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September 10 2006

The gospel according to Buffy? Yet another adult education course, this time as a class on Christian virtues.

Interesting. I think it is true that you can think about Buffy in terms of Christian virtues. They're both about how people are totally messed up and flawed, and yet if we want any true happiness we have to find selflessness and love for others anyway, even though we're all going to screw it up a lot. Which is why it's important to be tolerant and forgiving.

Of course, I'd say a vast number of "Christians" have no knowledge of Christian virtues, which is why there are so many Christian censorship and intolerance groups.
In Sudan last week a newspaper editor was beheaded for printing things considered heretical. A 15 year old girl was beaten to death on her way home from school in Afghanistan because she belonged to a "Christian" minority. Two men in Iraq were shot dead because they ignored orders to stop wearing tennis shorts on a tennis court. Gays have been systematically sought out and killed in Iraq by religious zealots. A 16 year old girl was executed in Iran for having sex with an older married man. And several hundred gays were arrested in China while attending the wedding of two gay men. Their crime: being gay.

Yeah, those damn intolerant "Christians", don't you just hate them?
Two hasty, hopefully helpful quotes:

" '’I'm a very hard-line, angry atheist, yet I am fascinated by the concept of devotion. And I want to explore that.' " – Joss Whedon, in Emily Nussbaum’s "Must-See Metaphysics", NYTimes, 09/22/02

“This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem ...” -- Walt Whitman, Preface to LEAVES OF GRASS, 1855 edition
jayneloversvera, I think folks over here having strong reactions to Christianity has to do with the context of our situation--the majority religions in North America are under the umbrella of Christianity. Of course most snarky comments intended to be critical of organized religions are gonna be thrown in that direction. I know it's not fair, but I also get bothered by the knee-jerk reaction of pointing out what injustices are going on against Christians in other parts of the world, or what atrocities are being committed by fanatical factions of other religions. It's such a cheap tactic that aims to render the criticisms of Christinaity limp.

Also don't understand why you felt the need to write all that, since nothing in Celluloid Novelist's post was especially inflammatory. His last sentence is fair--there're a lotta nutty, overprotective censorship and anti-this and anti-that groups in the U.S. and Canada that unfortunately wrap themselves up in a Christian-themed package. If you wanna rail against something, how about the lack of outcry from serious Christian organizations in an effort to dissasociate themselves with the nutbars? Sure, there's a little bit, often when Catholics and Protestants and the like are trying to divorce themselves from especially vitriolic Evangelists and the like...but there's not nearly enough. So it's left to the non-Christians to shoot down the raving loonies. And then the moderate Christians accuse the non-Christians of Christian-bashing. It's a vicious cyle.
jayneloversvera, I think folks over here having strong reactions to Christianity has to do with the context of our situation--the majority religions in North America are under the umbrella of Christianity. Of course most snarky comments intended to be critical of organized religions are gonna be thrown in that direction.

Exactly - when I lived in a Muslim country, I was often as frustrated by the dominance of that religion as I often am by the dominance of Christianity in this country. But it's not relevant here, especially given that you'd be hard pressed to find someone in the United State who CAN'T list intolerance committed by Muslims chapter and verse.
Hmm, I would have thought the first reaction of everyone would be to figure out what episodes they'd be looking at. There's great religious/spiritual metaphors in Buffy.

Picture Spike resting on the cross in the church, his flesh smoking, agonizing over his sin. Breaks my heart every time.
Let's try to stay as close to the topic as possible please. If there is going to be any tangential religious debating it should be over at the library or .org.
I think that classes like that just goes to show that the readers' bias will influence how they see a writer's works, no matter what the writer's original intention may be. Personally, I like it much more when people take something positive out of a work rather than rail about how it is evil, will corrupt the kiddies, blah blah blah. Of course, I have a Harry Potter bookmark in my Bible, so clearly I also enjoy the irony :)
argue not concerning God

Bollocks to that ;), some of the most interesting discussions i've had have been about God. Though old Walt probably means don't kill babies or in other ways be a dick because of God and i'm right behind him there.

