Follow Mumbling Jack, my new blog

  • Spin - Whenever light is dim, there is always The sound of crows confabulating. Mornings are different from evenings only By old accidents of spin direction. If a...
    1 week ago

Saturday, January 27, 2007

The God Delusion, etc

(A comment by Rob L on this post at Alone On A Boreal Stage led me to write this post.)

"He [Richard Dawkins] does not quietly acknowledge the etherial [sic] quality of religion, but instead scorns it as an escape from the earthly responsibility of being a human being in the here and now (sounds a lot like Marx, actually...and Freud...).

"The ethereal quality of religion." If the emphasis there is meant to be on ethereal, I have to ask why anyone should quietly acknowledge something for which there is, and, by definition, can be, absolutely no evidence?

If religion is the emphasis, then I'd have to say that the evidence is in: it has indeed been used for centuries as an escape from responsibility and accountability. Its great miracle is to turn questions of responsibility and accountability immaterial by passing the buck to an idea of a thing without any measurable substance whatsoever. "God" is indistinguishable from magic.

30 comments:

james said...

to claim that religion is only used to dodge responsibility and accountability is something of a stretch. Although this is certainly true, it has also been used to hold people accountable to standards of behaviour.

Historically the latter is more true than the former I would guess.

There are, near as I can tell, two major questions wrapped up in the dialogue you use to launch this discussion:

1) the mystic urge to believe in something that is manifestly unprovable;

2) the large sins we humans commit in god's name.

You answer the first question ("... I have to ask why...") but immediately spin the argument into the second area of battle.

This is rhetorically interesting but not material. A quick riposte would be to note the X (30? 50? 100?) millions killed in the last seventy years in the name of scientific socialist advancement.

I strongly recommend reading Jacob Bronowski: "Knowledge or Certainty" from The Ascent of Men. In the closing of the video episode, Bronowski walks into the sewage lagoon at auschwitz, where the ashes of millions of sinners (believers in the wrong faith, lovers of the wrong genotype, or just people who suffered from the unforgivable sin of not knowing when to keep their mouths shut) were flushed. He picks up a handful of the muck, the remnants of his relatives perhaps, and notes that this is where certain knowledge leads.

It's the most powerful response to the rabid believers in au courant science that I have ever seen.

John said...

I don't believe that "to claim that religion is only used to dodge responsibility and accountability" is any stretch at all. After all, for a religious person, who is the arbiter of all human affairs? To whom do religious people take their concerns in prayer? Who helps those who help themselves? In whose hands is "it"? Whose plan guides both the daily lives and the "eternal souls" of the faithful? Whose proxies forgive sin in "his" name in a dark booth for some religious people? Who leads people astray in the hope their "souls" will be damned for eternity? All of the above have something in common; the assumption that supernatural forces hold ultimate responsibility for human lives.

"...it has also been used to hold people accountable to standards of behaviour."

Can we agree that the methods of doing so have been guilt and fear? (I'd suggest we can — I may be wrong about that.) In my experience people who are motivated by guilt and fear live stressful lives and more often than not act abusively (physically and/or emotionally) to the people around them.

I'd count that as one more strike against religion.

"There are, near as I can tell, two major questions wrapped up in the dialogue you use to launch this discussion:

1) the mystic urge to believe in something that is manifestly unprovable;

2) the large sins we humans commit in god's name.

You answer the first question ("... I have to ask why...")
"

There is nothing mystic or even particularly mysterious about a human being's "urge to believe in something that is manifestly unprovable;" we impute purpose and direction to all sorts of animate and inanimate objects and forces of nature from at least the moment we begin to talk. Hang out with toddlers sometime, and you'll see it. A very simple evolutionary explanation for such behaviour is that doing so allows us to predict with great accuracy particular dangers or bonuses (safe places, food, water) in our environment.

"...but immediately spin the argument into the second area of battle.

This is rhetorically interesting but not material. A quick riposte would be to note the X (30? 50? 100?) millions killed in the last seventy years in the name of scientific socialist advancement.
"

I can't deny that humans are capable of great evil without the name of religion. However, in the case of Auschwitz and all the other Nazi atrocities, as well as those of Stalin's regime, I think we would be remiss not to observe that some of the obvious trappings of religion, such as fanaticism and avoidance of responsibility and accountability by passing the buck upstairs, were very much present. I'd say Stalinism and Nazism were religions in all but name; that they fulfilled the same needs and produced the same feelings in their followers.

