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Religion, Politics and the End of the World

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Posted on Jun 17, 2007
Harris Hedges and Scheer
Truthdig / Todd Wilkinson

Onstage: from left to right, Sam Harris, Robert Scheer and Chris Hedges debate religion and politics at UCLA’s Royce Hall.

For readers who weren’t able to attend the Truthdig debate between Sam Harris and Chris Hedges, we now have full coverage. So sit back, relax and enjoy the fireworks.

Essays:

Read Chris Hedges’ opening statement and Sam Harris’ response.

Audio:

Note: The audio recording has not been edited. For a slightly condensed version of the debate, check out the video below.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
Sound by Mansoor Sabbagh / Global Voices for Justice

Video:

Videography by Sherwin Maglanoc / LA36
Note: The video has been edited for time.

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By lindadugan, September 29, 2007 at 8:26 am Link to this comment

part 2 of 2
Marx:

..to continue…
While we are on the topic of religious moderates, let us delve a little deeper into what our congenial and conscientious friend, Daniel Dennett has to say about them and what he also has to say about Sam Harris.

On page 299 (Breaking the Spell) he says about moderates:
“Those who maintain religions, and take steps to make them more attractive, must be held similarly responsible for the harms produced by some of those whom they attract and provide with a cloak of respectability.  Defenders of religion are quick to point out that terrorists typically have political, not religious agendas, which may well be true in many or most cases, or even in all cases but THAT IS NOT THE END OF IT (my emphasis).  The political agendas of violent fanatics often lead them to adopt a religious guise, and to exploit the organizational infrastructure and tradition of unquestioning loyalty of whichever religion is handy. And it is true these fanatics are rarely if ever inspired by, or guided by, the deepest and best tenets in those religious traditions. So what?  Al Queda and Hamas terrorism is still Islam’s responsibility, and the abortion-clinic bombing is still Christianity’s responsibility and the murderous activities of Hindu extremists are still Hinduism’s responsibility.”

He continues by introducing Sam Harris’  ideas about religious moderates and prefaces a Harris quote by stating:

“…By their good works [religious moderates] provide protective coloration for their fanatical coreligionists, who quietly condemn their open-mindedness and willingness to change while reaping the benefits of the good public relations they thereby obtain…. In short the moderates of all religions ARE BEING USED (his emphasis, not mine) by the fanatics, and should not only resent this; they should take whatever steps they can find to curtail it in their own tradition.”

He then quotes Sam and describes the End of Faith as a “brave” book:

Sam says, “If a stable peace is ever to be achieved between Islam and the West, Islam must undergo a radical transformation …[and it] must also appear to come from Muslims themselves.  It does not seem much of an exaggeration to say the fate of civilization lies largely in the hands of ‘moderate’ Muslims.”

And finally, on page 301, Dennett states, “Until the priests and rabbis and imams and their flocks explicitly condemn BY NAMING (his emphasis) the dangerous individuals and congregations within their ranks, they are ALL (his emphasis) complicit…[and] only those within the religious community can effectively start to dismantle this deeply immoral attitude, and the multiculturalists who urge us to go easy on them are exacerbating the problem. “

This is what I mean when I say moderates coddle religious fundamentalists.

If you read Sam Harris’  article, The End of Liberalism (LA Times 9/18/06) you will see he is saying almost the exact same thing as Dennett.  (And as a footnote, personally,  I think it is one , of if not the, most brilliant expose-with an accent over the last “e”—- Sam has written.)

Now, let me ask you this?  Do you think Dr. Dennett would agree with you that Sam Harris is “angry” and “ignorant”?

PS:  Dr. Dennett is not a religious scholar.  Should we assume he is also ignorant and angry as well?

end of part 2 of 2

…More later….

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By lindadugan, September 29, 2007 at 8:15 am Link to this comment

part one of 2

Marx:
You have taken Sam’s “ignorant of scripture” comment completely out of context.  Allow me to fill in your gaps:

On page 21 (End of Faith), as you referred to previously, Sam is talking about religious moderates and critiquing them for their betrayal to both faith and reason. Moderates betray faith (are ignorant of the scriptures) because they do not take them literally as the fundamentalist do.  They betray reason by ignoring the irrational voices of the fundamentalists.  As Sam states adroitly:

“By failing to live by the letter of the text (to be “scripturally ignorant) while tolerating the irrationality of those who do, religious moderates betray faith and reason equally.”

Sam is NOT saying, as you suggest, that moderates are literally ignorant of scripture (although one can argue there are many who are). He uses the term “are ignorant of scripture” to indicate they do not practice, embrace and worship it in the same sense as their fundamentalist brethren.  In essence they are ignorant in the eyes of the fundamentalists who use scripture for literal means to literal ends.


end of part one of 2

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By Timmy, September 29, 2007 at 2:38 am Link to this comment

Marx,

You did not respond to this part of my post #103347

I accept your definition of god (above) as a possible reality.
But it would be dishonest for me to choose to “believe it”, no matter how good it made me feel, because no one could ever know that for sure. Unless they believe that god has spoken to them.
Did god speak to you?
Why not just enjoy the imagination?
Why decide to answer a question that no one could know the answer to
Is that not exceptional hubris?
And why form a group to all believe in something you can not possibly know.
Is it just about closure?
Is the mystery of it all an unpleasant existence for you?

You only responded to the question “did god speak to you?”
How about the rest of it?

Report this

By Timmy, September 29, 2007 at 2:01 am Link to this comment

Marx,

“Dawkins and Harris pound their fists through text,”

PLease accompany accusations like these with an example, otherwise it’s called a baseless accusation.

“When I read “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God” in Micah I take it very literally (except of course the reference to “walking”)”

I take the first part literally too, and that’s all that’s important.
The “god” part should only be taken allegorically, otherwise you are pretending to know something that you do not know. And that’s wrong.

“What, so no Muslims thinks for themselves? And if they do they are no longer Muslim? You could also say “A pro-contraception Catholic is an oxymoron.  But don’t take my word for it. Ask the pope. He decides.” Of course, each and every Catholics possess an intellect and has the full capability to think for his or herself. So does every Muslim.”

Of course they have the right to reinterpret their religion to be in conflict with the doctrines of the church. And they certainly have the right to continue to call themselves catholics or muslims after doing so. I have the right to call myself a Christian because I agree with love thy neighbor. I don’t believe in god, but I agree with the love thy neighbor part so I am going to call myself a Christian. Hopefully it won’t be too confusing. People have the RIGHT to call themselves whatever they want. And I have the right to criticize them for being ridiculous.

“Questions like “Did god speak to you?” and “Is the god that you describe happier with you than with me?” still seem to refer to the more theistic, anthropomorphized version of God that I reject.”

Why do you reject that god?
That sounds very much like the god that Jesus spoke of.

I must address some of your post to Linda.

“It is ignorant for Sam to accuse moderates of “scriptural ignorance” like he does on pg 21.
The moderates that he was referring to are ignorant of scripture.
You are jumping in front of that dagger not thrown at you.
I think it was BF earlier who challenged you to walk into any mall, anywhere in the US and start tapping people on the shoulders and asking them about their religion. I suspect you will not try this because we know how much you hate ignorance and here is where you would find so very much of it.

“It is ignorant for him to state that Christianity is founded on belief in nature miracles like he did in his debate with Hedges”

“I have debated with so many Christians who have told me that the main reason for their belief is the witness of the miracles and the resurrection.”

“and it is ignorant for him to allow fundamentalist fools to define Western Christianity for him. “

Actually it is Christianity who have allowed fundamentalist fools to define Western Christianity for all of us.

“How can a neuroscientist think themself in such a position as to consider someone who’s spent decades reading the Bible in Hebrew and Greek and familiarizing themselves with ancient Jewish cultural and literature as being “ignorant” of scripture?”

Where did Sam accuse this person that you describe of “ignorance of scripture”?

“The same way Harris presumes to know more about Christianity than even the most educated of Christians .”

Again. Example please.

Report this

By Marx, September 29, 2007 at 12:27 am Link to this comment

Linda - “It is obvious you are a religious scholar (or very well read on the subject.) I applaud you for that, appreciate what you have to offer on this blog and the time you are taking to add to the discussion.”

Thanks for that. I never thanked you for your welcome message, so I’m belatedly thanking you for that as well.

Linda - “I am not a scholar or religious academic. But we do have something in common. I am reading ‘Breaking the Spell’ and am starting chapter 8.”

Good to know. It’s a very interesting and worthwhile book. I hope you enjoy it.

Linda - “And like you I abhor ignorance in all its forms.  It is dangerous, annoying and frightening.  But I do not believe Sam Harris (or the rest of us) are either angry about, nor ignorant of, the state of religion in the world today.  That is a misread on your part, Marx.”

It is ignorant for Sam to accuse moderates of “scriptural ignorance” like he does on pg 21. It is ignorant for him to state that Christianity is founded on belief in nature miracles like he did in his debate with Hedges, and it is ignorant for him to allow fundamentalist fools to define Western Christianity for him.

In reference to the patriot act example, etc. allow me to simply ask: How can a neuroscientist think themself in such a position as to consider someone who’s spent decades reading the Bible in Hebrew and Greek and familiarizing themselves with ancient Jewish cultural and literature as being “ignorant” of scripture? I would never dare read a few books on neuroscience and then tell Harris that he “ignorant” of his chosen field. The same way Harris presumes to know more about Christianity than even the most educated of Christians is the same way he presumes to know more about the Middle East and Muslims than Chris Hedges, who’s lived in the Middle East with Muslims, or than Reza Aslan, who was born in the Middle East and actually is a Muslim, and a scholar of Islam. Indeed, in that same debate with Reza, Sam Harris simply dismissed the correction of Jonathan Kirsch (who moderated) on the subject of the creation of the state of Israel. Though Kirsch is Jewish and has written on and studied Jewish history, Harris didn’t even seem to momentarily consider the possibility that he (Harris) might be wrong, and Kirsch might be right. This seems to me like mere pride and arrogance, not good reason.

Now, I have a feeling that you would obtain information on how fetuses develop and the importance of nutrition during pregnancy from a medical professional, right? Yet, I see many atheists going solely to the works of the “new atheists” for information on the three monotheistic religions, as if these books were written by experts on the subjects discussed. I think these people are seriously short changing themselves by doing so, and that the authors have a heavy responsibility in that respect.

Linda - “You have given no concrete evidence or justification for demeaning Sam Harris”

I don’t think I’ve really demeaned Sam or suggested that anyone else do so. I disagree with some of his views, sure, but I don’t have any sort of personal animosity towards him. That said, I have a feeling he’d gladly demean me if he got the chance, even to the point of calling me the “bearer of a terrible dogma.”

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By Marx, September 28, 2007 at 11:23 pm Link to this comment

BF- “They were insincere, wrong…”

I think Hedges and Reza were and are very sincere in their beliefs and opinions. Of course you think they’re wrong, you’re an atheist. But insincere? Come on.

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By Marx, September 28, 2007 at 11:19 pm Link to this comment

Timmy,

I really enjoyed reading your reflections in #103347 I found a lot of similarities in our experiences.

To answer your many “God” questions, just let me say that when I speak about God I am only speaking about my own personal experience of ultimacy. In other words, I experience God as an animating presence, so that is how I describe God. I’m always aware that what I am describing is a limited conception of an ultimately incomprehensible reality. “God” escapes definition.

Questions like “Did god speak to you?” and “Is the god that you describe happier with you than with me?” still seem to refer to the more theistic, anthropomorphized version of God that I reject.

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By Marx, September 28, 2007 at 11:18 pm Link to this comment

That said, the most popular of Catholic Bibles all encourage historical criticism. The New American Bible is what’s handed out at baptisms, confirmations, etc. and it’s study notes definitely encourage a historical-critical reading of the Bible. They certainly don’t treat Genesis or the gospels as books which you can just open up and “take literally.” Same goes for the New Jerusalem Bible and a number of Catholic bibles for kids as well. If one is reading the Bible critically and keeping in mind the historical, cultural and literary contexts in which the books were each written, they’re not theologically or Biblically fundamentalist. That might not be good enough for you, but it works just fine for me. I don’t think it’s necessary for them to go as far to the extreme as I have to not be a fundamentalist. 

Now, when I speak of the Catholic Church I’m speaking out of my experience as a Catholic active within Catholicism, and as someone who has studied Catholicism both personally and academically. I became a moderate because of my experience within Catholicism, not in spite of it. Were it not for Catholicism I would be here preaching fire, brimstone, and creationism to you.

At any rate, I’ve told you where I get my info on Catholicism from. Where do you get yours?

Timmy - “Show me figures to back up your claim that Pluralist Catholic numbers are much higher than that.”

You’re the one who made the claim. The burden of proof is on you, not me. Of course, since you already regard me as a liar, it would make sense to you that I’m lying about Christianity in Asia. Anything to win the argument, right? Perhaps the two books I recommended don’t even exist.

Timmy - “It is problematic if you take ANY OF IT literally.”

It seems that you’re saying that there is nothing at all good in all of scripture. Is that what you are saying? For me what’s important is reading it critically so we can decide what is relevant to our situation and what is not. When I read “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God” in Micah I take it very literally (except of course the reference to “walking”). In doing so, I will likely not only ruin my life, but the world at large, right? Again, all I’m saying in regards to the Bible is that it should be read critically. I know you don’t think that’s enough, but I do, and will.

Timmy - “I have read the Koran twice, and many books on Islam by both moderate and extreme muslims.”

Great. So have I, and then some. But would I be willing to make a statement similar to yours? No, because I realize that I still don’t know enough about Islam to do so. I think it’s prudent to wait and read more before you come to such a sweeping, damning conclusion. However, you’ve already have come to a conclusion anyway, so to his or her own.

Timmy - “Pluralist Islam is an oxymoron. But don’t take my word for it. Ask any Imam. They decide.”

What, so no Muslims thinks for themselves? And if they do they are no longer Muslim? You could also say “A pro-contraception Catholic is an oxymoron.  But don’t take my word for it. Ask the pope. He decides.” Of course, each and every Catholics possess an intellect and has the full capability to think for his or herself. So does every Muslim. Here’s a site for you: http://www.islamicpluralism.org/

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By Marx, September 28, 2007 at 11:16 pm Link to this comment

Timmy - “Now you are… straight up lying.”

I made a thought out interpretation of what you wrote. I certainly didn’t deliberately deviate from the truth. If you feel I misinterpreted your comments, feel free to say so (which you did very well further into the paragraph). However, there’s no need to get all emotional and accuse me of lying.

Timmy - “I have never seen, nor have you ever seen, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens pound their fist or get even slightly animated with their point of view.”

I mentioned Hitchens specifically. Dawkins and Harris pound their fists through text, but both are quite calm when speaking publicly. Hitchens, however, does indeed get quite animated, and not only about religion. He’s been getting worked up long before he ever wrote “God is not Great.” Look up “Christopher Hitchens Bill Maher” on YouTube and you’ll find an example of what I mean. Reasoned and rational maybe (on occasion), but calm and eloquent is never something I’d call Hitchens. I frankly don’t think he’d say that of himself either.

Timmy - “You seem to be claiming some expertise on religion…”

I have a comprehensive knowledge of UUism and Christianity. In Christianity I’m particularly knowledgeable about Catholicism. I do not have any “expertise” on religion in general, nor have I claimed to. In fact, I specifically told Linda that I would never claim to be an expert on Islam despite my studying it.

Timmy - “Of that 4 billion, how many of them, like you, take their religious scripture as completely allegorical.”

I wouldn’t presume to know. If I don’t have any real or serious knowledge of something like this I’m not going to make some guess that is more than likely biased towards my viewpoint. Again, I know a thing or two (or three) about Christianity. I do not claim to “know” much at all about any other religion, though I do have varying degrees of knowledge about many of them.

Timmy - “And when did you hear Sam Harris attack them specifically?”

Did I suggest that Sam Harris attacked these people, specifically or otherwise?

Timmy - “Please provide me with some verification for your claim that there are a significant number of Catholics who take a COMPLETELY allegorical interpretation of the bible. I stand by, ‘almost all Catholics’ have fundamental differences with your world view.”

Don’t forget, this thread of the discussion began when you said “Do you really think that only fundamentalists see religion differently than you do? We know for certain that Catholics and Muslims certainly do.” I do not think that everyone who sees religion differently from me or doesn’t regard the entirety of the Bible as allegorical is a fundamentalist, and I do not think that most Catholics are fundamentalist in their approach to their religion. For one thing, we have to first differentiate between Protestant fundamentalism and Catholic fundamentalism. Protestant fundamentalists put all their trust in what they claim to be a “literal” interpretation of the Bible, while Catholic fundamentalists will claim to base their entire belief system on the teachings of the Pope and the magisterium (the bishops teaching in union with him). Obviously, most Catholics do no such thing. They practice birth control, think women should be ordained as priests, reject the doctrine of transubstantiation (though not the real presence), and are just as diverse as any other group when it comes to their views on abortion, capital punishment, etc. Insofar as the Bible is concerned, I’d be surprised if even a quarter of Catholics read it daily.

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By Timmy, September 28, 2007 at 8:24 pm Link to this comment

Marx,

“I believe that there is a presence of life animating our universe, transcending the limits of physical existence. I call this “God.”

I think that’s a pretty cool thought. One of my greatest joys in life is using my active imagination to wonder about those things that we all wonder about. When I am having spiritual experiences with nature (I have many. I live my whole life for these moments) and spiritual thoughts, (I have them all day long every day) I feel good when I imagine concepts like your description of god. I even use the name god sometimes for these imaginations. (in my head, never out loud so as not to be confusing)

Many of these imaginations that I have, I know are transcendent fantasies.
But I accept some of them possible answers to the meaning of our existence.
But most likely, if there is an answer, it is something well beyond my current ability to imagine.

