Friday, January 08, 2010



Snow, snow, everywhere...

And I love it.

Wow.  All those posts to the last blog entry have my head in constant conversation.   I think the post that I've thought about the most was the one which indicated I was breaking the question down in a poor way.  (Well, there were many posts pointing that out...)  This one broke down the debate in a different way - between religion with supernatural claims and religion without supernatural claims.   That is true.  I guess I don't normally think of or remember that there are religions without supernatural claims. Buddhism is the only one I can think of. (Not all sects of Buddhism.)   Or the Unitarian Church.

To me, religion works best as a ritual keeper and community builder.  These things are very important.  In my observations - which are mostly about my upbringing in Spokane in the Catholic church and then watching my friends who have stayed in the church - the best thing they get from their religion is the shared rituals and community.   These are the things that I really craved, in retrospect.  I had mouthed the words and didn't think all that much about the readings, I liked Bach and the candles and the idea that I had stood in this same church year in and year out on one particular day that earmarked the dead of winter or the beginning of spring - saying the same things, hearing the same songs, watching kids grow up, flirting with boys, seeing who was getting married, mourning those who had died.  All those things can be a part of a life without the supernatural.

On the other hand, the supernatural specifics of what we were all supposed to believe were, in my opinion,  a great hindrance to the development of a skeptical outlook and even general critical thinking skills.  So, the ideas we were so benignly taught had an insidious price.  We paid with our critical minds.  SOME of my friends from Spokane, for example, have - in my humble opinion - undeveloped political opinions.  Worse, they back off from any debate.  They make ad homonym attacks.  Tragically, some of them have no understanding of the tenants of other faiths, and even of their own faith.  Sometimes it seems that they are even proud of their lack of information.  Is the Church to blame?  Hmmm... I kinda think so.  I hate to say, I do.

But the rituals and community continue to give.  And I can see that it is a great value.

I think the Unitarian Church can offer this, but not at the cost of your critical mind.

But for me, I do not feel in need of the community anymore!  I like the idea of it, but not the practicality of it.  It involves a great deal of socializing and I feel that I am filled up with that. What I crave now, (and I am fifty, so maybe this is a natural thing to happen,) but I want less socializing and social obligation in my life.  I crave quiet and contemplation.  I want to learn.  I feel I am hungry to learn and read and think,  well, it's almost as if I had scurvy and were in need of an orange!  And true learning and thinking take a lot of time and quiet.  With a husband and a child, as well as a few very close friends,  I feel I am up to my ears in interaction with people.  Adding a church would put me over the edge.  Even if Mulan may benefit from it, she would have an even more frazzled mother and I don't think that is good. (I could just see myself getting caught up in it at first, volunteering for five committees, nodding "yes!" to the bake sale, and then being in the worst possible mood about it all for the next six months...  Wait! This is what being at a public school is like already!  I've so far been able to back away from most things...  But yes, I feel guilty about it.  Guilty or Angry? That's always my dilemma...)

I think me and my friends would have been better served by a Church that did not subscribe to supernatural beliefs.  We would have gotten the ritual and community but not the inanity.

But sometimes I wonder, would we stick to it if it didn't have a whiff of a real God on High?   I might not have.  It would require inculcating me about the need of community and social obligation and not about someone looking over my shoulder who could see everything.

...I wrote the above jumbled blog entry this morning and was intending all day to get back to it, reread all those wonderful posts from the last entry and rewrite it. But now it's late, and I have to fly to New York in the morning.  So I'm just going to throw this out there. It's woefully inadequate in it's musings upon this topic.

Jill Sobule and I are doing a show on Sunday night at Joe's Pub in New York and it's sold out. That is really exciting!!!!

68 comments:

Petra said...

But sometimes I wonder, would we stick to it if it didn't have a whiff of a real God on High?

I think these communities exist outside of churches. They are just more difficult to find. A book club, a moms' group, an improv troupe; these are all collections of people with similar interests and common beliefs - none of which harken to the supernatural. By the most part I think that the people in these groups would rally around a fallen member, work together for the common good and gather outside of the usual meeting place.

