In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

E-Mail Donald
Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

E-Mail Friedrich
Entrepreneur and arts buff
E-Mail Michael
Media flunky and arts buff

We assume it's OK to quote emailers by name.

Try Advanced Search

  1. Seattle Squeeze: New Urban Living
  2. Checking In
  3. Ben Aronson's Representational Abstractions
  4. Rock is ... Forever?
  5. We Need the Arts: A Sob Story
  6. Form Following (Commercial) Function
  7. Two Humorous Items from the Financial Crisis
  8. Ken Auster of the Kute Kaptions
  9. What Might Representational Painters Paint?
  10. In The Times ...

Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
Thomas Hobbs
Blog Lodge
Leibman Theory
Goliard Dream
Third Level Digression
Here Inside
My Stupid Dog
W.J. Duquette

Politics, Education, and Economics Blogs
Andrew Sullivan
The Corner at National Review
Steve Sailer
Joanne Jacobs
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
Glenn Frazier
Jane Galt
Jim Miller
Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
James Lileks
Cybrarian at Large
Hello Bloggy!
Setting the World to Rights
Travelling Shoes

Redwood Dragon
The Invisible Hand
Daze Reader
Lynn Sislo
The Fat Guy
Jon Walz


Our Last 50 Referrers

« Armies on the Rampage | Main | Donald Does Pebble: Field Notes »

October 24, 2006

Eagleton on Dawkins

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I'm not usually much of a fan of Terry Eagleton, but I thought the working-over that Eagleton recently gave uber-atheist Richard Dawkins' current book about religion was a dazzler. Nice passage:

Dawkins considers that all faith is blind faith, and that Christian and Muslim children are brought up to believe unquestioningly. Not even the dim-witted clerics who knocked me about at grammar school thought that. For mainstream Christianity, reason, argument and honest doubt have always played an integral role in belief. (Where, given that he invites us at one point to question everything, is Dawkins's own critique of science, objectivity, liberalism, atheism and the like?) Reason, to be sure, doesn't go all the way down for believers, but it doesn't for most sensitive, civilised non-religious types either. Even Richard Dawkins lives more by faith than by reason. We hold many beliefs that have no unimpeachably rational justification, but are nonetheless reasonable to entertain. Only positivists think that 'rational' means 'scientific.'

Link thanks to the ever-essential ALD. Razib expresses agreement with Dawkins and scorn for Eagleton in the comments on this posting.



posted by Michael at October 24, 2006


There was also a lovely review of the Dawkins book by Charles Moore in the Spectator.

It is important for Dawkins to deny a real distinction between 'moderate' religion and fundamentalist extremism. He needs the cannibis-leads-on-to-heroin argument so beloved to schoolmasters.

Here's the link.
s the link, but unfortunately it looks like subscription only. So here's another bit:

Similarly, the story of the Fall of Man excites Dawkins's contempt because he thinks the punishment of Adam and Eve incredibly 'vindictive' for the minor offence of what he calls 'scrumping. That wasn't the offense: it was disobedience of the one prohibition God had given them... Dawkins should acknowledge the internal logic of what he does not believe

Posted by: Peter Reavy on October 24, 2006 5:04 PM

I think a big part of the conversation ought to be about deceptive simplicity in the concept of "belief". I don't think it's true that anything more than a tiny minority of Americans "believe in God" in the sense that we believe 2+2=4 or that gasoline is flammable. If you're one of these typical Americans, and your kid gets a nasty scrape, you sure don't ask God's angels for help, or consult holy writ for information on what some prophet did. No, you employ our best lay biology or, perhaps, consult someone more familiar with the science. Kid gets seriously ill, then maybe you start thinking about God a little bit, but still your main thought (at least insofar as it guides your actions) is to the medical science. Finally, maybe your kid is pronounced uncurable or has already died. Then you're talking to God.

If somebody in Western society jumps to religion as practical belief in the first case (the scrape), like some "Christian Scientists" do, they are basically considered wackjobs by almost all of the other "believers". These points are quite obvious.

So, do I have anything interesting to say here? I think I do. "God of the gaps" is an immensely important concept in the human sciences, and the arts, because it addresses the issue of raw existential dread in the face of (what threaten to be) unanswerable Big Questions. Dawkins and cohort may at least have a point when it comes to the West versus Islam, but on the internal analysis of Western or American culture they seem to have the historical situation profoundly misanalyzed. This is not essentially a battle between God and science as rival explanations for the same phenomena, but rather between those who would live with scary unanswerable questions and those who feel the need to dispel those questions in whatever manner seems available, preferably on a weekly basis. Darwin can be assimilated into the religious psyche, but Kafka will always present a threat.