I accept your definition of god (above)  as a possible reality.
But it would be dishonest for me to choose to “believe it”, no matter how good it made me feel, because no one could ever know that for sure. Unless they believe that god has spoken to them.
Did god speak to you?
Why not just enjoy the imagination?
Why decide to answer a question that no one could know the answer to
Is that not exceptional hubris?
And why form a group to all believe in something you can not possibly know.
Is it just about closure?
Is the mystery of it all an unpleasant existence for you?

Is the god that you describe happier with you than with me?
Sorry, I know that I still have other questions about your version of god on back order, but I’m a curious fellow.

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By BFskinnerPunk, September 28, 2007 at 5:03 pm Link to this comment

Timmy writes: “That’s okay BF it was worth saying twice.”

What are you?  A comedian?

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By Timmy, September 28, 2007 at 2:13 pm Link to this comment

That’s okay BF it was worth saying twice.

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By BFskinnerPunk, September 28, 2007 at 1:38 pm Link to this comment

Marx.  Just to clarify.

I am absolutely certain that the literalists would find your views quite offensive.  They would also be seriously offended by many of Aslan’s views.

Nevertheless, I am sure that any Christian or Muslim watching the debate between Sam Harris and Aslan was grinning from ear to ear as Aslan was very cleverly able to cast the most positive possible spin on their religions.  Sam would express reasonable concerns, and Aslan (or Hedges even) would brilliantly defend the position of the religionist.  They were insincere, wrong, and intentionally dodging salient points… but they did so brilliantly.

Hedges, Aslan, and folks like yourself are inadvertently offering aid and comfort to people who are taking religion just one or two steps beyond the limits that you are.

Timmy, I doubt anywhere near 10% of Catholics accept Marx’s position on God and Religion.  I’d be stunned to find that 2% come *anywhere* near his view.

This is an odd circumstance.  At once, I wish all religionists were of Marx’s sort… and at the same time, I am annoyed by the way his views only serve to obscure our view of a very nasty wound in society.

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By BFskinnerPunk, September 28, 2007 at 1:35 pm Link to this comment

Marx.  Just to clarify.

I am absolutely certain that the literalists would find your views quite offensive.  They would also be seriously offended by many of Aslan’s views.

Nevertheless, I am sure that any Christian or Muslim watching the debate between Sam Harris and Aslan was grinning from ear to ear as Aslan was very cleverly able to cast the most positive possible spin on their religions.  Sam would express reasonable concerns, and Aslan (or Hedges even) would brilliantly defend the position of the religionist.

Hedges, Aslan, and folks like yourself are inadvertently offering aid and comfort to people who are taking religion just one or two steps beyond the limits that you are.

Timmy, I doubt anywhere near 10% of Catholics accept Marx’s position on God and Religion.  I’d be stunned to find that 2% come *anywhere* near his view.

This is an odd circumstance.  At once, I wish all religionists were of Marx’s sort… and at the same time, I am annoyed by the way his views only serve to obscure our view of a very nasty wound in society.

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By Timmy, September 28, 2007 at 12:57 pm Link to this comment

Marx,

“It’s really something for you to declare that your definition of religion is THE definition of religion. Wow”

When did I declare that? Now you are playing straw-man and head games, and straight up lying. You must not have a very strong argument. I clearly was referring to the common use of that word by our society in general which is where the books you are criticizing were meant for consumption. It is also the first definition listed in Websters (Which usually means that it is the most common).

“I for one think it is very important that atheists, agnostics, etc. scrutinize religion, as long as they’re going about it sensibly (like Dennett, Mann, and some others) and not simply pounding their fist like Hithcens.”

I have never seen, nor have you ever seen, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens pound their fist or get even slightly animated with their point of view. Their words are calm, rational, reasoned and eloquent. And yet they cut like a knife because they are brutally true. If they cut you, that is your fault for choosing to jump into the path of a flying dagger that was not thrown at you.

Show me one example from any of those books where they claim that completely allegorical interpretations of the Bible which take historical context into account are dangerous, wrong or bad. Just one quote. Shouldn’t be hard to find right?

You seem to be claiming some expertise on religion so I will ask you for a guesstimate based on your expertise. There is no doubt that there are at least 4 billion people on this planet who are religious. Of that 4 billion, how many of them, like you, take their religious scripture as completely allegorical.

Be honest. My dumb-ass guess would be: far less than 10%
Remember. I said COMPLETELY allegorical.

“There are many religions that do not believe in “the existence of a creator deity who is all powerful and must be obeyed and worshiped and defended.”

And when did you hear Sam Harris attack them specifically?

On “almost all Catholics” you ask:
“Do you have statistics to back this up, or are you just assuming again? “

Do you have statistics to refute it?
Please provide me with some verification for your claim that there are a significant number of Catholics who take a COMPLETELY allegorical interpretation of the bible.
I stand by, “almost all catholics” have fundamental differences with your world view.

“Is that a rough estimate? “

Yes. Prove it wrong. Show me figures to back up your claim that Pluralist Catholic numbers are much higher than that.

“As I’ve already said, the Bible is only problematic if you’re claiming to take all of it “literally.”

Correction. It is problematic if you take ANY OF IT literally.

This is where you are purposely and irresponsibly blind to the solid line between you and the religious people that we are referring to.

Again, show me the number of religious people who take their scripture as “completely allegorical” and I will show you an insignificant group who have no business standing up and accusing Sam Harris of talking about them when he criticizes religion. He is using the most common dictionary definition of that word that most people understand. Jump in front of that dagger if you want. You’ll get no sympathy from me. You are playing semantics games and not honestly debating.

“This is based on your extensive scholarly study of Islam, right? Hopefully it’s more complete than all that research you did into Catholicism.”

I have read the Koran twice, and many books on Islam by both moderate and extreme muslims.
“There is no god but god and Mohammed is his prophet.”
Pluralist Islam is an oxymoron. But don’t take my word for it. Ask any Imam.
They decide. Not me. Not you. Not muslims. The Imams and mullahs decide. And they have decided.

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By lindadugan, September 28, 2007 at 12:27 pm Link to this comment

Marx:

I apologize to you if I am not articulating my points well.  When you state, “I honestly haven’t the slightest idea as to what you’re referring”...  this indicates to me there is a problem.  Therefore, I will put greater effort into writing more precisely and comprehensibly.  I hope I am successful.  I suppose if you find me hopeless you can always ignore my posts and throw me out with the bathwater.

It is obvious you are a religious scholar (or very well read on the subject.)  I applaud you for that, appreciate what you have to offer on this blog and the time you are taking to add to the discussion.

I am not a scholar or religious academic. But we do have something in common. I am reading “Breaking the Spell” and am starting chapter 8.

And like you I abhor ignorance in all its forms.  It is dangerous, annoying and frightening.  But I do not believe Sam Harris (or the rest of us) are either angry about,  nor ignorant of, the state of religion in the world today.  That is a misread on your part, Marx.

I am terribly concerned, and sometimes frustrated, about the state of religion today—-and I know unequivocally I am not alone.  One does not need a Ph.D in religious studies or philosophy to understand and to feel a certain level of anxiety ( a lot of anxiety on some days) about religion’s volatile role in the 21st Century.

Similarly, one does not need a degree in law to critique and question the integrity of the Patriot Act. Nor must I be an attorney to do so. Nor am I ignorant about the Patriot Act because I have not studied the preexisting law books that preceded the Act.  One does not require such an extensive academic background to fully understand the implications and threat the Patriot Act can have on an individual’s freedoms and basic civil rights.

Likewise with many other facets in our lives:  I am not a scientist, but I have a precise and intelligent understanding of the dangers of global warming.  I am not a doctor, but I have a comprehensible understanding of how cancer can wreck havoc on my body, how fetuses develop and the importance of nutrition when you are pregnant, and an understanding of how strokes and heart attacks can be prevented. I’m not a physicist, but I clearly understand the impact of not wearing my seatbelt if I am in an accident. 

You have given no concrete evidence or justification for demeaning Sam Harris and those of us that agree with him.  So please feel free to do so.  Give some specific examples of his arguments that you hereby deem unintelligent and unreasonable.  Saying he is “angry” or “ignorant” is not conclusive enough.

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By Marx, September 28, 2007 at 10:17 am Link to this comment

Timmy - “You can call it that if you want, but if you want to be understood in this conversation I suggest you use the common definition of religion and something else to describe your thing.”

I think I’ll stick with my definition, thanks. I actually heard a great UU sermon last week which talked all about religion and spirituality and only reinforced my view.

It’s really something for you to declare that your definition of religion is THE definition of religion. Wow.

Timmy - “Only if we decided to stop being open minded and put our complete faith into the dogma surrounding the existence of a creator deity who is all powerful and must be obeyed and worshiped and defended.”

Um, you are aware that there are other religions, which call themselves religions, besides Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, right? There are many religions that do not believe in “the existence of a creator deity who is all powerful and must be obeyed and worshiped and defended.” Even within Christianity, you have a denomination like the Society of Friends that doesn’t have any real clergy, that don’t regard the Bible as the “Word of God” and whose services consist of silent meditation in which anyone who feels moved to may speak. You can find out more about them at http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/subdivisions/quakers_1.shtml

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By Marx, September 28, 2007 at 10:16 am Link to this comment

Timmy - “No I mean almost all Catholics”

Do you have statistics to back this up, or are you just assuming again?

I became a Catholic as a teenager. I’ve never stopped attending Catholic church. I know Catholicism. I know Catholic priests and Catholic nuns. I know Catholic people. I also know that I WOULD NOT be a moderate were it not for Catholicism. I know it was in Catholicism that I first discovered that one could be a Christian and yet not be a creationist. I know that it was in the works of Catholic Biblical scholars like Fr. Raymond Brown that I first discovered a historical-critical reading of the Bible. I know that the first time I read a devout Christian say that the virgin birth was not important, that there was a difference between the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith, that the resurrection was not simply the resuscitation of a body, and that there are a diversity of interpretations of Christian faith within Christian faith was in a set of books called “Catholicism” by Fr. Richard McBrien. I also know that it was through reading Fr. Hans Kung’s “On Being a Christian” that I first came to understand that Jesus was not literally “divine,” that he was not “God,” that he was not “preexistent,” and that he was a human being, with one nature, a human one. I could go on and talk about how it’s through the reading of Catholics mystics and through discussions with Catholic monks and nuns that I came to discover that our perception of God is not God. I could go further and speak about how I never even recognized that a gay person could be a Christian until I came into contact with Catholic groups like Dignity, full of happy, proud, gay Catholics, clergy and lay, and until I read Catholic authors like John McNeil.

Perhaps I could talk about the many priests, nuns, and brothers who were there to support me in my journey, priests and nuns who PERSONALLY encouraged me to search and question. But, I’ll stop.

Timmy - “Catholic pluralists are one in a million at best”

Is that a rough estimate?

I’ve already pointed out that many Asian Catholics venerate Buddha and Jesus alike without giving it a second thought. Even someone like the late Mother Theresa, who was quite conservative in her Catholicism, could write that instead of converting everyone to Christianity she wanted to make Hindus better Hindus, Muslims better Muslims, Buddhists better Buddhists, etc. She developed that opinion precisely because she absorbed the mentality that was most prevalent among Christians in India. Indeed, it is by living in Asia that some of Catholicism’s most well written religious pluralists, like the late Fr. Jacques Dupuis, came to their views in the first place. It is preposterous that you should see Western Christianity as the be and end all of the worldwide Christian religion. Perhaps you should read “Christianity with an Asian Face” or “In Our Own Tongues,” both by Peter Phan, to get an Asian perspective on things. 

Of course, you’ll do no such thing. These books might shake up your world view, and we can’t have that now, can we?

Let me also point out that there are plenty of smart, Christian pluralists in Europe as well. I myself know some, who assure me that there are many more. I’ve also heard European theologians confirm this when speaking of the religious views over there.

Timmy - “there is no such thing as muslim pluralism. It’s an oxymoron.”

This is based on your extensive scholarly study of Islam, right? Hopefully it’s more complete than all that research you did into Catholicism.

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By Marx, September 28, 2007 at 9:13 am Link to this comment

BF,

First off, the majority of your post is quite reasonable. Though I may not agree with you I certainly see some good sense and insight in your response. It was refreshing to read.

BF - “Even though they might fully disagree with you, they surely recognize that people like you offer their best protection against the scrutiny non-religionists.”

Why not test your theory? Post my opinions on a fundamentalist Christian forum and see if the replies offer thanks for the “protection against the scrutiny of non-religionists” that I allegedly provide. I for one think it is very important that atheists, agnostics, etc. scrutinize religion, as long as they’re going about it sensibly (like Dennett, Mann, and some others) and not simply pounding their fist like Hithcens.

BF - “Why not take just one more step away from those dark ages? (I say this not just to you, but to all Bible apologists)”

As I’ve already said, the Bible is only problematic if you’re claiming to take all of it “literally.” I don’t, so there’s no reason for me to step away from it.

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By BFskinnerPunk, September 28, 2007 at 5:33 am Link to this comment

Marx,  (you are getting a lot of attention)

So back to offering aid and comfort to these frightening religious zealots.

You and I have something in common.  We are deeply touched by some honestly stupid stuff.

My early life involved a good deal of exposure to the game of football.  Also, I went to the Univ. of Florida… so I am embarrassingly fond of the Florida Gators.

I concern myself with their success to an extent which is purely foolish.  They make me happy, and I can get defensive when “the other team” beats the Gators or criticizes them.

Can I tease out an intellectual, meaning-giving rationalization for the energies I invest in the Gators?  Oh sure!  But even in the middle of a fully spiritual celebration of a Gator touchdown, there is a place in my brain that reminds: “BF, you are a truly foolish!”

It seems that you, too, have developed an equally foolish relationship with something.

Like me, you experienced some early exposure to something that has affected you.

Unlike me, you have arrived at a different way of dealing with your affection.  You and the *distinct minority* with which you affiliate, have flexed an ancient superstitious text in such a way that it somehow can remain alive in a modern world.

That’s not exactly “good news” for those of us who are worried about religion.

Like I said, the fundamentalists have trouble dealing with the intellectual non-theist.  They are surely in need of folks like you. 

Even though they might fully disagree with you, they surely recognize that people like you offer their best protection against the scrutiny non-religionists. 

When I once was discussing evolution with a fundamentalist, they referred me to a “scientific” book that questions evolution.  Now, this christian had no understanding of the contents of the book, but he knew enough that it *did* question the fact of evolution.  That’s all he needed.

Knowing that this book existed was all this guy needed to feel comforted.  He was clearly comforted that there were very smart people out there that were adding intellectual legitimacy to his magic belief. 

He could easily refer to some smarty-pants intellectual , and feel secure that, even though he was baffled by the words of the intellectual… that he could feel secure in knowing that even smart folks agree with him.

So this is one kind of example for the kind of comfort and cover that your practice produces. 

Although your own perspective is probably no *direct* threat to civilization, it can be considered something of a carcinogen.  In the right circumstances,it can further fuel a pre-existing tendency to get cancer.

Is that your fault?  no.  It’s also not my fault that I invest energy in Gator football. 

Your affection for the bible, as you admit, is due to your childhood experiences with it.  Fine.  Why not take just one more step away from those dark ages?  (I say this not just to you, but to all Bible apologists)

As for me, I am not going to step away from my Gator love.  It’s not happening.  Anyone who doesn’t like the Gators can burn in hell because they simply don’t understand the depth and truth of the Gator experience.

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By Timmy, September 28, 2007 at 3:50 am Link to this comment

“I believe that there is a presence of life animating our universe, transcending the limits of physical existence. I call this “God.”

Does this “presence of life animating our universe care what we do?
Does it care if we believe in it?
Does this god get disappointed with us?
Does this god have consequences for us, for say, murder?
Does this god Love us?
Does this god have a purpose for us?
Does this god have a purpose itself. (itself? Himself?)
Does this god have a creator itself or is it an immovable mover?

Again, I have to cut myself off. There are more questions but these should help me out for now.`

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By Timmy, September 28, 2007 at 3:37 am Link to this comment

Marx:
“Don’t you mean SOME Catholics and SOME Muslims.”

No I mean almost all Catholics, and all muslims.
Catholic pluralists are one in a million at best and there is no such thing as muslim pluralism. It’s an oxymoron.

But forget pluralism. That is but one small aspect of your “religion” that Catholics and Muslims see as invalid. It’s about deity worship.
It’s about believing that God is the creator of the universe.
It is about believing that Jesus walked on water, and healed leppers.

If you don’t see a solid clearly distinguishable line between the vast majority of religion and the sociological spirituality that you call religion then you are wilfully blind.

“Religion is simply community.”

I wish. Not true. But I wish.
You can call it that if you want, but if you want to be understood in this conversation I suggest you use the common definition of religion and something else to describe your thing.

“Are you really telling me that if 50 or a 100 of you open minded spiritual seekers began getting together every week at a set time, it would be an evil exercise?”

Of course not. Only if we decided to stop being open minded and put our complete faith into the dogma surrounding the existence of a creator deity who is all powerful and must be obeyed and worshiped and defended. Then people would have good reason to be concerned about our group. Especially if it were growing in size and gaining political power.

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By Marx, September 28, 2007 at 1:42 am Link to this comment

BF,

  I was going to make a longer reply. However, being that I just started reading the book “Towelhead” by Alicia Erian, I won’t be either as fast or as numerous in my replies for a while. So, I thought it would be best to deliver a short reply quickly instead of taking even longer to provide a lengthier reply.

BF - “First, sorry for my awkward and incorrect grammatical mistakes.  It makes reading my posts a pain in the a33.”

No problem. I didn’t notice any of the errors.

