Making Jesus Real | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Making Jesus Real

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John Shelby Spong is not your average bishop. He has stepped out of the box. He's so far out of the box, in fact, that every time he comes within 500 miles of Topeka, Kan., local minister Fred Phelps protests his coming with signs that read, "Fags Go to Hell."

He believes Christianity must change or die. The church, he says, must stray away from the unthinking dogma proclaimed by so many church leaders. His ideas are controversial, to say the least.

What is a new way we can speak of God, as you propose we do?

It's easy to say the old way doesn't work anymore. What I try to say to people is that no human being can describe God; we can only experience God and then try to put that experience into words. God-language is always human beings describing their experiences. We've got to speak because we've got nothing else if we want to communicate. I believe we experience God as a source of life, love and being, and that's the God I find at the heart of the Christian faith—in Jesus of Nazareth. Anything other than that is a juvenile concept.

What is your response to those who say that because of your beliefs, you are not and cannot actually be a Christian?

Hogwash. I just don't pay any attention to that kind of stuff. Viewing Christianity in an old, traditional way of understanding God is inevitable. I think the way I view God would be different in another 2,000 years. We don't live in the New Testament. We don't believe in that kind of world. People then assumed that if you got sick, God was punishing you. They had no idea about viruses and genetics. If people want to continue thinking like that, I have no objection to that, but don't tell me that's what Christianity is.

What don't people know about you that would help them understand you and your theology?

I don't mind if they criticize, if they're willing to dialogue. But it seems that a lot of them question my character, and that's just unfair. Praise God, I'm not a fundamentalist!

I had a pretty tough upbringing, an alcoholic father, a mother who had a ninth-grade education. I grew up in abject poverty, in a fundamentalist church that taught me racism was justifiable by scripture, women are inferior to men, to hate other religions, and that homosexuals are mentally sick or morally depraved. I don't believe that.

A 12-year-old doesn't wake up and decide to be gay. That's ridiculous. I didn't decide to be heterosexual. When I was 12 years old, I decided that maybe girls weren't so obnoxious, and if I paid a little more attention to how I was dressed and how I smelled, they'd pay attention to me.

I'm married to the most beautiful being in the whole world, whom I just adore. My first wife died of cancer in 1988. I used to be a sports announcer. I don't know. Will that help them understand me better?

Last weekend, there was an OUToberfest celebration here in the city. The events culminated Sunday with an interfaith service in the park. If you'd had the opportunity, what would you have said to the people gathered?

Two weeks ago, I spoke at the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas. (Cathedral of Hope is a non-denominational church whose congregation is largely homosexual.) I would say to those people the same thing I said when I spoke to the congregation there. God loves you just as you are. The Bible doesn't say, "Come unto me some of ye."

At the end of the service, I rode in a rainstorm as part of the gay pride parade, and we passed by a preacher. I guess he was a preacher. He had a Bible in his hands, telling everybody that they were going to hell. I don't know a Jesus who acts like that. I think we better get our acts together about who Jesus is.

Some people also disapprove of your ideas about women's issues. How do feminism and the church parallel considering New Testament scriptures that speak to women keeping silent in the church and not having authority over a man, for example?

I've got four daughters. That may be what people in the first century believed, but I don't believe that.

Anyone who would literalize that text would also have to take the scripture in Deuteronomy literally that says disobedient children should be put to death. How many people would be willing to do that? The Bible's been used to justify every prejudice there is. It was used to justify slavery. People have got to just stop putting their heads in the sand. If Christ is going to be real in the 21st century, we've got to make him real.

Bishop Spong will be at Millsaps College Oct. 20 & 21. See faithandreason.org for details.

Previous Comments

ID
84618
Comment

I'm confused. Why's he so different again? I haven't read anything concrete yet here.

Author
Ironghost
Date
2006-10-18T21:20:19-06:00
ID
84619
Comment

That's because he was being gentle. Here are his 12 Theses, which sum up where he stands theologically: 1. Theism, as a way of defining God, is dead. So most theological God-talk is today meaningless. A new way to speak of God must be found. 2. Since God can no longer be conceived in theistic terms, it becomes nonsensical to seek to understand Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic deity. So the Christology of the ages is bankrupt. 3. The biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which human beings fell into sin is pre-Darwinian mythology and post-Darwinian nonsense. 4. The virgin birth, understood as literal biology, makes Christ's divinity, as traditionally understood, impossible. 5. The miracle stories of the New Testament can no longer be interpreted in a post-Newtonian world as supernatural events performed by an incarnate deity. 6. The view of the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world is a barbarian idea based on primitive concepts of God and must be dismissed. 7. Resurrection is an action of God. Jesus was raised into the meaning of God. It therefore cannot be a physical resuscitation occurring inside human history. 8. The story of the Ascension assumed a three-tiered universe and is therefore not capable of being translated into the concepts of a post-Copernican space age. 9. There is no external, objective, revealed standard writ in scripture or on tablets of stone that will govern our ethical behavior for all time. 10. Prayer cannot be a request made to a theistic deity to act in human history in a particular way. 11. The hope for life after death must be separated forever from the behavior control mentality of reward and punishment. The Church must abandon, therefore, its reliance on guilt as a motivator of behavior. 12. All human beings bear God's image and must be respected for what each person is. Therefore, no external description of one's being, whether based on race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, can properly be used as the basis for either rejection or discrimination. [continued]

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-10-18T22:45:43-06:00
ID
84620
Comment

Personally, I have a lot of respect for what Jack Spong did as Episcopal Bishop of Newark--ordain the first openly gay male priest in 1989, for starters (though the first openly lesbian priest was ordained in the late 1970s)--but am finding that the further I drift from any kind of orthodox Christian identity, the less compelling I find his arguments to be. There isn't much there that's completely original--when he says he's basing it all on the work of his predecessor, John A.T. Robinson, he's exactly right--and I really see him more as a prominent rank-and-file member of the New Reformation than as its leader per se. What makes him special, in other words, isn't that he was the first guy to preach this stuff; it's that he has done an amazing job of popularizing it, and been willing to draw an awful lot of flak from other liberal religious types by being so outspoken and so prominent. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-10-18T22:45:50-06:00
ID
84621
Comment

Spong is willing to discuss the Bible in a real way. He supports the rights of gays. He discredits fundamentalists who use the bible to keep women in 2nd class status. Maybe that doesn't sound "different" to you, Ironghost, but to many Christians in Mississippi Spong's teachings are a breath of fresh air.

