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"Wicca good, And love the earth, And women power, And I'll be over here."
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August 22 2008

Buffy blamed for women leaving the Church of England. The Daily Mail leading the way into how to sensationalize serious research. Slightly better coverage over at the Telegraph.

I'm all for it, tabloid silly season or no.
Well let's see. Buffy premiered a little over 10 years ago, not 20. So let's cut that number in half. I can believe 25,000 women abandoned the established church for an alternative. But not all 25,000 turned to Wicca. And not all who went to Wicca did it because of Buffy. I would imagine if there had been no Buffy the difference in the numbers would be extremely small.

And if they did all seek out Wicca and all did it because of Buffy--so what?
So the "the kids are all leaving church to become pagan" angle has shifted from Harry Potter to a 90s tv show? I wouldn't have expected that, but it's true that the main message from Buffy jars with the more traditional messages about the place of women from various churches.
Her logic does not resemble our Earth logic.

I say this speaking as an active member of the Episcopal Church, the American branch of the Church of England.
Boy, are they all gonna be mad when they find out that real-life Wicca has very little in common with what we saw on Buffy!

Be that as it may--I can dig it!
I'm surprised the Mail didn't somehow manage to blame immigration. Personally I think they need to serve more snacks at church, that'd get bums on seats (in the US sense of the word too ;). Last time I went to church they had a Powerpoint presentation and I can't have been the only one thinking "Lan Party !". What would Jesus Do ? Well he'd strafe left and then use his BFG from a distance of course ;).

And I guess we'd need to know what the men/women split was to begin with and what she means by "rate". Could be that in absolute terms there're still many more women going to church than men, i'd be surprised if that wasn't still the case to be honest.

(the Buffy connection's as thin as a gnat's wotsit too of course - unless the rate jumped up in 1998 - because she's using figures starting from 1989, 9 years before it premiered on terrestrial UK telly. And are women becoming wiccans at the same rate as they leave the C of E or is that a spurious connection too ?)

ETA: Some of which was said while I was turning my sausages - pork and apple, yum ;).

[ edited by Saje on 2008-08-22 20:14 ]
I thank them for having a laugh!
Yeah, imo, if true, great. If not true, still great. I'm glad the mother church C of E is going to ordain women as bishops, I guess - if you want to be a C of E bishop, and you're female, then more power to ya - but I'm more of the Bill Hicks school of thinking on this one:

"Women priests? Great, great. Now there's priests of both sexes I don't listen to."

I'm not sure I believe that BtVS drove great swarms of women to join the Wiccan religion, and I'm not a big supporter (to put it mildly) of any religion, including Pagan or Wiccan, but if watching Buffy led to greater (unmeasurable) female empowerment, then my only reaction is "Awesome. Well done, you."

And hurrah for pork-and-apple snausages, while I'm at it.
My over-all opinion, if these feelings of alientation exist, people leave for something What it is might have an immediate determinant but if that were absent it'd be soemthing else.

windmillchaser; To soem extent, the dynamics in European churhces, with the state church heritages hanging over them, differ from what happens over here.

QuoterGal; We can get those this side the pond? Wow.
I read the Telegraph article first, and that one's definitely much better. More facts and Buffy is only listed as one example of a possible cause.
Her logic does not resemble our Earth logic is right! The irony that female empowerment is being blamed for women essentially committing a "sin" by leaving the church. Ugh.

I've yet to see a true, accurate portrayal of pagans or witches in film or media... and a true witch wouldn't base his or her spiritual path upon the likes of any character-based witch.
Just wait until they blame a doctor shortage on Simon Tam.
Oh, fabulous. Yet another Christian jumping to silly conclusions and sweeping generalizations and making all of us Christians out to be paranoid and overly judgmental. First "Harry Potter is the devil" and now this. Just exactly what we needed.

[ edited by Lirazel on 2008-08-22 21:56 ]
zohrael wrote:

"Just wait until they blame a doctor shortage on Simon Tam."


Or even worse.. Dr Who

*cringe*
Or even worse.. Dr Who


I think Doctor Who's safe. Look here.
I dunno, Simon ends up living on a spaceship with Kaylee and Doctor Who has adventures across the totality of time and space - I think they're pretty decent adverts for Drdom ;).

Yet another Christian jumping to silly conclusions and sweeping generalizations and making all of us Christians out to be paranoid and overly judgmental.

I don't read it that way at all. She may be a Christian (her choice of topics for discussion suggest she is) but she's also a sociologist at the University of Derby and writer on women's issues. The report itself (and even, in fairness, the articles summarising it) don't seem to be condemning women for their choices, if anything they seem to me to be condemning the C of E for not moving quickly enough with the times.
This is her university's press release (a lot of which seems strangely familiar) and I find it a pity that this serious (for Christian churches anyway) issue is being submerged under the frankly laughable idea that any significant number of women abandoned the church for Wicca (as seen on TV) rather than for any of the other likely reasons that are listed on that link.
What's wrong with women leaving the Church?

And as people have pointed out...the witchcraft and wicca material on Buffy doesn't really resemble Wicca beliefs in the RL at all.
Yeah but in fairness 'Top Gun' doesn't really resemble US naval aviation either, recruitment still benefited from it though ;).

(it'd be interesting to see statistics - if there are any - on the number of women abandoning wicca after a short time because it's not what they thought it was going to be)
She believes many women have been put off going to church in recent years because of the influence of feminism, which challenged the traditional Christian view of women's roles and raised their aspirations.

How awful! We women have aspirations? Raised aspirations at that. When did I miss that memo? That might have happened when I was rereading the BtVS S8… ;)

So, by DM's count Buffy turned 50,000 ladies into 'witchcraft' (so you sure, 10,000 of those didn't just choose sleeping in?)? And that’s Buffy alone - c'mon, Charmed might've been low on the well-written feminism, but give them 3 (plus) witches credit too! lol

*pickes up S8* Taking BUF's words out of context (or not, hmm)

The thing about changing the world... once you do it, the world's all different
Well, Saje, I guess this might be a case of me jumping to conclusions. It just makes me sad that while the majority (not all, mind you) of Christians that I know are lovely, generous people, the vocal minority are the ones who are constantly in the news about everything from abortion clinic bombings to burning Harry Potter to hating on anyone and anything. I've no doubts most other religions feel the same way--my Muslim friends certainly do--about the portrayal of their religion in the media.

I'm not saying that her conclusions don't have legitimacy--some of them definitely do--and I obviously didn't phrase it correctly--I think it was the reporting that was overstating things, especially in the first article. I could just easily, easily see crazy Christians waving this study around as further evidence that pop culture is destroying the world. I could see this snowballing and turning into something ugly. I just don't want to see that happen.

[ edited by Lirazel on 2008-08-22 21:56 ]
Last time I went to church they had a Powerpoint presentation and I can't have been the only one thinking "Lan Party !". What would Jesus Do ? Well he'd strafe left and then use his BFG from a distance of course ;).


Well, he certainly wouldn't be a filthy, low-down, CAMPER ;)!
If only Buffy had tried on that wimple on camera, this would be a very different article.
I dunno, that might just kick the interdenominational hornet's nest ;).

Well, he certainly wouldn't be a filthy, low-down, CAMPER ;)!

There's probably a textual justification. "And yea, verily he did gib from on high and lo, from the wicked opposition many shouts, wreathed in sarcasm did follow of 'Oh, very fucking mysterious I don't think your supreme camposity'" (Note: this may be from the apocrypha, actual words may vary) ;-).

I think it was the reporting that was overstating things, especially in the first article. I could just easily, easily see crazy Christians waving this study around as further evidence that pop culture is destroying the world. I could see this snowballing and turning into something ugly.

Yeah, I get that Lirazel (as an atheist I sometimes feel the same way listening to Richard Dawkins rattle on ;). If you're not from the UK BTW you'll have no reason to know this but the Daily Mail is pretty much the epitome of a reactionary, "little England", small 'c' conservative mindset wherein everything was better before X happened, with X moving around but recently featuring the "Polish invasion" (i.e. cheap immigrant labour after Poland gained EU membership). Blowing things up to create a sensation and obscure the facts is probably in their mission statement ;).
I'm surprised Fox News in the U-S hasn't mentioned this yet. If they can accuse Michael Phelps of making kids fat because he'll be on a box of Kellogg's Frosted Flakes next month, it won't be long until they waste airtime on this "story".
All service and social organizations are adjusting to the fact that more women are in the paid workforce and fewer are available as volunteers. The Girl Scouts, which has been woman-led and feminist from its inception, has had to deal with this.

A recent sociological survey in the US found that Americans are abandoning the religions they were brought up in and switching to others at record rates, and that these conversions are going in every direction. Episcopalians may be turning Wiccan, but I know one former Wiccan who has become an Orthodox Christian.
Well, Saje, I just got back from spending summer semester in London, but truthfully, my only interaction with British newspapers was those free ones they hand out on the Tube, so I really had no idea of the Daily Mail's reputation. But your description doesn't really surprise me.

as an atheist I sometimes feel the same way listening to Richard Dawkins rattle on I can imagine. I guess we all have people from whatever group we might associate ourselves with (from religion to fandom to politics to schools we attended) that we just wish wouldn't try to speak for us. It's why we should all give each other the benefit of the doubt, I think.

[ edited by Lirazel on 2008-08-22 22:15 ]
Not only did BtVS not premier until 1997 but I cannot recall Wicca being featured until S4, and that would be 2000.
Newsflash: Researchers express utter shock as feminists leave archaic patriarchal organisation! "It was tha devil!" said Mr. N. Cummings of Little Hasling Village.

Goddess bless our right wing press.
I do not believe in God or Jesus, but I believe in Gaia, and her spirit. What makes me this? Evil? Witch? Warlock?
Like others before me, all I can ask is: Who cares? So women are leaving the church. Whoopie-dee-freakin-do!
If you are looking for blame, look within. Buffy didn't lure them away with Wicca, ya looney-tunes. Presumably, they left because they weren't happy with this specific organized religion. Good grief. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see they are looking for a scapegoat.
The BBC, the Mail and the Telegraph appear to be misquoting the press release which clearly states that "the church (all Christian denominations)" are facing this decline not just the CofE.
Bless the Mail and their illogical right wing fears. Women have been leaving the church for a long time - it goes with female education and empowerment leading to rejection and a certain freedom from a previously patriarchial society. The Telegraph article is much better written.
The wording which annoys me the most about this, is that they do not put wiccan as the fault but "empowerment of women" It's lines like that are causing the women to leave, not because Wicca necessarily looks more enticing because of TV shows or movies. These shows show downtrod women how they could live, and I say good on them for being strong enough to get away. I wish I was. So many churches, even those with women preachers, still teach a lot of sexism at it's core. Some churches insist women wear skirts to church out of respect, and I personally, have never got how wearing a skirt is more respectful than wearing nice dress pants, when both are equally accepted as neat casual or above. Many are anti-abortion. Some allow men to remarry, but not women. Many still push for the woman to be a stay at home mum, because God created her to be a mother, so that's all she should do.

This is not much different from over in the Muslim society. Thanks to the joys of internet, cheap travel, and TV, their women see how other women in the world live. Many wish they could live like that. But unlike the CoE women, they can't just up and leave their religion. We are very lucky to be able to choose without our lives being in danger, and I am grateful for that.
I do not believe in God or Jesus, but I believe in Gaia, and her spirit. What makes me this? Evil? Witch? Warlock?


Some would say this makes you a Pagan, Krusher.

I still haven't got the hang of HTML quote formatting.

[ edited by Simon on 2008-08-23 07:12 ]
Church membership waxes and wanes. Some of the fastest growing churches worldwide (e.g. pentecostal churches) are among the most conservative and only allow limited leadership roles for women.

As for me, I love both Buffy and Jesus. I attend an Episcopal church that has a woman priest, and many of my male and female friends there (including the priests' kids) are huge fans of Buffy and Firefly.
How strong can someone's faith be if it can be completely derailed by a television show? Even a show as great and thought provoking as Buffy or any Whedon effort shouldn't be able to make you change religions unless you really didn't fully BELIEVE in the first place. I, myself, am not religious, but I have loads of friends that are. I've watched Buffy with them and they don't have any henna tatoos OR spice racks! ;) No offense to wiccans, but I just had to reference that line.
Maybe science and religious-inspired violence are finally colliding in the common person's psyche. Maybe social progress now enables women to shuffle off their patriarchal limitations, realizing they are full citizens, capable of making their own life choices. Maybe religion is slowly, hopefully, becoming irrelevant, as people shuck off irrational beliefs which cannot be proved and are based on nothing but stories and traditions.

Buffy is not the cause. Buffy is a reflection, showing us how we've outgrown the naive, flat-earth of the past and moved on. Why do I say this? We don't believe Buffy is real. It is fantasy. We know this. In the same breath, a rational adult will realize the religions it borrows from are also fantasies.

For proof, look to history. Nobody takes Greek Mythology seriously, but at one time, people did. It was a real religion. Now it's just stories. The same thing will happen to the modern religions. Eventually, they will fade away. Science and rational thought will supercede them, as they should.

We're ready to take off the training wheels. We're ready to see the truth as it really is, and realize we are finite beings in a vast universe. Enjoy the moment, for it is as ours as it is fleeting.
What ever it takes.
Religion isn't the problem. Some of the things people justify with religion are. In organized religion, like in anything else, I'm happy when I see women participate as equals and am deeply worried when I don't. It doesn't surprise me that women leave institutions that don't recognize them as equals, or that media reports on it talk about but also around the issue.
It looks to me as if this is roughly what happened:

1) The number of women attending church in Britain has halved in a generation, dropping steadily by about a million over 20 years (50,000 per year).

2) A sociologist decides to investigate the reasons why.

3) She comes up with several reasons including feminism, female empowerment, and an interest in non-traditional spirituality such as Wicca.

4) The sociologist is a Buffy fan. (Guessing here...)

5) Since Buffy is all about feminism, female empowerment, and wiccans, the sociologist decides that mentioning Buffy in her press release as a personification of the changes affecting women's lives will be useful shorthand, and also attract the attention of journalists.

6) Her cunning ploy works perfectly; several national newspapers decide to run the story, and illustrate it with a photo of Sarah Michelle Gellar. She is, after all, more attractive than Rowan Williams...
I loved the blaring title of that article, focusing the fault squarely on Buffy's television shoulders, and then allows in a couple of short paragraphs that other reasons could be trying to find time for their families and church, and that senior clergy remain silent about the subject of sex. These are far more compelling reasons than blaming it on a TV show. I always thought Buffy empowered women to be their own individualistic selves, not shoving them toward being Wiccan.
Stormwreath wrote:
6) Her cunning ploy works perfectly; several national newspapers decide to run the story, and illustrate it with a photo of Sarah Michelle Gellar. She is, after all, more attractive than Rowan Williams....


Come on. Rowan Williams is kind of a hottie. Good eyebrows, excellent duds. Interesting hair. Cross necklace!

[ edited by shinygroovyj on 2008-08-23 04:26 ]

[ edited by shinygroovyj on 2008-08-23 04:26 ]
@QuoterGal, LOL.
quantumac - alas, human beings are not rational. Adding or subtracting religion does not change that odd blip in our natures.

[ edited by TawnyJayne on 2008-08-23 06:49 ]
Hehehehe. Hehehehehehehehe. Hehehehehehehhehehehee!

Journos are silly.

Also, can we not do the religious debate crap again? It never ends pretty.

[ edited by Mort on 2008-08-23 06:50 ]
I know a lot of former Catholics, both men and women, that turned to Wicca for all the comforts of meditation through ritual without the guilt, shame and utter confusion. You barely have to adjust your calendar of ritual events.
"Who left their scented candles dripping all over my woman power shrine?"

[ edited by bivith on 2008-08-23 08:46 ]
Wait for the follow up stories:

1. Buffy destroys the rain forest making all those stakes.
2. Buffy pollutes the atmosphere dusting all those vampires.
3. Buffy causes global warming by being hot.
stormwreath: "6) Her cunning ploy works perfectly; several national newspapers decide to run the story, and illustrate it with a photo of Sarah Michelle Gellar."

Of course, it should actually be illustrated by a picture of Alyson Hannigan (or, ideally, Amber Benson).

I'll say again that I think Dr Aune and her university have made a mistake mentioning Buffy and Wicca in her press release because it has allowed the important issues to be derailed.
Quotergal This is a little off topic but I have to say the bookcases in the background of that pic make me drool with envy! I would LOVE to have a bookcase wall (full of books).
Yeah, that's a hell of a lot of books *is also jealous - as much of the storage space as the books* ;).

I'll say again that I think Dr Aune and her university have made a mistake mentioning Buffy and Wicca in her press release because it has allowed the important issues to be derailed.

Maybe they naively thought that because what they said about Wicca is true (according to her report anyway) it would be OK to mention it (once, as an aside, followed by various other points). But yeah, anyone that's actually read a newspaper should've sussed that 'Buffy' and 'Wicca' is what they'd latch onto.