Posted by: J. Goard on October 24, 2006 5:10 PM

Michael - Mark me down in the scorn for Eagleton column. I readily acknowledge the deep values that many religious people hold, but ultimately all religion is mumbo-jumbo, superstition, and ignorance.

By the way, I also acknowledge that people live by faith as well as by reason. There is room for intuition and all manner of irrationality. I don't think, for example, that anyone can "rationally" justify why they love somone, nor need they. However, I do not, cannot, make the jump from faith in human life to the need to believe in any deity, religion or religious practice. But in this I am a hard nosed agnostic. I don't deny the existence in a deity. I simply do not care, nor do I believe that I am in any way bound to try to figure out what a deity wants or make that the end purpose of my existence. I figure that even if there was a deity, that being endowed us with free will. What we do with our lives is up to us. Period.

Posted by: Alec on October 24, 2006 5:15 PM

Dawkins is a fanatic, no different than a Falwell. Although I agree with him on a lot of points, and he does actually admit to believing in some sort of underlying order.

Posted by: the patriarch on October 24, 2006 6:50 PM

I once overheard someone observe that one man's religion is another man's horse laugh. That was certainly my reaction to Terry Eagleton's presentation of contemporary Christian theology. Ditto for Dawkens. No doubt others will feel the same way about my own rudimentary faith: "There is a God and you will be judged." Or rather, since I doubt it (and fear it) as much as I believe it: "There may be a God and you may be judged."

Posted by: Lea Luke on October 24, 2006 7:12 PM

I agree with Alec, however, I am an atheist. I used to say I was an agnostic, but I decided to get off the fence. Religion is basically organized superstition. While I would never take them literaLLY, I like the Greek myths. They have a literary elegance and can impart some lessons about human behavior.

Posted by: Peter L. Winkler on October 24, 2006 10:33 PM

I've mentioned on here, haven't I, my peculiar take on the story of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke? If you need Christian superstition to appreciate Christian ethics, you don't really appreciate the ethics.

Posted by: J. Goard on October 24, 2006 11:09 PM

Peter R. -- Thanks for the pointer and the quotes. Dawkins has a very ... convenient conception of religion, doesn't he?

J. Goard -- Fun musings. I have a broad conception of belief and religion that's probably similar to yours and that I owe to early immersion in anthropology. Left me with the hunch that everyone is religious, and every culture has its religion (or religions) -- we all have hopes, things we take on faith, value systems, and ways of dealing with scary and glorious Larger Questions, and all societies have their myths, dreams, arts, gods, and directives. Whether it happens to be written down and delivered to well-dressed people for an hour on Sunday isn't terribly relevant. To me, the religion thang is as inescapable a human universal as art, music, storytelling, etc. So Dawkins just seems idiotic, or unperceptive, or in denial, or something to me.

Nice quote from Wikipedia's entry on the Anthropology of Religion:

"Although many Westerners (including anthropologists) have rejected “religion” out of hand as being unscientific, virtually all anthropologists assume that there must be good reasons for the endurance and importance of religion and, by implication, assume that religious beliefs and practices are in some sense “reasonable.” In order to determine the reasons for the importance of religion, however, anthropologists generally move beyond the literal claims of any religion to look at its metaphorical meaning or latent social functions."

Alec, Peter -- I'm not sure this is a direct response to what you've said, but there's another way of thinking about religion, which is that it gives us (people, whatever) a way of thinking about and perhaps dealing with the Larger Questions and the sense of a Ground of Existence that many people have. The stories, parables, lessons ... The prophets, saints, etc ... It enables people to take on (and discuss, and contend with) certain aspects of life more directly than any other way anyone's come up with. Philosophy only goes so far ... Science is maddeningly literal-minded ... Art sometimes comes close but collapses when you lean on it too heavily ... But maybe the religions that have lasted a while can be useful for some. I see no need to make any kind of dramatic leap of faith myself. On the other hand, there are big ground-of-existence experiences that many people seem to have that need acknowledgment and discussion of some sort. Maybe religion is a way people have come up with to do that, and maybe it doesn't work too badly, for some anyway.

Patriarch -- I agree. He's dogmatic, doctrinaire, fanatical, and proselytizing. He's a man possessed -- if not by a standard-issue religion, then by a kind of Dostoeyevskyan anti-religion religion. A fascinating character for some novelist to write about, no? Why's he so obsessed?