BF - “Marx, perhaps you could articulate the usefulness of your religious text. (It’s the Bible, right?).  What truths are to be found that aren’t easily available without resorting to talking snakes and such.”

BF - “I’d like to know how it’s useful to resort to the Bible or Koran for matters of spirituality or depth.”

I’m not claiming that I don’t find nourishment in other books as well, and that the Bible is objectively unique among other texts or superior to them. It’s a unique text for me because it recounts the story of my own Judeo-Christian faith tradition, so of course it’s the text I’ll most turn to. It’s made a significant and lasting contribution to my own, personal, development as a person. The emphasis here is on “my own, personal.” Neither you nor anyone else needs to read the Bible. What’s more, if you did read it, you wouldn’t necessarily find what I find. Indeed, you might not find anything worthwhile or useful in it at all, which would be fine. It’s all about where you’re coming from and how you approach it.

BF - If you can articulate some of the points made in the atheist books you recommend, perhaps I’ll read them.

Mann’s “Heart of a Heartless World: Religion as Ideology” discusses the social basis for religious belief and Daniel Dennett’s “Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon” comes at it from a more naturalistic stand point (hence, it’s title). I’m not recommending these books because I agree with them (though I do agree with segments of both books), but because both authors (and this is particularly true of Mann, whose book is brilliant and the better of the two) clearly posses a more comprehensive knowledge of religion than Harris or Dawkins, and certainly than Chris Hitchens. I’ve also found both of their approaches to religion to be far more reasonable and useful than those of the other three. I guess it’s all a question of what you’re more interested in: why religion is, or why religion is “bad?”

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By Marx, September 27, 2007 at 11:45 pm Link to this comment

Linda,

The word “despite” in the second to the last sentence of my third paragraph (I’m not counting my quotes of you) should be “despise.”

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By Marx, September 27, 2007 at 11:42 pm Link to this comment

Timmy - “We condemn the experts for calling open minded spirituality ‘religion,’ thereby legitimizing all of the denominational, doctrinal, dogmatic and power corrupted religions that dominate the earth.”

Religion is simply community. The very word “church” comes from the word “ekklesia,” which is communion, community. Sorry, but I see nothing wrong with gathering together with similarly minded people. This reminds me of how in UUism many churches just call themselves centers or societies to differentiate themselves from traditional religious gathering places. Of course, there is no real difference at all between the service at a UU church or a UU society. Are you really telling me that if 50 or a 100 of you open minded spiritual seekers began getting together every week at a set time, it would be an evil exercise? There is good religion and bad religion, and good and bad exists in every religion.

Timmy - “Do you really think that only fundamentalists see religion differently than you do? We know for certain that Catholics and Muslims certainly do. And that’s a pretty sizable chunk for a start.”

Don’t you mean SOME Catholics and SOME Muslims. I already referred to two CATHOLIC PRIESTS and ONE CATHOLIC NUN who are religious pluralists. I was introduced to religious pluralism through the writings of a Jesuit priest, Fr. Anthony de Mello. This is exactly why I find it so problematic when one says “Christians believe this” or “Protestants believe this” or “Religious Jews believe that.” As I have said, and said, and said, there are a great number of opinions and interpretations of faith and doctrine in every religion. You mentioned Catholics and Muslims. You’re talking about billions of people there. To make generalizations about a group of twenty or thirty is one thing. To generalize about several billion is quite another.

Timmy - “What do you mean by ‘god’ when you say that god was revealed through the person of Jesus Christ. The only definition I know of ‘god’ is a deity. You have said that you don’t believe in deities, so what is your definition of god?”

I believe that there is a presence of life animating our universe, transcending the limits of physical existence. I call this “God.” This God isn’t some supernatural being external to our life, outside of our being. Rather, this God is the very ground and source of being itself. The way that I think people meet and experience this God is by having the courage to be, by being whole, by living, and loving, deeply and fully. That’s why I’ve gravitated towards Humanism, because it provides the framework and principles to accomplish exactly what I’m talking about without the use of any hocus pocus.

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By Marx, September 27, 2007 at 10:23 pm Link to this comment

Linda - “Fundamental religions are dangerous and moderates coddle them.”

I’d like fundamentalism to die out like every other sensible person. So would every single person I’ve quoted. It is remarkable that you would say I and other moderates coddle fundamentalists, so many of whom hate us.

Linda - “You are not going to convince me that your personal, spiritual, or religious relationship with God is even relevant to the discussion.”

I haven’t tried to convince you of anything. I’ve simply replied to the questions posed to me. What else would I do? I honestly haven’t the slightest idea as to what you’re referring.

Linda - “Marx—these are dangerous views!  They are dangerous because when 40% or more of the population believe they are true they directly affect our lives through public policy and laws.  (Even Hedges writes about this.  He calls them Dominionists—- See: American Fascists) If you do not understand this then you are part of the problem (have you read Harris’ books?) If you do understand this then you (as a moderate person who holds the Bible in esteem) ought to ... critique fundamentalism.  Are you willing to do that?”

I have done just that, and likely more than you, for longer than you, and, being a Christian myself, more effectively than you. I’ve also read American Fascists. I’ve already said that I have debated and angered far more fundamentalists than I have atheists. I’ve also gotten more than a few of those fundamentalists angry enough to think, precisely because I know the Bible and know religion and don’t despite it or desire its immediate extermination. The “new atheists” are reinvigorating the religious right as never before.

My beef, ultimately, is with ignorance. Ignorance of religion, ignorance of atheism, ignorance of science. I truly and really hate ignorance in all of its forms. I hate the ignorance that so many atheists have of religion, and I hate the ignorance that so many religious people have of science and the sacred book they claim to cherish. If I see ignorance, I am going to attack it. Period.

Linda “I have not even mentioned Islam and the Koran.  That is another post for another time.  Islam is where Hedges is dead wrong.  He coddles it and acts like a true moderate in the worst manner possible.”

I have read thousands and thousands of pages on Islam, studied it academically, and talked to many Muslims about their faith, but I would NEVER presume to have the knowledge about it that so many of you (and Sam too) arrogantly claim to. Sorry, but reading a bunch of angry critiques of Islam does not a scholar make.

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By lindadugan, September 27, 2007 at 4:23 pm Link to this comment

Marx:
I’m jumping into the fray.  You write a bevy of words and ideas that are flying around on this post. It is a distraction.

Josh’s point ( and BF’s) that moderate views defend fundamentalist ideas is the crux of the argument and the point that you are avoiding.  While we can all be impressed with your academic, theological and scholarly knowledge on the subject of the old and new testaments, Jewish law,  and other esoteric religions,  most of what you are writing ignores the nuts and bolts of the Harris and Hedges debate:  Fundamental religions are dangerous and moderates coddle them.

You are not going to convince me that your personal, spiritual, or religious relationship with God is even relevant to the discussion.  When you make the comparisons between exclusivism, inclusivism and pluralism you appear to be railroading the discussion (I know it is not intentional.)  It is the “exclusives” (we tend to call them “fundamentalist”) that are the meat of the argument. The other two categories are rather null and void in their impact on public policy and the state of the world (minus the coddling impact).  If you tend to take the Bible figuratively as you suggest you do, then your beliefs about the world would not include any of the following:
1.  Pre martial sex is a sin; as is adultery
2.  Homosexuality is a sin.
3.  Life begins at conception—abortion is a sin—embryonic stem cell research is a sin
4.  Birth control is a sin; especially for unmarried people.
5.  Jesus is returning in our lifetime
6.  The world was created in 6 days
7.  9-11 was punishment for all of America’s sins
8.  If you do not accept Jesus as your savior you will rot in hell
9.  The 10 commandments teach morality
10.    Submitting to a higher authority/God makes you a more moral person and;
11.    Our morality originates from the Bible or other religious texts (meaning we would be amoral or immoral without religious doctrine to “guide” us.)

Marx—these are dangerous views!  They are dangerous because when 40% or more of the population believe they are true they directly affect our lives through public policy and laws.  (Even Hedges writes about this.  He calls them Dominionists—- See: American Fascists) If you do not understand this then you are part of the problem (have you read Harris’ books?) If you do understand this then you (as a moderate person who holds the Bible in esteem) ought to speak about the dangers of religion and the Bible and critique fundamentalism.  Are you willing to do that?

I have not even mentioned Islam and the Koran.  That is another post for another time.  Islam is where Hedges is dead wrong.  He coddles it and acts like a true moderate in the worst manner possible.

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By BFskinnerPunk, September 27, 2007 at 3:15 pm Link to this comment

Marx,
I am suggesting that the more literal Christian would be at a loss to manage the crowd in this forum.  These Christians are entirely dependent on you and Aslan to put people like us in our place.

I am certain that they would find many disagreeable aspects to your view, but they need you to add intellectual legitimacy to their book and their views.  Your views, and your ability to intellectualize Christianity gives further longevity to their dark ages perspective.

This is partly what it means to offer cover to the fundamentalist.  It’s unfortunate.

I am arguing that, given your take on the Bible, why not let it live on the shelf next to every other work of fiction with equal weight?  Again, placing the bible on a sort of divine pedestal seems entirely unnecessary…entirely… and probably does more damage than good.

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By Timmy, September 27, 2007 at 2:26 pm Link to this comment

“Yet, you condemn the “experts” for remaining religious.”

Not true.
We condemn the experts for calling open minded spirituality “religion”, thereby legitimizing all of the denominational, doctrinal, dogmatic and power corrupted religions that dominate the earth.
The expert’s definition of “religion” is not the mass majority of the people’s definition of religion. You need to draw a solid line between denominational deity based religion that 90% of religious peoples on this earth subscribe to, and your new age, historical context, allegorical humanist religion which is more spiritual sociology than it is religion. You are confusing the issue by not drawing a clear distinction between open minded spirituality and deity worship.

You act as though your “expertise” based completely allegorical in historical context interpretation of the bible is only at odds with fundamentalists and this is purposely misleading and flat wrong. Your “religion” is at serious odds with the vast majority of religious peoples on the earth.

I get your thing. I have read your posts. I not only get your thing I relate to it completely. I have a soft spot for it. It is harmless, and quite possibly the very opposite of harmless. I do not attack it I condone it. But I think that it is irresponsible to call it religion, and to come to the defense of the religions that we criticize as though they are the same thing. They are not. They are vile in the face of what you preach. And they are dangerous, tribal and divisive. Why don’t you see that? Do you really think that only fundamentalists see religion differently than you do? We know for certain that Catholics and Muslims certainly do. And that’s a pretty sizable chunk for a start.

Anyway, back to my questions about the God that you believe was revealed through the person of Jesus Christ. Thank you for the answers. I figured those would be your answers based on your posts, but it leaves me with only a good idea of what your “god” is not.

What do you mean by “god” when you say that god was revealed through the person of Jesus Christ. The only definition I know of “god” is a deity. You have said that you don’t believe in deities, so what is your definition of god?

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By Marx, September 27, 2007 at 12:37 pm Link to this comment

Timmy - “But why then is the NT so firmly and permanently bound to the OT. Why not throw away the OT all together.”

Jesus, like most of the very early Christians, was a Jew and came out of the Jewish/culture religion. There is also some deep, spiritual truth within the OT, particularly the prophets.

Timmy - “Why support the Jewish god when Jesus revealed the true god?”

Comment #102843

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By Marx, September 27, 2007 at 12:32 pm Link to this comment

BF - “I am sure that many fundamentalists would be cheering as they watch the way Marx is representing Christianity to those of our kind.”

LOL! Throughout my life I have argued far more with fundamentalists than I have with atheists, most of whom I’ve gotten along quite well with (particularly before the “new atheist” movement). I’ve never seen a single one “cheering” for me.

BF - “Aren’t there books out there that are
a) better written?,
b) do a better job at articulating the depths of life? and
c) do all of this without confusing us with discussions of virgins, stonings, dismemberment, and heretics?”

If you have an understanding of Jewish literature, the Bible comes off as very deep, and you will not leave it confused. This is why somebody like John Shelby Spong can be so aware of the Biblical stonings and dismemberments as to write a book called the “The Sins of Scripture,” while still recognizing that the tribalism in the Bible needn’t overshadow it’s deeper meaning. As to it not being well written, I’m not quite sure what you mean. Do you mean by modern Western standards? Are you talking about how well it was written in Hebrew and Greek, or are you critiquing one of the many translations?

BF - “It seems a remarkable coincidence that someone who was born into a Christian family just *happens* to select the Bible, among all books, as their sacred text.”

It’s no coincidence. It is precisely because I was born into a Christian family that I’ve selected the Bible as a sacred text. Just as a Taoist will gravitate towards the Tao Te Ching (which I also love), or a Hindu towards the Bhagavad Gita, my religious upbringing sent me to the Bible. I’ve already posted my thoughts on the cultural relativity of religion and pluralism.

Timmy - “Religion is not for free spiritual thinkers. Scripture is not truth seeking, it is truth holding.”

If you recognize the cultural relativity of both your religion and your sacred text, something which a number of the people I’ve quoted/referred to do, you won’t have a problem.

Timmy - “We are criticizing what most religious people think not what experts think.”

Yet, you condemn the “experts” for remaining religious.

Timmy - “But when I look at it in that context, it seems clear to me that one of the errors caused by a lack of knowledge combined with the tribal politics of the time, was to ascribe this wisdom to a deity.”

Wow. I agree with you for once. :-D

Timmy - “Did Jesus literally perform miracles?”

Actually, I covered this in #102738 and #102787. No, Jesus did not perform any of the nature miracles. He did not raise the dead or walk on water. Insofar as healings, he socially “healed” the lepers or the blind by ignoring social taboos and taking them back into the community. However, he certainly didn’t cure their disease. In much of Biblical scholarship, a difference is recognized between disease and illness and healing and curing.

Timmy - “Did god create the universe?
Does god watch over us and guide us?
Does God have a plan for us?”

I think I have already made clear that I do not believe in a theistic God. I reject the idea of a supernatural parent figure who periodically intercedes in the world. Read through my posts.

Timmy - “Is the resurrection allegorical?”

With all due respect, I’ve already answered this. Are you reading my posts, or am I just writing to myself when I reply to you? Read through my posts, as I have through yours, and then come back with some questions I haven’t already answered. If we’re not reading each other’s posts, then how can we call this a discussion?

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By Timmy, September 27, 2007 at 11:42 am Link to this comment

Hey Skinner,

I agree. The moderates unwittingly give comfort and support to the doctrinal and dogmatic conservative forms of the religion. With my last set of questions you can see that I am trying to find out if Marx (= most christians, lol) takes any part of the bible literally. If it is all allegorical, then you are correct about so many other texts being far superior.

He calls the bible sacred text because of the revelation of Jesus.
But why then is the NT so firmly and permanently bound to the OT.
Why not throw away the OT all together.
Why support the Jewish god when Jesus revealed the true god?

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By BFskinnerPunk, September 27, 2007 at 3:29 am Link to this comment

Timmy,

Well, I would say that *I* agree with Sam in my concern over the way moderates offer cover to those who aren’t so moderate.

I am sure that many fundamentalists would be cheering as they watch the way Marx is representing Christianity to those of our kind.

With the poetic spirituality that Marx takes the Bible, it seems that any book… any bit of writing at all…. could be used as one’s spiritual source.

Couldn’t this very thread be used as one’s sole source of spirituality and truth? 

Could Harry Potter be my Bible with the *exact* same degree of validity?

That’s the thing.  Once a person can agree that the Bible is something that is NOT to be taken literally, then immediately, the question becomes:
Aren’t there books out there that are
a) better written?,
b) do a better job at articulating the depths of life? and
c) do all of this without confusing us with discussions of virgins, stonings, dismemberment, and heretics?

It seems a remarkable coincidence that someone who was born into a Christian family just *happens* to select the Bible, among all books, as their sacred text. Clearly, one’s selection of sacred texts is the result of something other than divine assistance.

At these extremes of groovy Biblical interpretations,it seems that all written material is now open to be deemed “sacred texts”.

I put my dibs on the 1953 text, “Monkeys as Pets” for mine.  (an old pet book I bought in a Goodwill Thrift Store for laughs)
The first commandement? 
Don’t trust your baboon with small children.

If I could somehow convince intellectuals to take this book to heart, I have no doubt they would have some remarkable interpretations of this baboon commandment.  Further, they would claim that nay sayers just don’t “get it”.

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By Timmy, September 27, 2007 at 1:49 am Link to this comment

Linda Welcome back. Good points.

BF thanks for the props. Last Comic Standing is mainly an amateur contest but shit, the winner of that show makes more money than me so maybe I should try out.

Your points are excellent as always. Thanks for the link to the Aslan/Harris debate. It’s funny how hard Aslan has to try to disagree with Harris.

Aslan describes religion as “the language that we use to describe transcendency”. Marx and Cat also have a very soft and abstract definition of religion. But they are all ignoring the denominational and doctrinal nature of the world’s main religions when they describe it in such an abstract mystical way. I have said before, they are defending spirituality and calling it religion. Religion is not for free spiritual thinkers. Scripture is not truth seeking, it is truth holding.

Aslan admits that most religious people have the wrong definition of religion, but how does that work? He is claiming expertise on the subject based on his experience in the religious world, and so he comes up with a completely different definition of religion than most religious people use? Our problem is with what religious people think, not what experts think. We are criticizing what most religious people think not what experts think. Not what UU’s like Marx think. They defend something we do not attack while pretending that we are attacking it. It is a very strawmanish reaction.

