Saturday, December 26, 2009

Mary Mother of Toast

This is old news, but it does need reporting again. From me. Because I'm interested.

Apparently the Virgin Mary Mother of God showed up on toast back in 1994. She wasn't content to hang out with God in heaven. She felt the need to impress people with a crumby miracle. So, she emblazoned herself on Diana Duyser's toasted cheese sandwich.

Nice of Mary to show up, really. Now if she would only do that in diners all across the globe. Then I'd be impressed.


That aside, however, I'd like to know if the bread is Wonder Bread. 'Cause wouldn't that just be the most awesomest blending of human ingenuity and divine intervention: "Need you wonder anymore, mortals, what bread thou needest? Thou shalt take of mine Mary loaf and be blessed"? And really, if you're going to theophanize on burnt bread, why not open a franchise and share the miracle with everyone? It'd certainly be a way to outstrip Jesus's feeding of the 5000. He only had five loaves to work with. But Mary, were she to snag a deal with Wonder Bread, would be able to claim the feeding of the, say, 2 billion!

Still, why would Mary want to run the risk of having her head bitten off? Or much more, invite quips such as "Bite me" into her celestial repose?
I wonder if Mary noticed she has some competition in the miracle-toast department? The late King of Pop, Michael Jackson has his face applied in cineresence, too. That's some pretty stiff competition, if you ask me. But Michael was one-up on Mary in this case. He had a prophetic voice that went ahead of him, Weird Al Yankovic, who in his higher wisdom, told us to "Eat it."
And if I could just put one final word in: I think this "miracle" displayed to a 52 year-old, gambling Catholic (sinner!) was rather milquetoast (i.e., timid and weak) of Mary. C'mon, Mary! You can do better than that. Remember the days of Lourdes? What about in Tepeyec, Mexico? Or Akita, Japan? Now those... those were miracles.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Scepticism Is Immoral? I Highly Doubt It.

In a recent conversation with a good friend, I admitted that I'm sceptical about some of the claims of Christianity. My friend was not offended, but did respond that scepticism is "immoral" because scepticism is doubt in the face of Truth (i.e., God). I want to examine this line of reasoning momentarily.

Dictionary.com provides the following definition of scepticism:

"skep⋅ti⋅cism  /ˈskɛptəˌsɪzəm/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [skep-tuh-siz-uhm] Show IPA
–noun

1. skeptical attitude or temper; doubt.
2. doubt or unbelief with regard to a religion, esp. Christianity.
3. (initial capital letter) the doctrines or opinions of philosophical Skeptics; universal doubt.

Also, scepticism."


The first definition seems apt to my intention behind the word. I hold an attitude of doubt concerning some of the claims of the Christian faith. This is a non-committed position that is left open for the purpose of critically examining issues and claims. A sceptic working along this trajectory has simply reserved judgment until s/he has had sufficient time and research to come to a reasonable conclusion. We might also call this kind of scepticism "critical thinking".

The second definition may also apply to my position. That is, by inference from the first definition, I doubt, even disbelieve some of the claims of the Christian religion. For example, I disbelieve the creation mythology in Genesis. And, as Karen Armstrong has pointed out in her book The Bible: A Biography, most Christians have disbelieved the Genesis claims on creation until roughly 150 - 200 years ago with the rise of fundamentalist biblical literalism. Disbelief though, is a little less nuanced than doubt, however: it is a conclusive position, whereas 'doubt' is being undecided, or not willing to commit without further evidence.

The third definition does not fit my outlook. Universal doubt calls itself into question. Doubt as a principle, it would seem, becomes the object of its own examination. It is therefore a self-defeating position, much like going solo on a teeter-totter, trying to pick yourself up unaided, or sawing off the branch you're sitting on. (And to all those teeter-totter fans out there, yes, I know you can straddle the fulcrum, but that's called 'balancing', not teeter-tottering.)

So the next question in keeping with the thrust of this article would be, 'Why would holding claims in doubt be considered immoral?' Well, as my friend suggested, human beings are
imago dei, created in the image of God. We therefore have an intrinsic understanding of his existence. Combined with the Christian concept of revelation, and God's incarnation, we have no right, room, or reason to hold any doubts about divine reality, or, in my friend's case, the claims of the historic (read, 'Catholic') church.

I object.

Dictionary.com defines '
immoral' thusly:

"im⋅mor⋅al  /ɪˈmɔrəl, ɪˈmɒr-/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [i-mawr-uhl, i-mor-] Show IPA
–adjective


1. violating moral principles; not conforming to the patterns of conduct usually accepted or established as consistent with principles of personal and social ethics.
2. licentious or lascivious.

Origin:
1650–60; im- 2 + moral

Related forms:

im⋅mor⋅al⋅ly, adverb

Synonyms:
bad, wicked, dissolute, dissipated, profligate. Immoral, abandoned, depraved describe one who makes no attempt to curb self-indulgence. Immoral, referring to conduct, applies to one who acts contrary to or does not obey or conform to standards of morality; it may also mean licentious and perhaps dissipated. Abandoned, referring to condition, applies to one hopelessly, and usually passively, sunk in wickedness and unrestrained appetites. Depraved, referring to character, applies to one who voluntarily seeks evil and viciousness. Immoral, amoral, nonmoral, and unmoral are sometimes confused with one another. Immoral means not moral and connotes evil or licentious behavior. Amoral, nonmoral, and unmoral, virtually synonymous although the first is by far the most common form, mean utterly lacking in morals (either good or bad), neither moral nor immoral. However, since, in some contexts, there is a stigma implicit in a complete lack of morals, being amoral, nonmoral, or unmoral is sometimes considered just as reprehensible as being immoral."


Since what is 'moral' is generally decided upon through religious constructs, social systems, and special interest groups, thrusting the term 'immoral' on a person who doubts, or is sceptical about certain claims, teachings, propositions, philosophies, etc. is simply enforcing expectations external to the sceptic, or doubter. We have an ethical dilemma at this point: who is acting immorally? The one who cannot reasonably believe something without further convincing? Or the one who happily defines the parameters for belief and then charges others with immorality when someone doesn't ante up to those parameters? To put it differently, it would seem to me that the immoral person in this kind of situation is the one who blindly cascades dogmatic assertions over the doubter's head. Similarly, we would not call the person who is smacked in the head 'immoral', but we would call the person who did the hitting 'immoral'.

Given that I remain sceptical about some of the claims of Christianity, even religion in general, I have now been put in the position by my friend of being 'immoral'. Metaphorically speaking, he has smacked me in the head, and told me I'm immoral because he hit me.

With all due respect to my friend, I find his claim that scepticism is immoral dubious, at best. And that is not simply a clever turn of phrase. I sincerely think that calling doubt 'immoral' is constructing a pyrrhic victory that only gives the sceptic more reason to doubt. And by that measure, how much more immoral is it to cause more of the 'immorality' you're trying to stamp out by claiming doubt 'immoral'? It would seem to me that such an accusation achieves the opposite of its intention, and must therefore be dropped in favour of more intelligent dialogue.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Curious About the Holidays?

