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Sam Harris: ‘God’s Rottweiler’ Barks

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Posted on Sep 16, 2006
Pope Benedict XVI
AP/ Jens Meyer

Pope Benedict XVI waves to pilgrims as he climbs the stairs of a stage before celebrating Mass at a Munich fairground Sept. 10. The German-born pontiff visited his homeland Sept. 9-14.

By Sam Harris

The bestselling author of “The End of Faith” responds to Pope Benedict XVI’s speech on the interplay between faith and reason. Harris: “It is ironic that a man who has just disparaged Islam as ‘evil’ and ‘inhuman’ before 250,000 onlookers and the world press, is now talking about a ‘genuine dialogue of cultures.’ ”

Harris’ new book, “Letter to a Christian Nation” is available here.

Cross-posted at Huffington Post



The world is still talking about the pope?s recent speech?a speech so boring, convoluted and oblique to the real concerns of humanity that it could well have been intended as a weapon of war. It might start a war, in fact, given that it contained a stupendously derogatory appraisal of Islam. For some reason, the Holy Father found it necessary to quote the Emperor Manual II Paleologos, who said: “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman….” Now the Muslim world is buzzing with pious rage. It?s a pity that Pope Benedict doesn?t also draw cartoons. Joining a craven chorus of terrified supplicants, The New York Times has urged him to muster a ?deep and persuasive’’ apology. He now appears to be mincing his way toward the performance of just such a feat.

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While the pope succeeded in enraging millions of Muslims, the main purpose of his speech was to chastise scientists and secularists for being, well, too reasonable. It seems that nonbelievers still (perversely) demand too much empirical evidence and logical support for their worldview.  Believing that he was cutting to the quick of the human dilemma, the pope reminded an expectant world that science cannot pull itself up by its own bootstraps: It cannot, for instance, explain why the universe is comprehensible at all. It turns out that this is a job for? (wait for it) ? Christianity. Why is the world susceptible to rational understanding? Because God made it that way. While the pope is not much of a conjurer, many intelligent and well-intentioned people imagined they actually glimpsed a rabbit in this old hat. Andrew Sullivan, for instance, praised the pope?s ?deep and complicated? address for its ?clarity and openness.? Here is the heart of the pope?s argument, excerpted from his concluding remarks. I have added my own commentary throughout.

“The intention here is not one of retrenchment or negative criticism, but of broadening our concept of reason and its application. While we rejoice in the new possibilities open to humanity, we also see the dangers arising from these possibilities and we must ask ourselves how we can overcome them. We will succeed in doing so only if reason and faith come together in a new way, if we overcome the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically verifiable, and if we once more disclose its vast horizon….”

The pope suggests that reason should be broadened to include the empirically unverifiable. And is there any question these new ?vast horizons? will include the plump dogmas of the Catholic Church? Here, the pope gets the spirit of science exactly wrong. Science does not limit itself merely to what is currently verifiable. But it is interested in questions that are potentially verifiable (or, rather, falsifiable). And it does mean to exclude the gratuitously stupid. With these distinctions in mind, consider one of the core dogmas of Catholicism, from the Profession of Faith of the Roman Catholic Church:

?I likewise profess that in the Mass a true, proper, and propitiatory sacrifice is offered to God on behalf of the living and the dead, and that the Body and the Blood, together with the soul and the divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ is truly, really, and substantially present in the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist, and there is a change of the whole substance of the bread into the Body, and of the whole substance of the wine into Blood; and this change the Catholic Mass calls transubstantiation. I also profess that the whole and entire Christ and a true sacrament is received under each separate species.?

While one can always find a Catholic who is reluctant to admit that cannibalism lies at the heart of the faith, there is no question whatsoever that the Church intends the above passage to be read literally. The real presence of the body and blood of Christ at the Mass is to be understood as a material fact. As such, this is a claim about the physical world. It is, as it happens, a perfectly ludicrous claim about the physical world. (Unlike most religious claims, however, the doctrine of Transubstantiation is actually falsifiable. It just happens to be false.) Despite the pope?s solemn ruminations on the subject, reason is not so elastic as to encompass the favorite dogmas of Catholicism. Needless to say, the virgin birth of Jesus, the physical resurrection of the dead, the entrance of an immortal soul into the zygote at the moment of conception, and almost every other article of the Catholic faith will land in the same, ill-dignified bin. These are beliefs that Catholics hold without sufficient reason. They are, therefore, unreasonable. There is no broadening of the purview of 21st-century rationality that can, or should, embrace them.

“Only thus do we become capable of that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today….”

It is ironic that a man who has just disparaged Islam as ?evil? and ?inhuman? before 250,000 onlookers and the world press is now talking about a ?genuine dialogue of cultures.? How much genuine dialogue can he hope for? The Koran says that anybody who believes that Jesus was divine?as all real Catholics must?will spend eternity in hell (Koran 5:71-75; 19:30-38). This appears to be a deal-breaker. The pope knows this. The Muslim world knows that he knows it. And he knows that the Muslim world knows that he knows it. This is not a good basis for interfaith dialogue.

“In the Western world it is widely held that only positivistic reason and the forms of philosophy based on it are universally valid. Yet the world’s profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions. A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures….”

Astrologers don?t like ?their most profound convictions? attacked either. Neither do people who believe that space aliens have traversed the galaxy only to molest ranchers and their cattle. Happily, these groups do not take to the streets and start killing people when their irrational beliefs are challenged. I suspect that the pope would be the first to admit that there are millions of people on this Earth who harbor ?most profound convictions? that are neither profound nor compatible with real dialogue. Indeed, one doesn?t even need to read between the lines of his speech to glean that he would place the entire Muslim world beyond the ?universality of reason.? He is surely right to be alarmed by Islam?particularly by its doctrines of martyrdom and jihad. He is right to find the treatment of Muslim women throughout the world abhorrent (if, indeed, he does find it abhorrent). He is right to be concerned that any Muslim who converts to Christianity (or to atheism) has put his life in jeopardy, as conversion away from the faith is punishable by death. These profundities are worthy objects of our derision. No apologies necessary, Your Holiness.

We might, however, note in passing that one of the pope?s ?most profound convictions? is that contraception is a sin. His agents continue to preach this diabolical dogma in the developing world, and even in sub-Saharan Africa, where over 3 million people die from AIDS each year. This is unconscionable and irredeemably stupid. It is also a point on which the Church has not shown much of an intelligent capacity for dialogue. Despite their inclination to breed themselves into a state of world domination, Muslims tend to be far more reasonable on the subject of family planning. They do not consider the use of temporary forms of birth control to be a sin.

“Modern scientific reason quite simply has to accept the rational structure of matter and the correspondence between our spirit and the prevailing rational structures of nature as a given, on which its methodology has to be based. Yet the question why this has to be so is a real question, and one which has to be remanded by the natural sciences to other modes and planes of thought—to philosophy and theology….”

This may have been where Sullivan found the Holy Father to be particularly ?deep and complicated? and ?profound.? Granted, questions of epistemology can make one sweat, and there are many interesting and even controversial things to be said about the foundations of our knowledge. The pope has not said anything interesting or controversial here, however. He has merely insinuated that placing the God of Abraham at the back of every natural process will somehow reduce the quotient of mystery in the cosmos. It won?t. Nearly a billion Hindus place three gods?Brahma (the Creator), Vishnu (the Preserver) and Shiva (the Destroyer)?in the space provided. Just how intellectually illuminating should we find that?

“The West has long been endangered by this aversion to the questions which underlie its rationality, and can only suffer great harm thereby. The courage to engage the whole breadth of reason, and not the denial of its grandeur—this is the program with which a theology grounded in Biblical faith enters into the debates of our time. “Not to act reasonably, not to act with logos, is contrary to the nature of God”, said Manuel II, according to his Christian understanding of God, in response to his Persian interlocutor….”

Please read that first sentence again. I hope it doesn?t seem peevish to point out that the West faces several dangers even greater than those posed by an incomplete epistemology. The West is endangered, primarily, by the religious fragmentation of the human community, by religious impediments to clear thinking, and by the religious willingness of millions to sacrifice the real possibility of happiness in this world for a fantasy of a world to come. We are living in a world where untold millions of grown men and women can rationalize the violent sacrifice of their own children by recourse to fairy tales. We are living in world where millions of Muslims believe that there is nothing better than to be killed in defense of Islam. We are living in a world in which millions of American Christians hope to soon be raptured into the sky by Jesus so that they can safely enjoy the holy genocide that will inaugurate the end of human history. We are living in a world in which a silly old priest, by merely giving voice to his religious inanities, could conceivably start a war with 1.4 billion Muslims who take their own inanities in deadly earnest. These are real dangers. And they are not dangers for which more ?Biblical faith? is a remedy.


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By Richard, November 12, 2006 at 12:45 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

You are right about this not being a political thread. I will drop that discussion except to mention something that rests on a central theme of this discussion: The United States Government has only one responsibility – to protect the lives and property of United States citizens. I want us out of this war because I don’t think it is furthering that purpose. Nevertheless, military spending, including the war, is only 4% of United States GDP and 17% of the Federal budget. Most of the Federal budget is still spent on social programs. I based my assertion of a good economy on the unemployment rate, which is lower than it was in 2001, despite outsourcing (a move typically made by privately-owned companies for the sake of profit). I’m just a yokel on the subject of economics too, but it seems to me that more people working means more people who can pay for both social programs and defense. I also know a few small business owners who prefer current conditions to the situation we had with Clinton.

Back to the subject . . . Placing “God” on coins is establishing a state religion, because it presumes answers to the questions, “which God,” “what is real about God,” and “what does my Government mean by mentioning God?” Maani may be right in saying that few people even think about “IN GOD WE TRUST.” Lack of answers to these questions make the phrase ambiguous and worthy of complete disregard.

This country is not a de facto Christian country just because the majority practice that religion. It is a country with no national god. The point of the Bill of Rights is that the will of the majority shall prevail only if it is reasonable. It is not reasonable to make me acknowledge your deity by carrying its name around in my pocket. He/she/it does nothing to improve the value of my currency. In fact, if the phrase is true, then God has caused the value of our currency to go right into the crapper. I propose simply adding an “L” to the disputed word, changing the ambiguous saying to “IN GOLD WE TRUST,” a phrase with meaning. I will acknowledge, in advance, that it was Nixon, a republican, who took us off the gold standard. Like Bush he was a demagogue, like Clinton he was a liar, and like the Pope he was a thief.

Removing “God” from the currency won’t force religion into a closet. First Amendment rights are not interfered with in any way. You can still gather in the public square. You might want to consider this wise advice, however: ““Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them. . .” (Matthew 6:1).

As a privately-owned business, Macy’s can also display Santa Claus all they want. Most of us know it’s imaginary and just for fun. I still celebrate Christmas with my family and listen to all of the Jesus songs, knowing it’s imaginary and just for fun. Incidentally, I think we do children a disservice by lying to them and teaching them to believe in the imaginary for the first ten years of their lives. The lies are probably more fun for adults than they are for children. Kids are quite capable of grasping the concept “temporary suspension of disbelief,” and then having great fun with the Gingerbread Man (taught in Kindergarten as real being that escapes from the oven), the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and Santa Claus. Making them think those things are real may bias children towards later belief in nonsensical ideas like angels, demons, and Jesus stepping through the doorway of their heart.

You asked for citation regarding the theocratic teachings of the Catholic Church. The following comes from the article, “Religious Toleration” in the online Catholic Encyclopedia: (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14763a.htm). The first sentence says, “Toleration in general signifies patient forbearance in the presence of an evil which one is unable or unwilling to prevent.”

In discussing separation of Church and State, the same article describes three barriers to complete religious freedom, arguments that complete separation is impossible. The article then says, “While this separation may be always viewed as relatively the better condition [for previously described pragmatic reasons], it does not thereby become the ideal state. The latter is only then attained when Church and State proceed hand in hand and in perfect harmony to promote by their common efforts the temporal and eternal happiness of their common subjects (emphasis mine).” The article says that separation of church and state is just as unnatural as a married couple living separated.

It is clear from reading this article and others that the Church still upholds the following authoritarian, construct (encapsulated in the word “subjects”):

1. The Church owns all souls on earth because of the Petrine Theory (“whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven”)
2. All people are their subjects. They merely “grant” religious freedom for pragmatic reasons. They do not acknowledge it as a fundamental, inborn right
3. The Papacy does not idealize a world where the Church assists people with some dimensions of life while the State assists with others. In the ideal state, the Government will “take the hand” of the Church (the one and only true Church, of course). The Divine Couple will not just assist by protecting our inborn rights. They will control all aspects of our lives. Stand and salute. Kneel and pray. Form a nice, neat line. Do not read from the Indice Librorum Prohibitorum .
4. The idea of “Religious Toleration” means allowing the evil of other religions to exist, only temporarily

Let me make it clear that only I can speak for my soul. I am not a subject of the Church and will never be. I am also not a subject of the State. The State is our subject, and we will prevent it from doing anything unreasonable. The legitimate powers of Government extend only to such acts as are injurious to others. There are no thought crimes. I do nothing evil or injurious by denying you the ability to place your word, “God” on my money.

Newdow’s suit was dismissed on a technicality. He must be very angry at the situation the courts have forced on him. He is obliged to finance his daughter’s upbringing, but cannot speak for her. How is that fair, and what kind of backwards-ass thinking made it possible, the Divine Right of Mothers?  The New York Sun says, “Dr. Newdow has two new suits pending before the 9th Circuit. One uses new plaintiffs to make the same argument against use of the pledge in public schools. The other suit challenges the use of the words “In God We Trust” on American currency.” (http://www.nysun.com/article/42263). Go Newdow!

I am not at all concerned about backlash from the faith-based community. I hope it brings publicity to the case. Those people have no legitimate control over me and don’t scare me any more than their imaginary god does. Maani said that the outcome of eliminating “under God” won’t make much difference to anyone at all. I think it will make a big difference. Under the current construct, one may not be required to say the POA, but refusing to say it results in ostracism. Having “under God” removed from the POA will remove that ostracism, sending the message that our POA is not based on any appeal to the supernatural or unbelievable. We intend to defend our inborn rights no matter what religious fanatics attempt to do.

Maani’s last paragraph reflects a primary ethical difference between two worldviews. She says it’s good that faith and religion hold back rampant selfishness. The ability to live for selfish pursuit of happiness is exactly what the founders sought to guarantee with the Bill of Rights. Competitiveness is not unhealthy. Adam Smith, in the book Invisible Hand, showed that it results in economic progress and social harmony. Altruism is a self-contradictory notion that demands servitude and sacrifice. The Church and other fascist organizations preach it constantly to gain control. People cannot ever be made into selfless subjects by morality and ethics that make sense.

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By Dave Summers, M.D., November 11, 2006 at 9:19 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

My dear Joan:

“CONGRESS SHALL MAKE NO LAW RESPECTING AN ESTABLISHMENT OF RELIGION OR PROHIBITING THE FREE EXERCISE THEREOF, OR ABRIDGING THE FRREDOM OF SPEECH OR OF THE PRESS, OR THE RIGHT OF THE PEOPLE PEACEABLY TO ASSEMBLE TO PETITION THE GOVERNMENT FOR THE REDRESS OF GRIEVANCES”.

This is your/our FIRST of the Bill of Rights, all portions of which need respect, not GWB’s “faith-based” contempt & violations, and not “cherry-picking” by citizens.  Our/your Rights therein proclaimed as essentials for a successful democracy are freedom FROM religion (by all branches of gov.), freedom of religion (for all citizens, and note that the former is the foremost guarantor of the latter), freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to assemble, freedom to petition the Gov. & also freedom to express any & all grievances w/o fear of official reprisal.  Yes, separation of church & state by a Jeffersonian “wall” is clearly stated in that famous & highly necessary “establishment clause” and it is not to be altered, wrongfully imposed by any “majority”
faith, nor shoud it be distorted—neither by over-zealous Christians, Hindi, Islamists, LDS followers, Jews, etc., and it protects equally, not merely all faiths but also freethinkers, agnostics, skeptics, secularists (absolutely & unequivocally), atheists and/or any & all nontheists.  Moreover, freethinkers in a democracy should be the most sought-after candidates for governance, but unfortunately, such insurance against a theocratic annihilation of your/our Democracy, thus far has been unable to penetrate the nonsensical, overbearing, “will of a god”
delusions of America’s majority “believers”.  All have been splendidly ridiculed by Sam Harris in LETTER to a CHRISTIAN NATION, but, as you know, the response from these allegedly “loving” folk (not nonexistent “souls”) has been unwarranted pity or murderous threats or yearnings for Sam’s misery, woe & strife, when his only motive has been to uplift the worldwide human condition.  Here I join Sam “to rest our case”.  PEACE!

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By Dave Summers, M.D., November 11, 2006 at 8:27 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Joan:

My apology for an error: the correct dates of my reply to your
question on how I make decisions on equally logical moral dilemmas were 10/28 & 10/29 (October, not September).  Two dates are given because I started late 10/28 and concluded early AM, 10/29.

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By Maani, November 11, 2006 at 7:18 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Joan:

Congrats on your letter!  Nice going.  And well-put sentiments.  Brava!

Maani

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By Joan, November 11, 2006 at 5:13 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Richard and Maani,

Placing “God” on coins is not establishing a state religion nor is saying “under God” in “the Pledge” anymore than Macy’s having a Santa Claus is establishing a religion for its customers and employees …it is revisionist to think scrubbing God from public life in America is truly representative of an America that has been and is overwhelmingly Christian and religious.  Our famous declarations of entitlement are predicated on a Creator and that’s why that tactic succeeded. The Founders were extraordinary men, no doubt, and I am in their debt for their foresightedness. Yet this handful of men are not the only ones who are entitled to shape America…after all they did not “do right” by women and blacks. America is de facto a Christian country. Neither can we make laws based on any theology nor can we make laws that abridge the practice of any religion or freedom of expression. That’s it.

Newdow’s case was dismissed because he had no legal standing to bring the case in the first place. He was not his daughter’s legal guardian and hence had no legal right to bring the lawsuit on her behalf.  Neither the child nor her mother had any objection to her saying “the Pledge” as written. …the child was used by her father to make a point, to further his own personal campaign that is religious prejudice masquerading as legalese and intellectual thought. His motivations are similar to yours and those who want to take Christmas trees out of municipal buildings, namely get God out of the public forum.

Having been educated K-12 in Catholic schools, I never once heard a call for a theocracy, not here, not anywhere else in the world.  We were taught the separation of church and state was our greatest protection. To my recollection Augustine and Aquinas, major architects along with Paul of Catholic theology, both supported the separation of church and state as did Christ also assert its appropriateness in the ”Render unto Caesar…” response to those who were asking him about the appropriateness of establishing a theocracy, something the Jewish high priests were inclined to do. Like Maani, I am perplexed about your idea here and would need to know your source and the context.

I respect your right not to accept faith and my right to accept a faith should be equally respected. I expect atheists to treat Christians with dignity and respect, the same way they want to be respected. It is not logical to so adore Adams if one is not willing to respect what Adams brought forth…He is no more an authority on the subject of religion and God than you or I. None of the Founders are. What Adam feels about religion gains no validity from his political acumen. So quoting Adams, et al to me is of no avail.

Lately in America there is a trend emerging to make it illegal to mention God in the public venue and that is what Newdow is about, legally taking God out of the landscape in a way the gloried Founders never intended. Newdow is not about protecting anyone from being subjected to a state religion. He knows that God on a coin is a far cry from having a state religion the same way Santa in store is not about a religion. It’s about traditions. Newdow is not about addressing bona fide persecution. But that is what I am about, addressing persecution. Should the trend to ban God, permitting reference to Him only in churches and behind closed doors gain momentum, more and more moderates will be radicalized and have less and less patience with others who belittle and ridicule Christians or strive to make God only acceptable in closets.  Americans are guaranteed to practice religion without state interference. And forcing religion into a closet is state interference and an assault on freedom of expression.  Should this problem not be addressed, we will have the alternative, full- blown religious oppression. These activists see only one side of the revolution, that the state cannot establish a religion while ignoring the fact that the state cannot preclude public religious expression. That is what Newdow is about and the Constitution and Bill of Rights does not afford this kind of indulgence for atheists, that they be insulated from the so-called superstitions of others which is, factually, the majority viewpoint of others. Not wanting to hear or see something you don’t believe in or don’t like is not sufficient basis for lawmaking or rendering legal decisions in America. It is just capriciousness and narcissism. Respecting our political and religious differences has protected this country from the wars that drag down so many others. But this truce will not last if there is too much repression. God evokes more passion than anyone else ever has, a sentiment you recently alluded to yourself, Richard. And it is wise not to underestimate this passion. I am not illogical here.  I just see a broader movement afoot. 

Re: Tolerance…a rose is a rose is a rose, no matter its origin …it is a good practice for mankind, tolerance.

Good news! I am not familiar enough with Buber to comment.

Joan

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By Dave Summers, M.D., November 11, 2006 at 2:26 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

RE: Joan’s LTE (#37627, 11/11/06)

Joan:  I believe Sam Harris would regard your comment re: the Pope & Catholic Church’s nonsense against condom use as a welcomed “Christian” acknowledgement of scientific reason.  Yet the overwhelming effect of religious unreason renders so-called “conservative Christians”, “cultural or liberal Christians” and extremists such as Falwell, Dobson, Robertson, et. al. (hence all
“Christians” along w. Islamists, Jews, Hindi & other believers in a supernatural being’s “is-ness or existence”) brain-drenched in the fallacies, un-truths, denials & pseudoscientific verbiage such as “ID”.  All such fanaticisms in 21st c.  America are antiquated examples of “ignorance-mongering”, anti-science, retrogression and either pretensions of “morality” or blatant adherence to mind-closed yearning, irrespective of local & worldwide consequences.  (Incidentally, my reply to your examples & query as to how I decide equally-logical dilemmas was not included among responses in this ongoing dialogue—likewise for my reply to Maani, included in my reply on the same day, 9/28 or 9/29).

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By Brad, November 11, 2006 at 9:23 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Sam Harris rocks! Go truth!

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By Joan, November 11, 2006 at 9:16 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Yours truly has a letter to the editor in the LA Times today, November 11….www.latimes.com ... See “Letters”,  “Changing Doctrine of Catholic Church”, in the “Opinion” section.
Perhaps this will help Mr. Harris understand that Christians question much and in fact do not mindlessly subscribe to biblical prescriptives such as killing non- virginal brides.
Joan

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By Maani, November 10, 2006 at 10:09 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Richard:

Although this is not the thread on which we should be discussing the election or general political topics, I cannot let your comments pass without response.

“We have a good economy right now.”  Really?  What country are you living in?  LOL.  When Clinton left office, he had balanced the budget, paid down the deficit and eliminated almost the entire debt (~ $4 trillion) of the U.S. - indeed, the “debt clock” in Times Square was turned off for the first time in two decades.  Less than four years later, Bush had run up a new debt of over $8 trillion, as well as a budget deficit in the hundreds of billions.  The U.S. has lost almost its entire manufacturing base, has outsourced an enormous amount of jobs that could go to Americans, and has refused to increase the minimum wage.  The are more people in debt, and higher unemployment than at any time during the Clinton administration.  There are 40 million without health care, including 20 million children.  Home sales are stagnant, and the real estate bubble in most large cities is starting to collapse: in NYC, it is as close to a buyer’s market as it has been in a decade.

“We have just put into power a bunch of pickpockets who will probably wreck it again.”  No, my friend, the pickpockets are the ones who wrecked it in the first place - the current Republican administration.  Not only did they do all of the above, they also steered billions of dollars away from desperately needed social, human and environmental programs to fund the military - including a war, based on lies, that has cost over $200 BILLION thus far, and is costing Americans $30,000 PER MINUTE.  THESE are the “pickpockets.”

“Many of the ousted incumbents were moderates.”  Actually, most of those elected were moderates.  In fact, as one pundit pointed out, we traded “right-wing moderates” for “left-wing moderates.”  True, there are some more “radical” (i.e., “liberal”) Democrats among them.  But there were certainly quite a few “radical” (i.e., “arch-conservative”) Republicans who were ousted.

There are certainly plenty of mistakes that the Dems can make as they learn how to wield their new power.  But if they avoid those mistakes, this “sea change” is unquestionably one of the most historic in memory.

All that said, let me address your comments relevant to this thread.

“Removing superstition from the pledge, currency and courthouses just lets everybody know there are believable reasons for loyalty, fiscal honesty and justice.  They don’t depend at all upon belief in the supernatural.  Rights are just what’s ‘right for man.’”

I don’t think either Joan or I disagree with the general sentiment here.  What Joan said, and I agree with, is that, even were all of that to occur, it would be at best a pyrrhic victory, since (i) it really would not change anything (i.e., one is not REQUIRED to say the POA, much less to “say The Name” if one doesn’t wish to; few people even THINK about the “In God We Trust” on currency or in courtrooms), and (ii) it would only create a “backlash” from some of the faith-based community.  And even if that backlash is exactly what is “wrong” with the whole situation, it makes little sense to provoke it if the outcome (eliminating “under God” etc.) is not even going to make much difference to anyone at all.

As well, and as Joan also infers, what you are suggesting is attempting to “undo” the one-time invocation by the Founding Fathers of a theist deity (or even the Judeo-Christian God).  This, too, seems unnecessary, if not unlikely to occur.  “Re-education” re the Founding Fathers’ intent in invoking a theist deity - i.e., that it was only for purposes of providing a more powerful “underpinning” for the “inalienable rights” they spoke of - would certainly be welcome, and even I, as an evangelical, would be happy to join such a movement.

As for “toleration,” you speak of it in terms of “the waywardness of people who don’t believe” like the Catholic Church.  I am assuming you mean both people of other faiths and those who practice no faith at all.  But I think it may be simplistic to assume that toleration has to do only with “waywardness” re the alternative belief (or dis-belief) of others.  Toleration, and tolerance, has as much to do with both one’s only humility and how others speak and act.  And these things may have nothing to do with the “waywardness” of a particular person.

Also, I am not aware of any document or writing of the Catholic Church that speaks to the issue of, much less supports, the idea of theocracy as “the ideal form of government.”  If you can provide some support for this position, I would be happy to read and consider it.

Re “all religions” being “ways to the same God,” I would suggest reading a small, quick-read book called “But Don’t All Religions Lead to God?,” by Michael Green.  After that you might try “Jesus Among Other Gods,” by Ravi Zacharias.  These two books address that issue in depth.

I agree, however, with Buber’s concept of “sincerity,” though I do not believe it need be mutually exclusive from faith.

As for “the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it,” there are those - including non-believers - who feel that, although they certainly have faults, faith and religion also serve to “hold back” an even greater rampant selfishness, self-involvement, unhealthy competitiveness, and other not-exactly-altruistic human traits that faith and religion at very least “temper.”

Peace.

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By Richard, November 9, 2006 at 7:48 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

You guessed I would be relieved by the election results. I think it’s time for a change, but this one isn’t that great. We have a good economy right now, and we have just put into power a bunch of pickpockets who will probably wreck it again. I typically vote my pocketbook, and this time I picked mostly Libertarian candidates who did not get elected. Also, many of the ousted incumbents were moderates. That discourages me. If our political system is going to continue being bi-polar, it’s probably a good time for Democratic control of the House though.

All of that aside, I need to address a couple of your other assumptions. First, you have committed a logical error by calling it religious persecution when the name God (implying your god, the Yahweh/Jesus morph) is removed from Government facilities. Nobody will stop you from expressing your belief in a god, (whatever he she or it is). That’s what the First Amendment acknowledged, not your right to display your superstition behind every judge’s head and on every dollar bill and your right to make Newdow’s daughter say The Name every morning. Removing superstition from the pledge, currency and courthouses just lets everybody know there are believable reasons for loyalty, fiscal honesty and justice. They don’t depend at all upon belief in the supernatural. Rights are just what’s “right for man.” That is where the word came from.

Another assumption you have repeatedly sated is that we need to practice “toleration.” The Catholic Church popularized that word. It implies that they are putting up with the waywardness of people who don’t believe like they do. Their encyclopedia discusses separation of powers in those terms, but insists that theocracy is still the ideal form of government.

Martin Buber, in his book I and Thou, noted the important difference between “toleration” and the habit of acknowledging the sincerity of others. Buber was also the one who described all religions as ways to the same God, just as many paths through a forest can lead to the same beautiful meadow.
I like Buber’s idea of acknowledging sincerity. I think his meadow is a swamp. I’m with John Adams, who said in a letter to Charles Cushing, October 19, 1756: “Twenty times in the course of my late reading, have I been upon the point of breaking out, ‘this would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it.”

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By huey, November 9, 2006 at 10:34 am Link to this comment
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i’m amused at the way most comments seem to be generated by beings who’s credulity has indeed acheived escape velocity from the restraints of terestrial discourse.who “knows” what christ did or didn’t utter given the fog of two thousand years and a tendency by corporate religion to dictate and frame the discussion.ah utopia. but didn’t donald rumsfeld tell us on behalf of the defense industry, there will be wars and rumors of wars.

oops’there goes the baby polyana down that waterslide of hagiatic melodrama.  huey out

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By Maani, November 8, 2006 at 4:51 pm Link to this comment
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Joan/Richard:

In response to Joan’s penultimate comment, I think Shakespeare said it best (as usual): “There is more in heaven and earth, Horatio, than is dreamt of in your philosophy.”

When my older brother (a radical atheist) could not understand the “personal Pentecost” that led me to the ministry, and accused me of simply having had a “nervous breakdown,” I offered the Shakespeare quote to him and added the following:

“Likewise, there is more to the world - and the motives and psychology of the people in it - than the limited worldview of non-believers and the limited tools (including psychology) they use to explain them.  Of course, you can hardly be blamed for your worldview (and hence your deconstruction of my psychology) since it is limited by the tools you have available to you.”

I do not mean any of the above in a judgmental or condescending way.  All I am suggesting is that faith can be a powerful tool - a “filter” if you will - both for personal matters (e.g., introspection and psycho-emotional growth) and for broadening one’s worldview.

Re the gist of Joan’s comments, Rev. Jim Wallis - perhaps the most respected moderate evnagelical in America - has two statements that he makes at most of his appearances.  I paraphrase here.

“God and religion should be kept out of politics, but not out of the public square.”  As Joan notes, to do otherwise is to stifle faith-based viewpoints, which would be an obvious violation of the freedom of speech.

