Dogmatism’s Not Dead

I watched God’s Not Dead with my parents. It was the quite the experience. I had almost no expectations. I just went because my parents wanted to go. I’ll watch almost anything, when in the right mood.

God’s Not Dead is a Christian movie and my parents are Christians. I was raised Christian, but not the Christianity found in the movie. God’s Not Dead is full-on fundamentalism. My mom grew up in that kind of religion and my dad in a more mild variety. I, however, was raised mostly in the Unity Chruch, which is uber-hippy, pansy-liberal New Thought Christianity.

No preacher ever threatened or even implied I might go to hell. No Unity minister would likely even mention hell, except to dismiss it. God loves you! Period. Full stop.

I have nothing but happy memories of my childhood religion. I’m a heathen these days, but I still don’t think of myself as an atheist. I largely don’t care one whit about arguments for and against God. On the other hand, while tripping on mushrooms once I saw the entire world breathe in unison, as if it were all a single being. Dude! The world is a crazy complex place, beyond the meager capacity of my human comprehension. Who am I to say much of anything about the mysteries of the universe? If someone wants to call this sense of mystery ‘God’, they are free to do so and I won’t complain.

Anyway, if God or gods or Star Trek Qs exist, I doubt they care about my belief in them or lack thereof. Do I care if tiny organisms believes in me? Not really. I choose not to step on ants and worms, but I don’t ask if they believe in me first. I won’t claim to be their savior if they accept me into their hearts and I won’t promise them heaven nor threaten them with damnation. I’m certainly not going to attempt to inspire ant and worm prophets to write holy scriptures about my greatness. I’m just a big galoot traipsing through their tiny world. That is all.

That may sound dismissive. I actually have little desire to be dismissive. Faith is a personal thing. The personal part is what matters. I can’t speak about someone else’s personal experience. I’m fine with other people’s religion, as long as they don’t seek to impose it on me or proselytize it to me.

Even a fundamentalist movie like God’s Not Dead doesn’t overly bother me. It seemed disconnected from reality, but that is to be expected. It’s not like anyone forced me to watch the movie. That said, fundamentalists are more than happy to force their beliefs onto others. If hardcore fundamentalists thought they could legally get away with it, they’d likely make watching this movie obligatory for every child in school.

Many of them are no more interested in genuine dialogue than is the radical left-wing activist I dealt with the other day (see my post: There Are No Allies Without Alliances). But most isn’t all. I wouldn’t want to broadbrush all rightward-leaning Christians. Most fundamentalists are like most people. They just want to be left alone to live their lives how they see fit. But the average fundamentalist isn’t the one I’m worried about. What worries me are the fundamentalist activists, lobbyists, and politicians.

The one thing that stood out to me about that radical left-wing activist had to do with his worldview. There were specified roles one could play, but one wasn’t free to be an individual. There is no place for someone like me in that worldview. Likewise, in watching God’s Not Dead, I realized there is no place for me there either.

The movie is full of caricatures and stereotypes. Everyone was an extreme. Either you are hard right-wing believer or else you are some secular bogeyman, the three main options being a clueless professor, a sociopathic businessman, and a Godless communist. In this worldview, there exists no such thing as a liberal Christian, a moderate Muslim, a moral pagan, an ethical humanist, a mild-mannered atheist, or a curious-minded agnostic; certainly, there is no such thing as an intelligent, fair-minded professor. It turns out the professor secretly believes in God, but just hates him, what every fundamentalist suspects about atheists.

A freethinking individual is not welcome in either of these worldviews from the left and right.

Just Wondering

Just Wondering

Posted on May 6th, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Child Marmalade

“The Committee for Surrealist Investigation of Claims of the Normal (CSICON) is featured in the writings of Robert Anton Wilson, who claims American directorship of the committee.

According to Wilson, it was founded by Irishman Timothy F.X. Finnegan, who wrote, “The normal consists of a null set which nobody and nothing really fits.” The committee claims that there is no such thing as “normal”, and there are no existing “normal” people (i.e., people existing in the average). For example, no one has 2.3 children.

The Board of the College of Patapsychology, Wilson writes, offered one million Irish pounds to anyone who can produce “a normal sunset, an average Beethoven sonata, an ordinary Playmate of the Month, or any thing or event in space-time that qualifies as normal, average or ordinary.”

The committee’s name is a parody of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, and the million-pound challenge a parody of the prize offered by James Randi for evidence of paranormal abilities.”
“In Wilson’s account, CSICON began with a conversation Finnegan heard in a pub between two men named O’Brian and Nolan. They were discussing the strange weather. Another man named Sean Murphy interjected, “Ah, Jaysus. I’ve never seen a boogerin’ normal day. And I never met a fookin’ average man neither.”

This inspired Finnegan, and the next day he wrote a two-page outline on a new science he dubbed patapsychology. The paper began with the sentence, “The average Canadian has one testicle, just like Adolf Hitler-or, more precisely, the average Canadian has 0.96 testicles, an even sadder plight than Hitler’s, if the average Anything actually existed.””
———

“‘Pataphysics, a term coined by French writer Alfred Jarry (1873 – 1907), is a philosophy dedicated to studying what lies beyond the realm of metaphysics. It is a parody of the theory and methods of modern science and is often expressed in nonsensical language. A practitioner of ‘pataphysics is a ‘pataphysician or a ‘pataphysicist.”

Patapsychology is the philosophy that there is no such thing as ‘normal’. Its name is derived from parapsychology as a catch-all for paranormal studies, but it is not limited to purely psychological phenomena.

The term first appeared in the writings of Robert Anton Wilson, who credited it to Timothy F.X. Finnegan, founder of CSICON.”
———

Critical Paranoia may be considered one of Surrealism’s contributions to modern artistic thinking and interpretation. I would argue that Surrealism is more of a method and means of thought than it is en entity to be understood. Critical Paranoia should then be considered a primary exercise in attaining the, ‘pinnacled depths of that which is Surreal.’ ”


 

“The term pseudoskepticism (or pseudo-skepticism) denotes thinking that appears to be skeptical but is not. The term is most commonly encountered in the form popularised by Marcello Truzzi, through his Journal of Scientific Exploration, where he defined pseudoskeptics as those who take “the negative rather than an agnostic position but still call themselves ‘skeptics'”[1] [2].”

  • The tendency to deny, rather than doubt [4]
  • Double standards in the application of criticism [5]
  • The making of judgments without full inquiry [6]
  • Tendency to discredit, rather than investigate [7]
  • Use of ridicule or ad hominem attacks in lieu of arguments[8]
  • Pejorative labeling of proponents as ‘promoters’, ‘pseudoscientists’ or practitioners of ‘pathological science.’[9]
  • Presenting insufficient evidence or proof [10]
  • Assuming criticism requires no burden of proof [11]
  • Making unsubstantiated counter-claims [12]
  • Counter-claims based on plausibility rather than empirical evidence [13]
  • Suggesting that unconvincing evidence is grounds for dismissing it [14]

———

skepticism vs. zeteticism

“This is why I prefer to call myself a zetetic (as did the late sociologist Marcello Truzzi) rather than a skeptic, perhaps especially because the term skeptical is being abused by organizations such as SI.

Here is how I see the difference: given paranormal claim A, there are three categories of people with regard to the claim.

True believers will accept A regardless of any evidence against it.
“Skeptics” like Shermer believe their job is to debunk or disprove it a priori because it cannot “possibly” be true.

The Zetetic, as Truzzi noted, neither accepts A uncritically nor assumes a priori that A cannot be, but simply keeps gathering the evidence which leans toward one possibility or the other.

Furthermore, the true zetetic is as SKEPTICAL of establishment science and claims as he is alternative views. It does not mean the establishment can’t be right, but it doesn’t mean that it must be, either.

As I view it, Forteans are Zetetics – not Skeptics or True Believers. And that is why I call myself both. And hate being labeled a True Believer, since, as John Keel declared, Belief is the Enemy. Or, as Robert Anton Wilson put it, Convictions Create Convicts.”

———-

Pyrrhonism, or Pyrrhonian skepticism, was a school of skepticism founded by Aenesidemus in the first century BC and recorded by Sextus Empiricus in the late 2nd century or early 3rd century AD. It was named after Pyrrho, a philosopher who lived from c. 360 to c. 270 BC, although the relationship between the philosophy of the school and of the historical figure is murky. Pyrrhonism has become influential during the past few centuries when the modern scientific worldview was born.

Whereas ‘academic’ skepticism, with as its most famous adherent Carneades, claims that “Nothing can be known, not even this”, Pyrrhonian skeptics withhold any assent with regard to non-evident propositions and remain in a state of perpetual inquiry. According to them, even the statement that nothing can be known is dogmatic.

For example, Pyrrhonians might assert that a lack of proof cannot constitute disproof, and that a lack of belief is vastly different from a state of active disbelief. Rather than disbelieving in God, psychic powers, etc. for instance, based on the lack of evidence of such things, Pyrrhonians recognize that we cannot be certain that new evidence won’t turn up in the future, and so they intentionally remain tentative and continue their inquiry. Pyrrhonians also question accepted knowledge, and view dogmatism as a disease of the mind.

A brief period in western history is referred to by philosophers as the Pyrrhonic Crisis, during the birth of modernity. In Feudal society absolute truth was provided by divine authority. However, as this fell from legitimacy, there was a brief lag before the enlightenment produced the nation-state and science as the new sources of absolute truth. Relativist views similar to those held in Pyrrhonism were popular among thinkers of the time.

Pyrrhonian skepticism is similar to the form of skepticism called Zeteticism promoted by Marcello Truzzi.”

