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

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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.

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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.
 
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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… 

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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.

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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

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.