I think this is a good thing. Anything that encourages religious people to see 'Christian virtues' in a broader context and to discuss the metaphorical aspects of their belief system can only be positive. Strikes me it's harder to be an extremist (of whatever stripe, plenty of evil on both sides - or neither - it's just that Islam's getting most of the press right now) if you're willing to accept that people of other religions (or even *gasp* atheists ;) can also be truly good people (i.e. practice 'Christian virtues' without being Christian) and that your particular book of choice isn't necessarily the categorical literal truth about the state of the world.

Right enough, the people likely to attend a course like this are probably less likely to be extremists anyway but Buffy's still more interesting than the loaves and fishes. I mean, come on, you've had two thousand years, how about some new stories ? ;-)
"Buffy's still more interesting than the loaves and fishes. I mean, come on, you've had two thousand years, how about some new stories ?"

Heh!
Saje: "Though old Walt probably means don't kill babies or in other ways be a dick because of God and i'm right behind him there."

Well, yah, Saje, I think so, and other attendant evils that result from the "My religion is right, yours is wrong" or worse or meaner or more intolerant.

Meta-discussions about religion can be surprisingly fascinating, but the reason I posted this quote -- other than the fact that I like it and that it's relatively unknown -- is that discussions on the level of "they were intolerant first" and "Muslim vs. Christianity" or "One Chrisitian sect" vs. "Another Christian sect" or "Christian vs. Jews" (ad infinitum) are pretty fruitless, and incidentally off-the-topic of the post. Most of the teams in this game have had generations to hurt each other, and they're doing an absolutely bang-up job of it.
Yay, a new course about Buffy! Yay it has a christian perspective on it!
Ummm...Yay Walt Whitman was quoted!
OK I got nothin.
Pssst. Dude... Duder... Duderino! FYI! Tags!! They're an Episcopal church, not a Catholic one.

There is a slight difference -- I was baptized in one, and not the other. Though we were "high" church, which is not nearly as much fun as it sounds, but we did get to have incense, too. That's incense.

(I thought using "Buffy" to teach was just a little too much, too soon for the Catholic church...)

Anyway, I'm an atheist now, but I love incense. And accuracy.
I find this interesting because it is (presumably) a Catholic church that's doing this. Recently there was a report on here about a Buffy course at a Unitarian Church, which didn't surprise me, but the Catholic church is generally mainstream religion. Of course, it's also very diverse, ranging from extremely conservative to those radical priests and liberation theology, so why not a little Buffy in there?

I'm also going to ask people to stick to discussing the content of the article and take the potentially inflamatory arguments about religion elsewhere. As an atheist, I could say a word or three about religion(s) myself, but I am simply appreciating the scope of appeal that Buffy (and other Joss works) has.
Nebula1400, I think you must have posted before you saw my last post. It would have been somewhat unusual for a Catholic church to hold these, but it is more in keeping with (some) progressive Episcopal church attitudes (re: women & gays, etc.)

I think it's the name St. Francis that led you to think it must be Catholic -- it's more typically a name that the Catholic church would use.
Ah, yes. You are right, QuoterGal. I Googled it, and St. Francis Church is indeed Episcopal. (Also I read your post...but after you mentioned it...)

[ edited by Nebula1400 on 2006-09-10 07:14 ]
I want a Buffy, a beer and a hot cross bun,
And some weekly religious pop cultural fun!
I was a youth minister at a Catholic Church for four years and I refferenced Buffy many times in my talks. I think there is some great stuff there and, I agree, that it connects to people...especially the youth better than the fishes and loaves stories, of course I told both ;-)

And to put in my two cents, I find that intolerance is pretty much a universal human trait...not just found in us religious types.
Jinxieman: "I find that intolerance is pretty much a universal human trait...not just found in us religious types."

