Gene Expression

How I view religion

A lot of comments have revolved around whether I am a Post-Modernist when it comes to the definition of religion. This post is to make explicit and clarify my own position so I don’t have to waste so much time in the comments. Most readers can therefore ignore this and wait until I go back to posting on genetics or something more interesting! :-)

One model of religion goes like so:

Axiom (e.g., One must follow all 612 commandments) → Entails → Entails → Specific belief and practice

In other words, there is a contingent relationship between the initial set of beliefs, and the elaborated set of religious practices and beliefs which are subsequent to “primitive” and “core” assertions. In other words, the space of states which religious phenomena inhabit is tightly constrained and guided by a simple set of principles and ideas from which the rest follows.

To a great extent many religious people might accept this as an accurate description of their faith; defined as it is by a belief in a particular god, a particular creed, and a systematic theology, etc. The average religious person might not be able to master the details of a particular theology, but they accept its validity, and accept the guidance of religious elites who are masters of said theology. These elites then serve as the executors or implementers of a set of logical consequences which emerge plainly from the propositions clearly derivable from first principles.

In this conception religious texts and theologies serve as blueprints. Religion as it is simply serves to reflect the nature of that blueprint. Therefore, to understand a particular religion you simply go to the religious texts, and see what those texts say. That will be a reasonable approximate, model if you will, of religion as it is practiced.

Texts and theologies serve therefore as the theoretical framework. To test the theory you need go out and observe how religion is practiced. So what happens if practice deviates from what the theory says? One reaction would be to suggest that practice is in error, that it deviates from the expectation of theory simply because of misunderstanding, or, willful neglect of the inferences. For example, most people would agree that most religions teach that adultery is wrong, but many believers continue to engage in adultery because of personal weaknesses despite their acceding to the moral principle that their actions are wrong.

I accept the second point; many times people act in willful contradiction of their admitted religious principles because of personal failings. I do not accept the first; that is, that deviations from expectation are error. If I was religious I might accept this as a matter of faith because I accept particular premises about the nature of religion. Specifically, that religion maps non-trivially and transcendentally upon particular truths about the universe. If I was a theist I would also assert religion is a revelation from an entity of unimaginable power and scope. Because the premises of religion are what they are, there must be a true religion, a particular most religious religion which maps perfectly upon the Platonic idea of what a religion should be in the mind of the god who revealed the religion.

But personally I don’t accept this. I don’t think that the initial axioms of religion about god and revelation are anything more than mental constructs; productions of human cognition, not expression of ontological truths.. Because religion is a production of the human mind I believe there is a profound subjectivity to its expression and perception. Additionally, I do not believe there is a Platonic ideal religion which maps onto true religion. All religion is true only insofar as religion is ultimately rooted in neurological material and phenomenological process; gods exist only in the mind’s eye.

And therefore, I do not totally shrug off the accusation that I am a Post-Modernist when it comes to religion. Since I believe that religion is fundamentally a mental construct, I do not believe that individually it is my place to tell a religious person what their religion is all about. It is what their mind tells them it is. It is what it is. Of course, there is a problem insofar as while I think religion is simply a production of their minds, they believe it is a reflection of some deep truth outside of their minds. We, the religious person and I, disagree on the fundamental nature of religion. They may reject Post-Modernism precisely because they believe that religion is true. I believe that it is false insofar as I am considering the set of assertions which they believe are true, but I believe that religion is true as a mental process.

This brings to the disagreement I have with some atheists, a disagreement I would have with myself when I was 18. An atheist believes that the claims of religion are false, but an atheist may believe that there is a true expression of religion which can be back-projected toward its premises. An atheist may reject the premises, but they may hold a model of religion which conceives of it as a set of necessary inferences, a chain of tight propositions back to the original premises.

I do not believe that this model reflects reality; that is, it does not reflect the truth of how religion manifests itself in the world around us. I do not believe that religion as it is practiced is tightly constrained by a primitive initial set of beliefs. Instead of an analogy to a logical or mathematical formalism as the theoretical superstructure of religion, I believe that something more akin to law is appropriate. In other words, religion is a matter of interpreting from the premises toward a range of conclusions. The sample space which religion as it is practiced inhabits is very large, and relatively loosely, if at all, constrained by the premises of religion. Rather, the sample space is contingent upon local historical context and its own endogenous evolutionary pathway.