Here's one take. Enjoy.

And another one.


For the sentimental folk out there, here's a joyeux noel.


And here's something totally random.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Today's Thought

“The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it.”

~ George Bernard Shaw.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Thought For the Day

"Fact of Life: After Monday and Tuesday even the calendar says W T F."

Author wished to remain anonymous.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Believing and Knowing

'Belief' is a bit of a dirty word in polite society. 'Knowledge' seems to carry a little more weight. The word 'belief' carries with it connotations of thoughtlessness, credulity, and irrationality. Whereas the word 'knowledge' fosters a sense of confidence, credibility, and accessibility; what one knows, another can get to know. However, what one believes is isolated, and another would have to leap, or make a series of leaps (nonrational, often unverifiable assumptions) to express even a modest association with a claimant's beliefs.

Religion, say, the Christian religion, fixes definite doctrinal qualifications on its adherents. A Christian, in order to be a Christian, must assent to historical articles of faith, which is to say s/he must agree to 'believe' formulations concerning divine realities that s/he may not 'know' to be true or false. For example, a Christian has no other recourse but to believe in the incarnation of Christ. That same Christian, however, also has very little, if any, recourse to actual knowledge of the Christ s/he states belief in.

This leads to a confusion in terminology wherein the distinction between belief and knowledge is blurred. Some well-meaning Christians think that because they believe a given proposition -- e.g., there will be a mid-tribulation rapture -- they therefore know that proposition to be true. Conversation, at that point, becomes stunted. How can I discuss things intelligently at that point if the person I am talking to equates belief with knowledge? Crudely put, it is possible to believe that elephant ears act like wings when no-one is looking, or that cats house the souls of dead philosophers, perhaps that Darwin didn't die but underwent a rapid acceleration to a new evolutionary stage. It is not possible to know any of that.

So then, what is belief? Belief is, as the English philosopher Colin McGinn put it in Jonathan Miller's A Brief History of Disbelief:

"...what you'll act on, what you'll take for granted, what you'll assent to, what you might gamble on. That means you're committed to that being the case. 'Belief' is really just an umbrella term that covers all the varieties of assent, of takings to be true."

As such, a person can validly use the term 'belief' to state that s/he believes in eco-awareness, democracy, liberal politics, the existence of God or gods, or what have you. To state a belief then, it would seem, is the formal expression of implicit or informal trust in this-or-that phenomena or noumena on a case-to-case basis.

But to carry the definition of belief forward a little more, both Miller and McGinn acknowledge belief as a disposition. This is an important qualification since it realises the difference between what one knows and what one takes for granted; that is, believes. A Christian simply takes for granted the resurrection of Christ because it is a belief stacked on top of another belief that what the Bible states about Christ is revelation from God himself. However, belief in the resurrection comes with no actual knowledge of its truth or falsity. It is a willing leap based on a pre-disposition (i.e., already assumed belief) that what the Bible says is actually true. Belief is therefore dispositional, continuous and assumed, non-episodic, or second nature.

This is in contrast to knowledge. As Miller puts it:

"Although 'belief' resembles 'knowledge', there's a very important difference between the two. In the case of 'belief', you can say that someone believes X and that he was wrong. But it sounds rather odd to say that someone knows X and is wrong. It's part of the definition of knowing something that it is the case. Whereas believing something is a state of mind about which you could be proved to be wrong."

To 'know' something then, is to suggest that something is incontrovertably what it is, and not something else. To 'know' a thing is to perceive its correspondence to testable, communicable reality. But to 'believe' something is to take on trust what might, at some point, be shown to be false.

This puts Christians in a precarious situation not just amongst unbelievers, but amongst themselves, too. For how can conversation happen when belief is taken to be knowledge? In other words, how can anything intelligible be conveyed about any one of the tenets of Christianity if a Christian is convinced that what s/he believes is what s/he knows? The dissonance this creates in the mind of the observant listener shuts down any chances of mutually beneficial dialogue since this blurring of distinctions results in wrong-headed dogmatism, fanatacism, and extremism.

Even if a religious believer is benignly fanatical -- e.g., Catholic assertions about Mary's perpetual virginity, Baptist promulgations on the dance-leads-to-sex scenario, Pentecostal insistance on the gift of tongues -- the fact of the matter is that believing is not synonymous with knowing. As long as the insistance that "because I believe" is directly proportionate to "therefore I know" continues, most, if not all table-talk about religion will be mostly notional and not actual; connotative and absent of the denotative ingredients necessary to intelligently describing a belief, or sharing some actual knowledge. In essence, confusing 'belief' and 'knowledge' makes conversation almost meaningless.

That would be shameful for a group of people charged to "give a reason for the hope that is in you" (1 Peter 3:15, ESV).

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Brief History of Religion

C'mon, now! Don't say it isn't at all accurate.

By way of Protestations of Free Thinkers.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Agnostic On Origins

What does it really matter how our origins came about?

On the one hand, we can claim by faith that God did it in either complete unvariated forms, or incomplete forms that are being guided to completion. But that is, afterall, simply a faith-claim.

On the other hand, we can sift the available evidence and cajole various incomplete theories out of the academic ether: Darwinian natural selection, intelligent design, theistic evolution, et al. But in this case we still have to concede that we really don't know the details concerning our origins.So given that both the fideistic approach to origins (God did it), and the naturalistic approach (a collusion of molecules did it) are ultimately best-guess scenarios, wouldn't it be more rational to concede agnosticism on this issue?
From my perspective, remaining agnostic on the issue of origins seems the only reasonable position. Perhaps that's being overly pragmatic; perhaps it's being supremely uncommitted. In either case, the issue of origins is purely academic and really shouldn't provoke such insipid controversy between mature thinkers -- be they scientists, God-lovers, or neither.

Thoughts?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

When I Was 12...

...I was a ninja!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Stephen Fry: Brilliant.

It would be quite interesting to discuss a recent resolution proposed by Britain's premiere debate forum, Intelligence Squared: the Catholic Church is a force for good in the world. Leaving personal opinions aside for the moment, here (and Pt. 2) is a stunningly brilliant commentary by actor/writer Stephen Fry decrying, nay, destroying the notion that the Catholic Church is a force for good in the world.

It's been a long time since I've witnessed such an articulate and well-rounded presentation of the secular position against Catholicism. One might find it easy to estimate what that position might entail, but the angle Fry takes when drawing the curtains back on Catholicism is sheer genius.

Enjoy!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Questioning Authority

Okay. I have internet at home again, so I will be able to start regular blogging once more. Hopefully there are still some interested readers. Four months of involuntary hiatus can, I understand, diminish enthusiasm for regular readership and participation.

