The R-Word

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The R-Word

Post by Mr. Tweedy » Thu Oct 02, 2008 3:38 pm

I'm starting this thread because it's something that really interests me but I don't want it to take over and dominate the "Floating Over Time" thread. I don't necessarily want to delve into specific doctrines. Rather, I'd like to hear some opinions of the broad topic "What is religion?"

I'm a Christian. Jesus is life and I don't mind saying so. Now, coming from that perspective, I've always been stumped and stupefied by atheist attacks on "religion", because 9 times out of 10 the thing their attacking has little or nothing to do with my faith or beliefs. Usually, I agree with what the atheists' criticisms. "You're right, that's really stupid" I agree, and "That belief is harmful, absolutely," but then I have to conclude with "But that's not what I believe." One of my favorite books is The Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan. He spends a lot of time (rightfully) debunking ideas that he thinks of as religious, but he doesn't touch on much of anything I believe. That's very typical of my experience.

So, I wonder what, exactly, you atheist guys mean when you say "religion" and what you mean when you say you haven't got any.

Here's what I mean by "religion": Ask the question "Does the universe have a purpose?" If you answer anything other than "no," that's religion. To be truly non-religious, you've got to be able to say, with honesty, "all is meaningless," and I've never known anyone who can do that. If you say there's purpose or speculate that there might be, well, that's religion, isn't it?

So, that's what I mean by "religion." It's really big and open. What do you atheist folks mean?



On a related note, I've always found that atheist rejection of "the supernatural" to be really odd. What does that even mean? I, personally, don't think there is any valid means for distinguishing between "natural" and "supernatural." "Supernatural" is like "magic": It just means we don't currently understand how it works. By some theories, gravity should be able to "leak" over between parallel universes so that we can feel the attractive force of objects we cannot perceive. Is that supernatural? Our whole universe is held together by some weird stuff that scientists call "dark matter" because they haven't got a clue what it is. Is that supernatural? At this moment, I'm communicating with people in arbitrary locations with only a vague idea of how. Is that supernatural? As "Floating Over Time" points out, it's quite likely that time itself is arbitrary and mutable. Is that supernatural?

No? So what on earth does the term even mean? I say not much.

Furthermore, I think it's really odd to reject "the supernatural" because "supernatural" and "religious" aren't synonyms and don't necessarily even have to touch each other. Surely we can imagine a world with nothing "supernatural," with no angels or demons, no miracles, no life beyond death, etc, but still created by a god or animated by a force? You can have religion without supernatural. Conversely, we've all read plenty of stories about worlds which are filled with spirits and magic and arcane forces but which are godless. (China Miéville Bas-Lag novels come immediately to mind.) You can have supernatural without religion.

So, yeah, those are the thoughts in my head right now. What does it mean to reject religion and the supernatural? I really don't know what that would mean. They don't really seem reject-able to me.
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Post by strawman » Thu Oct 02, 2008 6:17 pm

Reflective

Brilliant mind
Considers the stars
From which he comes

Gives order and meaning to all he sees;
(While stars still shine, he will be able.)

Brilliant mind reflects, emits no light
Hears no echoing, “Let there be…”
Never judge anyone until you have biopsied their brain.

"Be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle."
Known Some Call Is Air Am
Spoiler:
Non sum qualis eram = "I am not who I will be"

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Post by strawman » Thu Oct 02, 2008 6:39 pm

According to the world's most ancient myth, man chose knowledge over life, and that choice became his inherent flaw.

Whether the myth is historically true, its essential elements are astonishingly insightful. When he realizes he is wrong, he applies his his knowledge to fix blame. How could it be more 'true'?
Never judge anyone until you have biopsied their brain.

"Be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle."
Known Some Call Is Air Am
Spoiler:
Non sum qualis eram = "I am not who I will be"

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Post by Igwiz » Fri Oct 03, 2008 2:57 am

I'm a Christian. Jesus is life and I don't mind saying so. Now, coming from that perspective, I've always been stumped and stupefied by atheist attacks on "religion", because 9 times out of 10 the thing their attacking has little or nothing to do with my faith or beliefs. Usually, I agree with what the atheists' criticisms.
I don't doubt that a bit, because I think there is a significant difference between religion and faith. That is where I come down on this issue. In most cases, I look at religion as a process that takes the concept of faith, generalizes it, and creates "policy." Usually, that policy is embodied in canon or creed, and is based on interpretation of some kind. Whose interpretation? Usually whoever is in power, or who decides that they have the right to be the leader.

And, whether its the Catholic Church or the Methodist Church or Bob's local church, once a bunch of people get together around a belief, then the rules start.

For example, the Catholic Church does not allow female clergy. Why? Jesus didn't say anything about women not being spiritual. In fact, throughout the Bible, he's seen as actively trying to treat women more equally than most. So, why can't women be priests? Because in Paul's letter to the Galatians, he said that women were to be subservient to men in all things. Now, that wasn't Jesus speaking. That was a Greek lawyer, a man who never even met Jesus. But, the interpretation has stuck, and there are no female priests.

This same type of argument is used by quasi-religious lobbying groups when they go against gay marriage. Focus on the Family dredges up quotes from Leviticus, saying that it is a sin (the actual Hebrew word used is more closely akin to "social taboo") for a man to lie with a man. The same word is used to describe eating pork, engaging in trade on the Sabbath, and sleeping with a woman during her period. But, when it comes to gay marriage, THAT is a sin. Not the Jesus approach, where he says "Judge ye not, lest ye yourself be judged." Nope. Its "policy time," and it goes well beyond the policy of the church, and strays into public policy.