Lea? Luke? (So which is it today?) - I like that "may be"! FWIW, it seems to me to take care of one stumbling block many people have when it comes to religions, which is the way some people think you have to "believe" in some childish way in order to get anything out of a religion. Maybe in some cases. But how about seeing the myths and stories as interesting and potentially helpful metaphors? I dunno. I compare it to the arts. To what extent do you have to "believe" in a movie in the childish sense in order to get something out of the experience? A bit? But maybe not all that much? I've never been a huge "believer" in the childish sense, yet I'm a huge movie buff anyway. I love the make-believe of it, the game quality, the metaphors and archetypes and structures. I fell more deeply in love with the medium the more I understood that I didn't have to believe in it.

J. Goard -- The appeal of Christianity generally baffles me, though I'd never quarrel with it. (I'm here to learn!) But ethics divorced from stories and characters (and costumes and suspense, etc) can get pretty dry, no?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on October 25, 2006 12:22 AM

some people think you have to "believe" in some childish way in order to get anything out of a religion. Maybe in some cases. But how about seeing the myths and stories as interesting and potentially helpful metaphors?

I think a lot of people like Dawkins would have a much easier time simply leaving it at that if Religionists didn't so often explicitly deny that that's all their religion is. The majority of churches of the Abrahamic religions don't seem to me to present what they're doing as merely potentially helpful metaphors. If they did that they wouldn't be religions anymore, and those of us who are completely exasperated by them could consider it a closed case.

Posted by: i, squub on October 25, 2006 9:06 AM

Couldn't agree more! The whole "it is the Truth, and the Only Truth (and you're wrong)" bit annoys the life out of me. (When I let it, anyway.) But at the same time that's not all of religion, is it? There are tribal religions, there's Buddhism and Hinduism, there's paganism, there are general worldviews and belief systems ... Why does he argue about "religion" (why do so many people do this) as if they're all exclusive, monotheisticm, Abraman-derived things?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on October 25, 2006 9:23 AM

Seems to me that science is about facts and religion and philosophy are about truth. Both are neccessary and have their place. When people like Dawkins try to make larger claims for science they cease to be scientists and become some sort of shaman, useless to science and anything else.

Posted by: Bradamante on October 25, 2006 9:26 AM

Unfortunately I haven't read the Dawkins book yet, it's next in my list; I'm just finishing up the similarly-themed (I think) Daniel Dennett book, Breaking the Spell, and he delves into those differences (between tribal religions and more dogmatic ones) early on in the book. A lot of what he's asking in the book is related to things like that; does religion serve a useful purpose that outweighs the negative aspects? Most of the negative aspects he discusses come from those Abrahamic traditions. He argues, like Sam Harris, that religious moderates (those practicing religions without doing so unquestioningly and dogmatically) do a disservice to the world and to themselves by allowing the dogmatism to remain; they in essence protect the huge numbers of unreasonable dogmatists springing from the tradition of their own faiths who would otherwise more easily be shown to be pretty much insane. That's my simplified version, anyway, of that argument.

At any rate a lot of what seems to be happening is that these guys are taking a stand for reason in opposition to superstition in a very antagonistic way, and I get the impression that they're doing it because they're frustrated with the status quo, where reasonable discourse between moderates doesn't really go anywhere. Certainly these guys don't get blogged and Colbert'd all over everyplace when they're just reasonable and moderate. Maybe they're intentionally pushing the extreme side of the atheist position in order to clear a little room in the middle for the moderate atheists/agnostics/etc.

Posted by: i, squub on October 25, 2006 11:13 AM

I think the fundamental problem here is you think you're talking about two different groups of people:

First, there's the religious who are typically grouped as "fundamentalists". They're the ones who go to church every Sunday and fly planes into tall buildings. These people believe every word spoken to them from their clerics as the absolute, incontrovertable word of god. When one thinks negatively of "religious" types, I think these are what one most often thinks of.

Then, there's the spirtualists. These are the people who believe in some kind of supreme creator, but don't necessarily believe the bunk from the books. They regard the mythology as just that. They call themselves "catholic" or "christian" or "muslim", but go to church only for wedddings and funerals.

The second group, by calling themselves members of the religions of the first group get themselves caught up in the vitriol vented at the group. Some would say that's unfair, but I have to disagree. They made the choice to be counted amongst them. Worse, it is their backing of their religion, if only in name, that fuels the fundamentalists. Most fundamentalists will trot out the quote "80% of Americans believe in god". That may very well be a true number (I'm scared if it is), but it's not the truth as they would have you believe. The number isn't "80% of Americans are religious", just that they believe in some creator. They believe premarital sex is ok, pornography's ok, pot's ok, swearing on TV is ok. They believe that as long as you're not hurting anyone else, whatever you do is fine even though this is in direct contradiction of dogma. The problem is, they are hurting others by being counted among the religious.