“Faith should never be the REASON for a political or legislative decision, but there is nothing wrong with a politician’s faith INFORMING his/her point of view.”  To suggest otherwise is simply unrealistic: a person’s faith is always going to be a factor in their thinking and opinions.  But that does not mean it should be - indeed, it must NEVER be - the raison d’etre or “goal” of political decisions that affect a multi-cultural populace comprised of Christians, Jews, Muslims, agnostic, atheist and others.

As a related aside, I highly recommend Rev. Wallis’ book, “God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It.”  It may well be the most important book about the intersection of faith and politics ever written.

Peace.

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By Joan, November 8, 2006 at 4:05 pm Link to this comment
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Richard and Maani,


I would think, Richard, you are relieved by the election results because I think the anticipated theocracy is on the way to being made obsolete, even if the election is considered officially a statement on the war. Americans want the America secured for them by the Founders. Despite their private beliefs about God, politically what these men secured for a nation was the extension of religious toleration to its citizens, no matter the religion they embraced.  And for the next 200+ years, those of different faiths for the most part have lived together in peace. Look at the current world and history. This is miraculous. It was achieved because the citizens were tolerant of those who had religious beliefs different from their own. For the sake of our future security we cannot afford to lose this tolerance.

The Christian Right has undoubtedly radicalized certain people against God and potential unwanted religious interference in their lives. Newdow’s lawsuits in turn have radicalized the Christian Right and also moderate Christians who do not want to see religion capriciously attacked. I think it is a mistake to underestimate, because of America’s previous centuries of peace, the reaction of believers if religions are not tolerated and people try through the legal system to relegate God to a closet with little venue for public expression of faith. To me this is religious oppression and intolerance, the exact opposite of what the Founders who also made public references to God intended- -no state religion as well as no religious oppression. There are two sides to the Founder’s revolution, not just the one side that Newdow espouses, namely the establishment of a state religion. That is why I judge Newdow to be a narcissist. That is what I think he is doing, attempting religious oppression. There is no state religion that he is protecting Americans from, nor revisionist history that I can see here. He just personally never wants to hear a public reference to God. There is a difference between establishing a state religion and saying the word God in “the Pledge” or reading it on a coin. We are a young country, too young to say that all was accomplished in 1776 with regard to religion.  Just because the God wars are in remission in America due to an excellent truce, we cannot ignore history and think that God will not draw enough passion to cause more wars. I think Waco here. The “Newdows” were not guaranteed a state in which the word “God” can never be publicly uttered. I think it is revisionist to remove God from the historical context of America just because we will wisely not enjoin the establishment of a state religion. This is de facto a Christian country, embedded with Christian values and to deny this is revisionist. These are the statistics.  Over 80% of the American population according to a poll just last week identified themselves as Christian. In this country we work to treat others as we wish to be treated, the core principle of Christianity. This Christian principle is reflected here. Those who do not have a faith are a minority and their minority rights are respected in America by the fact that Christianity and no other religion is a state religion. Equally, this minority has no constitutional right to force the majority to disavow their religion in the public forum, either. That is oppression. Everyone’s rights have to be equally respected, a major tenet of Christian philosophy. The minority or loyal opposition has to face the fact that this is a Christian country, no matter the faith or lack thereof of the Founders who secured the right to practice religion freely but does not have the right to establish by law a religion that all are legally required to practice. That’s it. God Himself was not banished and this is not a secular nation. It is a nation that cannot establish a state religion. That’s all. I think continued reckless attempts to limit expressions including God like those Newdow undertakes will harm our nation as much as those reckless attempts that the Christian Right has undertaken to foist Christian principles on issues like abortion. Both are undermining the principles of freedom from religious oppression, a dangerous game that history reflects.

As Maani says there are numerous ethical systems that do not appeal to God and I think people turn to God for a lot more than moral direction. They get hope and strength etc. I personally marvel at His genius at the magnificent universe that I do not believe is fully explained by evolution although I think evolution is undoubtedly in play. I admire God’s generosity in letting us partake in His schemes to bring forth life and create and journey in the marvels of this incredible playground He designed. I am more connected in these ways then in looking for moral directions. I pretty much know what is right and wrong as I think most people typically do. I do not know that if religion were absent entirely that we would inevitably descend into a Hitler-like state…but there seem to be instances of unspeakable brutality against people in nations from which God is banished. Maybe there is something to the notion of needing a God with a big stick to keep a certain amount of law and order over the millenia. God has certainly been exploited by nation states for their particular power driven ends. I do not think Harris has any reason to claim that if religions are absent these wonderful rational, highly ethical states will emerge.

I agree that it seems that we have to believe what is unbelievable to make sense of things at times. That is an unacceptable paradox for those who appeal to the rational or that which is logical alone as the only way to process what we humans are capable of experiencing .We are capable of more than understanding what is rational. We understand paradox. And paradoxes happen. We understand transcendence. So the being rational, as I argued previously is limited in explaining our world.  I do not want to limit my options here.

It’s very difficult arguing from a black and white position…i.e. All religions are bad…all rational thought is good…there seems to be a shred of truth and falsity to both black and white positions.

Joan

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By Maani, November 7, 2006 at 10:55 pm Link to this comment
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Richard:

Thank you for your comments.  I understand your position.  It might surprise you to know that I, an evangelical minister, do not believe that the Founding Fathers were “Christian” (some were deists, some theists), much less that they intended to found a Christian nation.

However, although I am not nearly as studied as Joan, her comments make great sense to me: that the Founders “used” Christianity as the “basis” of “inalienable rights,” since it would have made little or no sense - and, as Joan points out, it would probably not have “gone over” nearly as well, if at all - to ascribe those rights to some “human” belief or “agency.”  That the Fathers could not have predicted how their single “use” of Christianity would “play out” 250 years later - i.e., that a religiously charged (if not polarized) nation would play “historical revisionism” with their intent - is understandable.  But Joan’s position is fully supportable.

As well, I maintain my position re Hitler, based on broad and extensive reading, including both “mainstream” and more obscure books, articles, etc.  Despite any claims to the contrary - either by Hitler himself or by some historians - Hitler was in no way an active Christian, as his actions - and his future plans re Christianity as a whole - prove.

And although I fervently agree with you with respect to both the inclusion of “under God” in the POA and “In God We Trust” on our currency (as well as on the wall behind every judge in every courtroom in the U.S.), Joan is ultimately correct: while they perhaps “should” be removed, doing so would almost certainly cause more trouble than it would be worth for the “principle” of doing so.

I also want to make clear that there are many Christians - including many evangelicals like myself - who do NOT believe that faith or religion have a “monopoly” on ethics or morality.  Although admittedly too few Christians realize or accept it, the very idea that they do is diametrically opposed to the “Judeo-Christian construct,” as it betrays an arrogance that is anathema to the humility, patience and tolerance Jesus Himself both lived and taught.  There are solidly moral and ethical atheists (and others), just as their are unethical and immoral Christians (and others).

I also want to add a couple of things to Joan’s response to you.  She notes a book being written by a scientist, this gist of which is “the more science is revealed, the more there seems to be a Designer.”

This was actually Einstein’s position, and Stephen Hawking has alluded to this as well.

In his address to a symposium on the subject of the “anthropic principle,” Hawking said, “It would be very difficult to explain why the universe should have begun in just this way, except as the act of a God who intended to create beings like us.”  He was not necessarily conceding the existence of God, but he was admitting that even he - perhaps the most brilliant astrophysicist of our age - simply did not have enough information to rule it out.

As well, setting aside Einstein’s famous comment about God not playing dice with the universe (which was admittedly somewhat “tongue in cheek”), there are three comments he made that point to a much different belief than that which we tend to attribute to him:

“Everyone who is seriously interested in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe – a spirit vastly superior to man, and one in the face of which our modest powers must feel humble.”

“Even though the realms of religion and science in themselves are clearly marked off from each other, nevertheless there exists between the two strong reciprocal relationships and dependencies.  Though religion may be that which determines the goal, it has, nevertheless, learned from science, in the broadest sense, what means will contribute to the attainment of the goals it has set up.  But science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration towards truth and understanding.  The source of this feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion.  To this there also belongs the faith in the possibility that the regulations valid for the world of existence are rational, that is, comprehensible to reason.  I cannot conceive of a genuine scientist without that profound faith.  The situation may be expressed by an image: religion without science is blind; science without religion is lame.”

And perhaps most saliently:

“In the view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God.  But what makes me really angry is that they quote me for support of such views…I want to know how God created this world.  I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element.  I want to know His thoughts.  The rest are details.”

Peace.

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By Keith Henson, November 7, 2006 at 10:03 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Joan wrote:

>Keith,

>Let’s agree for the sake of discussion that starting a war is thought to be in the initiator’s perceived self- interest despite the outcome just because war is by observation risky business that can backfire and of course be detrimental to survival.

Sorry, can’t agree.

The crazy thing about this is that the “interest” of an individual and their genes can diverge (because copies of their genes in relatives are “voting” over evolutionary time—millions of years).  That’s what lies behind suicide bombers.  What may kill a person might still be good for their genes.

>So, as our saga continues, opting not to move way to greener pastures,

Greener pastures are seldom available.  Generally the world is filled up tight with humans.

>in the face of a bleak future, man undertakes war for his perceived benefit…part of this process is that psychological sorts of genes as opposed to those known through lab work on the DNA strands,

Genes are located along DNA strands.

>namely memes,

Memes are not at the same level as genes even though they operate on similar evolution based rules as genes and computer viruses.

>are passed along from those who decided to go to war to the future generations, all the better of there are more recipients of these memes in sum total after the warring is ended (inclusive fitness)… and this psychological occurrence replicates itself over the centuries, with more and more people’s behavior being influenced by these memes…religions are among those sets off psychological genes, memes, and religions serve at times as a moral permission to fight wars…This is your EP theory (???) This is not biology though, correct?

EP is between the level of biology and behavior.

>It is a purely psychological sort of inheritance phenomenon? Yes?  What follows from that?

>OR

>Is it a biological inheritance phenomenon? What follows from that?

See below if it makes it this time.

>Re: those masterful Greeks!!!! 

snip grin  yeah.

>Perhaps you could re-post what was lost last time.

Will try below.

>Some of my difficulty here is that you cite terms that have certain meanings that I am unfamiliar with.

There are several communities of people who discussed this for at least the last ten years.

But ask and I will do the best I can to explain terms.

Keith

(previous lost material below)


Maybe because of certain universal moral precepts, such as in the NY Times article Maani cited like the prohibition against unjustified killing, men develop certain ideologies that give a sort of morally acceptable permission to suspend these precepts to engage in war. Communism and religions are two such ideologies. You refer to such ideologies as memes that people adapt and act on to preserve their self- interest of survival.

You make it sound conscious, it’s not.

EP seems to be an inter-disciplinary study of sorts encompassing psychology, anthropology, and biology

Not exactly, you are mixing levels.  Biology (that is evolutionary biology) is the level upon which EP builds, like biology builds on the chemistry level.

Anthropology (and the rest of the social sciences) are at a higher level.  EP is essentially putting a foundation under a lot of formerly free-floating disciplines.

“Evolutionary psychology is an approach to psychology, in which knowledge and principles from evolutionary biology are put to use in research on the structure of the human mind. It is not an area of study, like vision, reasoning, or social behavior. It is a way of thinking about psychology that can be applied to any topic within it.

“In this view, the mind is a set of information-processing machines that were designed by natural selection to solve adaptive problems faced by our hunter-gatherer ancestors. This way of thinking about the brain, mind, and behavior is changing how scientists approach old topics, and opening up new ones.

http://www.psych.ucsb.edu/research/cep/primer.html

as I gather you are suggesting that these memes may reflect certain chemical dispositions.

<i>Some musings…
If memes do not reflect a biology, how are they different from belief systems?

Memes are at a higher level yet.  They depend on the existence of creatures able to learn information patterns from each other.  And beliefs are memes.  Can one animal pass along information patterns (often behaviors) to another?  Memes are what they pass, pure replicating information, elements of culture, ideas, beliefs—all fit the concept of a meme.

This brings me to my broader question-What does this meme theory give us that prior theories have not? 

Clear, accurate models are of vast importance in reducing human misery.  Consider the germ theory of disease as an example.  Very little progress was made before Pasteur and Koch developed that theory.

Anthropologists already speak about how belief systems develop, spread, assist man and die out in tribes.

When you use “meme” instead of “idea” the replication aspect is important.  It’s a model to help explain the persistence of elements of culture.

In one of my earliest meme papers I noted (without a biological or EP explanation) that economic downturns are accompanied by upswings in neo-Nazi movements in the US.

The essence of memetics has been around at least a century.  It is encapsulated in “Ideas have a life of their own.”  If you take that serious and apply what we know about living things to ideas, you have memetics.

Another musing… all wars minimally are wars of perceived self-interest.

Close again, but not exactly on the mark.  It’s hard to do, but to understand this you need to get your mind to look at the world from the “viewpoint of genes.”  _Selfish Gene_ and the more difficult _Extended Phenotype_ by Richard Dawkins are still a very good place to get this essential but alien viewpoint.

Hunter-gatherer wars were in the self-interest of genes.  More recent wars, particularly the southwest corn farmers 800 years ago, may not be.  (Side effects due to a different level of technology caused them to die out over a vast area.)

All wars need perceived moral permission prior to engagement and during engagement. History tells us that there have been religious wars. And there have been wars that do not pertain to religion per se. My sense is that you are claiming that no matter the smokescreen that gives permission, all wars are fought with the bleak future motivation as the paramount one for the war.

It isn’t just permission, it is an essential part of synching hunter-gatherer warriors up into a killing frenzy.

Now I can agree theoretically but it is a stretch…Iran being a case in point…

Every case (post agriculture) has to be considered very carefully.  While humans still have the psychological traits honed in the Stone Age, the environment is very different.  For example, the vast majority of human evolution was when our ancestors lived in bands of under 100 people.  The last really big war (WW II) involved hundreds of millions.  It is not obvious if or how this difference in scale modulates the traits.  Certainly a million times more population to draw leaders from is going to get ones further out on the bell curve, for example, Genghis Khan, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genghis_Khan,

Iran has the option of developing nuclear energy peaceably with IAEA inspections etc, to prepare for the day that the oil wells run dry but Iran has not opted to do so…it has opted for belligerence …Palestinians have not opted for security and prosperity but have also opted for belligerence…

Option and opted imply rational thinking.  The essence of the theory is that the ability of humans to think rationally gets trashed as they go into war mode.  This is one of the sad legacies out of our hunter-gatherer past.  If either of your examples were thinking rationally, there would be a major push for birth control.

perhaps the bleak theory has to be expanded to not only include material survival, i.e., gathering your protein but also perceived psychological survival i.e., a bleak psychological future theory of war..

In _Influence: the new psychology of modern persuasion_ (1984 and more recent editions) Robert Cialdini, goes into a great deal of psychological background.  One of these (using the three bucket experiment) is the importance of relative changes.  It is clear from the lack of revolts in India that grinding poverty (the lifelong prospect for a large segment of the population) won’t spark war mode. 

Why? 

Because the future looks no bleaker than the conditions they have lived in all their lives, and people tend to respond to relative change.

This may explain Kim Jong Il, Ahmadinejad, Caesar and Alexander….

Perhaps.  We should not forget that our view of wars are highly biased, essentially our knowledge of wars is since the invention of writing, which is to say 6000 years of the 6 million since we and the chimps parted ways.

Lastly, although religions are exploited to give permission to engage in war, it is important to note that religions are not founded with the primary end to give man permission to fight wars.

I think there have been cases where religions were founded to support wars.

They have other more immediate functions and are generally called upon to meet other of man’s complex needs. Religions are bastardized. It is crucial in scholarly study to give an authentic depiction of the intent of religion and other ideologies, distinguishing their paramount intent from their misuse or corruption when making judgments about value of these ideologies.

I seriously think your concern is directed to the wrong level.  Persisting at that level will get you no further than being concerned about fever would have prevented epidemic diseases.

Religions are a consequence of human psychological traits.  Where, did those come from? 

” My contention, simply put, is that the evolutionary approach is the only approach in the social and behavioral sciences that deals with why, in an ultimate sense, people behave as they do. As such, it often unmasks the universal hypocrisies of our species, peering behind self-serving notions about our moral and social values to reveal the darker side of human nature.” (Silverman 2003)

You can say that religions arise from human needs, but it’s the same question, where did those “needs” come from?

Pascal Boyer doesn’t take it far enough, but I suggest he is taking steps in the right direction.

” . . . anthropologist Pascal Boyer that discusses the evolutionary origins of religious concepts. Through an examination of the mind’s inference systems - how they work and how they have been shaped over time - Boyer explains how it is that we have the religious concepts we do, and why they have been so culturally successful. Boyer presents evidence from many specialized disciplines including anthropology, cognitive science, linguistics, and evolutionary biology to support the idea that a naturalistic explanation of religion is possible; moreover, such an approach is necessary if the field and study of religion is going to make any progress.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_Explained

Otherwise they are misrepresented. We have seen some heinous tragedies in science but we would not want to say that because of them that these tragedies were this is the purpose of science. Think thalidomide here.

True, though there is more to the story.

“In 1964, a French physician named Jacob Sheskin was trying to help a critically-ill male patient with erythema nodosum leprosum (ENL), a very painful complication of leprosy. He looked throughout his small hospital for anything that might help his patient stop aching long enough to sleep. He came across a bottle of thalidomide tablets, and remembered that the drug had been effective in helping mentally ill patients sleep - and also that it was banned. Thinking he had nothing to lose, Sheskin gave the man two tablets of thalidomide. The patient slept for hours, and he felt good enough to get out of bed without aid when he woke up. The result was soon followed by more favorable experiences, followed by a clinical trial. Dr. Sheskin’s drug of last resort revolutionized the care of leprosy, and led to the closing of most leprosy hospitals.”

It was my engineer husband’s idea about the earthquakes and tsunami’s as a type of nature’s population control…I think this could be right because in the grand scheme of things, population control does not have to be causally linked to a given population, just the way of nature.

As a guess he is a civil engineer.  Most of the other engineering specialties tend to be more restrictive using of the word.

Hepburn/Tracy…humor, but perhaps as women’s attention turns from childbearing and home to the corporate sector etc there will be rise in female aggression and hence in the total amount of aggression in society… think of it like the pressure/ volume law governing gas, as one decreases, the other increases and vice versa…

It could be.  But you would have to factor in fewer wars to see if the net result was desirable.

The danger with the decrease in reproduction as a way to stem war is that reproduction is a delicate balance. If reproduction declines too much, the bleak future again emerges and then war, according to your theory.

That would be really perverse.  I can’t think of an example where a country with a declining population went to war.  In any case, Japan will provide a test case shortly.

Russia may be a good crucible to study here

Possibly.  I have not given a lot of thought to the problems in Russia.  Some of them are probably genetic such as sensitivity to alcohol.  Alcohol seems to have come late to the Russians and they are still in the process of genetically getting used to it.  (Unexposed populations range up to 95% alcoholics—if they can get it.)

and the more affluent European nations like Sweden and Germany whose many immigrants are not melding and working to bolster the economy but actually are causing more of a threat to their viability.

France has certainly had problems of this sort.

Keith Henson

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By Joan, November 7, 2006 at 3:55 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Keith,

Let’s agree for the sake of discussion that starting a war is thought to be in the initiator’s perceived self- interest despite the outcome just because war is by observation risky business that can backfire and of course be detrimental to survival.

So, as our saga continues, opting not to move way to greener pastures, in the face of a bleak future, man undertakes war for his perceived benefit…part of this process is that psychological sorts of genes as opposed to those known through lab work on the DNA strands, namely memes, are passed along from those who decided to go to war to the future generations, all the better of there are more recipients of these memes in sum total after the warring is ended (inclusive fitness)… and this psychological occurrence replicates itself over the centuries, with more and more people’s behavior being influenced by these memes…religions are among those sets off psychological genes, memes, and religions serve at times as a moral permission to fight wars…This is your EP theory (???) This is not biology though, correct? It is a purely psychological sort of inheritance phenomenon? Yes?  What follows from that?

                      OR

Is it a biological inheritance phenomenon? What follows from that?

Re: those masterful Greeks!!!!  Note in “Oedipus Rex” that Jocasta tries to assuage the anxiety of her fretting son/ husband who is lamenting over the prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother. All men have such dreams, she says…again early Freud. Of course all he had to do was not kill a man old enough to be his father and not marry a woman old enough to be his mother.

Aristophanes, the wise-guy Greek play-writer wrote of war, “The Lysistrata”.  This play is about soldiers’ wives who gathered together and came up with a plan to refuse their husbands sex if they went to war.

Then there is the extended peace under Pericles, at least I think it was under Pericles. There was a time in ancient Greece that those who voted for war, went to war…there was along period of peace under that policy… surprise! What of those memes and were they latently manifest by hippies in the 60’ s ?  LOL

Perhaps you could re-post what was lost last time.

Some of my difficulty here is that you cite terms that have certain meanings that I am unfamiliar with.

Joan

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By Malini, November 7, 2006 at 10:56 am Link to this comment
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Thanks Richard!

Well said… and all of man’s history in/of faith is expressed in a nutshell…

Wish more people saw the LIGHT!

Malini

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By Richard, November 7, 2006 at 7:35 am Link to this comment
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Maani and Joan:

It was ironic that Maani used the word “revisionist.” That’s exactly what all of these mental gymnastics regarding Hitler and the founders amount to. They are desperate attempts to cover up a blunder (or deliberate lie).

Hitler only said he was a Christian and used the Catholic church to gain power. He didn’t really mean it or believe it. The founders only said they despised Christianity and then left us a Constitution completely absent of even a plain vanilla god. They were really “playing the trump Judeo/Christian God card.”

Every time I get into one of these discussions, the same thing happens at the start. I receive the boilerplate speech in which Hitler is turned into an atheist and the founders into Christians, while the most objective history shows exactly the opposite.

Whether it’s stated plainly or just insinuated, people tell me that I have no basis for values or ethics, and there’s nothing to prevent me from being like Hitler [revised as an atheist]unless I adopt the supposed faith of the Founders [revised as Christians].

There is nothing to prevent another Third Reich in this country if that kind of revision and the current push for a new theocracy are permitted.

The words “under God” were not added to our pledge until the Eisenhower administration and are revisionist. The words “IN GOD WE TRUST” were not added to our currency until after the civil war and are revisionist. Newdow is a hero for fighting this revision of our national heritage.

Newdow’s primary opponent, The “reverend” Miles repeatedly told lies about Newdow on his website. He also violated the ninth commandment and has been found guilty of libel. There’s your shortsighted narcissist.

Joan, you are the trained philosopher. I’m just a yokel. It seems obvious to me, however, that we have bigger problems than revisionism if the only way to have values, ethics and morality is to believe in the unbelievable.

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By Keith Henson, November 6, 2006 at 2:53 pm Link to this comment
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Did you intend to clip most of my last reply?

Keith

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By Joan, November 6, 2006 at 12:08 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Richard ,

I appreciate and respect your kind and evenhanded remarks. I do not recall any stabs at my parenthood so I have no hard feelings…I think a few things here…

First, I loved our dialogue. You do a lot of research and really work the material.

Second, many people feel as you do about the Founders, thinking there was no invisible hand of Christianity in the birth of our nation. This is not true as far as I can see. In an accepted Christian culture replete with Christian beliefs, the Founders were selecting what they could play on in order to develop a nation that was protective of religious freedom but not ruled by a single religion like the Church of England or the papacy.  I just want a little credit where credit is due. I do not think their idea was to sanitize the public forum from God. If nothing more, their population would never stand for such a ploy. And that maneuvering will not play much better today. So we all have to work in the real world, a place where religious fervor is a major player. That being said, I also am deeply unhappy about the current administration’s attempt to mingle God with politics. Many Christians and other faithful, like the Founders, are equally fearful of putting God in politics. He does not belong there and Christ made that clear to his followers. On the human side of it though, I think the Christian Right is terrified about what it perceives to be the fraying of the moral fiber in our current society. The best strategy for keeping God out of politics is to take seriously some of the moral qualms these people have. Attacking “the Pledge” and coinage or Christmas trees is just pouring gasoline on the fire not putting it out.

Third, finding or losing God is a very personal journey and in the end, my personal opinion is that although we have churches et al. that want to assist in helping people find God, God Himself pretty much takes that job on His shoulders, one- on- one, perhaps cleaning up the messes that religions make at times along the way. 

Richard, I am a formally trained Western philosopher, by profession. There is no more rational or irreverent group than a bunch pf philosophy professors and grad students. But for all their being rational, I learned that there is the “extra- rational”.  And many other philosophers understand this too. Trying to fit all of the world and its phenomena into being rational or a rational model is like trying to take a size 11 foot and squeezing it into a size 9 shoe.  It’s not a good, workable fit. I cannot tell you how I knew my first- born child would be a little girl with blue eyes and straight blond hair but I did and she was. I cannot tell how I knew as little girl that when I was walking up the stairs to get to my house, I knew my grandfather had died. He had. When I learned I was pregnant the first time, I was captured by the idea that with a recipe and some ingredients I could make a decent batch of brownies but I knew nothing about how to make a baby. This was a gift from Someone Who did know how to make life and He graciously shared that power with me. I think that experience was something like your experience in seeing the churches and understanding the hope they offer.  Saturday night a dinner guest, a retired computer jockey for the Princeton University Nuclear Plasma Physics Lab told me he had just finished a book “The Language of God”, written by a scientist. The gist of the book was that the more science is revealed, the more there seems to be a Designer. Either I give up the idea that everything is understood by the sheer force of reason, no matter how ill explained, or I give up what I know to be my true experiences.

It just seems to me that some people turn to science and reason in order to avoid the moral burden of accepting a God as the moral arbiter. But I think for instance if science or reason failed them, like if science developed technology that demonstrated that life begins at 4 weeks, people would relegate the authority of science or reason to preside over us and our behavior to the same dustbin they have relegated God. It seems that people go to the place that gives them the answers they want to hear.

Joan

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By Richard, November 5, 2006 at 11:08 am Link to this comment
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Joan:

I did a lot of reading, and during a recent drive, a lot of thinking. I must apologize to you. I have probably seemed very dogmatic, and I am trying to rid myself of that tendency.

There clearly was a time in history when Christianity changed the world for the better. Judging by the number of churches I saw on my drive, it probably also still brings a lot of people hope. I also must acknowledge a time in my own life when church helped motivated me to achieve my goals. My interest all along was in ideas, not religion. However, temporary confusion led to sincere devotion. That devotion was more effective than any other motivator I possessed at the time.

I also have to apologize for the stab I took at your parenthood. Whatever I think of your ideals, it was presumptuous of me to insinuate that you will inevitably fail, and my comments served no purpose in our discussion.

This confession brings me no closer to believing in a god again or thinking it does any good for a government (or a parent) to acknowledge one. That would be pure nostalgia, not reason.

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By Keith Henson, November 4, 2006 at 3:41 pm Link to this comment
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Joan wrote:

I have been stepping back from our dialogue to get sort of an overview, instead of tripping over specifics too much. Keith, it seems you are proposing a psychology of evolutionary behavior of man’s warlike behavior. In a nutshell, when faced with bleak prospects imminently or in the far distance, such as Iran, you claim that man will resort to war to enhance his probability of survival.

Close, but not exactly on the mark.  You have to be extremely careful with the wording in models if you want them to be useful for predicting the future.

And, you have to keep in mind that the psychological traits leading to wars evolved in the Stone Age.  Going to war (as Azar Gat points out) wasn’t always the only option.  Sometimes people under resource pressure could move far away.

“Enhance his probability of survival” isn’t the right way to state it either.  War is a chancy business today and was no less so when high tech was sharp rocks.  For the individual, and even the kin group, war only came about because the alternative was worse.

What resulted is the evolved psychological mechanisms we have for amplifying xenophobic memes and going out to kill neighbors when our ancestors perceived “hard times a-coming.”  In the Stone Age such traits statistically and over a long time worked to enhance “inclusive fitness.”  Inclusive fitness has genes “winning” even if many carriers of the genes die, provided there are more carriers of the genes after a war than would be the case taking an alternate course.

Perhaps an example from history would help.  Consider the Spartans at Thermopylae:

” . . . as well as a symbol of courage against extremely overwhelming odds. The heroic sacrifice of the Spartans and the Thespians has captured the minds of many throughout the ages and has given birth to many cultural references as a result.”

. . .

“Knowing the likely outcome of the battle, Leonidas selected his men on one simple criterion: he took only men who had fathered sons that were old enough to take over the family responsibilities of their fathers. The rationale behind this criterion was that the Spartans knew their death was almost certain at Thermopylae. Plutarch mentions, in his Sayings of Spartan Women, that after encouraging her husband before his departure for the battlefield, Gorgo, the wife of Leonidas I asked him what she should do when he had left. To this, Leonidas replied:

  ‘Marry a good man, and have good children.’”

******

Spooky!  Almost as if the Greeks understood EP and genetics.  Perhaps living closer to the Stone Age and incessant war that kept the population in check they would find it easier to understand compared to modern people.

Leonidas’ death did save Greek genes, specifically the Spartans’, more specifically his genes through his children and even more specifically the genes of his male children who would have been killed by the invaders.

Along with the preceding victory at Marathon some ten years earlier, “their victory endowed the Greeks with a faith in their destiny that was to endure for three centuries, during which western culture was born.”

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By Maani, November 2, 2006 at 11:41 pm Link to this comment
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Richard:

Thank you for your thoughtful comments.  As few quick responses (some of them may sound “flip,” but I mean no sarcastic intent…)

You say that Hitler said, “I am now as before a Catholic and will always remain so?”  Well, Nixon also said, “I am not a crook.”  Nuff said.

You say that Vermacht belt buckles were inscribed with “God is with us.”  Two things here.  First, the phrase “In God We Trust” is on our currency and in every courtroom in the land.  But do we really?  The question is rhetorical.  Second, that was the exact phrase (“God is with us”) was used by the Crusaders, whose actions Jesus would NEVER have condoned.

One does not have to have “read Hitler’s mind” in order to know more than mainstream bios etc. may offer.  One need only read more broadly (this is not an accusation).  And yes, I have read Mein Kampf.  But I’ve also read dozens of other books, treatises, that were clearly propaganda, no matter what they may have CLAIMED to be.  Hitler may appeal to “the Eternal Creator, divine providence, and Christian morality,” but as Joan so concisely notes, not one iota of his actions conform to even the most minimal application of Christian ethics or morals.