Author
Izzy
Date
2006-10-19T09:52:12-06:00
ID
84622
Comment

Agreed, and while there have been other authors and even other Episcopal authors who were on the same wavelength (John A.T. Robinson, Henry Emerson Fosdick, James Pike, et. al.), none of them were Bishop of Newark when Jack Spong was, and none of them ordained the first openly gay male priest. I think of Jack Spong as being liberal Christianity's answer to Carl Sagan: What's important is not that what he's saying is new, but rather that he's being a good ambassador and communicating the ideas well and making them more exciting for many people. I suppose my only real kvetch about Bishop Spong is that he does not always convey the fact that there are many, many people who think as he does, and who thought as he did before he even came on the scene. There is nothing in his basic theology, for example, that was not stated during the radical theology movement of the 1960s/1970s; nothing in his questions regarding the virginity of Mary and so forth that were not brought up during the 19th century during the Higher Criticism movement; nothing in his arguments about fundamental gender equality that has not been said, and often more forcefully, by feminist theologians; nothing in his arguments about lesbian and gay equality that has not been said, and often more eloquently, by lesbian and gay theologians; nothing in his arguments about race and class oppression that has not been said, often more convincingly, by theologians of color. The only real danger with Bishop Spong is that people reading his books might actually get the idea that the New Reformation is being led by a financially comfortable retired white heterosexual male bishop who just wrote a new book last week, when in fact it is much older and more diverse than that. But the great benefit of Bishop Spong is that he synthesizes and popularizes these ideas and has put them into action in the Episcopal Church like nobody else. Gene Robinson would not be Bishop of New Hampshire were it not for Jack Spong, and that by itself is more than enough to make up for the good bishop's flaws. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-10-19T10:45:35-06:00
ID
84623
Comment

Is this Joseph Spong any way related to John Shelby Spong?

Author
jones
Date
2006-10-19T14:05:26-06:00
ID
84624
Comment

He is him. I just found out about this error, and I apologize on behalf of Natalie and the staff. I just talked to Natalie, who happens to be at the Dykes Foundation right now offering to wash the bishop's feet, I think. ;-) She feels terrible about it. Needless to say, she did a lot for this issue (including the cover story) and just mistyped his name, and no one else caught it. So we're all responsible.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-10-19T15:30:20-06:00
ID
84625
Comment

I'm sure the good bishop isn't the least bit offended. He's been called much worse! ;o) One suggestion: I'd change references in the online article from "John Spong" to "John Shelby Spong." In most instances he uses all three names. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-10-19T15:51:59-06:00
ID
84626
Comment

Controversy is brewing at Millsaps over his visit. That should guarantee a good turnout. ;-)

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-10-19T19:29:30-06:00
ID
84627
Comment

Tom, if he decides to redefine Christianity in terms that suit him... what are we supposed to do? If there's no god, no Jesus, no crucifixion, nothing... What's the point?

Author
Ironghost
Date
2006-10-19T20:07:46-06:00
ID
84628
Comment

Spong describes himself as a non-theist, but not an atheist, and he believes very strongly that there was a historical Jesus who was crucified by the Romans. But now that you mention it, the question that crosses my mind--and the reason I felt comfortable skipping this weekend despite my great love for the Dykeses and everyone who works with the Foundation--is why Christianity, as he sees it, is worth saving. If we're going to base our understanding of God on personal experience, and I'm all for that, then why go to all the trouble of having distinct and separate religions? Why not take what's useful from any religion and adapt it to your purposes, basing it around a humble agnostic or theistic humanism? That's what I do, and it seems to work for me and for a lot of other people. It just seems to me that it doesn't make sense to save institutional Christianity if we're going to transform it so radically--very much an "I love you, you're perfect, now change" dynamic. "You're so beautiful and so perfect and I don't know what I'd do if I couldn't look at you every day. Now lose 30 pounds and get a nose job, a tummy tuck, collagen in your lips and silicone in your boobs, botox on your forehead, put on contacts so your eyes are a different color, go to the gym to build muscle tone, remove every trace of a blemish from your body, dye your hair, bleach your eyebrows... But you're so beautiful, and I don't know what..." [etc.] This is not to say that I don't think there's a point to Jesus, a point to the Gospels, a point to Christian morality, and a point to the Christian story and the Christian hope, no matter how progressive or agnostic one gets, but what's the deal with saving institutional Christianity, with all of its historical and patriarchal trappings? Isn't the message of Christ, as Bishop Spong and I see it, better off without that human institution? That's what I guess I'd ask him. But he's a very intelligent man, and I wouldn't be surprised if he had a good answer. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-10-19T23:02:41-06:00
ID
84629
Comment

The institutional question is interesting. This is only somwhat related, but I am reminded of a sort of homily from John Dominic Crossan (who holds similar views about Jesus). He said that there are two major divine birth stories from the time of Jesus. One is the Jesus story. The other is the Octavian story. To wit, Augustus, who was Octavian before he came the emperor, claimed to be descended from the gods, specifically Apollo. His mom said that when she was trying to get pregnant, she went and spent the night at the temple of Apollo. In the middle of the night, Apollo came to her in the form of a giant snake and they got it on. Nine months later, she had Octavian. Neither story is more or less plausible than the other. Neither has more evidence for it than the other. The difference is what the stories mean. One story, the Jesus story, comes from the periphery of the empire, and it's message is that the weakest among us are the greatest. The other comes from the very heart of the empire, and its purpose is to sanctify imperial power. Let us say that both stories are false. There is still a distinct moral difference.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2006-10-20T11:04:40-06:00
ID
84630
Comment

The issue with Spong, and indeed the tension with all religion, is this. Spong is essentailly saying that we must abandon the old way of thinking because it is not consistent with our modern understanding of the world. But what is so special about our modern understanding? Are we so certain that our values and sciences, as they stand today, represent the pinnacle of human understanding? That is, he is merely advocating the transferrence of a religion founded in first century thinking to a religion founded in 21st century thinking. But that doesn't mean that this understanding will take us closer to a real understanding of God -- it just means it will allow the religon to flourish in the context of 21st century man. That is, it will allow the religion to be an opiate for the 21st century masses. So, then you have to ask Tom's question. If all we are doing is carting along a dead religion to make ourselves feel better, why not be honest and be done with it? Why not abandon the whole premise of the religion? The counterpoint to this is often expressed in fundamentalism. Fundamentalists declare that the truths of religion are unchanging, and should not be adapted to suit the times. On the one hand, this honors the concept that God is not subject to our changing priorities. But, on the other hand, the fundamentalists usually up just picking and choosing specific things to champion, that are often colored more by their own prejudices than the priorities fo God or Jesus as expresed in the Bible. So, ironically, they end up doing just what the reformers do. They use the language of religon to support their desired direction for society. I don't have all the answers, but I do think this -- at least for myself. If God exists, he has certain qualities, and they are not subject to our perception of him. We may each perceive him differently, but he is what he is, regardless. So, religion should be about worship, service, and the pursuit of those truths. If it is anything other than that, or if belief in God becomes untenable, then it should be abandoned utterly.