1. Buffy destroys the rain forest making all those stakes.

That's a good point (heh, sometimes I crack myself up - and then there's now ;), are Buffy's stakes made from renewable forests ? Cos I bet she goes with something hard like oak and that's a slow grower. Bad Buffy, bad ! Though that said, she does hold on to Mr Pointy for quite a while, so it's not like she goes through them quickly. And vampire dust is organic so it's like she's Sunnydale's biggest composter. It's a fair cop about global warming though.

Also, can we not do the religious debate crap again? It never ends pretty.

Actually, they've always been extremely civilised on here in my experience. Maybe not pretty though ;).
I was once an Evangelical. I stopped going to church while I was watching Buffy. But I'd say 9/11 had a lot more to do with it. (Buffy was part of it, though. I'm not interested in Wicca).

I know female Buffy fans who are in the clergy. I don't think they plan to abandon ship.

If you're not from the UK BTW you'll have no reason to know this but the Daily Mail is pretty much the epitome of a reactionary, "little England", small 'c' conservative mindset wherein everything was better before X happened


Too true, saje. I work part-time in a newsagents when I'm not needed at the theatre and in the trade it's known as the Daily Hate Mail. Its style is basically cant, hypocritical moralising and speculation presented as fact.

Sorry for the rant, but as a Buffy-loving Christian, this sort of 'reporting' really makes me angry.
The few times I've met Wicca practicing women I've noticed a much higher prevalence of Charmed boxsets and copies of The Craft than anything related to Buffy. That's not to say I find it impossible for anyone practicing Wicca to be inspired by BtVS, but the general popularisation of the religion had already been growing before Buffy graced our screens.

Also I'm really tired of reporters making sensationalist headlines out of relatively innocent academic papers; many reports I see in the mainstream media omit important details for instance: how the survey in question was conducted and the conclusion reached by the researchers. Without this kind of information a survey can be rendered effectively meaningless, and many news reports leap to the most astounding and absurd conclusions...by trying to complex ideas into bite-sized "factoids."
(Kudos to The Telegraph for prefacing their story with "The report claims..." and for all round better coverage of this book, but things can always be improved)

Wait for the follow up stories:

1. Buffy destroys the rain forest making all those stakes.
2. Buffy pollutes the atmosphere dusting all those vampires.
3. Buffy causes global warming by being hot.

4. Buffy damages the economy by abandoning her burger flipping job.
5. Buffy encourages teens to stay up late by patronizing The Bronze.
"Young women dislike the traditionalism and hierarchies they *imagine* are integral to the church."

"Imagine"??? Earth to condescending writer of article, that isn't something women "imagine".

Well let's see .... I've been a practicing Wiccan, with a good bit of Buddhism in the mix, for more than twenty years. I happily and belatedly discovered BtS and shortly thereafter, all things Joss hath created, about four years ago.
Come to think of it, that is around the time I got overly ambitious with my spells, and they all started going wonky. ;-)
Has the show actually been blamed for anything of this magnitude before? I'm not coming up with a thing (excessive reading of vampire novels, causing people to move in droves to Southern California ...)
I think the web content editors of the Mail and the Telegraph are just catching on that if they want to really boost their hit count, all they have to do is allude to Buffy and we all go stomping in to check it out. (Frankly, we're a little suggestible that way...)

I can see it: "Hey, Al, could you rewrite this to allude to Joss Whedon somehow? Our traffic's low, we need the Whedonesque bump."
"Imagine"??? Earth to condescending writer of article, that isn't something women "imagine".


I read this as a case of 'holding back judgement' on the part of the writer, reporting what the women think (using the word "imagine" to illustrate that), regardless of personal feelings on the subject. But I may be wrong.
I'm not giving away a free click, but I never left the COE because of BTVS, I left because if I was going to live my life according to the teachings of an old book, it was damn well going to be the gossip and scandal of Suetonius. (But I have the utmost respect for those who have stuck with organized religion, who obviously have far more faith than me.)

I have the next area of study for the author- 'Are middle aged men leaving the COE in the interests of establishing a 'Church of the Fonz', as seen on 'Family Guy?' (Now that article I WOULD check out!}
Mort said:
"Also, can we not do the religious debate crap again? It never ends pretty."

Like Sage said, it's usually pretty civil here. Some of the mods might prefer we don't get into it, but as long as it can be kept clean and ends up in the usual "agree to disagree" fashion...we're usually cool.

I know there are the lightning rod topics that sometimes are mentioned as wisely avoided in public forums (when I used to bartend, I remember it being recommended you stay away from politics, religion, and sex and/or money--but they all get discussed, because if you don't bring them up, your regulars will eventually). I can't see how it helps to keep away from them due to a worry of potentially insulting others though. These are the big questions, we base a lot of our decisions on them and society is built on them, they're worth getting into. It should be encouraged frequently, not stifled.

A lot of people are bored of the debate (especially when it comes to religion), either because they've seen it enough times to be annoyed by it or it's just not something they prefer to think about much (or they've made up their minds and don't like to see the challenges), but they're free to not read further when they see things headed in that direction and click elsewhere.

What quantumac said. I know the more polite response in these kinds of discussions is more along the lines of "I hope the fanaticism stops [well I do, but it probably won't any time soon] and that all religious/spiritual and non-religious/undecideds will eventually learn to live in peace", but since I was 17 I've felt that the world really would have an increased chance of improving by leaps and bounds (a chance, because atheism isn't a guaranteed cure-all) if we took the same attitude toward the remaining worshipped religions as we do to Greek Mythology (eventually you'll see "Judeo-Christian Mythology", "Muslim", etc).

So news that folks are leaving certain churches in droves ? Awesome, it means folks are either waking up or getting sick of 'em. Or both. I dunno the numbers, but this might be balanced with record recruitments in Africa though, I know the Anglican Church and such do well there. I'm not sure if that's because Christianity is something the downtrodden genuinely want, or if they simply provide enough aid and evangelizing to make it seem like a real good deal.

[ edited by Kris on 2008-08-23 21:44 ]
The real purpose of the Daily Mail article is surely contained in this single sentence, “She also said television icons such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, who promote female empowerment, discourage women from attending services.” The Mail is terrified of the “empowerment” of women, an “evil” it considers to be even greater than its usual “bogeyman” target – “immigrants”.
These are the big questions, we base a lot of our decisions on them and society is built on them, they're worth getting into. It should be encouraged frequently, not stifled.


Agreed to some extent, Kris. I myself love the discussion of religion, science, atheďsm, etcetera. I used to frequent the blog of a well-known Dutch philosopher of religion just to learn from the positions of others and debate at a higher level than - say - the local pub. It was never an option for me to do anything more than a basic class in science philosophy (which I loved) at my university while doing astrophysics, but science philosophy and related (philosophical) topics have always been of much interest to me. What people think about these issues is so fundamental to the way they see the world that it can't not be interesting. At least, not in my opinion.

But I've also been dragged into more than enough discussions that end badly, to see that it's not always a good idea to debate these issues. Because while to me, as an atheďst, the religion/faith/science debate is (mostly - I'm only human too ;)) a purely rational one, which is challenging and fun on that level (not saying this goes for all atheďsts, by the way, I know more than enough people who are angry at religion/faith and as such (also) deny it for personal, rather than cognitive reasons), this does not go for everyone. Feelings end up getting hurt, lines end up getting drawn deeper in the sand and minds end up closed rather than open. Which is why debates of these types should - in fact - not be encouraged frequently. They should be encouraged only when the setting is right and the people contributing do so for the right reasons.

So while I would love to have a debate on these matters with my fellow whedonesquers, who are some of the most well-educated, informed, behaved and intelligent people on the internet, I also think we have an obligation to our fellow posters, moderators and readers to not get into such a discussion unless really warrented and unless people want to. And so far, this thread? Not so much, I'd say. Yes, it's about religion (and then not even in general), but that's about it.

(but, having said that, if anyone'd want to hop over to the org, I'd totally be game ;))

ETR: typos

[ edited by GVH on 2008-08-24 00:46 ]
@ Whisper and Saje: And that's just the livingroom cases. ; > True story.

1) Chronic Book Accumulation Syndrome is a sickness and 2) West Hollywood still has pockets where we grandfathered rent-controlled apartment dwellers are probably getting twice the average space for half the usual price... so I'm both cursed and blessed because it's a Law of Physics, I think, that if you have this illness and any amount of space for bookshelves, you will fill it up entirely with books. I am out of room. Again.
Aren't bookshelves the greatest thing in the world? Highly frustrating that we can't read most of the titles though, QG ;). And yeah, I have the same problem here. Books are just so darned big.

(Also, regarding my previous statement: it seems there's no clear spot on the org, for discussions of the type I suggested above. Hmm.)

[ edited by GVH on 2008-08-24 01:56 ]
Thank you for flying Church of England, cake or death?

I have nothing of substance to add to the conversation, just wanted to express my gratitude for a very good laugh from this article.
I'll take this on, and do my best not to diss anybody with my generalizations.

Kris wrote, "since I was 17 I've felt that the world really would have an increased chance of improving by leaps and bounds (a chance, because atheism isn't a guaranteed cure-all) if we took the same attitude toward the remaining worshipped religions as we do to Greek Mythology (eventually you'll see "Judeo-Christian Mythology", "Muslim", etc)."

IMO, one of the biggest obstacles to productive discussions between religious people and people who think society would be better off without any religion (e.g., John "imagine no religion" Lennon") is that people holding Lennon's view very frequently don't know, and refuse to believe even when they are told, that many religious people do regard the myths of their own religion as myths and do not take those myths literally. To argue that only literalists are the "real" believers in a particular religion is setting up a straw man.

IMO, the conviction that a divine force or forces exist and have some interaction with human beings depends largely on one's life experience, not on doctrine. Religious stories exist to point the way and make some sense of those experiences when and if they happen. For these stories to be useful, one must know them, but it isn't necessary to accept them as historical narrative.

This POV is not new although it has received a big boost from the scientific method and modern historical research. Greek philosophers started questioning the literal truth of their culture's mythology in the fifth century BCE, and allegorical and symbolic interpretation of texts has been a major part of religious tradition in the West ever since. However, if your religious education stops before junior high school, you may never be exposed to that way of thinking.
I find it fascinating that several posters are seeing Buffy as being "blamed" for women leaving the church. I read it as Buffy being lauded for women being empowered and leaving organized Christian religion which tends to do the opposite of empower women.
Two sides of the same coin. People are acknowledging that the article(s) themselves (or, one of them anyway) are blaming Buffy for women leaving the church. Seems to me a number of people here in their own lives actually see it precisely the way you do.

But it seems silly to note as "fascinating" the fact that people are simply recognizing what the article's slant is.

[ edited by theonetruebix on 2008-08-24 07:24 ]
I always find reactions that are different than mine as fascinating. No judgment involved. Just interesting how different people receive the same info differently. And maybe it is my reaction that is fascinating. :)
I read it as Buffy being lauded for women being empowered and leaving organized Christian religion which tends to do the opposite of empower women.


I may be a former Anglican but I'll stick up for the CoE. I think they are trying to empower women but unfortunately there's a sizeable reactionary element which is trying to block such progressive moves.
Simon, the CoE does seem to be more progressive on that front. Especially when compared to many of the American Christian sects. I'm not Christian and my opinion and/or observations are purely sociological.
(as an atheist I sometimes feel the same way listening to Richard Dawkins rattle on ;)

Saje, that's a good example of (bad, IMO) "athiest, scientist" for this discussion. I can't get behind Dawkins at all, much as the people from traditional religions cringe when they find themselves fronted by loud dumb-asses who go well beyond their expertise and pontificate on everything.
Here's the thing Dawkins misses I think - you have to assume most people are discussing things in good faith, you have to assume they're not insulting you in a back-handed way (until you're given no option but to think otherwise that is) or being willfully blind to the obvious or are idiots themselves because to not assume that is to cause the opposite to happen. And that applies doubly to religion which for many people is the bedrock of their lives. Not adopting a "live and let live" policy is every bit as bad from him as from the religious extremists he castigates.

All any of us can do is present our opinion and the arguments (if there are any) that justify it and then let folk take or leave it as they see fit. I get where he's coming from to be honest but as with anyone like that (on whichever issue) I always wonder who it is he thinks is listening to him, who he thinks is convinced by being told, basically, that they're either liars or idiots for believing what they believe ? The way he "argues" is (ironically) just preaching to the choir and apart from being a bit self-congratulatory that's obviously also entirely pointless.

IMO, the conviction that a divine force or forces exist and have some interaction with human beings depends largely on one's life experience, not on doctrine. Religious stories exist to point the way and make some sense of those experiences when and if they happen. For these stories to be useful, one must know them, but it isn't necessary to accept them as historical narrative.

Hmm, I agree and disagree janef. I think the urge to explain things (and therefore to ask questions) and to see patterns and order and, most importantly where religion's concerned, agency in the world is innate in humans (it's part of us being born as helpless little bags of wind and shit ;). Possibly because we have to assume agency in other humans i.e. because we're separate, self-aware entities it makes sense (to our minds/brains) to assume it in a lot of different things, so thunder is caused by a person for instance. The One True God arose fairly recently in the historical record (about 1200 BC, becoming more widespread later) out of a sort of pissing contest between all the gods we'd previously used to explain the world around us.

How we answer those questions is a matter of the available explanations though - i.e. doctrine - and all it takes to reject one doctrine over another is a nagging doubt and an opportunity IMO (like most atheists I was raised religious - Church of Scotland in my case - but was lucky enough to have the sort of parents that, though very religious themselves, realised you can't force people to believe what, to them, is unbelievable, you can only force them to act the part - and what's the point of that ?).
Here's the thing Dawkins misses I think - you have to assume most people are discussing things in good faith, you have to assume they're not insulting you in a back-handed way (until you're given no option but to think otherwise that is) or being willfully blind to the obvious or are idiots themselves because to not assume that is to cause the opposite to happen.


I haven't seen many of Dawkins' public appearances, but I've heard that he's pretty self-righteous as a debater. However, I have read 'The God Delusion' and was expecting a book from a very angry, unreasonable person which'd be only tollorable because I'm also an atheďst. Instead, what I found, was a subdued book, very rational and cognitive in its presentation, with clear argumentation and a sense of direction. I enjoyed reading it, although the later chapters lost some focus.

So to me, it's sort-of a mystery why that book caused such an uproar that even fellow atheďsts feel the need to distance themselves from it. Again, I have not seen the man in many public appearances, so maybe people are reading things into the book which are not there. The only 'fault' I could find was a tone that said the author was convinced that he was right and a chapter on agnosticism that was perhaps worded more harshly than it could've been. And I see no problem with that first thing (being right). Yes, there may be a problem with that in a discussion, but not in a book where one tries to roll out an argument for ones own point of view.

So, Dawkins? The Jury's still out on the man himself, since I don't know enough about him. But I found myself agreeing with 'The God Delusion' more than disagreeing (which I did, at a few points) and found it to be a pleasant read.

that many religious people do regard the myths of their own religion as myths and do not take those myths literally. To argue that only literalists are the "real" believers in a particular religion is setting up a straw man.


Well, as an atheďst myself, janef, I can tell you that I don't think all religious people believe everything that's in (let's say) the bible verbatim. There's degrees everywhere. But every religious person does have a certain degree of faith. They believe in God in some shape or form, depending on the religion they belong to.

And while I have much less trouble, rationally, accepting people who believe in "something undefined" rather than some random pre-defined set of beliefs dictated by what they grew up with, what they like/dislike or another external reason, it's still not something I can fully understand. Why would anyone need "something" to explain anything, anyway? I, myself, don't see the "added value", so to speak. You can be moral, without religion. You can enjoy culture, without religion. And you can even ask the big questions, without religion. In my opinion, the only thing that's missing is comfortable answers. And we don't really need those either.

(crap, now I got into the discussion anyway, despite saying I wouldn't upthread ;))
Well, confession time, 'The God Delusion' has been on my TBR pile for months and months and I still haven't got round to reading it, i'm going more by his TV appearances and newspaper articles.

I'd imagine it is a fairly temperate book though, apart from anything else the guy's a respected scientist so it makes sense that he'd adopt the same slightly distanced voice he uses in his biology books (most of which are, IMO, excellent BTW - particularly 'The Extended Phenotype' and 'The Selfish Gene', much mis-apprehended by lazy readers though it may have been).

In some ways that makes it worse of course, because his book might actually convince a few people that're currently on the fence but they won't bother to read it because of his public rhetoric.
Heh, Saje. Here it's 'The Selfish Gene' that's on my TBR pile. I've owned that for a few months now, but haven't gotten round to reading it.

As for convincing people currently on the fence: I do also think he's "preaching to the chior", so to speak, in his book. There's a relentless rationalism there, that speaks to people like me, but which probably won't speak to religious people. To "reach across the isle" you need a different method, a common basis to start from, so that people understand what you're talking about.

In my experience, using rationalism and a scientific state of mind as a way to discover larger "truths" than may be confined within active science, can lead to only one natural conclusion: atheďsm. This is something that I think Dawkins argues very elloquently in his book.

However, there's a lot of people that don't accept just that. Who think rationalism works fine within the practicality of science, but can't be extended beyond that. Who feel that truth or reality may be subjective things, that knowledge is always relative to a certain frame-of-reference, etcetera. These are all very valid, detailed philosophical schools of thought.