You say that Hitler’s ties to the Church helped keep him in power, and specifically that, “the Church lends itself nicely to being used…the Papacy never ex-communicated or condemned him.” More’s the tragedy that you are correct; the Church (particularly the Catholic Church) did not exactly comport itself well during Hitler’s reign.  It was at best wimpy and at worst tacitly complicit in what occurred.  [N.B.  It may also be that the Church knew that Hitler eventually intended to turn against it, and simply did not want to “hasten” that.”

That said, it is worth keeping in mind that their were SOME Catholic parishes, and many Protestant parishes, that created an escape route similar to the “underground railroad” of the Civil War South - finding ways to hide Jews (and others), and get them to safety in allied-controlled countries.

As for Hitler’s feelinga about Christianity, his speech to the party faithful was only a speech.  His actions spoke louder.  For example, at one point he attempted to arrest all of the parish priests in Prussia, a total of about 500.  20% escaped, but 80% were in fact arrested.  Many were tortured or killed.  Within a year, over 220 were dead.  By the time the war ended, less than 2% of all parish priests remained in Prussia.  Over 400 had been murdered.

And that’s just one incident.  But it speaks volumes more than any claims Hitler might have made about his Christianity.

Finally, while I suppose it is true that Catholicism includes SOME “symbolic mysticism” within it, that was not what I meant.  Perhaps I should have been clearer about the pagan leanings of the Aryan race as a whole.  Let’s just say that they had (have?) far more in common with Druids, Wiccans and/or what we call “new age” “spirituality” than with anything within the “Judeo-Christian construct.”

I only “harp” on the Hitler issue because there is so much “revisionist history” being written about him vis-a-vis Christianity, and it is not only “annoying” to me as a Christian, but also a bit scary - that ANYONE (particularly Western scholars) would play the “revisionist history” game with Hitler, of all people.

Hitler was NOT a Christian; his motiviation for the Third Reich, the “Aryan master race” and the “final solution” had NOTHING to do with Christianity; he was simply “using” it to further those goals.  Again, that the Catholic Church was largely silent is unarguable and tragic.  But to continue to make any connection between Hitler and Christianity is to continue the dangerous and inflammatory canard that Christianity had anything to do with the Holocaust.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Peace.

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By Joan, November 2, 2006 at 6:35 pm Link to this comment
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Richard,

Actions speak louder than words…no matter what he says…Hitler violated every tenet of Christianity I can possibly think of…Hitler was as much a Christian as he was a Jew…

You are right that Catholicism is a extremely mystical but I do not see what clothing has to do with it??? Totally agree wtih you about transubstantiation being mystical…most people don’t get that.

Joan

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By Joan, November 2, 2006 at 6:26 pm Link to this comment
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Keith and Maani,

I have been stepping back from our dialogue to get sort of an overview, instead of tripping over specifics too much. Keith, it seems you are proposing a psychology of evolutionary behavior of man’s warlike behavior. In a nutshell, when faced with bleak prospects imminently or in the far distance, such as Iran, you claim that man will resort to war to enhance his probability of survival. Maybe because of certain universal moral precepts, such as in the NY Times article Maani cited like the prohibition against unjustified killing, men develop certain ideologies that give a sort of morally acceptable permission to suspend these precepts to engage in war. Communism and religions are two such ideologies. You refer to such ideologies as memes that people adapt and act on to preserve their self- interest of survival.
EP seems to be an inter-disciplinary study of sorts encompassing psychology, anthropology, and biology as I gather you are suggesting that these memes may reflect certain chemical dispositions.

Some musings…
If memes do not reflect a biology, how are they different from belief systems? This brings me to my broader question—What does this meme theory give us that prior theories have not?  Anthropologists already speak about how belief systems develop, spread, assist man and die out in tribes.
Another musing… all wars minimally are wars of perceived self- interest. All wars need perceived moral permission prior to engagement and during engagement. History tells us that there have been religious wars. And there have been wars that do not pertain to religion per se. My sense is that you are claiming that no matter the smokescreen that gives permission, all wars are fought with the bleak future motivation as the paramount one for the war. Now I can agree theoretically but it is a stretch…Iran being a case in point…Iran has the option of developing nuclear energy peaceably with IAEA inspections etc, to prepare for the day that the oil wells run dry but Iran has not opted to do so…it has opted for belligerence …Palestinians have not opted for security and prosperity but have also opted for belligerence…perhaps the bleak theory has to be expanded to not only include material survival, ie, gathering your protein but also perceived psychological survival ie, a bleak psychological future theory of war.. This may explain Kim Jong Il, Ahmadinejad, Caesar and Alexander….

Lastly, although religions are exploited to give permission to engage in war, it is important to note that religions are not founded with the primary end to give man permission to fight wars. They have other more immediate functions and are generally called upon to meet other of man’s complex needs. Religions are bastardized. It is crucial in scholarly study to give an authentic depiction of the intent of religion and other ideologies, distinguishing their paramount intent from their misuse or corruption when making judgments about value of these ideologies. Otherwise they are misrepresented. We have seen some heinous tragedies in science but we would not want to say that because of them that these tragedies were this is the purpose of science. Think thalidomide here.

It was my engineer husband’s idea about the earthquakes and tsunami’s as a type of nature’s population control…I think this could be right because in the grand scheme of things, population control does not have to be causally linked to a given population, just the way of nature.
Hepburn/Tracy…humor, but perhaps as women’s attention turns from childbearing and home to the corporate sector etc there will be rise in female aggression and hence in the total amount of aggression in society… think of it like the pressure/ volume law governing gas, as one decreases, the other increases and vice versa…

The danger with the decrease in reproduction as a way to stem war is that reproduction is a delicate balance. If reproduction declines too much,  the bleak future again emerges and then war, according to your theory. Russia may be a good crucible to study here and the more affluent European nations like Sweden and Germany whose many immigrants are not melding and working to bolster the economy but actually are causing more of a threat to their viability.

Joan

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By Richard, November 1, 2006 at 2:23 pm Link to this comment
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Peace:

I’ve never read the quote you provided, and it’s very interesting. Maybe he would have done away with the Catholic Church, eventually. I heard he had made private statements critical of the Church for “Judaizing Christianity.” Publicly he remained a Catholic. In 1941 he informed General Gerhart Engel: “I am now as before a Catholic and will always remain so.”

Since I can’t read Hitler’s mind, as you seem to have done, I can only form an opinion of the ideology he espoused, using statements he made that nobody disputes. I cannot conclude, “it’s a fallacy that Hitler believed in the Christian God.” Nor can I conclude that he was an atheist “in any meaningful, supportable sense.” Have you read Mein Kampf? I have, and I found it full of religious talk, appeals to the Eternal Creator, divine providence, and Christian morality.

Whether Hitler was a “true Christian” or not, his ties to the Church helped keep him in power, half of a dual-headed monster, united to subjugate whomever possible. Hitler “used the Church,” as you say, because the Church lends itself nicely to being used by statesmen, as long as those statesmen help preserve the power priests have over people’s minds, hearts, and wallets. The church has not abandoned its doctrine of the divine right of leaders or the teaching that the ideal state is a theocracy. Their current acceptance of separation of powers is merely part of a pragmatic policy of “toleration” (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14763a.htm).

Hitler said, in Mein Kampf, that he wanted to “bring great masses of the people into an organization which is constructed as rigidly as it could be.” (http://mk-searchable.nfshost.com/chapter.php?source=Manheim&Volume=2&Chapter=1). He said, “such an organization is the main preliminary that is necessary for the final triumph of this [his] world view.”

Hitler didn’t just occasionally pretend to get along with the Church. He fashioned his party after the hierarchy of the clergy. He included liturgical forms and language from hymns in public events. His Soldiers of the Vermacht wore belt buckles inscribed with: “Gott mit uns” (God is with us). The priests often sprinkled his troops with holy water. He taught that beating children was good and made Jesus prayers mandatory in all schools.

Hitler never left the church, and the Papacy never excommunicated or condemned him.
They banned great literature, but Mein Kampf, with it’s long anti-Jewish sections and insults to blacks, never appeared on the Index of Forbidden Books.( The Indice Librorum Prohibitorum was published from 1559 until 1966: http://www.fordham.edu/HALSALL/MOD/modsbook09.html). Although the World Council of Churches called for the renunciation of anti-Semitism in 1948, the Catholic Church did not remove the words “perfidious Jew” from the Good Friday liturgy until 1958. They did not formally renounce anti-Semitism until the Second Vatican Council in 1965, when they approved Nostra Aetate. If Hitler didn’t deserve to be excommunicated and have his literature banned, then who, in the history of mankind, ever deserved those sanctions, Galileo perhaps?

Richard

PS: Catholicism is nothing but formalized “symbolic mysticism.” The priests wear the same robes as those who led ancient Babylonian sun worship, and what could possibly be more symbolically mystical than the doctrine of transubstantiation?

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By Joan, November 1, 2006 at 10:24 am Link to this comment
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Richard,

I could not agree with you more…inalienable rights were a revolution upon which the country was built…Kant expanded on this with his idea that man has intrinsic self worth,
the basis of secular humanism but this revolution was not achieved with any other argument but an appeal to a Christian Creator…Jefferson appealed to John Locke who virtually made the Jeffersonian argument…if Jefferson had said instead…”look guys, all man are created equal and endowed with these inalienable rights because John Locke and I said so” do you think that would have won the day??  If it would, Jefferson I think would have left this controversial God out of the Declaration. But give credit where credit is due…the idea of the common man having the same inherent worth (a Christian belief based on everyone being children of God and made in His image) as a king or nobleman or warlord is ludicrous in a power hungry, unequal world…common man only had rights if big, scary or noble God would back him and Jefferson knew this…Check John Locke’s “The Second Treatise on Civil Government”. The argument is outlined there. Philosophers know how to win their arguments and Locke and Jefferson were among the greats. Jefferson knew exactly what he was doing. All I ask is for a little credit where credit is due…inalienable rights are not like eyes and ears that come with the human package at birth…they are concepts…they are concepts that philosophers make up to win what they want to win…without God to give legitimacy to these rights, Locke argues, they have no legitimacy. Kings and leaders therefore could take them away when they wanted to…these philosophers are grabbing at what they can to win dignity for man and they played the trump “ Judeo/Christian God” card. Knowing that earthly people would not give anyone inalienable rights…only God is crazy enough to love everyone and think they are His children no matter how lowly and Christians of all stature believe this and Jefferson had about as winning a hand as he was going to get. It does not matter whether or not Jefferson believed in God, what mattered was that his consumers did and they did……do you see what I mean? Out of these Christian philosophies and this philosophic slate of hand came our foundation for human rights and we all have benefited…it was the birth of an extraordinary nation with citizen protection the likes of which the world had yet to see……credit where credit is due…America owes Christian thought about mankind a debt of gratitude…

Of course Jefferson did help not create a theocracy that would have brought him back to square one with priests and mullahs holding all the cards once again. He was trying to avoid those religious power plays because when God is on your side as Jefferson well understood you can just about pull off anything you want… give inalienable rights and fly planes into tall buildings.

Just because I admire Jefferson’s cunning and the power of God in the Declaration, like the Founders I do not want a theocracy of any sort but I do not want a society in which any behavior is morally acceptable and you can check my previous post to Maani for some reasons. I do not see this wonderful moral society that Harris claims will rise up in the absence of God through the hand of reason. We are a smutty society that lacks business and political ethics. We feel free to win at any cost. We are engaged in frivolous (not morally justified) abortions.  You get my drift. To quiet the Christian Right I would see that this act was cleaned up. A break down in moral codes is a survival issue. It’s hard to raise a child these days in this mess. And I would not worry so much about sanitizing God from society by taking his name off of coins, ala Newdow. What an intolerant, short- sighted narcissist. History tells us despite the Harris fantasy that we may wake up to a world in which religion has just disappeared through enlightenment, people will cling to God and if it does not hurt others, who is anyone to deny them, your guidelines per your initial post. The Founders, irreligious a lot that they were, were morally good and courageous men, risking everything, life itself, for religious tolerance among other things. This is how Newdow repays their selflessness and courage, religious intolerance. Great. Minimally, the rest of us who reap the benefits of their courage and foresight should repay the Founders and respect their sacrifices by respecting others, despite different religious viewpoints. Religious tolerance is their legacy to us, we who are safe from persecution, and God on a coin is not persecution by any stretch. Religious tolerance is important. That is what disturbs me about Harris, a lack of toleration, not his challenging immoral behavior in religions. That’s acceptable and necessary but ridicule, no. It is not a philosophical mindset and seems unprofessional and will backfire, as serious philosophers will only go so far with a colleague who does not re- visit his work in the face of valid critiques. Scholars and related professionals will move on and that would be a loss because Harris is right that some religious behavior is unacceptable and extremely dangerous and this cannot be ignored in the name of tolerance or political correctness. Some actions we recognize as inherently evil.  But professionals will not get involved in hatemongering and Harris is bordering on this at times.
RE: Hitler…give me a break …would you believe me if I told you I was Angelina Jolie… i do ncare hwat he says, Hitler is no more a Christian than I am a anthropologist or EP scholar…just ask Keith Henson…Hitler is just pulling a Jefferson…God comes in handy to our own personal ends.

Joan

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By Joan, November 1, 2006 at 8:03 am Link to this comment
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Maani and everyone and Malini…halloween is just great…BOO!

Please forgive me for the lengthy posts these past two weeks…so much interesting stuff coming up it is too hard for me to resist comment…

Maani,

Good article…most moral philosophers don’t seem to definitively know the difference between right and wrong (see my response to Dave Summer’s last week about moral conflicts). Pretty much though moral philosophers have concluded the following, last time I looked…

-without moral rules in play, societies would disintegrate i.e. there must at least be honor among thieves, this is why…collapse and chaos…morality and our natural disposition toward it is strongly linked to our survival
-moral philosophers are very aware that children exhibit moral awareness prior to formal socialization of moral precepts and could conceive of this natural disposition to be a moral agent to be part of our basic human nature, scientists may explore exactly how this works. Many sciences were distilled from philosophic discussions. Aristotle is credited with the genus/ species classifications and the idea of classification in general, zoology and botany, distinctions that generated sciences in their own right and held for centuries, for example after he divided the world into the animal and plant realms.
-there is terminology to discuss this phenomena in children such as moral consciousness/ conscience
-this phenomena is often spoken of as if it were an appetite, thirst for fairness and justice, pangs of guilt. etc.
-moral philosophers have generally talked as though man has a disposition to behave morally, balancing his self interest with moral directives
—but these terms are hokey and outdated in our sophisticated, accept anything as morally correct society… cool people no longer act in accordance with their consciences and look to the legal system to define moral behavior. This is not very satisfying though.
-moral philosophers have generally talked as though man had a disposition to behave in a morally correct manner, balancing his self interest with moral guidelines
-certain moral guidelines seem to be universal, or apply across nations…this is to insure the survival of the species
-moral behavior seems to be like pornography, you may not be able to define it but you know it when you see it. Much discussion in ethics classes is trying to work back from your moral conclusion, as Hauser notes,  to the steps you took to get there
-almost every major philosopher spins out a theory of morality, a very small subset of which are appeals to God as the arbiter of right and wrong. So it is interesting that Jefferson made an appeal to God to bolster the case against denying man certain types of moral treatment as a citizen… he probably felt he had no other option that would work as well…
-most educated people are unaware of the amount of moral discourse that takes place in philosophy and are unfamiliar with the context of the discussions and the terminology, this includes scientists… so it will be interesting to see where Hauser winds up…is he saying something new here or just re- casting what philosophers talk about in different more science friendly lingo…

Scientific language, rational philosophic discourse on morality and Godspeak, so much babble about the same phenomena…we have to master so many tongues to talk to each other…
Joan

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By Maani, October 31, 2006 at 9:28 pm Link to this comment
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Richard:

It is fallacy that Hitler believed in the Christian God.  Hitler was an equal opportunity hater for whom Christians were second only to Jews on his hit list.  Keep in mind that along with 6,000,000 Jews, Hitler murdered 5,000,000 others, including 2,000,000 Christians, plus Communists, homosexuals, blacks, gypsies, the elderly, and the physically and mentally handicapped.

Hitler simply “used” Christianity to fulfill one purpose, but fully intended to eliminate it once that purpose was done.  Indeed, in a 1933 address to the party faithful, Hitler said, “It is through the peasantry that we will finally be able to destroy Christianity.  One can be either a Christian or a German.  But not both.”

People seem to forget that Hitler’s “ultimate” goal was a “master race,” and that master race was Aryans.  However, Aryan is not a religion, but a bloodline.  And few if any Christians are of Aryan descent.  In fact, if Aryans as a race have any “religion” at all, it is a form of “symbolic mysticism”; i.e., paganism.

Hitler was either a pagan or an atheist, but he was certianly NOT a Christian - particularly not one in any meaningful, supportable sense.

Peace.

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By Richard, October 31, 2006 at 7:29 pm Link to this comment
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Joan:

Your remarks about why Jefferson employed the concept of equality are true. I have no doubt that the language was carefully chosen. I still argue that the most important aspect of his argument was not that the rights came the “Christian creator” as you say. The most important aspect was that rights are inalienable. They can’t be denied (even if you are retarted, disabled or old). We are all born with those rights. Modern scientists often use the term “created” to describe what nature has accomplished through evolution. We can interpret “endowed by our creator” just as easily along those lines. By the way, the word “creator” was not capitalized, and it was in the Declaration of Independence, not the more important document, the Constitution of the United States.

Western political philosophy has indeed “evolved, from the ideas about democracy in Greece, the notion of citizenship in Rome, the Magna Carta, the French Revolution, to Locke to Jefferson.” The founding fathers followed through quite consistently with the idea – making sure congress would make no law respecting an establishment of religion (Amendment I) and that nobody would use religion as a test for public office(Article VI, Section 3). They totally downplayed the importance of religion in public life, leaving us a completely secular state. Bible God is completely out of the picture.

Western political philosophy has continued to evolve after some backsliding. It is good that the Ten Commandments have been removed from courthouses. I hope “under God” is removed from the pledge and “in God we trust” from our currency, to make it clear that we have no national God. When we get together to make laws, judge crimes, carry out the business of this country, we have no God, only our inherent rights.

You said,  “The inherent rights of man would never have sold without a reason or basis for it to be bought. . . . . All man equal before the law is not saleable without God because in the world without God there is no basis for equal or inherent rights.” You ascribe ideas to Jefferson that he never said or intended, and you must be wrong about a world without God. It doesn’t jive with the statement, “The legitimate powers of Government extend only to such acts as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there is no god . . . .”

Jefferson also said: ““Reason and persuasion are the only practicable instruments. To make way for these, free inquiry must be indulged; how can we wish others to indulge it while we refuse ourselves? But every state, says an inquisitor, has established some religion. No two, say I, have established the same.” — Notes on Virginia.

If God was the most important aspect of, “endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights,” our Constitution would have established a national church that has just one creed, such as, “created in the image of God.” Instead we have a secular state that respects no creed or religion.

Getting back to the original point of “God’s Rottweiler Barks,” it is especially important that we leave God at home when we go to war. Our enemies have consistently been motivated by religion. The United States of America never has been.

In honor of Benjamin Franklin, who said, “Force shites upon reason’s back.” I’m going to go pour myself another Poor Richard’s Ale (made it myself so I don’t have to pay a “sin tax”), and then I’ll go to another site and post a rant against our elected leaders, who use religion to get votes and then violate the most sacred human rights.

Richard

PS: If you want to read about a statesman who believed firmly in the Christian God, pick up a biography of Hitler.

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By Malini, October 31, 2006 at 6:08 pm Link to this comment
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Happy Halloween Everyone!

Hope you’ll have great fun watching the kids in your neighborhood!

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By Joan, October 31, 2006 at 5:16 pm Link to this comment
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Keith and Richard

Keith,

I am working on my response.

Joan


Richard ,

My point is not what Jefferson’s personal beliefs about religion are. My point is that as politician he knew he was proposing some radical stuff, like we are all entitled to equal treatment before the law. How, asks Jefferson to himself, does one sell such a cockamamie idea to the powerful? I know- he thinks- use God. If we are equal before God, the argument goes, it is right that we , the people, are equally endowed with certain kind of rights before the law, a real deus ex machina. Seems like smoke and mirrors but it worked because he knew this maneuver would intuitively appeal and be understood by a Christian culture, his audience. All man equal before the law is not saleable without God because in the world without God there is no basis for equal or inherent rights. We clearly are not created equally and there will always be irrefutable arguments that privilege and giftedness should override that which is not privileged and gifted.  The ill and compromised, the elderly are major drains on our limited resources. Why keep them here? Their intrinsic worth to society without a God giving them status is a negative. Astutely, Jefferson appealed to what he knew would sell. Hence he needed to called on an egalitarian Creator to boldly take men and a baby nation where they not gone before.  Funny how God comes in handy. This is how Western political philosophy has evolved, from the ideas about democracy in Greece, the notion of citizenship in Rome, the Magna Carta, the French Revolution, to Locke to Jefferson.  The inherent rights of man would never have sold without a reason or basis for it to be bought. This is true by a review of history and all that has been invoked previously to deny men rights.  Inherent worth could not stand for more tht five minutes without a backer that man could not challenge, God.  Why do you think Jefferson appealed to a Creator especially given that you argue the he did not respect God, which I question based on your quotes.  Inherent rights were not just pulled out of hat like a magic trick. Locke argued it based on God’s existence as the giver of these rights and because God was the giver of these rights, man could not take them away. These rights could not be denied because God Himself gave them to man and this is your protection, Richard and that is what Jefferson did. This is the history of that line in the Declaration—- we have these rights because God gave them to man and hence man cannot deny them to each other. It’s just history, no matter Jefferson’s disillusionment with Christianity.
My point further is that America embraced this idea so basic to Christian thought and ran with it to our immense benefit. I think those who disparage religions ought to give credit where credit is due if they are evenhanded and doing scholarly analyses. I do not think Jefferson in his capacity as a politician would disparage religions because he was in a death fight to establish a nation free of state interference in religious practice and vice versa. Noting the importance of having a wall between church and state, he did want not people persecuted anymore because of their religious beliefs, hence the Establishment Clause which has nothing to do with what he may or may not have felt privately. Given the venom you have quoted, I give the man a lot of credit for human decency. Protecting what others validly believed but what he did not as did many of the Founders, who were not model worshippers of much except some good ale, is a sign of moral excellence in my opinion. I think there should be more of it.
Quite candidly I think of Jefferson’s comments as more reflective of an angst or feelings of personal betrayal than disparaging or mocking and can accept that…many people go through feelings like this when they begin to think on their own…of course the pope is just a man????  I agree with Jefferson, Paul went way out in left field…


As I said… just a little credit where credit is due.  Through an appeal to the Christian Creator, Jefferson gave men extensive dignity and protections they had never known before as citizens.

Curious that this God of religions that you disparage is female.

No doubt the Founders were brilliant, the likes of which the world has not seen again. But the Founders are dead so who will make or enforce the laws to keep this country on the straight and narrow? Obviously members of the executive branch and Congress feel little need to stop torture and the Supreme Court seems to have no problem with cruel and unusual punishment anymore. So much for the precious Bill of Rights.

Joan

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By Maani, October 31, 2006 at 7:20 am Link to this comment
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All:

I have said (as have others, including many evangelicals like myself) that religion does not have a monopoly on morality.  Apparently, there may be evolutionary evidence of this, at least according to a Harvard biologist.  The following link is to a New York Times article re his work.  And although he admits that his work is only a “hypothesis,” it is nevertheless an interesting one:

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/31/health/psychology/31book.html?8dpc=&pagewanted=print

Also, I came across an old NYT article (December 2002) about Dr. David Sloan Wilson, a highly respected evolutionary biologist, who believes that religion may have “evolved early in hominid history because it helped make groups of humans comparably more cohesive, more cooperative and more fraternal, and thus able to present a formidable front against bands of less organized or unified adversaries.”  He goes on to posit that, “Religion has a superficial definition, which is belief in supernatural agents, but some people regard this definition as shallow and incomplete…Or you could say that religion is something that handles concepts of an afterlife, but that definition, too, is limited, and excludes a number of faiths…I think that religion has been very good at rearranging the nonreligious furniture of our mind into a coherent whole.  It takes things like faith, which is what allows you to keep going even in the absence of information, evidence or immediate gratification, and which everybody needs, and it takes forgiveness, which is what you ask for when you transgress, and it reworks these modules…and tries to set them in a permanent ‘on’ position.”

Finally, he adds, “One of the keys to the success of religion is its emphasis on the moral equality of those in the community.  You might be rich, and I might be poor, but in some sense you’re no better than me.  This guarded egalitarianism may be fundamental to the willingness of people to cooperate with others, including those who are unrelated to them, and to become the primate equivalent of a eusocial species like bees or ants…There is no theoretical reason why the moral circle can’t be expanded to include everybody.  Nor is there any reason why we can’t take a surgical approach to religion and keep what is positive about it while eliminating the intolerance.”

Peace.

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By Richard, October 30, 2006 at 7:36 pm Link to this comment
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PS:

I think Jefferson would have made a hobby of disparaging the Pope. He didn’t refrain from criticizing a character even higher in supposed status than a Pope:

“The Christian God is a being of terrific character - cruel, vindictive, capricious, and unjust.”—Notes on Virginia

The Pope is just a human being took the job of priest, and got then promoted by the self-appointed leaders of the Church. Jefferson had nothing kind to say about any priest:

“In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.”—Speaking to Horatio G. Spafford, 1814. ME 14:119

“Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone on man”

Want more? Google James Madison or Thomas Paine on religion. Our founding fathers showed that the things that are supposed to be the most sacred on earth are the ones most deserving of ridicule.

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By Richard, October 30, 2006 at 7:04 pm Link to this comment
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Joan:

Jefferson’s argument wasn’t about whether or not we have a creator. It was an argument about the inviolability of human freedom. Our understanding can safely move forward without the sanction of Popes or even God, if She exists. The main point is, our rights are inherent. They are just right for human beings. The Government doesn’t give them to us, and neither does the Church. Don’t need your creed of a creator to uphold this truth either.

Jefferson called the Bible a pile of dung, and then he took a pair of scissors to it. He started by taking out Paul’s writing, calling him the “first great corruptor of Jesus’ teachings.” Then he removed the resurrection, all miracles, and all claims of divinity for Jesus. You can get copy of his revised Bible at the Jefferson Memorial.

He said of Christianity: “I have examined all the known superstitions of the world, and I do not find in our particular superstition of Christianity one redeeming feature. They are all alike founded on fables and mythology. Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned. What has been the effect of this coercion? To make one half of the world fools and the other half hypocrites; to support roguery and error all over the earth.”—Notes on Virginia.

We should have moved on toward greater independence from religious creed. Instead we are backsliding as a nation.

I wasn’t praising lawmakers. I was praising the Bill of Rights, the wise men who established it, and the existence of a great country where the Government is prevented from interfering with our personal business.

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By Maani, October 30, 2006 at 1:44 pm Link to this comment
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Peter:

Your comment about the South is actually incorrect.  Although it has traditionally been called the “Bible Belt” due to its large Baptist and Protestant population, the reality is that the South - as a region - is no more or less “religious” than any other region of the U.S.  The Northeast is also heavily Protestant, and has a far greater percentage of Catholics (23% compared to 9% for the South).  The center of the country is also primarily Protestant.  The Southwest is heavily Catholic, with some Protestants.  And the Northwest (including California) has the highest percentage of Catholics in the nation (25%), as well as many Protestants.

As for Lincoln, is seems that you are forgetting that although he was not outwardly “religious,” many of his decisions - particularly those having to do with slavery - were informed by his Baptist upbringing in one of the few Baptist churches that was abolitionist at the time.

You might also want to keep in mind that it was primarily Christians (Quakers, Mennonites, Protestants) who created the “underground railroad” that allowed slaves to escape to freedom from the south to the north.

Oh, and there was that whole “civil rights” issue in the 60s that was led by that preacher from the South…uh…mmm…what was his name?  Oh yes, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

Peace.

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By Keith Henson, October 29, 2006 at 9:13 pm Link to this comment
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>OK, Keith…thank you for your careful and detailed response, I know it is time consuming …I like in depth discussion, which, I am sure you have surmised…give me a little time to absorb and distill what you are saying…but… a few things right off the bat…

>Earthquakes, tsunamis can still serve as a long-term population control plan authored by Mother Nature even if they do not occur concurrently with a problematic over population scenario at a given moment.

“Control” has a specific meaning in engineering.  Consider the sump pump in your basement (assuming you have one).  When the level goes up, the pump comes on and reduces the level.

That’s a control on the water level in the sump.  It is also called negative feedback.

When a population of animals goes up then control of the negative feedback type kicks in.  They starve, or disease gets them, or the population of some predator builds up (because of delay, populations controlled this way often oscillate).

It is certainly true that random events can knock a population back, heck, the big K/T asteroid strike seems to have killed everything above the size of a small dog, and the sun going nova would get us all.  But earthquakes and similar bad luck are not normally considered “control” in engineering.

>I think women mostly connect reproduction with sex even though there is choice, certainly Gat does and studies given to college age men still indicate that men by and large select mates based on optimum successful birthing, wide hips.

Sure.  And the preference of men that direction was set in the millions of years we lived as hunter-gatherers.  The ones who partnered with women who were good at having kids left more of their genes.

>Western women now believe that they can exhibit more aggression, as Kate Hepburn says kidding in Adam’s Rib after she kicks Tracy…“Now we can all be men.”

I really don’t understand this point.  EP has strong application in the present world, but our psychological traits were mostly determined in the Stone Age.

>Re: counterexamples…said with the caveat of not being a professional historian, I think Caesar and Alexander, Genghis Kahn are examples of those who went to war without need for sustenance, in fact Caesar and Alexander not only could provide for their populations, they also provided for the sub society of slaves as did Ramses of Egypt. They presided over societies that had much time for political and philosophical debate, engineering feats and hours and hours of sports and games. They seemed to go to war to expand their already very successful empires, the success of which is probably what precipitated their ambitions rather than the bleak future……hence a counterexample.

There is no data for those examples I am aware of that links up those who start wars with looking into a bleak future.  But there also is no counter data.  The US civil war was not exactly about food, but it was about the bleak times the South would undergo if they lost the slaves.  Indeed, that’s exactly what happened, it took the South at least a hundred years to recover.

