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Does Secular Humanism Care?
Posted: 08 June 2005 11:45 AM   [ Ignore ]  
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When I read “The End of Faith” by Sam Harris, I was a bit disappointed by his various conclusions about religion. It is a mistaken notion that people follow a religion because they are
A. Uneducated and Ignorant.
B. Stupid fundamentalists who delight in the pain of others.
C. Blood thirsty extremist screaming for the blood of their enemies.

Secular humanists are very reluctant to debate Christian philosophy since in their mind the Christian is fundamental mistaken in his assumptions about nature, man, and society. Then again the Christian makes the same assumption that the Humanist, indeed everyone who disagrees with Christian doctrine, is also wrong.

So my question id this, what is next in the great philosophical discussion between religious and secular views?

I find Christians up in arms and feeling personally attacked for their beliefs. I see Secularist and Secular Humanists demonized by the religious right. The Christians have a right to be wary of main stream critics since it portrays them as being bigoted and intolerant. The Christians that are viewed as being moderate are seen as being merely undecided. In Sam Harris’s opinion they might as well be classified as closet case Secularists.

I find the sentiment of many is that discussion is a waste of time and is pointless to begin with. Either it, “He’s a Christian, Islamic, or Hindu and he has an agenda for his religion and will only twist the facts in favor of his worldview.” Or the usual right wing chant, “Humanists are atheist and are going to hell. They are destroying this great country and must be stopped!” Can anyone tell me what this sounds like? I can tell you what it does not sound like, a legitimate argument.

If Humanism is then true, and many see that it is, how much room would have in a society for people of differing opinions? I mean if we all need to get together and lift mankind to the stars and you have someone else say “No thanks”, what then do you do with him? Kick that individual out, maybe reeducate him in so reeducation camp? Maybe if the individual is really annoying and stubborn then we could just kill that person. After all humanity is at stake, and you can’t have humanity divided.

Discussing religion is not an easy task and requires a lot of time and effort as well as maturity on the part of both parties involved. Making such wide and ambiguous claim that religion is false or useless, and is holding mankind back in the Dark Ages is unjustified unless you can agree the point in a philosophical context. After all is not Sam Harris a philosopher with a degree in philosophy from Stanford University? Since Humanism is not a religion then the debate will not be one based on doctrine, but based upon philosophical debate?

The following is a passage from J.S. Mills On Liberty:

But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth; if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error…The highest aim and best result of improved intelligence, it has hitherto been thought, is to unite mankind more and more in the acknowledgment of all important truths; and does the intelligence only last as long as it has achieved its object> Do the fruits of conquest perish by the very completeness of the victory?
I affirm no such thing. As mankind improve, the number of doctrines which are no longer disputed or doubted will be constantly on the increase; and the well-being of mankind many almost measured by the number and gravity of the truths which have reached the point of being uncontested…But though this gradual narrowing of the bounds of diversity of opinion is necessary in both senses of the term, being at once inevitable and indispensable, we are not therefore obliged to conclude that all its consequences must be beneficial.

“We have now recognized the necessity to the mental well-being of mankind (on which all their other well-being depends0 of freedom of opinion, and freedom of the expression of opinion, on four distinct grounds; which we will now briefly recapitulate.
First, if any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility.
Secondly, though the silenced opinion be an error, it may, and very commonly does, contain a portion of truth; and since the general or prevailing opinion on any subject is rarely or never the whole truth, it is only by the collision of adverse opinions that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied.
Thirdly, even is the received opinion be not only true, but the whole truth; unless it is suffered to be, and actually is, vigorously and earnestly contested, it will, by most of those who received it, be held in the manner of a prejudice, with little comprehension or feeling of its rational grounds. And not only this, but fourthly, the meaning of the doctrine itself will be in danger of being lost, or enfeebled, and deprived of its vital effect on the character and conduct: the dogma becoming a mere formal profession, inefficacious for good, but cumbering the ground, and preventing the growth of any real and heartfelt conviction, from reason or personal experience. “


I think that the prevailing attitude of the modernist movement has taken a more dogmatic approach, even though they claim not to be guilty of such fallibilities. I thought the argument between religious groups and secularist groups was about better understanding the issue at hand. If you want a voice this isn’t the way.

