Brief review: Harris's End of Faith

The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason by Sam Harris: Harris would benefit from a sense of nuance. Millions of Buddhists, Sufi Muslims, Reform and Conservative Jews, Unitarians, Catholics and mainline Protestants adhere to religious teachings something like – and often more carefully considered than – the bizarre sort of of "spirituality" he endorses. The book is an extended version of the fallacy of the excluded middle – he devotes a great deal of ink to justifying the claim that moderate religiosity is basically as bad as the religiosity of suicide bombers, and that therefore religious moderates are to blame for suicide bombers. Of course, the book's second endnote reveals the failure of that argument: "Some readers may object that the bomber in question is most likely to be a member of the Liberations Tigers of Tamil Eelam – the Sri Lankan separatist organization that has perpetrated more acts of suicidal terrororism [sic] than any other group." He dismisses that argument as "misleading." While acknowledging that "the motives of the Tigers are not explicitly religious," he thinks it's fair to call their actions "a product of religion" because "they are Hindus who undoubtedly believe many improbable things about the nature of life and death." "Undoubtedly" is a handy way to wave off counterarguments without actual data.

That sloppiness with regard to evidence and the abuse of argumentum ad assertum characterizes too much of this book.

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>>the bizarre sort of of "spirituality" he endorses.

I find nothing bizarre about it. It's buddhist practice stripped of dogma ... how is that bizarre? I practice meditation and buddhist introspection techniques without making any claims about reincarnation or the sinfulness of sexual acts etc. The world could do with more of this "bizarre" mental discipline.

By anonymous (not verified) on 15 Apr 2007 #permalink

By the way: what does argumentum ad assertum mean anyway? A google search gives this very page as the top-rated site.

By anonymous (not verified) on 15 Apr 2007 #permalink

argument by assertion. A passive-aggressive form of argumentum ad baculum.

I call his take on spirituality "bizarre" mostly because, having dismissed anyone who believes in anything supernatural, he offers what reads like a bad parody of New Age religious claptrap ("Meditation refers to any means whereby our sense of 'self' can be made to vanish, while consciousness remains vividly aware of the continuum of experience." Dude, my hands are sooooo huge!).

In isolation, his argument there would be forgettable. Balanced with his vehement distaste for anyone who even thinks religion is a tolerable aspect of the world, it gets a little bizarre.

I disagree with you here. I can't help but notice that you argue by assertion that he argues by assertion. He doesn't argue by assertion (a point which I will argue by assertion for now, since I don't have a copy of the book on hand). As for his take on meditation, it is not at all like New Age claptrap. You'll notice that the statement you quoted contains nothing about chakras or angels or anything like that, so it shouldn't seem bizarre coming from someone who has denied supernatural phenomena. It's Harris' answer to the usual accusation that non-religious people can't have anything like a "spiritual" experience. You can have experiences that most people would refer to as "spiritual" without believing in spirits. Also, you seem to be conflating meditation and drug-induced hallucination, which is understandable if you have not practiced meditation. The two are not related at all. Harris' writings about meditation are far from flaky. There is a growing body of scientific literature about the effects of meditation, and what Harris has written on the subject is in keeping with what I've been able to read of the recent research. Here's an interesting podcast by Mathieu Ricard about the scientific study of meditation:
http://www.nyas.org/snc/podcasts.asp?pager_podcast=5&
(you'll have to scroll down a bit... it's called "how to be happy")

Also, here's more of Harris on Buddhism:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sam-harris/a-contemplative-science_b_1502…

Hopefully you will find these to be interesting.
Also, why not try meditation? You will discover that there is nothing bizarre about what he wrote.

By anonymous (not verified) on 15 Apr 2007 #permalink

"Millions of Buddhists, Sufi Muslims, Reform and Conservative Jews, Unitarians, Catholics and mainline Protestants adhere to religious teachings something like and often more carefully considered than the bizarre sort of of "spirituality" he endorses."

Sorry if this is annoying, but I can't help but point out that you are using argumentum ad assertum here again (unless I've misunderstood the definition).

By anonymous (not verified) on 15 Apr 2007 #permalink

I don't have the book with me, but I'm not sure your description of his criticism of moderates is fair. What links religious moderates with fundamentalists is faith. They both believe things without, or in spite of, empirical evidence. Religious moderates want faith to be taken seriously. That is the connection between fundamentalists and moderates. Not all faith is religious--one might well have faith in the power of free markets, Marxism, or anything else. Religion is the most obvious case of people demanding that faith be accepted as a legitimate argument.

But I might be wrong. What are these wonderful religious teachings that aren't based on believing something because you really, really, really want it to be true?

John, I think your characterization of Harris' argument is fair, and more accurate than Josh's. What's important here is faith itself, and not what the faith is in: any thinking that allows faith of any kind to flourish is dangerous thinking, because it places limits on critical thought, which can have disastrous consequences. Incidentally, this is also something to keep in mind whenever someone tries to bring up Nazis or Stalinists as examples of non-religious forces doing greater damage than religious ones: sure, those ideologies were secular, but they were arguably religions in their own right, in that they relied on just the kind of irrational leap of faith and acceptance of truths without evidence that are common to all religions. Whether it's a quasi-religious faith in racial destiny, or a faith in a deterministic system of history that will inevitably lead to a successful proletarian revolution, or faith in a martyr's paradise with virgins, or a second messianic coming, the ideas that seem to be most effective at driving large groups of people to kill other large groups of people almost always rely on exactly the sort of faith that Harris is attacking. The suspension of reason that is shared by religious moderates and fundamentalists is the very same one that links traditional religions to the religions of modern secular ideologies. Faith necessarily means at least a partial suspension of critical thinking, a sequestering of certain lines of inquiry that designates them to be off-limits or pre-decided. Once the critical faculties have had their hands tied in this way, a certain lawlessness prevails in the areas of the mind that are protected from their influence. Whatever happens to fill in that vacuum, be it moderate dogma or extremist dogma, will be completely free from rational scrutiny. This is why moderates garner Harris' censure: not because he thinks they're somehow directly responsible for suicide bombers, but because they are the builders and maintainers of a pervasive societal apparatus that fosters this partial suspension of critical thought. Granted, people who choose to fill in the "rationality free zone" of their mind with extremist as opposed to moderate ideology are not the majority, but they are an inevitable side effect such a system, and they could not exist without it. There can't be outliers if there's no distribution to begin with. It is to moderates that we owe the universal pervasiveness of religion, however apparently harmless it is on average. If moderately religious parents use their unparalleled influence over fresh minds to encourage the idea of partial suspension of reason as being possibly the highest good, they are begging for trouble, no matter how moderate or equivocal their own arbitrary faith-based convictions may be.

By anonymous (not verified) on 15 Apr 2007 #permalink

Anonymous, I think I provided an actual instance of argument by assertion right before I raised the issue with that part attempting to tie Tamil Tiger suicide bombers to Hindu theology.

John, I was thinking in the terms you describe when I wrote "moderate religiosity is basically as bad as the religiosity of suicide bombers." I guess "religiosity" and "faith" seem synonymous to me.

Had he really challenged faith in all its forms, we'd be onto something. If he showed how supply-siders are wrong because they rely on faith rather than evidence, applied the same critique to everything from Marxism to psychology, and proposed a better way, he'd have written a much better book Popper's "The Open Society and its Enemies." But he didn't, his critique is limited to a particular sort of faith, faith in the supernatural.

I disagree with the equivalence he draws between moderate faith and fundamentalist faith, a point I made by reference (not entirely by assertion, which is more justified in a brief review than in a book). Unitarian churches, for instance, include many atheists and agnostics (a majority in one survey) but also many theists. Their creed focuses on the issues of justice that Harris talks about.

Quakers use a technique not unlike meditation in meetings with none of the conventional trappings of religious ceremony. They focus on social justice here and now, reject violence and proselytization.

Judaism has no central creedal system (though some have been proposed at different times). Some liberal synagogues have developed a non-theistic version of the religion, or at least a version accepting of non-theists. Judaism doesn't proselytize either.

Sufism is a mystical form of Islam, which focuses on the sort of spiritual thing that Harris is on about (to the extent that I can sort out what he's advocating).

I could go on. The UCC, Methodists, Presbyterians and Catholics all have elements which focus on social justice, and attract a membership more concerned about finding and discussing a moral code than on faith in deities (the existence of counter-examples does not disprove a "some" statement). The ranks of "lapsed Catholics" are filled with people who don't care for the details of Catholic theology, but who enjoy the quiet time in Church and use the framework of the Church to feed the hungry, clothe the destitute and house the homeless.

Jimmy Carter is one of many Baptists who are bucking the fundamentalist trend in that denomination. He's joined with Bill Moyers to push back against it, and of course Carter is famous for is work as a peacemaker, homebuilder, disease eradicator, etc. He seems heavily invested in testing his beliefs and using his knowledge of the world to promote a nonsectarian moral good. I know many people in my own life exactly like that, for whom religion is not about blind faith, but about challenging beliefs and working towards something new. That sort of faith is fundamentally at odds with fundamentalist faith. Fundies don't care for those moderates, and the moderates don't care for the fundamentalists.

No, you didn't provide an instance of argument by assertion. Harris' use of the word "undoubtedly" is not "a handy way to wave off counterarguments without actual data." He is quite right in saying that Hindus "undoubtedly" believe unlikely things about life and death, since if they are in fact hindus, then by definition they believe in things such as reincarnation, a pantheon of gods numbering in the hundreds of millions, and many other things that I could list... go to a site about hinduism and take your pick.

As for your post above, thanks for listing some examples of what you were talking about, but my main problem with your intitial argument was the part about these people's beliefs being "often more carefully considered than" Harris', which is clearly an argument by assertion. I doubt you can provide backup for this claim, which strikes me as a mild ad hominem attack on Harris. As for the examples you gave, they do not strike me as being very carefully considered in their beliefs. As an example, it seems doubtful to me that an atheist or agnostic who attends a Unitarian church has carefully considered his or her reasons for being there. It seems more likely that what brings them back to the church every week is inertia and force of habit. If they really are atheists, they should stop living in mauvaise foi and leave the church already. A man who professes to be non-racist but continues to hang a confederate flag in his window out of affection for the south could hardly be said to be carefully considering the ramifications of what he's doing.

Harris does indeed challenge faith in all its forms. However, he's not writing an encyclopedia of false beliefs. When Freudian analysts start blowing up Jungians, I think we'll hear from him on the subject. For now, he's quite right to focus on the most dangerous examples of faith. I already explained in my earlier comment how Marxism fits into the picture (or Stalinism at least), so I'm not sure why you mention it here.

Finally, you have not offered your reasons for disagreeing with the equivalence he draws between moderate faith and fundamentalist faith. I have considered this carefully, and I'm pretty sure my argument above (see my earlier comment) is sound, but I'd like to hear a refutation if you have one.

By anonymous (not verified) on 16 Apr 2007 #permalink

I love the book "End of Faith". I have heard the second half of the book is not as good as the first. Luckily, I am still on Chapter 3. I love the way Harris presents such a calm and rational argument.

Hindus may well believe odd things about life and death, but he doesn't actually show how that plays into suicide bombing. That sentence is a wave of the hand. The reference you offer equivocates between religion and ethnicity (Hindu Tamils and Buddhist Sinhalese), but the actual incidents it describes are not religious discrimination, but ethnic discrimination and conflict. It is more similar to the Basque separatist movement. I'm inclined to think that the conflict in Ireland and Israel is also principally about land, power and economics, with religion providing a convenient way to identify ingroups and enemies.

Each of the religious traditions I listed have extensive philosophical traditions, which are each too lengthy to summarize here. I find it tremendously arrogant for you to assume that atheists and agnostics who attend Unitarian services have not "carefully considered his or her reasons for being there." My Unitarian friends have thought very carefully about why they chose to become Unitarian.

The reason I don't think the faith of extremists is the same as the faith of moderates is that I've spoken with each, and I've listened to how they talk about what their faith means to them. The danger in the extremists is that they do not question their faith, they know that they are totally right and everyone else is totally wrong. Moderates question their faith, they test it, they reevaluate it. Sam Harris denies this, and elsewhere dismisses it as a sign of weakness or inconsistency by the moderates. I don't think so. I think that questioning attitude is central to the process and practice of religious moderates. I offered a few examples of religious groups that teach this sort of questioning and of individual people who exemplify it.

I have to disagree with your assertion that religious faith is the most dangerous kind of faith. I raised Marxism and Freudianism because those are the targets Popper emphasized in his work on philosophy of science, and extensions of that work into political philosophy and a critique of authoritarianism. Popper was an enemy of unquestioned faith, whether as religious dogma, political dogma (Marxism), pseudoscientific dogma (Freudianism) or pseudohistorical dogma (historicism).

