I am completely clueless why there is any discussion at all about whether believers and unbelievers should be talking to each other. Talking isn’t negotiation. It’s what, as Aristotle teaches, human beings do if they’re smart. Believers and unbelievers don’t form two groups with nothing to talk about. They represent options that relatively bright women and men have considered important for a very long time. They have everything to talk about.
It was bad enough when the term “atheism” could be used as a kind of patriotic lingo to get evangelical Christians and Roman Catholics to huddle together against the terrorist threat of yesterday, Nuclear Communism. Before that they regarded each other as cultural enemies, mingled in the marketplace unawares, socialized with suspicion, sought permission for “mixed marriages,” like hostile religious species forced to live on a planet where God saved some, but not others. Of course Presbyterians felt that way about Episcopalians, too, and Catholics thought it about everyone but Catholics.
But by 1960 John Kennedy had half-convinced an electorate still dominantly protestant, still fretting about what Paul Blanshard called “Catholic Power,” that they hated Communism more than they hated each other. Realpolitik required Protestants and Catholics to join hands. When they did, they promptly put scripture aside and worked ecumenically to create an agenda that included the antiabortion movement, abstinence-only education, opposition to stem cell and reproductive research, and assorted other sexual mysteries about which religion is officially ignorant. If she had had her wits about her in 2008, Sarah Palin (a Protestant) could have named Phyliss Schlafly (a Catholic) as her spiritual grandmother and favorite author.
What created the unlikely entente cordiale between backward-looking Catholics and navel-gazing Protestants was the Protestant discovery that “Every sperm in sacred,” not just the Irish, Italian, and Polish variety. This required some magnanimity on the part of the protestant faithful, whose favorite barbs and jokes (interchangeably used at the expense of those same Irish, Italian, and Polish immigrants) pivoted on papa’s inability to keep his trousers zipped. It is a point of mere historical interest that the inventor of the condom, who defended its use as protection against syphilis in the sixteenth century, was a priest named Gabriele Fallopio, one of the most distinguished anatomists of his day in Padua where he taught. (He also gave his name to the “fallopian tubes.”)
I admit, getting Catholics and Protestants to talk to each other, share ideas, form alliances, separate out the things that divide from the things that unite them, ought to be a comparatively easy task. But it isn’t. As a matter of fact current trends suggest that it might be easier to get liberal Christians and humanists to sit down to a turkey dinner together than to get Tea-Party Christians to talk to liberals.
In a fit of boredom I picked up a copy of John Neuhaus’s Catholic Matters (2007) at the local library a few days ago. I do not say that sarcastically. I may not agree with Neuhaus’s conservative thought-trend, but he was, before his death in January 2009, a sly and articulate observer of what he called in another book the “Catholic movement today.” As a traditionalist in essential matters, like the supremacy of Catholic teaching (the magisterium, so-called) he welcomed the election of Joseph Ratzinzger as successor to John Paul II: Benedict XVI would be not just a custodian, he claimed from his vantage point in Rome in 2005, but the guardian of the Faith. That has turned out to be true.
But Neuhaus’s best moments in this hastily written book are on the subject that had occupied his attention since the 1987 publication of The Naked Public Square: secularization and its effect on the Churches, especially the mainline, liberal protestant churches. He identifies these with the “establishment” denominations of nineteenth-century America: the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Episcopal Church (Anglicanism’s worst if not only headache), the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ (UCC, aka in some northerly parts as Congregationalists) and the Disciples of Christ, and Lutherans, excepting the Missouri Synod variety (Neuhaus’s mother church before his conversion). I will omit mentioning the Unitarians for reasons that will be clear and acceptable to all Unitarians.
The argument by now familiar, perhaps trite, is borne out by innumerable big and little surveys: the old mainline churches, in death-throes of membership decline and doctrinal indifference, are essentially secular clubs with aging parishioners, inadequately supplemented by members who expect to be talked to but not preached at about God’s love for all, regardless of race, class, age, sexual orientation or wardrobe choices. They assume the name “Christian,” but are really dedicated to progressive social and political causes–gay-rights, pro-choice and women’s issues, environmental ethics–and use religion more as a source of legitimation than as a system of belief. Their more traditional detractors usually (and somewhat tiresomely) say that they have traded the love of Christ for the love of self. Their conservative cousins summarize in a single self-explanatory phrase what the liberal churches don’t stand for, a phrase that has now been interpolated into conservative political discourse as well: Family Values. A core doctrinal difference between old and new mainline is the revised concept of sin: old style protestants believed in it. New style think it’s negotiable. A nineteenth century Methodist preacher offered God’s grace and forgiveness prior to judgment. But in the liberal churches, God is expected to dispense only grace and to accept people for what and who they are. It is a Christianity impregnated with the psychotheology of Carl Rogers: love is unconditional, so a perfect God really has no right to expect anything from us.