If the average woman in historical times had only 4 surviving children, the population *doubles* ever generation.  That alone generated a bleak future.  There was in most of historical times a need to go to war just to burn off the excess population.

>Re: Iran…food for oil…Iran has black grain, we have golden grain.

And there is growing realization that the oil will run out with nothing in sight to replace it.  That realization is a part of the current “bleak future” perception.

>Ahmadinejad is more like Alexander and Caesar then Pol Pot who interestingly turned on his own tribe which I do not believe Gat covered

Azar Gat’s work is on the evolutionary reasons behind the fighting that is observed in virtually all primitive people.  Gat, incidentally, is also a well-known military writer so he might well have something to say about Pol Pot or Rwanda.

>the aforementioned sans Pol Pot are hungry for something other than protein. North Korea has through dumb policies, as I understand it goofed up its farming production and still can reverse that if they want to without any war…There is no real world wide food shortage

That’s true, but I make the case that it is the anticipation of bleak economic times a-coming that is the trigger for the build up of xenophobic memes which in turn lead to wars or related social unrest (riots, terrorism).

>clearly, there is some psychology in play here in Iran and North Korea …I lean toward psychology rather than bleak future theory…

“Bleak future theory” *is* psychology, specifically evolutionary psychology.

>do not know the meme in play or the genetic misperception… hard pressed to tease out a religious one beyond the level of a straw-man for Iran…seems like aggression and self delusion, delusions of grandeur with a dose of an inferiority complex…but maybe I am dating myself here.…

Self-delusion and the rest you mention are part of the theory.  In the run up to wars, the ability of humans to think rationally gets trashed.  Read the accounts of the Rwanda machete killers.  They are baffled as to how they got into the state where they did the killings.

There is a straightforward evolutionary reason this happens.  (Divergence of interest between the person and their genes—in the inclusive fitness sense.)

>my perplexity…initially I thought you were proposing that all wars were fought because people harbored these religious typical memes…now I think you are saying something like Gat, wars are fought to insure basic needs, etc…in the I last post, you say some wars are fought because “some xenophobic meme, often in the ones we call religion, synch up the population to the point they support a war….

*After* the conditions exist that cause a population (originally a hunter gatherer band) to perceive a bleak future.  There is a causal chain involved.  For some physical reason (over population, bad weather, etc.) the population perceives a bleak future.  This turns up the average “gain” for people in that population circulating xenophobic memes.  The circulating xenophobic memes induce a population to support war.

>but than this is different from Gat’s bleak future theory, or is this meme behavior occurring concurrently with the bleak future theory or is it subset of the bleak future theory…how does the bleak future theory Gat propounds interface with the meme idea?

See above.

>You say it was backdrop but you appeal to also. It seems like there are two theories running simultaneously, going back and forth between them but then discussed distinctly

Model:

Deteriorating physical reality (or anticipation of same) leads to:

Perception of bleak future, which leads to:

Higher gain for xenophobic class memes, which leads to:

High prevalence of “belief” in some xenophobic meme, which lead to:

War.

The reverse is also true.

In Northern Ireland, I claim that the decline in birth rate led to improving income per capita, which led to a perception of a brighter future, which led to a decline in the gain of xenophobic memes, which led to an actual decline in xenophobic memes which led to less population support for the warriors which led to the IRA declining and eventually going out of business.

>how do you characterize the wars we are waging in Iraq and Afghanistan

Stupid.  But that’s to be expected.  Attacker or defender, either role makes the people involved irrational.

But hunter-gatherer wars are completely rational from the gene’s viewpoint.  If anticipate conditions are bleak enough, it makes sense to try to kill neighbors for their resources, even given the high chance of dying.

>how is it that religions are often the ones that synch up the populations to war…not obvious to me…

That my paranoid insight about the very ability of humans to carry religious memes at all.  According to evolutionary psychology, ever single psychological trait in humans and all other animals is either the result of direct selection or a side effect of some other trait that was selected.  “Selected” here is shorthand for natural selection, i.e., the trait helped genes to get into the next generation more often than not.

Now it is not just religions that fit into this psychological “slot” in human minds.  Communism competes for the same site (in that people with communists beliefs are much less likely to host a conventional religion).

But what caused the mental slot for religions to evolve in the first place?

>Caesar, Alexander indicate for me that Gat ‘s exlanation for war is incomplete, which in fact it may be… but I do not know if he would argue that all wars are fought for sustenance, in other words I do no know if what I read, was his entire thesis…if you are proposing that all wars are a function of religious memes,

Obviously not so, there are plenty of wars where there was no “religious” class meme involved.  Pol Pot for example or the US Civil war.  But some meme of the class that *includes* religions did provide the “justification” so the warriors could go into killing frenzy mode.

>I think Caesar, et al all are counterexamples to that contention as well…but I think I am missing something here with regard to your position, so I am reserving judgment…if you are contending all wars are to stave off a bleak future,

No.  They are in anticipation of a bleak future.  The US Civil war is an example where the war certainly did not stave off a bleak future.  It was an attempt to stave off a bleak future, but they lost.

>I think Caesar and Alexander are counterexamples given that these men seemed to fight to enhance their already mighty empires…or are you saying some wars fall into the bleak future category and others into the religious meme category…

See “model” above.

>I could accept that with the caveat that some wars fall into the delusion of grandeur/ aggression category. I do not really give a damn about hoe my people suffer, I am making a point here to the world……

>Re: “infestation”, speaking candidly—- “infested with religious memes”, “xenophobic”, and the “reason for wars” all in the same sentence, it comes across as a negatively prejudiced interpretation…as much as we may be infested with bacteria…“infestation” is usually an unflattering term and coupled with a discussion on religion and its roles in society…well, it is not emotively neutral, even though this is not your intention, others will see the equivocation…that’s all…

Suggest another word then.

>Religions are like most anything…they do some good and they do some harm…it’s awfully hard to demonstrate black and white….

Oh, I agree.  Good times, religions may well have other functions, but I note that 2 generation without wars and people start falling away from religions.  This suggests there is a connection.

>I am married to an engineer…dangerous group…weird memes, but then again so are philosophers.

It would be interesting to let him read this and see what he says.

Engineers are as a groups hard to provoke—fortunately.  They know how the infrastructure was put together.  Engineers also know how to take it apart.

Piss off the engineers in your country, you are in real trouble.

Keith Henson

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By Joan, October 29, 2006 at 2:59 pm Link to this comment
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Richard,

This same Jefferson to whom you refer, stated, all historical evidence to the contrary, that all men were created equal and were endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This appeal to a Creator was necessary to insure equality and is important for two reasons,

—-in political philosophy, and certainly Jefferson was versed in John Locke,  this maneuver was needed to justify giving the common man the same legal standing as the elite which was not done too much previously. The poor, disenfranchised and bottom rungs of society could never truly hope to share the same privilege before the law without a Great Equalizer, and

—-this type of thinking of equality is rooted in Christian philosophy that maintains that we are children of God, no matter our station in life,  and is hence, a strong basis for the human rights we in America enjoy, such as equality before the law, a case in point…Jefferson knew he needed a slam/dunk to sell equality of man before the law so that at the inception of a brand new country the elite could not once again gain license to trample over the common man. Your quote speaks to addressing the problem of avoiding religious persecution, ironically. I would be surprised if Jefferson would have approved of the disparaging piece Harris wrote with respect to the pope.

Pedophilia is no more inherent to Christianity than it is to members of Congress, those people who make the laws you describe.

Joan

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By Peter Britnell, October 29, 2006 at 2:23 pm Link to this comment
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Right on Richard!!
Unfortunately even pedophile priests are not enough to wake up the sheeple from their mass-delusion and weak-minded acquiesence.  The achillies heel of this democracy?  It’s populace.  Maybe Lincoln was wrong to keep the South.  Jesus-land has us hamstrung.  Ratzinger and the Born Again Prez.  Yippee!

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By Richard, October 29, 2006 at 12:02 pm Link to this comment
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Don’t need your religion. Don’t need your church to have a stable society. All we need is a Government that is denied the ability to interfere with our rights as people, and an enforcement arm that prosecutes anybody who does.

Thomas Jefferson was so right on. He said, “The legitimate powers of Government extend only to such acts that are injurious to others. But it does me no harm for my neighbor to say there is no god or twenty gods.”

If it weren’t for men like Jefferson, I’d have to kiss the hand of one of these silly old priests every weekend. And when he decided to sodomise one of my children, there would be nothing I could do about it.

Nothing would please me more than to see these men stripped of their power—the power they have assumed over the souls of people and the power people give them over their hearts and minds.

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By Joan, October 29, 2006 at 9:04 am Link to this comment
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Everyone,

Totally with you on this, Maani…“science and religion” courses are routinely given in philosophy departments to sort through some of the ideas that we have seen lately on this thread…I too do not think they are mutually exclusive and I am not sure how the turn down that path was made but it is been evident in the evolution/ intelligent design debate…my fear here is that academic freedom is at serious risk from the people we rely on to protect free speech, the liberals ... to me this is a real unexpected reversal in values of freedom of speech…

How to end the bickering…
I think faith comes as you, Maani, once described… like a clear and distinct perception in the Cartesian sense…you somehow know. I have had numerous experiences like this and consider them mystical. I think people need to realize that we each make our life’s journey in a very personal way that others may not fully grasp…but that does not make what someone feels or perceives wrong…things go sour when we become self righteously imperialistic with these personal experiences and religious teachings and socially progressive philosophies- disavowing the legitimacy of other viewpoints we do not understand, disparaging them or forcing them on others. We are allowed to challenge viewpoints and reject them with all due respect. When these ideas are endangering us, we I think, are morally compelled to challenge them.

Did anyone read the Washington Post article… found it informative on Harris’ background, http://www.Washingtonpost.com, search “Atheist Evangelist’ by David Segal ...


Joan

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By Maani, October 28, 2006 at 12:49 pm Link to this comment
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I would like to make a general comment here, one that goes back to the raison d’etre of this thread.

Just as many like to pit “science” against “religion” - the two of which, as any reasonable (LOL) person knows, are not mutually exclusive - it would seem that many people (e.g., Harris) want to pit “reason” against “faith.”

Based on the discussion that Joan, Keith, Rick, myself and others have been having over the past couple of weeks, I think we can put to rest any notion that reason and faith are mutually exclusive: i.e., I don’t think it is “unreasonable” to suggest that Joan and I obviously have no problem discussing and debating from a position of reason and rationality.

The question then remains: what are the roles of reason and faith, and how do we end the “partisan” bickering regarding them, and learn to respect each others’ points of view?

Peace.

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By Joan, October 27, 2006 at 5:56 pm Link to this comment
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Keith,

OK, Keith…thank you for your careful and detailed response, I know it is time consuming …I like in depth discussion, which, I am sure you have surmised…give me a little time to absorb and distill what you are saying…but… a few things right off the bat…
Earthquakes, tsunamis can still serve as a long-term population control plan authored by Mother Nature even if they do not occur concurrently with a problematic over population scenario at a given moment. 

I think women mostly connect reproduction with sex even though there is choice, certainly Gat does and studies given to college age men still indicate that men by and large select mates based on optimum successful birthing, wide hips.  Western women now believe that they can exhibit more aggression, as Kate Hepburn says kidding in Adam’s Rib after she kicks Tracy…”Now we can all be men.”

Re: counterexamples…said with the caveat of not being a professional historian, I think Caesar and Alexander, Genghis Kahn are examples of those who went to war without need for sustenance, in fact Caesar and Alexander not only could provide for their populations, they also provided for the sub society of slaves as did Ramses of Egypt. They presided over societies that had much time for political and philosophical debate, engineering feats and hours and hours of sports and games. They seemed to go to war to expand their already very successful empires, the success of which is probably what precipitated their ambitions rather than the bleak future……hence a counterexample.


Re: Iran…food for oil…Iran has black grain, we have golden grain…Ahmadinejad is more like Alexander and Caesar then Pol Pot who interestingly turned on his own tribe which I do not believe Gat covered… the aforementioned sans Pol Pot are hungry for something other than protein. North Korea has through dumb policies, as I understand it goofed up its farming production and still can reverse that if they want to without any war…There is no real world wide food shortage…clearly, there is some psychology in play here in Iran and North Korea …I lean toward psychology rather than bleak future theory…do not know the meme in play or the genetic misperception… hard pressed to tease out a religious one beyond the level of a straw-man for Iran…seems like aggression and self delusion, delusions of grandeur with a dose of an inferiority complex…but maybe I am dating myself here.…

my perplexity…initially I thought you were proposing that all wars were fought because people harbored these religious typical memes…now I think you are saying something like Gat, wars are fought to insure basic needs,  etc…in the I last post, you say some wars are fought because “some xenophobic meme, often in the ones we call religion, synch up the population to the point they support a war….but than this is different from Gat’s bleak future theory, or is this meme behavior occurring concurrently with the bleak future theory or is it subset of the bleak future theory…how does the bleak future theory Gat propounds interface with the meme idea? You say it was backdrop but you appeal to also. It seems like there are two theories running simultaneously, going back and forth between them but then discussed distinctly…how do you characterize the wars we are waging in Iraq and Afghanistan…how is it that religions are often the ones that synch up the populations to war…not obvious to me…

Caesar, Alexander indicate for me that Gat ‘s explanation for war is incomplete, which in fact it may be… but I do not know if he would argue that all wars are fought for sustenance, in other words I do no know if what I read, was his entire thesis…if you are proposing that all wars are a function of religious memes, I think Caesar, et al all are counterexamples to that contention as well…but I think I am missing something here with regard to your position, so I am reserving judgment…if you are contending all wars are to stave off a bleak future, I think Caesar and Alexander are counterexamples given that these men seemed to fight to enhance their already mighty empires…or are you saying some wars fall into the bleak future category and others into the religious meme category… I could accept that with the caveat that some wars fall into the delusion of grandeur/ aggression category. I do not really give a damn about hoe my people suffer, I am making a point here to the world……

Re: ”infestation”, speaking candidly—-  “infested with religious memes”,  “xenophobic”, and the “reason for wars” all in the same sentence, it comes across as a negatively prejudiced interpretation…as much as we may be infested with bacteria…”infestation” is usually an unflattering term and coupled with a discussion on religion and its roles in society…well, it is not emotively neutral, even though this is not your intention, others will see the equivocation…that’s all…

Religions are like most anything…they do some good and they do some harm…it’s awfully hard to demonstrate black and white….

I am married to an engineer…dangerous group…weird memes, but then again so are philosophers.

Joan

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By Keith Henson, October 26, 2006 at 8:57 pm Link to this comment
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Keith,
>Socrates held that man seeks his own (perceived) self-interest. Freud asserted that man is motivated by sex and aggression. I can confirm the latter as a female pioneer in the male bastion of philosophy.

You, and Freud and Socrates are right.  But *why*?

That’s the kind of question evolutionary psychology can help answer by setting up the correct class of model.

>You’re right…I mean population control not birth control…tsunamis as population control vs. accident of nature…Where’s the data to support your ” random accident of nature” assertion?

Earthquakes and tsunamis happen at times unrelated to human population buildup.

>Reviewed Gat…lots of talk about connecting war to sexual reproduction, desire for women, birthing babies et al… so how is war behavior not about sex?

Sex per se can be decoupled from reproduction.  That’s what women in western cultures have done with the aid of effective birth control.  As a result, the future does not look bleak and there is little pressure in those cultures to *start* wars.  (Being attacked is a different situation.)

Ultimately, because war is the result of population growth in excess of economic growth, empowered women in western cultures have ended war—at least *those* cultures are not hot beds who want to start wars.

>Opposition of ideas, like religions, is not even covered by Gat as tangential to war as I recall. So is war based on religion per se or sheer survival with religion as a veil for the perceived self- interest aggression?

Gat provides the background for my model in “EP, memes and the origin of war.”  Xenophobic memes (often but not always “religions”) are a link in the causal pathway leading to some tribe or nation starting a war, but not the original cause.

>I do not disagree with Gat’s anthropological views of war, namely his work as theoretical expansions of the types or descriptions of self- interest that get the ball rolling…

Good.  I think it is really a well-written and convincing article.

>Gat does not touch on inflated narcissism, self- delusional

My model states that self-delusion is the outcome of brain modules that are invoked when the interest of a person’s genes diverges from their “rational” interest.  I.e., irrational behavior in war and states lead to war is a *feature* not a bug.

>notions of grandeur as a catalysts for war i.e. Ramses, Caesar, Alexander, Genghis Kahn, Kim Jong Il, Ahmadinejad.

Along with Hitler and Pol Pot, I depreciate “leaders,” making the claim that economics, or rather perception of future prospects, are more important in predicting if a war will happen that the leader who happen to come along.

>North Korea and Iran can very peaceably feed and dignify their people if they so desired,

Part of the problem in both places is the meme set the leaders are “infested” with.  Neither of them really releases the people to grow enough food nor do they empower women enough to get the birth rate down to replacement.  In the case of North Korea, they had floods that eventually resulted in a lot of people starving.  If I remember correctly, Iran doesn’t come close to growing enough grain to feed its hugely expanded population.  This is in spite of a considerable reduction in the population growth rate.

>if these were the paramont concerns.  How is this not about aggression, ego?

>Caesar’s campaigns, Alexander’s conquests, Genghis Khan’s aggressive expansions, the wars of Peter the Great, the Trojan Wars, the Peloponnesian Wars, Persian Wars…big wars, lots of loss of life…population control, nothing to do with religion.

The claim of my work is that *some* xenophobic meme, often in the class we call religions, synchs the population up to the point they support a war.

>Perused your work. Saw no specific empirical data, other than the “catch all” that we are biologically or genetically disposed to what we seem to do, to support that religious memes are distinct from mores` or other evolutionary thought processes that are developed to serve man’s self -interest

You need to be very careful here.  The self-interest of a person and their genes can diverge.  That leads to weird behavior like suicide bombers.

>and discarded when they do not do so. So where is the empirical support for the predisposition for people with these supposed religious markers, religious memes, that invite wars that thin the herd as a function of their evolution in our thought processes? Your work seems still speculative.

Sure, it’s speculative.  And it’s all peoples who have the trait of going to war when things look bleak, not just those carrying religious memes.  Since I wrote the last paper, I have come to view religious class memes (and related memes like communism) as seed xenophobic memes.  I also think the trait to have such memes is adaptive in that such xenophobic memes spreading among a population will induce that population to attack first (an advantage in wars).

BTW, you can torpedo my theory with an example of a population starting a war where they *did not* think they were looking into a bleak future.

>“Infestation”, “infested”, “infesting with religious memes” are derogatory terms when applied to people who practice religions. Practicing a religion is not having a disease and is no more pathological that maintaining other beliefs or philosophies.  Using such negatively charged, emotive language detracts from the dispassionate, neutral disposition on which scientific inquiry prides itself.

Assuming you are a normal human, you are infested with 40 to 100 types of bacteria and other organisms.  Most of them are at least harmless; some of them are essential symbiotes.

Google meme infested to see that this is a commonly used and not particularly derogatory term.

If you go back 20 years and read my earliest papers on memetics, you will find that I was favorably disposed toward religious memes as being protective symbiotes with the function of keeping you out of lethal cults.  But the question eventually occurred to me why people would have “PROM like” religious beliefs at all.

In the EP view, people would not be susceptible to religious memes if having a religious meme (as a class) had not been useful in the past to getting their genes into the next generation.

All I am doing is proposing that such memes had a function, that of seed xenophobic memes, that enhanced genetic survival for those with the capacity to “host” religion class memes in the hunter-gatherer environment were most of our evolution occurred.

If you don’t agree that the ability to host/hold religions class memes was directly selected, then please suggest (if you can) what directly selected trait they might be a side effect of.

Keith Henson

PS, I am not a scientist, just an engineer who developed an interest in EP for reasons similar to a cancer patient who knows a lot about his particular cancer.

In my case, I had a cult after me—which might be worse than having cancer.

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By joan, October 26, 2006 at 6:13 pm Link to this comment
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Everyone,
FYI, October 26, 2006…today’s Washington Post has an article on our favorite “Atheist Evangelist” by David Segal.
http://www.washingtonpost.com ...search “Atheist Evangelist”.
Joan

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By Joan, October 26, 2006 at 12:36 pm Link to this comment
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Keith,

Socrates held that man seeks his own (perceived) self-interest. Freud asserted that man is motivated by sex and aggression. I can confirm the latter as a female pioneer in the male bastion of philosophy.


You’re right…I mean population control not birth control…tsunamis as population control vs. accident of nature…Where’s the data to support your ” random accident of nature” assertion?

Reviewed Gat…lots of talk about connecting war to sexual reproduction, desire for women, birthing babies et al… so how is war behavior not about sex? Opposition of ideas, like religions, is not even covered by Gat as tangential to war as I recall. So is war based on religion per se or sheer survival with religion as a veil for the percieved self- interest aggression?

I do not disagree with Gat’s anthropological views of war, namely his work as theoretical expansions of the types or descriptions of self- interest that get the ball rolling… Gat does not touch on inflated narcissism, self- delusional notions of grandeur as a catalysts for war i.e. Ramses, Caesar, Alexander, Genghis Kahn, Kim Jong Il, Ahmadinejad…North Korea and Iran can very peaceably feed and dignify their people if they so desired, if these were the paramont concerns…How is this not about aggression, ego?

Caesar’s campaigns, Alexander’s conquests, Genghis Khan’s aggressive expansions, the wars of Peter the Great, the Trojan Wars, the Peloponnesian Wars, Persian Wars…big wars, lots of loss of life…population control, nothing to do with religion.

Perused your work. Saw no specific empirical data, other than the “catch all” that we are biologically or genetically disposed to what we seem to do, to support that religious memes are distinct from mores` or other evolutionary thought processes that are developed to serve man’s self -interest and discarded when they do not do so. So where is the empirical support for the predisposition for people with these supposed religious markers, religious memes, that invite wars that thin the herd as a function of their evolution in our thought processes? Your work seems still speculative.

“Infestation”, “infested”, “infesting with religious memes” are derogatory terms when applied to people who practice religions. Practicing a religion is not having a disease and is no more pathological that maintaining other beliefs or philosophies.  Using such negatively charged, emotive language detracts from the dispassionate, neutral disposition on which scientific inquiry prides itself.

Joan

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By Keith Henson, October 25, 2006 at 12:30 pm Link to this comment
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Keith,
>I am getting a little lost here… A scientist, I am not. Are you saying that you believe that there is a natural, evolved predisposition in people who practice religions to precipitate wars

It is a species wide predisposition from the time we all lived as hunter gatherers to go to war when future prospects start looking bleak.

>and this is one of nature’s birth control methods,

Population control, not birth control.

>such as earthquakes and tsunamis which I do think are population control methods perhaps but who really knows? 

Earthquakes and tsunamis are random bad luck, not population control methods even if they do kill a lot of people.

>I am unfamiliar with the notion of “memes” but, it, from context seems like it pertains to genetic behavior. Please explain. 

Short form, memes are elements of culture, replicating information patterns, etc.  Long form,  you have a computer, Google it.  Results 1 - 10 of about 1,240,000 for memetics.  (Study of memes and their effects.)

>I also think that wars thin the populations but that has always struck me for the most part as a side effect of, not a motivation for war, except when the conquerors want to eliminate the young men who will resist conquest. Certainly not all wars are religious wars, just power/land? wealth grabs.

War is a species typical behavior for humans.  Our closest relative, the chimps engage in something very close to war, and do wipe out neighboring groups (genocide).  The question in evolutionary biology is how this came to be?  At the root of it, humans have no predators (except other humans) and until very recently had no other ways (birth control) to check population growth.

>Because of the high infant death rates before the onset of effective medicines,

You are taking far to short a view.  Before agriculture and the rise of dense populations disease was far less of a problem.

>people had many children. That was their way of taking care of the aging parents too, not because of religious motivations. This is not to say the prohibition against birth control in a few religions, certainly not all, is not a way to spread the religion. (Protestantism for the most part has no issue with birth control nor does Judaism, I think.) But again isn’t this the way powerful men think?

Men and women (powerful or not) think the way they do because that’s what got their genes into the next generation during the 99% of our history that we lived in hunter gatherer bands.

>Powerful men seem to find all sorts of ways to maintain or spread their power, using religion, politics, acquisition of wealth, security, economic, etcs, reasons to justify their aggression.

Aggression (in particular war) is only one strategy.  I highly recommend you read Azar Gat’s paper that I mentioned.  If you can’t find it, I might be able to send you a copy.

>This trait is not just endemic to religious ideologies.

Religions are just one subsection of the class of xenophobic, warrior synchronizing, memes that “justify” wars to those fighting.

>Maybe we are just re-explaining basic Freud, i.e. sex and aggression motivate most behavior, clearly biological.

Freud is *way* out of date, even some prominate Freud followers such as Dr. Badcock at London School of Economics recognize that.  Google evolutionry psychology and read the primer.

Keith Henson

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By Joan, October 25, 2006 at 11:24 am Link to this comment
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RE: post 33087 by Dave Summers, MD

Hi Dave,

Ms. Ali seems to know how to look after herself.  I have every confidence she will land on her feet.

As you described well, in moral decision- making we draw from a number of resources. There is also a set of moral precepts that come into play and I am wondering what they are for you.

The “Schiavo type” cases do not seem to pose authentic moral dilemmas. She was irreversibly injured and nature should have been allowed take its course. The only dilemma seemed to be a political one for the president, not a bona fide moral conflict. The “Schiavo type cases” typically do not cause ethicists much difficulty. Given the test results, the basic moral guideline that would probably be in play is that if pain can be ameliorated, it should be because unnecessary suffering is morally unacceptable. Nature taking its due course is not a moral assault, just life.

Some Examples of equally valid and rational but conflicting moral precepts——
Usually several equally valid approaches to resolution to moral conflicts come up in the cases of competing interests or moral directives that seem to be pertinent to the problem but are diametrically opposed to one another in a given problem. One such classic case runs through discussions in business ethics. This is a model.  American corporations want to establish business in countries with lower standards regarding human life. Such countries do not have unions and consider the loss of life an acceptable trade off for the enhanced business and economic opportunities such investment offers, thereby maybe raising the standard of living in the long term in the less wealthy country.  Third World nations may be more willing to sacrifice a lot of lives for progress but American corporations would never adopt such a business ethic in their own home court as Americans would deem this morally unacceptable. Is this an ethical business practice and would you as an American investor think it is ethical to invest in a company that utilizes such business practices? The dilemma: providing opportunity to countries to enhance their economies, raise standards of living, etc. is a morally good thing. This is valid moral reasoning. But lowering safety standards or generally exploiting the poor or defenseless is a morally unacceptable thing to do. This is valid moral reasoning. These seemingly valid moral concepts oppose each other in this instance. What moral theory or concept does one invoke to resolve this so that one knows he/she is doing a morally acceptable thing.

Here’s one that may be closer to home. Scientific data indicates opiates are cheap and extremely effective pain-relievers and that addiction rates run at about 6 % and hence are not rampant.  Pain patients want relief but doctors often do not medicate pain adequately. The conflict: suffering should be alleviated while at the same time doctors are entitled to protect themselves from an overly aggressive DEA. Both valid self interests that conflict.
Or…The United States and Western nations are entitled to eke out a life by practicing free trade and developing new ideas as a way to support its population, etc.. And the Middle East is entitled to protect its own culture and avoid being overrun with Western values living as they please. Abortion debates are typically centered on the valid conflict of interests of mother, father, and fetus.

This is how many ethicists couch the discussions of moral conflicts, dissecting the details. The insolubility of these conflicts cries for a moral context, or moral guidelines which have generated new moral theories of what is morally correct behavior—hence the evolution of philosophical thought over the past centuries.  Succeeding theories are intended to address the failure of prior ones to adequately resolve the conflicts. No theory has achieved unquestioned success to the best of my knowledge.  Applied ethics problems of which bioethical ones are a subset may be less resistant to a solution because of the unusual amount of data available and the obvious limitations of options imposed by scientific advancement or lack thereof, and limitations of biological human life. Perhaps by inspection they are qualitatively different from more general ethical problems. Fodder for another discussion but this may account for your success in resolving these kinds of problems. I do not know if your model would suffice in other types of moral dilemmas like the business ethics puzzle previously cited. After years of discussions, I am skeptical that it would because of the lack of data, for example.
So you are right that to resolve certain types of moral conflicts we do our fact- finding and have our discussion. But I am wondering what specific moral context or axioms you rely on to decide one way or another, when the resolutions are not obvious like in the Schiavo case?  What are the moral values you base your decisions on?  And how do you know they are the morally correct decisions?

RE: Science
I am wondering how science and other disciplines deliver the answer. Many on this thread have supported science as almost the new messiah and I do not see it. As a formally trained Western philosopher, forced to critique numerous moral systems while gathering world wisdom along the way, I concluded that science without ethics or morality is just as scary as religion without morality. For instance, we have nuclear power and weapons here because of Einstein, who was a very morally responsible person. Effectively after the fact, Einstein said—-whoops… maybe this is not such a good thing, maybe I should not have done what I did. And I think maybe he should not have done what he did either, even though science could do it. Given Iran, I am so sorry science delivers the capability for mass destruction in way a religion has yet to do.

Science has no moral authority. There are aspects of science to be rejected if not congruent with the social progressive agendas. Look at the Larry Summer’s fiasco. How much needed medical scientific and social scientific research has been squelched in the name of equality of the sexes? Or look at the paranoia generated by the evolution/intelligent design debate. The truth will emerge ultimately but academic freedom is now the casualty. And this at the hands of the intellectual illuminati!? If scientific technology eventually demonstrated that human life began in the 10th week, would frivolous (not morally justified) abortions be outlawed?  Psychology studies have indicated that children living with parents with considerable tension are better off than living with divorce. Have these findings any moral authority or had any impact on the divorce rate?  What happens when the limits of science fail you, especially as in your profession? Where can these disappointed patients turn for assistance with their complex human issues? As the mother of two beautiful, twenty- something daughters I understand why science though correct was no comfort to Ms. Schiavo’s parents.

Excepting sciences such as theoretical physics and mathematics, science is often advanced in the context of its culture. Culture influences what kinds of questions are asked and how they are asked with what kind of outcome is expected. How epistemologically valid is that knowledge in a given point of time? How often are scientific findings reversed? Is science the deliverer or does it still need to be conducted in a moral context? If so, what is the agreed context? Who determines it? Do we have a moral obligation to obey scientific evidence or the discretion to judge parts of it as irrelevant, not what we want to hear?

