Religion and Community

Permit me an amusing juxtaposition.

Here’s Mira Sucharov, a political scientist at Carleton University in Canada, explaining why atheists and religious folks often talk past each other:

Put simply, believers are asking the question, “Can a commitment to contemplating the sacred help us better appreciate the everyday?” (They reply yes.) And atheists are asking the question, “Is the existence of God plausible from the standpoint of reason?” (They reply no.)

And here’s what happened to a pastor in North Carolina for suggesting that hell was not a place of eternal torment:

When Chad Holtz lost his old belief in hell, he also lost his job.

The pastor of a rural United Methodist church in North Carolina wrote a note on his Facebook page supporting a new book by Rob Bell, a prominent young evangelical pastor and critic of the traditional view of hell as a place of eternal torment for billions of damned souls.

Two days later, Holtz was told complaints from church members prompted his dismissal from Marrow’s Chapel in Henderson.

“I think justice comes and judgment will happen, but I don’t think that means an eternity of torment,” Holtz said. “But I can understand why people in my church aren’t ready to leave that behind. It’s something I’m still grappling with myself.”


Fundamentalists are rightly excoriated for pretending that theirs is the only acceptable form of religion. But it is hardly an improvement when academics suggest that real religion is high-minded and metaphorical and intellectually deep, with the more commonplace version being a distracting side show. I have no doubt that some believers are asking Sucharov’s question. But a great many others are more concerned with policing the boundaries of acceptable belief and coming down with such power as they have against those who demur.

Sucharov’s essay is about strengthening communities. She writes:

However well-intentioned and well-executed, debating whether the world is solely material, social and psychological, or whether it is also imbued with divine force, is ultimately a dialogue of the deaf. Instead, what we all should be asking is: How can we improve the experience of membership within our various communities and across them — whether religious or secular?

At their core, communities are collections of individuals looking for meaning and connection. Both types of communities try to make sense of the world. But secular communities are held together by the glue of reason and intellect, while religious communities add symbols and practices that attempt to transmit a sense of awe.

I am all in favor of strengthening communities and embracing those of different views. But Sucharov’s rather generous description of religion simply ignores a rather important fact. In large swaths of the United States religion is a huge source of strife and division. It looks far more like that community in North Carolina than it does anything of interest to academic theologians or philosophers of religion.

How can we improve the experience of membership within our various communities? We can start by recognizing that religion is a big part of the reason so many people’s experiences need improving in the first place.

Comments

  1. #1 Pseudonym
    March 25, 2011

    Hey, it’s nothing that a good old-fashioned reformation wouldn’t fix.

  2. #2 mARK
    March 25, 2011

    the old-fashioned reformation just rearranged the details. it is the irrational style of thought behind everything from religion to lotteries that needs to be fixed.

  3. #3 Milos
    March 25, 2011

    This is something philosophers, sociologists, and scientists (in general) have explained and well documented say half a century ago in Soviet Union and in Yugoslavia.

    That’s why I understand how comes people in countires like USA still need (or better say: use) God and Church in their everyday life; but is still is a sad situation, to believe in such religious stories.

    I guess what the world need is “simpy” an evolution of the conscience. It’s not an easy task, as explained in the great works of phyisicist, sociiologists, philosophers, and political scientists of Yugoslavia (especially Serbia and Montenegro, since those two Yugoslav republics embraced atheism as their official “state of mind”) and USSR.

    What a pitty people in USA were made to believe that socialism and, in far future, communism, is something bad and ugly. Socialism and communism are bad, but bad for the ultimately rich who suck blood from the poor and force laws that are, in their essence, such that they (the laws) help rich become more rich (in terms of money), and make poore even poorer.

    I must add this: after the collapse of Communist Party of Yugoslavia and of socialism in Yugoslavia, there was immediately a civil war.
    After that, and after Western military involvement, after “democratization”, during and after period of so called “transition”, we have seen religion rebirth, churh organization raised from ashes, money poured from state to Church, they helped each other during political elections, new (pro-USA) governments provided locations and gave licenses for hundreds of new Church buildings, and even added Religious Studies as an elective subject in elementary and high schools. Even Faculty of Theology was officialy recognized as a member of University of Belgrade.

    Now we start seeing wampired religion, risen from the dead. People lost faith in better tomorrow, in future, stoped doing whatever they were doing for the greater cause (mass actions like building roads, or planting trees), and think only about their own business, and God serves as a point of gathering with others and of serving the community (by actually doing nothing, except gathering in church, alas).

    Religion is opium for the masses, as one smart philosopher said more than a century ago, you know who.

  4. #4 Matt G
    March 25, 2011

    Stray from dogma and you get (wait for it…) Expelled!

  5. #5 Birger Johansson
    March 25, 2011

    “But a great many others are more concerned with policing the boundaries of acceptable belief and coming down with such power as they have against those who demur”

    …and so they are painting themselves into a corner. As it becomes easier to choose a life without any affiliation to established religious organisations, people will defect from those increasingly unappealing, narrow-minded religious comunities.

    As for talking past each other, it is likely that religious and non-religious eventually will avoid talking about it at all. Martin Rundkvist at the Aaardvarchaeology blog has commented on how people in very secularised Sweden avoid discussing topics of strong personal beliefs (but this could be local Scandinavian culture expressing itself).

  6. #6 James Sweet
    March 25, 2011

    The first paragraph you quoted from Sucharov is indubitably true for many believers. There are two major problems with her argument here, however:

    1) While there are many believers who care only about the literal truth of their religion (i.e. fundies), and while there are many believers who care only about how their religion makes them feel, there are many — my impression is that it’s the majority — who walk a middle road. Namely, when pressed about the literal truth of their religion, they will focus on aspects like community, etc., just like Sucharov says; but when amongst fellow believers, those who will not press them but will rather encourage them, they speak and act and, crucially, make decisions as if their religion were literally true rather than a community that makes them feel good.