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Posted: 08 June 2005 12:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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Hi J. S. Dubreuil, I welcome debate with Humanists. As long as I can have equal time to give my views. You see, here is my little secret, the Humanist can say all he wants and I’m sure he has well thought out views, but I am sending out God’s word. And God promises that his word will not return void:

so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. Isiah 55:15

So I can take comfort that tis not me that fight the battle, but the Holy Spirit, who draws men to repentance. The Holy Spirit is freely available to every person whom God would call and who would truly repent and believe. “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said,” proclaimed Jesus, “out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive…)” John 7:38-39

So let the debate begin. You Humanists can spell out your views and we’ll talk God’s word. And his word is powerful:

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart, Hebrews 4:12

As in the immortal words of JFK (John F. Kerry).....BRING….IT….ON!!

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Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Matt 11:28-29

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Posted: 08 June 2005 04:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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J.S.D…........Meet the Chump!

Good luck in your “debate”. 

Many of us could advise you to simply decline to engage this moron….....but, you probably need to have the experience first hand in order to develop a full and accurate appreciation for the total idiocy of the fundies.

I am sure that you will find the experience truly “enlightening”.

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Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful…..Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Roman (3 BC - 65 AD)

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Posted: 08 June 2005 05:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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JSD:

When I read “The End of Faith” by Sam Harris, I was a bit disappointed by his various conclusions about religion. It is a mistaken notion that people follow a religion because they are
A. Uneducated and Ignorant.
B. Stupid fundamentalists who delight in the pain of others.
C. Blood thirsty extremist screaming for the blood of their enemies.

Whether or not Sam Harris has actually made this statement directly or indirectly (can you cite a page number?), I would tend to agree with your stated position.

JSD:

I find Christians up in arms and feeling personally attacked for their beliefs. I see Secularist and Secular Humanists demonized by the religious right. The Christians have a right to be wary of main stream critics since it portrays them as being bigoted and intolerant. The Christians that are viewed as being moderate are seen as being merely undecided. In Sam Harris’s opinion they might as well be classified as closet case Secularists.

Imbedded in your faulty point (imo, of course) is some validity. Bigotry and intolerance are natural tendencies to be keenly aware of and stamped out at every opportunity. But keep in mind that religionists, including supposedly humble Christians, are arrogant to an extraordinary degree. Please look up recent posts written by CanZen. Or all of them.

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Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it. For it cannot give it any foundations either. It leaves everything as it is.
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Posted: 09 June 2005 03:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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[quote author=“J. S. Dubreuil”]Then again the Christian makes the same assumption that the Humanist, indeed everyone who disagrees with Christian doctrine, is also wrong.

May I qualify this slightly?

As you probably know, we find the term ‘humanist’ originates with people such as Petrarch, Bocaccio, Poggio, Politian, etc, and the Florentine renaissance, all of whom were Christians, and it refers to those involved with the recovery of and love of classical learning and culture.  The people you have in mind have in my experience no interest in any element of humanism, which makes the name unfortunate.

I know the term was appropriated by people wishing to reject Christianity, perhaps in the 18th century.  But it would be better to stick with your longer term, “Secular humanists”. 

I don’t mean to be petty.  But I am at this moment going through a paper dealing with correspondence of Politian and his pupil Tristano Calco relating to copying and correcting a manuscript of a work by the Latin Church Father Tertullian (Ms. now London British Library additional 21187), and just popped in for air.  The incongruity of the usage was really very striking! 

Nothing to do with the content of your post, of course, but I hope you’ll agree that we all benefit if we keep our terms non-loaded and clear?