So somehow, even though they don't have intellectual, moral, or emotional jurisdiction over the entire country, "religions" tend to attempt to apply their policies to EVERYBODY. And that makes us feel judged, and unwanted, and feeling inferior if we somehow don't live up to their expectations, even though we don't believe in the policies of that (or any) religion.


Now, most people only see Atheists (big "A" for emphasis) on the news. And usually, they're filing a law suit. Get "In God We Trust" off the money, and "Under God" out of the pledge. Personally, I don't REALLY care, but I could do without those things. Here's why, and I hope that nobody takes this personally.

A primary tenet of Christianity is proselytizing and conversion. Most Christians are told to go out into the world and "spread the good news of Jesus Christ." The reason that Atheists get their panties in a bunch over the "In God We Trust" and "Under God" is that it feels, to us, like the government is encouraging proselytizing through those things. So, even though we're supposedly protected under the First Amendment, and allowed to practice any religion, including "none," those statements make us feel as though that isn't really true.

We remember that "Under God" wasn't added to the Pledge of Allegiance until 1954, during the Cold War, when we were fighting the "Godless Communists" as McCarthy always said.

We also remember enough history of the early colonies, before the Continental Congress, and later, the US Congress guaranteed the right to freedom of religion, as well as freedom from religion. And yes, I believe that I am allowed freedom "from" religion, based on the interpretation of the Supreme Court, who have ruled, "The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits the establishment of a national religion by the Congress or the preference of one religion over another, or religion over non-religion." So, if that's really the case, why are we being told, every time we spend a sawbuck, that We Trust God, if the First Amendment prohibits the establishment of "religion over non-religion?"

See, before the US Constitution was put in place, each State had its own State religion. Most of the New England colonies were Puritan. Pennsylvania was Quaker. The State of Rhode Island was founded by Roger Williams (a Baptist) after he was banished from Massachusetts Bay Colony. Further, property taxes for non-Puritans in Massachusetts Bay Colony were four times higher than for upstanding members of the Puritan faith.

All of this was the result of Religion, not Faith.


As for me, and what I believe... sure, why not. I personally don't believe in the Christian concept of God. I also don't accept the standard Catholic or Protestant concept of predestination -- that man is naturally born into sin and must be "saved." All of those concepts, and judgments, are "religion" to me. Policies, created by the administrative bodies of denominations to better scare or coerce or convince people to believe the way the denomination thinks they should.

What I believe is that I am an organic part of this planet. I am a thinking, feeling, breathing individual, and I am responsible for my own actions. All of them. There's no absolution for me if I ask for forgiveness. If I screw something up, I don't get to say, "Oh, well I asked God for forgiveness, and I am certain he said OK." Whether its the clothes I wear (and am responsible for buying ones that aren't made by sweatshop labor) or the vehicle I drive (ultra-low emission vehicle) or the food I eat (humanely killed, and mostly locally grown), it is my responsibility to live lightly on this earth. To keep it in trust for my children and their children, and teach them how to live lightly upon it as well.

That is my purpose. It isn't grand. It isn't sweeping. When I die, I will become unto dust, and I will provide food to the grass and nutrients to to the trees, and I will live as long as my children and their children remember me, and then I will pass into nothing. And, I will be content.
"The very existence of flame-throwers proves that some time, somewhere, someone said to themselves, 'You know, I want to set those people over there on fire, but I'm just not close enough to get the job done.'" ~ George Carlin

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Post by Mr. Tweedy » Fri Oct 03, 2008 4:02 am

Interesting. Again (and as expected) I agree with many of your criticisms but don't feel they really apply to me.

I absolutely agree that you have every right to what you call non-religion and would (quite literally) fight for your right to reject my God. But the really interesting thing is that my God also agrees that you have this right and has fought for your right to reject Him. It's all about choice, you see; if a person is not free to choose, they cannot live a meaningful life. Love of God cannot be coerced and God has no interest in the phony religiosity brought about by coercion. For a person to choose God they must be free to choose otherwise, and for that reason any abridgment or freedom is abhorrent.

Probably the two most significant events in the Bible are Adam and Eve eating the Fruit and Jesus dying on the cross. The Fruit and the Cross. The first enables people to reject God and the second enables them to choose Him. Both were God's idea.

So, while I sincerely hope you one day become a Christian, the idea of anyone trying to force you to be one is, ironically, in complete opposition to Christianity.
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Post by deflective » Fri Oct 03, 2008 1:32 pm

Mr. Tweedy wrote:So, I wonder what, exactly, you atheist guys mean when you say "religion" and what you mean when you say you haven't got any.

Here's what I mean by "religion": Ask the question "Does the universe have a purpose?" If you answer anything other than "no," that's religion. To be truly non-religious, you've got to be able to say, with honesty, "all is meaningless," and I've never known anyone who can do that. If you say there's purpose or speculate that there might be, well, that's religion, isn't it?

