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Lane reading Screwtape August 23, 2014

Posted by Ginny in Skepticism and atheism.
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I feel like I’ve linked to this before, but my brother is still going on his terrific series of rereading The Screwtape Letters as an atheist. Lane and I grew up with the works of C. S. Lewis pretty much right next to the Bible in prominence and influence, and I love his project of looking back on them to extract the good and criticize the bad.

Some choice quotes from recent entries in the series:

Part Nine:

Self-hatred is not humble. Objectivity is humble. Telling somebody their hair looks nice is humble. Humility is reminding yourself that life is not a competition and you don’t need other people to suck for you to be awesome.

Part Ten:

I do often hear “live in the present” stated in a way that encourages complacency. It is often paired with ideas about leaving the future to itself, which is advice that is hard to take seriously when our action and inaction really does affect the future. Furthermore, it often comes paired with images of smiling people in pretty dresses looking out at the beach or some such thing, communicating the idea that living in the present always means being happy in the present. Sometimes the present is troubled and unhappy. Sometimes the person who is experiencing the present has depression or anxiety disorders. Being told to be happy now is not helpful when you are sad now. It’s not happiness or sadness in the present that Screwtape cares about, but use or neglect of what the Patient has in the moment. Fear and complacency are both potential allies, but if neither anxiety nor comfort are obstacles to the Patient doing today’s work or enjoying today’s pleasures, they are losing the battle.

Part Eleven:

Here’s where I agree, though; I think he’s trying to make the point that when you set yourself up as a judge, you take from yourself the ability to be a scholar. A judge is stuck between good and bad, guilty and innocent, winner and various degrees of loser, but a scholar gets to investigate and pick the good out from a message, no matter the flaws of the messenger, and use the good for their own edification. That, I think, is a point worth remembering.

He’s a smart dude and I’m proud to be related to him, is what I’m saying.

The Devil, Lies, and Atheism March 20, 2013

Posted by shaunphilly in Religion, Skepticism and atheism.
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“The Biggest ruse of the devil is making us believe that he doesn’t exist,” said Baudelaire.  Except the devil does not exist.  The ruse here only makes sense within a very specific framework; Christian mythology.

H/T atheistcartoons.com

H/T atheistcartoons.com

There is a meme, a lie, really, within much of the Christian world that atheists are Satanic, or at least deceived in this Baudelairesque fashion.  According to this meme, the devil is a liar, thus atheism is a lie.  This idea is rooted in Christian scripture where Satan is seen as the father of lies:

43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot accept my word. 44 You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46 Which of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47 Whoever is from God hears the words of God. The reason you do not hear them is that you are not from God.”

(John 8:43-47)

So, if you accept this mythology as true, or at least inspired by a god that tells the truth, then thinking of atheists as living a lie makes sense, right? Well, I suppose, but let’s look at it this way.  The devil is a character in a set of stories–the mythology which emerges from the biblical collection of books.  This character is, by definition, evil and wrong; the narrative of the story is such that he loses, eventually, and in the mean time his power in the universe is based upon deception and lies.  Those who do not believe the story of YHWH and his various acts through “history” are seen as, essentially, conspiracy theorists who do not accept the “truth.”

But this myth cannot be stretch onto the terrain of reality.  Christianity is simply not true, and to try and live it as real can only go so far before the fabric tears and reality pokes through.  But for those who are deluded in this strange and inhuman form or LARPing, those of us who are not playing by the rules of that universe will be pegged as a kind of “muggle” who has been projected as wearing a devil mask.

We can’t seriously despute the reality of the story, can we? We can’t really actually not believe that God exists and that Jesus is our savior, Mohammed is the seal of prophets, or whatever Mormons believe, right?  Because they are convinced of the truth of their worldview, when we enter their periphery we are forced into their role-playing and seen as playing characters which represent us in their narrative.

We are devils, liars, and we have been draped with a cloth of deception to make us fit into their worldview.