Author
GLB
Date
2006-10-20T13:32:04-06:00
ID
84631
Comment

GLB, I wonder if you've ever read St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit tradition. Your two statements here: If God exists, he has certain qualities, and they are not subject to our perception of him. We may each perceive him differently, but he is what he is, regardless. So, religion should be about worship, service, and the pursuit of those truths. Are more or less exactly what he said in the first of his Spiritual Exercises. You might enjoy reading them! And very well said. The truth is that we are all trying to adapt an ancient understanding of the world, and religious beliefs based on same, to 21st-century science and to a 21st-century understanding of oppression--because in the olden days, racism, genocide, slavery, misogyny, homophobia,institutionalized rape, child abuse, elective holy war, and so forth were seen as religious and even holy, mental illness was seen as the work of demons, the world seen as a giant underwater dome, all of existence seen as the work of a bored deity. And religion is not, to adapt an IT term, easily scalable--you have to find all kinds of gadgets to make the plugs fit. Fundamentalists solve this problem by using more old technology, modernists use less old technology, but all of us within the margins of institutional religion are essentially trying to run Windows XP on a TI/99/4A, to put new wine into very very old wineskins, and that creates an awful lot of problems. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-10-20T13:54:46-06:00
ID
84632
Comment

I have not read that, Tom. But I very much appreciate the recommendation. I also think the rest of your post shows your sympathy with the view that religious truth can only be communicated through technical methaphor. {:) (Tolkien is raging in the astral plane right about now.)

Author
GLB
Date
2006-10-20T14:02:43-06:00
ID
84633
Comment

Part of me has sympathy with the fundamentalists for precisely the reason we are discussing--they actually sacrifice something for their beliefs. In other words, they believe things that are patently stupid for the sake of their religion. Reasonable people, people who have their "spirituality," try to make religion reasonable too. If you are a spiritual person, you need make no sacrifice for religion at all. Your God is a perfectly lovely deity who can be split away from slaughtering children in Palestine, which was one of God's favorite passtimes in the Old Testament. Here's an admittedly silly dictum: Better a fundamentalist or an atheist than an agnostic. At least you're wagering something.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2006-10-21T16:21:52-06:00
ID
84634
Comment

I would add that atheists have the problem of having no foundation for their morality other than their own preferences. So, ironically, they rely on religious sentiment in others to keep them in line. That is, once God goes away, the only restaint on behavior is the conscience and the law. But conscience is merely a vestigal organ of social evolution -- once you know what is it, it eventually loses its power. Atheists must also accept some of the nonsense that religious people accept. That is religious people say that God is self-existent and boundless. Athesits must say that existence is self-existent and boundless. This is not the same as the identity principle (existence exists) as the Objectivists would have you believe. Nor do the theories about temporal and spatial boundaries of the unvierse (from Hawking and others) address the problem of existence, because the observable universe exists within the domain of theoretical existence. So everybody's got problems. Sheesh.

Author
GLB
Date
2006-10-21T17:27:06-06:00
ID
84635
Comment

You know, I think we're basically having a conversation about gender here, not religion. Brian, why is it intrinsically better to wager something on the God-question? Isn't that idea of intellectual toughness basically one of those trappings of masculinity that we're better off discarding? GLB, I think the argument can be made that everyone has the problem of having no foundation for their morality other than their own preferences and that what atheists do is acknowledge the problem. Everyone who is moral is basically moral because they have made a commitment to be so, not because it is provably better to be so. Sometimes it's actually "worse" to be moral, from the point of view of self-interest, which is why the religious ideas of karma and kismet and heaven and hell are so useful--the (I suspect false) idea that there is a moral ledger that will one day read 0 for everyone, that there is ultimately no injustice in the universe. My morality is and has always been a feminine morality grounded in love and empathy, not a masculine morality grounded in gavels and patriarchs. There are people and causes I would die for in a heartbeat, even if there is no afterlife. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-10-21T18:25:06-06:00
ID
84636
Comment

Tom: I think it's not possible to honestly chose to believe anything. Our beliefs are not chosen -- we gather logical, emotional, experiential, and authoritative evidence thoughout our lives, we make choices that influence who we are, and from all that calculus our true beliefs arise. If I told you you had to believe that there was a large elephant in the next room, could you do it? What would it take for you to believe that? Would you not have to become convinced somehow? Now say I told you that you had to disbelieve that there is a toilet in your bathroom right now. Could you choose to disbelieve that? So, I don't think it's possible to make any such wager. Certainly not Pascal's wager -- as if God could be fooled by our pretending to believe in him so he doesn't punish us. With regard to morality -- it is true that those who are moral are those who have chosen to be. It is also true that atheists can and often are moral -- often they are some of the most moral people walking the planet. But I think many simply either don't realize or don't thnk about the fact that, within their own framework of morality, there is nothing more valuable about their choices than those of an unabashed pedophile, or of a genocidal dictator, or anyone else. That is, to be "moral" is not a statement of value, it is just a definition of a certain set of choices. You can say that it is of value to them, and that is true. But the way being moral makes one feel - the sort of health of the soul that arises -- is all just an evolutionary illusion. It has no more intrinsic value than any other choice. In fact, there are no such things are choices with intrinsic value. So once that veil of illusion begins to collapse, then one can no longer sustain that feeling of goodness -- when in fact, good has no meaning.

Author
GLB
Date
2006-10-21T20:01:37-06:00
ID
84637
Comment

I need to make a correction to my previous post. I said the following: "But I think many simply either don't realize or don't thnk about the fact that, within their own framework of morality, there is nothing more valuable about their choices than those of an unabashed pedophile, or of a genocidal dictator, or anyone else." I didn't mean "their own framework of MORALITY" I meant "their own framework of REALITY". I needed to correct that. It makes a big difference for what follows.

Author
GLB
Date
2006-10-21T20:09:15-06:00
ID
84638
Comment

GLB writes: I think it's not possible to honestly chose to believe anything. Choose to believe, no. Choose to do, yes. The reasons for doing--love, empathy, concern for the well-being of others--are there regardless of our worldview, if we choose to prioritize them. And if we don't, religious worldviews won't do us any good anyway--because it is just as easy to be a cruel sociopath with religion as it is without, as we are seeing in much of the world right now. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-10-21T20:09:57-06:00
ID
84639
Comment

You 're right Tom. The questions of how what you described influences and relates to belief and faith are, for me at least, very profound. So much so that I can't really put into words what they mean to me -- yet. I'm not sure what to do with that connection. I'll let you know if I get there.