His realization was that these become dangerous when dogma is forced on society and when dissent and testing are forbidden. Authoritarianism is the result of that trend, and it is the enemy.

This difference matters. Jimmy Carter may be motivated in his actions by religious faith, but his efforts are not to force anything on anyone. The houses built by Habitat for Humanity are available to all, the diseases he's eradicating in Africa affect everyone, and the peace accords he negotiates are not biased by his religious views. His beliefs are rooted in faith, but his actions are rooted in our shared reality. His faith poses no threat.

I doubt that Dick Cheney or Paul Wolfowitz have much religious faith, but they have faith to spare regarding Iraq and other boneheaded policies. That faith is harmful because they are forcing it on the world. The harm is not in the faith, but in the authoritarian trend. Moderates are rarely if ever authoritarian, while extremists tend to be.

Moderates therefore reject and oppose extremists for reasons entirely internal to their religious faith. Harris doesn't acknowledge that distinction, to his detriment.

I'm not through reading your comment yet, but right off the bat let me reply to this zinger:

>>"I find it tremendously arrogant for you to assume that atheists and agnostics who attend Unitarian services have not "carefully considered his or her reasons for being there." My Unitarian friends have thought very carefully about why they chose to become Unitarian."

Go back and read what I wrote, and you will find that I did not assume anything. I said that it SEEMED DOUBTFUL to me that an atheist attending church had put much thought into why he goes to church. These are two different things. Your anger here is ironic, since what I wrote was a response to your assumption that Harris has not considered his views as carefully as these and other people. You'll note that I did not call your assumption about Harris tremendously arrogant, although I certainly could have. Let's keep things civil.

By anonymous (not verified) on 16 Apr 2007 #permalink

>> "Hindus may well believe odd things about life and death, but he doesn't actually show how that plays into suicide bombing. That sentence is a wave of the hand."

Here's an apposite quote:

"Hindus also believe that if a person dies while waging a war in the defense of his country, he would attain the heaven of the warriors (viraswargam), a belief which often proved suicidal for many Rajput warriors and their rulers in medieval India when they came into conflict with the Muslim invaders. Armed with this belief these warriors often marched into the battle field, with a death wish rather with an aim to win."

You can find it at this URL: http://www.hinduwebsite.com/hinduism/h_war.asp
Maybe Harris can be faulted for relegating his mention of tamil tigers to an endnote, and for not putting enough information in his endnote, but that's about it.

>> "I'm inclined to think that the conflict in Ireland and Israel is also principally about land, power and economics, with religion providing a convenient way to identify ingroups and enemies."

I disagree with you here, because I have spoken to people on both sides of the conflicts in Ireland and Israel, and they certainly think of it in religious terms. My extended family lives in Northern Ireland as well as the Republic, so I'm not talking about one or two conversations here. I don't think this kind of testimonial evidence is necessarily very strong, but you already admitted evidence of this sort in your last comment, so I'll follow suit.
Also, I think your assertion that religion is "a convenient way to identify ingroups and enemies" says it all. Even if it were true that the underlying causes of these conflicts are non-religious, they cannot be addressed as long as the participants in the conflict do not see it that way. Thus religion would still be the number one obstacle to resolution, even if it weren't the cause of the conflict.

>> "The reason I don't think the faith of extremists is the same as the faith of moderates is that I've spoken with each, and I've listened to how they talk about what their faith means to them. The danger in the extremists is that they do not question their faith, they know that they are totally right and everyone else is totally wrong. Moderates question their faith, they test it, they reevaluate it."

By definition, moderates and fundamentalists both accept certain dogmatic truths as being axiomatic, although moderates are indeed more open-minded than fundamentalists. They may come to reject points of doctrine that fundamentalists would never question. The usual example of this is a moderate Catholic who doesn't believe in transubstantiation. Such a person has certainly questioned some parts of their faith that a fundamentalist would never question. I'm not sure how moderates "test" their faith as you say. As a general rule, the kinds of "truths" that are taken on faith are conveniently immune to any kind of test. You are correct in saying that moderates reevaluate things that fundamentalists do not.
All that aside, if they really are religious, certain questions are off limits, or are only asked in the way Socrates might ask someone if philosophy was a waste of time, only to conclude after a few leading questions that it is not: he never was really open to that possibility. I can't help but notice that the greatest scholastic theologians were able to prove so many things with tortured logic, and yet not one of them was able to conclude that God might not exist, for all their "open-minded" questioning.

Most importantly, even if I were to concede (which I do not) that the faith of moderates and the faith of fundamentalists differ by kind and not by degree, my argument from comment number seven still holds. I'm not sure if you read that comment given your response to it, but read it again and you'll see that even if every religious moderate in the world was secretly an atheist, they would still be perpetuating a system of which fundamentalism is a side-effect. If you'll indulge me for a minute, consider this: imagine the economic policy of a given party is indirectly causing some social injustice. Now imagine a citizen who is opposed to this injustice, and who does not accept the party's political philosophy, but who continues to vote for them for some reason. What would we make of his motives? Moreover, do his motives or beliefs even matter much, given that the real-world effect of his actions is wholly disconnected from them? I think you'll see the point of what I'm saying here if you re-read comment number seven. If you prop up the apparatus that encourages uncritical acceptance of dogma, however limited, the question of whether or not you yourself accept that dogma matters little.

>> "I have to disagree with your assertion that religious faith is the most dangerous kind of faith"

That's your prerogative....

>>"I raised Marxism and Freudianism because those are the targets Popper emphasized in his work on philosophy of science, and extensions of that work into political philosophy and a critique of authoritarianism. Popper was an enemy of unquestioned faith, whether as religious dogma, political dogma (Marxism), pseudoscientific dogma (Freudianism) or pseudohistorical dogma (historicism)."

From I know about Popper, I have little doubt that his targets would be different if he were writing today, in a post-cold war world where freudianism has been banished to literary criticism and most of the major conflicts in the world are religious in nature. I'm speculating here, but I expect that Popper would endorse Harris' views, which are quite similar to his own. Allow me to point out that if you replace "Popper" by "Harris" in the last sentence of the above quotation, it's still true.

>> "His realization was that these become dangerous when dogma is forced on society and when dissent and testing are forbidden. Authoritarianism is the result of that trend, and it is the enemy."

I think this is somewhat misleading. If they are only dangerous when dissent and testing are forbidden, then why was he attacking freudianism? It was never free from controversy, and it was not forced on the population. He was taking issue with it for the very same reasons that Sam Harris takes issue with religion: he was, as you said, an enemy of unquestioned faith. I find it puzzling that you are able to reconcile your support for Popper's views with your dismissal of Harris' very similar views.

As for the rest of your comment about Jimmy Carter etc.: again, please re-read comment number seven.

By anonymous (not verified) on 16 Apr 2007 #permalink

"The usual example of this is a moderate Catholic who doesn't believe in transubstantiation."

No, the usual example is the Catholic who has no problem with birth control. The number of Catholics who could accurately describe transubstantiation is probably relatively small.

Popper's beef was with people passing off psychology as science, when it was not testable and therefore not scientific. He saw a valid and valuable role for "metaphysical research programs." He wasn't out to eradicate them, he just opposed using them as if they were science.

As I said, I don't doubt that Hindus have various interesting beliefs about life and the afterlife, I simply don't see any evidence that the conflict in Sri Lanka is about religion rather than ethnicity. The fact that religious lines exist does not mean that they are to blame for the conflicts. Post hoc ergo propter hoc.

I don't really see how comment 7 addresses my arguments. You (and Harris) seem to be say that the mere fact that two people share a belief means that the more moderate one makes the more extreme one's belief's acceptable. The fact that the more moderate one disagrees with the extremists and works against them, indeed believes that the extremists' views are not acceptable counts for nothing, it seems.

This always struck me as the same BS argument creationists make about ties between Darwin and Naziism, or atheism and Stalinism. The existence of any tenuous link between two groups means that they are the same and that one is responsible for the other. I don't see it. That Stalin was an atheist doesn't mean the existence of atheists allowed Stalinism to persist. That Nazis drew on writers who drew on Darwin's work does not mean that the acceptance of that work led to Naziism. That religious extremists draw on the same texts as moderates does not mean moderates allow extremists to persist.

Indeed, the fact that people can hold certain beliefs while behaving quite differently suggests that those beliefs are not the problem. If Jimmy Carter and R. J. Rushdoony share a belief in the divinity of Jesus, and one promotes peace and democracy while the other worked for theocracy through violence if necessary, I fail to see how belief in Jesus is the relevant basis for criticizing Rushdoony. Rushdoony and his followers are objectionable because they are authoritarians, not because they believe in some sort of dogma.

Sam Harris does not have an index entry for Marx. His only references to communism are attempts to subsume it within the realm of "political religion," whatever that means. He writes of North Korea "The problem of North Korea is, first and foremost, a problem of the unjustified (and unjustifiable) beliefs of North Koreans."

But that's absurd, and it again demonstrates his backwards way of approaching any question at all. The problem is that the North Korean government is a totalitarian regime which enforces behavior and belief through force and all the tools of propaganda and brainwashing one can imagine. The problem is not with the North Koreans, but with their megalomaniacal ,totalitarian and possibly insane leadership. But Harris isn't interested in some grand critique of totalitarianism and where it comes from, because it's obvious that there are religious anti-totalitarians. His critique is not a generalized look at the absurd faith that invading Iraq would fix the Middle East, or that cutting taxes would raise revenue not because those aren't problematic (those policies kill people and cause tremendous suffering) but because he is interested in arguing against religious faith and nothing else. If he can transform political authoritarianism into "political religion," it rates a mention, but otherwise it is absent from his analysis.

That is a far cry from Popper's approach. Popper criticized religious extremism, but I'm not aware of any animus on his part to religion per se, or even to faith per se. By its fruits...

>> "No, the usual example is the Catholic who has no problem with birth control. The number of Catholics who could accurately describe transubstantiation is probably relatively small."

OK, if you say so. It doesn't alter my point.

>> "As I said, I don't doubt that Hindus have various interesting beliefs about life and the afterlife, I simply don't see any evidence that the conflict in Sri Lanka is about religion rather than ethnicity. The fact that religious lines exist does not mean that they are to blame for the conflicts. Post hoc ergo propter hoc."

The conflict in Sri Lanka is about religion as well as about ethnicity. I think we can agree on that. Getting back to the reason we're discussing Sri Lanka in the first place, your original complaint was about Harris' failure to explain the link between Hinduism and suicide attacks. Let me quote this again for you:

"Hindus also believe that if a person dies while waging a war in the defense of his country, he would attain the heaven of the warriors (viraswargam), a belief which often proved suicidal for many Rajput warriors and their rulers in medieval India when they came into conflict with the Muslim invaders. Armed with this belief these warriors often marched into the battle field, with a death wish rather with an aim to win."

So Harris did not back up his point enough to satisfy you, which might have been a mistake on his part, but it does not render his point invalid. Certum est quod certum reddi potest. I think we can drop this now.

>> "I don't really see how comment 7 addresses my arguments. You (and Harris) seem to be say that the mere fact that two people share a belief means that the more moderate one makes the more extreme one's belief's acceptable."

Close, but not quite. I can't speak for Harris, but as for me, I assert that by fostering uncritical acceptance of dogma, moderates unwittingly open the door for all kinds of "truths" to become acceptable to whatever minds are influenced by their overwhelming influence in our society. If you train a child's mind to accept dogma, you are not free from blame if they go on to accept a more extreme dogma than the one you originally proferred. So you see how this relates to what you were saying. Whether the faith of moderates differs essentially from the faith of fundamentalists matters not at all to my argument. The same goes for Jimmy Carter: your comment about Jimmy Carter's faith being non-threatening is correct, and has precisely nothing to say against my argument. He accepts dogma uncritically, no matter how moderate it may be, and has probably encouraged his children to do the same. This is what makes extremism possible. Whether his own faith is threatening or not is immaterial.

>> "The fact that the more moderate one disagrees with the extremists and works against them, indeed believes that the extremists' views are not acceptable counts for nothing, it seems."

Sure, it counts for something, but it's sort of like a Republican marching against the war (I'm exaggerating here to get my point across)

>> "That Stalin was an atheist doesn't mean the existence of atheists allowed Stalinism to persist. That Nazis drew on writers who drew on Darwin's work does not mean that the acceptance of that work led to Naziism."

I agree with you here.

