Why does God hide?

Accommodationists are always telling us that we need to better understand the minds and motivations of the faithful, for only this will enable us to reach them.  (Never mind that, as Richard Dawkins points out, we’re usually trying to reach not those whose arguments we address, but the interested bystanders.)  Well, I read a fair amount of writings by religious folks, ranging from fundamentalists to sophisticated believers, and so far I can characterize the religious mind in two words.

Delusional and evasive.

Already this week we’ve had a minister come to this website and patiently explain that, yes, religion is predicated on real truths like the divinity and resurrection of Jesus, but, you know, these aren’t really the kind of truths that are true, at least not in the way that scientists and nonreligious folks think of truth, but truths that meet the religious community’s understanding of truth.

The proper response to this kind of argument is derisive laughter.  You can get more of it—and another revealing take on the “liberal” religious mind—at HuffPo, where Rabbi/real estate broker Alan Lurie answers the burning question, “Why does God hide?” Now I know that Pharyngula has sworn not to link to HuffPo, and I think I’ve said the same, but it’s hard not to because its pieces on religion are so unintentionally funny.

A normal response to a question like “why don’t we see that invisible, pink six-foot tall rabbit?” is “because it doesn’t exist”.  But when the rabbit is God, that answer is just far too simple.  Witness the tortuous logic of the sophisticated religious mind as the good Rabbi Lurie gives not one but four reasons why we can’t see God.  Here’s the first:

1) A Misunderstanding of the Nature of God

The notion that God can “appear” as a visible entity demonstrates a belief in the nature of God as a being, separate from ourselves, and living somewhere “out there”: a person, perhaps like ourselves, only much, much bigger, smarter, etc. If this is our vision of God, then we will certainly be frustrated at “his” hiding. This image of God, though, is frankly a childish one that we must all agree does not exist. The great theologians, mystics, and spiritual guides have all recognized that what we call “God” is not a limited being. What, then, is God? Well, not to be evasive, but this is not a simple answer that can be written in a short blog, and whatever I write will be inaccurate, misunderstood, and radically incomplete. I can say this, though: God’s presence is experienced, not quantified, measured, or recorded. The first step, then, is to let go of a literal vision of God, and to begin to know that the search for God is more akin to the search for love and connection than the search for a graviton or Big Foot.

He’s pulling a Fermat!  I have a marvelous explanation for why we can’t see God, but it’s too big to be contained on this website.  And what about those ancient and wonderful times when God did appear—sending his son to Earth to perform miracles, and supposedly performing miracles and interceding on Earth ever since?  Why did he withdraw, like a snail into its shell, when science came on the scene?

If you can swallow this kind of stuff with laughter instead of nausea, have a look at the rabbi’s three other explanations.  They give a really good look at how evasive the faithful can be when confronted with data—or, in this case, the absence of data.

119 Comments

  1. Mike
    Posted September 15, 2010 at 5:43 am | Permalink

    “fundamentalists to sophisticated believers”

    Did you mean sophistry-laden?

    Again and again, the Gnu Atheists are taken to task for attacking these traditionalist literal views and yet these are the very seeds that are implanted at the pulpit, and in the classroom by “non-fundamentalist” preachers.

    Let me put it this way: if the Christian God were this kind of experiential (yet plainly interventionist) being, would it want children to be introduced to it through lies?

    • MosesZD
      Posted September 15, 2010 at 6:11 am | Permalink

      Yeah. God has come down a peg or three since he was invented.

      No more lightning bolts. No burning bushes. No miracles. No living on a mountain top. No killing uppity priests who make a mistake in a ritual.

      Just some dude, who can’t do anything that violates the laws of physics, hiding somewhere… But he can give you warm-fuzzies if you think about him…

      • Posted September 15, 2010 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

        [quote]the search for God is more akin to the search for love and connection[/quote]

        Then why search for god when you can just search for love and connection?

        • Michael Kingsford Gray
          Posted September 16, 2010 at 2:56 am | Permalink

          I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid they can’t do that.

          The priestly parasites would then garner no income.
          The lazy bastards would have to find a more laborious way to extort a living.

    • Posted September 15, 2010 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

      God doesn’t hide from us we hide
      from us , we hide from him

      • Posted September 15, 2010 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

        The Rabbi’s third argument is just the Courtier’s Reply.

      • Michael Kingsford Gray
        Posted September 16, 2010 at 2:58 am | Permalink

        Which “God”?
        The IPU hides from us.

  2. Jacobus van Beverningk
    Posted September 15, 2010 at 5:53 am | Permalink

    “He’s pulling a Fermat”

    .. dunno about that: after all: Andrew Wiles has proved Fermat right.

    • MosesZD
      Posted September 15, 2010 at 6:19 am | Permalink

      You know… Maybe. Wiles used mathematical proofs and concepts that didn’t even exist in Fermat’s time.

      And Fermat had 30 years to write it down…

      OTOH, some have said that is possible without modern techniques. And, even with modern printing, computers, etc., the proof would be astronomical in length…

      But I always go back to… No proof – no credit. If I had to show my work, so does Fermat…

      • Posted September 15, 2010 at 7:15 am | Permalink

        And Fermat’s proof, if it ever existed, would have “almost fit” into the margins of a single page. What Wiles did was enormously more complex and no doubt quite different from what Fermat had in mind.

  3. MadScientist
    Posted September 15, 2010 at 5:56 am | Permalink

    First I discovered there’s no god – then no Santa, no Tooth Fairy, and now I’m being told there’s no Harvey the Bunny? Life is full of disappointments.

    • MadScientist
      Posted September 15, 2010 at 6:03 am | Permalink

      Oh, I see – if you ask “where’s god” or “where’s the evidence” then you obviously *misunderstand* god. Oooooh. And the good rabbi obviously understands god because he plays poker with Moses and Abraham every night or something. Stooopid me, I don’t understand, but the rabbi does. I wonder how many shekels I owe him for saving me.

  4. Jacobus van Beverningk
    Posted September 15, 2010 at 5:59 am | Permalink

    “This image of God, though, is frankly a childish one that we must all agree does not exist”

    .. if only he had left it at that.

    “The first step, then, is to let go of a literal vision of God”

    As a first step, it’s not a bad one. But oh boy, think of all the millions of people he’s offending with this one!

    • Posted September 15, 2010 at 7:16 am | Permalink

      This “childish” picture of God of course comes directly from the supposedly inspired Bible.

    • Tyro
      Posted September 15, 2010 at 7:52 am | Permalink

      Now if only more church leaders would have the decency/honesty/courage to stand up infront of the pews and deliver lectures like this.

      Of course these “don’t act like children” speeches are reserved for OpEd pages and for rebukes against atheists. When they’re infront of followers it’s right back to Jesus The Magic Man, rebirth & resurrection and all the bible hocus pocus. As Timothy explained yesterday: theologians are “big boys” and can deal with these concepts, but mere Christian believers need to be shielded and protected from certain truths.

      • GrueBleen
        Posted September 15, 2010 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

        Well I’m not too sure – correct me if I’m wrong – that a Rabbi would actually go for “Jesus The Magic Man, rebirth & resurrection …” and all that.

        I thought the Jews were still waiting foe their ‘first contact’.

  5. MosesZD
    Posted September 15, 2010 at 6:05 am | Permalink

    I thought he was funny. I made a few comments. I don’t know if he answered them.

    However, science and religion are, and always will be, incompatible. Simply put, from a rational perspective, because every religion known to mankind has been falsified (though many stick their hands in their ears and pretend otherwise) through the science of Archeology.

    Let’s take our country’s delusions vis the Abrahamic faiths. Christianity and Islam both derive from Judaism. That is, they are built on the God-Concept Foundation established by Judaism. If Judaism is false, can be shown to be false, the foundation on which these sand castles are built is false. And, while they may restate the false-hood in their separate ways, they remain the false-fruit of the false tree.