In any case, let's get things going with a bit of a bang. Authority takes on many forms: absolute, provisional, juridical, religious, etc. On St. Cynic, I deal almost exclusively with religious issues. Given that, let's take a look at the definition of religious authority, how it is expressed, enforced, and whether it is legitimate.

For example, Reformation theologians didn't subvert the notion of religious authority, they simply removed it from the hands of a highly corrupt papacy. Their emphasis -- at least in the Lutheran circles -- was on the freedom of the individual conscience to apply the moral standards, salvific message, and confessional doctrines of Scripture and the Book of Concord. Catholics charge that this is an abrogation from the papacy and the absolutist claim the Roman church had on Scripture, tradition, faith and morals. In both cases, each ecclesial communion based their claims on an absolutist sense of truth, and an assumed unerring interpretation of holy writ and tradition. In both cases, both factions viewed each other's 'authority' as illegitimate.

So, my question is, first, what is authority? And second, how can authority be properly expressed, enforced, and legitimized? Finally, do we even need religious authority; that is, is it essential?

What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

For Debate


Scripture seems to attest to the existence of many deities (none of which should come before Yahweh, of course). Can you disprove this? How?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The List

Please forgive my lack of posting lately. I haven't been at the computer much at all in the past month.

In any case, one reader, J., was curious about what I was reading. Before I get to that, I have to confess that my last article "Where I'm At #2" was, on reflection, a muddle of guck. I proposed that truth is non-relational all the while relating that point as if it were possibly true -- which would make it false. In short, my conclusion was a contradiction. And if any of you took anything from the article -- whether a sense of irritation at my jejune philosophizing, or an impetus to question the nature of truth further -- something was related to you from my writing. If that's the case, then I am batting a good average in the stupidity game.

Forgive me, please.

As for what I'm reading lately, I've got a few titles I'm charging through. Here they are in no particular priority.


A.N. Wilson is a tremendous biographer, to my estimation. I've read a couple of his earlier works and enjoyed them very much. This latest read fits into my continuing research into doubt, skepticism, agnosticism, and atheism. It's quite a fascinating piece, and well worth the purchase, if you don't mind a challenge.


More from the Documentary Hypothesis front. Crisp, lucid prose, but not meant for anyone looking for an introduction to the origins of Judeo-Christian scripture. Certainly not a hit with Catholics because it challenges their self-assurance that they've got it all sussed out anyway. But coming from a former nun, I'm not too concerned that Karen Armstrong really wants to kowtow to the usual theological prattle concerning the genesis of holy writ. And to that end, I am happy to be educated.

I don't think I'm going to read the whole way through this handy (un)little volume. To be honest, I'm just not that interested in what some of the essays have to say. However, there is a gold-mine of intelligent, witty, and engaging prose in this companion, and anyone interested in the thought-life of Freethinkers would sate their curiosity with this book. Which brings up the next book...



Although I'm not American, I couldn't resist Ms. Jacoby's well-written essay. I'm only a few pages in, but I know I've encountered a keen, incisive mind.

So, J., those are the things I'm reading these days. Since my mind is set to 'Whirlwind Mode' of late, I can't offer you any substantial thoughts on what I've been reading. Hopefully I will be able to soon, however.

Take care.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Where I'm At #2

My article, Where I'm At, met with some interesting comments and questions. Most notably, one respondant, Nick, has expressed curiosity about my religio-spiritual developments. Nick makes note that,

"I'm mostly interested in where you are at, what you believe about religio-spiritual matters that are important to you, what ideas you are newly exploring, that sort of stuff."

I think that's a fair expectation for conversation, so what follows is some of the stuff I've been trying to work through in the past while.

First, I've been trying to figure out just what criteria legitimize the scholars. It's one thing to suggest that so-and-so is the foremost scholar in a certain field. It's another thing to realize that unless you are experiencing the physical data of the empirical sciences, all scholars are simply telling a story. And they're telling that story through a certain lense. Does that invalidate, or illegitimize their narratives? Certainly not. But it does bring into question the relational capacity of truth-telling.

That is, how does one determine the truth of another's claim? We could formally parse logic for a while. That sounds like fun. Kind of. But in the end, structuring another's claims along our own limited understanding and experience, and then charging bravely along the line of linear rationality commits a grievous fallacy: it assumes an objectivity that doesn't actually exist. What we think we know, we only know on our own. Other people may agree, but none of us actually have another's experience with the information being presented. Truth claims have no co-inherence from one person to the next; that is, there is no kindred connection, no 'fellowship' of knowing, if you will.

I'd be happy to be wrong about this, but I see no way around it without actually parsing the formal logic of the problem, and thereby dedicating one's self to the same problem while trying to solve it. And that's the problem with circles: if they're not broken, they just keeping going round and round, round and round.

Second, if truth-claims are non-relational, it would seem a person has to terminate on radical skepticism, or faith. But from where I sit right now, radical skepticism seems rather juvenile: there's no way to support such a view since it calls itself into question, and is thus self-defeating. Faith seems both noble and novel: noble because it means that a person is willing to trust even though they might not 'know' with any measure of certainty; novel because it provides a convenient excuse to abdicate one's responsibility to pursue knowledge, all the while looking pious and moral in the process.

Given these two things -- that truth seems non-relational, and skepticism and faith don't offer helpful answers -- how is a person to trust that anything they are exposed to in scholarship is actual, and/or beneficial? We can go the pragmatic route and suggest that 'whatever answers the most questions with the least amount of problems left over' seems trustworthy, but that fails to recognize itself as a useful tool. In a sense, it's like utilitarianism: how does one determine what is morally good for the most amount of people? And what is 'good' in a pragmatic scheme? In the same way, how does one determine what removes the most amount of problems while answering the most amount of questions? If we're all coming at a situation or issue (say, like, theodicy) with individual minds and experiences, it would make sense to suggest that all answers are questions marked by a period.

The Principle of Parsimony seems to fail, too: it doesn't take itself into account.

So, given that truth-claims aren't relational -- that is, they don't straddle the divide between your personhood and mine -- they can't be believed by virtue of another's authority on a subject, they don't terminate on skepticism, are not made relational by 'faith', can't be experienced mutually via pragmatism, and seem to transcend Occam's razor, what is left?

Nihilism is plain stupid. Existentialism is short-sighted.

So, where am I at, Nick? I don't know.

Friday, October 2, 2009

A Stunning Senior Moment


Thank you, Uncle Steve!

A Look at Literature

I'm still plugging away at Karen Armstrong's volume "A History of God". The material is dense, and I'm learning quite a bit. I appreciate her acumen, her narrative style, and her sidelong humour. But after finishing Bart Ehrman's relevant but, sadly, anticlimactic book "God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question -- Why We Suffer", I needed a change of pace.