The spiritualists might go to church as often as I do and be as "religious" as I am, but the religious communities use their number as an excuse to push their agendas on the rest of us. Look at what happened after Janet Jackson's boob. A small group of fundamentalists took it to the streets and TV became even more banal than it normally is. They were able to say "80% of the population hates breasts!" They also say things like "No, I don't believe atheists should be allowed to be citizens. This is one nation under god, after all." Too bad for you that ain't the law, Mr. Bush. Too bad for me that someone would even say that in this day and age. Too bad for all of us that someone who doesn't even know the history of the "under god" thing could get elected president. What happens to those who fail to learn history?

For me, it comes down to this: the religious types have declared war on each other and the world could very well end because of it. No, it's not the most likely outcome, but it IS possible. In my view, religion and spirituality are both forms of psychosis and you can't predict what irrational people will do. By giving credence to their belief in superstition, even if not the rituals that go along with it, you give credence to that superstition. It's a nice thought to let people believe what they want to believe, but those platitudes have led us to the brink of armageddon. It's widly believed that the next world war will begin with the destruction of the Dome of the Rock. Is that really what we want to throw away our species over? A rock?

I, for one, don't believe it's worth it. And, if the end comes and you called yourself a member of one of the organized superstitions, you're as guilty as any fundamentalist. We don't tolerate racists, even if they're not card-carrying members of the KKK (a christian organization, BTW). So, why should we tolerate spiritualists even if they don't practice the ritualistic cannibalism every Sunday?

Posted by: Upstate Guy on October 25, 2006 11:18 AM

Wait, so going to church every Sunday is equivalent to flying a plane into a building?

Don't you think you're conflating things just a bit?

Posted by: Caethan on October 25, 2006 12:21 PM

Here's one hyper-fuctionalist way of looking at the "God" and "religion" questions.

There's much that we know. There's also a huge amount that we don't know. We may or may not eventually know it all. (Unlikely, sez I, but what the heck.) And then there's undoubtedly more than all that too. Hey, life is full of surprises! And then there's us. Here we are in the midst of all this churning cosmic 10-dimensional bubbly custard, definitely part of it yet weirdly able to give it a little thought too.

Take that whole bundle -- including what's known; we/us ourselves; what we know and don't know; what we don't even know we don't know; our ability to think a bit about it; the many and often invisible forces animating and moving through it all; etc etc.

OK, why not give that bundle a name? Why not ... call it "God"? I mean, you don't have to. But why not? Got a better name for it? I'm OK with that one too.

OK, now let's discuss the topic -- the Infinite Currently Unknowable Vastness Of It All, Of Which We're Only a Small Part. After all, just about everyone has some sense of wonder and fear in the face of It All, and many people even have a few intuitions or flashes of maybe-insight or maybe-delusions about It All, or maybe just the occasional feeling of connection to It All.

It ain't unusual. Maybe you feel It All -- ie., It All is real to you -- when you fiddle with math, or when you look through a microscope, or when you have sex (hey, that tends to work best for me!), or when you visit a museum, or when you look out over the ocean, or when you look into your beloved's eyes, or when you go to a blues club, or when you hang with your kids, or when you sing Cole Porter, or maybe when someone near to you dies ... But It All is something that nearly everyone has feelings and thoughts and intuitions and theories about. (FWIW, I've never met anyone who didn't seem to have feelings / ideas / intuitions / theories about this It All. It's dicey to raise these things, of course. But when you really get to know people ... They all have feelings / hunches / etc about It All, no?)

Sometimes people even dare to try to talk about these It-All matters. They use philosophical language, super-hero language, stories, parables ... They try to figure things out ... They maybe notice a few misty patterns that seem to hold true ... Over time they maybe start to derive certain rules and regs from what has been noticed and what has been passed down ... The discussion and the experience becomes woven through the fabric of life as it's lived.

Now let's give that discussion -- that discussion about It-All -- a name. Why not call it "religion"? Again, you don't have to. But why not? Hey, if you've got a better name for it (mythology, maybe), I'm cool with that too.

Anyway, such is how I learned to view religion back in my anthro-soaked younger days. I find it conceptually very useful -- dodges the question of belief, dodges sectarian shoot-outs, etc. Opens up the topic as a legitimate part of life, and a legit thing to notice and observe, etc.

But I may be alone in that ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on October 25, 2006 12:29 PM

Caethan, yes. A framing hammer and a sledgehammer are both hammers. They are the same in that they are both representational of examples of a greater set. Are they equal? Hardly. But, I am of firm belief that the framing hammer leads to the sledgehammer.

