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Zachary Karabell on Mark Lilla’s ‘The Stillborn God’

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Posted on Dec 20, 2007
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By Zachary Karabell

One of the bedrock assumptions of our society is that we have, after centuries of struggle, finally achieved an enviable balance that allows individuals to have their own religious beliefs but does not permit religion to dictate public life and thereby enflame passions and generate deadly conflict. That balance was hardly easy to create, and only after many years of two steps forward and one step back did we in the West finally—supposedly—arrive at the right formula. But arrive we did, says Mark Lilla in “The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics and the Modern West,” his provocative, passionate essay on what he calls “the Great Separation.”

With the rise of a virulent strain of radical fundamentalism in the Muslim world, that separation is being assailed, and we seem bewildered that anyone could argue against it. Lilla, however, contends that it is not the fundamentalists—Muslim, Christian and Jewish —who are seeing the world askew; it is Western culture and its defenders. “We must remind ourselves,” he writes, “that we are living in an experiment, that we are the exceptions. We have little reason to expect other civilizations to follow our unusual path, which was opened up by a unique theological-political crisis within Christendom.” In short, Lilla believes that we> have gotten one thing utterly wrong: We are not us. We are them. We are not the rule; we are the exception.

 

book cover

 

The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West

 

By Mark Lilla

 

Knopf, 352 pages

 

Buy the book

 


The rule for Lilla is a blurring of the political and theological that has defined most societies from time immemorial and Western society for most of recorded history until only recently. Since the dawn of Christianity, there has been a deep confusion in Western society about what constitutes a good society, and Lilla astutely highlights what he sees as the limitations of the New Testament in not “articulating a clear, coherent picture of the good Christian political order.” Although full of moral guidance, the New Testament is indeed vague about how society should be structured, perhaps because most of those who penned its text believed that the end of days was near and hence that it would be a waste of time thinking too much about how to construct an ideal political society in this world. The result, however, was endless war and tension between different groups in what became Europe.

Lilla is a historian of ideas, and his book is primarily an intellectual history of the thinkers who confronted the problem of never-ending wars of theology and who sought a solution and an escape. Lilla’s hero in this endeavor is Thomas Hobbes, the 17th-century English philosopher who looked at the wreckage caused by theological conflict and offered a radical solution: structure society around man’s nature, not on God’s. And that nature isn’t pretty. For Hobbes, “the reason human beings in war commit acts no animal would commit is, paradoxically, because they believe in God. Animals fight only to eat or reproduce; men fight to get into heaven.” Because humans need someone to follow absolutely, Hobbes suggested that they follow not God, whose will is mysterious when applied to politics, but rather an absolute ruler, “an earthly God.”

From Hobbes, Lilla then charts the intellectual peregrinations of thinkers as varied as Rousseau, Kant, Hegel and Karl Barth. Some are more familiar than others, but the book as a whole is a sophisticated series of essays on the way these thinkers slowly erected a wall between theology and politics and inexorably built the foundations for a society predicated not on God’s will but on human action and human thought.

As with any endeavor of this kind, it is easy to quibble with Lilla’s interpretations and his selective readings. But that is less an issue with what Lilla has done and how he has done it than with intellectual history itself. By nature, it imposes a coherence and sense of orderly progression on intellectual thought— even when acknowledging just how messy the evolution of ideas can be. Because Lilla is looking for the roots of the Great Separation, he naturally finds them, at the expense of clearing away not just weeds but roots of other ideas that are not the subject of his inquiry. Still, that comes with the territory, and while it would have strengthened his case to have acknowledged that his question—and not some bright, shining self-evident historical progression of ideas—determined what he does and does not pay attention to, he succeeds in excavating the path that led to what we now blithely call the separation of church and state.

Lilla is by no means a romantic about that separation. He understands how hard it was to achieve, and how unsatisfying it can be and continues to be even to this day. Like democracy, it was never a great solution, only better than the alternatives.

Where Lilla does fall short, however, is in the very presumption that there was a Great Separation, or that it is alien to all but the modern West. It is without a doubt true that Western Europe today is a series of societies defined less and less by Christianity. However, the same cannot be said of the United States. While Americans don’t fight wars of religion with one other, it is a stretch to say that there has been a Great Separation in the United States or that God is stillborn in contemporary American life. Fighting to be heard, perhaps, but stillborn? It is also wrong to generalize these issues to humanity. Chinese culture has a powerful stream of Confucian thought which is in essence God-less. China hasn’t had a Great Separation because it never had to grapple with an immanent God, a transcendent God, or any God. And India?  Let’s not get started on India, with its one God, its one Gods, its many Gods, no Gods, pantheon of Gods, and castes, and Vedas and Upanishads and just about anything and everything that has been anywhere and everywhere.

Lilla concludes by saying that “ours is a difficult heritage ...because it demands self-awareness” rather than revelation, because in recognizing the perils of messianic religion, we are left to our devices and those are rarely satisfying. There is something troubling about that sentiment, and self-satisfied. Lilla is saying that our path—or rather the path he says we took—is hard, but it is a good hard and a better hard, and, it is strongly implied, a more evolved hard. That would be news to the Chinese, to the Indians, and to billions outside the West who have engaged in equally human struggles in vastly different ways, who don’t know from Hobbes and couldn’t spell Kant. It would also be news to preachers all across America who everyday lament the separation of church and state and are looking for ways to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

And as for those whom Lilla does not name but whom he nonetheless points a j’accuse-like finger at—the children of Osama bin Laden—they do challenge many of our notions as well as those of a billion Muslims who live the great separation more than most in the West recognize. To imply that those children of Bin Laden define the universe of billions of them and that Hobbes and his thought define us is to force far too many square pegs into one very small round hole. Lilla has done a fine job of highlighting and explicating some of the great thinkers of Western civ and exploring how they grappled with some vexing problems. But his reading of who we are is strangely simplistic, and his view of them, of those who have supposedly not made the journey to the other shore, is ultimately confined to a very small them in a wide world that is far more sophisticated and wonderfully more complicated than these essays suggest.

Zachary Karabell is the author of several books, including, most recently, “Peace Be Upon You: Fourteen Centuries of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish Coexistence in the Middle East,” published by Alfred A. Knopf.


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Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, December 30, 2007 at 6:45 am Link to this comment

There must be a good philosophical exlax, eh Douglas?  Oops did I say DM, I meant DC.  Sorry I missed that typo.  Do you feel like you stuck your head in a chamberpot?  Well, I shdon’t shknow shabout shyou, but I shloves shmy shvino (in the evening).  You mean, life itself is “like” a path. Not “is” a path. Right? To which wretched Eye talian painter are you referring?  I take umbrage at your insinuaton about Eye talians.  You keep speaking in poor metaphors, hey that rhymed! Poor metaphor.  Good job Shenonymous.  Do I mock you?  Way….ell, yes.  A DC quote, “A “heaven” can be made uopn [sic] earth if people really want it and are willing to work together and to strive with others for it…”  Are you talking about the 6,640,811,776 people in the world today?  (I just checked the U.S. Census bureau).

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By Douglas Chalmers, December 30, 2007 at 5:50 am Link to this comment

“If humans in their stupidity do things to defile the earth -the earth will just get rid of the human vermin and reclaim itself…. inexorably….”

By Shenonymous, December 29: “If no one treads the Path…. How far along are you… I can see I still have much work to do…?”

Doubtless, the smokers of dope soon realized that it made their heads feel as if they had been shoved into a “chamberpot”  - thus they gave their favorite shit the name “pot”, uhh. Same of course for you winos who end up with as foul a state of execreble self-revulsion from upsetting your livers.

Perhaps the character Shenonymous merely needs a good cleanout. In referring to “one treads the Path, DM”, it may be that she referred to someone as “DiM” as herself. Then again, that may be as spurious as “hypothesiz(ing) a heaven and hell that do not exist”.

Imagining that one is on some path does not necessariy mean that one is actually on that path, even if one’s overpaid teacher is gratuitously deluding you that you not only are but that you are progressing wonderfully - as long as you keep paying your fees on time.

Life itself is a path. Making it go straight never mind going forward can be another matter. Those who find the going easy have not yet discovered adversity. Paying your way is not actually “user pays” which inevitably leads to being used and exploited. We share and should share.

Not doing so in one way or another eventually leads to the “hell” we fear right here on Earth. That we wish it for others is so much more evil than waiting for it to appear off some wretched Italian’s painting after we die, uhh. Thus we make ourselves into the real character of Dorian Gray.

Setting ourselves up as “ego” gods means that we have stepped onto a path of involution, not evolution and that we have chosen selfish free will instead of the mutually assured survival of collective Freedom. Only co-operation can ever save us on this earth!

A “heaven” can be made uopn earth if people really want it and are willing to work together and to strive with others for it. Or, it can never be realized by man/woman upon Earth if the fools who are taking us backwards are still to be followed.

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By Ted Swart, December 29, 2007 at 12:59 pm Link to this comment

Welcome unknown She.  Nice to have a voice of sanity on board.  YES indeed.  There is a lot of “waste matter” in this forum.  Nevertheless the TruthDig discussion seem to be much better that most forums on the web. Maybe this is because the numebnr of participants is often reasonably limited.

