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Do religious moderates really give cover?
Posted: 10 June 2007 02:29 PM   [ Ignore ]  
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One of Sam's biggest arguments is that religous moderates give cover to religious fundamentalists, is this true, or are religous fundamentalists just simply wrong? What if there is truth in the bible as well as untruths?

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Posted: 10 June 2007 05:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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I keep changing my views, I can see Sam’s bigger point

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Posted: 11 June 2007 02:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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[quote author=“bribri10134”]One of Sam’s biggest arguments is that religous moderates give cover to religious fundamentalists, is this true, or are religous fundamentalists just simply wrong? What if there is truth in the bible as well as untruths?

Just what truth are you referring to in the bible?

Even fundamentalists cherry pick what dogma they wish to follow. The amount of contradiction and regression makes it impossible to follow all the teachings in the bible, or the koran (quran or qur’an or whatever they call it.)  for that matter.

As for moderates giving cover to fundies, they do so probably because they have the conviction that they are all brothers in the faith, and that maybe the fundies are simply taking a higher, more rigorous road than they, the moderates, are willing to take.

You are either part of the problem, or part of the solution. Moderates fall into the former group.

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“We have it recorded in a book called the Bible.”

To be blunt, the Bible records all manner of silly shit.

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Posted: 11 June 2007 09:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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bribri10134 asked:

“What if there is truth in the bible as well as untruths?”

To quote Sam (as well as I can remember)  “There is certainly wisdom in the Bible. There is also wisdom in Shakespeare.  Isn’t it strange that God made Shakespeare a so much better writer than himself?”

The point is not that there are not truths(look at Waltercat’s signature) in the Bible but that there is so much untruth. contradictions, and iron age superstition.

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Posted: 13 June 2007 08:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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Religious moderates lend credibility to nonsense.  At bottom, their views are no saner or reasonable than those of fundamentalists; they simply don’t cling to them as stridently.  But the effect on the human mind of that false credibility is serious and detrimental to discourse and analysis.  Over the years, when challenging or criticizing religion I have come up against the tired ol’: “Well, his beliefs don’t hurt anyone; if we’re going to attack anyone it should be the fundamentalists.”  This serves 2 purposes: it stops me in my tracks and makes it almost impossible for me to continue my critique, and it prevents future analysis by way of the introduction of a false coinage.  Since when did what is true stop mattering to us?  And furthermore, when did delusional thinking, and the promotion and acceptance of it, become “benign”?  It simply isn’t.  Irrationality in any form has the feature of being highly transformative.  A smallish delusion can become a largish one very easily because there’s no rational force controlling or modifying it. 

“Moderation” is not a virtue in itself.  It’s almost a piece of satire to think calling religionists “moderate” means something positive: “He was only “moderately” homicidal, therefore he’s not as bad as the really maniacal killer.”  He may not be, but he’s still bad.

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Posted: 14 June 2007 01:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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The moderates and fundamentalists both agree that God gives orders to humans, but they disagree on the nature of those orders. When the guiding principle for human actions is the wishes of a deity, the impact of such actions on one’s self or others becomes secondary or irrelevant.

One claim of the moderates is that God wants humans to love each other and help each other. From an empirical standpoint, such a claim has no more credibility than, say, the claim by radical Muslims that God wants them to wage holy war on unbelievers. Also, it’s natural to get a fix from helping others. But I find it distasteful when people help others because they’re trying to get to heaven or because they’re worried about what God will think if they don’t.

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Posted: 14 June 2007 02:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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http://www.csicop.org/si/2007-02/fundamentalists.html

What do you think of this article? The author claims that Harris and his colleagues are not being pragmatic, alienating moderates who oppose the theocratic agenda being pushed by the fundamentalists. However, I find the argument below to be questionable:

But pragmatic factors are not my real gripe. If I thought Dawkins and company were right, I would defend them one hundred percent and let the chips fall where they may. My real problem is one of scholarship, put simply, which is I guess what you would expect of a university professor like myself. I would be a lot more impressed with the ardent atheists if I felt that they were making a genuine effort to engage in dialog with those whom they criticize. I do not necessarily mean actual physical dialog, but at the least an intense study of the claims of those against whom they fulminate. Take, for instance, Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion, and his critiques of the various arguments for the existence of God. Why does he not acknowledge that few if any Christians have ever claimed that the proofs are the true reason for the belief in God? John Henry Newman, the great nineteenth-century English theologian, first an Anglican (Episcopalian) and then a Roman Catholic, spoke for many. About his seminal philosophical work, A Grammar of Assent, he wrote, “I have not insisted on the argument from design, because I am writing for the nineteenth century, by which, as represented by its philosophers, design is not admitted as proved. And to tell the truth, though I should not wish to preach on the subject, for forty years I have been unable to see the logical force of the argument myself. I believe in design because I believe in God; not in a God because I see design.” (This is from a letter written in 1872.) He continued, “Design teaches me power, skill and goodness—not sanctity, not mercy, not a future judgment, which three are of the essence of religion.”