Of course, many religious persons will tell you this is not so. But my discussion at this point is not with the religious, but those who reject its truth claims as I do. My contention is that religion is not well characterized as a set of necessary propositions, so deviation from “expectation” is not error, rather, it reflects an interpretative difference along the set of propositions which is a matter of local condition and contingency. You might ask how it is then that religious professionals might agree that “of course A → X”, where there are intervening inferences. I believe this is for show and comes about through social consensus. My own study of Chinese Islam suggests that when separated from other religionists a subgroup can quickly deviate outside of the bounds of the consensus, and only reintegration into the world wide information network can correct the “errors” which creep into the inferences.

Rather, the true nature of religious logic is better illustrated through its evolution over time, which implies a malleability and loose constraint from premises. After all, the Nicene Creed and the basic corpus of the Bible have been axioms which span nearly 2,000 years, but the normative form of Christianity varied a great deal due to time-sensitive interpretation.

Some, but not all, religious people will assert that there isn’t any time-sensitive interpretation; that past interpretations were wrong or conditioned by local circumstances, but present interpretations reflect the true spirit of the doctrine. Again, if you accept the presuppositions of a religion as to its transcendent truth value and revelation from god on high this is a reasonable assertion. But if you do not accept the truth value of the religious premises then one must question it, and ask if we are not again seeing local temporal conditions being the important determinants of religious practice.

Because of the world wide nature of Christianity or Islam we can see how this dynamic plays out spatially. The African churches of the Anglican communion hold to the dominant view in regards to homosexuality over time of the Christian tradition. The American and Europe branches hold different views. Both groups claim that their perspective in the authentic and true interpretation of the religion, but I think what you’re seeing is simply different local conditions. After all the African branches of the Anglican communion don’t adhere to all the precepts of Anglicanism as it was in 1600, or Christianity as it was in 300. In fact some “Southern” Christian theologians have argued strongly for an indigenization of Christian practice to accommodate local practices, in part by asserting that Christianity as it was practiced and evolved over the past 2,000 years was in fact Europeanized (e.g., the rejection of polygyny is attributed to Greco-Roman pagan influence, as evidenced by the acceptance of the practice among Jews outside of Europe).

At this point I would like to sidestep for a bit into my model of cognition. In short I believe that many cognitive processes are reflexive, or somehow encapsulated from our conscious inspection and awareness. Rationality is like a shimmering surface above the deep roiling waters of our mental processes. The human mind is a collective, and one where there is imperfect communication or unanimity. Mathematics works because its formal system is so precise and clear that there is no possibility of “cognitive creep” fudging the sequence of inferences to suit our own ends. In contrast, verbal logic is subject to interpretation, and so inevitably subjective or exogenous parameters end up shaping its outcome. Wealthy Christians may genuinely believe that their wealth is a gift from god, and that Christ wishes them to be wealthy. From the outside one might note that wealthier Christians seem to come to a particular interpretation in regards to material success, while less wealthy ones come to another, but both might be equally sincere in accepting that their logic was objective. The problem here is that the nature of cognition means that without the straight-jacket of symbolic formalism people easily and unconsciously insert hidden variables into the reasoning process.

More concretely, this gets us to something like the Bible. I’ve been talking as if the premises are clear and distinct even if the propositions entailed are not so much. In fact reading the Bible itself is subject to a great deal of interpretation. “Literal” readings of the Bible are not usually quite so literal, rather, they often “hide” the interpretation by packing it straight into the text without acknowledgment. By this, I mean that Fundamentalists may appeal to a Bible which translates a word or passage in a manner to their liking. Non-Fundamentalists may admit beforehand that there are different readings, or in the process of smoking out the inferences point to the different directions where the text could take you. Fundamentalists may assert that there is no falsity in the Bible, but they eliminate falsification and contradiction simply through expedient reinterpretations of words. Jesus Christ prophesied that he would return before the passing of a generation, but since generation means Jewish people, as long as the Jewish people remain he need not necessarily return (why does generation mean Jewish people when it says generation? Don’t ask).