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By Shenonymous, December 29, 2007 at 11:27 am Link to this comment

Being the firmest atheist I know, I was bound to trip across this forum, and I can see the waste matter is abundant here as elsewhere.  I am surprised to see that Chamberpot is not in the bowed position, the proper attitude in the presence of gawds and gawdesses.  If we go down the tubes Dr. K I A, it will be the fallopian tubes.  Surely you jest, too kind doctor, please define humility, just so we all have the same meaning of the word.  It doesn’t even qualify as spurious to hypothesize a heaven and hell that do not exist.  It is a sabotage of the self.  The persistent veneration of the religions of the East is also full of false beliefs held on unfounded opinion just as much a believing in any western supernatural entity existing outside the self.  Buddhist atheism as a philosophy probably has the most useful of all Eastern thinking in cleansing the polluted mind.  All else are mythologies and fairytales. Answers are within one’s own culture and are there to the wise.  One just needs to see into the apparent abyss.  Have I seen into the abyss?  Part of the way and I can see I still have much work to do. 

Evolution is not only possible but inevitable.  If humans in their stupidity do things to defile the earth the earth will just get rid of the human vermin and reclaim itself; it might take a thousand years but it will inexorably.

Scott, long before Joni Mitchell and Zachery Karabell there was the ancient Greek Parmenides who said very much the same things as the moderns, only better.  If you are a searching soul (mind), then you might check out the Parmenidean Poem to see the similarity.

If no one treads the Path, DM, how would you even know about it and why aren’t you on it and demonstrate that you are on it?  Do you think you are demonstrating it?  Or are you one of the few who are?  How far along are you on the Path to truth?

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By Ted Swart, December 28, 2007 at 7:14 pm Link to this comment

DC.  I think you are just playing games. Pray tell us what the   explanation of the “hovering” star look alike over Bethlehem was—in your opinion. And perhaps you could include an explanation of why this is important to you.

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By Douglas Chalmers, December 28, 2007 at 9:03 am Link to this comment

#122938 by Ted Swart: “These phrase arose, Doug, from your contention that “no one has come up with a satisfactory explanation of the Star of Bethlehem”...”

If you couldn’t understand it, what was the point of replying then, Ted? Do you think I need to be told something, man-to-man, as a result of criticizing some woman? Playing into her game, uhh.

As for an astronomical explanation, it would be meaningless. Stars simply don’t hover…..

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By Ted Swart, December 28, 2007 at 8:30 am Link to this comment

Maani and DC. 
Am not at all sure that phrases like “lack of humility’ and “utterly presumptuous” help the dialog between us. My view is and remains that none of us has all the answers.

These phrase arose, Doug, from your contention that “no one has come up with a satisfactory explanation of the Star of Bethlehem”. I did not even try to answer your query since I freely admit I don’t understand it. What is it that you are asking for?  An astronomical explanation—of which there are several—or some kind of cosmic explanation?

Maani.  I appreciate your erudition and—for the most part—even keel discussion. I have already pointed out that we part company when it comes to accepting the core of Christian theology. You describe faith (which you obviously claim to have) as “The substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things unseen”.  That much quoted phrase lies at the heart of our divergence. Hoping that the mythology surrounding Jesus is true seems to me pointless and I am at a loss to see how this “faith” provides evidence of anything—seen or unseen. Perhaps you could explain your own faith in your own words rather than in terms of quoted words. It is hard for me to understand what this “faith” entails and how you and others—who do accept the Christian mythology—come by it.

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By Douglas Chalmers, December 28, 2007 at 5:31 am Link to this comment

#122837 by VillageElder on 12/27: “Ones actions caused things to happen.  To live we had to eat.  To eat we had to kill….. Our clan tribes survived by preying upon the weak….. we share a moral development track with all other primates.  Thou shalt not kill one of thine group.  Thou shalt not steal from thine group…”

Uhh, it looks as though the folks who brought us the dark ages, burning of witches, misogyny, and the degradation of the relation between a man and a woman have once again reared up on their hind legs. The tyranny of theocracy is once again heard in the false ramblings of half-understood garbage as presented to us now by none other than our very own spurious VillageElder.

Let his god remain stillborn, as sincerely devoted to his misapprehensions he no doubt is. Killing was never the original lifestyle, even to eat. It eventually developed as it was easier and the vegetarian diet was scarce on sustenance if not absent for part of the time. Such was the life of the hunter/gatherer.

The very problems we face today are as a result of the absence of a moral development track with all other primates. Do some research on chimpanzees and baboons and you will soon find that they will kill each other for pleasure. The trouble is that humans are exactly the same - and wilfully so.

Thus preying upon the weak and stealing from each other are as second nature to immoral humanity. That we do so is proof that we have failed to learn successfully from our experiences. Raiding the neighbors over the hill became the path to the tribal warfare in which we are still mired today.

As an order of priests arose to cater to the fears and ignorance of the herd, they soon found themselves in a cosy position. That is now shared with the jurists and legalists and, latterly, even the medical profession who have each managed to create their own mumbo-jumbo to support their uselesss existence.

People have become so fearful of the unknown and so engrossed in their material stste that they refuse to consider even the voice of their own intuition or conscience. They do not like to be goaded with Truth and eventually become bipolar or schizoid as a result of their refusals and denials.

An ironic ‘evolution’ (progressive degeneration) from when once a leader/priest could influence those beings who commanded the environment and the beings in it. Thus, we built upon our past and today is the sad result. A path to insecurity both mental and physical and a nuclear end soon to come.

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By Douglas Chalmers, December 28, 2007 at 2:07 am Link to this comment

#122884 by Maani on 12/27: “How on God’s great earth would YOU know….. If your lack of humility is any indication…”

Your response to my simple question about “the Star of Bethlehem” is so utterly presumptious, Maani - and you have gone out of your way to discredit me while avoiding answering it - or admitting that you are unable to.

Indeed,  that makes you no less a zealot than the worst hypocrites in Christianity. The one thing that people like you hate is that someone else actually knows something. Moreso, that they have a path that you have never trodded and that you have failed to avail yourself of.

If your lack of humility is any indication, Maani, I will forego your particular brand of unenlightened spirituality, uhh.

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By Maani, December 27, 2007 at 11:29 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Doug:

What strikes me about your comments is that you make them with such an absolute certainty - a finality - that, at least to me, exhibits a spiritual arrogance that would make even some fundamentalist Christians wince.  For example: “Enlightenment may be relatively unique but it is an attainable goal and there is a known path.”

“A known path?”  Really?  Only one?  Only one “correct” one?  “The known path” according to Doug Chalmers?  It seems your certitude knows no bounds.  You are certainly entitled to your opinions - but that is all they are: opinions, since we will obviously never know certain facts.

Just look at the difference in the language that Ted uses - “I don’t think,” “I don’t suppose” - compared with yours: “a known path”, “he would never have referred to himself,” and particularly “That will eventually be the path of enquiry in future, not the Jewish or Western view.”  (Not “That is likely to be,” but it “will” be.  And you know this because Gautama Buddha told you so himself?)

Don’t you see the absurdity of such “absolute” statements?  How on God’s great earth would YOU know - of a certainty - what Jesus would or would not have done?  You can surmise, you can speculate.  But to make statements like that with such finality is to presume that you and you alone have all the answers to spiritual enlightenment and what Jesus would or would not have done.  Indeed, perhaps we need no longer ask the question, “What would Jesus do?”  We can simply ask “What would Doug Chalmers do?”

If your lack of humility is any indication, I will forego your particular brand of spiritual enlightenment.

As well, you remove “faith” from the equation when you make “final” statements about Jesus divinity; e.g., the virgin birth, resurrection, and other aspects of the Gospels.  True, they might or might not have occurred.  We don’t know for CERTAIN, and we may never know.  But there are reasons, however limited, to believe they did, and “faith,” by definition, is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

I have seen miracles, and even had them occur in my life.  And by “miracle” I mean things for which no viable scientific or other “worldly” explanation exists.  And I am not talking about seeing the face of Jesus in a coconut.  I am talking about bona fide medical, psychological, spiritual and other miracles.  So I have good reason to believe that other miracles, including virgin births and resurrections, have occurred.

As noted, you are certainly entitled to your own belief system, and even to your supposition that it is the best one (for you) or a good one (for others).  But do not make the mistake of confusing that with “knowing” - absolutely, with certainty and finality - that it is so.  Because that makes you no less a zealot (a fundamentalist Buddhist?) than many Christians are accused (rightly) of being.

Peace.

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By Douglas Chalmers, December 27, 2007 at 10:25 pm Link to this comment

#122443 by Maani on 12/25: “To say “What he meant was…”... is simply offering your own interpretation of the phrase…. the majority of scholars to do not agree….. As for “never have meant a male deity,” this is not supported by the NT…”

Thank you for your reply, Maani. No, I do not agree with the biblical scholars in many respects and I have said why before. I look at what a spiritually enlightened person would have said. That is not so hard to understand, actually.

For the ordinary person, they can compare the teachings of Buddha and his life story to get a better understanding of Jesus. That will eventually be the path of enquiry in future, not the Jewish or Western view.

Even so, Jesus might have chosen the term “Father” if it was appropriate in the language of the day and was acceptable to the mindset of the people there. They already had a patriarchal system and it was obviously not the time to penetrate that mentality.