Truth-seeking can be a dogged business. And what with the swath of contrarian, and anti-religious literature I've been slogging through this past year, I thought it might be apropos to turn my obstinance toward some new, not necessarily 'Christian' apologetics for religious faith. To start, I have these two gems:


I'm not that far into this little volume, but so far, Timothy Keller seems to be an astute, articulate, and compassionate writer. He has an easy writing style, he's a logic-hound, and he pulls from a wide base of sources: literature, philosophy, movies, etc. What's not to like? I suppose I may find that out.

Then there's this one:

David Berlinski is not a favourite amongst the celebrities of the scientific communities. People like PZ Myers have a spartan hate on for Berlinski. Richard Dawkins considers Berlinski a 'flea'; but anyone reading Dawkins will understand that even yippy chihuahua's are not immune from being bitten. And that is just what Berlinski proposes to do in his crafty little volume: take a bite out of Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, and Harris (a.k.a., The Four Horsemen). I'm sure that if I can mark out the margins of my books with the gross, and indecent errors of these four quixotic heroes of atheism, a world-renowned raconteur like Berlinski should be able to cripple them, and the horses they rode in on.

26 Things To Do In An Elevator

1) Bring a camera, and take pictures of everyone in the elevator.

2) Move your desk into the elevator, and whenever someone gets on, ask if they have an appointment.

3) Lay down a Twister mat and ask people if they'd like to play.

4) Leave a box in a corner, and when someone gets on, ask if they hear something ticking.

5) Pretend you are a flight attendant and review emergency procedures and exits with the passengers.

6) Ask, "did you feel that?"

7) Stand really close to someone, sniffing them occasionally.

8) When the doors close, announce to the others, "It's okay, don't panic. They'll open up again."

9) Swat at flies that don't exist.

10) Tell people that you can see their aura.

11) Call out, "GROUP HUG!" and enforce it.

12) Grimace painfully while smacking your forehead and muttering, "Shut up. All of you. Just Shut up!!!"

13) Crack open your briefcase or purse and while peering inside, as "Got enough air in there?"

14) Stand silently and motionless in the corner, facing the wall, without getting off.

15) Stare at another passenger for awhile, then announce in horror, "You're one of THEM," and back away slowly.

16) Wear a puppet on your hand, and use it to talk to the other passengers.

17) Listen to the elevator walls with a stethoscope.

18) Make explosion noises when anyone presses a button.

19) Ask if you can push the button for other people, but push the wrong ones.

20) Stare grinning at another passenger for awhile, then announce "I have new socks on."

21) Draw a little square on the floor with chalk, and announce to the other passengers, "This is MY personal space!!"

22) When there's only one other person in the elevator, tap them on the shoulder and pretend it wasn't you.

23) Push the buttons and pretend they give you a shock.

24) Call the Psychic Hotline from your cell phone, and ask if they know what floor you're on.

25) Hold the doors open, and say that you're waiting for your friend. After awhile, let the doors close and say, "Hi Greg, how's your day been?"

26) Drop a pen, and wait until someone reaches to help pick it up, and then scream "That's mine!"

Thank you kindly, Ojar!

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Stupid! It Burns...



That's true. But it is certainly far more interesting, at times.


Let's get sloshed! Oh, those crazy catholics...


Hmm. A little more thought should've gone into this one. Devilishly funny, though!


Don't believe me? Go here. And may the force be with you. Or something like that.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Where I'm At.

I've lost a member of my 'following'. That doesn't sound creepy at all, does it? :S

In any case, I can only guess that it's because I haven't been posting as much these past couple of months. One of my readers quipped to me at lunch the other day that she comes by the site a couple of times a week, but "meh. There's nothing new." That's true: I haven't posted anything new.

Sadly (for me, that is), not having electricity at home renders self-publishing on the internet a trifle difficult. Hopefully November will turn up some more practical living arrangements, however. Not that living in the bush with no running water, and no electricity isn't practical -- it's the original practical, when you think about it -- it's just not cosmopolitan enough to warrant something so fancy as electricity.

On another note, a friend of mine asked me how my agnosticism is coming. I'd like to take a moment to shout out to Aaron. I miss your tongue-in-cheek humour, bud! Nevertheless, it would be unfair of me to leave this blog dangling, as it were, on the hooks of my last two articles. They were, admittedly, somewhat maudlin and full of serious doubts. Aaron picked up on the natural conclusion to some of my meanderings: that I seemed to be turning agnostic.

I'll admit, things have been taking a radical turn-around for me. The history of the church, of my Christian beliefs has been put under intense scrutiny this past while. I've had questions about inspiration, inerrancy (I plan to buy that book, Ed!), the legitimacy of dogmatics, ecclesiology, the efficacy of prayer, the nature of truth, epistemology and revelation, illumination, the list goes on. In a nutshell, I've been re-visiting the truth-claims of my faith.

Some of them I've found wanting. For example, the purported necessity for a hierarchical church structure. I used to be Lutheran. I used to believe that a very definite, rigid structure needs to be in place; one ruled, as it were, from the bishop down through the clergy. While I agree with the biblical precedent for the necessity of elders, bishops, and deacons (the office I was ordained into in 2004), I disagree that the laity is under the rule of said 'servants' of the Church. In short, bishops, elders, and deacons are to serve the Church (i.e., the people of God) without reservation or prejudice toward certain faith traditions, and without jockeying for lordship amongst themselves (e.g., the Roman church's apotheosis of the bishop of Rome to a jurisdictional authority over all other bishops). The needs of the people should always outweigh bureaucracy. In the same way, the true servant of God always considers the needs of the people as irrefutably more important than the polity of his ecclesial (church) community.

Recognizing that, I could never be a sold-out, hardcore Lutheran. Nor could I ever be a friend to Roman Catholicism -- except to be the kind of friend who is willing to take scorn for attempting to correct a wrong.

Given that example of changes in my beliefs (not to mention many others), where am I as regards the Christian testimony? Well, rest-assured Aaron, I'm not agnostic. Nor am I an atheist. One wit I read about called himself a 'recovering Christian'. While I can appreciate the humour of his sentiments, I think that kind of terminology can be misleading: I'm not casting off an addiction; I never had one to begin with. I'm compelling myself toward the true, amorphous nature of oecumenism -- that is, wholistic Christianity. I'm not hemming myself in by divorcing principalistic authoritarianism (e.g., Roman Catholicism) from real flesh-and-blood people. I'm pro-actively moving away from the apartheid mentality of Christendom; that is, Roman Catholicism cannot commune with Lutherans, Lutherans cannot enjoy the free-spirited nature of the Anabaptists, the Anabaptists cannot espouse the rich cultural and intellectual heritage of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.

Enough. Grow up! The Western world got past the subjugation of peoples according to race -- thanks, in part, to the Church. However, the Western church cannot seem to get past its wanton need to subjugate its own people to this-or-that other faith-tradition. I refuse to take part in it any longer. And to a large degree, that will bring into question, if not stark contrast, my views about God, Jesus, and the Christian community. I'm prepared to answer those questions.