150Truzzi founded the skeptical journal Explorations and was invited to be a founding member of the skeptic organization CSICOP. Truzzi’s journal became the official journal of CSICOP and was renamed The Zetetic, still under his editorship. About a year later, he left CSICOP after receiving a vote of no confidence from the group’s Executive Council. Truzzi wanted to include pro-paranormal people in the organization and pro-paranormal research in the journal, but CSICOP felt that there were already enough organizations and journals dedicated to the paranormal. Kendrick Frazier became the editor of CSICOP’s journal and the name was changed to Skeptical Inquirer.

After leaving CSICOP, Truzzi started another journal, the Zetetic Scholar.[2] He promoted the term zeteticism as an alternative to skepticism, because the term skepticism, he thought, was being usurped by what he termed “pseudoskeptics“. A zetetic is a “skeptical seeker.” The term’s origins lie in the word for the followers of the skeptic Pyrrho in ancient Greece and was used by flat-earthers in the 19th century. Truzzi’s form of skepticism was pyrrhonism, as opposed to the Academic tradition founded by Plato, which is followed by most scientific skeptics.[3]

———
Charles Fort in 1920. Charles Fort in 1920.
Some skeptics and critics have frequently called Fort credulous and naïve, a charge his supporters deny strongly. Over and over again in his writing, Fort rams home a few basic points that were decades ahead of mainstream scientific acceptance, and that are frequently forgotten in discussions of the history and philosophy of science:

  • Fort often notes that the boundaries between science and pseudoscience are ‘fuzzy’: the boundary lines are not very well defined, and they might change over time.
  • Fort also points out that whereas facts are objective, how facts are interpreted depends on who is doing the interpreting and in what context.
  • Fort insisted that there is a strong sociological influence on what is considered ‘acceptable’ or ‘damned’ (see strong program in the sociology of scientific knowledge).
  • Though he never used the term “magical thinking“, Fort offered many arguments and observations that are similar to the concept: he argued that most (if not all) people (including scientists) are at least occasionally guilty of irrational and “non scientific” thinking.
  • Fort points out the problem of underdetermination: that the same data can sometimes be explained by more than one theory.
  • Similarly, writer John Michell notes that “Fort gave several humorous instances of the same experiment yielding two different results, each one gratifying the experimenter.”[6] Fort noted that if controlled experiments – a pillar of the scientific method – could produce such widely varying results depending on who conducted them, then the scientific method itself might be open to doubt, or at least to a degree of scrutiny rarely brought to bear. Since Fort’s death, scientists have recognized the “experimenter effect“, the tendency for experiments to tend to validate given preconceptions. Robert Rosenthal has conducted pioneering research on this and related subjects

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about 9 hours later

Domi333 said

Surrealism is great…
Pataphysics borders on absurdity but we realise that nothing is ‘normal’ surrealists found the abnormal to be closer to reality than reality…

Would people actually bother with James Randi? I guess by parodying him we realise that ‘normality’ becomes the stuff of fools…whether we find the supernatural or not.

Do you know about Dada? about artaud’s theory of cruelty?
Dom

Marmalade : Gaia Child

about 18 hours later

Marmalade said

I’m only vaguely familiar with Dada and Artaud.  What do you think of them?

3 days later

Domi333 said

Artaud was big in Absurdist theatre…but he considered it more realistic…
dada was this huge reactionary movement after and during WW1…i guess surrealism was a softer version of dada, many of the dadaists moved onto surrealism…
through these two styles, we see the ideal of ‘dreams as a gateway to the subconscious'(freud)…the other thing i learnt was that WW1 was a culmination of the supposedly rational thinking which led upto the first war…so by being irrational, they were moving away from war…

It seems to me…

It seems to me…

Posted on Mar 24th, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Child Marmalade
As the years have gone by, certain words and phrases have increased whenever I state something.  I use the word ‘seem’ all of the time and I try not to use it so much that it annoys people.  Some might say that if you have an opinion, then you shouldn’t equivocate with such unnecessary words.  Maybe so…  it could be… that’s a possibility(some favorite phrases of mine).  I can’t help myself.  Whether or not I say a word like ‘seems’, everything I say is prefaced by it in my own mind.

It appears… if I understand you… and on and on.

I’m not a namby-pamby Green-meme New-Ager who agrees with everything.  Rather, I’m someone who is always questioning everything and doubting myself(probably to unhealthy degree).  Of course, I could redefine it as humility and consider it a strength.

Its just my persective, my opinion… limited and biased as it is.  LOL

Sometimes I can take my questioning nature in a non-humble direction.  I’m amused by the label of ‘Millitant Agnostic’… I don’t know anything and neither do you.  I’ve at times been quite aggressive in challening what others claim to know.  Fundie Christians can bring this side out in me.  But I can only keep this up for so long before I turn my questioning mind back on myself again.

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Debate b/t Religion and Science: Theists, Atheists, Agnostics, Integralists

 – – –

FIRST COMMENT

This response profoundly misunderstands Karen Armstrong’s arguments.  This isn’t a fair portrayal.  As far as I understand her arguments, the criticisms presented here don’t seem to touch upon what she actually writes about.

Armstrong’s books are very scholarly.  She isn’t against rationality and science.  What she supports is making subtle intellectual distinctions in order to create a rational context to discuss otherwise non-rational issues.  She backs her arguments with historical evidence which is the best one can do when trying to analyze the development of religion and society.  And nothing she states contradicts any known scientific facts or theories.

Armstrong offers great insight into the religious mind.  Her explanation of the origins of literalist fundamentalism make more sense to me than any argument I’ve come across.

Her argument is that a new way of thinking about religion arose with the Axial Age.  In particular, this involved the ability to think metaphorically.  But I don’t think she disagrees that it was initially (and for many centuries to come) a style of thinking limited mostly to elite theologians.  It was only with the Enlightenment that the the Axial Age ideals started to take hold more clearly and science provided a new paradigm by which metaphorical thinking could be contrasted.

In response to science, the idea of religious literalism arose as entirely distinct from allegorical interpretation.  It’s not that literalist thinking didn’t exist to an extent earlier, but it only became an ideology unto itself in modern times.

Armstrong isn’t an enemy of atheism.  The only thing she is an enemy of is closed-mindedeness and simplistic thinking.  Her criticism of the New Atheists isn’t a criticism of atheism in general.  She is simply pointing out that certain arguments made by some popular atheists aren’t the best arguments to be made.  Her main issue is that, by talking about religion in literalist terms, the atheist just plays into the hands of literalist fundamentalists.  She wants to undermine religious literalism at it’s base.  She wants to show fundamentalism for what it is by showing how it developed.

 – – –

SECOND COMMENT

We seem to be talking past each other or something.

And you apparently have me mistaken for someone else.  I’m far from being a religious apologist.  I can’t stand apologetics and I harshly criticize anyone who uses it.  I do have some interest in religion and I study religious scholarship, but I’m not an overly religious person as I usually think of myself as an agnostic.  I look for insight where ever I can find it whether from religion, science, psychology or whatever.  But I especially appreciate quality scholarship.
 
Straw-men arguments? I have no clue what you’re talking about.  My basic argument was that you didn’t understand Armstrong’s ideas, and I then explained my own understanding of her work.  Have you read her books?  If you haven’t, then I don’t know why you have such strong opinions based on such limited info.  Or if you have, you need to reinforce your argument with more specifically quoted examples.
 
“Of course, Armstrong doesn’t say she is against science. I never claimed this. She is completely misrepresenting it’s place in history, that’s all.”
 
Well, so far, you’ve mentioned science 25 times and mostly in reference to Armstrong.  Going by your own words: Your argument is that she undermines and blames and ignores science, that she doesn’t care about scientfic facts, and that she is dangerously usurping science for a liberal anti-scientific agenda.  If this isn’t your true opinion, then you need to edit your previous statements or else better explain what you actually meant by these words.
 
“I am amused at how you built your assumptions into the statement while cloaking Armstrong’s revisionism in the language of tolerance.”
 
All statements have assumptions built into them.  My argument was fairly simple and straightforward.  I wasn’t cloaking anything.
 
“Firstly, she is not so much making ‘intellectual distinctions’ as she is making stuff up.”
 
Generalized judgments and dismissals aren’t helpful.  Give me precise quoted examples of her making stuff.   Show in detail that your allegation is correct.  Explain how her supposed “making stuff up” disproves her entire argument and undermines all of her scholarly respectability.
 
“Secondly, your implicit assumption that there is no other rational context to discuss such issues is wrong.”
 
No such assumption was implied.  I’m fond of many other rational contexts.  I wasn’t arguing that Armstrong has the market cornered on rational contexts.  She isn’t even an author I obsessively read or even think about that much.
 
“There is one very powerful rational context that is always relevant- objective reality.”
 
I like objective reality.  Are you implying that my arguments or Armstrong’s arguments deny or contradict objective reality?
 
“No preferential treatment of facts is necessary, thanks a lot (read up on sociobiology- really read- to get a rational context for understanding religious fundamentalism).”
 
I don’t understand your complaint.  Preferential treatment of facts isn’t necessary, but emphasizing the importance of facts is always a nice thing.  And, yes, I do read up on many fields of study.  In particular, the relationship between biology and behavior is a topic I often read about.
 
“Literalist fundamentalism was always there.”
 
It seems we’re defining literalism differently.  I can’t assess your definition as I don’t know what facts and theories you’re basing it on.  As far as I can tell, you seem to be using a very general and vague sense of literalism.  In terms of cognitive ability, however, literalistic thinking is more narrowly defined.
 
“Religion is the political remnant of a system of belief that told a narrative of factual events. For modern religious moderates, when it comes to everyday issues they can understand that there is such a thing as the real world and there is the emotional world, but when it comes to religion they forgo this distinction.”
 