So, that's what I mean by "religion." It's really big and open. What do you atheist folks mean?
your broad definition of religion is what i commonly hear referred to as spirituality (or, as Igwiz mentioned, faith). religion is a set of tenets & practices built upon spiritual claims about reality.

people who refer to themselves as 'spiritual but not religious' are saying that they believe in a greater meaning to reality but they don't accept any institutionalized religion. well, either that or else they aren't attending church and don't want to be dismissed as shallow. depends on who's saying it.
Mr. Tweedy wrote:So, while I sincerely hope you one day become a Christian, the idea of anyone trying to force you to be one is, ironically, in complete opposition to Christianity.
this is actually a pretty good example of the difference between religion and spirituality. what you say is definitely true about christian spiritual beliefs (as described in the sermon on the mount) but the religion that was built on those beliefs has, at times, condoned very zealous conversion techniques.

it's very possible to follow a religion's tenets & practices without any real faith and vice versa.
Mr. Tweedy wrote:Furthermore, I think it's really odd to reject "the supernatural" because "supernatural" and "religious" aren't synonyms and don't necessarily even have to touch each other.
it's hard to answer without a clear idea what's meant by supernatural. within the context of religion i assume it means phenomenon that have no objective proof. miracles: talking bushes and showers of gold. from a scientific viewpoint it's a claim that hasn't been peer reviewed, an item of interest but not worth building a theory around.



so. using these definitions, i understand your original question to be: why do atheists reject any possibility of spirituality? and, of course, the answer could get messy. 'atheist' covers a wide spectrum of beliefs, in this case i'm only going to try to answer for my particular understanding.

my personal beliefs are very similar to those of secular humanism. faith should be avoided whenever possible, in my personal belief system resorting to an unnecessary faith is almost an act of sacrilege.

the world we live in is an incredible place and we're still only beginning to understand it. we have an intense desire to know what this world is and to find our place in it. both religion and science try to provide answers but there is a fundamental difference between them: virtually all established religions require an unquestioning faith in the word of man.

this may sound counterintuitive. religions claim divine teaching, that their faiths are the word of god. that, by definition, faith is required in order to accept their divine revelation. and it sounds good, it often makes a lot of sense. i want to believe and i would believe, if only i could accept that the word of man is actually the word of god.

books and the words of prophets are works of man. when it's so easy to see our beliefs proven wrong over and over again how can i justify a decision to choose one book or one man and offer an unquestioning faith? it's an irrational act. in my case it would have to be an conscious irrational act.

what's to gain? a community to belong to, a sense of peace. faith that i understand my world and my place in it. what's the cost? an irrational act. it seems so small a price but its implications are huge. i am consciously turning away from the world around me, from the place that all my senses tell me is undeniably true, and accepting the word of humanity, which history has shown to be incredibly fallible.

i am giving up the chance that i may actually learn the true nature of the world.

if the divine exists then its work is nature. the world itself is its word. if god created the world then universal gravitation was written by a divine hand and physicists are learning the words of god himself.

those parts of the world's religions that are actually true will be found in the fundamental laws of nature. 'do unto others' will be an emergent formula in game theory. the immortal nature of the soul will be detected in energy loss or proven through pattern persistence or something else awe inspiring. if these things are true. if they are true then the words of god will tell us so.

if god wants our worship his undeniable word will tell us. if he wants us to know he exists then he will have left his word to guide us.

why do atheists reject any possibility of spirituality? my philosophy doesn't reject spirituality, just dilutes it. if spirituality exists then the world and everything in it is spiritual and i'm just as likely to offer my reverence one piece as another. i reject the divinity of religions because they are the works of man and therefore fallible.

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Post by Igwiz » Fri Oct 03, 2008 1:44 pm

Thanks for the offer (both for your willingness to fight for my rights, and for the hope of my potential conversion). I certainly appreciate the first. As to becoming a Christian... I was, once. I have long left that path, and no longer feel as though I can fit within the confines of the Christian Faith, let along a denomination of Christian religion.

I actually belong to (and serve as a Board Trustee) a Unitarian Universalist church. For me, this serves both as a comfortable community to help me raise my kids, and as a foundational platform to continue to seek, discover, and explore the ongoing evolution of my spiritual journey.

If you are not familiary with Unitarian Universalism, it is a merged religion, marrying two similar but unique historic religions into on. The Unitarians were around at Nicea, in 325, and mostly argued on the side of the Unity, rather than the Trinity. They do not believe that Jesus is divine, but rather an enlightened emmisary of God.

Univeralism grew out of New England Congregationalism in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Originally touted as the "No-Hellers," Universalists believe that humans are not separated from God through original sin that needs to be healed. Therefore, while they accept Jesus as prophet, they do not bleive that Jesus' death on the cross was any more than a human man's willingness to die for his convictions. Because God is a single unit, and is Universally all-encompassing, traditional Universalists believe that ALL people will go to Heaven, because they are part of God. However, the way you live your life is important, because the more you give of yourself and to your community, the closer you are spiritually to God, and therefore the closer you are literally to God in Heaven. (This is actually based on old Judaic perspectives, since Judaism does not include a Hell, but rather a closeness to or a distance from Yaweh at the point of death.)

What Unitarian Universalism (UUism) has evolved into is an broadly accepting, non-creedal spiritual community. UUism differs from most organized denominations by lacking what is called a "creedal test."

For example, the Catholic Church has the Nicene Creed (and many non-Catholic churches still use this creed as well). It is a statement of what that religion "believes." The Nicene Creed goes like this:
"I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.

Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
In order to be "Confirmed" in the Catholic Church, and in order to continue in good standing with the Catholic Church, this is what they say, and they recite it together regularly. The Lutheran one is worded differently. That makes sense, since Luther was pretty pissed at Catholocism when he edited their belief structure.