Nevertheless, at least there is sense in the Bible. The nature of the Bible is such that it is accessible to a typical person; the stories and ideas extant within are intelligible. What about theology and religious philosophy? To a great extent I don’t believe they have sense; that is, I don’t think that they mean anything in a direct fashion. I don’t think even the theologians themselves understand what they’re saying or what it means. That implies to me that the problems with viewing religion as a logical system start out with the axioms.

After all this, I think it’s pretty clear I don’t think as a phenomenon that religion is what religious people think it is. So what is it? I do believe one can make objective generalizations about religion, but I believe to a great extent it is an empirical matter, not one of inferences derived from textual and theological presuppositions. Religion is how it is practiced. Religious people may believe that religion is true, so likely how they are practicing is the closest to true religion in their own mind. But from a non-religious perspective I think it is useful to simply define and characterize it by the distribution of practices and beliefs that people hold, and not by texts or experts. Therefore, one can make generalizations about religions for a particular time and place, but since there are few constraints one can not make universal generalizations.

This gets to my point about instrumental utility. A model of religious behavior, a predictive model so to speak, can be constructed, but its priors must be the proximate behaviors and beliefs. An inductive system is within our reach, but I believe any deductive system predicated on religious priors (texts, theologies, etc.) are highly suspect. I do believe that a deductive system which suggests constraints is possible, but I do not believe that it is possible from the world of religious studies, rather, one must look to the social and biological sciences. Since religion is a cognitive phenomenon we must examine the priors which constrain and shape the unfolding of the cognitive process.

In my post Richard Dawkins – Islamophobe? I implied that Islam is Creationistic in orientation. I believe this is true, insofar as I believe most Muslims would be what we call Young Earth Creationists. But, this is an empirical matter. There are Muslims who are not Creationists in this fashion. Are they then less “true to Islam”? I don’t believe so. Islam is what Muslims believe, if they believe that that is true to Islam that is their opinion and I won’t gainsay that. That being said, there is a statistical generalization one can make. On a theoretical level does the nature of Muslim interpretation of the Koran constrain or bias Islam toward Creationism? Possibly. That being said, most Muslims do not read the Koran, most Muslims can not speak Arabic, especially the classical variant within the Koran, and a substantial minority of Muslims are even illiterate. I do not believe that Muslims are by necessary Creationist, rather, that is simply the modal state of Islam here and now. That may change due to interpretation.

In other words, an objective model of Muslims can be constructed based on ascertainment of the empirical distribution. This distribution though is in constant flux, and that flux is contingent up a host of parameters, very few of which are ultimately rooted in some sort of religious premise. For an atheist to make an assertion about what the true Islam is is like a geologist to define the most rocky rock. A rock is a rock.

Though abbreviated I’ll end my own model of explaining religion at this point. But rather I want to shift to some of the atheists who criticize this model. I believe their own rationale for trying to truncate religion into a simply formal system is pretty obvious; you can disprove formalisms. On the other hand, the sprawling complex phenomenon that I describe above is a bigger fish to fry. Like a natural system it requires a great deal of study to re-engineer and model. It takes work, and we’re not really there yet because the social sciences have not advanced to the point where we have all the tools necessary to understand the phenomenon we speak of, and which affects our lives on a very deep level. We can’t just argue religious people out of religion if the model I’m proposing is correct; we can’t just show that it’s unreasonable and false because reasoning and falsity isn’t really the point of it. My main criticism of The God Delusion is that Richard Dawkins seems to “get” that religion is more than a simple set of beliefs derivable from axioms in the first half of the book…but in the second half he pretends as if it is exactly that to “refute” it. If it was a matter of conjecture and refutation it would be rather tractable, but it isn’t. The model of religion that many atheists hold in their mind is simply one thing: wrong. That’s just objectively so. But the godless delusion that religion is what an atheist thinks religion is is hard to banish.