It’s not that all fundamentalists dismiss this distinction.  Many of them simply don’t understand it.
 
The definition of literalism I’m using is from a developmental perspective.  On the personal level, people have the potential to learn how to make clear rational distinctions at a particular stage of development, but this depends on the person’s intelligence and their social environment.  As such, development can be stalled or even permanently stunted.  Plus, integrating this ability into all aspects of one’s life involves even further stages of cognitive development that are even less common.  There are also theories that discern stages of development in societies.  A person is only likely to develop to the extent that most others have developed in their society.  Our modern understanding of literal facts didn’t exist thousands of years ago.  Even when this understanding began to develop, it was a minority of the population that grasped it.
 
I openly admit that it’s hard to figure out the cognitive processes of ancient people.  But plausible theories can be formed using historical data, anthropology, psychology and neurology.  Anyways, my main point isn’t that all ancient people didn’t have some basic sense of an external reality that they perceived as being separate from their own subjectivity.  I’m simply pointing out that religious literalism as we know it today has become influenced by a scientific worldview which wasn’t the case in the past.
 
“Please spare me the Axial age BS. It is a half-baked hypothesis that relies on amateurish post hoc reasoning. Such ideas are designed to appeal to those who have already made up their minds. In this case, it is the mind of the religious moderate who desires above all to find a way to make all the religions work together in harmony.”
 
You have many biased assumptions about many things.  Half-baked?  Amateurish post hoc reasoning?  Please do explain!
 
Armstrong didn’t simply invent the idea of the Axial Age as it (along with similar ideas) has been discussed by many scholars.  It’s common for scholars to analyze history according to ages of socio-cultural development such as tool-making, agriculture, city-states, etc.  In terms of the Axial Age, there was a specific time period when many cultures were developing written language and when certain new ideas arose such as monotheism/monism and variations of the golden rule. 
 
The term Axial Age is merely a way of labelling and describing a broad period of cultural transformation.  That such a transformation happened is a matter of historical record, but the cause of it is a complex issue.  Even though cultural transmission is one possibility, it’s implausible as being the sole cause as there were many separate cultures experiencing similar changes at around the same time.  It is true that correlation doesn’t prove causation, but obviously something was causing massive change.
 
“To understand cultural patterns on such large scales one needs to take into account a lot more real variables that Armstrong can grasp.”
 
Why do you presume what Armstrong can grasp?  Do you personally know her and have you scientifically tested her cognitive abilities? 
 
She is a religious scholar.  That is what she is an expert in and so that is what she focuses on.  Why would you expect a scholar of a specific field to take into account all possible variables including those outside their field?  Yes, there are other areas of scholarship that are relevant.  So what?  That doesn’t disprove Armstrong’s contribution to her area of scholarship. 
 
Her ideas are just another possible piece of the puzzle, but I’m all for trying to understand the whole puzzle.  For that reason, I turn to such things as Integral theory in order to get a conceptual framework to put the pieces together.  Even so, you can never know that you’ve completely figured it out because theories about human cultural development are impossible to scientifically prove beyond all doubt.
 
“For example, briefly, the ‘ability’ to think metaphorically evolved at least 70,000 years ago, but possibly up to 300,000 years ago. However, the ability to perceive our world around us evolved with the first intelligent ancestors we ever had. For intelligent biological organisms to survive, they needed to be convinced that certain things were true. Metaphor as a semantic tool is pointless when faced with a hungry lion. Literalism is the default setting.”
 
I’m not using literalism as referring to the perception of external reality, though there are theories that propose that early humans didn’t clearly distinguish between internal and external experience (such as Julian Jaynes’ theory of bicameralism or Lloyd deMause’s theory of schizotypal personality).  Instead, what I am focusing on here is the cognitive ability to think in terms of black and white absolutes.  This is how a person cognitively processes perceptual experience rather than the process of perception itself.  So, metaphor as you are using it seems to be equated with mythological thinking which according to some theories of development represents an earlier stage of development.
 
“It is an insult to say that these people did not believe that stuff literally.”
 
I’m not saying that and I don’t think that Armstrong comes to that conclusion.  For example, consider Christianity.  Some of the earliest theologians relied heavily on allegorical interpretations.  Yes, they believed they were true but not necessarily true in a physical sense.  Christianity arose at the end of the Axial Age when the distinction between allegorical truth and objective facts was becoming more common.
 
In a sense, even these early Christians believed their allegorical interpretations were literally true for they conceived the spiritual realm as being the highest truth.  Still, they were making a distinction which is different than the earliest religions where the spiritual and physical were inseparable (and so mind and world were connected through magical thinking).  Nonetheless, even this conflation doesn’t deny that they may have had some understanding of reality as external to them.  If a hungry lion attacked, they would defend themselves against it.  But afterwards they probably would interpret it as an animistic encounter with a spiritual being.
 
I don’t know if I’m communicating this in a way that you understand.  I’ve been studying these kinds of ideas for years and I can’t claim to have it all figured out.  It’s a very complex topic involving many different theories by many different scholars in many different fields.  However, I often return to Ken Wilber’s Integral theory as it connects more of the puzzle pieces together than any other theory I’ve come across, though I don’t agree with everything he claims.  It’s first and foremost a descriptive model, but to the degree it accurately explains objective facts it can be considered potentially predictive in that all individuals and all societies tend to follow certain patterns of development.  According to Wilber’s use of Spiral Dynamics (which represents only one line of development), there are distinct stages.
 
 – The earliest stages see the world in terms of animism and magical thinking, and so mythology is “literally” a part of the world.
 – After the earliest stages, humans began to develop a more individual sense of consciousness meaning that that the mind was showing some independence from the environment (i.e., people could think about rather than merely react to the world).  Likewise, spiritual beings also were perceived as being more clearly distinct from the world and from human individuality.  The sense of something being “literally” true meant that it existed outside of mere human experience.
 – The stage where “literal” thinking shows itself most clearly is when humans start emphasizing binary opposites that are polarized into absolute right and wrong, absolute true and false.  Self and other become absolutely distinct.
 – After this stage, experiential data and evidence take on greater value.  Standards and methods are developed to ascertain what is objectively true.  What is “literally” true is what is verifiable.  
 – This is where postmodernism and cultural relativism come in.  “Literal” truth becomes just one perspective and what is considered true is whatever allows for and includes the most perspectives.  As such, science and religion are perspectives and there is neither is inherently superior to the other in that there simply separate paradigms of reality.  However, within multiple perspectives there is a sense that some things are universally true and I suppose that this might be taken as “literally” true in some way.  This is primarily where Armstrong is arguing from, but I don’t know if this is where her thinking ends.
 – Beyond all of this, further stages of development are proposed where inclusion of different perspectives is allowed while maintaining a meta-perspective to discern the value of different perspectives.  These higher stages supposedly emphasize the ability to understand the different stages and different perspectives toward practical ends.  Something is “literally” true to the extent that it effectively works towards some clearly defined goal.  So, there would be no singular truth per se as there are many goals.  These goals aren’t seen as necessarily in conflict for it would be considered most optimal to find where lesser goals can be directed towards more encompassing goals.
 
By the way, this isn’t mere theory.  Spiral Dynamics was formulated according to research Clare Graves did, and Ken Wilber correlated it with other research and other models.  My point being that Armstrong’s arguments can be placed in this larger context of diverse scholarship.  Whether it’s absolutely true or not, time will tell.  But for certain this does offer a plausible explanation of cultural development that clarifies the relationship between religion and science.
 
– – –
 
THIRD COMMENT

 “After the publishing of this response,the commenter responded by ignoring my entire rational argument in favor of more confirmation bias.”

Confirmation bias simply means that people tend to seek confirmation to their own view which is something everyone does to an extent, but it’s generally used to describe extreme examples of someone biased thinking.  However, making this allegation against an opponent can just as well be used polemically to dismiss another person’s view and evidence.  In this case, Kamal’s allegation of confirmation bias appears to be an example of confirmation bias.

“My statements were twisted in typical religious fashion, using the all-too-common religious dance between objective and subjective concepts in order to obscure naturalistic truth.”

Twisted?  I merely pointed out Kamal’s exact words.  I didn’t even take them out of context.  Anyone can look at his comments and see for themselves what he wrote (assuming he hasn’t since edited out these statements).

Typical religious fashion?  I presented carefully explained rational arguments supported by diverse theories and evidence.  All of the references I made can be found within the mainstream intellectual tradition.  Many of the ideas I was using for context are taught in universities and in some cases are based on social sciences research.  If Kamal considers this “typical religious fashion”, he must interact with some very intelligent and well-read religious people.  I wish he would give me their contact details because I’d love to meet such intellectually respectable believers.

“I am not interested in arguing with religious people since there are plenty of more useful things that I can occupy myself with.”

I explained to him that I’m not religious.  Some atheists can’t differentiate being interested in religion and believing in religion.  Anyone who has studied religious scholarship in any depth would quickly realize that many religious scholars aren’t religious believers.

“The writing of this article, contrary to what religious folk may think, has nothing to do with actually arguing against religious folk and everything to do with ridiculing Armstrong’s incoherent religious apologetics.”

He states his true intentions.  He isn’t interested in actual debate no matter how intelligent.  His main (and maybe only) purpose is to ridicule Armstrong because he has categorized her as a mere believer.  As his perception of her opposes his atheistic ideology, she must be attacked at all costs even if it means sacrificing intellectual honesty.  Polemically winning the debate by silencing one’s opponent is more important than the open puruit of truth.

“Such ridicule is well within my right, and I believe it is essential to the process of developing a strong freethought response to institutionalized superstition.”