Oh, yes, absolutely, through our fault, through our fault, through our most grievous fault. Intolerance seems to be a game that anyone can play...
I have really mixed feelings about this. Part of the whole vampire myth is tied to Christianity (crosses, holy water) and sure there are elements of Buffy that Christians think reflect their values. However Buffy would also reflect some Muslim, Buddhist, secular values. Buffy doesn't reflect values that are exclusively Christian It's not like Christianity had the market cornered on charity, forgiveness, etc., as humans had figured out the benefits of such concepts as the golden rule long before Jesus came along (if he ever existed in the first place). Now if Buffy had to accept Jesus as the son of God, well, that would be a different story. There's a huge debate among Christians over whether faith vs. works is needed for redemption. In the Buffyverse you have to earn your redemptions, having Jesus in your life wasn't part of the requirement. And how do Christians answer the parts of Buffy that run counter to Christian beliefs? What about my favorite big bad, Glory? There is only supposed to be one god right? I might be reading more into this than I should but one of my favorite lines from the series is the dialog between Glory and Buffy:
Glory(to Willow): They used to burn witches.
Buffy: They used to bow down to gods.
...and with that a blow to the face. Gotta love a girl who'll punch a god...
It all makes me wonder how Buffy would react to the Christian god. Remember here is a being who would throw you into the lake of fire and torture you for all time and eternity for not worshipping him, makes Glory come off as soft and fluffy...
Yep, totally agree with that bunnytoes, it's why I put quotes around 'Christian virtues' above. Not because I don't think they're virtues but because I don't think they're exclusively (or even originally in most cases) Christian.

In the past we've had links to articles about Buffy and Buddhism and i'm sure you could connect Buffy to most religious systems because the show really was about universals and could (as you point out) be read as actively non-Christian (e.g. pagan) or just areligious (though not, ironically coming from Joss, atheistic since there are definitely gods or god-like powers in the Buffyverse).

And to put in my two cents, I find that intolerance is pretty much a universal human trait...not just found in us religious types.

Yep, I agree with that though with the proviso that I think most atheists tend to be more tolerant in most walks of life on average (That's enough hedging - Ed. ;) since they've usually had to think through their position to a greater extent than many religious folks and my personal feeling is that thinking naturally leads to tolerance anyway so long as you don't stop thinking once you've made the world conform to your original beliefs (that's the big 'you' not anyone in particular ;).

That said, most atheists really let themselves down when it comes to tolerating religious people and their beliefs (I know I used to be very dismissive when younger) and that is just as uncool as any other kind of intolerance (note i'm not talking about extremist religious views here since a lot of those are simply evil, IMO, and shouldn't be tolerated by anyone).

(and obviously being more tolerant on average doesn't necessarily make you any less of an arsehole, plenty of those on both sides of the belief only-a-divide-if-we-let-it-be ;)

Meta-discussions about religion can be surprisingly fascinating

Word, QuoterGal (damn i'm hip ;). Belief in God (or not) touches on truth and the theory of knowledge, the nature of morality, determinism vs free-choice, whether we are truly able to know the world, gender issues, our responsibility towards minors (and others not yet able to make informed decisions) and on and on. The big ideas basically. All of that stuff really is fascinating. My God's better than your God or my dietary habits are more worthy than yours type arguments, not so much.
Sounds like a great course and I'd love to join in.

A couple of years ago I led a study group in my [Episcopal] church on finding Christian themes in pop culture--mostly movies and TV, and included BtVS in the mix. It was an eye-opener for most members of the group, but they got into it.

About What Would Buffy Do, by Jana Riess, the book the St. Francis Church group is referencing--although the title certainly alludes to the popular slogan "What would Jesus do?" the book actually argues that in many cases Buffy's religious themes are more in line with Buddhism, which is generally thought of as a non-theistic religion or way of life.

My personal view is that searching for authorial intent is generally pointless. Even when one or more of the authors have stated something about their personal beliefs, Joss is equally famous for having invited viewers to "Bring your own subtext." Here we go!