    This is an important nuance that ought not to be overlooked — it is the hidden danger in moderate theism. I remain open to the possibility that, for some people, the beneficial communal and contemplative aspects of religion may outweigh the danger, but I am not nearly convinced of this, and in any case, to deny that the danger even exists is dangerous and obstinate. Moderate theism can turn literal at the drop of a hat, and while this is highly unlikely to make your well-adjusted affluent neighbor fly a plane into a building, it just might make them vote against equal rights for LGBT people, for example.

    2) Sucharov’s thesis turns on a denial that truth is ever relevant for its own sake. I recognize many people agree with this; many of us do not. That premise needs to be explicitly articulated in some fashion if Sucharov is to make an intellectually honest case for her thesis. This is partially so as not to pull a fast one on those who do care about truth, as well as to insulate somewhat against the danger I described in (1).

    To me, truth has value for its own sake, but not necessarily ultimate value. I think it is at least conceivable that the benefits of religious belief are so powerful as to outweigh billions of people believing an outright lie. But this is an awfully high standard to meet, IMO.

  7. #7 itchy
    March 25, 2011

    But secular communities are held together by the glue of reason and intellect, while religious communities add symbols and practices that attempt to transmit a sense of awe.

    I would agree with this if “add” was changed to “substitute.”

  8. #8 abb3w
    March 25, 2011

    This morning’s XKCD (xkcd.com/877) grants a different perspective on Sucharov’s initial observation about contemplation….

    Which in turn raises the point that some communities also tie themselves together with a sense of humor.

  9. #9 judgmentday
    March 25, 2011

    WRONG

    graveyardofthegods.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=40&t=11276

  10. #10 david
    March 25, 2011

    Use of the phrase ‘put simply’ is leave taken for massive editing in order to supply a wanted premise to accompany “sacred.”

    I’m picturing the old man from a peat bog in Denmark who has the sacred knot of Wyrd around his neck. I’m wondering if men and women of his religion had similar discussions to the one proposed. I suspect they did. Community.

    And I’m picturing Montezuma and Cortes and their men in the little room atop the tower, terrific stench, rotting hearts, blood encrusted walls, Cortes saying this is bad, Montezuma saying this is good. And I’m wondering if that religion had similar discussions. I suspect they did. Community is good.

    And I’m seeing an Inca child’s skull cracked by a priest for Capacocha, John Calvin burning screaming Servetus and 15 women at the stake, Crusaders cutting open the stomachs of an entire town of 25,000, the English burning Joan of Arc, the Salem judges condemning witches, Jews and Romas put in Xylon B, Pétain and his Catholics guillotining a doctor on abortion, Vietnamese children shot by Christians to save them, and a dead bombed Iraqi child being washed by its mother. Community is good, whatever that means.

    I reread the proposal for reality : ‘“Can a commitment to contemplating the sacred help us better appreciate the everyday?” After reflection, I answer, not the question but what I think of it : you can supply your own.

  11. #11 SC (Salty Current)
    March 25, 2011

    Put simply, believers are asking the question, “Can a commitment to contemplating the sacred help us better appreciate the everyday?”

    The question doesn’t really even make sense, but in any case I don’t need anything – least of all religious claptrap – to help me better appreciate the everyday. In fact, believing that nonsense it would significantly diminish my appreciation of the everyday.

    However well-intentioned and well-executed, debating whether the world is solely material, social and psychological, or whether it is also imbued with divine force, is ultimately a dialogue of the deaf.

    Few things make me angrier than statements like this, and it’s the sort of argument that probably leads many children away from science. Look, Sucharov, the natural-material (and that includes the social and psychological) world is active and amazing, and the more we understand about it the more we can appreciate this. I’m sorry you apparently can’t and think we need to dress it up in some tawdry little myths, but I for one have no need of this.

    Instead, what we all should be asking is:…

    How convenient that the “right” question is a distraction from the questions atheists have been asking.

    But secular communities are held together by the glue of reason and intellect, while religious communities add symbols and practices that attempt to transmit a sense of awe.

    You’re a political scientist? Secular communities are held together by personal affinities, shared interests or struggles, and any number of other “glues.” This is just another pathetic attempt to paint the nonreligious as somehow cold, lacking, and “deaf” without or in comparison to religion. It’s pathetic and the opposite of the truth.

  12. #12 anthrosciguy
    March 25, 2011

    The problem is that the question “Can a commitment to contemplating the sacred help us better appreciate the everyday?” implies that this is the only way “better appreciating the everyday” can happen. Athesists often argue that because they are not focussed on life after death they “better appreciate the everyday” far better than religious believers. And frankly this seems to be a much stronger argument than the one Sucharov makes in her formulation.

  13. #13 Sastra
    March 26, 2011

    Put simply, believers are asking the question, “Can a commitment to contemplating the sacred help us better appreciate the everyday?” (They reply yes.) And atheists are asking the question, “Is the existence of God plausible from the standpoint of reason?” (They reply no.)

    Curiously, if you ask atheists whether a “commitment to the sacred” is “better” at helping people appreciate the everyday than secular philosophies, the reply is no. And if you ask believers “is the existence of God plausible from the standpoint of reason?” they reply yes. So it’s not that the “communities” are asking different questions. They’re asking the same questions and getting different answers.

    Mira Sucharov is trying to play therapist. It doesn’t matter who is right, it doesn’t matter who is wrong: the only thing that matters is getting along. Who could object to that?

    The atheists can, legitimately. We haven’t gone to a therapist to fix a relationship; we want to deal with the real issue of religion, not get sidetracked. And we want our wider community to be inclusive of all humanity — as opposed to entrenching a bunch of tribal loyalties and pronouncing the divisions good.