Free speech is definitely everyone’s right, and it’s his right to choose whose comments he wants to post.  However, if his purpose is genuinely to promote freethought, then he should support the free speech of others rather than attempting to silence disagreement.  New understanding comes from the meeting of different perspectives.  Freethought isn’t about any particular ideology or theory.  Freethought is dependent on respect for open discussion and respect for all rational viewpoints.  His opinion that my viewpoint is wrong simply doesn’t matter from the perspective of freethought.  An intellectual argument deserves an intellectual response… which is what Kamal refused to do and so he loses any rational justification for calling himself a defender of freethought.

“In view of this, I have decided to not publish any further comments form religious folk. If you think you have won the debate, good for you. Please continue to feel good about yourself.”

Thank you.  I do feel good about offering you opportunity to have a rational discussion, but it saddens me that you apparently have embraced pseudo-intellectualism.

“We rationalists have our hands full trying to build real moral alternatives to religion and I would rather not waste my time arguing with those who cannot let go of primitive superstitions.”

Primitive superstitions?  Is that the best you can do?

Oh well… 

 – – –

NOTE ON COMMENTS

I posted the first two comments to Ajita Kamal’s blog.

However, the second comment apparently wasn’t allowed to be posted.  I can only assume that Ajita Kamal had no rational response to my dismantling of his argument.  I don’t know if Ajita Kamal is an example of a pseudo-intellectual, but his actions seem to show a lack of intellectual humility and maybe honesty.  After my comment was posted there and not approved, an earlier commenter returned to praise his writing.  He accepted this praise, but didn’t mention my having refuted his criticisms of Karen Armstrong.  Ajita Kamal is the type of ideologue of the New Atheist variety who gives atheism a bad name.

For obvious reasons, I made no attempt to post the third comment to Ajita Kamal’s blog.  Kamal did finally acknowledge in his blog the existence of my comment, but he still didn’t offer any rational response.

 – – –

ABOUT KAREN ARMSTRONG

I’m no expert on Armstrong’s scholarschip, but she is someone I refer to on occasion.  She is highly influential and probably can be considered to have taken up the position of authority that Joseph Campbell once held.  If you don’t like or understand Campbell, then you’ll probably have the same attitude about Armstrong.  Both began as Catholics and both sought a non-literal understanding of religion.

As for Armstrong, she was a nun who became an angry atheist and then later came to accept the label of “freelance monotheist“. 

I usually describe myself, perhaps flippantly, as a freelance monotheist I draw sustenance from all three of the faiths of Abraham.  I can’t see any one of them as having the monopoly of truth, any one of them as superior to any of the others. Each has its own particular genius and each its own particular pitfalls and Achilles heels. But recently, I’ve just written a short life [story] of the Buddha and I’ve been enthralled by what he has to say about spirituality, about the ultimate, about compassion and about the necessary loss of ego before you can encounter the divine. And all the great traditions are, in my view, saying the same thing in much the same way, despite their surface differences.

My sense is that she just means that she has the sense of something profoundly true, but she is unwilling to making any ideological claims about it.  She separates her scholarship from her experience, but at the same time sees scholarship as a way of exploring possible universal aspects of human experience.  From what I can tell, she isn’t trying to apologetically convince anyone of a particular position.  Her own position is an attitude of openness and acceptance (which I would deem intellectual humility).  She takes her role as scholar very seriously and so her attitude of openness is also an attitude of intellectual curiosity.  She doesn’t seem to start with the position of having anything figured out (either theistically or atheistically), but neither is she resigned to relativism.

What is interesting about Armstrong is how differently people react to her ideas.  Some religious believers agree with ideological atheists in their belief that she is the ultimate enemy (whether of “faith” or of “reason”).  On the other hand, many religious believers, agnostics, atheists, and generally open-minded curious people consider her to be a proponent of freethought and religious insight.  What is clear is that those who disagree with her are forced to come to terms with her very popular scholarship.

FURTHER INFORMATION

If you’re interested in further criticisms of the New Atheists, see these other posts of mine:

Here is a thoughtful criticism of the atheist response to religion:

A Mission to Convert
By H. Allen Orr
The New York Review of Books

And some other interesting blogs, articles, and videos:

http://fora.tv/2008/02/27/Karen_Armstrong_in_Conversation_with_Alan_Jones

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ya64kx1U2r8

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CsZF8I6lrdQ

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YtpF94Fjue4&feature=related

http://www.salon.com/books/int/2006/05/30/armstrong/

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203440104574405030643556324.html

http://www.newsweek.com/id/215180

http://300dollarwonder.blogspot.com/2007/01/karen-armstrong-why-atheism-is-in-vouge.html

http://www.religiondispatches.org/blog/religionandtheology/2026/is_karen_armstrong_right_was_religion_always_about_belief_or_not

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

http://www.examiner.com/x-8637-Sacramento-Spirituality-Examiner~y2009m6d9-Theism-and-Skepticism

http://hokai.info/2006/11/where-atheist-revolution-went-wrong.html

http://rationalmorality.info/?p=132

http://karmabuster.gaia.com/blog/2009/5/dennett-dawkins-metaphor-and-much-more

http://julianwalkeryoga.gaia.com/blog/2008/2/interesting_conversation

http://coolmel.gaia.com/blog/2007/12/the_new_atheists_are_people_too

http://sunwalked.wordpress.com/2009/07/18/dawkins-the-fundamentalist-takes-a-left-and-a-right-to-the-chin/

http://www.northernway.org/weblog/?p=301

http://anamchara.com/2009/07/15/the-epistemology-of-post-fundamentalism/

http://anamchara.com/2008/01/04/holy-agnosis/

http://godisnot3guyscom-jeanette.blogspot.com/2009/11/trinity-by-ken-wilber.html

http://integral-options.blogspot.com/2007/09/more-on-why-new-atheists-will-fail.html

http://integral-options.blogspot.com/search?q=new+atheists

Re: Proof for God’s Existence?

Someone pointed out the blog post entitled Proof for God’s Existence? by Mark Tetzlaff.  Here is the beginning of the post:

It is interesting to note that the Bible does not begin with a proof for the existence of God. Instead it simply begins with the premise that God exists and presents God’s testimony to Himself. Why is this?

A model argument consists of a major premise, a minor premise and a conclusion. If even one premise is wrong, the argument is useless. An argument based upon premises that are uncertain or unknown is of no value. Therefore, the objective of a rational argument is to use something that is certain to confirm something that is uncertain.

The Bible does not provide us with an argument or proof for God’s existence because in order to do so, there would have to be something more certain than God’s existence with which we could begin our argument. Instead, It presents God’s testimony to Himself recognizing that His testimony is the most reliable testimony possible.

Here are my comments:

No, it doesn’t begin with a premise. It begins with a belief stated as a fact. If you share that belief and all of the implicit beliefs that go along with it, then you will more likely agree with all of the rest of the beliefs that are found in the text. It has nothing to do with premises. No logical argument is being made and so there is nothing to refute.

Anyways, logic isn’t a good model to try to understand the possibility of God. Humans aren’t inherently rational creatures, and especially the relationship of humans too any hypothetical divine being (no matter of what faith) isn’t rational. But even if you’re logical argument was correct, it would apply equally as well to any number of other Gods written about in other holy scriptures.

From another perspective, just look at Judeo-Christian history. There has been endless numbers of interpretation of God. Even limiting the debate to ideas in early Christianity, there was much disagreement. For example, the first Christians to collect and organize the New Testament scriptures were Gnostics (and this earliest Christian Bible excluded the Jewish scriptures). And the first Christians to write commentaries on the New Testament were Gnostics. Guess who were some of the leading figures in the earliest Christian church? Yep, Gnostics.

In the first few centuries, there was a wide variety of opinions. There were Jewish Christians and Christians trying to separate themselves entirely from Judaism. There were the Gnostics and related groups such as the Marcionites and the Coptic Christians. These various groups overlapped and shared many common members at times. The Christian group that grew the fastest and spread the widest early on were the Manichaeans.

It’s not enough to look at a modern translation of an ancient text. You have to understand the social and historical context. I’m all for seeking inspiration when reading holy texts, but the problem is different people will be “inspired” to interpret it differently. Christian history is filled with disagreements about whose inspired interpretation is correct.

Personally, I prefer to study the scholarship and intuit the most probable meaning, but you never can be sure. For sure, I don’t use logic and I don’t assume I’ll be able to prove my personal understanding to anyone else.

All this blog post does is preach to the choir. Anyone who already agrees with your interpretation of the Bible will agree with the conclusions you’ve come to.

 – – –

There is nothing specifically wrong with preaching to the choir. Most writings are only read by people who are inclined to agree with the author and this is particularly true in the realm of religious writings.

The problem is that a blog like this is portraying the author’s views as something more than personal understanding… and I don’t mean that in a dismissive way. Sure, be a witness to your own understanding. There is nothing wrong with that.

On the other hand, I do enjoy a well explained theological argument, but I don’t think the author succeeded here. It ends up being more of a description of what the author believes rather than a logical explication.

As for absolute reference points, every major world religion claims something different. If only an absolute reference point can be used to evaluate truth, then what do use to evaluate which version of an absolute reference point is correct? You could answer that you know in your own experience and because it’s been revealed to many Christians.

There are two problems.

First, various Christians have claimed to have had many diverse revelations and they don’t all agree. Revelation can’t even be used to ascertain truth within Christianity. If any particular Christian is correct, then all of the other Christians are wrong. How do you know you’re right?

Second, various non-Christians have claimed to have had many diverse revelations and they don’t all agree. Why doesn’t God reveal himself the same to all? Or if these are all false revelations, why doesn’t God reveal their falsity to those people?

I don’t mean any of this as mere criticism. These are important issues. I believe in a balance of faith and rationality, but it’s a tricky balance.