[ edited by Maeve on 2006-09-10 13:43 ]
In the end, though, regardless of religion or ideology or academic paradigm, Buffy is diverse and universal enough for most people to relate to, and is a good teaching device for a myriad of agendas and curricula. As I stated before, I'm an atheist (and was raised Jewish), and I am highly critical of religion and most religious groups. Still, I can appreciate that at times a church or other religious group can talk about Buffy for good and not evil... ;-)

[ edited by Nebula1400 on 2006-09-10 17:01 ]
"Hmm, I would have thought the first reaction of everyone would be to figure out what episodes they'd be looking at."

Actually that was the first thing I looked for in the article. Too bad it is not listed. If anybody finds out, can they let us know?

"I have really mixed feelings about this. Part of the whole vampire myth is tied to Christianity (crosses, holy water) and sure there are elements of Buffy that Christians think reflect their values. However Buffy would also reflect some Muslim, Buddhist, secular values. Buffy doesn't reflect values that are exclusively Christian It's not like Christianity had the market cornered on charity, forgiveness, etc., as humans had figured out the benefits of such concepts as the golden rule long before Jesus came along (if he ever existed in the first place). Now if Buffy had to accept Jesus as the son of God, well, that would be a different story. "

IMO It makes sense that Christians will approach BtVS from a Christian perspective and other religions from their perspective and women form theirs and gays from theirs, etc. It is a sign of a piece of art with depth and complexity. It makes sense that if people see something that they like, they will identify it as their own. Isn't it nice that BtVS is not in limited quantity and no group can keep it to themselves? Christians can find edifying themes in it as much as they want and everybody else can still have it wholly (or holy) and completely as well. Ain't art great?

It does not matter if any particular group looks at the portion of BtVS that speaks to them, it is still more likely that over time they will think more about the themes of the show in general and some very specifically. They may even consider things they had not thought of considering before. Different perspectives can be good even if people disagree with them...as people inevitably will.

"Yep, I agree with that though with the proviso that I think most atheists tend to be more tolerant in most walks of life on average (That's enough hedging - Ed. ;) since they've usually had to think through their position to a greater extent than many religious folks and my personal feeling is that thinking naturally leads to tolerance anyway so long as you don't stop thinking once you've made the world conform to your original beliefs (that's the big 'you' not anyone in particular ;)."

Actually, Saje, that sounds like a convert to me, and in my experience converts are usually the most intolerant of beings whether religious or to a non-religious cause. Perhaps that is why you said:

"That said, most atheists really let themselves down when it comes to tolerating religious people and their beliefs (I know I used to be very dismissive when younger) "

Personally I am neither an atheist nor a member of any organized religion, and generally find atheists too sure of their rightness for my tastes, just as I do people who ascribe strongly to a particular organized religion. That said, I still find the beliefs and reasons for them interesting and fascinating to discuss, though not argue about (see below.) I am usually for anything that will bring any group closer to tolerance of other groups... who aren't, you know, killing, maiming and/or enslaving people.

"argue not concerning God

Bollocks to that ;), some of the most interesting discussions i've had have been about God. Though old Walt probably means don't kill babies or in other ways be a dick because of God and i'm right behind him there."


Now I know you're pulling our collective legs here, Saje. I know you know the difference between arguing and discussing. You are being a baaaaad boy. ;-)
Ah, well, a wee bit of controversy stirs the blood don't you think ? ;)

(though, to be serious, strictly, argument can just mean statement of a reason or set of reasons for or against a certain position and to me most worthwhile discussions therefore consist of arguments. The type of 'discussion' where people simply state opinions without making an argument can be good for group self-identification and ego stroking if you're among like minded people but, IMO, not much else. Likewise, the kind of 'argument' which degenerates into heated, personal attacks and isn't based on reason i.e. the negative meaning of argument, is also pretty worthless)

I do agree about the convert point though newcj, the problem being that the vast majority (i.e. nearly all) atheists are converts in a sense (because most people are raised in one religious tradition or another) which I think is why many atheists start off being fiercely anti-religious and then (hopefully) gradually adopt a more live and let live position.