UUism doesn't have a creed. You can't get kicked out or excommunicated or judged if you don't believe something, or refuse to recite a certain creed. But, we do have what we consider to be Seven Primary Principles of Life. Those are:
1. The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
2. Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
3. Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
4. A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
5. The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
6. The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
7. Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
This is not a set of "rules" and "policies" like the Nicene Creed. We aren't saying that we believe in a certain interpretation of the "TRUTH." Rather, when we join together as a congregation, we all affirm and plege ourselves to work towards these principles.

So... while I appreciate the offer of conversion, I just don't think I'd fit into Christianity any more. Because I cannot fit the "rigidity" of Christianity, or the Great Commission, into these principles. Because I believe that Principle 2, "Justice, equity and compassion," means that gays should have the right to marry, and have the same protections and priveleges under the law.

Because I believe that Principle 3, "Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth," means that I support the Pagan members of my congregation as much as I support the Jewish tradition members of my congregation as much as I support the Secular Humanist members of my congregation. And I don't think that Christianity can offer me that "acceptance," becuase deep down, it will always be trying to say, "Yeah, but I still think you should convert those friends to Christianity if you can." And I don't want to.

As for me, and what I believe, I would consider myself to be a Spiritual Humanistic Gaianist.

Spiritual (not Religious) Humanism is different from Secular Humanism.

Spiritual Humanism combines Humanist ethicism with the understanding that people can still look at and be interested in spirituality (in the sense of the self-defined, Cartesian self-spirit).

Then, from Humanism, we take: Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethic based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities.

I then add Gaianism.

Gaianism is: Gaia philosophy (named after Gaia, Greek goddess of the Earth) is a broadly inclusive term for related concepts that living organisms on a planet will affect the nature of their environment in order to make the environment more suitable for life.

And what I get, in the end, is what I mentioned in my previous post...
What I believe is that I am an organic part of this planet. I am a thinking, feeling, breathing individual, and I am responsible for my own actions. All of them. There's no absolution for me if I ask for forgiveness. If I screw something up, I don't get to say, "Oh, well I asked God for forgiveness, and I am certain he said OK." Whether its the clothes I wear (and am responsible for buying ones that aren't made by sweatshop labor) or the vehicle I drive (ultra-low emission vehicle) or the food I eat (humanely killed, and mostly locally grown), it is my responsibility to live lightly on this earth. To keep it in trust for my children and their children, and teach them how to live lightly upon it as well.

That is my purpose. It isn't grand. It isn't sweeping. When I die, I will become unto dust, and I will provide food to the grass and nutrients to to the trees, and I will live as long as my children and their children remember me, and then I will pass into nothing. And, I will be content.
And my UU community supports my selection of this approach, and convenants and affirms my right to choose this philosophy, and my inherent right to change it if it stops working for me some time in the future.

But, I still want to thank you for the offer of conversion. Because I know that to you, it means you care.

Igwiz
"The very existence of flame-throwers proves that some time, somewhere, someone said to themselves, 'You know, I want to set those people over there on fire, but I'm just not close enough to get the job done.'" ~ George Carlin

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Post by strawman » Fri Oct 03, 2008 11:19 pm

Actually, Igwiz, priests are male because Christ was male, and priests are supposed to be vicariously Christ in the sacrifice of the mass. It has nothing to do with Paul. As far as submission goes, Paul says wives should submit to their husbands, who should love them and sacrifice their lives for them (as Christ loved the Church). That really demands more sacrifice of the man than of the woman. It is evident that Paul's words about women in church is culturally time-stamped and changeable. But people pick and choose what they want to emphasize, either in their doctrines or in their objections to doctrines, forming denominations and structures that contradict the gospels. Jesus prayed that all may be one, because it was by this that the world would recognize that the Father sent him. So when Christians do not submit to one another, when they abuse faith and each other, when they would prefer to judge than to serve one another, the world does not recognize anything extraordinary about Jesus.

Although I don't attend a Catholic church, I think the Catholics doctrine about the supremacy of the individual conscience is the most respectful of human freedom. And I think that Catholic attitude toward science and creation is the most respectful of the intellect among religions. But as a church it is also subject to the faults of its past as well as a myriad of failings common to humanity. Every organization I have ever known , religious or secular, has had the same faults. The problem with private spirituality replacing religious community is that there is something to Jesus' statement that where two or more gather in his name, he is there.

I got married in a Unitarian church many years ago. I graduated from an Ivy League college as a confirmed secular humanist. When my self-will arrived at the end of its resources, I experienced an powerful epiphany, much as Paul did on the Damascus road. I came to believe in Jesus from that experience. People can say what they want, but they can't contradict your experience. Experience is really our fundamental teacher. Yes Christians are supposed to propagate their faith. But if God does not give many the epiphany experience of Jesus, then Christians need to be so like Jesus that the world can experience him through us... as Mother Teresa did. Instead, what do we see? Money-grubbing televangelists! This is what "taking the Lord's name in vain" is all about.

I think that supernatural things are a lot like string theory. By their nature, they can never be directly observed. But the theories are largely based on what works the best. Even elegance and simplicity and beauty are recognized as legitimate elements supporting the theories of everything. This gets so close to spirituality that I keep expecting someone to wrap it all up with the proposal of a God particle.

So what is simple and elegant, and beautiful? What works? If you look at social pathologies like addictions and their cures, the conclusions that I draw are that self-directedness is the root of most problems, and the cure is being turned inside out. Which corresponds, interestingly enough, with "He who would save his life will lose it, and he who lays his life down will save it."