These are the churches that H. Richard Niebuhr worried about when he prophesied from the Battell Chapel at Yale in 1935 (published as The Kingdom of God in America, 1937) that religious tolerance and pluralism was implicit in the teaching of Jesus, but that the “social gospel” (a key idea of the formation of American secularism before there was a humanist secular movement) in its raw form preached, “A God without wrath [who brings] men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.” Niebuhr would have derived no satisfaction from knowing that his prophecy was right on the mark in sociological effect.
Neuhaus knew his Niebuhr, and he believed until his dying day that the fortress of Catholicism was the only protection against creeping secularity. Others have thought it too: G. K. Chesterton thought it. Graham Greene thought it. Simone Weil (Alsatian, Jewish, agnostic) and Thomas Merton (New Zealand-American, Quaker Anglican, spiritually confused) thought it, and then stopped thinking it.
But Crossing the Tiber, or “Poping” as intellectual conversion is known in Britain, is not for everyone. And there are at least as many who take the ferry in the other direction and become ex- or “lapsed” Catholics as who join the True Church.
What I think we miss and need to get is that whichever direction you travel, there are thousands who have taken the ride. Conversion is a fancy word for changing your mind. The twentieth century biblical scholar Arthur Darby Nock, in a famous study of religious conversion, defined it as “a radical emotional experience or a quick turning to a new way of life and a complete reorientation in attitude, thought, and practice.” It comes, simply enough, from a sense that something is wrong with the way things are in our life and that we need to do something about it. Nock thought that the early Roman empire was rife with the conditions for such an experience, and he attributes the growth of the Christian movement in the first century to those conditions. The job he did not do was to trace the same restlessness, the same sense of “present wrongness” in the reforms of the Catholic Church of the sixteenth century and the averse reaction to the Church and religion (“supernaturalism”) in the Enlightenment and, at least in Europe, later. The conditions for conversion will always be located in the individual’s refusal to assent to the status quo –which may be emotionally, intellectually, or spiritually unendurable.
Atheists, it seems to me, stand in precisely the same relation to conditions prescribed by religion as religious persons do in relation to the loss (or perceived loss) of metaphysics. For that reason–while I don’t deny the existence of “cradle atheists” anymore than I deny the existence of cradle Catholics, the kind of atheist I think would want to talk to intellectually restless religious persons is one who has undergone a conversion.
“Conversion” to atheism (a term atheists deplore because of its religious associations) is a form of intellectual restlessness. Except for a very few people who say they realized they were atheists on the same day they lost their pacifier down the toilet, shattering forever their belief in an all-good providence, people become atheists because they can no longer accept what Elizabeth Barrett Browning poetically described as her “childhood faith…and lost saints.” Many of these feel they were lied to; some feel they are victims of a cultural conspiracy; others think that religion itself should be held accountable for the evils its has perpetrated on the species. All of these reasons have to be taken seriously because they point to the chasm between what is taught or acquired by tradition and the world as we come to know it. The question is, What are we prepared to accept as true? An atheist claims to answer this question on the basis of reason alone, or more precisely rational argument and inquiry. But there may be other factors involved, including (heaven help us!) emotional and maturational ones.
Religious conversion is also real, paradigmatically real, and ought to be regarded as a form of intellectual restlessness. Of course most people who travel toward religion don’t begin the journey as atheists. Some begin with nothing. Most are not ashamed to assign a role to emotion in the process, though they might want to insist that head and heart work together in a kind of harmony. A slim minority begin as intellectuals who have a sober and sometimes critical view of religion, church and tradition. These are the ones who interest me the most for purposes of a Great Conversation–the ones who know what role doubt, skepticism, and even cynicism play in the intellectual life.