>> "That religious extremists draw on the same texts as moderates does not mean moderates allow extremists to persist."

Right, but you're missing the point. It's not a shared text that's important here. It's a shared willingness to suspend critical reasoning and accept dogma. Moderates ensure that nearly everyone in society is taught to divide their mind in this way. Scripture isn't the issue. If Jimmy Carter teaches his child to partition her mind in this manner, he's plowing the field for any number of more extreme ideas to take root. He is teaching his child that rationality must censor itself from time to time. The text is unimportant; his child could grow up and convert to Islam, thereby applying the very same suspension of reason that President Carter taught her to a new set of claims. This is what I already explained in comment 7.

>> "Indeed, the fact that people can hold certain beliefs while behaving quite differently suggests that those beliefs are not the problem. If Jimmy Carter and R. J. Rushdoony share a belief in the divinity of Jesus, and one promotes peace and democracy while the other worked for theocracy through violence if necessary, I fail to see how belief in Jesus is the relevant basis for criticizing Rushdoony. Rushdoony and his followers are objectionable because they are authoritarians, not because they believe in some sort of dogma."

Well, for one thing Jimmy Carter is a Baptist and Rushdoony was a Calvinist. You're pointing out the overlap between their sets of beliefs (divinity of Jesus) then claiming that this belief is irrelevant in explaining their actions, because their actions differ even though they share this belief. But they also have other beliefs that they do not share. It's as if you're trying to prove to me that animosity between Sunni and Shia muslims has nothing to do with their beliefs, because they both believe in Allah. Maybe you can tell me which latin phrase refers to this fallacy.
The way in which Carter and Rushdoony are linked is as follows: Carter and other moderates ensure that almost everyone in society is taught to suspend their critical faculties to some extent, Rushdoony and other extremists exploit this weakness to get people to accept nastier falsehoods with unquestioning obedience. Again, I'm reiterating what I already laid out clearly in comment 7.

>> "Sam Harris does not have an index entry for Marx. His only references to communism are attempts to subsume it within the realm of "political religion," whatever that means."

What it means is that he is "an enemy of unquestioned faith, whether as religious dogma, political dogma (Marxism), pseudoscientific dogma (Freudianism) or pseudohistorical dogma (historicism)" just like your beloved Popper. Also, again and hopefully for the last time, I refer you to comment number 7 for an explanation of the what "political religion" means.

>> "He writes of North Korea "The problem of North Korea is, first and foremost, a problem of the unjustified (and unjustifiable) beliefs of North Koreans."
But that's absurd, and it again demonstrates his backwards way of approaching any question at all."

OK... let's see where you're going with this....

>> "The problem is that the North Korean government is a totalitarian regime which enforces behavior and belief through force and all the tools of propaganda and brainwashing one can imagine."

I think you lost me there. Let me get this straight: the idea that the prevalant belief system in North Korea is problematic is an absurdity .... because the government is forcing a problematic belief system on the people. Let's check that again.. so you're trying to prove that the existence of A is absurd, and you attempt to prove this by stating the method of manufacture of A.
Again, I'll leave it to you to describe this lapse of reasoning with something in Latin.

>> "But Harris isn't interested in some grand critique of totalitarianism and where it comes from, because it's obvious that there are religious anti-totalitarians."

Unless you are privy to Harris' thoughts, you're arguing by assertion again.

Also: the existence of religious anti-totalitarians does nothing to change the fact that both religious dogma and totalitarian ideology are the result of a suspension of critical thinking, and are therefore related phenomena (again: see comment 7). It's no more remarkable than members of one sect opposing members of another sect. It doesn't diminish Harris' arguments one jot.

>> "His critique is not a generalized look at the absurd faith that invading Iraq would fix the Middle East"

You're conflating faith and hypothesis, just as you earlier conflated assumption and hypothesis, which resulted in you mistakenly calling me "tremendously arrogant" (which I would have apologized for if I'd done it, but the way. But hey, it's your corner of the blogosphere.)

>> "or [the faith] that cutting taxes would raise revenue not because those aren't problematic (those policies kill people and cause tremendous suffering) but because he is interested in arguing against religious faith and nothing else."

No, it is because he is criticizing beliefs that are based on a willful suspension of critical reasoning. Economic theories do not fit this description. You and I may think that supply-siders are wrong, but their theory is the result of economic hypotheses, not dogmatic pronouncements. Economic theories are not due to the suspension of critical reasoning in the way that religion is. Rather, they are the end result of close (and possibly erroneous) reasoning on the part of many economists. Some people might treat economic ideas as though they are dogmatic, but that is not the nature of economics, as any economist can tell you. I know I'm laying myself open to criticism here because I previously characterized Marxism as a religion, but I was referring to the marxist theory of history, which must be swallowed like any other dogma. On the other side of the political spectrum, unquestioned belief in the power of free markets to fix everything qualifies as a dogma. There are nuts on both sides. But the idea that tax cuts increase revenue is not a dogmatic assertion, but a hypothesis. One that is not faring well in my opinion, but a hypothesis all the same. Once again, you're failing to distinguish faith and hypothesis.

>> "That is a far cry from Popper's approach. Popper criticized religious extremism, but I'm not aware of any animus on his part to religion per se, or even to faith per se."

You're making things too easy for me here. You already said earlier that "Popper was an enemy of unquestioned faith".

I'm still waiting to hear you refute comment number 7 (or even demonstrate that you have read it).

By anonymous (not verified) on 16 Apr 2007 #permalink

"The conflict in Sri Lanka is about religion as well as about ethnicity. I think we can agree on that."

No, I don't think we can. Everything I've seen, everything you've shown me and that Harris presents, indicates that it is an ethnic conflict. The page you cited earlier had a Christian Sinhala restricting use of the Tamil language. I see nothing about restrictions on Hindu practices, and the fact that the Buddhist Sinhalese elected a Christian leader at all says something about the importance of religion to their social identity. The link Harris waves away is between Tamil suicide bombing and Hinduism at large, something I'm still unclear about.

"I assert that by fostering uncritical acceptance of dogma, moderates unwittingly open the door for all kinds of 'truths' to become acceptable to whatever minds are influenced by their overwhelming influence in our society."

I would argue that moderates are not "uncritical," that (as I've said before) moderates question and test their faith in a way that extremists do not. That is a very different sort of faith than extremist faith.

If indeed religion is an inherently dangerous process, the doctrinal differences between Rushdoony's Calvinism and Carter's Baptism should be irrelevant to that analysis. I'm not claiming all Christian sects are identical, indeed my point is that the different approaches taken by different sects and different individuals within them matter in determining how they relate to society at large. It is Harris (and you) who paints with the broad brush.

We'll set aside for the moment that the current head of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is a Calvinist Baptist, because your point isn't about the details of how Baptist theology draws on Calvinism.

I think you've badly missed my point, Popper's point, supply side economics (which has no empirical basis, at least as used by politicians since Reagan), the meaning of the word "religion" and what it means to understand a writer's intentions by reading his book.

I am privy to Harris's thoughts because he wrote them down in a book entitled "The End of Faith: Religion, Reason and the Future of Reason." A discussion of totalitarianism would have been quite apposite there, and the absence of that discussion demonstrates a desire to ignore totalitarianism unless he can link it to religion.

I don't see "political religion" in comment seven, but I'm guessing that you are linking it back to uncritical acceptance of whatever, to the idea that any dogmatic belief is religion. This is an attempt at argument by redefinition. Religion is not defined by uncritical thinking nor is it synonymous with dogmatic belief. It is defined as "a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs."

It is your claim that religion is inherently uncritical, but that is a claim which I dispute. Your references back to comment 7 do not prove your claim, it simply repeats it. Judaism, to choose one example, has a long tradition of theological debate and criticism. Unitarians list among their seven guiding principles "justice, equity and compassion in human relations; Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations; A free and responsible search for truth and meaning; The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large." That is a call for critical debate and evaluation, values which make atheists and agnostics at home in the religion. 54% of Unitarians identify as "humanist," 33% as agnostic, 18% as atheist (they either cannot add or were allowed multiple choices). I could give similar examples in other religious traditions and from particular people's writings, but I doubt that will change your mind.

This is where Harris's fallacy of the excluded middle comes in. He insists that all religious belief is basically the same because it involves what you call uncritical beliefs, what might be better referred to in Popper's terms as metaphysical beliefs (beliefs not falsifiable via empirical evidence). By Harris's and your account, once any such belief is accepted, the game is over.

My point is that that's absurd. Moderates who oppose extremists are not creating a comfortable environment for extremists. The belief that causes extremism is not belief in God, it is the belief that it is acceptable to force beliefs on other people � authoritarianism.

I understand that you believe all religious faith is linked by an uncritical attitude. Popper didn't agree to that claim, neither do I, and neither do religious moderates. Extremists see questioning of faith as offensive in some sense, moderates do not. In my experience, moderates tend to seek out challenges and to test their beliefs. The tools used to test metaphysical claims are different from those used to test scientific claims, but those beliefs can be put to the test through individual critical reasoning.

For a practical example, check out Rob Knop's discussion of the role religion and Christianity specifically plays in his life. Undoubtedly you, like many, will say that he could get much of what he gets from religion through some Harrisish "spirituality" without all the stuff about Jesus. So what? He has clearly given his religion serious critical thought, and he is satisfied. He gives no aid and comfort to extremists that I can see. Saying he does is like saying that Russell's "Why I am not a Christian" gave aid and comfort to Stalin. It's nonsensical.

OK, I will probably respond to this, but for now I really, really, really have to stop this and start studying for exams. Maybe you'll hear back from me on this in a week or two.

By anonymous (not verified) on 17 Apr 2007 #permalink

Actually I'll just respond now:

>> "No, I don't think we can. Everything I've seen, everything you've shown me and that Harris presents, indicates that it is an ethnic conflict."

Right, I'm sure that the fact that one side of a conflict practices one religion and the other side practices another religion has nothing to do with their differences. And no, what I showed you did not indicate it was strictly ethnic in nature. But this is all peripheral. What's important to our discussion of your review is this next part...

>> "The link Harris waves away is between Tamil suicide bombing and Hinduism at large, something I'm still unclear about."

I showed that there is a link between the tenets of hinduism and suicide tactics. End of discussion.

>> "I would argue that moderates are not "uncritical," that (as I've said before) moderates question and test their faith in a way that extremists do not."

I already agreed with you on this point in my last comment.

>> "That is a very different sort of faith than extremist faith."

I disagree with this, but I already explained in my previous comments that even if they were somehow essentially different, my argument would still hold.

>> "If indeed religion is an inherently dangerous process, the doctrinal differences between Rushdoony's Calvinism and Carter's Baptism should be irrelevant to that analysis."

I already explained in my last comment how their doctrinal differences are irrelevant to my analysis.

>> "I'm not claiming all Christian sects are identical, indeed my point is that the different approaches taken by different sects and different individuals within them matter in determining how they relate to society at large. It is Harris (and you) who paints with the broad brush."

Right, I'm painting with a broad brush. Me, the guy who had to point out to you that Calvinists and Baptists are not the same thing. I too believe that the different approaches taken by different individuals and sects matters in determining how they relate to society. I already stated this.

>> "I think you've badly missed my point, Popper's point, supply side economics (which has no empirical basis, at least as used by politicians since Reagan), the meaning of the word "religion" and what it means to understand a writer's intentions by reading his book."

Of course you do. You're not making a point here.

>> "I am privy to Harris's thoughts because he wrote them down in a book entitled "The End of Faith: Religion, Reason and the Future of Reason." A discussion of totalitarianism would have been quite apposite there, and the absence of that discussion demonstrates a desire to ignore totalitarianism unless he can link it to religion."

Right, but you're not privy to thoughts that he didn't actually write down. You said: "Harris isn't interested in some grand critique of totalitarianism and where it comes from, because it's obvious that there are religious anti-totalitarians". Did he write in the End of Faith "I, Sam Harris, am not interested in some grand critique of totalitarianism and where it comes from, because it's obvious that there are religious anti-totalitarians"? I don't think he did. We don't know whether or not he's interested in that. He might be very interested. He might not be. So you're just arguing by assertion.

>> "I don't see "political religion" in comment seven, but I'm guessing that you are linking it back to uncritical acceptance of whatever, to the idea that any dogmatic belief is religion. This is an attempt at argument by redefinition. Religion is not defined by uncritical thinking nor is it synonymous with dogmatic belief. It is defined as...."

Thank you for defining your terms. We both should have thought of this before. I use the Oxford English Dictionary, which gives a different definition.
Let's see here....