And come to think of it, doesn't the "We're doing god's will" mantra of fundamentalists echo all-too-well the "I was following orders" refrain?


"I strongly recommend reading Jacob Bronowski: "Knowledge or Certainty" from The Ascent of Men. In the closing of the video episode, Bronowski walks into the sewage lagoon at auschwitz, where the ashes of millions of sinners (believers in the wrong faith, lovers of the wrong genotype, or just people who suffered from the unforgivable sin of not knowing when to keep their mouths shut) were flushed. He picks up a handful of the muck, the remnants of his relatives perhaps, and notes that this is where certain knowledge leads.

It's the most powerful response to the rabid believers in au courant science that I have ever seen.
"

Thanks very much for the recommendation. I will look for the Jacob Bronowski book.

As for "au courant science," I'd like to make it clear that while I do not believe that science is in possession of all the answers, I do think it is possible for science to answer all meaningful questions.

Dr. Booze said...

I wish you well with your belief system. Essentially you are identifying all evil as irrational acts, and therefore as proxies for, if not actual religion. (It's pretty hard to argue the sundry purges of Stalin and Mao as anything but hyper rational acts in the best interest of themselves.)

I'd like to believe that if everybody on the planet worked real hard at being rational they'd succeed in Russellian loving-kindness, but I'm cynical of our species. At best I'd guess maybe 25% of the population might be capable of such.

Guilt, fear and programming (work hard, be good, and you'll get laid young men!) are the only tools we have to get the remaining 75% behave with anything approaching civility.

Dawkins observations are accurate, but in the end a society based on his observations is as utopian as any religious commune (or communist commue) ever established

John said...

The percentage of the world's population capable of being rational is probably closer to 75%. The percentage of the world's population capable of acting rationally is probably tied to the percentage with access to education. "Keep 'em dumb and under your thumb" works as well today as it ever has.

I'll wish you well in your belief system as well. In vino veritas, Doc.

ZW said...

One has reason to question the sanity of anyone who imputes rationality to the acts of Hitler, Stalin or Mao. Just because methods are systematic and ends pragmatic does not mean the motivations behind them are rational, much less hyper-rational. John is right: Leninist/Stalinist/Maoist communism and National Socialism were, essentially, religions. They have/had prophets, apostles, gods and demigods, martyrs, iconography, liturgy, even catechism. Does the Cult of Personality ring a bell?

No one here, much less Dawkins himself, is proposing "a society based on his observations". He is working towards--and knows it's a Sisyphean, impossible task--a society with fewer sanctioned illusions. This is not a utopian dream.

Dr. Booze said...

I deeply disagree with your analysis. It may be comforting to assume that murder only stems from madness but the history of our species tends to imply otherwise.

We are carnivours who murder for sport, for pleasure and for expedience. That more decent folk deplore such murders does not make the acts less rational.

In fact seeking comfort by labelling the actions 'insane' is a form of turning towards in the ineffable lightness of god. If the action is understandable, then it ain't madness.

ZW said...

No, I don't think you understand, herr doktor. I said you were crazy. Have another one.

Anonymous said...

..."The first big division of humanity is into the majority, who believe in some kind of God or gods, and the minority who do not. On this point, Christianity lines up with the majority - lines up with ancient Greeks and Romans, modern savages, Stoics, Platonists, Hindus, Mohammedans, etc., against the modern Western European materialism...

If a good God made the world why has it gone wrong? And for many years I simply refused to listen to the Christian answers to this questions, because I kept on feeling, 'whatever you say, and however clever your arguments are, isn't it much simpler and easier to say that the world was not made by any intelligent power? Aren't all your arguments simply a complicated attempt to avoid the obvious?' But then that threw me back into another difficulty.

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because a man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet. Of course, I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too - for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist - in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless - I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality - namely my idea of justice - was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has not meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning; just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.

C.S. Lewis "Mere Christianity"
Published 1952 (thus some archiac language used i.e., Mohammedans.)

ZW said...

