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The God Debate: Hitchens vs. D'Souza

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  • LawndartLawndart Registered User regular
    edited May 2010
    Qingu wrote: »
    Sure. But if this is how we define and think about religion—as the ever-shifting vagaries of individual practice, belief, and non-practice and non-belief, and the associated cherry-picking and syncretism and Christmas-and-Easter-type faith ... it becomes so nebulous that any meaningful discussion is impossible.

    Except that's how religious faith is practiced and expressed by actual human beings.
    Qingu wrote: »
    This is why I usually prefer to think about religion in terms of ... what a holy text says. If a person tends to agree with said holy text, they are "religious." If they tend to ignore it, they are "not religious."

    Maybe Hitchens thinks differently, but if this is how he thinks about religion, it certainly makes sense to at least say MLK and enlightened, liberal Christians are "not religious."

    Except that's not how religion actually manifests itself in the real world. You can't take just the text of a religious book and divorce it from the interpretations of either individuals or organized groups. Because there aren't any of either that follow a holy text without interpreting it.

    You can define organized religions primarily by how they tend to interpret the holy texts of their faith, but that's different than using nothing beyond the text itself.
    Qingu wrote: »
    People can and do use the Bible (and other religious texts) as the inspiration for their faith, and tool to help articulate that faith without thinking that the text is inerrant.
    They tend to do so pretty haphazardly and with great intellectual dishonesty. "Cherry-picking" is a good term for it. I have yet to see a meaningful criteria for the Christians you're talking about to decide which passages to follow and which passages to ignore, other than "do these passages conflict with whatever secular morals and science?"

    Except that haphazard cherry picking has been an inherent part of how humans approach and express religious faith since, well, forever. The criteria doesn't have to be anything more meaningful than how it resonates with their own personal faith.

    You could demand that organized religions provide a criteria for following or ignoring certain aspects of their particular holy text(s), but once again the concept of interpreting the divine is a pretty solid tradition in at least the major monotheistic religions.
    Qingu wrote: »
    @Lawndart, you are not religious, right?

    I think that this is really what bothers me about your approach to religion (and also Loren's). Earlier, I had compared the "goodness" of religion to the sugar you feed a child to make him take his medicine, and you seemed to agree with this ... and like I said, I can see the merit of this view, so I hope this doesn't sound too judgmental.

    But can't you see how this comes off as condescending towards religious people? I mean, another way to put your view is: "Religion is bullshit, but it can be wielded to manipulate people who don't know any better to do some social good." Doesn't it matter to you that, you know, the central claims of religions are false? Doesn't it feel like manipulation to just sweep that under the rug so as to better lead the "children" to our leftist social utopia?

    Except that's not really how I feel about religious faith.

    To set some background, I feel that the need for "faith" in a very general sense is pretty much hard-wired into the human psyche. I don't mean religious faith, but the drive to impose order onto the chaos of life and to feel that what is unknown can be known. Religious or spiritual faith is a subset of this, as is secular faith in humanity or science or reason.

    So no, I really don't think of religious faith as being bullshit, just a different method that people use to meet their primal need for faith. For the same reason, I really don't see religious faith as being inherently opposed to faith in science. Instead I try and focus on what that faith motivates individuals to do, how it motivates them to act towards others and what the societal impact of those actions are.

    So it really doesn't matter that religious expressions of faith don't resonate with me. What matters to me is the real-world impact of faith, religious or otherwise.

  • DuffelDuffel Registered User regular
    edited May 2010
    Qingu wrote: »
    @Duffel, I don't disagree with you; I just don't really see a more useful alternative.

    I think political parties are a useful comparison. Being a "Republican" has meant very different things over the years. To the extent that Republicans have had a "text" (their party platform) many people who ID as republicans would disagree with a lot of it. Also, that platform itself has shifted quite a bit over time. In some cases IDing as a Republican reflects reflexive cultural or social attitudes more than any actual, conscious belief in the platform.*

    However, at a certain point, you have to have words that mean things. So, if someone today is pro-choice, anti-war, pro-social safety nets, and voted for Obama, but still somehow claims to be a "Republican," I feel pretty confident telling this person that they are full of shit and would be better off just saying they're a Democrat.

    Religions are a bit more complicated than political parties, but I feel like the same approach ought to apply. If someone believes the Bible is wrong on nearly every single claim about reality and morality it makes, doesn't believe Jesus came back from the dead, and only ID's as a Christian because she "likes Jesus' philosophy" in the way that you might sort of like Kant or Hume's philosophy, I feel pretty comfortable saying she is "not religious," if not outright disputing her ID as Christian.

    *the same would apply to Democrats to ... don't mean to single out republicans.


    But then you get into the situation where you're appointing yourself as arbiter over someone else's self-identification, which is also pretty problematic.

    We're all familiar with the history of our political parties; the meaning of R and D changed throughout time. And, as religions (like political parties, or governments) are inherently social institutions*, what a religion is and is not is subject to change.

    The person you described could very well be a Unitarian Universalist (although I'll admit my exposure to that group is somewhat limited), and if other UU's acknowledge those beliefs as UU beliefs and UUism is acknowledged by its members as a religion, then there you go. The same way the Republican party could change either through internal self-guided reform or by being acted upon by external forces (non-Republicans joining the party and changing it over time).

    The only stipulation I'm comfortable with when defining what is or is not a religion is that it generally involves a belief in the supernatural or at least the intangible. This is the most basic definition we use in anthropology and is pretty workable IMO.

    *As an aside - the idea of a lone religious practitioner forming his own, new religion is kind of interesting, but that's obviously going to have very little social impact unless they influence someone else - in which case it isn't individual anymore.

  • DuffelDuffel Registered User regular
    edited May 2010
    Okay I'll take a swing at trying to explain this MLK thingy.
    The bible condones slavery.
    Enlightenment thought condemns slavery.
    So when Christians say they are against slavery, because of reasons of faith, they are mistaken. They are actually against it because of enlightenment thought.
    Its not a matter of cherry-picking, like say ignoring the rule about blended fabrics is.