Religion: "belief in a superhuman controlling power ... entitled to obedience and worship ... a particular system of faith and worship."

Totalitarian: "a person advocating a centralized dictatorial form of government requiring complete subservience to the state"

Whether it's obedience and worship, or complete subservience, it matters little whether we're talking about God or Hitler. Critical thinking necessarily ends where the boss's edicts begin.

>> "Judaism, to choose one example, has a long tradition of theological debate and criticism."

Right, THEOLOGICAL debate and criticism. It's fine to argue about whether God has 99 attributes or 100, but if you're taking his existence as an axiom, then you're declaring that question to be off-limits to criticism, i.e. you're suspending critical thought. I realize that theology doesn't always take God's existence as an axiom, but in those cases it always sets out to prove his existence. It's pre-decided. That's not critical thinking, it's casuistry. I already talked about all of this with my points above about Socrates and Scholastic Philosophers.

>> "That is a call for critical debate and evaluation, values which make atheists and agnostics at home in the religion. 54% of Unitarians identify as "humanist," 33% as agnostic, 18% as atheist (they either cannot add or were allowed multiple choices). I could give similar examples in other religious traditions and from particular people's writings, but I doubt that will change your mind."

I already went over this in my previous comment (see above: "even if every religious moderate in the world was secretly an atheist...") What your saying here has absolutely nothing to do with my point. Incidentally, I know little about Unitarianism, but if wikipedia is correct in saying that "They believe that each person is free to search for his or her own personal truth on issues like the existence, nature, and meaning of life, deities, creation, and afterlife", then Unitarianism does not even qualify as a religion by the Oxford definition that I'm using. By the way, for English speakers outside of the United States, OED is about as close as you can get to definitive. No doubt you'll think I'm "tremendously arrogant" for saying this, but wikipedia's description makes it sound more like a new age social club. I'm not mocking them when I say that. Much of what you describe sounds admirable.

>> "This is where Harris's fallacy of the excluded middle comes in. He insists that all religious belief is basically the same because it involves what you call uncritical beliefs, what might be better referred to in Popper's terms as metaphysical beliefs (beliefs not falsifiable via empirical evidence). By Harris's and your account, once any such belief is accepted, the game is over."

That's right.

>> "My point is that that's absurd. Moderates who oppose extremists are not creating a comfortable environment for extremists."

I agree.

>> "The belief that causes extremism is not belief in God, it is the belief that it is acceptable to force beliefs on other people � authoritarianism."

I disagree. The belief that causes extremism is the belief that it is okay to accept dogma uncritically. What you're saying here is too easy to refute, because there are lots of extremists who don't force beliefs on others. Some of the most extreme sects are also insular, and are not concerned with forcing their beliefs on outsiders. So you're wrong in extremism results from the idea that it's okay to force beliefs on other people.

I'll have to read the links you gave before responding further.

By anonymous (not verified) on 17 Apr 2007 #permalink

Sorry, a brief addendum here:
I only agree with the second sentence of one of the two-sentence quotes I responded to above; the one where I wrote:

>> "My point is that that's absurd. Moderates who oppose extremists are not creating a comfortable environment for extremists."

I agree.

By anonymous (not verified) on 17 Apr 2007 #permalink

What do Rob Knop's posts have to do with our discussion here?

Here's a quote:

"Let me end with a few brass tacks. Most people seem to read "being Christian" as accepting some laundry list of doctrines. I've already explained that to me, there are just two core elements of the theology"

This is what I've been saying about moderates all along. Rob applies critical thinking to some things that fundamentalists would never question, it's true. But as for those last two core elements he mentioned, he's content to believe in them dogmatically. As I've said over and over again, the thing that distinguishes moderates from fundamentalists is that moderates accept a smaller set of dogmatic claims than fundamentalists. That's the only difference. Certain articles of faith are accepted, corraled away from the possibility of unbiased scrutiny. Their corral is smaller than that of someone like Falwell, but within it's bounds rationality has no sway. It's this uncritical acceptance of dogma that you keep insisting moderates do not engage in. By ensuring that almost everyone in society is taught to have such a corral, they are plowing the field for fundamentalists to plant their seed. You'll note that the tameness of their own beliefs, and whether they fight against fundamentalists, and whatever else you'd like to think is proof that they're unrelated to fundamentalism, is irrelevant.

So what are those two core elements that Rob is willing to swallow as truth without reason?

I'll give you one: "First, redemption; we don't have to be perfect, but there is somebody out there-- Jesus-- who has taken our punishment for us, who has the grace to help and forgive us despite our flaws."

This is a hefty chunk of dogma.

By anonymous (not verified) on 17 Apr 2007 #permalink

For the sake of this discussion, can we set aside what people believe and focus on why they believe it? Faith shouldn't be an acceptable method of determining what to believe. It's the ultimate argument by assertion.
A: I believe X.
B: Why? What evidence do you have that X is true?
A: My faith. Here, let me show you this wonderful philosophical structure I have built on X.
B: But what evidence do you have?
A: You don't appreciate the history of believing in X, or all the good works that have resulted from X.
B: Yeah, but is it true?
A: I have faith it is true.
B: I meant evidence.
A: Faith is a fact.

Religious moderates and fundamentalists share a faulty reasoning process. Even if the religious moderates, or fundamentalists for that matter, arrive at a 'good' answer, they got there by cheating.

John, thank-you for cutting through the noise. That was an incisive comment.

By anonymous (not verified) on 17 Apr 2007 #permalink

My point about Rob is that he is not uncritical in his acceptance of beliefs. He is thinking critically. So do many people, including Unitarians, moderate Jewish theologians (see wikipedia on Progressive Judaism, which "rejects the stance that any part of Judaism's written law or oral law should be accepted as binding" and "encourages the individual to reject any Jewish beliefs, laws or traditions that violates 'contemporary conscience or consciousness,'" including theism).

Your argument rests on the claim that moderates are uncritical in their acceptance of dogma. I am trying to show you that that is not the case. If it is not the case, then this passage from comment 7 simply doesn't hold:

The suspension of reason that is shared by religious moderates and fundamentalists is the very same one that links traditional religions to the religions of modern secular ideologies. Faith necessarily means at least a partial suspension of critical thinking, a sequestering of certain lines of inquiry that designates them to be off-limits or pre-decided. Once the critical faculties have had their hands tied in this way, a certain lawlessness prevails in the areas of the mind that are protected from their influence. Whatever happens to fill in that vacuum, be it moderate dogma or extremist dogma, will be completely free from rational scrutiny. This is why moderates garner Harris' censure: not because he thinks they're somehow directly responsible for suicide bombers, but because they are the builders and maintainers of a pervasive societal apparatus that fosters this partial suspension of critical thought.

Moderates endorse a critical approach to faith. They may finally side with faith, and may do so for reasons beyond the empirical, but that doesn't mean that they haven't taken a reasoned and critical approach to the question. The existence of such reasoned, critical and moderate forms of faith is an argument against extremist faith.

I think that that last statement is the part you said you agreed to in the passage above.

You then argued that accepting dogma is the problematic factor in totalitarian societies. I don't see it. I don't see that someone in Germany, the Soviet Union, North Korea, etc. had much choice regarding what to believe because a totalitarian society is one that forces belief on other people.

Rushdoony (and if you don't think I know the differences between Baptists and Calvinists, you really need to apply some of that critical thinking) is a problem not because he believes. He shares certain dogmatic beliefs with Carter and Martin Luther King, Jr. after all. The problem with Rushdoony and his disciples is that if they gained the power that Carter or King had, they would have used it to enforce their beliefs on others, as Stalin and Kim did with their populations. The link connecting Rushdoony with the totalitarians is not religion but totalitarianism.

Carter's, Knop's, and other moderate theists' critical form of religiosity is a block against totalitarianism.

One tangential note: You suggest that I can't know what Sam Harris thinks from what he doesn't write. But no one forced him to write several books about religion. You ask:

Did he write in the End of Faith "I, Sam Harris, am not interested in some grand critique of totalitarianism and where it comes from, because it's obvious that there are religious anti-totalitarians"? I don't think he did. We don't know whether or not he's interested in that. He might be very interested. He might not be.

I have a hypothesis. My hypothesis is that if he saw religious dogma as one instance of a broader issue with totalitarianism, he would have cited the examples of non-religious totalitarianism. I test that hypothesis by reading his works, and I find no such analysis. Furthermore, I find him attempting to shoehorn nonreligious totalitarians into the mold of religion, not something I would predict someone to do if he were interested in anti-totalitarianism in a broad sense. Finally, if he were interested in anti-totalitarianism and in focusing on religion as one of many ways that people can potentially be led to totalitarianism, I would predict several things. I would predict some mention of religious anti-totalitarians. I would predict him to emphasize how different factors produce totalitarian responses in instances where conflicts have multiple intersecting causes (Israel/Palestine: racial, economic, ethnic, colonial, religious, cultural and personal tensions; Ireland: same; Sri Lanka: same; Basque country: same minus religion; Kurdistan: same minus religion).

These predictions are falsified consistently. He actively waves off non-religious explanations when they are obvious.

Josh-

I didn't read all the comments but you seem like a blunt tool when engaing Harris and his book.

Millions of Buddhists, Sufi Muslims, Reform and Conservative Jews, Unitarians, Catholics and mainline Protestants adhere to religious teachings something like and often more carefully considered than the bizarre sort of of "spirituality" he endorses

I love this line of thinking. The vast majority of catholics I have ever encountered know nothing of the bible but rather go with what the priests taught them at a young age. This careful consideration must be rare.

Secondly this group you list excludes non-mainline fundie christians as having NOT been careful in their consideration when in truth they are almost always more knowledgable about their religion than catholics.

And Harris's 'bizarre' form of religion? Puh-leez. How is it more or less bizarre than anything catholics believe? There simply is no substance in your ascertion. if you disagree with him fine but lets not pretend the groups you list are offering something superior or more refined.

A brief review will necessarily be blunt, and I don't apologize for that.

My experience with fundamentalist churchgoers is that their consideration of religion extends no further than attempts to retcon it to justify their political beliefs. Catholics, perhaps because their connection to Church dogma is looser, tend to look for ways to mediate between their moral impulses, Biblical interpretation and empirical evidence. I know relatively few Catholics who actually go with what their priests taught them, though that may be the extent of their theological education. Their religious thinking extends beyond Sunday school, though, while fundamentalists tend not to go beyond what their favorite TV preacher used to justify whatever.

There's more to "careful consideration" than rote memorization, after all.

Harris's thing is bizarre precisely because of what he rejects. Catholic theology can make some claim to self-consistency (though we as outsiders will disagree with it and find it inconsistent with our beliefs), but Harris's "spirituality" strikes me as inconsistent with his own arguments against belief in the non-natural.

OK, here we go one more time....

>> "My point about Rob is that he is not uncritical in his acceptance of beliefs. He is thinking critically."

Let's look at Rob's belief about Jesus again:
"First, redemption; we don't have to be perfect, but there is somebody out there-- Jesus-- who has taken our punishment for us, who has the grace to help and forgive us despite our flaws."
You tell me how this is the outcome of critical thinking. Tell me how this is anything other than the sort of thing John mentioned in his most recent comment. He has thought critically about some beliefs, but when it comes to this belief, he just prefers to believe it, and that's it. Why don't we do some critical thinking about this belief and see how it holds up...

"there is somebody out there-- Jesus--"
No.. Jesus is a historical figure who has been dead for about 2000 years.

"who has taken our punishment for us, who has the grace to help and forgive us despite our flaws."
How does a dead person help and forgive us? What is this? Explain to me how this is not nonsense. Rob is critical of some beliefs, but not others. This is what a religious moderate is. What I've been saying all along. I hate to trot out this old horse, but how are the ontological claims he makes about a dead historical figure any different from believing in the Loch Ness monster, or that Elvis is still alive, or anything else that people believe in "just because"?

As for what you keep saying about moderate sects that encourage people to think whatever they want (Unitarianism, Reform Judaism), how are those religions? Do you realize that I could espouse exactly the same beliefs that I've been propounding here, and still be a Unitarian? Do you realize that I could espouse a belief that God wishes me to murder people, and still be a Unitarian? Look at their rules:
"They believe that each person is free to search for his or her own personal truth on issues like the existence, nature, and meaning of life, deities, creation, and afterlife"
Why does this club even exist? At least my local chess club has an M.O. Imagine a group of people who all come to believe radically different things, and they're all sitting in one room. So far, not a religion. Now they all agree to adopt a common label that is a vacuous signifier. They decide that Unitarian should do the trick. Still not a religion.