 – – –

Rome is a city-state that is gaining power in the Hellenistic world. A group of devout believers arises. They live an ascetic lifestyle. They travel from town to town depending on the kindness of strangers. They preach the ideal of truth and they believe in divine law that applies to all people no matter what nation or culture. They confront authority, and often are met with torture and death. They refuse to fight back violently and peacefully accept their fates. They are the first martyrs recorded in Western history.

Who am I describing? If you answer Christians, you are incorrect. These first martyrs were the Stoics.

The willingness to sacrifice oneself in the name of a higher spiritual truth is the most extreme example of religious certainty. And the Christians didn’t invent it. You can find martyrs in many different religions.

Also, did you notice what the Stoics were willing to die for? It is what is called natural law.

Natural law doesn’t come out of the Jewish tradition. Before the Jews were influenced by Hellenistic culture, they had no concept of natural law. To the early Jews, law was a covenant that applied to a specific group and not to everyone.

Some later Jews (in the centuries before and after the beginning of Christianity) were influenced by Greco-Roman philosophy and theology. Most of these Jews lived in Alexandria (the center of ancient knowledge) where they formed the largest portion of the population at one time. These Alexandrian Jews particularly studied Plato, but also some were initiated in to the Mystery schools. The most famous example was Philo who interpreted the Jewish scriptures Platonically (i.e., allegorically) and many of the earliest Christians also interpeted the Old Testament Platonically (especially the Church Doctors such as Augustine). Genesis was one of the stories that was interpreted Platonically (yes, Plato believed in a supreme first cause).

The Stoics were also a part of this influence that was particularly important to early Christians. Some observers at the time couldn’t tell Stoics apart from the early Christians because both groups looked very similar and both groups acted similarly. Some Stoics even converted to Christianity, and also some early Christians were converted to pagan religions. There was many religious options in the Roman world and much mixing of ideas.

 – – –

Not all arguments are circular.  There is different between a theological belief and a logical premise or a scientific hypothesis.  Presuppositional apologetics begins with an assumption, but it’s an assumption that can’t be objectively tested (can’t be objectively proved or disproved), can’t be peer reviewed, can’t be verified by further methodological research, can’t be meta-analyzed.

Science doesn’t depend on any particular belief.  Scientists tend towards particular theories, but scientific history shows that any theory will be dismissed when it no longer fits the facts.

There is an absolute distinction between religion and science.  Most well educated people not using presuppositional apologetics understands this distinction.  To say everything is presuppositional is to project your own thinking on to the whole world.  If you doubt me, take some logic and philosophy classes at a non-Christian college or major in a hard science such as physics.  Great thinkers have written centuries of detailed books explaining these kinds of distinctions.

Anyways, conflating religion and science in no way strengthens religion.  To say all belief is circular is nihilistic.  That isn’t a genuine answer.  That is an apologetic non-answer given to non-believers, a debating tactic rather than a logical argument.  Christians who use presuppositional apologetics don’t actually believe their beliefs are circular.  You can’t win the argument by declaring the argument moot.  If all belief is really circular, then Christianity is a meaningless waste of time.

State your convictions and stand by them.  Don’t try to play these word games.  If you feel God’s presence in your life, then just say so.  But don’t tell other people what they know in their experience.  And don’t define other systems of thought according to Christian ideology.  God is simply a non-issue to science because there is no way to objectively test the hypothesis.  Attacking science doesn’t prove the Christian God nor does it do much of anything else besides.

As for the Stoics, they’re simply a relevant example.  Both natural law and martyrdom originated with Stoics before becoming synthesized in Christianity.  Also, they’re an example of zealous conviction.  The ability of and propensity towards certitude is a universal human trait, but it can’t be objectively observed outside of human nature.

As for Augustine, I merely picked him as a famous example.  But many early Christians interpreted the Jewish scriptures Platonically.  This is very important because there is more than one kind of certainty.  Platonic interpretations doesn’t require intellectual knowledge.  Spiritual or subjective sense of absolute certainty doesn’t contradict nor disprove scientific sense of relative certainty.  Platonic interpretations of Genesis aren’t dependent on presuppositional apologetics nor on the assumption that all belief is circular.  Platonism allows for a wide range of interpretations rather than a singular literalistic interpretation.

 – – –

I’m no longer commenting in that discussion thread now, but I wanted to add some further responses here.  Matthew Ervin responded to me with these two comments:

First, I actually have a Bachelor’s Degree in philosophy from Ohio University where I was also a logic tutor. My advanced work was done in and continues to be done in a seminary. What Benjamin has done here is resort to ad hominem (google that Ben). His arguments are non sensical because he doesn’t deal with the heart of the post, rather on generally attacking religious thought. He comes across like he has an axe to grind.

p.s. education is irrelevant when it comes to arguing. Arguments should stand on their own. However, that’s all that Ben seems to prize.

I must admit that is truly sad.  He has some higher education in philosophy and he resorts to sophistry.  I guess it makes sense.  Someone well educated in logic knows how to manipulate it to their own conclusions.  At least, he earned his verbal gymnastic skills honestly, but it’s too bad he doesn’t put them to a moral use.  I think he would’ve been better off having done his advanced work in a non-
Christian school where the kind of bullshit he is trying to sell wouldn’t have been accepted.

Education irrelevant to arguing?  Utter nonsense.  This is just his rephrasing his argument that science is based on faith rather than evidence.  This is misinformed garbage.  Arguments can stand on their own in that an argument can be logically consistent, but if it isn’t based on evidence (which is where education comes in) then it’s just empty words.

I don’t care about formal education per se although it can be helpful, but even formal education can be used for intellectually unrespectable purposes (such as how logic is taught for the purposes of apologetics at a Christian school).  What I prize is the desire to be educated rather than the desire to embrace sophistry and misinformation.  I prize intelligence and insightfulness.  I prize critical thinking skills and intellectual humility.  None of these are to be found in over-abundance in his comments.

Religion and Science: Middle Ground

I recently wrote (here) about Man vs. GodKaren Armstrong and Richard Dawkinseach wrote an essay, but it seemed to me that Armstrong was closer to understanding the larger context that would allow a middle view.  Dawkins is one of the New Atheists and these extreme atheists can seem as literal in their thinking as some religious types.  These New Atheists and Christian Fundamentalists agree on the literalism of religion. The former believes it’s literally false and the latter believes it’s literally true.  Armstrong, on the other hand, is arguing that literalism isn’t a helpful mindset to understand religion.

I came across something on RichardDawkins.net (here).  The comments below the article are mostly the typical hardcore atheist knee-jerk misunderstandings (for the atheists that pride themselves on being intellectuals some of them can be pathetically ignorant).  The article is Darwinists for Jesus by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee (The New York Times).  The author is writing about Michael Dowd (who wrote the book Thank God for Evolution).  Dowd’s view seems akin to that of Armstrong which is interesting as Dowd said that he personally knew Dawkins (Dawkins allowed a letter he wrote to his daughter to be republished in Dowd’s book, but Dawkins wouldn’t publicly endorse the book because of his public role as a hostile atheist).  Like Robert M. Price, Dowd started off as a biblical literalist and once he started questioning (instead of turning to atheism) he turned to agnosticism (or weak atheism if you prefer).  A commenter at RichardDakins.net linked to a video of Dowd being interviewed on the Infidel Guy Show. 

I haven’t read Dowd’s book, but this interview gave me a basic understanding of his view.  Dowd talked about the universe as a nested reality with ultimate explanations being unknowable.  He differentiated between private and public revelations which he connected with religion as night language and science as day language.  We do things in our dreams that would seem bizarre if it happened while awake and yet these night events are completely normal within the context of dreaming.  He spoke of myths in the Campbellian sense of not lies but deeper truths, archetypal realities.  This is what Armstrong writes about.  The silly part of this debate about creationism vs. Darwinism is that the earliest Christians themselves didn’t tend to take Old Testament stories literally.  The interviewer was an atheist, but semed to have some understanding of this unnecessary division as he said that he supported the view of Kenneth Miller.

A famous Christian who tried to find a middle ground between the two was Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.  Dowd briefly mentions Teilhard de Chardin in he interview which made me happy because this opens a connection to Integral Movement theorists such as Ken Wilber.  Open-minded Christian intellectuals like Dowd are serving a role parallel to that of the Integral theorists.  Many Integral theorists are focused on complex analysis and of application to society in general, but Dowd is more narrowly focused.  Dowd is mainly writing to a specific sector of Christians.  At present, he said that he has spoken mostly to Unitarian Universalists, but he wants to focus more on Evangelicals who lean towards Progressive Christianity.

He referenced diffusion theoryin explaining his sense of purpose.  He realizes that he isn’t going to reach the extreme Christian fundamentalists, but he recognizes that there are millions of Christians who are willing to question and who accept scientific theories.  Even though these liberal Christians may seem like a minority, Dowd points out the media focuses on the extremes and yet change is most likely to happen in the middle.  Ideas introduced into Progressive Evangelical churches will filter down into the Evangelical mainstream.  The present generation of fundamentalists won’t change, but Thomas Kuhn points out (in The Structure of Scentific Revolutions) that ideas change (paradigm shift) when new generations come to power.

As an example, demographics show that the new generation is less overtly religious and more liberal, and also the new generation has a changing relationship to religion.  Religious and social attitudes are changing immensely and this change will become very clear in the next few decades.

