In a parody of the story of Caesar’s birth, Jesus of Nazareth was heralded by angels, and born of a virgin. We can still hope for direct action against oppressive Empire and for distributive justice-compassion; against a greed world and for a share world; against zero-sum gaming of every system devised by humanity, and for a radical abandonment of self-interest.read more
Do we need Jesus? I still do not know how to answer that. But I am pretty confident the modern secular world would not be as good as it is if it were not for the original input from Jesus of Nazareth. In any case, should we not rather be asking – Do we need to love our enemies?read more
A New Story is beginning to emerge, the foundation of which is The Universe Story. You are a child of the Universe. Everyone of whatever race, colour or creed is a child of the Universe. It is the great uniting story, of which I have written many times.read more
Of course, the title of this post is kind of a joke. A Thomist is a follower of St. Thomas Aquinas, whose arguments for God Dawkins dismisses as “vacuous” in a couple of pages in The God Delusion (pp. 77-79). This dismissal is—as I’ve pointed out in Is God a Delusion? (pp. 101-105) and elsewhere—based on a mischaracterization of the arguments. He basically attacks straw men.read more
New York Times blogger, Ross Douthat, uses a recent exchange between Catholic blogger Mark Shea and religion critic Jerry Coyne to illustrate the fascinating relationship between atheists and fundamentalists.read more
I love Richard Dawkins! I never met the man, but I still love him and I am glad that he continues to get the press he seems to generate. The funny thing is that I agree with much of what he says. Yes, I realize that he has set up a “straw man” god that most people, with some minimal theological training, would simply dismiss. But the truth is this “straw man” god is still represented, prayed to, bargained with, called up, blamed or thanked in the vast majority of our churches today.read more
Famed evolutionary scientist Richard Dawkins is one of those atheists who inspire faith in me even while dissin’ it. I found a recent New York Times interview of him by Michael Powell more uplifting than that week’s religious articles. Of course that’s because most media coverage of religion highlights faults more than insights.read more
Former Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford; author of “The God Delusion” and “The Greatest Show on Earth. Q:What should pastors do if they no longer hold the defining beliefs of their denomination? Do clergy have a moral obligation not to challenge the sincere faith of their parishioners? If this requires them to dissemble from the pulpit, doesn’t this create systematic hypocrisy at the center of religion? What would you want your pastor to do with his or her personal doubts or loss of faith?
At a lunch party I was placed next to a well-known female rabbi, now ennobled. She asked me, somewhat belligerently, whether I said grace when it was my turn to do so at High Table dinner in my Oxford college. “Yes,” I replied, “Out of simple good manners and respect for the medieval traditions of my college.” She attacked me for hypocrisy, and was not amused when I quoted the great philosopher A J (Freddy) Ayer, who also was quite happy to recite the grace at the same college when he chanced to be Senior Fellow: “I will not utter falsehoods”, said Freddy genially, “But I have no objection to making meaningless statements.”
Humor was lost on this rabbi, so I tried to see if a serious explanation would go over any better. “To you, Rabbi, imprecations to God are meaningful, and therefore cannot sincerely come from an atheist. To me, ‘Benedictus benedicat’ is as empty and meaningless as ‘Lord love a duck’ or ‘Stone the crows.’ Just as I don’t seriously expect anybody to respond to my words by hurling rocks at innocent corvids, so it is a matter of blissful indifference to me whether I invoke the mealtime blessings of a non-existent deity or not. Non-existent is the operative phrase. In the convivial atmosphere of a college dinner, I cheerfully take the road of good manners and refrain from calling ostentatious attention to my unbelief – an unbelief, by the way, which is shared by most of my colleagues, and they too are quite happy to fall in with tradition.” Once again, the rabbi didn’t get it.
On the face of it, the disillusioned clergymen who form the subject of Dan Dennett’s and Linda La Scola’s study are less immune to the charge of hypocrisy. They are professionals, who accept a salary for preaching Christianity to a trusting flock. And what is true of atheist clergymen is scarcely less true of those who shelter behind Karen Armstrong-type apophatuousness, or ‘ground of all being’ obscurantism. That won’t wash, for the simple reason that it wouldn’t wash with the parishioners. To the trusting congregation, Karen Armstrong would be nothing more than a dishonest atheist, and who could disagree? You can just imagine the shocked bewilderment that would greet a ‘ground of all being’ theologian, if he tried that on with churchgoers who actually believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, walked on water, and died for their sins.