In so many other ways as well, what Jesus taught us works. But you need to experience it to know it.

Sorry this is too long. Very undrabbly of me.
Never judge anyone until you have biopsied their brain.

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Spoiler:
Non sum qualis eram = "I am not who I will be"

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Post by Mr. Tweedy » Sun Oct 05, 2008 5:55 am

So many places to go, I don't know where to start. Or how much I want to try your patience. :)

Deflective: I agree with you 100% about irrational acts being bad. That's something else that's always baffled me, the idea that "faith" and "irrational" are somehow synonyms. See, I would never call irrational belief "faith." I would call it stupidity or blindness. Faith is belief without proof, to be sure, but without proof is a far cry from against reason. If we accept that a creator is rational and made beings who are also rational, then it makes no sense whatsoever that this creator would then expect the beings to abandon their reason. To the contrary, anyone who demanded unreason would be playing the Satan role. Irrationality is something my faith has never demanded of me. I've never had to chose between faith and reason because they've always harmonized.

I'm suspect that has something to do with the fact that I am not and have never been a member of any denomination. I'm a Christian. Creeds and rules and organizations might sometimes be expedient, but that's all they can ever be. Lutheran? Catholic? Baptist? Count me out, thank you. I don't need any label beyond "Christ" attached to me. For the last few years I've been attending a Reformed Church, but I'm not a member of that denomination and would never join any denomination. I'm interested in what a church teaches, not what it calls itself. Maybe that's why I've never struggled between reason and faith. If a church teaches something I reject, I just say "Nah, I don't buy that," and that's pretty much the end of it. Churches are expedients to following Christ, not an end in themselves.

For instance, the church I attend practices a particular ritual that I believe is sacrilegious. So, when they perform that ritual, my family quietly steps out and we come back in when they're done. There's no struggle here: I think the Reformed Church is wrong on this point, so I don't participate. I don't consider the Reformed Church a source of any spiritual authority–just an expedient–so I've got no crisis, and there would be no crisis if the Reformed Church got so whacky that I felt I couldn't attend anymore. I could just leave, and my faith would be unscathed, because my faith is in Christ, not in a particular church.

So... By those criteria, would you even consider me religious? I worship God but respect no authority structure. Would you just call me "spiritual" in that case?


Faith: I've heard many people (generally people who claim they don't have any) define faith as just believing some arbitrary thing, regardless of–or in the face of–any facts. But, like I said, I don't think that's having faith. That's just being stupid. Maybe you could call it "unjustified faith" or "bad faith," but faith is a much broader idea than just that. This is how I think of faith:

I believe that I can drive down to Kroger and buy coffee right now. That's faith. Why? Because I don't know that my car is in the driveway: It might have been stolen. I don't know Kroger is stocked with coffee: They might be sold out. I don't even know that Kroger is there: It might be burning down at the moment. But, despite my lack of definite knowledge, I still believe I can drive out and get coffee. And... That's pretty much it. It gets deeper in terms of significance–depending on what I've having faith in–but not in terms of complexity. Faith is just continuing to believe what you know is true even when the proof is not currently in front of you. The word is used in a similar sense when we talk about being faithful to a spouse: They remain your one partner, even though they aren't there all the time. Or the Marines with Semper Fi: Loyal to the homeland no matter where in the world they are.

That's what I mean by faith, and that's how it's talked about in the Bible. This business of believing in spite of reason... Well, that just makes you a moron.

An anecdote:

One of things in my life that pissed me off the most and still burns me was one time when I heard a child telling an adult that T-Rex was a carnivore. The adult retorted that, no, T-Rex was an herbivore*. The child responded with several well-memorized facts about T-Rex, citing the enormity of its teeth, the power of its legs and the size of its tail as evidence that it must have been a predator. To that, the adult said, with an indulgent shake of her head, "No, those are just mysteries."

The reason that makes me so angry isn't because that woman told the kid something silly: That's forgivable. The terrible thing is that she told him, "Don't think." She asked him to abandon reason and believe something without offering any justification. That is wrong.


*As you are probably aware, there are some people who think the Bible teaches this. It's quite embarrassing.
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Post by strawman » Sun Oct 05, 2008 2:02 pm

If God loves creation, it is inconceivable to me that God would give us intellects and then require that we not use them if we want to know him. It would be like requiring someone to meet you in Times Square, then changing all the street signs.
That's why it's wrong, and not just silly. It proposes that God is Q.
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Re: The R-Word

Post by Goldenrat » Mon Oct 06, 2008 4:31 am

Mr. Tweedy wrote: Here's what I mean by "religion": Ask the question "Does the universe have a purpose?" If you answer anything other than "no," that's religion. To be truly non-religious, you've got to be able to say, with honesty, "all is meaningless," and I've never known anyone who can do that. If you say there's purpose or speculate that there might be, well, that's religion, isn't it?
That's an interesting question, I've never thought of the origin of the universe in that fashion. I would consider myself agnostic, after being Catholic for ~30 years. I can accept that there may have been some type of force / entity that somehow jump-started the beginnings of the universe (big-bang). However, considering the infinitely minor part of the universe the earth makes up, I don't think such an entity would've written a holy book or books for the many earth religions or would care about any one of the infinitely many occupants of this planet. I come from a very religious family and get frustrated that they believe things like the Bible verbetim, visions, bleeding statues, and miracles; but they totally dismiss scientific discoveries and natural theories. So I guess I would answer the question probably "Yes" but the purpose has nothing to do with any earthly religions, which I guess I would say are all creations of man, not gods.
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Post by Igwiz » Mon Oct 06, 2008 9:49 am

Tweedy - You're the kind of Christian I can talk to. One that will tell me what they believe, and listen to what I believe, and then accept whatever decision I make after than. I guess I'll call your approach the "Free will Christian" version of faith. And I'm down with that.