All the best,

Roger Pearse

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Posted: 09 June 2005 07:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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Yes, I agree the term “humanist” is too ambiguous too just flash around and I appogies for the misuse. I believe that a certain degree of scholarship is necessary so as to keep confusion down to a minimum.

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Posted: 09 June 2005 07:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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TheChampion

I’m sorry but you’ve confused me with the wrong group. I never said that I was a secular humanist. Although what I wrote in this post could very well have been, but I invite you to read it again as if a Christian wrote it. Of course I’m assuming that you’re a Christian from what you wrote, but if you find something you don’t agree with I invite you to voice your opinion. I’m was just voicing my concern that various groups, religious fundamentalist and the Secularists are beginning to become volatile debate. When I read “The End of Faith” I can see Sam Harris’ resentment of organized religion and “faith” begin to manifest as hatred.

This is the same kind of hatred that motivated the Inquisition and which also lead the Holocaust. It’s a song and dance that has been repeated since the beginning of recorded history and I am saddened that so many individuals now see it as unavoidable and a desirable end. I come from a Jewish and Greek background and I know all too well what resentment between two people can result in.

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Posted: 09 June 2005 08:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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To homunculus

In response to your comments I will try to sight certain passages that lead me to the conclusions that Sam Harris made about fundamentalists.

“Faith is anything more sublime than a desperate marriage of hope and ignorance.”

Pg. 21 Top of second paragraph.  This is what I base my assumption that Mr. Harris views the Christian faith as pure ignorance and anyone who believes in its doctrines.

“The idea that any one of our religions represents the infallible word of the One True God requires an encyclopedia ignorance of history, mythology, and art even to be entertained-“
pg. 16 last paragraph. I think there are plenty of Christians quite competent in the fields of history, mythology, and art. But maybe I misunderstood Mr. Harris’ statement.

“It appears that even the Holocaust did not lead most Jews to doubt the existence of an omnipotent and benevolent God. If having half your of your people systematically delivered to the furnace does not count as evidence against the notion that an all-powerful God is looking out for your interests, it seems reasonable to assume that nothing could.” Pg. 67.

This is a careless remark that is quite unjustified and shows a lack of understanding of human nature. When man is faced with horrible atrocities then tendency is always to look beyond what material and focus on idea of the divine. Making fun a peoples culture and haritage after suffering great horrors is a low blow for anyone to make.

I will have to comply my other quotes later. But I feel that I am justified in my assessment of Sam Harris’ position, though I admit that my position is not infallible or without error. If I am grossly mistaken then please tell me how I should see this issue?

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Posted: 10 June 2005 01:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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After a series of vexatious and pointless dialogues with christians
  like roger pearse and the champion, I am firmly convinced that a
  certain number of christians are impossible to dialogue with.
  Naturally, they feel the exact same way about others who don’t
  share their beliefs. This “certain number” of christians appears to
  be growing in strenth and numbers in the past few years(in the USA atleast). Irreconcilable differences exist between them and just about everyone else, including many moderate/liberal christians. I strongly believe there is no more compromise,debate
or diplomacy left between these two sides. The next step is “war”
and it seems to have already begun. In fact, it’s been going on in the USA (and elsewhere) for centuries.


  The “Scopes monkey trial” was only one historical battle. We
  can only hope the war remains bloodless. Judging from history,human nature and in light of the “zeitgeist”,i’m not
so sure it will. I would advise that you read “The Lucifer principle”
by Howard Bloom, if you have not already. It just boils down to
the “survival of the fittest”. Business as usual i’m afraid. If this is
a pessimistic view,look through history and tell me when things
have been different. Mythological “golden ages” are just that,myth.
Even if all the radical christians and muslims were gone, some other
group would probably fill their shoes eventually. Like Sylvester Stallone said in one of his critically-acclaimed movies, “I don’t deal with psychos, I take em’ out”. If that can be accomplished through the rule of law and non-violently, i’m all for it. If not,as in the case of Al Qaeda, then heads must roll. Gandhisms are all well and good
in the ideal world. Unfortunetly, in the real world, Gandhi would have been beheaded by OSB before he could even bow. If it ever
comes to that with the christian radicals,better them than me. Self-
preservation is nature’s highest law. Lex Talionis