But this, in fact, ends up causing confusion, because to people like Dawkins (who never mentions these things) and, to a lesser extent, me, these are alien concepts that don't mesh with the implied philosophical definitions of terms like "truth", "reality" and "knowledge" we use. These uses are usually instinctive and go without definition. But these instincts may differ from person to person.

It's that fundamental difference of thinking that I've found to be striking in discussions between - say - philosophers of religion and philosophers of science. Without agreeing on a set of ground rules and coherent definitions, the discussion is often useless because they're not speaking the same language.

So, yes there's things like tone and the way in which arguments are made. These are fundamentally a matter of taste, but I feel if - as Dawkins says - the goal of his book is to convince people, he could have used more subtle expressions in places. I don't think he's wrong or crossing the line most of the time, but he's certainly not reaching out a hand either. Mostly because he feels he doesn't have to pander to religion to make his point. An argument that I mostly agree with.

But I think there's another fundamental problem in 'The God Delusion' for the thinking persons reading it. While many - possibly including Dawkins himself - may not even realise it, Dawkins is simply not speaking the same language as (some of) the people across the isle, making it hard - if not impossible - to reach them, whatever the strength of his arguments.
I think the idea that you can talk anyone into our out of believing in God is a very strange one, but I guess it happens. Every now and then Baptists here come to my door (a few weeks ago I got a "free ticket to heaven", and then the guy asked me if I thought I was going to get into heaven, which confused me a bit, 'cause he just gave me a ticket... I hadn't read the small print yet) and I'm sure they do "convert" people sometimes, and I know Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have both said that they've had letters from people who "found the courage" to reject the beliefs they'd been raised with after hearing / reading their arguments. But I have to think it's a puny number both ways. (And re. Dawkins and Hitchens, so with you guys thinking that they are major blowhards on this issue--such brilliant and articulate men, both of them, I wish they'd pick some other agenda. )

But if I look around at the people I know (small sample group I guess but it's all I've got) I tend to think that religious "feeling" is most often kind of innate. My father was raised Irish Catholic, went into the novitiate because bookish types in that community joined the church, and lost his faith completely when he was about twenty. My mother was raised by almost ferociously atheist bohemian "artiste" types, but has prayed secretly since she can remember and found, as an adult, that the Christian church provided a deeply fulfilling structure and ritual to her personal faith. (She found out much later that she is technically Jewish, a whole other kettle of... something). My brothers and I were raised Christian in the loosest sense but it didn't stick for any of us, because none of us had that deep inner belief or feeling.

Also, very strongly agree with janef that a lot of "staunch atheists" misunderstand what religious faith is, assume that religious people take the stories that are a part of their religion literally or believe every single tenet, and that if they just thought about it rationally, they'd abandon their faith. That seems to me a total failure of imagination. I think it's rather like love. It isn't really rational, and certainly the way we choose a person to be with isn't always particularly rational. But as creatures that experience love, we find a way to express it, we find a home for it. The Church, like Marriage, is a flawed institution, but for many it's still the best home for this inexplicable feeling. We make it our own within a larger institution. People can give you a million reasons why you should or shouldn't love the person you're with, but either you feel it or you don't and nobody else is going to change that for you.

I've no idea what it is that makes some people feel some kind of force or guiding hand that they can't turn away from, while others just don't feel that at all. It's a feeling which may vary throughout one's lifetime, but I don't think Baptists going door to door, or Richard Dawkins, or Christopher Hitchens, or even Buffy (!) can change many people who weren't already going that way themselves.

(oops--fixed typos)

[ edited by catherine on 2008-08-24 16:40 ]
Well, catherine, I would agree that it's a deeply ingrained feeling with some religious people. But I think that's not the case for all religious people. There's people who have doubts, who want/need to believe in what religion is telling them for other reasons (they - for instance- want security, or feel safer, believing in a benign God), who are socially "obligated" to be part of the same church all their friends and family are part of, etcetera.

And, when comparing it to love, there's certainly cases where rational knowlegde can influence one's love or even make one deny their love because they feel they need to and I feel the same is true for religion. Even if I, somehow, had the deep feeling that there was "something", be it a God or something else, I would now not be able to reconcile that feeling with my personal rational beliefs and would probably end up categorizing that feeling as a "trick of nature", a "sense of wonder" (which one can also get from science) and still not believe.

The same is true for the opposite. There are atheďsts who feel a severe "lack" of something, despite their rational convictions or who've been raised atheďst but feel they can't stay that way, who are only atheďst because they're angry with faith/religion and can be convinced otherwise by solving the cause of that anger or who even make a rational decission to belief, based on the fact they stop sharing the same philosophical groundwork as most rationalist atheďsts do. Etcetera.

I think movement in both directions is possible and I think most people - at least here in The Netherlands, which - admittedly - is a very different environment from most of America - tend to fall in the "in between" category. Neither convinced atheďst or devout believer, and as such possibly susceptable to arguments either way - be they rational or emotional - from both religious people and atheďsts. Even if they do feel some form of conviction or have a certain rational belief.

Not even to mention the fact that the discussion itself is interesting and teaches us more about the way others see the world, which - to me - is the most important aspect of this. The chance of me suddenly becoming religious is very, very small. But I still want to understand more about religion and want to be able to better vocalize why I'm not religious. Who knows: maybe I was wrong all along.
Lovely comment, catherine. I've always thought of faith/belief as like love - a leap of imagination into the unknowable. (And, overly personal aside, both feelings elude - or are unconsciously denied by? - my atheist father.) Or we could posit faith as poetry - ineffable, inspirational, - complemented, but not conquered, by the prose of rationality.
Haven't got time to join this debate but wow I LOVED seeing those comedy and (IMO) heartwarming headlines :)


(Sidebar - the quote when I looked at this page was: "No wonder you like this stuff. It's like reading The Sun.")
I've always thought of faith/belief as like love - a leap of imagination into the unknowable.


But is it, SNT? I have loved, but I do not believe in love as a "concept". I think it's explainable, knowable and probably less pretty than we hope it is. It's chemistry and biology. I don't actively use my ratio to supress the feeling while I feel it and don't let it inform my actions, but I also don't feel the need to place it beyond rational explanation.

I've never "felt" religious faith. But I also think that's biology, chemistry and not unknowable per definition. It does not make the feeling any less beautifull, but I don't need to colour in said feeling with a God either. I guess it's that that I still don't get. The feeling: yes. The way people sculpt that feeling into religion? No.

And yes - a comment like yours is much more aestethically pleasing than a relentlessly rational one. But does that also make it more true[1]?

[1] if, of course, we accept truth as a concept that even exists ;)

ETA: of course, being true of not true might not even be of interest at all, to this :)

[ edited by GVH on 2008-08-24 17:24 ]
Thanks SNT :) Love, poetry and religion are all things I have a great respect for. I'm unfortunately only any good at one of them.

And of course, you're quite right GVH that what religion means to different people depends a lot on circumstance. There are people who need it because they need something and the world is otherwise senseless and cruel--and in the admittedly few cases I know personally where that is obviously the case, I would never want to strip these people of the one thing that makes their awful circumstances bearable. In that case, religion is in part at least a kind of survival skill, maybe, and that's a different issue. Of course there are also people who have simply been raised in a religious manner, surrounded by religious people, and it takes them years to question it, to realize it doesn't truly resonate with them, that it feels hollow. And they might listen to Christopher Hitchens on a rant, feel exhilarated, write him a letter, but I don't think they would have responded to him the way they did if they weren't already looking for their way out.

I guess what I mean is that if we wiped the millennia of religious faith and institutions from the collective memory (dollhouse-style, writ large!) I think that a large number of people would be atheists, and a large number would still feel that there was something they couldn't put a name to but eventually they would come up with a name, and with rituals, and with a community and a kind of religious institution (no doubt very different from the rather antiquated institutions that are currently the Houses of Faith).

I think the religious feeling is just a fundamental part of certain people and how they experience the world. I'm with you on the not getting it. I don't get it. I've never had it, beyond the occasional slight stirring in the most fleeting moments. But I am very, very close to some people who do feel it, whatever it is (surely something different from the "sense of wonder" that obviously the universe inspires in we atheists too). I'm not sure "rational" has anything to do with it. Well, to put that more strongly, I'm absolutely sure that rationality has nothing to do with it at all. Again and of course, I'm only talking about faith in the lives of the people I know. How they define God differs, but for each of them, a religious community and the church provide some kind of home for what they believe. I get my hackles up a bit when I think people are condescending towards believers (not you, at all, GVH! but Dawkins and Hitchens and that ilk). It seems to me to be something very beautiful and very profound and worthy of respect, and entirely separate from whether or not one is a "rational" person.

(Having said that, I'm living in the US now and the religious tone in this country is pretty scary and off-putting. If my early exposure to religion hadn't been so entirely positive, I would probably have all kinds of negative biases about it now).
oops, busy posting and missed your reply GVH. I think you are right that the religious feeling is probably a matter of biology, chemistry, etc. Which doesn't make it less beautiful or worthy of respect, at least IMO (or necessarily something that doesn't point towards a kind of truth). I don't think science and god conflict. Obviously, nowadays, for any educated religious person, they can't conflict without some major fact-denial.

It does not make the feeling any less beautifull, but I don't need to colour in said feeling with a God either. I guess it's that that I still don't get. The feeling: yes. The way people sculpt that feeling into religion? No.


That's very nicely put, and it's how I feel a lot of the time too. But... well, I guess I think that I'm not understanding the feeling, not really, if I can't make that next leap (God) where other people, just as rational as me, can make it. It's a mystery to me, and it is one I've had long and fascinating conversations about with loved ones who do believe in God, but I think the mistake of the atheist is often to think that because they don't get it, and they are rational, it must be irrational. I don't really buy that.
I think we actually mostly agree, catherine. The feeling of faith is not rational at all, and just to be clear: I wasn't implying that it was. And, obviously, this also doesn't mean that religious people can't be rational in their own lives.

However, I do think that if you're completely, unforgivingly, rational and extend the scientific method to places where - according to some - it doesn't belong, using concepts as "truth", "reality", "knowledge" etcetera in the scientific not-relative way and consider a "God" as an entity able to "influence" "reality" in some way, the only "logical" conclusion is to be atheďst. Which is a large part of the reason why I am atheďst. But using a different set of definitions, even completely, unforgivingly rational people can come to different conclusions (it's not irrational or even logically fallible to assume an a priori "unknowable" agent when using different definitions for the terms I used above).

In fact, the discussion itself - which if infinately interesting if you're me - is so infused with the instinctual definitions of those words (which differ for different people), I find that that's the thing that people like Dawkins don't get and is the main cause for a lot of the misunderstandings out there, like I mentioned upthread.

As for having respect for religion: I have respect for people. I think there's beauty in everything people are passionate about, including religion. And I, too, think it would be cruel to "strip" people of faith who desperately need it. I think us atheďsts might even be less happy because they have less safe and satisfying answers and can be less sure about the "goal" of our existence (although I've always loved Joss' "if nothing we do matters, than all that matters is what we do" which is as close to a my personal life-philosophy as any pop culture outing has ever gotten) than religous people.

But I do have trouble with the way religious debate is framed by religious people. Faith gets more consideration than, say, one's political beliefs or - in fact - one's lack of faith, which can be just as personal and deeply felt. Which is why I tend to understand the more "angry" atheďsts out there (I'm not one of them, by the way), who rage against religion. I'm sure if the playing field was level, they'd be much more civilised. But for now: it isn't. But that does not - to me, at least - mean disrespecting people or behaving condescendingly towards religious people is acceptable. Respect is very important. Because raging against a concept, should never turn into raging againt the people who believe in that concept.

But... well, I guess I think that I'm not understanding the feeling, not really, if I can't make that next leap (God) where other people, just as rational as me, can make it. It's a mystery to me, and it is one I've had long and fascinating conversations about with loved ones who do believe in God,


I agree that that's a large part of the fascination and the main reason that I don't understand religion yet, as a concept, despite everything I've heard and read about it.

but I think the mistake of the atheist is often to think that because they don't get it, and they are rational, it must be irrational. I don't really buy that.


But here we disagree. In fact, if I understand you correctly (which is probably not the case, so bear with me :)) you're contradicting yourself. Because earlier you said:

I'm not sure "rational" has anything to do with it. Well, to put that more strongly, I'm absolutely sure that rationality has nothing to do with it at all.


which I was agreeing with at the top of this message. I think the religious feeling, and the "leap" to a God (which may just be a cultural one: God is out there as a concept, so the leap is made pretty easily, after all) is not rational. It's based on a feeling and rationality does not factor into that. Which, again, does not mean that religious people can't be rational. Just that they might rationaly be influenced by their feeling. I know that sounds like a contradiction, but really, it's not. If, for instance, "truth" and "reality" are subjective, relative to a frame of reference, a feeling can certainly be a good reason for a God to "exist". And that's just one of the myriad of possible rational explanations. But these come after the fact. The basis for the religious faith is and will always be a feeling. Which is, almost per definition, not rational by itself.
Hmm, I contradict myself on a daily basis and so I would be surprised if I managed to make three posts in a row without contradicting myself at some point, but I'm missing the contradiction here:

I think atheists often make the mistake of thinking "rationality" is the central issue ("I am a rational person, religion makes no kind of sense to me, ergo religion is irrational"). But I don't buy that rationality has anything to do with religious faith or the lack of it.

Does that make sense? Is it a contradiction? Certainly not very well put, either here or above... and maybe kind of a stupid point anyway.

BTW I don't think I really addressed your comments on "faith is like love" above. I didn't mean to put either love or religious faith as somehow "beyond" rational explanation, beyond the meat and bone and bits and bobs that we are. I guess I just meant you can't talk someone in or out of a feeling, and as you said, the "reasons" we make up after the fact for why we love or why we believe in something (or why we don't, why we stop) are going to be shaky at best. It's all a bit mysterious to us, which doesn't mean there are no reasons, just that we don't know what they are in their full sometimes-contradictory complexity. But it goes deep nonetheless, and is an essential part of this being human thing we're doing.

I think it's Stephen Pinker who did these amazing studies into the way that we make up reasons for our behavior after the fact. So much of us is hidden from ourselves. So a leap of faith doesn't necessarily mean that we discard the very idea of The Rational--I think it can be an acknowledgment that this is something we don't understand completely, something that is powerful and feels "True" (for lack of a better word... and perhaps the lack of better words is the real problem here?), and that we're going to nurture it and take it seriously, in fact let this bewildering faith act as a sort of guide for us. Whatever has caused it, whatever it is made of (God/Science), it's worthy of wonder and celebration. It needs stories and songs. God, like Love, is a useful word for some and probably means something different to everyone who uses the word. It's just a word for something powerful that we act on / believe in, and that we can't entirely untangle. You can absolutely look at it through the lens of science. Or the lens of poetry. It doesn't really matter and it depends on the person. We look at the world, and everything we know, and everything we don't know, and some of us think "what random, miraculous chaos this is, how incredible that it should have led to me being here and trying to understand it," and some of us get down on our knees and pray. I don't think the world-view is necessarily so different--just the response.

Ha. A good conversation to have on a Sunday too, la.
I agree with Catherine that there is a religious impulse or feeling that is innate in some people and absent in others. I have felt that impulse in a big way since childhood. None of my relatives have it. My family was and is affiliated with a liberal form of Judaism for reasons of community solidarity, not religious belief.

Catherine writes, "I don't think science and god conflict. Obviously, nowadays, for any educated religious person, they can't conflict without some major fact-denial."

I agree with a caveat. As Thomas Kuhn pointed out, scientific knowledge does not always expand linearly; once in a while there is a paradigm shift that reorganizes known facts into a different structure. This leaves a little breathing space for religious beliefs that aren't supported by current scientific knowledge.

Classical physics described a mechanistic universe with no room for divine agency, except as a Prime Mover who set the clockwork running and then went away. Current trends in physics and life sciences, if I understand them correctly, involve systems analysis and emergent properties. The scientific picture of how the world works is starting to have some resemblance (in broad outline; occasionally in details) to various ancient prescientific cosmologies.

I'm not implying that "science" has "proven" this or that religious tenet "true". Only that it's easier now to entertain the possibility that a conscious intelligence pervades the universe than it would have been in 1908.
I have to give some support for janef's (sorry, I've been asleep) earlier distinction between those who are motivated by faith and seek a form for it and those who seek a religious form that they might gain power by (that last may have been putting words in your mouth, janef, correct if wrong). I grew up among way too many of the latter, and it colored my perception of religion, certainly. Biblical inerrent believers are an actual, large, group in the U.S., though.

Speaking of Dawkins, I probably shouldn't have said "dumb-ass", since the man is surely much smarter than me. But smart is as smart does. Preaching your personal theories as scientific fact doesn't strike me as very smart, or responsible, for a scientist. Maybe I should have said "jack-ass."

While the topic of the Church of England is still here, may I just say how much I admired the music in the Episcopal church when I was drafted to some of their services as a step-daughter. Lovely canticles. I wish I could have gone apostate from there, instead.
GVH - have you read any of John Hare's books? I think you might enjoy them.