Posted by: Upstate Guy on October 25, 2006 1:49 PM

To the atheists here who are essentially saying to believers (and I don't use the term "religious" for a reason) - to use Michael's words - that "[atheism] is the Truth, and the Only Truth (and you're wrong)" - if you wonder what goes on in the mind of fundamentalists, you need look no further.

You are as utterly convinced about your conclusion without definitive proof either way. You have made a choice given your examination of the evidence, and that's fine of course, but don't kid yourself that you're stance isn't a leap of faith as much as a believer's is, since observable, conclusive proof does not currently exist for or against.

And don't give me the "burden of proof" cha-cha. Save it for your impressionable students in philosophy 101. Because, in actuality, those claiming there is no God are making a positive assertion against those who believe there is, and yes you can prove a negative. Just stop with that nonsense already. "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof" is a double-edged sword, too. If there were no primary mover, wouldn't the evidence be much more obviously conclusive towards that claim? (Still leaving room for the possibility that clear proof could emerge for one side or the other.)

To me, the fact that there is such a balance - no blatant proof one way or the other - has always been suspicious in itself.

i, squub wrote: "I think a lot of people like Dawkins would have a much easier time simply leaving it at that if Religionists didn't so often explicitly deny that that's all their religion is. The majority of churches of the Abrahamic religions don't seem to me to present what they're doing as merely potentially helpful metaphors. If they did that they wouldn't be religions anymore, and those of us who are completely exasperated by them could consider it a closed case."

This feels a lot like pointing out the obvious, and you nearly touch on it yourself, squub, but if someone arrived at the point where they thought their views about God were "myths and stories [that are] interesting and potentially helpful metaphors," then they would merely have a collection of quaint stories, not a belief. Yes, believers in the Abrahamic religions really think that their religious texts are a revelation from the Creator Himself. (Hindu texts do not make that claim. And such a rubric doesn't apply to Buddhism as it's largely a humanistic viewpoint, with its afterlife concepts essentially borrowed from Hinduism. Every form of "paganism" (pardon the Christian-centric term) I've encountered makes no claim of revelation from a creator, either.)

So, Dawkins and yourself have an intractable problem, because you are saying, "If they would only accept that it's bullshit, then we'd be ok with them." Which is just a variant of "if only they would think what I think, then we'd be good." Not gonna happen.

Like I said, that felt a lot like pointing out the obvious.

I think J. Goard's point is one of the more salient ones here, regarding believers.

But I will extend past his point and state that many of us don't turn to our belief as just a source of comfort - or that it's the only real reason we have those beliefs. If belief were just a security blanket, I would have trouble accepting it myself. In many ways, the idea there is no God would be easier to accept and live with, because the concept of an omniscient and omnipotent God has some pretty mind-bending implications. The concept of God comes with as many frightening aspects as it does comforting aspects - even given the concept of a benevolent God. Please note that this is not a position of fear on my part; I'm really trying to say that belief in order to have some comfort alone falls down quickly when you examine it.

I believe because, from my research and readings, I've concluded that the New Testament, particularly the Gospels, are eye-witness accounts of actual events (flaws and all). The reason I think they are witness stories and not myth is because at the point I read the Gospels, I had read enough literature (that being my degree), history and myth to have a pretty good feel for which is which - the mechanics thereof, what is and isn't said in each, the clues of what's fiction and fact. In short, they have all the earmarks of the exegesis of actual, witnessed events - of actual history. The fantastic elements (miracles) on the face appear more like myth, but when you compare them to the reactions the witnesses have, it again feels more like how real people would respond to such an event, and not how fictional characters do in fiction.

Could it all be false? Could it be a really good forgery? Sure. But it sure seems like it's not.

For the vast majority of Christians, doubt is a constant companion, as J. Goard pointed.

Therefore, MOST of us - particularly the moderates that Dawkins (and Harris) think are such a problem - behave accordingly.

Of course you only hear of the poltroons (and I'm speaking here specifically about Christians, but increasingly it's atheists) who are completely convinced that only they have it straight.

I think we can all agree that those are the dangerous bastards.

Posted by: yahmdallah on October 25, 2006 1:59 PM

yahmdallah, first let me say, that you entire proof falls down once you make the point that the new testament is made up of eye-witness accounts. Since they were written a minimum of decades after the death of "jesus" (quoted because there's absolutely no proof outside the catholic church that he even existed), by people who never met him, they can't be eyewitness accounts. Also, what happened to the hundreds of other gospels that were in circulation up until the fourth century when the church decided on those four as canon? Were those eyewitness accounts? How could the church just discard them?