Re: 'certainty of rightness', that may also be true but, in fairness, i'd say most atheists (and i'm excepting rare extremists like for instance Richard Dawkins who, much as I admire his books about biology, doesn't seem to be promoting tolerance or understanding to me) don't try to dictate how people live and don't kill people because of beliefs arising from their atheism and so are relatively much, much less harmful than religious people with a similar 'certainty of rightness'. Smugness and dismissiveness are very irritating, to be sure, but they're hardly the same as flying planes into buildings.

Also, there are some things atheists can be certain of - the primacy of logic being one, IMO, as in the old playground chestnut 'Can God create a stone so big he/she/it can't lift it ?' - given initial assumptions about the nature of reality which I admit amount to articles of faith, whereas there is absolutely nothing a religious person can be certain of, that's the nature of faith in a God whose nature is, by the admission of religious people themselves, fundamentally unknowable and whose actions are, at least theoretically, completely arbitrary.
As author of "The Unitarian Slayer" course that's mentioned here from time to time, I just have to squeeee a bit over seeing yet another course on Buffy and religion. This is just... neat! If I lived closer to their church, I'd love to drop in.

Also, in writing the Unitarian Slayer, I drew on some explicitly Christian texts, including Televised Morality: The Case of Buffy the Vampire Slayer as well as Proverbs of Ashes : Violence, Redemptive Suffering, and the Search for What Saves Us. Both books are written by professors of religion.

Personally, I'm pretty much an athiest (which is not contradictory with being a Unitarian), but I do find much of interest and value in Christianity.
To me the most important point is that every one of Joss's shows is profoundly concerned with ethics - which, as it happens, is also the main concern of all religions I know of. So, overlap, not so very surprising. I think it's good that Buffy is being used to explore important moral issues, and on the whole I think that was always one of Joss's main intentions.
"(though, to be serious, strictly, argument can just mean statement of a reason or set of reasons for or against a certain position and to me most worthwhile discussions therefore consist of arguments. The type of 'discussion' where people simply state opinions without making an argument can be good for group self-identification and ego stroking if you're among like minded people but, IMO, not much else. Likewise, the kind of 'argument' which degenerates into heated, personal attacks and isn't based on reason i.e. the negative meaning of argument, is also pretty worthless)"

Admittedly that is all true, yet I have to think that in 1855 an argument about religion was more likely to be considered the beginning of very real trouble. It is agreed that Darwin did not publish his theories until 1858, when someone else was ready to publish similar ones, because he was terrified of what he would be bringing down upon himself and his family socially. Whitman would have been a contemporary of the beginnings of Mormanism. Whatever opinion he might have had of Joseph Smith, Smith was born and raised in the same State as Whitman and killed by an angry mob in 1844. Arguments about religion could still be physically dangerous in the USA just as they still can be in various areas of the world today.

"i'd say most atheists (and i'm excepting rare extremists like for instance Richard Dawkins who, much as I admire his books about biology, doesn't seem to be promoting tolerance or understanding to me) don't try to dictate how people live and don't kill people because of beliefs arising from their atheism and so are relatively much, much less harmful than religious people with a similar 'certainty of rightness'. "

True. Happily most proponents of various religions, including those religions which currently have some members killing people in their names, also do not kill people because of their beliefs. But as I recall, various Communist countries tried/are trying to eradicate the opiate of the people supposedly in favor of atheism and have been pretty effective in the killing and destroying lives department. (I say "supposedly" because I generally assume that the people using religion as a reason to get people to kill other people, do not truly believe, but only use it to control people and gain power and wealth for themselves. I give atheists the same benefit of the doubt. ;-) )