    Judaism, itself, has been traced to many different religions. The two primary sources were the polytheistic post-Canaanite religion practiced in the Kingdom of Israel, and the Cult of Yahweh practiced in the Kingdom of Judah.

    Around 600 BCE, the Judean king, Josiah, wished to unify Israel and Judah. The monotheists, under Josiah, produced the first written work in which they manufactured a false history of Israel and Judah in order to facilitate the unification process.

    Simply put, the two faiths, and their stories, were blended. With, of course, the side benefit of making the monotheist interpretation the “correct” religion. Further, additional stories were co-opted from other religions. All-in-all, the Old Testament is clearly a cobbled-up job that begs, borrows and steals from a wide variety of sources, contains clear confabulations and and other just-so stories that are not, in any critical reading, even sensical.

    The point is, of course, we know from archeology the Old Testament of the bible is false. It has some true parts in it. But it is, as a document, mostly just-so stories put together by a priesthood which was facilitating its power as well as the political agenda of King Josiah.

    It’s as “true” as Scientology. It’s as “true” as the Book of Mormon. It’s as true as the Vedas.

    Which is to say, these religions are not true at all which is clearly reflected in their Holy Books which may have some facts in them. Sometimes even some true stories, though they’re generally not significant in proving the alleged religious truth.

    But, in the end, they’re just not true because we see where they came from. How they changed. And how utterly-false much of their own “truth” happens to be.

    • Jacobus van Beverningk
      Posted September 15, 2010 at 6:22 am | Permalink

      “Around 600 BCE, the Judean king, Josiah, wished to unify Israel and Judah. The monotheists, under Josiah, produced the first written work in which .. etc etc”

      Interesting! If I’d like to know more about that theory, can you recommend some books about it?

      • Steve
        Posted September 15, 2010 at 7:46 am | Permalink

        Jacobus, MosesZD may have other books in mind, but I thought I’d chime in and suggest The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman.

        • Sajanas
          Posted September 15, 2010 at 7:51 am | Permalink

          Oh snap, Jinx

        • Jack van Beverningk
          Posted September 15, 2010 at 8:27 am | Permalink

          Steve, I did read that one, and while the authors do seem to push back the date of when the Bible was written, I didn’t quite get the idea of it being the result of an effort to join two otherwise quite different kingdoms. Still an interesting read (if you’re interested in archeology).

          • Steve
            Posted September 15, 2010 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

            Not terribly different kingdoms, in some respects, but two quite separate kingdoms. I think they argue pretty strongly for there never having been a unified kingdom and Josiah having invented the story of one generations later.

      • Sajanas
        Posted September 15, 2010 at 7:50 am | Permalink

        I’ve been meaning to read
        The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts, by Israel Finkelstein, who is big into debunking the Bible as early history stuff. From what I was able to get from wikipedia, the Jews started appearing in the 10th century BC, during a period when all the big empires were in decline, and didn’t have much resemblance to the accounts in the Bible till after the Babylonian Captivity. So, no Genesis and Exodus, but also no David or Solomon either, since there is no evidence of some sort of great Jewish Empire. Its probably just a fake golden age people made up to precede the Babylonian conquest.

        • Steve
          Posted September 15, 2010 at 8:01 am | Permalink

          Sajanas, as I recall, while Finkelstein and Silberman do describe the patriarchs, Exodus, and conquest of Canaan as not having existed, I think they suggest David and Solomon did exist and just didn’t accomplish anything resembling what the Bible says they did.

          • Sajanas
            Posted September 15, 2010 at 8:08 am | Permalink

            I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. My first venture into Textual Criticism was Misquoting Jesus, and it was all New Testament. But certainly there was no golden empire that was larger than current day Israel. Its more like King Arthur… sure there may have been a king named Arthur who had a round table, but he wasn’t necessarily at all like the stories someone made up about him hundreds of years later.
            I mostly say it because it shocks me just how little proof we have for the early bible, which is pretty brutal when you consider that Abraham, Moses, Joshua and David form the core of what we think of as Judaism. I mean, I went to church till I was 16, and I *never* heard anything from the post Solomon Old Testament. Nothing. It is never taught, and yet its the only part that has any remote chance of being real.

            • Steve
              Posted September 15, 2010 at 8:23 am | Permalink

              Yup.

            • Tacroy
              Posted September 15, 2010 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

              It’s even worse than that: Exodus almost certainly didn’t happen. The best known bit of Biblical historicity besides Jesus was made out of whole cloth.

              And nobody ever talks about that, ever. It’s so weird to me.

            • Steve
              Posted September 15, 2010 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

              Yeah, Tacroy (whom I can’t seem to reply directly to [probably too many levels in on the thread]), I believe Sajanas is saying King David is like King Arthur, which seems like a pretty good comparison. The Exodus, though–as you, Sajanas, I, Finkelstein, and Silberman agree–didn’t happen at all.

              I wouldn’t say “out of whole cloth,” though, as there were clear and specific bits of inspiration that Finkelstein and Silberman discuss. Quite fictional, though.

            • Sajanas
              Posted September 16, 2010 at 8:39 am | Permalink

              @Tacroy

              It is weird isn’t it? Especially when you consider that the adult Bible groups at my former church would have big maps of Biblical empires, but none of them were any more real than maps of Gondor. And theological people don’t want to talk about it because the lack of Moses and David really undercut Jesus and everything else.

      • MosesZD
        Posted September 15, 2010 at 7:56 am | Permalink

        I got to this from the side of textual criticism and various flavors of the Documentary Hypothesis. That hypothesis stands in opposition to the typical Mosaic Authorship hypothesis of Judaism and Christianity which held, for all but the last 300-years of these two religions the sole interpretation of the origin of the Pentateuch (authored by Moses).

        I’ve picked up the archeology pell-mell over the years. I think a good place to start would be The Bible Unearthed. It’s authors are legitimate archaeologists who do not follow the “Bible and Spade*” practice of interpretation.

        Also, reading up on the Ugarit and it’s religious practices would be helpful. Here you will see a Pantheon of Gods lead by EL (one of the primary Gods incorporated) though the religion seems to revolve more around his son Baal.

        There are other theories to the Kenite origins of YHWH. But I’m not well versed in them.

        Yahweh, btw, is the god of the bible that walks with man. He is the direct personal relationship. El is the one who is distant. Won’t be seen. Hides behind burning bushes, in the clouds, makes mountains off-limits. That sort of thing.

        Vastly different relationships. And those dirty little finger prints are pretty clear in the Bible once you know what to look for.

        *(That is they don’t seek to make the evidence prove the bible true, but let the evidence tell them what happened.)

        • Dominic
          Posted September 18, 2010 at 2:29 am | Permalink

          The Unauthorized Version: Truth & Fiction in the Bible by Robin Lane Fox

  6. Jacobus van Beverningk
    Posted September 15, 2010 at 6:18 am | Permalink

    It’s all a huge ‘moving the goal post’.

    God started out as ‘walking among men’, patting Abraham on the back, having a nice meal with him while telling him what to do and where to live.

    When science started to make the God-of-the-gaps smaller and smaller (by making the gaps smaller), the pious started to make him bigger and bigger in other ways… to compensate.
    They have no choice (other than rationality).

    I once heard a priest suggest that God ‘lives’ in the fourth dimension.
    With M-theory and its 11 dimensions, I’m sure he has God elevated to the 12th dimension by now.