Secular or ‘unaffiliated’? Findings escalate debate

The 2006 Baylor religion in the USA survey delves into the beliefs of the 10.8% of respondents who claim no religious preference or identification:

Belief in God

• Believe in higher power or cosmic force: 44.5%

• Don’t believe in anything beyond the physical world: 37.1%

• Believe in God with no doubts: 11.6%

• Believe in God with some doubts: 4.8%

• Sometimes believe in God: 2.1%

Source: Baylor survey

American Nones: The Profile of the No Religion Population

  • The 1990s was the decade when the “secular boom” occurred – each year 1.3 million more adult Americans joined the ranks of the Nones. Since 2001 the annual increase has halved to 660,000 a year. (Fig.3.1)
  • Whereas Nones are presently 15% of the total adult U.S. population, 22% of Americans aged 18-29 years self-identify as Nones. (Fig.1.2)
  • In terms of Belonging (self-identification) 1 in 6 Americans is presently of No Religion, while in terms of Belief and Behavior the ratio is higher around 1 in 4. (Fig. 1.17)
  • Regarding belief in the divine, most Nones are neither atheists nor theists but rather agnostics and deists (59%) and perhaps best described as skeptics. (Fig.1.17)
  • The most significant difference between the religious and non-religious populations is a gender gap. (Fig. 1.17)
    • Whereas 19% of American men are Nones only 12% of American women are Nones. (Fig. 2.1)
    • The gender ratio among Nones is 60 males for every 40 females. (Fig.1.1)
    • Women are less likely to switch out of religion than men.
    • Women are also less likely to stay non-religious when they are born and raised in a non-religious family.
  • Most Nones are 1st generation – only 32% of “current” Nones report they were None at age 12. (Fig.1.10)
  • 24% of current Nones (and 35% of 1st generation or “new” Nones) are former Catholics. (Fig. 1.10)
  • Geography remains a factor – more than 1 in 5 people in certain regions (the West, New England) are Nones.
  • Class is not a distinguishing characteristic: Nones are not different from the generalpopulation by education or income. (Figs 1.6 & 1.7)
  • Race is a declining factor in differentiating Nones. Latinos have tripled their proportion among Nones from 1990-2008 from 4% to 12%. (Fig.1.4)
  • The ethnic/racial profile of Nones shows Asians, Irish and Jews are the most secularized ethnic origin groups. One-third of the Nones claim Irish ancestry. (Figs 1.4 & 1.5)
  • Nones are much more likely to believe in human evolution (61%) than the general American public (38%). (Fig. 1.15)
  • Politically, 21% of the nation’s independents are Nones, as are 16% of Democrats and 8% of Republicans. In 1990, 12% of independents were Nones, as were 6% of Democrats and 6% of Republicans. (Fig. 2.1)
  • Young adults aren’t sticking with church

    Seventy percent of Protestants age 18 to 30 drop out of church before age 23 and give multiple reasons for their departure.

    Why they leave

    • Wanted a break from church: 27%

    • Found church members judgmental or hypocritical: 26%

    • Moved to college: 25%

    • Tied up with work: 23%

    • Moved too far away from home church: 22%

    • Too busy: 22%

    • Felt disconnected to people at church: 20%

    • Disagreed with church’s stance on political/social issues: 18%

    • Spent more time with friends outside church: 17%

    • Only went before to please others: 17%

    Reasons cited by the 30% who kept attending church:

    • It’s vital to my relationship with God: 65%

    • It helps guide my decision in everyday life: 58%

    • It helps me become a better person: 50%

    • I am following a family member’s example: 43%

    • Church activities were a big part of my life: 35%

    • It helps in getting through a difficult time: 30%

    • I fear living without spiritual guidance: 24%

    Source: LifeWay Research survey of 1,023 Protestants, conducted April and May 2007. Margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points

    In Evangelicals Debate the Meaning of ‘Evangelical’

    Meet the next generation of Christian leaders

    Jonathan Merritt: A New Generation of Religion and Politics (PBS interview)

    Emphasis Shifts for New Breed of Evangelicals

    Evangelicals at a Crossroads As Falwell’s Generation Fades

    In evangelical politics, a generation gap

    American Relgious Identification Survey (ARIS 2008)

    Most religious groups in USA have lost ground, survey finds

    Generation Y embraces choice, redefines religion

     Shifting religious identities

    Trends in Attitudes Toward Religion and Social Issues: 1987-2007

    Science in America: Religious Belief and Public Attitudes

    The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey Reveals a Fluid and Diverse Pattern of Faith

    Many Americans Say Other Faiths Can Lead to Eternal Life

    Religion in America: Non-Dogmatic, Diverse and Politically Relevant

    Public Support Falls for Religion’s Role in Politics

    Despite Pastors’ Protest, Most Americans Are Wary of Church Involvement in Partisan Politics

    More Americans Question Religion’s Role in Politics

    How the Public Resolves Conflicts Between Faith and Science

    An Evolving Debate about Evolution

    Religious Differences on the Question of Evolution

    What is a Mythicist? part 2

    I wrote a post a while back that was a response to a blog post by Acharya S (D.M. Murdock).  Here is the link to that post and the link to the post I was responding to.

    https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2009/08/19/what-is-a-mythicist/

    http://tbknews.blogspot.com/2009/08/what-is-mythicist.html

    After my initial comment, another commenter just wanted to argue with me.  It was frustrating because the person didn’t even understand that there was actually very little disagreement.  I’m a major fan of Acharya, but some of her fans are a bit too defensive.  I can admire someone and still feel no requirement to subserviently agree with their every thought and opinion.  However, some of Acharya’s fans for some reason are very argumentative and defensive which I personally can find quite annoying.  In discussions, people who would be open to Acharya’s ideas become polarized in opposition partly because of some of her over-zealous fans.  I’ve tried to ignore it, but this discussion on her post was getting to me.

    I happened to visit that blog again and noticed she had responded to me.  Even she didn’t understand my perspective which is rather ironic since my review of one of her recent books has the highest rating on Amazon.  So, why am I able write a review that explains Acharya’s ideas so well and yet Acharya can’t understand my view?

    If Acharya understood my point, then she probably wouldn’t be disagreeing.  I personally don’t disagree with her general view.  I frankly don’t find my view difficult to understand and so I frankly don’t understand the misunderstanding.  She wrote nothing in her reply to me that actually disagreed with anything I was trying to communicate.  There is an obvious miscommunication.

    I’m arguing that there are two issues that are related but not identical.  The scholarship about history informs the scholarhip about mythology and vice versa, but they still can be studied separately.  Neither field is dependent on the other.  If someone doesn’t understand that,  I don’t know how else to explain it.   Maybe the confusion is based in our respective studies.   Acharya wrote that she read widely in mythology and so have I, but we may have focused on different kinds of authors and ideas.  To understand where I’m coming from, someone would probably need to have a detailed comprehension of certain thinkers: Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, Karen Armstrong, Patrick Harpur, Ken Wilber, etc.  I’m more interested in the ideas than the history, more interested in the mythology than textual criticism.  My curiosity has drawn me towards the subjects of storytelling, creativity, imagination, and the imaginal.  My interest in history and religious documents is from this perspective.

    As I see it, mythology works in parallel with history and yet according to its own mechanisms.  At the same time, history and mythology interact in various ways.  Sometimes history inspires mythology and sometimes mythology interprets history, and it’s impossible to entirely separate the two which is especially true the further one goes back in history.

    My main point is that history is secondary to understanding mythology.  I don’t need to disprove a historical argument to prove a mythological argument.  The problem I see in most discussions of biblical scholarship is a lack of subtle insight and a lack of larger context.  Too many people are trying to prove or disprove issues where the data is skimpy on both sides of the argument.  What annoys me is that this ends up just being bickering over details.  People miss the forest for the trees.

    The reason it’s dangerous to have one’s arguments rely too heavily on history is that history is never black and white.  We’re forced to assess according to probability.  We have to weigh and measure various documents and weigh and measure the sources (and translations and alterations) of those documents and weigh all of the conflicting evidence.  There is no formula to ascertain a specific probability.  It demands much guesswork and subjective interpretation.  It’s very imprecise.

    So, there is no evidence that convinces me of the probability of Jesus existing.  But then again there is no evidence that absolutely disproves Jesus existed.  It just doesn’t matter to me.  And I must admit I feel frustrated that others believe this is the most important issue.  What does matter to me is that if a man named Jesus lived it has little to do with later Christianity.  There may have been a single person who was called or came to be called Jesus and who inspired early Christians, but if such a man existed all relevant details of him have been lost.  Nonetheless, it’s perfectly rational to accept that it’s possible that Jesus actually lived.  I won’t say it’s probable, but neither will I say it’s improbable.  There just is no way to make an objective judgment.

    The arguments about the historical proof of Jesus are simply moot.  So, why don’t we just ignore it and focus on more interesting issues which aren’t dependent on it (such as mythology).

    I brought up the biblical scholar April DeConick to demonstrate the problem of conflating the debates about history and mythology.  DeConick seems to be a rational, intelligent and educated person.  She is the type of person who should be easy to convince of mythicism, but apparently is wary of it.  My suspicion is that she is wary of it because of how it’s often presented.  She is very far from being a bible-thumping Christian and yet her professional assessment is that Jesus may have existed.  Because of the entangling of mythicism with historical arguments, someone like DeConick ends up judging mythicism based on the historical arguments.  This is very bad news because it could be avoided.  The worth of mythicist arguments doesn’t rely upon any conclusion about history.  DeConick represents the openminded mainstream biblical scholar who is unconvinced about mythicism, but unconvinced because she probably hasn’t studied it in depth.  Part of shifting public opinion is by making one’s actual view clear.  Obviously, mythicists haven’t been entirely successful in explaining their actual position.