    A Christian can truthfully claim: 'they are against killing because of their religion'; "Though shalt not kill".
    A Christian can NOT truthfully claim: 'they are against the repression of women because of their religion', as the bible is horrible to most of the women in it.
    Thruthful: I am against usury interest rates because of my religion
    unTruthful: I am against the idea of the Sun orbiting the Earth because of my religion

    So when the religious make claims like GoodPerson fought against BadThing because of their religion, they are often mistaken. They actually fought against BadThing because of enlightenment thought on the subject, because if it wasn't for the enlightenment thought their religion would still be in support of BadThing. Which means the arbiter of morality/their actions is not their good actions is not faith, but rational thought.

    This is overly simplistic. Most Christians who were against slavery (or worked in the Civil Rights movement, or whatever) did so working on the basis that all people were equal before God, and thus a Christian society should work to achieve equality at least in terms of bonded labor or equal legal standing. The concepts of slavery in either the Old or New Testament periods also varied widely from the way slavery was practiced in the pre-CW United States. Slavery in the ancient Near East/Rome was not necessarily trasmitted hereditarily and it was certainly not based on the early modern Western concept of race. I don't feel it was hypocritical for abolitionists to cite religious motivations for their stance just because some of the documents that make up the Old Testament dictate how slavery was supposed to be practiced in the Bronze-Age Levant, or because Paul, a 1st-century Roman citizen, does not condemn slavery outright (nobody else would for at least a millenia).

    In other words, theology isn't a series of black-and-white statements, and the situation is more complicated than you're accounting for.

    Also, it would not be at all difficult to make the argument that women probably had more rights (or at least, respect) in Pauline-era Christian churches than they did in post-Enlightenment 18th/19th century America. Several women in Paul's letters seem to have a position of respect or even authority, and it is fairly widely accepted (IIANM) that many early patrons of local churches were wealthy Roman women.

  • armageddonboundarmageddonbound Registered User regular
    edited May 2010
    I'm lost as to what some parties are "defending". Specifically lawndart. You seem to somewhat agree with Qingu, at least partially, that people select what passages in the bible they want to follow and what passages they do not want to follow. I'm not sure what conclusion you are implying by saying that that is how it's always been.

    People must use something to interpret religious text because much religious text is contradictory, factually wrong, morally reprehensible, and poorly worded. It is not some healthy organic molding of the living word. The bible is either literally true, or equivalent to a poem. We know it's not literally true...so if you can ignore some of it, you can ignore all of it.

    Individuals can and do use the bible to justify hate against homosexuals. They do this while at the same time ignoring passages, that are just as valid, telling you to kill people for wearing mixed textiles. How is that in anyway a valid path to following your religion?

  • AtomikaAtomika Hypercritical Queen Bitch of Cinema Registered User regular
    edited May 2010
    Lawndart wrote: »
    Qingu wrote: »
    Sure. But if this is how we define and think about religion—as the ever-shifting vagaries of individual practice, belief, and non-practice and non-belief, and the associated cherry-picking and syncretism and Christmas-and-Easter-type faith ... it becomes so nebulous that any meaningful discussion is impossible.

    Except that's how religious faith is practiced and expressed by actual human beings.

    Then they're being dishonest. No need to defend that. Expression of faith is an entirely different thing from being adherent to faith. Expression is inherently interpretation, and can demonstrably be incorrect. Many people think that pedophilia is an "expression" of their love for children. Many people think burning crosses is an "expression" of glorifying their cultural beliefs.

    This is why expressions and practices under the guise of dogmaticism mean nothing if they don't adhere to the dogma from which they're derived.

    Whatever metaphysical force people claimed to be divinely inspired or moved by when rationalizing their actions, if those actions are in direct conflict of concrete dogmatic textual directives, then those people are being utterly dishonest with themselves.
    Qingu wrote: »
    This is why I usually prefer to think about religion in terms of ... what a holy text says. If a person tends to agree with said holy text, they are "religious." If they tend to ignore it, they are "not religious."

    Maybe Hitchens thinks differently, but if this is how he thinks about religion, it certainly makes sense to at least say MLK and enlightened, liberal Christians are "not religious."

    Except that's not how religion actually manifests itself in the real world. You can't take just the text of a religious book and divorce it from the interpretations of either individuals or organized groups. Because there aren't any of either that follow a holy text without interpreting it.

    Yet there are very few recognized interpretations of any faith that expressedly and openly contradict scripture. You're making a dishonest argument by using false equivocation, a la, "If Directive X can be interpreted by Action B, all other Actions are therefore of equal value to Action B, even those who can be defined as the opposite of Action B."

    "Interpretation" isn't a synonym for "free-for-all," unless, as before, you're being intellectually dishonest. At my most polite, I would call it a purposefully contradictory interpretation and a willful rationalization of secular motivations as religious thought.

    Qingu wrote: »
    People can and do use the Bible (and other religious texts) as the inspiration for their faith, and tool to help articulate that faith without thinking that the text is inerrant.
    They tend to do so pretty haphazardly and with great intellectual dishonesty. "Cherry-picking" is a good term for it. I have yet to see a meaningful criteria for the Christians you're talking about to decide which passages to follow and which passages to ignore, other than "do these passages conflict with whatever secular morals and science?"

    Except that haphazard cherry picking has been an inherent part of how humans approach and express religious faith since, well, forever. The criteria doesn't have to be anything more meaningful than how it resonates with their own personal faith.

    You could demand that organized religions provide a criteria for following or ignoring certain aspects of their particular holy text(s), but once again the concept of interpreting the divine is a pretty solid tradition in at least the major monotheistic religions.

    I think at this point in your empassioned defense, the onus is on you do explain why such a practice should be defended. The "religion can be a good thing when people are motivated by it to enact social change based on beliefs they imparted unto the text, not took from the text," argument is so thin, it's measured in microns.

  • QinguQingu Registered User regular
    edited May 2010
    Lawndart wrote: »

    Except that's not really how I feel about religious faith.
    Well, I didn't say "faith," I said "religion," and I thought the context made it clear that I was talking about the central claims of various religions.

    For example, you don't believe Jesus Christ rose from the dead, correct? You don't believe Yahweh punishes sin, and that this sin was "imputed" onto us because a taking snake/Satan got us to eat a magic fruit?
    To set some background, I feel that the need for "faith" in a very general sense is pretty much hard-wired into the human psyche. I don't mean religious faith, but the drive to impose order onto the chaos of life and to feel that what is unknown can be known. Religious or spiritual faith is a subset of this, as is secular faith in humanity or science or reason.
    First of all, I wouldn't call it "faith" (that's a loaded term), I'd call it an authority hierarchy. We're hard-wired to trust an authority. Tribalism is also probably a part of it.