    Despised minorities are usually not going to be happy with this attitude of “let’s agree to disagree and move on.” A Mother stepping in and changing the subject is fine when the squabble is childish and trivial. Is religion supposed to be trivial? Is that what believers really believe — they’re playacting a game? And that atheists just play a different game? I don’t think so.

    Quashing dissent and ending debate in the name of harmony is not benign: I think it tends to privilege the people in power, while removing the advantage in having the more reasonable argument. I’m not surprised that a poorly-supported majority position suddenly wants to argue for “harmony” and “moving on” when the other side is getting uppity enough to pipe up, and won’t pipe down. It’s an old tactic when your back is against the wall.

    “When debating about God or with one another,” Wolpe wrote, “analysis carries us only so far. There are things not subject to argument; hearts have the final say.

    And this is supposed to be so much better than those nasty fundamentalists who say that the existence of God and truth of Scripture can carry their weight in fair debate, leaving atheists in the wrong because they haven’t thought it through? Instead of making rational errors, atheists’ “hearts” have a problem. Oh. No wonder it’s no use trying to persuade us with arguments. Our very natures are of the shriveled, narrow type which cannot be persuaded to accept God, the sacred source and foundation of all Good, all Truth, all Being, and all Light.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Of course.

    Theists and faitheists who offer this rationale need to think through how much they would appreciate having a debate on, say, global warming or health care terminated with the other side announcing that facts, statistics, and analysis can only go so far: the real problem is their opponent’s deep-seated inability to love the planet and people. Ok, then, that’s settled: let’s move on.

  14. #14 njhgjh
    March 27, 2011

    The problem is that the question “Can a commitment to contemplating the sacred help us better appreciate the everyday?” implies that this is the only way “better appreciating the everyday” can happen. Athesists often argue that because they are not focussed on life after death they “better appreciate the everyday” far better than religious believers.

    You may never appreciate the everyday, either through the commitment to contemplating the sacred or without it, if you don’t like life. Many atheists commit suicide, and who even knows what happens to them afterwards. You might ask – why didn’t they appreciate the everyday? Do you really disintegrate entirely, including your consciousness, since it’s created by chemical reactions in the brain after you die? Also, there are people, who die at a very early age, or people, whose life is ruined at a very early age because of terminal illness or disability or other reasons, and contemplating that there is a possibility for them to continue after death in a different universe or realm or dimension gives them some hope.

    When a person is growing up, they contemplate about becoming someone outstanding, however, it doesn’t happen to everyone, but they keep contemplating that until they realize that it’s absolutely impossible in their case. But it’s the contemplating that gave them something to live for.

    In order to appreciate life from the atheist perspective, you need to have many necessary tools, that you may never be able to acquire throughout lifetime. If you have physical, intellectual and financial limitations, many of the things in the material world become absolutely unenjoyable.

    Your life becomes a torment. You feel like you’re imprisoned, and there is no way of getting out of it. In many cases, no one will even help you. They’ll just walk all over you and make fun of you limitations.

    The only way to truely enjoy the material, physical and psychological reality is when nobody is constantly ruining it for you, unless you enjoy that.

    How are supposed to enjoy a night dance clud, for instance, when you weigh 400 lbs, you have no fancy clothes, alcohol makes you nauseous, you have no rich popular friends, everybody thinks you’re ugly, and once you walk into that club, everybody starts laughing their a**s off at you?….this is among many other examples of the kind.

    You think this guy is a loser?…. A loser of what?

  15. #15 kjhkj
    March 27, 2011

    “In order to appreciate life from the atheist perspective, you need to have many necessary tools, that you may never be able to acquire throughout lifetime. If you have physical, intellectual and financial limitations, many of the things in the material world become absolutely unenjoyable.”

    Many people forget that the above mentioned attributes such as looks, intelligence and special abilities are inborn.
    These attributes may never be changed or enhanced in some people because they are genetic. However, many people have no comprehension of this fact, and they ruthlessly rate one another to see who’s better looking or more intelligent or more gifted. If you’re lucky enough to be born tall and skinny with the kind of face that’s accepted to be “pretty”, then you are prettier than others. Not only that, you’ll be financially rewarded for it, and get all kinds of advantages in life.

    Rating looks, intelligence and talents is the same as rating race and ethnicity among people because these things are just as impossible to change as race and ethnicity.
    That’s why enjoying such brutality may eventually become too old.

  16. #16 386sx
    March 27, 2011

    Put simply, believers are asking the question, “Can a commitment to contemplating the sacred help us better appreciate the everyday?”

    The smarter ones might ask that as a diversionary tactic when skeptics are there in the room confronting them with a request for some good evidence. The dumber ones however will actually provide some evidence in the form of apocryphal miracles and prayers answered and whatnot. “Golly my third cousin Billy had his leg growed back from a preacher Bob miracle, and then the window opened all by itself!! It was the HOly Gooober!!” But the smarter ones would know it looks freaking stupid. However, the dumber ones would win the day in the eyes of the other dumb ones, because they stood up for the Holy Goober, and they were witness to some fancy dancy miraculous goober type stuff.

  17. #17 386sx
    March 27, 2011

    The smarter ones might ask that as a diversionary tactic when skeptics are there in the room confronting them with a request for some good evidence.

    Ah, I see from the article that Sucharov was actually referring to the Hitchens/Harris/Wolpe/Artson debate:

    “While all four thinkers do an admirable job in engaging with the ideas of the others — with wit and humanity to boot — each side is ultimately asking different questions.”

    So yeah, just as I thought, the religious ones were asking the question as a diversionary tactic because skeptics were in the room asking for good evidence. And no doubt they didn’t actually provide what they personally thought was convincing evidence to themselves (e.g. because they carry on conversations with invisible people who answer their prayers and send them signs) because they knew they would look like freaking idiots.