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Posted: 10 June 2005 02:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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[quote author=“J. S. Dubreuil”]Yes, I agree the term “humanist” is too ambiguous too just flash around and I appogies for the misuse. I believe that a certain degree of scholarship is necessary so as to keep confusion down to a minimum.

Many thanks for taking it that way.  Probably the problem is that no-one today reads Petrarch or Dante.  <sigh>

All the best,

Roger Pearse

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Posted: 10 June 2005 02:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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[quote author=“Landulf II”]After a series of vexatious and pointless dialogues with christians like roger pearse and the champion, I am firmly convinced that a certain number of christians are impossible to dialogue with.

Almost anyone is impossible to “dialogue with” if you don’t listen to what they say and hurl abuse at them, you know.

  Naturally, they feel ...

Perhaps, just once, we might be allowed to express our own views rather than having things attributed to us?

All the best,

Roger Pearse

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Posted: 10 June 2005 08:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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[quote author=“roger_pearse”]Perhaps, just once, we might be allowed to express our own views rather than having things attributed to us?

By all means. No one is really moderating this forum as far as I can tell, so if you want to express yourself, then there is pretty much an open invitation. That said, only posting one-liners makes it very difficult to determine what your views actually are. When confronted only by short, cryptic remarks, one has to make assumptions almost by default to assign any meaning to them. You’d go a long way towards addressing the hostility being directed at you by opening up a bit.

There is a sense by many on this board that talking to people like the Champ is like talking to a brick wall. I’m sure the same is often felt by Christians, Muslims, etc. from time to time - no one really has a monopoly on openmindedness. That said, I hope you can understand the frustration felt by many of us who would prefer to have an honest discussion rather than be preached at.

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Posted: 11 June 2005 01:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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[quote author=“Alan Slipp”][quote author=“roger_pearse”]Perhaps, just once, we might be allowed to express our own views rather than having things attributed to us?

By all means. No one is really moderating this forum as far as I can tell, so if you want to express yourself, then there is pretty much an open invitation. That said, only posting one-liners makes it very difficult to determine what your views actually are.

I don’t find that people throwing insults at me are very interested in an exposition, you know.  Perhaps you’re more fortunate.  If I do try, as a rule I get accused of preaching.  And as I hardly ever talk about Christianity, because I have other fish to fry, the accusation is revealing.

But to be honest, I’m *not* interesting to putting up Christianity as an aunt Sally to be jeered at.  Why should I?  Whether Christianity is true or not will never be established in such a manner; and I don’t really want to talk about that either.

What I want to see is those people who’re here because of “the end of faith” grappling with the issue of where, then, will we get our values and morals?  If there are objective values, where do we find them?  If not, do we merely articulate what the powerful wish us to say and believe?

These questions seem to me of considerably more relevance to the lives of almost everyone in this forum than repeating stale old gibes about Genesis, as I saw in another thread.  Never mind what we don’t believe—how shall we live our lives?  To screw or not to screw, as I put it elsewhere.

There is a sense by many on this board that talking to people like the Champ is like talking to a brick wall. I’m sure the same is often felt by Christians, Muslims, etc. from time to time - no one really has a monopoly on openmindedness. That said, I hope you can understand the frustration felt by many of us who would prefer to have an honest discussion rather than be preached at.

Sounds reasonable to me.  But I hope you won’t complain if I meet a jeer with a smack rather than a long boring sermon?