    Secondly, I don't see how this really contradicts my point. You believe people need faith in something ... but unless my statements above are incorrect, you think that "something" religious people have faith in is—bullshit.

    As for your points about what qualifies as "religion" (text or practice), again, I agree with them, but I don't see a more useful alternative being proposed. Other than just accepting that religion is messy and therefore not something we can talk about meaningfully, which I'm not really prepared to do.

  • QinguQingu Registered User regular
    edited May 2010
    Duffel wrote: »
    This is overly simplistic. Most Christians who were against slavery (or worked in the Civil Rights movement, or whatever) did so working on the basis that all people were equal before God, and thus a Christian society should work to achieve equality at least in terms of bonded labor or equal legal standing.
    There were never any such Christians before the enlightenment (fancy that).

    Also, southern Christians had a field day with the theological arguments put forth by Christians abolitionists.
    The concepts of slavery in either the Old or New Testament periods also varied widely from the way slavery was practiced in the pre-CW United States. Slavery in the ancient Near East/Rome was not necessarily trasmitted hereditarily and it was certainly not based on the early modern Western concept of race.
    Actually, Exodus 21:22 says you can beat your slaves as much as the Romans beat Jesus before they crucified him.

    It is true that Hebrew slaves enjoyed more rights than black slaves (they were, for example, released after 7 years). However, foreign slaves did not. Leviticus 25:45 says you can buy foreign slaves and pass them down to your children as property.

    It's really not that different from racial slavery, especially with the mythology that blacks are of the "foreign" tribe of Ham.
    I don't feel it was hypocritical for abolitionists to cite religious motivations for their stance just because some of the documents that make up the Old Testament dictate how slavery was supposed to be practiced in the Bronze-Age Levant, or because Paul, a 1st-century Roman citizen, does not condemn slavery outright (nobody else would for at least a millenia).

    In other words, theology isn't a series of black-and-white statements, and the situation is more complicated than you're accounting for.
    Hm, I agree that it certainly complicated, and I wouldn't say it's hypocritical. Just cherry-picking.
    Also, it would not be at all difficult to make the argument that women probably had more rights (or at least, respect) in Pauline-era Christian churches than they did in post-Enlightenment 18th/19th century America. Several women in Paul's letters seem to have a position of respect or even authority, and it is fairly widely accepted (IIANM) that many early patrons of local churches were wealthy Roman women.
    Um. He explicitly says women shouldn't hold positions of authority over men. Paul's writings were used to systemically oppress women for centuries.

  • HamHamJHamHamJ Registered User regular
    edited May 2010
    Lawndart wrote: »
    HamHamJ wrote: »
    Lawndart wrote: »
    First, why is reason a virtue?

    Because truth is a virtue, and reason is the process by which one arrives at true beliefs consistently.

    If something is reasonable, it is far more likely to be true than something that is unreasonable.
    Second, does that mean that, for example, eugenics and Social Darwinism are both good?

    No, because neither of those things is reasonable. The later is not even factually, scientifically correct; and both transgress against the Natural Rights and thus are incorrect regardless.

    So if someone logically reaches a conclusion which contradicts the morality you've arbitrary decided is the truth, it's inherently incorrect?

    Not arbitrarily, but with reason.
    Edit: Now that I think about it, the concept of Natural Rights is a prime example of a concept that's not inherently logical or rational (since it pretty much contradicts how almost all animals including primates behave in nature) but yet belief in that concept provides an overall societal benefit.

    Natural rights are a perfectly logical conclusion as to the basic necessity of a social contract based on the nature of human existence and game theory. And group selection.

    While racing light mechs, your Urbanmech comes in second place, but only because it ran out of ammo.
  • HachfaceHachface Registered User regular
    edited May 2010
    I have always thought of natural rights as a normative (as opposed to factual) idea. It strikes me as silly to regard them in any other way.

  • DuffelDuffel Registered User regular
    edited May 2010
    Qingu wrote: »
    There were never any such Christians before the enlightenment (fancy that).

    Also, southern Christians had a field day with the theological arguments put forth by Christians abolitionists.


    Actually, Exodus 21:22 says you can beat your slaves as much as the Romans beat Jesus before they crucified him.

    It is true that Hebrew slaves enjoyed more rights than black slaves (they were, for example, released after 7 years). However, foreign slaves did not. Leviticus 25:45 says you can buy foreign slaves and pass them down to your children as property.

    It's really not that different from racial slavery, especially with the mythology that blacks are of the "foreign" tribe of Ham.


    Hm, I agree that it certainly complicated, and I wouldn't say it's hypocritical. Just cherry-picking.


    Um. He explicitly says women shouldn't hold positions of authority over men. Paul's writings were used to systemically oppress women for centuries.
    The point of all this is that viewing the it's almost impossible to say that a given text commands you to do X, even in religions where it seems to do exactly that. Both testaments of the Bible (or other religious texts) are composite documents which were written by a multitude of authors, often over several centuries. The canonicity of these documents varies depending on the given sect in question - Copts, Orthodox, Catholics, Protestants, Syrian Orthodox, they've all got different canons, different translations, different approaches to the text and what it means. A direct approach where we say "The text says this, ergo a devout follower should do this" and nail that to the board cannot exist as far as I can tell, because a religion is not something that exists independently of human action. And in my view, the human action is all that really matters - it's the closest thing to a concrete manifestation of an abstract idea that we're ever going to get.

    As far as Paul and women goes, I was under the impression that there is textual evidence that women both performed certain ritual roles in the early church (some of which did not seem to be open to men). There is also mention, for instance, in one of Paul's letters of correspondence that had arrived from "the people associated with Chloe" or "Chloe's people". Not Chloe's husband, or father, or brother, but Chloe. I'm at my parent's house right now and I don't have all my Religious Studies books at hand, but I believe that academia is starting to realize that women probably played a more prominent role in early Christian life than we previously realized. Paul also refrains from the sort of misogynistic diatribes that formed an entire genre of literature in antiquity.

