Redefining Spirituality

Via Jerry Coyne I have just come across this op-ed, from the USA Today, by Chris Mooney. The title: “Spirituality Can Bridge Science-Religion Divide” My initial reaction: No it can’t!

Mooney’s argument is a standard one:

Across the Western world — including the United States — traditional religion is in decline, even as there has been a surge of interest in “spirituality.” What’s more, the latter concept is increasingly being redefined in our culture so that it refers to something very much separable from, and potentially broader than, religious faith.

Nowadays, unlike in prior centuries, spirituality and religion are no longer thought to exist in a one-to-one relationship.

This is a fundamental change, and it strongly undermines the old conflict story about science and religion. For once you start talking about science and spirituality, the dynamic shifts dramatically.

Really? Redefining the word “spirituality” undermines the old conflict story? Go on…

Spirituality in the sense described above does not run afoul of any of Dawkins’ atheistic values or arguments. It does not require science and faith to be logically compatible, for instance. Nor does it require that we believe in anything we cannot prove. Spirituality simply doesn’t operate on that level. It’s about emotions and experiences, not premises or postulates.

And finally:

A focus on spirituality, then, might be the route to finally healing one of the most divisive rifts in Western society — over the relationship between science and religion. We’ll still have our evolution battles, to be sure; and the Catholic Church won’t soon give up on its wrongheaded resistance to contraception. The problems won’t immediately vanish. But each time they emerge, more and more of us will scratch our heads, wondering why.

I am baffled. Even taking everything Mooney says at face value, I am unable to follow his argument.

He seems to be saying something like this: The word “spirituality” used to connote some sort of supernatural belief. When conceived of in this way, it is not something of which atheists will typically want any part. But it is becoming increasingly common to think of “spirituality” as any sort of deep emotional reaction to nature, and atheists can feel such things just as strongly as anyone else. A religious person might interpret these sorts of spiritual feelings in the context of a particular faith tradition, but it is not necessary to interpret them in this way. Thus, spirituality is something in which we can all participate, and that provides common ground among people of differing religious views.

That is all delightful. I mostly agree with it, though as it happens I stubbornly persist in seeing “atheist spirituality” as an oxymoron. My question for Mooney is simply this: What does any of this have to do with the conflict between science and religion?

As I see it there are three main grounds of conflict between science and religion. The first is that science sometimes uncovers facts about the world that conflict with long established religious dogmas. For example, science says the Earth is billions of years old, some religious traditions say it is more like ten thousand. If you are willing to abandon, or at least heavily revise, the dogmas then you can avoid this particular conflict. If only more people were willing to go this route!

The second is harder to define precisely, but it is actually the most serious issue in my view. It is that science reveals a view of the universe that is vastly different from what traditional religion teaches. For example, science says we are the product of billions of years of cruel and wasteful evolution by natural selection (aided by periodical mass extinctions, of course), and that humans play no special role in this process. Religion teaches that we are created in the image of a God who loves us. The heroic synthesizing efforts of philosophers and theologians notwithstanding, it is very hard to see these views as two sides of the same coin.

The third is the conflict between faith and reason. In principle there is no contradiction in relying on reason and evidence in pondering questions about nature, while relying on faith and revelation for nonempirical questions. In practice, however, I think it is very difficult for a scientist to find faith appealing. There is a reason that conservative religious belief is all but nonexistent among scientists, while nonbelief and liberal theology are the norms.

How on Earth does redefining “spirituality” relate, in even the slightest way, to any of these issues?

Comments

  1. #1 NewEnglandBob
    September 14, 2010

    “How on Earth does redefining “spirituality” relate, in even the slightest way, to any of these issues?”

    Only in the bizarro world of Mooney framed accommodationism.

  2. #2 Tyro
    September 14, 2010

    Others have dredged wishful thinking for all it’s worth, Mooney seeks untapped veins of equivocation.