Catherine - I really enjoyed reading your posts. Thank you.
"I have to give some support for janef's (sorry, I've been asleep) earlier distinction between those who are motivated by faith and seek a form for it and those who seek a religious form that they might gain power by (that last may have been putting words in your mouth, janef, correct if wrong). "

I said that my relatives have been active members of Jewish congregations for reasons of community solidarity. In the past (not as much recently but within living memory) there was a significant amount of anti-Semitism in America. Synagogues everywhere are places for fellowship, study, mutual aid, and educating children to take pride in their heritage. In a multi-ethnic society, synagogues are also places where nice Jewish boys can meet nice Jewish girls. It's where my father met my mother. Churches play the same role in the African-American community. When a community is beleaguered, churches are set up to shelter the community from hostile outsiders and to pool people's resources so they can help each other.

From an anthropological POV, maintenance and strengthening of community ties is a major function of organized religion. (It can also be a source of inter-community conflict, of course). Western Europe, which is largely unchurched, is in the middle of a very interesting social experiment. Never before in human history has there been a society as secular as Western Europe, except where organized religion has been suppressed by the State. Can all the other groups and organizations of civil society (clubs, professional associations, unions, etc.) hold the society together and keep it healthy without major influence from organized religion? What will that society look like and feel like in another thirty years?
Time for another reply just before this drops off the main page ;).

catherine wrote:

I think atheists often make the mistake of thinking "rationality" is the central issue ("I am a rational person, religion makes no kind of sense to me, ergo religion is irrational"). But I don't buy that rationality has anything to do with religious faith or the lack of it.


The thing here I have a "problem" with (and I use the term very loosely ;)), is that I agree that some atheďsts wrongly think that rationality is the central issue in faith. Or, to be more precise, that the fact that their rejection of faith comes from a rational place, automatically means the religious person is wrong. This is not the case, because religious faith is, in fact, not rational, but emotional. Based on a feeling. And the pure rational approach used by the atheďst might not be relevant to the religious person.

So, in fact, I think if the atheďst then assumes that religious belief isn't rational, he'd be correct. Which is where we differ.

However, I also think that while the belief is not rational, the people may be and I also believe that it is possible, to - after the fact, using a different set of rules and definitions as the atheďst is using - explain the unrational belief, rationally.

It's a subtle difference to what you're saying, but I think we may actually be agreeing already. But feel free to correct me if I'm wrong in that assumption :).

TawnyJayne: thanks for the tip! I just did some mini-research and his writing does seem to intersect with some of my personal interest. I've not delved very deeply into the philosophy of morality before - apart from some basics - but his book 'The Moral Gap' seems like a nice way to learn more about what people "on the other side of the debate" think on these matters.

It's especially interesting because I have always felt that one doesn't need religion to be moral, and this book assumes the exact opposite. As with every philosophical debate, this depends on the way a person defines the central term "moral". Is morality formed by the consequences of an action, or is there an a priori way to characterise something as moral/immoral? And if so, what is the defining quality to make such a call? I find it interesting that John Hare seems to feel that God has a definitive role to play in that determination and that one cannot be truly moral without religion (something I'd disagree with heavily out of hand).

I'm sure it'll inspire new ways of looking at this particular subject for me, which is always welcome. In fact, it's usually more interesting to read the thoughts of someone you don't agree with than someone you do agree with, because it forces you to actively think of why you don't agree, instead of copying someone else's thoughts (although that can be usefull too, at times :)).

So, in short: thanks for the tip! (although I'll either have to find a nice second-hand copy or try to look for it in my (university) library, because the price for a new copy is pretty high ;))

ETA: made some alinea-seperations in that last bit, to make it more readable ;)

[ edited by GVH on 2008-08-25 04:04 ]
I see what you're saying, GVH. BTW does John Hare think "one cannot be truly moral without religion"? That's disturbing if true, but not the impression I got from reading a wee bit about the book. Interesting questions, anyway.

Aaand this thread slides off the page. Goodnight sweet thread, may flights of angels (or some wondrous natural phenomena) sing thee to thy rest, etcetera etcetera.
"Is there an a priori way to categorize something as moral/immoral"

That question about morality was a big chunk of Kant's work as a philosopher. I haven't read John Hare. Kant's categorical imperative, a restatement of the golden rule, doesn't, IMO, require experience, but it does require recognition of other people as equal. YMMV.
janef said:
"IMO, one of the biggest obstacles to productive discussions between religious people and people who think society would be better off without any religion (e.g., John "imagine no religion" Lennon") is that people holding Lennon's view very frequently don't know, and refuse to believe even when they are told, that many religious people do regard the myths of their own religion as myths and do not take those myths literally."

I remember our religion teacher in Catholic school in Grade 10 (so I would've been 15/16), a former nun, being the only teacher/priest-type person to ever admit to this (I've seen plenty of writers since then though).

Except she only went halfway. She suggested that perhaps some of the Old Testament stuff (The Creation and Adam & Eve in Genesis and probably Noah's Ark and other crazyness you can think of) was merely symbolic, shouldn't be taken literally, but that everything in the New Testament regarding Jesus, his miracles, and the details of his life and death, definitely happened.

Me, I figured if you're gonna cast doubt on one half of the 2000-year-old-book (give or take), why not the rest ? I saw (and still see) too much fan-wanking over all the apparent plot holes by religious scholars in a feeble attempt to keep it relevant in the face of more evidence and rational thought progression that prove it otherwise.

And as for only literalists being "real" members of a religion...I believe contextualists (the terms they gave us in religion class back then, taking the Bible literally or contextually or a mixture of both) were also suggested as legitimate members of a faith, just as legitimate as hardcore literalists...but they still believe a God exists. So even if you're Catholic and don't believe the stuff in the Bible happened, but still believe in God the way Catholicism describes Him/It, I guess it sorta works to still call yourself Catholic. But if you go any further, you're agnostic. 'Cause what's the point in identifying with a specific religion otherwise ? I mean you're free to, but why bother ? Because you were raised that way isn't a worthwhile reason.

And while I don't believe we need religion to be moral, sure it's fine to read the stories and take quality lessons/advice from the texts. But that doesn't make you religious either and wouldn't make sense to call yourself Catholic or Buddhist or whatever, not if you don't buy into some of it as fact. I could use Buddhist meditation practices and really like Buddhist texts, study them extensively, and maybe even wish its view of the world to be more true than others, but unless I believe some of its proposed history, I would not call myself a Buddhist.

I never want religion to completely go away in terms of having it as a part of our history books, because it's important in that regard. But I still think it would be good for it to fade away sooner rather than later. I'm not an angry atheist. I'm arguably more agnostic, with an eye toward skepticism because of how us humans tend to be...but I still wanna remain open-minded to possibilities, it's just that something supernatural would have to practically come about and knock me on the head to convince me of its presence. So I don't come at this from an angry-at-religion/our-history perspective, just out of a frustrated need to see society progress faster (and, okay, it wouldn't hurt to have more people share my viewpoint or something closer to it, I won't lie, it's a selfish thing--arguably all decisions and feelings are).

[ edited by Kris on 2008-08-25 08:38 ]
Growing up religious, it was taken as given that parts of the Bible weren't - big 't' - True (were parables for instance or mistranslations), the idea that all religious people must believe in biblical inerrancy is a new one to me, clearly they don't. In fact, in practice i'd go so far as to say the vast majority of religious people don't believe, agree with or apply to their lives every word in their particular bible (I don't just mean out of hypocrisy - though that happens obviously - I also mean out of decency and common-sense).

(but then, biblical inerrancy wasn't even widely known about over here until about 10 or 15 years ago anyway, part of the British - particularly English - tendency to frown upon and generally be suspicious of any deeply held conviction, of whatever stripe. Not always a good quality BTW but it has its uses ;)

janef: This leaves a little breathing space for religious beliefs that aren't supported by current scientific knowledge.

But isn't that just a "god of the gaps" i.e. a god that can only exist so long as there are gaps in our knowledge of the universe ? So isn't god diminished at pace with our ignorance ? If I were a believer that'd be deeply unsatisfying and cause for worry as I watched my god being painted into a corner (maybe cause for the current apparent rise of extremism across the board ?).

janef: Current trends in physics and life sciences, if I understand them correctly, involve systems analysis and emergent properties. The scientific picture of how the world works is starting to have some resemblance (in broad outline; occasionally in details) to various ancient prescientific cosmologies.

... Only that it's easier now to entertain the possibility that a conscious intelligence pervades the universe than it would have been in 1908.


Not really. One of the fundamental points about emergent phenomena as I understand them is that they're emphatically not directed, not "conscious" in the sense we know it of some single entity with an overview of the whole process - emergence is all about the whole exceeding the sum of the parts but those parts can be totally unaware, behaving according to very simple rules (ants are a favourite example for instance) and the whole needn't be aware in our sense either. Some people choose to see this "greater than parts-ness" as God - when, for instance, Einstein talked about "the old one", that's kind of what he meant I think, he was talking about "the rules", the laws of physics and the amazingly intricate way they interact to produce the wonder of "creation" (he's on record as not believing in a personal god so that's not me claiming to know what Albert Einstein really meant BTW ;).

I don't agree that modern science has in any way "opened a door" to God, with the best will in the world what I think it's done is become more complicated - I don't mean I understand and religious people don't BTW, I mean no-one can understand all of it anymore, there's too much of it. And so we use metaphors to describe or approximate things and because those metaphors come from the same brains that came up with our creation myths, they're often quite similar (maybe the rough shape of myths is even innate ? Any comparative theologians here ?). And people are also more generally aware of the uncertainty of science, more sceptical and so those that maybe thought it was science vs religion might feel like science is on the retreat.

But of course, it never was science vs religions, they don't have that much to do with each other (if religious people didn't keep insisting on making claims about the external world - which is much more science's bailiwick - they'd have nothing to do with each other but people are always wanting to justify their internal state by pointing to the world and claiming that proves them right when all it really does is be the world). Faith isn't rational, that's the whole point of it, practically the definition - to just believe anyway, without proof, the oft-mentioned "leap of faith". That said, religion can be a rational choice, it's comforting in a way that science, with its fundamental reliance on uncertainty of conclusions, constant change and being wrong just isn't, and sometimes all you need is shelter from the storm.

And I don't consider "religious awe/faith" as any more beautiful than the "sense of wonder" I feel. In fact I don't even consider them to be different feelings, they're the same feeling mediated through a different belief system. Because faith is seen as like love people are allowed to get all daffy about it, as a culture (maybe even as a species) we give ourselves permission, whereas apparently hard-headed stuff like refraction can't be moving. But rainbows are born of refraction ;).
Thank you for flying Church of England, cake or death?

Hex | August 24, 05:50 CET


Started to check out this thread where I left off and rapidly realized I don't begin to have time to read it. But this caught my eye and I just had to add a shout-out to Eddie Izzard and the funniest stand-up show ever.
(Dressed to Kill, the uncut version they aired on HBO).

OT? I know there was lots more funny Church stuff in that routine as well, just can't remember it. ;-)

[ edited by Shey on 2008-08-25 14:19 ]
dreamlogic, yeah, I've read some of Kant's theories, which is the place in my brain I was scratching at when writing that post :).

Saje, you'll love 'The God Delusion'. You're mostly agreeing with it already ;).

And while I tend to agree with your assessment that "sense of wonder" is the same as "religious awe/faith" (an idea Dawkins is a big supporter of) on instinct, I can't be 100% sure. The feelings described by some religious people are much more instense than the sense of wonder that drove me to become an astrophysicist (because, honestly, is there a more grand-scale sense-of-wonder inspiring branch of science out there? ;)), so maybe it, in fact, is something different.

But then again, that "intense" feeling (I think) is not what the majority of religious people feel. What the majority feel is probably indeed akin to the "sense of wonder" we feel, just, like you say "mediated through a different belief system".
Saje, you'll love 'The God Delusion'. You're mostly agreeing with it already ;).

Heh, now i'm wondering if it's worth reading at all then - could've saved my money and just talked to myself for an hour or so (give me a book I want to throw across the room once or twice any day of the week ;).

(and if it's the rainbow thing BTW Dawkins talks about them in a previous book, 'Unweaving the Rainbow', which i've read. Thought it was a very nice example because as he says, you can understand refraction and internal reflection in rain drops but you still appreciate the beauty of a rainbow. So i'm not pre-cognitive or anything, don't panic ;)

And while I tend to agree with your assessment that "sense of wonder" is the same as "religious awe/faith" (an idea Dawkins is a big supporter of) on instinct, I can't be 100% sure.

Well i'm not 100% sure either (despite how I might come across sometimes ;). Might have put that badly actually, maybe "religious awe" sounds more like those very intense, ecstatic experiences folk have (what you might call experiences of "revelation", where they actually commune with God in their opinion). Remember reading that they might be associated with temporal lobe epilepsy but I never followed it up.

But I actually just meant, when people look at the world, are staggered and think "There must be something behind it, something grand". Some stop there, decide that's it there just is something grand behind it, other probe slightly deeper and maybe come to the conclusion that nature (the big nature i.e. the universe) is plenty grand enough. It's natural (literally ;) to feel a need to express your wonder at the world (we do love a good pattern and the world's full of 'em) and even to wish it actually reflected a (comparatively) cosier reality than the one we may be stuck with IMO, everybody wants to feel safe and nobody wants to die forever and ever.

[ edited by Saje on 2008-08-25 15:07 ]
Some of the mods might prefer we don't get into it


Usually because whenever religion is mentioned, the discussion gets so far off the beaten track I have to remind myself what the original topic was actually about.
I really wish I'd had time to jump in on this discussion earlier on. Cheers to all for a truly memorable and fascinating look at this topic (and a peek into your brains) :).
And good morning, thread! Still alive and kicking, not gone to thread-heaven (or... I suppose the archives are thread-purgatory).

Saje we both finished our last posts on a similar-ish (but totally not!) note:

Sez you:
But I actually just meant, when people look at the world, are staggered and think "There must be something behind it, something grand". Some stop there, decide that's it there just is something grand behind it, other probe slightly deeper and maybe come to the conclusion that nature (the big nature i.e. the universe) is plenty grand enough. It's natural (literally ;) to feel a need to express your wonder at the world (we do love a good pattern and the world's full of 'em) and even to wish it actually reflected a (comparatively) cosier reality than the one we may be stuck with IMO, everybody wants to feel safe and nobody wants to die forever and ever.


Sez me:
We look at the world, and everything we know, and everything we don't know, and some of us think "what random, miraculous chaos this is, how incredible that it should have led to me being here and trying to understand it," and some of us get down on our knees and pray. I don't think the world-view is necessarily so different--just the response.


I have a problem with what you sez insofar as it seems to imply that the atheistic view is a "deeper probing" and religious people are religious mainly out of a need for comfort and a fear of death. Which may in some cases be true of course, and I won't just repeat everything I said earlier, except to say that I think when certain people feel (just do, innately) a kind of presence, something that touches or guides them, connects to them when they pray, they may choose to call it God. I suspect it is a different feeling than a sense of wonder over refraction... atheists and believers alike may feel that, and I have no idea at all what people who speak in tongues feel... but I think that feeling that there is a God is something else. A sense of presence. Maybe. That's all I can come up with. But plenty of science-y types who are very interested in probing deeply into the workings of nature and many people who do not believe in eternal life and many people who don't find the universe, even with a god, in any way a kind or cozy place, nonetheless believe in this force and presence and allow it to be a central guiding point in their lives.

And Kris, you sez:
And as for only literalists being "real" members of a religion...I believe contextualists (the terms they gave us in religion class back then, taking the Bible literally or contextually or a mixture of both) were also suggested as legitimate members of a faith, just as legitimate as hardcore literalists...but they still believe a God exists. So even if you're Catholic and don't believe the stuff in the Bible happened, but still believe in God the way Catholicism describes Him/It, I guess it sorta works to still call yourself Catholic. But if you go any further, you're agnostic. 'Cause what's the point in identifying with a specific religion otherwise ? I mean you're free to, but why bother ? Because you were raised that way isn't a worthwhile reason.

Well, a lot of people still "bother" to identify with a religion (including people who weren't raised that way). Maybe it's weird of me to bring up my mom again, not sure she'd love me discussing and maybe misrepresenting her faith on the internet... but anyway, she was raised by parents who had nothing but contempt for religion (stupid superstition as her father would have it) and so prayed in secret as a child and as a grown-up she tried out the church. Met with the vicar at one point to discuss her beliefs and whether she belonged in the church, and he was rather shocked by what she told him and said that she absolutely didn't belong in the church. She was upset, didn't go back for years, then found a friendlier church and has been going there for thirty years. Nobody tries to tell her that she isn't a Christian because her God isn't sitting in the sky being all-powerful and making whimsical decisions about whether your pet cat is going to live or die. I don't know exactly why she identifies so strongly with Christianity, but she does. She loves the church she goes to, she loves the community, she loves the stories and the songs that give a structure and an expression to her own deeply held beliefs.