    And, concerning what people have done with Paul's text, I'm not sure that's entirely relevant. "The Constitution" is a very vague entity in American public consciousness and has been used to justify such a wide variety of positions that someone entirely unfamiliar with the document would be forced to conclude it was the most incoherent and schizophrenic text ever written.

    In short, I fail to see the productive value of building an intellectual construct - "religion", or in this case a specific religion - based entirely on textual evidence for the purposes of argument. Religious texts usually weren't intended as blueprints and I often think that the original authors would have been surprised to learn the way these texts have been treated over the intervening centuries, even by their adherents.

    I also wonder about how you think "cherry picking" applies to the canonization process in general. Most debates use the Protestant Bible because, well, this is America and Protestantism has been very influential here. But are Protestants and Catholics "cherry-picking" because they disregard the Psuedapigrapha? Do you think religious sects should drop verses or passages that they no longer utilize in a didactic way? Should new texts discovered archaeologically be placed into canon as quickly as possible, with all the theological implications that would entail?

  • QinguQingu Registered User regular
    edited May 2010
    @Duffel, I've heard the business about early female church leaders too; my point was that whatever the historical case may be, Paul did more or less codify misogyny.

    You are of course correct that the process of canonization is every bit as trivial as the process of "cherry-picking" from what has been canonized. I want to make clear that, in this particular discussion, nothing I'm saying ought to imply any "shoulds" (you had asked if I think X Christians "should" adopt Y pseudepigrapha). I'm not concerned about fidelity to religious texts or ideas—I mean, I'm an atheist, what does it matter to me?

    I just don't really see a more useful construct to use, upon which to base our idea of "religion" or at least "religiosity."

    Here's another way to frame it: canonized religious text, and traditions, function as "DNA" to the phenotype we call religion. Now, just like with organisms, there's a ton of other shit that affect how phenotypes end up apart from DNA—environmental factors, learned behavior, etc. But DNA offers the most concrete way to discuss and think about biology right now.

  • LawndartLawndart Registered User regular
    edited May 2010
    Qingu wrote: »
    Lawndart wrote: »
    Except that's not really how I feel about religious faith.
    Well, I didn't say "faith," I said "religion," and I thought the context made it clear that I was talking about the central claims of various religions.

    For example, you don't believe Jesus Christ rose from the dead, correct? You don't believe Yahweh punishes sin, and that this sin was "imputed" onto us because a taking snake/Satan got us to eat a magic fruit?

    Nope.

    However, I do separate the theology of a religion from the philosophy of a religion.
    Qingu wrote: »
    To set some background, I feel that the need for "faith" in a very general sense is pretty much hard-wired into the human psyche. I don't mean religious faith, but the drive to impose order onto the chaos of life and to feel that what is unknown can be known. Religious or spiritual faith is a subset of this, as is secular faith in humanity or science or reason.
    First of all, I wouldn't call it "faith" (that's a loaded term), I'd call it an authority hierarchy. We're hard-wired to trust an authority. Tribalism is also probably a part of it.

    I'd say that the hard-wired need to trust and authority and the hard-wired need to mentally impose order on reality (which I define as "faith", which admittedly is a loaded term but it's the best I can come up with) certainly overlap but are not one and the same.
    Qingu wrote: »
    Secondly, I don't see how this really contradicts my point. You believe people need faith in something ... but unless my statements above are incorrect, you think that "something" religious people have faith in is—bullshit.

    So what?

    I think the basic assumptions of a lot of secular philosophies are bullshit, too. That doesn't mean I automatically deny any positive aspects of them.

    You're presuming that I think religious faith should be used by secular humanists to "trick" people of faith into accepting progressive ethics.

    I don't.

    What I do believe is that people of faith can, have, and will continue to interpret (or "cherry pick" to use your term) their faith and their religious texts in ways that support progressive ethics on their own.

    And that since that process of "cherry picking" is an inherent part of how every single human being and every single organized religion approaches faith, that doing so doesn't make them not "really" religious. Especially since outside secular events and philosophies have always influenced how religious faith is interpreted and implemented.

  • Loren MichaelLoren Michael Registered User regular
    edited May 2010
    Lawndart wrote: »
    I do separate the theology of a religion from the philosophy of a religion.

    Could you elucidate a distinction please?

    2ezikn6.jpg
  • DuffelDuffel Registered User regular
    edited May 2010
    Qingu wrote: »
    @Duffel, I've heard the business about early female church leaders too; my point was that whatever the historical case may be, Paul did more or less codify misogyny.

    You are of course correct that the process of canonization is every bit as trivial as the process of "cherry-picking" from what has been canonized. I want to make clear that, in this particular discussion, nothing I'm saying ought to imply any "shoulds" (you had asked if I think X Christians "should" adopt Y pseudepigrapha). I'm not concerned about fidelity to religious texts or ideas—I mean, I'm an atheist, what does it matter to me?

    I just don't really see a more useful construct to use, upon which to base our idea of "religion" or at least "religiosity."

    Here's another way to frame it: canonized religious text, and traditions, function as "DNA" to the phenotype we call religion. Now, just like with organisms, there's a ton of other shit that affect how phenotypes end up apart from DNA—environmental factors, learned behavior, etc. But DNA offers the most concrete way to discuss and think about biology right now.
    What I'm trying to say is that, while extrapolating from the text may work in a sterile setting - a classroom, or this board - projecting that onto people and making inferences on a given religion, let alone the social institution of religion as a whole, is too problematic to be useful.

    Partially because, as we've already touched on, relying exclusively on text is impossible, simply because text only serves as a basis for religious life in those religious traditions where a text even exists (not the majority, much like the majority of languages, especially until very recently, are unwritten). As far as tradition goes - well, that's problematic too. There's a lot of debate in anthropology whether or not "tradition" even exists as a discrete entity. For instance, lots of people talk about a "traditional" way of life of given cultures, but in reality we know that these lifeways are in a state of constant flux and interaction with other groups. What is traditional now probably wasn't traditional a generation ago, and so on.

    So, is there a more useful construct to use? Maybe not. But that just says to me that we're dealing with something that is probably too complex to be reduced to debatable terms. Unlike DNA/biology, we're dealing with thoughts, feelings, emotions, abstract beliefs, and other intangible aspects of human behavior.