These dissembling pastors might therefore be accused of betraying a trust when they continue, Sunday after Sunday, to get up in the pulpit and bemuse churchgoers who take seriously the words that the clergyman himself does not – and yet continues to speak. Are they not grievously culpable for deceiving their congregation and accepting a salary for doing so?
No, their personal predicament warrants more sympathy than that. They know no other way of making a living. They stand to lose friends, family, and their respected place in the community, as well as salary and pension. All the more praise to Dan Barker, who had the courage to throw over the whole nonsensical enterprise and jointly found the admirable Freedom from Religion Foundation. But even Dan preached on for a year before taking the plunge.
As Dennett and La Scola mention, one of the things I would consider doing, if my charitable foundation managed to raise enough money, would be to endow retraining scholarships for clergymen who have lost their faith. Perhaps they could retrain as counselors, teachers, policemen – or even join the hallowed profession of carpenter?
The singular predicament of these men (and women) opens yet another window on the uniquely ridiculous nature of religious belief. What other career, apart from that of clergyman, can be so catastrophically ruined by a change of opinion, brought about by reading, say, or conversation? Does a doctor lose faith in medicine and have to resign his practice? Does a farmer lose faith in agriculture and have to give up, not just his farm but his wife and the goodwill of his entire community? In all areas except religion, we believe what we believe as a result of evidence. If new evidence comes in, we may change our beliefs. When decisive evidence for the Big Bang theory of the universe came to hand, astronomers who had previously espoused the Steady State Theory changed their minds: reluctantly in some cases, graciously in others. But the change didn’t tear their lives or their marriages apart, did not estrange them from their parents or their children. Only religion has the malign power to do that. Only religion is capable of making a mere change of mind a livelihood-threatening catastrophe, whose very contemplation demands grave courage. Yet another respect in which religion poisons everything.
BY RICHARD DAWKINS | MARCH 20, 2010; 6:51 AM ET
In our “adolescence” as a species (which was a threshold crossed as the modern era swept the globe), we began to question the beliefs, interpretations, and meanings we had inherited. The birth of this new form of collective intelligence, global collective intelligence, occurred when access to powerful new technologies (beginning with the telescope) ramped up our ability to discern how things are.read more
Many educated people shy away from the church because they cannot believe in these and other aspects of Christian tradition. And yet many of these same people search for what the church can offer: a caring community, supportive during people of grief and times of joy. James Adams reminds us that religious faith is not a matter of the mind, but of the heart.read more
Regarding Heaven and Hell; Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for? – Robert Browning. An evangelical pastor of a mega-church, Rob Bell, creates a stir when he writes a little book, suggesting when it comes to a place called heaven, there’s room for everyone. What the hell?read more
Our contemporary culture is dominated by two extremes — relativism and fundamentalism.read more
This indispensable step-by-step guide shows readers how to release the shame, neglect, and anguish of repressed emotions from a painful childhood.read more
Richard Wagner’s latest book, SECRECY, SOPHISTRY AND GAY SEX IN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH; The Systematic Destruction Of An Oblate Priest, provides an intimate and disturbing look into the unseemly inner-workings the Catholic Church.read more
Anne Primavesi looks at ways that the Christian inheritance has contributed to or limited respect for biodiversity.read more
God is less tangible than a neutrino
(taking a short-cut? Or faster than light?
In 1907, a physician name Duncan MacDougall from Haverhill, Massachusetts, set out to not only prove the existence of the human soul, but that it had a physical presence and substance, much like the heart and lungs, flesh, bone and blood. With the use of a large scale he recorded the weight of terminally ill patients at the moment of death, and discerned a drop of ¾ of an ounce. He deduced the fleeting soul not only existed, but left the body for who knows where, weighing a mere 21 grams.
The human heart has always longed to believe little ‘ol me is made up of something more than the dust of the earth, to which all mortal flesh returns. It has been part of the stuff of religious thinking since the beginning of human thought. For all its persuasive power to drive human beings to believe what cannot be known, and behave in the most radically extreme ways sometimes, the promise of an afterlife and immortality often remains void of much critical examination.
This commentary build on the earlier article, “Moving Heaven and Hell,” which can be found in the Center’s Library.
Religion is being bombarded from every quarter—by scientists, spiritualists, agnostics, ex-believers, non-believers and even those who had never bothered with it in the first place.read more