The proofs are at best a backup for an already-received commitment. More than this, the proofs are a lot more subtle than these critics recognize. Take the cosmological argument, for example. From at least the time of Saint Augustine, around 400 a.d., theologians have been wrestling with the sense in which God can be said to be both necessary and eternal. Saint Augustine had a very sophisticated theory that entailed God being outside time—that is why Augustine would not have found the idea of evolution threatening, because for his God the thought of creation, the act of creation, and the product of creation are as one. Augustine explicitly claimed that God created seeds of life that then unfurled. The point is that for Augustine—and even more for Aquinas (1225–1274)—God is a stopping point in the chain of causation. The argument was that things have a cause and we must have some cause of the world in which we live. An infinite causal chain is no solution. Hence, there must be such a being that breaks the chain, namely the eternal God.

You may not like this argument and want to challenge it. I think I would. But I don’t find it stupid, and I do find it worthy of careful study. I want to dig into what the notion of necessary existence might mean and whether in this day of modern physics it makes sense to talk of things being outside time. (Of course it makes sense to talk of things outside time; 2+2=4 is outside time. It never became true and will never become false. The question is whether this sort of thinking can be transferred to God.) My point is simply that if you are going to consider religion the chief cause of the world’s ills, then you owe it to yourself and to others to take seriously the claims of religion, and this I do not think is done. I fear that emotion rules rationality, the very sin of which the critics accuse the religious! In other words, I start to suspect that these people are in their way are tarred with the same features of which they accuse the creationists. There is a dogmatism, a refusal to listen to others, a contempt for nonbelievers, a feeling that they alone have the truth, that is the mark of so many of the cults and sects that have sprung on American soil since the nation’s founding.

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Posted: 15 June 2007 01:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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I think of “fundamentalist” and “moderate” as being liquid states, phases of transition which people can pass through to get to another end of the religious spectrum, or beyond the religious spectrum entirely. 

In my case, I started out as a young Christian, going to church every Sunday, confirmation, communion, etc… not a fundamentalist, but fairly devout.  When I went to college, I swung the other way.  Decided the Bible was hooey.  When I had children, I reconsidered.  Didn’t want my kids denied eternal life if it was, in fact, an option.  I studied with the Jehovah’s Witnesses for ten years.  Never joined their church, but did learn alot of Bible.  Finally, in my on-going quest, I came across a video called ‘The God Who Wasn’t There’ (thank you, Brian Flemming) and when I watched it, I found myself admitting that deep down, I really did not believe in the inerrancy of the Bible.  Therefore, deep down, I did not believe in the notion of salvation, eternal life, etc. At the end of the film there were interviews with Alan Dundes, Sam Harris, Richard Carrier, Earl Doherty, Richard Dawkins, and others and a list of books they had written.  I now find myself in the non-religious end of the spectrum.  My quest continues, and if I find some compelling evidence for God I suppose I my shift back in that direction. 
    I guess my point is that I consider religious moderation a rung on the ladder that leads back down from the ether of imagination/faith to the solid ground of the earth.  I don’t think I could have made the leap from devout believer to non-believer/agnostic if I hadn’t been able to ease myself down a rung at a time.

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Posted: 15 June 2007 04:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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[quote author=“woofy”]I guess my point is that I consider religious moderation a rung on the ladder that leads back down from the ether of imagination/faith to the solid ground of the earth.  I don’t think I could have made the leap from devout believer to non-believer/agnostic if I hadn’t been able to ease myself down a rung at a time.

My concern is that the process could just as easily work the other way, with moderates turning to fundamentalism because of personal or social crises. I’m fairly certain that the rise of fundamentalism in America and the Middle East in the 20th century was a reaction to modernism and social turmoil. Were most of the new fundamentalists former moderates? Were they already fundamentalists, but simply driven by fear to become more devoted to their religion? Were they like Charles Colson, holy warriors who simply switched causes? Or a combination of all three?

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Posted: 15 June 2007 06:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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Religious moderation is a crutch that looks like a leg (for those who do not have a leg to stand on) but quacks like a duck. Any atheist can see that it’s a duck. As in, “duck and cover”.