    EDIT: To use another analogy, I think your approach is akin to studying animals exclusively based on skeletal remains. Skeletal systems - much like religious texts and traditions - are incredibly useful to the biologist. But exclusively relying on skeletal remains would be inappropriate for a field biologist studying extant species. And, much like in religious studies, there are occasions where skeletal remains are all you've got. Studying the Dead Sea Scrolls, for instance, could be described as an exercise in religious paleontology. But there is only so much you can learn from bones, as any frustrated paleontologist will readily admit, and it would be silly to say that an animal is wrongly performing in its niche because it has some sort of vestigial bone.

  • LawndartLawndart Registered User regular
    edited May 2010
    Lawndart wrote: »
    I do separate the theology of a religion from the philosophy of a religion.

    Could you elucidate a distinction please?

    The theology of a religion is the spiritual underpinnings behind it. The divinity and resurrection of Jesus, for example. The idea that various prophets spoke directly to God. Those I don't have faith in.

    The philosophy of a religion is the practical rules or behavior codes that religion encourages. Such as "there is no compunction in religion" or "treat others as you wish to be treated" or "don't eat shellfish" or "feel free to conquer, massacre and enslave people who piss you off". Those I judge individually based on their impact in the real world, the same way I do for secular philosophies.

  • QinguQingu Registered User regular
    edited May 2010
    Duffel wrote: »
    What I'm trying to say is that, while extrapolating from the text may work in a sterile setting - a classroom, or this board - projecting that onto people and making inferences on a given religion, let alone the social institution of religion as a whole, is too problematic to be useful.
    But doesn't this apply to any attempts to generalize?
    So, is there a more useful construct to use? Maybe not. But that just says to me that we're dealing with something that is probably too complex to be reduced to debatable terms. Unlike DNA/biology, we're dealing with thoughts, feelings, emotions, abstract beliefs, and other intangible aspects of human behavior.

    I mean, I'd actually be fine with trying to avoid the words "religion" and "God" and instead talk about "the Bible" and "Yahweh" (for example). I try to do this anyway. But I also think that it's a bit postmodernisty to claim that religion, however nebulous and shifting it may be, can't be generalized at all, and can't be thought of as rooted to or emerging from a text or tradition.

  • DuffelDuffel Registered User regular
    edited May 2010
    I threw in an edit up there that I hope explains my position a little more thoroughly.

  • QinguQingu Registered User regular
    edited May 2010
    Lawndart wrote: »
    Lawndart wrote: »
    I do separate the theology of a religion from the philosophy of a religion.

    Could you elucidate a distinction please?

    The theology of a religion is the spiritual underpinnings behind it. The divinity and resurrection of Jesus, for example. The idea that various prophets spoke directly to God. Those I don't have faith in.

    The philosophy of a religion is the practical rules or behavior codes that religion encourages. Such as "there is no compunction in religion" or "treat others as you wish to be treated" or "don't eat shellfish" or "feel free to conquer, massacre and enslave people who piss you off". Those I judge individually based on their impact in the real world, the same way I do for secular philosophies.
    I do see your point, but I think they are way more intertwined than you are saying. Especially in modern religions.*

    For example, in most strains of Christianity, the divinity and resurrection of Jesus is what underpins the need for practical rules. Having faith in Jesus' resurrection is, in fact, one of those rules! Many rules also deal with theology—for example, "You shall not take Yahweh's name in vain."

    I also really, really hate using the word "spiritual" because it's almost always vacuous.

    *I think this distinction probably holds up a lot better with something like the Code of Hammurabi. The Code starts off by saying "Shamash the sun god gave me these laws with the blessings of the other Anunaki so you'd better listen to them." That's theology. But then almost all the laws in the Code are practical and barely mention any gods. The theology is just used as reinforcement, as a big stick to wave. But in Judaism, the two aspects get wrapped up with each other, and even moreso in Christianity.

  • QinguQingu Registered User regular
    edited May 2010
    Also, Lawndart, to return to my "criticism" of your approach to religion ...

    So you think the "theology" of the Bible is entirely wrong, and you think the "philosophy" of the Bible is almost entirely wrong. In short, I don't think it's inaccurate to say you think the Bible is "bullshit."

    I don't think it's inaccurate, therefore, to say that to the extent a religious person's beliefs are based on the Bible, you think those beliefs are "bullshit."

    Except for these few exceptions, little nice-sounding passages in the New Testament about love and tolerance. Those you're okay with, but certainly not for the reason "because they're in the Bible." And if religious people believe these things, you're okay with that as well ... but you'd disagree with the reasons behind their belief in such things.

    I mean, do you see how this comes off as a very lukewarm, almost cynical and condescending valuation of "faith"?

  • LoserForHireXLoserForHireX Registered User regular
    edited May 2010
    Quingu, you are right in that there needs to be an understood meaning to the term "Christian." Now, you've gone pretty extreme, you want 100% of the Bible followed. If there are things that you are ignoring, then you aren't really Christian. Also, I don't think that there's a consensus on that passage from Matthew (Mark?) about how Jesus has come to fulfill the law. Your reading seems fairly reasonable, but I'm not entirely convinced.

    I think that the 100% thing is what's causing the problems. Now, I can't identify a particular percentage, nor would it be easy to quantify "how much" of the Bible someone is following. However, the discover what it means to be Christians, look at the Christians. Find the central or common tenets. Since none meet the bar that you've set, that shouldn't mean that there are no Christians it should signify that the standard is inaccurate.

    "The only way to get rid of a temptation is to give into it." - Oscar Wilde
    "We believe in the people and their 'wisdom' as if there was some special secret entrance to knowledge that barred to anyone who had ever learned anything." - Friedrich Nietzsche
  • LawndartLawndart Registered User regular
    edited May 2010
    Qingu wrote: »
    I mean, do you see how this comes off as a very lukewarm, almost cynical and condescending valuation of "faith"?

    More or less cynical and condescending than "religious faith is a poisonous blight on society and people of faith are either morons or not 'really' of faith"?

    I really don't see how my ambivalence about the role of faith is any more cynical and condescending than the Hitchens-style atheist take on it.

  • QinguQingu Registered User regular
    edited May 2010
    Quingu, you are right in that there needs to be an understood meaning to the term "Christian." Now, you've gone pretty extreme, you want 100% of the Bible followed. If there are things that you are ignoring, then you aren't really Christian. Also, I don't think that there's a consensus on that passage from Matthew (Mark?) about how Jesus has come to fulfill the law. Your reading seems fairly reasonable, but I'm not entirely convinced.