Comments

  1. #1 Aziz
    August 25, 2008

    I dont agree, as you seem imply, that belief in a platonic ideal religion is necessarily at odds with accepting that religion is largely defined by the practice of the religious.

    Most religions do allow for “reason” (another fact that the hard-atheists will deny) and that presents a near-infinite set of degrees of freedom for religious practice to operate within. Hence there is already an inherent variability in religious practice that isn’t accounted for in the “founding” documents.

  2. #2 razib
    August 26, 2008

    that belief in a platonic ideal religion is necessarily at odds with accepting that religion is largely defined by the practice of the religious.

    orthogonal. though i suppose it hinges on the weight you place on orthodoxy vs. orthoproxy in your formula….

    (did i just use a word with the syllable “ortho” in it three times???)

  3. #3 Reality Bites
    August 26, 2008

    After having read that, I see why you answer as you do, and why it doesn’t make sense. It’s because it doesn’t make sense to you and you don’t take it seriously.

    Like all other nonbelievers [in anything], your deadly irony of ignorance is that you don’t “believe” in belief; you can only try to explain away things because you don’t truly believe that these people believe. You don’t get it, so you never will. You’ve already decided [to ignore possibilities]. I’ll end it all having said this.

  4. #4 razib
    August 26, 2008

    Most religions do allow for “reason” (another fact that the hard-atheists will deny)

    i don’t quite know what you mean by “hard-atheists.” but, let me make precise a distinction between some atheists in their stance toward religion.

    1) there are the sam harris types who believe that fundamentalist religion is the sine qua non of religion. i would say that these atheists believe that the axioms of religion are false, but the reasoning process of fundamentalists is left intact subsequent to the ludicrous axioms. therefore, these atheists consider fundamentalists to be “honest” theists, as these theists take the ridiculous presuppositions to their logical conclusions. in contrast, non-fundamentalist religionists are somehow not authentic, or less true, to the nature of what their beliefs and religion are.

    2) there are other athiests who don’t necessarily believe this.

    i’m in category #2, i don’t think that fundamentalists are really more reasonable. i think they reason differently. as i note above their textual interpretative tradition really isn’t as “plain” and “direct” a reading of scripture as they believe or claim. additionally, i believe that many atheists in category #1 overvalue the role that reason plays in human cognition, religious or non-religious. finally, they tend to see idea-space chunked into large coarse contingent integrated systems. in contrast, when it comes to religion i believe that many philosophical theists do engage in reasoning in a proximate sense, but i don’t think that their process is contingent in a manner which resembles the tightness that many believers and non-believers seem to assume it exhibits.

    philosophical religion is like law; a “noisy” and messy process of rationalization. not like mathematics, a clear, distinct and precise formalization of rational thought.

  5. #5 Dunc
    August 26, 2008

    Your ideas are intriguing and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

    Great post razib. I’m pretty sure I agree. ;)

    additionally, i believe that many atheists in category #1 overvalue the role that reason plays in human cognition, religious or non-religious.

    I couldn’t agree more.

  6. #6 Coriolis
    August 26, 2008

    I have a hard time believing that there is a substantial group of atheists who would disagree with your statements (although I guess there were some examples that prompted this post). Even sam harris, who I guess is sort of your archetype for the hard-atheists mostly tries to argue that the texts are not completely irrelevant (which some people claim), rather then that they are the sole determinant of religious practice. At least in his debates with atheists/intelligent theists, when he’s arguing with fundies who do interpret religion as a logical system he accepts their assumption and argues from there (i.e. the Resa azlan debate was in large part on this point). Although he certainly does tack more towards the “religious texts are important” side of the spectrum rather then the “they don’t matter”. The truth it seems to me is somewhere in the middle and very dependent on what part of the religion you’re talking about.

    I do take exception to the fundamentalists/literalists aren’t more honest thing though – if by honesty you mean just being more consistent (which is what I think most people mean in this context, rather then rational or logical), they do tend to be more consistent at least towards the text. Of course if the text itself is internally inconsistent, which it usually is, then that leads to problems.