Do they hold the same rituals and traditions as a church? Probably not, but I think many of us can still find solace within these communities.

: ) P

Sam said...

It's a great post, Julia. Like most of your others. I ran from the rituals at age 18, so I don't know how I would have felt about them or the community had I stuck with the church. I quit going at age 21, some 39 years ago.

It's that OTHER part I've struggled with all my adult life. I don't believe it's made me less thoughtful at all. In fact, I honestly feel it's what sets me apart from those family and friends who stayed in the community. My thirst for answers and truth.

The transcendental promises made to me were hollow, but I am a much more thoughtful and honest person now because of that initial insult to my intelligence. Okay, so they tried to indoctrinate me, but some of what they taught me has stood the test of time. And I have learned, too, that atheists are just as fluent in ad hominem attacks.

I think it matters very much how you view the world, and just what you think about the human race. Right or wrong, the church and its teachers started a quest in my mind that still goes on and serves me well. ("The unexamined life is not worth living".) For that I am grateful.

Lanie Painie said...

*like*

Ricardo said...

i think that regardless of the community, what the church did not give me was a sense of reverance of myself, on the contrary, and i think whether u believe and God or not, in my opinion it is important to develop this sense. Some people do it through forms of prayer that exalt The God within them (believers), others do it through meditation, others do it through art, i suppose it can run the gamut according to your beliefs and cultural dna, but i do believe it has to b mindful, and this, in my opinion can make all the difference in the world. Developing a practice that mindfully reconnects you with yourself i believe gives u freedom!!!

mom23 said...

I can relate. As a former believer, I still have my ears open for some kind of sensible explanation from those who hang onto bits and pieces of the spiritual with any intellectual integrity. I have yet to hear anything worth repeating.

One person I've read lately is arguing for the "Apophatic faith" of some early christian writers. The idea being that one can try to achieve unity with the divine good (god is assumed to be good here) through discernment, attaining knowledge of what god is not, rather than by describing what god is.

I find this idea interesting, until this same writer starts to talk about jesus and the bible as if either are valid sources for information on the divine. I also have a problem assuming good=god.

Many in the Unitarian Church have similar beliefs. Which is why, to have any kind of respect for truth, I cannot ever join one of these groups.

raxerman said...

I's still like to find a non-religious church. People seem to be saying Unitarian is almost that. Universities are good I suppose to hang out, find people to talk to. There are little atheist clubs here and there, mostly meeting in coffee houses or community centers in basements with no windows. How about a building with the stainded glass and music and to meet for occasions like a church but for rationalists? How do we get that started?

Justin McKean said...

There must be a post-church social organizer out there in the mists. The thing is, it won't look anything like a church.

The communities I am a part of are all close-knit, but they aren't religious. They're all groups of people with similar interests. Perhaps this is what we can see replacing church over time.

Anonymous said...

Swell post as always, Julia. Actually, for the past year or so I've been going around saying that I've found my "church" equivalent in my city's all-ages/all-welcome opera. My family and I go to rehearsal once a week (well, for four or five months of the year), hang out with some people we don't generally see during the week who share our values, are genuinely fond of one another, and unite in our commitment to a single goal--no, not doing God's work, but putting on a bang-up show. I'm an opera evangelist, I tell you.

Good luck in New York on Sunday; they're lucky to have you. Oh, and don't forget Boston ...

Theanderblast said...

I belong to the University of Michigan Gilbert and Sullivan Society, which has a few rituals. We sing "God Save The Queen" before each production (and have had discussions about whether it's Elizabeth or Victoria we're singing about.) During the overture, we dance on-stage behind the curtain.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget about the Quakers when you talk about Supernaturalness. I have met atheist Quakers. It is the one religion I know where you don't have to believe any thing in particular to belong.

Anonymous said...