Alas, this line of thought is based on a mistaken a priori assumption, i.e. that the only argument against the existence of God is the supposed "senselessness" of the universe and that once this fallacious perception has been unhorsed, there is no longer any obstacle to God's existence. This is about as defensible an argument as Anselm's ontological "proof" of the existence of God: that God is that than which nothing greater can be conceived. Because one cannot conceive of Him, but because there must be something greater than the greatest thing of which we can conceive, then God must exist. Tada! Lewis's version can be schematised thus:

A) If the universe is senseless, then God can't exist.
B) But the universe is only senseless to me because I'm a mere mortal human. If I was God, it wouldn't be senseless at all.
C)Because the universe isn't senseless, then God must exist. QED.

(A clever bit of extra-logical craft in Lewis' statement is the bit about him being once an unbeliever, but having by reasonable-seeming steps come to change his mind, thereby giving his conversion the air of teleological progress.) Unfortunately, the argument has already shredded itself at step A. Logic can be at times an awfully appropriate slant-rhyme for magic. Both Lewis and Anselm are pulling God, like a great celestial rabbit, out of apparently bottomless hats which are actually only the closed logical systems known as tautologies or syllogisms. They are manipulating language's limitations to give birth to something without limitations. You need nothing more than evidence that Zeno got to the grocery store and got back home to debunk these circular arguments as proofs.

Anonymous said...

Oct. 25/06: Richard Dawkins: The God Delusion. A wonderfully spirited and eloquent defense of atheism and a near-airtight refutation of religious belief. For Dawkins, religion is a disease of the mind, much like a virus or a chemical dependency. I'm strongly inclined to agree. This book should be required reading for anyone harbouring doubts about the faith in which they were raised. Those with no doubts will never be convinced of anything they don't already believe. A fool and his money may be easily parted, but a fool and his doctrines are damn nigh inseparable.

Your comments above make it difficult to conduct a rational discussion. Lack of respect for differing opinions shut down the opportunity for open minded exchange of ideas. It always amazes me that those who so lightly accuse Christians of arrogance so often display those very qualities.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I should have made it clear that the above was a book review of The God Delusion by comment poster "zw." The comments I refer to are of course on the line of "a fool and his doctrines..." etc., etc.

John said...

In addition to what Zach just zed: Lewis' feeling that the universe is cruel and unjust was just that; a feeling. And it's a feeling, I realize, which is shared by many people.

But however real the feeling may feel to the people feeling it, it remains simply a feeling, not a fact. And it stems from a naive tendency towards teleology — assuming that because the universe exhibits some apparent similarities to a designed thing, it must therefore be a designed thing. There are simpler answers, ones which don't require a complex designer who popped out of nothing.

The universe is not cruel, nor unjust, nor senseless, anymore than a rock or a tree is any of those things. Such descriptions of the universe are meaningless. They do not apply.


And on preview:

If christians or other religious people had anything to fall back on other than the indefensible idea that we all exist because the most complex being there could possibly be simply popped into existence out of pure nothingness and started making things, and when asked to provide some proof that a rational mind could accept, claim, "I believe because I believe — pray for faith and you might believe too," then perhaps there could be more open-minded exchanges of ideas.

Anonymous said...

Why does the faith of others make you so angry?

Michel, Sieur de Montaigne said...

"It is impossible to argue in good faith with a fool....
realizing he is too weak in the loins, denies everything and, from the outset muddles and confuses the argument, or else at the climax of the debate he falls into a rebellious total silence,… Another counts every word and believes they are as weighty as reasons. This man merely exploits the superior power of his voice and lungs. Another is armed with pure insults…"

John said...

Why do you assume that anything said here arises out of anger?

ZW said...

I share your mystification, John. (Unless I'm wrong and you're not mystified, just curious. Wouldn't want to impute motives...) Pure phlegmatic sangfroid in this corner; when I'm angry about something, I tend not to talk about it in public. Calling someone angry or arrogant is a handy shortcut for discrediting their statements without actually calling the substance of them into question. Anger is most often assigned to dissenting opinions, I've found. Funny how almost no one gets accused of angrily agreeing with someone.

John said...

(Better to impute than impugn, maybe?) Yep, I's a mystified mother too.

Anonymous said...