"Also, there are some things atheists can be certain of - the primacy of logic being one,"

You see, here I have a problem (and risk getting myself in trouble.) It seems to me that sometimes atheists are doing the same thing that I object to in many religions; they overestimate our current ability to understand the complexity that is either God or the Universe or both. IMO there is so much going on around us that we don't understand and may not even have conceived of, that to say either that there absolutely is no such thing as God or that a person absolutely knows what God wants, is being equally rather, well, egotistical. (No offense meant to anybody, honest. I just can't think of another word to use.) We are tiny. IMO there is no way that we can, at this point, possibly understand the Universe or God. I don't think anything in Science negates God, or a belief in God needs to negate Science. I respect people's beliefs, but I cannot accept that anyone has the inside track on the God question with the knowledge we have now.
As I've often mentioned her, my wife and I are ardent (and rather conservative) Roman Catholics, and maniacal Buffy-devotees, and we see utterly no conflict therein. Rather, the ethical and moral themes Joss et. al. develop play perfectly into our spiritual lives.

Too many to go into here, and some have already been discussed, but I'll go to when Buffy wanted absolution from Tara...that she somehow came back wrong...because only that could explain...justify...her relationship with Spike...it was a painful, perfect perversion of the sacrament of Penance...she did't really want to confess to her behavior, she wanted instead absolution for it...not fogiveness, which is what the sacrament of reconciliation is all about, but instead, an excuse.

She did this on her knees, begging and hoping not for cleansing, but for a quick and easy excuse. It, to us, anyway, showed how corroded her soul had become...and she knew then that she had, at long last, to face her inner demons.

Brilliant, beautiful, gutwrenching stuff, and with such a spiritual (and religious) element that makes it all the more compelling.

I ever say that I love this show?
Admittedly that is all true, yet I have to think that in 1855 an argument about religion was more likely to be considered the beginning of very real trouble. It is agreed that Darwin did not publish his theories until 1858, when someone else was ready to publish similar ones, because he was terrified of what he would be bringing down upon himself and his family socially.

Yep newcj, all true and i'm sure that's what Whitman was alluding to (I was originally being semi-facetious and maybe a little bit fractious, sorry ;). It's also, BTW, why Darwin was very circumspect about human evolution. He already knew what a stink he'd cause with pigeons ;).

Re: your comments about communism, surely this isn't a case of religious people being persecuted and killed as a result of atheism but as a result of communism which has as one of its tenets atheism ? I hope I haven't given the impression that I think all atheists are paragons of virtue or that there are for instance no murderers or rapists who are also atheists because I was trying to say that atheism by itself doesn't have intolerance as one of its foundations (however, you dress it up, and however most religious people don't practice this part of their religion most religions do have intolerance built in - for other religions, for homosexuality, for shellfish etc.)

I'm also very aware that most religious people aren't in any way extremists and are simply trying to live a good life and do as little harm as possible, same as the rest of us. My personal opinion though is that religions embed within them the discouragement of asking questions and an unquestioning respect of authority (usually in the form of a priesthood and ultimately of course God) that makes them easier to usurp by the fanatics we're currently having trouble with.

they overestimate our current ability to understand the complexity that is either God or the Universe or both

I agree with that too. Many atheists are simply unable to accept that rational scepticism also requires an element of simple belief. Here's mine: 1) the external universe exists and behaves in a consistent manner (for instance when - or I should say if ;) - I wake up tomorrow, carbon will still be carbon, gravity will still operate etc.) 2) we can know it, to a fair approximation, by our senses. We can never know these are true (we could all be brains in vats or puppets deceived by demons as I think Descartes had it) they're simply assumptions (the articles of 'faith' I mention above).