Humans have always had to congregate together to stay alive; more people to fight natural predators together meant life. Making social and familial connections meant some could be hunters/gatherers and others the tenders of children and the ill.
Gathering together for a common cause can be very satisfying when one contributes time and talent to helping others. Volunteering offers a symbiotic value to a community gathering together. I help you and receive personal satisfaction for time well spent by seeing improvements in the lives of those in organizations and/or personally, who need an advocate or someone to help plan, or fund, or house, or feed others. The outcome isn't always immediately obvious. The spirit of sharing the task with others in a community can be it's own reward.

I bought your DVD to take to my daughter's home where we watched it on Christmas Eve.
We both loved it. She read the credits which included the names of her friends; your in-laws.

Michigoose said...

Great post! I find that since I have joined a local Atheist group with whom I can mark natural holidays (like the solstice) and in which I can find community and support, I hardly miss being religious at all. And whenever I start to have positive memories of going to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve with my family, I cringe at all of the imagery of male power that is so present in the Catholic church. I think affects the behavior of a lot of men without them even realizing it. "The hand of the Lord has struck with power; his right hand is exalted." No, thank you.

And since you are so hungry for knowledge, I will pass along a correction. The correct term for personal attack is an "ad hominem" attack -- literally, "to the person". Unless you meant that these people really do attack homonyms. ;-)

I was very tempted this year to send CDs of "Letting Go of God" to all of my siblings and perhaps my mother too. I didn't have the nerve to do it though, but maybe next year!

embroidery thread said...

Your article is wonderful and interesting.I like snow.It is beautiful ....

Joe Baez said...

Julia: I'm about your age and I always liked your work in SLN. Now that I "found" you again after sooo many years, I'm surprised to learn that you consider yourself an atheist. I think you are a lovely woman, and no lovely woman can be an atheist. Maybe an agnostic, an exceptic, or, my best guess, you are a DEIST. Atheists are bent on denying and degrading the concept of God or any organized religion. You are way better than that. I consider myself a Deist too, and everytime I see your face, I see the works of (a) God. I used to admire Victoria Jackson (your same age), but I've seen some comments of hers about religion and she is some kind of fanatic. I like you much more than her. A hug.

website hosting said...

so splendid scenery....it seems that the snow is rather ,fairly ,extremely heavy....

mom23 said...

Gotta' love it when people like Joe, above, feel the need to redefine you for their own comfort. I guess there are a whole lot of un-lovely ladies reading your message board, Julia...

@Joe--atheist=lack of belief in theism. There is no doctrine for aggressive evangelism or destructive practices. Study up.

Owl said...

To be honest, I think Paul the apostle would have liked skeptics (and Jesus would also). In many ways, the Western nations, where Christianity once nestled as it was growing through its own dysfunctions, have become skeptical. I think this is good for the church.

Paul said, "Test everything." That statement sounds like it could have come from Voltaire or even Neitzche. Why would God be offended by people doubting or questioning human authorities? I think, in many ways, the church over history ignored this strength. Jesus was an outsider - like atheists in a religious culture. He was even executed for it.

I don't think God is as uni-dimensional as many of his followers have made him. Instead, we have often made religion toxic. Can the church survive another millennium without a radical makeover?

The "supernatural" is not for reasoning people. As William James found in studying religious experience, it is shaky ground. And it is so vulnerable to being used to manipulate, deceive, and exploit. Yet, when I look at everyday nature, babies, animals, even the galaxies, it seemeth miraculous.

I advocate that the church should examine itself, for it offends in so many ways (like robber-bankers and weak politicians). We're in an age of information-explosion. That means nothing escapes the assault of facts - not even Jesus. The church will have to change. The modern era is over and so it is with modern institutions (like religious fundamentalism).

Dylan once sang, "If my thought-dreams could be seen/ They'd probably put my head in a guillotine." I know I'm a so-called "heretic" even though I still believe in Christ. An outsider in my own faith.