Let me ask you this: if they're eyewitness accounts, how is it Luke knew about the "hosts of angels" seen by the shepherds in the fields? Did he interview every one? How did he find them? Why is it Matthew doesn't mention it? Why is it that not even Josephus, who hated Herod, makes no mention of him slaughtering every child in Bethlehem save one? Why is it Roman or Jewish records of the time (both of which are fairly accurate records) don't mention this either? Why is there so much discrepency between the accounts concerning Judas? If Judas betrayed Jesus so completely as TWO of the four books mention, you'd think his actions would be described in exacting detail.

I think your fiction detector's a little off. :)

Second, I don't deny that what I believe could be classified as "faith", but it's faith based on FACTS, not myths made up to fit a prophecy. Why is the catholic view of the world the correct one? Because most people believe it? What about all of the other religions that came well in advance of the Abrahamic religions (assumption being made that you don't believe the world is only 5000 years old)? Most followers of Abrahamic religions claim that there's only one god, yet the bible itself mentions numerous gods hanging about. Why aren't they more "right"?

Religion answers these important questions with a simple answer: "we're not meant to know". Atheism answers them with "we don't know...yet". In my mind, only one gives a real hope for the future.

Posted by: Upstate Guy on October 25, 2006 2:39 PM


First, let me clarify something: I'm very much NOT in the Dawkins-style atheist camp. I just posted this entry last night explaining what I mean by that; but more or less it's exactly as you've stated it: Atheists, to me, are on this score making a positive assertion. I'm an agnostic, or weak-atheist, or something like that.

However, I'm sympathetic to the side of the struggle that says that Religion is dangerous when it explicitly proscribes reason and logic. The fight to deny evolution is a good example, but there are many, many more. Anti-homosexuality, anti-premarital sex, anti-birth control, anti-women-working, etc.

What you've stated where you say you're pointing out the obvious was, indeed, my point, and it was a point in response to Michael's lumping our experiences of the infinite in with the kind of Religion that has its practitioners taking pubic stances on behalf of superstition instead of reason. If we ALL thought of religion as just myths and stories, we wouldn't have to worry about that kind of faith.

Do I have an intractable problem here? Probably. My view's not as simple as you've stated it, though. I don't expect anybody to just stop believing the things they believe. But certainly I'd like there to be a better understanding, by our society, of what those beliefs can mean and lead to, and why they've been passed down through the generations, so that people just starting to ask these questions can more easily steer clear of the Jack Van Impes and the Pat Robertsons.

As far as your belief in Christ coming from a reasoned place, I'll buy that. I don't see it, but I'll buy it. To me, thinking like you've described would easily lead me to believe there's an aquatic dinosaur in Loch Ness (the people who say they've seen in it sure do sound convinced!)

Posted by: i, squub on October 25, 2006 3:04 PM

Upstate Guy, All religion inevitably leads to flying planes into buildings? I guess that ignores universities, hospitals, soup kitchens, huge chunks of western civilization, culture, philosophy art and architecture. Your view strikes me as incredibly myopic and ahistorical.

Posted by: Bradamante on October 25, 2006 5:35 PM

Upstate Guy:

I wasn't offering "proof" as to why you or anyone should believe as I do, merely my view of what the Gospels are and aren't according to my knowledge and experience.

However, to some of your points, the idea that the Gospels were written down decades after the events is not a fact, it's a conjecture by some scholars. Other scholars place the commitment to paper within the generation that knew Christ personally. Either way, the stories written down came from the oral tradition, since most people were illiterate back then, and there were many tactics used in those oral traditions to maintain accuracy. So, regardless, these are the communication of eyewitness accounts (with all flaws inherent in that - but having four different versions helps lessen the flaws). They are remarkably consistent given that; and for the record, fictions usually don't remain that consistent when they've gone through the same birth.

These are only guesses, but I think reasonable paths for the communication of these events:

1) how is it Luke knew about the "hosts of angels" seen by the shepherds in the fields? Did he interview every one? How did he find them?
- Mary knew because they told her when they showed up to give Jesus belated baby-shower gifts. Mary told Jesus, Jesus told....

2) Why is it Matthew doesn't mention it?
- Perhaps it didn't matter to him, or to the audience he was shooting for. All the Gospel authors (the ones who wrote it down, not necessarily the conveyors of the oral stories) had an audience in mind. Maybe, also, he thought it might be bullshit.

3) Why is it that not even Josephus, who hated Herod, makes no mention of him slaughtering every child in Bethlehem save one? Why is it Roman or Jewish records of the time (both of which are fairly accurate records) don't mention this either?
- Good point. I don't know. However, a ruler who does something like that might frown upon it being recorded for posterity (see current administration on such spinning of history). Still, your point stands.