The British writer Malcolm Muggerdige, later in his life a figure of ridicule for his view of Britain’s “sexual revolution,” moved from a fashionable, youthful Cambridge atheism to Catholicism around the same time the Church was moving in the direction of tone-deaf folk-masses and accommodation to the swinging sixties. It was a cruel juxtaposition for someone whose most-quoted aphorism is “Never forget that only dead fish swim with the stream.” His more stalwart New England contemporary and friend, William F. Buckley remained a Catholic, but just barely, because he believed his Church’s dogmatic stand on social and political issues was just about right, while he deplored its loss of “aesthetic rectitude.”
Buckley’s son, Christopher, crossed over to an “unbelieving” posture of the most discreet and unassuming literary kind–where he joined a distinguished retinue of former Catholics-turned-Infidel including Theodore Dreiser, George Carlin, Steve Allen, Joyce Carol Oates, and Seth MacFarlane (Family Guy). Travelling the other direction on the Rome ferry were social activist Dorothy Day, writer Ford Maddox Ford, actor Alec Guinness, Robert Lowell, Gustav Mahler, and Siegfried Sassoon–a positive wave of spiritual malcontents that wanted more than cheaper goods and early retirement. Neuhaus comments in his last book that whilst a Lutheran who becomes a Presbyterian will almost never begin a sentence with “I used to be Lutheran, ” a lapsed, ex- or former Catholic will almost always say with some pride, “I used to be a Catholic.” It’s as though making the journey counts for something, or it may be only that irreverence is the flip side of reverence.
The point is, people who believe radically different things need to talk to each other because what people think and why they change their minds is inherently interesting in a way that mere “positions” are not. Settled positions, like Emerson’s foolish consistency, are the hobgoblin of little minds. Judges talk about “settled law” as a way of forfending discussion of hypothetical cases. They are really talking about dogmas promulgated by courts. The Church has used the term dogma in the same way, to refer to beliefs that have been settled by papal dictate. I do not know what “settled belief” is, but any settled belief becomes, if not fundamentalism, a kind of scholasticism. People should always be slightly uncomfortable about what they believe, whether they are atheists or (a dreadful non-word) “theists.”
Atheism can never be anything but a belief. In William Jamesian terms, it can be a strong belief, but it can never be certainty. Most atheists know this; many react to it with disdain and change the topic from God to Gravity–the law, not the theory–as a case of what is damned obvious. Even the idea (James’s) that many of our beliefs are based on “faith in someone else’s faith” isn’t a proof that all such beliefs are irrational.
In the same way, “Religion,” never mind the religion, can never be anything but a belief or concatenation of beliefs. The claim that religion is a belief or “truth” of a higher order is completely specious and is rarely used by anyone with a reputable education. (Which truths, of whose religion, qualify for this status?) Whether religious belief is ever warranted by evidence or logic is uncertain to me, but the greater warrants for religion are customary morality, emotion, and authority, and the systematization of any faith as theology does not increase the likelihood of its propositions or truth value. I consider the reasons for holding such beliefs comparatively weak, but they are reasons that need to be assessed. And not every belief reaches the level of absurdity displayed by W.K. Clifford’s ship-master in his famous parable in The Ethics of Belief.
For intelligent believers and unbelievers to discuss what James called a “momentous option” is sensible, however. There is an eloquence of belief and an eloquence of unbelief. To treat contrary ways of expressing a commitment as private pastures divided between sheep and goats (laying aside which is which in this analogy) is intellectually indefensible. It is a page torn from modern geopolitical theory where irreconcilable differences have to do with national interests, not with intelligent discourse.
Of course, there is a difference between the fundamentalist Christian who says “I know that my Redeemer liveth” and the agnostic who says, “Show me,” or the atheist who says “No he doesn’t because there is no God.” But there is a vast middle ground (or pasture) where sheep and goats may safely graze. Conversation between those who hold to the existence of God not as a settled belief but as a living option, and those who hold a contrary view keeps both sides unsettled. That is a good outcome for both sides.
There are exceptions to this encounter between belief of an intellectual and restless kind, and unbelief of the unsettled kind. Let’s call them the four forms of modern scholasticism. Given the starting premises of these groups, I regard dialogue between the modern “scholastics” as improbable and potentially unproductive as dialogue between Dominicans and Jews in the Middle Ages.
Religious Secularism. For those who are happy with the social gospel of welcoming congregations and the agendas of the depleted liberal churches, what would be the point of conversation? Whether these churches are “right” or “wrong” in practice, the question they will have to answer is why they need the gospel at all. Liberal theology, liberation theology, feminist theology and even (yes) post-Christian theology are now historical theology. They belong, like guitar masses, to the seventies along with prayers to “Jesus, Our Brother” and “Our Mother-Father God, who art in every slum and every earthly visage.”