So, if any of you are interested, this is the place to ask those questions. I'm open to dialogue. And thank you, Aaron, for prompting me to write an answer to your question. I'm grateful for your concern, and humour.

Monday, September 7, 2009

In Pursuit of Understanding

Following up on my post of August 23rd, "What If I'm Wrong?" it would be remiss if I were to simply adhere to the proposition that I might be wrong every time I'm faced with a possible conclusion. In all honesty, it would be a bit of lugubrious position to truly consider all answers as questions marked by a period. Radical skepticism is, in the end, radically untenable.

That does not remove the necessity to research, learn, and reassess what I've held this long to be true. To that end, these are the books I am presently devouring, and enjoying quite thoroughly.


Quite honestly, Ehrman's book, far from being polemic or argumentative, is heartfelt and personal. At the same time, he is not short on insights surrounding the issue of theodicy. Ehrman examines not only the philosophical issues surrounding theodicy, but also examines the answers proffered in scripture, and the historical context those answers were couched in. I have learned quite a lot from this pleasant little volume, and will re-visit it in the not-to-distant future.


Karen Armstrong is, quite literally, a phenomenal researcher and writer. Her clarity, wit, and depth of understanding, combined with her report-style narrative is refreshing in a history book. Armstrong is not without her biases (no-one really is), but her attention to detail and ability to synthesize vast domains of religious and philosophical understanding into a historical context is, as far as I'm concerned, almost without parallel (J.N.D. Kelly, Henry Chadwick, and Horace Hummel being other notable exceptions).

I'm almost finished Ehrman's book, and am part way through Armstrong's account of God. To be honest, the more I'm learning from these people, the more I'm enjoying the necessary challenges they bring to my beliefs, and the changes those challenges imply. Refusing to challenge my beliefs, to face the doubts and accusations levelled at a set of beliefs, renders me insincere. I'm not willing to believe dishonestly, or ignorantly. And if the propositional, historical, and physical evidence invalidates my beliefs, then I will have a decision to make: continue to believe despite evidence to the contrary, or, in pursuit of understanding, admit that something other than what I presently believe must be true.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

What If I'm Wrong?

Today, I dumped some reflections on a Facebook site that note some of my recent personal faith challenges. Most notably, I'm concerned about the character of God (Yahweh) in the Old Testament. Here is what I wrote:

"God afflicted Moses' sister with leprosy because she was jealous of said Cushite. God also turned Lot's wife into a pillar of salt because she got a little too curious about the fireworks happening behind her. Sure, she was 'disobedient' but the comparative morality of the situation in a larger context seems entirely disproportionate.

God also seemed to entertain Jephtha's foolish declaration to sacrifice as a burnt offering the first living thing to walk through his front door after his defeat of the Ammonites. How heartbroken was Jephtha when, upon his victorious return, his daughter greeted him at the front door (Judges 11)! Nevertheless, the great general cooked her, and apparently that's okay by God.

It would seem to me that God's moral character needs some vindication if the Old Testament stories are literally true: how wide is God's mercy if He's fine with accepting indecent sacrifices by blowhard, battle-ready, genocidal generals? And if it's all just allegorical, what moral decency can we gain from such a story?

Today I am heartbroken at the seeming depotism of the Old Testament stories. I'm also crushed to learn that archeological proofs show Yahweh as a local god of a small tribe of Israel, and that El was considered the god above Yahweh (who was simply a mountain god) [see Karen Armstrong, "The Great Transformation"]. If this is true, how much of what we believe is simply a tapestry of tangled tales, and primitive sophistications obfuscated by time, translative change-overs and blatant forgeries?"

I'll be honest and say that daring to ask the question, "what if I'm wrong?" leads to a frightening conclusion: you might just be. In my case, I'm beginning to wonder if I am. The New Atheists are a good deal of stentorian emotionalism, and strident protestation written with the rhetorical flavour of witty academia. In the end, they are just as fundamentalist in their objections as the religious are in their assertions. They can balk all they like at that observation, but their books bear out the viability of my conclusion.

When we draw on historical research, however, we find a different landscape. Certainly religious historians like Armstrong are not without their biases, but a tad more creedence can be placed on their findings. And its these findings I find most disturbing. For example, the Old Testament god, Yahweh, seems to be an amalgamation of a localized mountain god, Yahweh, and the competing Jewish conception of god as El (crudely put, the Sky-god), who was, logically above the mountains, and therefore above Yahweh. Apparently Yahweh was portable, too. So, when they couldn't agree, Yahweh was moved around Israel in company of the Axial peoples before eventually being combined with El. Thus a polytheistic notion of god became monotheistic, and Yahweh's name won the day.

And given that Yahweh was portable -- no longer just a mountain god, that is -- it seems a little more understandable that Jesus would quip that "if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain 'get up and move', and it will" (para. of Matt. 17:20). It also makes more sense now to echo with the Psalmist "I lift my eyes up to the mountains, where does my help come from?" (Psalm 121).

Given all of this, however, I am faced with the question, "are my beliefs in the literal, historical Judeo-Christian faith wrong?"

My answer: I don't know. I'm declaring a temporary epistemological agnosticism on this issue. I need to research, learn, and reassess. For now, I'm wondering if Tom Harpur is right when he declares that Christ is a spiritual consciousness all humans have by virtue of the indwelling of God in all of us (see The Pagan Christ). This conclusion, while poking at the fringes of so-called gnosticism, rings consonant with the notion of imago dei. But is a purely spiritualized version of religion right? Admittedly, if I took on that perspective, I'd still have to visit the question, "what if I'm wrong?"

I don't know if I'm ready for what that might imply.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Update


I'm not dead. Just... delayed.


Thought you should know.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

In Absentia

Dear Staggeringly Large Group of Readers,

Due to incredibly droll, yet undeniably pressing reasons, my life (and consequently, my blog) will be on hold until further notice -- which will most likely be when the telephone company gets off its corporate ass. DSL these days, afterall, is ubiquitous, so there really should be an abundance of reasons why the techie at the C.O. (corporate office) can't hook two wires up to four pins on a switchboard.

Sigh...

I'm writing this at work, by the way. Thought I'd share that in case I have some lurking skeptics. ;)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Can't See Reality for the Spiritual

Christians sometimes pray for God to make something come about in their lives that they are completely capable of bringing about themselves (e.g., gaining muscle mass, losing weight, quitting smoking, finding a first-rank parking spot, etc. and ad naseum).

It's an attitude of neglect, I personally think. I think people speak those kinds of prayers because they have a confusion that salvation offers a special 'spiritual entitlement'; one that is removed from the normal strictures of real life. It's almost as if Christian belief in the salvation offered by Christ, once accepted, must mean we can mine God for all our desires now because why wouldn't He want to operate in a fundamentally different alignment to reality? Especially when it comes to 'me' -- whoever 'me' is, and whatever psychological parameters that go into such a histrionic mindset.