It's the true believer syndrome that can lead to spiritual abuse that scares me. Religion locks people in organizational jails. I don't think Jesus created that dynamic, nor intended it. Thanks, Julia, for your refreshing candor and objectivity. You're doing us a favor. Shining a light on our hypocrisy.

Pier said...

I agree with Ricardo . . . that the church I grew up in never gave me a reverence for myself. I was almost 40 years old before I found new ways of thinking and could look into a mirror and love what I saw. Now, community comes at risk of many attempts to convert me back into the shit abyss. I find solace singing an ancient zuni hymn to the sun, sitting on a red sandstone rock in my backyard, doing yoga (have to say, I still don't love yoga), hiking and finding the humor in the human condition. Thanks for your blog Julia - it gives me a sense of community.

@Joe - you are the shit hawk in the shit abyss

Sam said...

Thanks to the poster PIER for exactly proving my point about ad hominem attacks. I see no purpose whatsoever in calling people names, and I am always at a loss to understand one who feels compelled to do such a thing.

To mom23, please look up the word atheism in the dictionary. It is not the "lack of belief in theism", but the "lack of belief in a deity".

I find atheism to be as intellectually dishonest as theism. Neither position is, by definition, empirically verifiable. Therefore, each share equally shaky rational ground, and the onus is on the "believer" to explain the logic of their position.

Joe Baez said...

Ouch. I'm sorry, it wasn't my intention to offend anyone, lovely or otherwise. It's just that I, like many other people, consider an atheist as some kind of activist AGAINST God. Which is different from one who doesn't believe, but allow other people to think whatever they want (agnostic). Now, if you really know your astronomy, you know there is a huge force shaping the universe, and that's undeniable, no argument there. That's what Deists believe (God as said force), even when they are also sure this force doesn't intervene in favor or against any specific individuals, peoples, races, or nations. But my point is, and I repeat, Julia, when I see you in video or pictures (except for Pat. I don't like him/her), I say to myself...THERE HAS TO BE A GOD.

mom23 said...

"To mom23, please look up the word atheism in the dictionary. It is not the "lack of belief in theism", but the "lack of belief in a deity"."

Exactly. LACK of belief. Atheists LACK belief in god. You, I would guess, lack belief in elves or fairies or unicorns. You are not arrogant and presumptive for not believing in these things. You are sensible because you have no evidence for belief in them.

Why would you accuse those of us who lack belief in your god of presumption and arrogance?

Sam said...

mom23: "Why would you accuse those of us who lack belief in your god of presumption and arrogance?"

I have reviewed my posts. No where did I "accuse" anyone of anything. And no where have I spoken of my "god".

I will give you the benefit of the doubt that you have me confused with someone else. Please refrain from assumptions, and speak directly to what I have said. Thanks.

Pier said...

@Sam - You are very good at judging "It's a great post Julia" and scolding me and mom23. You are also very good at superiority. I agree with your statement "The unexamined life is not worth living" . . . just be sure that you examine your own motives while you are laying that statement on others.

Pier said...

Let me break it down for you:

Why I called Joe a name: His statement "I think you are a lovely woman" followed by "no lovely woman can be an atheist" - that is a shit sandwich for sure.
He is redefining Julia as a DEIST because that is what he is comfortable for him to think of her as. THAT is what mom23 was referring to, NOT the definition of what an atheist is.

Joe also was black & white on what he thinks an atheist is. "You are way better than that" - condescending and superior.
He goes on to say "Every time I see your face (except when you played the Pat character) I see the works of God." - shit sandwich.

"I like you much more than her" (referring to Victoria Jackson) - encouraging competition and superior judgment.

Many women growing up in a religion are left with distaste for men defining them. This is exactly what Joe was offering.

One of the reasons I love Julia's "Letting Go of God" is that she keeps the reverence and sweetness and humor in her questioning of religion. I like that better than the smug intellectualism of "Religulous."
Since I'm trying to find some community within this blog - I'm hoping that this subject doesn't implode on itself and become an exercise in intellectual masterbation.