  3. #3 Hibob
    September 14, 2010

    I think Mooney is right: personal spirituality fulfills many of the same needs that organized religions do without conflicting with empiricism as directly or as inflexibly. To the extent that Mooney succeeds in getting people to embrace personal spirituality at the expense of deities, supernatural entities, and doctrines, he will decrease the conflict.

    To the extent he succeeds in getting people to embrace spirituality at the expense of science, he will start receiving grants and honoraria from NCCAM.

  4. #4 Tyler DiPietro
    September 14, 2010

    Much like there is a God of the philosophers and a God of the common person, so too there are sophisticated and crude versions of spirituality. Sophisticated spirituality would be something like what Stu Kauffman expounded in his last book and Mooney is expounding here, while crude spirituality would mean things like alt-med quackery and astrology. Unfortunately I would have to infer that most present-day “spirituality” involves the latter more than the former, and in this sense it is no better for science and rationality than traditional religion.

  5. #5 ngong
    September 14, 2010

    As much as I dislike Mooney’s general mealy-mouthedness, I think he did a fair job of defining his “spirituality” in the op-ed. It doesn’t conflict with science. Supposedly, it’s replacing “religion.”

    We need a word to apply to those who believe in experimenting with consciousness, breaking down barriers between self and other, ceasing the flow of discursive thought, living in the moment, reveling in the numinous (etc.). “Spiritual” seems to be the best word available.

    As far as a “God who loves us” goes, Hinduism and Buddhism don’t apply, and Islam and Judaism are questionable in this respect. You’re quite provincial in your own definition of “religion.”

  6. #6 Cuttlefish
    September 14, 2010

    “Spirituality” is a verbal remnant from a prescientific world view, when our imaginations were able to outpace our knowledge and discovery. Today, so many of the unanswerable questions of that time have answers, words like “spirituality” are too small. Real life has more to offer.

    Count my vote against spirituality; the universe is so big and so full that there is no room left for it.

  7. #7 Richard Wein
    September 15, 2010

    Mooney’s article is just feel-good pablum. You could just as well say that pot can heal the science-religion divide. A few tokes and we won’t care enough to disagree.

  8. #8 andre3
    September 15, 2010

    Why call this new idea “spirituality”? It clearly isn’t because the notion is divorced from the nature of “spirits”. It’s like saying that there is a “new astrology” which is really just an appreciation of looking at the stars, but we’ll keep calling it astrology. It should be called “star-gazing”.

    Call this new idea that Mooney describes “emotionalism” or “feelings” or “awe”, which are what I understand to be what he is talking about. The only reason to call it spirituality is to placate those who believe in traditional religions.

  9. #9 Ted
    September 15, 2010

    As Dawkins and others have pointed out before, it is easy to be religious when you re-define your religion’s tenets to fit your beliefs. More people today say they are “spiritual” rather than “religious” thus tacitly acknowledging that many people who were raised to a particular religion have trouble with some or all of their religion’s tenets. “Spiritual” means “I want to believe in God, but I don’t agree with so much of my religion’s dogma.”

    Here’s an example – someone might say, hey, I accept evolution but I also believe in God, therefore I reject religion’s creationist teachings but I believe God probably started the evolutionary ball rolling and guided evolution to create Mankind.

    Mooney’s argument is essentially that although people still accept the idea that supernatural forces are at work in our universe and in our daily lives, that’s okay because they’re not rejecting scientific truths.

    I agree, and disagree.

    It would be lovely if everyone just stood up one day and said, hey, the concept of “God” is dumb and unnecessary and I hereby reject such beliefs in favor of scientific truth. But that’s not how it’s going to happen. It will be a gradual process, and in my opinion the shift from “religion” to “spirituality” is part of the process and probably to the good.