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By Timmy, September 27, 2007 at 1:20 am Link to this comment

Marx,

I think I understand your definition of god a little better now, I can relate to what you have said more than you think. I am a free spiritual philosopher who discounts nothing unlike some harder atheists, I don’t find allegorical interpretations of all religious scripture in historical context at all troublesome and in fact that is exactly how I look at it all. And when I look at it through that scope I see the wisdom that is necessary to see and good to ingest. And I also see the errors and primitive thinking that clouded the minds of those who compiled the wisdom of early man. But when I look at it in that context, it seems clear to me that one of the errors caused by a lack of knowledge combined with the tribal politics of the time, was to ascribe this wisdom to a deity. And to create doctrine. And to try to make this wisdom, unchallengable, as opposed to a work in progress.

But back to the idea of ascribing this wisdom to a deity, I need just a little more clarification about the god that you believe was revealed through Jesus Christ.
Did god create the universe?
Does god watch over us and guide us?
Does God have a plan for us?
Did god just speak through Jesus and had nothing to do with his birth?
Did Jesus literally perform miracles?
Is the resurection allegorical?

Sorry I know that’s a lot of questions, believe it or not there’s more, but I don’t want to overload you. But I would like to understand more about your definition of God so that our conversation has clarity.

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By Marx, September 26, 2007 at 11:40 pm Link to this comment

The Bible is a sacred text for me. It is a religious text, obviously, because it was produced by and is used in a religion, or two religions (Judaism and Christianity). For all I know, there could be an Aesop’s religion in which the members hold his fables to convey spiritual truth. If that leads them to be better people, than more power to them.

Note that I’m saying that the Bible is a sacred text for ME, not that the Bible is a sacred text. In saying “me” I mean me as a Christian. I couldn’t care less whether or not anyone else regards the Bible as sacred or not.

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By Josh, September 26, 2007 at 11:32 pm Link to this comment

It seems by your logic that Aesop’s fables should also be considered a religious text (as they taught wisdom through parables).  What would you contend should elevate the bible while ignoring Aesop’s fables?

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By Marx, September 26, 2007 at 11:30 pm Link to this comment

Josh - “Now wait—if this book is not literal, and its not magical, why are you elevating it as religious?”

What’s this? Spiritual wisdom can’t be conveyed through the use of metaphor now? Jesus himself taught primarily through parables, as did the Buddha and many other holy men and women. 

“So far…you’re saying that the Bible was never meant to be taken literally, and that atheists are part of your religion.”

I’m saying that large segments of what we today call the Bible were never meant to be taken literally. There are, indeed, quite a few atheists who are UUs. This is a fact. Feel free to look it up. UUism emphasize humanism first and spirituality and religious belief, if any, second. It is a humanist inclination and a desire for community that makes one a UU, not belief in the supernatural.

“I think you’re argument is falling apart quickly.”

What argument is that?

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By Josh, September 26, 2007 at 11:07 pm Link to this comment

Now wait—if this book is not literal, and its not magical, why are you elevating it as religious?

So far…you’re saying that the Bible was never meant to be taken literally, and that atheists are part of your religion. 

I think you’re argument is falling apart quickly.

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By Marx, September 26, 2007 at 10:03 pm Link to this comment

BF - “When you consider the guys who wrote religious texts thousands of years ago… somehow I seriously doubt that they would agree *in any way at all* with your religious abstractions.”

I’m not so sure about that. A big part of Biblical scholarship is trying to understand what the original intent of the author was. Very few Biblical scholars believe, for instance, that the men writing about Abraham as much as 900 years after his death meant for there words to be taken as literal history, rather than SPIRITUAL history. Same goes for the gospels and the other books of in the canon. The truth is that the people who claim to take the Bible “literally” are Gentiles talking about a book written by ancient Jews for ancient Jews in Hebrew and Greek. They have no idea what taking it “literally” even means, as they have no understanding whatsoever of how to approach ancient Jewish literature.

And yes, I will, eventually, reply to that other post. wink

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By BFskinnerPunk, September 26, 2007 at 7:34 pm Link to this comment

I suppose we shouldn’t change the angle of this debate, but this is Timmy’s quote..
“I’d really like to hear your thoughts in your own words. I’m not going to read any more long cut-and-pastes from your heros. Explain your own position. Or do you have one?”

OK… so we have some confusion there.  I shouldn’t have brought it up.

Looking forward to your response to my post.  For that matter, I’d like to see what you have to say about Aslan’s debate as well.

It’s interesting to watch very smart people do the “religion dance”.  Their views become so special… so rarefied.. that you have to wonder why they continue to cling to the stuff anymore.  It all seems so tedious, difficult… and frankly, a bit pathological!

When you consider the guys who wrote religious texts thousands of years ago… somehow I seriously doubt that they would agree *in any way at all* with your religious abstractions.

So once you start toying with the actual writings of the fellows who wrote the book… why not just drop the book?  But it on the shelf next to the Iliad and be done with it. 

If you are merely fond of the actual writings in a sort of retro-nostalgia kinda way. I get it.  Other than that, it seems to be more of a mental workout to try and fit those old scriptures into what we know today.

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By Marx, September 26, 2007 at 7:28 pm Link to this comment

Timmy,

  The role of UUism for me is that UUism is a pluralistic religion. People of all faiths and no faith at all are welcome to participate. The central tenet of UUism is that your religious belief is not normative or necessary for anybody else. So, there are Christian UUs, atheist UUs (I think around 20%), Pagan UUs, and Jewish UUs, etc. Anyone who is serious about the common good may join.

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By Marx, September 26, 2007 at 7:19 pm Link to this comment

BF - “Short quotes are OK, but if it goes on too often… heck, why not just give us a link to book to read?”

The length of the single long quote which I posted (that from John Shelby Spong) isn’t nearly as long as what I would have to write if I were to answer his question personally. Big questions require big, lengthy answers. “What do you believe Marx?” is a whopper of a question. People indeed have written massive volumes answering “what they believe.”

BF - “You shouldn’t do that in a forum like this.  That was his point.”

I saw nothing to indicate that, that was his point. Instead, he seemed to suggest that I was covering what he presumed to be my lack of an ability to formulate a [coherent] opinion by quoting the already well thought out opinion[s] of others. In short, he thought that my reply was a cop out.

“You are being disingenuous in the way you responded…implying that Timmy thinks that no one should ever use a quote.  You know better than that.”

I replied in a way that I considered appropriate to my interpretation of his comments about my quotes. You’re welcome, of course, to have your own opinion as to what exactly he meant. I can assure you that I won’t be so presumptuous as to accuse you of disingenuity. Rather, I am, and will, offer you the benefit of the doubt as a sensible adult.

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By BFskinnerPunk, September 26, 2007 at 6:50 pm Link to this comment

Marx,

Short quotes are OK, but if it goes on too often… heck, why not just give us a link to book to read?  You shouldn’t do that in a forum like this.  That was his point.
You are being disingenuous in the way you responded…implying that Timmy thinks that no one should ever use a quote.  You know better than that.

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By Marx, September 26, 2007 at 6:47 pm Link to this comment

“I think you mean Yaweh. Am I correct?”

Everyone means something different when they talk of the “God” revealed in Jesus, or even when they speak of God in general. The term is open and has no single definition. If you ask Billy Graham and Jesuit Fr. Roger Haight what they mean by “God revealed in Jesus” they would give you radically different answers. Nonetheless, they both believe that some sort of God was revealed there. I for one don’t believe in Yahweh, or any traditional theistic definition of God.

“The other gods were not revealed through Jesus because they are wrong I’m assuming?”

I think people are free to approach divine revelation according to their own culturally relative religious tradition. I already conveyed this in comment #102745. There are three central theologies of religions: exclusivism, pluralism, and inclusivism. Exclusivism holds that there is only one savior and one true religion or church and that no salvation is possible outside of them. Inclusivism maintains that although there is only one savior and one true church, salvation remains possible outside them-though it is always ultimately dependent on them. Finally, pluralism holds that there are many saviors and different paths leading to salvation, none necessarily superior to the others. I am a pluralist, in the tradition of Jesuit Fr. Jacques Dupuis and Fr. Peter Phan. Furthermore, I do not confuse my conception of Ultimate Reality with Ultimate Reality itself. I agree with St. John of the Cross when he reminds us that our images/concepts of God are not God, and with Thich Nhat Hanh who says “Do not be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. All systems of thought are guiding means; they are not absolute truth.”

You do know what they say about assuming…

“Why don’t you believe that God was revealed through the person of Jesus Christ?”

I never said that I don’t believe this, or that I am not a Christian. Spong once received the “Humanist of the Year Award.” I don’t see a contradiction between my belief in a nontheistic “God” which I do not define as some sort of a supernatural figure and my humanism.

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By Marx, September 26, 2007 at 6:16 pm Link to this comment

I’m going to rewrite this:

“It just so happens that before I wrote this I listened to an audio interview with another one of my “heros,” theologian Marcus Borg, in which he answers a question with, guess what, A QUOTE! How dare he do that! Can it be because the quote expresses his own thoughts so well?”

Now that that’s done, let me reiterate that the shared belief of each and every single Christian I’ve met, heard, or read, is that God was revealed through the person of Jesus Christ. Now, they may define that God differently and they may define Jesus’ nature and teachings differently, but they all see God revealed in him. This is true of both a fool like Pat Robertson and a brilliant man like John Dominic Crossan. Crossan doesn’t even believe in an afterlife, but he certainly does believe that God was revealed in Jesus.

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By Timmy, September 26, 2007 at 6:15 pm Link to this comment

Marx,

“The common belief is that God was revealed through the person of Jesus Christ.”

And you do not believe this?

And by God, you mean:
Thor?
Jupiter?
Buddha?
The Hindu God?
Allah?
or Yaweh?

I think you mean Yaweh. Am I correct?
Jesus was fulfilling a prophecy in the religion of a Semetic tribe called the Jews.
So, is it that God who was “revealed through the person of Jesus Christ?
The Jewish God?
Not the Muslim God right?
Not the Hindu God right?
The Jewish God, right?

The other gods were not revealed through Jesus because they are wrong I’m assuming?


Why don’t you believe that God was revealed through the person of Jesus Christ?

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By lindadugan, September 26, 2007 at 6:02 pm Link to this comment

Marx:

Welcome to this blog.  I appreciate your desire to dicuss the subject at hand. You are an intelligent, educated person and have some valid points in your posts. 

I have a lot to say to you.  No time now. More later.

PS:  Josh’s latest post to you sums up much of my thoughts.

BF Skinner:  Welcome back.

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By lindadugan, September 26, 2007 at 5:14 pm Link to this comment

part two of 2

Cat:

When you say, “Why can’t the Bible be taken figuratively?”  That is exactly the point of the argument against religion.  When the Bible is NOT taken figuratively, literal beliefs are dangerous.  Can you imagine the world today if Greek mythology were taken literally?  Why should the Bible or Koran be treated any differently?


There is nothing disingenuous in stating the Bible (or the Koran or other religious tenets) is a literary book to be read philosophically, figuratively and metaphorically.  Sam’s words, “there are diamonds in the dunghill” is appropriate and true. But too many people see it as the word of God, not literature inspired and written by men struggling to understand their own nature.

When men of the modern era believe it is OK to   marry a 14 year old female (a current Morman and Islamic belief by those who practice polygamy), that she is your “spiritual wife” and it is OK to have sex with her because your religious doctrine proclaims God’s pedophiliac approval, this is a problem and a rather serious one at that (especially if you happen to be the 14 year old girl who lives among the powers that be.)

There are too many serious problems in our world today, based on religious beliefs.  That you and I do not take these beliefs literally is surely to our intellectual credit.  That others do, is indicative of the many problems we will continue to face in this world.

In the marriage between truth/reason and love/kindness—-at the very, very least, religion is a mistress( and a forceful, ravenous and demanding mistress one could say) that shakes the very foundation and fidelity of life.  We can no longer argue it is the perpetrator of many problems in our world today.

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By Cat, September 26, 2007 at 5:08 pm Link to this comment

Timmy:

I’m sorry that I have not answered the questions you are dying to hear from.  I’m busy with a lot of stuff- college applications, SATs, schoolwork, etc.  I can’t sift through all your posts to find all the questions you want me to answer.  If in you’re next post you could condense the questions into one paragraph, I would be more than happy to answer. In two weeks I will be a lot more engaged in the conversation, but it is extremely difficult to keep up now. Thanks.

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By lindadugan, September 26, 2007 at 5:07 pm Link to this comment

part one of 2

Cat:

Regarding your 9/21 post (# 101883)….
 
Timmy’s response to yours is well stated.

I agree with you that evil is an internalized mechanism and is part of human nature.  In terms of religion, evil is internally driven by one’s religious beliefs that justify such acts.  If the Bible says it is OK to abuse children, because God says it is OK to abuse children, then it is clearly OK to abuse children—-so the reasoning goes.  (The person harms children because they believe their god justifies it. )

You seem to indicate people don’t have free will about the choices they make when you claim religion is external.  There is no room to argue that people are often swayed , indoctrinated or brainwashed by external religious forces which certainly teach, prop up and condone harmful religious beliefs. But ultimately, it is the belief and actions of the perpetrator of harm who can turn that harmful belief into a harmful action.  Example: I can contemplate and devise a plan to kill my supervisor and even find some justification for it from external sources:  in the Bible—if I study it close enough… from my colleagues who encourage me to snuff him out and are more than eager to give me many good reasons for killing him… from the “devil” who talks to me at night about committing the dastardly deed… or from my spouse who is simply weary of hearing my complaints about him.  But I am the one, who holds the internalized belief that ultimately justifies any act I eventually take.  “I truly believe I ought to kill my supervisor because a), b) and c).”

As Sam Harris says, beliefs have consequences and beliefs matter because when people act on those beliefs they can cause great harm and evil.  Beliefs may originate from outside sources, but it is our internal psyches that make them happen.

Footnote: I don’t think Sam has ever said that religious beliefs are the only perpetrator of evil or that evil done in the name of religion is always mutually exclusive of other evil.

You state:
“The Bible is a work of literature that portrays what men thousands of years ago thought about the nature of their lives”

I agree, and your statement indicates why the Bible is dangerous.  The Bible (and other religious doctrine) is literature that portrays dogmatic and errant ideas accepted by men thousands of years ago who incorrectly thought those ideas spoke to them about the true nature of their lives, and people today still believe many of these ideas and really ought to wise up for humanity’s sake.  I would add, many contemporaries have become slaves to the ideas of their ancient forbearers whose beliefs were void of physics, biology, genetics, psychology, sociology, medicine, technology, etc or any sound, relative and factual information applicable to 21st century lives.  These bodies of knowledge are what make the modern world indeed “modern.”  Without this knowledge we would most certainly be living in the 21st century thinking like an 11th century spokesman (some still are as Sam argues)  and using the Bible/Koran, etc… as our primary source of knowledge.

end part one

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By Marx, September 26, 2007 at 5:01 pm Link to this comment

BF,

I saw the debate when it aired on C-Span, though I’ve forgotten much of what Azlan had to say, and can’t really recall to what extent I agreed with him.

I’ll reply to your other post in a while.

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By Marx, September 26, 2007 at 4:58 pm Link to this comment

Timmy,

The common belief is that God was revealed through the person of Jesus Christ.

Sorry, but I see nothing wrong with using the opinions of others to express my own. If I am in agreement with this or that person, why shouldn’t I save time by quoting their words?

It just so happens that before before I wrote this is listened to an audio interview with another one of my “heros,” theologian Marcus Borg, in which he answers a question with, guess what, A QUOTE. How dare he do that! Can it be because the quote expresses his own thoughts so well?

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By BFskinnerPunk, September 26, 2007 at 4:58 pm Link to this comment

Sam Harris debates with Resa Azlan in this YouTube debate.  I am guessing that Azlan’s position is similar to Marx’s.
Have you folks already seen this?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5og-hyD3A7A

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By Timmy, September 26, 2007 at 4:53 pm Link to this comment

Marx and Cat,

If you ask me questions, I give you answers.
Why can you not do the same? Are you trying to engage in an honest dialogue or are you just spewing.

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By Timmy, September 26, 2007 at 4:49 pm Link to this comment

Marx,

I’d really like to hear your thoughts in your own words. I’m not going to read any more long cut-and-pastes from your heros. Explain your own position. Or do you have one?
I want to know in your own words:
What do christians believe that you don’t?
What makes you not answer “Christian” on the census form?
In your own words.

And it’s just Incredible how verbose you can be trying to tell me something that I am telling you. Christians are extremely diverse. More than 3000 known sects believing everything from a completely literal translation to a completely allegorical translation and everything in between.

SO WHY ARE THEY ALL CALLING THEMSELVES CHRISTIANS?

What is the common belief? Is there one?
Can you tell me what it is?

What common beliefs do Catholics have with Unitarians?
Help me understand.

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By Marx, September 26, 2007 at 4:32 pm Link to this comment

Timmy - “For more than a thousand years there was only one kind of Christian. Roman Catholic.”

This is a nitpick, but “Roman” only refers to one of the many rites that existed within the church at that time, the Latin rite. There were many other non-Roman rites in the Christian church which existed simultaneously with the Roman rite. There were (and still are), Coptic, Chaldean, Maronite, Assyrian, Antiochian, etc. rites as well. So, it is false that for a millenium there was only kind of Christian. That has never, ever, been the case.

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By Timmy, September 26, 2007 at 4:19 pm Link to this comment

Cat:

Are you not going to answer any of the questions that I asked you?
You say I don’t understand, but when I ask you questions, you give me no answers. I ask those questions so that you can help me understand.

You say:
“If you’re an atheist, why do you get to define what religion is?  I strongly disagree with the definition you gave.  It’s ignorant and irrational.”

It is actually a glaringly obvious conclusion drawn from a study of history, anthropology and sociology. But that’s beside the point.