  18. #18 ksjdhf
    March 27, 2011

    @386sx

    “The smarter ones might ask that as a diversionary tactic when skeptics are there in the room confronting them with a request for some good evidence. The dumber ones however will actually provide some evidence in the form of apocryphal miracles and prayers answered and whatnot.”

    The problem is that many people do not need evidence. They just want to believe because it brings them happiness, satisfaction and joy.

    In many cases, people don’t even want evidence or to know something for sure because it can be too damaging.

    Hypothetically, if God’s existence was a fact, in what way would he have to manifest himself to you, in order for you to know for sure that he’s real? What if he walks by you every day in human form, and you think he’s just some dude.

    I know for sure that, in my case, there is no evidence in the world that could convince me of his or their existence. I will always find an explanation for this evidence to be the evidence for something else. Or if somebody shows me some evidence, I’ll probably think it’s fabricated. If I see a vision of God, I’ll think it’s a hallucination. If he descends from the sky on a cloud, I’ll think it’s a technological hoax. If he decides to talk to me, I’ll think I started hearing voices and am going crazy.

  19. #19 ksjdhf
    March 27, 2011

    I wonder, if INDIRECT evidence can work in proving or infering the existence of God. For instance, atoms and protons cannot be seen or detected directly through the microscope, therefore, an indirect approach is used to prove their existence, and, of course, everybody believes that atoms are real.

    It’s kinda like direct and indirect communication. Some people do not understand what other people are trying to tell them, if something is insinuated versus being stated directly. In this case, they have to infer from the stated, what is being implied.

    Example: You are loud. (Direct approach)
    Could you pipe down a little. (Indirect approach) The implied statement here is You are loud.

  20. #20 fkgkgh
    March 27, 2011

    In court, they use circumstantial evidence to send an alleged murder suspect to the death row.

    I wonder why circumstantial evidence can’t satisfy scientific curiosity in order to prove God’s existence.
    They can build a case in the same manner a criminal case is built, and see if the indirect evidence can lead to the conclusion that God is the one, who’s responsible for creating the universe. Honestly, I do view life, if it was really created by God, as one big crime on his part.

    When Darwin came up with the theory of evolution, his conclusion that evolution was at work was based on indirect evidence. He, obviously, did not witness the evolutionary process per se. He simply connected the dots, and inferred that it was the case.

    Also, God must be highly sophisticated, and indirect communication is considered a lot more advanced than direct communication by some people. It would be logical for the creator to make himself known through more sophisticated and subtle methods. Not to mention, he, probably, doesn’t want to be hated, if he scares somebody to death by making himself known directly. Plus, he might get killed before he even makes his entire point.

    The question is – do scientists really need to prove his existence, if he exists. Or may be the reason why atheism exists is because some people simply don’t need God in their lives, as opposed to not being able to prove his existence.

  21. #21 lkjljk
    March 27, 2011

    @6
    “To me, truth has value for its own sake, but not necessarily ultimate value. I think it is at least conceivable that the benefits of religious belief are so powerful as to outweigh billions of people believing an outright lie.”

    If the ultimate objective TRUTH does exist, and nobody knows it yet, for instance, things like where all matter and life came from, whether there is a creator(s) or not, why everything is the way it is, then what would be the benefit of actually knowing it, especially if the truth is not flattering.

    A simple example: imagine that you’re an extremely unattractive person, but you like yourself and you think you’re good-looking, and you approach a good-looking person thinking that they think you’re good-looking, but all you hear in return is that you’re ugly and unattractive. Not only that, they actually point out what is ugly in you, things that are even impossible to change, like big bones, for instance, as evidence to substantiate their truth. This pattern keeps repeating itself for the rest of your life.

    Question 1: What is the benefit of knowing such truth?
    Question 2: Who’s truth is THE TRUTH – this person’s or yours?

  22. #22 Sastra
    March 27, 2011

    There is no “fact” of the matter that someone is ugly, or that one’s life is not worth living. Taste and perspective make can make a lot of difference. I think it’s important to separate the emotional component of being a believer from the factual claim that God exists. God isn’t an evaluation, an attitude, a taste, a commitment, a community, or a form of personal therapy through use of powerful narrative and analogy. It’s supposed to be a mind-like being or “power” that exists regardless of whether anybody believes in it or not.

    Once someone says, to themselves or others, that they don’t care whether their belief is true as long as it is useful, they’ve abandoned integrity for convenience. In small or personal matters, this may not matter much.

    But if this is supposed to be your Great, Big, Central, Transformative Guiding Truth in Life and, like the rabbis in the video, you more or less suggest that it should be regarded as playacting … then that is rather shocking, I think.

    I think 386sx at #17 is right: they were trying a diversionary tactic and Sucharov is trying to promote its legitimacy. It would be like a Mormon bringing up their deep sense of satisfaction in understanding the significance of their history when the debate topic is — or should be — whether the Book of Mormon actually is history.

  23. #23 lkjljk
    March 27, 2011

    @22

    “There is no “fact” of the matter that someone is ugly, or that one’s life is not worth living. Taste and perspective make can make a lot of difference. I think it’s important to separate the emotional component of being a believer from the factual claim that God exists.”

    The point of my comment was to establish whether it is BENEFITIAL to know the factual truth, especially if it can damage you for life. Furthermore, truth incorporates EVERYTHING, not just facts. It includes opinions, persepectives and observations. In order to establish a fact, you have to observe something first, then form an opinion, which will be tainted by your perception, perspective and the ability to observe and evaluate accurately. Without this, you’ll never be able to find out if he exists or not, once he or they manifest themselves in some way.

    “God isn’t an evaluation, an attitude, a taste, a commitment, a community, or a form of personal therapy through use of powerful narrative and analogy. It’s supposed to be a mind-like being or “power” that exists regardless of whether anybody believes in it or not.”