Lastly, every time I have met my surgeons, in their crisp shirts or scrubs and seen that confidant air while I lay on a gurney, I have secretly hoped that the person would not make a mistake. With all the human error, it is an act of faith to surrender to this kind of science. And we always must take such leaps of faith.

Joan

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By Maani, October 24, 2006 at 5:13 pm Link to this comment
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Dr. Summers:

Your reasoned, rational, empirical scientific, medical approach is welcome.  Being one of three scion of two rabidly atheist, Ph.D.-level professors (one in statistics, one in structural geology), I was raised on the “scientific method” and rational reason throughout my childhood and into my young adulthood.  I state this simply so you do not presume that I come from a family in which I was indoctrinated into faith/religion at an early age.  As well, my “coming to the faith” - at age 22 - was the result of a very reasonable and intensive 8-year study of comparative religion.  Thus, unlike most, my faith and belief actually spring from my rationality - though I accept in advance that that sounds like an oxymoron.  Still, there is simply no other way to state it honestly.

That said, it would seem that since you are in fact a rational, reasoning person, you would be open-minded enough to consider that there might be more to life and human issues than JUST the reasoned, rational, empirical, scientific (and medical) approach.  Otherwise, you, as a rational person, simply box yourself into a corner from which you could not emerge even if compelling (if not absolute) evidence were found for alternative human “methodologies” for approaching moral and other dilemmas.

That there is little if any “tangible” evidence thus far for such an alternative methodology (which, given this discussion, is assumed to be “spiritual-instinctual” in nature) does not mean that it does not exist, much less that it can be dismissed in a foregone conclusion of its non-existence.  That approach does not sound rational to me.  After all, there is precious little evidence that a particle can be in two places at the same time, or spin in both directions simultaneously - yet most quantum scientists believe this to be quite possible.  Yet I would be remiss in suggesting that those theories be dismissed as “impossible” simply because almost no tangible evidence exists to support them.

Finally, I would think that a rationalist would not resort to such broad-brush generalities as “the morality which religion has hijacked.”

A more reasonable statement might be, “the morality which some groups in some faiths have hijacked.”  Faith/religion does not have a monopoly on morality.  I know of no Jew who would say it did, nor, indeed, most Muslims (though some extremists might).  Nor do most Catholics, nor a large number of Protestants, including many evangelicals.

What you seem to be referring to is the so-called “religious right” in the U.S.  But if that is who you mean, why not say that, instead of making such an unnecessarily generalized statement?  As a related aside, the “religious right” represents only about 37% of U.S. Christians.  The only reason that you (and many others) are so quick to lump all (or most) Christians into the “monopoly on morality” label is because the religious right has dominated the “public eye” (media) for some time, not allowing more moderate voices to get heard.

However, those moderate voices are increasing, getting stronger, and beginning to get heard even in the mainstream media.  However, given how long the religious right has been dominant, it will take a little time before the moderate voices can be heard strongly through the din.

In the meantime, know that there are many Christians who agree with you - that they do NOT have a monopoly on morality, and that atheists (to say nothing of people from other faiths) can be just as moral as the most devout Christian.  Painting with the broad brush will only alienate those of us who are prepared to “get your back.”

Peace.

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By Dave Summers, M.D., October 24, 2006 at 3:40 pm Link to this comment
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RE: Joan’s comments, queries #32754, on 10/23/06

I haven’t read A.H. Ali’s LA Times article, Joan, but was happy to see that she had come to America safely after her ordeals in the
Netherlands Parliament; their loss should be our gain, provided
Ali seeks non-American Enterprise Inst. ideas & opinions of &
about America, or specifically the MLK, Jr. & DuBois & Frederick
Douglass insights on America plus the Baldwin, Malcolm X & long NAACP entanglements “in the land of the free [but also] the home of the [slave]”.

Facing moral dilemmas has been relatively common in my career in neurology, and like the morality which religion has hijacked (Dr. Paul Kurtz’s truthful observation), human experience, not
faith fabrications of invented Gods, has determined my decisions; truth, reason & scientific rationality underly such
decisions, as does a pragmatic approach.  Recently in a LTE of
Free Inquiry magazine, I criticized the misconceptions of Nat
Hentoff re: the PVS (persistent vegetative state or rudimentary
brain-dead state) of the Schiavo “corpse”.  Hentoff, like a single
neurologist (of 19,000 in the American Academy of Neurology),
regarded Schiavo as “alive”, but neurologic & MRI evidence plus
AAN guidelines for deciding cerebral death had confirmed by
repeated analyses over the 15 yrs of the vegetative state, that PVS was the correct diagnosis, meaning the condition was not
reversible or that conscious awareness was absent (confirmed
later by autopsy, although the diagnosis was certain w/o a post-
mortem exam being necessary).  This was “a moral dilemma” for
Bush & the parents & religious right zealots & even for Bill Frist,
M.D. along w. one neurologist but not for competent and
experienced neurologists.  So Hentoff was contemptuously wrong to disagree with neurologic expertise & with scientific data, especially by labelling the cessation of nourishment as
“coerced death”; he also criticized hospital determinations of
“futility” in those cases presenting with carefully determined
irreversibility or brain death (or those 15 yrs of Schiavo’s futile
care, when neurologists knew the PVS was not reversible).  Even
some neurologists emphasize patient wishes, including care that
merely delays the pronouncing of demise; however, integrity of
physicians, in my view, obligates them to disclose both authentic
hope (when recovery is possible) & false hope (when reversal from cerebral death is not possible, yet “life” is apparent while
nutrient & respiratory support are continued).  Such appearances
however must be correlated with exam findings, lab data, EEG or
CT or MRI or other facts which either negate or confirm the
recovery potential and when that potential is zero or brain death is confirmed, medical support should end. 

Thus, moral dilemmas for me are decided by the experiences of
humanity over many years, by scientific enlightenment, by my
own education & training, by new discoveries and by opinions of
others—in combination.  Finally truth, reason & scientific
discourse are the foremost determinants, yet I’m cognizant of
dilemmas for which these factors offer little help, but in my
experience equal rationalities seldom or almost never occur.  If
you are aware of such equally rational moral options that may
confound decision-making I’d like to have an example.

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By Joan, October 24, 2006 at 1:24 pm Link to this comment
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Keith, Rick, Maani,

Keith,
I am getting a little lost here… A scientist, I am not. Are you saying that you believe that there is a natural, evolved predisposition in people who practice religions to precipitate wars and this is one of nature’s birth control methods, such as earthquakes and tsunamis which I do think are population control methods perhaps but who really knows?  I am unfamiliar with the notion of “memes” but, it, from context seems like it pertains to genetic behavior. Please explain.  I also think that wars thin the populations but that has always struck me for the most part as a side effect of, not a motivation for war, except when the conquerors want to eliminate the young men who will resist conquest. Certainly not all wars are religious wars, just power/land? wealth grabs.
Because of the high infant death rates before the onset of effective medicines, people had many children. That was their way of taking care of the aging parents too, not because of religious motivations. This is not to say the prohibition against birth control in a few religions, certainly not all, is not a way to spread the religion. (Protestantism for the most part has no issue with birth control nor does Judaism, I think.) But again isn’t this the way powerful men think? Powerful men seem to find all sorts of ways to maintain or spread their power, using religion, politics, acquisition of wealth, security, economic, etcs, reasons to justify their aggression. This trait is not just endemic to religious ideologies. Maybe we are just re-explaining basic Freud,  i.e. sex and aggression motivate most behavior, clearly biological.

Rick,
I hope you will reconsider. I think some of Keith’s conclusions are a bit startling but worth exploring philosophically. You and Maani have been key players and core to this entire thread here. I am curious about you thoughts here on Keith’s ideas.
Joan

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By Maani, October 24, 2006 at 12:13 pm Link to this comment
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Rick:

Exactly what was it that bothered you so much that you feel the need to withdraw from our discussion, much less the entire thread?

If it was my response to Keith, I am not sure why it would cause such a severe reaction.  Keith made a statement that he was claiming is based on science, one which is prima facie outrageous: that the “gene” (or “meme”) for religion (assuming its existence) was in fact a gene/meme that caused people to kill others, in this case for natural resources.  I not only posited that neither history nor “religion” supports such a notion, but that his claim belied a deep hatred - a belief behind which I stand firm, unless shown otherwise.  After all, suppose I claimed that the gene/meme that makes one an atheist was an evolutionary adaptation that caused atheists to kill each other for basic necessities?  Setting aside that you would certainly attempt to refute it, would you not feel that my belief in such a theory (a totally unsupported one, at that) showed an underlying hatred of atheists?  I do not see how it could be otherwise.

If this was not what you are reacting to, please let me know so we can “clear the air”: there seems no reason for you to withdraw simply because you feel I was “out of line” in some way.

Peace.

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By Rick Yel, October 24, 2006 at 10:27 am Link to this comment
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Maani,

I thought we were having a rational discussion.  For weeks we went back and forth with near-rational discourse, but unfortunately that has come to an end. I see now that this can no longer take place.  My best to you all, Rick Yel has made his final post. 

(A Concerned) Rick Yel

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By Malini, October 24, 2006 at 9:08 am Link to this comment
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Thanks Steve M!

I agree!!!

Wish we watched our world closer and used our priceless energy and talents to attend to the real concerns… rather than keep debating on the theories… and miss the existing realities around us altogether…

Are we a bunch of dreamers, living in our own egocentric little world???

Have a fun day Everyone!

PS:  Have you visited the poorer areas in your town lately???  If you haven’t, you should… Why? Why? Why? are they in that plight???  Hasn’t the society, you and me included, failed them???

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By Keith Henson, October 23, 2006 at 9:18 pm Link to this comment
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#

Comment #32603 by Maani on 10/23 at 10:41 am

Keith:

>You say, “I make the case that religions originated as xenophobic memes that functioned to induce human groups to kill other groups when resources got tight—most often because of population growth. You can see a gene based psychological trait for being induced to kill off neighboring bands when the prospects of feeding your kids though the next season was looking bleak would be selected.”

>You must be kidding. 

Not in the least.

>Setting aside the unbelievably cynical and inflammatory nature of such a comment,

There is no intent for my statement to be either cynical or inflammatory.

>it does not hold water.  Because your misreading of the OT notwithstanding, there is not a single instance of Jews (or, as far as I know, Muslims) killing others in order to obtain food or other necessities.

The statement is a claim as to the evolutionary origin of the psychological traits that cause people to have religions at all.  As such, the environment of evolutionary adaptivenesss (in which such traits were selected) was hunter gatherer bands.  The time was over the millions of years.  Most humans became farmers starting in the mid east about 10,000 years ago.  But the same problem of population build up and wars to cut it back existed everywhere prior to the middle of the last century and is a problem today in large parts of the world.

>This is to say nothing of the fact that not only has there never been a case of Christians killing anyone for necessities,

Was Pope Urban II a Christian?

In 1095, on the eve of the First Crusade, he wrote, “For this land [France] which you now inhabit, shut in on all sides by the sea and the mountain peaks, is too narrow for your large population; it scarcely furnishes food enough for its cultivators. Hence it is that you murder and devour one another, that you wage wars, and that many among you perish in civil strife. Let hatred, therefore, depart from among you; let your quarrels end. Enter upon the road to the Holy Sepulcher; wrest that land from a wicked race, and subject it to yourselves.”

>but the entire faith is based on, among other things, charity, selflessness and service.  Remember Jesus’ adminition that if someone asks for the coat off your back, “give him your cloak also.” And Jesus’ last words (to Peter) at His final post-resurrection appearance were, “Feed my lambs.” He was speaking both literally and figuratively (i.e., spiritually).  And Christians have always been in the forefront of charitable work, including specifically feeding others, even when it meant taking from their own coffers.

It happens that one of the most wicked things you can do is to feed people in a situation where all it does is increase the number of babies being born into a world that cannot support them.  And how many religions promote birth control?

>Are you suggesting that these “killer” religious memes somehow “evolved” into their exact opposite? 

No.  Bush is supported by the Christian right and uses religious organization to make war just like Pope Urban did.

>I’d like to see some support for that belief.

Unneeded. 

>As for “dedicated brain structures” for religion, the research in this regard is not even close to conclusive;

It doesn’t matter.  Religions are a species typical behavior for humans.  Species typical behaviors are the result of evolution.  Physical structure built by genes underlies behavior.  This is just biology and logic.

>for every study you cite, I will cite one (by equally respected researchers) that belies it.  Indeed, despite hundreds of experiments and dozens of studies, there is ZERO evidence of a “God gene,” or anything similar.

>Your comment about religious memes and their “killer” nature belies a hatred of faith and religion that I have rarely encountered - not even Mr. Harris would support your comments.

I don’t hate anyone infested with even the most vile of religions, not even the scientologists who corrupted the courts, made me a refugee, maintain a hate page against me and some other 50 odd people (http://www.religiousfreedomwatch.org) and have stated publicly they are out to kill me. 

>I can only hope (and, yes, pray) that one day you will be able to let go of that hatred.

There is no point in hating even the most dedicated jehadist just as there is no point in hating someone with TB or leprosy.

Google evolutionary psychology memes war and read the recent article I wrote.

Or sex drugs cults for the previous article.

If you detect any hate, it’s your problem because there was none intended.

Keith Henson

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By Joan, October 23, 2006 at 5:12 pm Link to this comment
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Hi Dave,

There is another interesting article germane to this general discussion in the Los Angeles Times by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the former member of the Dutch parliament. See http://www.latimes.com. See Sunday Current section.

I guess for you this discussion is moot. Before you sign off, I wondered this-

If you have a moral dilemma or conflict and have found there are were several equally rational approaches to dealing with this dilemma or conflict how do you choose between the two or several rational options? How do you know what is the morally correct choice?

Re: The pope’s remarks. He was the first one with a loud enough voice to challenge the lack of debate in Islam and insistence to blind obedience to the Koran. Given that religions will not disappear, the more they are pressured to apply reason to certain propositions, the better. Christianity and Judaism have long traditions of doing so and should continue. Hence they have disavowed the violence once endemic to their faiths centuries ago.
Joan

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By Dave Summers, M.D., October 23, 2006 at 12:19 pm Link to this comment
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RE: Comment 32544, by Joan

Thanks for this info from Harvard; in my view (and that of the 16%
of Americans who are secularists) being educated in the principles
of The Council of Secular Humanism & the Center for Free Inquiry
(Amherst, NY) are needed far more than any retreat into the non-
sense & unreason of supernaturalism or religion or faith.  Just as
the Pope’s plea for “reason” (while accusing Islam of unreason or
violent atrocities) is literally ludicrous, teaching “faith” that’s
geared to reason is virtually impossible; faith doctrines are antithetical to reason, i.e. religious dogma promotes both unreason
and fantasies that are equated with Peter Pan, Cinderella, etc., if
not worse via immortality or otherworldly nonsense.

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By Maani, October 23, 2006 at 10:41 am Link to this comment
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Keith:

You say, “I make the case that religions originated as xenophobic memes that functioned to induce human groups to kill other groups when resources got tight—most often because of population growth. You can see a gene based psychological trait for being induced to kill off neighboring bands when the prospects of feeding your kids though the next season was looking bleak would be selected.”


You must be kidding.  Setting aside the unbelievably cynical and inflammatory nature of such a comment, it does not hold water.  Because your misreading of the OT notwithstanding, there is not a single instance of Jews (or, as far as I know, Muslims) killing others in order to obtain food or other necessities. Indeed, it was Joseph who convinced Pharoah to store up seven years worth of grain so that there would be food for EVERYONE (Egyptian, Jew, foreigner) alike.  Yes, there are passages in which the Israelites are “told” by God to go into other lands and conquer them.  But this was not based on a need for necessities; God had provided manna and water during the entire 40 years exodus.  Rather, it was so that the “might of their God” would “go before the Israelites” and cause their “enemies” to think twice about resisting or attacking them.  (I’m not making a moral judgment here; I’m simply stating facts.)

This is to say nothing of the fact that not only has there never been a case of Christians killing anyone for necessities, but the entire faith is based on, among other things, charity, selflessness and service.  Remember Jesus’ adminition that if someone asks for the coat off your back, “give him your cloak also.”  And Jesus’ last words (to Peter) at His final post-resurrection appearance were, “Feed my lambs.”  He was speaking both literally and figuratively (i.e., spiritually).  And Christians have always been in the forefront of charitable work, including specifically feeding others, even when it meant taking from their own coffers.

Are you suggesting that these “killer” religious memes somehow “evolved” into their exact opposite?  I’d like to see some support for that belief.

As for “dedicated brain structures” for religion, the research in this regard is not even close to conclusive; for every study you cite, I will cite one (by equally respected researchers) that belies it.  Indeed, despite hundreds of experiments and dozens of studies, there is ZERO evidence of a “God gene,” or anything similar.

Your comment about religious memes and their “killer” nature belies a hatred of faith and religion that I have rarely encountered - not even Mr. Harris would support your comments.

I can only hope (and, yes, pray) that one day you will be able to let go of that hatred.

Peace.

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By Joan, October 23, 2006 at 7:01 am Link to this comment
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Everyone,

There is an op-ed in (October 23, 2006) today’s Washington Post entitled “Reason and Faith at Harvard”. For various and sundry reasons, ranging from the number of students who profess a belief in God to jihadism, Harvard is considering making a “Reason and Faith” course part of its core curriculum. Check http://www.washingtonpost.com. See Opinions section.
Joan

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By Keith Henson, October 22, 2006 at 11:03 am Link to this comment
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#

Comment #29990 by Anthony on 10/20 at 8:14 am

>Keith,
>I think what predisposes us to religion is the
>ability to reason in a higher order than the
>current animials around us.

Effectively you are saying that the psychological trait to pick up religious memes is a side effect of the general ability to reason.

I used to think that way too, but the nature of the trait seems an awful long ways from reason.  There are also specific brain sites (an area in the temporal lobe) that are known to be involved in the maintenance of religious beliefs.

William Calvin (excellent web site) makes the case that the growth of human cognitive abilities was itself a side effect of brain expansion to support projectile hunting.

I suspect that after hominids started chipping rocks, other hominids were by far the largest factor in selection.

Psychological traits such as capture-bonding or the ability to up religious memes are the results of genes.  Genes for such behavior would not have been passed on in the hunter gatherer days unless they contributed to inclusive fitness (more surviving offspring or offspring of near relatives).  You might want to read Azar Gat’s excellent paper “The Human Motivational Complex: Evolutionary Theory And The Causes Of Hunter-Gatherer Fighting” before it vanishes from the cache.

http://72.14.203.104/search?q=cache:Qj9DZVvPBOsJ:cniss.wustl.edu/workshoppapers/
gatpres1.pdf+“azar+gat”+hunter+gatherers+filetype:pdf&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=4

(You will have to splice the URL)

>Our ancestors banned together in hunter/gather
>groups for survival.

This isn’t recent.  It’s fairly obvious that primates leading to humans have been social for at least 20 million years.

>This could be looked at as one of the first
>“steps” in evolution of our cognitive potential
>and the ability to “reason”, which led to our
>species rising to the top of the food chain.

>It’s the ability to “reason”, that forces our
>species to explain the world around us.

I used to think that was a good explanation.

>I suspect
>That since the dawn of man “reasoning” is
>hardwired in human beings.

Reasoning. as in rational thought, is considered by most people to be the opposite of hardwired.

>Religion(s) in a sense, is nothing more than
>hunter/gather groups, centered on explaining the
>world around them and answering those age old
>questions; who,how and why that spring from
>“reason”. For example, as the groups of our
>ancestors (separated by distance) formulated art
>and language as a higher form of communications,
>so to did the growth of shared understandings
>within each of those group(s). Over time each
>group(s) came to some explanation of that
>question and hence the earliest rudimentary form
>of religion (as we know it) began. What I find
>ironically funny and interesting is, at some
>point two of these independent groups met!…I
>think it fair to say the did not have excact art
>or language to promulgate shared understanding
>between them, so it follows, that the varied
>“religious” aspects would have to be explained
>etc. In this sense it would have been the very
>first “debate” on what each groups “religion”
>means, ergo at its root, differing explanations
>for God’s (who, how and why) existence. So you
>can see, despite our evolutionary dominance as a
>species we still today are grunting and
>scratching the same itch! . Find the gene that
>formulates the creation of the human brain and I
>would say that’s why we are predisposed to
>religion.

>Thoughts?

It would seem much more likely to me for mental agents to evolve that kept people working to feed and defend relatives rather than thinking such distracting thoughts.

Since we *have* religions, and even dedicated brain structures for them, the ability to be infected with such memes seems far more likely to have been directly selected than to be a side effect.

If that was the case, then what function could religious memes (and the brain mechanism for them) have had?  I argue that they were part of the mechanism (wars, see the Gat paper) that killed as high as 60% of the adults in such primitive groups as we have records about.

I make the case that religions originated as xenophobic memes that functioned to induce human groups to kill other groups when resources got tight—most often because of population growth.

You can see a gene based psychological trait for being induced to kill off neighboring bands when the prospects of feeding your kids though the next season was looking bleak would be selected.

The Old Testament sure has a lot of this in it if you look.  (Numbers Chapter 31, vs 7-18 for example.)

Keith Henson

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By Joan, October 22, 2006 at 9:05 am Link to this comment
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Anthony,

You absolutely get it…in my journeys as a philosopher I studied a lot of world views and as a Catholic I was indoctrinated before I could ever think about God myself…like Harris, I concluded a lot about religion did not make sense and was dangerous, but I also knew religions had been put together by MEN, not God. I concluded in my early 20’s that there is a lot going on the world and I wanted to process it all for myself, using my own mind and experiences. And I have shared some of my conclusions about God on my posts here. I think everyone should make up their own minds …Some things Harris says I agree with and some I don’t. But I encourage everyone to have a healthy skepticism about what they are told, especially with theories as sweeping as Harris’ theories…I think there are major problems with some of his ideas, for example this notion that nations without religion will be morally superior. This is not verified, a Harris standard for accepting anything as correct. Or religious propositions are not verified. Except for mathematical propositions, propositions in many fields of endeavor are not verified and we must use them to function in our daily lives, anyway. We have to function in the face of a lot of question marks, as a matter of fact. That’s the way it is. So I do not think Harris’ argument about the unverifiable aspects of some religious propositions is strong enough to warrant Harris’ conclusion that religion and God should be abandoned in favor of this mythical morally superior, non- religious nation. I worry that people do not really scrutinize his arguments.
Re: Pascal’s Wager. I have really nothing to lose by believing especially because I am willing to deny aspects of religion I judge to be dangerous without fear of damnation. I hope people establish for themselves what they think God is like before accepting Harris hook, line and sinker. In my religion of one person, me, I have concluded that God likes honesty. So challenging Him and even telling Him you have no use for Him is Ok as long as this is what you really feel. He really places the burden of your salvation in His Hands, not in the hands of mankind.  Again, I think it is a good idea to have a healthy skepticism in general of just about anything anyone says.
Joan

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By Anthony, October 21, 2006 at 5:53 pm Link to this comment
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Joan,
I think I get it. It sounds somewhat like a “Pascal’s wager”. The soundness of your reasoning
is only for you to understand. I doubt Sam Harris would concur tho, but since you state your a religion of one, perhaps he would!

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By Steve M, October 21, 2006 at 6:44 am Link to this comment
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To Everyone,

I think I am going to stop participating in this commentary because I don’t want to read so many lengthy sermons.  I like debate and encourage it but it seems to have peetered out.  Does anyone else feel this way?

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By Joan, October 20, 2006 at 3:15 pm Link to this comment
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Hi Anthony and Everyone,

My tradition has not been Islam but I have as a professional philosopher read the Koran and bit about Islam. I just know Islam on a cursory level. That being said in my religion of one, me, I have found truths in other spiritualities. I think some of God is captured in all religions but no religion captures all of God. Muhammed too may have had direct contact with God or Gabriel. Who am I to say he did not? To me, he seems correct by holding that people should make contact with God throughout the day. I do but more casually than Muslims. I believe people report their experiences in their books. Some are more accurate than others because people make mistakes. That is why I think it is VERY IMPORTANT to realize that YOU SHOULD NOT SPIN OUT DOGMA if you feel you have connected with God or had mystical experience. I check my experiences against others who say they have experienced God. For instance, yesterday my mother left her glasses at the eye doctor’s office. I called and requested that they mail them to her because the office is quite a distance from her home. They readily agree to do so. This morning I was in the vicinity of the MD’s office and “Something” just told me to get the glasses myself which I did. When I got the glasses they were packed in a bubble envelope with no additional protection. I know if they had been mailed that way, they would have been broken. Hence I had a “Noah build the ark, God will explain later” experience .The God of Noah gave a warning and I chose to follow it. I know the same God that Noah knows. People have these type experiences all the time. But as I think Della Reese says, “People see God’s Face all the time. They just do not recognize it.” Another case in point, years ago, facing some tough problems and exhausting all my rational options, while in the semi- mellow state induced by distance running, not knowing if God had a face or name, I told God I would just do what He said to deal with these issues. It goes without saying that I would reject any unethical suggestions. And I pretty much kept my word and He seemed to take me at my word. It seemed like He rolled up His sleeves and got to work and I opened up my mind to Him. No fireworks or dramatic miracles but new ideas and trust. Doing this more and more, over a number of years a lot of puzzle pieces about God, and man and life and religion began to put together a picture. I learned that you can have significant contact with God without a middle man, one on one and that the relationship is very tailored to you and your personal need. Hence it is more satisfying. Jesus had a one on one relationship with God primarily. So while I was doing this, the words about Jesus being the Way and the Truth and the Light took on a different meaning for me again because they had been verified by experiences I had with God. Christianity fell into the hands of Paul almost immediately and Paul was a rule guy who like Sam Harris also wrote open letters to Christian communities. But Jesus was giving more than guidelines to be followed. He was modeling a private and comprehensive relationship with God and how to participate in it.  I believe that Jesus was the Way and Truth and Light because He understood the WAY to engage with God. He told the TRUTH about it and shed LIGHT on the process, if lived shed Light on your world and what it was about. Like an older more experienced Brother, he was showing us the ropes. Do many roads lead to Rome? Of course, but some are more direct and less bumpy than. I chose Jesus’ ethics, treating others as you wish to be treated, from the eye of a professionally trained philosopher. His ethic was by far better than those others in Western philosophy if only mainly for the elegance of its simplicity. I choose it because I believe that the issue or result of this ethic, if implemented, is collective human growth and development and world- wide security which I believe based again on experience is in consort with the God Logos. The “Sam Harris” in me wants religion to make sense too and to absolutely not have people living in obedience to dangerous dogma. So this is a snapshot of my own verifiability standard. Anthony, I hope I have answered your question but if I seemed to have missed your point, please let me know and I will take another crack at it. Thank you for asking.
Joan

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By Zena, October 20, 2006 at 10:09 am Link to this comment
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You seem to be painting believers as ‘superstitious’, or illogical, but thats not true of all believers. In fact, I wouldn’t believe myself if there weren’t a certain amount of ‘Logic’ to GOD’s design. He is a GOD of order and not of Chaos. If you can discern patterns in nature and relationships as well as situations, (the big picture), that’s logic. As well as the basis for science. A reaction for every action. Even if you don’t have the facts of how it began. For example, if you are getting a bad result from a good intention, then logically and by GOD’S sense of order, it’s time to change it, or prepare for the worst. Otherwise it is nothing less than man tempting GOD. Am I making sense?

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By Anthony, October 20, 2006 at 8:14 am Link to this comment
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Keith,
I think what predisposes us to religion is the ability to reason in a higher order than the current animials around us. Our ancestors banned together in hunter/gather groups for survival. This could be looked at as one of the first “steps” in evolution of our cognitive potential and the ability to “reason”, which led to our species rising to the top of the food chain.
It’s the ability to “reason”, that forces our species to explain the world around us. I suspect
That since the dawn of man “reasoning” is hardwired in human beings. Religion(s) in a sense, is nothing more than hunter/gather groups, centered on explaining the world around them and answering those age old questions; who,how and why that spring from “reason”. For example, as the groups of our ancestors (separated by distance) formulated art and language as a higher form of communications, so to did the growth of shared understandings within each of those group(s). Over time each group(s) came to some explanation of that question and hence the earliest rudimentary form of religion (as we know it) began. What I find ironically funny and interesting is, at some point two of these independent groups met!…I think it fair to say the did not have excact art or language to
promulgate shared understanding between them, so it follows, that the varied “religious” aspects would have to be explained etc. In this sense it would have been the very first “debate” on what each groups “religion” means, ergo at its root, differing explanations for God’s (who, how and why) existence. So you can see, despite our evolutionary dominance as a species we still today are grunting and scratching the same itch! . Find the gene that formulates the creation of the human brain and I would say that’s why we are predisposed to religion. 
Thoughts?

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By Keith Henson, October 19, 2006 at 11:19 am Link to this comment
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The question under all the detailed arguments expressed recently is why the evolved primates known as humans have religions (and related beliefs like communism) at all?

Evolutionary theory says this psychological trait was either directly selected or is a side effect of something that was selected.

For example, the traits that lead to drug addiction are a side effect of brain chemicals that (in the stone age) motivated us to do things that got our genes into the next generation.

(It should be obvious that susceptibility to drug addiction could not have been directly selected.)

So what was it that was selected when our ancestors lived in hunter gatherer bands that predisposes us to religions?