    I think that the 100% thing is what's causing the problems. Now, I can't identify a particular percentage, nor would it be easy to quantify "how much" of the Bible someone is following. However, the discover what it means to be Christians, look at the Christians. Find the central or common tenets. Since none meet the bar that you've set, that shouldn't mean that there are no Christians it should signify that the standard is inaccurate.
    I don't think it's possible to follow 100% of the Bible because it's a contradictory mess. I certainly don't think that's the criterion for what ought to qualify semantically as a "Christian."

    I'm comfortable drawing the line for "Christians" at whether or not you believe Jesus rose from the dead, but this is only for semantic clarity. I realize there are some people who call themselves "Christians" because they just like the cut of Jesus' jib as a moral philosopher, in the same way you might like Socrates or Mill.

    What I would suggest is that such "Christians" ought to be called less religious than Christians who attempt to follow all of the Bible. But again, that's just for some semantic clarity—not to make any sort of judgment on whether or not they get into heaven (obviously since I'm an atheist).

  • QinguQingu Registered User regular
    edited May 2010
    Lawndart wrote: »
    Qingu wrote: »
    I mean, do you see how this comes off as a very lukewarm, almost cynical and condescending valuation of "faith"?

    More or less cynical and condescending than "religious faith is a poisonous blight on society and people of faith are either morons or not 'really' of faith"?

    I really don't see how my ambivalence about the role of faith is any more cynical and condescending than the Hitchens-style atheist take on it.
    I think the Hitchens approach is blunt, but I wouldn't really call it cynical or even condescending. I also don't think there's that much daylight between Hitchens' and your views on religion, it's mostly just semantics and differences in framing.

    Actually, I think the difference boils down to: you think faith can be valid as a means to an end; Hitchens/Dawkins/Harris etc don't. It's the eternal debate between pragmatists and idealists, with pragmatists such as yourself more comfortable with compromise in the name of progress. (Usually I count myself as a pragmatist, actually, but on religion I tend to be an idealist...)

  • LoserForHireXLoserForHireX Registered User regular
    edited May 2010
    Qingu wrote: »
    Quingu, you are right in that there needs to be an understood meaning to the term "Christian." Now, you've gone pretty extreme, you want 100% of the Bible followed. If there are things that you are ignoring, then you aren't really Christian. Also, I don't think that there's a consensus on that passage from Matthew (Mark?) about how Jesus has come to fulfill the law. Your reading seems fairly reasonable, but I'm not entirely convinced.

    I think that the 100% thing is what's causing the problems. Now, I can't identify a particular percentage, nor would it be easy to quantify "how much" of the Bible someone is following. However, the discover what it means to be Christians, look at the Christians. Find the central or common tenets. Since none meet the bar that you've set, that shouldn't mean that there are no Christians it should signify that the standard is inaccurate.
    I don't think it's possible to follow 100% of the Bible because it's a contradictory mess. I certainly don't think that's the criterion for what ought to qualify semantically as a "Christian."

    I'm comfortable drawing the line for "Christians" at whether or not you believe Jesus rose from the dead, but this is only for semantic clarity. I realize there are some people who call themselves "Christians" because they just like the cut of Jesus' jib as a moral philosopher, in the same way you might like Socrates or Mill.

    What I would suggest is that such "Christians" ought to be called less religious than Christians who attempt to follow all of the Bible. But again, that's just for some semantic clarity—not to make any sort of judgment on whether or not they get into heaven (obviously since I'm an atheist).

    Hmmm...I think I'm probably with you on where the line for Christian is. I'm also comfortable drawing it at "do you believe Jesus died and rose." The people who like the cut of Jesus' jib aren't Christians, fair enough.

    I think I would term someone "less religious" if their particular religious views were not a big part of their life. I could see someone who believed a small portion of the Bible passionately and daily could be more religious than someone who believed in a great quantity of rules or laws or lines of the Bible but did so tangentially to their life.

    "The only way to get rid of a temptation is to give into it." - Oscar Wilde
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  • JuliusJulius Registered User regular
    edited May 2010
    Lawndart wrote: »
    Julius wrote: »
    Uhm...I'm pretty sure that Hitchens would be totally on board with saying that almost no Christian really follows the bible completely.

    His point in saying that MLK wasn't really a Christian is that the good done is often because christians and other religious folk ignore the bible. Good work is done despite what the rules say, not because of them.

    Basically, it comes down to decent people just being decent and religion not being the cause of that.

    Hitchens doesn't just have an issue with religious fundamentalism, he has an issue with religious faith in general. Hence his claim that religion "poisons everything."

    Except that when he can't prove that point he blatantly moves the goalposts. His take on MLK is a perfect example. He cannot find one single example of how MLK or other religious civil rights activists having faith in God negatively impacted the Civil Rights movement. So he claims that MLK wasn't "really" a Christian because he had the audacity to have a different take on the Bible than Hitchens does. Except again, that's not the point. Even if MLK's take on Christianity involved accentuating some aspects of the Bible and ignoring others, it's still a religious faith.

    Also, religious faith can very well be the cause of decent people being decent.

    Yeah, and Hitchens is saying that that isn't the case. To him religious people who are decent would be decent without it too. He says that those people basically have already made up their minds as to what is okay and then find a justification in the bible (or not even, but whatever). You can claim it isn't true, it's certainly an oversimplification, but you can't say he's committing a fallacy.

  • emnmnmeemnmnme Heard about this on conservative radio:Registered User regular
    edited May 2010
    The women following Paul around schooled Apollos. Apollos then debated the Jews and won mightily in Acts 18.

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  • QinguQingu Registered User regular
    edited May 2010
    @emnmnme, but everyone ignores Luke.

  • surrealitychecksurrealitycheck NONSTOP INFINITE CLIMAX POSTING you must go on i cant go on ill go onRegistered User regular
    edited May 2010
    I would say it's pretty tricky drawing the conclusion that Paul is anything other than anti-women given how explicit he is about what he thinks they should/shouldn't be doing.

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  • DuffelDuffel Registered User regular
    edited May 2010
    I would say it's pretty tricky drawing the conclusion that Paul is anything other than anti-women given how explicit he is about what he thinks they should/shouldn't be doing.
    Did you even read what I wrote? Nobody is saying Paul was an ancient Roman male version of Gloria Steinem, but it does seem quite possible that women had more opportunities for achieving power, influence and authority within early Christian churches than outside of it.