>> "Your argument rests on the claim that moderates are uncritical in their acceptance of dogma. I am trying to show you that that is not the case."

You haven't shown that it's not the case. The one example you pointed to was Rob Knop, and his stated beliefs are dogmatic.

>> "Moderates endorse a critical approach to faith. They may finally side with faith, and may do so for reasons beyond the empirical, but that doesn't mean that they haven't taken a reasoned and critical approach to the question."

Explain what you're talking about. Tell me how Rob Knop has come to believe what he believes by thinking critically. I agree that his rejection of many points of doctrine is the result of critical thinking. How has he come to make the specific ontological claims that he makes through critical thinking? Moreover, show me how any such thought process can't be applied to conclude that any arbitrary ontological claim is true, thereby leaving the door wide open for fundamentalism.

>> "The existence of such reasoned, critical and moderate forms of faith is an argument against extremist faith."

You're right, I do agree that moderates are more critical than fundamentalists, and that their faith is an argument against extremist faith. Your point being?

>> "I don't see that someone in Germany, the Soviet Union, North Korea, etc. had much choice regarding what to believe because a totalitarian society is one that forces belief on other people."

You're absolutely right. Those people have little choice if any in what they come to believe. They are the victims of propaganda. They are basically forced to accept certain dogmatic truths laid down for them by their leaders. If anything, the use of propaganda in these regimes should tell you something about the importance of beliefs. These regimes make it a top priority to make their citizens accept propaganda uncritically, because they know that critical thinking leads to dissent and revolution. What's your point here?

>> "Rushdoony (and if you don't think I know the differences between Baptists and Calvinists, you really need to apply some of that critical thinking) is a problem not because he believes."

Go back and read your inital statements about Carter and Rushdoony. You tried to gloss over their doctrinal differences to make a shallow argument, which I refuted. How was I not applying critical thinking in pointing out that you either didn't know the difference or were deliberately leaving it out to bolster your argument? Really, please tell me how. Address this in your next comment please.

>> "He shares certain dogmatic beliefs with Carter and Martin Luther King, Jr. after all."

There you go again. You can't point to the overlap of two people's different belief systems, and then point to their differences in behaviour, and thereby conclude that their beliefs are unimportant because they act differently in spite of believing some of the same things. You're ignoring that they also differ on points of belief. Your reasoning is specious, and I've already had to call you out for this before. I'll apply your faulty reasoning to another example to show you how absurd your argument is. Two men, A and B, are looking for a lost dog. A's religion holds that we should worship Jesus and always go east when looking for lost dogs. B's religion holds that we should worship Jesus and always go west when looking for lost dogs. A and B consult a compass and part ways to look for the dog. You conclude that their divergent actions have nothing to do with what they believe, because they both believe that we should worship Jesus and so their differing actions can't be due to their beliefs.

>> "The problem with Rushdoony and his disciples is that if they gained the power that Carter or King had, they would have used it to enforce their beliefs on others, as Stalin and Kim did with their populations."

Yes, this is certainly one of the problems with Rushdoony.

>> "The link connecting Rushdoony with the totalitarians is not religion but totalitarianism."

Right, the link between Rushdoony and someone like Kim Jong Il is their willingness to force their beliefs on others if they can; I agree. The link between Rushdoony and Carter/King is the one that I've already discussed at length. People like Carter and King encourage the sort of thinking that allows people like Rushdoony to swoop in and convert followers. If someone like Rushdoony is ever able to get enough followers to take power, he should send a fruit basked to Jimmy Carter and the other moderates who taught their children to accept dogma. Someone like Rushdoony could never get many followers in a society where unflinching critical thought was encouraged. People like Rob Knop wouldn't come to the same conclusions if they were raised in such a society. It is precisely this kind of society that totalitarian regimes aim to suppress with all their propaganda. There is a connection here, as I've explained before.

>> "Carter's, Knop's, and other moderate theists' critical form of religiosity is a block against totalitarianism."

Explain to me how Knop's acceptance of dogmatic ontological claims is a bulwark against totalitarianism. If he teaches his child to think in this way, does that make the child more or less likely to buy into the unsupported claims of someone like Rushdoony?

>> "My hypothesis is that if he saw religious dogma as one instance of a broader issue with totalitarianism, he would have cited the examples of non-religious totalitarianism."

He did cite examples of non-religious totalitarianism,
but to this you say he's "attempting to shoehorn nonreligious totalitarians into the mold of religion".
I think we're having a problem with semantics. You refuse to accept the link between totalitarianism and religion as long as it's put in terms of subsuming totalitarianism into the category of religion by describing it as a "political religion", in spite of the fact that this definition makes good sense. Fine, okay. But you're fine with seeing "religious dogma as one instance of a broader issue with totalitarianism". Okay. So you want him to criticize religion as a subsection of totalitarianism, and he instead criticizes totalitarianism as a subsection of religion. If he's criticizing religion as a whole, with totalitarianism as a subsection of this category, then he's criticizing totalitarianism as a whole as well. If you apply a function over a set, you also apply it over every subset of that set. I've described the link between totalitarianism and religion. You are free to think of it either way: totalitarianism is an instance of dogmatic religion, or dogmatic religion is one aspect of totalitarianism. The analysis works either way. You can give primacy to either phenomenon, and the analysis still holds up. It's the same. The choice is arbitrary. In other words: your hypothesis is a non-starter.

>> "I would predict some mention of religious anti-totalitarians."

I've already explained how the existence of religious anti-totalitarians is not relevant. Seriously, do you even really read my comments? Or are you just skimming them? You'll notice that I go through every one of your comments point by point, in order. It's called fisking. We'd get a lot more accomplished if you'd take the time to seriously engage what I'm saying and give my comments the same thorough point by point strafing. If you dispute my explanation, then address it. Don't just go on restating something that's already been dealt with as if it's a new argument.

>> "I would predict him to emphasize how different factors produce totalitarian responses in instances where conflicts have multiple intersecting causes (Israel/Palestine: racial, economic, ethnic, colonial, religious, cultural and personal tensions; Ireland: same; Sri Lanka: same; Basque country: same minus religion; Kurdistan: same minus religion)."

Dude, the book is called "The End of Faith". He's talking the danger of unfounded beliefs, whether totalitarian or religious or superstitious in nature, that's what he's writing about. If you're asking for a complete point-by-point analysis of all the socioeconomic factors of each individual conflict in the world, you're asking for a multi-disciplinary encyclopedia, the production of which could easily absorb several academic careers. I don't think any such book exists. By the standards of thouroughness that you're setting here, why not say he shouldn't even talk about religion unless he gives a complete account of the different anthropological theories of religion? And he'd better have a chapter about the role that varying tax policies played in the evolution of the church of england. What, he didn't get into the way gender roles shaped subsaharan animism in the 1800's? Unacceptable! How can we take him seriously? Your demands are absurd, and clearly show that you are biased against Harris, since you don't demand the same standard of rigour from Popper.

By anonymous (not verified) on 18 Apr 2007 #permalink

I'm not making each of these comments longer by responding point by point. The central issue that you seem to be making is that it is inherently dogmatic and uncritical to accept religious claims. I pointed to Rob's full posts because he explains some of his process of critical thinking about his religious beliefs. Critical thinking is the process, not the outcome. If you define religious thinking as uncritical, your argument becomes circular.

You asked that I respond to your point about Rushdoony. Fine. Sam Harris argues that religious belief in general results in various bad things. Therefore, the details of different people's religious beliefs shouldn't matter. If, instead, religious belief is not correlated with those bad things, it suggests that some different factor is at play. I'm arguing that believing in Jesus is not what makes the two people walk in different directions.

You insist that it makes sense to talk about Maoism or Stalinism as religion, but not to call Unitarianism or Judaism a religion. That fact alone suggests that you have misdefined your terms rather dramatically. Political, social or economic philosophies are not religions. If your definition of religion encompasses those philosophical schools but not branches of ancient religions, you are not using that word the way anyone else has used it in history, and that redefinition requires some excellent basis for overturning a long history of standard usage. Neither you nor Harris have crossed that threshold. I'm not Alice through the Looking Glass, and you aren't Humpty Dumpty.

I do not see religion as a subset of totalitarianism. I see religious totalitarians as a subset of totalitarians, and as a subset of religious people. There exist copious nontotalitarian religious people (see examples already cited), which means that the two sets are at least partially disjunct.

"Dude, the book is called "The End of Faith". He's talking the danger of unfounded beliefs, whether totalitarian or religious or superstitious in nature, that's what he's writing about."

No, it's called "The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason." If it were truly about all unfounded beliefs, my listed hypotheses would be confirmed. He does not discuss anything but religious faith, even arbitrarily shoehorning nonreligious dogma into the realm of religion. How would a discussion of gender roles in subsaharan animism advance a discussion of totalitarianism? I can see it in a book focussed on religious history, but you are claiming that that isn't the book Harris wrote, while I'm claiming he focused only on religion. For an example of a book that examines religious totalitarianism in a context of broader totalitarianism, check out Chris Hedges' American Fascists. Hedges covered El Salvador during the war, Israel, Egypt, the collapsing Yugoslavia, and reported on terrorism for the NYTimes. He's seen totalitarianism of various forms -- religious and not -- and uses that insight to discuss the Christian Right in America. That book was published after Harris', so Harris didn't need to avoid an occupied niche. Here's a good bibliography of authoritarianism for examples of other books addressing authoritarian tendencies from different angles.

If it seems like I'm repeating myself, you might consider that I'm responding to the same arguments on your part over and over. Your decision to repeat the same point a dozen times in response to my attempts to address the last time you made the same point does not count as a new argument, let alone a fisking.

We'd get a lot more accomplished if you'd take the time to seriously engage what I'm saying and give my comments actual consideration before repeating the same argument you already made.

I understand your argument. You think that all religion is uncritical dogma, that uncritical dogma is what allows totalitarianism to exist, and that talking about religion is the same as talking about uncritical thinking.

Do you know what my argument is? Can you describe it without sarcasm and without spinning it back to your own argument? Can you do that for Rob Knop's argument? If not, how can you pretend to be responding to me or to him? I think you are talking past me, and that replying sentence by sentence to you would mean ignoring the intent of full paragraphs, which is what I see in your comments.

>> "I'm not making each of these comments longer by responding point by point."

Why not? We're already writing quite a lot here. It doesn't add much. Why not actually engage what I've written? The points you choose to respond to are often peripheral.

>> "Critical thinking is the process, not the outcome. If you define religious thinking as uncritical, your argument becomes circular."

You'll note that I have not put forward any such definition.

>> "You asked that I respond to your point about Rushdoony. Fine. Sam Harris argues that religious belief in general results in various bad things. Therefore, the details of different people's religious beliefs shouldn't matter. If, instead, religious belief is not correlated with those bad things, it suggests that some different factor is at play. I'm arguing that believing in Jesus is not what makes the two people walk in different directions."

No, that's not what I asked. More on this later on in the comment.

>> "I'm arguing that believing in Jesus is not what makes the two people walk in different directions."

You've completely misunderstood the point I was making. I really don't feel like explaining this again. I've explained twice now how your initial argument about Carter and Rushdoony is fundamentally flawed. Please read your initial argument and my responses to it.

>> "You insist that it makes sense to talk about Maoism or Stalinism as religion, but not to call Unitarianism or Judaism a religion. That fact alone suggests that you have misdefined your terms rather dramatically. "

Fine, allow me to give it a different name that you will find acceptable, since you are having such a hard time with this. Instead or religion, let's just use the word dogma. Stalinists and Catholics have dogmatic beliefs. Rob Knop has dogmatic beliefs. A Unitarian on the other hand may or may not have dogmatic beliefs, since it's up to him/her what he/she decides to believe; nothing about the definition of Unitarianism requires him/her to believe anything. So an individual Unitarian can be religious (dogmatic), but Unitarianism as a whole is not a religion (because it is not dogmatic).

>> "you are not using that word the way anyone else has used it in history, and that redefinition requires some excellent basis for overturning a long history of standard usage."

Go back and read the Oxford definition of religion. This is about as close as you can get to standard usage. Unitarianism is not a religion by that definition. What is their "excellent basis for overturning a long history of standard usage"?
Also, I realize that Stalinism, Maoism etc. do not fit this definition of religion either. That is why I defined the term "political religion" to describe them, which I have explained thoroughly in my many comments above. If you wish to quibble about this, I have no problem dropping this usage and just using "dogmatic belief system" to describe dogmatic political ideologies as well as religions. It doesn't change anything, but if it makes you feel better then that's fine.

>> "If it were truly about all unfounded beliefs, my listed hypotheses would be confirmed."