Perhaps my view is cynical. Even if it is, it also reflects a sadness I feel when in the company of Christians who think in such ways. I do have to wonder what sorts of things s/he has been taught about God, the ways He empowers us -- most specifically, and wonderfully in the imago dei -- and what our real responsibilities are as stewards of creation. Why create us in His image, give us incredible attributes, skills, and abilities just so we can pawn off our responsibility to use these gifts in the vague and unfounded hope that God will do it for us anyway? I mean, really, when you weigh the cost of having to apply yourself against all the common barriers of life, why not let God step in and veto your chances to strive? It's certainly cheaper to let an omnipotent being do something for you than to have to make an effort on your own, hey?

I do feel sad that, on this point, Christians seem to miss reality for the spiritual. The maxim "can't see the forest for the trees" comes to mind. That causes me to wonder that if reality encompasses spirituality, then why is the spiritual life of the Christian suddenly the overlapping reality? At what point can we get away with the (ill)logic that the part (spirituality) is greater than, or somehow definitionally more important than the whole (reality)? And then why do we feel somehow entitled when we need something from the whole of reality, but only go to part of reality to suss things out?

I just don't understand this particular line of (un)thinking.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Faith and Knowledge

I was just thinking about epistemology while trying to fend off the ill-formed thoughts of a grammatically challenged teenager when the following insight occured to me: all epistemology boils down to what you believe about your own experience with reality.

What does that imply for all our dramatic attempts at truth-claims? What does it say for religious systems? What does it do for the sanctity of scientific methodology? And does that mean that all of us, like I've stressed before, operate from a foundational assumption of faith; that knowledge itself assumes a faith base?

A Reflection On Morality #1

Anyone following my blog will already know of the large swath of atheist literature in the intellectual marketplace these days. I personally find that quite exciting because I don't think the Christian life can be lived out without thoughtfully considering philosophies that oppose it. A person who never encounters philosophical objections to their Christian faith does not have a blind faith so much as a blind knowledge and crippled ability to relate to those of different worldviews.

Undertaking to read as much of the New Atheist's literature as I can during the 2009 year has resulted, quite logically, in many difficult challenges to what I believe. In some cases, what I believe has been altered dramatically. For example, I used to believe that a person could not be truly moral in any ontological sense if they lacked belief in God. I don't believe that any longer for the simple reason that it is empirically demonstrable that our social inclinations as a species demands a pre-existing moral framework, belief or not. Hence there are a good many atheists who are morally upstanding individuals, and many Christians with the moral leanings of sociopaths.

If such is the case, Christians do not have an ethical high-ground whereby their religious views trump the moral efforts, reflections, inquiries, and formulations of non-believers and secularists. We're on level ground if we admit that morality is innate to the human species, whether a person believes or not. What a Christian does have is a presupposed grounds for the origins of morality: the Holy Trinity. Whereas the atheist, secularist, or anti-theist may presuppose morality in light of social Darwinism and the organising practices that necessarily come about to maintain a community, or nation; in effect, morality is an accretion of social contracts meant to ensure the survival of the species.

Despite the claims of the New Atheists that faith is a "mind-virus" (a term coined by Richard Dawkins), if we're on level ground to examine moral action, at what point is there any reason why atheists and Christians cannot work together to effect a more harmonious existence with each other? What logical reason is there then for someone like, say, Sam Harris to call for the eradication of religion, to attack it vehemently in an effort to help religion "slide into obsolescence" (The End of Faith, p. 14)? How does the eradication of one spectrum of human existence justify the continuance of another spectrum of human continuance? In other words, how does the destruction of religious worldviews justify the on-going disbelief in atheistic philosophy? What moral harmony is accomplished, what help to the surival of our species is acheived through obliterating faith, and religious hope?

*Thanks to Parenting Beyond Belief for the picture.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Dear Americans

I'm sure this is something you'd like to be aware of.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Stephy's Blog

Last night my head was addled from stress. So while I was going to write a post to keep this blog going, I lost my steam. This morning, however, some of that stress was lifted, and I felt like coming back to write an article. However, I was happily impressed by a new visitor to the blog, a young lady that goes by the name 'Stephy'.

So, I looked up her profile, visited one of her blogs, and found a wonderful site full of dry humour, excellent cultural observations, and a warm and genuine feel.

As a fellow blogger, I thought it would be appropriate to encourage my readership to visit her site. And, to demonstrate the qualities of her excellent site, here is a fantastic little article that puts the scourge to the hyper-fundamentalism so rampant in American evangelicalism.

Happy reading! And thank you, Steph.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Nathan Jacobson Speaks

You listen.

A History of Philosophy

Just this morning I woke up (well, really, I resigned to opening my eyes, actually) and realised that I've been going about some of my studies on atheism and theism quite wrong. You see, I've studied theology formally, and have pursued it as a personal interest for a number of years now. In the midst of that, I've taken up philosophy almost incidentally: in the long run, you can't really study theology without dealing with philosophy.

So, in light of my academic shortcomings (which are many), I've decided to nuance my studies with a thorough-going study of the history of philosophy. My former philosophy professor, Dr. van der Breggen would be quite happy, I'm sure.

My choice for study? A 9 volume set I've been holding on to for a number of years, and have not ever read: A History of Philosophy, by Frederick Copleston, S.J. The first of the volumes is a compilation of three books, and looks as follows:
I'm looking forward to rounding out my mind with the thoughts of the intellectual giants of history. And it should prove entirely useful in my pursuit of understanding the academic thought life of the popular atheists en vogue these days.

Interview With Terry Eagleton

The Rationalist Association recently published an excellent article detailing Terry Eagleton's philosophical differences with Ditchkins (a portmanteau of the celebrity atheists Dawkins and Hitchens).

For those who are interested in reading about religion's cultured (you know: fermented!) despisers it is a fairly heady, but excellent and worthwhile read.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Eyesore


All Roads Lead Away From Rome, Too

Well, given the abuse scandals going on in Ireland this past while, it comes as no surprise that people are banding together and rejecting Rome.