Author
GLB
Date
2006-10-21T20:13:32-06:00
ID
84640
Comment

That's okay, GLB--and thanks for your candor. I definitely agree that when we try to put this sort of thing into words, sometimes we're effing around with the ineffable. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-10-21T20:22:18-06:00
ID
84641
Comment

"We'll see if we can't eff it after all" {:)

Author
GLB
Date
2006-10-21T20:24:13-06:00
ID
84642
Comment

Sorry: just had to share... http://www.tomsmithonline.com/lyrics/online_religion.htm

Author
Lady Havoc
Date
2006-10-25T14:48:02-06:00
ID
84643
Comment

There's one thing I forgot to mention about Bishop Spong: When he describes himself as a non-theist, he is not saying that he does not believe in any kind of God. For Spong, "theism" = "classical theism," and all other varieties of theism are non-theistic. I used to find his use of the terminology incredibly grating because I would describe, for example, a Vaishnava henotheism as theistic, while Bishop Spong presumably would not because it does not follow the classical theism mold. Spong is actually a theist according to my definition of the word theism, but he is not a theist according to his definition, which he inherited from the 1960s/1970s radical theology movement (as some of its proponents also used the word "theism" to refer exclusively to classical theism). So it is that many of the death-of-God theologians, such as Richard Rubenstein, were regarded as atheists when they were really nothing of the kind. The terms "theism" and "atheism" are horribly inarticulate anyway. As Carl Sagan once put it: When you ask someone whether they believe in God and they answer yes or no, you've learned nothing meaningful about them because you have no idea what they mean by the word "God." Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-10-25T15:33:37-06:00
ID
84644
Comment

I'm not sure what the technicalities of the "theism" argument are. You'd have to enlighten me there, Tom. Sagan might have been indirectly referencing the logical coherence argument against the existence of God, which is based on the premise that God is a logically incoherent concept, and therefore meaningless. That is, you might as well say, "do you belive in BURAMINILATINARY? I think Kai Neilsen is a big proponent of this argument.

Author
GLB
Date
2006-10-25T17:16:44-06:00
ID
84645
Comment

GLB, Sagan's point was that some definitions of God are logically incoherent and some are self-evident. He used the example of Spinoza referring to the whole of natural law as "God," and how that definition of God obviously exists (making virtually everyone a theist), but that it wasn't what most people meant by the word. Likewise, if God means an omnipotent 400-foot Tickle Me Elmo doll in a thong, then virtually everyone would be an atheist. It's not very sensible to talk about "God" as if it were one concept when there are in fact countless definitions of God, and we all disbelieve in the vast majority of them. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-10-25T18:09:25-06:00
ID
84646
Comment

I guess maybe that's consistent with God's definition of himself... "I am." {:)

Author
GLB
Date
2006-10-25T19:40:18-06:00
ID
84647
Comment

I am reminded of a passage from "Voyage of the Dawn Treader", where Eustace is talking to Ramandu, the penitent star ' "In our world", said Eustace, "A star is a huge ball of flaming gas." "Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of." ' I suspect that each of us has different ideas of what God is (or isn't), based largely on who we are. It is not possible to be entirely objective about God, even in terms of defining him. I think it also may not be possible to give a precise and complete definition. Of course, it is not possible to precisely define all of that which exists either. That is, much of that which is fundamentally incoherent about the concept of God is also fundamentally incoherent about the concept of existence, here defined as the complete set of that which exists (e.g. eternal, boundless, omnipresent). And yet, here we are. This is not any kind of argument for God's existence. But it does, I think, dispel the idea that we must be able to provide a coherent definition of God, in terms of how we would define any other single entity, in order for him to even possibly exist. But, in any case, I believe (and this is a belief) that, if God exists, then what we need to know of him is accessible to each of us. I don't know what that is, but I don't think it is mystery available to only the very clever. God is not Waldo, hiding in a busy picture. Except, maybe, he is Waldo for those who need him to be. All questions far too profound for 12:45 am. I should just shut up, and maybe pray for a few minutes before bed. That's probably better than these ramblings of mine. Good night all.

Author
GLB
Date
2006-10-26T00:46:51-06:00
ID
84648
Comment

GLB writes: This is not any kind of argument for God's existence. But it does, I think, dispel the idea that we must be able to provide a coherent definition of God, in terms of how we would define any other single entity, in order for him to even possibly exist. Well said. I have no grievance with your post--your "Where's Waldo?" question is really a large part of why I've never been able to buy into exclusivist soteriologies. I call myself an agnostic who believes in God, but what exactly my concept of God is like is not clear, even to me. I am very much the classically-defined Unitarian: Someone who disbelieves almost everything that anyone else believes, but has a deep and abiding faith in he-doesn't-quite-know-what. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-10-26T02:10:53-06:00
ID
84649
Comment

I posted the text below to a humanist listserv in September. Cheers, TH *** [in response to a narrow definition of God:] By those standards, I would be a pretty confident atheist. I think the image of an omnipotent, supernatural creator-god who smites sinners is far less probable than the existence of flying pink unicorns that sing Wagner, about whose existence I am several steps beyond agnostic. I like to sit down with other theists--I do consider myself a theist--and ask the following questions: 1. Is God from Earth? 2. If God is not from Earth, is God an extraterrestrial? 3. If God is not an extraterrestrial, how did God come to be? 4. If God always was, what were God's first memories? 5. If God had no first memories, how can God have any memories at all? And so on. People just don't think through the implications of believing in an "omnipotent" God who is "all good" and "all knowing" and "has always been" and "supernatural" (whatever the hell that means) and waging war with an evil being that it created itself and jealous of other, presumably nonexistent gods and very interested in our sex lives and violent and nationalistic and so forth, but which for some reason never chooses to reveal itself to us directly enough for any of those beliefs to be well-founded. My theism is predicated on the idea that the whole-that-is is indescribably massive and complex, and that I may make a commitment to the unproven but realistic hope that in some place, at some time, there is a being in that all-that-is who affirms the fundamental meaning of existence and the ultimate value of love in such a way as to be God, to be those eyes that look back at us when we look up at the night sky or down into the grave. Maybe it's a collective intelligence from the Horsehead Nebula. Maybe it's humanity in 10,000 years. Maybe it's some being from a previous incarnation of the universe who, through means unknown to us, survived its collapse and rebirth. I do not know, and there is no way that I could know (even in theory), but I am committed to the belief that there is such a being to whom I pray and address my gratitude and aspirations and grief. Maybe I'm wrong. I don't claim to have any proof. But I find the belief deeply affirming and aspiring--not just comforting.

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-10-26T02:13:04-06:00
ID
84650
Comment

Well put, Tom. Here are the lyrics to a song I wrote a few years ago. They express some of my thoughts about the differences and similarities of people, and how that relates to how they regard life and its meaning. ------------------------------------------ Seers look to the stars in the sky To point the way before them Sailors look to the stars in the sky To keep the course they’ve chosen Lovers kiss beneath the stars in the sky And claim them for their own Misfits fly to the stars in the sky On a daydream journey home I see the wells of ancient time And sisters that dance with the sun I feel the sacred and sublime And the dread and dreams of everyone The young man seethes beneath the stars in the sky And he wrings his tender hands The old man breathes beneath the stars in the sky And he’s got no special plans And he pitches his tent on shifting sands I see the wells of ancient time And sisters that dance with the sun I feel the sacred and sublime And the dread and dreams of everyone peace sons and fathers lay your world-weary strife aside rest your heads beside still waters feel the moon gently call the tide sleep sons and daughters shrouded in the sparkling night a tear for every senseless slaughter a jewel for every radiant bride a tear for every senseless slaughter The Christ-child sleeps beneath the stars in the sky And they herald his ascendance The Christ-child weeps beneath the stars in the sky And they bear silent witness to his sentence ------------------------------------------------------