You're right, zw, I am curious. The use of phrases such as "indefensible idea", "simply popped into existence", and the word "fool" used by three different people in this particular discussion to describe someone who believes other than what they do seems a tad angry to me. I am open to an exchange of ideas, just not an exchange of gratuitous name calling.

To continue the discussion, what about this (taken from your very excellent dictionary, John, thank you for providing the link. I've used it often.) "Faith in this sense, grounded simply in the sincerity of faith, belief on the basis of believing, is often associated with Soren Kierkegaard for example, and some other existentialist religious thinkers." This would probably most likely describe my faith - "I believe because I believe." It is a great mystery to me as well. But I know, for me, my faith is something bigger than I am, that encourages me to reach beyond, that convinces me of the lack of my own power to change the world by myself but in leaning on the guidance provided by God encourages me to try to alleviate some of the suffering I see around me daily; to know that I have been created for a purpose and to do my best to find that purpose and to live as God intended me to live.

ZW said...

Anonymous,

Against my better judgment, because I too am sometimes something of a fool, I'm going to try to answer you here.

Given that you have provided no defense for your faith and affirm that you "believe because you believe," and that your faith is a "mystery," if even you who possess it cannot or will not defend it except with circular vagaries, you give me no cause to find that faith, whatever its lineaments, anything other than an "indefensible idea." I'm sorry that this offends you, but it's quite a clinical assessment and one with which you do not appear to disagree.

If God as you understand it didn't "simply pop into existence," then how did it come about?

The word "fool", as you'll note if you use the "find" function of your browser, is used by two people in this discussion: you (assuming that all anon posts are by the same person) quoting me in a remark made outside of this discussion and Montaigne, who has been dead for a few hundred years, and does not make explicit in his posthumous post who it is he's referring to. You seem to be assuming it's to you and not to me or John or anyone else who's taken part in this discussion. Why is that?

I stand by my use of the term in the commentary on my website (which does not constitute a book review). A fool is someone who has been convinced to believe in the existence/veracity of something for which there is little or no evidence. Quite literally, this person has been fooled. If a person has no doubts about this belief, he confirms himself a fool. You see, it's not that I'm ridiculing people who believe other than what I believe; it's not as tho I'm a Muslim calling a Christian a fool. I am diagnosing a condition in people who will believe anything that cannot be demonstrated. I have no allegiance to any belief system, I am loyal only to skeptical inquiry, to doubt itself in its active form. If I have a stake in this matter, it's because I'm a citizen in a putative democracy, and the idea of my political fate being controlled in any measure by a person, group or groups who superstitiously believe in the literal truth of incredible myths makes me profoundly uncomfortable. People who will believe one big lie are prone to believing others. One has only to look south of our border to affirm this. Granted it was by a slim margin, and quite possibly illegitimate, but nevertheless the American people elected a president who has made public statements about his conversations with God and who referred to his War on Terror as a "crusade" until his PR people told him that was not such a shit-hot idea. He and his circle also got a lot of people to believe in the myth of weapons of mass destruction and that Saddam was somehow tied to the WTC attack. This is not a coincidence, and it is not far enough away from my backdoor for me to be complacent, silent or politically sensitive to the ideological folly of this particular theocracy. Faith is not merely personal, it is profoundly political, and it is an excellent tool for crystallizing solidarity (it is damn near the only thing the wealthy Jews and poor Baptists of America have in common). As John said, "keep 'em dumb and under your thumb." That is why I speak strongly about it.

Your faith isn't actually bigger than you are; it exists in you, so it can't be. There are, however, many things bigger than you, things which are strange, beautiful and mysterious. I look out my window and see mountains, just beyond this city is the Pacific Ocean, above is a universe full of stars too numerous to count and too far away to reach in a hundred lifetimes. Attributing these things to God or Allah or any other Divine Intelligence does not imbue them with power and it does not make them more awesome. If anything, it simplifies them, makes them too easily understandable, too easily consumable. I guarantee you there are more industrialists than naturalists who espouse some form of religious faith. Religious faith and spiritual feeling are not necessarily, contrary to popular misconceptions, mutually inclusive. Hey, if there's an afterlife, do our actions in this one really matter that much? I guess they do if you believe in Hell, too...

John said...