But from the atheist point of view, we are a bunch of people who wandered into their D&D, Harry Potter, or Christian universe where everyone within it is LARPing fully in character. So while we know it’s all pretend, from the point of view of the players we have to play the role of muggles or devils, otherwise they have to break character.

atheismExcept, in the real world, there are people who don’t know they are playing a character, they think that the role-playing is real.  And that’s religion. Atheism is simply being aware that the script(ure) is just pretend, and we cannot believe that so many people take it so seriously.  We simply want them to break character, and enjoy reality.

If you are interested in a great book about the history of the concept of the devil, see Gérald Messadié‘s wonderful book A History of the Devil.

Stuart Hampshire on Theology January 5, 2013

Posted by shaunphilly in Skepticism and atheism.
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Because I have to post something, while I’m dealing with my existential crisis, I quote Stuart Hampshire:

Philosophy is a game with objectives and no rules.
Mathematics is a game with rules and no objectives.
Theology is a game whose object is to bring rules into the subjective.

Partially inspired by Jerry Coyne’s recent thoughts about theology, which were inspired by another great thinker, Walter Kaufmann.

And, for kicks, here’s more Hampshire:

A man becomes more and more a free and responsible agent the more he at all times knows what he is doing.


As self-consciousness is a necessary prelude to greater freedom of will, so it is also a necessary prelude to a greater freedom of thought.

Once I figure out my current philosophical crisis, I will be writing more.




Pwning Bill O’Reilly’s Christian Philosophy November 29, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Religion, Skepticism and atheism.
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This hit the interwebs today

Now, this is not the first time Bill O’Reilly and Dave Silverman have met up to create fireworks.  Remember the tides thing?  I do not know how much of Bill O’Reilly’s on-air personality is an act, or if he really believes what he says in segments such as these, but the things he says are believed by many people, perhaps (in some cases) because Bill O’Reilly says them.

So, O’Reilly claims that Christianity is not a religion, but is a philosophy instead.  This is no different than the dozens of times I have heard Christians claim that their relationship with Jesus/God is not a religion, because religion is man-man and this is the truth.

Let’s start by granting that mere philosophical symbols and ideas are fair to display in government space.  Much of what the Framers of the Constitution were doing, after all, is political and moral philosophy.  Go to the Jefferson memorial and read the walls; that’s  philosophy.  Seeing images and carvings of Plato, Aristotle, or even religious and historically significant characters (such as Moses or Hammurabi) on government buildings is commonplace, because these figures play a part in our culture’s history—but so does religion, right? So what’s the difference?

A Buddhist Christmas?

OK, so let’s consider a non-Christian ideology such as Buddhism, which is fundamentally philosophical in many respects but also has many of the characteristics of a religion, especially where it is mythologized and supernatural components are included.  Would an image of the Buddha, with some quotes from his attributed sayings, be fair game on government property? More relevant here, would Bill O’Reilly have an issue with such displays?

I do not knows what O’Reilly would think here, but my guess is he would be OK with it so long as it does not get in the way of his traditions.  So long as Buddhists were not trying to usurp his holiday traditions, I don’t think he’d care.  But should secular-minded people care? Should I care?

This is tricky, because the distinction between philosophy and religion is thin in many traditions, Buddhism included.  I would say that insofar as any message on government property is not giving privileged or unequal support for any of the mythological, ritualistic, and supernatural aspects of any philosophy or religion, then there is no problem from a secularist’s point of view.  That is, so long as Buddhisms presence in such spaces leans towards its philosophical roots, and not its specifically religious traditions, then I don’t think there is an issue.

But we’ll worry about that when Buddhists start becoming anything near a majority.  So, probably never.

Unlike Buddhism, however, Christianity is clearly a religion.  Yes, it contains elements of philosophy, but I am not sure any religious traditions do not include philosophical ideas.  But the essential component to the overwhelming majority of Christian theologies is the relationship between humankind and “God.”  Christianity is not a mere collection of rational concepts or methods about finding what is true, beautiful, or wise, it is a set of metaphysical claims about the nature of the universe which has many traditional rituals, stories, and moral teachings.