No, they wouldn't. Go back and look at what you were asking for, and my explanation of why your expectation is ridiculous.

>> "He does not discuss anything but religious faith, even arbitrarily shoehorning nonreligious dogma into the realm of religion."

You're just repeating a point that I've already dealt with. If you wish to restate it, you have to show that my rebuttal was somehow invalid. You can't just ignore rebuttals and repeat arguments as you have been doing thus far. Things don't just become true if you repeat them enough, although if you believe that then it might explain why you think Rob Knop has come to his conclusions through critical thinking.

>> "How would a discussion of gender roles in subsaharan animism advance a discussion of totalitarianism?"

It wouldn't. I didn't say that it would. You seem to have misunderstood the meaning of my comment.

>> "Here's a good bibliography of authoritarianism for examples of other books addressing authoritarian tendencies from different angles."

Thanks, I'll have a look at it.

>> "If it seems like I'm repeating myself, you might consider that I'm responding to the same arguments on your part over and over."

No, you're repeating arguments that I've refuted. You've even repeated arguments that rely on flagrantly bad reasoning, which I've explained to you, but instead of responding directly to my explanations you simply repeat the same faulty arguments. I haven't repeated the same argument over and over. I've presented it, begged you to refute it, and referred you back to it when you said things that made it clear you hadn't read it closely. I've refined a few points over the course of the discussion, but I haven't just repeated it mindlessly.

>> "Your decision to repeat the same point a dozen times in response to my attempts to address the last time you made the same point does not count as a new argument, let alone a fisking."

Which point did I repeat? Surely you have a specific point in mind if you're making this claim. Please give me an example of a point I repeated redundantly.

>> "I understand your argument. You think that all religion is uncritical dogma, that uncritical dogma is what allows totalitarianism to exist, and that talking about religion is the same as talking about uncritical thinking."

I don't think you do. My argument is about the role that moderates play in creating a society in which fundamentalism can thrive. You seem to have missed that somehow. In your attempt to explain my argument above you've repeated a few things that I've said here, but they do not constitute my argument.

>> "Do you know what my argument is?"

Honestly, no. Your comments are mostly just scattershot attacks on peripheral points that I've made. I have yet to hear a coherent argument from you. If you could state it briefly and clearly that would help.

>> "Can you describe it without sarcasm and without spinning it back to your own argument? Can you do that for Rob Knop's argument? If not, how can you pretend to be responding to me or to him? I think you are talking past me, and that replying sentence by sentence to you would mean ignoring the intent of full paragraphs, which is what I see in your comments."

I can't describe Rob Knop's argument because there isn't one. He offers no argument to justify his ontological claims about a man who has been dead for 2000 years. My use of sarcasm has been minimal, and in keeping with the tone you set early on. You'll note that I have not sunk so low as to actually insult you, as you insulted me earlier.

Also, if you look at what I've written, I generally haven't responded to your points sentence by sentence. I've responded to them point by point. Sometimes this means responding to a single sentence, sometimes several. This is not ignoring your intent. I'm not talking past you. If anything, that's what you've been doing by replying only to what you wish to discuss and dodging any bullets that come your way. The comment I'm responding to now is a good example of this. Here you are responding to my most recent comment, and yet you sidestep the most important points, and do not even attempt to answer several direct questions that I asked you. This is why I was asking you to fisk me, so that you couldn't just ignore whole swaths of my argument. You did't address the most important part of my last comment, which was the section about Rob Knop. Finally we have an example of what a moderate believes, an example that you yourself put forward. Therefore let me throw the glove down right now. I will repeat some arguments for once. You've accused me of doing this, and now I actually will. I will repeat some things that you refused to address from my last comment. I will quote them directly. This time I will put asterisks at the start of sentences with direct questions that you dodged. Please answer them now. Here are the quotes:

FIRST QUOTE:
>> "My point about Rob is that he is not uncritical in his acceptance of beliefs. He is thinking critically."
Let's look at Rob's belief about Jesus again:
"First, redemption; we don't have to be perfect, but there is somebody out there-- Jesus-- who has taken our punishment for us, who has the grace to help and forgive us despite our flaws."
**You tell me how this is the outcome of critical thinking. **Tell me how this is anything other than the sort of thing John mentioned in his most recent comment. He has thought critically about some beliefs, but when it comes to this belief, he just prefers to believe it, and that's it. Why don't we do some critical thinking about this belief and see how it holds up...

"there is somebody out there-- Jesus--"
No.. Jesus is a historical figure who has been dead for about 2000 years.

"who has taken our punishment for us, who has the grace to help and forgive us despite our flaws."
***How does a dead person help and forgive us? What is this? ***Explain to me how this is not nonsense. Rob is critical of some beliefs, but not others. This is what a religious moderate is. What I've been saying all along. *****I hate to trot out this old horse, but how are the ontological claims he makes about a dead historical figure any different from believing in the Loch Ness monster, or that Elvis is still alive, or anything else that people believe in "just because"?

SECOND QUOTE:
>> "Moderates endorse a critical approach to faith. They may finally side with faith, and may do so for reasons beyond the empirical, but that doesn't mean that they haven't taken a reasoned and critical approach to the question."

***Explain what you're talking about. ***Tell me how Rob Knop has come to believe what he believes by thinking critically. I agree that his rejection of many points of doctrine is the result of critical thinking. ***How has he come to make the specific ontological claims that he makes through critical thinking? *****Moreover, show me how any such thought process can't be applied to conclude that any arbitrary ontological claim is true, thereby leaving the door wide open for fundamentalism.

THIRD QUOTE:
Go back and read your inital statements about Carter and Rushdoony. You tried to gloss over their doctrinal differences to make a shallow argument, which I refuted. ***How was I not applying critical thinking in pointing out that you either didn't know the difference or were deliberately leaving it out to bolster your argument? ***Really, please tell me how. ***Address this in your next comment please.

FOURTH QUOTE:
>> "Carter's, Knop's, and other moderate theists' critical form of religiosity is a block against totalitarianism."
******Explain to me how Knop's acceptance of dogmatic ontological claims is a bulwark against totalitarianism. ******If he teaches his child to think in this way, does that make the child more or less likely to buy into the unsupported claims of someone like Rushdoony?

That's all. By the way, you should make note of how long these quotes are, i.e. how much of my argument you chose to ignore, and then ask yourself which one of us has been talking past the other.

By anonymous (not verified) on 19 Apr 2007 #permalink

>> "I'm not making each of these comments longer by responding point by point."

Why not?

Because these comments are becoming long and unwieldly and we are focusing on minutiae rather than the real issues, at least in my ponion.

We're already writing quite a lot here.

More heat than light.

It doesn't add much.

It doesn't add much clarity.

Why not actually engage what I've written?

I believe I am, and I feel like you are not engaging with my argument because you are splitting paragraphs into disjoint sentences.

The points you choose to respond to are often peripheral.

Backatcha.

Ugg. I don't feel like I just did anything useful.

>> "Critical thinking is the process, not the outcome. If you define religious thinking as uncritical, your argument becomes circular."

You'll note that I have not put forward any such definition.

Have you put forward any definition of "uncritical thinking"? I am responding to your usage of the term in multiple sentences, something only possible for someone who reads the whole comment and responds to the totality of the argument rather than the minutiae of each . separate . sentence.

As far as I can tell, you believe that any thought process which leads to acceptance of religious beliefs is ipso facto uncritical. I look at the totality of what Rob wrote (not just the few sentences where he describes his belief in redemption) and I see a description of a critical thought process. Your only proffered counterargument is that the conclusion he reached is somehow unreachable by any critical thought process. At least that is what I understand the totality of your argument to be. If that's wrong, I hope you'll reply to this paragraph in full, not in disconnected chunks.

>> "You asked that I respond to your point about Rushdoony. Fine. Sam Harris argues that religious belief in general results in various bad things. Therefore, the details of different people's religious beliefs shouldn't matter. If, instead, religious belief is not correlated with those bad things, it suggests that some different factor is at play. I'm arguing that believing in Jesus is not what makes the two people walk in different directions."

No, that's not what I asked. More on this later on in the comment.

>> "I'm arguing that believing in Jesus is not what makes the two people walk in different directions."

You've completely misunderstood the point I was making. I really don't feel like explaining this again. I've explained twice now how your initial argument about Carter and Rushdoony is fundamentally flawed. Please read your initial argument and my responses to it.

What makes you think I haven't? What makes you think you've explained yourself so brilliantly and correctly than any residual disagreement must me a result of my reading skills?

Sam Harris argues that religious belief qua religious belief has harmful effects on society. He does not argue that the details of Calvinist belief are problematic as distinct from Baptist belief (setting aside that, as I've noted, those sets are overlapping, there are Calvinist Baptists). Harris argues that the persistence of Christianity enables Muslim terrorism because religion qua religion is problematic. I think that the differences between religions matter, Harris seems not to.

Your response to that argument is to say that I'm acting like there are no differences in beliefs. That is not my argument! My argument is that those differences exist and matter. Harris thinks that, while they exist, they do not matter. He goes further, and seems to argue that nothing but religious similarities (in mental process) matter. I disagree. I don't think the similarities in mental process he describes are as uniform as he claims, nor do I think that religious belief per se is the cause of totalitarianism, terrorism, etc. Some religious beliefs do that, as do some nationalistic, cultural, ethnic, political, economic, linguistic, etc. beliefs. I see the challenge as identifying what traits those sorts of beliefs share and what traits are shared by other forms of belief which do not act as an attractor for authoritarianism.

>> "You insist that it makes sense to talk about Maoism or Stalinism as religion, but not to call Unitarianism or Judaism a religion. That fact alone suggests that you have misdefined your terms rather dramatically. "

Fine, allow me to give it a different name that you will find acceptable, since you are having such a hard time with this. Instead or religion, let's just use the word dogma. Stalinists and Catholics have dogmatic beliefs. Rob Knop has dogmatic beliefs. A Unitarian on the other hand may or may not have dogmatic beliefs, since it's up to him/her what he/she decides to believe; nothing about the definition of Unitarianism requires him/her to believe anything. So an individual Unitarian can be religious (dogmatic), but Unitarianism as a whole is not a religion (because it is not dogmatic).

No. Unitarianism is a religion. Any definition of religion you propose which does not encompass Unitarianism is wrong. Period. Perhaps Unitarianism is a nondogmatic religion. I know you want to insist that religion must be dogmatic, because you want to insist that religious belief is dogmatic and therefore uncritical (I'll assume your definition of dogma has something to do with uncritical acceptance of claims, though without an actual definition, who's to say). Have you considered the possibility that I mentioned Unitarianism specifically because it is not dogmatic, and is therefore a proof that religion need not be dogmatic or uncritical? Did that ever cross your mind as you replied to each . separate . sentence? Did you bother to try connecting the pieces of my argument into the paragraphs and full comments that I wrote them as? I'm sorry to have to ask the question, but I really am not sure.

>> "you are not using that word the way anyone else has used it in history, and that redefinition requires some excellent basis for overturning a long history of standard usage."

Go back and read the Oxford definition of religion. This is about as close as you can get to standard usage. Unitarianism is not a religion by that definition. What is their "excellent basis for overturning a long history of standard usage"?

Here's what the Mac OS Dictionary.app (based on the Oxford American Dictionary) says about Unitarian Universalism:

"noun
the religious denomination formed in 1961 by the merger of the Unitarians and the Universalists. "

Either Oxford has confused themselves, or you have misdefined religion. Here's what Dictionary.app says about religion:

"noun
the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods: ideas about the relationship between science and religion.
a particular system of faith and worship: the world's greatest religions."

Which of those do you think the Unitarians would go with? Which do you think we've been talking about this whole time? Hint: search for "God" or "gods." Then search for "faith."

It's one thing to be arrogant about definitions. It's quite another to be arrogant about a wrong definition.

Also, I realize that Stalinism, Maoism etc. do not fit this definition of religion either. That is why I defined the term "political religion" to describe them, which I have explained thoroughly in my many comments above. If you wish to quibble about this, I have no problem dropping this usage and just using "dogmatic belief system" to describe dogmatic political ideologies as well as religions. It doesn't change anything, but if it makes you feel better then that's fine.

I would appreciate that, since making up words and misdefining terms only makes it impossible for there to be a meeting of minds. It matters greatly whether we subsume politically authoritarian movements into religion or not, since if we do, then any general critique of religion becomes an implicit critique of authoritarianism also. By contrast, if authoritarian political movements are not a subset of religion (though they may be overlapping sets) we need a broader critique to encompass both.