  7. Posted September 15, 2010 at 6:18 am | Permalink

    I literally just woke from a dream where I was in a room with my Mom’s Mother (who died before I was born), and hanging on the wall in this room, locked behind some plexiglass, were huge, purple plastic rosary beads. In this dream, the rosary beads had belonged to my sister (who died in 1978). I asked for someone to unlock the glass so I could retrieve the beads, which belonged to me. Someone came along, unlocked the glass and handed me the beads. Then I sat straight up in my bed, fully awake. I am not a person of faith, never have been, so I’m quite sure this dream is not an indication that I am wrong in this regard; however, yesterday, I was thinking about my grandfather (1881-1975) and wishing he were here to answer many questions that I have. I wished it possible for people I love who are departed to visit me and converse with me in dreams. So I phoned a dear friend of mine who is deeply religious, and she said maybe the dream means I am supposed to become Catholic. I said, “You know I love you, but I think not.” I fed the kitties and have just shared this very long comment with you over my morning coffee. And despite my non-believing, one of my favorite sayings is, “Synchronicities are God’s way of remaining anonymous.” So, really, where DOES God hide???

    • Jacobus van Beverningk
      Posted September 15, 2010 at 6:30 am | Permalink

      As a non-believer, the reply should be obvious: there IS no God, so there’s no hiding either. It’s THAT simple.
      And synchronicities, no matter how captivating Jung wrote about them, are, in the end, nothing but coincidences.
      Having said all that .. I know .. letting go of departed beloved ones, IS extremely hard to do.

      • Urmensch
        Posted September 15, 2010 at 11:38 am | Permalink

        I had a dream last night where this guy kept freaking out about snails because he claimed someone was using them as spies.

        If I tried interpreting the crazy shit I dream I’d be wearing a tinfoil hat.

        • MadScientist
          Posted September 15, 2010 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

          Hehehe; I had one in which a special recipe for tea called for crushing a porcelain cup and putting it in the tea. Somehow I don’t think I’ll be walking into a lab and picking up broken crucibles (aka “boiling chips”) and putting them in tea.

    • bric
      Posted September 15, 2010 at 6:31 am | Permalink

      Theology as it is practised in the real world

      http://christianblogs.christianet.com/1152039904.htm

    • Tacroy
      Posted September 15, 2010 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

      Query: do you remember all the dreams you have that aren’t fraught with symbolism and emotion? I mean, three or four dreams a night over the course of a year means a sample size on the order of a couple thousand incidents, and dreams are very much influenced by what you want and have been thinking about (like, say, “yesterday, I was thinking about my grandfather … and wishing he were here to answer many questions that I have”).

      Basically, you had that dream because your subconsciousness decided to have that dream. That’s really all there is to it, I’m afraid.

      • Sajanas
        Posted September 16, 2010 at 8:41 am | Permalink

        Though I quite World of Warcraft, I still have dreams about playing it, yearning to get more epic loot for my character.

        Surely this is its way of telling me to come back to the game, right? I would put no more stock in dreams of yearning for Catholicism than I would for my dreams yearning to play WoW.

  8. Insightful Ape
    Posted September 15, 2010 at 6:23 am | Permalink

    I think a better analogy than the invisible pink unicorn would be WMD in Iraq.

    • Jacobus van Beverningk
      Posted September 15, 2010 at 6:36 am | Permalink

      Does absence of evidence mean evidence of absence?
      Also, if you add probability to either premise, I think the IPU IS the better analogy.

      Okay… I REALLY should get to work now, I’m babbling…

      • Tyro
        Posted September 15, 2010 at 7:56 am | Permalink

        Does absence of evidence mean evidence of absence?

        Sometimes, yes it does.

        Given all our attempts to look, it certainly is evidence that there isn’t a God that wants us to know it or who acts to help us.

      • Insightful Ape
        Posted September 15, 2010 at 8:25 am | Permalink

        Well, negative evidence, at some point, needs to be taken into consideration. If proper studies are done and no evidence of something is found, it is probably not there.
        “Type two error”, aka “beta”, is failure of a study to show something that is there. The “power” of a study is 1 minus beta.
        While this is somehow arbitrary, in the medical literature, if a study with a power of 80% fails to reveal an effect or correlation, it is generally considered exclusionary.

        • Chris
          Posted June 14, 2014 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

          Precisely. The elephant in the room, if you expect it to be there, leaves a lot of traces. The lack of these strongly implies the lack of said creature, as long as the definition holds true.

          As the theists can’t seem to describe their elephant and the side affects of it standing there, calling bullshit is the only sensible option.

      • Posted September 15, 2010 at 9:17 am | Permalink

        Absence of evidence constitutes proof of absence once the search space has been exhausted.

        For exemple, the absence of evidence of the presence of a live mature bull elephant in the room with me is proof that there are no live mature bull elephants in the room with me.

        And gods are the biggest bull elephants not in room you’ll ever find….

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Jim Teacher
          Posted September 15, 2010 at 10:40 am | Permalink

          Yes, they just keep biggering the room.

        • Insightful Ape
          Posted September 15, 2010 at 11:39 am | Permalink

          Again, I’d think WMD in Iraq would be a good analogy.

  9. Posted September 15, 2010 at 6:25 am | Permalink

    LOL; “pulling a Fermat!” Very good.

    • Jacobus van Beverningk
      Posted September 15, 2010 at 6:32 am | Permalink

      I used to do that ALL the time .. in my ‘homework’ days. (As a slightly more sophisticated variant to “the dog ate my homework”.
      (It never worked, btw)

      • GrueBleen
        Posted September 15, 2010 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

        Maybe you should commune with Ross Perot about “doing the same thing over again, hoping it will turn out better this time.”

  10. Tim Harris
    Posted September 15, 2010 at 6:40 am | Permalink

    In Exodus, I think it is, God appears to the Israelites (or some of them, the chosen few)and under his feet there was a pavement of sapphire…; but our rabbi thinks such visions are merely childish… Well. And how does he get from that vision of God to his? That earlier vision is, historically, what his vision (if you can call it that) depends upon.
    MosesZD is absolutely right to draw attention to the fundamentally political nature of religion. Try reading the Japanese ‘sacred books’ – the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki (they are only regarded as ‘sacred’ by a few benighted believers in the now defunct State Shinto – though in the right circumstances State Shinto could possibly be revived), and their political intent – that of establishing a line of imperial succession going back to the beginnings – is fairly clear; the trouble with the Bible is that its political dimension has been obscured because of, in particular, the Christian belief in the spiritual verities which it is said the Bible conveys, verities which are said to be eternal and transcend ‘the smoak and stirr of this dim spit, which men call earth’. The more its political dimension is brought out, the better.

    • Tim Harris
      Posted September 15, 2010 at 6:41 am | Permalink

      ‘dim SPOT’

  11. Matthew Cobb
    Posted September 15, 2010 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    Never miss out on repeating a good joke when it’s appropriate. Here’s one on exactly this subject that I posted here back in March, from Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg’s new book, The Silence of Dark Water.

    Wittenberg was at Loch Ness on holiday and was appalled by all the tourist trash: t shirts, pens etc.

    Wittenberg says: ”‘So much stuff and no one’s even seen the creature!’ I complained. ‘So what do you do for a living?’ came the reply.”

    • Chris
      Posted June 14, 2014 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

      Owch!

  12. littlejohn
    Posted September 15, 2010 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    She’s under my couch, at least for now. Next question.

  13. Posted September 15, 2010 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    from Ophelia Benson’s essay “A Deal Breaker”:

    “A God that permanently hides, and gives us no real evidence of its
    existence – yet considers it a virtue to have faith that it does exist despite
    the lack of evidence – is a God that’s just plain cheating, and I want
    nothing to do with it. It has no right to blame us for not believing it
    exists, given the evidence and our reasoning capacities, so if it did exist
    and did blame us, it would be a nasty piece of work. Fortunately, I
    don’t worry about that much, because I don’t think it does exist.” — from “Why We Are Atheists”, or http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/articleprint.php?num=444

    • Posted September 15, 2010 at 7:31 am | Permalink

      I really like this quote, and want to read more, but I’m having trouble getting the page to load. Thanks for posting this Ray (and for writing in Ophelia). I hope to read more of it soon.