The major distinction here is the presence of theology.  Theology is a type of philosophy–the religious kind–and so if a tradition has a theology it is clearly a religion.

To claim that Christianity is a philosophy is to amputate a significant portion of what it does for believers.  Where a thinker such as Plato used logic and dialogue to make propositions and criticisms about ideas, Christianity does this but it does so much more.  To imply that Jesus was just a philosopher is to say he was just a man with mere ideas about the world.  This view removes the divine messages including the metaphysical significance of the (supposed) sacrifice and makes concepts such as eternal life, eternal punishment, or even ultimate meaning impotent.

Wait…does that mean that this segment of his show reveals that Bill O’Reilly does not believe all of the mythological and metaphysical components of Christianity? Does that make O’Reilly some sort of humanist?  Because if he does not think that Christianity is not religious (thus has nothing to do with supernatural claims) then why all the god-talk?

Again, I think this claim that Christianity is a philosophy is part of a set of cultural/apologetic moves to distinguish Christianity from mere religion.  It usually takes the form of “I have a relationship with Jesus/God, and religion is a man-made lie!” In this case, O’Reilly seems to be doing something similar.  “Christianity,” he might say, “is not a man-made mere religion, it is the true philosophy given to us by god.”  Well, if so, Papa Bear, then that makes it a religion.

I don’t think Bill O’Reilly has thought this through, so let’s consider him appropriately pwned.

Meaning and Happiness May 9, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Religion, Skepticism and atheism.
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I’m not going to address the canard that without god we can’t have meaning in our lives. OK, yes I am. But only briefly, and the rest will only deal with that question indirectly. Yes, it is quite obvious that people without a belief in gods have meaning in their lives. Perhaps not inherent, absolute, and cosmically significant meaning, but those things are illusory, just like gods.

I have been, since childhood, rather introspective. I do a lot of thinking about thinking, reflecting on experience, and asking simple “why…” questions about mundane things that most people take as granted.  To me, the beginning of skepticism begins with the ability to ask why something is, and then asking for reasons to keep accepting it.  I never merely accepted the way things are and that they need to be that way. Thus, my becoming a degenerate deviant is not surprising.

Ultimately, I think seeing polyamory, atheism, and skepticism as deviant and degenerate is, well, unfortunate and morosely funny.  It does not speak well of our species that such basic values as demanding evidence for claims and then not accepting worldviews that can’t stand up to such demands is the weird thing. But I digress…

Anyway, I’m one of those annoying people who thinks asking why we do and believe certain things is good. I also am interested in various experiences. I was very interested in meditation while young, and much of what I learned and experienced during those times in my life have influenced how I see the world, how I think, and how I try and improve as a person.  I “experimented” with drugs while younger (meaning I enjoyed their effects while on them), and while I have little interest in such things now, I am glad that I had those experiences.

When I got to college, I was very interested in taking as many courses that dealt with religion, philosophy, and anthropology as I could. I was interested in questions about meaning, belief, and knowledge in culture and psychology. Is there any surprise that I graduated with a degree in ‘religious anthropology”?  Is there any surprise that I write about religion, think about religion, and ultimately oppose religion?

I knew that the history of ideas which dealt with meaning, experience, etc are contained in philosophy, theology, and religion. I also knew that I didn’t believe in any gods, had strong issues with religions, both organized and less-than-organized, and that I had an attraction to science and philosophy.

After reading religious thinkers from over the centuries, including many scriptures and apologetic writing, I knew that these things had something to offer us, even if much of it was meshed with absurd theological assertions and assumptions; I knew that it is all too easy to conflate interesting psychological insights with the tradition adjacent to their origin. That is, I understood that a Catholic, Moslem, or Hindu thinker could say something interesting, insightful, or even true without that idea having any logical relevance to the theology they believed.

So, any sophisticated theologian who attempts to claim that this gnu atheist is unfamiliar with sophisticated theology, I can confidently reply that they are simply incorrect. No Courtier’s Reply can stick to me, especially since the Reply is absurd on its face.