(FWIW, I distrust atheists who categorically state 'God doesn't exist' since I think the best we can do is 'The weight of evidence suggests there is no God and that's how I choose to live my life. But you never really know')

Given those assumptions though (and arguably even without them), we can know certain things and the basic precepts of logic are among those things (e.g. A = A or if A = B and B = C then A = C or if A != B then B != A etc.). If logic doesn't hold then we can literally know nothing, in fact we can't even frame statements, we can't discuss anything, can't ask questions, can't worship because that requires that we can conceptualise what we're worshipping etc.

Take perfection. Perfection is, by definition, complete, you can't add to it and make it more perfect. So why would a perfect being have wants and desires ? This is just one way in which the biblical conception of God doesn't make sense to me (and doesn't adhere to logical rules since we're effectively saying God is perfect AND God is not perfect). This doesn't by any stretch prove God doesn't exist (that's not possible) but it surely at least casts doubt on our conception of him. And doesn't that then mean that we have to doubt everything we think we know about him, including his existance, so shouldn't everyone be at least agnostic ?

You're right, we don't know everything and worse than that, we never will (fare thee well, last digit of Pi, we hardly knew ye ;), but that emphatically doesn't mean that we don't know anything. We are tiny and (possibly) insignificant but if we keep asking questions and don't kill ourselves in the process we stand a chance of getting bigger.

(apologies for God's 'he' pro-noun, BTW, it's just easier than he/she/it all the time as well as being the Christian convention)

Also, hey Chris in Virginia, it just wouldn't be a thread about religion without one of your thoughtful, interesting (and, ahem, on topic) comments ;).
"(I was originally being semi-facetious and maybe a little bit fractious, sorry ;). "

No need to be sorry, (but then I know you are just joking about that too.) You saying that you were being semi-facetious comes as as much of a surprise as my saying that sometimes I am a little sarcastic or that if I feel there is not a balance in an argument, I might stand up for under-represented group...even if it is a group I would normally be arguing with. (Now that Chris in Va is here I can bow out of the defense of religious people in favor of someone much more qualified. ;-) )

"You're right, we don't know everything and worse than that, we never will (fare thee well, last digit of Pi, we hardly knew ye ;), but that emphatically doesn't mean that we don't know anything. We are tiny and (possibly) insignificant but if we keep asking questions and don't kill ourselves in the process we stand a chance of getting bigger."

As in any other human endeavor, there is no such thing as reaching perfection or true understanding, just striving to get closer. There is always more to learn in art, science, or ones own being. (This thread is making me feel very profound. Too bad I'm not someone who IS very profound. )

'...so shouldn't everyone be at least agnostic ?"

As I was writing my last post, I kept thinking that I was sounding like an agnostic and that maybe I should just breakdown and label myself as such. (I am soooo not Label Girl.) Agnostics have always seemed so wishy-washy. Though friends of mine have laughed to the point of not being able to speak after I told them this, I have always felt wishy-washy and personality-less; always seeing both sides of the argument while usually agreeing with parts of both and all of neither. I guess I never wanted to reinforce my feeling of wishy-washiness by giving myself a label like "agnostic." I think Whedonesque may have made one more person come out of the closet and admit the truth about themselves. So I hereby proclaim before all, "There is the possibility that I might be an agnostic, I guess."

There. I've said it and I feel better now.
It's funny, newcj, but I've always felt that agnostics are far more honest than hard core atheists. I'm reminded of the Woody Allen line (paraphrasing from memory here) when asked to explain his atheism: "It's something I accept on faith" or something like that. Agnostics at least accept the possibility of a higher power, but atheists (rather arrogantly, it often seems to me) utterly forswear the possibility.

I think that believers and atheists are both taking something unknowable as, well, gospel truth. It seems to me it's a lot more plausible that there's a higher power than mankind (which has yet to create, from nothing, a single atom, let alone an entire universe) than that there isn't. Because, as Oz said about the world, "check it out." It's here, and we didn't put it there. Something did.
Well, there's nothing like a categorical declaration, newcj ;).

This thread is making me feel very profound

I know. At points i've found myself being, like, serious and stuff. I may be coming down with something ;-).