@Joe - I'm sorry I called you a shit hawk.

Sam said...

If you wish to see my compliment to Julia as "judgmental", that is your privilege. Other than that and defining the word "atheist" via a dictionary and noting your ad hominem comment to another, for which you have now apologized, I see no rancor in my posts.

I honestly do not see the need to call someone a name, no matter what their views. As for everything else in your latest post, they seem involve another poster, not me.

I am always amazed at how fast a conversation on the Internet can degenerate due to impugned or inferred motives. I don't think I am being unreasonable to simply ask that people stick to what I have actually written, and not some hidden agenda they think I have.

rachel421 said...

Ah, no thought provoking comment. I'm about as deep as 24 point type.
Love the snowy picture, and theorizing! *pondering* ....is crossfit cultish??? :)

mom23 said...

@Sam:
"I find atheism to be as intellectually dishonest as theism. Neither position is, by definition, empirically verifiable. Therefore, each share equally shaky rational ground, and the onus is on the "believer" to explain the logic of their position."

OK, I guess I will make sure I live up to your strict standards of absolute accuracy. What you did say was that non-belief (atheism) is "intellectually dishonest." I guess you don't mean that to be a judgement?

Atheism (lack of belief in god) is as intellectually dishonest as not believing in unicorns for lack of evidence. The onus is on the one who believes in spectacular claims--not the one who relies on evidence for belief. No shaky ground here.

Thanks for your post, Pier.

Julie said...

As a former Catholic, I too liked the idea of community and ritual--good old familiarity in a life that it constantly changing. But it's also a very robotic existence, even for that one hour a week. I don't remember thinking much at all during church, except about the cup of coffee I was craving, or the errands I had to run.

Pier said...

@Sam - I'd like to explain why I called your compliment judgmental:

Difference between Praise & Encouragement:
"We often confuse encouragement and praise, but they are really quite different. Ever notice how people sometimes get uncomfortable when we give them compliments? Part of the problem may lie in the nature of praise."

"First of all, praise is a reward. It comes after the fact. This makes it a judgment, an evaluation, an outcome, just like criticism. Praise is something I have to earn, so it makes my value conditional. I’m OK enough if I did a good enough job or met your expectations."

Second, people often praise one’s native talents or abilities. “Good girl”, “You’re so smart”, etc. While this is natural, it is not as effective. It can actually be embarrassing and demotivating.

"Encouragement occurs at the beginning and throughout the process. It shows interest and faith in the person which is independent of the outcome. For example, take a comedy act. Praise is complimenting the comedian afterward, while encouragement is listening, smiling and laughing at his jokes."

Taken off of Harry Olson's website article, but the concepts are taught by Dinkmeyer and others.

See what happens when we open up our mind to new thinking and don't stick to one subject!

Sam said...

@Pier

I don't understand how either praise OR encouragement are "judgmental". I think this is political correctness run amok. Anyone who thinks that they are conforming to the standards of the new quasi-religion of Non-Judgmentalism is fooling themselves. Everyone is making judgments every day, and that is not necessarily bad, it is often good, as when I decide not to walk into oncoming traffic.

You said you wanted "some community" here, yet started with a vulgar insult to one of the posters. I thought that did not auger well for a continuation of the "community."

If mom23 doesn't like it when I label atheism as "intellectually dishonest", let her prove to us empirically that there is no deity. I never claimed that there is.

Nora said...

I only can say that I am late to the game in terms of finding out about Julia Sweeney: I just happened upon the Showtime presentation of her theatrical event. But what a revelation and a balm. I was raised RC...and went to Catholic girls school...and wondered why I couldn't be an alter boy as well! But anyway, while I have not gone quite through the whole quest she has...as a student of history my whole life I came to the realization that God was created by man to have some sense of organization, control, social community...it goes on as to the why, but it is man made.

It was a joy to watch with humor some of the many thoughts I have had over the years, and reckon that I am not so alone.