For a few years I have thought about how we, as a community of reason, could talk about such things outside of a theological context.  I mean, philosophers do it all the time, right? (And I do have a MA in philosophy).  Then today I ran into this post by Dale McGowan which talks about the importance of social interactions in happiness.  It is a quick review of a study about why religion makes people happier.

Essentially the point is encapsulated here, stolen from McGowan’s post, in these quotes by Chaeyoon Lim:

[Life satisfaction] is almost entirely about the social aspect of religion, rather than the theological or spiritual aspect…

and Raising Freethinkers co-author Amanda Metskas:

[T]heology is less important to most churchgoers than a number of other benefits. In many cases, they attend despite the theology. It is telling that only 27 percent of churchgoing US respondents to a 2007 Gallup poll even mentioned God when asked for the main reason they attend church. Most people go for personal growth, for guidance in their lives, to be encouraged, to be inspired—or for the community and fellowship of other members. These, not worship, are the primary needs fulfilled by churches. (p. 206)

This is illuminating, and speaks to precisely the point that many gnus have discussed over the last few years; it is not the beliefs which make people happy (they are usually harmful), but it is the social connections that keep many people in church.

The implication, I believe, is that we do need to do more to create social environments for atheists and such.  Skeptics in the pub, conventions, campus groups, etc are all great steps in that direction, even if some people take things too far in terms of emulating religion.  That is, Alain de Botton is wrong precisely because he does not just want to keep the social aspects around, but he wants to keep some of the theological parts alive too.

Part of what will cultivate community, I think, will be organizing under a banner, a label (or a very small set of labels at most), and a small set of major organizations who represent what we do share, our political concerns, and our social presence.  The Reason Rally was a step in defining much of these things, and the next few years will have a lot to tell us about the nature of our collective message, what organizations will be saying them, and how broad we need to be to draw people in.

We have issues, as a community, in terms of drawing in the voices of women, ethnic and racial minorities”, genderqueer people, and even blue collar secularists.  I don’t know what all the solutions are, but I am keeping my ears tuned to people who offer some and will be thinking and writing about it from time to time.

I know I am guilty of many of the things that turn many people away; my writing is esoteric, my tone is sometimes harsh, and I include commentary which does not fit in with most atheists and skeptics (specifically polyamory.  To what degree, if any, I may change any of this will depend on the strength of arguments, the evidence supporting said arguments, and my ability to actually change.

But I think we, the community of reason and skepticism, have a lot to say about how to create meaning in important ways and how to live lives of general contentment and happiness.  Fore me, my life project to be happy lead me to atheism and polyamory, while sharpening my skeptical tools along the way.  I think my story and views have something to add to this conversation.

Ignosticism February 29, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Religion, Skepticism and atheism.
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Update: Tristan has written a follow-up entitled Type II Cognitive Errors and Ignosticism: Why Belief in God is Meaningless.  It is also well worth the read!

In the recent conversations I have been having about agnosticism, atheism, etc in the last week or so, I have left out a very potent idea.  Ignosticism.

Over at Tristan D. Vick’s Advocatus Atheist, an analysis of this idea was posted today, and after reading it I just don’t know what to say besides, well,  read it yourself!  I have to say that I’m a bit humbled in that I might be starting to re-think my view on the place of agnosticism in this issue, but I will have to think more about it.

In any case, the post defines ignosticism thusly:

Ignosticism is the theological position that every other theological position assumes too much about the concept of God.

Doesn’t sound like much, does it?  Well, follow the thread there and see what you think.  he immediately follows the above definition with this:

Ignosticism holds two interrelated views about God. They are as follows:

1) The view that a coherent definition of God must be presented before the question of the existence of god can be meaningfully discussed. [which I have been advocating in recent discussions]

2) If the definition provide is unfalsifiable, the ignostic takes the theological noncognitivist position that the question of the existence of God is meaningless.

Now, I had been on board with both of these points, but I have been insisting that despite this, uncertainty remains, and agnosticism is unavoidable.  Tristan discusses this as well, but in order to see how he surrounds this issue, I will insist that you read the rest yourself.