The Montaigne quote puzzled me as well. But a check of sitemeter logs leads me to believe it was written by someone in Saskatchewan with the same ISP as Dr Booze, also with the same OS, browser, and monitor. "If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck...."

I'm glad the dictionary link gets used. You're welcome.

Anyway, I did not use "indefensible" angrily, but simply as a fitting adjective. So it seemed to be, and so it still seems to me to be in the context in which I used it; the idea of an omnipotent, omniscient etc., being is not one which stands up well to examination.

I have no problem with god as literature, or art. But, as Zach pointed out, we live in a time and place where people who claim to believe and be guided by god are not very far away, and they have dangerous attitudes and potent weapons which they do not hesitate to wave in the faces of others. Such people are figuratively -- if not literally -- knocking on our doors.

That disturbs me.

We have an extremely sick government to the south, and it is quite possibly infecting ours. That also disturbs me.

I see religion being used as a weapon all over the world. And that disturbs me. I think it is long past time that the myths on which that weapon depends for power were put away. Being somewhat in touch with reality, however, I do not expect people to willingly give up their weapons. So what are the choices I have?

To bend my knee in submission to what I believe is wrong;

To ignore what I believe is wrong and hope that it goes away, or at least stays away from me;

Or to attempt to render the weapons powerless.

I cannot stomach the first two options.

Which leaves me with the third. And I see no better method than to point out the inanities on which religions are based. I don't believe I'll change the world, but planting the seeds of doubt and cultivating any that might take root is good enough for me.

I'm perfectly willing to reap what I sow. Though I ain't expecting no bumper crop in this field of endeavour.

I would say your belief remains a mystery only because you do not examine it, and its roots. If this is so, why do you not examine it? Do you fear it will dissipate if you do so? If so, what's the worth of it? What is is built of and what is it built upon? And how sturdy are its footings? What sort of examination will they stand up to?

You say your faith "encourages you to reach beyond." I take it this means beyond yourself, and the reaching manifests in your trying alleviate some of the suffering you see?

I see no reason to give credit for your actions and desires to a god. I also see suffering around me and try to alleviate it, though I tend to hew more closely to the "give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, but teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime" school of thought...

...You know, I think it's high time the fish symbol was appropriated from the christians and put to good use as a sign of reason.

Finally, I think Zach's last post merits reading and rereading. He articulated many of my own thoughts and concerns. I would like to draw your attention to the last paragraph in particular, which shows quite clearly, I think, that we do not need religion in order to feel wonder, awe, and humility: the world around us, the universe beyond us, inspire those feelings quite easily. People do it quite well, also. Often.

Anonymous said...

There are two modes of thought, rational and irrational. (Irrational is not to be confused with insanity, the term simply means "without reason.") Interestingly, irrational thinking is often more accurate in attaining truth than rational thinking. The world is filled with paradox, even science has many paradoxes. So following the path of intuition, one may honestly arrive at a faith position, in this case, the position that Jesus actually was and is the Son of God.
Faith itself requires no evidence because it is hope for things not seen. Some might say that believing without seeing is stupid, but to be honest, I never see these critics' brains but I have faith they exist. Why? Because they speak and carry thought. I do not see the wind but I believe the wind exists. Why? Because I see it move things. In the same way is faith in God, we do not see the physical evidence of His existence but we see Him work in our lives.
The strongest defense of Christianity is heart knowledge-- all the attempts to intellectualize and rationalize are counterproductive. They get no one closer to the truth. Many of the apologists in history realized this at some point and quit defending the faith. You are right, there is little rational evidence for believing in Christianity, however, if we allow that part of us that "just knows" things to speak, we might be surprised at what it tells us. I believe in Christ. The less I "try" to believe, the stronger the belief becomes. The Apostle Paul called himself "a fool for Christ" and in that company I must place myself, so perhaps, in retrospect, those calling Christians "fools" are entirely accurate, and perhaps Christians should take that as a compliment!