That such an attitude still exists in the region and is as lethal now as it was then was no doubt part of why he was murdered. It was no place of enlightenment and that was why I said that he most probably studied elsewhere. He was a supporter of women in his actions which would have incurred some resentment.

As for the phrase “son of God”, it would also really depend on the usage at the time. Again, he would never have referred to himself as “the only one”. Enlightenment may be relatively unique but it is an attainable goal and there is a known path. He was encouraging others to step onto that path by following his example.

You seem to have concluded something similar in your response to Ted. Regarding Jesus’ miraculous birth - the immaculate conception - that is again something which was being explained in a way that people could understand or, at least, accept. It was the story of a highly spiritually advanced soul incarnating for a special reason. Again, you can learn more in the life of Buddha.

Note that no-one has yet come up with a satisfactory explanation for the Star of Bethlehem, though. Would you like to try, Maani?

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By VillageElder, December 27, 2007 at 5:24 pm Link to this comment

In the earliest times of our species, with little understanding of the physical universe, we looked to a power who might be guiding this incomprehensible environment of our world.  The power had to be a who because abstraction was many millennia away.  Our relation to this world was concrete.  Ones actions caused things to happen.  To live we had to eat.  To eat we had to kill.  Live was tied to death.

Our clan tribes survived by preying upon the weak.  Since the weak could easily die, a weak leader could cause the group to die.  The leader mirrored the being who commanded the environment in which we lived.  To keep our tribe alive we must not have a weak leader.  So we might not have a weak leader we would kill our leader replacing him with a new young and strong leader. Nothing weak could command the storms, seasons, animals and vegetation around us.  The beings that we must kill to survive.  We must eat to live.

Throughout this struggle we developed methods to live with those who commanded that which we couldn’t.  These methods developed into a code of behaviors to be followed.  These behaviors would also include words and ways of speaking those words.  Spoken properly we or our leader/priest could influence those beings who commanded our environment and the beings in it.  These behaviors and words would develop into many diverse forms.  The desire would remain the same.

As a species we share a moral development track with all other primates.  Thou shalt not kill one of thine group.  Thou shalt not steal from thine group.  These values/morals appear to be hardwired into all primates.  There is less that a 10% difference between our DNA and that of all the other mammals and primates. 

In the evolution of our species and societies we built upon our past.  We had nothing else to build upon!  Eventually we moved from pre-history to ancient history.  From Mesopotamia our societies and myths spread from Ireland to Asia.  These myths are parallel throughout all continents and societies.  Beliefs from the stone age changed, evolved and melded with each other to to continue these practices and beliefs into our Common Era.

Evolution is basically the ability of organisms, of any size, to adapt to their surroundings.  This is adaptive biology.  Insects become resistant to DDT.  A staph infection becomes resistant to antibiotics – MRSA the scourge of modern hospitals.  Before you tell me evolution is a theory expose yourself to MRSA, refuse medical treatment and let the “creator” take care of it.

Find references to Christ and the stories of the old testament outside of the “Holy Bible.”  If you only cite one book and that is the book you believe in and proves your arguments you have a circle.  From Ur on there have been records left.  They don’t support the holy book.  In fact it doesn’t support itself.

Since the stone age through the dark ages we as a species have be sloughing off the influence of the “gods”, theology; the tyranny of the priests.  Today when people hear voices directing them to action we suggest medications because they are schizoid.  Saying god told you does not make you less schizoid.  Fortunately most folks remember the kindness taught, throughout all religious systems, rather than the rapes,  pillages and genocides.

It has taken us many millennia to separate ourselves from “the church”.  Let us not give up on or struggle.  Let us not surrender to the folks who brought us the dark ages, burning of witches, misogyny, and the degradation of the relation between a man and a woman because it hearkened back to the earlier fertility rituals. (This is not to diminish the relationships of same sex couples.)

The tyranny of theocracy must not return!  Let the god remain stillborn!

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By Ted Swart, December 27, 2007 at 1:56 pm Link to this comment

by Maani on 12/25 at 1:18 pm #122443
(Unregistered commenter)
Let me clear the decks to some extent.  I am not numbered amongst those who regard it as likely that Jesus did not exist.  I think there is enough evidence to indicate that he did indeed exist.
Also, I believe you are correct in asserting that Jesus conceived of God as being male—given his multiple uses of the word “father”.  I also believe that he and his followers suffered under the delusion that he would return to earth in their lifetime.
See below for further comments on what you say about me.

No. I am in no sense gnostic in my attitude to Jesus.  Whilst I believe he almost certainly existed as a person I don’t regard him as divine in any sense which is not true of all of us.  You say:

“However, this needs to be considered in light of Jesus’ miraculous birth. That is, whether or not you personally believe in the immaculate conception, that is the point of reference from which Jesus makes this statement: i.e., “I am literally the product of a human woman and the spirit of the Father Himself, in a way that no one else is or ever has been. Because of this, I speak and act for the Father because my spirit is literally His spirit.” This is where the concept of Jesus as “fully human, fully divine” comes from.”

This strikes me as pretty orthodox Christian doctrine and I accept none of it. I don’t think there was a virgin birth and I don’t see why it is supposed to be so important.  And this business of “fully human and fully divine” seems to me simply plucked out of thin air.

“Yet even given this, Jesus need not, and did not, suggest that HE be worshipped, since His physical presence here would be temporary.”

As indicated above I think there is much evidence that Jesus did think in terms of returning to earth. (e.g. Albert Schweiter’s monumental work on the Quest for the Historical Jesus)

“Rather, what He was suggesting was that people worship the Father THROUGH Him; i.e., honor His sacrifice, but give all honor, glory, praise, worship to the Father. (As an aside, perhaps even more than His sacrifice, this is the most extraordinary expression of Jesus’ humility ever shown to man.)”

The notion of God – through Jesus—“sacrificing” himself on our behalf is all tied in with the illogical Adam and Eve story and holds no water with me.  And it links up with the ridiculous story of Abraham being asked (by God no less) to sacrifice his own son.

“Finally, re a “trustworthy record,” that record becomes more trustworthy every day, as new documents are found, new discoveries are made (including in archeology), etc. True, as noted, we may never know EXACTLY what Jesus did and did not say, but when we cross-reference what we do have, some fairly solid claims can be made.”

Pray tell.  What is this supposed new evidence that you are alluding to?
Methinks you have completely brushed aside the fact that the monotheistic religions such as Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Islam are all mutually contradictory and you have given no reasons for making your particular choice —except to simply affirm that it is the right choice.
Peace.

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By Maani, December 25, 2007 at 2:18 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Doug:

To say “What he meant was…” or “Such-and-such means that…” is simply offering your own interpretation of the phrase.  However, while it is true that we will never know EXACTLY what He meant, the majority of scholars to do not agree with your interpretation.  In fact, I have noticed that your interpretations tend toward the gnostic - with which I have no real problem (since I have studied gnosticism quite deeply, and appreciate what it has to contribute to Christology), except that they remain minority opinions since, in most cases, but not all, there is simply less evidence to support them.

As for “never have meant a male deity,” this is not supported by the NT.  There are over 30 instances in the Gospels of Jesus referring to the deity as “Father” or “my Father.”  Yes, there are some scholars who believe that this is simply a “rhetorical” device, since one has to provide a reference for the people one is speaking to.  But Jesus could easily have mixed his pronouns, using “father” sometimes and “mother” sometimes and even a non-pronoun like “the Creator” sometimes.  But He did not.  He very specifically used “Father” in ALL cases in which he was speaking of the “deity.”

As for the phrase “son of God,” again you offer a gnostic definition for this phrase.  Yet if you go back to the original Aramaic as translated into the original Greek, you will find that there is a difference in the use of “the” and “a” when they precede “son of God.”  For example, in Matt 4, when Jesus is being tempted by Satan, Satan says, “If thou be the Son of God…”  Here, the word “the” is the specific word meaning “the only one,” not simply “one of.”  And this use is consistent in those cases in which the apostles use the phrase.

Ted:

You are correct to point out the phrase “I and my Father are one.”  And you seem to suggest that you, too, prefer a gnostic interpretation here: that “I” means “the path I follow” and “Father” means “the path God wants you to follow”; or, to rephrase, “The path that I follow and the path God wants you to follow are one,” and NOT that Jesus and God are a single entity.

However, this needs to be considered in light of Jesus’ miraculous birth.  That is, whether or not you personally believe in the immaculate conception, that is the point of reference from which Jesus makes this statement: i.e., “I am literally the product of a human woman and the spirit of the Father Himself, in a way that no one else is or ever has been.  Because of this, I speak and act for the Father because my spirit is literally His spirit.” This is where the concept of Jesus as “fully human, fully divine” comes from.

Yet even given this, Jesus need not, and did not, suggest that HE be worshipped, since His physical presence here would be temporary.  Rather, what He was suggesting was that people worship the Father THROUGH Him; i.e., honor His sacrifice, but give all honor, glory, praise, worship to the Father.  (As an aside, perhaps even more than His sacrifice, this is the most extraordinary expression of Jesus’ humility ever shown to man.)