    However, I do have a problem with this sort of “spirituality,” and let me revert to the evolution issue to express my concern. Religion (even the watered-down version called spirituality) is essentially outcome-oriented. It posits, for example, that Mankind is the outcome of evolution, the pinnacle of evolution, the thing evolution (guided by God) was “striving” to accomplish, that we as a species have reached perfection. It suggests that we have already become what God intended us to be. Even Dawkins suggests (or has been misread to suggest) that we have reached the apex of Mount Improbable. But this belief that evolution is about “progress” from nothing to perfection is wrong.

    Certainly there is proof of advancement from simple to complex organisms, but it would be wrong to surmise that the complex organisms are “better” from a biological, much less a moral or ethical, standpoint. Evolution is a system, and we are in the system, and it is a system that responds to chaotic, shifting, and un-guided natural forces. It would be wrong-headed to claim that we have reached the pinnacle of biological evolution, because there is no pinnacle. It would be equally wrong-headed to claim (or believe) by analogy that we have reached the pinnacle of our social or cultural evolution. Our society, our culture, and our civilization are also continuously evolving, and if we close our eyes to the possibility of change we are essentially saying that everyone on Earth is as well off as they deserve to be, closing our eyes to injustice and deprivation.

    I don’t want to go too far off on a tangent, but it seems to me that there issues are interrelated. Religion and even spirituality in my mind justify or enhance or maintain the status quo, to the detriment of many. Religion IS the opium of the people. “Religious” or “spiritual”, it amounts to the same thing – self-satisfaction, outcome attained, at peace with the world no matter what.

  10. #10 anthrosciguy
    September 15, 2010

    If I redefine X to mean “something that everyone has”, then everyone has X.

  11. #11 eric
    September 15, 2010

    andre3: Why call this new idea “spirituality”? It clearly isn’t because the notion is divorced from the nature of “spirits”.

    Beating on Mooney for this is, in some ways, killing the messenger. Public surveys often ask people about spirituality separate from religion. For example, the 2008 Pew survey on religion asked people if they experience a “Deep sense of spiritual peace and well-being” on a weekly basis – and 28% of self-identified atheists replied yes, they do.

    This is just one example. The bigger point is, this is not Mooney’s definition of spirituality or Mooney’s idea of spirituality that is the issue. He’s reporting on what people are saying in large numbers. Whatever “spiritual” means to the people who answer “yes” to these types of questions, its worth asking if we may in fact be able to use it to blunt or counter fundamentalist attacks on science.

    Digression: Anthrosciguy, your post gave me flashbacks to philosophy classes, on beetles and boxes :)

  12. #12 Jason Rosenhouse
    September 15, 2010

    eric –

    The dumping on Mooney, such as it is, is for his claim that somehow the growth of “atheist spirituality” ameliorates the conflict between science and religion. Actually, it just has nothing to do with that conflict.

  13. #13 eric
    September 15, 2010

    Jason,
    I agree with your comment after the first Mooney quote, i.e. merely redefining a term isn’t going to solve any problems.

    The second Mooney quote seems explanatory rather than normative to me – nothing really to disagree with there, but its not terribly insightful either.

    But I may disagree with you about the third quote. When he says “focus on…” I don’t think he’s saying growth of spirituality will naturally do anything. I think “focus on” = we need to actively go out there and disabuse mainstream religious folks of the subconscious bias that we are Not Like Them in this respect. We, also, think deep thoughts. We, also, wonder at nature, marvel at a baby’s grasping hands, love our parents, etc… And if you want to call that pablum “spirituality,” we’ve got it too. We Are Like You in that respect. I read ‘focus on’ to mean ‘go do something with the information that religious people are accepting of the idea that spirituality is good, and spirituality does not require religion.’

    But I didn’t read his article, just your post. So maybe I’m projecting my own strategy onto him. :)

  14. #14 AL
    September 15, 2010

    Spirituality simply doesn’t operate on that level. It’s about emotions and experiences, not premises or postulates.