But I'm gettin' pretty tired of these "Predestination Christians" and I'm REALLY exhausted by the "'Ole Tyme Religion, Dispensational, Pre or Post Millennial folks." You know, the religion that didn't even exist until John Nelson Darby was excommunicated from the Church of Ireland in 1832.

The concept of the Rapture, and all the Left Behind books, just drive me nuts. People come to these churches thinking that its Christianity, and its not. It simply is not. And not that I'm all that down with the Christian Religion anyway, but what these people seem to believe is simply sheer lunacy.
This business of believing in spite of reason... Well, that just makes you a moron.
Dude... I live a 30 minute drive from this: http://www.creationmuseum.org/ Let me tell you how much these MORONS scare me. Its like, they are proud of their ignorance. As though its a badge of honor that they wear out in public, shouting to the rest of the planet, "I'm so F-ing stupid that, not only did I pay $22 to get in, but I spent another $25 for the T-shirt."

That's what scares the crap out of me. That religion has reduced these people to this level of idiocy. Oy vey!!!!
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Post by strawman » Mon Oct 06, 2008 2:14 pm

Igwiz wrote:
This business of believing in spite of reason... Well, that just makes you a moron.
Dude... I live a 30 minute drive from this: http://www.creationmuseum.org/ Let me tell you how much these MORONS scare me. Its like, they are proud of their ignorance. As though its a badge of honor that they wear out in public, shouting to the rest of the planet, "I'm so F-ing stupid that, not only did I pay $22 to get in, but I spent another $25 for the T-shirt."

That's what scares the crap out of me. That religion has reduced these people to this level of idiocy. Oy vey!!!!
I totally agree. I would add the perspective of some other types of faith that scare the hell out of me. The most obvious one currently is the worldwide faith in the mathematicians and physicists who devised the system of credit leveraging which the smartest people in the world bought without understanding, and therefore contrary to reason, which is now crashing around our ears.

Another would be the reaction to the 'heretic' scientists who are studying the links between sun-spot activity and climate change, who are being attacked as deniers and tools of industry along with anyone whose opinion doesn't conform to the orthodox AGW faith.

There are many facets of "Orthodox Religion" and closemindedness. In my opinion, a certain humility needs to be fostered all around which might result from this scientifically derived principle: You don't know what you don't know.
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Post by cammoblammo » Mon Oct 06, 2008 2:16 pm

I'm with Mr Tweedy when I say that I'm a Christian as opposed to a member of a denomination. However, I do belong to a denomination---in fact, my wife and I are ordained ministers of religion and we pastor a congregation.

Having said that, I don't believe God is a member of any particular denomination, and I'm pretty sure he's interested in more than just Christians too. I think he's done a pretty amazing job of creating this universe, far transcending anything scientist or poet will ever really be able to describe. Oh, and whilst I tend to call God 'him,' I don't think he is gendered.

To me, there are two aspects to what we term 'religion.' One might be called 'faith': it encompasses what we believe and our personal experience of God. It is essentially personal, although there are social aspects too. The other is 'cultus.' This is the way we practice our religion. It includes the way we worship, both privately and publicly. These two things aren't mutually exclusive. In fact, there is a lot of necessary overlap between them. For example, morality might be seen as a result of personal belief affecting the way a person acts.

Whilst this distinction is fairly muddy (not to mention arbitrary), it's one I try to keep in mind every time I lead our service on Sunday morning. Ultimately, there's no 'right' way to lead the service, although there are plenty of wrong ways. In some ways what we do together is a tribal thing---we do it our way, which may or may not be the same as the Baptists up the road or the Catholics the next street over.

I see my role as helping people to explore and express their 'religion' during the 167 hours of the week they're not formally in church. If I can get people to think about something in a way they've never thought about, or show them something of the wonder that is God, I'm happy. Even if they disagree with me, at least they've thought about it.

My job largely involves telling stories. Many of those stories will be from the Bible. Others will be from the history of our church or denomination. Others will be from that morning's newspaper. That's part of the reason I enjoy listening to the Drabblecast and other fiction podcasts---by listening to stories I become a better storyteller.
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Post by Mr. Tweedy » Mon Oct 06, 2008 5:31 pm

Cammo: Let me clarify my earlier statement, because it probably sounded like I was throwing a blanket criticism over anyone who belongs to a denomination. I didn't mean it that way. I have not joined a denomination (and don't ever expect to) 1.) because I have not found one with whose doctrines I fully agree and 2.) I do not want the burden of a label whose meaning can change or 3.) the responsibility of claiming the heritage associated with a label. If someone else is not concerned with those things, I don't fault them for it, but it isn't for me. I.e. I do not find denominations expedient to my Christian life. If someone else does, I don't look down on that in any way. (I don't consider myself a member of any political party either, although I am hardly a "moderate," but I don't look down on the affiliated.)

"Faith" and "cultus" huh? In my (denominational) college they called it faith and "praxis." You are obviously a heretic in need of stake burning. :twisted: James called it "faith and deeds," I think, if we're talking about the same thing.