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Posted: 17 June 2007 02:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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I think you’re right, Carstonio—some descend the ladder, and some head up.  It’s a problem.  I guess true atheists who are comfortable with their world view do not need this ladder.  I did.  I also think that for each and every intelligent, reasonable, well-adjusted atheist, there are thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of confused and searching individuals who are questioning their religion and wrestling with very difficult questions, as I did.  One problem I have with the entire dismissal of religion is the dismissal of its associates: magical thinking, mythology, soul and spirit, dream, fantasy, imagination… these things may be looked upon as delusion, superstition, etc… but they may also be an important part of the human psyche.  If we could accept our religious stories as mythology and not literal truth, we could learn from them, be guided by them, benefit from them.  I think there is more to the formation of a whole, vital and successful human being than a knowledge of facts and formulas.  Facts and formulas are obviously crucial, and should be at the base of all human knowledge—however, there is a place for myth, too.  Stories of heroes and villains, struggles and triumphs, problems and solutions… these are a part of complete education, along with algebra and biology and chemistry.  I view the sacred texts of the world’s religions as treasures of literature, created by men whose imaginations were extraordinary.  There’s more to religion than simply delusion.

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Posted: 17 June 2007 03:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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[quote author=“woofy”]I think you’re right, Carstonio—some descend the ladder, and some head up.  It’s a problem.  I guess true atheists who are comfortable with their world view do not need this ladder.  I did.  I also think that for each and every intelligent, reasonable, well-adjusted atheist, there are thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of confused and searching individuals who are questioning their religion and wrestling with very difficult questions, as I did.  One problem I have with the entire dismissal of religion is the dismissal of its associates: magical thinking, mythology, soul and spirit, dream, fantasy, imagination… these things may be looked upon as delusion, superstition, etc… but they may also be an important part of the human psyche.  If we could accept our religious stories as mythology and not literal truth, we could learn from them, be guided by them, benefit from them.  I think there is more to the formation of a whole, vital and successful human being than a knowledge of facts and formulas.  Facts and formulas are obviously crucial, and should be at the base of all human knowledge—however, there is a place for myth, too.  Stories of heroes and villains, struggles and triumphs, problems and solutions… these are a part of complete education, along with algebra and biology and chemistry.  I view the sacred texts of the world’s religions as treasures of literature, created by men whose imaginations were extraordinary.  There’s more to religion than simply delusion.

Nicely phrased, She-who-barketh-wisely,

People can be moved, inspired and learn from all manner of stories, also ancient ones such as the bible.
But I can honestly say that I have received more valuable life-lessons from a mediocre writer like Stephen King or even from any Jim Jarmusch movie but I would not surrender my dwindling intellect to either.

Where I must take a wee bit of issue with you is the part about the ladder.
Someone put you on that ladder without the slightest evidence that said ladder would lead anywhere.

I hate to say it Woofy, but to me traveling up and down that ladder is a gigantic waste of time.

Hope no offense is taken (and Sander bows his head and exits the room shuffling backwards.)

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Posted: 17 June 2007 04:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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[quote author=“woofy”]One problem I have with the entire dismissal of religion is the dismissal of its associates: magical thinking, mythology, soul and spirit, dream, fantasy, imagination… these things may be looked upon as delusion, superstition, etc… but they may also be an important part of the human psyche.  If we could accept our religious stories as mythology and not literal truth, we could learn from them, be guided by them, benefit from them.  I think there is more to the formation of a whole, vital and successful human being than a knowledge of facts and formulas.  Facts and formulas are obviously crucial, and should be at the base of all human knowledge—however, there is a place for myth, too.  Stories of heroes and villains, struggles and triumphs, problems and solutions… these are a part of complete education, along with algebra and biology and chemistry.  I view the sacred texts of the world’s religions as treasures of literature, created by men whose imaginations were extraordinary.  There’s more to religion than simply delusion.

Excellent post. Sounds like you have read “The Masks of God.” Joseph Campbell, white courtesy phone…

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Posted: 18 June 2007 04:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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I hate to say it Sander, but I think I agree with you that traveling up and down this ladder of religious belief hasbeen a waste of time.  Sigh.  And I was put on that ladder, as was my well-meaning mother by her parents, and they by their parents before them.  The only thing I don’t regret about all my years of religion and Bible study is that it allows me to connect with and understand people who live by the principles therein.  I know where they’re coming from. 

Carstonio—Joseph Campbell is one of my favorites.  I have listened to his series ‘The Power of Myth’ (interviews with Bill Moyers) and ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’ many times.  I never get tired of him.  I wish he were still alive.  I’d love to hear a conversation with Joseph Campbell, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins discussing the role of religion and myth in today’s society.

