the American psyche that are taken as fact by most citizens are stunning. Many people really grow up believing that the ‘New World’ was actually settled and ‘founded’ by seafaring travelers escaping religious persecution rather than opportunists trying to improve their situations. It’s a natural extension of the myths that the act of displaying faith is an act of defiance against some external threat and somehow makes a church attendee a patriot and revolutionary in some way that is just not publicly equaled by the non-christian. The mythologies often make an enemy of state out of other faiths and beliefs, lending powerful opportunities to the appeals of zealots.

    There is reason to be aware of the largesse and influence of the organized faithful in government and their impact on the lives of many, the majority of whom aren’t members of any of the respective faiths represented by these relationships. A critic and watchdog like Christopher Hitchens is invaluable. I don’t believe most critics of faith have in their aim prevention of others maintaining faith, but more to prevent the unreasonably faithful from becoming the very kind of despots their respective books seek to deliver them from.

    Humbly – the best hope is to realize that faith and reason are not enemies and exclusives, but are opposite ends of a scale that tips to the detriment of the sample when one or the other is absent. While reason often trumps faith through illustration, it’s genesis is held in the faith that reasoning has a purpose.

  • Potter

    I don’t think Hitchens was saying that Falwell or other “media versions” of Christianity, as the guest just said, represents all of Christianity… not at all

  • joshua hendrickson

    The guest is both right and wrong.

    Right in that “Neo” atheists tend to concentrate on the fundamentalist wackos rather than the good-hearted Christians like MLKjr.

    And wrong, because atheists know that good people like MLK jr would do good even without their nonsensical beliefs, while fundamentalists use their nonsensical beliefs to justify their own mean-spirited prejudices.

  • joshua hendrickson

    In spite of the guest’s story about MLK jr’s spiritual awakening, I still don’t buy that the nonsensical beliefs were necessary to fuel the man’s energy. Feelings–and I don’t doubt or deny that he had such an experience–are, after all, our main motivators (as they are for animals). They are real … even if, as I said before, the causes for them are not.

  • joshua hendrickson

    The stuff from Frederick Douglass is quite enlightening … it reminds me that christianity can be (NOT always is, but sometimes CAN BE) the religious choice of the worst sort of sadists and masochists.

  • misfit

    I’d like to ask Dr. Callahan a question. He referred to the two Christianities. That of the white slavemasters and that of the peaceable slaves. Surely he isn’t saying that Whites lack a peaceable christianity–one can certainly site examples of Black Africans who act very much like the White slave masters. So if that is not what he is saying, could he be saying that when one group dominates another they inevitably exhibit behaviors that oppose a true Christianity?

  • joshua hendrickson

    “The best thing we can do is say nothing”?

    Even if I agree that an infinite concept cannot be bounded by language or thought, that is no excuse not to think or speak. Rather, I consider it a challenge to try harder.

  • To me the difference between religion and spirituality is that religion is something I do with others and spirituality is personal. Religion is a social construct, an organized group of people from a vast geopolitical organization to a small ritual circle in a kitchen. A religion is something you make an act of joining. I’ve belonged to 3 different religions in my life. I was a baptised Diciple of Christ, Initiated Wiccan Priestess and now I have taken refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. The Buddhist concept of Sangha means the religious community. Coming together for ritual, for singing, for sharing our own spirituality with others and for learning from others is the value of an organized religion, a fellowship. I brought my own spirituality to each of 3 religions and my spirituality has developed and deepened by my participation in each form of religion that I have belonged to.

    ps. joshua h, how familiar are you with MLKjr’s “nonsensical” beliefs? I only ask because MLKjr always seems to me like a no-nonsence believer.

  • joshua hendrickson


    By “nonsensical” beliefs I mean the belief in Heaven or Hell, life everlasting, the miracles and rebirth of Christ–the mythical stuff. To me, that stuff is nonsense … but the feelings that inspired MLK jr were not.

  • Potter

    The atheist may be at least as poised to have a transcendent, spiritual experience as the religious person.

    One must struggle for freedom and openness, to throw off encumbrances; whatever chokes you, closes you, makes your eyes glaze over, kills your spirituality. Follow what awakens you, your bliss ( as Joseph Campbell said).

    I thank the guest who noticed railing against coercion, who took the time to read our comments.

    Hitchens said he gets joy and meaning out of literature, music and art. Me too. Chris tonight shared his love of literature, Dostoevsky- thank you.

    I get awakened in my garden. I helped a little young bird today… what joy to touch that little beating heart, to feel those little cold feet- seeing him fly off…..

    The mommy eastern phoebe was feeding her baby in the nest perched on my bathroom window today too. I worried because I saw a cowbird eating an egg….we had a fluffy raccoon sauntering down the driveway this afternoon. “Eric in the Evening” is playing Johnny Hodges…….

  • godzilla

    Lame rebuttal without Hitchens 5/22/07

    My radio is OFF as of 7:20 p.m. EST and I must register my profound disappointment with open sores. While I think Hitchens is an irrelevant dilettante enrobed in a Western superiority when it comes to most issues that might benefit from some acknowledgement of the vagaries of discourse and its effects of truth through truth games (e.g. his mistaken advocacy for war with Iraqi and his apology for the West’s ‘fair’ interest in Iraqi oil resources or his certainty of belief in disbelief), I think that open sores has sunk to an all-time low in attempting to repudiate his superior rhetorical performance against religion and belief on 5/21/07 in his absence on 5/22/07.

    Such discussion is mired in the misrecognition of the reemergence of the power of assertion in discourse that was displaced long ago by the Platonic error in the assertion of ontological essence as truth. The sophists are back in town to counter the annoying truth claims of the rabid and supposedly benign faith communities. The solipsistic simplicities of the humanist believers (in personal myth and self importance – ‘I believe because I believe’ – essence accessible through some imagined transcendence) are rank with purely emotional appeals to the good in humankind’s imagined progression toward some imagined totality.

    Becoming an adult requires the rejection of any teleology. MLK as icon and example ignores the insignificance of any and all actors in the pageant of humankind in the interplay of discursive systems and their conditions of possibility. My friend MLK, my hero MLK, my object Jesus, my trust in Jehovah, my belief and will to power that will elide the indeterminacy of every event and the probabilistic reality of our existence . . . .

    Hitchens may be a sad egoist and adherent of a past ideological imperialism, but his skepticism is certainly preferable to the smiling naivety of the worshiping classes. May open sores find its way and never again descend into the desperate and politically correct trap of rescuing poor preachers from their ineffectual sermons.

  • Nick

    I won’t hear the show until 9PM Pacific. My hopes aren’t terribly high for it, since the guest list implies that the three conversationalists are likely to be like-minded apologists worrying over the non-believers who’ve taken faith to task…but when I read cheap shots like ‘open sores’, I have a whole lot more sympathy for ROS than I do the cheap-shot artist whose points I might otherwise have preferred to agree with.

  • Nother wrote: Anyhow, in a general sense, it strikes me that the “information age” or “globalization” has progressed so quickly as to create a vacuum of spirituality – a vacuum that is merrily filled by a new “din of mourners and polemics.”

    Nother, are you suggesting that economic globalization has spurred on identity politics, which often have a strong religious element?

    I have long thought that the rise of identity politics is critical to the exploitative processes of, what David Harvey calls “time-space compression”. One would think that globalization, with its inherent stretching of income disparities, would reignite smoldering class struggles, but we see little of this, except in South America. Instead, intellectuals and the working classes are wrapped up more in questions of whose god better markets the truth, are you for or against gay marriage, when does life begin, etc. In the meantime, people are dying of hunger and disease. It is a great diversion.

    If we take ROS as an example, we find a far greater number of shows on religion and these shows draw far more interest than those related to social justice and socio-economic welfare.

    Have I got it all wrong? Comments welcomed.


    MLK and Tutu aren’t legislating their religions beliefs into US law and policy. I could give a rat’s ass about Adam and Callahan’s religious beliefs – if they want to beleive the fairy tails, as my mother would say “to each his own”. All I ask, is don’t inculcate your religious garbage into my life. That not only includes US law and policy, but it also means the holy rollers need to start paying their fair share of income and real estate taxes, and they need to butt out of public policy, where they have no business. Moreover, in this country, we value equality and fairness. If they wish to be equal partners, they need to walk the talk. No more missionaries “converting” indigenous peoples, no more male-dominated leadership, no more opression against women, and so forth, and so forth.

  • JJWFromME

    How about the arguments Isaiah Berlin offers in essays like the Counter Enlightenment? Here he’s describing the views of Giambattista Vico:

    A utilitarian interpretation of the most essential human activities is misleading. They are, in the first place, purely expressive; to sing, to dance, to worship, to speak, to fight, and the institutions which embody these activities, comprise a vision of the world. Language, religious rites, myths, laws, social, religious, juridical institutions, are forms of self-expression, of wishing to convey what one is and strives for…

  • nother

    Sidewalker, that is part of what I was getting at for sure…and your eloquent and insightful post enabled me to think about it more clearly. I see it as tribalism – manifested through identity politics – that is splintering us spiritually, even as technology is bringing us together. Globalization is forcing us all (every religion) to show our cards. The glue that is connecting us is technology with an economic endgame…but will that be enough?

    So now the fight begins for moral authority in the new world of connectiveness…and the gloves are off. The neo-atheist are seizing on this moment of confusion. Whether they are bringing reason or rancor…I don’t know. On the other side you have the Pope reacting with a very conservative agenda, and of course we are experiencing an insurgence of fundamentalism from many corners.

    One thing I’d like to see is a critical analysis of the a href=”″>Popes recent speech in Brazil. Isn’t this the main man laying out the new mission statement of Christianity? If not the Pope, then who?

  • nother

    Religion is the anthesis of spiritualty. First of all, in humble opinion, spirituality is very, very personal. I get nothing out of sitting in a church with a group of other homo-sapiens practicing phony rituals. I typically experience spirituality at the simplest moments – in the melody of one of my mother’s favorite songs, in the simplicity of a fern leaf. Religion, with all its bogus symbolism, authoritarianism, silly rituals, and the rest of it, has nothing to do with spirituality. It does, in fact, repress spirituality. I concur with Sam Harris that, perhaps the worse offenders, are the ones who possess the intellect to know better, e.g., Episcopalians.

  • Nick

    nother: “The neo-atheist are seizing on this moment of confusion.”

    Old pal, that’s awfully conspiritorial-sounding. Are you serious?

    “Whether they are bringing reason or rancor…I don’t know.”

    If Hitchens were the standard, the answer would be “Both. Both reason AND rancor.”

    But Hichens is the extreme, not the standard. Harris and Dennett are much more civil — even if no less critical. And Dawkins, whose book I’ve read twice, lies somewhere in between.