  • mythagomythago Registered User regular
    edited May 2010
    Duffel wrote: »
    Did you even read what I wrote? Nobody is saying Paul was an ancient Roman male version of Gloria Steinem, but it does seem quite possible that women had more opportunities for achieving power, influence and authority within early Christian churches than outside of it.

    "Possible" is kind of a low bar, but setting that aside, the fact that other people were worse doesn't really change what Paul actually said, or the fact that he explicitly codified misogyny.

    Admittedly, I've never truly understood the theological process by which Paul's teaching came to trump Jesus's, but then I'm not a Christian.

    As for D'Souza and Hitchens, any reason we can't vote both off the island?

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  • DuffelDuffel Registered User regular
    edited May 2010
    mythago wrote: »
    Duffel wrote: »
    Did you even read what I wrote? Nobody is saying Paul was an ancient Roman male version of Gloria Steinem, but it does seem quite possible that women had more opportunities for achieving power, influence and authority within early Christian churches than outside of it.

    "Possible" is kind of a low bar, but setting that aside, the fact that other people were worse doesn't really change what Paul actually said, or the fact that he explicitly codified misogyny.

    Admittedly, I've never truly understood the theological process by which Paul's teaching came to trump Jesus's, but then I'm not a Christian.

    As for D'Souza and Hitchens, any reason we can't vote both off the island?

    This is getting off-topic, but...

    The "possible" qualifier is necessary because we can't ever really know what happened 2000 years in the past. But I do think it is important to appreciate people and their writings in the context of their time and culture.

    The Roman world was misogynistic to a degree that is difficult to fathom today. While history often focuses on the comparatively libertine aristocracy, some conservative Romans thought it rather inappropriate for a man's wife to even be seen outside her house. A husband who found out that his wife was having an adulterous affair was perfectly in his rights (even expected) to murder her and her lover to preserve his standing as a Roman man worthy of respect by his peers.

    The situation is somewhat blurred in religious spheres (Vestal Virgins, etc), but the fact that it seems likely that early Pauline churches (or at least some of them) were sponsored by women, and there were women in those churches who groups of men deferred to spiritually, would have been pretty cutting-edge by 1st-century AD standards. The fact that this topic hasn't received more attention until relatively recently is a byproduct of academia's own disregard for women in historical texts.

    As far as the popular emphasis on Paul and comparatively smaller emphasis on Jesus - I think that is a product of recent Protestant thought. The goal of most Protestant denominations is (more or less) an attempt to return to Christianity at its earliest (and, by extension, its most "true" - at least from their POV) form of practice. Paul's writings provide the most information about how that church was structured and what life in it was like. How close they actually get to it is highly debatable, especially since our knowledge of the early church is so frustratingly vague, but I think that's the goal in any case.

  • QinguQingu Registered User regular
    edited May 2010
    mythago wrote: »
    Admittedly, I've never truly understood the theological process by which Paul's teaching came to trump Jesus's, but then I'm not a Christian.
    Paul's writings are the earliest Christian writings. Anything "Jesus" says in the gospels is most likely the saying of a more or less legendary/fictional character, redacted if not outright created through the lens of Christianity post Paul's influence, with the possible exception of "sayings traditions" that survived and were copied from actual Jesus' followers' recordings.

  • DarkCrawlerDarkCrawler Registered User regular
    edited May 2010
    Duffel wrote: »

    The Roman world was misogynistic to a degree that is difficult to fathom today. While history often focuses on the comparatively libertine aristocracy, some conservative Romans thought it rather inappropriate for a man's wife to even be seen outside her house. A husband who found out that his wife was having an adulterous affair was perfectly in his rights (even expected) to murder her and her lover to preserve his standing as a Roman man worthy of respect by his peers.
    Well, there are places where this is still allowed today.

  • Apothe0sisApothe0sis Registered User regular
    edited May 2010
    I'm splitting this in two.
    Lawndart wrote: »
    Apothe0sis wrote: »
    1) "MLK was not a Christian" is a rhetorical device. He's saying, as has largely been pointed out, that the Bible contains all sorts of fucked up shit, and it's Enlightenment morality, not religion that motivates the civil rights movement. However, IN ADDITION TO THAT, the Bible also explicitly condones slavery (and incidentally a bunch of other heinous shit), and thus:
    Hitchens wrote:
    Fortunately for us, he wasn't really a Christian, because if he had followed the preachments in Exodus about the long march to freedom, he would have invoked the right that the Bible gives to take the land of others, to enslave other tribes, to kill their members, to rape their women, and to destroy them down to their uttermost child.

    As I said, rhetorical device to allow him to talk about the Bible, not about whether MLK was really a Christian by the (touchy-feely, wishy-washy) standards of today.

    Except that it was both Enlightenment morality and religious faith that motivated civil rights activists of faith. It's blatant historical revisionism to suggest otherwise.

    Pointing out that their religious faith involved ignoring certain aspects of the Old Testament is completely besides the point, since every single Christian in history has ignored certain aspects of the Old and New Testaments that they felt conflicted with their faith.

    The point is twofold and in no way relies upon anything No-True-Scotsman-Like:

    A) Progressive religious movements borrow their moral convictions from modern, Enlightenment sensibilities. Thus, religious as a SOURCE of moral progress is nonsense - the morality most clearly expressed within the Bible is barbaric. Which leads you to shift the goal posts from "Religion brought us the abolition of slavery and the Civil Rights movement" to "Well, sure but it provides a rallying point and motivates people to get off their arses." Which isn't what I'd call a killer argument even if we ignore the goalpost shifting.

    B) Even if religion is successfully used a rallying point for some individuals who ascribe to an Enlightenment morality, religion still poisons moral progress. There isn't a field of endeavour which religion doesn't interfere with catasrophic results hence, religion poisons everything.

    Hitchens is giving snappy answers in an interview, he's using a rhetorical device, he's not laying out the completeness of his argument on the poisonous nature of religion. At the most uncharitable you could interpret him as avoiding the question "Doesn't religion sometimes play a part in positive social change?*" in this interview with the "Well, he wasn't really a Christian" segue into "The Bible is no moral authority guys". Of course, he then proceeds to make a number of other arguments about why it doesn't make sense as an objection so...