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Posted: 21 June 2007 03:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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I’ve always seen moderates as people who give lip service to a religion, but don’t really believe or follow the lifestyle that religion implies. When I visited the Vatican crypt people were kneeling at the tombs of Popes, kissing the tombs, genuflecting, praying, and performing all sorts of rituals and rites that I had never seen nor heard of. It was fascinating to watch. This display made me think of the “believers” in my own country who go to church, go through the motions, and then live their lives in complete ignorance of the faith they profess for one hour each week (unless there’s a game on). I couldn’t imagine them performing the acts I witnessed beneath St. Peter’s. These people correlate to Voltaire’s heavenly madhouses, what he calls in his Philosophical Dictionary the largest and most populated buildings in the universe. Filled with people who believe but don’t act, people who profess but don’t apply the strictures to their own lives. Such moderates don’t really believe, in that their beliefs don’t inform thier actions, the religion they claim to follow. So they have a hard time believing that anyone else takes it seriously. To them, religion seems like more of a game, a regularly scheduled meeting, that washes their sins away. I used to run in such circles and I was amazed at how many of their number could not even tell me the names of the Biblical gospels. “Ummm… Mark… ummmm…” Many had read the “popular” or “safe” versions of the Bible, such as the heavily watered down “Good News Bible.” Harris’s description of moderates evoked these people in my mind. They would have a hard time believing that anyone took “virgins in paradise” or “instant salvation for martyrs” seriously. The vast majority of them would never die for thier faith. Because deep down they don’t really believe it. Nevertheless, they’re accustomed to appearing in a room once a week and reading arcane text that they don’t comprehend. To me that’s a moderate.

Do such people do harm? They seem pretty harmless to me. I just wonder why they waste their time professing a faith that they obviously don’t believe in. Instead, they tend to believe what the “doctors of faith” tell them, which can even include voting guidelines. That does harm, but I don’t blame the moderates, I blame the institutions that they’ve fallen into like starry-eyed moths. In my experience moderates tend to lack education or insight into how their religious beliefs translate into action. That mapping doesn’t seem to occur to many of them. Many have no idea what religious faith even implies. They seem like spiritual non-entities.

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Posted: 21 June 2007 08:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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[quote author=“ewomack”]I’ve always seen moderates as people who give lip service to a religion, but don’t really believe or follow the lifestyle that religion implies. When I visited the Vatican crypt people were kneeling at the tombs of Popes, kissing the tombs, genuflecting, praying, and performing all sorts of rituals and rites that I had never seen nor heard of. It was fascinating to watch. This display made me think of the “believers” in my own country who go to church, go through the motions, and then live their lives in complete ignorance of the faith they profess for one hour each week (unless there’s a game on). I couldn’t imagine them performing the acts I witnessed beneath St. Peter’s. These people correlate to Voltaire’s heavenly madhouses, what he calls in his Philosophical Dictionary the largest and most populated buildings in the universe. Filled with people who believe but don’t act, people who profess but don’t apply the strictures to their own lives. Such moderates don’t really believe, in that their beliefs don’t inform thier actions, the religion they claim to follow. So they have a hard time believing that anyone else takes it seriously. To them, religion seems like more of a game, a regularly scheduled meeting, that washes their sins away. I used to run in such circles and I was amazed at how many of their number could not even tell me the names of the Biblical gospels. “Ummm… Mark… ummmm…” Many had read the “popular” or “safe” versions of the Bible, such as the heavily watered down “Good News Bible.” Harris’s description of moderates evoked these people in my mind. They would have a hard time believing that anyone took “virgins in paradise” or “instant salvation for martyrs” seriously. The vast majority of them would never die for thier faith. Because deep down they don’t really believe it. Nevertheless, they’re accustomed to appearing in a room once a week and reading arcane text that they don’t comprehend. To me that’s a moderate.

Do such people do harm? They seem pretty harmless to me. I just wonder why they waste their time professing a faith that they obviously don’t believe in. Instead, they tend to believe what the “doctors of faith” tell them, which can even include voting guidelines. That does harm, but I don’t blame the moderates, I blame the institutions that they’ve fallen into like starry-eyed moths. In my experience moderates tend to lack education or insight into how their religious beliefs translate into action. That mapping doesn’t seem to occur to many of them. Many have no idea what religious faith even implies. They seem like spiritual non-entities.

I’m not sure I would call the people you describe moderates, something more like “groupies” might fit.  I have some relatives who are religious moderates: they follow a version of Christianity that fits in well with the modern world, do charitable works, contribute to their community (as a religious duty), support environmental causes, and so on.  Their religion is certainly real for them, but they also have a healthy respect for individual conscience and don’t try to push it on others.  That is what I would see as being a moderate.  It’s the groupies that are dangerous: having accepted that lip service is good enough, they are vulnerable to anybody who comes along with a story of what they must do because, of course, they are good believers.

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