You and I were discussing your muslim friend and talking about that religion.
You are right, I don’t get to define that religion, and neither does you friend. Mullahs and Imams don’t even get to define it. They are the enforcers of the one true definition which is Mohammed’s definition and it is also the only interpretation at the same time. That religion is set in stone, not to be tampered with.

You conveniently then tried to switch the subject very quickly to the bible in general. So let’s do that. I asked Marx and I’ll ask you, who does get to define what Christianity is? Mark, Luke John and the boys? The council of Nicea? The Roman Catholic Emperor/Popes who molded it to fit their agenda for millennia? The Lutherans? The Anglicans? The Greek Orthodox? The Methodists? The Mormons? The Quakers? The Unitarians, Charlie Manson? David Karesh? Pastor Mike? The creepy priests who molest little boys? The Religious Humanists? Anybody who wants to?

That last one is essentially what you are saying right?
Anybody who wants to define it how ever they like?

For more than a thousand years there was only one kind of Christian. Roman Catholic. Now there are more than 3000 known sects who believe everything from the bible is completely literal, to none of it is really literal, and everything in between. As an atheist, I don’t have to sort through all of that garble and make sense of it to comment on religion in general as a divisive ideology.

Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism etc. are all different answers to the same question that burns in all of us. Why are we here? or What is the meaning of life? or What is our purpose? These are all forms of the same question which can distilled down into one two-part question.
1. Why is there something instead of nothing?
2. Why do I wonder “why?”

The answer to both of these questions is:
Unknown.

Religion in general (spirituality actually) likely began as an honest attempt to answer this question and understand ourselves, but it very quickly (long before any of todays religions) fell into the hands of those who saw the power potential of not only providing people with closure on the matter but also freedom from the uncertainty of living without an answer to that question. Imagine getting to author the moral code for all humanity. Talk about power.

And so instead of people being free and open minded philosophers about his innate question, a God was named, and a dogma was laid down.

I am a free and completely open minded philosopher about the mystery of the nature of our existence. I can take the words in the bible attributed to Jesus Christ as words of wisdom to admire, and an ideal to strive to live up to, but give them no more authority than the inspirational words from any other figure from Elvis to the Dali Lama, from Nobel Laureates to John Lenon. These are all human qualities and human ideals, not Christian morals and Muslim morals but human morals. Religion is vile in the face of such spiritual neutrality. It pretends to know things that it does not, indeed can not know. And for sinister reasons.

Religion is power over spirituality.
And power over spirituality is dangerous.

You guys are actually defending spirituality, but calling it religion.
And Pat Robertson thanks you for buying him another beach house in Maui.
Boooaaah ha ha ha ha ha ha haaaaa!

BTW Religion is why George Bush is in the white-house.

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By BFskinnerPunk, September 26, 2007 at 4:00 pm Link to this comment

First, sorry for my awkward and incorrect grammatical mistakes.  It makes reading my posts a pain in the a33.

Marx, perhaps you could articulate the usefulness of your religious text. (It’s the Bible, right?).  What truths are to be found that aren’t easily available without resorting to talking snakes and such.

If you can articulate some of the points made in the atheist books you recommend, perhaps I’ll read them.

Even if you feel that you have some special knowledge of what Christians *really* think, I’d like to know how it’s useful to resort to the Bible or Koran for matters of spirituality or depth. (or resort to any other supernatural text)

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By Marx, September 26, 2007 at 3:45 pm Link to this comment

BF - “Your experience with the Unitarian Church isn’t exactly mainstream religiosity!  Given your contact with these UnReligionists, I can see why you are baffled by our concerns…and the polling data.”

I wasn’t born and raised a Unitarian. I was raised a Seventh-day Adventist and converted to Catholicism in my teen years. I’ve gone to church my whole life and didn’t stop when I entered UUism. I watch/listen to three religious services (two Episcopalian, one Unitarian) online every week. I also participate in several Christian online forums, so I’m still very much aware of what Christians think.

BF - “Once you enter the ring of religion, all views are valid.  All must be allowed to take what they wish from their religious text.  We enter a world of ancient traditions, intuitions, and Godliness which traditionally doesn’t take kindly to intellectualisms.”

Allow me to disagree. I will dismiss and criticize in the harshest terms interpretations of the Bible which ignore historical criticism in favor of an alleged literalism. The Bible, like any other ancient text, needs to be read in the historical, cultural, and literary context in which it was written.

BF - “It’s a grim and messy soup.  If you want to play the religion game, you don’t get to make the rules for others.”

Of course not, but I will call someone who’s ignorant, ignorant. There’s no point in being a Christian if you don’t know anything about where it and its teachings came from. I won’t respect that anymore than I respect Americans who are ignorant of their own history.

BF - “Making matters worse, the whole religious exercise… as intellectual as it may be… is entirely unnecessary.”

Perhaps you should read those two books by atheists which I recommended. They might give you something to think about.

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By BFskinnerPunk, September 26, 2007 at 3:29 pm Link to this comment

Marx,

Your experience with the Unitarian Church isn’t exactly mainstream religiosity!  Given your contact with these UnReligionists, I can see why you are baffled by our concerns…and the polling data.

I can pretty much bet, that each of the atheists in this forum have been raised in a Christian world.  We weren’t born atheists nor was it encouraged by our parents.  If you were born in the U.S., we are all Christians in the cultural sense of the word.

If all religionists had your rather expansive and intellectual interpretation of the bible, we probably wouldn’t have the energy to worry about the subject… but unfortunately, your view is rare.

Go ahead, take a walk through any mall of your choosing in the U.S.  Take your pick… you can even go to a “progressive” city.  Now, tap on someone’s shoulder and ask some very basic questions about their interpretation of their religion.

You won’t like their answers.

Even though you practice the new-and-improved version of religion, you must admit that your continued relationship with religion and offers cover and legitimacy for the NOT-new-and-improved religious views.

Once you participate in the religious game, you lose the ability to judge others in some sense.  You can’t say, “oh no, no, no.. you simple people have it wrong… my interpretation of the bible is the better one!”.  Nope. 
Once you enter the ring of religion, all views are valid.  All must be allowed to take what they wish from their religious text.  We enter a world of ancient traditions, intuitions, and Godliness which traditionally doesn’t take kindly to intellectualisms.

It’s a grim and messy soup.  If you want to play the religion game, you don’t get to make the rules for others.  In spite of your thoughtful inspection of Christianity, you are doing nothing more than adding one more member (yourself) to the already gargantuan religious army.  You are unwittingly adding legitimacy to even the most hardcore religious views.

Making matters worse, the whole religious exercise… as intellectual as it may be… is entirely unnecessary.

side note: “intellectual” does not equate to “factual”

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By Marx, September 26, 2007 at 3:11 pm Link to this comment

Just to clarify, when Spong refers to “God” he is not speaking about a supreme being, but instead the ground of being. Dennett would identify him as an atheist, while Spong sees himself as a Christian nontheist.

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By Marx, September 26, 2007 at 3:07 pm Link to this comment

“And I live on the other side of Albert Einstein. Albert Einstein who helped us see that everything is relative, not just time and space, but our perceptions of time and space. And so I can no longer believe that there is such a thing as an infallible authority or an inherent scripture or an unchanging tradition. I am a child of the 21st century. If in order to be a Christian in the 21st century I have to bend my mind into a first century pretzel so that I can say these words with some sort of honesty and integrity, that is too high a price to pay. The tension in my life is that I refuse to give up, either my commitment to the reality of God, my devotion to Jesus in whom I see the presence of God, and my citizenship in the 21st century. To the degree that I am able to communicate with the audiences of my world, it is because I bring both of these tensions present.”

Amen brother!

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By Marx, September 26, 2007 at 3:06 pm Link to this comment

“I live on the other side of the year 1724. Maybe that’s not a significant year to you, but in the western world medical science finally determined that every woman has an egg cell. Prior to that time they thought that the woman was simply the receptacle for the life of the new baby, not a contributor to the life of the new baby. And from that moment on we have had to face the fact that women are co-creators in equal dimensions of every life that has ever been born, including the life of Jesus of Nazareth. That is we now know that if Jesus has Mary for Jesus’ mother, he has fifty per cent of his genetic code from his mother, so he is fifty per cent human. And if you literalize the birth stores of Matthew and Luke, you would have to say that he is fifty per cent divine. That is not exactly what the church has tried to teach about Jesus. A half human half divine creature, but you cannot live in the modern world of genetics and not come to that conclusion if you literalize the story of Jesus’ birth. And so there’s a real sense in which the discovery of the egg cell ended the literal biological understanding of the virgin birth forever. And I have to live in this 21st century.

“I live on the other side of Charles Darwin. And Charles Darwin not only made us Christians face the fact that the literal creation story cannot be quite so literal, but he also destroyed the primary myth by which we had told the Jesus story for centuries. That myth suggested that there was a finished creation from which we human beings had fallen into sin, and therefore needed a rescuing divine presence to lift us back to what God had originally created us to be. But Charles Darwin says that there was no perfect creation because it is not yet finished. It is still unfolding. And there was no perfect human life which then corrupted itself and fell into sin, there was rather a single cell that emerged slowly over 4½ to 5 billion years, into increasingly complexity, into increasing consciousness.

“And so the story of Jesus who comes to rescue us from the fall becomes a nonsensical story. So how can we tell the Jesus story with integrity and with power, against the background of a humanity that is not fallen but is simply unfinished?

“I live on the other side of Sigmund Freud, and so I have to face the fact that my church has been exposed as keeping people in a state of perpetual dependency; playing control games, playing guilt games. Not calling people as St Paul once suggested, into the fullness of the statue of Christ Jesus that is within us, but keeping us docile and servile and dependent and childlike. Oh the Christian church has encouraged enormous immaturity among the peoples who are its primary adherence.

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By Marx, September 26, 2007 at 3:06 pm Link to this comment

Timmy - “What do you believe Marx?”

Instead of spending God knows how long writing up my view of every single Christian doctrine, doctrines which often differ from denomination to denomination, I’ll just quote Spong because I agree with what he’s saying here:

“I am a child of the 21st century. That is a very different time from the time in which my faith tradition was born - we think in very different ways. I live on the other side of Copernicus and Kepler and Galileo. I cannot possibly conceive of my planet earth as the cente of a three-tiered universe. I know rather that the sun, around which my planet earth revolves, is a middle sized star in a galaxy called the Milky Way that has over a hundred billion other suns or stars within it. And I know that my galaxy the Milky Way is only one of 125 billion galaxies in the visible universe, with distances that can only be measured in light years, beyond even our capacity to embrace. So I can no longer think of God as sitting somehow just above this earth; periodically invading this world to accomplish some miraculous thing, keeping record books on the likes of you and me, sending guilt, reward, sickness, weather patterns to punish. That’s simply not a god that is a conceivable concept for me.

“I also cannot imagine trying to suggest that there was once a literal star that was hung in the sky to announce the birth of a man named Jesus. Nor can I imagine that that star could be dragged across the sky, the roof of the earth or the floor of heaven, perhaps by one of the angels that apace so slowly that wise men could actually follow it. I cannot believe that there was a time when this Jesus of Nazareth, having completed his work, decided to return to where God is, and so he simply rose off this earth to go beyond the sky. I know that if Jesus rose off this earth and went far enough, he didn’t get to heaven he got into orbit. I live in a very different kind of universe from the universe in which the bible was written, and I cannot pretend that that is not so.

“I live on the other side of Isaac Newton, who helped us to understand the laws by which our physical universe operates; who helped to remove some of the mystery of life, and who dramatically narrowed the field in which people, our ancestors in faith once though that miracles and magic occurred. I do not live in a world where people can walk on water, or still a storm, or take five loaves of bread and feed 5000 men plus women and children. If that is a requirement of my commitment to Jesus, I find it difficult to stretch my mind outside the capacities of my world view.

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By Marx, September 26, 2007 at 2:48 pm Link to this comment

Timmy - I observe the Christians who surround me and tell you what they tell me that they believe.
Josh - The majority of Christians that I’ve met, as well as the majority of churches that I attend do indeed state that they believe vehemently that Jesus came back to life, that Mary was a virgin, etc

Do these Christians have any idea where the Bible came from or how it was written and compiled? Do they even know in what time frame the different books were written? If you mentioned the council of Hippo to them, would they know what you were talking about? Do they have any knowledge of how Christian doctrines and dogmas developed? What about the Christological dogmas? Have they ever heard of Chalcedon? Have they heard of docetism or monophysitism? If you’re answering “no, no, no” then these Christians are ignorant of the history and teachings of their own alleged faith. Thus, they are the last people you should be going to if you want to gain any sort of serious knowledge about Christianity. I recall a Protestant relative of mine asking me once if Catholics believe in original sin, despite the fact that it was St. Augustine, a Catholic, who came up with the term in the first place. Perhaps you should ask some of those knowledgeable and learned Christians you correspond with and “observe” where that term came from and see if they even know something as simple as that.

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By Marx, September 26, 2007 at 2:46 pm Link to this comment

Josh - “The type of ‘religion’ you’re discussing requires a massive amount of education.”

Not in the least. I was reading the Bible critically while paying attention to its historical, cultural, and literally contexts when I was still in high school. All one needs is a good study Bible (I mentioned several in an earlier post). These Bibles are right at the local Barnes and Nobles. They’re not hard to find, and no Christian has an excuse to be ignorant. As I pointed out, they’re even serious Bibles available for kids nowadays. If a person wants to go beyond that, they’re a lot of works of popular theology by Borg, Spong, etc. that are affordable and easy to read.

Josh - “Rather than study what some moderate in an ivory tower may say religion is, I think it is more pragmatic, as well as accurate to look at the majority of members.”

For one thing, most of these moderates are priests and ministers with parishes and churches. Many, like Spong, are or have been bishops. All of them are participating on level or another at a church. They’re not locked away in a university somewhere. Furthermore, I was a Catholic when I developed most of these views and I did so with the help of, not in spite of, my priest. If there exists a majority of Christians in the US who are unaware of the developments in Biblical scholarship and theology, that is the fault of each of them as individuals, not the fault of the entirety of the Christian religion.

Timmy - “First of all if you were going for a laugh by defending christianity under that screen name you have succeeded.”

I’m not so much defending Christianity, or religion, as I am pointing out that you are ignorant of the diversity of belief within the Christian faith, and that it makes little sense to make generalizations about a group of 2 billion people. Many Christians in Asia, for example, find it ludicrous to state that Christ is the only savior or the only path to God, even though many Christians here consider this to be the very essence of Christian faith. Does that mean that the Asian Christians are less Christian than the American ones?

As for the name Marx, it’s a political thing. Incidentally, “Heart of a Heartless World,” a book that I recommended, was written by a Marxist. It’s a brilliant book by an atheist who actually knows what he’s talking about. Other atheists could learn a lot from it (hint, hint).

Timmy - “You claim to not be a Christian, but you claim to know better than I what Christians believe.”

Christianity is part of my cultural heritage so I still participate in it. Dennett also goes to church from time to time. Besides that I’m a Unitarian Universalist. Insofar as what Christians believe is concerned, their beliefs are just as diverse as any other group’s. That’s the point of what I’m saying.

Timmy - “You are claiming to know what Christians believe and most would completely disagree with you.”

Some Christians believe this, others believe that. Some would agree with me, many would not. That’s my point, that there are a variety of opinions within the Christian faith.

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By BFskinnerPunk, September 26, 2007 at 12:29 pm Link to this comment

Beside the actual content of the debate, I find myself somehow fascinated and distracted by the words used by people of the “truthdig” ilk.

Using “racist” (even though it makes no sense with reference to Harris) is the nuclear bomb of left wing accusations.  Even if they have to stretch, they find a way to stick it in the conversation… a kind of blow to the kidneys when the fight is lost.

For those of you who aren’t Americans, you must understand that we have something of a fetish about race.  If you ever want to score immediate points, and make a cheap grab for higher ground, accuse your opponent of racism.  As freaky as it sounds, it is VERY effective…you’ll even get ooohs and aaaahs and rounds of applause.

In the hellish circumstances of an unreformed religion, the dogmatic liberal has a prime opportunity to drop jaws with his open minded and sympathetic compassion.  It’s a way of impressing us ... sort of like flexing one’s liberal muscles on a beach full of those who compete for having the most open mind.

That sounded a bit awkward, but it’ll do.

side note: Timmy… you are a VERY funny dude!  Good work.  Have you tried out for Last Comic Standing? (or is that insulting to you?)

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By Timmy, September 26, 2007 at 11:37 am Link to this comment

Marx,

Start with this one.
You claim to not be a christian, but you claim to know better than I what christians believe.
So tell me a couple of things that christians believe, that you do not believe.
There must be some differences in belief between you, othrwise you would be a christian. So what do they believe that you don’t?

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By Timmy, September 26, 2007 at 11:30 am Link to this comment

Marx,

First of all if you were going for a laugh by defending christianity under that screen name you have succeeded. I am having a good chuckle.

What do you believe Marx?
Do you believe that God created the universe?
Do you believe that the Christians are right?
Do you believe that the Muslims are right?
Do you believe that the Jews are right?
Do you believe that the Hindus are right?
Are the Buddhists right?

If any one of those theologies is right, the rest are wrong.
Most likely, and most obviously, all of them are wrong.

I’ll have to deal with the rest of your post later but I just want you to know that you are doing exactly what you are accusing me of. You are claiming to know what Christians believe and most would completely disagree with you.

I just went on to Anne Coulters web-site where millions and millions of christians blog every day. I went on to one of the discussion boards and asked:Is God literally the creator of the universe? Is Jesus literally the son of God? I was chastised for asking a stupid question and given a resounding “of course!”

I started out as a christian Marx. I have lived among christians my whole life and for the last two years I have been blogging intensely with christians. Most disagree with you. Most that I have encountered do believe that Adam and Eve were literally the first two people created by god.

