Should I Desire That You All Follow My Religion?

I would hope not to court much controversy by saying that all of us should live in accordance with the truth.  Call it a notion of natural law that I can get behind.  That each of us conceives and understands the truth differently complicates the imperative, but it doesn’t do away with it.   More controversially, I believe that religion–well, my religion anyway–provides a uniquely and especially true way of being in the world.  I’m Catholic, not for my comfort, but because I believe this religious faith at its core embodies, if imperfectly, the right communal response to a sacred and inexplicable event–a Revelation of a community of persons at the heart of the universe.  If I desire that everyone should live according to the truth, believe that truth includes the content of Revelation, and believe further that Catholicism is the true religious faith, then it would seem to follow that I should desire that you all convert to my religion.  If I don’t wish all of you to be Catholic, then I don’t really believe Catholicism is true.

Not a handful of my coreligionists would say so, stopping at this syllogism’s end without considering any complications or nuances.  For example, Michael Voris of the fittingly-named Church Militant TV, chides the leaders in his church who do not manifestly desire everyone in the world to be Catholic.  For Voris, whose manner of evangelism could be likened to the broad swing of a heavy blunt instrument, if you’re not in or at least headed for the church, then you’re literally moving in the direction of Hell.  If I don’t desire you all to begin the process of conversion, then I in effect desire your eternal torment in everlasting hellfire.

Except, no, I don’t desire for anyone the conditions that would mean a one-way road trip to Hell.  I’m not allergic to any notion of an afterlife, even one of chosen misery, but I know next to nothing of what an afterlife means.  I have only the signs and symbols of the here and now to imagine the hereafter, and, speaking of the here and now, the line of reasoning outlined above has a big problem: it treats religion and the people within it as abstractions divorced from the real world.

First of all, my religious faith is not a Platonic Form or some abstract ideal to which we’re all supposed to accord our lives.  It’s an institution situated in the messiness of history, and its own history is often morally repellant.  Second, as a community with traditions of myth, ritual, and interpretation by which its members live their lives and understand themselves, Catholicism contributes to the identities of those situated within it.  I cannot encourage conversion without also encouraging a change to who someone is.

Because sin affects people in the church, clergy and laity alike, conversion in some circumstances may not be a blessing.  Let’s say I know an atheist living in a small rural area where there’s only one religious community, and that one community happens to be a Catholic Church.  My atheist friend has told me over Facebook that he’s interested in learning more about my faith and that he plans to visit the parish where he resides as its the only one he can feasibly attend.  Awesome, I think, but then he messages me after his visit and describes the peculiar practices of this particular Catholic community.  Listening to him, I become quickly aware that much of what he’s describing sounds cultish and authoritarian–more so than is usual for Catholicism–practices I judge to be spiritually and psychologically unhealthy.  In this scenario, I would not suggest he return.

It would be easy to say that this particular parish did not practice authentic Catholicism, meaning that I was not really advising my hypothetical friend against returning to the only Catholic community where he could feasibly start on the official road to conversion.  Too easy, really.  There is no pure, authentic Catholicism practiced anywhere in the world.  Every community has its moral strengths and weaknesses, its blessings and dangers to solidarity and spiritual health.  People too are complicated. Where one thrives another may suffer. I’m all for evangelization provided it respects our “situatedness.”  Consequently, I wouldn’t recommend that everyone, without care to where they are or who they may become, stop what they’re doing and take steps toward my religion.  The results would not be dandy, even assuming the ultimate truth of Catholicism, which, of course, you should.

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251 thoughts on “Should I Desire That You All Follow My Religion?

  1. Strong post, Kyle.

    I find it interesting that you do not seem to distinguish between religion and faith (using the term “religious faith”). For me, religion and faith are quite separate – though associated – things. Perhaps this is because your religion is a bit more “institutional” than mine (that’s probably a bad way to say it, and I don’t mean it as a slight), so the two are more intertwined.

    So, here’s a question: your hypothetical atheist friend is interested in being Catholic, but has no interest in joining the only Catholic church/community in his area. To what degree, would you say, can he distance himself from the Catholic community but still consider himself Catholic (assuming he believes all Catholic teachings/beliefs/theology)?

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    • Although I used the terms more or less interchangeably here, like you I would distinguish faith from religion, faith being a disposition of an individual and religion being a structure in which that faith may be practiced.

      Formal initiation into the Catholic Church would require baptism, but you don’t need a parish or a priest for it. In situations of need, anyone can baptize. Even an atheist can baptize so long as she intends what the church intends. She doesn’t actually have to believe it herself. Catholicism, however, is a very communal religion. It stresses that one relates to God within a community of believers, not as an isolated individual. Ordinarily, a Catholic would live the Catholic faith as part of a parish, but that doesn’t always and cannot always happen. Catholics are, as a rule, supposed to worship communally, but there are legit exceptions. My hypothetical friend could justly consider himself Catholic even if he didn’t join his territorial church, but he could also be in a right disposition toward truth without embracing the name.

      Catholicism also preaches a doctrine called baptism by desire. This would include the wish for actual baptism and also a basic loving disposition toward truth and goodness. In contemporary Catholic theology, the encounter with God does not necessitate membership in the visible, institutional church. The thinking is, anyone who seeks truth seeks Christ.

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  2. I like the way your thought is going here. Religion and faith is about participating in communities and not really about accepting particular propositions. Hopefully we can fit religious practice into some overarching acceptable philosophy, but given the plurality and complexity of the various things we may think of as good, we may just desire that each person participate in the kind of community that he finds attachment to. For you it would be the Catholic community, for me the Brahmin community etc etc. Of course I may be projecting: It may be that I’m allowed a lot more doctrinal flexibility than you are.

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    • I would say that the propositions are important in that they define the community and its relationship to the sacred. Interestingly, a lot of doctrine doesn’t really begin make sense until you enter into the communal practice. Religion is a practical discipline, ultimately. You learn it by doing it.

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  3. Kyle*, what is a “church”? Or a “religion”? You define these things in several ways:

    A) the right communal response to the sacred and inexplicable event of Revelation of a community of persons at the heart of the universe.
    B) signs and symbols of the here and now to imagine the hereafter.
    C) an institution situated in the messiness of history.
    D) a community with traditions of myth, ritual, and interpretation by which its members live their lives and understand themselves.
    E) an uniquely and especially true way of being in the world.

    Recognizing that these things are not necessarily mutually exclusive, they all sound different from each other. For me, C) is the easiest to understand, but A) seems like what you’re really talking about here. And if it is that, then a Revelation has occurred and the response to that Revelation includes the creation, propagation, evolution, and personal fulfillment of this sort-of-social-institution, sort-of-community, sort-of-way-of-life.

    Given that the church (or religion, if you prefer) is a response to Revelation, and thus a reaction to Truth, then I don’t understand why Mr. Voris is wrong. You (or he) has been given a glimpse of Truth which I lack. If I do not see and act upon this Truth myself, there will be a significant consequence to me. The virtues of compassion and empathy would thus seem to impel you to show me the Truth and urge me to join you in this response to it, even if the Truth itself is silent on that point.

    * Or others. Blogging is a free-for-all.

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    • As I’m speaking of my own religion of Catholicism, the descriptions I give would not necessarily apply across the board. Not every religion worships a Trinitarian deity or calls itself a church, for example. Speaking broadly, I would define religion as the structural response to something believed to be sacred, including the structure of that response.

      I’m not criticizing Voris’ impulse to evangelize. I would expect those who believe their religion to be true to share the good news out of compassion and empathy. That’s great so far as it goes, but it can come to roadblocks, one of which being that the actual practice of a religion by actual people may not incline others to see and act upon the Truth to be shared. Put another way, true religion, assuming there is such a thing, is supposed to embody the right response to revelation, but it doesn’t always do so. True religion ain’t always true religion.

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  4. Question–would you be equally sanguine about people moving away from the church? You don’t want to convert non-believing friends, but how would you feel if Catholic friends stopped going to Mass? Or stopped identifying as Catholic at all? Would that be a bad outcome in your eyes?

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    • I wouldn’t say I don’t want to covert others to my faith. I’m only pointing out that the process of sharing one’s faith is complicated and needs to respect the ways in which we’re situated.

      As for friends leaving the faith, I’d take it as a cause for sadness, but I wouldn’t despair for them. My attitude would largely depend on their reasons. I would expect bad outcomes for bad reasons, but then, as Gandalf says, not even the very wise can see all ends.

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  5. I find that the whole matters of taste vs. matters of morality argument illuminates here. (But I would.)

    We all agree that food taboos are mostly silly things (yay, bacon!) and that there are some acts out there that are just 100% beyond the pale and there can never be justification for them (rape provides a good example).

    The fun arguments all happen in the middle. Is X a matter of taste or a matter of morality? If Y is a matter of morality, is using force to prevent you from engaging in Y (or to force you *TO* engage in Y) also a matter of morality? (The really thorny questions, it seems to me, involve situations where Y is immoral, but it’d be even more immoral to prevent you from engaging in Y.)

    There are a lot of things that we say are matters of morality that, seriously, we don’t want to force others to do (or keep them from doing) that are Important Matters of Doctrine… and, from the position of an atheist, that’s because they’re obviously (well, it’s obvious to me, anyway) matters of taste. Baptism? Matter of taste! The argument between sprinkling and immersion? Downright laughable from over here. (Immersion, by the way.)

    These things that are said to be matters of morality that, in practice, are matters of taste seem to me to mostly signal group membership. (And there’s nothing wrong with that.)

    But the stuff like rape, book banning, so on, are the things that we know are matters of morality and, on top of that, are matters of morality that we are allowed to use force to prevent without twinge of conscience (!) are the tip of the iceberg of what our religion (for lack of a better word) actually consists of.

    When it comes to what our religion actually consists of? YOU’D BETTER BELIEVE YOU’D BETTER AT LEAST *ACT* LIKE A BELIEVER IN PUBLIC.

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      • It’s preventing two adults from communicating with each other. It’s a violation of freedom of assembly and freedom of speech.

        I suppose we can hash out whether it’s appropriate to ban books for children. There are some adults that you *WANT* to keep from talking to children, after all.

        But when it comes to adults? Allowing them to talk to each other is a matter of morality.

        And, even if it’s not, I don’t know that we can really prevent adults from speaking to each other without veering pretty heavily into immorality pretty quickly.

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        • I’ve been thinking about this and you’re right. It’s more than possible for you to come out and talk about circumstances under which you’d want to ban this or that book without feeling like “you know what, I shouldn’t write that comment” and then erasing it. From some of the most vile kinds of pornography to certain nuclear secrets, it might even be fun to come up with examples of books that we (as a society!) would want to ban.

          But the thought of someone coming up with theoretical justifications for rape? Nobody wants their name attached to that comment. Theoretical justifications for racism? We might be able to name some names of folks who we could think might comment… but we enlightened folks here wouldn’t want to come up with examples, even if we hedge and say “this is just an example!” first, of reasons that racism can be justified.

          So let’s use that instead.

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  6. I agree with the view you are criticizing, I think.

    It seems to me that it follows from the definition of “is true” (or whichever account of truth you prefer: pragmatism, correspondance, deflationism, etc.) that for everything X, if you believe that X is true, that means you think everyone else should believe that X, too.

    Thus, if you believe that the claims Catholicism makes are true, then you think everyone should accept the claims that Catholicism makes.

    And if you think everyone should accept the claims of Catholicism, that is indistinguishable from thinking that everyone should believe in Catholicism.

    The only way that I could be wrong is if there are X’s that are clear counterexamples to the claim that I said follows from the definition of truth. To say that religious claims are such a counterexample would be to argue around in a circle. Can you think of examples of things (not religious claims) that are true, which one person believes, but which other people shouldn’t believe?

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    • I mean, your position seems to be that it is okay for Shazbot to think things that are false but Kyle should not think false things, only true things.

      What’s the difference between Shaz and Kyle that explains why you should believe something true and it isn’t the case that I should believe something true? (Are you saying I’m less deserving of the truth? Or that I shouldn’t be held responsible for not aiming at the truth? That I don’t have an obligation to believe true things? Or something like that? But you do have such an obligation, such a desert?)

      Sorry to sound so combabtive. I don’t mean to.

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      • It’s not a question of deserving, but whether the means toward reaching truth always and everywhere dispose one toward that end.

        I would say everyone has an obligation (and a right) to pursue the truth in her own way. I would also say that some ways are better than others and that a way that works for one may not work as well for another.

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        • But don’t we all have an obligation to believe the truth? If “God exists and Catholicism is correct” is true, then we all have an obligation to believe it, just as we all have an obligation to believe “Cigarrettes cause cancer.”

          In some sense of “wrong,” it is always wrong to not believe the truth.

          Though that wrong, like all wrongs, is forgiveable if the person couldn’t do any better. Nonetheless it is still wrong.

          I think you are confusing being tolerant of people who don’t believe what you think they should believe and believeing that they should believe it. You can be tolerant of wrong doing. But if you believe Catholicism is true, you believe it is wrong not to believe it.