    This is true only according to the scientific perspective. There is a possibility that devine entitie(s) start existing to those, who believe in them. Scientists themselves claim that they do not know absolutely everything. For instance, the brain is not sufficiently researched in order to be able to find out how this can be possible. Perhaps, when you believe in the devine, you enter a different dimension through some portal in your brain, while being physically present in this reality, and where God exists.

    How do you usually know that someone doesn’t like you, if they don’t tell you? You infer that from their attitute and actions towards you. If somebody likes you, they probably won’t be brutalizing you or telling you to get out. That’s how you know and derive certain facts. The fact that somebody doesn’t like you is just as a valid fact as any other material fact.

  24. #24 Sastra
    March 27, 2011

    lkjtjk #23 wrote:

    The point of my comment was to establish whether it is BENEFITIAL to know the factual truth, especially if it can damage you for life.

    Then I’ll agree with you that sometimes the truth isn’t beneficial in that sense. The point of my comment was that religious believers themselves do not usually want to put religion into the category of a chosen delusion.

    Perhaps, when you believe in the devine, you enter a different dimension through some portal in your brain, while being physically present in this reality, and where God exists.

    Perhaps, but that seems unnecessarily complicated, and hard to test against the better-supported theory that when someone believes in God, God is something they believe in.

    The fact that somebody doesn’t like you is just as a valid fact as any other material fact.

    Yes, but “ugly” is opinion, and whether appearance matters much is often a matter of taste. It varies. Fortunately.

  25. #25 lkjljk
    March 27, 2011

    Those people, who only rely on evidence, do not realize that the evidence they find, may not necessarily be the evidence for the phenomenon they try to support it with.

    Example: When people see visions of God, they use these visions to substatiate their belief in the existence of God. However, these visions could also be the evidence for something else, like mental illness, for instance.

    And here is something interesting – phychiatrists are scientifically-minded professionals. Psychiatry is not based on the belief in God. However, it’s based on faith.
    When a psychiatrist is trying to diagnose a patient with a mental illness, they do not per se hear the voices that their patient can hear. They simply assert the patient is telling the truth of stating a fact. How does the patient figure out that the psychiatrist is telling the truth, when they diagnose them with schizophrenia? The patient starts taking anti-psychotic medications, and the voices stop. How does the psychiatrist know that the voices stop? He simply believes the patient.

    Does the psychiatrist know for sure whether the patient hears voices?
    Only the patient knows for sure, if they hear voices or not.
    Does the psychiatrist know for sure, if the patient has schizophrenia? …The psychiatrist believes they do.

    However, there is always a possibility that the receptors in the brain that anti-psychotics block, need not to be blocked in order for God to be able to manifest themselves through visions.

  26. #26 lkjljk
    March 27, 2011

    @24

    “Perhaps, but that seems unnecessarily complicated, and hard to test against the better-supported theory that when someone believes in God, God is something they believe in.”

    When somebody believes in God, and many of those people claim that they simply know that he exists, they don’t need to prove anything to anyone. If non-believers want to test God’s existence, it’s something they need, and they can go ahead and do it using their cruel Nazie-type testing techniques. However, a believer does not need to humiliate themselves in front of a bunch of arrogant condescending scientists in order to show them what they know.

    “Yes, but “ugly” is opinion, and whether appearance matters much is often a matter of taste. It varies. Fortunately.”

    That’s right. Another thing is the opinion on whether you’re intelligent or not. But based on that people decide whether you can be a lawyer, for instance, or a rocket scientists because there are ways to measure your intelligence for these type of jobs. Your beauty can be measured as well, if you decide to become a model like Cindy Crawford, for example. Is she pretty? Yes? No? May be? But the fact is that she’s a world-recognized beauty and a (super) model.

    “The point of my comment was that religious believers themselves do not usually want to put religion into the category of a chosen delusion.”

    Obviously not. To believers their beliefs are true. To non-believers they might seem as a delusion.

  27. #27 rtete
    March 27, 2011

    @Sastra

    “Yes, but “ugly” is opinion, and whether appearance matters much is often a matter of taste. It varies. Fortunately.”

    Beauty can be measured, in a collective sense, and it can be a matter of a personal opinion. However, in order for each person to form a personal opinion on whether someone is beautiful or ugly, they have to measure this person’s beauty. Cindy Crawford is beautiful, according to my personal standards of beauty.

    People, who state that each person is beautiful in their own way, are often times incencere. There are plenty of celebrities, who always say that, but if you look at who they date or marry, it’s mostly people, who are universally accepted and recognized beauties. Of course, you can always trash them, and tell yourself that Cindy is just as beautiful as some short, heavily overweighed wrinkled woman with significantly disproportionate facial features to whom looks don’t even matter. However, this woman will never be able to compete to become a model like Cindy-type model. Why? Because the standards for those competitions will not allow it.

    Same applies to musical abilities. If you participate in “American Idol”, the opinion of the judges determines whether the person is a good singer or not, including the opinion of the entire audience. And once it’s determined, it becomes a fact that everbody agrees with meaning that a talent can be measured as well. Otherwise, all the American Idol participants would win the competition.

    “I think 386sx at #17 is right: they were trying a diversionary tactic and Sucharov is trying to promote its legitimacy. It would be like a Mormon bringing up their deep sense of satisfaction in understanding the significance of their history when the debate topic is — or should be — whether the Book of Mormon actually is history.”

    And whose history do Mormons need to discuss in order to understand its significance? Mormons perceive the world through the perspective of their religion and the history as described in their holy sciptures. Whether it sounds like a joke to you, it’s your problem. To them it is the TRUTH. You have to change their world outlook and believe system, and make them switch to the scientific world outlook, and persuade them that the scientific version of history is true. And how do you intend on doing that? It would be the same as pursuading a scientist that the Mormon history is true, and not the scientific version of it.