All the best,

Roger Pearse

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Posted: 11 June 2005 06:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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[quote author=“roger_pearse”]I don’t find that people throwing insults at me are very interested in an exposition, you know.  Perhaps you’re more fortunate.  If I do try, as a rule I get accused of preaching.  And as I hardly ever talk about Christianity, because I have other fish to fry, the accusation is revealing.

Touche. Now, that particular accusation wasn’t necessarily directed at you, more at our resident Scripture-Tron, but it’s certainly a fair comment. I’ve had a chance to read a little bit more of what you have to say; aside from the back-and-forth sniping that has occured/is occuring on other threads, I have a larger picture of who Roger Pearse is, and I think that your participation on these forums has gotten off to an unfortunate start. There is a lot of anger - some justifiable, some less so - being expressed here, and from what I’ve read, you managed to step right into the middle of it. Of course, given the ammunition that Sam Harris provides, some of which more or less hits the mark, that’s hardly surprising.

But to be honest, I’m *not* interesting to putting up Christianity as an aunt Sally to be jeered at.  Why should I?  Whether Christianity is true or not will never be established in such a manner; and I don’t really want to talk about that either.

No, and I would go further and suggest that nothing ever gets established in such a manner; but firing the cannons is a lot easier than sitting back and engaging in thoughtful discussion. That’s why people do it, myself included.

What I want to see is those people who’re here because of “the end of faith” grappling with the issue of where, then, will we get our values and morals?  If there are objective values, where do we find them?  If not, do we merely articulate what the powerful wish us to say and believe?

How do we know what is right and wrong? How can we recognize when we must make an ethical choice, and on what grounds are we able to make those decisions? Those are questions that are relevant in every single moment in human history, and ones that Western societies are starting to ignore more and more in favour of merely following ideological patterns. You’re right, we should be talking about this stuff, instead of being distracted by bits of dogma, and I don’t think that these forums are any less of a place for that discussion than anywhere else.

Sounds reasonable to me.  But I hope you won’t complain if I meet a jeer with a smack rather than a long boring sermon?

I understand it. I don’t think either really helps at all, but I understand it. smile

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Posted: 11 June 2005 07:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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Now, I’d like to actually speak to the topic at hand, and tie something that Roger mentioned into it as well. Some of this may be slightly familiar if you’ve read some of what I’ve written elsewhere.

I don’t think it’s an issue of whether you’re a Christian or Muslim or Hindu or Atheist or whether you believe that the entire universe was sneezed out of the nose of a being known as the Great Green Arkleseizure. I don’t care what symbols you venerate, what rituals you perform or where you choose to perform them. To me, it is what you do with those things that matters.

Sam Harris writes as if is in fact the symbols themselves which are flawed. He writes as if those symbols must be discarded, and new ones raised up in their place. He calls for a spirituality based on reason… but how easily the new forgets the old. What good is raising up new symbols if we treat those symbols the same way we treat the symbols we hold on to now? As absolutes, as certainties, as linear, unwavering, Almighty TRUTHS? What good is exchanging one absolute for another?

Whatever ideas we have about the world, whether we follow Christ’s teachings or whether we believe in the value of the free market, if we allow those things that we value to be vaulted to the highest pinnacle of our thinking, if we allow ourselves to say “Through this is the only Way” and reject all other ideas as false idols… what will we have lost?

The danger of ideology is that it prevents us from using everything we have at our disposal to shape our societies. Whenever we surrender ourselves to ideology, we lose the ability we have to make real choices - the choices we make are, in effect, made for us.

Roger is concerned, as are many others, as to how we are to determine our morals and values - in essence, how we are able to shape our societies and allow them to flourish. My attempt to find an answer is this: We do so not by rejecting the Bible, or the Koran, or the writings of Bertrand Russell, or the plays of Shakespeare, etc.. because if we do, we are effectively cutting ourselves off from a source of human memory and wisdom. The challenge is to be able to find a “gestalt”, if you will, a view of the wealth of human expression and experience that is greater than the sum of its parts. What parts we choose to use are dependant on where we are and when, but we must be able to hold all of it up and see everything as a potential source of wisdom. Rejecting any of it is like rejecting a part of ourselves.