      • Posted September 15, 2010 at 7:49 am | Permalink

        The best way is to buy “Why We Are Atheists: 50 Voices of Disbelief”, edited by our own Russell Blackford.

        (Although you can find the essay on-line elsewhere. Someone seems to have posted a .pdf of the entire book!)

    • Posted September 15, 2010 at 7:51 am | Permalink

      I found it here:
      http://www.butterfliesandwheels.org/2009/a-deal-breaker/

    • Mike
      Posted September 15, 2010 at 7:54 am | Permalink

      I’m reminded of an old SF short story (what Aldiss would have called a Shaggy-God tale) where God has built a Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve time and again on planets across the universe.

      Finally at the post-serpent confrontation, this Adam and Eve stand up to God’s judgement. God is greatly relieved after wasting so much time to finally have created beings worthy of respect.

      • GrueBleen
        Posted September 15, 2010 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

        If at first you don’t succeed … it just proves you aren’t perfect !

    • Posted September 15, 2010 at 11:21 am | Permalink

      Thanks Ray. I was going to comment as soon as I saw the title of this post – “ooh yes, I wrote about just that for 50 Voices of Disbelief” – but you saved me the trouble. :- )

      • Kevin
        Posted September 15, 2010 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

        Nice essay.

        • Posted September 15, 2010 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

          Thanks. (I have to admit, it makes me laugh in places.)

          • Kevin
            Posted September 15, 2010 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

            I have that same experience when I re-read some of my best stuff (not nearly as good as yours, but I have my moments).

            I think “when did I get so clever”?

            And then I wonder about substance dualism…and laugh out loud.

  14. Posted September 15, 2010 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    I’m having difficulty unpacking his answers for the question “Why does god hide?” The best I can determine, they are:
    1) If you’re asking this question, then you don’t understand god
    2) “Religion seeks to find god” but shouldn’t be understood to answer anything else.
    3) god isn’t hidden to some people
    4) you can’t prove an emotional response through an analytic exercise.

    Clear now? My favorite however is number 3. My question then would be, if some people experience god, why do they experience god in such divergent ways, and how can we tell that those experiences are anything other than their own imaginations/feelings/brains?

    • Sajanas
      Posted September 15, 2010 at 7:54 am | Permalink

      I’m reminded of one of the episodes of Penn & Teller’s BS, where they had a room full of alien abductees who all were abducted by different aliens, and yet none of them though it was strange that none of them should have the same experience.

      People draw comfort from their delusions by the fact that other people have similar delusions, not the same ones. So weird…

      • Posted September 15, 2010 at 9:16 am | Permalink

        If the stories agree, it’s evidence that they didn’t make it up. If the stories differ, it’s evidence that there are more kinds of aliens out there. Bleif in alien visitations is one of those unsinkable rubber duckies.

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted September 15, 2010 at 8:53 am | Permalink

      3) god isn’t hidden to some people

      True. You can visit those people in your local mental hospital.

    • Steve
      Posted September 15, 2010 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

      #1 Sorta like J.P.Morgan commenting that if you have ask what his yacht cost, you couldn’t afford it anyway or Louis Armstrong’s response that if you have to ask for a definition of jazz, you wouldn’t understand

  15. Eric MacDonald
    Posted September 15, 2010 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    The really sad part of the intervention by the minister on the last thread, in my opinion, was the idea of something’s being ‘true’ in the context of the (religious) story.

    How can this conceiveably be a reasonable understanding of the idea of truth? After all, we know very well what ‘true in the context of a story’ means. How many children had Lady MacBeth? Well, in the story, so far as I remember, none at all. It’s a question that does not arise.

    In the context of the Christian story, Jesus is the Son of God, and, in the context of the story, this has a perfectly straightforward meaning. He had a human mother, and, in some sense never made clear, he had God for a father.

    But Christians have always wanted to claim much more for Jesus than this, and you have to go outside of the story in order to make that claim. And so, all the early disputes about Jesus’ status – whether he was ‘of the same substance’ as the father, or ‘of like subtance’ with the father, whether he had two wills, a human and a divine will, or just one, a human will, whether he was, in a manner never made clear, part of a tripartite but indivisible godhead, or whether he was adopted by God, whether he was fully human, or whether he only appeared to be human – only make sense outside the story. But if they only make sense outside the story, then what could it possibly mean to hang a whole religion on what is true of Jesus in the context of the story, which always hints, fairly broadly, that you have to go outside the story to find out the truth about him?

    The point of course is that the idea of a hidden god is only useful once it seems clear that all these disputes have no intelligible solution. But in these disputes lie the real dynamic of religion. You can’t generate religious enthusiasm – and without at least some kind of emotional dynamic religion is just playing with words – unless you can speak in exalted terms of the participants in the religious story. It can’t be like the Cheshire Cat, who leaves behind only his smile. We have to have the feline shape, and the fur and the purr as well, along with the lofty indifference.

    Too many people are like our friend Tim, who thinks that he can preserve what is religiously important without saying anything remotely religious. But what this does is to isolate a small story telling group, while the religion gets on with doing its damage in the world. Sure, Tim can get along just fine with science, because his religion doesn’t say anything about the real world. It’s only a story after all. And, like any reader of Sherlock Holmes, who can have all sorts of information about Holmes, so long as it is confined strictly to what Conon Doyle wrote, Tim can know all about Jesus. But, if it’s just a story, how can some of the gospels be true, and the others irrelevant – and there are dozens of them? It’s only a story after all. That’s where he meets his Waterloo, I think, but he doesn’t even have to face the facts, because the story is just what he wants it to be. It’s too simple, and too dishonest. He should be able to see that.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted September 15, 2010 at 7:49 am | Permalink

      If I gave a prize for Best Critique of Religion Using Felids, Eric would win it for the above:

      But in these disputes lie the real dynamic of religion. You can’t generate religious enthusiasm – and without at least some kind of emotional dynamic religion is just playing with words – unless you can speak in exalted terms of the participants in the religious story. It can’t be like the Cheshire Cat, who leaves behind only his smile. We have to have the feline shape, and the fur and the purr as well, along with the lofty indifference.

      Awesome!

  16. Bob Carlson
    Posted September 15, 2010 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    The proper response to this kind of argument is derisive laughter.

    People find it hard not to believe things that were instilled in childhood. This is sad, not funny. It seems to me that the only ones deserving derision are those like Francis Collins, who acquired the belief as an adult.

    • Jim Teacher
      Posted September 15, 2010 at 10:51 am | Permalink

      This is indeed sad, but also on some level constitute child abuse, and that should be the next target of the Gnu Atheists. A lot of attention has justly been paid to the children who have been physically and sexually abused, but, as child defender Andrew Vachss has noted, emotional abuse is often as damaging or more damaging. This is the way religion propagates itself–frightening children, who go on to frighten their children, etc. If this cyclic, psychic child abuse can be stopped, religion will cease.

    • Posted September 15, 2010 at 11:26 am | Permalink

      Yes but the response is to the argument, not the belief. Once you get to the stage of making affirmative arguments, you’re beyond the simple belief of the child, so sadness isn’t really the right response.

  17. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted September 15, 2010 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    I read the original article, and wasn’t convinced (surprise!)

    My only worthwhile reflection was that in future everytime I read the phrase ‘higher power’ I would substitute ‘deeper bullshit’.

  18. GaryU
    Posted September 15, 2010 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    The minister from yesterday, and this rabbi… where do they come from? I don’t know what each of your personal experiences were, but I was raised in an independent Pentecostal church that later became part of the Assemblies of God. I was taught that God was REAL. He could speak DIRECTLY to me! Jesus was real, too. He walked on the Earth, presumably ate food, peed, pooed, and all that rot. Then he was killed in a very real, very dead sort of way. Later he came back to life, hung out with his mates, and then went home to help Daddy run the business. Adam and Eve were really, really the first two humans and really, really talked to a snake. For real. Everything in between? It was all really, really real, too. All of it!