Finally, re a “trustworthy record,” that record becomes more trustworthy every day, as new documents are found, new discoveries are made (including in archeology), etc.  True, as noted, we may never know EXACTLY what Jesus did and did not say, but when we cross-reference what we do have, some fairly solid claims can be made.

Peace.

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By R.M., December 25, 2007 at 1:02 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

When you lie to children, they tend to resent it.  They develop a set of values that are as hostile as someone who’s chance at understanding the universe normally had been taken away from them and you won’t hear a sound as it slowly happens.

Two boy scout counselors, 17 year old Clayton Frady and 18 year old David Huckabee, the son of Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, have admitted to catching a stray dog during their summer session at Camp Pioneer in Hatfield, AR, and hanging the dog by his neck, slitting his throat and stoning him to death.
This young man (Huckabee) also has a “concealed weapon carry license” and was arrested, fortunately, while attempting to board an airplane with the loaded gun in his “carry on” bag.

It appears there needs to be another commandment for those who insist that “Christian values” are necessary.  They say “we unbelievers” would be bereft of a sense of morality without them…so, for them, could we please add…Thou shalt love and be truthful with all men, but especially with children, who see thy words with innocent and open hearts.  Kahlil Gibran said it well in “The Prophet” ...the page regarding children.

Maybe it has to be in “the book” before the Baptists and others of their ilk will really understand. Morality doesn’t come from there.
However, I do like Psalm 82 verse 6.

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By Ted Swart, December 25, 2007 at 12:18 pm Link to this comment

#122334 by Maani on 12/24 at 8:53 pm

Touche monsieur.  I cannot really fault anything you say in the passage below.  I would only suggest that those who reject scientific evidence on religious grounds are rather more dangerous that you seem willing to allow.

‘Ted:

The phrase that Dick used was “dangerous religious fanatics with some 80,000,000 followers.”

There is a difference between “dangerous religious fanatics,” as Dick was almost certainly using that phrase, and people who may be “religiously deluded,” but who may not be “fanatical.” This is not a mere semantical difference.  For example, a Christian can believe abortion is wrong without blowing up an abortion, or even necessarily voting for candidates based on their positions on abortion.

I will give you that there are an enormous number of Christians who are anti-science or just plain ignorant of science, whose positions on such things as evolution are “deluded.” But this does not make them “dangerous” in the sense that Dick seemed to imply.

You also say, “[T]he percentage of Canadians who are agnostic/atheist is significantly higher than it is in the US…and I don’t think there is any evidence that this leads to moral/ethical depravity.” Nor would I suggest such: I have never felt that believers have a lock on morality or ethics.  But I would add that, by the same token, neither do atheists/agnostics have a lock on reason or rationality.’

When it comes to your critique of DC we do, I am afraid, part company. You agree with DC that Jesus did not want people to worship him but you say he did want his followers to worship his “father”. But he is reported (in John’s gospel) to have said: “I and my father are one” so the whole situation is rather murky.  I think the honest truth is that we do not have a very trustworthy record of the facts surrounding Jesus life or what he really did and didn’t say.
Let me come clean. I was an ardent Anglican, became a Quaker and now have no religious attachment—since I don’t accept the standard monotheistic or polytheistic concepts of God.  I am surprised you are not with me in this regard since you have clearly done your homework as it were.
And YES.  You are correct that being an atheist/agnostic doesn’t ensure that you are a worthy person.

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By Douglas Chalmers, December 25, 2007 at 11:52 am Link to this comment

#122334 by Maani on 12/24: ”...does not mean that He made no claims of divinity; the two are not mutually exclusive.  For example, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” certainly implies a form of divinity….”

Well, yes, Maani, but he was explaining “the Path” as a means of teaching people. What he meant was that he had attained Enlightenement and had direct clear contact with “the Source”. We can only achieve intuitional and inspirational glimpses.

“No-one come to the Father but through Me” means that one has to follow the same path to achieve enlightenment eventually, too. Then, one has indeed come to “the Father” although he would never have meant a male deity either. 

In that sense, then, there is no such thing as “the one and only son of god”, either. We all have the same path in front of us if we will only step upon it, keep on it, and put sufficient effort and dedication into it as our main purpose in life.

In the Hindu religion and in Tantra, “enlightenment” means raising Kundalini and the self-realization and Oneness with Cosmic Truth that results at the highest level.  Universal love and compassion are other attributes from increased levels of consciousness. They are then real - not merely intellectual or philosophical constructs.

Thus, the primary Life Force energy known as Love is manifest through one who attunes themselves through spiritual practice and good karma (and avoiding bad karma). This is the Goddess known as Kundalini, if I can put it that way. All the rest is mere prattle and patriarchal bullshit, uhh!

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By Maani, December 24, 2007 at 9:53 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Ted:

The phrase that Dick used was “dangerous religious fanatics with some 80,000,000 followers.”

There is a difference between “dangerous religious fanatics,” as Dick was almost certainly using that phrase, and people who may be “religiously deluded,” but who may not be “fanatical.”  This is not a mere semantical difference.  For example, a Christian can believe abortion is wrong without blowing up an abortion, or even necessarily voting for candidates based on their positions on abortion.

I will give you that there are an enormous number of Christians who are anti-science or just plain ignorant of science, whose positions on such things as evolution are “deluded.”  But this does not make them “dangerous” in the sense that Dick seemed to imply.

You also say, “[T]he percentage of Canadians who are agnostic/atheist is significantly higher than it is in the US…and I don’t think there is any evidence that this leads to moral/ethical depravity.”  Nor would I suggest such: I have never felt that believers have a lock on morality or ethics.  But I would add that, by the same token, neither do atheists/agnostics have a lock on reason or rationality.

Doug:

The mere fact that Jesus did not, as you correctly suggest, want people to worship HIM (He wanted them to worship the Father) does not mean that He made no claims of divinity; the two are not mutually exclusive.  For example, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” certainly implies a form of divinity.  But we also have:

“Jesus…asked his disciples…Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.”  This is clearly an admission of divinity.  But we also have this:

“And the high priest answered and said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God.  Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.”

Note that it was this statement that caused the Sanhedrin to find him guilty of blasphemy.

These are only three of almost a dozen statements or inferences that Jesus makes as to His divinity.

Peace.

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By Douglas Chalmers, December 24, 2007 at 3:47 pm Link to this comment

#122250 by Maani on 12/24: “Even if we assume ....Jesus did not utter that statement, Paul most certainly said, “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; FOR KINGS, AND FOR ALL THAT ARE IN AUTHORITY, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.”......

Since those “in authority” would have included political rulers such as Caesar, it would make little sense to pray for them and yet not “render” to them what is “theirs”..... Indeed, one could see this as an extension of Jesus’ admonition to “love your enemies…pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you”....”

Thank you for your kind thoughts this strange Christmas, Maani.

What Paul may have said is simply to pray for those in authority (pests that they are, uhh). That is a very different thing from giving over to them in any way. Tolerate them and their laws, perhaps….. pray for them, one should .....but “rendering unto Caesar” is hardly “an extension of love your enemies”. Indeed, it is capitulation!

That might lead to “a peaceful life” but it is only a form of slavery. That is the very trap we are all in now, don’t you know?!?!

#122283 by Ted Sswart on 12/24: ”...you say no truly enlightened person would say: “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s”.  How do you know Jesus did not say that?  .....unravelling what Jesus did and did not say is a tricky exercise…. There are other contentious things which Jesus is reported as having said – which he almost certainly did say.  He is reported to have said: “Why call you me good ?—there is non good but God” This suggests that he made no claim to being divine – which undermines the very core of Christian mythology. The NT apologists for his divinity would surely not have deliberately inserted these words.

Oh, Ted, there was never any need for NT scholars to convince anyone of Jesus’ divinity. I have occasionally compared him to Buddha for good reason. Neither made - or needed to - make any claims, though. Theirs are stories of the living proof for those who can understand the mystical.

That is also why I am sure that Jesus did not say any such thing about Caesar - even though he might have suggested that people pray for him. Even in the BhagavadGita, it falsely ends with a verse exhorting Arjuna to capitulate to his basic passions on the battlefield.

If I can explain it this way, what Jesus didn’t want was for people to worship him. Instead, he wanted them to follow his example. It is a far different thing. That is the way of all good teachers. Sadly, it is the priests who want to be worshipped, uhh!

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By Ted Sswart, December 24, 2007 at 2:30 pm Link to this comment
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Maani #122147
Thank you so much for your detailed analysis of the g;e of the US population that can be described as religious fanatics.  However, I think you play down the percentage that are religiously deluded. The percentage that deny the occurrence of evolution is something like 40% or higher in the stats I’ve seen.  This is far higher than it is in Europe or even Canada and it attests to an incredibly large number of people who deliberately deny well attested scientific knowledge.  I find that to be a frightening situation.
Incidentally, the percentage of Canadians who are agnostic/atheist is significantly higher than it is in the US: 22% as opposed to 13%.  and I don’t think there is any evidence that this leads to moral/ethical depravity.  Our prison population is certainly way lower – as a percentage.
DC 122194
You truly astonish me at times.  When you say no truly enlightened person would say: “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s”.  How do you know Jesus did not say that?  Clearly the issue of unravelling what Jesus did and did not say is a tricky exercise and I would be hesitant to be so sure that he did not say that.  There are other contentious things which Jesus is reported as having said – which he almost certainly did say.  He is reported to have said: “Why call you me good ?—there is non good but God”  This suggests that he made no claim to being divine – which undermines the very core of Christian mythology. The NT apologists for his divinity would surely not have deliberately inserted these words. 
Maani #122250
Thanks for the more detailed critique of what DC wrote but no thanks for the glib belief in the existence of Lucifer/Satan.