    There is good reason that mainstream biblical scholars who are open to mythicism such as Robert M. Price also at the same time keep some distance from it.  Price would rather not be identified with a single perspective which I think is a very intelligent attitude.  Like Price, I support Acharya and other mythicists even as I’d rather not be labelled as a mythicist.  I prefer to go where ever the facts take me (along with where my intuition and curiosity take me).  I have no desire to defend a singular position and there is always a weakness to any scholar (whether of the professional or armchair variety) who becomes identified so strongly with a particular argument that they feel the need to defend it against all criticisms even criticisms from potential allies.  The major weakness of mythicists is that they spend as much time bickering with eachother as they do with literalist Christians.

    As another example, Joseph Campbell did know how to explain well these type of issues.  He knew how to invite people to consider a new perspectives.  In biblical discussions, there is way too much antagonism from all sides (not just from Christians).  Campbell knew how to avoid conflict because he understood conflict closes minds rather than opens them.  Instead of conflict and righteous debate, Campbell appealed to the imagination.  If mythicists want to actually change public opinion, they need to learn new tactics.  Separate the issues into smaller fights that can be won and look past the superficial disagreements to the fundamental issues that really matter.  Let the literalists waste their time mired in pointless historical arguments and meanwhile undermine their entire position from a direction that they never see coming.

    Interestingly, Acharya did quote Campbell briefly in one of her recent books, but she doesn’t seem to reference his ideas much.  I’m not sure how much she has studied him and other similar writers.  In my humble opinion (which so happens to be in line with Campbell), the problems of literalism aren’t merely a religious issue.  Literalism is a problem of any position that becomes taken too concretely.  Literalism is just what happens when people stop learning and questioning.  Materialistic scientism, for instance, is a variety of literalistic thinking.  A literalist takes a model for reality and forgets that a model is always an approximation, forgets that a theory is always open to being improved or even discarded.  Literalism is the bane of modernism because, as Karen Armstrong points, fundamentalists took their cue from science itself.  The literalist argument of either/or is a false argument as there are always more than two sides to every argument.  The difficulty is that objectivity is forever grounded in subjectivity and it’s easy to take the latter for the former.

    The debate about the historical proof of Jesus is a game that will continue endlessly.  That is fine if everyone were having fun, but they’re not.  However, pointing out the uselessness of such a game falls on deaf ears because apparently it’s the game many people want to play.  I was suggesting to Acharya that she simply refuse to play this game, but it almost seems like she thinks its the only game in town… as if everything were riding on that one issue.

    In the end, I find myself arguing with (or being attacked by) both literalist Christians and mythicists.  The reason for this is that both of these kinds of people are defending a specfic position and I’m not.  I’m only defending curiosity and wonder, the freedom to question and doubt, the desire to explore new possibilities and consider new perspectives.  The problem is that someone defending a position is constantly on the defense because they can never absolutley prove their position.  There are always further doubts and questions.  On the other hand, my perspective in a sense can’t ‘lose’ because my perspective allows for the possibility of my being wrong.  The inevitable doubts and questions are what inspire me.

    My heroes are people like Charles Fort, Robert Anton Wilson, and Philip K. Dick.  These are people who valued questions over answers, people who considered every possibility and continually discarded each possibility for the next one.  The true believer (whether a believer in Jesus or Darwin, theism or mythicism, or whatever) can’t help but be perplexed by the person of a Fortean bent.  Neither Acharya nor some of her fans, apparently, can understand someone like me.  I’ve read her work and understand it, and yet have my own opinion.  The fan of hers who was commenting in that post couldn’t comprehend how I could disagree if I understood Acharya.  The idea that Acharya’s argument could be improved was blasphemous.  It’s not even a matter if I was right or wrong.  The issue was that I dared question Acharya’s authority.  It sometimes feels like Acharya believes that all disagreement is based on ignorance and that if she could enlighten the world everyone would agree with her (trust me, I understand the temptation of thinking this way).  She doesn’t seem to get the real issue.  I’m not even in disagreement with any of the facts she brings up or even her general interpretaion, but her view is just one view.  Nothing more and nothing less.

    To me, it seems she is more certain of her position than is necessary.  I think she relies a bit too heavy on astrotheology.  I personally love the insight astrotheology offers, but there are many other perspectives that offer insight.  As for even deeper insights, I prefer the ideas of integral theory and of depth psychology; I prefer ideas such as the archetypal, the imaginal, and the daimonic.  I think studies of the trickster archetype, for instance, may offer more insight than most theories from mainstream religious textual criticism.  For me, I separate religion from spirituality.  The problem with biblical scholarship debates is that the line generally gets drawn between theists and atheists.  To many (most?) theists and atheists, you have to be either one or the other.  However, in the traditional sense, I’m neither theist nor atheist.  Furthermore, I grew up in an extremely non-literalist Christianity and so I have a hard time trying to make myself care about historical debates that never go anywhere.  History didn’t seem to matter much to early Christians and so why should it be made the primary issue of almost every single discussion about Christianity?  What does someone like Acharya think she is gaining by seemingly trying to make this the pivotal issue on which all of Christianity either stands or falls?

     – – –

    Note: I just wanted to clarify what I mean by being a fan of Acharya S.

    I guess it was in the late 1990s when I first read her work.  It was about 1999 and so I’ve been studying her work for at least a decade.  She has written quite a bit (thousands of pages) and it’s difficult reading, but I’ve read most of it even her various online articles.  I’ve spent massive amounts of time studying mythicism and buying books by mythicists.  I’ve spent time on many different forums discussing mythicism in general and Acharya in particular.  I’ve been on all of the major forums and have studied all sides of the debates.  At one time I spent a fair amount of time on the forum that Acharya runs and I got to personally know her most loyal fans (many of whom were quite friendly and one of whom actually was familiar with Joseph Campbell).  I’ve read all of Acharya’s opinions of other biblical scholars and I’ve read the opinion of other biblical scholars about Acharya.  I’ve written about mythicism and Acharya’s scholarship numerous times in this blog and in Amazon reviews, and I’ve often gone out of my way to defend her scholarship.

    I enjoy and highly respect her scholarship and consider her to be a very trustworthy source.   On top of this, I’ve personally interacted with her numerous times on her forum and blog and she emailed me a couple of times (one of those was in response to my Amazon review which she quoted on her publshing site).

    My studies of mythology and religion go beyond Acharya and mythicism and include years of study prior to my discovering Acharya.  I’m not an expert in this field, but this subject is one of my personal obsessions and I take my obsessions very seriously.  I think it’s fair to say I’ve studied more widely and in more depth about this subject than most people will do in their entire lives.

    So, my criticisms aren’t offered lightly.  Even with these criticisms, I still respect Acharya’s scholarship.  But I also respect the scholarship of many writers and not all of them agree with eachother.  My criticisms aren’t insults.  They’re just differences of perspective.

    My point in bringing all this up is that there is a major problem if Acharya can’t accept constructive criticism offered by one of her more vocal admirers (i.e., me).  Does she just think everyone is out to get her and every criticism is either someone attacking or someone who is ignorant?  If so, that is a very odd way to view other people.

    Re: Man vs. God

    Man vs. God

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203440104574405030643556324.html#articleTabs=article

    I’m not sure exactly what use there is in placing these two authors together.  They’re mostly focusing on separate issues.  I suppose it’s helpful just to demonstrate the distance between two views.  Both Karen Armstrong and Richard Dawkins are criticizing literalist religion.  The difference is that Dawkins also dismisses non-literalist religion.

    I’m in favor of Karen Armstrong’s position as she has a better grasp of history and societal development.  She seems to comprehend what the real issue is.  However, Richard Dawkins does have a point.  Literalism is still a popular view, but the even more fundamental point is that it’s ever becoming less popular.  Polls show that traditional religion is waning and alternative interpretations of spirituality are increasing.

    It’s true that it might take a while for literalism to become a minority position especially in the US.  Even so, Karen Armstrong has written about how fundamentalism is a reaction to modernity.  Both scientific materialism and fundamentalism both tend towards literalism, seeing all of the world through one lense.  Armstrong is suggesting that multiple perspectives will give more understanding.

    She points out how the symbolic view of the divine is very old, older than Christianity.  Many of the earliest Christians were influenced by the allegorical interpretations of the Greeks and the Alexandrian Jews, and these early Christians often discounted literalist interpretations of the Old Testament.  It’s only in recent centuries that biblical literalism took its cue from science and became widely popular.  The debate about the historical nature of Jesus is more of an issue today than it ever was at the earliest decades of Christianity.

    Dawkins bring up a very important point in his last paragraph, but he betrays a lack of comprehension of the subject.  It seems to me that Armstrong’s view simply goes over his head.  Yes, literalism is popular.  So?  Why does he want to make all people open to religion and spirituality the enemy of his ideological vision of scientific humanism?  His view even seems to discount the value of openminded agnosticism.  You’re either with him or you’re against him… pick a side or else become irrelevant (and lonely).  He is correct that many people don’t understand the views of sophisticated theologians such as Armstrong (himself included), but that doesn’t make such views any less important.  It’s lonely to speak against popular opinion.  However, that was just as much true for atheistic scientists in centuries past.  Popular opinion is always changing.

    The problem with trying to compare these two authors is that you need a larger context to judge by.  There are two many issues and too much background info that need to be understood in detail: Axial Age religions, Hellenistic influences on Judeo-Christianity, logos and mythos, literalism and allegory, modernism and postmodernism, etc.  There are these large trends of history that we’re all caught in and it’s hard to see outside of our situation.  This is a very old discussion.  The debate between literalism and allegory, for example, has come up again and again throughout history.  There was a major debate about it in the 19th century, but then was almost entirely forgotten about again in the twentieth century.  This debate has been become active again, but the situation is different.  The literalism of both scientists and fundamentalists is a viewpoint of modernism.  Despite the influence modernist thought has on the world, we are slowly developing towards a new paradigm of understanding.