I'm not sure it's possible to really separate the two. The praxis is a direct result of the faith: I do what I do because of what I believe. (Interestingly, that is the case regardless of what one is having faith in. Going back to my Kroger example, my driving to Kroger is the praxis of the my faith that Kroger's got coffee to buy. Another interesting note is that people very often lie about their faith, leading to that hellishly labyrinthine phenomenon of hypocrisy.) Because Christian faith is, in fact, so open and flexible, the same can faith can lead to numerous forms of expression. For instance, my own worship of God might take place at home, praying in solitude, in church singing hymns, or at a blaring rock concert, shouting and jumping around and having semi-controlled collisions with my fellow worshippers. Those are pretty different behaviors, but they're all worship stemming from the same faith.

Igwiz: The really ironic thing about the sort of religion that uses violence or coercion to bully people into conversion is that it's futile. Suppose a cultist comes to your house and says "Confess Lucifowl or die!" Well, if you do go ahead and profess your love of Lucifowl, what does that demonstrate? That you love Lucifowl? No. It only demonstrates that you are willing to lie to save your life.

Take your example about the Quakers: Does membership in the Quaker church show that you subscribe to Quaker doctrine? No. It just shows that you prefer lower property taxes. Coercion has the sole effect of encouraging hypocrisy. Coercion is telling people to fake it.

So, my respect for your right to reject God is twofold: First, because it is your (God given) right to reject Him and no one has any business interfering with it, and, second, because I recognize that any attempt at coercion would actually discourage you from genuine faith.
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Post by Goldenrat » Mon Oct 06, 2008 7:09 pm

Igwiz wrote: Dude... I live a 30 minute drive from this: http://www.creationmuseum.org/ Let me tell you how much these MORONS scare me. Its like, they are proud of their ignorance. As though its a badge of honor that they wear out in public, shouting to the rest of the planet, "I'm so F-ing stupid that, not only did I pay $22 to get in, but I spent another $25 for the T-shirt."

That's what scares the crap out of me. That religion has reduced these people to this level of idiocy. Oy vey!!!!
That IS scary! Is it 2008 or 1708? Kind of reminds of me of some of the hilarious "science" I've read on conservapedia. I think I'll start up a tooth-fairy museum. I think my kids still might have some of the letters she wrote.
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Post by Igwiz » Mon Oct 06, 2008 8:16 pm

Say... here's a way for me to make a point and plug a friend's magazine as well. Shimmer magazine (cool weird fantasy) has released their Pirate Issue (Spring 2007) for free on their website. In it, they have an interview with Bobby Henderson, the man who first introduced the notion of teaching about the "Flying Spaghetti Monster" as a rebuttal to teaching Intelligent Design in Kansas schools. Fascinating article, AND its surrounded by 120 pages of awesome fantasy pirate stories. You can find it here: http://www.shimmerzine.com/

Good stuff. If you like it, I'd recommend subscribing. They have an electronic-only (password-protected pdf) subscription for $15 a year or so. I love it.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming...
That IS scary! Is it 2008 or 1708? Kind of reminds of me of some of the hilarious "science" I've read on conservapedia. I think I'll start up a tooth-fairy museum. I think my kids still might have some of the letters she wrote.
Ah yes... well you do know the rule... if you say it often enough or loud enough, SOMEBODY will believe you.

I guess somewhere, somehow, these people have translated their 5th grade love of dinosaurs with their need to JOIN something, and we've ended up with a quasi-religious corporation called "TRUTH in Genesis."

I just love people with no sense of humor. I mean, they're reading this in English, right? So, they're "literalists," and are quibbling about the interpretations of commas, words, verbs, and pronouns, and they're reading it in ENGLISH!??!!??

Why can't these people seem to get it into their head that the friggin' document wasn't composed in English. This is a document that has undergone TRANSLATION. We're talking Hebrew to Aramaic to Coptic to Demotic to Greek to Latin to German to English (and that's the EXPRESS route. God forbid if we got stuck on the milk run!!!).

Shit, dude. There's so many degrees of separation from the original source code that you could say that Kevin Bacon wrote the damn thing, and probably get it to stick (as long as he filed for copyright in California!!).

All I'm saying is, the fact that they don't understand this relatively significant concept should be a REALLY bright indicator of other potential... limitations regarding their spiritual horizons!
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Post by Mr. Tweedy » Mon Oct 06, 2008 8:47 pm

Igwiz wrote:Bobby Henderson, the man who first introduced the notion of teaching about the "Flying Spaghetti Monster" as a rebuttal to teaching Intelligent Design in Kansas schools.
Eh... Got to say that intelligent design is not affiliated with any religion, holy book or god. The Flying Spaghetti Monster as an alternative to ID is nonsensical: If Bobby was looking to mock ID, he would have done better to liken it to a scientific idea he feels is ridiculous, like the ether theory of radiation or something. ID does not deal with deities, demand belief in anything "supernatural" or speculate on the meaning of life, so FSM is not a suitable rebuttal, much as I appreciate the satirical light His Noodliness throws on some of the more dogmatic ideas out there.

I'll read the article, though. He might have something interesting to say.
Igwiz wrote:Why can't these people seem to get it into their head that the friggin' document wasn't composed in English. This is a document that has undergone TRANSLATION. We're talking Hebrew to Aramaic to Coptic to Demotic to Greek to Latin to German to English (and that's the EXPRESS route. God forbid if we got stuck on the milk run!!!).
Well, that's assuming they're reading the King James (not my preference but a decent translation by all accounts). More recent translations tend to be straight from the original languages.