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By Maani, December 24, 2007 at 10:17 am Link to this comment
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Expat:

Actually, I did include Muslims in my stats; they were part of the “et al” under non-fanatical groups like the Jews, Buddhists and Hindus, since American Muslims are clearly not “radical.”

Re “Good Christians are not to be part of the world/government,” this is why Jehovah’s Witnesses neither run for office nor even vote.  They live as minimally within the politico-economic system as it is possible to do.

Doug:

Always a pleasure to see you on the boards - even if we continue to agree on very little!  LOL.

You are, of course, correct that “true” or “primitive” or “original” Christianity was co-opted very early on for political reasons, and so “became” a “Western” religion, which it was not.

However, I take some issue with the following: “Any truly enlightened person…would NEVER have really uttered such a deceitful statement [i.e., “Render unto Caesar…].  All ‘belongs’ to God because all is created by god, especially if you take “the big bang” as the original Creation.  In other words, Caesar (and the ‘devil’) is/are only part of ‘god’s’ Creation. Giving power/authority to Caesar equal to God is a false logic and an abrogation of one’s own “divinity” or connection to one’s Creator.”

Even if we assume (which I do not) that Jesus did not utter that statement, Paul most certainly said, “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; FOR KINGS, AND FOR ALL THAT ARE IN AUTHORITY, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.” (Emphasis mine.)

Since those “in authority” would have included political rulers such as Caesar, it would make little sense to pray for them and yet not “render” to them what is “theirs” under the politico-economic system under which one is living.  And this does not make Caesar “equal” to God; Jesus’ statement implies no such thing.  Indeed, one could see this as an extension of Jesus’ admonition to “love your enemies…pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you”.

Jesus was simply noting that the “kingdom of God” is NOT “here” (at least yet), and thus making the distinction between “Caesar” - representing the “worldly” systems that MAN (not God) created - and the kingdom that is still to come.

What you seem to be suggesting is that simply because God created man, anything that man creates is thus “part of God’s creation.”  While I suppose this may be true in the (to my mind, absurdly) broadest sense, that is not the issue that Jesus or Paul was addressing.

As for Lucifer/Satan, while it is true that God created him (and thus, again in the broadest sense, he is part of God’s creation), once he was cast out of heaven, he became a “free agent,” and his influence on man (including the “systems” of this world) - and man’s acceptance of that influence - are, in fact, one of the main things that separated God and man in the first place, and set up the “need” for God to “sacrifice Himself” in the person of Jesus in order to provide a more direct relationship between Him and His creation.

Peace.

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By Douglas Chalmers, December 24, 2007 at 5:52 am Link to this comment

#122166 by Expat on 12/24: “Zachary Karabell…
Since the dawn of Christianity, there has been a deep confusion in Western society….. not “articulating a clear, coherent picture of the good Christian political order.”.....

As a non-Christian student of religions, I find this a curious statement.  The New Testament clearly refers to the separation of church and state; they are to be forever separated.  Good Christians are not to be part of the world/government….”

Actually, Expat, the deep confusion in Western society as regards Christianity is because it is NOT a Western religion. At the outset, ALL Abrahamic religions were, and still are, West Asian (Middle Eastern).

In Western Europe, Christianity was usurped almost from its beginnings and made to serve power plays and state ambitions and the expansionism of empires. There is nothing holy or sacred in any of that, sadly.

But going back to #121758 by Mike Mid-City on 12/21 at the beginning of this blog:-

Some 300 years after the birth of Christ the Roman Emperor prostituted Jesus into a state religion. Jesus said “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and God what is God’s.” He never said a word about the government otherwise.

Any truly enlightened person, Jesus or Buddha or Krishna, would NEVER have really uttered such a deceitful statement. All ‘belongs’ to God because all is created by god, especially if you take “the big bang” as the original Creation.

In other words, Caesar (and the ‘devil’) is/are only part of ‘god’s’ Creation. Giving power/authority to Caesar equal to God is a false logic and an abrogation of one’s own “divinity” or connection to one’s Creator.

Sadly, that is exactly what people do when they give authority to an all-powerful state run by an elite or a clique or a political party or a military. Every time they pay taxes, they are like sheep going to the slaughterhouse.

That was the real meaning of “going to Jerusalem to be taxed” (at Christmas), you know. In the end, many young children (first-born boys) were slaughtered to keep the evil Herod in power. Today, it happens in different ways…...

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By Expat, December 24, 2007 at 1:54 am Link to this comment

#122147 by Maani on 12/23 at 8:43 pm
(Unregistered commenter)

It’s interesting that neither of you (Dick incl) mention Muslims in your stats.  Radicals/fanatics surely represent the minority of most religions.

On another note,
Zachary Karabell writes:
Since the dawn of Christianity, there has been a deep confusion in Western society about what constitutes a good society, and Lilla astutely highlights what he sees as the limitations of the New Testament in not “articulating a clear, coherent picture of the good Christian political order.”

As a non-Christian student of religions, I find this a curious statement.  The New Testament clearly refers to the separation of church and state; they are to be forever separated.  Good Christians are not to be part of the world/government.

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By Maani, December 23, 2007 at 9:43 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Dick:

You say, “In the USA we, even today, have dangerous religious fanatics with some 80,000,000 followers.”

I’d like to know where you are getting your stats from.

The entire adult (voting age) population of the U.S. is ~215 million.  Of that number, 26% (~56 million) are Catholic.  But Catholics are not “religious fanatics” (okay, a small minority may be…), if by that you mean the fundamentalist evangelicals (i.e., Christian Right) who helped put Bush in the White House.  (In fact, more Catholics voted for Gore in 2000, and only 5% more Catholics voted for Bush than for Kerry in 2004.)

Another ~33% represent Christian denominations that are clearly NOT “fanatical” (e.g., Methodists, Lutherans, Anglican et al).  That’s another ~71 million.

Another 15% (~32 million) are atheist or agnostic, and another 7% (~15 million) are non-fanatical faiths such as Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish et al.

This gives us a total of 56 + 71 + 32 + 15, or 174 million who are NOT “fanatics,” leaving us with ~41 million.  By coincidence (...), that number represents about 20% - which just happens to be exactly how many Baptists, Evangelicals, Charismatics and other “fanatical” Christians there are.

Yet even this number is suspect, since not every single Baptist, Evangelical and Charismatic is a “fanatic.”  Indeed, consider that in the 2000 election, Bush carried only 68% of this demographic (Gore had 30%), and in 2004, he carried 78% (to Kerry’s 21%).  Even though those are both big percentages, they do not represent EVERY evangelical et al in the country.  As well, it is instructive to note that in 2000, Bush got only 7% of the Black Protestant vote (to Gore’s 91%!), and in 2004, Bush got only 13% of that demographic (to Kerry’s 86%).

So before you start throwing around hopelessly inflated and incorrect statistics and inflammatory accusations, please do some hard research.

Peace.

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By Expat, December 23, 2007 at 8:10 pm Link to this comment

#122097 by Ted Swart on 12/23 at 2:43 pm
(58 comments total)

“......but the alternative to him was Gore who has a spurious Nobel Peace Prize—despite a massively flawed book and dubious movie.”

Interesting comment; it seems there are not many of us who entertain that view.  Nicely said.

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By Ted Swart, December 23, 2007 at 3:43 pm Link to this comment

DC 122064
That quote about “pantheistic agnosticism” was not from Scott but from me. Not that it matters since I make no copyright or patent claims. And thank you Scott for the superb quote from Hawking about consciousness allowing the universe to appreciate itself. 
Dr K 122031
You are truly in a sombre mood.  More like a “know naught” rather than a “know it all”. I am not sure if your two PhD’s are real but—since I have an undergraduate engineering degree a DSc in chemistry and a PhD in math/computer science and am somewhat upbeat rather than sombre—I can only conclude that having multiple degrees is not a recipe for sombreness.
Is there anything we can do to boost you morale? I am not suggesting that you suddenly take to liking Bush but the alternative to him was Gore who has a spurious Nobel Peace Prize—despite a massively flawed book and dubious movie. Among other things he laid claim to having invented the internet and there is no guarantee that he would have turned out to be a better president.
Anyway, my personal best wishes for you during the festive season.

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By dick, December 23, 2007 at 1:25 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Superstition and ignorance produced and have sustained religion, which is a misrepresentation of myth.In the USA we, even today, have dangerous religious fanatics with some 80,000,000 followers.

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By Eso, December 23, 2007 at 12:06 pm Link to this comment

I was just looking at
video.google.com/videoplay?docid=8797525979024486145
a rather long lecture and not a new story, but…
I liked the quote it ended on: “The foundation of all mental illness is the avoidance of legitimate suffering.” Carl Jung

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By Douglas Chalmers, December 23, 2007 at 11:44 am Link to this comment

#122051 by Scott on 12/23: “Douglas Chalmers writes… we are stardust…. concsiousness provides the universe with a means to appreciate itself.”