I don’t tell Christians what they believe.
I observe the Christians who surround me and tell you what they tell me that they believe.

But it would really help in this discussion if we are going to have an honest dialogue, if you would enlighten us to what you believe.

What do you believe Marx?

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By Josh, September 26, 2007 at 11:21 am Link to this comment

Marx,
While impressive, your statements seem to bolster Sam Harris’s argument.  The type of ‘religion’ you’re discussing requires a massive amount of education.  Those that you are quoting would be considered ‘moderates’.  Sam says he has no beef with the behavior of moderates in regard to religion except in that they apologize and cover for their fundamentalist brethren. 

Rather than study what some moderate in an ivory tower may say religion is, I think it is more pragmatic, as well as accurate to look at the majority of members.  The majority of Christians that I’ve met, as well as the majority of churches that I attend do indeed state that they believe vehemently that Jesus came back to life, that Mary was a virgin, etc.

I think those points aren’t as important to debate for obvious reasons, but it sheds light on the ‘moderates’ role in defending the fundamentalist wackos—this thread is a good example of people touting moderate views in defense not of their actions, but of those that are killing people. 

Instead of persecuting those outside your religion who are actively stating that they don’t think this behavior is acceptable, it would behoove a religion to persecute those claiming to be within the religion that are not practicing it.  Until this happens, one must assume that the silence is a sign of acceptance that those extremists are indeed part of your religion.

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By Marx, September 26, 2007 at 11:14 am Link to this comment

“The definition of religion used by Religious Humanists is a functional one. Religion is that which serves the personal and social needs of a group of people sharing the same philosophical world view.

“To serve personal needs, Religious Humanism offers a basis for moral values, an inspiring set of ideals, methods for dealing with life’s harsher realities, a rationale for living life joyously, and an overall sense of purpose.

“To serve social needs, Humanist religious communities (such as Ethical Culture societies and many Unitarian-Universalist churches) offer a sense of belonging, an institutional setting for the moral education of children, special holidays shared with like-minded people, a unique ceremonial life, the performance of ideologically consistent rites of passage (weddings, child welcomings, coming-of-age celebrations, funerals, and so forth), an opportunity for affirmation of one’s philosophy of life, and a historical context for one’s ideas.”

He further writes:

“The fact that Humanism can at once be both religious and secular presents a paradox of course, but not the only such paradox. Another is that both Religious and Secular Humanism place reason above faith, usually to the point of eschewing faith altogether. The dichotomy between reason and faith is often given emphasis in Humanism, with Humanists taking their stand on the side of reason. Because of this, Religious Humanism should not be seen as an alternative faith, but rather as an alternative way of being religious.”

Also,

“Religious Humanism is usually without a god, without a belief in the supernatural, without a belief in an afterlife, and without a belief in a “higher” source of moral values. Some adherents would even go so far as to suggest that it is a religion without ‘belief’ of any kind—knowledge based on evidence being considered preferable. Furthermore, the common notion of ‘religious knowledge’ as know- ledge gathered through nonscientific means is not generally accepted in Religious Humanist epistemology.

“Because both Religious and Secular Humanism are identified so closely with cultural humanism, they readily embrace modern science, democratic principles, human rights, and free inquiry. Humanism’s rejection of the notions of sin and guilt, especially in relation to sexual ethics, puts it in harmony with contemporary sexology and sex education as well as aspects of humanistic psychology.”

And,

“Religious Humanists, in embracing modern science, embrace evolution in the bargain. But individuals within mainline Protestantism, Catholicism, and Judaism also embrace modern science—and hence evolution. Evolution happens to be the state of the art in science today and is appropriately taught in science courses. That evolution has come to be identified with Religious Humanism but not with mainline Christianity or Judaism is a curious quirk of politics in North America. But this is a typical feature of the whole controversy over humanism in the schools.”

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By Marx, September 26, 2007 at 11:13 am Link to this comment

Timmy, in reply to your most recent post, let me state that I absolutely, unequivocally, DO NOT believe in tribalism. If you look up “Burke Lecture John Shelby Spong” on Google you’ll find some thoughts on religious tribalism which you might find quite interesting.

You wrote: “Nothing but trouble arises when large groups of people pretend to know who god is, and what god wants. Clearly no one does.”

Let me provide you with another quote:

“What, then, can we honestly say about certainty and faith? The hard step we must take is to acknowledge that subjective certainty regarding a particular tradition or any given belief is less a sign of its veracity than it is of the socialization procedures by which we were indoctrinated with that particular understanding and of the emotional needs and conditioning that undergird that certainty. To progress to broader understanding, we must rupture established securities, realizing that our own religious ideas are not necessarily superior to others, and admitting that others reach toward the good and the true as we do. This means characterizing ourselves and our own religious tradition as seekers among other seekers, rather than as truth-possessors in the midst of ignorant, arrogant, erroneous, or poor-faithed others.”

That’s a quote from Mary Jo Meadow, professor emerita of psychology and religious studies at Minnesota State University, Makato. She is a Catholic and a nun of the Sisters for Christian Community who is also vowed to the Theravadan Buddhist nun’s precepts. I agree with her statement entirely.

You wrote: “I suspect that you and I are the same kind of reluctant atheist.”

I tend to define myself as a religious humanist. Frederick Edwords explains:

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By Marx, September 26, 2007 at 10:48 am Link to this comment

The point is that it makes no sense to say that “Christians believe this” or that “Christians believes that.” You need to distinguish between fundamentalists and moderates and realize that there is much diversity within the Christian faith. As I mentioned earlier, it is commonly believed among Christians, for instance, that God was revealed to us through Jesus. However, there are countless interpretations as to what exactly that means.

“You say atheists don’t understand christians? Christians don’t understand christians”

I’m not saying atheists don’t understand Christians. I would not criticize you for making generalizations and then turn right back around and do the same. No, there are a great many atheists, some who I know personally, others who I have heard or read, who understand Christianity just fine. I already mentioned Dennett. Scott Mann is another atheist who has written an excellent book, “Heart of a Heartless World: Religion as Ideology.” I’m not saying they understand Christianity and religion because I agree with all of their opinions (I don’t), I’m saying that within the texts which they have written and the speeches and interviews which they have given they have demonstrated a real, solid, comprehensive knowledge of the Christian faith.

It makes sense to actually pursue some sort of authentic understanding of the subject of one’s inquiry and analysis, don’t you think? I’m reminded of all of the creationists I’ve argued with who have never even read a single book on biology yet pretend to speak as if they are some sort of an authority on the subject.

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By Marx, September 26, 2007 at 10:47 am Link to this comment

“They believe that Jesus literally, not figuratively, rose from the dead and ascended to heaven.”

John Dominic Crossan has studied at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome and the Ecole Biblique in Jordanian East Jerusalem. He has written nearly thirty books on Biblical scholarship.

He writes:

“The Easter story is not about a single day, but reflects the struggle of Jesus’ followers over a period of months and years to make sense of both his death and their continuing experience of empowerment by him. Second, stories of the resurrected Jesus appearing to various people are not really ‘visions’ at all, but are literary fiction prompted by struggles over leadership in the early Church. Third, resurrection is one-but only one-of the metaphors used to express the sense of Jesus’ continuing presence with the followers and friends.”

There is much debate among Biblical scholars and theologians, but even many of the less liberal ones would say (and have said/written) something similar on this subject. You’d be hard pressed to find one who support the idea that Jesus’ body was simply resuscitated after three days.

To quote R. Gregor Smith: “We may freely say that the bones of Jesus lie somewhere in Palestine. Christian faith is not destroyed by this admission. On the contrary, only now, when this has been said, are we in a position to ask about the meaning of the resurrection as an integral part of the message concerning Jesus. The reality of Jesus with which we have to do in faith at this point is not an irrational addendum to his whole life. We are not asked to believe in the empty tomb, or in the resurrection: but in the living Lord. So far as the historically ascertainable ‘acts’ are concerned we have the faith of the disciples nothing more.”

I mentioned Bishop John Shelby Spong in my second post (this being my fourth post). Here’s what he says about the ascension:

“The ascension story, as Luke tells it in the Book of Acts, assumes a flat earth covered by a domed ceiling beyond which heaven exists and God dwells. Jesus rises in order to enter the keyhole in the sky to be enthroned at the right hand of God. But in a space age, rising from this earth into the sky does not result in achieving heaven. It might only result in achieving orbit. The image of Jesus in eternal orbit with white tunic flying in the breeze does nothing for my spiritual understand and trivializes the deeper meaning of the biblical story.”

Again, most Biblical scholars and theologians would agree. None of this is to suggest that there isn’t lots of intense, even angry debate among Christians in scholarly circles. However, it is taken for granted that something like the ascension is metaphorical, not literal.

“They believe that he will literally return to earth. They believe that heaven is a real place where their literal spirit will literally go.”

This post is just getting longer and longer, and I haven’t eaten breakfast yet. So I will simply say this: No, they don’t.

“They believe that Jesus literally performed miracles and that Mary was literally a virgin.”

Most Biblical scholars (including Geza Vermes, a Jew) do indeed believe that Jesus performed at least some miracles. They believed he may have been participated in some healings. However, even someone like Walter Kasper, a Cardinal who works in the Vatican, reject the nature miracles like walking on water, etc. There are also a minority who understand all of the miracles to be metaphorical.

The theologically literate don’t tend to find Mary’s virginity probable, or for that matter, important. Again, this is true of even the more middle of the road folks like theologian Fr. Richard McBrien or or Biblical scholar John P. Meier.

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By Marx, September 26, 2007 at 10:46 am Link to this comment

Timmy,

  There is a serious gap between Christians who are familiar with the advances in Biblical scholarship and theology and those who aren’t. It would be helpful to take that into account before making generalizations about the Christian faith.

You wrote: “I am pretty sure that all Christians believe that Jesus was literally the son of God, (some believe he was also God at the same time).”

First off, no Christian I’ve met, even the fundamentalist ones, LITERALLY understands Jesus to be God’s son. That is, they do not believe that God is a male sexual being who copulated with a female sexual being to beget offspring. Any Christian with any sense at all will realize that God does not literally beget, generate, or father, and these are metaphors. That said, many Christians believe Jesus to be divine, one in being with the Father, sharing the same divine essence with him, etc. The gap I wrote about comes into play here. Theologians and Biblical scholars recognize the historical relativity of Christian dogma. They recognize that there are various Christologies within the New Testament and that most traditional high Christology is based on Greek interpretations of the Gospel of John, despite it being the last of the canonical gospels to be written (it was authored at around 100 C.E.). The common approach among theologians and Biblical scholars is to focus on a low Christology, that starts with the historical Jesus. While many theologically literate Christians do refer to Jesus as divine, they usually mean that God is present especially, particularly, and uniquely to them in Jesus, a human person. They do not mean simply that “Jesus is God.” Even in traditional Christian orthodoxy that statement would be dangerously near to several heresies, as Christian dogma holds that Jesus is one with divine being with two nature, a human and a divine one, not simply that “Jesus is God.” 

You also wrote: “They further believe literally that this God created the universe”


Um, you are aware that the big bang theory was created as the theory of the primeval atom by a priest, Fr. Georges Lemaître, right? You also aware that the lead witness against intelligent design at the Dover Trial was Dr. Kenneth R. Miller, a devout Catholic and the Professor of Biology at Brown University, right? Surely you’re aware that there are quite a few Christians working in the scientific field, people like physicist Dr. Stephen Barr, who has said that “It is embarrassing that this ‘Creationism’ versus Evolution battle is still going on” and Jesuit Fr. George Coyne who stated that “Intelligent design isn’t science, even if it pretends to be?” Of course, most of all, I’m sure you’re perfectly aware that is Katherine Schori, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, is a marine biologist?

Or, maybe you aren’t. Hmm.

“and promised a parcel of land to the Jews while handing them the rule-book by which all humans should live.”

LOL! No Biblical scholar or theologian or any Christian who reads the Bible critically does not recognize the mythology and tribalistic nonsense that is prevalent within the Old Testament. Again, the gap comes into play here.

“Most believe that God literally killed all of humanity in a flood.”

Why don’t you take a look at the study notes of the The New Oxford Annotated NRSV Bible or The HarperCollins Study Bible? Even the study notes provided by scholars in confessional bibles such as the Catholic New American Bible or New Jerusalem Bible don’t take these myths literally. You can even look at Breakthrough! a Good News Translation for middle school age children to support my point.

“They believe that Moses literally received the 10 commandments from God.”

Nope, theologically literate Christians do not believe this, nor does any Biblical scholar or theologian.

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By Cat, September 26, 2007 at 10:34 am Link to this comment

I want to thank Marx for adding to the discussion, and I agree with a lot of what you have written.  I haven’t read everything you wrote yet, but I will as soon as I find time.

Timmy said: “Religion is a bunch of small groups of men competing for the ascendency of moral authority over the entire human race.”  This is a very simple and childish way of looking at religion.  The world is more complicated than that.  As Marx has mentioned, Hedges went to Harvard Divinity School (even got accepted to Union Theological, probably the best divinity school in the country) and is the son of a Presbyterian minister.  He knows a little more about religion than you do.  If you’re an atheist, why do you get to define what religion is?  I strongly disagree with the definition you gave.  It’s ignorant and irrational.

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By Timmy, September 26, 2007 at 10:14 am Link to this comment

Hey SkinnerPunk,

How’s it going? Here’s my website.
http://www.timrykert.com
Good to hear from you.

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By Timmy, September 26, 2007 at 10:11 am Link to this comment

Marx,

Read back further and you will see that Cat and I were having a discussion about his Islamic friend who lives in the US. It was Cat who suddenly switched mid conversation to talking about the bible in General because he knew he could not argue with my assessment of the Koran.

That being said I stand by my assessment of all religion.
Do you have an answer for my assertion that all christians believe in those parts of the bible that I listed literally?
And if you agree that they do, I don’t know how you could disagree because they do or they go to hell, then how do you not see how supporting this ideology is the most divisive world view that anyone could have. Moderate religion supports the fact that the bible is literally inspired by the deity who created the universe and who has rules for all humanity to follow or face the ultimate punishment. And these rules are to be delivered through the religion of one particular tribe.

Of course this ideology creates war and terror. How could it not?

If we are to all get along, we need to drop ancient tribal claims to ultimate knowledge and accept that no one currently knows the nature of our existence. If you want to believe that your inner moral voice is your creator talking to you then go ahead. Just be personally, and open mindedly spiritual about that. The minute you try to ascribe that feeling to one particular religion you are supporting the most divisive idea that humans have ever invented. Religion is a bunch of small groups of men competing for the ascendency of moral authority over the entire human race. Those practicing it are the dupes of these moral authoritarians.

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By Marx, September 26, 2007 at 8:28 am Link to this comment

Timmy,

Cat wrote “And then they respond by saying that the Bible clearly states that people must take every word seriously.”

In reply, you wrote: “It does.”

After quoting the Bible entirely out of context (something else which you picked up from fundamentalists?) you wrote:

“The book says that these are all the words of god.
A supposedly timeless god.
And the religion is completely based on the book.
If you disregard huge chunks of this book because it was obviously written by power mongering lunatics, why would you want to believe that what remains is proof of god?”

Cat also wrote “I would like to ask why someone cannot be a religious person and believe in a loose interpretation of the Bible”

Your reply stated “Because that sentence is an oxymoron. The book states very clearly that it is not to be taken loosely, but rather very seriously.”

You further wrote “I will call anyone who believes in a religion based on that book that they are the most brainwashed of dupes, and that for obvious reasons, religion is the most dangerous and divisive ideology in history.”

The context of these remarks would indicate that you were referring primarily to the Bible. That said, if I was in error, I apologize.

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By BFskinnerPunk, September 26, 2007 at 3:40 am Link to this comment

Kudos Timmy! It has been a month or two since I have posted here, but you and Linda seem to have things in hand.
It would be fun to actually see who you folks are… does anyone have a BLOG or photo-site where we can see you?
This is me sitting next to my friend, the potato.
http://picasaweb.google.com/BehaviorKelton/KeltonAndFriends/photo?authkey=zTqG-19bOmY#5111733070058402642

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By Timmy, September 26, 2007 at 1:23 am Link to this comment

Marx,

You need to read more carefully before you comment.
All of the comments you refer to were about the Koran and they were correct.

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By Timmy, September 26, 2007 at 1:13 am Link to this comment

Hello Marx,

Welcome to the conversation.
First of all, in that quote I was talking about the Koran, which is believed by muslims to be the literal word of god. And that religion does not allow for any reinterpretation of the Koran. Any softening or westernization of that religion is blaspheme to the extreme.


But are you suggesting that christians take none of the bible literally?
by all means correct me if I am wrong but I am pretty sure that all christians believe that Jesus was literally the son of God, (some believe he was also God at the same time).
They further believe literally that this God created the universe and promised a parcel of land to the Jews while handing them the rule-book by which all humans should live.
Most believe that God literally killed all of humanity in a flood.
They believe that Moses literally received the 10 commandments from God.
They believe that Jesus literally, not figuratively, rose from the dead and ascended to heaven.
They believe that he will literally return to earth.
They believe that heaven is a real place where their literal spirit will literally go.
They believe that Jesus literally performed miracles and that Mary was literally a virgin.

Who decides what parts of the bible are to be taken literally and which are to be taken as allegorical? The Romans? The Council of Nicea? The Emperor? The Pope? The Lutherins? The Methodists?, The Mormons? The Fundamentalists? The Anglicans? The orthodox?

Where is the objective morality in that heap of confusion? And that’s just a few of the over 3000 christian sects. All believing that different parts are literal and allegorical. You say atheists don’t understand christians? Christians don’t understand christians.