Defining religion in terms of dogma is, as I've pointed out, wrong. Unitarianism is non-dogmatic. Judaism and Islam are referred to by scholars of religion as orthoprax (from the Greek: ortho- = right or straight, -praxis = doing, hence defined by certain behavioral practices). This contrasts with orthodox religion (ortho- = right or straight, -doxos = opinion, hence defined by doctrinal or dogmatic beliefs). Dogma is less important for the whole class of orthoprax religions, and progressive mainline Protestant churches tend to be much more open to non-dogmatic approaches than other churches, even those within the same denomination.

>> "If it were truly about all unfounded beliefs, my listed hypotheses would be confirmed."

No, they wouldn't. Go back and look at what you were asking for, and my explanation of why your expectation is ridiculous.

You explained no such thing. You've acknowledged that political religion does not fit within the definition of religion we've been working off of, and my prediction about ignoring or redefining non-religious authoritarianism is thus valid and confirmed.

You say religious antiauthoritarians are irrelevant, but you do so on the basis of the assumption that religious belief (in your overly broad definition of that term) is a precondition for totalitarianism. You dismiss my call for a discussion of other factors figuring into authoritarianism because it would be hard, and that would be a different book. That isn't a counterargument though, it's just intellectual laziness on Harris's part, compounded in my view with a blinkered and, alas, dogmatic approach to the topic. I've even given examples of how other authors tangled with this issue in the way I describe, meaning that it is not unrealistic (real counterexamples means that it can realistically be done, QED).

>> "He does not discuss anything but religious faith, even arbitrarily shoehorning nonreligious dogma into the realm of religion."

You're just repeating a point that I've already dealt with.

This isn't a path you want to go down, said the pot to the kettle.

If you wish to restate it, you have to show that my rebuttal was somehow invalid.

Seriously, not a path you want to go down. I haven't seen a new argument from you since about comment 7.

You can't just ignore rebuttals and repeat arguments as you have been doing thus far.

I'm telling you, this will just get used against you later.

Things don't just become true if you repeat them enough, although if you believe that then it might explain why you think Rob Knop has come to his conclusions through critical thinking.

Why do you keep repeating yourself then? Why have you yet to offer any new arguments? My list of hypotheses was a new argument. My introduction of a bibliography and an example of a different approach than Harris's was a new component. My introduction of Rob's posts was a new argument. What have you offered that was novel? Nothing. And that's partly because you are responding with trivial comments to single sentences, which is a cheap way to avoid engaging the totality of my argument. It's repetitive and it fails to actually address my points, which means that I repeat my points, hoping you'll actually address them, and not obsess over surface matters.

>> "How would a discussion of gender roles in subsaharan animism advance a discussion of totalitarianism?"

It wouldn't. I didn't say that it would. You seem to have misunderstood the meaning of my comment.

This would have been a good place for you to explain your point. You were responding to my hypothesis about what we'd find in a book about authoritarian/totalitarian forces, after all. Or had you forgotten the bigger picture while you were looking at each . individual . sentence?

>> "If it seems like I'm repeating myself, you might consider that I'm responding to the same arguments on your part over and over."

No, you're repeating arguments that I've refuted.

No, I'm repeating arguments that you've ignored. Indeed, because I'm now following your annoying example, I'm now repeating my response to your argument that you could not possibly have responded to yet, because I'm still responding. You do the same thing in your comments, get frustrated that you have to respond twice to a point I made twice in one comment. The solution: don't reply to each . individual . sentence.

You've even repeated arguments that rely on flagrantly bad reasoning, which I've explained to you, but instead of responding directly to my explanations you simply repeat the same faulty arguments.

Which ones? I'm sure you have an example in mind. I am not aware of any argument of mine that you've refuted. Indeed, there are precious few you've actually engaged in their totality.

I haven't repeated the same argument over and over.

You really, really have. You keep saying that Rob is uncritical, but you've never actually gotten around to explaining why, except to repeat that you find his conclusion unreasonable. My response is that critical thinking is a process, not an endpoint, at which point you repeat that Rob is uncritical. That's one example of many.

I've presented it, begged you to refute it, and referred you back to it when you said things that made it clear you hadn't read it closely.

I disagree that I've done that, and I think you've done so. I think I've explained why already at length.

I've refined a few points over the course of the discussion, but I haven't just repeated it mindlessly.

Your pointers back to comment 7, and repetition of its arguments, make you sound like a parrot. I challenge you on the meaning of critical thinking, and you simply repeat that religious thinking is the same as uncritical thinking. I provide counterexamples, nondogmatic religions and religious people who are personally nondogmatic in their approach, and you respond by insisting that those aren't really religions and that the people really must be dogmatic, because you are sure a priori that religion is dogmatic and therefore uncritical. So long as you refuse to engage my responses to that flawed equation, I'll have to keep repeating my refutation of it.

>> "Your decision to repeat the same point a dozen times in response to my attempts to address the last time you made the same point does not count as a new argument, let alone a fisking."

Which point did I repeat? Surely you have a specific point in mind if you're making this claim. Please give me an example of a point I repeated redundantly.

If it isn't obvious already, your assertion that religion is definitionally uncritical. That's the most central, though I could cite others.

>> "I understand your argument. You think that all religion is uncritical dogma, that uncritical dogma is what allows totalitarianism to exist, and that talking about religion is the same as talking about uncritical thinking."

I don't think you do. My argument is about the role that moderates play in creating a society in which fundamentalism can thrive. You seem to have missed that somehow. In your attempt to explain my argument above you've repeated a few things that I've said here, but they do not constitute my argument.

This would have been a good opportunity to succinctly restate your argument. Sure, that would have involved contributing something of your own to the discussion, rather than just responding narrowly to what I wrote in one . single . sentence, but I think the gains would have outweighed that extra effort on your part.

>> "Do you know what my argument is?"

Honestly, no. Your comments are mostly just scattershot attacks on peripheral points that I've made. I have yet to hear a coherent argument from you. If you could state it briefly and clearly that would help.

Maybe you should try reading more than one sentence at a time?

My argument is that religion does not cause authoritarianism, terrorism, etc. There is good religion and there is bad religion, and Harris or anyone else who paints all religious people and all religions with a single brush is doing us all a grave disservice. From there, it's been necessary to point out that moderate religious people and moderate religions tend to think about faith, to relate to religious ideas, very differently than extremists do, and that those differences do a lot to explain why extremists can get dragged into political authoritarianism while moderates tend to oppose it.

>> "Can you describe it without sarcasm and without spinning it back to your own argument? Can you do that for Rob Knop's argument? If not, how can you pretend to be responding to me or to him? I think you are talking past me, and that replying sentence by sentence to you would mean ignoring the intent of full paragraphs, which is what I see in your comments."

I can't describe Rob Knop's argument because there isn't one. He offers no argument to justify his ontological claims about a man who has been dead for 2000 years. My use of sarcasm has been minimal, and in keeping with the tone you set early on. You'll note that I have not sunk so low as to actually insult you, as you insulted me earlier.

You are persistently arrogant and insulting. Any disagreement is treated as a mental deficiency or a reading comprehension problem. Anyone who sees things differently has no argument (not a wrong argument, just no argument). I don't know why you thought you had to explain the significance of the OED, but it came across as condescending in the extreme. The use of the term "fisking" is generally seen as derogatory towards the opponent.

Your response to Rob was to quote one sentence without context and act as if that's all he offered in defense of his claims. One sentence out of two blog posts. That's insulting to him and to the intelligence of anyone else reading this thread.

Also, if you look at what I've written, I generally haven't responded to your points sentence by sentence. I've responded to them point by point. Sometimes this means responding to a single sentence, sometimes several. This is not ignoring your intent. I'm not talking past you. If anything, that's what you've been doing by replying only to what you wish to discuss and dodging any bullets that come your way. The comment I'm responding to now is a good example of this. Here you are responding to my most recent comment, and yet you sidestep the most important points, and do not even attempt to answer several direct questions that I asked you. This is why I was asking you to fisk me, so that you couldn't just ignore whole swaths of my argument. You did't address the most important part of my last comment, which was the section about Rob Knop. Finally we have an example of what a moderate believes, an example that you yourself put forward. Therefore let me throw the glove down right now. I will repeat some arguments for once. You've accused me of doing this, and now I actually will. I will repeat some things that you refused to address from my last comment. I will quote them directly. This time I will put asterisks at the start of sentences with direct questions that you dodged. Please answer them now. Here are the quotes:

FIRST QUOTE:
>> "My point about Rob is that he is not uncritical in his acceptance of beliefs. He is thinking critically."
Let's look at Rob's belief about Jesus again:
"First, redemption; we don't have to be perfect, but there is somebody out there-- Jesus-- who has taken our punishment for us, who has the grace to help and forgive us despite our flaws."
**You tell me how this is the outcome of critical thinking. **Tell me how this is anything other than the sort of thing John mentioned in his most recent comment. He has thought critically about some beliefs, but when it comes to this belief, he just prefers to believe it, and that's it. Why don't we do some critical thinking about this belief and see how it holds up...

Given that we all seem to agree that some of the beliefs Rob describes are the result of critical thinking, what basis have you got for distinguishing the other beliefs? Are you judging by process or by endpoint? Is your assumption that no critical process could lead to belief in a spiritual redemption?

Rob described the general process by which he reached the full set of religious views that he now holds. If you want to know details about some specific belief of his, why are you asking me about it? I see the totality of his two posts as an example of critical thought about religious matters. I see no basis for putting some aspects into an uncritical pile unless there is a specific basis for thinking I should invoke two distinct thought processes (one critical, one not), when one critical thought process explains the data also. Occam's razor.

Rob acknowledges that some of his beliefs are rooted in tradition and history, and he specifically sets those apart. He finds something compelling about the argument for spiritual redemption, and points out that other religions also have redeemers. He likes the Christian approach to redemption, but has no beef with the Hindu concept of redemption or with other religious traditions. An analogy might be my preference for Coke over Pepsi. I think colas are tasty, I like the caffeine and sugar buzz, and I prefer fizzy drinks to flat drinks on balance. If I can pick one cola over another, I'll go with Coke, but not because I have some deep commitment to that particular brand specifically. It's the cola that works best for me personally.

"there is somebody out there-- Jesus--"
No.. Jesus is a historical figure who has been dead for about 2000 years.

I suppose someone who talks about Shakespeare in the present tense ("as the Bard says") would also earn your opprobrium?

Here's Rob:

Jesus was flawed. According to the stories, he never gave into the temptations of Satan-- and, no, I personally don't view that as a historical account, but as a story that tells us something about who Jesus was. But what were his last words? "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Some Christian traditions hold that the only deadly sin is not having faith in God and faith in Jesus as Savior. And, yet, we have Jesus here saying the words of despair. Jesus, clearly, was human, flawed and all, even according to the stories and traditions of the religion that worships him.

My emphasis. Rob doesn't disagree that Jesus has been dead for a long time. Furthermore, in the first paragraph of that same post, he writes "I tend not to believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ." Where's the beef?

"who has taken our punishment for us, who has the grace to help and forgive us despite our flaws."

***How does a dead person help and forgive us? What is this?

You really need to read the whole post. One sentence excuse me, half of one sentence will not explain his complete views. Two whole posts don't either. His view of God is quite nuanced, and I doubt I could accurately summarize it. Here's a representative passage:

One sentence I like to use is that "God is an integral property of sentient existence." If humans are made in God's image, it misses the point to insist that God is a humanoid; "in God's image" to me is like what Hamlet is talking about: capable of self-reflection, sentience, whatever you want to call it-- human consciousness, that not perfectly well understood thing we know that we have but that at least the lower animals do not.

Nota bene: Rob rejects the notion of God as Creator. Later he writes:

So God as Human is important to me, and that's part of the core of the Christian religion. What about Jesus specifically? Let's look at another aspect of Christianity. Jesus was to come as the King to bring about God's reign on earth, etc. etc. etc. And, yet, what happened? Jesus was born to an unremarkable family. According to tradition, he was born in a stable. He never became a great leader, even in the way that Moses did. Yes, he preached to many. But he lived an errant life, eschewing the temporal power that monarchs would later claim was justified by the "divine right of kings," even eschewing extreme temporal influence. He preached the opposite of a lot of medieval social philosophy: the poor are not lesser humans and thus worthy of their lot, but if anything exalted. (Blessed are the poor, and all of that.) He spent his life tearing down traditional authority figures, and giving attention to those whom many thought beneath attention. He lived a live of service, of humility. And then he died.

I apologize for quoting at length, but I have trouble believing you actually read his posts, including those passages, and think you need to explain that Jesus is dead.