Laura said...

@Sam,

Your statement that atheism is as intellectually dishonest as theism betrays one huge flaw in your thinking: you seem to be equating belief with knowledge. They are two very different things.

Atheism is a statement of belief; it does not address knowledge at all. Empirical verification is the realm of knowledge. Whether or not a person knows that deities exist is more properly described as (a)gnosticism.

Many atheists, myself included, are both atheist and agnostic at the same time. Non-existence is by definition impossible to disprove. I am agnostic about God, but to the same degree that I am agnostic about fairies and unicorns (the existence of which are equally as impossible to disprove as the existence of deities).

The utter void of empirical evidence in favor of these beings existing gives me no reason to believe that they are real, but I freely acknowledge that I cannot empirically prove non-existence. I do not know that deities don't exist. I just don't have any reason to believe that they do.

Even Richard Dawkins will admit that on the scale of 1 to 7, with 1 being absolute certainty that God exists and 7 being absolute certainty that God does not exist, he is only a 6.9.

Lauren.Furrer said...

I just sat and read every sentence of this cyber war on theology...pretty sure this takes my nerd-dom to a whole new leve.

Lauren.Furrer said...

and when I say leve, I mean level.

Anonymous said...

Two things:
1) Where did the idea that Buddhism is entirely free of intimations of the supernatural,come from?
It seems to have been given some sort of free pass that takes it out of the arena of criticism that applies to ALL religions.
First, there is the rather miraculous birth of the Buddha himself.
And there there ARE after all, all those statues (none of them looking completely rational) in all those temples, needing adoration (AND dusting).
And there is not enough room here to go into the peculiarities of choosing the successive Dalai Lamas.
And then, 2): to the person who has written here, lumping religion AND atheism into the same bag of conjectures and reliance on faith... uh uh... not at all.
That's a canard that has long passed its expiration date... and while perhaps not toxic, certainly doesn't pass the "sniff test."
Atheism isn't a public avowal, for the sake of other people, in a potential or possible audience.
Not at all.
A-theism, no god, refers to the person so describing him/herself as living life without the inclusion of, or dependence on, a deity or deities to give that life either direction or meaning.
The religious WILL persist in attacking the atheism they don't really understand.. and of course it is hard to blame them.
Religion is first and foremost an instrument of intellectual and social control, a business, if you will of selling conformity to an idea.. and once the alternate idea, that one can live without fear and loathing, and be moral without an ephemeral policeman waiting to spring out at you for trespass,inflicting punishment, and providing reward, religion will come to the end of its course of usefulness.
Not speedily enough, of course.
But we can't have everything in this, our one, our only lives, in this still best of all possible worlds.

Norma Manna Blum

Sam said...

@Laura

I enjoyed your post very much. (I hope this is not viewed as being "judgmental" -- god forbid). Others here and in many other blogs and boards in which I have participated over the past 15 years seem to be angry due to the POLITICAL ramifications of religion. I try never to get sucked in to those conversations. I understand why people are angry, based on the sad history of religion and politics.

I have never been interested in exploring anything more than the internal (psychological) aspects of belief. It's why I have always enjoyed C.S.Lewis. I was reared in the church (Evangelical Christian), but left at age 21. I am now 60, but still bothered by some of what I learned back then, chief of which is the concept of Original Sin. That principle seems to be true as I observe the world. That's why I said above that I think your own personal world-view is very important.

If you believe that human beings will chose to be "bad" more than they will chose to be "good", you must ask yourself WHY? Just consider the tale of Tiger Woods. Many people will blame all sorts of socio-political-economic problems outside of the individual for the failure of individual human beings, but in the end there are many people who seem to be extraordinarily blessed and then just screw their lives up anyway. E.g., if poverty is the cause of evil (such as crime) in our cities, then how do you explain Bernie Maddoff? Or Mark Sanford?