Whatever people feel that makes them identify as "religious" and what they call "God" varies, but the Church is a positive place for a lot of people who believe in God (differently) but are in no way less rational, less intelligent, or even necessarily less skeptical than your average atheist. I don't know if it would really be progress for more people to lose the religious impulse, and I don't think it's going to happen anyway. I think it's a part of being human, probably. Of course, it would be nice if certain people weren't such dicks about their religious beliefs (and the rest of y'all are going to hell!-style) but then it would be nice if certain people weren't such dicks in general. But a lot of people are dicks, and a lot of people are religious, and there's some cross-over there, but I think the sucky thing about those people is that they are dicks, not that they are religious.

Whew. Now that I'm becoming less and less coherent, I'm going to stop!
now i'm wondering if it's worth reading at all then


Well, Saje, you'll probably still disagree with the amount of leeway he grants science in being able to say meaningfull things about religion. According to him, one can postulate a 'God hypothesis' and reject it (with pretty large odds of being right) with our current scientific knowledge. And while I tend to agree that given a certain basic frame of thinking (using limited definitions of "truth", "reality" etc. and even "God"), atheďsm is the only valid outcome, he's still ignoring other - equally rational, but non-conformitive to his own (and my, and probably your ;)) philosophical leanings - points of view.

zeitgeist, would've loved to hear your thoughts on the matter as well. This has, indeed, been a very enjoyable thread. Here comes the almost-standard self-congratulatory end-of-thread-is-nigh bit ;), but: this is why I love whedonesque. In most places this type of discussion could've gone a completely different way, but here it turned into a friendly exchange of concepts and ideas. Wonderfull. Thanks all!
Yeah it'll be good when we're sat down there burning away to remember that we were nice heathens - we could give ourselves a pat on the back then but patting and flaying just don't mix ;-).

... people who believe in God (differently) but are in no way less rational, less intelligent, or even necessarily less skeptical than your average atheist.

If I added "in every other part of their life" to that then i'd agree wholeheartedly catherine. Basically, you can't be a rational skeptic about everything and base your fundamental beliefs about the way the world works on a "feeling of a presence" IMO, rational skepticism is all about distrusting that sort of thing to, perhaps sometimes, a damaging extent. Whether it's possible to have the feeling as intensely as some people claim and still doubt it and reason exactly the same as if you didn't I don't know, as far as i'm aware i've never had it ;). As GVH says, once you've gone down the hard-line materialist road, atheism is pretty much unavoidable (i'm not saying it's the right road BTW - though I think it is ;) - it's still an article of faith that the universe works the way it has to work for materialism to make sense, which is to say, there is a real external world, it's consistent in its laws and we can know it, at least to a good approximation, by our senses).

And belief in some kinds of god is incompatible with a rational world view, there're just some things that don't make sense with some Gods in them - not IMO, just according to logic, one of the fundamentals of a rational world view - so how you define god (among many other things) can be extremely important to most religious discussions. I can't refute, for instance, a god that kick started the universe and then left us to our own devices (my instinct is, we don't need to add that sort of god to the universe so why bother creating one but I can't reason against his/her existence, it's utterly unknowable) but I could have a reasonable attempt at at least calling into doubt one that, for instance, allowed evil to occur (as it plainly does) AND was perfect, omnipotent, omni-benevolent and omniscient, which is some folks' idea of the Christian God (in some ways faith is like a scientific theory - if you pull out a foundation stone and follow it through to its logical conclusion then the whole thing sometimes falls apart).

Please, please note though, i'm emphatically NOT saying atheists are better people than the religious, i've met plenty of both that I wouldn't like to be around (and plenty, of both, I would - probably because of self-selection most of my friends are either atheists, agnostics or apathetiests ;) but not all, and not through my deliberate choice).
Please, please note though, i'm emphatically NOT saying atheists are better people than the religious


I note, I note! I think my brain was wandering off (fingers on keyboard following) when I started rambling about how religious and non-religious types can both be dicks, that was nothing at all to do with the discussion and I didn't at all think anybody was suggesting otherwise. I'm not so good at the focus thing sometimes.

Of course I agree that the idea of God As All-Powerful (and Good!) Creator is incompatible with a logical / rational / scientific understanding of the universe. I'm rather feebly paraphrasing what more-articulate-than-me believers have said to me in long-ago conversations about religion and probably not doing them justice, but among my friends and rellies who do believe in God, I don't think any of them think of God as some kind of omnipotent creator. So yeah, a definition of God would be key, but I'm a little nervous to try and venture a definition on anybody else's behalf... I've been tiptoeing around that with words like "presence" and "force." But OK, more tiptoeing... some kind of presence or consciousness in everything that connects to us and through which we can, perhaps, be better than what we are. Maybe. And while it may not be possible for us to fully understand it, if we feel its presence in us and around us, then we can make the choice to embrace it anyway, to call it God if we want to, and to find a way to live our lives that makes it central, crucial to how we behave. We can choose to embrace the history and stories and songs of people who have felt something similar for millenia. Maybe. So the faith thing, for some, is making the choice to embrace something that we can't know. And so I get what you're saying, that that is by definition not rational, and ... well, yes, you're right about that. And also about this, in a way:
Basically, you can't be a rational skeptic about everything and base your fundamental beliefs about the way the world works on a "feeling of a presence" IMO, rational skepticism is all about distrusting that sort of thing to, perhaps sometimes, a damaging extent. Whether it's possible to have the feeling as intensely as some people claim and still doubt it and reason exactly the same as if you didn't I don't know, as far as i'm aware i've never had it ;).

But I don't know if the belief is about "the way the world works" so much as a belief that there is something (god) in the world. Heh. And as for having that feeling and doubting it, I think that's probably the norm. How could you not doubt it? I think doubt and faith are two sides of the same coin, at least for the people I know. They've chosen to be guided by a powerful impulse, and they continue with it because they feel that they are growing and stronger through it, but of course, of course they doubt it and question it all the while.

Anyway, ALL VERY INNERESTING. Sure you don't want to leap in zeitgeist? ;)
I note, I note!

Thanks, thanks ;).

But I don't know if the belief is about "the way the world works" so much as a belief that there is something (god) in the world. Heh.

Heh indeed ;). Cos of course, the thing is, whether people realise it or not (and my own feeling is, most don't, most people are used to compartmentalising their beliefs so that they don't spill over, it's how we routinely believe mutually contradictory things) accepting "something" in the universe that doesn't obey physical law and can't, even in principle be known is a fundamental belief about how the world works, it's saying that it doesn't run on rational, materialist lines because no universe with something like that in it can.

It really is a bit of an all or nothing situation (much as we might want it to be grey, with room for all comers), either physics describes the universe (not necessarily our physics BTW, we could be wrong about a lot of stuff and very likely are, I mean a physics of some sort i.e. a set of laws which the universe operates according to always) or all bets are off because we don't know the rules, "he" operates in "mysterious ways" - in a universe with "gods" anything can happen, arbitrarily.

That's very far from a comfort to me, quite the reverse in fact, which is probably partly why I initially went down the road I have (which also isn't comforting but at least makes sense, to me ;).
Aaaand, this thread is still going. Heh :).

Anyway: agreed, Saje, re: what you were saying above. And yet I've also encountered people who will hold that a) reality is not relative (i.e. there is one reality, though at present we may not know it), b) humans are able - by logic and observation - to (slowly) learn to know that reality and that yet, there is still room for an unknowable God because he/she/it is outside of reality, transcends reality. In fact, that's based on a quite popular concept in religious philosphy called transcendence (wikipedia is your friend). I have no problem with transcendence in principle, although - to me - it feels like an "easy way out". And then there's combinations in which God is both above and outside of our phyiscal reality (hello there panentheism, welcome to the table ;)).

But, either way, if holding to a materialist world-view, most people would assume that "reality" is all of reality, including any transcendent aspects (illogical though that may seem, given the definition of 'transcendence'. In fact, I would say that most materialists would not include transcendent "levels" to reality, but instead deny that they (can) exist). What's more, we get a logical contradiction when the "unknowable" God does get to act on our "knowable" reality. Because that's just cheating :p.

Where was I going with this? Ah, yes: I agree with Saje's assertion: "It really is a bit of an all or nothing situation", despite what some (admittedly intelligent ;)) philosophers might want you to believe ;)
That's interesting re. transcendence, GVH. I've never really heard that idea before.

You may both be right about the all-or-nothing-ness of it... in fact you probably are, because I am very rarely right about anything... but I'm still not convinced ;). I think most edjumicated people believe that the universe "works" (yay universe!) according to laws of physics. If you start talking about a god that operates in mysterious ways and an arbitrary universe in which everything can happen, you're still talking about some omnipotent agent who... does stuff and controls everything. And I may very well be twisting the words of my religious friends and putting my own atheistic slant on their beliefs, but my impression has been that they feel there is a presence of some kind within, I guess, the physics of the universe. Not Zeus making the planets spin in the opposite direction all of a sudden (OK he never did that), but something that feels divine and aware and that we are in some way connected to. Does that need to contradict physics? A god you pray to because it feels instinctive to try to communicate, and this type of expression is... well, meditative, I guess... not because you want this God to smite your neighbor and buy you a Prius and you think that if you ask "him," "he" might help you out. Do you see what I mean? It's not that this god doesn't obey physical laws. It's seeing god within those laws and within everything else too.

I can't really describe how that feels because I've never felt it, but it doesn't require a tremendous imaginative leap to think that I could look out my window and sort of "see god in everything," feel some presence in all of this and want to pray, to reach towards it, to embrace it and find ways of expressing my joy in it (songs and stories). And I can imagine feeling all of that and not having to reject or compromise my belief in the physical laws of the universe. When religious people wonder how atheists can be "moral" or have meaning in their lives, and when atheists wonder how religious people can be rational or scientific in their understanding of the universe and assume that it has something to do with comfort or a fear of death, it always seems to me like a failure of imagination.

So I still see it as a case of "as well as" instead of an "either or" but perhaps I'm really not making sense? I can make a lot of things, but sense isn't always one of them. Ask me for a nice shrimp curry, though, and I can be relied on.
Ah, yes. "God is everything" is also an often-heard message, and in fact, it's one I'm much more comfortable with. In fact, didn't Einstein subscribe to such a notion of God?

Anyway, the usual "definition" as I've encountered it, is that - in fact - God is literally everything. Not a sentient being, but just reality. God is the plants, the trees, the laws of physics making our universe the way it is, the basic building blocks of reality, time, energy... like I said, literally everthing.

But this, then, gets to a point where things become arbitrary. Us atheďsts also believe that reality exists. We see parts of "everything" all the time and assume it belongs to a knowable whole. And we stick the label "reality" on that, while others may feel the need for more reverence and stick the label "God" on it. But, in the end, "those people", I would say, do not differ much - if at all - from us basic atheďsts. It has become a question of definitions and names even more than it was before.

Although I would then choose to not name "everything" God, because it is confusing. God has certain supernatural connotations to us. And by using this definition of God in language, one is confusing the issue. Maybe they're choosing to stay close to religious language because of cultural or socialogical preferences, or maybe because they honestly believe that "reality" deserves a more "grand" name, but which ever way you turn it, to me it seems like an unecessarily confusing name to use.

But maybe they feel the need to use it, because apart from "everything", God is also more or is in fact an entity. But as soon as one starts ascribing supernatural abilities to God, however carefully one defines him, "all or nothing" starts rearing its ugly head again ;), because of the reasons mentioned in our previous posts and we're back at square one.
But this, then, gets to a point where things become arbitrary. Us atheďsts also believe that reality exists. We see parts of "everything" all the time and assume it belongs to a knowable whole. And we stick the label "reality" on that, while others may feel the need for more reverence and stick the label "God" on it. But, in the end, "those people", I would say, do not differ much - if at all - from us basic atheďsts. It has become a question of definitions and names even more than it was before.


This made me laugh. Yeah, I knew I was tiptoeing awfully close to that particular precipice. But I do think there is a difference between you or me looking at the world and saying "hey, look at all that amazing everything!" and a religious person feeling the presence of god in that everything. Not "God=Reality and it all comes down to whether or not people like going to church". But the sense of a presence or a force or an awareness that we can in some way communicate with, through which we can connect to the universe and become better people and... well, I'm just being repetitive now. Sorries!

You're right though that the distinction, if it's even there, is a thin slice away from making no kind of sense at all (and not even making shrimp curry).

*surrenders, and offers her sword to Saje and GVH*
I'm not sure I have the time to get into this, to be honest, much as I might enjoy it. Nor, to tell you the truth, am I sure where I would start. I'm fairly sure we would end up talking about things like nondual realization (and probably by necessity monism and other related things) how it (they) relate to subject-object distinction or the lack thereof, prayer/contemplative prayer and meditative practice, enlightenment and levels of conciousness/awareness, the role of ego in all of this, and on, and on and on :). So instead of actually saying anything substantive, I will just list some more things to throw on the fire of this conversation.

However, I would say that just calling everything that is "reality" is missing the point to some extent. Its the connectedness of all of these things being explicitly recognized and/or celebrated that is the important bit for those who subscribe to the various theories of an underlying something. This is still separate from both "reality" and the "concious creator" stuff. Its a tiny hair to split, but I don't believe that its really as insignificant as it seems some folks are ready to write it off as. I feel fairly certain saying its not necessarily either reverence or a need for something bigger that causes people to ascribe a different terminology to it. Although, maybe at heart it is that the terminology used by two extremes is stressing the "wrong" parts to those not at either end. That never happens, right?

That people attempt to communicate with this "force" or "presence" through prayer or other externalized and ritualized communication is very interesting in a number of ways and could lead one to many, many theories about the why and the wherefore. Is it because they believe or need to believe that this "force" or "presence" is better than them -or at least other than them- to rationalize the horrors that sometimes* happen in an imperfect world? Is it just a familiar mode of expression that allows them to strive for a connection they may or may not feel? Is it because some guy long ago confused the trappings of a ritual with direct apprehension of this "presence" or in an imprecise word theophany and they are trying to recapture that through the rituals of prayer and worship services? /shrug

Of course it could all be our need to categorize, classify, etc. biting us in the ass in the biggest way ever. Best joke we've ever played on ourselves, then? We are Loki. Mmmph... need more hours in the day.

*every second of every minute of every day

[ edited by zeitgeist on 2008-08-25 21:25 ]
Alright, now that I've killed this thread, I am going to go solve this Russia/Georgia thing.
Ha! Not killed. Little Japanese boys were teaching me to make origami. Now I have a house full of cranes and doves and dense little paper stars that go really far if you throw them.

If you have time after solving the Russia/Georgia thing (good luck with that, BTW) I would like to hear more about what you think prayer is all about. And maybe an expanded version of paragraph 1, which left me with a little bit of "huh?" ;). I find prayer truly fascinating, and I have felt the impulse to pray (the interpretation of it that make most sense to me is that it's a "familiar mode of expression" as you say, words being what we most often use to communicate with), but since ultimately I don't believe in any kind of god, it's really just me talking to myself and pretending that I'm not, which, hm, not so fulfilling. Then again I suck at meditating, too, and just feel like I'm sitting still trying not to think too much and breathing deeply, and that's fine, but it usually feels kind of like a waste of time. Obviously, I'm not doing it right.

In other words... I have nothing left to say but I want to be the thread-killer! No, you kill it. Split some tiny hairs! More, more!
There is nothing inherently incompatible between, no essentail and categorical incocnsitency, between believing ina personal omnipotent and eternal God -with-a-capital-G-in-the-Westerrn-sense and believing the universe is an ordered and rational place.

That's simply what the universe is, that's how it operates. What anyone believes to be beyond that doesn't change the character of said "that."

And even miracles aren't a problem. A miracle is a singular event. If every natural factor were known it would be inexplicable, but by definiton not evry factor can ever be known so the event can always be called coincidence or some such. And once it happens, it's over, the universe just goes on afterwards.

Seems simple logic to me; things exist in their own terms and in their own bailiwicks, and to me the universe is just another thing. If you don't see anything beyond it, you don't. If you do, you do
I'm sorry, DaddyCatALSO, but I don't think I'm getting what you mean. I'll take a stab at replying to your post anyway, however, but feel free to tell me I was missing the point you were trying to make (and if I'm less clear than before, that's just because it's very late here and I should go to sleep soonish ;)).

I agree that something beyond "the universe" or "reality" unable to influence said reality, does not change it. This is why I have no "problem" with transcendence, although I feel like it's an easy way out.

It's just that the "unable to influence" bit is not something most religions transcribe to. Some religious people, probably, but not the religions as a whole. God has influence on our every day life, and as such it influences reality beyond, say, the laws of physics. This - for me, as a traditional rational materialist believing in things like a knowable universe which can be described by logic and discovered by observations - is a problem. Because the "unknowable" God is influencing our nice and knowable universe.

And even miracles aren't a problem. A miracle is a singular event. If every natural factor were known it would be inexplicable, but by definiton not evry factor can ever be known so the event can always be called coincidence or some such. And once it happens, it's over, the universe just goes on afterwards.


Well, this would depend on your definition of "problem". Is there an a priori problem with miracles? Of course not. Is there an inconsistency with believing in a rational, ordered and knowable universe, then yes. The problem here being that miracles - depending on ones definition - are either a) unknowable or b) knowable products of an unknowable force.

Simply saying they're "coincidence" is not enough: if there is an entity guiding this coincidence, then why would the effect of that entity be unknowable, while the thing it is influencing is knowable?