Nothing but trouble arises when large groups of people pretend to know who god is, and what god wants. Clearly no one does.

Wether you believe the entire bible is literal, or you just believe that the parts I mentioned above are literal, which all christians do, you are supporting the very dangerous theory that one very large group of people know who the one true god is, and all the other religions are wrong and blasphemous.

I suspect that you and I are the same kind of reluctant atheist.
I call myself an atheist because I believe with conviction and complete confidence that all of these versions of god created by man are precisely that. But I am also an atheist to the beliefs of some atheists that there is no reason for our existence, our imagination, our drive to wonder why? Our love, our joy. Something is up with all of that, and I personally love to think spiritually about it all, which is why I am all the more offended by people who claim to know what it all means, and they have a huge helping of dogma to go with it.

Spirituality good.
Religion bad

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By Marx, September 26, 2007 at 1:11 am Link to this comment

In further reply to Timmy’s comment, “And the religion is completely based on the book,” I must add that it is commonly accepted among scholars that the earliest parts of the Bible weren’t written earlier than 10 B.C.E. That means the Abrahamic faith existed for something like 800 years before the story of Abraham was even written. Timmy also quoted the Torah several times, which was written around 300 years after Moses. Even when it comes to the gospels, there is a 35 to 70 year gap between their subject (Jesus) and the texts (Mark likely being the earliest gosppel, and John being the latest). Again, the books of the Bible were created to give expression to a religious faith that already existed independently of any religious texts. Historically then, faith has not been based on the Bible. Even after scripture was canonized, the majority of believers remained illiterate, and got their faith from the celebration of Sunday Eucharist and other ceremonies, not from the Biblical text.

Today, smart Christians have learned that taking the Biblie seriously does not necessarily mean taking the Bible literally. Instead, it means taking up the task of demythologizing the Bible. It means applying historical criticism to the texts and trying to find the deeper meaning behind all the stories.

I just have to emphasize that it is spectacularly presumptuous that anyone would suggest that every serious Biblical scholar and theologian for nearly the last 200 years wasn’t really a Christian, and that fundamentalism is really the only authentic form of the Christian faith. I can’t help but think of someone like John Shelby Spong. He was baptized Episcopalian as an infant, confirmed as an adolescent, seminary educated, ordained a priest at 24, made a bishop at 44 and served as one for 24 years. Yet, he isn’t a fundamentalist and dismisses Biblical inerrancy as offensive nonsense. Thus, he has been kidding himself for all of the many decades he has spent serving the church, as he is not really a Christian at all. I apologize, but that reasoning doesn’t strike me as making any sense at all. Most Biblical scholars have spent their whole lives working and studying in the church. They have read the Bible hundreds of times, verse by verse, in Hebrew and Greek. They are well acquainted with Christian teachings. Yet you, an atheist speaking from the outside, are going to tell them that they are not Christians?

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By Marx, September 26, 2007 at 12:05 am Link to this comment

I’m late to the conversation, and this is my first post on this site, but I saw this and couldn’t help but comment.

Timmy wrote:

“The book states very clearly that it is not to be taken loosely, but rather very seriously. It is simply idiotic and disingenuous to belong to a religion who’s main doctrine is the complete submission to the will of god, and who’s book sates very clearly that it is the infallible word of god, and to decide to disregard many of the main doctrines because they are not socially acceptable in the western democracy you have decided to live in.”

The Bible makes no such claim. How could it, when it was not written as a single volume but instead consists of books that were generally written independent of each other over centuries? There was not even an official Christian canon until the councils of Hippo and Carthrage in the 300s. Nowhere in the Bible does it claim to be the infallible word of God, a teaching that came much later. What I always find surprising about atheists today is how many of them take fundamentalist claims about Christianity to be normative of the faith. Thus, if fundamentalists say that you must either believe the Bible 100% or not at all, they must be right! This, despite the fact that if you told an early Christian that the Bible is the infallible word of God, s/he’d have no idea what you were talking about. Same goes for an ancient Jew.

You also wrote: “And the religion is completely based on the book.”

Are you kidding? The Bible is an OUTGROWTH of ancient Jewish and early Christian faith. The Bible comes from and gives testimony to ancient Judaism and early Christianity, not the other way around. Are you really suggesting that before the earliest book of the Tanakh (Old Testament) was written there was no Jewish religion, or that the New Testament existed before Christianity?

Insofar as Isaiah 40:8 is concerned, it does not refer to the Bible, which did not even then exist as we know it, but to divine revelation. Isaiah, bring a prophet, understood himself as transmitting divine revelation to the people of Israel. I’d be very interested to see if you can find a single serious Biblical scholar or theologian, Christian, Jewish, even secular, who interprets Is. 40:8 in the same way as you do.

The thinking Christian will read the Bible critically, aware of the historical, cultural, and literary contexts in which it was written. There is nothing unChristian about this, nor is the term “thinking Christian” contradictory, as I’m sure you’re thinking. I resent the idea that Christians must either given in to the idiocy of fundamentalism or promptly declare themselves to be apostates. Being that Hedges in the son of a minister and spent years studying at Harvard Divinity School, I think it’s safe to say that he is in a better position to determine what does and does not constitute authentic or acceptable Christian faith than you.

Daniel Dennett was mentioned earlier. I’m a fan of Dennett’s work on religion (I’m also a fan of his other work) precisely because he is one of the few atheist authors that I have yet to read or hear who possesses any sort of comprehensive understanding of the Christian religion in all it’s diversity. I have no doubt at all that he would disagree with the comments of yours which I’ve quoted. Unlike the other “new atheists,” he does not take one segment of the Christian religion, i.e. fundamentalism, and define it as being the entirety of the faith. His approach to Christianity is an educated one. It is not simplistic. Despite the fact that I disagree with his definition of atheism, being that I fall under it and do not regard myself as an atheist, I think he is brilliant. Unfortunately, the loud, angry, and arrogant types like Hitchens, etc. are the ones who sell more books.

Pity.

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By Timmy, September 23, 2007 at 12:31 pm Link to this comment

Good points Linda. Hopefully Cat will read them without the blinders on.

On another note, I have gotten into a debate with a fellow atheist blogger named GAD on a site that he set-up. We are actually debating about our different brands of atheism. Proof that atheism is not itself a belief, because we are at odds.
It’s an interesting conversation and we are looking for more input.
Join the debate and weigh-in.

http://atheistgods.blogspot.com/

Hope to see you there.

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By lindadugan, September 22, 2007 at 4:20 pm Link to this comment

Cat:

Part 4 (final comments)

You are confusing the “war on terror” with the Iraq War.  As you know, the real war on terror began weeks after 9-11 in the mountains of Afghanistan and was the correct decision on behalf of Bush.  This decision has little application to your analogy “if we don’t fight communism abroad in Asia we’ll be fighting it at home.” The war in Afghanistan was,  at the onset,  a sane and intelligent reaction to the attacks on our own soil.  A sovereign nation has the moral justification to protect and defend itself by fighting the perpetrators harming it.  Many, many liberals supported Bush in his decision. 

Bush then went AWOL and started his dirty little war in Iraq, which had nothing to do with terrorism.  Now that Al Queda has penetrated the Iraq borders the threat of terrorism is rearing its ugly head even there.  We are paying a hefty price for our lack of diligence in Afghanistan and our knee-jerk reaction in Iraq.  I hold our president responsible for most of it.

Bush attempts to incite fear by using the phrase “if we don’t fight them there (in Iraq) we will fight them here”  to justify his rationalization of the war,  but he has no evidence fighting in Iraq is quelling attacks on our own soil.  Many believe the opposite;  it is eliciting more fury and hatred against us.  When you hear conservatives acknowledge Iraq is “the worse foreign policy blunder in the history of the US” you know we are in dire straits.

I cannot speak for others, but if the worse-case-scenario were to occur and Islamic fundamentalist had access to nuclear warheads, I have little doubt they would hesitate to use them on us. If that were the case our government would be morally responsible to do something about it.  What that “something”  would be I can only fathom. 

I agree with Josh about dropping the bomb. It was an ugly thing to do, and highly controversial, but it was not terrorism.  Sam talks about ethics in his book and the importance of intent. He says, “where ethics are concerned, intentions are everything.”  This “rule of thumb” applies logically, morally and justifiably to war and aggression throughout the world. And any past, present or future abuses our government takes in implementing this rule has made and will make us as a people complicit in acts against humanity. 

The “real” war on terror cannot be analyzed in the same light as our fight against communism.  Terrorism is a tactic to incite fear, intimidation and submission.  Communism is a political/economic philosophy about the State’s relationship to its people (a lousy one I might add.)  In our relationships with Communist governments, détente has been successful.  The fear of nuclear annihilation keeps everyone in line. No sane government wants nuclear war heads fired at them.  I suspect even the despot in North Korea keeps that in the back of his mind.

Communists (fortunately) do not embrace the metaphysics of martyrdom as religious believers of Islam do. The Cuban Missile Crisis is a perfect example of this.  Do you think a Cuban Missile Crisis scenario with fundamental Islamists aiming nuclear weapons at us would end peacefully as it did over 40 years ago with Cuba?

It is self-evident the lessons we learned from Vietnam do not aptly apply to fighting terrorism as we know it today,  but there are ironic, eerie and fatal   similarities between the Vietnam and Iraq,  which have little if any relevance to terrorism in the 21st Century.  The fog of wars will never cease.

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By Josh, September 22, 2007 at 11:02 am Link to this comment

It has been a while, but I’m back…
I believe, Cat, you’ve missed Sam’s point.
Sam does not say that religion is evil.
Sam says that we must stop protecting religion.  He wants it to be brought down to the same level as all other things you mentioned would replace it (Communism, Socialism, any sort of political reform movement)...we criticize what these things stand for, whether because they’re dangerour, or illogical.  However, society won’t dare criticize religion.  We accomodate it…and will do so until we die from it, if something doesn’t change.

I don’t think that a comparison of the US’s nuclear strike with the acts of terror are at all accurate or fair.
There are several major differences:  a) we were in a war with an identified country and told them to surrender or we would annhilate them.  They refused, we followed through.
b) our leaders were extremely despondent to have to resort to such extreme measures and did so only after much deliberation and hand-wringing. 
c) our own countryman criticized (and still criticize) that strike…

Now—let’s look at the religious terrorism:
a) they are only at war with those who aren’t of their religion (so that means there is no identified enemy)—they state, ‘convert to our religion or we will annihilate you)
b) they are joyful to kill many innocents—in fact, believe they are going to be rewarded for an eternity for doing so
c)not a single religious leader has said anything to criticize it.  They only heap honors and titles on those that propogate it.

Do you see a difference?

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By lindadugan, September 22, 2007 at 10:08 am Link to this comment

Part three
Cat:

To continue…
You state, “All these arguments portray Islamists as dangerous people, not innately, but as a result of their faith. Muslims can accomplish good…”

Harris is not arguing “all” Islamists or Muslims are “bad.”  Even I would suggest that is over the edge. What I read him to say is violent fundamentalists Islams are not being challenged or criticized for the egregious acts by their fellow moderate Islams and this lack of accountability from the people who ought to be pointing their moderate fingers at their fundamentalist brethren and publicly condoning such acts (in the very least)  does not occur.  Give me one example of a Islamic or Muslim leader who has criticized his religious brothers for their religious beliefs that have driven them to immoral acts of behavior.

In addition, there is the question of why moderates are themselves perpetrating some rather atrocious acts against their own people: read,  the mutilation of female sex organs and forced marriages of young girls which I view as a form of rape,  rings out clearly in my mind.

Sam Harris has some important things to say about moderate Islamists and their silence and it is worthy to take note of it. 
Since you have read The End of Faith, I will quote briefly from it to make my point.

Harris says from page 116:

“The justice of killing apostates (of Islam) is a matter of mainstream acceptance if not practice.  This appears to be why there did not appear a single reasonable Muslim living on earth when the Ayatollah Khomeini put a bounty on the head of Salman Rushdie.”

You remember Mr. Rushdie? He wrote a book entitled “Satanic Verses” and was issued a fatwa for his “blasphemy” against Islam.  He had to go into hiding for many years to escape death.

Sam explores this further by quoting a “moderate”, Cat Stevens (a “Westerner” who changed his name to Yosuf Islam) and converted to Islam.  Mr. Stevens made some not-so-moderate comments about the fatwa placed on Mr. Rushdie.  If you read his words (on page 262 in the footnotes) you must ask yourself, as a reasonable person, are these the words of a moderate religious person? What exactly is a moderate Islamist?  Are they believers who are too indoctrinated, intimidated, scared, worried (can I add brainwashed?)  to speak out against the violent acts of their fundamentalist brethren or are they simply believers in the literal truth of Islamic dogma but are not pushed to the brink of   performing such acts of atrocity?  I don’t know. But what, I do ponder, is this:  Is there a panacea for their denial? 

end of part 3—to be continued…....

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By lindadugan, September 22, 2007 at 8:13 am Link to this comment

part two

Cat:
I thank you for starting a real dialogue here with me/us in your last post.  It was well thought out and meaningful.  It gives me more focus and direction.  There has been much written the last few days on this thread and I am still working on your previous comments that I do not want to ignore. ( Specifically your statements that not all Muslums are bad and the “pro-Vietnam” ideas you setforth.)  I’ll get back to you soon with a response about those because they are important topics in this discussion.

Then I plan to address your latest post which Timmy has already taken the lead in and made some good points….

One comment to leave with you—in the hopes that you and Timmy can find some common ground:  When you say “Timmy scares me” because of his views and you are offended he suggest you leave the country, my reaction to it is, so what?  Granted,  the statement is a bit edgy, but let Timmy speak his mind as we all have a right to do.  Turning him into a fear-factor is hyperbole and ignores more ominous and dangerous factors in the world. Timmy is not promoting his own suicide or killing people because he believes in a utopian afterlife,  so let’s give him space to say what he needs to say.

No, it is not the Timmys of the world that scare me. It is the plethora of liberals and moderates who ignore the dangers of fundamental religions and acquiesce to their nonesensical, dangerous and errant beliefs.  The Left claims to hold in high esteem the values of liberalism and democracy, yet they ignore how religious beliefs—-those we call “literal”—-completely annihilate such values.

We are on a slippery slope into a dark abyss if we (Liberals/Moderates) do not begin to challenge and question these beliefs with reason and intellect.

Ominous:  It is nice to hear your thoughts.  Thanks for your ideas about “rhetoric.”

..to be continued…  end of part 2

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By Timmy, September 22, 2007 at 4:56 am Link to this comment

Part 2:

Cat’s words in quotes:

“Many argue that the Bible must be taken literally.  But why do they make the rules?”

If you’re talking about me you have it backwards. I argue, as does Harris, that the bible should not be taken literally. It is a work of fiction.

” Why can’t the Bible be taken figuratively?”

It can, and should be. But all of it should be taken figuratively, not just part of it. Why would anyone take some of it literally, and some of it figuratively. This makes absolutely no sense.

“And then they respond by saying that the Bible clearly states that people must take every word seriously.”

It does.

“This still doesn’t mean one can’t reinterpret the Bible.  People can do whatever they want.”

Of course they can. Jesus reinterpreted the bible. Mohammed reinterpreted the bible. Joseph Smith reinterpreted the bible. But all of those people started new religions to go with their new interpretation.  Your friend for example can reinterpret the Koran and try to find some rosy meaning behind god’s command that women be subservient to their fathers and husbands. That they keep silent, and not be educated. But then your friend has started a new religion. Why would he still call himself a muslim? Muslims believe that a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man. That’s what muslims believe. Muslim Imams and clerics have no rosy interpretation for those verses. They take those ones literally. And they do make thew rules for muslims. Your friend can believe what ever he wants to believe. It’s not me saying that your friend is no longer a muslim once he chooses to reinterpret god’s word differently than the Imams, it is muslims. I don’t understand why you don’t get that.

“And if religion perverts people’s morals and conscience, than how is it that Martin Luther King became one of the greatest, if not, the greatest moralists of the 20th century?  How is it that the Salvation Army has helped improve poverty worldwide?”

First of all, I did you a favor by leaving Malcolm X out of that quote.
But you are being silly here Cat. If religion corrupted every mind we wouldn’t even be having this discussion. No one has ever claimed that it did. It generally preys on the weak minded. Unfortunately, we live in a world with a great number of weak minded people who are susceptible to the kind of brainwashing that people like Dr. King are not. That stuff you listed is Just good people, doing good things.

“The Bible and the Koran are books that help people understand their natures.”

Cigarettes help people relax.
I think people should stop criticizing cigarettes.

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By Timmy, September 22, 2007 at 4:54 am Link to this comment

Part 1:

Cat’s words in quotes:

“I would say that Sam Harris’ main point is this: Religion is a childish invention which has corrupted the minds of millions of people, and had therefore caused them to commit acts of violence in the name of their God.”

You haven’t really missed the mark here, but yourt wording doesn’t explain it very well at all.
I think that Sam’s main point is:
1. religion is untrue.
2. It is dangerous for people to believe that it is true, because of the nature of the ideology. It is claiming to know what the all powerful creator of the universe wants from us. All of us, not just those in the religion. Those outside the religion are breaking the rules with dire consequences to come for them. Those outside the religion are going to hell. Anyone who breaks gods comands will be punished severely. There isn’t anyone in the religion who doesn’t believe that. God punishes the unbelievers. 

That’s the trouble with just one religion. Now add several other religions which also claim to know what the all powerful creator of the universe wants from us. All of us. Only their creator is different, and wants other things. Most importantly, their creator wants everyone in the world to stop believing in the words of other gods, and only listen to him. Or be severely punished.