If this issue interests you, you will not regret doing so!

Lamarkian theology January 2, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Religion, Skepticism and atheism.
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It struck me today that one of the reasons that so many theologically-minded writers are so enamored by teleological thinking when it comes to evolutionary theory—whether it be Intelligent Design, theistic evolution, etc—is that they are so accustomed to thinking teleologically.  What I mean is that because theologians seem to simply make stuff up*, they have the freedom and malleability to fit whatever environment they find themselves in, so they are always thinking about designing their ideology to fit the world.  This, on the surface, might seem like what one should do, except they also hold onto the core nonsensical propositions while doing so—while reinterpreting them!

The very process of doing theology is exactly backwards to how science works, which is part of why the conversation between theologians and scientists often goes so wrong; their methods are in opposition.  The idea of theistic evolution (that god created the world and subsequently guides evolution) is at odds with scientific ideas about how evolution works.  There is no need for guidance for it to work, so (for example) the official Catholic Church’s acceptance of evolution as a fact, though guided by god (an idea shared by many people as well) is not the scientific concept accepted by evolutionary biologists.  Similarly, Intelligent Design, the cultural political attempt to sneak creationism into us with the guise of “science,” has similar themes underneath.  It all is about keeping the idea of design or purpose in a mechanism which needs none in order to work.

And what this reminds me of, this predilection for shaping oneself into the hole it finds itself sitting in, is Lamarkian evolution.  You see, early in the development of evolutionary science, there was some debate about how changes in species occurred.  One idea, which is now rejected by the scientific community since we know how genes, mutation, and other forces work, was that some organism would change according to the environmental pressures it finds itself in and passes along those changes to the next generation.  A common example used to illustrate this is a giraffe that finds its neck too short gets a longer neck (or at least the idea of one), and passes this change onto its offspring.

Natural selection, of course, works nothing like this, but theology does work this way.

If some theological idea does not fit with the world, a newer theologian comes along and proposes a new way to see things; a new way to “interpret” the scriptures or the tradition in order to fit better.  And as the progress of science has marched along, theology has followed and changed its spots to fit to not be too egregiously out of style with the current scientific consensus.  But it is done in such a way as to just change enough to not be noticeable to most people.  It changes slowly, little by little, such that the theological concepts talked about seriously now in universities don’t seem to most people to be absurd or too far from their original tradition (which they define, of course).

But take a sophisticated theologian from 2012 (happy new years, btw) and send him to even a comparatively liberal and open-minded seminary from 1000 years ago, and they would be cast out as heretics, unbelievers, atheists even!

But it isn’t really their fault; they have to change to survive.  It’s just a shame that they can’t get rid of the core absurdities of their theologies.  You know,m stuff like gods and other supernatural crap.

I’ll say it again; theology is intelligently designed, but not intelligently enough.



*”Some time ago, when Jerry Coyne was preparing for his debate with John Haught, I recommended a book of modern theology in which a number of different theologians explained the very different ways in which Christian theology is done nowadays. The result that I hoped would derive from reading the book is what happened to me when I read it: that it would become obvious that theology in fact makes things up; that there is no basis for agreement between theologians, and that the bases for theological positions are as diverse as the positions themselves. That is, there is no basis for doing theology. Theology is like a mood that people have in the presence of sacred texts and the history of thought about them. It has no rational ground.”  –Eric MacDonald (source)

Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Priciple and “true religion” September 8, 2011

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
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I was just reading the comments over at Greta Christina’s new piece when I ran across this:

As soon as someone points out an ACTUAL issue with Christian culture, doctrine, or a sacred book, all the “true Christians” somehow scatter and disappear.

Something in my head clicked.