But you asked for an explanation of how Jesus redeems us. Here's Rob explaining at length:

The "Redeemer" role is not specific to Christianity -- although I don't know a lot about Hinduism, I know that Krishna is called the Redeemer -- it is one of the things that has kept me a Christian. To me, the role of God and Jesus as Redeemer is the essential core of the Christian faith. The idea is as follows. Humans are not perfect. We make mistakes. We "sin" -- and by that I don't just mean the Big Stuff like murder and theft, but also the little stuff like participating in flamewars and saying ill-advised things, ignoring the plight of the homeless while buying the latest hot comsumer good, turning the blind eye to the horribly sexist comment your colleague made, etc. We're not perfect; we're always doing things that, if pointed out, we probably shouldn't have done, or that we might regret later. The core message of Christianity, however, is that Christ died for our sins; that, in the end, none of us really are "worthy" in an absolute sense, none of us are perfect, but thanks to "grace," we will be forgiven. Nobody can ever really be righteous, but we don't have to, because there is a Redeemer there to help us along.

Now, yes, those who don't understand this, to whom this is a new concept. or who deliberately want to belittle what I've just written will say "it sounds like your religion is a free pass; you can do whatever the hell you want because somebody is going to forgive you." That's an interpretation some may take, but that's absolutely as extreme an interpretation as the interpretation that all atheists are amoral because they have no afterlife to fear. So, please, think a bit before you insist that logically that's what I've just claimed.

Of course we try to do good. Insofar as Jesus was fully and unmitigatedly righteous-- which, by the way, he wasn't, not according to the accounts in the Christian tradition (and I will get back to that)-- we should all strive to be as good as him; but we recognize that that is an unattainable goal. Unlike the examples that are set forward to pre-tenure facult as the levels of excellence that we are all supposed to exceed in order not to get fired, in Christianity we have a standard, a goal, that presumably we are all supposed to strive for, but also the message that God loves us and that God and/or Jesus the Redeemer will still accept us as OK even if we don't attain it.

You are entitled to disagree with him (as I do, FWIW), but to say that he hasn't thought about it defies reason. He couldn't have written that without having thought it through carefully. You and I may disagree with him, but that doesn't make us right or him wrong. And if you want to argue about details of his theology, you need to do it with him, because I'm not a Christian and I don't need a cosmic redeemer in my account of metaphysics. There is no empirical evidence regarding metaphysics, which means that different people can apply critical reasoning and reach different conclusions.

***Explain to me how this is not nonsense. Rob is critical of some beliefs, but not others. This is what a religious moderate is. What I've been saying all along.

Here's Rob:

Most people seem to read "being Christian" as accepting some laundry list of doctrines. I've already explained that to me, there are just two core elements of the theology, and hopefully my verbiage has made clear that I don't see them as things that can meaningfully be expressed in a short list, but as things that require some thought and reflection to understand.

My emphasis. You can call him a liar if you like, but just disagreeing with someone doesn't make them a liar.

As I said, critical reasoning is a process. It is the thought and reflection that Rob talks about and applies. Critical reasoning is a process, and evaluating it based on endpoints is badly flawed. Saying that 2+2=4 based on pure rote memorization may be correct, but it does not demonstrate critical reasoning. You are poking at his summary, at the answer he reached, and asking where the critical reasoning is. That's like looking at the number 4 and saying that someone has good reasoning skills. How did they get the answer? If they got the right answer the wrong way, it doesn't speak to their critical reasoning.

*****I hate to trot out this old horse, but how are the ontological claims he makes about a dead historical figure any different from believing in the Loch Ness monster, or that Elvis is still alive, or anything else that people believe in "just because"?

Let me say first that Nessies or followers of the King are not causing terrorism or waging ideological war on other people, which was the topic raised by Sam Harris (remember Sam Harris? this started out as a review of his book). I am not here to defend the details of any religious tradition, being an apathetic agnostic myself. I don't know and don't care whether God exists, which means that I'm not in a position to defend the outcome Rob reaches.

He is not, however, saying "just because." He's offering the line of reasoning he follows. He has a range of reasons why he thinks there is a redeemer, and specific reasons why that Redeemer is probably Jesus. At worst, this is as critically reasoned as my preference for cola and for Coca-Cola in particular. At best it is a profound philosophical point. Even if it's the former, Sam Harris isn't claiming that the Coke-Pepsi wars are a cause of terrorism, is he? Am I, by feeling that Charles Dickens sucks or by liking the Decemberists but not Modest Mouse, enabling religious extremists to take power?

SECOND QUOTE:
>> "Moderates endorse a critical approach to faith. They may finally side with faith, and may do so for reasons beyond the empirical, but that doesn't mean that they haven't taken a reasoned and critical approach to the question."

***Explain what you're talking about.

I've been trying to for days. What's unclear?

***Tell me how Rob Knop has come to believe what he believes by thinking critically.

Read his posts. He describes his thought process. Since it wasn't my thought process, I wouldn't presume to describe it for him.

I agree that his rejection of many points of doctrine is the result of critical thinking.

To me, this sounds like you are saying that you think it's critical reasoning when he agrees with you, and uncritical when he disagrees. Is there more to your assessment than that?

***How has he come to make the specific ontological claims that he makes through critical thinking?

Ask him. Read his posts. Read slacktivist.

*****Moreover, show me how any such thought process can't be applied to conclude that any arbitrary ontological claim is true, thereby leaving the door wide open for fundamentalism.

WTF? Fundamentalism is definitionally about a return to a specific form of external authority, the "foundation" of the religion. A thought process which examines beliefs, rejecting some and accepting others, modifying the whole to make it more personally coherent is the exact opposite of fundamentalism. If you don't understand that, you don't understand anything about the subject.

THIRD QUOTE:
Go back and read your inital statements about Carter and Rushdoony. You tried to gloss over their doctrinal differences to make a shallow argument, which I refuted. ***How was I not applying critical thinking in pointing out that you either didn't know the difference or were deliberately leaving it out to bolster your argument?

I wrote:

Indeed, the fact that people can hold certain beliefs while behaving quite differently suggests that those beliefs are not the problem. If Jimmy Carter and R. J. Rushdoony share a belief in the divinity of Jesus, and one promotes peace and democracy while the other worked for theocracy through violence if necessary, I fail to see how belief in Jesus is the relevant basis for criticizing Rushdoony. Rushdoony and his followers are objectionable because they are authoritarians, not because they believe in some sort of dogma.

I don't see how you could read that to suggest that I don't think the differences between Carter's beliefs (in toto, not just religious) and Rushdoony's are what is relevant. The argument you and Harris advance is that religious belief itself is problematic. If it were, surely sharing not just religious belief per se, but particular religious beliefs (the example offered was the divinity of Jesus) would make those two men similar. But Rushdoony's model for how he would govern was authoritarian and violent, while Carter's governance and post-governance were inclusive, secular and peaceful. This implies that the force explaining Rushdoony's evil ideology or Carter's good works cannot be religion alone. Clearly something else is at work.

I'm a biologist. If I plant three groups of seeds, leave one alone, and water and fertilize the other two in roughly the same way, what do I conclude when the control group survives as does one experimental group, while the other dies. Do I conclude that I killed the one group based on my watering, or do I seek an explanation that actually differs between the surviving groups and the dead one? If my watering and fertilizing killed the plants, then both would be dead. I need to understand the differences between treatments, not the common factors between groups with different outcomes.

Rushdoony and Carter took their religious influences in very different directions. I'd have no problem living in a world full of people like Carter, and I'd have a great problem in a world of Rushdoonies. Since religion is not the distinguishing factor, I have to look elsewhere. Either narrow doctrinal differences make a lot of importance (which falsifies Harris's claim, and yours, that religious belief itself is the problem) or I conclude that religion is not the issue. Either way, Harris loses.

***Really, please tell me how.

Blow it out your arrogant ass.

***Address this in your next comment please.

Now do it again.

FOURTH QUOTE:
>> "Carter's, Knop's, and other moderate theists' critical form of religiosity is a block against totalitarianism."
******Explain to me how Knop's acceptance of dogmatic ontological claims is a bulwark against totalitarianism.

I reject the premise of your question: that Rob accepts dogmatic claims (assuming you define accepting a dogmatic claim in terms of not using critical reasoning).

Read Knop's writing. He opposes totalitarianism. He opposes it within his religion, he opposes it politically. His approach to religious questions: to critically examine claims and make his own decisions, is the exact opposite of what totalitarians do. That sort of individualism is the best counter to any sort of totalitarian influence.

******If he teaches his child to think in this way, does that make the child more or less likely to buy into the unsupported claims of someone like Rushdoony?

More or less than what?

I think that if he teaches his children to critically examine claims and to make their own decisions, they will be less likely than most people are to accept Rushdoony's claims. Especially less likely than people who were raised without any experience of religion at all. Those people jump into the deepest end of fundamentalism if they decide to become religious, because they think that religion is supposed to be about dogma and faith.

People like Rob, and people who know people like Rob, know better, and know that Rushdoony is full of crap.

That's all. By the way, you should make note of how long these quotes are, i.e. how much of my argument you chose to ignore, and then ask yourself which one of us has been talking past the other.

I thought I had addressed these points in a broader context. You either didn't get it, or my answers didn't fully address the question. Either way, there's no reason to be a dick about it. I know it's the internet, but that's no excuse.

For what it's worth, I'm going back to my old style of responding after this. These comments are too long to respond to at length like this if I'm going to get anything else done in a day. It's nothing personal. As the Wikipedia entry on Fisking says "Many of today's debaters prefer "Fisking" - line-by-line rebuttals where facts are dropped like radar chaff - to rational debate or building a coherent argument." I'd rather do the latter. You'll do as you choose.

Hi Josh,

I'm busy studying at the moment so I just skimmed a few of your comments. As I write this, I can see the tail end of your comment, where you wrote:

"As the Wikipedia entry on Fisking says "Many of today's debaters prefer "Fisking" - line-by-line rebuttals where facts are dropped like radar chaff - to rational debate or building a coherent argument." I'd rather do the latter."

Okay then. Let's have a look at your idea of rational debate and building a coherent argument. Earlier, you wrote:

>> "Blow it out your arrogant ass."

I stopped reading in disgust and sadness at this point, so I can't comment on most of what you wrote. If there's anything you were hoping to hear back from me on, please let me know what it was and I will respond. Otherwise I'd rather not sully myself by reading any more of your abusive ranting.

I think I'm done here. It's a shame that what was a potentially enlightening exchange has degenerated into chest-beating and shit-throwing.

By anonymous (not verified) on 19 Apr 2007 #permalink

Yeah, I'm sorry that I let you bait me into that also. I let you badger me into the line-by-line style, with predictable results.

Yeah, I'm sorry too. It's too bad, because I bet this wouldn't have turned out the way it has if we had been talking in person. I think I'm done with blogs generally after this.

By anonymous (not verified) on 20 Apr 2007 #permalink

Undoubtedly you are right that the problem is blogs. It certainly couldn't involve (for instance) anything in your own behavior.

Right, it was all me. I somehow forced you to become a troll on your own blog.
In all seriousness though, I think it would have gone better in person, because you seem like you're willing to talk things out, and so am I. I doubt you would've told me to blow it out my arrogant ass if we had been having a conversation in person.

By anonymous (not verified) on 21 Apr 2007 #permalink

I got trolled on my own blog. I'm not proud of that. If you acted like an arrogant ass in personal conversation, that is, if you acted like you did here, yes I would call you on it.

The context of my calling you on being an arrogant asshole is where you asked an arrogant question, then asked it again and then once more. I felt I had answered it, but apparently you didn't, because your response was to quote it, and to separately mark each of those three statements as questions you'd like me to answer. I answered once, and responded to the assholish restatements of the arrogant question in those same terms.

I gave you a pass on your arrogance about the OED early on, and I forgave the holier-than-thou aspects of your self-proclamation of a fisking (hint, you can't fisk what you cannot, or are not willing to, understand). When you decided to tell me how to carry on a dialog, I even tried to respect your wishes, but the annoyance of actually having to explain the voluminous ways in which you are wrong got to me, and I used a naughty word. You took a naughty word as an excuse to engage none of what I said. Congratulations, you are an arrogant ass, and one who cannot or will not even try to engage different views as if they might possibly have any validity. Pffft.

When a foolish person calls you arrogant, you're probably doing something right. Best of luck in the future. Hope you can come to grips with it all.

By anonymous (not verified) on 23 Apr 2007 #permalink

I can justify (and have done so) why I think you're arrogant. You can't (or at least haven't) justified your childish namecalling.