    A focus on spirituality, then, might be the route to finally healing one of the most divisive rifts in Western society — over the relationship between science and religion. We’ll still have our evolution battles, to be sure; and the Catholic Church won’t soon give up on its wrongheaded resistance to contraception. The problems won’t immediately vanish. But each time they emerge, more and more of us will scratch our heads, wondering why.

    Unfortunately for Mooney, the neural and cognitive sciences also dip into the domain of emotions and experiences. That you had a pleasant, uplifting experience or a sad down-trodden experience can still potentially be explained by science. If we spread and popularize the idea that this brand of spirituality involving just emotions and experiences is above or immune to science, then we must be prepared for a future anti-science clash in which the findings of neuro- and cognitive science are met with resistance from people who are offended that their deep personal experiences can be explained in cold empirical and analytic fashion.

  15. #15 Igor Topilsky
    September 15, 2010

    When we are talking about science and religion, we are talking about traditions. The word “spirituality” does not refer to any tradition. Saying that someone is spiritual is like saying that he or she is compassionate. Speaking about science and spirituality is like speaking about sport and sense of humor.

    One should treat science and religion as two distinct cultural streams. From what we know, religion seems to be a universal phenomenon across cultures, while science emerges at later stages of social development. Both are represented by human behaviors. With religion, you have a systematic attempt to impose meaning on life and death, and science is aimed at inquiring into the workings of nature. Science fosters doubt and skepticism, and since religion is based largely on insubstantial beliefs, the clash is inevitable. Religious beliefs are very dear to those who profess them as they provide identity. Religion tends to be less prominent in areas with high standard of living, presumably, because people there do not crave to belong to a particular group in order to gain extra security.

    The real problem, however, is that the whole culture is loaded with conflict. Ironically, but the life of a person who is deeply concerned with this is still best described as religious.

  16. #16 Jim Harrison
    September 16, 2010

    Trying to pin down just what “spirituality” means is probably impossible, but I have a suggestion: The French writer Bataille used to talk about the job of a word, i.e. it’s social function. “Spirituality” may not have a definable meaning, but it definitely has a job. It provides people who don’t believe in theological ideas a way of intimating that they are not shallow.

    By the way, just how many of us spend all that much time gazing rapturously at sunsets? If I were interested in rehabilitating “spirituality,” I think I’d focus on the kind of experiences of solitary doubt and suffering reflected in the psalms or in the novels of Dostoevsky. There might be something that matters in that.

  17. #17 g724
    September 16, 2010

    Y’all do realize, don’t you?, that descriptors such as “cruel and wasteful universe” and “cold empirical and analytic fashion” are as much a form of pseudoscientific anthropomorphizing, as the wishful woo espoused by New Agers and suchlike.

    In point of fact that kind of language says nothing about physical phenomena or methodologies, and only reflects on the emotional states and traits of the people who use the words.

    And that kind of language is a frankly lousy way to reach people. It’s like advertising a restaurant by saying that eating there will make you nauseous.

    This is too important to get wrong.

    We have a serious problem on our hands with religious extremism. Read the latest:

    http://www.talk2action.org/story/2010/9/12/18017/5649

    Yes, geocentrism is making a comeback: these people are pushing the idea that the Sun orbits the Earth. No snark, this is for real. And they come from the same root that gave rise to the major organizers of the religious right. The author of the article is a subject-matter expert on religious extremism whose material is taken seriously in high places. (Any rationalists up for sneaking into the geocentrism conference and giving them a few surprises?:-)

    The problem we have is not that some people like to believe things that are demonstrably false, including things that any person with a telescope can demonstrate for themselves are demonstrably false. The problem is that they seek to impose their will upon the whole of society by taking advantage of the political process. They are getting more and more extreme at every turn. And they are running for political office and very often winning.

    Think about this: young-Earth creationism, and now geocentrism, not to mention the anti-vaccination meme and climate denialism: how long before they start denying the germ theory of disease? And these people are a significant voting bloc that can change the outcome of elections and shape public policy. Consider the Texas Board of Education for a moment, and its impact on textbooks across the US.

    Read up on religious extremism and its impact on politics.

    And then let’s create a message that will be so inviting and so compelling that it draws people in and vaccinates them against obscurantist BS.

    We need to get this right.

  18. #18 AL
    September 16, 2010

    Y’all do realize, don’t you?, that descriptors such as “cruel and wasteful universe” and “cold empirical and analytic fashion” are as much a form of pseudoscientific anthropomorphizing, as the wishful woo espoused by New Agers and suchlike.

    In point of fact that kind of language says nothing about physical phenomena or methodologies, and only reflects on the emotional states and traits of the people who use the words.

    When I said “cold empirical and analytic fashion” I am referring to science’s explanations, not the universe, and “cold” specifically means there are no emotions involved. So where you got “says nothing about…methodologies” or “anthropomorphizing” out of that is beyond me.

  19. #19 James Sweet
    September 16, 2010

    Mooney’s next article: How pooping can bridge the science/faith divide. After all, everybody poops! So there’s common ground…

  20. #20 James Sweet
    September 16, 2010

    I want to reiterate Jason’s reply to eric: The problem is not what Mooney says about this “spirituality” — I actually agree, though I prefer “feeling of transcendence”, the problem with the term “spirituality” being that is has nothing to do with “spirits” in this context :)

    The problem is where Mooney is going with this. I just don’t see his point. I suppose there is a problem in that there is a caricature of the emotionless atheist, but that’s not because of the hated gnu atheists! If Mooney’s point is that religious people should realize that the gnu atheists aren’t emotionless Spocks, then okay… but he seems to be saying something different and rather more incoherent.

    I just started reading Unscientific America and this seems to be an ongoing problem. Mooney presents well-researched and well-supported statements, and then throws in conclusions that have nothing to do with his premises, and in some cases directly contradict them. Or he’ll throw in more “facts” that are completely unsupported, intermingled with well-supported data. It’s quite bizarre…

  21. #21 casey rentz
    September 16, 2010

    You’re correct. Mooney’s ‘spirituality’ has little to do with the science/religion debate as it stands now. Labels aside, I think he’s just trying to push for acknowledgment of some common ground between the two camps. Though, the argument ‘we are all human’ or ‘we all feel emotion’ would accomplish the same result.

  22. #22 eric
    September 17, 2010

    James Sweet: I suppose there is a problem in that there is a caricature of the emotionless atheist, but that’s not because of the hated gnu atheists!

    Its not a matter of who is responsible for the caricature, but what you’re going to do about it. If you’re being dehumanized, you fight back by showing how human you are. That’s not a particularly “compromising” strategy, its just smart. Why the antipathy?

  23. #23 Anton Mates
    September 17, 2010

    If you’re being dehumanized, you fight back by showing how human you are. That’s not a particularly “compromising” strategy, its just smart. Why the antipathy?

    That’s a great strategy, for that particular goal. But as Jason says, it’s pretty out of place in this article. Mooney’s explicit goal is not to fight atheist dehumanization, but to reduce conflicts between science and religion. He doesn’t explain how emphasizing our common humanity is a good strategy to achieve that aim–in fact, he seems to end by saying that it won’t significantly reduce religious opposition to either evolution or contraception!

    That said, it’s a surprisingly pro-gnuAtheist article for Mooney; he basically credits Dawkins, Dennett and Harris with already pursuing his recommended tactic. I wonder if he wanted to extend an olive branch to the gnuAtheist crowd, and just slapped a “science/religion” frame on it for publication?

  24. #24 Sumit Kumar Pandit
    September 18, 2010

    I agree with one of the comments that spirituality must not interfare with bussiness. But at the same time I belive that our main goal is to reach the God so money must not be emphashized more than need. You can work more effectively in achiving the goal by visiting my blog Way2Divine.blogspot.com
    Thanks

  25. #25 Sumit Kumar Pandit
    September 18, 2010

    Sir,
    I agree with one of the comments that spirituality must not interfare with bussiness. But at the same time I belive that our main goal is to reach the God so money must not be emphashized more than need. You can work more effectively in achiving the goal by visiting my blog Way2Divine.blogspot.com
    Thanks

  26. #26 Facebook
    September 18, 2010

    thank you

  27. #27 g724
    September 18, 2010

    Brief reply to Al and then on to the main topic.

    Al, if you think science is emotionless, you’re hanging out with the wrong people. Read the bios of any major scientists and what you find is the same mix of emotions that anyone else brings to their work. Objectivity need not be cold, and very often it’s hot and passionate.

    Main topic: How spirituality works, and how to reach the masses.

    The following is based on the findings of Michael J. Persinger, published in a series of papers in _Perception & Motor Skills_, keyword “temporal lobes.”

    What he found is that electromagnetic stimulation of the right temporal lobe, at frequencies in the upper Theta to lower Alpha range, produces three very specific effects, that are significant for this discussion.

    One, subjective reports of numinous feelings that Persinger groups together as “the feeling of deep personal meaning in relation to something larger than self.” This is in fact a darn good operational definition of “spiritual” feelings as distinct from other types of positively-reinforcing emotional states e.g. ordinary happiness, sexual love, etc.

    Two, that subjects asked to complete stories included numinous elements in the test condition but not in the control condition. For example, when given the story line, “You’re walking in the woods at night and see a blueish glow in the distance,” control subjects finish the story with mundane elements such as “came to the crest of a hill and looked down on the glow from the city below,” and test subjects finish the story with elements such as “came to a clearing and saw a space ship with aliens nearby taking samples.”

    Three, more subtle and more interesting: *verbal substitution behavior.* Subjects asked to repeat sentences substituted words in the test condition but not in the control condition: e.g. asked to repeat the sentence: “Sarah stepped over cracks in the sidewalk,” control subjects could do so but test subjects would make word-substitutions such as “Sarah skipped over cracks in the pavement.”

    Why the third result is particularly important: One of the defining characteristics of fundamentalists is scriptural literalism: no substitutions are allowed, it’s all about *the words, exactly as written.* We see this in fundamentalist Christianity and also in the fundamentalist strains of Islam: it’s all about memorizing and literalism.

    The literature from comparative religion shows that mystical experience tends to break down fundamentalism, by producing a kind of abstract or symbolic orientation that has no use for the scriptural literalism of fundamentalism. Now we have some insight into the neurophysiology.

    So here we have research demonstrating that in a test condition, subjects show two behaviors and one subjective report: they include numinous elements in stories, they engage in verbal substitution when repeating sentences, and they have numinous feelings of deeply meaningful engagement with the greater whole.

    What this tells me is that the antidote for fundamentalist obscurantism isn’t just science served plain, but science presented with an emotional message that will evoke those feelings. Why do you think Sagan was so successful at reaching the masses? Jacques Cousteau? Others…? Think of Einstein’s atheistic “sense of the mystical.”

    They reached people emotionally and evoked certain feelings, that in turn made people interested in what they had to say about the physical universe. That by itself isn’t a substitute for science education, but it’s enough to get enough people interested, to shift the overall public attitude.

    And lest anyone doubt how far the public attitude desperately needs to be shifted, be sure to read the article about the conference on geocentric astronomy:

    http://www.talk2action.org/story/2010/9/12/18017/5649

    This is too important for us to get wrong by ignoring human psychology.

  28. #28 Pierce R. Butler
    September 19, 2010

    Mooney has become visibly less accommodating at his blog at least once recently.

    Religion teaches that we are created in the image of a God who loves us.

    Uh, not the monotheistic religions. They tell a story about a grumpy, insecure patriarch who hates his creatures, enforcing his bile with an eternal curse upon us all. Is there any other creation myth so pathological as to depict an Ultimate Father decreeing pain and suffering upon every generation for a single, otherwise harmless, act of childish naiveté which he could have so easily prevented?

  29. #29 Pierce R. Butler
    September 19, 2010

    It puzzles me greatly how g724 can protest with such clarity and depth against the reemergence of a small coterie of geocentrists (“… a serious problem on our hands with religious extremism…”), yet apparently take in stride the already-epidemic fevers of homophobia, pedophilia, condom obstruction, violent tribalism, etc, etc, etc already raging in the body politic. Creationism, in perspective, is trivial; geocentrism, laughable.

    Even Mooney acknowledges (some of) the terrible harm actually – not just potentially – being wreaked by religion-as-we-know-it.

  30. #30 Anton Mates
    September 19, 2010

    Is there any other creation myth so pathological as to depict an Ultimate Father decreeing pain and suffering upon every generation for a single, otherwise harmless, act of childish naiveté which he could have so easily prevented?

    I think so. In Greek myth, Zeus decrees pain and suffering upon every generation (via Pandora) when mankind hasn’t actually disobeyed him at all–he’s just pissed because Prometheus, another god, tricked him on our behalf.

    Skyfathers are often jealous and paranoid about human competition; Yahweh isn’t all that unusual in that area. I don’t think he gets exceptionally hateful until the Christians add Hell into the mix.

  31. #31 Pierce R. Butler
    September 19, 2010

    Anton Mates @ # 30 – thanks for the perspective.

    Shame on me for having thought the version of the Pandora story I’d read as a kid was all there was to it (in that one, Prometheus wasn’t mentioned, and the box full o’ troubles was really meant to keep them in).

    If you really want to see some bowdlerizing, though, check out the kids’ and original versions of the stories collected by the Brothers Grimm…

  32. #32 Anton Mates
    September 20, 2010

    Yeah, time is merciful to myths and legends if they can avoid being labeled Holy Scripture. Gods and human heroes alike can be reworked and spruced up for a new and more enlightened culture. But Scripture only gets revised slowly and painfully, so its characters end up lagging farther and farther behind the current decency curve. Thor and Hercules get to join the Avengers and rescue little girls’ kittens from trees, while Yahweh’s still stuck smiting people for pissing against the wall.

  33. #33 g724
    September 20, 2010

    Re. Pierce Butler, #29:

    The reason I point to geocentrism is that it is something anyone who is committed to science should immediately recognize with horror, and it’s an example of just how far out these people are getting today.

    Sure, your list is as good as any in terms of horrors. And if you want more, go look up _Institutes of Biblical Law_ by Rushdoony, who is the intellectual father of most of the religious right today. He and his immediate followers even advocate stoning for apostasy, and if all they can actually accomplish is to censor sex ed and outlaw gay marriage, that’s significant. The fact that we are still fighting the friggin’ monkey wars in school a century later, is significant. The fact that the phrase “life begins at conception” isn’t greeted with guffaws everywhere, is significant.

    Listen up folks, you need to get this: these people are a bigger deal than you realize, and the Texas Board of Ed is just scratching the surface. You need to read up on the religious right. Bruce Wilson’s stuff at talk2action.org is a good place to start, Sharlet’s _The Family_ about the C-Street group in Washington DC is another good place to start, etc.

    Creationism is hardly trivial when, per the latest AAAS surveys, sixty percent of Americans do not believe in natural selection, and seventy percent do not believe in the Big Bang theory. This stuff spreads like a slow retrovirus and then you wake up one day and discover that the body politic is seriously ill.

    And as for “a new kind of spirituality,” start by recognizing the empirical facts (peer reviewed no less!) of cognitive science: spirituality consists of a set of emotional states that can be associated with a wide range of “content,” from jealous gods, to kind and loving gods, to the facts of nature as elucidated by science. Rather than dismissing emotions as some kind of primitive holdover from before our ancestors figured out what their opposable thumbs were useful for, we need to recognize that they play a critical role in shaping attitudes and behaviors, and making decisions. And then we need to put that to use by running for local Boards of Ed, writing op-ed pieces for local papers, and so on.

    Some of us can play “nice cop” by offering the carrot of awe and reverence associated with a naturalistic worldview. Some of us can play “tough cop” by chasing after the proponents of obscurantism with the stick of public ridicule.

    But there is no sitting on hands or standing on the sidelines for this one.

  34. #34 Pierce R. Butler
    September 20, 2010

    g724 – Thanks for showing your grasp of this problem is much more comprehensive than I’d thought. To your suggested reading list, I’d add Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the reportage of Bill Berkowitz, and Dave Niewert’s historically-informed analyses of the US right wing (religious & otherwise) at CrooksAndLiars.com.

  35. #35 H.H.
    September 22, 2010

    Tyler DiPietro wrote:

    Much like there is a God of the philosophers and a God of the common person, so too there are sophisticated and crude versions of spirituality. Sophisticated spirituality would be something like what Stu Kauffman expounded in his last book and Mooney is expounding here, while crude spirituality would mean things like alt-med quackery and astrology.

    I would argue that you have your labels reversed. It requires much more “sophisticated” arguments (i.e. complex) to maintain belief in alt-med quackery or astrology than it does to maintain a crude, simplified, vague and nebulous belief in “some greater power.” That’s because the more testable one’s beliefs are, and the less they comport with reality as we uncover it, the thicker one must pile up ad hoc rationales to maintain them. Creationism is a veritable thicket of tangled arguments and twisted logic when compared to rarefied musings on necessary beings and prime movers. I think there’s a tendency to use “sophisticated” to mean less obviously stupid, but I don’t think I’d agree with the characterization.

  36. #36 g724
    September 24, 2010

    Re. Pierce @ #34: Thanks; sometimes it’s difficult to know where to start because there’s so much ground to cover. Yes I’m familiar with some of the sources you referenced.

    Re. HH @ #35: It’s important to separate form from content. For example:

    Form:

    Crude arguements
    Arguement from authority (my pastor said it, that settles it), from tradition, etc.
    Refusal to accommodate obvious empirical facts.
    No or very little attempt at reasoning.
    Etc.

    Sophisticated arguements
    Inclusion of empirical facts.
    Explicit reasoning that is at least mostly formally correct.
    Recognition of subjective nature of religious experience.
    Etc.

    Content:

    Basic core-religious propositions
    Existence of a deity.
    Existence of a classical hereafter.
    Moral principles derived therefrom.

    Supernatural propositions other than core-religious
    Proliferation of supernatural beings (angels, demons, ghosts, etc.).
    Miracles in ancient times, and/or in modern times.
    Deity is responsive to human input.

    Beliefs, other
    Beliefs for which there are varying degrees of empirical support.
    Beliefs that have varying degrees of compatibility with a pluralistic society.
    Beliefs that have varying degrees of beneficial or harmful impact on the individual’s wellbeing.

    Lumping form and content together is a correlation error at best, and often highly counterproductive both from the perspective of advancing an empirically- and rationally-grounded worldview, and from the perspective of the actual matters of fact and supportable theory.

    For example where “alt med” is concerned, in the 70s it was known anecdotally and to a degree clinically, that marijuana alleviates the nausea attendant to cancer chemotherapy, and yet it took a few decades before this was recognized widely enough to form the basis for public policy (medical MJ laws). If someone tells you, for example, that taking a particular herb alleviates their depression, the empirically correct reply to that isn’t to dismiss them as a liar or the victim of a quack, but to take their statement as an anecdotal report and encourage controlled studies of the herb in question: teach the person something about how those studies are done and encourage them to support the research.

  37. #37 Documentaries
    November 4, 2010

    I agree with one of the comments that spirituality must not interfare with bussiness. But at the same time I belive that our main goal is to reach the God so money must not be emphashized more than need

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