Also, zeitgeist wrote (see, you didn't kill the thread ;)):

However, I would say that just calling everything that is "reality" is missing the point to some extent. Its the connectedness of all of these things being explicitly recognized and/or celebrated that is the important bit for those who subscribe to the various theories of an underlying something. This is still separate from both "reality" and the "concious creator" stuff.


Yes, I see what you're getting at. And I agree that there is a distinction to be made there. But... if you ascribe more to God than just simply reality, if you're assuming a meta-reason for the things being as they are, we have a new "problem". At least with reconciling it with a traditional materialist way of thinking (which is what we were talking about upthread). Because this "meta-reason", the connection between all that is "reality" can then either be:

1) placed outside of reality, as something unknowable to man. This is hard to accept from a rational/material way of thinking, because this unknowable "something" hás influenced the knowable reality. In fact, it has shaped its very form. I'd even go so far as to say that if we can't know the "meta-reason", we don't actually quite know the universe at all. Which is an acceptable outcome, except if your starting point is the assumption that said universe is knowable.

2) Placed inside of reality. But now we have a logical contradiction, because this meta-reason would dramatically increase the information density of the universe. In fact, the information density would explode exponentially, because this "meta-reason" contains all the information of "reality", but is also inside of reality and, well ... kaboom :). And I'm not even mentioning the fact that by placing it inside of reality, it is now a part of reality (and knowable) and as such is no longer even a "meta-reason" at all, which places us back at "God is reality".

So, in closing, it's not that such a world view as "God is reality plus some extra undefined thing" is not a relevant and even logically/rational way of seeing things... it's just that it's not an option if you're following the rationalist/materialist (I'm starting to wonder if these terms are entirely philosophically correct, but I assume we all understand what we're talking about when mentioning them) aproach. Then, whichever way you turn it, we come back to what Saje eloquently called "It really is a bit of an all or nothing situation" :). And in the end, using said world view as a starting point, atheďsm is the only logical and consistent end point.

[ edited by GVH on 2008-08-26 01:52 ]
Won't tackle all that at the moment, GVH, 'cause I've got to prep for tomorrow (having been a lazy bum all day spending way too much time on da internet) but two quick things:

First, very impressed at that elegant piece of writing at almost 2 a.m. (in not-your-first-language, no less, though I'm assuming you've been discussing philosophical questions in English from the age of three or so). Second, I see the "contradiction" you were calling me out on earlier upon re-reading. It was me being really unclear basically. When I said that I thought "rationality had nothing to do with it" I didn't mean that the religious impulse was not rational (though, OK, it isn't) but that I didn't think "rational vs. irrational" was particularly relevant to the question. I figure you can have a "rational" world-view or an "irrational" one, but that that wouldn't necessarily affect whether or not you would feel this religious impulse, or the degree to which you would respond to it. Just to clarify what I meant to say earlier--already nicely refuted by y'all, so I don't mean to take the discussion back several steps. Ready to talk about monism and non-dual realization! Starting with--whassat??

You know, I think the nearest point for all of us to meet would be smack in the middle of the North Atlantic... well, maybe the Azores, since land is a bonus. I'll bring the shrimp curry, GVH can bring some vodka, zeitgeist can bring sherbet and a few mint leaves with which to make a vodka-dessert, DaddyCatALSO can bring the coffee for when we've had too much vodka & sherbet, and Saje can bring the chocolate-covered physics (or physics-covered chocolate? either way, I hear you yourself are covered in one or the other or both so it should be easy to bring). 'kay?
Little Japanese boys were teaching me to make origami.


Oh, please - how naive do you think we are? If we had a nickel for every time we heard that, to quote Parker-Stone "we'd have a sh!tload of nickels". I kid :). A lot of what I am talking about in paragraph one derives partially from Buddhist traditions, also Sri Ramana Maharshi and Sri Aurobindo, and partially from some of what Ken Wilber's writings on what he calls Integral Philosophy are about. There are also threads of this within Mystical Christianity, like that of Meister Eckhart (who was tried as a heretic, by the way :)). The nondual realization stuff I refer to is about a realization that there we are all one thing, all part of a larger reality/spirit/universe that is not as separate as it seems. So much so that there is no separation between subject and object, that the individual is largely a construct of ego. Meditation and contemplative prayer (which is kind of like meditation for people who don't believe in meditation) are tools to break down that ego and submit to either (in the case of meditation) the realization of oneness that lies beyond it and thus to achieve enlightenment or (in the case of contemplative prayer) to submit to the Greater Power (which you are a part of, but perhaps not in the more Buddhist sense). The joke, as they say, is that no one experiences enlightenment; simply put, when enlightenment is realized, the ego that sought it is dissolved in it. By necessity some of this is very abbreviated, its interesting to check out, though. It's always been part of a vast and interesting subject matter to me.

GVH - Its certainly an all or nothing situation for people who subscribe to the theory that it has to be all or nothing ;).

2) Placed inside of reality. But now we have a logical contradiction, because this meta-reason would dramatically increase the information density of the universe. In fact, the information density would explode exponentially, because this "meta-reason" contains all the information of "reality", but is also inside of reality and, well ... kaboom :). And I'm not even mentioning the fact that by placing it inside of reality, it is now a part of reality (and knowable) and as such is no longer even a "meta-reason" at all, which places us back at "God is reality".


Exactly. Sort of ;). There is tons of information that can be stored in quantum states, right? Does it need to be a meta-reason? The reason itself being coded into reality does make it "God is reality", but some might feel that that simplifies it in ways that require further (sometimes elliptical seeming) explication. Does it really add to the amount of information if each part of reality stores information only about itself and that it is part of one larger "reality"/essence? And if itself is really an illusion of sorts doesn't that just mean that God is reality and no separate meta-reason is necessary? It just is. Is is all we are. As it were.

A disciple asked, "What is the difference between the enlightened and the unenlightened man?"

The Master replied, "The unenlightened man sees a difference, but the enlightened man does not."


p.s. - catherine, for more on how monism (the concept of "one essence") fits into this, see also Advaita (non-dualist) Vedantism.
There is tons of information that can be stored in quantum states, right? Does it need to be a meta-reason? The reason itself being coded into reality does make it "God is reality", but some might feel that that simplifies it in ways that require further (sometimes elliptical seeming) explication. Does it really add to the amount of information if each part of reality stores information only about itself and that it is part of one larger "reality"/essence? And if itself is really an illusion of sorts doesn't that just mean that God is reality and no separate meta-reason is necessary? It just is. Is is all we are. As it were.


*head explodes*
Nor, to tell you the truth, am I sure where I would start.

"In the beginning ..." ;-)

The "reality is information" idea is gaining a bit of traction in the last few years and the idea that things both store and are their own information doesn't seem bonkers to me, I just don't see what that says about an over-arching non-specific "force" (or a specific god) that's separate from physical laws. And "Is is all we are" is about as nice a short-hand for materialism as you'll find I reckon ;).

Its the connectedness of all of these things being explicitly recognized and/or celebrated that is the important bit for those who subscribe to the various theories of an underlying something. This is still separate from both "reality" and the "concious creator" stuff.

Unsurprisingly, i'm more or less with GVH on this I think ;). Surely it's that connectedness being recognised as separate that's important to those subscribers ? Everything in a materialist universe is also connected at the most fundamental level because everything operates according to the same laws, the connectedness is inherent, so I don't really "get" the distinction. Materialism, if it can be said to celebrate anything at all, celebrates reality above all other things - because no other things are above reality (and by "reality" I don't mean just the "stuff" that's in the universe, I mean the totality of everything, including the rules via which "stuff" happens and the interconnections between different "stuff" - they're not separate from reality as I see it, why would they be ?).

Personally I don't have much (if any) of an issue with religions/philosophies that don't ascribe conscious awareness, intent or interference in the world to their "force" (i'm pretty ignorant about buddhism etc. though, maybe they do actively interfere ?) because I don't really see how that can be tested, it's as unknowable as the "kick-start creator" in that reality would be the same either way, only our attitude towards it differs and, it being unprovable, the only objection we're left with is Ockham's Razor (which is more of a procedural guideline than a hard and fast law).

Taoism with its "way" for instance could be seen as "just" being the unfolding of physical processes but combined with a particular approach/attitude of co-existence/harmony with those processes rather than railing against them. In the West at least, we're taught from an early age to value our individuality maybe above all other things and maybe that ingrains a prejudice that "we" are totally separate from the world around us (including other people) when in fact it may well be more of a sliding scale, things might blend together (across space and time) more than we're used to thinking they do.
GVH catherine : I tried to explain things a little too much, sorry.

I simply am personally convinced that there is a bigger reality beyond what we can evern measure or calcualte, and part of that to me is bleieving God-with-acapital-G exists. It's just a matter of, well, a graphic illustration. Take evrything that cna ne ratioanlly discovered, then draw a circle around that. Then visualize more circles around that, each bigger and bigger.

As for miracles, well, Is ee it as simple, altho not really a s simple as I'm going to describe it here :-). God can directly manipulate the results of Action X. because of His transcendatn nature, He can do this without permanently altering the rules which would normally determine the outcome. And, once the changed outcome occurs, the universe just goes merrily onward with oen little thing different from what it otherwise would have been.
I just don't see what that says about an over-arching non-specific "force" (or a specific god) that's separate from physical laws. And "Is is all we are" is about as nice a short-hand for materialism as you'll find I reckon ;).


To my way of looking at it, its not necessarily separate from physical laws. Is is all we are is a shorthand for both materialism and nondual realization both. They really aren't that far apart. One is just a little more concerned with the spiritual and philosophical ramifications of that than the other.

Surely it's that connectedness being recognised as separate that's important to those subscribers ? Everything in a materialist universe is also connected at the most fundamental level because everything operates according to the same laws, the connectedness is inherent, so I don't really "get" the distinction.


That's the thing, really. Its not that they are different. Its down to angles of vision I reckon, really. As I said above, materialism doesn't necessarily tend to spend great amounts of time pondering the ramifications of this connectedness on a spiritual and philosophical level, just on a physical (as in material and as in physics) level.

Buddhism lacks an absolute creator/God, by the way, so there is no worry about the conciousness of this connected "one" reality. Another important concept in Buddhism is the Middle Way or Third Path, referring to a path of non-extremism and taking the middle ground between all things, denying all dualities; so its also a good explanation for nirvana which is the realization that all things are one and that all dualities are inherently false. Buddhism looks on itself as a philosophy and a way of life, not as much as a religion. Its not about worshipping anything, its about becoming in touch with the the ultimate nature of all things and doing no harm. See also the Eightfold Path.

Taoism actually has a lot to do with nondual realization. People mistake the yin and yang for opposites when they are really just complementary parts of one nondual whole. Taoism or wu (not) wei (doing) implies action without an actor, which sounds pretty much nondual to me.
Yeah, that tallies with my (very) limited understanding of taoism too, the idea seems to be that through Non-action comes right-action i.e. the action most in accordance with the Way, which is kind of like how planets orbit a sun in that that's the straight path for them, it just looks curved because of the shape of space-time - enlightenment is about, basically, "cooling your jets" ;) i.e. not doing anything artificial to disturb your natural inclination to follow the curves.

My only issue with stuff like the "third way" (apart from Tony Blair having forever polluted that phrase ;) is surely you need an awareness of the wrong or extreme positions in order to plot a course between ? I.e. once we all realise there are no "ends" of the spectrum, that that's a false notion, is it like taoism in that you just will follow that path because "realisation" basically is following the path (or at least being in a mental state such that path following is the logical next step) ? Or are we screwed because we've lost the reference points we need for bearings ?

And, obviously, as a good materialist i'm inclined to be suspicious of my internal state (I could probably just stop there ;) as any indication of what's actually "out there" anyway (in that sense "nondual realisation" might not be incompatible with materialism but it seems to be incompatible with being a materialist because the distinction between inner and outer seems essential to that way of thinking - the universe just is in both but when you throw us into the mix it gets more complicated. Same old, same old ;).

*trundles off to google more about non-dual realisation*
Sorry, started to reply much earlier and was dragged away. You've pretty much answered your own question in any case :) You may be inclined to be suspicious of your internal state, but any good nondualist will tell you, that's the ego getting in the way of enlightenment.
Yeah, that makes sense (that a nondualist would say that I mean ;). It's attractive in some ways but i'm pretty attached to my individuality (such as it is ;), seems like it'd be tough to give up (assuming I don't give it up in the same way I embrace determinism i.e. accept it as probably true and then spend the rest of the time in denial ;). Certainly bears more consideration anyway.
This conversation got way over my head way fast (wikipedia patiently holding my hand as I tried to keep up).

I'm guessing most people who take a more "scientific" (maybe materialist? but I don't want to start bandying around terminology that I don't understand properly) view of the world would find Buddhism (in its more abstract "practice-based" forms, maybe) less problematic than religions that are centered around a something called God. If you don't have to "believe" in anything that conflicts with (or just isn't supported by) what you can know / experience, it allows you to respond to the spiritual / religious impulse without any discomfort. In any case, I think people who experience that impulse need to find some way of responding to it or expressing it. But even while I think there is really something to it, I tend to feel, like Saje, that I'm fond of my individuality / separateness (imaginary though it might be!) and even my puny angst and suffering. Even though it makes so much more sense, even though it's ultimately a more powerful idea, it doesn't have the emotional resonance (for me) of Christianity. Connecting to something bigger, yay. Becoming One with the Big One, eek. In the end I do neither, just fritter away hours on the internet.

So anyway... we've all agreed that Buffy is responsible for women leaving the Church of England in droves, then?
I'm very attached to my individuality, too :). But this subject matter is going to make a great concept album for Murder Rubicon.
Aaand, this thread is still here and active after being away for a day (was busy interviewing some experts for the popular science article on tornado's I'm writing and after that some friends received their master's degree in astrophysics today, so I'm just back from a party. 3:50 is not too late to post in a thread such as this, right? ;)).

First of all: thanks for the kind words upthread, catherine! :)

Secondly: non-dualism is blowing my mind. Not in the good way, either. Because isn't non-dualism the opposite of, say, dualism, which means that if non-dualism is correct, that non-dualism is, in fact, not correct and just an extreme end of a spectrum? And wouldn't that self-contradiction make the theory implode? Or perhaps it doesn't, because contradition/support is a false dichotomy and in fact, things can't contradict or support each other? The mind boggles, honestly :).

It also seems to have some funny consequences apart from what I mentioned above. Because, if matter/mind is a false dichotomy, then reality-outside-of-mind (the reality we "observe" as being outside of our mind) would blend with reality-inside-of-mind, meaning what exactly? That reality is an illusion? That the mind has influence on matter? Something else completely? Can anything follow from anything else logically, anyway, because logic and illogic is the same thing? Again, mind = blown.

So, it's obvious that I can't quite wrap my head around it, but apart from the nice problem Saje described having with the Third Way (a problem which I share), the problems actually seem bigger. Dichotomies are everywhere and this seems to suggest all of them are false. So whichever way I think about it, the theory seems to contradict itself by saying any dichotomy I can think of is false and the truth is somewhere in the middle. Why the assumed contradiction? Because dichotomies are made by language, not by science, and the dichotemies themselves are not all seperate concepts. There's no nice middle-line with one extreme of all dichotomies on one side and the other extreme on the other, clearing a nice Third Path in between. No, these dichotomies are "all over the place", so to speak. I'm pretty sure - if I thought long and hard enough - I could come up with two mutually exclusive "mid-points" between two dichtomies that cannot both be the "true path". Which means it's full of contradictions. Which may not be a problem, if you decide it's not, but still.

In fact, what I feel the end result of this theory, when followed to its "logical" conclusion can only be (and I'm going on instinct here, I've not done any thought experiments or read-up on the philosophy), is a very largescale relativity to everything. There is no "one" truth, or "one" bit of knowledge, etcetera. Nothing is sure and nothing can ever be sure. But then, wikipedia tells me the logical endpoint is an Everything(/Reality/The Void/Several-Other-Important-Sounding-Terms ;)) and then I'm confused.

So, from my point of view (as someone who has not heard about this particular concept very often before, as I'm not that well-versed in Buddhism) this theory (and possibly Buddhism at large?) seems full of "holes" (which could very possibly be caused by my lack of understanding). Of course, these "holes" may not be a problem if you decide they're not (if the universe doesn't need to be logically consistent). But for me, personally, they would pose a problem.

As I said above, materialism doesn't necessarily tend to spend great amounts of time pondering the ramifications of this connectedness on a spiritual and philosophical level, just on a physical (as in material and as in physics) level.


I would disagree with that. In fact, science ponders a lot about the connectedness on a philosophical level. The Theory of Everything, for instance, is both an inspiring and I would say almost spiritual quest for many physicists. As for "spiritual", that's a word that is both too broad and too incompatible with what we're talking about here. It is too broad, because the word spiritual, when used in conversation, can mean too many things. Is it inspiration by supernatural sources, for instance? Because in that case: no, materialism doesn't spend much time being "spiritual" because it denies anything being supernatural. Is it self-reflection, focussing on one's own, let's say, spirit? In that case, I'd say self-reflection and self-questioning attitudes are a big part of materialism. Or is it something else completely?