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          • Again, at least in the case of Catholicism, following a religion isn’t reducible to believing its claims to be true. If you want to formally join and be an active member of the Catholic Church, then you have to participate in the life of a parish. That participation may, however, entail things that run counter to the beliefs of the church. A Catholic parish could do Catholicism poorly or have aspects to its practice that prove to be obstacles to the life of faith of individual members.

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            • Is someone who doesn’t believe in God and who believes none of the claims of Catholicism someone who follows Catholics? I’d say no they aren’t, even if they go to communion and live amongst Catholics (maybe laughing at how these people believe false things.)

              Believing some of the claims of Catholicism is (logically) necessary to be someone who follows Catholicism, no?

              I’d say believing many of the claims of Catholicism is necessary and sufficient for being a Catholic, iff we include claims about behavior and lifestyle like “I should attend church.” But that is beside the point. Clearly these beliefs are necessary, even if they aren’t sufficient.

              Thus, people who follow Catholicism must believe that some of the claims are true, and given that true beliefs are beliefs we all should believe, then Catholics must believe that everyone should be a Catholic.

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              • Not quite. Becoming Catholic is typically a process that includes, in company with acceptance of certain truth-claims, a rite of initiation and participation in community. You can’t assess whether a particular individual should become Catholic by only looking at the veracity of the beliefs.

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                • If I believed in all of the claims of Catholicism, but ai was wrongly excommunicated, wouldn’t God still say I’m a Catholic, as long as ai still held all the right beliefs about Him and how I should behave and why I should behave that way?

                  And if I behaved the right way (prayer, communion, etc.), while believing that every claim of Catholicism was baloney, all in order to get closer to the Pope, as part of a plan to kill the Pope because of my hatred of Catholicism (that never came to fruition), would God think I am a Catholic?

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                  • I hesitate to speculate about what God would think, but here goes. To your second, I would say, No. What you describe here is fake behavior and fake belief, the lack of the latter implying the want of the former. To your first, I would say, Possibly. Excommunication wouldn’t physically prevent you from participation. Even if you were stuck alone on an island, you could participate in a partial way through prayer, etc. It wouldn’t be ideal or the ordinary means of being Catholic, but it would be something, something more that mere assent to beliefs. It would at base indicate a disposition or habit of being.

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    • It’s important to note that I am not speaking simply of assenting to a set of beliefs or propositions. Following a religion includes much more than that. Generally it involves being with other people and being in a particular state of life, and these ways of being may or may not be conducive to a proper disposition toward the claims the religion proclaims are true.

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        • To take an extreme example, but one that may help, a minister at the church where you would be able to attend is psychologically abusive. Participating in the life of this religious community will mean being in the same environment with this minister and being affected by the abuse. The professed tenets of this community may be fine and dandy, but it would, I’d say, be a bad place to grow in one’s faith and live those tenets.

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          • Okay. Got the example.

            So how is that example relevant to the question of whether you can believe that the claims of a religion are true (including the claim that you should behave a certain way or interact with and live amongst such and such people) and not believe that everyone should believe those claims?

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            • I’ve made no such claim. Logically, if you should believe what is true, and X is true, then you should believe X. However, in the realm of Catholicism, and perhaps elsewhere, you can’t treat X in isolation from the real lived experience of practice religion. As I keep noting, being Catholic isn’t tantamount to accepting a set of truth-claims. Those truth-claims are approached and interpreted in the ritual action of communal life. My focus in this post has been this communal life, namely the problems it may pose for the encounter with truth, not the truth-claim detached from it, which seems to be how you want to discuss them.

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              • But you can’t be a Catholic if you believe all of the claims of Catholicism are out and out false, right?

                If you thought it was all lies and falsity, but you practiced Catholic practices (even though you believed you shouldn’t) you wouldn’t really be a Catholic, right?

                I used to go up and take communion with my grandmabot, just so she would think I was still religious. And I sang the songs and stuff. But I wasn’t religious. I was just playing along, because I didn’t believe that it was true that there was any good reason to drink the wine, or sing a song, or say such and such.

                As a thought experiment, if my grandmabot had followed me around constantly, and I’d constantly behaved like a religious believer, but I didn’t believe any of the metaphysical or moral claims, nor did I believe that I should engage in these practices and ways of being, I wouldn’t be religious.

                No?

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                • If you thought it was all lies and falsity, but you practiced Catholic practices (even though you believed you shouldn’t) you wouldn’t really be a Catholic, right?

                  I (with my family) have been a member of a particular protestant church for about 20 years now. I’m there almost every Sunday, I’ve taught Sunday School, I’ve served in leadership roles, I sing in the choir. I also don’t believe in the existence of God, except perhaps as a metaphor. My pastors are aware of this and aren’t particularly bothered by it, and I’m not the only one in this category at my church (although we certainly have plenty of members with more traditional beliefs). I find church life to be immensely rewarding — the actual metaphysical stuff is really only a very small part of the overall experience, and anyway a lot of the liturgy reads just as well metaphorically as literally.

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                  • Oh, I meant to add — and I call myself a Christian. Would you not? I’m sure fundamentalists would deny me that label, and I’d understand where they’re coming from even though I disagree, but it would be a little odd for an atheist to say that with any sense of authority.

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                  • I relate to a lot of this. I rarely call myself a Christian plainly, for a lot of reasons. I do identify as Episcopalian, as that is my church. Sometimes I will say “Ecclesiastical Christian” as a focus on the institution as opposed to the faith or belief.

                    I never really have a comfortable answer to the question of “What are you?”

                    Honestly, one of the things I love about the west is that I am so rarely asked.

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                    • Well, I should have said “I think of myself as Christian” — I also rarely get asked. And now that you mention it, I’d be quicker to identify myself by denomination than just by “Christian”, and perhaps I put a mental asterisk at the end.

                      But really, I think it’s a fair label. IMO being a Christian has much more to do with community, empathy, humility, and service than with abstract beliefs about the ontological status of God. Not that I’m any good at those things, but the aspiration is there.

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                    • Ken,

                      Is everyone who lives a life filled with “community, empathy, humility, and service” someone who is properly called “a Christian?”

                      I’d say no, because lots of people who live that way aren’t Christian.

                      Perhaps you mean that anyone who self-describes as Christian is Christian.

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                    • I thought you were saying that applying the label “is a Christian” is largely a matter of whether someone did X, Y, and X (in this case charity, kindness, etc.)

                      I would say that the label “is a Christian” should be applied to someone who believes some set of beliefs about God, morality, how they should behave, etc.

                      I would say the label “is a Boy Scout” is also not applied to people on the basis of their being kind, honest, generous, whatever.

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                  • I would say that you are someone who does not believe in Catholicism. I would also say that you are not religious.

                    It may be true that you are “Catholic” in some sense of the word that is divorced from the religion called “Catholicism.”

                    We distinguish in language from people who are ethnically or culturally Jewish and people who believe in Judaism. Those who don’t believe are Jews in one sense and not in another. So it seems is true of you, too. You are culturally Catholic, and self-describe as possessing the Catholic social identity, but you don’t follow or believe in the Catholic religion.

                    Look, we can use words however we want. You can call yourself Catholic, even if you believe none of the claims of Catholicism and all of the claims of paganism and Wicca. I’m cool with that.

                    But no one is taking my thought experiment seriously. If I laugh at Catholic beliefs, but I go to church and do what Catholics do because I think it is funny and silly, I am not a Catholic. Thus, doing the practices asssociated with Catholicism is not sufficient for being Catholic, and holding the proper beliefs about the practices (and/or the metaphysics and moral stuff) is necessary for being Catholic.

                    Moreover, if I couldn’t follow Catholic practices (for whatever reason), but I believed that it was true that I should follow the practices, and I believed that it was very important that I did, and I believed in the metaphysics and moral aspects of Catholicism, then I would be a Catholic. Thus, holding the beliefs of Catholicism is sufficient for being a Catholic.

                    Some degree of believing that such and such is true is necessary (and I’d say sufficient, too) for being part of a religion (if not a culture, or an ethnicity, or a social identity.)

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                    • You’re insisting on looking for simple binaries and bright-line definitions in what’s really a complex continuum that you have no direct experience of. Terms having to do with group membership have no irreducible, essential definition, except in those cases where some person or organization has the explicit power to grant or withhold the membership.

                      People become part of religious communities for a wide variety of reasons. Between and even within congregations there’s substantial diversity about the nature of God and what the truth-claims of the given religion really mean. And at any moment among a given congregation, there’s a wide variety in the level of faith in those claims even to the extent that there’s a common understanding of them. Sermons on doubt, and on what faith means in the 21st century, are staples from many pulpits. Your hypo doesn’t prove nearly as much as you think it does, because you’re excluding a vast middle ground.

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                    • No, I’m okay with some vagueness in the definition.

                      But belonging to a religion necessitates some degree of belief.

                      I agree that you can be part of a “religious community” even if you don’t ascribe to the religion, i.e. you can be part of the community of Catholics even if you aren’t a Catholic.

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                  • Out of interest what did you teach in Sunday school? I’ d feel pretty uncomfortable if I held one opinion – that stories in the liturgy are metaphors – and was teaching children another – that the claims are literal truth that they must accept.

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                    • Typical Sunday School stuff — the curriculum was based around the lectionary texts each week. Read the passage, have a little discussion, do some sort of activity/game/craft, have a snack. I had 2nd, 3rd & 4th graders.

                      It wasn’t really a problem for me — it was just like telling stories, and since ours is a theologically (not to mention politically) liberal church, it’s not like I had to insist that every story in the Bible is literally true (and the kids never asked about historical accuracy). And I’m fine talking about God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit with an internal sense that they’re personifications of perfect love, compassion, and wisdom.

                      My bigger problem was that the provided curriculum was kind of boring, and to be a good teacher would’ve required putting in several hours of preparation each week instead of just skimming through the material 15 minutes before the class started. Plus my co-teacher and I weren’t big on discipline, and it was a little painful to see the occasional parent visitor try to hide his/her dismay at the sight of the kids sitting on or under the tables, scribbling on the whiteboard, crashing toy cars into each other, etc., instead of sitting obediently in their seats.

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                • Some amount of assent to beliefs would seem to be needed, but how much would depend on the individual religion. Catholicism has a whole hierarchy of beliefs and a history of various ways of interpreting them. It also has what’s called development of doctrine. Beliefs change in light of new information or methods of interpretation.

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                    • Oh well then.

                      You should believe that there are as many planets as it is true that there are.

                      My challenge requires identifying a true statement that we shouldn’t believe. Or a statement that we should believe that isn’t true.

                      Jaybird, as is his wont, has not answered the challenge at hand, but rather asked a question.

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                    • Jaybird’s point is that there are many propositions which while having some definite truth value are neither worth the time nor effort ths is required to evaluate this truth value. So something may be true, but we can just choose not to evaluate the proposition.

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                    • When I was a kid, there were 9 planets. We had tests in which we were told to remember the mnemonic My Very something something something something something something Pizzas.

                      Now, I’m sure that kids use the mnemonic My Very something something something something something something.

                      I’m sure that there are people who are my age who still believe that there are 9 planets. This is not harmful to them.

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                    • Murali,

                      Even trivial propositions that are true should be believed. It is just that the occasion to believe them never comes up.

                      It is true that there are 4 right angled objects on my desk. You should believe that. It is just that most of the time, the question of what you should believe about my desk doesn’t come up for you.

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                    • What if I had a false belief about the shape of your desk? If I cared about having true beliefs that would be one thing, but what if I don’t care about having true beliefs? Is there something incoherent about not caring if one’s beliefs are true?

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                    • You should believe what is true about my desk even if you don’t care about what you should believe about my desk.

                      Some people don’t care what is true which is the same as not caring about what you should believe.

                      Truth and “ought to believe” go together. Not one account of truth – deflationism, pragmatism, correspondence, etc.- denies this.

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                    • There are things that are true but irrelevant… which implies, at least to me, the existence of things that are false but irrelevant. If something can be true or false without having an impact on day to day existence, I’d say that whether or not I believe this thing is equally irrelevant. Even if it’s a true proposition that I believe is true.

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                    • Jaybird,

                      Those are cases of true propositions that you should believe, but it isn’t that important, or at all important, whether you do what you should do.

                      They are still cases where you should believe the truth.

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                • How many planets is, in some ways, a bad example BECAUSE of the visible-to-laypeople controversy. It does matter that how many planets there are, and that there’s no scientifically reasonable definition of “planet” that gives 9 planets including Pluto and excluding Eris. To some people. It just doesn’t matter to MOST people, in the same way that it doesn’t matter to most people that the Sun is a class G star.

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                  • Allow me to make a silly distinction. There is the fact that the Sun is a class G star which is vitally important. It’s important to me, it’s important to my cats, it’s important to the frog in the hole in the log in the bottom of the sea. There is also the information that the Sun is a class G star… and this is less vital. At this point, I’m willing to say that it’s pretty trivial and will remain so until we get the whole “interstellar” thing down.

                    There are things that are important in ways that it doesn’t matter if we grasp them or not. The various physicses that are not in the realm of Newtonian middle-sized dry goods mostly qualify (exceptions made for nuclear power).

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      • Do you mean to say that following a religion involves acting in such and such a way but you don’t need to believe that it is true that you should act in such and such a way?

        I’d say religions a sets of beliefs where some of those beliefs are about how you should act.