Keith Henson

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By Anthony, October 19, 2006 at 11:00 am Link to this comment
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Joan,
At the individual level I more or less agree with you. With one point of inquiry, Muhammad also did not read or write, he just communicated with others. Does your religon of one look to those writings for added spiritual truths? If not why so? Since you closed by stating a “truth” John 14:6; by GODS Logos have you already answered the queston of Muhammad?
Thanks

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By Joan, October 19, 2006 at 6:58 am Link to this comment
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Rick and Maani,

The difficulties that arise from proof texting, such as contradictions or absurd conclusions about God and justice is one reason that I put down the books. You can find God without the books and you will realize He is the God described at times accurately or inaccurately by the books. The books are not wholly descriptive and there will always be unanswered questions. The books were written by people who can read or misread God. You have to separate the wheat from the chaff using you own experience as a measure of their accuracy. But when you get to know Him some personally, you get the idea pretty much that He knows what He is doing and faith evaporates and knowledge of Him takes over. God judges what I do individually so expanding from the way He treats me I believe that He judges everyone with that kind of care. I cannot prove this but I don’t think anyone who wrote the Bible can prove what they say. You need to live with God to know what is true or not in the Bible. Then the Bible makes more sense. The authors are just telling what they experienced to the best of their knowledge. You may want to dismiss my experience but this is all Jesus was doing, addressing His Father with no middleman. One on one. This is not how Christianity evolved once Paul got his hands on the project and made it more law laden to be more like Judaism, including pouring over books and debating them. Jesus never used a textbook. He just communicated His beliefs to others while he modeled a relationship to that which is transcendent. Through the example of Jesus’ modeling, I was able to relate to that which is transcendent. Hence the truth of the statement “I am the Way, the Truth and the Light, etc..”
Joan

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By Rick Yel, October 18, 2006 at 10:03 pm Link to this comment
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Maani wrote:

“Thus, prior to Jesus’ arrival, faith alone was accounted as “righteousness” for pre-Christian Jews - “righteousness” here meaning “the right to claim salvation.” AND ALTHOUGH THERE IS NO SPECIFIC EVIDENCE FOR IT, one could extrapolate that this applied to anyone who had “true faith” in the Abrahamic God prior to Jesus’ arrival.”

“As stated, this is one of the most difficult and controversial ideas in the NT.  But if it is true, it could apply to any person(s) (back to neanderthals, I suppose) who could not have even known of the Abrahamic God.”

“ALL OF THAT SAID, once Jesus arrived on the scene, one could no longer claim salvation based on faith in God alone, for two reasons.”

So “if it is true” then it can be applied to those who never heard of the Abrahamic God, right?  So then scripture is really just a guide and not strictly true?  For if God sent people to hell who never knew about hell then that would be unfair right? 

But we have every reason to believe that “it is not true.”  If so, then everyone who did not have “true faith” in the Abrahamic God prior to Jesus would be sent to hell due to lack of (the very idea of) salvation.  No questions asked, because that is what the Bible literally states (as you have noted). 

2 questions arise from these conclusions:

First, what is “true faith,” and how is it possible if not one soul on Earth knew how to practice it with God’s own words?  Truth is the Mayans decapitated newborns in praising their god.  Were they practicing “true faith”?  It is far too easy to say a general idea of “true faith” is what God measured people with before Jesus and not give one shred of evidence how that “true faith” was practiced correctly.  Of course, this is all based on the assumption that the Christian God - which didn’t exist in these peoples’ minds as he does today - was willing to let baby murderers into Heaven. 

Second,  you explicitly say that after “Jesus arrived on the scene” there were no more excuses about not knowing who the true God was.  Anyone born after who knows what point after Jesus (and however long his Word took to spread; much longer for other places) must ask for salvation, or they go to their own personal hell.  Let’s not dress hell up here, it is the worst of the worst.

What you are saying Maani, is exactly this:  Anyone alive today who does not believe in Jesus as the Son of God and does not ask for Salvation does not make it to Heaven.  (unless of course God takes pity on your soul for whatever reason, which consequently invalidates everything the Bible says about getting into the Pearly Gates)  Again I ask, does this not sound conceded to you?  Because people in this world do not share the same core beliefs as yourself and those like you, they will be dammed for all of eternity? 

And this is not an overstatement.  This is a summary of your thoughts and scriptures, with the following exception as stated by you:

“Thus, Jesus is the “dividing line” between those who could be “justified” by faith alone (or perhaps by “God’s prerogative”), and those for whom salvation was dependent upon Paul’s admonition in Romans 10:9.”

So what you’re saying is that God will take someone to heaven alive today, who openly shuns Him and send him to heaven even though this person never asked for salvation or admitted Jesus as the Son of God all because it was His prerogative?  Hmmm…Well, in that case, I am in pretty good shape.  If we don’t have to follow God’s rules to get in, then why follow them in the first place?  Will following Him simply “up one’s chances” of eternal bliss, or insure it? 

You see if God gave us a few Laws to work with and then figure the rest on our own, then I would argue that Logic is one of those immortal rules.  Yet logic has gone to show how most (if not all) Gods are invalid when actually broken down piece by piece, as we have seen here.

I mean no offense, but you have indeed allowed yourself to reject (at least part of) your rational background if you allow contradictory claims to drive your set of beliefs about how the world really is.

Why would God give us Logic (i.e. valid arguments with no holes to fill) if it would only lead us away from Him (as we see more and more today)?  It seems like a God with a big bag of Tricks to play on Humanity, and even if this God existed without question I would very much hesitate any praise whatsoever.

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By Joan, October 18, 2006 at 1:21 pm Link to this comment
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Hello All,


Returning to the gracious host of our discussion, Sam Harris, last night was “End of Faith” night on Boston Legal. Alan Schor was superb as a “Sam Harris”. His important point was that we must not automatically reat religion as a sacred cow, deferring to any and all idiosyncratic nuances of a religion at unreasonable expense to society while respecting the intention of the Founders that all citizens are assured of practicing their religion without undue state interference. So the debate gets more press. You would have to watch the episode to understand the Alan Schor/ Sam Harris likeness in that Schor does not argue like Harris that religion should be abandoned altogether. He argues more conservatively that the time has come when we should feel free to stop the unexamined deference to unwelcome religious behavior. I thought it was well done.

Joan

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By Anthony, October 18, 2006 at 10:52 am Link to this comment
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Manni,
Could not disagree with you more. Believing in GOD is the only way.
You said:
“Thus, salvation is obtained ONLY by “confessing” (believing in) Jesus (i.e., His life and ministry), and believing in his resurrection. Indeed, these are the ONLY things one need do to attain salvation: everything else is details.


“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. Thee (alone) we worship; Thee (alone) we ask for help.”

There is no need for salvation, everthing else is IN the details. And as we all know…the Devil is in the “Details”

Peace

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By Joan, October 18, 2006 at 8:16 am Link to this comment
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Hi Hemi,

If you get a minute and like humor check a few more of my recent posts…God did I think give some basic rules but I agree with you, the rules are nothing extraordinary and surely man as you say easily identifies them for himself, no real magic here just common sense…I think God has a lot of common sense too. There is nothing far out about these rules but if not followed the rules, God given or man deduced, are not worth the tablets they are inscribed on. The nice life only happens when people abide in these rules and what do you know? A lot of them don’t. So indeed wise-guy needs a big enforcer, a god with a big stick and this has been shamefully exploited by organized religions as a real power and ego trip.  I do not believe that God really is into the big stick thing. It seems to be nature’s way that what goes around usually comes around. Given the tradition of the Ten Commandments, it seems that God has covered His back when accused of not helping people however. If we kill and maim and steal, it seems unfair to blame God for the pain that follows…we do these things and He already met his responsibility by telling us Himself not to go there, that’s my point…God just covers His bases, so to speak…
My attraction to God has little to do with Him being a moral authority.
I think Gene Roddenberry’s programs, especially his original Star Trek, are an inspiration of the Muses…Live long and prosper.

Manni,

I really again must salute you and your work on the Scriptures. Your commitment to this is stellar. It was interesting to me that your response to Rick and mine with respect to eligibility for the afterlife are essentially the same, namely judgment is handled on a case by case basis, no sweeping collective judgments of a person’s worth. Yours is supported by Scriptures and mine by personal experience. As I understand it we come to God through love or through justice but each of us will face Him. I could never be attracted to a God that could wipe away billions with no care about what is just or fair in the end.

Joan

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By Maani, October 17, 2006 at 10:17 pm Link to this comment
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Rick:

Shalom and peace right back atcha!

Re my comment about “separating your deepest-held personal views…from your broader interactions,” you bring up your time with the Peace Corps in Niger.  While I sincerely admire and respect your volunteerism in this regard, you seem to have missed my point.  That is, since you admit that you had long since denounced your Christianity, you no longer HAD the TYPE of “deepest-held personal views” of which I spoke; i.e., spiritual/doctrinal views that were in tension with, if not antithetical to, those of the people around you.  I am not suggesting that you didn’t have “deep personal views” - I’m sure you had them about many things.  But you apparently did NOT have them about doctrincal matters such as the afterlife, or salvation, or anything that would have put them in direct “spiritual” tension with those around you.  However, if you honestly believe that, had you still had those specific spiritual feelings re Christianity, you would still have been able to do what you did with the Peace Corps among non-Christians, I would certainly accept that, since that is what I was speaking about.

You pose an oft-asked question about salvation vis-a-vis Christ, and those who came before Him, whether pre-Christian Judaic or other faiths or back to the first humans who had a conscious soul.  The answer is not “God works in mysterious ways,” which is, admittedly, often the one given.  Instead, the answer is manifold, and requires a somewhat lengthy exegesis.

Re pre-Christian Jews, Paul provides a very specific answer:

“For what saith the Scripture?  Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.”  (Romans 4:3)

“Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham…So then they which be of the faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.”  (Gal 3:7,9)

And in Hebrews 11 (which goes to the heart of your question), Paul mentions Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sara, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, David, Samuel and “the prophets,” and says: “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them…”  [N.B. The “promises” referred to are those provided in Jesus life, ministry, death and resurrection.]

Thus, prior to Jesus’ arrival, faith alone was accounted as “righteousness” for pre-Christian Jews - “righteousness” here meaning “the right to claim salvation.”  And although there is no specific evidence for it, one could extrapolate that this applied to anyone who had “true faith” in the Abrahamic God prior to Jesus’ arrival.

Re those who could not have “known” the Abrahamic “God,” there are two possibilities.

First, there is Paul’s comment: “Is there unrighteousness with God?...For He saith to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.’  So then it is not of him that willeth…but of God that sheweth mercy.” (Romans 9:14-15)  Thus, this might be viewed as “God’s prerogative” re “justification” and “righteousness” not only of pre-Christian Jews and those who showed “true faith” toward the Abrahamic God, but also to those who did not even KNOW the Abrahamic God.

And then there is perhaps the most “difficult” - and controversial - passage in the NT.

Most people know Jesus’ statement that: “It is easier for a rope to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”  [N.B.  Some scholars believe that the Greek word usually translated “camel” is a mistranslation, as the word for “camel” is only one letter different than the word for “rope.”  Clearly, “rope” makes more sense in the context of the statement.] However, most people do not look at what comes next:

“When His disciples heard hist they were exceedingly amazed…”  Note that the phrase “exceedingly amazed” is used only one other time in the NT, to describe the disciples’ reaction to one of the “miracles.”  Thus, Jesus’ statement about the “eye of a needle” truly freaked them out, and they then ask, in open-jawed astonishment, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus answers: “With men this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible.”

Keep in mind that Jesus chose His words very carefully.  In saying, “With God, all things are possible,” the word “all” means exactly that: everything - every possible thing that could ever be or happen.

With respect to our discussion, some scholars have posited that this single statement all but negates Jesus’ entire life, ministry and mission - because if ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING is “possible” with God, this means God COULD (if He so chose) provide salvation to someone who does NOT accept His son; i.e., God could use his old pre-Christ “prerogative” to provide salvation to whomever He chose.

As stated, this is one of the most difficult and controversial ideas in the NT.  But if it is true, it could apply to any person(s) (back to neanderthals, I suppose) who could not have even known of the Abrahamic God.

ALL OF THAT SAID, once Jesus arrived on the scene, one could no longer claim salvation based on faith in God alone, for two reasons.

First, as James says, “Faith, if it hath not works, is dead…” - implying that faith alone is no longer enough to be seen as “righteous” (and thus claim salvation), but that one must also APPLY that faith to daily life, and particularly to helping others.

Second, and more specifically, Paul states that: “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.”  (Romans 10:9).  Thus, salvation is obtained ONLY by “confessing” (believing in) Jesus (i.e., His life and ministry), and believing in his resurrection. Indeed, these are the ONLY things one need do to attain salvation: everything else is details.

Thus, Jesus is the “dividing line” between those who could be “justified” by faith alone (or perhaps by “God’s prerogative”), and those for whom salvation was dependent upon Paul’s admonition in Romans 10:9.

Sorry for the lengthy exegesis, but I believe it was necessary in order to fully answer your queries in this regard.

Finally, just for your edification and…comfort (LOL), I am not one of those who believe that the earth is only 6,000+ years old.  As noted in other posts, I believe in the scientific method, and in evolution.  I was an agnostic rationalist through my early 20s, and although I became a Christian at that point, I did not actually begin living a Christian life for almost another decade, so my rationalism remained dominant through my mid-30s.  And even after I became a truly “walking” Christian, I never rejected my rationalist background, upbringing and education.

So rest easy, friend.  I promise not to try to convince you that all those rocks that geologists claim are billions of years old were actually only created to LOOK that way…LOL.

Peace.

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By Hemi, October 17, 2006 at 8:38 pm Link to this comment
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“God gave people a few basic rules to preserve their own well- being,” - Joan

That’s a traditional take Joan.
Here’s an irreverent wacky take!

My take on “rules”.  Man evolved not only physically
but socially.  Eventually the wisest guy in the cave
discovered if we work together, this thing gets easier.
AND… we can all get some sleep because I’m not
worried you’ll club me to death in my sleep.
And you’ll sleep better too! Voila!

All the rules, Noahides, Commandments, in whatever
the civilization, eventually the wise-guy or gal
in the bunch came up with don’t hit me and I won’t
hit you, “That shit hurts!”  And without you hitting
me I’ve found a “heaven here on earth.”

It’s all learning and handing down traditions.
No bearded guy in the clouds just the wise-guy
in the group.  Nobody has too much fear of the
wise-guy, so he says “God told me so.”  Who’s God?
You know, the “bearded guy in the clouds” I told
you all about.  Ohhhhhhhhhhhh!

Next week we’ll discuss the benefits of not eating
the shelfish!  The bearded guy has this theory
about those dead bodies and the empty shells!

I know I’m a little over the top but all of this
works better with a smile than a rant.

In a nutshell, I believe people evolved and found
a certain number of “truths to be self-evident.”
No messenger, simply a nicer way to live together.
And that I believe is the secret of life.

“Live long and prosper and die content in the
knowledge you’ve lived long and prospered.”

- I have to give Gene Roddenbury props
on this one. I do get the assist!

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By joan, October 17, 2006 at 6:43 pm Link to this comment
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Steve and Rick,

Steve

Thanks for the info in the Times. This is a shame but I have to say I think dogmatism, and intolerance is the general problem, of which religious and political stances are subsets .  This violence is not just a phenomenon seen in religions.  Look at what happened to the Russian reporter recently Anna P. . Sorry I do not remember her last name but I am sure you know whom I mean. Here was a 48- year- old mother murdered in her apartment for reporting unfavorably on Putin. People cannot be permitted to injure others because they do not like what they say or print. Hopefully governments, realizing the chaos that is brewing if this behavior is excused for religious beliefs, will enforce their laws to the fullest extent possible. Governments cannot be intimidated for doing their jobs and protecting us all.

Rick,

Gosh, I hope the Ancient Greeks make it into heaven…who would not want to hang around drinking wine with Aristotle?

Personally, you know in my religion of one person, me, I do not believe that those who are supposedly “un-baptized” burn in the fires of hell…I do not believe there are fires of hell literally….we do have our own hells, maybe God thinks that’s enough… But I think there is a final justice, a settling of scores somehow.
Raised Catholic, kindergarten through high school, I sort of asked my self one day—-what would I believe about God if I had not been indoctrinated beginning at age 5? These are some of my answers. I think God made the world, I have no idea how or when, but He generated the universe in a way that reflects His nature. And understanding His nature is open to all throughout all time and space. He does not keep Himself a secret, revealed to the few. He talks to anyone who will give Him the time of day. In the course of history some people’s adventures with God have been recorded. To me the Bible is book about people’s adventures with God. Noah, Abraham, Job, David, Jesus seemed to recognize with Whom they interacted. Certain of these people were not always that savory even, just everyday folks trying to make a go of it. I think Jesus was a real breakthrough because He was able to recount God’s morality and exemplified it in a way we humans could deal with, nothing all that fancy or too out there, just “down home” good behavior. I believe that we all have a spark of divinity and if God has a Son, Jesus was surely it. Son of God, Brother to me and you.
I think God has certainly interacted with people who have not recorded their experiences or tried to start new religions but just enjoy the relationship and go about their daily business. I think His nature is revealed for all to comprehend and value. I think that is what impresses God and encourages Him to interact with someone, when someone values what He has done. Everyone likes to be recognized for his accomplishments. He wants to be on call for you. We give Him the one thing He cannot give Himself, namely another person to love Him.
Creation no matter how you cut it, evolution or just molding clay, is a massive undertaking and I do not believe that God wastes His efforts or His progeny because of formalities. So those not formally baptized to me are no less God’s children and His arms are hungry for them. Being a Christian is not about having a name. It is about respecting those others in this creation and respecting God which you may be doing unwittingly. I think if there is an afterlife we are viewed on a case- by- case basis. But to live like Christ you do not have to know his name. His morality is really self- evident.  I don’t think those who turned to Zeus or Apollo were foolish. They were doing what man has done all the time, recognizing somehow that there is something powerful beyond themselves. I do not believe there is a Poseidon but I do believe that the ocean exudes the energy of God with its serenity, force, power, turbulence and violence- some beautiful energy to be admired, enjoyed and respected. 
I guess I am pretty far out there for you maybe??? But these views were molded over decades in the context of Catholicism, Protestantism and a lot of philosophy training and living in a few too many foxholes…God is a stand up Guy who despite the dirt and bullets, some of which are fired from my guns in all directions will live in those foxholes with you convincing you to come out again …and so will is Son…no complaints, and no criticism about I muffed it…surely a Herculean task that no mortal I know has been willing to take on…I test Him hard…and He hangs tough…with a smile on his Face and a look of joyful anticipation in his Eyes…
Joan

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By Anthony L. Shumaker, October 17, 2006 at 4:36 pm Link to this comment
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RE:Comment #29229
Steve,
If people base thier decisions on how to act and behave in life purely on religion. Then indeed the “safety” of the world we live in surely depends on the doctrine and policies of those religions and the politics of those that are empowered by them. Following Religion with “Blind Faith”, indeed is a dangerous model to abide by. Man’s ability to reason must prevail at all avenues of thought across the human experience. Science, Theology and the likes of Sam Harris have no exclusionary hold on this. Religions such as Christianity and Islam also have no such intrinsic dominance on reason, despite the many that may try to beguile you into thinking they do.
Those that follow “blindly” disolve themselves of responsiblity for their actions and more importantly their lack of action. These types of human beings will always be dangerous no matter what skin of religion they wear. It is up to the religion in question, the “masses” in the middle that DO act “reasonably” to take action to “police” their own.

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By Steve M, October 17, 2006 at 2:11 pm Link to this comment
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http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/17/world/middleeast/17christians.html?th&emc=th

Forgetting about moral lectures for the moment.  Check out the NY Times Article above.
It seems the Pope’s comments, however they were intended, are still a very big problem with Muslims.

Is religion really the answer for how people should act and behave when it can be so easily twisted to almost any purpose?

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By Rick Yel, October 17, 2006 at 9:02 am Link to this comment
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Maani,

Isn’t human blindess also a handicap primarily bio-chemical and neurological in nature?  just because we can identify the cause of schizophrenia it does not make it a different comparison to blindess.  Visual impairment is mostly caused by disease and malnutrition.  Ok, see, now we know how and why both Blindess and Schizophrenia occur.  How does this make your thought experiment any more valid?  Be honest.

And in response to this comment:

“In this regard (and I apologize in advance for how this may sound), it seems that you, who I assume are an atheist (or perhaps agnostic) have a far harder time separating your deepest-held personal views - those which may be “in tension” with others - from your broader views and interactions.  Needless to say, I may be wrong about this, and indeed hope that I am.”

I don’t have a hard time acting out how I feel. When I went to Niger, Africa for the Peace Corps to help those in most deserved need, assisting others in a humanitarian way came quite easy.  (Granted I HAd an early exit there due to anti-malarial medication problems)  This was long after I denounced Christianity.  My interactions actually fit quite well with my thought process.  It was quite bold of you to take a shot like that at little old “agnostic” me.  I hope this helps to clear things up.  Apology accepted.

It is indeed a wonderful thing to be able to engage in such debates in our theocracy. 

In response to your comments and thoughts of the afterlife about God accepting those who accept Him - What then about the Ancient Greeks who lived thousands of years before Christ?  Yes Judaism had been around, but Jesus was not. 

What then?  Were they doomed from the start in their beliefs of Zeus, Poseidon and Apollo?  Were they foolish in thinking there were gods responsible for everything they witnessed?  Because they never accepted the Christian God (an impossibility at the time) did they not get into heaven and had a one-way ticket to hell?  It seems rather unfair for God not to give them a chance to know him, don’t you think? 

Indeed there have been thousands of other cultures in this same boat, what of their afterlife? 

A typical response here is that, “God works in mysterious ways, who are we to say who goes to heaven and who goes to hell?”  Well if that is true, then a person holding this thought process must admit that all other faiths alive today can go straight to Heaven and that the Biblical view of the afterlife holds little to no water.  But if someone actually believes that these unfairly condemned souls prior to Christ are burning in hell due to lack of a alternate heaven at their time, then that seems to me a conceded thought. 

I am interested to know how Maani and Joan see this matter. 

 

Also, what of the proto-humans, neanderthals, and homo-erectus which fossil evidence tells us lived from 7 million years ago up to about 700,000 years ago?  What happened to them when they died?  Were they not worthy of a soul?  If so, when did that soul come into existence?  What does the Bible says about this?

Or do you believe the Earth is really ~6,000 years old and bones of years past were put here by God to “test” us? 

These are some of the most common questions in light of actual hard evidence dug up by scientists, and I just would like to know how you feel about them.

I look forward to you both!

Salamu Alaikum

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By joan, October 17, 2006 at 8:38 am Link to this comment
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Yes..I know the joke..and here are few more to lighten things up a bit…   
         
          Creation Humor
           
          Creation and Golf
So there God is on His day off , like anyone else trying to unwind with a round of golf with Peter and Michael and Gabriel. Taking His sweet time He gets to the third hole and swings mightily. The ball winds up in a sand trap. He meanders over taking in the view and starts to swing away. Sand flies all around and onto to Peter’s brand new robes. Peter rather likes the Lord and patiently cuts Him some slack. When the dust settles a little, in the far distance the foursome sees some newly formed land. They shrug and let the Lord continue away as the sand swirls around them, getting all of them dusty even more. But then again they look hither and yon and now this new land- mass is divided into mountains and valleys. To their consummate relief, the Lord finally dislodges the ball onto a nice fairway and the game resumes. Finally, sighs Peter in relief, brushing himself off. Then more trouble. On the seventh hole the Lord lands His ball in the water. Let the spraying begin, thinks Peter. The Lord swings away, stroke after stroke. In the clearing the foursome can see rivers and oceans streaming and roaring through the newly designed land- mass. Then the Lord raises His club to dislodge the ball. Standing there in his new robes wet and seeing no relief in sight, Peter grabs His arm before the Lord takes His swing and demands to know: “Are You gonna’ play golf or just fool around here?”

            Creation and Man
It was one of those great sunny days and always being interested in what we humans are up to, Yahweh accepted an invitation from some scientists to spend the afternoon catching up on their latest developments. They were sitting around in the grass with Yahweh, who was leaning back lazily into an ancient oak. They were just about to adjourn for cocktails when one of the scientists, feeling mighty peaceful as humans are apt to feel in His presence, tells Yahweh that after summing up their advances, scientists now think they too can create man. Now all ears, Yahweh really perks up and leans forward. Yes, the scientist continues as he explains that they have discovered DNA and so many of its secrets and can now even clone. I mean really what else is there to it? “Well this is indeed news”, Yahweh agrees. “Care to make it interesting?” the Lord challenges. The scientist says sure. “First, let’s see what you can do”, Yahweh begins, “I’ll make a man and then you make one.” And the scientist eagerly agrees, anxious to demonstrate their new prowess. So Yahweh reaches down and lifts up a fistful of dirt and molds and squeezes and, viola`, there He produces man. “Your turn”, Yahweh leans back into the tree again and invites the scientist to try his hand at it. So the scientist places his hand on the ground. Immediately Yahweh leans forward and puts His Hand over the scientist’s hand, preventing him from scooping up any dirt. Leaning very close to the surprised scientist, Yahweh looks him directly in the eye with that divine magnetism penetrating the scientist to the core. “Make you own dirt.” said the Lord with a gleam in His Eye.

Joan

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By Malini, October 17, 2006 at 8:31 am Link to this comment
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Hello Ladies & Gentlemen!

Thanks for all the input!

You must be exhausted… just take a few minutes off to enjoy these precious moments we are gifted with…

Have a wonderful, peaceful & relaxed day!

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By Maani, October 16, 2006 at 8:27 pm Link to this comment
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Joan and Rick:

I, too, am enjoying this discussion very much, and wish great peace, comfort, strength and joy on both of you!

I have a few quick comments on Joan’s most recent post.

First, if (and I say IF) the alternative theorists are correct, and 9/11 was a “staged event” in which our government was complicit, this would make moot much of the discussion re 9/11, wouldn’t it?  Because it would say less about God vis-a-vis warnings and Islam, and our “sleeping” with respect to radical Islam, and more about our “sleeping” with respect to the situation “at home,” and the growing proto-totalitarian, quasi-theocracy being created. That is, of course, a discussion for a different thread, and an interesting one is being had on Bob Scheer’s 9/11 thread.

That said, Joan’s comment about a “simple bombing” being a “warning” about a later “nuking” - and about God vis-a-vis “guidance” and presence - there is an old joke that many ministers use in this regard, and it is apropos here:

There is a huge rainstorm which is flooding a small town.  The water is up to the second floor of the church, and the minister is on the roof waiting for the rain to stop.  A man in a rowboat comes by and says, “Reverend, get in and I’ll take you to safety.”  The preacher replies, “Thank you, my son, but there is no need: my God will save me.”  As the water comes up to his chin, a pleasure yacht comes by and a young woman cries out, “Reverend, we have plenty of room.  Come with us to safety.”  The preacher replies, “Thank you, my child, but I’ll be fine: my God will save me.”  As the water gets up to his nose, a helicopter unrolls a ladder and an amplified voice says, “Reverend, grab the ladder and we’ll take you to safety.”  The preacher yells back, “Thanks, but no need: my God will save me.”  Sadly, the minister dies.  When he gets to the Pearly Gates, he is a bit miffed, and St. Peter asks him why.  “All my life I practiced and preached a devout Christian life, and devoted it to serving God.  Yet when I needed saving, He was nowhere to be found.”  To which St. Peter replies: “What are you talking about?  We sent you two boats and a helicopter.”

As Joan implies, help - and “justice” - does not always come in the way, at the time, or in the manner we may expect.  Indeed, from the human perspective, it may actually seem illogical, unreasonable, even counter-intuitive.

Finally, I want to thank Joan for (and reiterate) her comment that God gave us a few fairly simple - and certainly rational, logical and reasonable - “rules” to live by in order to be able to live together, and properly take care of His creation.  If we refuse to follow those few simple rules, whose fault is that?  Heck, the handful of rules He gave to the Israelites (“Thou shalt not kill/steal/bear false witness/ covet”) are even “easier” to follow than those given by Jesus during His ministry (“Do not resist an evil person, but if someone smites you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also”; “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you”; “Judge not, lest ye be judged in equal measure”; “Take the log out of your own eye before you take the mote out of another’s”).

God gave us what is often termed “free will.”  And the ultimate “application” of that free will is whether we accept or reject HIM.  But if we choose to reject Him - and His few simple “rules” - we cannot then blame Him for the consequences of doing so.

Peace.