    And now I meet Xtians that say, “Oh, don’t be *silly*. It’s not really, really real, and we all know that. You silly Gnu Atheists are attacking a straw man!”

    No, Dude, you’re wrong. We were taught that it was true, using the very real definition of “true”.

    Sorry for the rant.

    • Darrell E
      Posted September 15, 2010 at 9:22 am | Permalink

      Your post is a great example of what really cracks me up about such claims by liberal theists. Do they not understand that most of the people they are addressing have direct experience of religion? That many of them were sincere committed believers at one time? They are only fooling themselves. They need to go slumming with the ordinary church goers for awhile to regain their perspective.

  19. Posted September 15, 2010 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    Never mind that, as Richard Dawkins points out, we’re usually trying to reach not those whose arguments we address, but the interested bystanders.

    Doesn’t that just mean we need to understand the motivations of those interested bystanders?

  20. Darrell E
    Posted September 15, 2010 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    Quotes from Rabbi Lurie’s Why Does God Hide? article, 2) A Misunderstanding of the Nature of Religion

    “This statement presents the assumption that the purpose of religion is to address the same questions as science, and that God is a hypothesis to answer such scientific questions as “How did the Earth form?”, “What causes disease?”, and “Where does lightening come from?” “

    If Lurie really believes that then he needs to address this to his fellow theists, ’cause they doin it wrong. If he is trying to paraphrase the common skeptic/atheist claim that religions make claims about the properties and functioning of reality, then he is a little of the mark. Atheists/skeptics do not claim that answering the same questions as science is the purpose of religion. We simply note that it is in fact true that religions often make such claims, and that, regardless of what liberal cutting edge theologians may believe, doing so is an inevitable aspect of religion.

    Religion is a compilation of humanity’s (sic) yearning to find meaning and purpose, to document the encounter with the Divine realm, and to help facilitative (sic) such encounters for others.” (emphasis mine)

    The first part here, in italics, is pretty good. But, if religion is an account of humanities encounter with the divine realm, then why shouldn’t the bible be taken at its word? And that last part has a rather ominous ring to it when you consider the history of Lurie’s religion.

    “…. and does not ignore the obvious fact that many do look to religion to answer scientific questions ….

    This is just playing a shell game here. Most theists don’t look to religion to answer scientific questions. They could care less about scientific questions. They simply have faith. They look to religion for support in maintaining the world view they wish to be true.

    “This, instead, is a declaration that the true purpose of religion is to help us recognize that we are more than our momentary desires, our fleeting thoughts, and our painful sense of separation from each other and nature.”

    Is Lurie bent on attempting a massive reform of religion? For the purposes that Lurie claims here, religion is, at best, a sham. Religion is not necessary to ameliorate feelings of purposelessness, loneliness, ignorance or fear of death. It is much more useful to understand the simple concept that we, human beings, must look to ourselves and to other people to create purpose in our lives, if desired, to empathize with each other, to collaboratively investigate the properties of reality by rational means, and to comfort each other.

    • Posted September 15, 2010 at 10:05 am | Permalink

      Yesterday I was watching the (linked) Great Issues Forum on Religion featuring Dan Dennett and others. At the end, David Sloan Wilson makes the excellent point that people pray to God for things that are *not* achievable in your material world.

      If your world is poverty-stricken, offering only a surfeit of “purposelessness, loneliness, ignorance or fear of death” then there is much greater opportunity for fundamentalist religion to take hold.

      • Darrell E
        Posted September 15, 2010 at 10:52 am | Permalink

        “…then there is much greater opportunity for fundamentalist religion to take hold.”

        Yes, I agree with that. I think that is very obvious.

        “At the end, David Sloan Wilson makes the excellent point that people pray to God for things that are *not* achievable in your material world.”

        I am not so sure of that. I would need to hear some good evidence before putting much confidence in that claim. But, even if true, surely most believers, sincere ones at least, do believe that it is possible for their deity to answer their prayers?

        Apologies, but I don’t understand what you are trying to say. Could you please try to clarify for me?

  21. Posted September 15, 2010 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    “Delusional and evasive.”

    It would be funny if it wasn’t true.

    …alright, it’s often very funny to see in action, but not at all cute the way kids believing in giant pink bunnies is cute.

  22. Neil
    Posted September 15, 2010 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    “One horse-laugh is worth ten thousand syllogisms. It is not only more effective; it is also vastly more intelligent.”

    H. L. Mencken

  23. Posted September 15, 2010 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    I’m curious whether anyone here has read Greta Christina’s essay on Trekkie Religion and Secular Judaisim? That essay and one other concerning “What we believe when no one’s looking” are extremely pertinent to this topic and to what the presbyterian minister was saying in comments to the last post but one.

    Here’s the beginning (hat tip to GC):

    “If religion really were just a metaphor, just a comforting and inspiring story that gives shape and meaning to people’s lives… what might it look like?

    One of the most common tropes among progressive religious believers is Religion As Metaphor. “Religious beliefs don’t have to be literally true,” the trope says. “They’re just useful metaphors: stories that give shape and meaning to our lives.”

    And here’s the link:

    http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2009/12/trekkie-religion-and-secular-judaism.html

    What she talks about in that essay is, I think, what is really going on for the moderate-to-liberal religious. It describes my mom and dad perfectly.

    Check it out. Thoughts?

    • Kevin
      Posted September 15, 2010 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

      I love Greta’s mind. So….well….mindly.

      I’m sure she’s onto something, but I’ll go just a bit further and apply it to another group. Those who claim to be “spiritual but not religious”.

      Here’s my contention about both groups: They’re atheists. Closeted atheists.

      Deep in their brains, they have come to the realization that no god exists, and that their god is not only falsifiable but false. But they don’t want to come right out and say they’re atheists. Because of the disapprobation that comes with coming out and saying so directly.

      If I had to use an analogy, atheism is the new gay.

      So, the liberal religions convert “hard” facts into “metaphors”. It’s oh-so-easy then if the stakes are no higher than metaphor. For every truth claim they make, they can nudge and wink and slyly insinuate they aren’t really truth in the sense of being “true”.

      The SBNR crowd goes even one step further. They’re almost separated from the woo but can’t quite bring themselves to make the definitive leap. (I tried to be one of these folks once; it was like wearing ill-fitting shoes.)

      I think both groups would declare their true beliefs if atheism didn’t carry negative connotations. It’s easier to tell your mom, “I don’t go to church but I’m spiritual but not religious” than it is to say “I don’t go to church because there’s no god.”

      For the religion-as-metaphor crowd, I think they like the “community” aspects of religion. The pot luck suppers, the singing, and all the rest. Which is fine. But I get the distinct impression that they’re secretly eyeing each other every Sunday, wondering if their dirty secret atheism will be ‘outed’.

      Of course, I have no data to support either contention, so I could be just full of shit. But that’s the way it seems to me.

      • Tacroy
        Posted September 15, 2010 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

        I would actually argue that all people are “closet atheists”.

        Look: when you are hungry and there is no food in the house, you don’t pray to God – you get on the phone and order a pizza. When you witness a car crash, you don’t (just) pray to God – you call an ambulance. When you want to tell your friend to meet you at 5:00 pm, you don’t pray to God and hope she (or He) gets the message – you write her an e-mail.

        If you live your life as if there were no God, you are an atheist regardless of what you do on Sundays.