Uhh, hang on, Scott, that sounds like something of Zachary Karabell’s that I quoted rather than what I actually said.

But, yes, we are “stardust”  - or even viruses raining down from comets and seeding the Earth. All part of the One Creation. I don’t think that “observing it” will in any way make the universe disappear, though.

Dark matter and dark energy may yet only be ways of explaining something which doesn’t exist in linear space but in frameworks of dimensions. As time is the fourth dimension, why stop at four? How slow the human race is in learning to count…..

That links interestingly, though, with your comments about death. Why? Because there is a place we come from before “we” are born and a place “we” go to after we die. Another level of existence - or set of dimensional frameworks, I guess you could say.

That is perhaps what Dr. Knowitall was trying to figure out re “spiritualism”. Like emotion, spirituality is a level of feeling/consciousness which has to be experienced to be understood. We are all bound into the material/physical world so that we can be sure to experience it.

But some can see through the “veil” to another realm. Again, it is something which frightens people. Just as people are afraid to be alone or to be not quite in control. So that part of our Universe continues to exist whether we wish to be conscious of it or not.

Just as indigenous people were more in tune with Nature, we once might have been too but have managed to cut ourselves off in many ways. The philosophy of “loving kindness” is nothing new and was delineated 1,000’s of years ago. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohist

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By Scott, December 23, 2007 at 10:56 am Link to this comment

Douglas Chalmers writes; Perhaps we need a new pantheistic style agnosticism which is not frightened of not knowing but also has a sense of the numinous nature of reality

I’m reminded of Joni Mitchell’s observation that we are stardust and I think it was Hawking who said concsiousness provides the universe with a means to appreciate itself.

Indigenous people in my region have a saying ‘Hishuk ish tsawaak’ which means everything is one and its often used in conjunction with another term ‘Iisaak’ which means respect with caring. To me this provides a neat philosophy of trying to do unto everything as you would have everything do unto you which seems a little more productive than going forth and having dominion over the world.

As for the first cause and a hereafter…hope always seems to spring eternal no matter how much I try to suppress it. I think there must be some truth to the idea that human minds are wired in such a way that we’re cursed or blessed with a sense of immortality.

I think a good description of death would be to liken the experience to crossing the event horizon of a black hole. This however soon conjures up visions of wormholes to other dimensions or worlds and seems unpalatable because its little different than what we have now - an unfounded notion of otherworldiness. Perhaps a better description of death would involve imagining an observer brane (short for membrane in the parlance of cosmologists)colliding with the brane of the observed.  What happens then? Does a new space open up, does a baby universe explode into existance in the new space that forms in the wake of the colliding branes? Probably nothing at all…but hope always springs eternal.

Perhaps concsiousness provides the universe with a means to replicate itself. Perhaps we’re like spores or as Joni Mitchell suggests cogs in something turning. Poetry and music really can invoke wonderful things in a mind can’t they?

I suppose I could also ask how do I take over the world and control people’s minds with my vision but that wouldn’t be very respectful or caring of others would it now? That said, I do apologize if anyone catches a self-replicating meme from this post.

Hey, did anyone hear the latest theory that the human observation of dark energy may shorten the life span of the universe? How weird is that?
http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20071125-human-observation-of-dark-energy-may-shorten-the-life-span-of-the-universe.html

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By Douglas Chalmers, December 23, 2007 at 9:24 am Link to this comment

#122031 by Dr. Knowitall, PhD, PhD on 12/23: “One of the big dangers believing in something beyond us… might take the onus from less responsible people to make the best of things here and maybe even make the world better…. I’m not sure I even believe that…”

People in the East fell into the same trap with their eventual misunderstandings of karma. Bad karma was an explanation for everything and an excuse for doing nothing and “gaining merit” became a selfish pre-occupation.

That is why the path of service to others is seen as the most important. We are all here to help each other, if we but will. Whether we like it or not, we are indeed “our brothers’ keeper”. Perhaps we just need to remind ourselves…..

But, there is nothing outside of Creation to believe in, though. That’s where Lilla gets distracted in quoting the 17th-century Thomas Hobbes. Do read these two pages for a better view of this topic http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/16/books/review/Goldstein-t.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

That is where Western thought always falls down. There is this illusion of, or belief in, some duality. There is no such thing as “God AND the devil”. By accepting such nonsense, one disempowers oneself by becoming merely a third party.

Science has embraced “creationism” by accepting the big bang theory. In other words, there was an “original Cause”. Whether the religions of the world accept that yet is still something we could wait a long time for.

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By Dr. Knowitall, PhD, PhD, December 23, 2007 at 8:32 am Link to this comment

I can’t figure out if spiritualism is real or yet another product of the human ability to think.  I’d hate to take part in a quest that is centuries old only to either find no answer, thereby making the quest rather than the answer the thing, or perhaps to find an answer that I don’t understand.

It could simply be that we’re all looking for some form of nirvana because we recognize or believe that man’s journey has to be something other than worldly turmoil and being at peace with oneself and the world might be a good.

I hold out the possibility/probability that none of this is true.  Otherworldly stuff is the mind’s resignation, I think, that being alive with a brain that allows us to reason at a “high” level still isn’t enough to figure out what the hell is going on. 

One of the big dangers believing in something beyond us, I think, as you suggest, might take the onus from less responsible people to make the best of things here and maybe even make the world better. 

I’m not sure I even believe that.  You know, Douglas, I don’t know what I believe anymore. Except I do believe Bush is a bungling, inept, self absorbed, immoral, puppet idiot.

As I read this, I’m not sure I’m being clear.  I think it could simply be that we’re all thrown onto this globe by our parents, to live or die, and that’s it, and it’s our minds that make more out of that than there really is.  I can’t find anything wrong with that simplicity; I quite enjoy life but don’t mind dying—I just hope not too soon.

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By Logician, December 23, 2007 at 12:57 am Link to this comment

RE#121905 by Mike Mid-City on 12/22 at 11:54 am:

Ah, obscenity, the last refuge of the righteously ignorant.

Just pointing out, MM-C, that to quote a mythological character about anything is truly useless.  Unless it is merely a cover for an already known author who wishes to state the obvious without getting himself in too much trouble. For example, Mark Twain and Pudd’nhead Wilson.

But when you start quoting the lead character in a filthy little tale created by power mad pederasts, you reveal either an all encompassing gullibility or some truly filthy little fantasies of your own.

Far be it from me to suppose in your case just which it might be…

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By Eso, December 22, 2007 at 11:06 pm Link to this comment

I came here because the book review interested me. What holds my attention, among other things, are the images that will appear if you go to Google and search and then click “slum life”.

Some of you might reflect on the image (and thousands like it) as a result of our inability to control the direction of social evolution, least of all the “slum life” that life on Earth has become in whatever direction, vertically or horizontally, we turn. In my opinion, it has everything to do with the God we don’t have, because we have failed to create such. I wish you all a reflective holiday.

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By Douglas Chalmers, December 22, 2007 at 10:35 pm Link to this comment

#121957 by Ted Swart on 12/22: “...I cannot agree that Eastern religion/philosophy knows or, at any rate, “once knew” the path . . (to enlightenment?, to truth?) It’s a bit like “all have gone astray”.  Perhaps we need a new pantheistic style agnosticism which is not frightened of not knowing but also has a sense of the numinous nature of reality….”

The Path still exists although few, or even none, tread on it. It is Truth. It is Reality…....

It is the Dao - just ask TAO Walker, ha ha!

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By Ted Swart, December 22, 2007 at 8:12 pm Link to this comment

Dr K 121941.
I am glad that you agree that “what is, is, for sure whether we say it is or not”. I sure don’t believe what is claimed about Jesus or any other revered religious or political figure.
But don’t lose hope. I am fortunate in having a group of five close friends and we boost each other by having regular get togethers where we raise our hopes via completely frank discussion. Try it for yourself if you can manage it.
DC 121950
I do still have the sense that you and I and Dr K have a good deal in common. But I cannot agree that Eastern religion/philosophy knows or, at any rate, “once knew” the path . . (to enlightenment?, to truth?) It’s a bit like “all have gone astray”.  Perhaps we need a new pantheistic style agnosticism which is not frightened of not knowing but also has a sense of the numinous nature of reality.

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By Douglas Chalmers, December 22, 2007 at 6:50 pm Link to this comment

#121941 by Dr. Knowitall, PhD, PhD on 12/22: “...I do agree that we are responsible for where we find ourselves but I mock “god” and those who believe in deities by suggesting that, if he/she/it were what they say he is, we wouldn’t be where we are now….”

Is this then not “the stillborn god”, Dr. Knowitall? Have we not killed the “god” within our own hearts and souls in its yet-to-be-born proto-state?

That is the answer to all of your questions - because that is how we have, as a race, become worse than ordinary animals. That is Lilla’s “the Great Separation”, if you will.

Still, the pathway back to our own “divinity” is the same “...it demands self-awareness” that Lilla mentions, according to Zachary Karabell. In other words, evolution is still (theoretically) possible - if we will but try.