But to your post, I cannot seem to separate "knowledge" from "belief". Without knowing something first, how can you "believe" anything? Where did that belief concept come from, if not from either something that someone else told you, something you read, or something you experienced? If no one had ever told you a story about unicorns, how could you have first come to an awareness of such a being? Whether they exist or not is a separate issue entirely. In this way, all "belief" is preceded by "knowledge".

So while they may not be "equal" (as you say I am making them), I don't see how they can exist first one without the other.

Anonymous said...

Sam:
There is, I think, no way of separating politics from religion; they are inextricably entwined.
Not simply historically,of course - but take religion out of the history of Europe and you will have a pamphlet of no more than 10 pages.
That was so in the age of Constantine,and later when states were ruled by divine right, and it is true now, even with such diminished religious observance, and even the disinterest that Europeans now exhibit compared to our own national zeal.
If religion were only the relationship between you and your intrinsic spiritual nature, who would care?
What skeptic or even atheist would pay attention to whether his neighbor fell to his knees before a statue, or prayed his or her head off to a human being who may never have lived at all. Or to a book of mythologies supposedly concocted by really unpleasant and testy god?
To each his own.
BUT, BUT... it is when religion is used to manipulate politics, to intrude itself in social policy, and into matters of public education, the practice of medicine, medical research AND foreign policy that resistance and subsequent unpleasantness ensues.
And as to the matter of crime, mentioned by somebody else... poverty is certainly a cause of crime... but only, no jest intended among the poor.
The rich have larger ambitions, fueled by greed and venality to spur them to it...
However, Christianity seems to have tarred everyone, including those who have not been tempted to engage in crime.. as evil, and in need of redemption..and Abrahamic religions are devoted to the idea that without god, man there would be no limit to human evil.
Maybe, and maybe not.
May maybe up the creek.. but he DOES have a paddle,his intelligence and creativity.


And when those are unleashed from the constraints of the terrors, the fears, the narrow mindedness, and petty animosities that are the currency of religion, we are something wonderful to behold.
Without GOD.. anything IS indeed truly possible...and that means, in the atheist view of the world... GOOD things, intellectual freedom, cures for hitherto incurables, potable water for humans to drink, and water to irrigate their fields, and food produced where no food had grown before.
And repairs to our seriously damaged habitat, Planet Earth.
Oh, and population control, without which, alas, none of the rest is going to mean a damn.
Norma Manna Blum

Sam said...

Norma

"If religion were only the relationship between you and your intrinsic spiritual nature, who would care?"

ME. I would care. If I have a soul, this is where it lives.

Anonymous said...

Sam:
You are certainly entitled to care... whatever a soul is, if you think you have one, it deserves at least the concern you give to your clothes or your car..
Problem is Sam, that whatever religion is, what it is NOT is an individual or solitary enterprise.
Sooner or later, even the eremites seem to sign on for the crusades.

However that aside, I,atheist to the core, defend your right to service and care for your own soul... I just wish that you and yours could manage to do that without sinking your teeth (figuratively of course) into the souls of others.
Including those who adamantly maintain that they have no souls (the existence of the soul being as debatable certainly as atheism) but are just trying to live the best lives they can, while doing no harm to their fellow men.

Norma Manna Blum

GG said...

Lots of discussion here! I wanted to comment on the idea of community. There's a book written by a sociologist who specializes in the study of religion (Robert Wuthnow) called, "Growing Up Religous." Wuthnow IS religious and I think an intent of his book was to show how religion endures from generation to generation. As an atheist, I found the book interesting because most of the "religious" people who were interviewed about the importance of religion in their lives and upbringing talked very little about spiritual things or "faith." What they talked about most was the sense of connection with others, the gatherings with friends and family, the holidays, the FOOD! The actual beliefs and rituals seemed much less important in their memories and in their current religious involvement.
As others have mentioned, that sense of "community" CAN be found outside of religion. Incidentally, if anyone is interested, there is an online group called "Think Atheist" with a wonderful site and a wonderfully supportive group of non-believers! Same with the Dawkins' site and the Skeptics site.