  28. #28 uirtyie
    March 28, 2011

    @Sastra

    I am sure you have formed an opinion on whether the person, who responded to your comments is dumn, crazy or cheesy.

    The question is – how were you able to come to this conclusion? Did you infer that from what was stated? Not only that, you can easily prove it without resorting to intrusive scientifics methods that can ruin the brain that’s being intruded. There is not much evidence you can find inside the brain to support your conclusion, unfortunately.

  29. #29 Forbidden Snowflake
    March 28, 2011

    How does the psychiatrist know that the voices stop? He simply believes the patient.

    That’s not faith, that’s trust, as well as parsimony and reasonable inference. The psychiatrist, when faced with the possibilities that (1) the patient is there in order to benefit from the doctor’s knowledge and get better or (2) that the patient is playing an elaborate trick on his doctor for reasons unknown, goes with the more reasonable assumption, and can still change hir mind if evidence to the contrary turns up.

    This is equivocation, pure and simple. Reasonable, parsimonious and tentative trust in other people without apparent ulterior motives is not like faith in an invisible magic ghost.

    When somebody believes in God, and many of those people claim that they simply know that he exists, they don’t need to prove anything to anyone.

    They do if they want to persuade the non-believers that they are correct. If they’re fine with being thought of as delusional, then they, indeed, owe nothing to no one.

    However, a believer does not need to humiliate themselves in front of a bunch of arrogant condescending scientists in order to how them what they know.

    So, being required to provide evidence for your beliefs = humiliating yourself?
    Requiring evidence for what someone claims = being arrogant?

    Got that. Silly me, I thought that refusing to consider the possibility that one is wrong and demanding not to be questioned was arrogant.

  30. #30 SC (Salty Current)
    March 28, 2011

    njhgjh
    kjhkj
    ksjdhf
    fkgkgh
    lkjljk
    rtete
    uirtyie

    Is this some sort of code?

  31. #31 eric
    March 29, 2011

    Mira Sucharov Put simply, believers are asking the question, “Can a commitment to contemplating the sacred help us better appreciate the everyday?”

    I agree with Jason that this mischaracterizes huge numbers of believers.

    I also think its very similar to what S.J. Gould tried to pull with his non-overlapping magisteria (NOM) idea, and fails for the same reasons.

    James Sweet: 1) While there are many believers who care only about the literal truth of their religion (i.e. fundies), and while there are many believers who care only about how their religion makes them feel, there are many — my impression is that it’s the majority — who walk a middle road.

    So, while NOM was a failure, Gould did say one other thing which he should have applied to religion, but didn’t: its the distribution, that matters, not the average. Wide variance is one of key characteristics of religion. Its this wide variance (in the results of revelation, as a method) that renders it completely useless and scientifically invalid. Revelation is a detector that never gives the same reading twice. It doesn’t matter if one of those readings turns out, in the end, to be right, the instrument is still useless because of its inconsistency. It is untrustworthy.

  32. #32 trtetrt
    March 29, 2011

    @29

    “They do if they want to persuade the non-believers that they are correct. If they’re fine with being thought of as delusional, then they, indeed, owe nothing to no one.”

    To see if non-believers are delusional, scientists can simply put them on phychiatric meds, and see if their delusions go away. However, if they are indeed delusional, the reality they are going to live in afterwards, will probably be extremely boring, empty and depressing, and many of the debates on this blog will cease to exist.

    Also, scientists are yet to prove that their observations that constantly lead to conclusions that always need to be replaced by new theories and speculations are actually any more different than any religion.

  33. #33 ytrytr
    March 29, 2011

    @30

    “Is this some sort of code?”

    If it was, would you try and crack it?

  34. #34 weurye
    March 30, 2011

    @29

    “That’s not faith, that’s trust, as well as parsimony and reasonable inference. The psychiatrist, when faced with the possibilities that (1) the patient is there in order to benefit from the doctor’s knowledge and get better or (2) that the patient is playing an elaborate trick on his doctor for reasons unknown, goes with the more reasonable assumption, and can still change hir mind if evidence to the contrary turns up.”

    One of the definitions of faith is “complete trust”. Faith can also mean “firm belief in something for which there is no proof”. Faith and trust are interchangable notions. It seems as if you merely picked on my choice of words for the lack of a better argument to refute my statement.

    “can still change hir mind if evidence to the contrary turns up”

    When it comes to psychiatry, the type of evidence you’re talking about will never turn up. A person, who’s looking to obtain monetary benefits for his alleged mental disability, that’s one of the reasons, why people might seek psychiatric care, will never be able to prove that his delusions, hallucinations, distorted thought pattern, intensity of ideas and feelings, are real because these things are immaterial.

  35. #35 Evidence
    March 31, 2011

    @18
    “The smarter ones might ask that as a diversionary tactic when skeptics are there in the room confronting them with a request for some good evidence. The dumber ones however will actually provide some evidence in the form of apocryphal miracles and prayers answered and whatnot.”

    This reminds of many situations, when somebody commits a crime or crimes against you, and they do it in such a sly and intelligent way that there is no evidence left at the crime scene. But you know that the crime(s) have been committed against you. So you live all your life, and suffer because of the damage they caused you, while the criminals are out there enjoying their lives. You go to the police, or try to prosecute them, but there is nothing they can do because there is no empirical evidence. People are not going to take your word for it.

    Another case is when you are absolutely innocent, but people, who want to frame you, create evidence to make you look like a criminal, and the court believes it, but you know it’s false, but there is nothing you can do about it, and you spend the rest of you life in jail for “some mother-fucker’s crime”. And this is evedince for you.