The real truth is that there is yet some unrrealized glorious Reality that we keep denying both ourselves and others. Only Eastern religion/philosophy has so far become aware of it.

The West is a dark place which no amount of electric light will illuminate. If the East is also lost, at least they once knew the path…....

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By Dr. Knowitall, PhD, PhD, December 22, 2007 at 6:02 pm Link to this comment

D.C. right you are.  I do tend to be patronizing to those who are “believers” which my be immature of me.  I do agree that we are responsible for where we find ourselves but I mock “god” and those who believe in deities by suggesting that, if he/she/it were what they say he is, we wouldn’t be where we are now. 

To Ted Swart 121902, What is, is, for sure, whether we say it is or is not.  After 7 years of the Bush administration, I just don’t know what is and what isn’t.  And I don’t trust anyone to sort them out for me.  “Fool me once…”  I don’t believe in Jesus. I don’t believe in the NY Times or Brian Williams although Keith Olbermann was pretty good last night. I just think I’m screwed, with no hope, which is why I think Doug has it figured out, and TAO Walker and, I guess, maybe you, as you suggested.  As TAO Walker says, HokaHey! (I think that’s the spelling) I think he may have it more figured out than most others.

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By Douglas Chalmers, December 22, 2007 at 5:37 pm Link to this comment

#121912 by Dr. Knowitall, PhD, PhD on 12/22: “...self-righteousness and selfishness are stupid.  I also believe we—all of us—have to learn humility, respect and selflessness before the world will work.  Religion might try to teach that; lessons in morality and ethics without deities might be more efficient.  Without learning that, there will be no progress .......we’ll surely f**k up heaven and hell when we get there, unless God and his buddy counterparts are successful at doing there what they seemed totally inept at accomplishing here on earth.  What a JOKE…!”

Yes, the great “cosmic joke”, ha ha, Dr. Knowitall - but, look what you are doing - still having a bet each way, uhh. You can’t blame it on “god” any more….... its time to accept responsibility!!!

In other words, we are the “gods”..........

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By troublesum, December 22, 2007 at 4:28 pm Link to this comment

I’m sorry, my post #121885 was a link to a youtube video that had expired.  It was for political junkies who are atheists.  You can find a link by googling ‘Tony Parsons on youtube’.

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By Dr. Knowitall, PhD, PhD, December 22, 2007 at 1:43 pm Link to this comment

I think self-righteousness and selfishness are stupid.  I also believe we—all of us—have to learn humility, respect and selflessness before the world will work.  Religion might try to teach that; lessons in morality and ethics without deities might be more efficient.  Without learning that, there will be no progress and, as DC says, we might go down the tubes.  I think we will.  But I’m not worried.  I might welcome that. I think the world/earth will do better without humans.  We’re too stupid and greedy. And we’ll surely f**k up heaven and hell when we get there, unless God and his buddy counterparts are successful at doing there what they seemed totally inept at accomplishing here on earth.  What a JOKE!

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By Eso, December 22, 2007 at 12:49 pm Link to this comment

Re: If there is a god he owes the world an apology.
Hoa binh

My point (see below #121822) is that we create God. God does not owe us an apology, we owe ourselves an apology for failing to sustain nonviolence. I suspect the last God died believing that the day will come when we will raise him. Today however still belongs to the freeloaders, though signs are accumulating that a humongous cull made by nature is on its way.

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By Ted Swart, December 22, 2007 at 12:43 pm Link to this comment

That’s quite a stretch Dr Knowitall.  How on earth did you arrive at the conclusion that Douglas Chalmers’ contribution can be summed up the phrase “we are victimized by our own stupidity”. In his closing remark he did point a finger at self-righteousness and stupidity but the word victimized seems strangely out of place, I note that he used the word garbage quite a few times which is not particularly helpful.
Methinks that Chalmers, you yourself and yours truly may well have more in common than seems to be the case. But it is hard to discern what you really believe. You talk about a mountain of myth covering a molehill of facts.  But why a molehill of facts?  Surely there is a huge mountain of facts which contradicts the mythical veneer superimposed upon them.

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By since1492, December 22, 2007 at 12:15 pm Link to this comment

If there is a god he owes the world an apology.
Hoa binh

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By troublesum, December 22, 2007 at 10:47 am Link to this comment

If you don’t believe in God, how about aliveness?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T5-zMV1x6qo&NR=1

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By Dr. Knowitall, PhD, PhD, December 22, 2007 at 9:07 am Link to this comment

I find Douglas Chalmer’s comment quite easy to understand.  In a nutshell, he’s saying we’re victimized by our own stupidity. And I agree, especially if part of your stupidity and ignorance is believing in myths and allowing them to control your mind. 

“I had devoted my life to separating myth from fact and have found the mountain of myths to completely cover the molehill of facts.”—Dr. Knowitall, PhD, PhD

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By Ted Swart, December 22, 2007 at 8:21 am Link to this comment

Eso Benjamin 121830.
You cannot hope to make sense of most comments on a forum like this from the likes of Douglaa Chalmers.
Of course you are right that too much self-righteousness and too little self-sacrifice will be our downfall. 
The contention in the New Testament that it is the truth that sets us free is 100% correct. The trouble is that for fundamentalist believers the real truth is utterly unlike what they claim it is. (I don’t say “think it is” since they don’t allow themselves to think freely).
All highly dogmatic structures go off the rails—whether they are created by believers or atheists (or existentialists!) .  Fundamentalist believers dishonestly reject the occurrence of evolution. But Russian communists were just as bad since they got sucked into the Lysenko nonsense of the inheritence of acquired characeristics.

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By Dr. Knowitall, PhD, PhD, December 22, 2007 at 7:32 am Link to this comment

“Men fight to get into heaven.”  Hmmmm? Interesting.
Did Hobbes actually say that?  I could’ve said that myself.  Before the invention of heaven, what did men fight for? 

“Men who fight to get into heaven may ultimately find themselves in hell.”—Dr. Knowitall, PhD, PhD

“Who the hell invented heaven and hell?”—Dr. Knowitall, PhD, PhD

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By Eso, December 22, 2007 at 5:14 am Link to this comment

I am not at all sure what Douglas Chalmers is trying to say. He seems to be attacking existentialism and all manifestations of religion as garbage, dishonesty, pathetic this and that. I can make no sense of the hodge podge of criticism which is as obscurantist as I have ever come across. So, perhaps the writer would like to repeat what he said in reasonably understandable terms in his 1526th comment.

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By Douglas Chalmers, December 22, 2007 at 4:27 am Link to this comment

#Zachary Karabell — ”...the very project of a secular future is threatened.  In “The Stillborn God,” Mark Lilla reveals the roots of the age-old quest to bring political life under God’s authority.  He also explores how modern Western thinkers found a way to free politics from theological power and build barriers against destructive religious fanaticism….”

This is the typical Western existentialist garbage which continues to excuse its failure to embrace the entirety of Reality and to deny mankind’s inability to control its Creator - whether that be the cosmic Big Bang or some hairy human figure, whether human or Alien, in the clouds - or the essential biological soup from whence its ancestors crawled.

Thus freedom is not at all possible as humanity continues to shackle itself to the grinding wheels of the pathetic karma (consequences) of its own making. Individualism is binding and breaking….. it is illusory and the existence of any such species is thus inevitably temporary.


# For Hobbes, “the reason human beings in war commit acts no animal would commit is, paradoxically, because they believe in God. Animals fight only to eat or reproduce; men fight to get into heaven.” Because humans need someone to follow absolutely, Hobbes suggested that they follow not God, whose will is mysterious when applied to politics, but rather an absolute ruler, “an earthly God.”...”

More dishonest garbage - as no genuinely devout person of religion ever advocates killing. It is thus not belief in a common Creator “god” but the utter denial of others’ right to be part of the same Creation as oneself. It is the ultimate prejudice of man - not god. Fighting takes all further down a path away from any enlightened “heaven” to a “hell” of endless repression and treachery.

It IS the fundamental path of nations, nation-states and kingdoms - to dominate or to eradicate all competition. It is enslavement, not freedom. All who fail to see are thus co-opted into its evil agenda of permanent feudalism. Some are forced, some are led - or misled, some are willing participants. None are “holy”. It is not the intended path of a Universal Creator “god”.

# “Lilla concludes by saying that “ours is a difficult heritage ...because it demands self-awareness” rather than revelation, because in recognizing the perils of messianic religion, we are left to our devices and those are rarely satisfying. There is something troubling about that sentiment, and self-satisfied. Lilla is saying that our path—or rather the path he says we took—is hard, but it is a good hard and a better hard, and, it is strongly implied, a more evolved hard….”

No, existentialism is a path of denial and refusal to accept anything other than that the race of man has absolute self-righteousness and self-aggrandizing ascendancy. Again, it is utter garbage and the Universe and the planet Earth would quite happily exist WITHOUT the human race! That could soon happen - one way or another, uhh.

# Chinese culture has a powerful stream of Confucian thought which is in essence God-less. China hasn’t had a Great Separation because it never had to grapple with an immanent God, a transcendent God, or any God. And India?  Let’s not get started on India, with its one God, its one Gods, its many Gods, no Gods, pantheon of Gods, and castes, and Vedas and Upanishads and…

To an Asian person, this is all just more garbage - unless, of course, they too are existentialists - and some are. In fact, it would be a very good idea to “get started on India” as well as China until those in the West give up their precious pseudo-philosophy of life and learn something which will help them to live co-operatively with others (the majority) on the planet. This self-righteousness and selfishness is at the root of their/our own imminent downfall.