I have written before, at some point, about how people pick and choose their beliefs based on interpretations of their religious tradition.  In many cases, it is due to clear ignorance; they simply don’t know enough about their scripture or the history of their religion to know better, and so their beliefs are not coherent either internally or with the any theological tradition.  In many cases, their selection bias takes over and they only pay attention to what their worldview allows them to, which often is at odds with the orthodoxy of their religious tradition.  I see many Catholics do this, for example, when it comes to pre-marital sex, divorce, and contraceptives.  They will claim that their source is the word of god, that they really do believe in it, but they either don’t know or don’t care what the orthodox position is.  They seem, in other words, to exist in some epistemological limbo where their worldview is a mix of allegiance to tradition as well as rebellion against it.  Their simply is no larger consistency for them, and they don’t seem bothered by this at all. Granted, we all are irrational and inconsistent sometimes, but I think we should at least try or to correct it when it is pointed out.

And, of course, people think they are right.  What I mean by this (because this claim has been the source of some argument between myself and people who called this claim arrogant or wrong-headed) is that people accept that their opinions are ideas which are true.  Not that they don’t, in some cases at least, think they could change their mind, only that they are currently convinced of that which they currently believe.  I don’t know why that point is so controversial, but it is.

And so when you talk to some Christians (for example; this is true for people of all sorts of worldviews) about what it means to be a Christian, they think that either their sect is the true Christianity (or, more generally, the Truth) or they claim that there really is a truth and it is at least related to their opinion.  They may not know all the answers, but the god they believe in surely does. And this, in conjunction with the inconsistencies they have, leads to a situation where they believe both that their ideas are right, and that the religious tradition which they associate is also true even if they don’t adhere to all of its doctrines.  So,when you ask them for the truth, or at least answers to specific questions, the answer you will get depends on factors too complicated to spell out here but which are logically incoherent.

Ask a Catholic of they use condoms.  Ask them what is the right thing to do.  Ask them what the church thinks about this issue.  Ask them, again, if they are really a Catholic.  Chances are, this line of questioning will leave you flabbergasted and possibly cynical.  I’ve become to used to it to be surprised anymore, so I usually just skip over to the cynicism.



In the public discourse about religion, policy, etc there is this problem that is pointed out to those that say, for example, that this is a Christian nation.  The problem is actually quite simple, and goes something like this:

Which Christianity?

And this is certainly a problem for those public representatives who make such claims, but his problem goes deeper.  More essential to this question is the meta-theological question of what interpretation (or set of interpretations) is accurate? Which theological school is right?

Now, from my point of view, this question is meaningless.  It is akin to asking what color underwear Batman wears.  The question has no answer because unless Batman is drawn wearing some particular underwear (and I am not aware that this has been the case in any of his many comics), this question has no answer.  It’s like the classic example whether the King of France is bald?  Unless there is a king of France, this question is meaningless.  Similarly, unless their is a god or some other sort of divine truth, an internally coherent and true theology is meaningless.

But for a believer, this question of meta-theology becomes important, and leads to the many complicated hallways of theological intricacy which I have little interest in.  Because as one studies such things, one begins to realize that the closer you get to answering such questions the more the problem starts to slip away from you.  Now, this is not a problem of internal inconsistency as much (although this is a problem) as it is a problem for consistency with the world in general.  And because the ways in which theological opinions are related to the real world (and sometimes it seems that the former prefers to ignore the latter), theology is in flux, motion, or can be said to have a position and momentum, in some analogous sense.

Theological worldview are, in a very loosely analogous way, not unlike physical particles.  Describing it takes complex descriptions, and in some sense they do not really exist in the way we classically thought of stuff existing; not as solid and unchanging substance, but as concepts involving probabilities in relation to what is around them.  And just like with a particle, a theological position is something that cannot be pinned down with precision;  the more you know about its position, the less you know about its momentum (and vice-versa).  I say this because things such as theological positions are agent-dependent; they exist in the real-time shifting environments of minds, and change in relation to social, cultural, and historical factors.  Theology changes due to its relationships with science, history, and skeptical analysis in general.  It is not solely dependent upon revelation or scripture, it has to contend with reality (even if only minimally).

In short, finding what the true religion is becomes subject to something akin to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.  Perhaps we can call it Theisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle? Nah, that’s lame.