Wikipedia appears to give a more usual non-colloquial definition, but this then gives rise to the incompatibility I mentioned. They say spirituality is:

Spirituality, in a narrow sense, concerns itself with matters of the spirit, a concept closely tied to religious belief and faith, a transcendent reality, or one or more deities. Spiritual matters are thus those matters regarding humankind's ultimate nature and purpose, not only as material biological organisms, but as beings with a unique relationship to that which is perceived to be beyond both time and the material world.


Which would seem both incompatible with materialism, but also incompatible with what you were saying (the "you" here being zeitgeist, but hopefully by this point in my post, that was already clear ;)), making this:

Is is all we are is a shorthand for both materialism and nondual realization both. They really aren't that far apart. One is just a little more concerned with the spiritual and philosophical ramifications of that than the other.


an apparent self-contradiction. Because spirituality, by definition, focusses on what's "outside" of reality, outisde of "all we are".

DaddyCatALSO, I get what you're saying. It is one of the many viewpoints we've discussed in this thread. But, as you'll notice, there's other ways of looking at this problem. In fact, almost everyone here joining this conversation seems to look at it another way. I'm not saying that to imply that "you're wrong and "we" are right ("we" don't even all agree after all ;))", just to point out that it's not as cut-and-dry, as your comment makes it look.

Like I said before, I have no problem with a transcendent God, a priori (apart from me thinking it an "easy way out" and wondering why one would assume a transcendent God anyway, as we don't "need" Him to explain anything because of that very transcendence). But what I do have a problem with - like I said upthread somewhere - is a transcendent (i.e. unknowable) God doing things inside of reality, which is knowable.

You say that because God is transcendent, the universe apparently organises itself in a way to make the source of the divine action unknowable. My questions would be: why and how. How can a God get any meaningfull 'results' from his knowable actions, if they can never point at a source (hard luck for all you intelligent design people out there: you can't see the creator's hand or even know he's there at all because He is transcendent/unknowable ;)). It seems to me to be an almost unholdable position, from a logical standpoint. That may not be a problem, if you don't feel the universe has to conform to our sense of logic (a reasonable position, but not one I would share). But in your previous post you seem to imply that you do subscribe to the idea that the universe can be both logical and "contain" (wrong word for that here, but there you go ;)) a transcendent God and miracles we can see happen. Which, to me, would seem irreconcilable.

Which brings me to my "why" question raised above. Why think up such an elaborate scheme if it's on shaky logical ground already and if it's not even needed to explain anything to begin with? It seems an unusual choice to me. But, then again, that's just my inner materialistic atheďst speaking ;).

ETA: some semblance of sense.

[ edited by GVH on 2008-08-27 03:27 ]
Secondly: non-dualism is blowing my mind. Not in the good way, either. Because isn't non-dualism the opposite of, say, dualism, which means that if non-dualism is correct, that non-dualism is, in fact, not correct and just an extreme end of a spectrum? And wouldn't that self-contradiction make the theory implode? Or perhaps it doesn't, because contradition/support is a false dichotomy and in fact, things can't contradict or support each other? The mind boggles, honestly :).

See, zeitgeist made all our heads explode! And now he and Saje are off working on the concept album with the rest of the band...
Because isn't non-dualism the opposite of, say, dualism, which means that if non-dualism is correct, that non-dualism is, in fact, not correct and just an extreme end of a spectrum?


No, because non-dualism transcends and includes dualism. To quote a friend of mine who is a buddhist singer-songwriter - "Good and bad are empty names, opposites are all the same. Even the Devil is God." As for your second paragraph, I can only chuckle. Philosophical concepts can be inherently hard to explain things with words sometimes and I am nothing but an interested party to the discussion not a master of all these concepts, so you'll have to read on to decide whether there is inconsistency or other problems with any of these theories. I imagine someone would've found them in thousands of years of examining and refining/redefining the philosophy of the thing, however. Or maybe just explained them in ways acceptable to them within the context of their own philosophy. Maybe materialism is concerned with spiritual connection as I mean it - self-reflection being an important part, and also the connectedness of all things. However, in the context of the philosophical traditions I mention it does often have connotations of a larger conciousness/awareness, to greater or lesser extents. Its hard to lay blanket statements that cover all of the traditions I bring up as they can be contradictory on some points.

Because spirituality, by definition, focusses on what's "outside" of reality, outisde of "all we are".


See, here's a problem. I think spirituality, by definition, focuses on whats inside all of us (and thus reality) and that that spirituality is primarily concerned with the connectedness of whats inside of "all we are". Another problem is that I don't think that even Wikipedia's definition necessarily reads the way that you read it. Being "beyond both time and the material world" can be translated to be - spirit, that which connects us all, which is timeless and eternal and also that beyond the material world may be the immense landscape of that internal spirit. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to show Saje where the kettle is discuss kettle work for the new album with our brewmaster and also work on my middle class Paisley accent.

[ edited by zeitgeist on 2008-08-27 05:24 ]
He doesn't know where the kettle is? He's supposed to be the tea-maker--it says so on my tea-shirt. You don't want this kind of thing getting out or your reputation will be shot. It's like saying, "oh, I just have to show Eric Clapton how to tune his guitar." I'd edit it out quick if I were you.

Heh. I refuse to leave the party, in spite of my 'sploded head.
:) I meant to imply that he was visiting my house and had no earthly idea where my new kettle was. He's not a psychic tea brewer... or is he?!!?!

I just said that to make a "f*cking psychic house hunters" sideways reference. As readers of our first tourbook are aware, Saje instinctively knows the location of any kettle in a radius of several hundred yards. He has a real talent and is an invaluable part of the Murder Rubicon family. Just wait til you see smell? taste? what he's brewed up now.
I'm just sayin'... the man ought to be able to find a kettle, new or old, wherever he's visiting, and you don't want people to start saying otherwise right before the 2009 reunion tour. Think about it.
I've edited my previous posts to make sure that everyone realized that I was being facetious with regards to Saje's unsubstantiated unearthly uncanny unctuous (what?) singular talent. Which isn't to say he only has one talent, but that the one talent to which I am referring is, in point of fact, quite impressive.
As readers of our first tourbook are aware, Saje instinctively knows the location of any kettle in a radius of several hundred yards.


I've been laughing at that for about ten minutes now!
Heh, nice one zeitgeist ;). 'Tis true though, mine armies are the kettles and the teaspoons and the leaves of the trees, bow before my might and tremble ! And err, one lump or two ?

OK, my entire world-view has just come crashing down as I realise that my own transcendent tea making ability is actually a fatal counter-argument to materialism. Bugger.
GVH: Oh yeah, I don't reallye xpect to convince anybody. My approach was even too cut-and-dried for my daughter to get any real comfort from. I just tend to get my abck up when anybody talks about "proving" any such over-riding worldviews. (and I'm singularly unimpressed by such ID as I've read, altho I've only read the politicos, nto the serious scientists.)
Hoist by his own teaspoon, ladies and gentlemen. Well, look on the bright side, Saje. Your post is also humorously transcendental, like a TARDIS of funny. It contains more laughs on the inside than seem possible from the outside.
OK, my entire world-view has just come crashing down as I realise that my own transcendent tea making ability is actually a fatal counter-argument to materialism. Bugger.


Ah, yes, Saje, that can suck. But hey, we'll always have thread 17378!

Also, zeitgeist, you are - of course - right. It's obvious I don't understand non-dualism a bit, yet. That's why I mentioned that as a distinct possibility in my post, because I do imagine people would've found these inconsistencies or explained them away in the many, many years this line of reasoning has been "out there" ;).

But since I usually don't have much trouble grasping new philosophical concepts, it worries me I might never actually get it and it made me wonder if logic is actually a necessary part of it to begin with (yes, I'm that arrogant ;)). But I understand you're not a master of these concepts either. So, just to be clear: I wasn't asking you to answer all my questions there. I was just kinda... throwing my questions out there :). Anyway, I do find the concept interesting (and I hate not understanding anything), so I'll be reading up on it.

DaddyCatALSO, I don't think any of us were talking about "proving" a world-view. In fact, I think all of us here were working from the assumption that all these world-views are equal, but examining them and pinpointing the areas where they contradict each other, i.e. learning to recognise the places where one has to make a choice to follow one type of philosophy or another, is interesting because from that, you learn. And from seeing why people make certain choices while others make different ones, you learn more about people.

I would never go about proving my world-view as "the correct one". I would go about explaining it, and maybe even trying to convince someone if it turns out we're working from the same set of philosophical definitions. But that's about it.

(and also, yikes, look at me getting all serious again while this thread has returned to the whedonesque land-of-funny... please feel free to continue ;))
(yes, I'm that arrogant ;))


Hehe! :) I didn't mean to come off the way I may have in my "well, someone would've figured it out" line. Not really the tone I was going for, thanks for taking it in good spirits. I completely understand. Love that you are here throwing your questions out there and I am happy to do my best to answer them or at least throw more questions out in response. This whole thread has been one of those delightful things that happen here. Do people elsewhere get to have these brilliant side discussions on the nature of reality? I mean, I bet the Losties could get into it, but :)

"out there" ;).


Zing!!! :)
It contains more laughs on the inside than seem possible from the outside.

It's also (barely) held together with bits of string so that's a pretty apt analogy ;).

I just tend to get my abck up when anybody talks about "proving" any such over-riding worldviews.

That's possibly to me (indirectly) so ... Some definitions of God can be called into serious question using logical arguments DaddyCatALSO (your ideas about miracles have problems from that perspective for instance, as GVH has pointed out), that might be hard to accept but it's still true so long as you agree that logic applies to God. That isn't just an atheist perspective BTW, it's well known among theologians and philosophers of religion, many of whom even believe in God ;).

For instance, say a god is perfect - perfection cannot, by definition, be improved, right ? So how can that god have wants and desires or even new ideas ? How can they change in any way except by becoming less perfect and so less godlike ?

Our words and definitions might not be up to describing a god you say (and that makes sense to me) but then NO description of such a god using our words and definitions would have any meaning, they just wouldn't apply to such a being, making them essentially completely unknowable. Which means we can't possibly know if they're omniscient or perfect or all-loving, so we shouldn't make such claims.

If logic doesn't apply to such a god (also possible I guess, certainly for a transcendental god) then why not have free-will AND disallow evil choices ? As far as i'm aware, the best defence for the "problem of evil" is 'free-will' i.e. it's our capacity to choose freely that means God's hands are tied (and that's why "he" lets bad things happen in the world). But free-will AND being prevented from evil choices are only mutually exclusive because of logic, in a reality where it doesn't apply and for a god not bound by it then both at the same time are entirely possible. Otherwise we're left with the "problem of evil" again which doesn't seem consistent with a god that's all-loving.

(and of course, God created us with free-will, he surely must've seen this coming ? ;)

None of this is new to me BTW, it's been debated (often - maybe mostly - by believers like e.g. Aquinas) for centuries and the arguments are all there, laid out in books for anyone to read and contemplate (i've enjoyed 'The Puzzle of God' by Peter Vardy and 'An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion' by Brian Davies).

[ edited by Saje on 2008-08-27 14:33 ]
To quote a friend of mine who is a buddhist singer-songwriter - "Good and bad are empty names, opposites are all the same. Even the Devil is God."
zeitgeist | August 27, 04:45 CET


That is truly marvelous. :)

Buddhism lacks an absolute creator/God, by the way, so there is no worry about the conciousness of this connected "one" reality. Another important concept in Buddhism is the Middle Way or Third Path, referring to a path of non-extremism and taking the middle ground between all things, denying all dualities; so its also a good explanation for nirvana which is the realization that all things are one and that all dualities are inherently false. Buddhism looks on itself as a philosophy and a way of life, not as much as a religion. Its not about worshipping anything, its about becoming in touch with the the ultimate nature of all things and doing no harm. See also the Eightfold Path.


Great stuff zeitgeist. And I wont confuse the issue by raising the "Mahayana or Therevada?" question (as long as no one uses the term Hinayana, to which I would have to take exception);)
The fact that "Buddhisn lacks an absolute creator/god" is for me, one of it's attractions. Because it allows for bypassing what is the main issue I, as a feminist, take with monotheistic, patriarchal religions. Which would be defining deity as exclusively male, that whole "God, with a capital G" thing.
Also a reason for my attraction to/affiliation with Wicca. And yes, Wicca is a serious spiritual path, taking almost as many forms as Buddhism. Including the neo-paganism that recognizes both a goddess and a god, with complete equality. Which is actually another way of saying, recognizes that the spiritual entities with which we Wiccans connect, are (metaphorically, if you prefer) represented by both genders.
Also by the natural elements, but that's a whole other kettle of elemental forces.
Ooh... think what Saje could make with a kettle of elemental forces!
Whatever it was it'd be very simple I reckon. Elementer-tea even.

Ahem.
Excellent :) Tea drinkers rejoice!

Sidenote on talk of dual and nondual - not to confuse the issue, but... ;) I paraphrase - The Lotus Sutra (in the Mahayana tradition) implies that all talk of Duality or Non-Duality by Buddhas and Bodhisattvas (defined in Mahayana as one who compassionately refrains from nirvana in order to help others achieve it) is merely Skillful Means (a method of teaching that is expedient to reaching the goal, but not in the highest sense true) meant to lead the unenlightened to a much higher truth. In other words, what I said above about exact terms getting a bit imprecise when dealing with some of these concepts, to the point of reinforcing the idea of gaps or illogic in them perhaps. There now that everything's clear as mud, my work is done here. Or a convenient CYA for me ;)

p.s. - not claiming to be a bodhisattva :) More importantly, is the tea ready?

p.p.s. - totally offtopic, but this is hilarious.

[ edited by zeitgeist on 2008-08-27 17:50 ]
Saje; Absolutely.
hiyaaaa *karate chop* Take that, thread!

There. Killed it.
What's that smell?

Ah, I seem to have stumbled onto a dead thread ;).

(and yeah, zeitgeist, maybe next time we should invite our less lucky fandom friends over for a nature-of-reality-side-discussion party on the black. We could make it a rotating thing ;))
Saje; Absolutely.

Cool, pretty sure that's the first time i've converted anyone to atheism (well, for certain definitions of god anyway).

;-)

(this isn't life BTW, the karate chop worked, it's more like random twitches or escaping gas ;)
ewww. Are you sure?

*comes back with nunchucks and twelve Canadian Mounties*
:) Okay, Shey mentions something that has the potential to eke out a few more posts here. Gender assignation to deity. What's the point? My mind always converts capital 'H' He and capital 'S' She when referring to deities into 'this is a non-gender specific pronoun that has no relation to the homograph that is a gender specific pronoun'. Because I'm a contrary bastard and don't see any need to en-genital(-ize?) a deity. Yes, I made up that word because I thought that it was more funny than bothering to figure out the real terminology.

I have some very good friends who are Wiccan as well as a number of Buddhist ones. Hey, remember that Murder Rubicon tea haiku contest that I just made up that you will all kindly pretend to remember that everyone loved so much? I mean, who could forget gems like:

Saje pours a cup now
Camellia sinensis
thats the plant called tea

polyphenolic
antioxidant cate-
-chins? you mean tannins?

why this slang word "char"?
british english arhotic
accent must be why


[ edited by zeitgeist on 2008-08-28 14:36 ]
*calls off mounties*

We'll be back to finish this off, though.
A hush everywhere
Murder Rubicon makes tea
Have another cup?

Transcendental tea--
one sip explodes the laws
of the universe

It's no match for him--
the kettle hidden away.
Of course he'll find it.

If there is no god
who to thank for chamomile,
mugi-cha, or mint?

I will confess here
that I fucking hate the smell
of "stash" earl grey tea

Although I can count
the syllables in a line
I don't "get" haiku

*mounties lurk in the background, all red-coated and ominous*
But does anybody really engenitalize deities nowadays?

ETA: Also, I am worried by this line:
Saje pours a cup now

Because I pronounce Saje in my head as "Sa-jay" (with a soft j). But you've added "now", making it, in my reading, a six-syllable line. So I assume you pronounce it as one syllable? Sage? Saj? And you added "now" to make five syllables?

So what is it really? I always thought it was from Angel, that... guy, you know who I mean? (memory is fuzzy).

I'd hate it if I was saying it wrong all this time.

[ edited by catherine on 2008-08-28 18:47 ]
tea from an empty cup
is said to taste as sweet
but is it as wet ?

no right/wrong
way to say Saje - all
ways are Way

In my head though it's S-ai-j (like the stuffing ;). It's not after a character or anything BTW, it's just my initials backwards. Needless to say, that was a long mental journey, fraught with peril and other possibilities, I too-ed, I fro-ed, I consulted oracles (and at one point, of course, tea leaves) until I finally found the right combination of short length and lack of inspiration ;).

(I like haiku BTW and can appreciate them - bravo, both of you ;) - I just have real trouble composing them, the words and numbers together thing seems to gum up my works a bit ;)
I've been saying it wrong in my head! You can try to be nice about no right / wrong but it's your screen name and the way you say it in your head is the right way. Auugh!

*commits seppuku*

(There was a Saje in Angel though, wasn't there?)
Nope. I was thinking of Sahjahn. I suck.