Author
GLB
Date
2006-10-26T10:28:30-06:00
ID
84651
Comment

Sorry I'm a bit late getting back, but I have to comment on something GLB said above, when he argued that absence of God means moral relativism. This is one of the cruder arguments religious folks make for the social necessity of God, and it simply isn't the case. Anyone heard of Kant? Or utilitarianism? Both systems of morality, deontology and utilitarianism, try to rescue morality from the necessity of God. For Kant, there is only one true morality and it derives from us all being rational agents. For utilitarians, there is only one true morality and it derives from maximizing happiness. Neither system requires God, and neither system is relativist. This assertion, that we have God or we have moral chaos, is nothing but an assertion. As for wagering, Tom, it is not necessarily masculinist. My suggestion is that if your religious accomodation requires no sacrifice, it has little credibility. Because it costs you nothing to believe in a perfectly comfortable God, your belief appears shallow, as I believe most Americans' belief is. (I am using the general "you" here.) I don't think that has anything to do with gender.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2006-10-26T12:09:38-06:00
ID
84652
Comment

when he argued that absence of God means moral relativism. That's not even logical.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-10-26T12:16:55-06:00
ID
84653
Comment

One thing more, GLB. I'm not sure what you're talking about with the terms "self-existent" and "boundless," but you'll have a very hard time arguing that atheism is philosophically incoherent. Materialism is ancient and consistent. You may not like it, but most 20th century philosophy is at least implicitly atheist.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2006-10-26T12:34:14-06:00
ID
84654
Comment

Brian: I am saying that atheism is not more or less philosophically incoherent than theism. You have given two systems of ethics. By what criteria do you evaluate their absolute value? By what criteria do you compare them with each other?

Author
GLB
Date
2006-10-26T13:05:02-06:00
ID
84655
Comment

It depends on what you mean by "evaluate." Personally, I am unconvinced by both deontology and utilitarianism, but the point remains that they are indisputably "absolute" systems on the same order of "command" morality. In other words, it's simply wrong to state that the absence of God produces moral relativism. You can have atheists who have absolutely "rigid" moral systems set by shared rationality, etc., or you can have atheists who are moral relativists. But these systems I refer to are as universal as traditional religious morality. Agreed on philosophical coherence, though it's important to note that philosophers tried for at least 1,000 years to prove that God was philosophically necessary. All such attempts failed. Some of them, such as Descartes', have become notorious philosophical blunders.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2006-10-26T13:29:41-06:00
ID
84656
Comment

I agree that God doesn't seem to be philosophically necessary. I am certainly not arguing that he is necessary in any way. However, with respect to the moral question -- is it not a contradiction in terms to say that there are multiple absolute systems of morality? I am not saying that the traditional system that is attributed to God is necessarily THE system of morality. I am saying that God is necessary for there to exist an axiomatic moral ground. I guess I am being somewhat tautological here, bcause I am defining God, in part, as the ground of morality. But what I am saying is that, apart from defining something (here called God) as that ground, then that ground doesn't exist. The ground of material being does exist apart from God -- this goes back to the lack of philosophical necessity for God. But I don't think there is a moral ground unless we define a construct that embodies it. I'm really wading into the tall grass here, but the main point is that you cannot have multiple grounds of an absolute. You can have multiple self-consistent systems, each resting on different premises -- and indeed, that is what you have with these ethical systems. But they are not mutually exclusive absolute moral systems -- THAT is incoherent.

Author
GLB
Date
2006-10-26T13:45:33-06:00
ID
84657
Comment

GLB, there are multiple mutually exclusive systems of absolute morality; it's just a question of which one is right. So either deontology is right or utilitarianism is right; both cannot be right. Maybe it would help to write that they claim or attempt to be universal. My point is that you are wrong when you say that God is necessary for a universal ethics. For instance, Kant held that a universal ethics arises inevitably from shared rationality. In other words, if you have rational agents, you necessarily have shared duty, which is his basis for all morality. Even though Kant believed in God, his moral system does not require God. Is this making sense? I fear we may be talking past each other.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2006-10-26T15:16:28-06:00
ID
84658
Comment

Brian writes: As for wagering, Tom, it is not necessarily masculinist. My suggestion is that if your religious accomodation requires no sacrifice, it has little credibility. Credibility is all too often nothing more than a masculine values buzzword (along with "[ir]relevance"), and the search for credibility is theological quicksand. It's what gave us the doctrine of Hell--because universalism would be too good, obviously, so we need the danger of Hell to balance it out. We need to balance out the good news of a loving, saving God with the bad news of an angry, jealous God. He who saves must also smite. It's all very Jungian, but in practice all those contradictions give us the equivalent of an emotionally unstable alcoholic father in the sky. I say it's all macho bullshit and that, consequently, theology as a whole is usually all macho bullshit. There are some things we should be prepared to honestly say we don't know about, and the precise nature of an invisible and rather speculative God would seem to me to be at or near the top of the list. If we believe in a loving God, then we believe in a loving God. If we don't know whether we believe in God, then we don't know whether we believe in God. There is no need to wager, and no need for--or possibility of--credibility when we wrestle with fundamental questions dealing with meaning and meaninglessness, with our own mortal finitude. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-10-26T15:20:21-06:00
ID
84659
Comment

We probably are talking past each other. I am not saying that God is necessary for universal ethics. I am saying that God is necessary for the concept of a "right" ethical system to even make sense. We can certainly all agree on a system of ethics, and that would make it universal. But there is no referrent to whether or not it is "right" unless you have God -- where God is defined as the agent that determines what is "right". Does that make sense?

Author
GLB
Date
2006-10-26T15:22:21-06:00
ID
84660
Comment

Re the concept of an absolute system of morality: I find it incoherent. Let's take religious morality. The absolute system there is that it's right because God wills it to be right. Okay, so if God orders the slaughter of infants, or sanctions rape, is that right? (Anyone who actually says yes may sit down now.) If it's not right, doesn't that suggest that theological morality is not absolute--that there are moral foundations that we value more than the will of God? I think it does. I think there are things that are more important to us--more fundamental to us--than absolute morality. Love, empathy, loyalty, kindness--these are values that we live our lives around, God or no God, and they cannot be reduced to postulates. As far as deontological and utilitarian ethics go: I find them generally worthless, because they attempt to justify moral behavior on the basis that it is in our self-interest, or on the basis that it is most consistent with a rational system, without establishing if or why self-interest or a rational system should themselves be moral priorities. It's turtles all the way down. This is the failure of all ethical systems based on coherence and self-interest--whether we are talking about the idealization of absolutes or the Categorical Imperative, whether we are talking about the completeness of God or the personal need to make it into heaven, we are ultimately imposing ideas on our morality that are jarring and unnatural. The best an ethical theorist can hope to do is describe human morality, not try to build it from the ground up--as if those of us who love, who empathize, are not naturally more likely to achieve goals we would recognize as moral than the cold analyses of arrogant philosophical schema. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-10-26T15:32:17-06:00
ID
84661
Comment

Tom: If God exists, where God is in part defined as the ground of morality, and if you find that some manifestation of the will of God is immoral, then either (a) you have misunderstood the will of God, or (b) others are attributing to God things that are not really consistent with his will, and you are reacting to that, or (c) your ideas are immoral, and that is why they are incompatible with the will of God. In any case, if God exists, and if part of the definiton of God is that God is the ground of morality, then, by definition, you cannot be more moral than God. However, any of the other 3 possibilities I mentioned above could be true, and I think your objections could fall into any or all of these possibilities.