And within a larger politically charged field, especially in current America where religion is such a large factor, what a true Christian is can never be nailed down. Not only are their too many claims to the title, even when you get one of them, they slip and slide around, refusing to be defined.

Take, for example, what the anonymous emailer said to Greta Christina from her post today:

The problem is that you’re not talking about any actual progressive religious types I’ve ever encountered. You’re talking about a straw man, a portrait of the religious progressive that certainly doesn’t represent all of them, and which may not even exist.

Now, Greta and the many commenters on her blog have made many excellent comments in response to this already, so I will try not to be too repetitive.  This person has made a claim that Greta (and by extension me, since I have made similar points) is doing something uncouth by trying to criticize people who seem to pick and choose their beliefs from a larger set of possible beliefs drawn from the tradition they associate with.  Why is it uncouth? Because, you see, they apparently they don’t do so.

Even as a commenter points out (in defense of the emailer)

When you see somebody apparently cherry picking, you can only conclude that they have a highly nuanced way of reading their scripture. And if they agree that they are cherry picking, that might only because their nuanced view is too complex to easily explain, so it is easier to go along with the crude “cherry picking” description.

It’s not that they are choosing what to believe, it is that their epistemological criteria is complicated.  It’s not that people are ignorant of their religious tradition and so they simply grab onto what they do hear mixed with their own humanistic intuitions, it is that they are super ninjas of theology (despite the fact that religious people are much less informed of their own religion) and so they are coming up with uber ways to believe in way that look to us to be theological noise.  My skepticism does not allow me to accept this claim of nuance.  It is, in fact, reminiscent of the term “sophisticated theology,” which is also annoying.

The fact that people do “cherry-pick” their beliefs from a larger theological set is pretty incontrovertible, it seems.  A fully consistent and non-picked worldview from a varied tradition such as Christianity, but certainly any major religion would just as easily serve as an example, is seemingly impossible.  The traditions change too frequently, beliefs are not checked against the whole of tradition and its sources, and so therefore what it means to be a true [insert religion here] is frankly impossible.  Once you have most religious apologists pegged on a view, they are moving in a different direction due to some moral or philosophical conflict we point out, and then they are somewhere else.  Our observing their theological point of view changes their theological point of view, again much like a particle.  And then once you have them admit that they are moving (questioning, or whatever), you have no idea where they are or will end up.  Inevitably, they will often return to their original position, and you don’t know how they got there again.

I’ve seen this behavior for years, both in my personal correspondences, on shows such as the Atheist Experience, etc.  Trying to figure out what a religious person believes in the light of an observing non-believer is a task to marvel at, and one worthy of a person who likes paradoxical-seeming circumstances.  Sounds like a job for a quantum physicist.  No, wait.  It sound like a job for a psychiatrist.

The Christian Story: class redux September 20, 2010

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
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Well, so I have now attended the first two classes at a local church entitled The Christian Story: How Christian Theology Affects Everyday Life.

I have not written much, so far, about the class itself, although I have talked a little about the book we are using (John Frame’s Salvation Belogs to the Lord) and will continue to quote and comment soon.  I have not commented on the class because there has not been much to comment on.

In my opinion the class runs too short.  For any real discussion more time is necessary.  The problem is that the class tends to thin out as people leave to go to the 10:45 service.  I do not attend the service, because I feel no need to do so and because I have already seen it once at this church.  The sermons are not sufficiently enticing to sit through the singing to Jesus and so forth.

Really, nothing is worse than Christianed-up rock chords put to words of praise to super-Jew.

The first class drew around 20, the second about 15.  Mostly people in their 20’s-30’s, some married (with or without their partners), and  few single people.  Don’t worry, I’m not planning on currupting any nice young Christian women with my wily ways.  Although there is a certain appeal to the idea.

Really, I’m not evil.

3 classes remain.  I’m hoping that we will have a chance to dig into this stuff more, because while some interesting questions have been raised, and then subsequently glossed over, I feel like there is potential for actual discussion to get going.  Likely, it will get going as the class nears its end.  And I don’t want to give myself away and distract the purpose of the class by asking too many questions myself.