    You can bemoan their stridency if you like (I don’t — well, aside from their outbursts of compasionlessness), but I would argue that the stridency is ABSOLUTELY necessary to cut through the previous monopoly on media-access that theists held over the topic of religion. After all, Christians operate entire television and radio networks, and heavily subsidize the nation’s more authoritarian-inclined political party.

    Nontheists, in contrast, need lots of plain luck, in the form of a sympathetic publisher, just to hawk a few books.

    From my point of view, the stridency is both neccessary and justified.

  • Sharon

    I wonder what type of world Mr. Hitchens thinks it would be, w/o any religion at all?

    (…a frightening thought for me) I consider myself an atheist, but unlike Mr. Hitchens, I support people in their right to have beliefs, as long as they do not kill in the name of their particular supreme being. Yes, I agree that religion has, throughout history, been the source of terrible warring, but would argue that the possibility of anarchy, the total absence of any direction/rules, could potentially result in an even uglier situation. Would there be the concept of “having a conscience”?

  • Nick

    Good grief this is hard to take. The past seven minutes have been an extended version of “God works in mysterious ways” — capped by an amazingly myopic: “anyone saying otherwise is foisting a verbal shell game” (in paraphrase).

    Sorry, but this makes very, very little sense.

  • Nick

    Where’s the discussion of ‘spirituality’? It’s all about Christianity. (And including the propositon that ‘White Christianity’ –although it is the dominant version of religion in this country, isn’t really “Christian”. Which makes a lot of sense…well, sort of…)

  • This show was titled The Varieties of Faith and Reason, Take Two and it was soooooo homogeneous. At the very least, why not include guests of different religious faiths and perhaps even a Buddhist and others of non-religious spirituality? Otherwise, call the show what it was: Bible Interpretation 100.

  • Nick

    Well, maybe I’m just an idiot. I somehow had gotten myself to thinking that last night’s show would be about the ‘new atheism’ – but it featured only one atheist in a difficult conversation with two theists.

    And tonight, I’d thought, was to include ‘spirituality’, and not merely the Christian religion. And not merely religion through the Black American Christian filter at that.

    Look, ROS has now supposedly done two shows on what it calls (along with EJ Dionne) ‘neo-atheism.’ The first was last year’s hour with Daniel Dennett. The second was Monday, May 21, 2007, which spun off an immediate sequel on Tuesday, May 22, 2007. So, it’s really 2 shows + a spillover.

    Here are the three shows’ speakers, in order of appearance:

    1. Christopher Lydon – radio show host (par excellence) – theist (Christian)

    2. Daniel Dennett – philosopher – atheist

    3. Michael Murray – philosopher – theist (Christian)

    4. David Sloan Wilson – evolutionary biologist – atheist

    5. Jeffrey Schloss- evolutionary biologist – theist (Christian)

    6. Gawain de Leeuw – Episcopal priest – theist (Christian)

    7. Christopher Lydon – radio show host (par excellence) – theist (Christian)

    8. Christopher Hichens – writer – atheist

    9. Eddie Glaude Jr. – professor of religion – theist (Christian)

    10. Christopher Lydon – radio show host (par excellence) – theist (Christian)

    11. The Rev. Dr. A. K. M. Adam – theist (Christian)

    12. The Rev. Dr. Allen Dwight Callahan – theist (Christian)

    Houston, we have a pattern! Despite ‘atheism’ supposedly having inspired these three shows, the ratio of theists to atheists is 3 to 1.

    And not one of the dozen is female. Even if we don’t count Mr. Lydon, not one of the other nine is female. Can only men apply? (“Patriarchal monotheism,” indeed.)

    And why only Christians? Why not a rabbi, like Michael Lerner? Why not a Muslim – and for extra cachet, a progressive Muslim like Irshad Manji? (Who is also that elusive quicksilver for ROS – female.)

    And why only monotheists? Why not a Hindu, or a Shinto? (sidewalker might be able to recommend one…)

    Or why not American polytheists like Starhawk (female), or NPR’s Margot Adler: a Wiccan and a Universalist Unitarian – and female?

    This actual tally of on-air voices—all male, all theists Christian – and hardly any atheists – badly troubles me: it is eroding my trust that ROS can journalistically investigate topics of religion, theism, atheism, or nontheism with anything approaching reasonable objectivity. And as my trust crumbles like a seaside sandcastle, so will my respect and loyalty.

    Look, you guys have been my favorites since I first heard Chris’s voice rejoin the public airwaves a couple of dozen moons ago. It’ll take much more than this to jilt me completely – but my deepening dissatisfaction is unlikely to be unique. How many others might share my uneasiness? Look at how many nontheists/atheists have commented on these shows. They listen to you. Yet in perpetuity?

    Are there solutions?

    I think so. I’ve two suggestions: 1) a show on spiritual experiences BEYOND the Christian context; and 2) a much more focused show on nontheism, that asks the question imbedded in orlox’s observation about the void of “meaning” in scientific deduction:

    I see no way to disagree with the declarative statement that we are the universe made conscious. The only reason we are having this discussion is because that observation has not yet been articulated in such a way to render life more deeply and succinctly meaningful than any religion.

    So, the hour’s question would be: can or how does nontheism intend to offer what religion seems to offer humankind – “meaning”?

    Idea 1) Your Dennett hour had a better (albeit, imho, inadequate) ratio of nontheists to theists. And this past Hitchens hour had some regrettable moments. Maybe you can try another author and a different theist/nontheist ratio or formula. Victor Stenger is another unbeliever – and a physicist who has written several pertinent books, like, Has Science Found God?: The Latest Results in the Search for Purpose in the Universe. I’ve already suggested Natalie Angier and stick by that recommendation – but would, for this show probably prefer Elisabet Sahtouris, whose Earthdance: Living Systems in Evolution is a philosophy of a new, more holistic biology and cosmology too.

    Idea 2) Spirituality – is it just for Christians? Of course not – but how do polytheists, non-Christian monotheists, and nontheists like Buddhists experience the ‘spiritual’? Potential guests could include those mentioned above: Adler, Manji, Starhawk, and perhaps a Buddhist suggested by Peggy Sue or Vijtable.

    Is ROS up to this challenge? I’ll bet it is.

    Prove wrong the erosion of my trust. Please.

  • From yesterday’s show, one of the points Hitchens tried to make (as I heard it) was that if you can have so many interpretations from religious texts, why hold on to the so-called sanctity of those stories? If you can cherry pick, how can those texts have any authority? Rather, authority, or the valence of a faith-based belief is not derived from its truth but depends more on socio-cultural context and historical/geographical conditions. For example, Southern Black Baptists used the stories they knew to give meaning and guidance to their struggle. Another place and they could easily have chosen other stories.

    Today’s show was a further example of the ongoing cultural struggle to promote one group’s interpretation. We just heard the reverends telling us who the “real” Christians are. As part of this, they agreed that Hitchens was just railing against the false Christians, so his argument is irrelevant. Nice try.

    More interesting are the discussions by posters on where non-religious spirituality and faith comes from and how it works its magic. These discussions point to the multiplicity of experience that unites us.

  • Nick

    PS: a clarification. The Hitchens topic has been presented as a double show — but that only worsens the atheist to theist ratio: 1 to 4. How can this sort of formula purport to represent an objective conversation between theists and atheists???

  • hurley


  • herbert browne

    Face it, Nick… we’re outnumbered… so we gotta be more articulate (not just louder).

    My personal spirituality kicked in, this afternoon, when I wandered to one of the bookshelves in the hovel, here, and pulled out a skinny (

  • herbert browne

    apparently unmentionable tome- “Technology & the Moral Order”- which laid out a comparison between the Apollonian & Dionysian models of cultural paradigms… to my great surprise & growing interest. According to these models, the priests, science, self-control & the yearning for an afterlife all coalesced in one Model… funny, that… ^..^

  • Potter

    I agree with my fellow posters. I am adding to Nick’s list of ROS shows Garry Wills and Harvey Cox just about a year ago “Garry Wills on Jesus” which aimed to talk about faith separate from politics by focussing on Christianity. I am listening to that show now out of curiosity because I never did. It’s like being in another country for me, listening to a language I don’t speak and struggle to understand.

    I often think of James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I connect with that.

  • armadillo

    Listening to the broadcast, there seems to be a lot of effort spent in arguing that Bin Laden, Falwell, televangelists, et al don’t represent the average person of faith. If we could plunk electrodes on a random sample of Christians, that’d be true. However, unlike the Unitarian with harmless, nebulous beliefs about God, Bin Laden would like to kill me. Quite logically, I give extra attention to Bin Laden. Archeologists and historians will do the same 1,000 years from now.

    Scientifically, we shouldn’t really be concerned with the average religious mindset…it’s the average, tangible effect on this world that matters. How many sweet-thinking Unitarians does it take to balance out the collapse of the World Trade Centers?

  • tomofcda

    Sidewalker makes some really insightful comments above. As such, this show was a truly unworthy follow up. Hitchens really brilliantly forced Eddie Glaude, Jr., the African-American seminarian, to admit the Bible’s text was unambiguously pro slavery and then to advance the question of why those texts should retain any power.

    It seems to me that Glaude and today’s guests are much more interested in propping up their illusions than in engaging with ideas. Plus, their mushy headed thinking and tiresome modes of expression really emphasize the poverty of their thought. I want guests who are intellectually equal to Hitchens to argue for faith, not this sorry lot of three.

    And I still want to know, if I can cherry pick or extrapolate whatever I want from the Bible, of what use the text?

  • Sutter

    1. Well said, Nick. And it’s made even worse by the fact that the only a-theist (hyphen intentional) in the bunch is known for being extraordinarily provocative and off-putting, even to many who agree with him. I was, to say the least, surprised to hear the guest list. I would have preferred a show with Nick, Potter, peggysue, and Martin Brock (or insert other community members’ names — you get the idea) debating the issues.

    2. AKMA’s response on “weak faith” was tremendously dissatisfying and possibly even disingenuous. He says that a diluted faith will favor white males or other majorities? Putting aside the fact that he seems not to have looked at his own religion lately, what’s his evidence or even his argument about whuy faith divorced from belief in empirical or normative Truth claims would privilege anyone?

    3. Armadillo is exactly right. After Virginia Tech, the gun folks said, “Well, you can’t make gun policy based on isolated instances like this.” That was bunk, because you have to consider the entire experience with guns — both the bad and the good — and come to a considered judgment. So too here. Bin Laden and Falwell may be exceptions, but how can we ignore them when considering the real-world impact of religion??

  • loki

    Instead of “weak faith” why not Bonhoffer’s notion of “cheap grace?”

  • oldionus

    Sorry to be negative in my innaugrual comment on this site.