    On another note, unless you’re a physicist, you ought to be prohibited from using things like “space of states” and the like in normal conversation. Only we get to look smart by talking like that, damnit. If you haven’t suffered through field theory or at least quantum mechanics, it’s not fair.

  7. #7 Reality Bites
    August 26, 2008

    Razib,

    Your answer was clearly stated and both positions were well described. In order to do justice to your definition #1 (which you disagree with and I was arguing for) we have to define “fundamentalism”, which has a negative connotation. That could possibly equate things in two different ways of life/systems as I will show in the following example:

    Someone like Sam Harris could use historical and reasonable markers and conclude that due to its precepts it’s quite obvious that the “one true church” has to come down to the original church in christianity, that is, one of 2, now known as the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. He could further surmise that in the way we use it, the former is much more “fundamental” than the latter (mainly because it’s more legalistic, an interesting parallel to what I’ll say about Islam forthcoming). Now, what would a modern day fundamentalist from Christianity be envisioned as? A literal “bible fell out of the sky” Protestant. But this innovation and tradition came 1500 years after the one true church was established and has no basis reasonably for its claims (especially when considering canonical biblical selection etc.) They think the Bible came before the church, which is totally false — their understanding therefore is inadequate, literal (there is no guide to make sense of things) and furthermore that is why there are 1000 splinters of protestantism, each with his own reading. So it turns out that the sine qua non for Christianity is rather the RC (juridical) and EO (ascetic). I won’t go any further than that, but I think the answer from there is apparent (and has nothing to do with this discussion).

    Compare that to Islam. Being a constructionist religion, their tradition on some level was already and immediately at that protestant level aforementioned. No one disagrees with this for 1400 years it was the standard of belief that the quran was the immutable unchangeable text in heaven. Sure, some groups now might like to say that the Quran shouldnt’ be taken literally, but that’s going against 1400 years (of juris, sunna, etc.) and has no prestige being that if you call yourself Muslim you are supposedly believing in the original revealed source of Allah to Muhammad as law (Mo having said the best is my generation, then the one after me, then the next, etc.). Even Mo understood this reasoning, regardless of its truth (based on axioms as you say). You have to take the hadith and tafsir to make sense of the quran, because on its own, although it is higher than the ahadith, it makes no sense without it. And this is where you get things like naskh (abrogation) and a full understanding of the law of the koran and otherwise how to live your life. Etc. etc.

    Reflecting, the [sine qua non] Christian example is NON-fundamentalist in the way we look at things today. Rather, the Islamic one is precisely by its own admission and teachings, fundamental. So, it depends on the way of life and the belief system (and the holy “fathers” or whatever you want to call them). There has to be good relevance to what you say or people won’t take you seriously. This is God we are talking about. Some people are very serious about it. Still others “believe” it (enough to self ID) but don’t want to participate in it (like jihad or going to church, giving alms to strangers). Nevertheless, ultimately there is an argument to get towards what is more real (although Mo may have been an epileptic demon possessed gangster megalomaniac or jesus may have been crazy) in each system/way of life. We can see this by using the easiest examples and then following those out to their logical conclusions (although at the end admittedly it becomes nitpicky for some legalistic types of religions given the human condition).

  8. #8 Fly
    August 26, 2008

    “(did i just use a word with the syllable “ortho” in it three times???)”

    Word choice is strongly affected by “mental priming”. Your “ortho” frequency will be unusually high today…wear a raincoat.

    How the brain thinks is more interesting than what the brain thinks…unless the brain is thinking about how it thinks.

  9. #9 razib
    August 26, 2008

    No one disagrees with this for 1400 years it was the standard of belief that the quran was the immutable unchangeable text in heaven.

    1) this isn’t true insofar as the first 300 years of islam were fixated on debates about this specific issue.

    2) this isn’t true insofar as the shia minority have preserved explicitly and unbroken aspects of the dissenting mu’tazilite philosophy which you are alluding to as being non-existent until recently

    You have to take the hadith and tafsir to make sense of the quran, because on its own, although it is higher than the ahadith, it makes no sense without it.

    and this is why the “literal” koran is not that important. the hadith evolved over centuries and is voluminous, and you can select from the interpretation or ruling you prefer. since islam is generally an orthopraxic religion this means that the hadith loom very large i predicting muslim behavior.