But the book’s view is so conservative, so absurdly literalistic, that it really does seem (as one other class member stated) that the Bible says it, and then it’s rigfht because the Bible says it “30 times.”  You know, argument by assertion.

He still made sure that, in saying this, he was clear that he still believed, despite bringing up the issue of justification for belief.  No, not Justification (wherein God decalres us righteous, in a legal sense–see, I’m learning!), but epistemological justification of why to accept points of theology at all.  That is hardly brought up at all, except to say that the Bible is God’s Word.

Sorry, I need more than that.

3 more weeks….

Quotes from Bizarro World (2) September 11, 2010

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
Tags: , , , , ,

This is a continuation of a series of quotations from, and commentary of, my reading of John Frame’s book, Salvation Belongs to the Lord, which I am reading for a class about faith in Christian life.  I will be under-cover, so shhhhh…..

See Part1

“as believers in Christ we don’t get what we deserve.  We deserve death, but God has placed that punishment of death on his Son.  In Jesus’ death he gets what we deserve….”

(page 23)

Now, this quotation brings up nothing new to me, but I think it is more valid to quote what an actual Christian says than to try and summarize based upon generalities.  This way, no straw-men are hurt in the writing of this post.

This common theme, that we are all sinners worthy of death, is disturbing to me.  It is not disturbing in the way that Frame, and other Christians, may expect it to be disturbing; I am not worried about the death that I deserve.  I’m disturbed because this view seeks to distract us from this world, a world of this magical and mythological thing called ‘sin’ which supposedly pervades our very being.

Christian theology seeks, fundamentally, to make us feel broken.  It is a great marketing technique to make the customer feel like they lack something, then to present them with a product to fill that gap.  The fact that religion tends to use this method quite frequently explains that it’s success has to do with how our brains work and are manipulated much more than religious messages being true.

But what are they selling?  Belief in Jesus, right?  Well, yes, but it is done through this substitutional atonement; Jesus suffered for your sins.  This makes no sense at all, but it seems sweet of him to try.  This substitutional framework is mirrored on the idea that Adam, who represents us in his fall from the “covenant of works” (by which humanity was tested to see if they could obey God’s laws and failed in the eating of the fruit of the tree…you know the story).  Adam failed, Adam represents us.  Jesus succeeded, and Jesus seeks to represent us if we would only believe….

There is something in the mind that catches at this.  It is a subtle psychological method going on here.  There is a subtle manipulation, one that I have never succumbed to, but I feel it.  I don’t feel it in a desirous way, I feel it in a way similar to that feeling I get when I hear a good sales pitch.  I subtly think yeah, that makes a kind of sense…I should buy that! but am then returned to reality where I don’t need a George Foreman grill.

(I’m waiting for some Christians to tell me that this feeling is God trying to reach out, but my hardened heart refuses to accept the free gift…you now the drill.)

And so God gave his only begotten Son and all that, right? We should feel thankful, shouldn’t we?  Well, I have addressed Jesus’ ‘sacrifice‘ before, and I don’t think much of it.  I know the whole “fully God, fully man” thing is supposed to make it possible for Jesus to suffer and make the crucifixion meaningful, but I don’t buy that either.  I guess that makes me a heretic for not accepting the Chalcedonian Declaration.  Whether Nestorian, Monophysite, or mythicist, I am certainly a heretic of some sort.

People, we are not sinners.  There is no reason to believe a literal and historical Fall occurred.  There is no reason to accept that a mythological Fall occurred, or that we are inherently sinful or broken in any spiritual way.   In fact, there is no reason to accept the existence of a non-metaphorical ‘spirit’ or ‘soul’ in the first place.

Any imperfections in our being are due to the blind forces that formed us over millions of years of evolution–not some moral failing due to lack of obedience to some megalomaniacal  bully of a god.  We have the ability to educate ourselves, improve ourselves, and we don’t need a savior from any fairy-tale sins.

There is nothing to save us from.