All the same, your point holds: Arguing over individual clauses is rather silly when reading a translated document. I know there are some people who view the King James alone as being God's Word, to which I respond: :?: Most of the preachers I listen to actually study Greek a bit and talk about the original words in their sermons to clarify the meaning of the translations. (My favorite "famous" preacher is a guy named Rob Bell. He talks about the original languages a lot, which I dig.)
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Post by strawman » Mon Oct 06, 2008 10:35 pm

Translation issues would be more important if Truth were a thing. In my opinion, what makes Christianity unique is Jesus' claim that Truth is no longer a what, but a who; and that it is not something that one knows, but someone that one incarnates.

It isn't that Christianity has been tried and found lacking. It's that Christianity has been found too difficult, and so not tried. Gandhi is reported to have said, "I might have been a Christian if I had ever met one."
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Post by deflective » Fri Oct 10, 2008 1:12 pm

sorry my responses are slow, i try to wait until i can express myself properly.
Mr. Tweedy wrote:Deflective: I agree with you 100% about irrational acts being bad. That's something else that's always baffled me, the idea that "faith" and "irrational" are somehow synonyms.
this is something we agree on, i do not believe that faith is inherently irrational. even within my belief system where faith is to be avoided at all costs there is one 'original sin' that must rationally be made. i have faith that the world i perceive with my senses is, in fact, a true world.

we don't really know whether our senses show us truth or persistent hallucination. it could be some sort of matrix or lifelong coma, there's no proof either way, but denying all our senses and subscribing to nihilism accomplishes nothing. to accept our senses as truth requires a faith (usually unconsciously) which is, in this case, rational.

faith is no longer required once we accept the perceived world as real. it might make things easier or make us feel better but i'm not willing to pay the cost of unnecessary faith.
Mr. Tweedy wrote:For instance, the church I attend practices a particular ritual that I believe is sacrilegious. So, when they perform that ritual, my family quietly steps out and we come back in when they're done. There's no struggle here: I think the Reformed Church is wrong on this point, so I don't participate. I don't consider the Reformed Church a source of any spiritual authority–just an expedient–so I've got no crisis, and there would be no crisis if the Reformed Church got so whacky that I felt I couldn't attend anymore. I could just leave, and my faith would be unscathed, because my faith is in Christ, not in a particular church.

So... By those criteria, would you even consider me religious? I worship God but respect no authority structure. Would you just call me "spiritual" in that case?
from what you've told me it sounds religious; you seem to assign value to the church and consider particular times or places holy. giving rituals so much importance that they can be considered sacrilegious is a strong sign.

i stress that my understanding of denominations is very limited. i'm not familiar with what a person would have to do in order to be part of a religion and remain centered on spirituality rather than ceremony.
Mr. Tweedy wrote:Faith: I've heard many people (generally people who claim they don't have any) define faith as just believing some arbitrary thing, regardless of–or in the face of–any facts. But, like I said, I don't think that's having faith. That's just being stupid. Maybe you could call it "unjustified faith" or "bad faith," but faith is a much broader idea than just that. This is how I think of faith:

I believe that I can drive down to Kroger and buy coffee right now. That's faith. Why? Because I don't know that my car is in the driveway: It might have been stolen. I don't know Kroger is stocked with coffee: They might be sold out. I don't even know that Kroger is there: It might be burning down at the moment. But, despite my lack of definite knowledge, I still believe I can drive out and get coffee. And... That's pretty much it. It gets deeper in terms of significance–depending on what I've having faith in–but not in terms of complexity. Faith is just continuing to believe what you know is true even when the proof is not currently in front of you. The word is used in a similar sense when we talk about being faithful to a spouse: They remain your one partner, even though they aren't there all the time. Or the Marines with Semper Fi: Loyal to the homeland no matter where in the world they are.
this is something i've given a fair amount of personal thought to. i break knowledge into four levels of certainty and distinguish them as follows:

1) to know: information that's immediately reported by the senses. i know that my computer screen is glowing right now and that i'm wearing clothes. these things are reported by my senses.

2) to understand: information that's deducible from the senses & natural laws. i understand that electricity flows into my house otherwise the computer wouldn't function.

3) to believe: knowledge & understanding of the world is extrapolated to make predictions. it is often tied to experience. i believe that i am having a virtual conversation with several people. there's no actual proof of this but it's extremely unlikely that i'm talking to a sophisticated ai or a single person with multiple accounts. it's good to remind ourselves that beliefs will consistently contain wrong assumptions.

4) to have faith: taking something to be true without a solid grounding in knowledge & logic. i have faith that my senses show me the real world.

these are the definitions that i use when thinking about philosophical matters. they aren't official definitions and it's a good thing that you made sure we understand each other.

these levels are useful as a guideline but they can also be messy. people don't always agree whether something is understood or believed. you generally want to move things to a lower level (it's better to understand why the sun will rise tomorrow rather than just believe it will because it's what always happens). science is fantastic at doing that. on the other hand there are times when knowledge -this wall is shimmering- should give way to understanding or belief -my drink is psychotropic-.

ultimately, there is only one piece of pure knowledge any of us have: we exist. after that even the most rigorously skeptical belief structure must be built on an act faith: our senses show a true world (if imperfectly).

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