    Rather, the Islamic one is precisely by its own admission and teachings, fundamental.

    again, you take the “by its own admission” a bit too seriously IMO. yes, muslims will say this. but

    1) most of them (by most, i mean 99%) can’t read the koran since it is in a very stylized form of arabic

    2) the reading itself is subject to the *strong interpretative latitude* which occurs when you read arabic. this is clear if you read several independent translations of the koran and notice the differences in perceived meaning. neither interpretation is wrong because of the way the language is context dependent. this immediately leads to “liberal” or “conservative” readings, and many in the middle.

  10. #10 razib
    August 26, 2008

    No one disagrees with this for 1400 years it was the standard of belief that the quran was the immutable unchangeable text in heaven.

    also, i’m pretty sure historically that the “standard” koran didn’t show up until sometime in the 8th century. so substract 100 years from that immediately. even if you accept the idea that people remembered and wrote down what muhammad said, unless you believe they were divinely guided it’s highly likely that they would remember differently so a process of coherency editing would have to occur.

  11. #11 razib
    August 26, 2008

    if by honesty you mean just being more consistent (which is what I think most people mean in this context, rather then rational or logical), they do tend to be more consistent at least towards the text.

    i really need to see a quantitative analysis of this. for example, in the USA most fundamentalists are conservatives. they appeal very literally to injunctions against homosexuality, but what about the egalitarian message of the bible? when it comes to that it is a *spiritual* message, not a literal *material* one (*wink* *wink*). in contrast, liberal christians who are not normally so literally inclined become very interested in the concrete sociopolitical context of christ’s mission and the plain meaning of particular verses.

  12. #12 razib
    August 26, 2008

    oh, i took QM. i have a chemistry as well as bio degree.

  13. #13 Coriolis
    August 26, 2008

    Lol, I was actually thinking about that exact counter-point you made as I was writing that. I.e. I’ve yet to see a fundy getting all literal about turning the other cheek and giving the clothes off your back and so on. But this is just an inherent problem in how internally inconsistent the bible is I think. It’s hard to consistently believe in something that is inconsistent itself. I mean the two messages you mentioned – kill the gays vs being egalitarian are exactly at odds. Still, I think the conservative fundies do keep it a bit more consistent – they would probably claim that they can stone the gays and be egalitarian at the same time. And in their case I think you can blame that on stupidity rather then dishonesty.

    An actual quantitative analysis sounds good but I doubt you’d be able to get a good standard for how much one is straying from the “true” path.. since there is no such thing anyways, and a literal reading of some parts of the bible directly contradict others.

    As for the QM, I’m surprised you seem to have taken a good course on it, most chem QM (at least in undergrad) is pretty watered down (unless you mean you have a phd in chem and bio). That or you just like the language hehe.

  14. #14 razib
    August 26, 2008

    As for the QM, I’m surprised you seem to have taken a good course on it, most chem QM (at least in undergrad) is pretty watered down (unless you mean you have a phd in chem and bio). That or you just like the language hehe.

    it was an undergrad upper division elective and 2/3 were grad students. so i’m atypical. but i don’t remember much coherently so i prolly like the language ;-)

  15. #15 Norman Costa
    August 26, 2008

    For purposes of governmental/legal recognition of a religion, the following definition (really a test) is the following:

    A religion provides answers to the following questions for it’s member believers.

    Question 1. Where did I come from?

    Question 2. Why am I here?

    Question 3. Where am I going?

    With this definition/test you can see how Scientology, for example, qualifies as a religion under our system of laws.

    Obviously, you intended a more comprehensive discussion which is very interesting.

  16. #16 Reality Bites
    August 27, 2008

    Coriolis, given my short explanation of things doesn’t it mean or seem more obvious that the people you refer to (presumably protestant) christian “fundies” have the entirely wrong attitude toward the scripture? I think you agree. But that doesn’t make it true or false. It makes the purpose of it and way of life evident (ie it can only be understood fully through the true church, the one who wrote it, because its humans wrote it). It is only part of the way one lives his life.