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By Joan, October 16, 2006 at 2:27 pm Link to this comment
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Rick and Maani,

Let me tell you right out of the shoot that I am very much enjoying this discussion with you both and I like your honesty.
Maani…I really have no basic disagreement with what you have posted. Never heard Hoyle’s comment but Hoyle/Paley - it is 6 of one and half dozen of the other…I too have friends of different faiths and different beliefs and have not found that this has interfered with our friendships except to make them more interesting. I have always felt mutual respect.
Rick, there was nothing in my post that remotely infers that I find any humor in 9/11 and I would hope readers would be sensitive about making these kinds of inferences, that’s all…no offense taken. No one takes 9/11 lightly. FYI as do many in this region, I have family that survived both Trade Center bombings.
Re: 3000 lives lost on 9/11… I take God for what He is not what I think He should be. God does play hardball and I disagree with you, Rick, God did not take/end 3,000 lives on 9/11, al Qaeda did .The 3,000 lost lives vs. 100,000 is a basic utilitarian calculus, specifically the loss of 3000 is less morally unpalatable than the loss of 100,000 despite our intrinsic worth as individuals which I agree with you we have. The way I see it, we here were sleeping and Europe still is sleeping in the face of a murderous hatred festering in certain parts of the world, a spiritually lethal disease. Realistically speaking as you indicate you prefer, lives will inevitably be lost in this type of world crucible. There are very few partings of the seas, if ever, to save mankind. I think after the rude awakening of 9/11 we have reduced the chances of being hit by dirty bomb significantly. But you are right - there are no guarantees. These are speculative discussions just by their very nature. But, let’s give some credit where credit is due. God pretty much says things like do not murder, do not steal, do not lie and love each other the way you want to be loved, specifically to avoid the horrors of things like 9/11. Perhaps regarding 9/11, looking at things through God’s eyes, He may think – ‘What’s wrong with you people? I give you a beautiful universe and a few rules for your own good and protection. Look at what you have done. You disobey them and blame Me for your heartache. God “this” and God “that”.  I was unkind and did not take care of you. Why do you think I gave you these rules in the first place, just to hear the sound of my own voice? Do you think these guidelines are arbitrary and capricious or meaningful?’  Harris himself points to the Golden Rule as self- evidently moral genius.
When you gave up on God after 9/11, did you give up on mankind, the people who actually did the deed? Or is this just God’s failing? As a professor of religion did you take to heart what Genesis claimed - God did give man dominion over the earth with the corresponding responsibilities to make it a safe place to live? This again by inspection seems to be true. It seems that God takes man’s stewardship over the earth,  more respectfully than man does. God gave people a few basic rules to preserve their own well- being, not too many. And it seems He says “If you want, I will be there for you to have you relationship with me”, i.e. the first couple of commandments. He did not promise necessarily to save your life because by observation He does not consider saving human life His primary interest that should take precedence over all other considerations. Human life preservation is one of several competing interests. Preserving man’s free will and the laws of nature are 2 other cases in point of competing interests. Saving our personal relationship with God seems paramount to Him, His primary concern. Even Harris notes that human life is not God’s ultimate concern in noting the high percentage of pregnancies that end in spontaneous abortion in “Open Letter…”.  On another slightly different note, those who died on 9/11 for the most part lost their lives quickly. Many have met a much more difficult end while in the hands of the very rational medical science establishment that at times takes people where they should never go instead of making use of the cheap easily grown, God-given opiates that would surround people in sweet oblivion until they die.
God is not a puppeteer, generally pulling people’s strings at will to get them to do what He wants them to do or what you think He should do to get people to do to fix the world as you think it should be fixed. He does not seem to be control freak or manipulative. It is very doubtful that the best of all possible worlds is the one where God is busily saving us from our own vices and laxity by literally reversing our decisions. This sounds like a daycare center of sorts that would produce a bunch of spoiled people who never were expected to live the consequences of their own behavior, not a planet populated with people who were endowed with the gifts of intelligence and choice and conscience. By observation, He does not often intervene and offset the evil that we choose to do. He never promised that. So I think we ought to hop to and get our act together. And although I disagree with Harris about his atheism, I think he is trying to address certain evils and I applaud him for his risky work. 
I disagree with you, Rick, God did not take the lives of those people on 9/11. Al Qaeda did. There was “no finger of God signature” here other than perhaps those buildings were not filled yet with the 10,000 or so expected workers to be there that day so this catastrophe was not as horrific as it could have been. And lives were spared when passengers took down a plane. Giving God any credit for this?  Mankind perpetrated 9/11.  We did all of this. God permitted this I think as you said because al Qaeda is a powerful force getting stronger that we were not dealing with. And I do think the deaths on 9/11 were not in vain but were a tipping point, emphatically alerting the most powerful nation in the world to the fanaticism and hatred we were not acknowledging. Realistically this is the way the world works. Again, there are very few partings of the seas. If we were nuked instead somewhere down the road, would you be criticizing God for not warning you earlier with a simple bombing? Weren’t we warned with the embassy bombings’ in Africa and with the attack on the Cole?
God does not alter the laws of nature to save human lives. If He did, there would be no precious science that Sam Harrises of the world look to for messianic deliverance from this unkind, bizarro God. I see God as serious being who takes us very seriously. He, in my view, created the world as a manifestation of His own personal nature that is tender and gentle, intelligent, energetic and serene, and violent and dynamic, loving and just and exacting and lenient. (Justice, thirsted for, once rendered is not always pretty.) In the creation that reflects His nature, as we live, we learn about His nature. Like Him on a limited basis we can create our own universes. We can bring forth new life, design and create and make choices over life and death.  We are almost little “godlettes”, if you will, getting a taste of what it is like to be the Grand Master. He cuts us a lot of slack. I take this to be His ultimate compliment to humanity and why He does not readily countermand our choices, as you would prefer He do.  God is not a magician whose main job is to magically wave His wand so we never suffer. God is about character development. As the ancient Greeks preach, basic Aeschylus - wisdom comes through suffering- as does compassion and humility and endurance. Made in His image, He suffers when there is evil and so do we. 
If you believed He failed you on 9/11, let Him know and do not hold back.
This is all I think I can adequately address because, Rick, you need to give me more details about how my arguments are circular, or where there is lack of reason or vagueness..these criticisms seem well,a little vague… etc.. Be specific…love the quote by Churchill and it seems true at least for me. I agree that certain aspects of basic Christianity leave one wanting at times, like the crucifixion. I do not believe that we get a free ticket into heaven, whatever that may be nor do I think this act was ordained by God because this is beneath Him. Again mankind did that too and tries to blame God. You can journey with God with only one rule. When He gives you direction, cut Him enough slack to give what He suggests a shot.  He will talk to anyone who gives Him the time of day. All religions capture a part of God but no religion captures all of Him. Intimacy with Him, like with your personal relationships, is reserved for those with whom He feels will love Him back. Planet earth is no Garden of Eden. It is painful here, surely. But I find I manage better when I take the world as it is rather then lament that it failed me for not being a certain way. The being rational alone as I pointed out earlier, does not resolve dilemmas because you can have several equally valid solutions to a problem but none may work and here is where God can give you little nudge in the right direction given His more expansive perspective on things.
Joan

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By Rick Yel, October 15, 2006 at 7:22 pm Link to this comment
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Joan, 

I do not mean to be rude or disenchanting of your beliefs, but your thoughts on how GOD plays “Hardball” are full of holes and circular arguments.  While reasonable discussion is most definately encouraged here, I think you should look at your point of view from someone else’s eyes. 

“Do you think it is God’s fault that 9/11 occurred? You know, how does a just and benevolent God allow things like 9/11 to happen? Maybe, just maybe God saw the loss of 3,000 lives juxtaposed against the loss of 100,000 lives if bin Laden got hold of a dirty bomb while America slept.”

So 3,000 lives taken by God in exchange for 100,000 lives by Bin Laden?  Just think about the implications of this.  IF we are all God’s children, why would he sacrifice any of us?  If one sin is the same as 1,000 sins (a statement on par with the what the Bible says), why would GOd choose less over more in any matter?  Are you implying that after 9/11 bin Laden no longer had the capability to acquire and detonate a dirty bomb?  Fact is, the Taliban and al-Qaeda have actually gained in strength since 9/11.  IF GOD is benevolent (i.e. willing to do more good than necassary) then why wouldn’t He choose a world without 9/11?  After all, it seems within his powe r to do so, right? 

For 3 years I defended the Christian God in my philosophy of religion classes in school.  The theological arguments were always filled with holes but being naive at the time, I did not mind the holes.  No longer do I have good reason for trusting the unknown.  And no, I do not think GOD is responsible for 9/11.  IF he were powerful enough to allow 9/11 he should be powerful enough to stop it.

The point of all this is to encourage you to practically think your thoughts through to their conclusions. 

“I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the ordeal of meeting me is another matter.” -Winston Churchill

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By Maani, October 15, 2006 at 4:44 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Joan and Rick (Fadel: I will respond to your post later today):

Whatever our various views, and however much we may disagree with each other - even if we think that we or our beliefs have been “slighted” or misrepresented - let’s all try not to allow our passions to run away with us…LOL.  It is easy to do so.

I want to a couple of comments to Joan’s, even though she may disagree with me.

Re 9/11, when people ask me where God was while close to 3,000 people were murdered, I tell them that He was busy saving the other 30,000 people in the complex!  Because I believe as much in Satan and his minions as I do in God, I ascribe the “blame” for 9/11 to the former, not the latter.

Re natural disasters, I must say I really like Joan’s view that “God does not alter the laws of nature to save lives.”  One might even view natural disasters as God’s method of population control.  Though, of course, many people would not see the humor in that.

Re intelligent design, it was Darwin himself who, perhaps unwittingly (and perhaps not), made the first statement that supports this view.  In the summary of “The Origin of Species,” Darwin says: “Authors of the highest eminence seem to be fully satisfied with the view that each species has been independently created.  To my mind it accords better with what we know of the laws impressed upon matter by the Creator that the production and extinction of the past and present inhabitants of the world should have been due to secondary causes…There is grandeur in this view of life…having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one.”

Thus, Darwin believed that evolution (and the processes that led to it; i.e., random mutation and natural selection) was a “law” “impressed upon matter by the Creator.”

People seem to forget that Darwin did not set out to disprove the existence of God, or of God’s hand in creation, or even in evolution.  The only thing he set out to prove was that each species was not “specially created,” but that they “evolved” through random mutation and natural selection.  And whether Christian or deist, Darwin was clearly stating his belief that an “intelligence” - the “Creator” - was behind the processes that led to evolution.

Finally re Joan’s comments, she mentions Paley’s watch.  Another take on Paley’s watch is in a comment by Sir Fred Hoyle: “The chance that higher life forms might have emerged [via evolution] is comparable to the chance that a tornado sweeping through a junkyard might assemble a Boeing 747 from the materials therein.”

Rick:

With all due respect, you seem not to be able to separate how a believer views the “internal system” of his/her beliefs, and how that person interacts in world, or even feels about others’ beliefs.  Let me give you a hopelessly simplistic comparison.  You and I may totally disagree about a particular movie: I may love it, you may think it is tripe.  Does this mean we cannot discuss movies?  Or even that we cannot continue to discuss THAT movie?

If I am seeking world peace, and a Jew is seeking world peace, and a Muslim is seeking world peace, and a Buddhist is seeking world peace, and an atheist is seeking world peace - does it really matter what my belief (or lack thereof) in their particular faith (or lack thereof) may be?  If we all want world peace, we are going to sit in a room together and, by finding COMMON GROUND - and, yes, maybe COMPROMISING on all sides - we are going to do our best to achieve world peace.  This goes for any issue that this disparate group may tackle.  And my feelings about the afterlife - and, hopefully theirs as well - will have NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with our attempts to tackle the issue at hand.  And such specific theological issues as “who the true son of Abraham was” is CERTAINLY not going to have any place in those discussions.

You say, “If peace is to exist…one [thing that will have to exist is] respect of others’ cultures without dismissing their beliefs.”

I agree.  Yet every time I have suggested that this is how I live my life, you have implied that it is IMPOSSIBLE to do so.  The point is that I do respect other cultures without dismissing their beliefs.  Because “disagreeing” with someone’s belief is NOT the same as “dismissing” it.  And I have NEVER, in all the years that I have interacted theologically, spiritually and socio-politically with people of other faiths, “dismissed” their beliefs, even if I chose to disagree with them.  And this is NOT a semantic difference.

Re my thought experiment, you bring up a child’s “imaginary friend.”  But that is an inapt comparison, since, in 99% of cases, the child “grows out of” that behavior, and can admit that it was, in fact, “childish” behavior.  A person who is blind from birth is highly unlikely to ever be able to see.

As for schizophrenics, that is also an inapt comparison, since psychologists are well aware that the condition is primarily bio-chemical and neurological in nature.  Studies on the human brain have shown that there is no difference between the brains or believers and the those of non-believers, either neurologically or bio-chemically.

In this regard, your comment that my thought experiment does not “hold water” due to its “arbitrary conclusions” is a cop-out, since my conclusions were in no way arbitrary.

As for faith being “a figment of one’s imagination based on complex factors,” I could say the same for much of quantum mechanics and particle physics.  Indeed, to my mind, the idea that a particle can be in two places at the same time - or, indeed, that a particle can spin in both directions simultaneously - is FAR more unlikely than the existence of God.

Finally, you ask “If someone were to burn a Bible in front of you and bash your religion and your own religious beliefs all the while, would you not feel anger or disrespected or any sort of frustration?....Now on the other hand, if someone were to burn the book “Star Wars” and bash it’s claims, could you not care less…I can imagine that [if your own beliefs were being bashed] you wouldn’t be neutral in your reaction, whether peaceful or not.”

When Luke reacts to Yoda’s retrievel of his ship by saying, “I don’t believe it!,” Yoda replies, “That is why you fail.”

You, too, fail, by not understanding that I could - would - be neutral in the situation you describe.  I would not feel any anger or frustration whatsoever.  Disrespect?  Maybe, but only momentarily.  Rather, if anything, I would feel pity (though that, too, could be looked at the wrong way).

Indeed, this is the difference between Christianity - believed and practiced as it was by Jesus - and the two other Abrahamic faiths: a Jew or a Muslim in the same situation is FAR more likely (though not absolutely) to react in the ways you suggest than is a strong-faithed Christian.

Finally, let me remind you of Jesus’ admonition in the Sermon on the Mount:

“You have heard it said, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I say to you, do not resist an evil person.  But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also…You have heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”

Note that this was not just a suggestion: it was delivered in the form of a command.  Nor was Jesus suggesting that these things be done only in certain specific situation, or with regard to only certain specific people.  He was telling us - commanding us - to do this at all times, under all circumstances.

There is no question that these are incredibly difficult words to live by.  But they are one of the core principles of Jesus’ entire life and ministry.

As an aside, do you think Jesus - who was a Jew, and thus believed in the “truth” of Judaism vis-a-vis other faiths and beliefs - did not “respect others’ cultures without dismissing their beliefs?”  If He WAS able to do so, why do you feel that I (and others) cannot?  And it He was NOT able to do so, are you suggesting that He did not believe in “true peace?”

I can hardly blame you if you do not know what I do as a minister in the broader sense, and who I do it with and how.  So perhaps it would help you to know that my Jewish and Muslim (as well as Buddhist, Mormon and Jehovah’s Witness, among others) friends and colleagues know very well what my views are vis-a-vis salvation and the afterlife.  Yet that has NEVER interfered with either our friendships or our ability to deal with critical socio-politically and world issues, including peace, poverty, hunger and AIDS.  In this regard (and I apologize in advance for how this may sound), it seems that you, who I assume are an atheist (or perhaps agnostic) have a far harder time separating your deepest-held personal views - those which may be “in tension” with others - from your broader views and interactions.  Needless to say, I may be wrong about this, and indeed hope that I am.

Peace.

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By joan, October 15, 2006 at 11:50 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Fadel Abdallah

Bin laden openly says he wants to restore the world to a calihpate and the strategy seems to be to cause havoc in nations in order to weaken and bring down their governments.How do you classify these actions…are they political or religious? What is bin Laden’s and al Qaeda’s mission?

Joan

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By Anthony L Shumaker, October 15, 2006 at 11:06 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Sam misses the point badly here,
The Pope says:
“In the Western world it is widely held that only positivistic reason and the forms of philosophy based on it are universally valid. Yet the world’s profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions. A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures….”

I am rather shocked that Sam missed the truth of the Popes reasoning.

I see the Popes remark as simply meaning, that modern “reasoned” thought must take “religous reasoning” into any reasoned equation (that pertains to cultural((religous))dialouge aimed at reviewing or changing that “religous reasoning”). The Pope is absoulutely correct in my opinon. Sam’s response is off target and rather absurd, but hey everyone swings and misses from time to time!

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By Fadel Abdallah, October 14, 2006 at 8:32 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Respond to Maani # 28473

Despite all your claims to having spent x number of years studying comparative religion, and despite your claim of having read the Qur’an twice, and despite all these lengthy boring posts of yours, trying to impress upon people your false erudition, may I tell you, Mr. or Mrs, that you are still as ignorant and as hateful of Islam as the first time you bothered to look into it. I am not going to waste much time trying to refute a liar and an imposter, but I will limit my response to a few points to expose your ignorance:
1. Some where in your post you talk about, “in 6000 year old enmity between Muslims and Jews…”
Well, Islam is only 1440 years old; obviously years, history and even basic math has no meaning to you. Before Islam, most of Arabians were pagans. There were few flourishing Christian communities in South Arabia (Yemen) and other few tribes of Jews in Medina.
2. Just two paragraphs down the same piece you say, “….vindicated the Arabs then 4000 year old hatred of the Jews…”
In this one you decided, with a stroke of your pen, to take out 2000 years from the previous figure you gave, as if you are some kind of god, playing with meaningless numbers at will, and now the previous non-existing Muslims become Arabs; as if there is no difference between Arabism and Islam!
3. In a third place you claim, “…. Because Islam believes that it was the Jews who betrayed and killed Jesus, they see this as simply another reason to hate the Jews.”
Well, here we go again with your false claim that you read the Qur’an twice. You must have been reading a Qur’an you wrote or imagined yourself. It is, in fact, the Qur’an that vindicated the Jews and everyone else of the blood of Jesus Christ (peace be upon him) simply because the Qur’an says in Chapter 4 Verse 157: “And they have not killed him nor they crucified him, but they imagined as if they did.”
Furthermore, the Qur’an states that, “God indeed raised him up to Him.” (Qur’an 4:158) In fact, Islam refutes the myth that a Loving, Merciful Father (God) would put supposedly His “only begotten son” on a bloody cross, so that evil, mind-twisted people can achieve salvation without earning it through righteousness and good deeds. According to Islamic theology, Jesus Christ (peace be upon him) lives in heaven miraculously, and he will descend on earth once more at the end of earthly time to usher a new era of 40 years of peace, he will die a natural death on earth before the final Resurrection for the Day of Judgment.

For further information on how Jews prospered under Islam, I am attaching a recent article of a Jew who is more objective and informed than you. Finally, may I suggest, for the sake of your own dignity, to leave Islam alone and focus insread talking about your version of Christianity. Iam also suggesting that you heed the judicious advice given to you by Rick Yell in commeent 28696.
==============================================

September 26, 2006

The Pope’s Evil Legend - Mohammed’s Sword
By URI AVNERY

Since the days when Roman Emperors threw Christians to the lions, the relations between the emperors and the heads of the church have undergone many changes.
Constantine the Great, who became Emperor in the year 306–exactly 1700 years ago–encouraged the practice of Christianity in the empire, which included Palestine. Centuries later, the church split into an Eastern (Orthodox) and a Western (Catholic) part. In the West, the Bishop of Rome, who acquired the title of Pope, demanded that the Emperor accept his superiority.
The struggle between the Emperors and the Popes played a central role in European history and divided the peoples. It knew ups and downs. Some Emperors dismissed or expelled a Pope, some Popes dismissed or excommunicated an Emperor. One of the Emperors, Henry IV, “walked to Canossa”, standing for three days barefoot in the snow in front of the Pope’s castle, until the Pope deigned to annul his excommunication.
But there were times when Emperors and Popes lived in peace with each other. We are witnessing such a period today. Between the present Pope, Benedict XVI, and the present Emperor, George Bush II, there exists a wonderful harmony. Last week’s speech by the Pope, which aroused a world-wide storm, went well with Bush’s crusade against “Islamofascism”, in the context of the “Clash of Civilizations”.
* * *
IN HIS lecture at a German university, the 265th Pope described what he sees as a huge difference between Christianity and Islam: while Christianity is based on reason, Islam denies it. While Christians see the logic of God’s actions, Muslims deny that there is any such logic in the actions of Allah.
As a Jewish atheist, I do not intend to enter the fray of this debate. It is much beyond my humble abilities to understand the logic of the Pope. But I cannot overlook one passage, which concerns me too, as an Israeli living near the fault-line of this “war of civilizations”.
In order to prove the lack of reason in Islam, the Pope asserts that the prophet Muhammad ordered his followers to spread their religion by the sword. According to the Pope, that is unreasonable, because faith is born of the soul, not of the body. How can the sword influence the soul?
To support his case, the Pope quoted–of all people–a Byzantine Emperor, who belonged, of course, to the competing Eastern Church. At the end of the 14th century, the Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus told of a debate he had–or so he said (its occurrence is in doubt)–with an unnamed Persian Muslim scholar. In the heat of the argument, the Emperor (according to himself) flung the following words at his adversary:
“Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached”.
These words give rise to three questions:
(a) Why did the Emperor say them?
(b) Are they true?
(c) Why did the present Pope quote them?
* * *
WHEN MANUEL II wrote his treatise, he was the head of a dying empire. He assumed power in 1391, when only a few provinces of the once illustrious empire remained. These, too, were already under Turkish threat.
At that point in time, the Ottoman Turks had reached the banks of the Danube. They had conquered Bulgaria and the north of Greece, and had twice defeated relieving armies sent by Europe to save the Eastern Empire. In 1453, only a few years after Manuel’s death, his capital, Constantinople (the present Istanbul) fell to the Turks, putting an end to the Empire that had lasted for more than a thousand years.
During his reign, Manuel made the rounds of the capitals of Europe in an attempt to drum up support. He promised to reunite the church. There is no doubt that he wrote his religious treatise in order to incite the Christian countries against the Turks and convince them to start a new crusade. The aim was practical, theology was serving politics.
In this sense, the quote serves exactly the requirements of the present Emperor, George Bush II. He, too, wants to unite the Christian world against the mainly Muslim “Axis of Evil”. Moreover, the Turks are again knocking on the doors of Europe, this time peacefully. It is well known that the Pope supports the forces that object to the entry of Turkey into the European Union.
* * *
IS THERE any truth in Manuel’s argument?
The pope himself threw in a word of caution. As a serious and renowned theologian, he could not afford to falsify written texts. Therefore, he admitted that the Qur’an specifically forbade the spreading of the faith by force. He quoted the second Sura, verse 256 (strangely fallible, for a pope, he meant verse 257) which says: “There must be no coercion in matters of faith”.
How can one ignore such an unequivocal statement? The Pope simply argues that this commandment was laid down by the prophet when he was at the beginning of his career, still weak and powerless, but that later on he ordered the use of the sword in the service of the faith. Such an order does not exist in the Qur’an. True, Muhammad called for the use of the sword in his war against opposing tribes–Christian, Jewish and others–in Arabia, when he was building his state. But that was a political act, not a religious one; basically a fight for territory, not for the spreading of the faith.
Jesus said: “You will recognize them by their fruits.” The treatment of other religions by Islam must be judged by a simple test: How did the Muslim rulers behave for more than a thousand years, when they had the power to “spread the faith by the sword”?
Well, they just did not.
For many centuries, the Muslims ruled Greece. Did the Greeks become Muslims? Did anyone even try to Islamize them? On the contrary, Christian Greeks held the highest positions in the Ottoman administration. The Bulgarians, Serbs, Romanians, Hungarians and other European nations lived at one time or another under Ottoman rule and clung to their Christian faith. Nobody compelled them to become Muslims and all of them remained devoutly Christian.
True, the Albanians did convert to Islam, and so did the Bosniaks. But nobody argues that they did this under duress. They adopted Islam in order to become favorites of the government and enjoy the fruits.
In 1099, the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem and massacred its Muslim and Jewish inhabitants indiscriminately, in the name of the gentle Jesus. At that time, 400 years into the occupation of Palestine by the Muslims, Christians were still the majority in the country. Throughout this long period, no effort was made to impose Islam on them. Only after the expulsion of the Crusaders from the country, did the majority of the inhabitants start to adopt the Arabic language and the Muslim faith–and they were the forefathers of most of today’s Palestinians.
* * *
THERE IS no evidence whatsoever of any attempt to impose Islam on the Jews. As is well known, under Muslim rule the Jews of Spain enjoyed a bloom the like of which the Jews did not enjoy anywhere else until almost our time. Poets like Yehuda Halevy wrote in Arabic, as did the great Maimonides. In Muslim Spain, Jews were ministers, poets, scientists. In Muslim Toledo, Christian, Jewish and Muslim scholars worked together and translated the ancient Greek philosophical and scientific texts. That was, indeed, the Golden Age. How would this have been possible, had the Prophet decreed the “spreading of the faith by the sword”?
What happened afterwards is even more telling. When the Catholics re-conquered Spain from the Muslims, they instituted a reign of religious terror. The Jews and the Muslims were presented with a cruel choice: to become Christians, to be massacred or to leave. And where did the hundreds of thousand of Jews, who refused to abandon their faith, escape? Almost all of them were received with open arms in the Muslim countries. The Sephardi (”Spanish”) Jews settled all over the Muslim world, from Morocco in the west to Iraq in the east, from Bulgaria (then part of the Ottoman Empire) in the north to Sudan in the south. Nowhere were they persecuted. They knew nothing like the tortures of the Inquisition, the flames of the auto-da-fe, the pogroms, the terrible mass-expulsions that took place in almost all Christian countries, up to the Holocaust.
WHY? Because Islam expressly prohibited any persecution of the “peoples of the book”. In Islamic society, a special place was reserved for Jews and Christians. They did not enjoy completely equal rights, but almost. They had to pay a special poll-tax, but were exempted from military service–a trade-off that was quite welcome to many Jews. It has been said that Muslim rulers frowned upon any attempt to convert Jews to Islam even by gentle persuasion–because it entailed the loss of taxes.
Every honest Jew who knows the history of his people cannot but feel a deep sense of gratitude to Islam, which has protected the Jews for fifty generations, while the Christian world persecuted the Jews and tried many times “by the sword” to get them to abandon their faith.
* * *
THE STORY about “spreading the faith by the sword” is an evil legend, one of the myths that grew up in Europe during the great wars against the Muslims–the reconquista of Spain by the Christians, the Crusades and the repulsion of the Turks, who almost conquered Vienna. I suspect that the German Pope, too, honestly believes in these fables. That means that the leader of the Catholic world, who is a Christian theologian in his own right, did not make the effort to study the history of other religions.
Why did he utter these words in public? And why now?
There is no escape from viewing them against the background of the new Crusade of Bush and his evangelist supporters, with his slogans of “Islamofascism” and the “Global War on Terrorism”–when “terrorism” has become a synonym for Muslims. For Bush’s handlers, this is a cynical attempt to justify the domination of the world’s oil resources. Not for the first time in history, a religious robe is spread to cover the nakedness of economic interests; not for the first time, a robbers’ expedition becomes a Crusade.
The speech of the Pope blends into this effort. Who can foretell the dire consequences?

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By Fadel Abdallah, October 14, 2006 at 7:41 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Respond to Maani # 28473

Despite all your claims to having spent x number of years studying comparative religion, and despite your claim of having read the Qur’an twice, and despite all these lengthy boring posts of yours, trying to impress upon people your false erudition, may I tell you, Mr. or Mrs, that you are still as ignorant and as hateful of Islam as the first time you bothered to look into it. I am not going to waste much time trying to refute a liar and an imposter, but I will limit my response to a few points to expose your ignorance:

1. Somewhere in your post you talk about, “in 6000 year old enmity between Muslims and Jews…”
Well, Islam is only 1440 years old; obviously years, history and even basic math has no meaning to you. Before Islam, most of Arabians were pagans. There were few flourishing Christian communities in South Arabia (Yemen) and other few tribes of Jews in Medina.

2. Just two paragraphs down the same piece you say, “…vindicated the Arabs then 4000 year old hatred of the Jews…”
In this one you decided, with a stroke of your pen, to take out 2000 years from the previous figure you gave, as if you are some kind of god, playing with meaningless numbers at will, and now the previous non-existing Muslims become Arabs; as if there is no difference between Arabism and Islam!

3. In a third place you claim, “…. Because Islam believes that it was the Jews who betrayed and killed Jesus, they see this as simply another reason to hate the Jews.”
Well, here we go again with your false claim that you read the Qur’an twice. You must have been reading a Qur’an you wrote or imagined yourself. It is, in fact, the Qur’an that vindicated the Jews and everyone else of the blood of Jesus Christ (peace be upon him) simply because the Qur’an says in Chapter 4 Verse 157: “And they have not killed him nor they crucified him, but they imagined they did.”

Furthermore, the Qur’an states that, “God indeed raised him up to Him.” (Qur’an 4:158) In fact, Islam refutes the myth that a Loving, Merciful Father (God) would put supposedly His “only begotten son” on a bloody cross, so that evil, mind-twisted people can achieve cheap salvation without earning it through righteousness and good deeds. According to Islamic theology, Jesus Christ (peace be upon him) lives in heaven miraculously, and he will descend on earth once more at the end of earthly time to usher a new era of 40 years of peace, he will die a natural death on earth before the final Resurrection for the Day of Judgment.