        You would still be religious if you believed you should take communion, and that you should go to confession, and that you should be charitable, even if you were completely paralyzed (a la the guy in The Diving Bell in the Butterfly) or if you just couldn’t do the things (for whatever reason) that you authentically believed that you should do.

        Conversely, if you do the actions but while you do them you don’t believe that you should, you aren’t religious, but are merely (for lack of a weaker word) going through the motions.

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  7. I think Sartre says something about a related issue. He obviously thought that there was no reason to commit to one set of values over another, but that once you did, you committed to thinking that you and everyone else should believe them. If you believed in these values but didn’t think others should believe them, that was not a real commitment. Just pretending to be committed.

    I’ll look for a citation.

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  8. I’m down with belief and faith. I don’t have any of my own but if a religious fellow zips up to me and proclaims “God exists!” I’m not going to mind much. If he goes on to assert “And he loves us all!” I can be down with such a premise, sounds like a nice guy.

    It’s when he then proceeds into the “And therefore you must …etc… and you must not …etc…” that I start feeling shirty. Especially when the musts and must not’s are derived either from a book that was written by committee a couple thousand years ago (and one that plagiarized an even older one from 1312 BCE) or from the reasoned ramblings of various privileged men deriving other things from said text over its history.

    And ironically those asserters are the rational ones. If someone tells you that you must or must not because God told them so himself the common response is to back away slowly. I mean at least those guys are going to the original source.

    I’m good* with God in his sphere but the God boosters are always trying to drag the poor guy into this one. If I was God I’d think I’d get pretty tired of it. If I was God and I wanted to be in the material sphere, hell, I’d be there!

    *skeptical but good; I’m not a Dawkens athiest. Heck, I’m agnostic.

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  9. Does this apply to pseudo religions like much of modern environmentalism? *

    *Or to address the other side, pseudo religious beliefs in open market social Darwinism?

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            • Probably not, unless you think moral theories are falsifiable by counterexamples and moral intuitions. But that isn’t what people usually mean by “falsifiable.” Ecocentrism is a belief in a moral system that places intrinsic value on not just humans and conscious animals, but all life forms. (Plants have intrinsic value according to this view.)

              However, Roger didn’t say “ecocentrism.” He said “most environmentalists.” I strongly suspect most environmentalists aren’t ecocentrists, which is why I made the booing noise to his implication that environmentalism is like a religion.

              Actually, I strongly suspect even most vegan environmentalists aren’t ecocentrists, because most vegans draw a moral distinction between conscious animals and plants, where only the former have moral value.

              That said, “ecocentrism” is a pretty vaguely defined thing.

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              • Actually, Roger didn’t say “most environmentalists.” He said, “much of modern environmentalism.”

                I will admit that unfortunately, he didn’t elaborate on what he meant, so I, for example, am left saying things like “I can’t speak for Roger, but I think….”

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                • Sounds pretty much the same and my point still stands.

                  Much of environmentalism is not about ecocentrism.

                  The most common refrain of environmentalists is “What will happen to us, if we destroy the planet. It is our only home.” The environment is important because it is important to us.

                  But I am willing to be wrong about this. I don’t really know how to define “environmentalism.” Wikipedia seems to disagree with my reading of the term.

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                  • What will happen to us, if we destroy the planet

                    I’m an environmentalist, no ifs ands or buts, but that kind of statement is indicative of what’s wrong with us. We can certainly make the earth unlivable for us, and we can certainly wipe out a great number of species, but the idea that our present course of action, even if unchecked, could possibly “destroy the planet,” is beyond far-fetched.

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    • I’d say it does apply. However, I think you (as well as Jaybird) are bringing up the specter of coercion. (With your example of environmentalism, coercion comes from imposing positive obligations. Jaybird brings up–and critiques–such things as using coercion to enforce “morality.”)

      I don’t see Kyle as talking about coercion per se, although coercion is probably inherent in some forms of evangelizing, and perhaps also the “church militant” variety. I see him more as wondering whether his conception of the truth is so solid that he must see it as his duty to relate his conception to others who lack it. “Relating one’s conception” can take on coercive components, but it’s a little bit different from the positive obligations often suggested by the “pseudo-religion of environmentalism.”

      (The pseudo-religion of Darwinian open-markets is a tougher nut. I find reason to fault it, but not in the way that one–and you, I presume–would fault the pseudo-religion of environmentalism.)

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      • if environmentalism and darwinism are pseudo-religions then what is and isn’t a real religion? Who decides that? If they are psuedo-religions then i are love of guns a religion? Soccer fan? NFL Draft watching football fan? Because if those things are sort of religions then we got about 5000000 religions.

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          • ummm…you’re not the boss of me…urrrr

            Not sure where you think i should go. I’m fine with saying we shouldn’t legislate matters of taste and that people confuse matters of taste and morality. We would disagree over what is taste and what is morality so that good distinction only goes so far to settle anything. Additionally i don’t think its possible to separate matters of morality at some level from all the various discussions we have. Well they don’t involve Friday Jukebox to much. Everybody all over the poli spectrum invokes morality to a degree.

            Just to muddy the waters even more, gov should respect religion and keep its nose out of it. With that said , there is no way for gov to not affect religion belief at some point. ex some people believe women should be subservient to men, but the gov should not be empowering men over women.

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        • To be fair, it’s a vast stretch to call environmentalism in general a pseudoreligion (or perhaps a better term, a quasireligion). But there is a fair amount of naturalistic mysticism among deep ecology crowd; not all of them, but folks with a tendency toward those kinds of mystical ideas are attracted to deep ecology approaches to the environment.

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            • I actually do have a pretty expansive definition for what counts as a “religion,” but that was not my point here, and I won’t insist upon it in this thread.

              My point–and I think it was Roger’s point, too–was that some people try to prescribe positive obligations upon others in the name of protecting the environment in a similar way that some people try to prescribe positive obligations upon others in the name of saving souls.

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                • Well, I’m inclined to push back again, and restate that my principal point (at least in this thread) is not to define religion but just to note commonalities in the ways that some religions and some ism’s can, sometimes, prescribe positive obligations upon others.

                  Libertarianism’s putative founding assumptions are very wary of imposing positive obligations upon others. At the same time, some of what some libertarians prescribe can be seen as tolerating coercion through other means. Those who would posit a dismantling of the welfare state without any corresponding attempts to aid the welfare state’s erstwhile clients during the transition might if successful create a situation that in the short term would be harmful in a similar way that coercion is harmful. I should say that this type of libertarian is only a subset of all libertarians, and I am not trying to bait all libertarians with this description.

                  I’ll agree with you that if I were to use such prescriptions as the defining feature of religion, I would be stretching the term too far. And I did not wish to imply that I was doing so.

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        • I can’t speak for Roger, but I’m quite prepared to call environmentalism a real religion instead of a pseudo-religion.

          Actually, all I’m really prepared to do is that some people do and prescribe things in the name of protecting the environment that resemble the way some people do an prescribe things in the name of religion. That doesn’t mean I think environmentalism is necessarily wrong–although I do indeed question the way some people invoke it. Nor does it mean, to me, that religion is necessarily wrong. In fact, I’m pretty hostile to the christopherhitchensism that sometimes passes for thoughtful critique of religion.

          As for guns. Yes, some people do a lot of really horrid things in the name of gun worship. The NFL I’m unsure of: I don’t see a lot of people saying I need to watch my purchases or vote for more regulations in order to ensure that the health of the NFL. However, I have seen coverage of soccer riots on TV.

          This sounds snarky, and perhaps it is. I will say that a lot, or at least some (in my experience) of people who embrace what can be called environmentalism exhibit a certain proselytizing fervor reminiscent of some of the more aggressive expressions of religiosity.

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          • My comment was simply referencing that there are some unscientific aspects to environmentalism which are being indoctrinated into all of us, including our children in public schools.

            Without trying to derail the conversation on any of them in particular, I meant such things as:
            -buy locally grown
            – avoid genetically modified food
            – buy organic
            – prevent fracking and nuclear
            – recycle regardless of costs vs benefits
            – use disgusting bacterial infected reusable grocery bags (gross!)
            – have disdain for material progress as it directly harms the environment

            To the extent these are scientifically supported, I am all for educating kids on them. To the extent they are feel good environmental ethics, I say it is pseudo religion.

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            • I know you didn’t want to derail the thread, but I’ll say two points to what you wrote.

              First, your list, or some variation of it, is what I had in mind. And I share your skepticism for the way most of the things on those list are/can be inculcated, and I don’t share most of those values. (I do reuse grocery bags. They’re really good for wrapping up books in my backpack for when it rains so they don’t get wet. But that’s probably not what you had in mind.)

              Second, I think any system of education “indoctrinates” students with some values, and not all of the values mentioned on your list are necessarily so beyond the pale that they must never be taught. (And to be fair, you didn’t say “never.” You simply said those who teach those values must meet some objective burden of proof.) I’m not particularly saying they *should* be taught, but just that the mere fact they are taught is not the worst thing to happen.

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            • So because there are unscientific aspects to something that makes it religious?? Again that is weak. Nobody is scientific about all their beliefs and actions. You have certainly made a strong argument for sports fans and players to be deeply religious. How are feel good ethics pseudo religion? If you really want to make this case you you to define pseudo-religion and how it is different from an actual religion. For that matter how a pseudo-religion differs from typical human behaviour we all in engage in million different ways about a thousand different things. It is actually possible to have different tastes which don’t rise to the level of whatever a pseudo-religion is.

              Re: reusable grocery bags- pro tip- don’t poop in them and they are disgusting.

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  10. I’m a former Catholic, so we’re obviously going to disagree about the value and validity of Catholic beliefs.

    One reason why I left the Church was the lack of serious examination of the Church’s doctrines and activities on the part of the faithful. While liberal Catholics often laud the “cafeteria Catholic” approach of championing the things they like about the faith, it means that the less savory, more harmful faces of the Church get ignored.

    The hierarchy of the Church already provides one strike against efforts at reformation. It makes it difficult for the Church community to make demands of the clergy and leaders that serve it. As a result, there has not been a serious examination by the Church community of the Church’s lack of action in the priest sexual abuse scandal. Likewise, there has not been a serious discussion about the very real and very damaging effects of the Church’s teachings about human sexuality, especially in Africa where the Church seeks to spread its considerable influence.

    These are important issues, and they are examples of why I couldn’t remain a Catholic in good conscience. Yes, there are benefits to being in a good Catholic community, there are Church teachings that are useful, but they are outweighed by the harm this high-organized religion is doing.

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    • The hierarchy of the Church already provides one strike against efforts at reformation.

      So it does. However, compared to what?

      Islam has very little in the way of hierarchy, and it doesn’t appear to be reforming at a rate noticeably more progressive than Catholicism. Is it a bug, or a feature?

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      • There are currents of reform within Islam. It’s much harder to speak about that religion as a whole because it does not represent one structural body. For its part, Islam is also a younger religion and its track of development shares some important parallels with Christianity.

        Comparing Catholicism with other, less hierarchical denominations of Christianity shows that many denominations have lay assemblies where evolution in the morality and attitudes of the congregants plays a role in determining the direction of the body. Catholicism’s structure prevents that kind of dialogue from taking place by severely punishing those liberal elements viewed as straying too far from a badly outdated set of doctrines. It also fails to learn the lessons of younger, more vital, and more attractive branches of Christianity with such an insular leadership.

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        • Let’s see how the Anglican church deals with gay marriage before we assume that the hierarchy of the Catholic church leads to a particular ossification.

          I agree, Catholicism changes at a glacial pace, but given that it is probably the oldest continuous human organization of a structured nature that’s hanging around, there is reason to presuppose that the model is marginally successful.

          I don’t necessarily disagree with your premise, but I’m not sure that this is generally regarded as a weakness…

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  11. I’m struggling with this:
    I believe that religion–well, my religion anyway–provides a uniquely and especially true way of being in the world.

    What is a true way of being in the world? There’s a wealth of code for lots of things, layers of human interaction with one another, with institutions, and with the world around them that sits troublesome to me. My strong feminist streak wants to wail out; what you’re calling ‘true’ it wants to screech is coercive and controlling. My inner pagan wants to go dance in the full moon light to the drum circle gathering on a nearby mountaintop; perhaps plant my peas by it’s silvery light. Those things, too, are ‘true.’ And every urge felt by humans is ‘true in the world,’ be it good, evil, selfish, generous, or deluded.

    Which all seems toward your point, so I am not arguing or criticizing. I’m deeply grateful you find such joy in both your faith and your religion.

    But I fear anyone who thinks they have the ‘one true way.’ And hope tomorrow, they’ll change their mind.

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    • It seems to me that believing that there isn’t a “one true way” is also a belief in a “one true way.” In this case, the “one true way” is a denial of the existence of a “one true way.” There are many “true” paths, with one excluded: “the one true way.”

      However, I’m not sure I’m comfortable with the point I just made. One of the things that frustrates me about philosophy is that someone can say something, and then is “countered” by another pointing out the first person’s founding assumptions as if doing so invalidates the original point.

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      • I don’t think ‘true’ is the word I’d use; and uniquely true suggest other ways are false.