BTW one of you is supposed to finish off the ritual by cutting off my head. D'ye mind?
OK, but try not to arterially spurt if you can avoid it, these jeans are clean on ;).

*cleanly ... cutttttt*
:) Imagine some poor new person reading this thread wondering if maybe they can un-join the site? As in quit, not as in rend it into little pieces.
I am not new but I did drop in with a mixture of dread and curiosity earlier to see how the religion thread was going, since it's so darn active still. I should've figured it would've become a bit tangential by now, given that every third post is zeitgeist or Saje.

Haikus about tea, though. Wow. So I'm not the only one feeling a little restless after all the Dr. Horrible buzz has died down.
Hey, we were totally on topic until just recently. We kind of ended up at a good stopping point and it was edutaintionalment... iffic ;).
There are blood and haikus everywhere, which makes me long for and believe even less in the existence of a god. I'm sorry about the loss of the late Great Catherine, but our customs must be observed. Since this is one of the Whedon'verses, though, I'm sure that she can be resurrected at will.

And even though I've known you didn't name yourself after Sahjahn, Saje, I just realized that I nonetheless kinda picture you sounding & looking a little like him.

I'm sorry - I've long suspected I have a rather cartoony mind, and that just confirms it.
OK, fess up, who showed you a photo of me ? Spooky.

I think catherine can come back so long as there's an emotional price to be paid but we shouldn't do it too often or we run the risk of devaluing virtually chopping people's heads off with a Japanese sword. Gotta have the virtual peril.

[ edited by Saje on 2008-08-28 22:50 ]
*inexplicably reappears after centuries in a hell-dimension, is feral for a while, then gets over it*

Hey, we were totally on topic until just recently.

Because the topic was... does a materialist universe allow for god? No hang on, that's not right. What kind of mod are you?;)

And even though I've known you didn't name yourself after Sahjahn, Saje, I just realized that I nonetheless kinda picture you sounding & looking a little like him.

What, all six of him? Like sextuplets? So, would it be awful of me to continue saying Sah-jay (soft j, like zhay) in my head? I've been reading whedonesque since 2006 and I just don't think I can change it now.

I imagine Quotergal swathed in colorful scarves and chunky jewelry, smoking long cigarettes and talking like Katharine Hepburn. Seriously. Howzat for a cartoony mind?
*has shifty eyes and is possibly evil now*
Well, I'm as old as Kate is, but a little less dead. I am a jewelry/scarf kinda gal - but my fine east coast alto voice never got all Bryn Mawr-ified, and does not yet have a tremor.

It's an interesting vein, though, no? In the absence of any visual information, and no cues but the name and someone's posts, what have you made of them visually?

In your case, Catherine, I have given you big dark curls and big dark eyes - and just now when you said you might have become evil, I gave you narrow glowing red eyes and little pointy horns. Eeeek! Undo it!

For the longest time, I pictured zeitgeist in a broadly-striped shirt. I have no idea what that's about.
bloody hell, I have
no time
'tho I know exactly
what I want to say,
a talent for Haiku
isn't mine
my poetic style
is chaotic
tradition and ceremony
make me neurotic
and trigger an urge
to sprint away.
Sagittarius here,
you got it
straight from the Centaur's
mouth
first hoof
on the run
but I shall
return
the thread
is not dead.

;-)

[ edited by Shey on 2008-08-29 00:11 ]
Yay Shey! And indeed, this thread and I share a talent for resurrection, it seems.

Thank you for my big dark curls and eyes Quotergal. Neither, really, though I'm growing my hair longer to hide the horns. The flickr library, which I discovered this summer, has undone many an image I'd held for years. In some cases (as with the name Sah-jay) I just keep on picturing people as I always have, in spite of photographic evidence to the contrary.

I knew it about the jewelry and scarves, though! And I imagine you talking like a younger Hepburn, not with a quavering voice, BTW!

ETA: okay, talk about tangential. *mumbles something about church and buffy*

[ edited by catherine on 2008-08-29 00:29 ]
More tangent: taking note of Shey's verse-atility, QG? Have ya ever tried writing any 'verse verse, Shey?
More tangent: taking note of Shey's verse-atility, QG? Have ya ever tried writing any 'verse verse, Shey?
catherine | August 29, 01:35 CET


First, true confessions: that little piece of fluff is the first thing I've been able to write since reading your gorgeous sonnets.
Answer to question:No, and most likely never will, after reading yours;)

My poetry is strange, sad (more of my poems than not, make people cry). Or scare the hell out of them because, it's sometimes so dark, I even shock myself (it's cathartic for me, 'nough said). And absolutely without any kind of formal construction (I wouldn't know a pentameter if it snuck up & bit me on the ass).

Next post: picking up where I wanted to go earlier, but didn't have time. And hey .... how about that "Buffy causing women to desert church"? ;)

ETA I can't spell.

[ edited by Shey on 2008-08-29 10:38 ]
Yeah that Buffy, she's a one.

In the absence of any visual information, and no cues but the name and someone's posts, what have you made of them visually?

Y'know, here's a strange thing but except where folk have offered descriptions of themselves (or i've seen photos), I actually don't picture the posters here at all - it's more like I have a sort of "cloud" of properties which I bear in mind when I reply (like where you're from, an approximate age, my best guess at gender, ETA: Oh and what sort of sense of humour you have too, that's a biggie, things i've noticed you seem sensitive about, rough belief system, rough general attitude - some are boundlessly optimistic for instance, some more cynical etc.).

Which might be a bit weird thinking about it. Does everyone else have an actual picture in mind when they reply to someone ?

[ edited by Saje on 2008-08-29 10:28 ]
Okay, Shey mentions something that has the potential to eke out a few more posts here. Gender assignation to deity. What's the point?
zeitgeist | August 28, 14:24 CET


I can't speak for anyone else, but I'll try & explain what it means to me, as a woman, a feminist and a person for whom spiritual awareness is an integral part of my molecular structure.
I grew up with agnostic parents, so there was none of the common pressure to go to church or conform to Christianity ... in the home. But the rest of my family was Southern Baptist, so the pressure was there, and I went to church fairly regularly with my grandmother when I was a kid. Mainly to spend the rest of the day with my cousins, who also went, because I felt no connection to Christianity.
But the Christian sensibility permeated my family life, as well as the society around me.(OK, less than most, I grew up in the suburbs of L.A.)

I discovered Buddhism when I was twelve. I didn't really understand it but the idea of reincarnation drew me in, the concept of a soul that comes back in different bodies in different times and places, to learn different lessons. The idea of cause and effect, that all our actions have consequences,(karma) made more sense to me than "believe what's written in this book and go through certain rituals, and go to heaven forever. Don't believe, neglect those rituals, and burn in hell forever. And by the way .... you have one lifetime in which to make these decisions, that will seal your fate for all eternity". (I know Catholic guys, purgatory & all that, but for the sake of simplicity ....).

But something was always "off". I was still surrounded almost exclusively by those who subscribed to some form of the Judeo-Christian, patriarchal monotheism in which "God" is conceptualized as male.
This has an effect on a woman that I'm not certain a man can fully comprehend (& I seriously hope that doesn't come across as condescending, because it isn't meant to be).
Even if you don't believe in the literal or metaphorical "Eve as the 'helpmate' created from the rib of the man, turning into the evil force that brings on the fall of humankind", there looms the prevasive sense of being somehow "lessor", at best, and at worst, the personification of that which brought about the "fall".

So yes, I eventually found that I needed a female deity "image" through which I could channel my spiritual energy. "God" is portrayed as male, no getting around it (See: Sistine Chapel, ceiling painting).

Even Buddhism (with the notable exception of Zen). I've been to Thailand three times, it's where I solidified and refined the Buddhist part of my spirituality.
Every Buddhist Wat (temple), from the historical one in the Grand Palace to the most humble little Wat on the street in the Old City section of Bangkok or smaller cities, have as their center piece, a statue of the Buddha. Standing, reclining, most often sitting in the lotus position, but always the center of the Wat. And always male.

And let me add here, I experienced a positively transcendent spiritual energy in these places, one of those "peak experiences" that I can't begin to describe.
But still .... the (male) Buddha is "other than I", different, in the same way that the God and Jesus of my own culture are "other", and taken for granted to be, by nature of gender (literal or symbolic), in some way superior to all that is female.

There are many reasons that Wicca appeals to me, other than the fact that it connects back to an ancient tradition of female deity. But lighting candles on my alter, one each for the goddess and the god, brings to me a sense of spiritual "completeness". I am an equal part of the whole, not slightly beneath and outside it.
Maybe that clarifies my feelings a bit.

Great Goddess and God and all the Lords of Kobal, how I love this forum. :_)
It doesn't make sense to me to describe gods in general as having a sex (but then, it doesn't make sense to me to describe gods full stop) though the Biblical God is a he and that's that - you can take or leave him of course but if you call that property into question then you might as well call all of them into question (including his godhood) so I never saw much sense in the Christian feminist idea of just calling God a "she". Seems fairly evident that the male emphasis in the Bible is down to the chauvinism of early, largely male, Christians (by e.g. not including the "Gospel" of Mary in the canon) but it's equally evident that, in the Christian tradition, Jesus was the son of a male God.

As far as I understand it the Buddha statues you see most often (like the "laughing" Buddha for instance) are of actual people so I guess it's historically accurate in its way. I'm assuming (in my ignorance) that there's nothing in Buddhism that says women can't be buddhas but as with anything else, I bet it'd be nice to see yourself represented.

I guess i've been fairly plain ("Ad nauseum !" raises the roof ;) about where I stand - never have felt a need to look beyond the beauty and wonders of nature to feel spiritually moved, don't need some tradition to tell me how amazing and wonderful the world is whether it's pagan/Christian/Eastern/Western/whatever, i'm lucky enough to have working eyes to see it with. As Charlemagne probably never said (despite what Henry Jones Snr. may have us believe ;) when it comes to spirituality, "Let my armies be the rocks and the trees and the birds in the sky ...".
Because the topic was... does a materialist universe allow for god? No hang on, that's not right. What kind of mod are you?;)


Oh, you've gone and seen through my oh-so-clever ruse, have you? ;) At least it was tangent to the topic and not altogether "off in the woods", so to speak.

I didn't mean to say I failed to understand why people would want it to be their gender if a gender had to be assigned, I just meant "why would we do that to begin with?" and I guess the answer is to support the already established social order of things as Saje mentions.
Re. god being conceptualized as male... I suppose I too have a problem before that, with god being conceptualized as human (or "engenitalized" as zeitgeist so elegantly put it ;)). I've been to churches where god is actually referred to as "he or she" and while I think it's kind of a sweet attempt to be inclusive, it sort of hammers home the silliness for me (what's wrong with It?). In more traditional churches, a lot of what seems like total nonsense (to me) is more acceptable (to me) as "tradition," an old and aesthetically pleasing way of responding to the sense of divine presence, whereas when the church is trying to be all hip and modern, the cracks in the institution come into full relief (sort of "what Saje said"-ish?). No doubt I'd feel very differently, though, if I were a more religious person and went to church (or somewhere church-like) regularly.

Re. the sistine chapel... perhaps you all know this already but I just think it's so cool so I'm going to share in case you don't. God is inside a swirling cloak full of lil' angels, right, reaching out towards Adam. Anyway, the cloud and god and Angels are a pretty accurate (for that time) depiction of the human brain. Check it out. (and thanks to MattK for showing me how to do that!).
I learned that during my high school French final and exclaimed "holy shit!" and the very humorless lady watching over us actually threatened to take away my exam because there was a "no speaking" rule. As Charlemagne certainly never said, "exam proctors need to chill out sometimes."

So was Michelangelo, who surely did know what the brain looked like, expressing his wonder at God's Greatest Creation (us, so modest) or was he painting some blasphemy up on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? And how cool would that be?
Does everyone else have an actual picture in mind when they reply to someone ?

I do "picture" certain posters, some more vividly than others, but usually it's more of a hazy image (ie. Quotergal's scarves and long cigarettes and Hepburn-style enunciation) rather than specific facial features. And there are clues in people's posts sometimes, too. For example,
i'm lucky enough to have working eyes to see it with

I now know that you have eyes. So!
Aha but you don't know where they're "mounted" ;-).

I'd never noticed the brain in the Sistine Chapel thing before, that's frikkin' brilliant. I wonder if contemporary theories of what was where in the brain match with what's where in the art to any extent ? And yeah, just think if he was saying (in code) that God was all in the mind of man ? Crafty bugger ;).

... and I guess the answer is to support the already established social order of things ...

And also, as a slight variation on that theme, gods are generally created in our own image IMO (not vice versa) and the people that held the creation reins back when One True God was catching on were male.

It'd be interesting to me to know how different ethnicities (preferably "unpolluted" by TV, films etc.) picture God, in the West i'd bet he's largely the stereotypical old white dude with a long beard, in other places (and certainly in Biblical times) i'd bet he was a lot less pale than, for instance, Charlton Heston ;).
Aha but you don't know where they're "mounted" ;-).

I'm now getting a way scarier picture than Sahjahn!

Sort of related, I was in Peru recently and it was interesting to see the way local traditions crept into the Christian art. There was a fantastic "Last Supper" painting where they were all about to eat guinea pig. And yeah, no blue-eyed Jesus anywhere that I saw.

I don't know much (anything) about the anatomy of the brain but apparently different angels in the Sistine Chapel painting are accurately representing different "lobes" and all that.

ETA, from wikipedia:
In 1990 a physician named Frank Lynn Meshberger noted in the medical publication the Journal of the American Medical Association that the background figures and shapes portrayed behind the figure of God appeared to be an anatomically accurate picture of the human brain, including the frontal lobe, optic chiasm, brain stem, pituitary gland, and the major sulci of the cerebrum.


[ edited by catherine on 2008-08-29 16:42 ]
(or somewhere church-like)


You mean like a cheese farm?

And yeah, no blue-eyed Jesus anywhere that I saw.


Like the song (by Murder Rubicon) says, "its the green-eyed Jesus ya'll need to watch out for,". Good times!
You mean like a cheese farm?

Yes, exactly :)
Well then, check this out.
Hey, they come to our local farmer's market! Next time I'm feeling religious, we'll have to get a zip-car and pay them a visit. (I know. Not having a car in NJ is dumb.)
I didn't mean to say I failed to understand why people would want it to be their gender if a gender had to be assigned, I just meant "why would we do that to begin with?" and I guess the answer is to support the already established social order of things as Saje mentions.
zeitgeist | August 29, 15:13 CET


Which is exactly my point. Supporting the already established order of things equals second class (spiritual) citizenship, for women. Which answers your "why would we want to do that to begin with?" question. Another answer to that question would be, to upset the status quo that is still so much a part of our brain's
embedded mental imagery, i.e., "God" = male. If that isn't a concept that undermines the development of a consciousness that takes gender equality for granted, I don't know what is.

The all-pervasive, taken for granted conceptualization of Deity (however you define that) as male, leaves me as a woman, feeling un-represented and marginalized.

Even if it is all metaphor, it's a metaphor that is firmly embedded in the consciousness of most everyone who lives in a culture dominated by a monotheistic, patriarchal religion, (even atheists) and it supports the still pervasive notion of male superiority.
On a mostly sub-conscious level for certain, for enlightened individuals. But I would argue that, the very fact that it does exist on a sub-conscious rather than a conscious level, makes it even more subversively undermining to the development of a consciousness that supports and promotes full equality for women, in every area of life.

The Wiccan part of my spiritual consciousness/practice, is empowering to me as a woman.
So I'm happily Wiccan with a dash of Buddhist.
Namaste and blessed Be. :)

ETA zeitgeist the cheese thing is just .... I have no words. ;-)

[ edited by Shey on 2008-08-30 15:13 ]
GVH Thanks so much for linking this thread to the one on the front page today! I had missed this one & enjoyed it most thoroughly. What a great book club you guys would be. And when you have that meeting in the Azores (or is it band practice?) I hope you podcast it. (Because then not only do I get to hear all of the fascinating talk, I also get to hear Zeitgeist learning Saje's accent.)

And I love the Michelangelo! God as a Brain Tumor.
Let me join jcs in the thanks to GVH for the linkage. I'd read this thread when it was on the front page, but hadn't followed it thereafter. I really love this place!

Very thought-provoking discussion. zeitgeist pretty much spoke for me with his non-dual discussion. And Saje is right about the limitations of words - but my understanding/experience of meditation is that the point of it is to go beyond words. Experience of the Oneness can't truly be described by words, only hinted at. And Shey, I absolutely agree with you about the pervasive, subconscious attitude of male superiority and the damage it does to women.

And now I'll put on my Murder Rubicon CD and enjoy my Saje-tea (or is that "Saje-is-a-tea"?), all while congratulating myself on having the good sense to hang out with y'all.
:) Cheers, all. Shey, you'd think I'd be quicker on the draw with the support/subversion angle of the gender of a deity thing... Serious "duh" moment. I get it. I still prefer not to assign at all, but the point of assigning a counter to prevailing culture gender makes perfect sense to me now as it should've all along.
Thanks zeitgeist .... and beck, as well. It's just a matter of a very subjective "this is what I feel comfortable with".
:)

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