"So far more than 300 Catholics have indicated their intention formally to leave the church through the website countmeout.ie, set up last month after publication of the report. The creation of three young lapsed Catholics, the facility is designed to provide clear information and the necessary documents to help people leave the church for good."
It should also come as no surprise that a good many of the people leaving the Catholic Church on the Emerald Isle are lapsed Catholics, agnostics, and atheists.
"'There are many so-called lapsed Catholics as well as agnostics and atheists in Ireland but the church continues to count them as members,' said Dunbar. 'Formally defecting will mean the church can no longer use their large membership to justify continued involvement in the provision of education and health services.'”
So what could possibly lead the Roman communion into such rampant abuses? I'm sure there are a good many factors. There always is. However, I'm fairly certain that one thing in particular gives rise to lewd and lecherous priests preying on their parishoners: mandatory celibacy.
When people are denied follow-through on their fundamental urges to procreate, they'll find some other way of gratifying their urges. And since the Catholic Church has had a long-standing negative view of sexuality, things like masturbation are also denied the clergy. So with no reprieve or outlet allowed to these clergy members, some of them find themselves in nefarious situations hoping all-the-while that their position of power and influence will afford them anonymity on the lips of their victims.
And let's not hear any scurrilous excuses like, "well, they don't have to become priests" because it does nothing to address the issue already at hand: people who have already become priests are diddling kids, and the developmentally needy. Those priests don't have an excuse, no matter what latitudinarian attitude the Roman See feels find to adopt; e.g., shipping pedophile priests off to South America where they can continue their abuses under cover of a less fortified media, and a generally ill-provisioned social safety net. Or shuffling them off to remote Alaskan towns where they can do more damage to the Natives than has already been done.
So while the Roman pontiffs may conclude that because Christ was celibate, so too should priests be, I'm quite happily certain that Christ never suffered the children to come unto Him for a chance at carnal satisfaction. So what excuse does the Roman Church and its coterie of pervert priests have on that account? Afterall, aren't the priests supposed to represent Christ to us?

Pricks

So it seems there's going to be a vaccine for the swine flu. The flu itself is very mild and most people recover easily. Kinda like having a common cold, really. Which is why we should roll up our sleeves and let those pricks stick us with it (oh, and all of the toxins that otherwise wouldn't be in my body).

Seems a little overblown, doesn't it, to inject a vaccine that will potentially be more harmful than the thing it's supposedly vaccinating against?

"The decision to start vaccinating people against swine flu — which so far remains a mild virus in most people — will ultimately be a gamble, since there will be limited data on any vaccine. Until millions of people start receiving the shots, experts will not know about rare and potentially dangerous side effects."

By all means! Experiment on us.
Since only 429 people (of who knows what age, level of fitness, and dietary habits) have died out of the reported 95,000 people who have contracted swine flu, it seems it would be worthwhile to jump headlong into the 1976 swine flu fiasco.

"The public health community may still be scarred by the U.S.' disastrous 1976 swine flu vaccination campaign, which was abruptly stopped after hundreds of people reported developing Guillain-Barre syndrome, a paralyzing disorder, after getting the flu vaccine."

But of course we wouldn't repeat that mistake. We're much smarter now. We have more better technologies. And we won't use the same ingredients. Your cocktail will be shaken, not stirred. And we may just put stuff in it to make an extra-strength version, but don't tell anyone that we really don't know what that stuff will do to you.

"Several drugmakers are currently considering using adjuvants, ingredients used to stretch a vaccine's active ingredient, which could allow for many more vaccine doses. But little or no data exists on the safety of vaccines with adjuvants in populations including children and pregnant women. And in the U.S., there are no licensed flu vaccines that use adjuvants."

Perfect! Stick 'em all with something potentially more harmful than the flu itself, and make sure it includes a little extra bang for our buck just to make sure it maximizes possible adverse events. That'll get 'em.

I think there's a good parallel between gangsta culture and Big Pharma: one says "blap, blap" when you take a shot, the other says "ca-ching, ca-ching"; and they both pump you full of heavy metals. And make sure you don't cross either one, 'cause they both know somebody, and they're not afraid to call in favours.

Mainstream

I posted an article earlier this week and hoped that it would bring about some fruitful discussion. Instead, it degenerated and went nowhere.

One thing that did come of it, however, is the necessity to define what 'mainstream' culture is. Since being labelled 'mainstream' has brought about offense here at St. Cynic, I thought it would be fitting to attempt to clarify what I mean by 'mainstream'. Not because I want to remove any offense given, but because I find it especially important to offend with good reason.

The adjective form (and the form that is most commonly used at St. Cynic) of 'mainstream', according to Random House Dictionary, 2009 is “belonging to or characteristic of a prinicple, dominant, or widely accepted group, movement, style, etc.” Accordingly, someone being labelled 'mainstream' is being observed to be part of the most prevalent and commonly accepted idea, group, or trend within a given culture.

For example, if the majority of people in Toronto, Canada wore bell-bottom pants with bedazzler-laden pleather cowboy boots, that would be the 'mainstream' fashion choice. Rejecting such a hideous fashion choice, however, would put one outside of the 'mainstream'.

Examples abound of non-mainstream choices: anti-vaccination, family-led learning, barefooting, eco-building, co-sleeping/family beds, child-led weaning from the breast (breast milk isn't best, it's the default), ancestral traditional diets, embraced symbiosis with microbes, intact genitalia for both sexes, libertarianism, bartering, wholistic healthcare, small poly-culture family-based farming, off-grid living, large familes, squating toilets, television free, and the list goes on almost as extensively as what is deemed 'mainstream'.

To be sure, being mainstream affords many comforts: predictability, wide social acceptance, political favour, being able to make full use of government services, potential for being mostly conflict free in daily social rigours, being able to count yourself as 'normal' (that is, fitting in), having an impact within societal systems, being able to empathize with more of the general population, the virtue of blissful ignorance (not my interpretation, I've been told this one more than a few times), etc.

So while I don't participate in much of what is mainstream, and do have a disdain for much of what is touted as acceptable within mainstream, I don't necessarily consider it bad, or evil or anything quite so jejune. It simply is what it is: ever-shifting according to the zeitgeist (spirit of the times). So, if the zeitgeist is sick, so is the mainstream. If it is well, likewise.

Our current zeitgeist is clearly in need of some major reparation, and TLC.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Stenger's Failed Hypothesis P. I

Victor J. Stenger is professor emeritus of physics and astronomy at the University of Hawaii. He has also written several respected books. One of which is his treatise on the non-existence of God, God: The Failed Hypothesis (How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist).

I am not able to write on the details of scientific research, so on that account, I can confess that Stenger definitely has an edge on me. However, his intended purpose -- to show from science that God does not exist -- runs headlong into an area I can makes heads-or-tails of: theology and philosophy.

Now, to be sure, Stenger has done an excellent job laying out his case. In short, Stenger reasons from physical data that the universe looks just as one would expect if God were non-existent. By way of Karl Popper's doctrine of falsifiability (essentially, an assertion can be shown to be false via physical tests/experimentation), Stenger moves to show God as an unverifiable assertion; that is, God cannot be shown to exist through the use of modern scientific methodologies and applications. To quote Stenger:

"The thesis of this book is that the supernatural hypothesis of God is testable, verifiable, and falsifiable by the established methods of science." [1]

Falsifiability seems to be a reasonable guideline at first glance. But when one really takes a good look at falsifiability, it is a principle, or assertion, which itself cannot be falsified. For example, (from the Wikipedia link above) "all men are mortal" is an assertion which cannot be falsified because no amount of physical data can deny that statement. By contrast, however, an experiment can be rigged to show that "all men are immortal" is definitely falsifiable; visit a morgue and the falsifiability of "all men are immortal" is self-evident.