Author
GLB
Date
2006-10-26T16:08:25-06:00
ID
84662
Comment

GLB, that's very Augustinian--seriously! He wrote at one point that if it appears that God has done something immoral, he blames his own senses. But since our apprehension of God is based on our senses, and we judge whether or not our senses are accurate based on whether or not what he does seems moral to us, in what way does that provide an absolute theistic morality? Aren't we, in practice, doing the same thing we would be doing if we believed that the most fundamental form of morality was ours? I'm also not sure what the phrase "ground of morality" means. I understand "ground of Being," but in practice, what does "ground of morality" really signify? That if he were in theory to do something evil, it would become good by virtue of his doing it? Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-10-26T16:23:29-06:00
ID
84663
Comment

Incidentally, to the extent that I believe in God, I buy very much into Rubenstein's "pagan" monotheism--wherein omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence are not necessarily definable characteristics of God. I'm not actually sure how powerful, or how wise, God is; I am just committed to the idea that somewhere out there or in here or everywhere exists a being whose existence so purely affirms the absolute value of love as to be worthy of the name God. Again, that could be us in 10,000 years looking back on ourselves, or it could be some alien being, or it could be some fundamental property of the universe. I don't really know. I can't really know. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-10-26T16:26:37-06:00
ID
84664
Comment

"That if he were in theory to do something evil, it would become good by virtue of his doing it?" God's will is good by definition -- that is what is meant by the ground of morality. If no ground of morality exists (and, by extension, no God exists) then you have no absolute basis by which to judge anything as good or evil. You only have your preference. The existence of an absolute theistic morality and our ability to accurately apprehend it are two separate things. I make no claim that anyone has every accurately apprehanded it, at least in it's entirity. But all of this is really getting esoteric. I think the practical upshot of this issue is whether or not that which is moral is something for us to discover (like we would discover a law of nature) or if it something for us to simply decide upon (like a form of government). If it is something for us to discover, then I assert that this only makes sense if we are asserting that there exists some absolute ground for morality. If it is something for us to simply decide upon, then that points to a fundamentally arbitrary ground for morality. "I am just committed to the idea that somewhere out there or in here or everywhere exists a being whose existence so purely affirms the absolute value of love as to be worthy of the name God. " Amen. Although I'm not commited to the idea, I'm just hopeful that this God exists.

Author
GLB
Date
2006-10-26T16:58:29-06:00
ID
84665
Comment

GLB, if I understand what you're writing, you're wrong. If deontology describes the nature of morality, it is right for everyone whether they like it or not. I think we're actually close in our views on this; I think that deontology is ultimately silly because it is trying to set up a system that looks exactly like command (God) morality without having to rely on God. Nevertheless, your claim, that God is necessary for one universal morality to be right is simply false. I think deontology fails, but it is not incoherent. Beyond that, it's possible to imagine all sorts of universal, exclusive moral systems that do not rely on God. Tom, genderfy things however you like. I have contempt for Americans who regard religion as just another fashion accessory. If that makes me a masculinist, so be it.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2006-10-26T17:09:03-06:00
ID
84666
Comment

GLB writes: God's will is good by definition -- that is what is meant by the ground of morality. So if God tortures a child to death, it becomes moral? I mean, this is the foundational problem with classical theism--what makes absolute morality absolute? Does God not have the option of doing anything less than supremely moral? If so, how can we reconcile this with any actions ever attributed to God, never mind the worst ones--with creation, which has led to untold unnecessary suffering, for example? If no ground of morality exists (and, by extension, no God exists) then you have no absolute basis by which to judge anything as good or evil. You only have your preference. That's like saying that if God is not a ground of language, we have no absolute basis to determine the meaning of words. Morality is not purely subjective. It is intersubjective--we share it and we teach it, just as we share and teach language. And just as we hold the meanings of words in common, we hold empathy, we hold love, we hold basic values, in common. "Preference" is entirely too glib and superficial a word to describe this process. Besides, even if God were the absolute basis of morality, our moral decisions would still be based on intersubjective truths--because, as you point out, we have no direct means by which to apprehend God's will. If a divine commandment is uttered in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound? Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-10-26T17:11:51-06:00
ID
84667
Comment

Brian writes: Tom, genderfy things however you like. I have contempt for Americans who regard religion as just another fashion accessory. If that makes me a masculinist, so be it. The issue is not what makes you a masculinist; the issue is institutional sexism, which affects all of us, and affects the way we think. The barter or wager approach to credibility--which says you have to bleed a little or it isn't worth anything--is inherently based on masculine toughness. Love freely given is not masculine; love earned is masculine. Doubt freely expressed is not masculine; doubt obscured by false confidence is masculine. We should not approach mortal questions the way the Bush administration approaches foreign policy decisions, where betting it all on one outcome is best and hesitation is always wrong. That is the lie of manhood. We must rise above it. Love and humility must win, and if love and humility lead us to have religious doubts rather than religious certainties, then so be it. I see no point to wagering for the sake of wagering. I do like your use of the phrase "command morality," which brings to mind Julian Jaynes' theory of the bicameral mind--where we originally had "master" and "slave" minds, "God" and "subject" minds, which became intermingled, producing consciousness and self-awareness. I don't buy into that as an all-encompassing theory of how consciousness developed per se, but I think there is definitely something to it. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-10-26T17:18:32-06:00
ID
84668
Comment

Brian: I don't understand how you have an absolute morality without the existence of a ground for that morality. It's like doing math without axioms. And I don't see any obvious ground for morality in the material universe, or as a necessary consequence of rationality, or anything like that. I am not referring to a sufficient ground for morality -- I am referring to THE absolute ground for morality -- the first turtle, as Tom might say. Maybe I just don't see it or don't understand it. I'm not expecting you to explain it all to me though -- if such a construct exists, it's my job to do that homework. But if you think you can, and you have the inclination, then fire away. More later (hopefully), after I've had dinner and time to think. Thanks, Brian and Tom, for a great conversation (so far!).