In ref. to your comments on the beliefs of those who govern south of our border and their imperfections, I can only say that Christians do not claim perfection, only the One we follow is perfect. We all muddle our way through this world doing the best we can. However, the precepts of Christianity are that which we strive to attain. They, yes, have been corrupted and taken out of context and used to do some of the most terrible things in history. Does that make the precept itself incorrect? No, no more than the classic precepts of communism can be blamed for the terrible actions of Stalin. (Which I guess brings us into the whole question of evil in the world, where did it come from, etc., etc.)
The following sums up my beliefs (and what my reading tells me Jesus stood for) which I strive to live daily and fall short of daily. But I can only try.
What if every human heart was full of love for mankind in general and day-to-day companions in particular? What if every human being treated every other human being with the dignity deserved by the image of God? What if all served all, each attempting to give more than he or she received? What if everyone lived in the way of Christ?

What if the wealthy forgave the debts of the poor? What if the poor gave up their resentment of the wealthy? What if those who could afford luxury chose ruggedness, investing their lives in helping mankind, yet never seeking credit for their good deeds? What if the wise gave themselves to helping the foolish?

What if mercy prevailed over justice? What if love prevailed over fear? What if the peacemakers were more respected than the makers of war? What if every child was welcomed into the world? What if healthy young people sought the company of the aged and infirm?

What if the high places were brought low and the low places lifted up? What if to be a servant was to be honored as a king and to be a king a ludicrous joke? What if instead of blindly throwing money at pompous religious leaders, people searched for true need and met it? What if when problems arose people did not ask how or whose fault but solved them? What if trust and truthfulness filled every human relationship? What if people stopped wearing their false faces? What if everyone lived in the way of Christ?

What if meekness was considered a positive character trait and aggressiveness a vice? What if enemies loved their enemies until there were no more enemies? What if all sins were forgiven? What if people understood the hidden pain in people's hearts and comforted each other? What if no one judged anyone? What if everyone hungered and thirsted for righteousness? What kind of world would this be if everyone lived in the way of Christ?

What if the strong gave themselves to carrying the weak? What if all the swords were beaten into plowshares? What if people spent less time filling their wallets and more time filling their souls? What if you loved me and I loved you? What if everyone lived in the way of Christ?

Anonymous said...

This is, I believe, what it is to be Christian:


And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8)

Amos said...

I saw the LORD standing upon the altar: and he said, Smite the lintel of the door, that the posts may shake: and cut them in the head, all of them; and I will slay the last of them with the sword: he that fleeth of them shall not flee away, and he that escapeth of them shall not be delivered.

Though they dig into hell, thence shall mine hand take them; though they climb up to heaven, thence will I bring them down:

And though they hide themselves in the top of Carmel, I will search and take them out thence; and though they be hid from my sight in the bottom of the sea, thence will I command the serpent, and he shall bite them:

And though they go into captivity before their enemies, thence will I command the sword, and it shall slay them: and I will set mine eyes upon them for evil, and not for good.

And the Lord GOD of hosts is he that toucheth the land, and it shall melt, and all that dwell therein shall mourn: and it shall rise up wholly like a flood; and shall be drowned, as by the flood of Egypt.

It is he that buildeth his stories in the heaven, and hath founded his troop in the earth; he that calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth: The LORD is his name.

Anonymous said...

16 Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?"

17 "Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments."

18 "Which ones?" the man inquired.

Jesus replied, " 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony,

19 honor your father and mother,'and 'love your neighbor as yourself.'"

20 "All these I have kept," the young man said. "What do I still lack?"

21 Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

Matthew 19: 16 - 21

John said...

There are two modes of thought, rational and irrational. (Irrational is not to be confused with insanity, the term simply means "without reason.") Interestingly, irrational thinking is often more accurate in attaining truth than rational thinking.

Irrational means not rational; to lack reason or understanding.

Perhaps you're thinking of deductive and inductive reasoning.

Some might say that believing without seeing is stupid, but to be honest, I never see these critics' brains but I have faith they exist. Why? Because they speak and carry thought. I do not see the wind but I believe the wind exists. Why? Because I see it move things. In the same way is faith in God, we do not see the physical evidence of His existence but we see Him work in our lives.

It does not require faith to accept that other people, even those who disagree with us, have brains. To claim that this requires faith is downright silly. While those of us without x-ray vision may not see brains on a daily basis, it is a physical fact that they do exist, and that all of us come from the factory with one installed. It is also a fact that measurable processes occur in the brain when we think and act. Wind also exists; air currents have measurable force and effects. These are facts: believing that an immaterial, unmeasurable being affects the measurable world has nothing to do with fact.