For further information on how Jews prospered under Islam, I am attaching a recent article by a Jew who is more objective and informed than you. Finally, may I suggest, for the sake of your own dignity, to leave Islam alone and focus, instead, on talking about your version of Christianity if you wish to continue turning people off. If, for the sake of argument, I were a person looking for a new religion which makes sense, I can assure you that your version of Christanity will be very unappealing to me. Iam also suggesting that you heed the judicious advice given to you by Rick Yell in commeent 28696.
==============================================

September 26, 2006

The Pope’s Evil Legend - Mohammed’s Sword
By URI AVNERY

Since the days when Roman Emperors threw Christians to the lions, the relations between the emperors and the heads of the church have undergone many changes.
Constantine the Great, who became Emperor in the year 306–exactly 1700 years ago–encouraged the practice of Christianity in the empire, which included Palestine. Centuries later, the church split into an Eastern (Orthodox) and a Western (Catholic) part. In the West, the Bishop of Rome, who acquired the title of Pope, demanded that the Emperor accept his superiority.
The struggle between the Emperors and the Popes played a central role in European history and divided the peoples. It knew ups and downs. Some Emperors dismissed or expelled a Pope, some Popes dismissed or excommunicated an Emperor. One of the Emperors, Henry IV, “walked to Canossa”, standing for three days barefoot in the snow in front of the Pope’s castle, until the Pope deigned to annul his excommunication.
But there were times when Emperors and Popes lived in peace with each other. We are witnessing such a period today. Between the present Pope, Benedict XVI, and the present Emperor, George Bush II, there exists a wonderful harmony. Last week’s speech by the Pope, which aroused a world-wide storm, went well with Bush’s crusade against “Islamofascism”, in the context of the “Clash of Civilizations”.
* * *
IN HIS lecture at a German university, the 265th Pope described what he sees as a huge difference between Christianity and Islam: while Christianity is based on reason, Islam denies it. While Christians see the logic of God’s actions, Muslims deny that there is any such logic in the actions of Allah.
As a Jewish atheist, I do not intend to enter the fray of this debate. It is much beyond my humble abilities to understand the logic of the Pope. But I cannot overlook one passage, which concerns me too, as an Israeli living near the fault-line of this “war of civilizations”.
In order to prove the lack of reason in Islam, the Pope asserts that the prophet Muhammad ordered his followers to spread their religion by the sword. According to the Pope, that is unreasonable, because faith is born of the soul, not of the body. How can the sword influence the soul?
To support his case, the Pope quoted–of all people–a Byzantine Emperor, who belonged, of course, to the competing Eastern Church. At the end of the 14th century, the Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus told of a debate he had–or so he said (its occurrence is in doubt)–with an unnamed Persian Muslim scholar. In the heat of the argument, the Emperor (according to himself) flung the following words at his adversary:
“Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached”.
These words give rise to three questions:
(a) Why did the Emperor say them?
(b) Are they true?
(c) Why did the present Pope quote them?
* * *
WHEN MANUEL II wrote his treatise, he was the head of a dying empire. He assumed power in 1391, when only a few provinces of the once illustrious empire remained. These, too, were already under Turkish threat.
At that point in time, the Ottoman Turks had reached the banks of the Danube. They had conquered Bulgaria and the north of Greece, and had twice defeated relieving armies sent by Europe to save the Eastern Empire. In 1453, only a few years after Manuel’s death, his capital, Constantinople (the present Istanbul) fell to the Turks, putting an end to the Empire that had lasted for more than a thousand years.
During his reign, Manuel made the rounds of the capitals of Europe in an attempt to drum up support. He promised to reunite the church. There is no doubt that he wrote his religious treatise in order to incite the Christian countries against the Turks and convince them to start a new crusade. The aim was practical, theology was serving politics.
In this sense, the quote serves exactly the requirements of the present Emperor, George Bush II. He, too, wants to unite the Christian world against the mainly Muslim “Axis of Evil”. Moreover, the Turks are again knocking on the doors of Europe, this time peacefully. It is well known that the Pope supports the forces that object to the entry of Turkey into the European Union.
* * *
IS THERE any truth in Manuel’s argument?
The pope himself threw in a word of caution. As a serious and renowned theologian, he could not afford to falsify written texts. Therefore, he admitted that the Qur’an specifically forbade the spreading of the faith by force. He quoted the second Sura, verse 256 (strangely fallible, for a pope, he meant verse 257) which says: “There must be no coercion in matters of faith”.
How can one ignore such an unequivocal statement? The Pope simply argues that this commandment was laid down by the prophet when he was at the beginning of his career, still weak and powerless, but that later on he ordered the use of the sword in the service of the faith. Such an order does not exist in the Qur’an. True, Muhammad called for the use of the sword in his war against opposing tribes–Christian, Jewish and others–in Arabia, when he was building his state. But that was a political act, not a religious one; basically a fight for territory, not for the spreading of the faith.
Jesus said: “You will recognize them by their fruits.” The treatment of other religions by Islam must be judged by a simple test: How did the Muslim rulers behave for more than a thousand years, when they had the power to “spread the faith by the sword”?
Well, they just did not.
For many centuries, the Muslims ruled Greece. Did the Greeks become Muslims? Did anyone even try to Islamize them? On the contrary, Christian Greeks held the highest positions in the Ottoman administration. The Bulgarians, Serbs, Romanians, Hungarians and other European nations lived at one time or another under Ottoman rule and clung to their Christian faith. Nobody compelled them to become Muslims and all of them remained devoutly Christian.
True, the Albanians did convert to Islam, and so did the Bosniaks. But nobody argues that they did this under duress. They adopted Islam in order to become favorites of the government and enjoy the fruits.
In 1099, the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem and massacred its Muslim and Jewish inhabitants indiscriminately, in the name of the gentle Jesus. At that time, 400 years into the occupation of Palestine by the Muslims, Christians were still the majority in the country. Throughout this long period, no effort was made to impose Islam on them. Only after the expulsion of the Crusaders from the country, did the majority of the inhabitants start to adopt the Arabic language and the Muslim faith–and they were the forefathers of most of today’s Palestinians.
* * *
THERE IS no evidence whatsoever of any attempt to impose Islam on the Jews. As is well known, under Muslim rule the Jews of Spain enjoyed a bloom the like of which the Jews did not enjoy anywhere else until almost our time. Poets like Yehuda Halevy wrote in Arabic, as did the great Maimonides. In Muslim Spain, Jews were ministers, poets, scientists. In Muslim Toledo, Christian, Jewish and Muslim scholars worked together and translated the ancient Greek philosophical and scientific texts. That was, indeed, the Golden Age. How would this have been possible, had the Prophet decreed the “spreading of the faith by the sword”?
What happened afterwards is even more telling. When the Catholics re-conquered Spain from the Muslims, they instituted a reign of religious terror. The Jews and the Muslims were presented with a cruel choice: to become Christians, to be massacred or to leave. And where did the hundreds of thousand of Jews, who refused to abandon their faith, escape? Almost all of them were received with open arms in the Muslim countries. The Sephardi (”Spanish”) Jews settled all over the Muslim world, from Morocco in the west to Iraq in the east, from Bulgaria (then part of the Ottoman Empire) in the north to Sudan in the south. Nowhere were they persecuted. They knew nothing like the tortures of the Inquisition, the flames of the auto-da-fe, the pogroms, the terrible mass-expulsions that took place in almost all Christian countries, up to the Holocaust.
WHY? Because Islam expressly prohibited any persecution of the “peoples of the book”. In Islamic society, a special place was reserved for Jews and Christians. They did not enjoy completely equal rights, but almost. They had to pay a special poll-tax, but were exempted from military service–a trade-off that was quite welcome to many Jews. It has been said that Muslim rulers frowned upon any attempt to convert Jews to Islam even by gentle persuasion–because it entailed the loss of taxes.
Every honest Jew who knows the history of his people cannot but feel a deep sense of gratitude to Islam, which has protected the Jews for fifty generations, while the Christian world persecuted the Jews and tried many times “by the sword” to get them to abandon their faith.
* * *
THE STORY about “spreading the faith by the sword” is an evil legend, one of the myths that grew up in Europe during the great wars against the Muslims–the reconquista of Spain by the Christians, the Crusades and the repulsion of the Turks, who almost conquered Vienna. I suspect that the German Pope, too, honestly believes in these fables. That means that the leader of the Catholic world, who is a Christian theologian in his own right, did not make the effort to study the history of other religions.
Why did he utter these words in public? And why now?
There is no escape from viewing them against the background of the new Crusade of Bush and his evangelist supporters, with his slogans of “Islamofascism” and the “Global War on Terrorism”–when “terrorism” has become a synonym for Muslims. For Bush’s handlers, this is a cynical attempt to justify the domination of the world’s oil resources. Not for the first time in history, a religious robe is spread to cover the nakedness of economic interests; not for the first time, a robbers’ expedition becomes a Crusade.
The speech of the Pope blends into this effort. Who can foretell the dire consequences?

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By Rick Yel, October 13, 2006 at 7:47 pm Link to this comment
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Maani,

The position I am taking is that others look upon you, with your “Christian cloak” on, and because they are of another religion or “Faith” and the core contradictions between such belief systems, you will never truly respect their faith.  How can you, if indeed you believe them to be wrong (as you have stated in your 2nd to last post)?  It is like agreeing with someone that 2 + 2 is indeed 5, when you know it is 4.  Similar in that you believe one thing to be absolutely true (Christianity), while somoene believes something completely different to be true (Islam), all the while using mathematics (religion/faith) as your deductive tactic.

So in other words, it is this fundamental contradiction that will not allow you to positively affect one another and engage in respectful dialogue if your answers continue to come up different. 

So, what does all of this have to do with “true peace”?  If peace is to exist, no doubt many things to need to take place.  One of them is respect of other’s cultures without dismissing their beliefs.  All of this would be fine regarding religion, except that at bottom you will ultimately contradict one another on who the true son of Abraham was.  And it may seem foolish, but people are willing to kill others over the distinctions branching off from good old Abe’s children.  My point to you is that as long as you adhere to Christianity (and you being as observational as you are) then you should have figured out by now that religions have always prevented “true peace” and always will prevent “true peace.” 

This is true peace is the sense that we have less and less reasons to put-off one another and more and more reasons to get along.  Not the kind of peace that Chrsitians look forward to when only the “select few” earn their way into heaven while non-believers spend eternity in hell.  How conceded don’t you think?  As I said, clandestine behavior never allowed outside parties to be respected, only shunned or eliminated them.  Religion seems to help this age-old process along.

In response to your thought-experiment about trying to explain sight to a person blind from birth and its similarities to “faith”, you should be careful. 

I could use your exact analogy in the arena of schizophrenia or a child’s “imaginary friend”.  While the person who sees people who are not there to us, they sure can describe their features and attributes just as you can attempt to describe color and sight and shapes to a blind person.

While your approach is clever, I have studied hundreds of these sort of thought experiments in my research on philosophy and religion.  Few of them hold water, and due to its arbitrary conclusions yours is no different.  Unless of course, you also believe a child to be referring to an actual object of physical reality (i.e. sight) when they speak of their invisible friend they can so accurately describe. 

Now I don’t have the time to discuss the role of perception (and oh how deep that conversation can go) but if you wish to we can. So when your “faith” is your own, as a blind person’s lack of sight is their own, or a schizophrenic’s hallucinations are their own, is it difficult to understand why non-religious people have “good” reasons to maintain their view that faith is indeed a figment of one’s imagination based on complex factors? 

So if you are interested in “true peace” you should want to believe in something that everyone can believe in, over time, regardless of their religion.  This set of beliefs should be maliable and provide actual proof so as to allow for change.  Religion is neither maliable nor full of solid evidence, therefore will never provide even the potential for peace as long as it stands on its shaky pedestal. 

Indeed you do treat others differently.  If someone were to burn a Bible in front of you and bash your religion and your own religious beliefs all the while, would you not feel anger or disrespected or any sort of frustration?  The very fact that you believe in religion has brought you to this forum to back it up. 

Now, on the other hand if someone were to burn the book, “Star Wars” and bash it’s claims, could you not care less?  You see to me while both of these are acts of aggression, I do not favor the former book over the latter or vice-versa.  I understand them both to be referring to things that do not exist.  But I can imagine you wouldn’t be neutral in your reaction, whether peaceful or not.  The fact remains that you have a difference in emotion and in-turn ACTION (whether peaceful or not) from me based on your religious views. So as I said, you do treat others differently precisely because of your faith.

I think my point has been made clear. 

Shalom

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By Joan, October 13, 2006 at 5:56 pm Link to this comment
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Rick,

Well Rick you have certainly twisted my words about funny and the tragedy of 9/11…pretty “thready” connection, in fact I see no connection to the irony of the situation of an atheist generating so much discussion about God and the tragedy of 9/11… I have laughed since 9/11 and so have you no doubt, however. Re: 9/11, we and the Western world have not been at all present to the hatred that was brewing in the Middle East FOR YEARS. Do you think it is God’s fault that 9/11 occurred? You know, how does a just and benevolent God allow things like 9/11 to happen? Maybe, just maybe God saw the loss of 3,000 lives juxtaposed against the loss of 100,000 lives if bin Laden got hold of a dirty bomb while America slept. I don’t know, I just speculate, in my religion of one person, me. I take it that God permitted 9/11 in lieu of something worse because we were not getting the message. This was very dangerous. We have some I think fairy tale ideas about God but by observation or inspection it is clear that God plays hardball. So does Sam Harris who is really indelicate in his own venue too. Harris is just a chip off the old block, his heavenly Father, The both play hardball to make a point that they feel is urgent enough to make even though there may be hell to pay. I know people do not conventionally think of God this way, but I do. I do not believe that God thought anything connected to 9/11 was a laughing matter whole still finding humor in the irony of Harris promoting so much discussion about God. I certainly do not see how the occurrence of 9/11 or the occurrence of other tragedies proves that God does not exist as Harris implies. 

Read Mr. Harris’ books and I have done pretty heavy- duty critique of “Open Letter…” t.
Here are some highlights.

I agree totally with Harris that certain people maintain religious propositions that are not verifiable and are a threat to worldwide safety when acted on. These propositions should be vigorously challenged. (But when the pope did this, Harris ridiculed him. Forget the Crusades. Not a Christian alive today fought in a Crusade and no Muslim alive today was the victim of a Christian Crusade).

Harris has not verified his tacit assumption that godless societies will be very rational and hence morally superior to God fearing societies. First of all none of them have been. The ones he noted in “Open Letter..” were evolved from philosophically Christian nations as is America. These countries cited by Harris’ own admission are equally inept at dealing with the Islamic fundamentalism to their imminent peril, perhaps. And the Scandinavian countries have the distinction of having the highest suicide rate, as I recall…So there is still something a little rotten in the state of Denmark, as admittedly wonderful as these nations are. Pol Pot, Stalin and others, founders of some godless states are dismissed by Harris as self deluded narcissists, not representative of godless states that are rational and morally superior because of the insanity of these leaders. Really? It takes thousands and thousands to build one Pol Pot or Stalin. They do not manage these countries single handedly. Harris has not demonstrated that godless nations are inherently morally superior to God fearing ones. Harris and I both concur though that dogmatism with force is dangerous to the well -being of mankind. Easily verifiable by mere inspection.

My understanding of intelligent design differs from Harris. He presents it as a version of the Unmoved Mover puzzle. I have heard it as a version of Paley’s watch.  Under no circumstance do I think there should be interference with academic freedom or any kind of censorship. What is true is true for all time and all space. So open debate is not dangerous and is usually welcome in rational societies. Even scientists know that theory is fraught with notions that have yet to be demonstrated. I believe that we do know the difference between theory and fact, not as Harris suggests. Many scientists believe that evolution has support but has not been fully demonstrated.  Science functions on induction. You cannot verify many inductive statements such as “sun will rise tomorrow”. Many scientific statements are predictive but not verifiable. Verifiability is helpful when dealing with truth- values of propositions but we function all the time as a society, in science and in the world on inductive statements and propositions that are not verifiable. Harris is reintroducing ideas regarding verifiability that began several centuries ago that when carried to certain extremes wound up eliminating moral propositions altogether… because moral statements in general are not verifiable…See your basic AJ. Ayer, met him once and discussed my thesis with him for a brief shining moment. He still did not believe any moral statements made sense because they were not verifiable. Now would you like to live a world like that, no morality at all because rational moral propositions like religious propositions are not verifiable? No religion and no morality courtesy of the philosophers of the world, as the contemporary British philosopher Gareth Evans noted, can make any argument pliant.
Mr. Harris is right to warn of us certain dangers to the world about certain religious propositions that are taken to heart by people who revere martyrdom and want nuclear weapons but he has not at all dis- proven the existence of God or verified that godless societies are morally superior. We may be living the best of all possible worlds having a judging God, with a big stick…I do not know. Also, I do not know if the world without this God, would not be the utter state of nature.
I am just warming up here, Rick, but will let you have moment. Before I leave you in answer to your query about God being physical I will tell you that I feel that God brings forth a certain physiology, breathing rhythms, certain bliss or peace and spiritual and mental strength that is fortified. Science is already looking into such phenomena.
I am like Harris, a trained philosopher. I am trained to be the quintessential rational being. But I learned while in the great foxholes of life, you know how God is usually found in foxholes, that you can come up with several equally valid rational answers to a life’s problem, none of which turns out to be correct. So if they are equally valid approaches, which one do you choose? Here is the quandary. I just ask God what to do and I have found that the premier ethicist is Christ and his teachings are easy…treat others the way you want to be treated. Following this is more realistic than trying to overthrow the religions of the world, maybe. Would we citizens of the world follow this advice we would be safe. So maybe these are godly thoughts…who really worries about virgin births???? 

Re: tsunamis etc, by inspection we realize that God does not hold human life to be paramount. God does not alter the laws of nature to save lives. Some cultures using their brains like the Native Americans avoided setting up shop in the dangerous corridors of a region, avoiding lands filled with forest fires and mudslides for, instance. I take God for what He is not what I think He should be. He returns the favor. He does hold the human relationship with the Divine to be paramount however. That’s His big interest and                                     He protects this ferociously, as I see it in my religion of one person, me.

Harris’ proof- texting to disavow the Bible gets nowhere. For every quote there is a counter quote. The debate raged for 2000 years and even today scholars wonder if the apostles or Paul even got the message of Jesus. So there is really nothing to appeal to here but for the few snippets of Christ’s words. 

I know God exists because I feel Him experientially…I experience the God of Noah as a God who gives me warnings of danger, the God of Abraham who takes me into the great unknown and teaches me that to survive I may have to be willing to relinquish so much that is dear. It is the God of Christ who believes that the way to treat people is to love them. This is how He designed us to function. I ask for direction and do what comes to me. I got after years so reliant on this input I realized that being rational and analytical as Harris champions is so limited and limiting as far as a way to live life. But the basic proof of God’s existence is Paley’s watch…Put a bunch of objects into a bag and shake them up…what is the chance of your getting a running watch? Zero, zip nada, zilch, no way. Yet Harris insists that an entire universe came into being through random selection without any intelligent deliberation. How much sense does that make? I do not see the wind, just its manifestations.
Joan

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By Maani, October 13, 2006 at 3:25 pm Link to this comment
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Rick:

Why does my adherence to a particular faith - and even my belief that “billions of others” may be “wrong” in theirs - have anything to do with my interest in “true peace?”  As I noted, how I may feel about the tenets of my faith with respect to the “afterlife” has absolutely nothing to do with how I treat others in this one.  Thus, I see no “barriers” to “true peace.”

Your position would make more sense if my faith somehow adversely affected my ability to, or PREVENTED me from, treating all other human beings with love, peace, compassion, forgiveness, etc.  But this is not the case.

Re your comment that “the cloak of religion around you…keeps you from adhering to other faiths and and beliefs…, that is a bit of an obviousity, don’t you think?  LOL.  But it is not the “religion” mixed in with my faith that keeps me from “adhering to other faiths,” it is…my faith.  In this case, your position would be more supportable if I did not know anything about those other faiths and beliefs. But I came to Judeo-Christianity BECAUSE I have an in-depth knowledge of other faiths.  That is, I arrived at Judeo-Christianity for the very reason that, after almost eight years of study of “comparative religion” (during which I read the underlying texts of all the major and minor faiths, and discussed them with leaders of those faiths), Judeo-Christianity was the “belief system” that resonated with me most powerfully, for a number of reasons.

Finally, I want to address your question to Joan; i.e., how do we know that the God we believe in exists?

Let me ask you a similar question: how does a person who is blind from birth know that “sight” exists?  This is not meant as a joke: how would you “prove” to a person who is blind from birth that “sight” exists?  You could read them scientific and medical books DESCRIBING sight. You could put objects in their hands and DESCRIBE the shapes and materials (though you could NEVER describe “color”).  But none of this is “proof” of the existence of “sight.”  Thus, a person who is blind from birth would be justified in “disbelieving” the existence of “sight.”  [N.B.  The same thought experiment would apply to a person who is deaf from birth, or cannot distinguish smells, or flavors.]

In this regard, “faith” can be compared to a “sense” - one that, if a person does not have it “from birth,” or develop it at a later date, cannot possibly be described to them in words that would “prove” its existence.  This is the delimma of attempting to “prove” “faith.”

Peace.

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By Rick Yel, October 13, 2006 at 12:19 pm Link to this comment
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Joan,

I hope you have read Sam’s books.  In them you should find some interesting responses to claims you have made. 

Sure you can say anything you want about your God, because there are no limits to a being that may or may not exist.  What real evidence do you have to believe in Him?  Have you seen this God?  When hundreds of people jump out of a burning building, preferring a suicide death over being burned alive, does that show the sense of humor of which you speak?  It seems neither necassary nor “funny” for situations to occur. 

My advice is to study up on why people do not believe in God, rather than why they do.  For if in your searching you ultimately find that your God is Just and Reasonable then there is no harm and no foul for seeking other views. 

I was once a Christian, but then realized the realities of this world not only contradict most sayings in the Bible, but are enough in themselves to give life here plenty significance.  Why would God want to fool his followers?

Maani,

I have a hard time understanding your motives being a Christian.  If you were interested in a true peace, and being the well-educated person you are, then you would see the inherent barriers in believing billions of others to be wrong and you being right. 

As long as this sort of clandestine activity takes place there will always be people violent and warped enough to use religion as a weapon.  While your intentions may be good in nature, it is the cloak of religion around you that keeps you from adhering to other faiths and beliefs and them to you.  Which you have clearly stated in your last post. 

No one person has it all figured out, but it is those who are willing to admit their incompetence that will truly learn in the future.  I hope this strikes a progressive chord.

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By joan, October 12, 2006 at 5:38 pm Link to this comment
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Maani, Steve Rick…

Re: The Way and the Truth and the Light…Jesus exemplified a way as a teacher. Many live that way without knowing the name of Jesus…it is following the way that leads to understanding of human nature and of Divinity.

Maani
You’re not alone here. I have learned a lot from your work and the discussion it as generated.
In my religion of one person, me, I have concluded that God will fight his own battles. So, Maani, enjoy the discussion but make the burden of fighting God’s battles, God’s burden. Lord knows we have enough to contend with fighting our own battles. I get the impression that God can handle Himself when He wants to. And He does not want to burden you with his work. He does not want to overwork you. When or if He wants to, He will take matters into His own hands.

After years of catechistic training and apologetics and being a lazy person to some extent, I found out that God was not in a book. If you want to know Colorado, don’t read a book. Go There. It seemed God was as close as the next barstool at your local coffee shop or neighborhood bar. He is not in a book and dislikes pedestals. But He will talk to anyone who will give Him the time of day….He seems to like to be in the thick of it…so it seems in my religion of one person, me.
LOL…For all His bad press, God seems pretty liberal and has a tremendous sense of humor. Here we have, Sam Harris, our premier atheist of the moment generating so discussion about… you know, GOD.

Funny, huh?
Joan

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By Malini, October 12, 2006 at 5:04 pm Link to this comment
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Hello Maani!

I do admire the way you defend faith and all the man made mess that has taken place in the past.

Well, is it so necessary for you to take blame for all that happened centuries & centuries ago and is long gone history?

You weren’t even around when these things happened; and I don’t feel that you are in any way responsible.  So why worry or feel guilty for something you haven’t done.

Your Mom’s theories make real sense to me; and thanks for sharing her views!

Wishing you and others peace in return…

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By Maani, October 12, 2006 at 3:04 pm Link to this comment
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Rick:

While I will concede your point based solely on a “dictionary” definition of the word “deism,” you seem to undermine the position that Mr. Harris and his followers take, in as much as you are admitting that all of these (and other) “non-Christian” deists nevertheless believe(d) in GOD.  Does it matter then whether that God is “only” believed in as a result of “reason and nature,” or that He/She/It “created the world” but has since “remained indifferent to it?” The point is that all of these people believe in “God.”  [N.B. This includes Darwin, who was actually a Christian: he was raised Christian, his only earned degree was in theology, he studied for the Protestant ministry, he became a deacon of his church, and he was buried in Westminster Abbey.]  Ultimately, the line between deism and theism is often a thin one. And we do not know enough about the personal lives of some of these people to know how fine that line was for them - or whether it even existed.

Joan makes a critical point.  As I have noted (though it is not my original saying), “Religion is about laws, rules and behavior; faith is about a relationship with God.”  There is certainly a place for laws, rules and behavior within faith.  But faith must come first, and must be built up and nourished before one can properly understand the relationship between “religion” and faith.  Otherwise, as Joan infers, “religion” (laws, rules and behavior) become the focus, often at the expense of faith - and sometimes even to the point that people will reject faith, because they are taught that faith “requires” religion.

As Joan also points out, although Jesus was as well-versed in the Old Testament as anyone in history, His words and actions often showed a discomfort - if not an outright disdain or dismissal - of “religion.”  Indeed, though Joan is perhaps too “polite” to say so (LOL), Jesus was - there is no better word - a heretic.  And as Joan notes, this was what got Him in trouble with the Temple Priests and Sanhedrin.  Jesus was constantly pointing out their hypocrisies, and their adherence to the “letter of the law” (i.e., “religion”) while what they SHOULD have been paying attention to - and teaching in the synagogues - was the “spirit of the law” (i.e., “faith”).  But the Temple Priests were too corrupted by the power they held, and they were not going to relinquish it just because some itinerant preacher got in their face.

As Joan also infers, Jesus did not come to start a new faith or religion: He came to teach the Jews how to be better Jews.  It was only when the majority (but by no means all) of the Jews rejected Him and His ministry that He took it to anyone who wanted to listen - in this case, the Gentiles.  If He had not been resurrected, He would be “rolling in His grave” (LOL) over the idea that His life and ministry had been turned into a “new religion” - especially one that has not only spawned the hopelessly apostate Catholic Church, but, of course, the horrific things done in His name.

Peace.

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By Joan, October 12, 2006 at 2:05 pm Link to this comment
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Maani and Steve,

There seem to be religions that emphasize the observance of rules and punishment, like Catholicism and Islam and religions that emphasize a person’s personal relationship with God.  A former Catholic, I joined ranks with those that emphasize the relationship with God. Well I just have a religion with one member, me. My religion is just my private relationship with God. I, like Harris, had a problem with linking God to preposterous propositions and with the punishment angle so common to rule based religions, you know - God has wacky ideas about things and walks with a big stick just looking for ways to use it. I think Jesus was also a religion/ relationship man. He in fact got into serious trouble by challenging the high priests by doing things like disavowing theocracies and by healing on the Sabbath, a real no-no. He seemed to oppose organized religions, and maybe even some unverifiable propositions of organized religions or violent punishments, like stoning those who commit adultery. So he taught his followers to address his Father directly which I have found to be the most satisfying way to have a relationship with anyone, no middleman. I too do not think Christ authorized any sort of papacy. Building a church on Peter to me was a sign of the exact opposite intention of what the Catholic Church took and ran with.  I think Jesus was saying while looking at Peter and seeing an everyday “Joe”, married with a mother- in- law and all that Peter, the everyday man is the foundation of Jesus’ church, not clergy and hierarchy, just the everyday person who wants to be with God and live a good life. Within the everyday man, Jesus hoped his ideas might take hold. Jesus’ ministry was laid back and in fact unstructured, a bunch of guys sitting around fishing or rambling from one place to another, the very opposite of what the Catholic Church is today!!!!
Joan

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By RIck Yel, October 12, 2006 at 12:36 pm Link to this comment
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Definition of Deism:

1. Belief in the existence of a God on the evidence of reason and nature only, with rejection of supernatural revelation (distinguished from theism).

2. Belief in a God who created the world but has since remained indifferent to it.

Maani,

Please do not compare Deism to Christianity in the way you have done.  As you see, they are two very different things.  Your Christian God meets neither of the above criteria.  Darwin may have been a Deist, as was Einstein, but they were not Christian.  I think you should listen more to your mother and less to Ann Coulter.

Assalamalakum

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By Peter M Britnell, October 12, 2006 at 11:29 am Link to this comment
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All 3 religions worship a false God and profess to have an exclusive foothold in reality.  All of us (deluded and non-deluded alike) lose.  A big ‘thank you’ is in order.  Never underestimate the power of mass-delusion.  It’s more powerful than denial.  Woof!

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By Maani, October 12, 2006 at 11:23 am Link to this comment
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Joan:

Thank you for your kind words.  I am just one man fighting against seemingly insurmountable odds!  LOL.

Rick:

You question the “truth” of my belief system based on today’s “news.”  Yet if one has deep knowledge of prophecy, one would know that the “news” is one of the things that actually SUPPORTS the truth of that belief system, in as much as Christians can see “signs” coming together, and prophecy being fulfilled.  [N.B. It was at least partially DUE to the relevance of prophecy to “today’s news” that I chose to become Christian rather than another faith.]

Re your query about Christianity and Islam, I will not mince words: based on my understanding of both faiths (and having read the Qu’ran three times and the Bible numerous times), Islam has made a critical error by replacing Jesus with Mohammed.

As you know, Islam considers Jesus second only to Mohammed in importance as a prophet.  Even Jesus’ mother, Mary, is revered in Islam. (Indeed, most people are unaware that the Arabic writing around the cupola of the Dome of the Rock - the third holiest place in Islam - is an admonition to revere Jesus and Mary.)  However, Islam does not accept Jesus (or Mohammed) as “divine,” since Islam believes that no one can be placed between God and man.  (In this way, Islam ironically has more in common with the Jews.)

Setting aside the fact that Islam is based on Mohammed’s “vision” and his “receiving” of the Qur’an, another reason why Jesus could never be accepted as equal with or greater than Mohammed is that he was a Jew.  Indeed, it is fascinating that Islam accepts Jesus to the degree that it does, since it is the 6000-year-old enmity between Muslims and Jews (based on the rejection of Ishmael in favor of Isaac) that continues to this day as the cause of strife in the Middle East (which is why that strife will never be ended with the stroke of a pen).

Indeed, it is the misunderstanding of Islam re the story of Jesus - and his betrayal and death - that gives Jesus the stature He has in Islam: because Islam believes that it was the Jews who betrayed and killed Jesus (which is seriously simplistic and incorrect, view), they see this as simply another reason to hate the Jews. Needless to say, I, too, am being a bit simplistic in my comments here for brevity’s sake, but the gist is correct.

From the Christian perspective, Mohammed was a “late-comer” whose “vision” (and “receiving” of the Qur’an) not only conveniently - and completely - vindicated the Arabs’ then-4000-year-old hatred of the Jews, but stoked that hatred and, in some passages, encouraged it, even to the point of violence.

In this regard, from a more broadly theological perspective, Islam is the only faith that openly condones ANY form of hatred or violence in the present.  (The Old Testament did so for some very early events, but does not condone hatred or violence per se; and Christianity, while “used” for hateful and violent reasons during the Crusades et al, does not have a single passage that condones, much less encourages, hatred or violence.)

Based on this, it can certainly be asked - by ANYONE: Jew, Christian, Buddhist, agnostic, atheist - what kind of God would openly condone and even encourage hatred or violence against another human being?  Further, given that Islam considers Jesus its second highest prophet, how does it explain its “codified” hatred and violence vis-a-vis Jesus’ own life and ministry, which were devoted to healing, peace, love, forgiveness, humility, etc.?  Clearly, there is something intrinsicially wrong with Islam’s “internal logic” and theology.

As you are undoubtedly well aware, Christians believe that salvation and eternal life can only be obtained through faith in Christ.  This is based on a number of things, not least of which is Jesus’ statement that “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father but through Me.”  This is echoed in Paul’s ultimate statement about salvation: “If thou shalt profess the Lord Jesus with thy mouth, and believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.”

Finally, I am certain that you (or someone) will ask the question as to whether this means (from a Christian perspective) that 2 billion Muslims will not get to heaven (and we are assuming here that “heaven” exists).  To this I offer Jesus’ own words, in a statement that most people (including many Christians) do not fully understand or appreciate: “For wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there are who go in through that gate…But narrow is the way that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”

Jesus is saying that there are many “paths” that seem to go toward God (“broad is the way”), but most of them lead to “destruction.”  However, the path that leads to “life” (i.e., eternal life) is “narrow” and “few” find it.

Again, I offer these simply as underpinnings of the Judeo-Christian construct vis-a-vis your query about Christianity “versus” Islam.  I want to reiterate, however, that whatever Christians may believe about the “correctness” of their faith vis-a-vis salvation and eternal life, what matters here - in the temporal world - is how we live our lives (i.e., the example we set), and how we behave toward and treat others.  There is no dichotomy between believing that others may not find salvation in the “afterlife,” and treating them with love, compassion, respect and admiration in this life.

Peace.

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