4) Why is there so much discrepency between the accounts concerning Judas? If Judas betrayed Jesus so completely as TWO of the four books mention, you'd think his actions would be described in exacting detail.
- I don't think there is a lot of discrepancy on the Judas story. And it is pretty detailed, down to a kiss being the sign. And just because one author dwells on it and another doesn't, that again speaks to what their goal might or might not have been. When witnesses tell stories in court, they often leave stuff out that others mention. (See the OJ trial.)

5) the bible itself mentions numerous gods hanging about.
- That's a common misconception and interpretation. What's being address are the pagan gods worshipped by various groups at the time. The bible is quite clear that there is and has been only one God.

6) assumption being made that you don't believe the world is only 5000 years old
- Only certain groups of Christian fundies believe that, and a very small group at that. Apparently a lot of them are on school boards in Kansas.

Regarding my fiction detector - when I first read the Gospels all the way through in context as an adult, I was shocked at how much they just felt like the depictions of real events - something I hadn't anticipated. Though I didn't really have a coinage of this impression of mine at the time, when I read C. S. Lewis' description of the same thing, I went "Yes! This is what I experienced!" So, perhas C. S. Lewis' fiction detector was skewed, too.

Finally, a question for you. You wrote: "I don't deny that what I believe could be classified as "faith", but it's faith based on FACTS, not myths made up to fit a prophecy."
- What facts are those? And how do they support your beliefs?

i, squub

You wrote: "However, I'm sympathetic to the side of the struggle that says that Religion is dangerous when it explicitly proscribes reason and logic. The fight to deny evolution is a good example, but there are many, many more. Anti-homosexuality, anti-premarital sex, anti-birth control, anti-women-working, etc."

I agree. But not only atheists have that view. Many Christians, Jews, etc. and so on, do, too. We are directly instructed to use reason and logic in the Bible. Just because some manage to fuck it up royally doesn't mean anything.

The only one of those I might quibble with a tiny bit is anti-premarital sex. I think that's a worthy goal, and the drive behind it is sensible. (Considering diseases, emotional toll, etc.) I don't think most people in our culture actually achieve it (I didn't, nor did any other Christian I know), but I don't think there is anything wrong with trying not to be promiscuous.

You wrote: "so that people just starting to ask these questions can more easily steer clear of the Jack Van Impes and the Pat Robertsons."

Hear hear. But steering away from the loons does not equate to steering away from the ideas they drastically misinterpret and misuse. Would you suggest people stay away from atheism because the ideas of Dawkins and Harris (who actually advocates the killing of religious people to assist in the stamping out of religion) are kind of extreme and stilly, too? I mean, is that fair to the flying spaghetti monster?

You wrote: "To me, thinking like you've described would easily lead me to believe there's an aquatic dinosaur in Loch Ness (the people who say they've seen in it sure do sound convinced!)"

Yeah. That's always the danger when you rely on someone else's interpretation of events. Are they lying or not?

But then I've never heard or read a Loch Ness story, or a Bigfoot story, where a huge group of people saw it at together (it's always just a couple people), who corroborate each other's story, and where the resulting stories have left me with the impression that they really saw anything real. Have you? Even though Jane Goodall now attends Bigfoot conferences, I suspect the most famous sighting was someone in a suit.

Further, does the sighting of a presumed boogyman equate to a complex narrative relating a series of events related to one of the biggest human questions ever?

Posted by: yahmdallah on October 25, 2006 5:43 PM

Bradamante, true. I should have it leads to dark ages, inquisitions, genocides and crusades. :)

yahmdallah, I misunderstood about proof, sorry. I will agree that there are some scolars who believe the gospel writers were contemporaries of Jesus, however, I think the bulk of those are theologians working to "prove" the bible as fact. The majority, however, find evidence of new testament events to be lacking at best. (Don't get me wrong, biblical history is a bit of a hobby of mine. I believe a lot of what is in the old testament to be embellishments of true events. The new testament, not so much.) That being said, your explanation of consistency aside, why are there for different versions of the story? The writing-four-gospels-specifically-to-validate-through-consistency theory you posit is a new one to me and lends a lot of credence. But, I have to wonder: would first century jews think of that? The concept sounds vaugly reminiscent of a Quenti Tarantino film. "We're going to tell the story, okay, and we're all going to tell ours so that we don't miss any experiences the others might have had, okay. And, okay, we're not going to quibble on the details because every person has, okay, like, their own point of view, okay? They'll leave out parts they don't feel relevant, and put in ones they do, okay?" :) Were that the writing style of the rest of the bible there'd be thousands of books!