    * Which is not what the question implies at all. The question actually implies that the Civil Rights Movement and so forth and their successes are entirely the product of religion. The implication is "No religion? Then we wouldn't have these, no one would have come up with them!".
    Lawndart wrote: »
    Apothe0sis wrote: »
    2) Religion poisons the morality of the Enlightenment because it actively impedes it all over the shop. People will adopt a certain amount and then say "There, that is enough how things are now, this is what God commanded : No Gay Marriage! No Abortion!". Even if some people have transcended the barbarism of their religion to full adopt Enlightenment ideals, it doesn't change the fact that Religion impeds and perverts the Enlightenment across swathes of the population and has done so since the Enlightenment began.

    Except that both MLK and religious movements like Liberation Theology prove that religious faith can be used to spread the morality of the Enlightenment.

    Even if organized religion has been more of an impediment to adopting Enlightenment morality than a benefit, that's different than claiming, as Hitchens does, that religious faith is a universal evil.

    I don't think that Hitchens claims that religion is a "Universal Evil" in the manner you're using the term - of course it's been three months since I read God is Not Great or saw him talk, so I could be wrong, but this is how I always understood him. His argument is, as mentioned above, that there is no field of human endeavour that religion doesn't impede. It poisons everything in that for every "thing" - i.e. politics, charity, science, slavery, women's rights, medicine - it impedes that thing's progress in some pervasive and catastrophic fashion.

    To provide a counter example for that you need to find a field of endeavour which religion has only had a neutral effect or even beneficial effect, not an instance within a field.

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  • Apothe0sisApothe0sis Registered User regular
    edited May 2010
    Lawndart wrote: »
    Apothe0sis wrote: »
    3) The point about Stalinism - in addition to the many other arguments that can be marshaled against why Stalinism was not a meaningful example of a secular government in any way - is that the Orthodox church's preaching throughout history, that the Czar is not only almost holy, but also put there by God, prepared the population for the acceptance and adoption of Totalitarianism. Stalin was exploiting the groundwork that the church had laid.

    Or he was exploiting the groundwork that Lenin had laid, but since Hitchens is an unrepentant Leninist/Trotskyite he's never, ever going to admit that.

    I'm also flabbergasted that anyone can claim that Stalinist Russia wasn't a secular government.

    *sigh*

    This is a stupid argument. Seriously, it's the height of goosebaggery and I regret letting myself be railroaded into discussing the specifics of what Stalin did or did not do despite saying from the beginning that this was a stupid argument which clearly cut as much ice as a soap hacksaw.

    So, I am abandoning the current direction of discussion in favour of the following.

    Restatement: Above everything else, Stalinism or indeed any of the political movements which are traditionally marshalled for this criticism are not relevant. Let's recall that this started because you made the argument to the effect:

    "Hitchens and Dawkins wish to replace religion with reason. But when we tried this it didn't go so well, look at Stalinism."
    Spoiler:

    This is a particularly poor argument because:

    0 [Meta]) The argument form is retarded. As it became clear with your responses there are two separate threads mixing religion being replaced by reason with a support for secular ideals.

    1 [Reason]) Reason is not an ideology, such political systems are not a subset of "The Ideology of Reason". Reason is a tool, which can applied to ideology, or develop an ideology from a set of assumptions about what is ideal. However it is by applying reason to a set or normative claims that one might come to develop an ideology. If it turns out that the political system which instantiates the ideology doesn't turn out so well then it's one of a number of issues - the normative claims are bad ones, the analyses applied to extend those normative claims into policy were irrational or otherrwise poorly performed, the ideology was corrupted in practice, etc... None of this implies that "when reason is tried as a system of government, it doesn't go so well."

    2 [Reason]) The application of reason to what we recognise as secular ideals is the basis for modern republics like the USA, which is going pretty well in principle, compared to the history of religious violence and general fuckmuppetry of theocracies in particular and religion in general.

    3 [Reason]) Ideologies such as Stalinism (which as an aside can be argued to be a perversion of Leninism/Trotskyism in a way that religious excesses cannot be) didn't apply replace religion with reason - they replaced conformity with religious precept with conformity to political ideology and the good of the state (both of which are opposed to conformity with reality) as their guiding principle. For example, Soviet science was Lysenkoism and was ideologically driven, not evidence driven. Additionally, they abandoned secular normative claims like "We shouldn't kill people for saying things which we don't like" in favour of normative claims like "Criticising the state is deserving of punishment".

    4 [Reason]) Essentially a concise restatement of the other points - reason doesn't entail normative claims, religion does. (Of course, some, normative claims can be arrived at by reason, but most/all of the time you end up relying on some normative premises). Atheism is likewise values neutral.

    5 [Secular states]) Any example of a state that "didn't go so well" is not a political system which Hitchens, Dawkins, any of the other New Atheists or most atheists in general would support in any case. As a whole, atheists tend to be humanists and commited to secular, liberal values like freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of assosciation, freedom of the press, various other vectors of personal autonomy and so on and so forth. "Going wrong" refers to these things being violated and people being killed or imprisoned for exercising such things.

    6 [Secular states]) Necessity is not sufficiency : Responding to "Religion poisons politics" with "Yeah!? well!? Some of the secular states fucked up, a lot" is like responding to "Legal systems which punish women for having abortions are bad ones" with "Oh yeah? But in Texas they execute the retarded and otherwise incapable." Just because secularity is identified as necessary for a progressive state does not make it sufficient.

    8 [Meta]) This is setting a stupidly low bar. If the best defense you can mount for religion in the form of tu quoque with the very worst excesses of states that happen to be secular or even atheistic then you're in trouble. If the argument is "Look, Stalinism is even worse" then the faintness of your praise is equally damning.

    9 [Multi]) A religious state or movement is different in kind to an atheistic or otherwise non-religous movement or state. To put it another way - a secular state is not a theocracy where everything is run by the teachings of atheism instead of Islam/Christianity/Buddhism. A religious state involves laws which are intrinsically religious, a secular state's are only incidentally atheistic. "You must inter the dissidents within labour camps, it is commanded by Atheism" is semantically anomalous but "You must stone the adultress it is commanded by the Qu'ran!" is in no way anomalous.

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