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By Expat, December 22, 2007 at 3:42 am Link to this comment

#121819 by Logician on 12/22 at 12:37 am
(88 comments total)

Pliny and myself agree with you.  The accounts of Josephus are considered to be forgeries.  John Allegro likewise finds no evidence for an historic Jesus.

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By Expat, December 22, 2007 at 3:30 am Link to this comment

As a student of comparative religions and a believer in none; the book “The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West”, By Mark Lilla
may be an interesting read. 
However, thanks to Bush I no longer have any questions regarding religion, politics, and the modern west:  Any mixture of the two is a mix most foul, the true poison of the true human; we’ll have none of it.  Reviews are generally in the eyes of the reviewer and mean nothing to me, especially if it’s an important subject.  This is no longer important.

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By Eso, December 22, 2007 at 3:03 am Link to this comment

The notions about God entertained by the West are hollow for the simple reason that the West exterminated self-sacrifice. This is not to say that Jesus did not sacrifice himself, but neo-Christianity surely dismissed him to Heaven by killing and repressing all who thought like him, i.e., that civilization could only be built through self-sacrifice right here on our planet. Instead, we have all too secularized imbeciles building Financial Cathedrals that are already in the process of collapsing.

Neo-Christianity has failed our planet and, frankly, it has killed any serious notions of what God is about.

God cannot come about without human beings who are willing to self-sacrifice themselves. God comes about by these self-sacrificial beings earning from society the honorific “God” after their sacrifice, not merely through rhetoric about God. God is, but not the way the West thinks it is, nor how the viruses that the West has spread about the world think it is. (A horrific example of neo-Christianity gone haywire can be read in the latest edition of onair LeMonde and concerns Uganda.)You may also wish to check out http://www.latvianjanis.com

Everyone bang a pot or blow a trumpet so the Sun makes its exit from its downward descent. The day to do it is today.

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By Logician, December 22, 2007 at 1:37 am Link to this comment

RE#121758 by Mike Mid-City on 12/21 at 3:30 pm:

Actually, MM-C, it is physically impossible to prostitute a mythological character.  It is as if you were saying Little Red Riding Hood were being prostituted.  Both Jesus and Little Red Riding Hood have equal amounts of evidence for their existence: absolutely zero.

The Roman Emperor was merely following the orders of the new government, The Holy Catholic Empire.  If you were to actually read a real book and not the poorly plagarized excrement you call the holy bible, you would know the hows and whys of the formation of the catholic government.

“Jesus” never said anything about government or anything else.  What never existed cannot have “said” anything.  That’s why the founding fathers didn’t allow the church a footing in the government.  They understood that simple fact.  Why can’t you?

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By Maani, December 21, 2007 at 11:14 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“Although full of moral guidance, the New Testament is indeed vague about how society should be structured, perhaps because most of those who penned its text believed that the end of days was near and hence that it would be a waste of time thinking too much about how to construct an ideal political society in this world.”

It was not that they thought the “end of days was near,” but because they believed that the “structures” of “society” - i.e., the “systems” of “the world” (political, economic, etc.) - were created by man (some believed with Satan’s help) and not God.  In this regard, God’s laws and “structures” came first, and man’s “structures” came a very distant second.

“For Hobbes, ‘the reason human beings in war commit acts no animal would commit is, paradoxically, because they believe in God. Animals fight only to eat or reproduce; men fight to get into heaven.’”

Poppycock.  The reason human beings in war commit atrocities is because they are driven by power and greed for real estate, money, resources, etc.  In fact, Hobbes apparently did not understand the Judeo-Christian construct at all if he believed as he did.  For Jews, the only way to get to heaven was/is by following “the law” to the letter.  For Christians, it was/is through faith and works.  Indeed, Jesus specifically instructed his followers NOT to engage in violence of ANY sort, whether defensive or retaliatory: “Resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also,” “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”

These were not allegorical suggestions, but literal commands.  He did not say “Resist not evil, EXCEPT WHEN THIS OR THAT HAPPENS…” or “Love your enemies, EXCEPT UNDER THE FOLLOWING CIRCUMSTANCES…”

Obivously, not all Christians live up to the teachings of Jesus’ ministry.  And there are indeed many (too many) Christians who engage in violence and support war.  But to suggest that they do so “to get into heaven” is absurd.

All that said, Lilla is obviously correct that we (the U.S.) were, and may still be, an exception, an aberration from the historical norm (if not the only one).  However, the “historical norm” itself has changed, and we are less and less an exception.

It is sad, however, that the brilliant separation of church and state created by the founders is being increasingly breached by the right-wing fundamentalist evangelicals and their ilk who have insinuated themselves deeper and deeper into the political system.  One can only hope that a “correction” to this is in the offing, whether “naturally” (i.e., as a matter of historical cycle) or otherwise (i.e., via elections, etc.).

Peace.

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By Malcolm Martin, December 21, 2007 at 9:38 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

These are the men and women who murdered 17-year-old Nataline Sarkisyan in cold blood.

http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/us/AP-Teen-Liver-Transplant.html

The following individuals are CIGNA Corporation’s Board of Directors as of April 25, 2007:

Robert H. Campbell
Bob Campbell, 69, has been a Director of CIGNA since 1992. He served as Chairman of Sunoco, Inc. (a domestic refiner and marketer of petroleum products) from 1992 until 2000, and as Chief Executive Officer from 1991 until 2000.

H. Edward Hanway
Ed Hanway, 55, has been a Director of CIGNA since 1999. He has served as the Chairman of the Board of CIGNA Corporation since December 2000, the Chief Executive Officer since January 2000, and President since 1999. He has been associated with CIGNA since 1978.

Isaiah Harris, Jr.
Ike Harris, 54, has been a Director of CIGNA since 2005. Mr. Harris served as the President of AT&T;Advertising & Publishing - East (a communications services company) from 2005 until February 2007, as President, BellSouth Enterprises, Inc. from 2004 until 2005, and as President, BellSouth Consumer Services and Customer Markets Group from 2000 until 2004.

Jane E. Henney, M.D.
Jane Henney, 59, has been a Director of CIGNA since 2004. Dr. Henney has served as Senior Vice President and Provost, Health Affairs at University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center.

Peter N. Larson
Peter Larson, 67, has been a Director of CIGNA since 1997. He served as the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Brunswick Corporation (a producer of recreational consumer products) from 1995 until 2000. His term as a Director of CIGNA expires in 2008.

Roman Martinez IV
Roman Martinez IV, 59, has been a Director of CIGNA since 2005. He has been a private investor since 2003. Mr. Martinez served as Managing Director of Lehman Brothers Inc. (an investment banking firm), where he was employed, including by its predecessor firm, from 1971 until 2003.

James E. Rogers
James E. Rogers, 59, has been a Director of CIGNA since February 2007.

Harold A. Wagner
H. A. Wagner, 71, has been a Director of CIGNA since 1997. He has served as the Non-Executive Chairman of Agere Systems Inc. (a provider of communications components) since 2001.

Carol Cox Wait
Carol Cox Wait, 64, has been a Director of CIGNA since 1995. She has been the President of Boggs, Atkinson, Inc.

Eric C. Wiseman
Eric Wiseman, 51, has been a Director of CIGNA Corporation since April 2007. He has been President and Chief Operating Officer of VF Corporation (an apparel manufacturer) since 2006.

Donna F. Zarcone
Donna Zarcone, 49, has been a Director of CIGNA since 2005. Ms. Zarcone is President and Chief Executive Officer of D. F. Zarcone & Associates, LLC, a strategic advisory consulting firm founded in January 2007. She served as the President and Chief Operating Officer of Harley-Davidson Financial Services, Inc. (a provider of wholesale and retail financing, insurance and credit card programs),

William D. Zollars
William Zollars, 59, has been a Director of CIGNA since 2005. Mr. Zollars has served as the Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of YRC Worldwide, Inc. (formerly Yellow Roadway Corporation) (a holding company whose subsidiaries provide regional, national and international transportation.

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By Sportin' Life, December 21, 2007 at 7:50 pm Link to this comment

The christian political vision is actually laid out clearly in the bible—in the book of Revelation.  All non-christian “sinners” will be exterminated, and Jesus himself will return to Earth to reign for 1000 years of Utopia.  It’s not a particularly practical (or savory) political vision, but it is there.

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By Ted Swart, December 21, 2007 at 5:06 pm Link to this comment

It would seem to me that neither Karabell nor Lilla’s book which he reviews face up to the fact that how we govern ourselves and what we believe has to be judged by the the actual nature of reality and human existence—no matter what our cultural or religious abckground might be.
If there is no God (or Gods) as conceived by the worlds major religions and no heaven and hell then we are far better off facing up to these facts. And given the overwhelming amount of evidence that evolution actually occurred neither Christian fundamentalists nor Muslims—who reject the occurrenc of evolution—and are thus guilty of turrning away from the truth—are likely to be able to play a constructive role in good governance.

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