The doctrine of falsifiability on the other hand, is a notion that cannot be tested and shown false because it is a strict, or pure existential statement. That is, untestable due to being non-empirical. This agrees with Popper's original intent for falsifiability: only empirical statements are subject to falsifiablity because philosophical and metaphysical assertions are irrefutable by definition.

To boil this down a bit:

1. Statements that imply, or assert anything to do with actual existence are empirical statements, and therefore testable.

2. The statement that "God exists" asserts the actual existence of a divine superpower, therefore God must be detectable by scientific method.

3. If God cannot be detected, he does not exist. If he can be detected, then we can enjoy the knowledge of his reality.

Stenger's use of falsifiability is commonplace amongst scientists. But my problem with it is simple: why are scientists drawing from the purely existential assertion of falsifiability to justify empiricism? And what happens if we consider assertion itself a form of data? How can you test the falsifiability of the data of the nature of assertion? To put it another way, what data shows assertion to be falsifiable?

Perhaps I'm playing a linguistic game. If I am, I'm not intending to. But I think I'm concerned about Stenger's premise of falsifiability. It is a self-referrential, self-confirming methodology. On that basis, it becomes a severely biased premise that ultimately affirms itself, and automatically excludes anything that does not fit within its pre-established parameters. In effect, it does the very thing that people say they don't like about the followers of the three monotheisms: reason itself to be right above all other ways of knowing.

Given the problematic use of falsifiability, Stenger launches into atheological arguments against the existence of God. He often accuses theists of having definitional problems within their premises and, while doing so, regularly misdefines the position of theists and the premises they use to comprise their arguments.

More, Stenger seems to think that science alone is rigorous in its demands for properly supported ideas, and not just blindly accepted assertions.

"What history shows is that science is very demanding and does not blindly accept any new idea that someone can come up with. New claims must be thoroughly supported by the data, especially when they may conflict with well-established knowledge." [2]

As with science, so with theology and philosophy. Any cursory reading in church history, or the history of philosophy will reveal the same ardent striving for reliable support that science demands in modern times. Methodologies may have changed in some ways, but the demand for supported ideas and reasoned conclusions has not changed at all. So Stenger's implied accusation that other disciplines do blindly accept new ideas is defied by the historical divides between orthodoxy and heterodoxy, Platonic and Aristotelian schools, Augustinianism and Thomism, Cartesian dualism and monism, pyrrhic skepticism and fideism, etc. Stenger has concluded too hastily that science stands out in history in any way when it comes to examining data to arrive at a conclusion.

_____________________

[1] Stenger, Victor J. God: The Failed Hypothesis (How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist) Prometheus Books, NY, 2008, p. 29
[2] Ibid., p. 28

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

God Talk

"Why is it when we talk to God we're said to be praying; but when God talks to us we're schizophrenic?" Lily Tomlin

Yes. Indeed. Why is that?

Monday, July 6, 2009

E.F. Briggs: An Ignoranus (Yes, the misspelling is intentional)

Now, when it comes to horrifically ignorant signs like these (and there are many spread across the United States), I can completely understand, and sympathize with why secularists would desire the abolition of religion.



If religious people are so willing to publicly mischaracterize their fellow civilians because they may, or may not believe in God, what does that say for a) the integrity of their beliefs; and b) their desire to see an actual united civilian loyalty?

Or, as my wife pointed out to me, "God is certainly not a patriot. You don't have to believe in God to be an American." So there's really no correlation (or at least, a stupendously wide gulf) between what a person believes and how loyal they will be to their country.

More unfortunately, the sign seems to suggest that a civil war could be warranted if atheists don't repatriate by becoming believers. I wonder if these same believers would be just as quick to throw the switch, or pull the trigger as a punishment for treason, if in fact they actually believe non-belief is as much a danger as treason? Wouldn't that be an abrogation of the 5th Commandment (6th depending on your tradition)? How would they legitimize such an action? Personally, I don't think they'd do it. Which is what makes Rev. E.F. Briggs's statement the statement of an ignorant blowhard.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Reconciling Religion and Science

You can be an atheist and be a scientist. You can be religious and be a scientist. In the first case, you are a rational atheist. Oddly, in the second case -- at least according to some secularists -- you are either inconsistent about your world view (thus irrational), or disingenuous about your religious views. For how can one hold to metaphysical notions while concentrating almost wholly on the physical as a means of understanding?

What interests me about this is that it comes with the assumption that only testable, physical data is valid for justifying knowledge. Hence revelation, a great deal of philosophy, illumination, mystical experiences, personal experiences, psychic experiences, mythopathic intuitions, intuition itself, and any other form of knowledge I've missed suddenly becomes irrelevant and untrustworthy. Keep your anecdotes to yourself please; the Ministry of Evidence is open only to those with bunsen burners (mortars and pestels may be considered).

Lest I be accused of soft-selling the importance of science, I see it as an essential study. I think, however, that scientists who attempt to dissuade people from their religious views on the basis that a particular set of experiments have not been able to confirm such-and-such a dogma, doctrine, claim, etc. may just be missing the point of religious assertions. Namely, religion is not (properly speaking) an attempt at a scientific view of the world, or even a particularly detailed description of what's in the world and how it works. Instead, religion is a description -- and sometimes a prescription, too -- of peoples's responsibilities to each other in the world.

That being said, are there times when religions teach things morally retrograde and dysfunctional? In fact, yes. Claiming a holy war on a neighbouring country because they haven't stamped their politics with a certain god's name hardly seems justifiable to the people who will suffer in the wake of such a declaration. More, such an action is scientifically unjustifiable because it elevates an ideology above the natural impulse to survive the vicissitudes of our material environment.

But by saying such a thing, I automatically move from the camp of fundamentalism to being a moderate, which in today's popular parlance means that I'm not truly devout because I appreciate the existential and humanitarian rights of all peoples everywhere. So given that I believe religion and science can co-exist peacefully, and work together to effect the betterment of our environment and our human experiences, it would seem from my perspective that being 'devout' consists not in a disavowal of fundamentalism (whatever that has come to mean), nor in adopting the moniker of moderate (an equally ambiguous label), but in accepting the inherent dignity of all people everywhere, while recognizing the concomitant claim that each person's dignity is a direct reflection of divinity; the imago dei (image of God).

If by appreciating the work of science I cannot be truly religious, then I have to question a) the evidence that supports the validity of being immature enough not to understand that real people hold inconsistencies and contradictions to be true all the time, and in daily life; and b) why religion is not examining its own progress in the real world that science is attempting to understand? In both cases, I am content to know that because there are internal inconsistencies in my religious views, and because science is always learning and discovering, there is room for inconsistencies in my brain. I welcome them. I grow from them. And I do so without any 'real' conflict affecting the outcome.