    On the other hand, for the islamic person it is ALL about how he is to live his life (or to the nth degree higher – yes he can ignore it). One religion was based on how foolish those with laws can be (constructionist religions) in that they serve as their own idols. Muslims right now are proving that the laws are their idols (they just happen to think they are from God), going so far as to kill for meaningless things [eerily similar].

    Razib, I enjoyed your responses, but you can’t get around it. You know as well as I that educated imams are the leaders of the people. You have to study the sunnah, hadith and tafsir. What does that mean? You have to study the first biographer ibn ishaq, ibn kathir, sahih muslim/bukhari, etc. Why do you have to study this? You’re right, up to 20% of the Quran isn’t understood (at all) and probably more (if not all) is unreadable by a layman. The most reliable people, the madhabs, the tafsir, they GO OVER the koran. You act like people can be taken seriously if they come up with something that piousm muslims from the 8th/9th century (not one, many!) explicitly didn’t say! You can’t get around this. The ijtihad (interp) has been declared shut down by pious people. Why? The reasoning in the last 3 sentences!

    The people were killing themselves and others from the beginning of this religion (fitna). They kill themselves (+others) now. I’m curious as to why you can’t admit that if they keep going back to the sources, it won’t go away.

    The reasons also that you gave for the quran being interpretable because it was argued immutable and unchangeable have nothing to do with people’s belief NOW that it is. They have and have forever — God said it and delivered it to them in that fashion. No one doesn’t believe that that calls himself a true muslim. What is it? Rather, it is a good reason to believe that it’s a lie (which them not understanding ‘classical’ arabic contributes to).

  17. #17 razib
    August 27, 2008

    The reasons also that you gave for the quran being interpretable because it was argued immutable and unchangeable have nothing to do with people’s belief NOW that it is. They have and have forever — God said it and delivered it to them in that fashion. No one doesn’t believe that that calls himself a true muslim. What is it? Rather, it is a good reason to believe that it’s a lie (which them not understanding ‘classical’ arabic contributes to).

    NOW is not forever. additionally, i think you’ve pinned the wrong independent variable as the biggest effect.

  18. #18 Reality Bites
    August 27, 2008

    Well, looking at the world it’s quite obvious what the reality is. I think you need to take these people’s beliefs more seriously. I guess that’s all I can say and we can call it at that.

    It was a fun discussion, though, thank you.

  19. #19 razib
    August 27, 2008

    I think you need to take these people’s beliefs more seriously.

    *nod* yeah, i’ve read enough cognitive psychology to be skeptical about what people *say* as a good prediction of what they *do* (yes, there’s an r-squared above zero, but the ? is how big).

  20. #20 Caledonian
    August 28, 2008

    Whether or not something is a mental construction is not something that can be mentally constructed.

    If religions are mental constructions, then we are perfectly entitled to tell their followers at least one thing about them: whether they have an objective existence or are merely the products of their minds.

    razib, it seems to me that you have tended to be quite hostile towards telling the religious anything about what they believe.

  21. #21 hans
    August 28, 2008

    There are two kinds of Religion. On is Religion is “System of Rules” to obey or to discuss. The second view is Religion is an “Experience” you can Share. In most religions this is the Experience of Love. You cannot discuss a personal experience. The only thing you can do is accept that another person is experiencing something you don’t experience.

  22. #22 deadpost
    August 28, 2008

    If you have enough difficulty determining what’s a true Christian, what is one to make of something like Buddhism? You can have a neo-hippie vegetarian Westerner claim to be a Buddhist by name and know nothing about Buddhism. Where do we draw the line?

  23. #23 deadpost
    August 28, 2008

    And would you tell said example person above “You are full of bullshit. That’s not Buddhism”.

  24. #24 razib
    August 28, 2008

    And would you tell said example person above “You are full of bullshit. That’s not Buddhism”.

    probably not.

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