        It is true that the Catholic Church does much good in this world, particularly for those most disadvantaged. It’s also true that it’s leadership is exclusively male, that it’s view towards women and their reproductive rights create a tremendous burden for millions of women the world over.

        So your true and my true cancel; they cannot both be true. It leaves no room for that basic organic function of throwing out a plethora of options, some that will succeed, some that will fail; and that is, at it’s most basic level, the real truth of life on Earth.

        I am not here trying to convert you to atheism. I’m not trying to convince you to pressure the leadership of your church to include women in its ranks or recognize that a woman’s right to control her reproduction as an essential human right. But an institution that fails in those ways does not earn my respect; and the suggestion that it’s more uniquely true fails me on many, many levels. Am I not worthy of resect? Of the dignity of my own body? Of a voice in the leading of any institution to which I belong?

        Being respectful of others, which I know you are, means appreciating that they own their own truths. You intuit that it is wrong to compel all to convert to Catholicism; but it feels you’ve only done half the work here; the other half is recognizing that it’s wrong because there are many truths; and some of them will be the antithesis of your truth. Truth is not unique, it’s not binary, and it’s not any individual institution, faith, or person. It’s all together.

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        • “So your true and my true cancel; they cannot both be true. It leaves no room for that basic organic function of throwing out a plethora of options, some that will succeed, some that will fail; and that is, at it’s most basic level, the real truth of life on Earth. ”

          For your first sentence, is it possible for your true and Kyle’s true to be both in their own ways “false,” but also both, in their own ways, approximating a singular “truth”? I don’t mean this as a rhetorical question, and I’m not sure myself of my own answer.

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          • You’re confusion is, I think, exactly my point. Had Kyle qualified the original statement with ‘gives me,’ I would have had no problem with it. But he felt it acceptable to suggest his religion my religion anyway–provides a uniquely and especially true way of being in the world.

            A true way for him? Maybe.

            But suggesting it’s a true way for you, for me, for my pagan friends, for my Muslim friends? I’m sorry. That’s presumption. That’s the root of many a good man or woman who’s done great harm because they’re incapable of seeing that their good may not be good.

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            • Zic,

              I apologize for taking so long to respond. I read your comment shortly after you wrote it, and simply neglected to address it.

              To put my cards on the table, I used to lean toward (although I never fully embraced) the sort of “goddess” or earth religion you refer to as paganism (as opposed to, for example, the Roman and Greek paganism, which tended toward the androcentric and patriarchal). I now lean toward (although I do not fully embrace) a sort of Christian agnosticism or “apathatism” (Kyle referred me to Karen Armstrong’s THE CASE FOR GOD, and although it has a lot of problems, I like her framing of the issues).

              All that is a prelude to saying I vacillate between the following two claims:

              1. There is only one true way, and that way is never fully realized in life. All ways are merely approximations of that one true way, although it’s theoretically possible that some approximations are closer than others. In this view, there is room for sharing one’s way with others, although I do not believe–and I do not endorse–the claim that one ought to present one’s way as being more true than another and I certainly do not endorse “sharing” as a thinly-veiled attempt at coercion.

              2. The true-ness of any single way is relative to a person’s situatedness, so that in most practical senses, what is true for one person may not be as true for others. This claim also gives room, although perhaps a little less room, to sharing one’s way with others, but more in a spirit of sharing one’s views on a variety of topics whereas my point no. 1 can have a certain sort of (gentle, I hope) urgency in promoting something like “conversion.”

              I suspect your position is more like the second than the first. Again, though, sometimes I vacillate. In my own idealistic moments, I tend to think of sharing religious faith as a lot like giving advice: one should usually do it only when asked and the advice-giver should keep in mind that she/he cannot see or know all things.

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            • I find this to be a strange sentiment. Certain strains of Buddhism and Hinduism are unique among major religions in that they posit multiple ways of talking about the manifest, which means that Catholicism and paganism and Zorastrianism and whatever can all be right, but for the most part, religions aren’t quite so pluralistic, and so it’s not surprising that their followers would think a.) that there way of describing the world is the right one, and b.) it’s important that other people also believe the right one. I don’t think it’s presumptions, it’s just, well, consistent. Hell, it’s not just the religious: I’ve heard Dawkins say something similar to this.

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              • Just because thinking others ought to believe as you believe is common does not preclude it being a presumption. Instead, it’s a form of grouping into ‘us’ and ‘them,’ with it easy to think ‘them’ as somehow worth less/immoral/foreign/strange.

                I do not believe in god, any god. I see no evidence of or need for an intelligent creator; I’m quite comfortable with the notion that things just are, that my time (and all time in this particular universe) are limited.

                I do believe in the human urge to believe in something bigger then oneself, the need to cry out for help in moments of great difficulty in the hope someone’s listening. I believe that prayer is a form of meditation and helps calm and organize the mind. I believe in the human need for creating social order and a framework for morality. I believe in the benefits of participating on a group ceremony rooted in tradition.

                In other words, I think humans are primed for religion. But that does not suggest there is any evidence for god, just evidence of some benefit from the social stability religious tendency cultivates.

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              • Instead, it’s a form of grouping into ‘us’ and ‘them,’ with it easy to think ‘them’ as somehow worth less/immoral/foreign/strange.

                With this I agree, though it’s important to note that humans will latch onto just about any reason for grouping people into ‘us’ and ‘them.’ We’re sort of doing that here, even.

                Still, I think “presumption” is a weird way of thinking about this. I mean, you and I probably both think that honor killings are wrong. Is it presumptuous for us to think that the people who commit honor killings should come around to our point of view. If so, well, I’ve no problem being presumptuous. If not, then how is this different from believing that, say, Zorastrianism is the correct way of viewing the world and other people would be better off if they came around to this view as well?

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                • Here you digging into the morals that are a benefit of religion; the stability of social order that likely allows it to hold such sway.

                  My elder brother has impulse control problems, and I’m being generous. He’s very active in the Southern Baptists. This is a good thing; it provides a framework to curb his actions.

                  But because he finds that framework from a particular religion, does not mean all people need such a framework to live ‘morally.’ I’m constantly amused at the notion that because I don’t believe, I cannot be a moral person. I’d posit another notion: that I have a larger burden, for my morality rests on my shoulders, not on others, and I have to tend it diligently because there is nobody else tending it for me.

                  With honor killings, I don’t find anything that makes this ‘moral’ in what I know of Islam; it’s a perversion. I don’t think it much different, except to degree, to edicts against same-sex marriage, homosexuality, contraception, or excluding women from leadership roles, etc.; it’s ground where the good of morals that benefit the group begin harming the individuals within the group. It’s where morals veer toward being immoral.

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                  • I think it’s important to realize that the metaphysics of most religions is really a scaffolding for the practical aspects, which aren’t just moral ones, but are also social ones.

                    However, I don’t use “honor killings” as an example because it’s associated with any particular religion, or even with religion at all, but because I think it’s something that both you and I can agree is egregiously wrong. But to avoid the connection you’re making between religion in morality (which was not my intention), I’ll try another example. You and I, I assume, know that drug-resistant pathogens are becoming a bigger and bigger problem, and that the reason they are becoming a problem has to do with evolution via the natural selection of advantageous mutations. While it is not necessary to believe in evolution via natural selection in order to help slow this process (e.g., by taking the full course of antibiotics instead of stopping when we feel better), it can certainly help people to understand the justification for such steps and therefore be more likely to take them. So we would, I think, be justified in hoping that people believe this fact about the world that we believe, and in doing so we would not be presumptuous, or at least not in a way that we should be worried about. How is this different?

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                    • There is quite a gulf between understanding how antibiotic resistance develops and taking your full course of antibiotics because God, or someone in the name of God, told you to do so.

                      I already said I find great value in the human need for God/religion. It gave us a framework. But just as we moved beyond thinking the world was flat, we are capable of understanding the needs religion addresses in human social structure; and that includes it’s ability to promote horrors like honor killings, female genital mutilation, etc.

                      Again, just because something aids a tribe of humans to succeed does not mean it’s good, does not mean it’s good or moral; it means it’s successful at helping that particular tribe, and it is independent of moral judgments about individual members within the tribe and relationships with other tribes.

                      Confusing moral with beneficial does not help, it obscures.

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                    • There is quite a gulf between understanding how antibiotic resistance develops and taking your full course of antibiotics because God, or someone in the name of God, told you to do so.

                      I’m tempted to say, “Now who’s being presumptuous,” but I think I’m actually failing to communicate what I mean, so I don’t actually think you’re being presumptuous in the same way that you think Kyle is. My point is not that I think Kyle is right, and therefore that I think he should want people to come to his one true way of being in the world. My point is that if you thought you were right, and that your one true way of being in the world was the best way because it was true, would it be any more presumptuous a.) then wanting people to believe in evolution because it is the best way to believe for very practical reasons (e.g., preventing the spread of drug-resistant pathogens), and b.) diminishing Kyle or other theists beliefs the way your comment seems to? I just don’t see how it is, and arguing that religion ~= morality doesn’t really address that point. Again, I’m not saying religion does equal morality, just pointing out that one could argue that true belief is a good thing (not just morally, but aesthetically, intellectually, spiritually, whateverly), and therefore that if one genuinely believes one’s beliefs are true, one should want others to believe them as well, and that this is not presumptuous, or at least not in a way that we should want to avoid.

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                    • Chris, So we would, I think, be justified in hoping that people believe this fact about the world that we believe, and in doing so we would not be presumptuous, or at least not in a way that we should be worried about. How is this different?

                      I don’t have a problem with a plethora of belief systems; but a ‘belief’ vs. a proven scientific principal are not the same thing. And I don’t begin to comprehend how you can hold them equal. Religious belief, by it’s very nature, is an act of accepting without proof.

                      You’re conflating two separate things.

                      I am rather horrified that someone might think a ‘true way’ excludes me from leading simply because of my gender. To me, it’s not a ‘true’ way, it’s one of many ways, and I quite comfortable with that concept — there’s no single right, there’s only muddling through toward a choice of fewer wrongs. I can understand someone wanting me to believe as they do. I’m sure that there are times I want that too, but in general, I find it best to let others believe as they see fit right up to the moment that their beliefs dictate other’s actions instead of their own actions.

                      That is what I struggled with in my initial comment, the notion of ‘one true way’ for all instead of one true way for Kyle.

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                    • zic, I’m not conflating the two except in the sense that we think they are right therefore we think others should believe them. Are their differences relevant to this particular aspect? I mean, if I think the science of evolution is right and I think some version of Christianity is right, do I think of them as right in ways that differ in their generalizability to other people?

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                    • Chris, if you think they are right, if you can contain both sets of things, evolution and genesis, then they’re right for you. But for me? That’s my point. I may want others to believe as I believe, but I should not expect them to believe so; and more importantly, I should hold to the possibility that they’re closer to something ‘true’ then I am.

                      My problem with Kyle’s original statement was it seemed to exclude that bit of self doubt; that you or I or someone else might hold a better way. Because if there’s one thing I do believe, it’s that there’s always a better way, and it’s beneficial to be open to it.

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  12. I believe that religion–well, my religion anyway–provides a uniquely and especially true way of being in the world.

    I have terrible trouble with that sort of language. What one earth is a “way of being in the world”? How do uniquely and especially true ones differ from other ones? How would you know the difference? I fell like this post is written in some kind of private language.

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    • I can’t speak for Kyle, but I read his post as saying, at least implicitly, that the three questions you ask are part of the series of reasons he does not wish to impose his “uniquely and especially true way of being in the world.” In fact, I don’t read his post as an argument to convince others that his religion is the “uniquely and especially true way of being in the world,” but rather to point out the problems with that way of looking at it.

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      • I get that, but I still don’t understand what Kyle is talking about. Kyle clearly feels he gains something from his Catholicism, but I find it impossible to understand what that is from his posts. There seems to be a serious understanding gap here, and I’d like to try and bridge it.

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        • This may be my fault. I don’t write much apologetics, i.e., defenses of my faith, and I tend to circle the fringes, inquisitively and critically, addressing outlying issues.

          The other obstacle to bridging the gap is that to understand a religion you have to enter into a religious discourse and the mythical/ritualistic world created by that discourse. Religion is a practical discipline. It takes study, yes, but also doing. You can’t learn to ride a bike or play poker by reading a manual. You can’t really “get” Catholicism by reading the bible or a set of papal encyclicals. Certainly not from my blog posts.

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    • I don’t want to speak to Kyle either, but I interpret the “way of being in the world” to mean that his religion (and our religion, or our whatever) constitute not merely a metaphysics, and not only a practical guide, but an actual stance, an approach to life and the world as he (or you, or I) moves through it.

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      • Religion acts as a prism through which we can view this reality. The cave man held a totally different view of lightning for instance than the religionist, and the scientist. Scandinavians thought it was Thor throwing bolts and Greeks thought it was Zeus. Same reality, different viewpoints.

        As a “way of being in the world” note that religions such as Buddhism propose divorce from the senses and lusts to enable a kind of worry-free state leading to nirvana. There are similar features in Hinduism followed by the fakirs. The Muslims had their own fakirs in the Sufi tradition. They pursued medidative states to disengage from this reality allowing them to endure pain and abstain from pleasure. Catholics had their own ascetics but were disinclined to pursue the showmanship of the fakirs. Christians such as Christian Scientists and a few of the southern sects liked to play with snakes for instance or otherwise disavow modern medicine. That all qualifies as “a way of being in the world”. From the outside we can say, “This is wrong” but we aren’t walking an inch in those moccasins. I say whatever gives peace is a benefit and whatever gives pain (esp to others) is not.

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        • Look who’s back!

          I have no real issue with anyone’s spirituality, so long as they don’t try to impose it on others, and so long as it doesn’t lead them to do things that might harm others (and I don’t just mean bombing people). This gets tricky, of course, because in the realm of religion (and many others), one person’s harm is another person’s injury is another person’s blessing, but as a general principle this is the way I approach faith.

          As for truth, it probably looks pretty different in my metaphysics than it does in Kyle’s, accepting that truth is a metaphysical issue. It’s not simply that I’m not even sure what truth is (is it a property? is it a relation? does it exist independently? supervene on the world? does it merely apply to propositions or can actions and objects be “true” as well? it seems like we should know these things before we decide whether the truth is something we should be living in accordance with), but also because I worry that by stating at the outset that we should live in accordance with the truth, whatever “truth” may be, we have, as a mustachioed German dude once said, elevated truth to the status of a god, even if we don’t identify God with truth. In doing so, we’ve lost, I think, the focus on what it’s supposed to serve, that is, what is here claimed we’re supposed to be doing in accordance with this divine.

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        • From the outside we can say, “This is wrong” but we aren’t walking an inch in those moccasins.

          We aren’t walking an inch in those moccasins BECAUSE we say “this is wrong”.

          Snake handlers get bitten. Multiple snake handlers have died from it.

          Lightning rods were invented by scientists, not priests of Zeus.

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          • I’m with Fnord. The scientific explanations of lightning aren’t merely just-so stories like the old Greek and Norse versions, they offered new insights like how you could use a lightning rod to avert lightning strikes.

            Science isn’t just different to religion, it’s better. It actually generates verifiably correct new information about natural phenomena. It’s the reason we’re able to have this discussion at all. No religious doctrine has ever lead to the invention of a new method of communicating at long distances.

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        • My way of living in the world is uniquely and especially true, so your way of living in the world is…I’m not quite sure, either “false” or “true, but not in the unique and special way mine is, merely pedestrianly true.” It all adds up to “I’ve got something special and you don’t.”

          But to be fair, I more or less feel that way about people who believe in the spirit world, so it’s a mutual condescension. And perhaps reasonable people can mutually condescend reasonably.

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              • I’m an atheist and I try hard to avoid having beliefs that lack empirical evidence, or at least I try to match my confidence levels with the strength of evidence I have.

                And that does mean I think I have a better handle on the truth than people who do otherwise.

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                • Does “a better handle on the truth” because “I try to match my confidence levels with the strength of evidence” equal “a unique and especially true way of being in the world”?

                  (Which question is a way of expressing my skepticism that the answer is yes, rather than asking a real question.)

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        • It’s the word especially, I think. But then, as a cradle Catholic who leans skeptical pluralist these days, I would think that.

          I used to believe I had hold of *the* truth, but I eventually came to believe it was *a* truth. Which is rather different than absolute relativism – there are many things that are just plain wrong (probably including some of what I believe) – but as articles of faith go, the switch from “the” to “a” was a pretty big one.

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    • By “way of being” I mean, as Chris says, a underlying and overarching approach to life. A disposition or habit of being would be other ways of describing it. This language has a religious history, of course, but it’s also pretty common in continental philosophy, especially Heidegger and Marcel.

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      • Continental philosophy isn’t a speciality of mine, this may be why I’m having trouble following you.

        So to try and put this in to terms I’m more familiar with, you see your religion as not merely a set of factual claims, nor as simply a set of communities and rituals, but as what I would probably call an “ideal preference set”, a belief about which possible states of the universe should prefer. This would in turn suggest what emotions you should associate with different things happening.

        Am I in the right ballpark here?

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            • The thing about affordances is that they aren’t just automatic, they’re already contained in every (perceptual) interaction we have with things. So I automatically, immediately, and without thinking recognize that, say, a new chair that I’ve never seen before affords sitting because I have a history of sitting on chairs and I intuitively understand my body, the nature of the chair, and how they interact. All of this is contained in my perception of the chair; the affordances are part of what the chair is to me. You might think of this as “being in the world” with the chair.

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              • I would just describe that as “knowing how to use the chair”, or to be more specific “knowing one use for a chair” since chairs have other, less obvious affordances. That one can do so without thinking implies that the affordance has been internalised, and is now available to your system 1 processes, and not merely system 2 (are you familiar with Kahneman’s work?).

                But I’m still not clear on what the relationship to religion is. Does Kyle see religion as a way of learning how to use the world? Since I have no idea of what “using the world” would even entail, are we taking about using things in the world? Because religion seems spectacularly ill-equipped to provide that sort of guidance.

                I think I really need an example here, what does Catholicism do for Kyle that he feels no alternative could do as well? Though an example from someone else would do just as well.

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                • Yeah, I’m familiar with Kahneman’s work (I’m actually old friends with Tversky’s son, oddly enough; we were in grad school at the same time).

                  There’s more than knowledge in affordances. The point is that they’re a sort of pre-cognitive stance towards things in the world. It’s not at all conscious or deliberative, but embodied and intuitive.

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  13. Late to the thread, but my comment is on the first would-be non-controversial sentence of the OP, which I don’t think anyone has noted. Mr. Cupp: “I would hope not to court much controversy by saying that all of us should live in accordance with the truth.”

    The problem is that this statement politely collapses a or the primary problem of moral philosophy into a simple assertion that we can all non-controversially proceed from an assumption of the non-existence of the “fact/value” or “is/ought” problem, and happily or unhappily but either way quite morally as well as non-controversially go about our business and discussions as though what I or we or you should do can reliably be derived from some true or true enough notion of what truly is.

    Oi.

    Mr. Cupp makes the matter more complicated by displaying his sensitivity to the philosophical (or scientific and post-philosophical) discourse that questions such natural law premises.

    I hesitate to put down as a comment my observations on this very interesting juxtaposition, because the statement is not actually controversial here, even though, unless or also because, it is ultimately and possibly impossibly infinitely controversial.

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  14. Shazbot5 makes an inaccurate claim above ( https://ordinary-times.com/blog/2013/04/should-i-desire-that-you-all-follow-my-religion/#comment-537647 )that goes directly to this “is/ought” problem:

    Truth and ‘ought to believe” go together. Not one account of truth – deflationism, pragmatism, correspondence, etc.- denies this.

    To take one familiar example, it is often claimed that “the common people” should be encouraged to practice traditional religion not because its claims are “true,” but because it’s better for all concerned if they treat those beliefs are true. If the common person does not believe that an all-powerful God will punish sinners with Hellfire, then the common person will go do all the common things that common people commonly feel like doing – steal, covet, rape, murder, etc. If the common person does not believe he will received a great reward for doing good, like eternal corporealized life, then the common person will likewise find other things things to do. This notion or versions of it have been a subject of “controversy” for millennia, and tends to re-appear at every level of moral and especially political discussion.

    There are a range of positions commonly identified as skeptical, nihilistic, materialistic, and so on, that deny any “should” at all. The denial of this kind of “should” as a moral concept or of any moral concept at all is not precisely a moral advocacy. It offers the absence of morality and a prediction about conduct, a lesser or different kind of “should,” not really a “should” at all, in that it is merely a way to describe stimulus-response or some other such mechanical process: In other words, if “human being” is a kind of convenient fiction, and what we call thoughts are mere excrescences of physico-chemical or mathematical processes, then, whether we should or not, we simply will always act “in accordance” with this “truth.” We can presume, from this perspective, that if I proceed to tell someone or everyone that he or she “should” do something, it is because expressing myself in this way serves the mechanistic process as described, not because there actually can be a justification outside of the process. I can think or believe whatever I like, but will be wrong if I believe that I “should.”

    I hasten to add that I don’t believe that perspective is adequate, but, then, I would say that, since it will rarely been in anyone’s interest to have everyone else think he is utterly amoral in outlook, and since one implication of this natural law of amorality is that we will generally tend to act according to what we call self-interest, but what, properly understood, is merely the normal operation of the aforementioned mechanisms.

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    • There are lots of cases where, other things being equal, you should do Y, but something else gives you a competing reason that you shouldn’t do Y (or vice versa), such that there is a normative reason to do Y and to not do Y.

      For example, in Enron, the executives committed fraud. Fraud is something that you ought not to do. But the executives also had a reason that they thought they ought to commit fraud: they would make more money for themselves and their families.

      So it is with the supposed counterexample CK is giving us. If a religion’s claims aren’t true, then you ought not to believe them. But maybe you get something (not money like in Enron, but maybe psychological well-being or something) out of believing in religion. Thus, maybe you think that people ought not to believe in religion because it isn’t true, but they also ought to believe it because it maximizes their well-being.

      These are cases of competing normative oughts, but just as there is an ought not to commit fraud in the Enron case, there is an ought to believe the truth in CK’s case, even if in both cases there are other oughts also at play.

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      • Why “shouldn’t” the Enron executives commit fraud? Or why should we assume they shouldn’t? Why for that matter “should” they make more money for themselves and their families?

        All statements that they should or shouldn’t one or the other rely on embedded assumptions that generally can take one of two forms: 1) They shouldn’t commit fraud because committing fraud will turn out badly for them or counter to their self-interest. 2) They shouldn’t commit fraud because committing fraud is wrong in itself or immediately wrong.

        The former should is in the end is an amoral should, or a view of morality as purely an instrumental or mediating form, a kind of contraction or condensation of multiple instrumental calculations.

        The latter should is a should based on some kind of immutable law or belief about immutable laws, that may eventually come down to “you shouldn’t hurt people” or perhaps “you shouldn’t do evil things.”

        The skeptical view is that the latter should, the should related to evil, will always eventually reduce to the former should, the should of merely relatively bad or relatively good in relation to interests. The former should isn’t really a should at all, but, as previously discussed, a merely mechanical calculation, only ever a will or a won’t. According to this view, you neither should nor shouldn’t commit fraud. You neither should nor shouldn’t hurt people. You will commit fraud and will hurt people if that’s how things happen to work out, for instance if things work out so that you lack sympathy or foresight due to bad genes or education, or are seized by some overriding impulse.

        If what I’m calling the skeptical view is the or a true account, then from within it there is no “should” or “shouldn’t” in regard to following its truth. You may or you may not. Another possibility is that you might believe it to be a true account, but prefer that others not act in accordance with it – not because you “should” follow your preferences, but because you do.

        If in a state of uncertainty about the truth of the skeptical account, a state that might approximate the condition of most people who are not fully committed to a different idea of truth, then you might remain concerned that people who do believe it to be true do not act in accordance with it or exploit any general assumption that one ought to act in accordance with one’s view of the truth.

        People very much want to believe that the true and the good coincide. The possibility that they may not, or that we may not be able to prove or convince people that the true and the good coincide, or that we or others might not always accept and believe that they do, is troublesome. It seems we may want people to seek what’s good for us, whether or not on a believably true basis.

        As for believing in a religion because we get something out of believing: It is certainly believable that we might come to believe something if believing it is in our interest. “All men love that from which they believe they benefit.” But at any point in time, belief is or would be that which is not susceptible to our will: If I do not believe that Christ is Lord, offering me a cracker will not make me change my belief, though it may change my conduct: I can claim to believe it if I really want the cracker and the claim will be taken as proof. After many years of claiming and cracker-reception, I may come actually to believe it. At that point the offer of a cracker for the opposite belief will also fail. In both cases the belief is at least initially, because definitionally, immune to a calculation of interest. To believe is to believe true, or not belief. “Should” has nothing to do with it.

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        • The skeptical view is that the latter should, the should related to evil, will always eventually reduce to the former should, the should of merely relatively bad or relatively good in relation to interests.

          I’m not sure about this. Is Foot who thinks that the more kantian notion of the categorical nature of moral statements is overblown a sceptic? I thought that given queerness objections, some kind of naturalistic reduction if plausible would involve reducing categorical oughts to something else if not exactly a simple means ends accounting.

          Also, I think scepticism is more than just about reducing moral oughts to prudential oughts. It seems that a more fundamental sceptical worry is that moral oughts are just expressions of neuroses, not even prudentially wise.

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          • In the sentences after the one you quoted, Murali, I attempt to observe the more fundamental skepticism you described. The “prudential oughts” can be said to exist as ideas, in the peculiar way that ideas can be said to exist, without any presumption of their validity.

            You’ll have to be more specific about those “queerness objections.” As for Foot, I’m using “skeptic” here as a general heading, to stand for the perspective that Foot eventually sought to defeat by effectively a re-statement Aristotelian natural law: Human beings are observably social-political animals who as such will tend toward preferences appropriate to their nature.

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          • JL Mackie first introduced this skeptical argument against the existence of categorical oughts. The basic argument is that the if there is some ought that binds us regardless of our particular aims and interests it would have very strange metaphysical properties. Even if we were not metaphysical naturalists, it would at least seem to be the case that the metaphysical properties of moral oughts are very different from the metaphysical properties of other everyday objects.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_queerness

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        • Sorry CK, that’s a little all over the place for me. I think I agree with a lot of it, but I can’t suss out the argument.

          My position is that people should believe things that are true, even if there are, in rare cases, other things that imply that they should believe false claims for practical or self-interested reasons.

          The normative aspect of truth is closer to something about the normative aspect of logic (and math). Suppose I say that “A or B” is true, and “not A” is true, and I ask you, “What else must be true?” Then you ought to say that “B is true.” There is a normativity to logic and truth.

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          • Shazbot#, the discussion is an attempt to define what can possibly be meant by “ought.” Putting it in boldface or re-naming it normativity doesn’t explain it. It’s only normative as a matter of conduct if I for whatever reasons accept the norm, have already agreed with your “ought” whatever it is. If you ask me “What else must be true?” but there’s a credible psychopath who has warned me that he will shoot me if I say the words “B is true,” and I want to live, then I “should not” say “B is true,” from my perspective. From the perspective of someone who hates and fears me, perhaps I “should” say it. I am not aware of a Commandment telling me that one must always answer questions posed by logicians. So maybe it’s a matter of complete indifference to me, or possibly to you, whether I say, “B is true.” What you mean to say, I think, is that, according to rules of logic that I am fully capable of understanding, I should be able to recognize that B IS TRUE, and, in the normal course of human affairs, without lurking psychopaths and enemies, I should be able also to signify my recognition of the obviously simply true conclusion that B IS TRUE. But neither of these “shoulds” are “oughts” in a moral or social-normative sense. They are estimations of probability, characterizations of how normal (in the value-free sense) people function. I almost said “ought to function,” and it would have been a repetition of the same confusion. The confusion may be even more difficult for you to grok, because your position seems to that the two different kinds of “ought” in fact ought to be treated as the same ought in relation to propositions of a certain type.

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            • Yeah, but “B is true” is the correct answer, right? You just don’t give the correct answer because you want to live.

              To say it is the correct answer is to say it is the answer that you ought to give, even though there might be competing reasons that make it such that you also ought not to give that answer.

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              • Shazbot#:

                should
                /SHo?od/
                Verb
                1. Used to indicate obligation, duty, or correctness, typically when criticizing someone’s actions: “he should have been careful”.
                2. Indicating a desirable or expected state: “by now students should be able to read”.

                1 and 2 are not the same sense. You seem to believe they are or “should” be. 1 is a statement about ought. 2 is a statement about is.

                Sometimes, they may well coincide. The students should be able to read, given their age and education. The students should be able to read, because reading is FUNdamental. Someone hoping to be understood correctly might need other words to differentiate.

                I should-2 understand that B is true given the fact that I understand the logic. There is nothing intrinsic to its being true that obligates me to any actual behavior (should-1), even the actual behavior of allowing myself to achieve the recognition or maintain it in my mind.

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  15. “If I don’t wish all of you to be Catholic, then I don’t really believe Catholicism is true.”

    This is a point I often make when discussing religion with people. I ask questions about their religion not because I wish to convert them to share my atheism (although I cannot deny the natural human urge to convince others to share my views). I ask these questions because if they are right about their religion, it would be the most important thing I could possibly learn.

    To date, no religion has satisfied my evidence-based inclinations, which doesn’t mean that there isn’t some true religion, just that there isn’t one that has convinced me. But if one of them is true, I certainly would hope that its adherents would do their best to reach out to other people and share the news, which is why I never mind missionaries and proselytizers.

    Thanks for the post!

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  16. I think life would go better if everyone were atheists. I’m aware that there is an is-ought problem, but a community that can formulate a set of shared ends can collectively reason about means forever after, and it will be for them as if the problem did not exist.

    I blush to say it, but my reasons for being an atheist are basically the Richard Dawkins reasons. I know it’s neither fun nor polite to bring them up. So I won’t.

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      • Convenient, since you can’t peer into his inner being, you can never be convinced (obviously you’re not going to take his word for it). You’ve set up an impossible proof, and grandly proclaimed it’s never been met. T’ain’t much of an achievement, is it?

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            • One hears a lot about this “you.”

              Speaking loosely, yes/no, I (whatever that is) believe that there are theists, people who can be identified as of theistic persuasions, but I do not believe “in” them in the sense that I do not believe that an idea of theism also authentically represents a way of being in the world, as Mr. Cupp would put it. I believe the same about atheists, though a theist who is unaware of or denies the atheism of his or her theism is not identical to an atheist who is unaware of or denies the theism of his or her atheism. They or the ideas of their existence represent complementarily infirm comprehensions of the limitations of speech or ideas in general, and especially in relation to the question of the being like no other beings.

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              • the limitations of speech

                Seems to me you’re purposely writing in a style that highlights and exacerbates those limitations, and consciously refuses to make use of the capacities–within those limitations–of speech. That is, after multiple comments, you’ve left this reader less close to an understanding of what, if anything, you’re allegedly trying to communicate. Is it perhaps just performance art?

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                • The Sikhs said, “There is no Hindu, there is no Muslim.” There is in that sense also no Christian, no Catholic, no Jew, no Buddhist, no atheist, no post-theist, no Sikh, etc. The statement obviously does not deny, since it takes as its predicate, the profession of a Hinduism, Islam, etc., understood as other to each other, yet the very problem that this post approaches is the paradoxical “particular universalism” of each faith. The very name “Catholic” refers to its own universalism. There is an Islamic belief or tradition that one does not convert to Islam, but rather reverts, or becomes aware of and simply affirms (submits to, comes to peace with) to the pre-existing truth. Judaic philosophy handles the question in its own typical way, implicitly defining or some would say founding historical time as the time of these false separations, the Jews as the people in that time as custodians of the universal, awaiting the time or end of time or messianic time when all nations turn to the Eternal. Even the professed atheist Mr. Kuznicki on this thread dreams a little apocalyptic dream of realized universal eternal ideal atheism. One Evangelical Christian view is that the return of the Jews to Israel marks the onset of that time/end of time: our time. How long the tribulation lasts we are not given to know: It can disappear in or at any instant, even this instant, as in the popular belief in or yearning for a Singularity or Harmonic Convergence or Age of Aquarius.

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                    • The statement “God can have many definitions” misses the crucial characteristic or attribute of God in monotheistic discourse of “undefinability” or “infinitude.” There might be many ill-formed definitions of god or gods, but there does not need to be more than one out of however many. God would be the being who or which is beyond definition, as the condition and possibility of definitions. So any “definition” that is presented as a definition in the same sense that applies to every other definition – in every other instance definition of merely definable things – might in this instance be self-contradictory definition, before any further consideration of coherency, possibility, or empirical evidence.

                      Therefore, someone who calls himself an atheist on the basis of the lack of adequate definitions of God offers assent to a or possibly the primary monotheistic concept.

                      The empirical evidence for the reality of this God would be empirical evidence altogether, or reality, or in a word everything, including every not-thing, and all things together, and the being of all of those things separately as well as together: This God corresponds with infinitude, as the pre-condition and condition of any (de-)finite being.

                      Therefore, someone who calls himself an atheist on the basis of an insufficiency of empirical evidence has somehow managed to miss everything.

                      The concept is not complicated, though being uncomplicated is not the same as insusceptibility to complication and complexification. The concept is indeed very highly susceptible to complication and complexification, as is to be expected of the being or conceptualization of the being of an evidently complicated and complex universe.

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                    • I find insufficient empirical evidence for the rest.

                      From a philosophical and theological perspective, this is actually pretty complicating. I don’t just mean typical questions like “what would such empirical evidence look like” (you must know, if you know you aren’t finding it), but also questions about the relationship between theory and evidence (the latter doesn’t mean anything without the former, which means that your statement requires some theoretical background to make sense), and relatedly, questions about causality and contingency and necessity that generally precede any empirical investigation (that is, logically precede). In short, “I find insufficient empirical evidence for the rest” is pretty damn complicated, even without the social and political aspects of the statement that Jaybird notes.

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                  • The empirical evidence for the reality of this God would be empirical evidence altogether, or reality, or in a word everything, including every not-thing, and all things together, and the being of all of those things separately as well as together: This God corresponds with infinitude, as the pre-condition and condition of any (de-)finite being.

                    Therefore, someone who calls himself an atheist on the basis of an insufficiency of empirical evidence has somehow managed to miss everything.

                    This of course opens up the same… let’s call them complexities rather than complications, in the sense that it adds (here unacknowledged) layers to what is passed of as a simple thing by itself. In arguing that everything is evidence for the existence of a “being like no other beings” we’ve already committed ourselves to a particular prong of the two pronged antimones that we’re trading in here, and in doing so committed ourselves to certain conceptions of causality and necessity and infinity and so on, that license certain arguments or conceptions and exclude others, without being explicit about doing so. I find both prongs equally frustrating when they are treated this way. It’s not that I don’t think we can, and perhaps even should choose one; it’s just that I hate when the choice involved is elided.

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                    • Chris, https://ordinary-times.com/blog/2013/04/should-i-desire-that-you-all-follow-my-religion/#comment-537874, do you mean “antinomy”?

                      I would need to know more about those conceptions of causality, necessity, and infinity to which you believe we are, apparently somehow without sufficient reason or possibly against an interest of some kind, committing ourselves if we discuss the operation of an infinitous God concept. I find that observing the operation of the concept without presuming the possible relevance or even the existence of a choice tends to resolve where it doesn’t obviate such concerns. The question concerns that which would be uniquely real, that over which there would be no choice, or that which necessarily precedes choices.

                      The more strictly we attempt to discuss these matters, the greater the attention required to language. The common “inquiry into the existence of God” is on this level an ill-formed because tendentious topic statement: God would not be an “existent,” “existence” being a characteristic of things, rather than of a pre-condition of existence or thing-ness. An inquiry into the “existence” of the God of monotheism, or of what uniquely is meant by the word “God” within monotheistic discourse, would be an inquiry into the existence of the possibility of existence. An inquiry into the possibility of existence cannot be a reasonable inquiry or is an inquiry under false pretenses, since it must pretend to accept as a real possibility the unreality of the real and the impossibility of possibility, and therefore of a real possibility of its own unreality and impossibility, or non-existence, or of its own absurdity. I could extent the string further here, but only under the risk of appearing to enjoy myself too much, thus “fueling suspicions.” I’ll instead skip to the conclusion: An inquiry into the possibility of the non-existence of the inquiry becomes indistinguishable from an inquiry into the meaning of meaning, or an inquiry into inquiries, or a question of the functionality of language. If language were dysfunctional at least on this matter or in this mode, then we are left with absurdities, including the absurdity of this sentence – which is another way of re-stating, in terms of the question of terms or language, the prior absurdities in terms of the question of existence.

                      Since I cannot spend the day sorting out this by now very complicated thread full of overly interesting statements, and since in my experience the reaction to interrogations of ontological or onto-theological precepts is “what does this even mean?” (that we are investigating meaning, an activity necessarily always on the verge of meaninglessness) or “why are you making it so complicated?” (because we are are discussing the predicate for and generation of all possible complications), I’ll offer a simple, somewhat conversational rather than very strictly written illustration of the operation of the concept, from a lecture by Eric Voegelin. It is a definition of the word “God,” necessarily a definition like no other definitions, since in this one specific and pre-conditional instance the definition of the word is not a definition of its referent. The word is treated as in a special sense an anti-word or, if you will, a super-word, as the word for that which is specifically beyond words. One defines its usage or it explains its derivation, but one never defines its ultimate referent, because, as I noted earlier, and as we must keep in mind if we hope to avoid absurdities (or other absurdities), it is defined as un-definable or never defined. One other note: When Voegelin speaks about “reason” and “spirit” he is somewhat off-handedly uniting Athens and Jerusalem or what we call philosophy and what we call religion, and what we might almost call the atheistic and theistic tendencies that I have previously, and suspiciously, called complementary:

                      What does it mean to exist as constituted by reason and spirit? The experiences of reason and spirit agree on the point that man experiences himself as a being who does not exist from himself. He exists in an already given world. This world itself exists by reason of a mystery, and the name for the mystery, for the cause of this being of the world, of which man is a component, is referred to as “God.”

                      This simple non-defining definition is not the end of problems, it is the beginning of problems and in a sense is meant to be. How this acknowledgment or description or denotation of a mystery – a mystery that perhaps even the most ardent materialist atheists might be willing to grant remains mysterious – can and possibly must be “operationalized,” as well as anthropomorphized and corporealized or imagined corporeal and anthropomorphic, is the subject of subjects (or subjectivity, and of the human as well as of the divine). A sense of dissatisfaction with all resultant discussions hitherto or ever turns us toward each other with ever greater care and ever intensifying consciousness of our own failings or imperfections, which I think stands at least a model for the origin and action of, compassion, and, if so, a truth of the Christian myth.

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                    • CK, the problem is that we’ve entirely elided the issues, and skipped ahead to their implications, and then treated these implications as if they were the issue, and in both your case and Jason’s, as if they were settled matters. For example, when you talk about God being the condition of existence, we are assuming things about the nature of God and his relationship with conditional things that need to be argued. What’s more, we are, as I said before, picking a side of a classic antimone and treating it as the only side without any real nod to the fact that there is another side that is equally plausible within our basic conceptual and linguistic frameworks. What’s more, we are, as you note, doing a strictly ontotheological metaphysics, in which God and existence are identifying God with existence axiomatically, and thus ignoring other possibilities of Being (and perhaps evading Being altogether).

                      It’s not, again, that I think these things are wrong, necessarily, but that by passing over these issues without comment to the next step in the framework, we’ve already missed some of the most important, and most complex if not most complicated issues at hand.

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          • There’s a lot of that going around.

            Not as much as you seem to think. If a person approaches the issue of theism and faith from an evidential pov, then an empirical burden must be met before that person will agree that God Exists. Without that evidence, there is no belief. That’s actually the opposite of what you’re claiming, since there is an objective standard – albeit one you reject – for justifying the truth of a particular belief.

            Somewhere else on this thread you defined “faith” as being a function of trust, in particular, trust the a particular person’s testimony is accurate. But that’s not faith, it seems to me, even tho that trust can reduce to an emotional analysis. Trusting the veracity of others testimony is generally a rather dubious practice to engage in, both practically but as a means of justification as well. The the person who relies on empirical evidence to justify their beliefs will think that appealing to trust in a person’s testimony begs the most important questions regarding justifying beliefs about the world.

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            • That’s true. I DO reject the empirical standard as the only one that counts. Try proving that standard empirically.

              “Trusting the veracity of others testimony is generally a rather dubious practice to engage in, both practically but as a means of justification as well.”

              I am recalling a line from 1991 Oliber Stone film JFK: “How in the hell do you know who your daddy is? Cuz your momma told you so!’

              Or would you demand a blood test?

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              • Whether the person my father, my mother, my extended family, etc., tell me is my actual father bears a different level of justification than claims made by individuals 2000 years ago about a man being killed on a crucifix and yet not dying. Or more importantly, that he died for my sins and all that that entails.

                But you’re correct that pretty much all our beliefs require an element of what might be called faith, especially since we all might be having an elaborate dream or are actually brains in a vat. But I don’t think you want to go down that road because it obliterates the distinction you’re trying to establish. Or at the very least, if the type of faith/doubt nexus you’re trying to say is fully general, then the athiest critic can simply accept your premise and say that within that faith/doubt matrix, there are levels of reliability and trustworthiness that distinguish empirical claims from non-empirical ones. That’s the same problem, tho, and the same arguments apply. It seems to me, anyway.

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                • “Whether the person my father, my mother, my extended family, etc., tell me is my actual father bears a different level of justification than claims made by individuals 2000 years ago about a man being killed on a crucifix and yet not dying. Or more importantly, that he died for my sins and all that that entails.”

                  A different level of justification or a different kind? Does the empirical standard apply to one claim but not to the other? You seemed to argue as if you, as have others here, that the empirical standard was the only acceptable one for any belief whatsoever. Perhaps I misread you. If you are willing to countenance any exception to that strict epistemology, then we are not so different. I apply faith where you do not, but it is not as if you never use it. We all do, that is, all of us who live inc ommunity with other human beings and have relationships with some of them.

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                • “you’re correct that pretty much all our beliefs require an element of what might be called faith, especially since we all might be having an elaborate dream or are actually brains in a vat. But I don’t think you want to go down that road because it obliterates the distinction you’re trying to establish. ”

                  I have two ambitions by bringing up the fact of the ubiquity of natural faith: (1) to remind people who make inflated claims about the absolute necessity of empirical support for any and all beliefs whatsoever that such a radical epistemology is impossible in practice (It is also self-defeating, but that is a separate criticism) and (2) faith is not an of its very nature an intellectual cop out or an abdication of one’s critical faculties, but an authentically human way of knowing much of what we know in this world, even if one has no religious commitments.

                  There is certainly a real distinction between the kind of general, natural faith I have been talking about and supernatural religious faith, and the former is not sufficient to justify the any particular exercise of the latter, not by a long shot.

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                  • Very nice distinction. I agree. It seems to me that (1) is doing most of the work here. Rationalism makes certain claims about things we can know, that we can apprehend truths independently of experience. Part of that claim I agree with: rationalism wrt things like logical truths and conceptual entailments or maybe even mathematical truths makes quite a bit of sense to me. Personally, I think strict empiricism can account for knowledge of even those types of truths or beliefs, but the issue certainly gets squishy. One thing I have a hard time accepting, tho (a very hard time, truth be told) is that rationalism or pure reason can either justify or provide any unique insight into empirical matters or claims about the material world. It seems to me that if God exists (on a standard conception of God as an external being) then God has causal efficacy and hence is part of the material world. So I don’t think that reason alone can give us any insight to God’s existence. And given that, I’m uncertain about your claim in (2).

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                    • It seems to me that if God exists (on a standard conception of God as an external being) then God has causal efficacy and hence is part of the material world.

                      This makes metaphysical assumptions: about the nature of causality and its role in the physical (I don’t like “material,” it’s too limiting) world, as well as on the implications of causality and its role for the nature of a first cause, that I find uncomfortable. Specifically, I’m not sure we don’t just get stuck in a classic “antimone” in any argument that will get us to where you’ve gone.

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                    • It seems to me that if God exists (on a standard conception of God as an external being) then God has causal efficacy and hence is part of the material world.

                      I thought that under the standard conception of God, God is not part of the material world, rather God is supposed to make the material world possible (its probably more than mere logical possibility but I’m not sure exactly which sense of possibility is in use or if possibility is the correct concept. The idea is that He grounds the material world without being of it)

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                    • “One thing I have a hard time accepting, tho (a very hard time, truth be told) is that rationalism or pure reason can either justify or provide any unique insight into empirical matters or claims about the material world. ”

                      It can’t. The material world is contingent. But I don’t think that God’s power over the material world He created logically entails His being part of it in some way that would render his existence a contingent empirical fact inaccessible to reason alone. I don’t know what you mean by “the standard conception of God as an external being”, but I suspect that I would not accept it if I did. From the perspective that I hold, God does not merely HAVE being like other beings. God is not merely one being among many. God is Being Itself.

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                    • Kevin, Chris and Murali:

                      There are a couple of ways to understand some of the objections you guys raise and I want to get clear on what exactly they are (and then try to answer them).

                      Chris mentioned that the notion of causality I’m invoking in the claim “God has causal efficacy and hence is part of the material world” makes him a bit uncomfortable. Murali responded by saying that the normal conception of God is that “God is not part of the material world, rather God is supposed to make the material world possible”. Kevin said that God isn’t a distinct entity from me or the universe, but rather, “God is Being Itself.”

                      On Murali’s suggestion (not one he necessarily holds) God is an entity distinct from and external to human minds. In fact, its distinct from and external to the universe. If that’s the case, then it’s logically/conceptually impossible for empirical evidence to justify belief in God (be it testimonials of observed events or whatever).

                      The same sorts of problems arise with Kevin’s proposal that God is Being Itself: if God is the totality of everything that is (“being itself”) then God is not an entity distinct from the universe, but rather is identical to it. But if that’s the case, then God reduces to natural properties (or the totality of natural properties) which are observable or detectable at least in principle. Alsotoo, this view seems inconsistent with most theists’ conception of God as an entity occupying either logical or material space distinct from the observable universe. Perhaps there’s a more nuanced conception of “being” which is more limited and specific than the conception I’m invoking here. In fact, I’m sure there is.

                      Which brings me to Chris’s objection. God either exists in our universe or God doesn’t. If God has causal efficacy in our universe along the lines of intentional actions, then God must exist within it (again, the notion of “universe” I’m invoking here is philosophical, something like “everything that is the case”). And an entity which can engage in intentional actions as an agent can presumably be a “first mover” as Chris pointed out. If so, then the question of whether God is a first mover is relevant. Of course, the answer to that question cannot be determined via reason alone (or so it seems to me and Kevin).

                      So: if God is an actor in this world, pure reason won’t be sufficient to justify a belief in God. If God is not an actor in this world, neither pure reason nor empiricism will be sufficient to justify a belief in God.

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                    • I don’t know what you mean by “the standard conception of God as an external being”, but I suspect that I would not accept it if I did.

                      I don’t really mean anything too stringent or objectionable, really. There are different strains of theism and one predominant strain is that the thing referred to by the word “God” exists as a) a distinct entity from me which b) has causal properties. There are other conceptions to be sure, for example, the definition you gave: God is being itself. On one understanding of that phrase, the word “God” is coextensive with the phrase “everything that is the case”. And if that’s correct (and I don’t think you think that’s correct!) then everything is evidence of God’s existence. Or at least, any evidence of being is evidence of God’s existence. So God in fact can be empirically justified.

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                    • If God is not an actor in this world, neither pure reason nor empiricism will be sufficient to justify a belief in God.

                      This gets us to agnosticism. We have no reasons one way or another for either believing or disbelieving in the existence of God.
                      Faith if it pertains to belief at all, then is an admission of this lack of epistemic reasons. It occurs to me, though, that a “reasonable faith” may possibly rely on pragmatic reasons.

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                    • If God has causal efficacy in our universe along the lines of intentional actions, then God must exist within it (again, the notion of “universe” I’m invoking here is philosophical, something like “everything that is the case”).

                      Certainly if God exists as a strictly efficient cause, and assuming certain things about the existence of causality in our physical world (there may be a sense in which, in the most fundamental physics, systems replace causality, but all that is above my head), then I suppose it makes sense to say that God is part of (or perhaps the entirety of) the physical universe, though this says nothing about whether God also exists independently of that universe (once we start talking about independence of the universe, “inside” and “outside” become strangely problematic terms, don’t you think?). However, efficient causes are not the only sorts of causes, and I’m not sure why it is the case that, say formal or final causes in the form of the direction and rules of the universe can’t also be considered, and while I’m open to hearing arguments about why such forms of causality would necessitate that the cause be of the same basic stuff as the effect, it’s not clear to me why that would be the case. Looking at the classic arguments for God, many of them (not just ancient and medieval ones, but modern ones like those of Leibniz or Spinoza), seem to be talking about something other than efficient causality, but even when the arguments do talk about efficient causality (e.g., Aquinas’ first two ways), it seems that there are ways to get to God through reason, even if it means taking one of the two prongs of an antimone, even if this implies (and I don’t think that it does logically) that God is a physical being.

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                    • This gets us to agnosticism.

                      Agnosticism is by definition an epistemological concept, yes? God itself is a metaphysical concept. If we focus on the epistemic limits of our abilities to know certain types of things or the current incomplete state of our knowledge of the universe, then we get to agnosticism. If we focus on the metaphysics of God’s existence by considering various concepts and definitions of God and test those concepts against our current understanding of things, I think a person can get to atheism.

                      Jason K mentioned that most concepts of God strike him as incoherent or impossible. Other concepts of God, presumably ones that strike him as coherent, apparently strike him as reducible to natural properties of the world. It seems to me that that’s a perfectly justifiable form of atheism, one that goes well past strict agnosticism.

                      It occurs to me, though, that a “reasonable faith” may possibly rely on pragmatic reasons.

                      That may be true, of course, but it’s a different type of justification that either rationalism of empiricism. Personally, I’ve never been persuaded by pragmatic justifications for the existence of God, tho I concede that there are pragmatic benefits an individual may receive from believing in the existence of God. And maybe that’s all you mean here.

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                    • it seems that there are ways to get to God through reason,

                      Not to me!

                      Language let’s me down at this point, since I’m going to more or less repeat myself. But …

                      Whether God can be “got to” thru reason will depend on the concept of God being invoked. If God is understood as being coextensive with the property of being, then given some minimal empirical evidence and some a priori reasoning, God’s existence can be demonstrated.

                      If God is understood to be an entity, one that exists materially or immaterially, inside our material universe or somehow outside it (????), then God is no longer a concept but an actual thing. And I don’t think pure reason is sufficient to justify beliefs in things. It is sufficient, to some extent anyway, for determining whether a concept is true of any thing, tho.

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                    • I’m not sure how God being a material thing excludes God being a concept, in which case if you can get to one you can get to the other, can’t you?

                      And there are two issues here: 1) getting, through reason, to the notion of an uncaused, non-contingent being, and 2) getting, though reason, to the nature of an uncaused, non-contingent being. The latter is much more difficult, of course, though (even as an atheist, or a post-theist, or an un-theist) I’m impressed by efforts to get there by reasoning about the necessary properties of a necessary being.

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                    • I’m not sure how God being a material thing excludes God being a concept, in which case if you can get to one you can get to the other, can’t you?

                      I think that’s right. I’m just not persuaded you can get there thru pure reason. I’m pretty heavily on the side that you can’t, in fact. One useful analogy might be an externalist understanding of natural kind terms. The word “gold” in English means {atomic properties such and such}, and it’s always meant that even as the concept or definition of gold has changed over time. For natural kind terms, the meaning of the term is discovered by empirical evidence and necessarily not by a priori reasoning. But the point here is that even tho the definition changes over time, the referent stays fixed.

                      Likewise, I suppose that the term “God” in English could refer to {the entity with properties such and such} independently of the concept we currently or have historically employed to identify it. So, it’s possible that our current (and past) definitions of God have been wrong even tho the referent of the term actually exists.

                      The issue we’re mulling is this: how do we know when we’ve arrived at the correct concept or definition of God when the only evidence that the concept has a referent is the concept itself?

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      • I’ve made the transition from practicing Catholic to non-practicing Catholic to non-practicing atheist.

        I’m curious if practicing atheist is next up on the list or something denoting even greater disinterest in the whole topic.

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      • “Post-theist” is an interesting concept. For Jaybird, its main reference seems to be to the individual non-/believer’s state of belief. Jaybird was a believer in God, but now is not. Post-theism could also refer to a belief or perhaps a social-cultural condition or tendency of belief that there was a god, or there was God for us, but that He/She/It has been brought down or that we have brought Him/Her/It down, have assassinated or superseded It, somewhat as in the Nietzschean completion of the possibility anticipated by Luther and Hegel, and, according to a few mystics, gnostics, heretics, and materialists, the Christian myth always and essentially. Or a post-theist belief could be that there still is or may be, or that we must necessarily conceive of or allow for the possibility of, a being like no other being, the God of monotheism, known only “by attributes” or metaphorically, always inherently other than its reductions, implying that all statements about it would be by the same token statements “like no other statements,” so impossible or nonsensical, misleading, or virtually blasphemous statements. So all “theisms” including atheism must have always been likewise nonsensical, or false belief, and the post-theism of the post-theist refers to emergent awareness of the truth of the un-truth or distortive incompleteness of all isms but especially clearly theisms universally. Post-theism would be the obsolescence of traditional theisms in the age of the rise of the Nones, although I still will file it under the general heading of anismism, since, for me, any assertion of “ism” that does not immediately undermine itself is ismistic.

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      • Which also brings to mind the Anandamayi Ma statement on her religion, approximately: “Whatever you wish me to be, that’s what I am.” So the question for Mr. Cupp is why does he presume (as he clearly does) that we don’t all already “follow [his] religion”?

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        • “So the question for Mr. Cupp is why does he presume (as he clearly does) that we don’t all already “follow [his] religion”?

          That seems like a safe assumption to make. Is he wrong?

          Let’s use A.M.’s statement above. Since Kyle doesn’t particularly wish you to be Catholic, then, by the standard in that statement, he should not assume that you are, but rather the contrary.

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          • Why do you say, Mr. Rice, that Kyle doesn’t particularly wish I, or all of us including me, were Catholic? Seems to me that the post strongly suggests just the opposite, in various ways, and quite explicitly in its final lines, under his thoughtful qualifications regarding “situatedness” and proper “care.” He seems at worst uncertain over whether a felt wish for us should be expressed, or, if so, how, and he also is wondering whether not expressing it might also be wrong or inconsistent or somehow a failure.

            Under AM’s view, he wouldn’t have anything to worry about at least as far as someone taking that view was concerned: AM expressed something like a complete un-situatedness. It would be 1) compliant before his “desire,” 2) fearlessly and non-prescriptively trusting. Of course, Kyle is not just here-for-me, if he’s here at all, and I wouldn’t blame him for further reticence, since we’re not AM except by a tenuous logic hard to distinguish from madness.

            In other words, I’d like to to know more about what and how he believes:
            I still don’t know what Kyle means by “following.” Does it mean participating in Catholic sacraments? Reciting the creed? Identifying myself as a Catholic? Being more curious about Catholicism? What if I perhaps wrongly think I do all those things in my own “special” way already, and it’s just a question of building a bridge between it and the Church for me to cross? But I can understand why he might feel as little free to expose the elements of his belief to internet glare in screen-text as Mr. Kuznicki feels to expose the elements of his skepticism, since you never know what delicacy, or fury, or cruelty, or… might be hiding under some odd name from anywhere might turn out to be. So we’re all wondering all of the time (as I am right now and as others like to remind me I should be) how far we can or should go expressing our desire if that’s the right word that others follow or confront our religion or non-religion.

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            • MacLeod

              I suppose we’re reading the same words and interpreting them in ways more or less the opposite of each other. The “situatedness” qualifier, for example, is very broad and vague. I did not see anything that would cause me to doubt that it could mean something as trivial as being comfortably “situated” in atheism and hedonism and not wishing to be exposed to anything that would be less than supportive of remaining in that comfort zone. I took note of his insistence that he does not hope non-Catholics should go to hell in spite of what he saw (mistakenly, I think) as Michael Voris’ implication that unless you desire for all non-Catholics to “begin the process of conversion” you “in effect” desire their damnation. What can be concluded from this? I conclude that he thinks Mr. Voris is wrong because he, Kyle, NEITHER wishes you all to “begin the process of conversion” NOR does he ” desire your eternal torment in everlasting hellfire.”

              FWIW, I did not hear Mr. Voris give voice to such nonsense, nor even imply it, when I clicked the link Kyle provided and watched the video. Nothing suggested that every believer, whether lay or clerical, should hope for every non-Catholic to convert to Catholicism. That was something M.V. recommended that believers ask their bishops because of the special, sacred office of the latter. Nor did I hear any nonsense in the video, express or implied, about a lack of desire for someone’s conversion being “in effect” a positive desire for his damnation. I would have been surprised to have heard anything so plainly and obviously false and idiotic from Mr. Voris.

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  17. It did not occur to me that the string of comments below the article I read was not the only one. When I noticed that the article was cross-posted, I was surprised to see a very rich conversation going on. I had no idea! So a comment that I posted underneath Kyle’s own page I will cross post to the front page, since I think it really belongs there.

    I broke down and decided to click the link provided and watch the Michael Voris video. I have not seen the others he references where he has laid out his big Yes or No question before, so perhaps I speak from ignorance, but I do not see him implying, let alone stating, that all Catholics, laity and clerical alike, are obliged to positively desire that all people convert to the Catholic faith. That was a question he recommends that the faithful ask their bishops because of the character of their sacred office. I also do not see him implying, let alone, stating, that to lack that desire is “in effect” (whatever that means) to positively desire that they those who do not convert to Catholicism should be damned to hell. The latter is clearly not the case, and I should have been surprised to see Mr. Voris state something that is plainly and obviously not true. You do not desire something by default. You either desire it or you do not desire it. If you do not happen to have a desire for X, that does not mean that you implicitly or by default want Not-X. If a thought never occurs to you, no one can justly attribute a desire to you regarding the content of that thought as either an affirmation or negation. Intentionality just does not work that way.

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  18. “I’m Catholic, not for my comfort, but because I believe this religious faith at its core embodies, if imperfectly, the right communal response to a sacred and inexplicable event–a Revelation of a community of persons at the heart of the universe.”

    Actually, you are seeking comfort; it’s just that this particular kind of comfort is only available on the pointy tip of Maslow’s heirarchy of needs. It’s the kind of comfort even the most hardcore ascetic wouldn’t deprive him or herself from (in fact they crave it all the more, and their deprivation of other needs and wants are in service of obtaining this particular comfort). For myself (and I’ll subscribe to Jaybird’s “Post-theist”), I can claim that I too am eschewing comfort – the “comfort” of believing in a blissful afterlife afforded to those who, in some combination, live morally and/or believe in (fill-in-the-blank),, as well as the comforts of fellowship and communal bonding that religion accommodates so very well…but I too am taking comfort in the fact that I can live the rest of my life without denying my gut on this issue. I don’t doubt you would claim accordance with your own truth-detecting gut for yourself as well…which leads us back to the conundrum your piece is getting at.

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  19. I hate to quibble now that the discussion is moving in a direction I find stimulating, but I feel that if I let certain remarks about what I have said and what I believe stand as is without comment I would be implicitly accepting them as correct.

    “Kevin said that God isn’t a distinct entity from me or the universe, but rather, “God is Being Itself.”…if God is the totality of everything that is (“being itself”) then God is not an entity distinct from the universe, but rather is identical to it.”

    Well, I DID say that God is Being Itself and I did say that God is not merely one being among many beings. The word that does the most work there is the qualifier “merely”, for I do affirm that God is, in an important sense, One Being. But I cannot affirm that God is not distinct from the universe. I am an Existential Thomist, and my views have been confused with monism/pantheism before. It is a very understandable and very excusable confusion. They ARE close. I think that Existential Thomism is as close as a Christian can get to pantheism while retaining orthodox monotheism. But I must insist that they are distinct. Creaturely existents are distinct from God because their essences are limited acts of existence, while God’s essence is existence itself, Pure Act, without limit. Creaturely natures are bounded by negation, by finitude, by limitation, by the particular ways in which they are Not God.

    This may not be understood. I say that without a hint of condescension. I know there are people whose intelligence far surpasses my own who simply do not get this. Without the gift of a direct intuition of Being, even a very powerful intellect will find the kind of metaphysical language Existential Thomists use to be unintelligible, sheer jabberwocky.

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    • This discussion is stimulating, yes?

      I’ve got to run out for the day will pick this again tonight, but one thing I’d love to hear more about is the idea of a direct intuition of Being. Insofar as I’m a spiritual person, this is where my spirituality arises. But if you have the time, I’d like to hear more of your thoughts about it, in particular: what do you mean by an intuition of Being? Eg.: What’s being intuited? How is Being apprehended? Those sorts of things.

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      • The direct intuition of Being – a mind’s direct access to existence as such. It can be apprehended through its own existence, and the difference between that which is, and that which is not. Unfortunately, there isn’t much that can be said about this direct intuition as such. You either have it or you do not. A life-transforming experience can bring it to your awareness, but philosophy is totally lame to transmit it. Nevertheless, I will not leave it at that. I will share with you a story that my mentor in Metaphysics, the late W. Norris Clarke S.J. conveyed in his last Metaphysics class as visiting professor at Franciscan University of Steubenville. The following comes from a recent email to an undergraduate at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, TX. It is the account of how, as a boy, Clarke got what called a Taste of Existence. The young Thomist in training, speaking of other philosophical systems, especially other forms of Thomism, said, “I’m just uncertain as to why these other branches do not see the esse-essence distinction, or at least think ET is missing the mark in some way.” To which I replied:

        “Take it for whatever it is worth, the following is my opinion. What is lacking in those individuals who identify with and defend those other branches of philosophy (and this is the reason why they formulate and gravitate to those arguments and those points of view rather than to ET) is something that is necessary prior to philosophy, and which cannot be communicated by philosophical discourse or through an argument: a pre-philosophical direct intuition of Being Itself, of existence per se, and its central characteristic as a plenum. Father Clarke called it a “A Taste of Existence”. He got it as boy who loved to climb, and once climbed up the side of the George Washington Bridge. I’ll never forget his relating this story in class – he got stuck up there and people could see that someone was up there. He knew that if they had to somehow come up to him and rescue him he would be in a great deal of trouble, but he was too far up for anyone to be able to see his face clearly, so he knew that if he could just get himself down he would be all right. He knew that if he could reach around to a place where he could not see he might be able to grab onto a hand hold that would allow him to climb down and get away without getting caught, but the only way to do it was to swing his body into the unknown, with no guarantee that there would be anything there to for him to grasp. If there was nothing, he would not be able to get back, and he would certainly fall, and that would be the end of him. In that moment, when he hurled his body toward what could very well have been his death, he caught it: the taste of existence. For my part, I cannot remember when I did not have some basic background pre-intellectual grasp of Being as real and plenary (though not in those words). I feel like I always had that insight from early childhood. You either have this intuitive access to existence per se or you do not. A totally color blind person will not know how it is to see the color red no matter how much she knows about the eye, the human nervous system, wavelengths of light, or anything else. Those who do not have this intuition of being will not get it by philosophy. Ideas like the esse-essence distinction will simply sound like so much empty nonsense to those who just don’t get it. They can read Clarke speaking of the essence of a horse as very specifically limited act of existence rather than something distinct from that act in the following way: “existence is horsey here”, but to them, it will sound like jabberwocky. Or pantheism.”

        No doubt some of the above sounds like what I have said here in this comment thread. I plagiarize my best stuff all the time.

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  20. I seem to have lost a comment I tried to post. I wanted to thank Chris for bringing up formal and final causes. Then I went on talk about how those causes were philoosophically and scientifically marginalized and eventually effectively forgotten, leaving us a hobbled, arbitrarily narrowed and lame notion of causality, limited to material and efficient causes. I submitted the comment and it disappeared. :(

    Well, I’ll just repeat the money line and move on. When we are talking about God and His relation to the universe, we are no longer confined to the realm of natural science, but rather, we are firmly in territory of metphysics where such a broadened notion of causality can be employed, giving us legitimate access to formal and final causes again.

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  21. To Kyle first and foremost, Kevin Rice, CK and several others. Thank you for a most interesting and stimulating discussion. Metaphysics ain’t physics and that’s what makes it so fun (not that physics can’t be fun too). I’ve been too swamped with work stuff to participate here and meant to follow up on my own comment with some others that would have clarified things better but it wouldn’t have made much sense after 3 days missing. However CK and Kevin’s posts hit several of the nails on the head that I would have tried to hammer down my own self and they did it better than I would have here. So just read their comments again, and read them a second time to make sure you really understood them. :)

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