Know what you mean re: wishy-washy, I seem to spend my entire life saying 'On the other hand...' or 'That depends...' and can usually see both sides but, likewise, friends find the whole idea of wishy-washy kind of amusing probably because i'm maybe a bit too willing to argue both sides (somebody once said I could 'start a row in an empty house' though I like to think i've mellowed and that they meant the good kind of row ;).

Ironically (because I put absolutely no store in astrology whatsoever - see, certainty ;), i'm actually pretty much a text-book Libran.

Chris, not sure about that. Some (this thread's made me leery of saying most ;) of the atheists I know don't categorically state 'There is no God', it's more 'I believe there is no God'. Maybe I just know unusually moderate atheists though.

Of course, I could equally say (and this follows from your own points) that agnostics are also more honest than religious people since they are also deciding the unknowable based on the evidence as they see it. Right enough, I think my evidence is better than yours but then I would wouldn't I ? ;).

Re: 'something put it here', why is it more plausible that that something was a fundamentally unexplainable supernatural power rather than the physical processes which we see occurring around us all the time (in this instance one that we don't understand fully yet - but then there's been plenty of those throughout recorded history) ?

In other words, people used to think lightning was the anger of a god until we started to understand electricity, cloud formation and charged particles, why is the origin of the universe necessarily different ?
Saje: 'There is no God', it's more 'I believe there is no God'.

This is the quintessential distinction without a difference.

Re: 'something put it here', why is it more plausible that that something was a fundamentally unexplainable supernatural power rather than the physical processes which we see occurring around us all the time (in this instance one that we don't understand fully yet - but then there's been plenty of those throughout recorded history) ?

And where did all the natural physical phenomena come from? As I said, humankind has not been able to literally create as much as a single atom...we understand the principles of lightning, but we can't literally create it. We can foster conditions under which it will occur, but we don't really, on the fundmental level actually make anything.

What would your "evidence" actually be, by the way?
This is the quintessential distinction without a difference.

I don't agree. Saying 'There is no God' is stating a fact about the world i.e. God doesn't exist and anyone who thinks he does is wrong. Saying 'I don't believe God exists' is stating a fact about my internal state not about the external world. It's a bit less confrontational, more open to being wrong (which I may be, as may you, as may anyone's subjective view-point).

Natural physical phenomena come from, well, nature ;). In fact, we can create lightning albeit on a smaller scale than in nature, it's done in weather research laboratories all the time (unless you specifically define lightning as happening in the sky).

We also create new atomic configurations (e.g. Buckminster Fullerene) though it's true that we can't create fundamental particles (yet). The thing is, not being able to create matter is also consistent with our current physical models of the universe so i'm not certain what that proves for your argument ? And of course we do create something (we're doing it right now) in that we create information.

What would your "evidence" actually be, by the way?

I'm not the one claiming the existance of something so, no offence, but the burden of proof is on you Chris. What's your "evidence" ? Your asking me for evidence is similar to me coming up to you at random and asking you to prove you didn't commit some murder, it presupposes you need to prove anything in the first place.

(my "evidence" for rational scepticism as a philosophy is basically that it works. Science has told us more about the workings of the natural world than belief in God has managed, provided more consistent explanations which meet criteria like repeatability and offer verifiable predictions. As well as Gameboys ;)

Anyway, gotta go play football but i'll happily continue this a bit later if you're up for it.
Great discussion about the existence or otherwise of G-d. Which is best moved to e-mail at this point. Feel free to post comments about the topic at hand - spiritual guidance as found in Buffy. Thanks guys.
Hey Guys, if you do move it to e-mail copy me in, okay?

Meanwhile, BtVS. I like how it played around the edges, mostly dealing with ethics, implying that there was a complexity to the Universe that had not been explained by mainstream Science but never taking sides for or against any particular religion or the existence of a Supreme Being. IMO that makes it work as an interesting place to start in an ethical discussion or a religious one. (Is that more what you had in mind SNT?)

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