Author
GLB
Date
2006-10-26T17:24:18-06:00
ID
84669
Comment

Tom, surely you go too far. First, I do not in any way dispute your critique of the sexism of institutional religion. Nor do I dispute the deeply sexist nature of God himself in the Bible. But your contention that we cannot discuss credibility without being sexist seems silly.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2006-10-26T17:26:23-06:00
ID
84670
Comment

We can certainly discuss credibility without being sexist. But when we define credibility based on a wager system--where the important thing is confidence, not wisdom--then we are living into a very old and very inadequate standard of manhood, the same one, here again, that defines the "I'm the decider" mindset of the Bush administration. There are things that are more important than certainty. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-10-26T17:37:15-06:00
ID
84671
Comment

GLB, you are reminding me a lecture I listened to from a philosophy professor years ago. When anglo-American philosophy was dominated by positivism, there was this long fight over the nature of moral claims. Positivists, most notably AJ Ayer, held that moral claims were actually nonsense statements because they did not refer to anything empirically verifiable. This has sense been set aside, largely on the basis of developments in how philosophers understand language. This professor took a more interesting approach. He did not claim that all moral claims are nonsensical. Rather, he claimed that all moral claims are simply false. In other words, whenever someone says something like, "Killing is wrong," they are making a real, intelligible claim about the world. It's just that they are wrong, because morality has no basis in the world outside of people. Ultimately, in his view, killing is not wrong; people simply think so. This sounds a lot like what you're arguing--morality has no basis except for individual judgments unless there is a God. It's a perfectly reasonable view, but it is not logically necessary. The professor above knew full well that he could not prove his view. It was simply his claim about the nature of moral claims. However, people like Kant would argue that there is one universal morality that applies to all people, and that this morality arises out of the nature of "personhood," if you'll forgive the clunkiness. It's been a long time since I've read Kant (thank God), but the idea is that the nature of subjectivity itself creates a basis for objective morality. I don't know how to explain it any better than that.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2006-10-26T17:44:28-06:00
ID
84672
Comment

Tom, now I think I have a better sense of what you're arguing, and you're attributing much more to what I wrote than is there. I never even implied that the important thing is confidence, nor did I invoke a "wager system." My argument is that it is hard to take someone's belief in God very seriously if that belief has no consequences for how they live or think. Is any claim about consistency or depth of belief inherently sexist?

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2006-10-26T17:54:42-06:00
ID
84673
Comment

Tom, toughness is NOT a masculine trait.

Author
kate
Date
2006-10-26T18:13:25-06:00
ID
84674
Comment

Kate, I never said it was. I'm talking about toughness as a masculine construct, not real toughness. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-10-26T18:22:40-06:00
ID
84675
Comment

Brian writes: My argument is that it is hard to take someone's belief in God very seriously if that belief has no consequences for how they live or think. Is any claim about consistency or depth of belief inherently sexist? No, but the belief that something is intrinsically more worthwhile if it involves certainty without warrant for certainty, damn-the-torpedoes-and-bleed-for-it, then it invokes a very outmodded masculine idea of what philosophy should be. This is because hesitation and doubt are historically seen as antimasculine (not necessarily feminine) traits--as "milquetoast" and "panty-waisted." But it's entirely right to be doubtful about the number of jellybeans contained in a jar you've never seen before, and nothing all that noble about being absolutely certain, sight unseen, wagering it all on a specific given number. Better to say "I don't know" and get slimed. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-10-26T18:39:40-06:00
ID
84676
Comment

Kate, I'm still kind of horrified that you thought I said real toughness was a masculine trait. If you don't know me better than that, I obviously need to try harder! Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-10-26T18:41:19-06:00
ID
84677
Comment

"outmodded" --> "outmoded." This October-induced arthritis is not good for my typing skills. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-10-26T18:42:14-06:00
ID
84678
Comment

First off, let me say that i have thouroughly enjoyed reading thisthread and it has caused me to think some things through that i don't normally spend time thinking about. In regards to this universal morality, could it not be argued that morality comes from evolutinary roots - that this universal morality has developed in a way to further advance the species as a whole. perhaps we have a darwinian 'survival of the fittest societies.' for example, any society that believes in indescriminate murder would not survive very long. similarly, human children require long-term care so wouldn't a society that encourages long-term unions provide better child-care and thus be more successful. therefore, it seems to me that that any universal system of morality could be a result of evolution. perhaps then, religion itself is an evolutionary response to the seemingly problem of free will in humans. i dunno, but it is an interesting thought, well to me at least.

Author
djames
Date
2006-10-26T18:58:30-06:00
ID
84679
Comment

Tom, you are making such a strawman argument. "Decision" is a traditionally masculine trait, but Kate is not, I believe, making a technical point. She is arguing that decision, i.e. toughness, is both masculine and feminine. I certainly do not mean to put words in your mouth (or keys at your fingers) Kate, but this is how I take what you wrote. The metaphor you make about jelly beans vastly distorts the issue by falsely comparing our beliefs in God to an either/or scenario where we may blindly guess the number of jelly beans in a jar or confess that we don't know. It distorts the issue because jelly beans are trivial and the nature of existence itself is not. Very few people are agnostics about vampires. They cannot be certain that vampires do not exist, but based on a preponderence of evidence, most are completely comfortable stating that vampires do not exist. The reason why people are different about vampires than they are about God is that vampires are of no importance and God is of the highest importance. I'll play this game. Are people who deny the existence of vampires masculinist? Are they raving brutes like George W. Bush? Do they embrace a vengeful God? That seems to be an absurd but logical extension of your argument. There is a certain viciousness in your argument on this question that puzzles me. I have not implied that your position entails support for George W. Bush, "the decider." Forgive me for saying so, but you seem so masculine in how you go about policing the boundaries of gender.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2006-10-26T19:19:39-06:00
ID
84680
Comment

Djames, many people are fascinated by this question of whether evolutionary history provides a basis for universal morality. It plugs right into the argument about Kant in a way that may be illuminating. The question of whether our biological nature provides a universal basis for morality boils down to whether or not we, a) have a biological social nature, and b) whether that nature provides a common set of morals to all people. In other words, is it in the very essence of being human to have certain moral beliefs? This is a different path to the same place Kant tries to take us. He makes dense, nearly incomprehensible philosophical arguments about how the very nature of being a person, whether or not God exists, means that we have certain moral obligations to one another. His argument is not biological; in fact, if Kant is right, his argument would apply to aliens also, even if they were green and slimy. He tries to argue that for rationality (for him, being a subject) to be coherent--in other words, to be a person--you must recognize that you share a fundamental moral bond with other people. If you don't, you are denying your personhood. Therefore, it is in the nature of being a person to recognize that you have certain obligations to other persons. You don't have to believe it, of course, but it's an example of how you can have exclusive, universal morality without having God.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2006-10-26T19:27:35-06:00
ID
84681
Comment