Sam said...

Norma:
"Problem is Sam, that whatever religion is, what it is NOT is an individual or solitary enterprise."

It has been for me, since I became an adult in 1971. I have certainly never proselytized, and other than on these boards and with my indulgent spouse, I haven't even discussed it with anyone else.

I identify very much with Julia Sweeney's internal struggle as outlined in "Letting Go of God". I've asked most of the same questions. However, I have no relevant "outward" liturgical experience, so feel no sense of loss as she describes.

My journey has been completely solitary -- initiated by people I knew as a child, most of whom I never saw again after I left home.

Anonymous said...

I always got the impression that Catholics behaved mainly because they would burn in hell if they didn't and as a bonus they would get brownie points in the afterlife. Or in other words if there was no afterlife there was no point to their religion.

ie: no supernatural no point to it

Respectfully
Richard

JC said...

Greg Epstein, author of Good Without God is actually trying to create Humanist communities with professional "clergy." He feels that there are limits to the growth of Humanism/Atheism without some kind of infrastructure to provide the kinds of support that churches offer. You can see more about Greg here. He also wants to create a Masters program at Harvard to train Humanist chaplains.

Priss said...

Sam, other people have responded to you and I know this is weeks old, but I wanted to jump in too. Here are quotes from you:

>>It is not the "lack of belief in theism", but the "lack of belief in a deity".

I find atheism to be as intellectually dishonest as theism. Neither position is, by definition, empirically verifiable.<<

and

>>If mom23 doesn't like it when I label atheism as "intellectually dishonest", let her prove to us empirically that there is no deity. I never claimed that there is.<<


You yourself said that atheism was lack of belief in a deity. How is that intellectually dishonest, to not believe in something? Not believing in anything is just what it is. You can't make yourself believe in something if you don't. Try making yourself believe in leprechauns and see how far it gets you. Would you want someone to tell you not believing in them is intellectually dishonest? Would you accept that you need to empirically prove that leprechauns don't exist? Of course not. It's just what it is, not believing. It's not arrogant, it's not intellectually dishonest. It's perfectly honest to admit when you don't believe. And the word for not believing in god is atheism.

fondfire said...

I hung on in the spiritual communities I knew for a while. Read John Shelby Spong and tried to be an Episcopalian just to see if I was missing something traditional that really mattered. (If so, I'm just constitutionally unfit for it, I'm afraid.) I went to the Unitarian Church for some long time before the Episcopalian experiment and decided that having a church without set beliefs might be even worse than having one with some. When nobody really knows why everyone else is there, you can have openness and a deep concentration on forming a diverse community, but (to me and probably not to gentler and kinder minds, I suppose) I always felt like I was making a moral effort to have these experiences and rarely felt like anybody much understood me better and vice versa (again, possibly just my fault). When I got married last year, my wife and I hired the UU minister to conduct the ceremony. I asked him not to supply any God language. He supplied a helpful sprinkling of spiritual euphemisms instead and teased me when a Robert Green Ingersoll quote was read that referred to living a life so good we will feel as we ourselves are gods. While he really conducted a beautiful ceremony, I was let down. UU churches are not defined by the beliefs of their ministers (hardly), but I guess a whole lot of the appeal of church is getting to spend time around people whose vision of what is right, good, and true is much like your own. In theory such organizations exist, but I haven't encountered any in driving distance and I don't have the inclination to try to start one, as that's so very grueling to do right.

I guess I always felt like an odd-ball as a child, anyway. And I've known lots of kids who were taken to church very regularly and became monstrous adults anyway. There's something about the stability and fixed contentment of a family that regularly brings a child to church that can be better than not for most children, I guess, but I suspect it's something more about that regularity and the framework it provides than anything about the beliefs. At least, I sure hope so, because when my wife and I have kids, we won't be raising them in any sort of church. I suspect other socialization will make up for it just fine.

And also, like you, more social obligations don't sound appealing at all.

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