What I think most interesting is that the other authors don't mention each other in the books. You'd think in John, we'd see references to Luke, Mark in Matthew, etc. These people are the closest of the close to Jesus, they're there enough to record these accounts in such detail...but, they don't mention each other? Think about stories from your own life with friends. Sure, there are times you'll relate and you might've been at a party so you don't mention EVERY person there, but it just seems kind of strage to me. If there were just one of these in there, I'd be willing to concede the point:

John 28:65: "And, yea this story is off-topic, but you must hear the word. Lo, it came to pass that Jesus did come into the cave to hang. Unknown to Jesus, Luke had placed a basket above the curtain. Thus it was when Jesus came to the apostles, he was drenched by the water of humor. And, it was at this time that Mark, being a sycophant most heinous, did cry out "Lord, what have they done to you!?"

One could argue that since each was writing their own version, they decided to leave the others out for some reason. It just leads to too many questions. This is the part where I have to just have faith it makes sense, right? ;-)

1. Duh, too obvious. :)

2. It didn't matter to him? Here, the heavens have opened up in glorious triumph and it didn't matter? This is the birth of the messaiah! Every detail should be written in exacting detail! I realize I'm putting my own bias on it: but for an event of this magnitude, not to mention the rest of his life, I would skip the idea of writing my own version of the story. I would work together with the other authors and write one, cohesive story. One without holes and questions. You could argue that language and story-telling wasn't so developed by then, but I'd disagree. The works of Socrates were 400 years old at this point! People knew how to write a story, but they did it alone! :)

Now, all that being said, I can really get behind your last theory there. Not because *I* think it's bullshit, but because I find it an interesting concept that one of the writers of the gospels didn't really buy into the whole divinity thing as much as his buddies. That's something I'm going to think about, you can bet on that!

3) a point, except for one thing: Herod wasn't a Roman, it wasn't his history to write. It was theirs, and something like that would have made the Roman record, I'm sure of it. That being said, why didn't anyone but Matthew think it important? A king murders babies across his kingdom and no one but Matthew recorded it?

4) John doesn't mention the kiss at all. As for the others...according to Mark, Judas' motivation for the betrayal is clearly revenge. In Matthew, it's greed. In Luke, the whole incident with the woman is completely omitted and his motivation is because Satan entered him. But, aside from the details, the movitation and events it's identical! :)

5) Okay, I'll give you that one on ONE condition: you explain away Zeus and Odin and Hermes. I can think of two options you can give me (I hope you come up with a third!): 1) They actually existed and the stories told of them are true. Same, too of Allah and/or the Chinese gods. The solution to them is they gods existed, but the god of Abraham was the greatest of these. I'll accept that as your answer, even though I'll disagree. 2) They didn't exist and their authorship is the bastard child of drug use or insanity. How, then, do you prove YOURS exists?

It is possible for two people's fiction detectors to be off. :) Frankly, in order to get through most popular media these days I have to specifically turn it off!

My "faith", as it were, is based based on science. As I learn more about how the universe works, as I understand more of how it ticks, I move further away from the notion that this was created. There's too much evidence, in my opinion, that the universe just IS. So, too much evidence against, nothing for.

But, beyond that it's is on rational thought and logic. If it is "faith", it's somewhat based on how I FEEL a god who existed would act, especially one who required worship, because faith relies on feeling not logical thought. The logical thought has to come later as you try to come to grips with the contradictions and things you don't understand. You have to put in the "oh, I"m just not meant to understand this anyway!" You must believe first, and then find rationales for it. People rarely say "well, I was thinking about it one day, and I thought "you know, this god thing might have something to it. Okay, I believe in god. One. Two. Three. Believe! Yeah!" No, they say, "I had this feeling that someone was with me, and as I thought about it, I realized it must've been god's presence!"

Anyway, how a god should act: everyone would know I really existed. If there were some who didn't believe, they wouldn't be worshipping me. Better not leave it to chance that they'd have a valid excuse not to such as, oh, I dunno: I go out of my way to hide myself! Second, everyone in the world would know it, since I can be everywhere I will stand next to every person and say "Hi! Knees. NOW!". There wouldn't be Romans following Roman gods and Phillistines following Phillistine gods. There would be ME, and that's it, dammit! The reasons Roman gods exist is because I didn't show myself to them. I just sent my armies after them and expected them to just "get it". No way, no misinterpretation, no contradictions. Adam and Eve KNEW god. They'd talked to him, been directly in his presence! They'd pissed him off! Were it true, there would be NO doubt in anyone's mind that it was true. There's no way something of that significance, that MAGNITUDE, goes disbelieved. That's not an all-powerful god, that's some guy you met in a bar last Tuesday.

Posted by: Upstate Guy on October 25, 2006 8:24 PM

Post a comment

Email Address:



Remember your info?