Dogmatic Catholicism. Catholics who are Catholics because they have never questioned the authority or reasonableness of the Church’s teaching, especially its pronouncements concerning sexual and social ethics. In a recent survey, 45% of Catholics surveyed did not know that their Church taught the “real presence” of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist, the traditional center of Catholic devotion and piety and a key factor in the Protestant Reformation. 95% knew the Church’s position on abortion. The implication of this result is that contemporary Catholics are badly educated about their own faith (it’s called in theological circles the “crisis of catechetics,” or training) but are willing to accept what they are told is true. At this level, religion means being a team player, knowing the rules, knowing the consequences of breaking them, knowing the score. But there is a caveat here: most of the Catholics who went on to become satirists, authors, comedians, novelists and social critics as well as most of those who traveled intellectually towards Rome knew their Church far better than the ones whose journey to atheism was one from not knowing very much to not believing very much.
Biblicism. Fundamentalism is defined as a belief in text without context. To religious fundamentalists who have a personal relationship with Jesus underwritten by divine revelation: there is probably nothing between the two sides worth exploring. Unbelief is a refusal of God’s gift of love and grace, though it is not necessarily considered the most heinous refusal. That belongs to those who have “heard” the message and not responded–the nominally Christian. The Islamic equivalent is described in a saying of Muhammad from the Sahih Bukhari, and is generally considered good practical advice for Muslims: “God hates for you…to ask too many questions in religious matters” (Vol. 3, Book 41, Number 591).
Dogmatic Unbelief: Those Atheists who regard their position as unassailable, the religious option as ridiculous, and the ridicule of religion and religious institutions as a social duty or a form of overdue payback may well be right about what they do not believe (phrased negatively) but quite unclear about what they do believe. What makes them “scholastic” is that like the medieval scholars, whose knowledge could be reduced to a set of stereotyped proofs or demonstrations, they have lost interest in the questions that made their rejection of God interesting, provocative and viable. In a phrase, they no longer think the question of God is intrinsically interesting and would have no reason to second-guess their position or entertain anyone else’s.
Let me conclude with an example of the kind of intellectual restlessness that could result in interesting conversation between believers and unbelievers: Thomas Merton, mentioned above.
While I detest conspiracy theories about the death of Merton, there is good reason to think he had left orthodox Catholicism behind at the end of his life in 1968. He had fallen in love with a nursing student two years earlier, and as part of his “recovery”
turned to Buddhism, which had intrigued him since his student days at Oxford and Columbia. He had met with the Dalai Lama, and was reading the works of D.T. Suzuki, with whom he had developed a literary friendship.
I do not believe the church arranged for his murder. I do not know whether he committed suicide. But I do know that he was intellectually unsettled and that vows of silence, perpetual contemplation (he was a Trappist monk, then an enclosed order), and finally Zen and poetry weren’t enough to resettle him. It seems, at the end, that he looked more to poetry as a cure for his despair than to anything else. As a student he had been sexually adventurous, a vagabond between America and England, and finally (in his own words), even when surrounded by devout Anglicans and Catholics from two sides of his family, “someone who did not believe anything.”
Merton died before journey’s end. Who knows how he would have ended up? A priest? An apostate? A husband? An agnostic? He was only 53 when he died. The “affair” with the girl he calls “M” lasted until a year before he died, and in his “Midsummer Diary for M” he writes,
Is she thinking of me? Loving me? Is her heart calling to mine in the dark? I don’t know. I can’t honestly say that I know. I can’t honestly say I know anything except that it is late, that I can’t sleep, that there are fireflies all over the place, and that there is not the remotest possibility of making any poetic statement on this. You don’t write poems about nothing.
And yet somehow this nothing seems to be everything. I look at the south sky, and for some ungodly reason, for which there is no reason, everything is complete. I think of going back to bed in peace without knowing why, a peace that cannot be justified by anything, by any reason, any proof, any argument, by any supposition. There are no suppositions left. Only fireflies.
–As complete a statement of affirmative disbelief and as far from Roman Catholic Christianity as one could imagine.
But the vision is scarcely unique:
….Between the cold
and barren peaks of two eternities
we strive in vain to look beyond the heights,
we cry aloud: the only answer
is the echo of our wailing cry….
Hope sees a star, and listening love can hear
the rustle of a wing.
These myths were born of hopes, and fears and tears
and smiles, and they were touched and colored
by all there is of joy and grief between
the rosy dawn of birth and death’s sad night;
they clothed even the stars with passion
and gave to the gods the faults and frailties
of the sons of men. In them the winds
and waves were music, and all the lakes and streams,
springs, mountains, woods, and perfumed dells
were haunted by a thousand fairy forms. (Robert G. Ingersoll)
Just to repeat: Atheists and their believing others have no moral obligation to negotiate their beliefs, not even to respect each other’s opinions. Why should they? The conversation I am advocating is not for everyone–not for the modern scholastics, of all stripes, who are stuck within the boundaries of private certitude.
This is an elitist position, I realize, but why should smart and interesting people waste their time talking to people who can only repeat slogans? Isn’t that what politics is for?
But at a particular level–where many born-again atheists and many true believers will never venture–the conversation goes on anyway, where the sons of men contemplate love and fireflies and find their peace. There is something worth talking about at that level.
At this particular juncture, I find it to be of special interest to know your response to Barrett’s comment, a quote from Fichte, the last comment to Doubt and Darkness.
I don’t know that there is much interest here in pursuing this particular discussion. If you want to see the Fichte quotation in context, it is in The way towards the blessed life; or, The doctrine of religion, p. 107.
I was raised an atheist, but also as a rationalist. I saw that much of the talk about Christ on the part of both atheists and religionists was irrational. Eventually, I did discover a satisfactory and rational account of Christ in the work of Constantin Brunner. It is now apparent to me that one can be both an atheist and a devotee of Christ. Of course, most atheists today want nothing at all to do with Christ, and therefore they throw up all kind of irrational speculation, particularly with regard to his historicity.
We talk because those who know are compelled to attempt to act as mid-wives to those who don’t know.
Belief and Unbelief are misleading terms, in fact they are misnomers. Belief is a Christian designation associated with the fundamental problematic of Christianity. Again as Fiemarus, the founder of the quest for the HJ, said in effect: Search the Scriptures and see if Chriatianity is not based on a mistake. Indeed it is, it is based on Pauline Kerygma rather than on the Jesus sayings kerygma
The problematic: saved by another’s merits – the doctrine of faith which removes from the soul the need to do anything. Neither do you need to think out anything – there are the eternal rulings of Paul – you need only to believe in the saving death to be saved. to escape punishment and to enter eternal happiness after a short spell here. Such are the conditions which gave rise to the conflict between truth and goodness in Western religion, between what was actually known and experienced and what had to be believed, that conflict which has ever since weakened Christianity. Paul cosistently evidenced a complete lack of understanding of the psychology of the mechanics of God-man relationship, i.e. the experience of spirit as inspiration rather than sprit (The Holy Spirit) as a thing sent at baptism equal to all believers.
We have opened the flood gates of the mystery of Ultimate Concern. Lao-tzu’s famous definition of the baffling paradox of this mystery. “Those who know don’t say, and those who say don’t know”. The real division of humanity is the distinction between those who know and those who don’t know; raher than between believers and non-believers.
Again I make reference to a reconstruction of the Jesus tradition located in the first 13 comments to the essay The Importance of the Historical Jesus – A Jesus Project Quodblet.
There is no distinction between those that know and those that don’t because nobody knows. Sure there are those that claim to know as believers and those that claim they know as unbelievers. But surely the point of this post is that rational and progressive conversation actually exists where it can only exist: between the sheep and goats in the vast middle ground where everyone knows. And what they know is that they don’t know whether or not God really exists and they do know that progress is made with doubt and inquiry. And it’s Reimarus Ed.
Thanks Ed, your comments are always useful, targeted and informative.
Always superb, intellectually sophisticated, incisive and refreshingly true. It is so true that between the too often, loudly shouting, intellectually stagnant, opposing claimers to truth (as I see them), “there is a vast middle ground (or pasture) where sheep (and goats) may safely graze” and there the conversation goes on happily and restlessly anyway. As Voltaire said, “certainty is absurd” and of course Pooh wisely supposed that the evidence for Rabbit being clever and having Brain was that “he never understands anything”. At least Rabbit knows he isn’t certain. And so did Pooh.
I love Thomas Merton for his quiet whimsical mystical poetry and also for his love affair, but I was blissfully unaware of any revoulting conspiracy theories around his death. However although it may wish to, New Zealand can’t claim any ownership of him can it? I don’t think he ever trod there and even his father, Owen, who was born in New Zealand, painted all his rather nice wishwashy watercolours overseas and married an American. But it doesn’t really matter because I like to think of him now as a New Zealand-American, Quaker Anglican, spiritually confused poet. That’s beautiful, like the author.
Thanks, was aware of it as I wrote – a quirk of age (1/25/19). Your comment: “There is no distinction between those who know and those that don’t know because nobody knows” seems dogmatic – end of discussion.
Actually Ed, I was trying to summarise what the article on intellectual restlessness had argued and demonstrated. My mother Ed, is nearly 86, and she not only still expresses disgust when I let typos slip through in emails to her, she is meticulously thorough in proof reading and correcting her own. It makes them easy and such a pleasure to read.
Your mother’s named Ed, steph? And it’s “proofreading” (no space).
Haha that’s cute! ‘My mother, Ed..’ My mother, Barrett, would have a fit at me. She’s a pedant, quite properly, about punctuation, as well as pronunciation, which makes my own flavour of Kiwi twang, a little confused at times.
Your apparent sympathetic reading of my stuff gives rise to a certain hope.
“And yet somehow this nothing seems to be everything. I look at the south sky, and for some ungodly reason, for which there is no reason, everything is complete. I think of going back to bed in peace without knowing why, a peace that cannot be justified by anything, by any reason, any proof, any argument, by any supposition. There are no suppositions left. Only fireflies.”
“Only fireflies”. Indeed. When “nothing seems to be everything” light is truly shinning bright! It’s not the grasping, the clutching and safekeeping of ‘truth’ that brings peace – it’s the letting go of our assumption that we can be masters of it. It’s not the answers that ennoble us – it’s the fact that we can ask the questions.
Yes, restlessness is the beginning; our curiosity, our wanting to know, our need to know. But the time will come, and come it surely will, that restlessness will give way to either peace or frustration.
Perhaps keeping this quote in mind would enable us to watch those fireflies…
“Perhaps the mission of those who love mankind is to make people laugh at the truth, to make truth laugh, because the only truth lies in learning to free ourselves from insane passion for the truth.”
(Umberto Eco (b. 1932), Italian semiologist, novelist. Brother William, in The Name of the Rose, “Seventh Day: Night (2)” (1980; tr. 1983).)
The point the quote is highlighting does seem odd. But on reflection, at least to me, it struck a cord. When one is initially searching for ‘truth’ one is fired up with enthusiasm – then as the years pass, while the commitment remains, realization about the illusive nature of ones quest brings not despair but joy. One is happy with ones journey – one can laugh at ‘truth’s intransigence, laugh at the game it is playing – and laugh at oneself for ones past seriousness in thinking it could be caught. Laughter, they say, is the best medicine – and isn’t it a distinguishing mark of being human? So perhaps its not altogether unreasonable to expect ‘truth’ and laughter to join forces once in a while!
When the evening of life is upon us
Our smile must be there at it’s close
Did we spend our days frustrated
Or in contentment’s rare delight
Too often our minds have betrayed us
Our heart picking up the tears
But deep down in our being we know
That life is a gift that is priceless and pure
Life comes to us full of promise
It’s ours to accept with pride
It’s ours to color with beauty
It’s ours to dance with joy
Did we look beyond life’s sorrows
To the life that’s free from pain
Did we see life in it’s greatness
As energy sublime
Ideas, debates, arguments, while intellectually stimulating, don’t have the wherewithal to make us friendly associates. Don’t give my another goddamn idea, my late husband used to tell me – I just need a hug…..
Hugging, kissing and laughter are essential ingredients in the recipe for a beating human heart, but I disagree that conversation cannot make friendly associates when the conversation is conducted between those who share the primary human concession to doubt, and it is necessary to make progress. And conversation with wit and creativity brings laughter. And then, as we first take Manhatten and next Berlin, we’ll end up and hugging and kissing anyway 😉
Sure, doubt has it’s place – but as a meeting place for friendly companionship – I have my doubts…..
The most rewarding experience within friendly association is affirmation not negation.
There is nothing wrong with believers – of any stripe – its the dogmatism that is the problem, not the belief. It’s those who doubt that are the minority. And if doubt really is our prize possession – then believers should be welcome as friendly associates! After all, we do need our doubt to be validated…
Yes, indeed, but I’m not suggesting negation but finding common values, appreciation of moderate differences and negotiation. And not just about God. What this post correctly identifies I think is that there is a vast middle ground that already exists, where conversation does run along merrily between believers and unbelievers who are intelligent enough to recognise doubt. Where dogmatism lingers conversation is pointless and doesn’t stop boring cartoons, Tshirts and street corner preachers and creationism in schools. The vast majority of people I have grown up with, worked with and socialised with, might define themselves as atheists, believers or agnostics, but claim agnosticism of faith. And while people are generally more protective of their personal space in the northern hemisphere, down in the southern hemisphere we’re quite a huggy mixture of skeptics. Your claim that ‘those who doubt that are the minority’ does not reflect my own experience or that of those I have studied with. While I have not lived in America, I am beginning to realise, that although the extremes are very very loud and pronounced, there is a much larger group of thinkers and doubters in between than I previously believed.
Amen (forgive the associations)
Quite – context matters. Specific areas and cultures will produce different ratios of believers and those who doubt. I’m living in Africa – and here the dice rolls more towards the believers than towards those who doubt….
On the chance that someone may still be “talking about it”, I offer extracts from The Mind Of God by Paul Davies, Professor of Mathematical Physics at the University of Adilaide in Australia – an expert on the New Physics. The book won him the Templeton Prize. He holds that science offers a surer oath to God than religion. (Christianity)
“All arrangements to explain everything are founded on the assumption of human rationality that it is legitimate to seek “explanation” for things, and that we truly understand something only when it is “explained”. Yet it has to be admitted that our concept of rational explanation probably derives from our observation of the world and our evolutionary inheritance. Is it clear that this provides adequate quidance when we are tangling with ultimate questions? Might it not be the case that the reason for existence has no explanation in the usual sense?- that an understanding of its existence and properties lies outside the usual categories of rational thought.
Can we make sense of the universe without rational problems? Is there a route to knowledge – even “Ultimate knowledge” – that lie outside the road of rationality? Many people claim there is. It is called mysticism. Most scientists (and Christian theologians) have a deep mistrust of mysticism. This is not surprising as mystical thought lies at the opposite extreme to rational thought, which is the basis of the scientific method. In fact many of the world’s finest thinkers, including some notable scientiests (see site for abstracts of Quantum Questions: Mystical Writings of the World’s Greatest Physicists) have embraced mysticism. I am not saying that science and logic are likely to provide wrong answers, but they may be incapable of addressing the sort of “why” (as opposed to “”how”) questions we want to ask.
The expression “mystical experience” is often used by those who practice meditation. These experiences, which are undoubtedly real enough for the person who experiences them, are said to be hard to convey in words. Mystics fequently speak of an overwelming sense of being at one with God, of glimpsing a holistic vision of Reality, or of being in the presence of a powerful and loving influence. Most important, mystics(physicists) claim that they can grasp Ultimate Reality in a single experience, in contrast to the long and tortuous deductive sequence (petering out in rational troubles) of the logical-scientific method of inquiry.”
One further extract:
“The central theme that I have explored in this book is that, through sciences, we human beings are able to grasp at least some of nature’s secrets. We have cracked part of the cosmic code. Why this should be, just why Homo spiens should carry the spark of rationality that provides the key to the universe, is a deep enigma. We. who are chldren of the universe – animated stardust – can nevertheless reflect on the nature of that same universe, even to the extent of glimpsing the rules on which it runs. How we have become linked into this cosmic dimension is a mystery. Yet the linkage cannot be denied.
What does it mean? What is Man that we might be party to such provilege? I cannot believve that our existence in this universe is a mere quirk of fate, an accident of history, an incidental blip in the great cosmic drama. Our involvement is too intmate. The physical species Homo may count for nothng, but the existence of mind in some organism on some planet in the universe is surely a fact of fundamental significance. Through conscious beings the uiverse has generated self-awareness. This can be no trival, no minor byproduct of mindless, purposeless forces. We are truly meant to be here.
The only issue is the possibility of coming to recognize the fact of Ultimate Reality, all else is simply open ended agrument from inside the Cave. My above comment is the testimony of the brightest of our scientists –
Chritianiy and the writings if the NT are off the table.
Ooops! –its writings of the NT – – Yall know my problem.