      • Posted September 15, 2010 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

        I love Greta, too:)) I think , though, that it’s not just about pot-luck suppers. It’s about family and friends and people you’ve known all your life. Religion is intimately bound up with culture–so much so , that you can’t pull out the religion without pulling out almost all of the culture, too. Doing so leaves gaping holes behind. Holes that I’ve seen (on forums at The Meming of Life and other places) young secular couples with children trying plaintively to fill with “Solstice?”, in other words, customs that have no meaning for them at all. Just something to plug that gaping hole. That line in the bible about “the customs of the peoples are false” is the falsest statement in the bible. The Customs of the Peoples are the *only* thing there is. I’ve managed to sidestep this whole issue myself by marrying a Japanese guy and living in Japan–voila! Ancient customs galore which *do* have meaning for my husband, and therefore for our children as well. (Lest you get the wrong impression, I married him because he’s cute and responsible and smart–not to get away from the christian church:)) But if I’m an atheist an my husband is (nominally, but not really) Buddhist, wasn’t it technically hypocritical on my part to get married in the Episcopal church?Yes, but defiantly hypocritical. Because, as they say in the South, these are my people. I would never have gotten married in just any old church. I think, maybe, a number of mainline christians feel that way. Maybe most of them? Their lives are not centered around whether they are “saved” or not, and certainly wouldn’t ask anyone else whether they were or not (ewww! too Baptist–*very* tacky).

        Forgive me if this is rambling–I guess I’m just trying to work out in my own head why it seemed that comments made here to the Presbyterian minister the other day were…beside the point. Or making the right points to the wrong person. I’m pretty sure he was scratching his head and wondering why he was being lambasted for literalistic biblical beliefs *which he doesn’t hold*. To borrow Greta Christina’s phrase, he’s probably basically secular “when nobody’s looking”. Or?

        I honestly think secularized religion (i.e.–keep the traditions, ditch the dogma) is where mainstream christianity (protestants mostly, but some catholics as well) was headed, and that growing trend triggered the fundamentalist backlash of recent decades. The atheist movement has in a sense jumped on a slow-moving train–the slow secularization of mainstream christianity. That’s why the progressively religious have far more in common with atheists than either group has with fundamentalists (I think Sam Harris pointed that out first). Left to itself, would that process have continued quietly on? Has the atheist movement derailed it? I hope not.

        • Kevin
          Posted September 16, 2010 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

          I think we only disagree slightly.

          I use “pot luck supper” as metaphor for “cultural Christianity”. I think if there is anything that religion “offers” that atheism doesn’t, it’s that.

          But it’s more than a little disingenuous to claim that the *reason* for religion is the cultural aspects. And that the truth claims of religion don’t matter. Because, in the end, that means you’re lying in a very cold, calculated way. Not only to yourselves, but to the community at large.

          Of course, you can be a cultural Christian and be an atheist. My brother’s family LOVES Chrismas – but they’re both openly atheist, and their now-adult kids have been inside a church maybe 3 times in their entire lives, were never baptised, and are at best apatheists (who cares?). But they celebrate the “holidays”, Easter included.

          • Posted September 16, 2010 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

            I think so, too. Dale McGowan has a good post on “what religion does right”, and it’s mainly the community aspect he points to (that, and passing a plate under people’s noses in front of all their acquaintances every week is a really good way to get donations:)).

            I love Christmas, too. That Tim Minchin song “White Wine in the Sun” makes me cry every time I hear it–I know just what he means. Maybe atheists are an enormous liver in the detoxification processs of christianity. Or maybe that’s the function of liberal, mostly secular, mainline christians? Hmmm…

    • Posted September 15, 2010 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

      As usual, Greta nails it.

    • Tyro
      Posted September 15, 2010 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

      Just read it. Articulate, well-reasoned, entertaining and relevant, what more can you ask for? Great stuff, thanks for the link.

      • Posted September 15, 2010 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

        You’re most welcome:)) Greta’s awesome. Hope she comes back from the SSA convention soon.

  24. Ken Pidcock
    Posted September 15, 2010 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    The experience of God requires deliberate and sustained effort, as well. That is why all religious and spiritual traditions teach us to meditate, pray, practice gratitude, and seek God’s presence on a regular, deliberate basis.

    So, if you force yourself to believe, you may experience God’s presence. That’s the problem with all you guys. You just haven’t forced yourself to believe. If you’d only do that, you’d see how silly your skepticism really is.

    For the rest of us, our ego, which acts from the need for protection and survival, tends to resist experiencing God’s presence (although it often loves latching on to the controlling aspects of doctrinaire religion) because this requires that we acknowledge that there is a higher power than ourselves and our minds.

    Let go of your ego, and come into possession of extraordinary knowledge. O…K. (To be fair, this isn’t a conceit restricted to Abrahamic fools.)

    • Kevin
      Posted September 15, 2010 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

      The experience of God requires deliberate and sustained effort, as well.

      Why? Seriously. Why?

      Here we have someone who claims:
      1. God (or more likely G-d) is real, all-powerful, and all-loving.
      2. God/G-d wishes mankind to know him so they can worship him. And the only way to get the proper post-corporeal housing is to believe in and worship God/G-d while you’re alive. Because if you wait until you’re dead, that’s too late.
      3. God/G-d has revealed himself unambiguously and clearly in the past (admittedly to a highly select few and more than two THOUSAND years ago, but the point is that he’s done it, so there’s no compunction against it).
      4. But in order for US to “experience” God/G-d, we have to pray, believe before we believe, pray some more, believe that we believe, pray lots more, believe that we have believed, pray more, and then pray more. Because God somehow is shy in the way that I’m shy about emptying my bladder in public bathrooms.
      5. And if somehow you don’t believe that a hidden God/G-d is a real God/G-d, you’ve violated the rules of the game. And get the worst post-life real estate, with the crummy neighbors who stay up late when you have to go to the sulfur pits in the morning.

      Does anyone swallow this line of thinking? Anyone?

      One wonders if they actually can hear their own arguments the way we hear them.

  25. Kevin
    Posted September 15, 2010 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    OK, I’ll admit I snapped a bit yesterday at the preacher.

    But here’s my problem…theists declare that religion CAN answer the “big questions” in ways that science cannot.

    So, I have to ask — why, then haven’t you done so already.

    Organized religion is probably 3500+ years old. The same questions that religion purports to answer were asked back then. But there are still no answers.

    In fact, for the past 500 years, science has been helping religion by reducing the number of questions it has to answer. For example, religion doesn’t have to answer questions about the weather, what the sun and moon and stars are made of, where animals came from, and on and on and on.

    Each and every year, the number of questions religion needs to ponder in its oh-so-special way is reduced. Why then, have we yet to hear ANY answer from ANY religion about ANY of these “ultimate” questions.

    After 3500 years, I think we deserve better from religion.

    Unless, of course, it’s all just a con. “Come inside the tent and see the two-headed boy…only 10% of your income for life…small price to pay to see the two-headed boy.”

    So, here’s the challenge to “religion”. Put up or shut up. If you have the answers to these questions, let us know what they are or admit that you haven’t a clue. Time’s up.

  26. Anonym
    Posted September 15, 2010 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    The real provenance is all revealed rather nicely in 2 Kings 22, wherein is recorded how the high priest (Hilkiah) tells the scribe (Shaphan) to tell the king (Josiah) that he (Hilkiah) has “found the book of the law in the house of the lord.” — doesn’t say anything about anybody named Moses. The setup (priest to scribe to king) is so knockdown obvious it reads like a TV trope.

    • Kevin
      Posted September 15, 2010 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I’ve often thought that the priesthood was invented by pretty smart guys who didn’t want to work in the fields.

      Cushy inside job; only work part-time; get lots of respect and all. All you have to do is convince the PTB that you’re speaking on behalf of the deity du jour.

      Shake a few bones, read a few entrails, consult the star charts and say something *just* vague enough to be considered a partial answer…voila…no herding goats for you!