    To understand what is emerging from this cultural conflict, I’d suggest turning to some other ideas.  Personally, I find Ken Wilber’s integral theory helpful and also Beck and Cowan’s Spiral Dynamics.  But there are many models that are helpful.  What Dawkins misses is the human element.  He is idealizing objectivity, but humans are inevitably mired in subjectivity.  If you want to understand why humans believe what they do, you need to understand human nature.  Studying psychology always adds some insight.  To specifically understand the shift society is dealing with at the moment, I think the study of generations is even more important.  Polls show that they younger generations have a very different view of religon.  It’s obvious that we should look to the opinions and attitudes of the young if we want to see where the world is heading.  The youth are less traditionally religious, but interestingly this doesn’t equate to them being non-spiritual.  So, it would seem that the youth are leaning more towards Armstrong’s view.  But time will tell.

    Fundies vs Atheists, Agnostics, and Mythicists

    I had an interesting discussion about the messianic concept in Judaism and Christianity.  It was interesting partly because I was talking to a Jew who was fairly knowledgeable about Judaism.  I gained some new understandings or maybe just some new info.

    The problem was that he was a convert from Christianity and converts are often a bit on the zealous side (btw this can include converts to atheism as well).  He seemed fairly open-minded, but there was this aspect of him that was as annoying as a Christian Fundamentalist… defensive and righteous, a very bad combination especially when you throw in a slight victim complex.  He quite likely used to be a Christian Fundamentalist and seems to have this distorted view of what all Christianity is.  I’m sorry he had such a bad experience with Christianity, but I have no desire to help him work through his issues. 

    This guy seems to think of himself as a representative of Judaism… which, I must say, is unfortunate for Judaism.  The Jews should be more careful about who they convert.

    The discussion mostly went well, but after a while it felt like walking across a minefield as he was so touchy about so many things.  He had a lot of emotional baggage.  The issue for me isn’t the emotional baggage.  Rather, the issue is that a person like him who is always projecting their problems onto others.  I have a lot of psychological problems of my own, but I try my best and (hopefully) am somewhat succesful at separating my problems from my interactions. 

    Anyways, that discussion put the nail in the coffin for that particular forum.  I give up on trying to have intelligent discussions with people in online forums.  Why are there so many mentally disturbed people online?  I’ll save that question for another day.

    Well… water under the bridge.  All of that isn’t what I wanted to talk about, not exactly at least.  The topic of this blog post is religion.  I’m attracted to religion and I enjoy discussing it, but religion can be such a depressing subject.  When I study some aspects of religious history, I start thinking that religion itself can even be the problem.  Religion can inspire people to do great and wonderful things, but it also can justify the psychotic (if not homicidal) delusions of various kinds of nutjobs.  The history of Christianity can particularly depress me.  The first thousand years of Christianity was almost and endless spree of destruction.

    And then there are people who leave Christianity because of its history of bigotry and hatred only to join another religion that isn’t any better.  To pick a random example (wink wink), Judaism is in some ways worse than Christianity.  At least, Christians were going against their own scripture when persecuting and killing various peoples.  The Jewish history as recorded in their scriptures is utterly horrific.  The Jewish God even commands the Jews to commit genocide, rape, and enslavement. 

    Talk about depressing.  And this whole Judeo-Christian tradition is the foundation of Western civilization.  It about makes me want to kill myself to consider that this is my cultural heritage.

    This is a major issue that religious people never consider seriously.  Some religious people would respond that athiests commit horrible things as well.  Yes, this is true to an extent.  Humans in general have great capacity for cruelty.  However, the point of religion is supposed to be to help humanity strive towards higher ideals.  The evidence, unfortunately, is to the contrary.

    I’m not dismissing religion.  As I see it, religion is something like the scientific knowledge of the atom.  Scientists can make atomic energy and scientists can make an atomic bomb.  Now consider what happens if some religious nut gets hold of an atomic bomb.  Forget about 9/11.  The real fun has yet to start.

    I should point out that that Fundamentalism as we know it is actually a modern invention.  Fundamentalism is a response to modernity.  For instance, the extreme forms of literalism came into existence in response to modern understanding of objective reality.  In the past, people had less sense of distinction between subjective and objective realities, between myth and history.  It wasn’t even that imporant for ancient people to make such distinctions.  Literalism is the attempt of religion to retain its authority in the face of science and the secular academia in general.

    So, Fundamentalism isn’t fundamental, ie., isn’t original to religion.  However, the awareness of literalism as opposed to allegorical thinking did start to develop thousands of years ago.  This was a distinction that Greek philosophers were starting to consider.  Even though literalism didn’t clearly and fully manifest until modernity, its been there from the beginning of religions such as Christianity and Islam. 

    For example, some early Christians were aware of and even open to the allegorical interpretation of scripture.  Christianity, in fact, developed out of the milieu that included a growing trend of allegorical thinking.  But this was still a very new way of thinking for the human species.  The new mentality arose all of  a sudden during the Axial Age; and then, within the centuries after Christianity began, the new mentality was disappearing again.  The former Roman Empire was lost in the Dark Ages. 

    It took Europe another thousand years or so to remember these ancient ideas.  The re-introduction of Greek thought (strangely enough, from Islamic culture) helped to jumpstart the Renaissance, but to balance out the Renaissance was the Reformation.  The Reformation set the groundwork for modern Fundamentalism.

    Okay, all of that is basic enough.  Here we all are in the wake of modernity.  The Fundamentalists are on the defense and they become ever more dangerous as they become cornered into their own dogmatic righteousness.  In the US, we shouldn’t worry about the Islamic Fundamentalists from the Middle East.  We should be worrying about our homegrown Christian Fundamentalists.  Right now, our Fundamentalists are fat and contented by American wealth and power.  But throw in enough dissatisfaction (such as if this economic downturn lasts long enough), and we’ll start to see a new breed of American Fundamentalists.

    The Fundamentalists, in the past, at least had control of the Biblical studies in academia.  However, they’re losing their grip and their apologetics is becoming obvious for what it is.  A battle is going on right now even though many people are unaware of it and of it’s greater significance.  The battle is occurring on multiple fronts.  The Fundamentalists have three mortal enemies. 

    Christian theologians/apologists essentially created the Atheist movement (by creating the term) as a way of containing secularism.  They defined the terms of battle and many Atheists have been happy to play their pre-designed part.  This battle gets a lot of public attention, but its just a front for a more complex battle.

    Agnostics are even more dangerous to the Fundamentalists.  Agnostics refuse to play by the rules that the apologists are familiar with.  Many Agnostics are even Christian.  Fundamentalists simply don’t understand this opponent even if they happen to notice him.  Agnosticism is more like a cancer than an enemy that can be fought.  The Agnostics are the Aikido masters.  And, to mix in another metaphor, they fly below the radar… which is to say they don’t get much publicity.  Being an Agnostic just isn’t sexy.  To think of it another way, Agnostics are like Martin Luther King Jr during the race riots.  King once said that the only reason white people listened to him was because there was an angry young black man behind him with a molotov cocktail.  In this manner, the Agnostic slips in and seems quite moderate in comparison to the raving Atheists.

    Related to the Agnostics, is a new faction of Christians.  The Agnostics have been an agitating force within Christianity.  Many believers have felt a need to resolve this unsettling sense that something isn’t quite right within Christianity.  The seeds of doubt have were planted and a call of a renewal of faith has been sent out: Spong, Harpur, etc.  Christianity is not only being forced to take academia seriously, but also other religions as well.  It’s becoming increasingly difficult for Christians to live in isolation from the larger world.

    So, the first two groups (Atheists and Agnostics) are the one-two punch, and the latter group (the new Christians) are the knock out.  Christianity won’t be left behind in the cultural transformation going on… even though that is what many Atheists would like.  What is happening is that Christianity (along with all the other religions) is being dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

    This is what I’m actually interested in.  There is change in the air, but its hard to know what exactly it is or where it’s heading.  Starting with the Theosophists, there has been a lineage of proponents of allegorical thinking: Theosophists to Jung to Campbell to the present Mythicists (G.A. Wells, D.M. Murdock, Tom Harpur, Freke and Gandy).  What recently brought this to the greater public attention is the movie Zeitgeist (the first part to be specific).  Many great thinkers had pointed out these mythical parallels to Christianity long before, but nobody was listening.  Zeitgeist had the advantage of being able to bypass the media censors and went straight to the internet where it went, as they say, viral.

    The Fundamnetalists thought they had forced the mythicist movement permanently underground back in the 1800s.  The Apologists gained control of Biblical studies (especially in the US) and held that control for the last hundred years or so.  The internet has turned out to be the Apologists undoing despite their heavy use of it in their proseletyzing.  The Tektonics website is no match for the Mythicists.

    Part of the reason is that mythology is now cool.  Movies such as Star Wars and the Matrix have given a foothold for comparative mythology to break into mainstream culture.  The imagination of Western Culture has been awoken.  Even Apologists have been forced to use these movies to reach a younger generation, but in doing so they’ve created  a foothold for comparative mythology to enter Christianity.  They can’t win for losing because they chose the wrong battle in the first place.

    Movies have had this power because special effects have improved vastly in recent decades (and, of course, technology will continue to improve).  As a culture, we can create (in fiction) anything we can imagine.  This is more profound than many people realize.  And the internet has brought to the masses this ability to imaginatively create.  The collective imagination has been democratized.  Our society isn’t prepared for what will be the results of this.  A generation is being raised with all of this and they’re going to utterly transform society.  The generation growing up right now is bigger than the Baby Boomers.  The Boomers are retiring, and (because Gen X is a small generation) the Millennials will flood the job market.

    I have no idea what this will mean, but it’s going to big.  To put it into the terms of Strauss and Howe, we are in the Fourth Turning.