Brian writes: I'll play this game. Are people who deny the existence of vampires masculinist? Are they raving brutes like George W. Bush? Do they embrace a vengeful God? That seems to be an absurd but logical extension of your argument. It would be if that were the argument I was making. What you argued is that fundamental beliefs are not worthwhile unless you suffer for them--unless you make a commitment with confidence, demonstrating your certainty and intellectual toughness. That's a macho way to make decisions grounded in cultural expectations of what a man is supposed to be--e.g., one who does not hesitate, one who does not doubt, one who acts with virility and authority and so forth, regardless of how well-founded or not-well-founded his beliefs may be. I don't see how anyone could say it isn't. Now, are there women who have operated this way? Many. Dr. Laura comes to mind. On the other end of things, Madalyn Murray O'Hair comes to mind. But your philosophy condemns liberal theologians--including nearly all feminist theologians--while holding up fundamentalists and confident atheists as folks whose beliefs have more value because they're more certain about them. That's a masculinist way to do philosophy, grounded in patriarchy and authority, and it needs to be scrapped. Now, is this an argument against fundamentalism and atheism? No. But what it is is an argument against valuing fundamentalism and atheism on the basis that more is wagered in those cases. How much is wagered is completely irrelevant, and in fact the more that is wagered on an unwarranted belief, the less I'm inclined to respect that belief. Fanaticism is not a virtue. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-10-26T20:01:39-06:00
ID
84682
Comment

What you argued is that fundamental beliefs are not worthwhile unless you suffer for them Fair enough, but here comes the ellision: --unless you make a commitment with confidence, demonstrating your certainty and intellectual toughness. I never made that argument at all. You are imparting that view to me, but it is not part of my argument. Is it so implausible to you that one can have a feminist belief in suffering for your beliefs?

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2006-10-26T21:05:03-06:00
ID
84683
Comment

The question is not trivial. Are you really arguing that making a decision on such questions is masculinist? Are you suggesting that all female atheists are masculine? Of course not. It's just a masculine way of thinking about things.

Author
Brian Johnson
Date
2006-10-26T21:09:29-06:00
ID
84684
Comment

Brian, I'm not talking about who and who isn't a masculist. We're all masculists to the extent that we are products of profound institutional sexism. I'm talking about masculine thought patterns that should be discarded--and the idea that we should choose to believe something we wouldn't otherwise believe, to get "credibility" by proving we're willing to suffer for our beliefs, is tied into a very masculist way of doing philosophy. Goodness knows you're no troglodyte--you're a good feminist. So am I, or at least I like to think so, and I make mistakes like this all the time. There's a parallel here to the way we see racism and institutional racism. Nobody wants to be "a" racist, so when we point out ways of thinking that show where someone might have been affected by institutional racism, folks get defensive. It doesn't have to be that way. The fact that your thought pattern is masculist doesn't make you "a" masculist. It makes you a man, which you are. I'm one, too. Pointing out that we're products of this system is no more insulting than pointing out that we can't sprout wings and fly. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-10-26T22:41:28-06:00
ID
84685
Comment

Let's dismiss the institutional sexism angle for a minute, because I'm obviously not articulating my ideas very well here--I can see how what I'm posting here looks like I'm criticizing you instead of this particular way of doing philosophy. The bottom line is that there aren't enough women in philosophy, and I think part of the reason why is because philosophy--the quest to become something other than a "happy pig," to become a "superman," to live "the good life" and leave behind everyone else in the "happiness machine"--is very macho, and I blame the ancient Greeks for that. But I don't mean any of this as a criticism to Brian Johnson. Much of the time this is the way I do philosophy--it's ingrained in the discipline--and we have to dismantle it consciously. So I've pointed that out, and you may or may not feel that it's relevant in this case, and it's okay either way--you've heard me out, so you can make your own judgment. So since that has been said, let's go at this from a pure logic angle: Believing that two and two make four requires no real commitment because if you believe two and two make four, that's very congruent with the way the world works. But if you believe that two and two make three, or five, it will have a genuinely debilitatingly effect on your life. Does the belief that two and two make three, or five, have more credibility because people need to give things up in order to have it? Of course not. So why is it better to make a religious commitment one way or the other, that one wouldn't otherwise make, on the basis that giving things up adds credibility to a position? Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-10-26T22:50:39-06:00
ID
84686
Comment

Religion doesn't have much to do with Logic, Tom. :)

Author
Ironghost
Date
2006-10-26T23:05:48-06:00
ID
84687
Comment

Brian: First, thanks for investing the time and energy to dredge your memory and fashion these philosophical recollections into lucid summaries. I know that takes effort, and I appreciate it. I’m going to try to explain some of what I think based on what you said, but this may be a work in progress. So bear with me, please. I would agree with the professor you spoke of, except that I would go further and say that an absolute ground for morality is necessary for morality to be absolute. In a sense, this is like a moral identity principle (there must be a moral absolute for there to be a moral absolute). Kant says this ground arises from personhood, Rand might say it follows logically from the identity principle, and others might make other arguments. But each of these arguments rests on a series of rational and/or intuitive steps following from initial premises. Thus, none of these arguments has been shown to necessarily follow from the initial premises (I think Objectivists try to do this by calling the steps “corollaries”, but that is a deceptive misnomer in this case). However, if I assert “the absolute ground of morality comes from a being called God, where God is defined (in part) as the absolute ground of morality”, then what have I done? I have presented the ENTIRE argument as a single premise. It may be a false premise, but if it is true, then that’s the whole argument. There are no steps beyond it. So, that is why God is required for there to be a moral absolute – simply because the only way to define morality as a true absolute is just to posit it as a brute, unsupported fact. Anything else is contingent, and is, therefore, not absolute. A child will ask why he can’t have her way over and over and over again. Eventually, he will either be answered with silence, or with “because I said so”. I think those are the only answers we will get as well.

Author
GLB
Date
2006-10-27T00:31:09-06:00
ID
84688
Comment

Djames: Yes, I think morality could have arisen from evolution. I think that, if there is no God, it most likely did arise entirely from evolution. It may have evolved even if there is a God. I don't know, but it is certainly very possible. But the question is this. If our morality is a product of our evolution, what reason do we have to attribute any value to it? Why bother with it, if we don't want to? If we are of great enough spirit, can we not subdue it to our own free will, as we do our other instincts? You may not want to do these things, but what if I do? What makes your choice better than mine? (Incidentally, this is the theme of "Crime and Punishment").

Author
GLB
Date
2006-10-27T00:36:22-06:00
ID
84689
Comment

Brian: As a follow-up, I realize that, in the preceeding argument, I could have easily said "Edgar" or "Frutibat", or whatever, instead of "God" . I have simply defined something as the moral ground. The question of why that something should be "God", and what that means, is a whole other can of worms.

Author
GLB
Date
2006-10-27T00:58:33-06:00
ID
84690
Comment

Minor correction -- I said the following: "A child will ask why he can’t have her way". I meant "His way". Or, I could have said "A child will ask why she can’t have her way". Although the way I said it the first time is funny to me, for some reason.

Author
GLB
Date
2006-10-27T10:03:15-06:00
ID
84691
Comment

I disagree with him on a lot of his beliefs, and I consider myself to be a pretty "liberal" Christian, as modern dogma goes. But, I can agree to disagree.

Author
Heather
Date
2007-06-05T11:40:03-06:00

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