    Christopher Hitchens was a bit testy in defending his atheist views, which seemed to me to be more or less of a denial of metaphysics as well. But this show was, frankly, tedious. As an example, paeans of praise to Dr. Martin Luther King as a Christian first and activist only consequently are perfectly respectable and justified, but they’re hardly new or really all that interesting.

    The guests were far too agreeable and of one view on this whole issue of “neo-atheism,” so that the listener came away not really informed of anything new or different, and not really enlightened as to exactly why there has recently been a secularist backlash against revealed religion.

    At least Hitchens was fiery and blunt, and gave some hint of the seething anger, which I suspect is really directed at the violence committed in the name of religion by a small number of very distorted thinkers, which some feel towards religious justifications for such violence. Hitchens’ thesis, that the (in his view) illogic, intolerance and authoritarianism of the root texts and teachings of the monotheistic religions he was mainling dissing are the root of the perversions some make of these traditions to commit violence, is a much more interesting issue.

  • nother

    Welcome oldionus,

    “paeans of praise to Dr. Martin Luther King as a Christian first and activist only consequently are perfectly respectable and justified, but they’re hardly new or really all that interesting.”

    Your post confuses me though. The MLK issue does not stand up to Hitchen’s argument, why? The Hitchens arguments are certainly not “new” and I’d take MLK’s compassionate version of “fiery and blunt” to Hitchens self-aggrandized version, any day.

    The thing is, I’d like someone here (Sutter,Sidewalker,Nick,Potter) to answer the question, if MLK had been a atheist, what would our country look like today?

  • bft

    Here’s Garry Wills on C-SPAN2: frame page and 3-hour video.

  • snelson23

    Sorry about a negative first posting as well (apparently this show drove many to register).

    Christopher Lydon barely interrupted the speakers today, whereas yesterday he was all over Hitchens, at one point actually changing the topic inexplicably to Hitchens’ unfortunate views on the Iraq war. I found these last two shows very disappointing… and I think TEDIOUS is an understatement when describing the second episode.

    “But my point is this – we had to turn the television off, and I’m gleaning this from suggestions and some of Professor Adams comments, there are certain things that we are not going to be able to understand in 30 seconds or less. There are certain things that we are not going to be able to understand on the first pass. Certain things that require a thick description of the situation of the conditions of the… so that we begin to understand what time it is, so to speak, in that time. And that took time. That took time.”

  • elbuf

    I’m coming late to the party since I listen via podcast, but wanted to say that the debating tactic employed in the second show – continuing the debate for another hour after your opponent has left the building – was innovative but not particularly effective. That said, I can understand how the religionists on the panel enjoy the conversation much more when they are not continually distracted by Hitchens being so rude and so right all the time.

    The arguments I took away from today’s discussion were 1) Many religious people do not share the most bizarre notions of the most extreme among them, and are therefore reasonable and correct about what they DO believe (whatever that is, exactly); 2) MLK (or Dostoevski, take your pick) was a great man, and believed in God, proving that God exists; 3) Many people do good things that are motivated by a belief in God, proving that God exists; 4) Admittedly a lot of religious people do very bad things (which somehow does not invalidate or compromise the previous argument, because actually those people are not religious (because I said so)); and 5) The idea of God is such a nice story and makes people feel so good that it must be true.

    Since these arguments are very weak ones (even without Hitchens or anyone else in the room to puncture them) the final defense is to say that the whole question of the existence of God is not amenable to rational analysis or debate, and that the best thing is probably to say nothing about the question at all. Finally, a point with which I can agree.

  • Sutter


    I’m far more interested (for the moment, anyway) in the theological aspects of the issue than in the real-world political and historical implications of religion. Save for one post (a pro-religion comment on the antitotalitarian role Catholicism played in the cold war), I’ve declined to comment on the good or ills religion has caused. I certainly have not suggested that religion has had no salutary effects (nor do I think you are accusing me of doing so, to be clear).

    That said, your question is a bit unfair because it is so selective. What would our world have looked like if _Torquemada_ was an atheist? If religious hatred had not transfigued Europe on multiple occasions over the past two thousand years? If white slavemasters had been unable to trot out religious justifications for slavery itself?

    And, on the other side of the coin, do we really believe MLK would have been working in a factory (or on the fields) but for religion? I see in MLK tremendous moral conviction, which happened to find expression through religious faith. I understand why last night’s guests want to place moral courage as the tail on the religious dog, but I’m not at all sure it isn’t the other way ’round.

  • Sutter

    Bravo, elbuf. Bravo.

  • herbert browne

    Am I the only one who sees the “cherry-picking” of the Bible as only a symptom of socio-political machinations that have been promulgated by nation-states, who have paid lip service to “selected” (& self-serving) passages therein? Where would we be without Manifest Destiny? Whence its justification? Hitchens bloody well ought to pay homage to the King James Version, because it has a great deal to do with how many people around the world will understand him in his native tongue. This diatribe of his about “god is evil” is mostly a face-saving gambit, aimed as much at the factional fighting in Iraq, for which he can blame the war there (that he touted) gone awry. You see, it’s not the ‘realpolitick’ of oil & empire- it’s the bloody god-beknighted savages & their bloodthirsty faith-based delusions that’s mucking up a perfectly adequate, democratized, “civilized” nation-state among the Arabs. Yeah, sure…

    From the time that the Romans got ahold of “Christianity” and molded it to their purposes, right through the Crusades and the successful invasions of the Western Hemisphere and Africa (& India), the Bible has been utilized as a tool by political powermongers of Europe- whom it has served far better than it seems to have served the Children of Israel. These “religious differences”, I’ll argue, are simply masks that are put on to “justify” (& identify) something much more recognizable, ie socio-economic & cultural conflicts that, in some cases, pre-date the Bible…

    Anyway, isn’t the Bible really about the development of ethics, & about sociology (not chronology)? Isn’t it really a product of a growing awareness that “people are gonna run things” in the macro-world, so maybe we should have a plan… an ideal, essentially… & an anthropomorphic god was the result? (hey- what else Could it look like?;-)) The “cherry-picking” is all about reinforcing cultural paradigms. The Puritans’ little lesson plans could have used the Beatitudes instead of “in Adam’s fall we sinned all” if they had wanted… ^..^

  • nother: “The thing is, I’d like someone here (Sutter,Sidewalker,Nick,Potter) to answer the question, if MLK had been a atheist, what would our country look like today?

    I will take a stab at this question as I’d already given it some thought. Religion was an important part of who Dr. King was and his father and grandfather were also preachers so it was a family tradition too but if we imagine him making other choices he could easily have stayed in the North after collage where his wife had a promising career in music and he could have been a professor. From what I’ve read of his biography that could easily have happened but he and Coretta decided they could not abandon the south at a time when the civil rights movement was just beginning. You could also ask the question, if King had not visited India and studied Gandhi would he have perused the non-violence path the way he did? Probably not. Even with all of his training as a preacher the incident in his kitchen where he felt the presence of God (He talks about in one of his sermons, I think its A Knock at Midnight but I could be wrong about the title) That is where, in spite of his training as a theologian and his family traditions, in the midst of bombings and death threats that God became “real” to him, a religious man having a deeply spiritual experience. The guests last night spoke about this but if you ever have an opportunity to listen to the actual sermon its far more moving, King was an orator of skill and passion. In answer to your question though, I think he would has been a professor of philosophy, sympathetic to the civil rights cause. OTOH he did seem to have a date with destiny. His speech Beyond Vietnam when I heard it after 9-11 was prophetic. Could it be that there was no escaping his calling? Perhaps he had “The God Gene”. What would our country look like today if he hadn’t fulfilled his destiny? I think there would have been a lot more violence during the Civil Rights stuggle. Even today he serves as the conscience of our nation reminding us of the promises our county makes, like that of equality, and yet does not fulfill.

  • he and Coretta decided they could not abandon the south at a time when the civil rights movement was just beginning…

    And if he were an Atheist he would not have been offered a church in Montgomery.

  • Potter

    Nother, I think Sutter gave a good answer.

    Atheism implies theism and thus religions. I would not want to erase religion from history as painful as it has been at times. I have been very careful in my posts to say how I understand that it’s self-evident that religion is and has been beneficial and necessary as well as implicated/involved in the a lot of suffering in the world. Look at Lebanon this very day.

    To your specific “what if”, I’ll bite. I think MLK would have found sustenance, affirmation of life, morality, responsiblity, courage beyond or through his atheism, which he would have had to arrive at authentically, since he was such a person. He would still have drawn people to him perhaps using different imagery. I can’t say whether the country would look any different.

    Don’t forget that MLK was influenced by Henry David Thoreau who said

    There is more religion in men’s science, than there is science in their religion.

    and Ghandi, who practiced Hinduism and studied all religions. He felt no religion was perfect and was depressed by the defects in his own

    Ghandi : “As soon as we lose the moral basis, we cease to be religious. There is no such thing as religion over-riding morality. Man, for instance, cannot be untruthful, cruel or incontinent and claim to have God on his side.”

    From Wikipedia: Later in his life when he was asked whether he was a Hindu, he replied:

    “Yes I am. I am also a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist and a Jew.”

    MLK- had a good teachers in Thoreau ( “Civil Disobedience”) and Ghandi.

    Nother how would you answer your question?

    Thanks for the exercise.

  • Nick

    I’ll take a stab at nother’s too. Peggy Sue’s response is sensible, but I’ve got to step back even father from the pov she incisively articulates.

    And I have to preface mine by pointing out that Sutter’s response:

    That said, your question is a bit unfair because it is so selective. What would our world have looked like if Torquemada was an atheist? If religious hatred had not transfigured Europe on multiple occasions over the past two thousand years? If white slave-masters had been unable to trot out religious justifications for slavery itself?

    …strikes me as a pretty comprehensive “checkmate” to the premise of your question. Last night one of the guests (I’ve not had a chance to listen to the podcast yet for exact quotes) purported that MLK and Desmond Tutu were virtuous moral men – and humanistic activists – BECAUSE of being Christian.

    “Good grief,” I thought, “where is an anthropologist when you really need one???”

    An anthropologist could have replied that even the countless millions of people who lived peacefully for millennia with no knowledge of Christianity, monotheism or organized religion (in the Western, institutionalized Church-centered sense), those countless millions we denigrate as ‘primitives’, whose local spiritualities we condescendingly class as ‘animism’ or ‘benighted paganism’, suffered no shortage virtuous, moral individuals.

    How could any society save the most barbaric (and yes, there are examples) perpetuate itself without morality, ethics, and the virtue of kindness?

    Does compassion flow from “Christ,” or from garden-variety human empathy?

    Have you ever considered the possibility that Jesus himself was preaching compassion not because “god told him to” but because compassion was sadly lacking in the society of his day – because it was closer to barbaric than civilized, and he knew it? (Some folks speculate he’d traveled in youth to India and encountered Buddhism–and it woke him to something.) After all, he wasn’t the first to be crucified, nor the last. The Romans were grotesquely barbaric, and so, probably, were many of the Judeans of that time.