EDIT: I’ve reposted this in the “Comments on the End of Faith” forum - I think it’s sufficiently complex enough to warrant a separate thread, so if you want to respond to this post specifically, that’s probably the best place for it.

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Posted: 11 June 2005 08:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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[quote author=“Alan Slipp”][quote author=“roger_pearse”]I don’t find that people throwing insults at me are very interested in an exposition, you know.  Perhaps you’re more fortunate.  If I do try, as a rule I get accused of preaching.  And as I hardly ever talk about Christianity, because I have other fish to fry, the accusation is revealing.

Touche. Now, that particular accusation wasn’t necessarily directed at you, more at our resident Scripture-Tron, but it’s certainly a fair comment. I’ve had a chance to read a little bit more of what you have to say; aside from the back-and-forth sniping that has occured/is occuring on other threads, I have a larger picture of who Roger Pearse is, and I think that your participation on these forums has gotten off to an unfortunate start. There is a lot of anger - some justifiable, some less so - being expressed here, and from what I’ve read, you managed to step right into the middle of it. Of course, given the ammunition that Sam Harris provides, some of which more or less hits the mark, that’s hardly surprising.

Thank you for the kind thought.  But I hadn’t supposed you to mean me as such anyway.  My comment was not intended as a complaint, nor indeed a description of life in this forum!  But to respond, I had to draw on some past experience, and that unfortunately means talking about oneself.

I agree that I’ve walked into the middle of an ongoing discussion.  Someone drew my attention to the forum, and I saw that TC was being baited, and of course felt I ought to support him, since he and I share a religion.  The rest is merely the rough and tumble of debate, of course.

But to be honest, I’m *not* interesting to putting up Christianity as an aunt Sally to be jeered at.  Why should I?  Whether Christianity is true or not will never be established in such a manner; and I don’t really want to talk about that either.

No, and I would go further and suggest that nothing ever gets established in such a manner; but firing the cannons is a lot easier than sitting back and engaging in thoughtful discussion. That’s why people do it, myself included.

Me too.  I’d go further.  I don’t know about you, but I tend to post as a distraction.  I’m working on my PC doing something, get bored, and look into a forum.  I only have a minute or so, so I fire off a quick reply.  But because all these posts lack the visual component of normal discussion, the terse response comes across as cold-bloodedly vicious or insulting, as opposed to a throwaway thought written without a second thought.  I suspect we all do this.  The medium itself tends to make people quarrel, unless they take special pains to prevent it, as you have done here.

What I want to see is those people who’re here because of “the end of faith” grappling with the issue of where, then, will we get our values and morals?  If there are objective values, where do we find them?  If not, do we merely articulate what the powerful wish us to say and believe?

How do we know what is right and wrong? How can we recognize when we must make an ethical choice, and on what grounds are we able to make those decisions? Those are questions that are relevant in every single moment in human history, and ones that Western societies are starting to ignore more and more in favour of merely following ideological patterns. You’re right, we should be talking about this stuff, instead of being distracted by bits of dogma, and I don’t think that these forums are any less of a place for that discussion than anywhere else.

You’ve grasped my point exactly.  Who is deciding how we live our lives?  Is it us?  (Not nearly often enough, IMHO).

Life is something we all have to live.  So every day we make decisions, and our decisions shape us.  We have brains—isn’t it interesting that at no point in our education are we ever given a set of tools to work out how to make those decisions about what is right or wrong?

Sounds reasonable to me.  But I hope you won’t complain if I meet a jeer with a smack rather than a long boring sermon?

I understand it. I don’t think either really helps at all, but I understand it. smile

Sorry.  Again it’s a manifestation of the ‘quick-post’ syndrome.

Thanks for so understanding a post.

All the best,

Roger Pearse

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