The strongest defense of Christianity is heart knowledge-- all the attempts to intellectualize and rationalize are counterproductive. They get no one closer to the truth.

So, then, you don't examine your faith and belief closely because they won't stand up to scrutiny.

In my opinion, anything worth having is worth understanding. I know religious people love to talk about the mystery of god, and the mystery of faith. But it becomes clearer and clearer to me as I interact with such folk that there is no mystery, only obsfuscation (intentional or otherwise).

Anonymous said...

John,

Please believe that I am not afraid of scrutinizing Christianity. It would be a poor belief and not worth holding if it could not stand up to questioning. And I appreciate the conversation and the opportunity to explore these issues. I am afraid, though, I am beginning to find that faith is a mystery, and a maddening one at that, because, I have engaged in these kinds of discussions often and been frustrated by my inability to explain the mystery. This lack in myself allows people to easily dismiss my beliefs as not worth holding and that I am a simpleton. Yet I know that Christ exists and He is a very real presence in my life. If the great thinkers like Chesterton, Lewis, Kierkegaard have not been able to explain faith to those who doubt the existence of Christ, I'm afraid my poor efforts will not be very convincing either.

I can only add this, and perhaps this is somewhat of an explanation. Perhaps God did not intend us to be able to explain these mysteries. I know this will seem like a cop-out. But let me explain. I often pride myself on my intellect and reasoning prowess, and Christianity is not to be about pride. It is very humbling not to be able to convince people of the "rightness" of my belief. I guess this is where being a "Fool for God" comes in. As Christ said:

Matthew 18:2-6
He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."

Mark 10:15

I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.

Luke 18:17

I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.

Since it is repeated thrice (and three is a very significant number in the Bible) I must assume this has great meaning. We must suspend our disbelief, lay aside the wisdom of the world, in order to enter into the mystery of faith. We must believe our Father as a child believes his parents, and have faith and trust that He has put us here for a reason and that He will neither forsake nor desert us.

John, I wish I could persuade you. Though I was a nominal Christian all my life, these things did not become real to me until I suspended my disbelief and pride and walked, clothed in a white choir gown, into the baptismal font of a local church, was greeted by the pastor and fully immersed in a vat of city water. When I rose from that water, I was changed.

John said...

If you are unafraid of questioning your beliefs, then why not start with the virgin birth; if you don't want to go whole hog and admit to yourself the sheer impossibility of the thing, why not just look up a couple of the Hebrew words (almah, bethulah) translated as virgin. Pay particular attention to the supposed prophecy of the virgin birth in Isaiah 7:14, and which word Isaiah used. But do read all of chapter 7, and on into chapter 8 -- where'll you find the prophesied birth happened about 700 years before the time of Christ.

As for the repetition and echoing of lines and images in literature; it is a rhetorical device often intended to produce the effect those repeated lines in the bible have on you.

Anonymous said...

John,

I think we have come to an agreement to disagree. I leave you with these:

“To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.”
Thomas Aquinas

“Faith is a knowledge within the heart, beyond the reach of proof.”

Kahlil Gibran

"When you have come to the edge Of all light that you know
And are about to drop off into the darkness
Of the unknown,
Faith is knowing
One of two things will happen: There will be something solid to stand on or
You will be taught to fly”

Patrick Overton

Cecilia said...

I have to admit ... I am an avid fan of the ethereal or magic in life ~ it's that indefinable, unproven aspect that gives life it's mystery. It's when dogma is added to the mix that everything gets all muddy and miserable

sark said...

isn't patrick overton some academic fool who travels the country side building the spiritual network through hippie-consensus and white-guilt community networks?

be afraid.

John (and zw) - thank you for the elegant and rounded thoughts. So long as faith is built upon guilt and fear, then rationale thought will continue to myriad in foolish-deadly rhetoric. yes, I’m angry…and who wouldn’t be…after faith in gawd fueled the internment of Indigenous children in faith-based schools…simply a cover for s(k)in-driven rape and pedophilia…and the PM still can’t bring himself to apologize…shame.

oh, if we only had a working improbability drive…

cheers,
sark