    The idea that Christianity, monotheism, or organized religion (take your pick) is NECESSARY for morality is not even “objectionable” – it’s fantastical. Not to mention CONCEITED and insufferably ARROGANT.

    And why do I use those words? From meanness? No. I use them because they aptly describe the un-self-reflective, un-self-critical presumptuousness of the Abrahamic monotheisms, which I feel deserve no longer to smugly assume a monopoly on virtue or righteousness. The very sort of smugness last night’s guests evinced.

    I would refer you to the first post of the original Hitchens thread for a fuller critique.

  • plnelson

    It’s amazing how much comment these two shows have engendered. And for what?

    Basically all 250 (combined) or so comments amount to is this: “lots of people believe lots of stuff and we’re never going to know for sure who’s got it right.” I think most sensible people have this figured out by the seventh grade.

    Why is it that on ROS we can get big spirited discussions going on topics where there are NO verifiable, measurable facts and NO possibility of EVER reaching a conclusion? But we can’t get any traction on topics with hard facts and figures and a real possibility of testable predictions, such as climate change, medical and scientific topics, economic, tax, and business policy, etc.

    Back in the 1970’s when I was an undergrad at UMass we college kids used to sit around in the dorm lounges and have conversations that went on into the night, often fueled by substances we weren’t supposed to possess. Some of our discussions were about religion and “philosophy” and suchlike, and, since I lived in the dorm complex for the engineering majors, some of our discussions were about the future of computing technology, microprocessors, lasers, network architectures, information theory, etc – all heady stuff in 1973.

    It turns out that the tech-y topics mattered. Some of us predicted it right and went on to successful, stimulating careers in high tech. Many of my earliest ideas about where things were all going were formed in those late night sessions. None of the great ( literally sophomoric) debates we had on religion and related matters mattered and none of those issues have been settled in the 35 years since then (or in the several THOUSAND years prior) . So there is literally no point in arguing about it.

  • Nick, I do sympathize with your frustration regarding the built in intolerance of Christianity. That is where the Christian Church lost me.

    But, what the Southern Baptist Black Church/White Church comparison illustrates is the impact of context. While whites used their bibles to legitimize slavery for blacks the church was the only available social organization within which they could organize. Even in slave times the spirituals they sang held codes and were a way to pass on information regarding the Underground Railroad. For the southern whites the church may have been used as a vehicle of oppression but for southern blacks the church was a vehicle of liberation. This was never truer than in Dr King’s day.

  • Sutter

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but the suggestion that things we can’t know to a certainty do not matter would come as news to the 200 or so people who were immolated at the Pentagon not 300 feet away from me on the morning of September 11, 2001. But, of course, they can’t hear that news. They’re dead.

  • I guess some of us measure success differently.

  • plnelson

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but the suggestion that things we can’t know to a certainty do not matter would come as news to the 200 or so people who were immolated at the Pentagon not 300 feet away from me on the morning of September 11, 2001. But, of course, they can’t hear that news. They’re dead.

    But that doesn’t mean that the theological or philosophical issues that motivated the terrorists mattered. What mattered was all the practical concrete fact-based stuff like security, intelligence work, access to weapons, etc, etc.

    Terrorists could just as easily be motivated by a belief in Jesus, Allah, or Cthulhu. People have been debating the role of religion in one’s life and the correctness, usefulness or purpose of this or that deity or spiritual system for literaslly thousands of years. There is no evidence that such debates or discussions lead to anything like insight or knowledge.

    This is the striking epistemological difference between religion/spirituality and science. Science advances because, as a system of knowledge, it has built-in means and processes to compare competing ideas or cognitive models and judge one superior to another. As a result, we demonstrably know more in every field of science than we did 50 years ago, 100 years ago, 1000 years ago, etc. Thus scientific debate is worthwhile and productive.

    People who are concerned with spiritual and religious matters refuse to adopt any agreed-upon epistemological foundation, or even declare what their own epistemological principles are! By what means do they know that a thing is true? How do they compar two competing ideas even within their own theology to ascertain which one is more correct? They have no means to do this which is why when theological disputes occur it usually results in schisms. E.g., Christianity subdividing into eastern and western orthodoxies and then into Catholic and Protestatnt, etc, etc.

  • Pingback: Christopher Hitchens vs. God | The Substantially Similar Weblog()

  • Sutter

    The fact that the terrorists could have been motivated by other factors doesn’t mean that the factors by which they were motivated didn’t matter. In this case, a conception of God that I deem to have been deeply flawed was a but-for cause of the attacks — no more nor less of a but-for cause than security or intelligence failures. Do I believe that more discussion and debate about the theological issues that drove them might have dissuaded the terrorists? Absolutely. We argue about imponderables not to obtain ultimate answers but to chip away at those pieces that are actually subject to reason, and are deemed inconsistent with that reason. Sadly, Atta and company never did this.

  • armadillo

    One criticism of Dawkins is that his understanding of Christianity is that of a 12 year old.

    But when we hear the so-called sophisticates talk about their version of [Abrahamic] religion, the question “Does God exist?” is completely skirted. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the question wasn’t even touched in the broadcast. Are these folks simply rationalizing the programming they received as 12 year olds?

  • nother

    As was written in the header, I am perplexed by the “gobs of black and white” in this whole conversation. Nick, you are obviously staunch in your convictions, so let me ask you another question:

    What would your utopia look like? I’m just looking for a short description of you ideal society. I’m assuming religion would be a relic, right? I’m looking forward to this, because I’m curious if there will be less war in your society.

    My fundamental feeling on this whole subject is: We can only judge each person by their action (their work) not on the personal experience that framed that action. I judge MLK by his actions, and as an afterthought I note that his personal experience was enriched by theism. I judge Osama Bin Laden by his action, and as an afterthought I note that his personal experience was influenced by theism. You all listen to ROS because among other things, you appreciate the work produced by Christopher Lydon…and as an afterthought you note that he as a Born-Again Christian.

    I was “selective” with my prior question because “belief” is personal, not general. And I wasn’t asking how MLK would be different if he was an atheist…I was asking how our country would be different. This mortal man almost single-handed righted the path for millions of people, we are blessed with the benefit of his belief in God (whether you agree with him or not). With all due respect Sutter, you write: “I see in MLK tremendous moral conviction, which happened to find expression through religious faith.” “Happened?” The man spends his whole life saying that his convictions are founded on faith, and in response you write something to the effect…yea I heard what he said, but he was mistaken, those convictions just “happened” to manifest that way. Sutter, your statement reminds me of some priests whom upon encountering a non-believer condescendingly state…I hear you son and God will forgive you for your ignorance.

    I hope this doesn’t all sound attackish…I’ve enjoyed the civility of this conversation, and that is after all, the beauty of a familiar community…we trust each other. But, do you see what I’m getting at? You feel you’ve had this fundamental revelation of reason…you see the light and it’s Godless, right? But even with this great insight you will never accomplish what MLK did with his “faith” and isn’t that all that matters? Apparently MLK did all his great work based on a set of beliefs equivalent to believing in Santa Claus…well if that’s the case…so be it.

    I’ll follow good action…and ask questions later.

  • Sutter

    Nother, I’m not sure whether your final paragraph is directed to me (“You feel you’ve had this fundamental revelation of reason…you see the light and it’s Godless, right?”), but I haven’t said anything of the sort. I’ve said over and over that I have faith, and that God may well exist. It’s just that my faith is not one that tells me what is True about my world or what I ought or ought not to do.

    Also, on MLK, there’s a big difference between what I say and what I think you say I say. I have no doubt that MLK’s faith was central to his actions. But you asked us to envision a world in which he was an atheist. Under that counter-factual, I think the man who in reality harnessed great faith to do great things (surely, as you say, far greater than anything I’ll ever do) would in my view have done great things nevertheless. But even putting that aside, the deeper problem persists: If we’re just looking at the ledger sheet (which in my view, to be clear, is NOT relevant to the “does God exist” question), MLK’s good has to be balanced against the bad things people have done fueled by faith in an organized religion.

  • Nick

    Nother, get a grip on something solid before reading the rest of this post.

    I have an enormous appetite for the supernatural. So much so that I’ve spent thousands of hours (no exaggeration) writing fantasy dripping with divinity. My fiction is only fiction, but it’s based in this world (although placed in a fantasia variant of this Earth), and my characters struggle with their faith, lose their faith, and then, sometimes, stumble into reasons to find it all over again. But the reasons they discover to find it all over again are not tautological tricks or ruses. Instead, because I have the luxury of being my world’s “god”, the reasons are tangibly real. Not to give too much away, but: they find real, powerful, ‘god-like’ divinity within themselves and within one another.

    I am besotted by my hunger for divinity.

    If my appetite for it is so big, why do I fail to find the supernatural in this non-fantasia world? Because I prize my credulity like a Greek fisherman prizes his trawler. (I’ve Greek fishermen in my ancestry, so I feel just fine with that simile.) I surrender my credulity very, very grudgingly, and never completely: I leave my mind open to the arrival of more persuasive, more evidence-grounded and more sensibly-analyzed explanations. I don’t pick a belief like I would a sports team and root for it. I’m not professionally linked to any theory or hypothesis, and so don’t much care if a favorite begins to erode under the hot flow of fresh, undermining evidence.

    As much as I’ve strived, especially in my twenties, to find the supernatural outside of my subjective capacity for imagination, as much as I pretended I could sense it in the world beyond my mind and its processes, I had to eventually come clean. Did I never have a ‘supernatural’-like experience? Heck no. See the examples above, at 6:07 PM, May 22. But I don’t think they were supernatural. I think they were quite natural and even ordinary: garden-variety ‘spiritual’ perceptions that originated not in invisible personal agencies but from my own individual consciousness more clearly appreciating and connecting with the living Earth and all its other consciousnesses – or its collective consciousness, perhaps. (Read Elisabet Sahtouris – she’s Greek too.)

    Do I “believe” this concept, ‘collective consciousness’? I’d sure like to – but no, I don’t – because ‘believing it’ simply isn’t necessary for me to appreciate my experience of it. I don’t care if I’m reading into life a collectiveness that isn’t measurable or ‘real’. It’s enough for me to love the feeling without having to assign to living nature my own profound yearnings or prerequisites. I wish that organized, dogmatic monotheists could have the same lack of care for their own yearnings. Assigning one’s own prerequisites to nature yield atrocities like jihad, inquisitions, crusades, forced conversions, and Augustine’s:

    There is another form of temptation, even more fraught with danger. This is the disease of curiosity. It is this which drives us to try and discover the secrets of nature, those secrets which are beyond our understanding, which can avail us nothing and which man should not wish to learn. – Google Book Search

    Dreadful stuff. Inexcusable – and insufferably arrogant: “My beliefs only are acceptable.” If you ever need reason to question the appropriateness of ‘convictions’ in a world populated by more than one person at a time, that’s the quote to start with. Yes, I object to ‘convictions’.

    In place of ‘convictions’, as you put it, I have passion and compassion: compassion for children denied, by the demands of blind faith, from chances to discover and marvel at the most accurate available descriptions of nature and cosmos. I have compassion for children tormented by morally and socially “abominable” attractions to others of their own gender. I have compassion for children born into poverty and suffering because of the dominance of religiously enforced veneration of paternity over a woman’s choice to become a mother. I have compassion for girls buried to their chests and then whose heads, shoulders, and chests are barbarically broken by stones – just for being noticeably feminine in a misogynist culture buttressed by seventh-century patriarchal theological incoherency.

    And I have anti-compassion for the ‘soul conceit’ (egotism in sanctimonious clothing) that threatens to eliminate a woman’s choice to abort a simple, non-sentient blastocyst or embryo.

    I have passion for learning, for stories and storytelling, for music, for innocent human fun and games (like sports). I have passion for my hope that our species will evolve, as Sahtouris optimistically foresees, into a fully mature and enduring cooperative phase that makes our more recent past and present seem as unimaginably horrid as the Inquisition.

    And I don’t need any ‘conviction’ to buttress those hopes and passions anymore than my cat needs ‘conviction’ to passionately purr against my chest.

    I’m looking forward to describing fully my ideal world, as you requested. But I’ll post on my own blog. And now I’m out of time…

  • OK, nother, here’s my take. I think people, MLK or anyone else, use the narratives they know, often in inventive ways, to provide significance and understanding (of course these narrative equally limit understanding) and to persuade people and move them to action or inaction. The biblical stories and those of the other dominant religions cannot be dismissed outright, even if one does not find them believable or acceptable, because they have show to have lasting value, and not just because powerful individuals and groups have found them to have rhetorical efficacy. As we have seen, people across the various spectrums can find something that rings true to them, whether it be that a god created the universe or that we should love others as we would ourselves.

    MLK obviously found in Christianity and perhaps other narratives things that fired and informed his faith and that which also resonated with followers. The results, as you note, were far beyond what all but a few people help bring about. Still, I have to think without Christianity, he would have found other narratives. Would they have been as effective? Difficult to say. His audience was tuned into the same stories.

    Though I don’t find god narratives useful for answering the mysteries of our world and beyond, that is not to say I don’t find the epic stories beautiful nor some of messages thought provoking. The problem lies less in the narratives than the socio-economic and political relations that create conditions where certain individuals and groups dominate the discourse and conditions where people are too willing to accept uncomplicated and incomplete answers or unable to oppose truth claims, whether these be based on the authority of god or a president with fabricated evidence.

  • nother

    Thanks Sutter, this is fun,

    We will have to agree to disagree about MLK because I don’t think he would have

    accomplished ANYTHING CLOSE to what he did, without his faith…which at the very least infused the persuasiveness in his preaching.

    The gist of my whole point is that the religion issue is PERSONAL…which to me makes many of these Meta arguments moot. You write:

    “MLK’s good has to be balanced against the bad things people have done fueled by faith in an organized religion.”

    To what end, Sutter? After you do the balancing, what conclusion will you be making? If there is more bad things than good, do you dismiss faith altogether? If there is more good than bad, do you dismiss atheism altogether? I’m absolutely arguing against a “ledger.” It’s personal…

    I’m not arguing that there is a God either, I’m arguing for the right to believe there is a God. If you do good actions I don’t care if you believe in Santa Claus.

    So I will reiterate, if someone is dogmatic about our need to rid the world of religion, then they are as bad as the religious fanatics that propagate riding the world of secularism. You can’t even have a discourse with either of these absolutists, because they are perpetually one up on you.

    But I don’t think we are far apart on this…

  • Sutter

    I think we agree pretty much entirely, Nother. I only bring up the “ledger” point because I thought it was inherent in your initial question, but if you agree it means little (theologically, anyway — it might have some currency in political debates on the effects of religion in culture), there’s no debate between us.

  • nother

    Nick, you are truly a virtuosic wordsmith. Thanks for your heartfelt post, I’m looking forward to reading about your utopia.

    You listed some very compelling problems that you attribute to religion. My question is: if I make a matching list of very compelling benefits of religion, where do we stand? Would you be willing to go without those benefits in order to rid our world of the corresponding problems?

    You talk about your hope for us to evolve…are you implying that you are more evolved because of your relevation.

    I don’t want that to sound like a harsh question…it’s hard to be sensitive on a computer. But I do think this goes to the heart of the question…if you equate evolving to secularism…than you must consider yourself just a little more evolved than the believer…and if that’ the case, the debate cannot move forward…

    your dogma trumps all…

  • nother

    Sidewalker, thanks for your thoughts…I don’t think we are that far apart either. You write about the problems created from the “narratives.” What I’ve been trying to stress is that we can find an equal amount of beauty derived from the “narratives.”

    Please indulge me in a personal example. Last night, half way through writing one of my posts above, I got a call from a friend I’ve worked with for years now. Her mother just had another heart attack and she’s in intensive care…my friend was looking for a drink and for someone to care.

    I want to quickly relate the experience because ROS came to my mind in the middle of it. Half way through our dinner and some comfortable small talk, I said something to the effect…you and your mother share such a deep love that it is tangible…it transcends anything that might happen to our bodies, (btw, I meant this wholeheartedly, I’ve never seen such a love shared) the love you two have cannot disappear, It’s eternal…it’s spreads…It lives in the love you wrap around your daughter, and the love your daughter will wrap around her children.

    My friend, whose eyes welled up so fast, it seemed as if the tears had been there the whole time, said: yes, I feel like I will always be able to talk with her, we can always have a conversation…(I seized on this hope)…yes, I said, she will always be there over your shoulder…with you…

    It was only when the conversation became spiritual that I felt hope emanate from my friend…and me as well. And it was in these moments that I all of sudden thought about the ROS conversations the last two nights. All the “reason” in the world couldn’t give my friend the comfort that she felt from the spiritual.

    I guess I could have said, listen, you’re talking fantastical, many people have done bad things thinking the way you’re thinking.

    Some of you may be different…in the inevitable darkness you may find hope, comfort, salvation, from some other place, maybe science or some place you think of as more “logical”, and I say Hallelujah to you…what ever gets you through the night. But for my friend and I, at dinner last night…”reason” was off the table.

  • OK guys, switching the narrative from a Christian monotheistic patriarchal story to a narrative of the sacred feminine: MLK might not have been the cheesy womanizer that he was; he would have been home with the kids while Coretta led the movement.

  • nother


  • flow

    I have a few questions. Mr Hitchens are you still here? Anyone? please help.

    Does happiness exist? and if so, how can we prove it? how can we prove that it does not? Is the demonstration of the experience of happiness sufficient proof for the existence of happiness?

    Does gravity exist in “reality” or is it a perceptual construct? If an apple or a planet engages in a certain behavior is it sufficient “evidence” to infer gravity? Is or is not the preponderance of humanities spiritual inclination sufficient to infer divinity outside a court of law? Given the quantum, chaotic nature of reality (non-linearly speaking), do two abstraction multiplied together make a right or a wrong? Is consciousness a credible witness? What is the correlation between imagination and intuition? Is the science of psychology sufficient proof of the ego’s existence? And as a sidebar. why does the ego love to attack dogma? but seem to tolerate belief?

    What is the relationship between spiritual sense and non-sense? Let me rephrase the question, does spiritual sense require exercise and development? Is it subject to atrophy? In metaphysics are we talking about the Greek word “meta” or the Sanskrit?

    Do the empirical and positivistic and rational equate? Does yellow exist, if it can be proven that “yellow” is in reality an optical illusion experienced by perceiving light vibrating with a wavelength of 580 nanometers? Does anyone know the perceptual experience created by light vibrating with a wavelength of C(squared)? You know like Einstein’s famous equation E=MC(squared). Does the E in this equal everything? And if so doesn’t it follow that pantheism is false?

    If the universe is expanding, what is it expanding into? If I focus on only one tree does the forest cease exist? thanks for you help!

  • Nick

    “are you implying that you are more evolved because of your relevation(?)”

    LOL! Nother! Come on! You’re framing my words into a belief system that…

    a) …I don’t share – especially the very concept ‘revelation’ (which strikes me as more egotism — but not your egotism, but the belief-system’s egotism.

    b) …that I haven’t replaced. I haven’t replaced it; I’m not “more evolved”. Would you dare to ask Buddhists if they think they’re “more evolved” because they’re nontheists? Because they’re unable or unwilling to add that concept “God” to their perceptions of the universe?

    c) …that might interpret ‘evolved’ very differently than I mean it.

    Individuals can evolve their thinking, sure, but evolution isn’t a ‘progression’. Read Gould’s Full House — it drills this point home (and is full of great baseball stuff to boot.) Individuals cannot evolve beyond their kind — the kind as a whole evolves (not progresses), as a species. Change does not = progress.

    And species are made up of individuals, each of whom is a fully valid expression of the species-wide genome. Nature has no arrogance, no smugness. That’s a human perception — and a subjective one too.

    Change can mean adaptation (but not necessarily). And adaptations of mere thought are subjective — not good, bad, superior, or inferior. My choice to jetison “conviction” (the choice to be convinced of something) from my perceptions of the world works for me, and might well work for others, but it isn’t ‘better’. It’s simply my own personal adaptation to the realization that most if not all “knowledge” is subjective (Sahtouris mentions this, too), that therefore the ‘true/false’ dichotomy doesn’t apply to many propositions and paradgims, and that therefore conviction (based on a perceived truth or falsity) is too regimented a position for a world whose “realities” are so hard (or simply impossible) to describe with 100% accuracy (“truth”).

    Our concepts — which are phantasmal tools we use to understand and then to describe — are approximations and metaphors. If they aren’t “real”, how can anyone with any genuine intellectual integrity decide they deserve “conviction”? If someone comes up with a theory or description of nature that improves our understanding (because it offers an improvement of descriptive accuracy), the previously “believed” explanations become moot. And can then even look silly.

    I’ve adapted my thinking to this. I’m not smug enough to class it as “progress”. It works for me; it might work for you; but it isn’t just another “One True Wayism”.

    And it ain’t “dogma”. It’s an attempt to escape the confines of dogma. And because of that, it disadvantages me in conversation with dogma. Because dogma seems to view any outsider’s call for supporting evidence as a trick or ploy stemming from other dogma. Worst of all, our language is built itself on powerful belief-metaphors, which makes my attempts to explain all this seem hopelessly counter-intuitive. My explanations are consistently conflated as another kind of conviction or belief, and I’ll be damned if I can figure out how to rectify this. It’s like trying to play “Let It Be” using only drums, and having nothing to provide melody, let alone harmony.

    I’ll continue this later, but please, for now, see me as the simpleton I am. Neither you nor I are any more “evolved” than any other human. Even if we think differently. (And even if I’ve wracked and rattled my brains over this topic of “conviction” for the past year!)

  • Nick

    Quick addition to “b)”: I haven’t replaced it; I’ve come to see it as an option rather than as a necessity; and I’m not “more evolved” for making that choice.

  • Nick

    btw nother, I wrote the previous while half-asleep (it probably shows). And I forgot to make sure you knew I wasn’t offended by including a 🙂 in the same line as the “LOL!”

    Not only was I not offended, I’m grateful you gave me a chance to whine about my failings with our language. For example, the language has a ubiquitous word wholly wed to the belief-metaphor: “is”! When I use it, I seem to be implying belief that whatever I’m applying it to is somehow ‘true’. I don’t know how to avoid that excpet in circumlocutions and qualifiers like “might be”, “perhaps”, “possbily” — and not all these smoothly represent my actual assessments of a proposition’s probability. Moreover, people don’t speak math, they speak English. More times than not on these threads, I wish I could speak something else. Like Buddhism.

    So, if I REALLY had a brain in my head, I’d be working out ways to couch my uncertainties, perceptions, and consequent arguments in Zen koans — but I’m probably not smart enough to pull it off… 😉

  • orlox

    flow – In my experience, someone who lists too many questions to respond, doesn’t really want answers. They are trying to tell me something. I suspect in this case it is the truly unknowable nature of anything. I don’t buy it.

    One at a time, your questions are not so scary. Pick one, and we shall have at it.

    Or say something, if that is what you mean to do.

  • Potter

    Hitchens said that he hoped that people would grow up and no longer need religion. He said that he felt that religion belongs to the infancy or childhood of our species.

    A lot if not all of the response reflected this insult to religion understandably. It helped to derail the whole conversation and I think precipitated this show ( above) in continued defense. This Nick laid out well. A lot of what is going on here in this thread is about these feelings. Nother drew it out further in his ( loaded) question about MLK and then the responses all the way around.

    Don’t forget, Monotheism supercedes all other religions, Christianity supercedes Judaism an Islam supercedes the other two. And atheism has been nowhere or worse and in need of defense or respect itself. I am just pointing this out. ( I don’t call myself anything btw– or as my religious mother says “you’re nothing”–meaning regarding religion)

    I too feel that I have evolved away from religion.I hope that saying so does not insult. My family is very religious. I feel no condescension- their faith is too powerful in them for me to feel that. And I love them- and they me. What matters to me are the results- what kind of person are you? If your religion makes you a better person I must respect your religion. If it does not, I am entitled to ask questions and make some judgements.

    I thought that Hitchens should have been engaged on this issue.

  • nother

    Potter, you proved to me the kind of good person you are…a long time ago.

    Lets listen to a familar Sage on the subject. Remember, he’s staring death in the face as he sings this:

  • By citing Christianity as the source of Martin Luther King Jr’s inspiration and of the benefits that sprang from his actions, does Dr. Callahan forget that the same Christianity inspired Jerry Falwell and countless other clergy and lay people to fight against black equality?

    Has he become too blind and deaf to notice that that same Christianity offers comfort to those who want to jail homosexuals and decry their efforts to have their relationships treated as genuine?

    Has he ignored the fact that the same Christianity has convinced two-thirds of American people that evolution is a conspiratorial lie, thereby encouraging people to ignore their intellects in favor of their preachers?

    You cannot claim inspiration for one benefit from God-faith without answering the fact that it is the same God-faith who strengthens your oppressors.

    Instead, it is easy to believe that there is no God and to instead assert that the human spirit can rise to meet challenges when clear and rational thinking merge with passion.

    And it is a distraction to place God in the center of a debate about harm and benefit, when that same God has been used to justify relentless harm and a sense of self-righteousness no atheist can muster.

  • herbert browne

    Nother’s story of his opportunity to comfort a friend is the nutshell version of MLK’s appeal & influence in his COMMUNITY. In nother’s case, because of beliefs, shared by virtue of cultural experiences, it was possible to develop rapport with another… something akin, maybe, to what is known among electrical engineers as “resonance”. But, if nother had explained to his friend the intimate details of the electrochemical processes in the brain & body of his friend that would (MOL) effectively “stand in” for her mother’s presence when she missed her mom, it would probably have been one of those “eyes glazed over” moments- devoid of the imagery, and of the desire to touch his friend’s emotional nature in a way that could lead to the release of feelings of grief (and perhaps resignation & acceptance of her situation). It requires culture, and context, to “work”… and that’s what MLK had in the black church congregations that he knew & embraced. Within this context, he developed his power to persuade, and to inspire the “resonance” in his audience (call it “spirit”, call it “mob psychology”- but don’t try & deny the Presence of something that’s real, and “happening”). “Knowing” isn’t Everything. The engineer on the street, who really needs a ride somewhere, and can look at the only car in sight & can tell you the compression ratio & timing advance for optimum performance & describe the transfer of chemical to mechanical energy & tell you why the differential is spinning a certain way can Know a whole lot; but some 13 year old kid with the key, who knows how to start the car and turn the wheel & shift and push the pedals is ‘down the road”- alone- unless that engineer also has some social skills & empathy (& maybe a little money, too…) ^..^

  • plnelson

    Does gravity exist in “reality” or is it a perceptual construct? If an apple or a planet engages in a certain behavior is it sufficient “evidence” to infer gravity? Is or is not the preponderance of humanities spiritual inclination sufficient to infer divinity outside a court of law?

    Do we know more about gravity than we did 500 years ago? Our theories about the nature of gravity alow us to reliably predict the motion of planets, the weight of objects on different planets, and our theories allow us to slongshot a space probe around various planets and moons with enough precision to park it in orbit around a planet a billion miles away.

    Do we know more about ANY deity than we did 500 years ago (or 3000 years ago or last Wednesday)? Does our knowledge about ANY deity have ANY predictive power? And no, “the preponderance of humanities spiritual inclination” doesn’t demonstrably show anything. For all we know humans might just have a defect in our neurological structure. Lots of people believe all sorts of things, e.g., that earth is flat, dreams contain visits from ancestors or warnings from the future, or that the invasion of Iraq was a good idea.

  • NHBaritone: If you listen to this program that issue was addressed at some length when they talked about two different Christian Churches, the Southern Baptist Church, black and the Southern Baptist Church, white.

  • nother: Thanks for the Man in Black.

    There are people who believe that if you can’t measure something or hit it with a stick it can’t possibly exist. Who want only to count the evil done in religion’s name and negate any positive reasons for people to congregate in the spirirt. I have experienced answered prayer and I believe I was visited in a dream by my dead father. Can I prove these things? No. Of course not. But I leave my mind and heart open to recieve grace should it come my way. Those with their hands over their ears and their minds shut tight against recieving grace are not likly to experience it.

  • Tom Morris

    Despite the flattery of having my quote put to the two good Reverends, I, like others, have to register my disappointment.

    The dialogue on Open Source was explicitly racial and identity-based, it dealt with the use of religion in “the community”. “The community” is the phrase of the moment, used by a variety of obscuritanists to avoid having to pin responsibility on anybody. And, so, when a small group of men (primarily) in the East End of London get ratty about Monica Ali’s portrayal of the Bangladeshis in and around Brick Lane and Whitechapel, it becomes a “community” response. When the play Bezhti was shut down in Britain following angry, violent protests by Sikhs, each promised a “community” behind them. The word ‘community’, usually prepended by a religious identity has become the latest weasel word. A ‘community leader’ is just anyone who pops up and says they are. And the journalists just lap it up. Never mind that women in some of these “faith communities” are treated like second class citizens. Never mind that acquaintances have been threatened by their families for having the audacity to doubt the faith passed on to them by their family.

    “We’re not in Kansas anymore”, and we’re not in Afghanistan either. The ‘community’ scam is going on in modern day, secular Europe – in London, where Muslims protest in the street with signs saying “Death to those who think Islam is a violent religion”, in Birmingham, where the Bezhti play was closed by brick-hurling mobs of young Sikh men and, of course, in Amsterdam, where film-makers critical of the Religion of Peace are stabbed while riding around the city on their bicycles. ‘Community’, ‘identity’, ‘culture’? No. It is religion we are talking about! These weasel words are a distracton from the issue.

    As are theologians, to be frank. The Christianity of the theological respondents to Dawkins, Hitchens et al. are falling apart at the rhetorical seams. The key point they never address is “is it true?”. Theologians have special names for people like myself who demand clear language and statements on the truth of matters of religion – they call us “naïve realists”. Theologians revel in mystery – the feeling of it, the constant evocation of how all these questions are such a divine mystery. Well, in fact, no they are not. Either existence is a predicate or it’s not. If it is not, the ontological argument fails. Either the leap from ‘this looks designed’ to ‘there’s a designer’, or not. Either God or not.

    It pains me to say it, but if Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu and Gandhi believed in unicorns, that would not be a good reason to believe it. The statements on the show were reverse argumentum ad hominems – these people are good, and that is proof for religion’s truth. I wish it were as simple as finding the nice people in the world and looking to them for truth and finding the nasty people in the world and avoiding their life for it’s falsity. Truth does not equal goodness, goodness does not equal truth.

    The practical politics of trying to prevent the religious lunatics from seeing us all end up in wooden boxes is different from the truth value. Whether it is a better strategy for non-believers to go on the radio and write polemical tracts telling everybody how silly they are being or for them to quietly try and arrange for the Irshad Manji and Richard Holloway types of the world to gain prominence within their own faiths over the Osama bin Laden and Pat Robertson types is another matter indeed. If all that non-theists had to do to get rid of Muslim extremism was to keep quiet for a few years, I’m sure most of us would probably do so.

    I was at a debate in London last year. The point of discussion was something along the lines of “The Christian faith is historically and intellectually defensible”. The ‘nay’ side consisted of a female newspaper journalist and a man from one of the secularist organisations – on the ‘yea’ side were to churchmen from the ‘Alpha Course’, an evangelical Christian conversion course for adults. The debate consisted of the ‘nays’ giving a wide variety of arguments for the historical blips and oversights in the New Testament and other arguments in the intellectual plane. The ‘yea’ side gave a short and arbitrary rebuttal, and then spent the rest of the time talking about how belief in Jesus helps people – and they called up from the audience a man who had been a divorcee, unemployed, an addict to drink and drugs and a convicted criminal who had been in jail, who had turned his life around having found the Gospel. Good for him, but that does not answer the question of the truth of the matter. He now worked with other people in prisons and outreach. Again, this does not speak to the truth of the matter.

    Can you imagine this in any other sphere of life? “Well, Martin Luther King believed in the theory of gravity, and it turned his life around!” “People who want Paris to win the next Olympic bid also do lots of charity work, they must have something right!” It’s the biggest irrelevance, an enormous emotional plea. It is more befitting a public relations consultant or a seedy lawyer than it is an academician. What purpose, again, does theology have in our universities? What truth has it illuminated? I keep trying to find any, but it disappears whenever I try and look closely. I see a lot of fancy names and impressive looking books, but I have no idea what actual benefit to truth or humanity theology has ever served. It seems to have spent it’s life preserving illusions, while scientists, historians, philosophers and the like have been throwing out illusion after illusion after illusion.

    I guess when illusions go, so does the treasured mystery of the theologians. Away with all that – it makes my poor head feel rotten and sour. Give me reason for your beliefs, just as we would ask in any other field. We would not argue that the historical theory that Shakespeare was a Japanese transvestite has value because it helps oppressed people feel better about themselves – because it’s value lies in whether it is true or not.

  • Tom Morris: “What truth has it illuminated? I keep trying to find any, but it disappears whenever I try and look closely. ”

    If you are sincere…

    Soften your gaze. Think of it more like looking at those 3D pictures where you have to relax your eyes to see the image. Then watch your thoughts and let them go. Thoughts (as useful as they are) are also the vehicles of illusion. Give them some room. The space between thoughts is where truth is. Loosen your grip on your definition of reality and let what actually is real come through.

    But don’t take my word for it. Take a class in Zen meditation. Or learn to paint or play the harmonica.

    Don’t let the left side of your brain bully your entire consciousness.

    The complimentary discipline to Theology is Art.

  • orlox

    Bravo Tom!

    Again, I plead for a program on neurology to make understandable the connection between theology and art without resorting to nonsensicals.

  • flow

    Orlox, thanks for tossing the gauntlet. I am inclined to accept your invitation to “have at it.”

    However, I must confess some apprehension with respect to this gracious invitation. I am concerned that such inter-diction may disturb my intra-diction and provoke in me an elaborate folly of contradiction and in the process publicly expose me as nothing more than an engrossingly swollen, myopic and rather randy Richard (thus proving the cause of substantial and avoidable violence to my persona).

    Therefore, in lieu, I purpose we meet on some old shore and build sand castles between the tides. (you pick it, any beach in the known or inhabited world) At the end of our allotted time, we can join together in deeming the most inspiring and beautiful and more desirable to inhabit. If it be mine, you may “buy it” for a mustard seed. If it be yours, then I should like to acquire it from you, however I require that you name your cost and currency in advance of our adventure.

    After culminating our transaction, I suggest we retreat a safe measure up the beach and engage in a dialogue concerning the reasons the oracle at Delphi considered Socrates the greatest of the Greeks, or (if you prefer) what a Hobgoblin ensnared in a foolish consistency may wish to do about it or how the Mayans accurately determined the age of the universe so many years ago.

    What do you say, you and me, mano y mano, by the sea?

  • orlox

    I’m looking at the Pacific at this very moment. The waves lapping tell me much the same story!

  • flow

    enjoy, orlox, enjoy!

  • nother

    Tom, from you writing above I take it that your ideal world would be free from “illusions.” (which strikes me as the ultimate illusion)

    Emerson had a little something to say about illusions. He writes about entering a cave with a group of friends: (I took the liberty of italicizing one sentence).

    “The mysteries and scenery of the cave had the same dignity that belongs to all natural objects, and which shames the fine things to which we foppishly compare them. I remarked, especially, the mimetic habit, with which Nature, on new instruments, hums her old tunes, making night to mimic day, and chemistry to ape vegetation. But I then took notice, and still chiefly remember, that the best thing which the cave had to offer was an illusion. On arriving at what is called the “Star-Chamber,” our lamps were taken from us by the guide, and extinguished or put aside, and, on looking upwards, I saw or seemed to see the night heaven thick with stars glimmering more or less brightly over our heads, and even what seemed a comet flaming among them. All the party were touched with astonishment and pleasure. Our musical friends sung with much feeling a pretty song, “The stars are in the quiet sky,” &c., and I sat down on the rocky floor to enjoy the serene picture. Some crystal specks in the black ceiling high overhead, reflecting the light of a half-hid lamp, yielded this magnificent effect.”

  • nother

    Towards the end of the essay, Emerson gives us some words from the Hindus…and he adds a few of his own:

    “‘Dispel, O Lord of all creatures! the conceit of knowledge which proceeds from ignorance.’ And the beatitude of man they hold to lie in being freed from fascination.”

  • Tom Morris

    “But don’t take my word for it. Take a class in Zen meditation. Or learn to paint or play the harmonica.

    Don’t let the left side of your brain bully your entire consciousness.”

    I’m an avid landscape photographer, think “Bitches Brew” is adjective-insertingly good and I prefer yogic meditation to Zen (which, though it has a different type of psychological effect is something that I cannot do). At the same time, I’m a skeptic and have a degree in philosophy – my rolls of film, my Miles album and my occasional yogic breathing exercises are all quite evident and require no mystery-mongering.

    One can appreciate the beauty of life, the human mind, art and so on without having to fall in to the trap of believing it or silencing the question that should make humans want to get up every day and discover – the question of ‘is it true?’.

    “Tom, from you writing above I take it that your ideal world would be free from “illusions.” (which strikes me as the ultimate illusion)”

    nother: I’m not sure I want a world free from illusions, but I want a world where people acknowledge that illusions are illusions, and don’t try and use those illusions for purposes which they were never intended. Illusions are wonderful things. I think after the scientists and doctors, high on my list of the best professions are the magicians and illusionists. I absolutely adore the mentalism of Derren Brown or the violent realism of Penn and Teller. This is not the illusion I meant in my comment. The difference between the Pope and Penn is that the latter will tell you he is lying.

    I do think that we are better off – in both a material/comfort sense of ‘better’ and an emotional/”spiritual” sense if we do not delude ourselves. What both postmodernism and even moderate religion is doing is devaluing truth, saying it is not important – and that what one ‘wishes’ to be true has tremendous value. Take some of the comments made by Rev. Callaghan on this programme (or Prof. Glaude from Monday night) – and apply them to politics. The actual truth of what happened to oppressed people is important – it’s not simply a ‘perspective’ that blacks were enslaved, nor is it a ‘perspective’ that in many Western nations (including Britain), we used to chemically castrate homosexuals (even as late as the 1960s), it is not just another ‘perspective’ that the Nazis killed nine million people in the concentration camps. Live organ extractions of innocent Falun Gong practitioners by the Chinese government, the death of over 200,000 people in Darfur – these merely ‘narratives’ that can be easily supplanted with other narratives? We need to stop thinking wishfully and, as Bertrand Russell said, step outside in to the cold night and face reality.

    I even think that maybe we can salvage ‘mysticism’ as an idea, even perhaps ‘spirituality’ (although that word is so attached to hucksterism of the Deepak Chopra sort that I am far less interested in salvaging it than I am mysticism), but we have to acknowledge that what we are doing is undoing those things from their traditional attachments. We must see the value in reality.

    We have – thanks to the sort of postmodernist attitude practiced by the modern-day theologians – gotten to what one writer called “Terminal 4 ethics” (as in the international terminal at London Heathrow) – whereby a female circumcision in Boston, Frankfurt, Paris, Toronto or London is a shocking human rights abuse, but the same female circumcision in sub-Saharan Africa is culturally justified, even empowering for the victim (sorry, ‘participant’). To demand an end to such a practice would be to show our culturally imperialist underbelly. Two million women every year are butchered because woolly theologians, postmodernists and cultural studies types have told us that we cannot be so imperialist as to judge this barbaric practice as the profoundly immoral act that it so evidently is. Our morality ends as the jumbo jet rumbles down the runway – once our passports are flashed and we are outside of North America or the EU, all is permitted so long as there’s a man with a funny hat and an array of intriguing superstitions who says it is so.

    There is a time to sit down and engage in deep breathing exercises, to envelope ourselves inside the beauties of nature, even to engage in lyrical mysticism and language games. Now is not that time. Now is the time to get angry, to start throwing things, to stop excusing willed ignorance and to “do truth”.

  • Orlox: “Again, I plead for a program on neurology to make understandable the connection between theology and art without resorting to nonsensicals.”

    You could try Art and Physics: Parallel Visions In Space, Time & Light by Leonard Shlain, The Vocation of the Artist by Dr. Deborah Haynes or The Universe in a Single Atom by the Dalai Lama. While the Dalai Lama’s book is the one that deals most specifically with neurology the other two books tie art to science and art to theology respectivly.

    But please, Just because you do not understand something does not automatically make it “nonsensical”.

  • Tom: I agree completely that it is time to act on truth. I’m not convinced anger is helpful though, understandable yes, but helpful, I don’t think so.

    And I do agree as well that the Pope is a liar and female circumcision is an absolute evil.

  • plnelson

    Tom Morris writes:

    I’m an avid landscape photographer, think “Bitches Brew” is adjective-insertingly good and I prefer yogic meditation to Zen (which, though it has a different type of psychological effect is something that I cannot do). At the same time, I’m a skeptic and have a degree in philosophy – my rolls of film, my Miles album and my occasional yogic breathing exercises are all quite evident and require no mystery-mongering.

    Now there’s an interesting question. (Where? What question? I don’t see a question!)

    I’m also an avid photographer (and a Miles fan) but my photography switches between science and nature subjects and studio work – mostly dance and the nude. (see I became interested in studio work after taking a workshop with Lois Greenfield who taught us that in the studio you don’t TAKE a photo, “you MAKE a photo”.

    I think that’s connected to this subject. We need to know when we are MAKING the religious or spiritual experience. Is the emotional impact and indeed the “meaning” to be found in the subject or the photographer and his work and composition?

  • plnelson wrote: I think that’s connected to this subject. We need to know when we are MAKING the religious or spiritual experience. Is the emotional impact and indeed the “meaning” to be found in the subject or the photographer and his work and composition?

    Or in the interpretation of the viewer? Probably all three, which means there is always room for alternative perception and understanding and that we are to some extent always making. This is of course not as easy in a social environment that promotes dominant interpretations and passive or forced acceptance.

  • Nother, thanks for sharing your experience of the other night. I agree that we are not so far apart as I do not believe only in logic and reason. I don’t really even go in for the reason/faith, science/religion dichotomies. I think there are mysteries that we may never be able to explain scientifically. At the same time, saying that some higher whatever is the answer is equally unnourishing. Why not be a peace with uncertainty? But like you say, if it doesn’t harm anyone, whatever gets you through the night. Maybe I’m simple since that is usually just a bottle of Guinness or a passionate tango.

    But we do, indeed, differ on the idea of transcendence. I just accept that we cannot know before or after, except through the traces we leave. So I would agree that the love you mentioned can pass on after the lives of the mother and child, but not because the love is eternal as a spiritual essence but because the acts of love can find new expression in the grandchildren. Does this make it any less magical or meaningful, not at all.

  • orlox

    peggysue – I didn’t mean to be offensive, but I have been feeling bad, so I probably was. It is tricky dealing with belief. Who am I to stick my finger in the eyes of the countless souls who find comfort? Short of Tom’s reminder of the political importance of our topic, I surrender in the face of ‘whatever gets you through the night.’ Humans have led perfectly full lives while believing that the sun spun around the earth.

    But I wouldn’t say I don’t understand. I have practiced Shambhala mindfulness and tai chi chuan under some heavyweight teachers. I have taken communion and read far too many volumes into Castaneda. I’ve taken the short cuts and the long roads. Much like other stories in these threads.

    Still, I bristle at the shroud of mysticism applied by the salesmen-priests. I know the power of meditation and singing in public. Mama didn’t raise no fool. But the purveyors’ ‘truth claims’ that attach their meanings to our fleeting moments of interconnectedness are just pretty baubles.

    The true beauty of mystery is that it is pregnant with discovery, knowledge and understanding. Claims of the unknowable, or already Revealed, stop inquiry dead. Stick the mystery in a cage and start selling tickets.

    Carl Sagan’s raw assertion that we are all made of star stuff is more baldly awe-inspiring than someone dying millennia ago for sins I have yet to commit. It is a permanent sense of connectedness arising from material fact, more sustaining than any sitting.

    We live at a time when the sum of human knowledge is doubling in the space of a very few years. The lines between disciplines are blurring and the contours of a theory of everything are beginning to take shape. Beware that the space between thoughts isn’t more beautifully explained by the genetic evolutionary development of neurons, even to someone who has experienced it.

  • orlox: “Beware that the space between thoughts isn’t more beautifully explained by the genetic evolutionary development of neurons, even to someone who has experienced it.”

    I’m sure that’s why the Dalai Lama is so interested in neurology. The study of science can deepen a person’s spiritual life, it doesn’t have to be so antagonistic.

  • Potter

    Go Peggy Sue!

    Sidewalker: Why not be a peace with uncertainty? All my life I have been working on it..

    BTW I happened to turn the TV on at a low point in my life a number of years ago and there was Deepak Chopra ( in full “hucksterism”). So there he was lecturing about how our thoughts are only our thoughts, thoughts about the past, memories, fears, desires, about the future. Let go of those, he said, and you will be in a place of pure potential; the pure potential of the moment. Forever grateful………….

    After that I learned meditatation, yoga…

  • orlox

    I don’t think science is antagonistic toward meditation or yoga, per se. It is antagonistic to the epistemology that generally accompanies their teaching. In the case of acupuncture, for instance, even though it may work in a particular case, science is confident that it did not work for the reasons articulated by the practitioner.

    But I do have to agree that science has largely neglected a coherant response to the ‘human condition’.

  • nother

    For days now, I’ve been ruminating perplexingly about this furor against theism. Finally, an analogy came to my mind that gave me a possible explanation:

    When a rival wins over the object of our affection, we tend to obsess more over the rival than the person we coveted…it had to be some kind of trickery or deception employed by the rival…otherwise a reasonable person would have made the right choice. As we squint through the prism of self-interest, we lose sight of the fact that by choosing our rival, that person might have made the best choice for themselves.

    I am flabbergasted that so many of you, with a strait face, can purport to know a deeper understanding of life than Isaac Newton (who was religious) or MLK, or JFK! Yes…I grant you…you may have gained a deeper understanding of your life, but…

    It’s one thing to challenge someone on a specific belief, like abortion, it’s quite another to question the whole freak’n framework of a person’s belief system! Because that is ultimately what we are talking about here…people…individual people…with an elaborate collection of disparate beliefs…built up over a life.

    The real child’s play is to cleverly cavort in the la la land of generalizations…it’s easy for Christopher Hitchens to cast a wide net and revel in a masturbation of wordplay…but I guarantee you…in the grind of life on the ground…Christopher Hitchen’s is no more ahead of the game than Christopher Lydon.

    And that’s what I want you to answer for me…if it’s so important for you to convince us that religion is bad, than tell me once and for all, how that math works out here, in our face – Christopher Hitchen vs. Christopher Lydon?

    If ROS does goes away (and I could tear up right now thinking about it) I only hope we will all move on without taking our intellectual-selves too seriously…otherwise we stand a real chance of deducing ourselves into a spiraling stupor.

    I’ve been blogging on ROS for a couple of years now, and it’s been a deep enriching experience, but the evolution of my mind has been simply that…my mind.

    If there has been any overriding theme to my writing during this time, and one overall reason I took to blogging here, it’s that categories don’t mean shit. If you ever read anything I’ve written and liked it, did you care whether I was woman, guy, white, black, tall, gay, short, American, Ivy league, Corporate, bartender, deaf, middle class, atheist, or Christian…I assume you could give a flying f*ck what my category was, as long as I had something to say…and I can only hope (whether ROS survives or not) that that is a lesson we all take from the “Open Source” experience.

    “The road of life is rocky and you may stumble too,

    So while you point your fingers someone else is judging you”

    -Bob Marley

  • orlox

    I was under the impression that the topic of conversation was ‘the whole freak’n framework of a person’s belief system’. And that in being a conversation, there was an ‘us’ somehow, in which I listen intently – for my sake – and respond earnestly – for your sake.

    For my own sake, I have listened. Four hours of Garry Wills, Dawkins and the Bishop of Oxford and countless hours of Hitchens taking on all comers. I’ve replayed the original show times four times, specifically to make sure that I have parsed Glaude’s argumentation and listened to AKMA/ Callahan twice. I’ve read Dyson, Lazare, Eagleton, Gottlieb, Angier, Midgley, (I know I am missing some…) reviewed Kant and Spinoza and any number of wiki entries. And, of course, 300+ comments of knowledgeable ROS listeners and Nick’s Blog. The Dalai Lama is on my library list, right after Angier’s Canon. I’ve even dug out my Shambhala texts and started a re-read of “The Varieties of Religious Experience.” W.W.W.J.D?

    All of it, for my sake. Most of it challenges the framework of my belief system. I suppose if I was sensitive about my belief system and didn’t want it challenged, I would have been wise to skip these threads.

    Allison worried about all this early in the thread when she asked: “Why are we so afraid that what we believe might be false? What’s at stake? This fear is at the heart of a lot of conflict. Why do we prioritize our belief systems over living creatively with others?”

    My answer: Because the universe will crush you if you’re wrong. It is important, ultimately, because we have to act. We find ourselves locked in the flow of time in a place of immanent danger. We must do something, so we have to decide something is true.

    In that context, I have little doubt that I would chose Lydon as friend over Hitchens. Not because I think that pre-existing spiritual postures make for guaranteed success or failure. Rather, because Hitchens invites me to attend a lecture while Lydon invites me to a conversation.

    However, if, in the course of that conversation, I am told to just shut up, then it may well be that there is no difference at all.

  • orlox: When I said “it” doesn’t have to be so antagonistic, what I meant by “it” was the conversation, or, information exchange, between science and religion. Hitchens is antagonistic, not only does he lecture but he insults. Insults tend to make people defensive, widening gaps instead of generating understanding. Lydon asks questions, and treats guests with respect, open to understanding the other’s point of view.

    In the Dalai Lama’s book, The Universe in a Single Atom, he makes what I think is an interesting critique of Darwinian Evolution by pointing out that besides the tooth & claw survival of the fittest model of evolution many species suvival relies on their ability to cooperate both umong their own species as well as with other species. Thus he suggests altruism can be as important to survival as success in battle. Looking at the human race and our weapons of mass destruction one might even consider altruism the most critical characteristic to develope for survival.

  • orlox


    Who trusted God was love indeed

    And love Creation’s final law —

    Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw

    With ravine, shrieked against his creed.

    –Alfred, Lord Tennyson

    Of course, survival of the fittest means most appropriate to the environment, not neccessarily the most vicious. It is a popular and widespread misunderstanding, but not one active in the scientific community:

  • Potter

    Peggy Sue- I agree about Hitchens. He gets attention by being contentious and insulting ( though I am not sure how aware he is of this effect) and this is counter-productive to his goal. But maybe the goal is to get us going- as here. In that case his contentiousness is successful but he gets tomatoes and rotten eggs thrown at him.

    I have not read the Dalai Lama’s book but it sounds off to me that he would criticize Darwinian Evolution for leaving out cooperation and altruism when in fact it does not. I don’t think it’s correct to characterize DE as “tooth and claw” alone.

    I went to the source( Darwin) where you will find that he talks about cooperation amongst ants as well as primates. He even speaks of interspecies cooperation, though instinctive, such as between ants and aphids.

    In “The Decent of Man” Darwin addresses man as social….“selfish and contentious people will not cohere, and without coherences nothing can be effected. A tribe possessing the above qualities in a high degree would spread and be victorious over other tribes; but in the course of time it would, judging from all past history, bein it’s turn overcome by some other and still more highly endowed tribe. Thus the social and moral qualities would tend slowly to advance and be diffused throughout the world.”

    But that is Darwin. Darwinian Evolution, if I am not mistaken, encompasses more than what Darwin wrote and much work has been done on altruism and cooperation.

    E.O. Wilson in his preface to Darwin’s Origin of Species : “If groups of cooperating individuals are better than solitary animals at obtaining food, building shelters, repelling enemies or ( red tooth and claw, I grant) exploiting others, then the species will evolve toward the formation of social groups. Such has been the case, for example, in coral ants and human beings”

  • Thanks orlox & Potter,

    It makes a lot of sense that an ant man like Wilson would see evolution from a cooperative model. I must have learned evolution from free market capitalists or something because I sure remember the emphasis being on competition. His Holiness the DL must have got the same lesson plan that I got.

    olrlox, thanks for the Tennyson.

  • sana

    I am concerned about the kind of religious belief that inserts God in the pledge of allegiance or from which the President derives the frequently expressed notion that freedom is a God-given right. This seems to distract from the critical question – If god wants ‘liberty and justice for all’ or freedom for people around the world, does god intend we have a role in making that happen? It seems to me that, instead, such phrases attempt to limit who is entitled to god’s blessings and relieve us of responsibility for man’s institutions which determine how we care for each other, or don’t.

    NHBaritone got to the heart of this,

    ‘And it is a distraction to place God in the center of a debate about harm and benefit, when that same God has been used to justify relentless harm and a sense of self-righteousness no atheist can muster.

    Instead, it is easy to believe that there is no God and to instead assert that the human spirit can rise to meet challenges when clear and rational thinking merge with passion.’

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