You are absolutely right Cat. Evil is an internal human trait common to all.
Harris doesn’t deny this, neither do I. Religion is the the most efficient trigger for human evil. Not the “love thy neighbor” stuff obviously. But look at what I just described above Cat. Does that not seem like an unbelievably perfect recipe for disaster in it’s design to bring out the evil in humans? To cause war and strife over extremely important things that aren’t true.


” I agree that there are many horrible things in the Bible, but let’s remember that the Bible was essentially a struggle.  In other words, the Bible is a work of literature that portrays what men thousands of years ago thought about the nature of their lives.  It shows their effort to try and make sense of a chaotic world.”

Correct Cat.
It is not the word of god, but exactly what you just said.

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By Cat, September 21, 2007 at 7:16 pm Link to this comment

Lindadugan :

I will try to argue my point as objectively as I can, as to make myself clearer.  I don’t want to “keep throwing a few rotten eggs here and there”.  My goal is to illustrate why Harris’ fundamental argument is erroneous. 

I would say that Sam Harris’ main point is this: Religion is a childish invention which has corrupted the minds of millions of people, and had therefore caused them to commit acts of violence in the name of their God.

Those who observe wars briefly will most likely find that religion has been used as a means of going to war.  They might say that the Crusades and that the Shiite-Sunni conflicts were caused by religion.  If religion did not exist, they would say, terrorists would not be suicide bombing the Israelis or Americans in the name of God.  People would be more peaceful.  These assumptions, however, externalizes evil.  Evil becomes an outside force, when really it is something that is contained in all of us.  We, as humans, have the capacity for evil.  It is human nature, not religion.  If it weren’t for religion, other kinds of institutions would take its place: Communism, Socialism, any sort of political reform movement. 

Sam also dismisses religion as a childish notion that fools people instead of actually helping them.  I agree that there are many horrible things in the Bible, but let’s remember that the Bible was essentially a struggle.  In other words, the Bible is a work of literature that portrays what men thousands of years ago thought about the nature of their lives.  It shows their effort to try and make sense of a chaotic world.  Many argue that the Bible must be taken literally.  But why do they make the rules?  Why can’t the Bible be taken figuratively?  And then they respond by saying that the Bible clearly states that people must take every word seriously.  This still doesn’t mean one can reinterpret the Bible.  People can do whatever they want.  They have the choice.  And if religion perverts people’s morals and conscience, than how is it that Martin Luther King became one of the greatest, if not, the greatest moralists of the 20th century?  How is it that the Salvation Army has helped improve poverty worldwide?  How is it that Malcolm X, a Muslim, boosted the civil rights movement enormously?  The Bible and the Koran are books that help people understand their natures.  Unfortunately, totalitarian regimes will corrupt religion, and turn it into a rallying cry, but this is not religion.  This could be because of racism, or economic disaster, or racism, or social unrest, or other forms of hatred.  But it is not religion.  And people should have enough of a conscience to understand that. 

If any of this is unclear or if you would like to expand and idea in here, mention it in your next post and I’ll be glad to elaborate.

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By Ominus, September 21, 2007 at 7:03 pm Link to this comment

I don’t mean to sound glib, but before people keep abusing the term “rhetoric” I thought I’d do everyone a favor and tell them to stop. The word is not pejorative and an invocation of it to suggest someone is employing patently false or misleading statements is just plain wrong. Sorry, but if anyone in a debate wants to be taken seriously (the rhetorical term is called “ethos”) they should be certain that they employ their terms correctly. Basic college stuff.
Below is a cut and paste job from Wikipedia, providing a pretty decent overview of the term.

Rhetoric (from Greek ῥήτωρ, rhêtôr, orator, teacher) is generally understood to be the art or technique of persuasion through the use of oral or written language; however, this definition of rhetoric has expanded greatly since rhetoric emerged as a field of study in universities. In this sense, there is a divide between classical rhetoric (with the aforementioned definition) and contemporary practices of rhetoric which include the analysis of written and visual texts.

Historically, classical rhetoric has its inception in a school of Pre-Socratic philosophers known as Sophists. It is later taught as one of the three original liberal arts or trivium (the other members are dialectic and grammar) in Western culture. In ancient and medieval times, grammar concerned itself with correct, accurate, pleasing, and effective language use through the study and criticism of literary models, dialectic concerned itself with the testing and invention of new knowledge through a process of question and answer, and rhetoric concerned itself with persuasion in public and political settings such as assemblies and courts of law. As such, rhetoric is said to flourish in open and democratic societies with rights of free speech, free assembly, and political enfranchisement for some portion of the population.

Contemporary studies of rhetoric have a more diverse range of practices and meanings than was the case in ancient times. The concept of rhetoric has thus shifted widely during its 2500-year history. Rhetoricians have recently argued that the classical understanding of rhetoric is limited because persuasion depends on communication, which in turn depends on meaning. Thus the scope of rhetoric is understood to include much more than simply public—legal and political—discourse. This emphasis on meaning and how it is constructed and conveyed draws on a large body of critical and social theory (see literary theory and Critical Theory), philosophy (see Post-structuralism and Hermeneutics), and problems in social science methodology (see Reflexivity). Every aspect of human life and thought that depends on the articulation and communication of meaning can be said to involve elements of the rhetorical.
It has also spawned its own method of inquiry known as Discourse Analysis.
End quote

And this is more than piddling over semantics or nuance. It’s important. Understanding what we say and write is important. As an atheist myself, I find, along with Sam Harris, that the dictates, diatribes, and mandates allegedly proscribed by a deity to a pious herd of acolytes slavering to do his bidding is one of the most terrifying and unnecessary realities that a modern and rational society should have to face. The threat exists in the language and how it’s interpreted. There is no one correct reading of anything, no one true claim to truth that language can assert to anyone. When Hedges said that writing “freezes” language in the debate, I almost fell out of my chair.

This whole little spiel of mine, I feel, is what Harris, Hitchens, et al are coming back to: the words themselves. It’s what Harris was talking about when alluding to the Jains: nowhere in their doctrines or beliefs is there any possible way to misinterpret the text and go out and bomb an abortion clinic or fly a plane into a building. It’s just not there.

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By lindadugan, September 21, 2007 at 5:08 pm Link to this comment

Cat:  I’ve had some time to digest your latest post. There are a few statements I agree with you on and some I oppose.

Your statement—-“Because of TV we have learned to speak incomplete phrases that spew out rhetoric and clichés”—is very accurate.

I would add to that: the hurried pace of our lifestyles and modern technologies (IPODs, cell phones, computers, etc…) that “plug us in and tune us out”  to dialogues with each other have a similar effect.  Speech and information become increasingly centered around sound bites, clichés and meaningless words.  I appreciate you have the keenness to recognize this problem.

You compare your trust to Chris Hedges with a trust many people feel about Ralph Nader.  I agree that Ralph Nader is a principled person who has integrity and I too “trust” him in that way also.

But I am completely confounded by your remarks about Sam Harris.  You state, “Harris is suspicious because he speaks in the tongue of television.  He offers short and funny responses that give him the illusion of being smart.  He’s not.” 

Wow, that is a mouthful of , well….I don’t know what to call it or even what it means…… I guess I could spend some time trying to analyze it… but why would I? My response to you is this: Are we talking about the same Sam Harris?

You seem intent on making the debate a black and white issue.  You are on Hedges’ side (and think you are correct)  and I/others are on Harris’ side and are wrong. Nothing is that simple, so I will turn the tables on you:  a person can find both have interesting ideas (it is just a matter of degree, quality and quantity of ideas that separates the “men” from the “boys”.) I have   said before Hedges has important things to say even though I don’t agree with his dismissive and cavalier views about Islamic fundamentalists.  He lacks Harris’ depth and profundity.  He is not as compelling, interesting, articulate, controversial, intelligent, factual, witty or (sometimes)  sarcastic as Harris.  But if you cannot appreciate these qualities in Mr. Harris, as I do, then so what?

I am not going to defend Sam Harris’ personality.  That is beyond the scope of my skills or interests (and I’m not trained in psychoanalysis.) So, please dear Blogger, get over this personal stuff that you feel about him.  I challenge you to judge him on the substantive value of what he is saying (not his personal attributes that you wrestle with),  and end your attempts to wipe him out by discrediting him with one clean sweep of your broom.

I do not have the time——nor inclination—to write a thesis “In Defense of Sam Harris.”  If you want to keep throwing a few rotten eggs here and there in an attempt to convince me differently about him, I will not take lightly to it.  But, if you can give me some valid and substantial evidence indicating he is   incorrect or untrue;  that he is a liar, a scoundrel, insincere,  incompetent, or he has some “devilish” motive that questions his integrity,  then I heartily encourage you to do so. Please do enlighten me!

To be continued…..

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By lindadugan, September 19, 2007 at 7:25 pm Link to this comment

Cat:

I agree that we all need to maintain civility on the blogs.  My sense about those of us who do agree with Sam Harris,  is that as a minority (generally speaking), we get a bit frustrated and weary with those who are in the majority. We are always on the defensive about this matter.    As with any group overpowered with the magnitude and numbers of the others’ viewpoint, we struggle to have our voices heard.  This particular blog (Truthdigs) has offered many of us the opportunity to speak our minds about crucial and fundamental issues facing us in the 21st Century. Most of us do not take the topic of religion lightly.  And I speak with some confidence that religous matters are not frivolous to us at least they are not to me.

Needless to say, none of this is of particular importance to the matters at hand.  I have read through your post this eve and would like to respond to it later.  And I will do so soon because I sincerely believe you misunderstand Harris.  I don’t want to keep pointing my finger at you and repeating that phrase, but a response to your comments is in order.

Here are a few things for you to consider.  You state my words are rhetoric, but I don’t understand what exactly you are referring to.  I could say the same thing about your words on this end. It’s a rather ambiguous word and is usually used to insult a person’s point of view.  Granted, some ideas are full of rhetoric so I’m not saying rhetoric doesn’t exist only that people often use it to criticise an opponant’s view when they don’t agree with it.

I try to base most of my arguments on comparisons, facts and analogies when possible.

Just some things to think about until I have time to respond back with some Sam Harris “basics”.

PS:  I appreciate the fact you have actually read Harris’ books.  So few (at least on various blogs) who bash him have not. That you have read his books (at least the first one) indicates to me you have a serious interest in what he has to say (even if you don’t agree with him.)

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By Cat, September 19, 2007 at 5:27 pm Link to this comment

Lindadugan:

I want to thank you for being a sensitive and rational blogger.  It makes me happy to see that debate can be done without aggression.

All these arguments portray the Islamists as dangerous people, not innately, but as a result of their faith.  If this is true, then how is it that there are Muslims out there that can accomplish good.  Take Malcolm X or Muhammad Ali for example.  And one cannot argue that they were good because they were not real Muslims.  They were Muslims. That’s a fact. 

I’m surprised that neither Timmy nor you see the parallels between your arguments, and the ones pro-Vietnam made during the 1960s.  You are using the same kind of rhetoric, the fact that if we don’t fight Communism in Asia, we will be fighting it at home.  Many years from now, I guarantee you that the War on Terror will be seen in the same way as the War on Communism.  I think that the biggest act of terror (I mean sudden terror, not, for example, the Holocaust) was the U.S. dropping the bomb. 

Timmy’s argument scares me because he makes it sound like if it weren’t for America, we would all be kneeling down in front of a Tzar (which doesn’t actually make any sense).  He also tells me to move to another country, an irrational argument that is ignorant and disgusting.  I want to make this place better.  He shouldn’t tell me to go away if I don’t like it here.  That’s the language of a nationalist. 

When I say that I “trust” Hedges, I mean it in the same way that everyone “trusts” Ralph Nader when he talks about corporate matters.  Harris is suspicious because he speaks in the tongue of television.  He offers short and funny responses that give him the illusion of being smart, and witty.  He’s not.  Because of television, we have learned to speak in incomplete phrases that spew out rhetoric and clichés.

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By lindadugan, September 19, 2007 at 4:57 pm Link to this comment

Part 3 of 3 (last but not least..)

Cat:
You claim Sam is racist because he says Muslim mothers do not grieve when their sons die.  I would speculate, the point he is making once again is a critique against the beliefs in Islam, not of individual mothers who have lost their sons. If martyrdom and honor are virtues in Islam, mothers who believe their sons are in a better place when they die are acquiescing and rationalizing these beliefs. It doesn’t mean Muslim mothers don’t love their martyred sons.  If Hedges has experienced Muslim mothers grieving at funerals, this does not preclude the possibility that it could occur elsewhere.  You imply that Harris makes things up as he goes along.  That tossing an inflammatory bone to his audience is part of his agenda.  Even if the bone is false. One bet I am willing to make about Harris is this:  facts are crucial to his arguments and misleading people or distorting evidence is not his style. If it were, he would be ostracized immediately by his readers and the public at large.


What I have come to appreciate about Sam Harris is   his allegiance to facts and evidence. His statements are (often a brutal) testament to our modern lives, in a century—-like no other—-where religious fanaticism and modern technology are increasingly thrown into ever toxic and dangerous predicaments.

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By lindadugan, September 19, 2007 at 4:53 pm Link to this comment

Part two of three

Cat:


I will give Hedges merit for his analysis of the Christian Right in the USA and the political power Dominionists have flirted with over the last several decades. But I part with him (in good company) over his views of Islam, a religion he romanticizes as   benign, beautiful and spiritual.  Like many religious moderates he confuses poverty, lack of education and imperialism as instruments to Islamic violence.  It is the tried and true thesis of those who sit on the fence.

You say that you “trust” Hedges.  He lived in the Mid East and has had more experience with Muslims than Harris.  Fair enough.  But   your use of the word “trust” is questionable.  I would argue “Chris” and “Sam” are not people you or I have any personal relationship with.  Trust is a virtue I establish with people directly involved in my life.  “I trust my husband will always be faithful to me”; or “I trust my best friend will not spread around gossip about me”; or “I trust my sister will repay the money I loaned her.”  When you use trust, I interpret that to mean you “like” Hedges and you “dislike” Harris.  Your judgments of them appear to be weighted on their personal characteristics over the factual evidence of their arguments. 

You have not convinced me Sam Harris is a racist.  He doesn’t say believers of Islam are evildoers.  Those who hold certain   religious dogmas as truth (which are harmful to others) and act on those beliefs are behaving in evil ways (and history has shown this to be true.) People are not evil because they practice Islam (go to mosques, pray to God and attend harmless religious ceremonies.)  Only when religious beliefs give credence to egregious acts against other human beings in the name of religion are people then evil.  If the Christian religion gives you permission to allow slavery and you act on that by perpetrating the institution of slavery and owning slaves then you are behaving in an evil manner.

People of all races can be Islam.  People of all races can be Christian.  This is not about skin color or ethnicity. This is about the workings of the brain, psychology and the power of belief manifested in religion.

You accuse Harris of being hawkish on nuclear weapons. Once again, you are misrepresenting what he says.  Timmy has elaborated well on this but I will add my thoughts into the mix.  In Harris’ quotes he is presenting an argument of nuclear weapons as a LAST CASE SCENARIO—-if we are on the verge of annihilation by religious lunatics who believe martyrdom will bring them closer to heavenly sex and want to take millions with them along the way by bombing us to Kingdom come—a nuclear attack from us will most likely be our last resort at survival.  The possibility of Islamic fanatics acquiring nuclear weapons is not a fantasy or even covert——just listen to Bin Ladan.  The intent is there.  Sam makes no bones about the   “insanity” of using nuclear weapons and clearly understands the horrors of a nuclear holocaust.  Annihilating the Soviet Union (also a worst-case-scenario) was recognized as a possible and plausible situation during the cold war.  It was just as insane but no one called the USA   “racists” for using it as a means to quell any trigger-happy communist.  This is not racism.  It is authenticity, sanity and self-preservation in the dog-eat-dog world we live in. 

end of part 2—to be continued

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By lindadugan, September 19, 2007 at 4:01 pm Link to this comment

Part One
Cat:

Thank you for responding to my latest post.  I offer you an apology for any insults you have perceived.  It was not my intention.

I believe your experiences in the Mideast would be interesting points to add to this discussion, however, whatever types of experiences you have had do not belie the points Sam Harris presents in his book.

Your having lived in the Mideast has no pertinence—-none—- to young girls getting their genitals mutilated, women getting stoned for adultery or premarital sex and 8 year old girls getting beheaded (the latter incident reported recently in a New York Times commentary from the streets of Baghdad).  It is fair to say any violence of this nature does not normally occur by the millions on a daily basis in the public square of the most modern and metropolitan cities of the Mideast, where Westerners sit on the sidelines drinking lattes at an outside café. Most evil is not displayed openly for civil society en masse to witness (there are exceptions and suicide bombers come to mind.)  And I expect you have not been witness to such evils for the same reason. 

While I have traveled little oversees, except to Europe, you suggest my lack of time abroad in specific geographic locations leaves me high and dry of reason, knowledge or judgment about world affairs.  I have never been to Darfur, Chile or Cambodia, yet I have general knowledge of the genocide, death squads and killing fields   having occurred in such places.  Like most Westerners, my knowledge of the world—-including Islam—comes from reading books, newspapers, magazines, articles, and attending/listening to public forums, discussions, debates and talking to informed people.  Such mediums are surely the means of making us the most well informed generation of people to ever live on this planet.

I don’t believe you have grasped my MLK analogy fully so I return to it.  I am not literally comparing Sam Harris to the notoriety of Dr. King.  That MLK was a preacher, a holy man is irrelevant to my point, which is this:  Both individuals challenge(d)  “bad” ideas that are harmful to millions of people. And it is apt to note MLK was killed for his ideas and was considered a threat to many, many people.  Our perception today of MLK is “heroic” but 50 years ago he was judged subversive, a communist, a threat, and yes, even a racist by the status quo. Millions hated him. 


To be continued.

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