      • Anonym
        Posted September 15, 2010 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

        Ah, but when the temple priests complained to Herod that it would be sacrilege for the unanointed to labor in the rebuilding of the temple, he put them to work at the heavy lifting — talk about a slam dunk ‘see you and raise’ — and the priests knew enough of Herod’s reputation not to challenge him further … they worked.

        • Kevin
          Posted September 15, 2010 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

          Of course, that was their fault, wasn’t it?

          Priests should never complain about the quality of the help…especially if they’re not paying for it.

          • Anonym
            Posted September 15, 2010 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

            Well, actually, the priests pushed the sacrilege bit because they opposed the hated Caesar-appointed Herod to get credit for rebuilding the derelict temple — they thought they could stop the rebuilding completely — but he pwned them with devious reason, and raw power.

  27. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted September 15, 2010 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    Lurie is just full of it, isn’t he?

    2) A Misunderstanding of the Nature of Religion

    So, gods therefore purpose. And, purpose, therefore gods.

    This is really the point where the religious mind and I part ways big time.

    Never mind that I would say that we extract meaning and purpose from realizing that we are part of nature’s processes. Never mind that the demand for purpose implies that the gods in question were creationists of self-aware humans.

    But don’t they realize that their scenario for purpose, their utter desire for it, is equivalent to willing slavery?

    Here is this supernatural, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent being that takes upon himself to make self-aware beings – and he makes them naturally inferior on purpose! The immorality is beyond belief (yes, literary), since we would have ethical concerns of constraining minds if put in the same situation.

    Say, if and when we make our first AI. Many books have been written about the conditions of such creations and our moral willingness to help them self-realize to the best of our ability.

    This is one of the more disgusting points that post-semitic religions want to make.

    And now it is time for the blatant contradictions to insufficient evidence and facts vs “purpose”:

    3) A Misunderstanding of the Means to Experience God’s Presence … 4) A Misunderstanding of the Proof

    Now there is evidence, but 3) the insufficiency doesn’t matter and 4) we can just pretend that guys like Hawking falsifying the proofs of gods necessity doesn’t exist.

    It’s lying to our faces for [insert gods of choice here], but this is less morally disgusting and it becomes very familiar other time. That doesn’t mean I have to pretend to like it!

  28. Posted September 15, 2010 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    “Already this week we’ve had a minister come to this website and patiently explain that, yes, religion is predicated on real truths like the divinity and resurrection of Jesus, but, you know, these aren’t really the kind of truths that are true, at least not in the way that scientists and nonreligious folks think of truth, but truths that meet the religious community’s understanding of truth.

    You know, I asked him about exactly that claim – I asked him if he couldn’t see how evasive and empty it looks to people in our community. Alas, he didn’t reply. I really would like to know.

    • Kevin
      Posted September 15, 2010 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

      Well, since you can take his silence as being evasive and empty, I would argue that he did reply, after a fashion.

    • Tim Harris
      Posted September 16, 2010 at 2:23 am | Permalink

      Evasiveness and pained complaints about tone: this is surely all these people have left. To read, say, Keith Ward and Alastair McGrath is to realise that these people have nothing to come back with. What is now being very publicly and forcefully said by those wildebeests, the gnu atheists, is unanswerable, and backing up what they are saying is the relativism where religion is concerned that derives from the disciplines of anthropology, archaeology and history, as well as from the experience of living with people with different cultural backgrounds. The only recourse for somebody like our Rabbi or Parson Tim is an ever more vacuous nebulosity, an ever greater insistence on religious ‘experience’ and its ineffable nature…

      • Posted September 16, 2010 at 4:20 am | Permalink

        Mr. Harris,

        I believe you said you live in Japan. I have a question for you. How is it that the Japanese seem to have managed to ditch the dogma and hang (stubbornly) on to their traditions and customs? What they do is what I think many western religious would like to be able to do. Why did it work for them? (If you have an answer to this, I will be so grateful I will bring you cookies. Or pie. It’s been bugging me for that long:))

        Domo!

        • Sigmund
          Posted September 16, 2010 at 6:17 am | Permalink

          That exact question was bugging me this summer when I spent a month in Kyushu with my wife’s family. The conclusion I came to is that they haven’t dumped the dogma. There is still plenty of superstition in Japan. Look at how popular woo is over there – magnetic bracelets etc. Look at the numbers of temples around the place and the lack of outspoken atheism. That said, the actual dogma of Japanese budhism is rather limited by the fact that they don’t believe in a God figure who makes lists of do’s and don’ts and then tells selected humans to enforce these rules. Because of this there is no great deference to the clergy (of whom there are still surprisingly plenty in Japan). I think Japan was saved by a historical accident that monotheism didn’t reach them at a suitable moment (when it did arrive with the Portuguese it was quickly snuffed out by Japan going into their isolationist period).

          • Tim Harris
            Posted September 16, 2010 at 7:35 am | Permalink

            I have lived in Japan for 37 years. My wife, a concert pianist whom I met and married in London, is Japanese. But I have no pretensions to being an expert on anything… I am not sure how stubbornly the Japanese do hang on to their traditions and customs, but I should say that a very fundamental thing is a sense of communion between the living and the dead: the important thing is the continuance of the ‘ie’ or household (a concept that is broader than ‘family’). I think this is something that derives from native cults, from Confucianism, and from the fact that the peasantry, with the importance they attach to ancestral land (I think you still get something of this in France), at one time at least made up the bulk of the population (lorded over by the samurai class – themselves in turn originally peasant warriors). So that even ‘new’ religions, such as the Buddhist Rissho Kosei-kai, have founded their success to a considerable degree on on incorporating the ‘ie’ and the concomitant concern with ancestral spirits into their – I shan’t say ‘strategy’ – into the body of beliefs that use in proselytising. The American anthropologist, Stewart Elliot Guthrie (who has also written an interesting book in which he suggests that religion derives in the end from anthropomorphism), has written an interesting monograph on Rissho-koseikai’s activities in a small hamlet. Basically, much Japanese religion is customary, and really a folk-religion (and not to be despised because of that), in which native Shinto cults and Buddhism are intermingled. And Japanese religion is fundamentally polytheistic, so that you don’t get the kind of monotheistic monomaniac insistence on being right and on everybody else being wrong (and thererfore worthy of death, enslavement, etc), which I find very refreshing, just as I find Balinese polytheism refreshing: in polytheism, as it appears to me, and to such thinkers as the anthropologist A. David
            Napier and Jonathan Kirsch (the author of ‘God against Gods, the History of the War between Monotheism and Polytheism’), there is far less insistence on singular truths, far greater tolerance of other beliefs, and a much profounder understanding of the inextricability and interdependence of good and evil (ie there is not a constant cosmic war going on both in the cosmos and in every human breast). Nor is it the case, in polytheism, that gods are particularly important: they are often treated in familiar and cavalier ways – as why should they not be, when, as in one of the great Kyoto festivals, as I recall, a child is proclaimed as a god for the duration of the festival and rides on a wagon before the public, who do a certain reverence to him. Not that this has always been the case in Japanese history: State Shinto, which was invented after the Meiji Restoration, in fact drew on the Abrahamic religions in making the Emperor a god more in an Abrahamic mould than in a Japanese one (Tenno heika – heavenly sovreign – had always been a sort of god, but nothing like Jehovah). What I have liked about Japan is a general lack of seriousness about whether one believes this or that coupled with what is ultimately a very serious feeling for continuities in life – I think that Japanese religions tend to be much more this-world directed than Christianity is (read William Law, or that wonderful writer John Bunyan to see how Christianity basically rejects the world). I got talking once to an Englishman long resident in Japan, an engineer but a man who came to Japan originally as a missionary. ‘The Japanese,’ he proclaimed (we were on a fairly full train at the time), ‘I don’t think the Japanese understand what spirituality is.’ I should have had the guts to say, ‘Thank God’, but, alas, I didn’t.