  36. #36 Tru?!#$^&
    March 31, 2011

    “They can build a case in the same manner a criminal case is built, and see if the indirect evidence can lead to the conclusion that God is the one, who’s responsible for creating the universe. Honestly, I do view life, if it was really created by God, as one big crime on his part.”

    God must be the most intelligent criminal of all – he commits such an outrageous crime, and leaves absolutely no evidence, at least direct evidence, at his crime scene. It can actually make you believe in his existence.

  37. #37 skjdfhdj
    March 31, 2011

    It’s amazing – people can kill you for blesphemy even after you prove to them that you are God himself. And this is what happened to Jesus.

    The only problem is how could Jesus/God/Creator create humans the way they are?

  38. #38 woeirue
    March 31, 2011

    “It’s amazing – people can kill you for blesphemy even after you prove to them that you are God himself. And this is what happened to Jesus.”

    Yeah, it’s really amazing that after Jesus walked on water, miraculously healed the sick, ressurrected the dead, stopped the rainstorm, fed the hungry in the desert with one piece of loaf, and so on that made people believe that he was God or the son of God, at least, they still crucified him for blesphemy. What else did people need him to do before his crucifiction in order to prove that he was divine and not human slime like themselves, which he supposedly created?

  39. #39 jkkhkj
    March 31, 2011

    I think people killed their own Creator or Jesus not to take away the sins of the world, but because they were outraged with him for creating people, who commit sin. If God’s creations are constantly ruining your life or ruining life for you, then you must be really angry at the creator for creating something so atrocious or for not creating something better. So when he supposedly came down to earth, they simply slaughtered him. And, in order to justify their crime, they simply put it in a way that makes people look good – Oh, God died for our sins.

  40. #40 uyyu
    March 31, 2011

    If God indeed created humans, then why is so difficult for him to prove to his own creations that he is the one, who created them?

  41. #41 trete
    March 31, 2011

    “When somebody believes in God, and many of those people claim that they simply know that he exists, they don’t need to prove anything to anyone. If non-believers want to test God’s existence, it’s something they need, and they can go ahead and do it using their cruel Nazie-type testing techniques.”
    …………….

    Religion does not operate by the same priciples science does. Otherwise it would be the same thing. Religious mode is quite different. Religion does not rely on empirical evidence. It operates by the principle of pure faith.
    Scientific mode involves reliance on empirical evidence and testing. If you do not need evidence because you simply want to believe, in whatever you want to believe, even believe that you’re the most attractive person on earth, when everybody tells you the opposite, you can resort to the religious worldoutlook, especially if it makes you feel happy and better.

    If you want evidence and proof for everything that is stated, then you resort to the scientific mode of experiencing reality. As simple as that. Scientific and religious modes are two different ways of experiencing reality. Furthermore, scientific reality and religious reality are two different types of reality, where everything operates by totally different laws and principles. You can perceive the reality through the perspective of either science or religion, or both.

    The reason why scientists force religious people to show them some proof is because religious people have too much interference and influence on politics and collective lifestyle of humanity, not to mention, discriminating against non-believers. If religious people just minded their own business, and imposed their views only on people within their religious community, then may be scientifically-minded people would give them a little slack.

    It’s great to have some variety in worldoutlooks as long as one does not interfere with another. Unfortunately, it’s only a dream right now.

  42. #42 jhghg
    April 1, 2011

    I think anybody, who listens to anybody is a total idiot. You can make sense of your reality yourself without relying on the opinions and observations of those, who impose them on you.

  43. #43 slkdf
    April 1, 2011

    The whole idea of binary creationism, where both good and bad must exist, is completely outrageous, and not at all representative of what God’s intelligence should be. This type of contradition is only particular of typical human mentality. When the Bible is teaching people to make good choices from the good and bad, that means that God wants you to be a good moral person, meaning that the bad is simply redundant. If God exists, why would he want you to make bad choices? He wants you to make good choices to be a good person. So why create the bad at all?

  44. #44 James Sweet
    April 4, 2011

    Well, I’m sure the person I am replying to is long gone by now, but anyway:

    A simple example: imagine that you’re an extremely unattractive person, but you like yourself and you think you’re good-looking, and you approach a good-looking person thinking that they think you’re good-looking, but all you hear in return is that you’re ugly and unattractive. Not only that, they actually point out what is ugly in you, things that are even impossible to change, like big bones, for instance, as evidence to substantiate their truth. This pattern keeps repeating itself for the rest of your life.

    Question 1: What is the benefit of knowing such truth?
    Question 2: Who’s truth is THE TRUTH – this person’s or yours

    First of all, others have pointed out that “attractiveness” is not the same kind of truth as “does this here rock exist?” So your question #2 is rather churlish. Yes, there are some things that are believed that are not factual questions. There are some that are. If you get hit by a bus, it doesn’t matter if you believe you weren’t — the truth is you still got hit by a fuckin’ bus. Sorry ’bout that. Next please.

    Moreover, it’s a rather contrived example to presume that a person was (conventionally) unattractive in a particular way, that they didn’t know it, and that there was nothing they could do about it.

    Most things that make most people (conventionally) unattractive are mere style choices. When I got married, my wife made me cut my hair and wear nicer clothes — which had the rather frustrating effect that right after I got married, women suddenly found me more attractive. Dammit! In any case, these things are usually fixable.

    And what of things that aren’t fixable? Big-boned? You can dress differently to complement your figure (not that I freakin’ know how to do that, but people do) and if this is important to you, it would be valuable to know it so you can act on it.

    How about hideously scarred? Okay, but how are you not going to know that?

    I suppose there could be more subtle things like an unattractive nose — but of course these days, if one really cares about it that much, that’s potentially fixable too (not that I’m saying everyone with an ugly nose should get a nose job; I for one certainly wouldn’t! I’m just saying, if you care that much about it, it’s better to know and have the option, isn’t it?) Or maybe you have funny-looking ears — well, hairstyles can be used to downplay this.

    It is just very hard to realistically think of an example of a trait that is (conventionally) unattractive that a person could do absolutely nothing about and which wouldn’t be plainly obvious to them already.

    Lastly, you missed part of the assertion I was making: I personally value truth for its own sake. (Please, let’s not get into an epistemological discussion of how “the” truth is discerned… again, if you get hit by a bus, it doesn’t matter whether you believe it, and there are a lot of things which are clearly “true” in the hit-by-a-bus sense, so just don’t bother going there) Now, that is a personal value judgment, and I recognize that it is in the end pretty arbitrary. But it’s also a value judgment that many many many people share, or at least think they do. And if someone is going to make an argument which directly relies on any implicit value of truth for its own sake, then they ought to make that known explicitly — because a lot of people would disagree on that basis alone.

  45. #45 James Sweet
    April 4, 2011

    Oh, and one other potential advantage of knowing the truth in your scenario — maybe you’ll set your sights a bit lower? I’m not kidding, I have a friend who is in his 30s and has had like one girlfriend ever, and it is true that some of the problem is that a) he’s not particularly (conventionally) attractive (though that could be largely addressed as simply as a haircut and a different pair of glasses); and b) although he’s gotten better, he is painfully awkward when it comes to flirting… but what exacerbates the problem is that he almost invariably hits on the most (conventionally) attractive woman in the room, every single time.

    If he accepted his present limitations a little more, he could gain more dating experience, which would help him to flirt more naturally, and possibly wind up with him revamping his image — and then if he still wanted to hold out for the (conventionally) hottest woman he could find, so be it. But exclusively approaching sexual partners who are (to use the colloquial phrase) “out of your league” is ultimately self-defeating behavior.

    I don’t mean to get so wrapped up in your one explicit hypothetical, but it’s just wrong from so many angles. When it comes to one’s own (conventional) attractiveness, if you desire to date and/or mate, well damn, it’s almost invariably advantageous to be self-aware, even if the truth isn’t always pleasant. I just can’t get over what a bad example it is…

    A better example would be something that related to the past, and which had limited bearing on the future. For example, my wife dated a close friend of mine shortly before we got together. I really don’t want to know about their relationship. It does not benefit me at all to know details, and I find it distinctly unpleasant at times. I’m not a particularly jealous type, and my wife being the type of person she is has told me far more than I ever wanted to hear, and it’s ultimately not that big of a deal.. but I wish I didn’t know it. So that sort of thing would have been be a better example for you to use. It has no bearing on future behavior or predictions, so there’s not much value in knowing it.

    In any case, none of this undermines that, if one is going to state that they would rather not know the truth, that they find a comforting lie more pleasant than the truth, than the ought to state it pretty explicitly (as I did in the previous paragraph) lest they confuse people into thinking they are making a factual claim.

  46. #46 jsdkf
    April 4, 2011

    James Sweet:

    Thanks for your response.

    “First of all, others have pointed out that “attractiveness” is not the same kind of truth as “does this here rock exist?”

    It would be beneficial to get to the bottom of how an opinion is different from a fact.

    Atheist hold the view that God does not exist. Atheists are the type of people, who rely on empirical evidence and facts. The reason why atheists believe that there is no God, is because they do not have the evidence of his existence.

    Religious people believe that there is God. They use the evidence that was presented to them 2,000 years ago and that proved God’s existence. The evidence is in the Holy Scriptures, however, atheists do not believe this type of evidence. The evidence atheists would believe if they actually knew that God existed, I just don’t know what would make them make sure that he exists.

  47. #47 eiriou
    April 4, 2011

    46 Continued…

    To atheists God’s non-existence is a fact. To religious people God’s existence is a fact.

    In both cases, it is also an opinion or view.

    I think this is a case, when there is no differenciation between an opinion and fact. It’s the same thing.

  48. #48 debaser
    April 9, 2011

    Wow. It doesn’t look like a code to me, SC. It looks like one person mashing three different keys to make the avalanche of noise s/he is churning out less obviously *one* person firing off one assertion after another.

    One person, eight people, or a text-bot, it all contains statements like this:

    Religious people believe that there is God. They use the evidence that was presented to them 2,000 years ago and that proved God’s existence. The evidence is in the Holy Scriptures, however, atheists do not believe this type of evidence.

    Yeah, if by “religious people” you mean “Christians just like you”. Not everyone who is religious believes in a god, not everyone who believes shit from 2000 years ago is a Christian. Not everyone believes in one god, or would know what book(s) you mean by “Holy Scripture” because there are loads of them. There are atheists who reject religion because of, despite, or for completely separate reasons than “Holy Scripture”.

    You can’t paint all religious people as Christians for the same reason you can’t lump all Christians together. They vary widely in their beliefs. They vary widely and the differences can matter and mean a big deal, especially because there is no way for them to determine which of their beliefs are true, partially true, or pure bullshit.

  49. #49 fkgfgkh
    April 10, 2011

    It’s amazing that everytime God shows up in human flesh to tell people that he created them, he never tells them HOW he did it.

    Why couldn’t Jesus, for instance, demonstrate to his creations the process of creation of life? Scientists have been trying to create life for a while, but they haven’t been successful, at least officially.

    The Bible says that Adam was created from clay, so may be if God in human flesh could show people how it’s done, then may be all the resources that people spend on trying to figure out how to create life, will be spent on life itself.

  50. #50 fklghlgk
    April 10, 2011

    My guess would be: humans have to figure out the technology that Jesus used to resurrect the dead that seemed miraculous and supernatural to humans because they didn’t/don’t have an explanation of how it could be possible, which can be used to create life.

    It’s also possible that at the time life was created, the type of techonogy the creator used, actually worked. The way things work in the modern universe was probably completely different at the time life was created.

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