            This is all doubtless horribly incoherent because I have to write in a tiny box that includes only ten lines of about four lines each and I can’t really remember precisely what I have said or what I haven’t. Dr Coyne! Can’t you get one of those preview thingies that allow you to see how much a fool you’ve made of yourself before you post it?

            • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
              Posted September 16, 2010 at 8:04 am | Permalink

              [My FF acts up. In case this is misplaced, it is in response to Tim Harris on Japan:]

              Fascinating! And yes, thanks FSM for sane areas within cultures.

              preview

              You did good.

              But, seconded! Though I always presume I’m making a fool of myself when commenting. At times I can then be pleasantly surprised.

            • Tim Harris
              Posted September 16, 2010 at 9:03 am | Permalink

              But I should add that, as a result of the influence of State Shinto, there are still ‘national fundamentalists’ about who will believe in anything so long as it is to the glory of a greater Japan; one would be wrong to think of all Japanese religion as harmless and there is a still quite powerful Japanese right (although its power has been lessening over the years)which politicians have had to keep moderately happy, and which can also be murderous, as in the killing of a an employee of the ‘liberal’ Asahi newspaper at its Osaka office some years ago (the killer, probably a paid hit-man from one of Japan’s powerful gangs was never found). And then you have a cult like Aum Shinrikyo that indulged in a number of murders and then wanted to set off Armageddon when they started to be looked at a little too closely, and tried to do so by releasing sarin gas on the subway. (The pathetic and pathic imaginations of these people: as though killing a number of defenceless people on the Tokyo subway would bring about the end of the world… But that is what religion can do: lock you into an intensity of impoverished imagination which you take to be reality. Victor Stenger gives a brief but telling account of Mormon murders in his latest book ‘The New Atheism’.

            • Posted September 16, 2010 at 10:02 am | Permalink

              @Sigmund–
              There is superstition, yes, but it’s not dogma in the sense of christian or islamic dogma. Noone has to profess faith in them, noone is going to be ostracized by friends and family if they don’t believe. Although that could be just my impression from my experience with my husband and his family (we live in Yokohama, his grandparents are all from Kyushu). The superstitious things I see are blood-type characterization, o-mamori, having the shinto priest come and bless land before building a house, stuff like that.

              “I think Japan was saved by a historical accident that monotheism didn’t reach them at a suitable moment”
              That’s pretty much what I’ve always figured, too.

              @Tim–
              Thanks so much! I think I owe you cookies:))

              The concept of the “ie”–that makes sense. My husband is a cho-nan, so of course he “inherits the family”, so to speak. I’ve noticed that even though my husband grew up in the Yokohama area, he considers himself to be from Kyushu because that’s where all his grandparents live (he used to spend summers with them).

              “… you don’t get the kind of monotheistic monomaniac insistence on being right and on everybody else being wrong…”
              No–no monotheistic monomaniac insistence. But they do, deep down, believe that the Japanese Way is the right way, and anybody else’s way is just *wrong*. My husband has gotten on me for: not cutting apples the “right” way, tearing off Saran wrap the wrong way, not slurping my noodles, allowing the boys to show too much Amae, not letting them show enough Amae, you get the picture. Sometimes I think the real religion of Japan is simply “being Japanese”. And rice. Never forget the gohan. It’s 1am, and I think I’m starting to not make any sense…

              Thanks again! More books to hunt down…:))

            • Tim Harris
              Posted September 16, 2010 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

              Yes, being Japanese and rice – I think you sum things up quite well. And the insistence on doing things in the ‘proper’, hallowed way, according to the customs of the ‘ie’… One thing I noticed when I worked at NHK and the Asahi newspaper years ago, was the concern with internal affairs, so that people’s energies were concentrated on what this faction was doing or who was getting promoted, and there seemed to be very little interest in the quality of what was being presented to the world outside the organisation. This sort of thing does – or can – lead to an extraordinary mistrust of, and lack of sympathy for, the outsider, a mistrust and lack of sympathy which were fostered and encouraged under State Shinto until it led to some terrible things.

  29. Michael Kingsford Gray
    Posted September 16, 2010 at 3:10 am | Permalink

    JC – “I can characterize the religious mind in two words.
    Delusional and evasive.”

    Exactly…
    After countless decades dealing directly with pathetic weak-kneed apologists (not the fundamentalists, mind you, whom I partly respect in a curiously grudging manner), I go one step further and transform your measured words into what they really indicate:

    Rendered partially Insane and Lying through their stinking hypocritical genocide-enabling teeth.

    In my next post I intend to not pull my punches, and inform you as to what I *really* think of these willfully dissembling self-centred bastards. 😉

  30. justsearching
    Posted September 16, 2010 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    http://www.wnd.com/index.php?fa=PAGE.view&pageId=203701

    It seems silly that God would hide, while Satan is willing to make Himself known on a family’s bathroom’s tile.

    • Kevin
      Posted September 16, 2010 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

      Heh. Well, virgin Mary did appear on a grilled cheese sandwich…

  31. Posted September 16, 2010 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    We’ve run out of replies, so I’ll have to post down here. Hope you find it:))

    Yes–the concern with internal affairs and who’s getting promoted. That drives my husband *nuts*. That, and they way nobody starts actually working until about 4:30 in the afternoon so they can work “overtime” and impress the boss. He said it was worse when he was in Hitachi’s semiconductor sales division. My husband–efficient person that he is–would have all his work done, think he could go home at 5:20, and lo and behold, every day at 5:00 his phone would start ringing off the hook. From all the people who had just started to do actual work. And he’d get home late. In spite of what I said above, there’s a very weird way in which I’m more Japanese than he is, and he’s more American than I am…

    • Tim Harris
      Posted September 17, 2010 at 7:01 am | Permalink

      Yes, that is what astounded me. You hadall these Western scholars (‘Japan as No 1’!) going on about Japanese efficiency but in fact the Japanese were (or are) about the least efficient people I’ve ever come across (not that I’m efficient in any way whatsoever), something that I actually found – and find – in many ways endearing; but those long days… in fact for me it was not such a shock since after leaving high school I was farming for five years, which meant six-day or seven-day work-weeks and no definite time to end. And also, a thing I liked about working in Japan, is that your responsibilities were not so clearly defined as in the West, so if you pushed you could start doing all sorts of interesting things that would have been precluded in the West. Another thing I learnt here is never start a fight unless you are pretty sure you are going to win; which means not getting sticky about those principles of which Western ales, in particular, are so fond (fight for a splendid principle, and you feel so heroic!). This is not to advocate cynicism. but realism, a quality that is often lacking in those brought up in monotheistic religions.

  32. Tim Harris
    Posted September 17, 2010 at 7:02 am | Permalink

    ‘Western MALES’ – not ‘Western ales’, much as I love them.

    • Posted September 18, 2010 at 5:02 am | Permalink

      There are any number of endearing things about the Japanese, aren’t there? Aggravating things as well, but I think those are outnumbered by the endearing things. Like the way there’s no such thing as “finders–keepers”. If something is dropped, It will get picked up and hung on the nearest bush, branch, chain link fence. I’ve retraced my steps (sometimes days later) and found my kids’ shoes perched on a guard rail or hanging off a branch. That, and despite the ornate complexity of the japanese language, it is entirely possible to get by with about 10 words. All you need are: kawaii, genki, domo arigatou,sumimasen, onegaishimasu, gambarimasu, oishii, itadakimasu, gochisousama (which my daughter used to pronounce “…masu!” and “go-sama!” respectively) and mottainai. 11 words if you count “ne!”. Et voila–all the obaasantachi will exclaim “sugoi! nihongo wa jouzu desu ne!”

      Somehow I find that really charming:))


2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] on Religion Jerry Coyne wonders why “God” is always so hidden; why is “he” so hard to […]

  2. […] http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/why-does-god-hide/ […]

%d bloggers like this: