Andrew Sullivan implies that the Resurrection probably didn’t happen, and then describes “Christianism” as a big threat to America

December 12, 2020 • 11:30 am

Andrew Sullivan is a practicing Catholic, but doesn’t like to discuss his own beliefs.  I’ve had two interactions with him about this issue, though the latest wasn’t really an “interaction.”

In 2011, Sullivan pounced on me in his column in the Daily Dish for assuming that people take the Bible literally when it comes to the creation of Earth and its inhabitants. His piece can be found at the archived website, and I also posted about it, saying this and quoting Sullivan:

At any rate, Sullivan makes this accusation:  I am one of many deluded fools who thinks that the account of Genesis was meant to be taken seriously.  From the outset it was an obvious metaphor, and intended to be seen as such!

“There’s no evidence that the Garden of Eden was always regarded as figurative? Really? Has Coyne read the fucking thing? I defy anyone with a brain (or who hasn’t had his brain turned off by fundamentalism) to think it’s meant literally. It’s obviously meant metaphorically. It screams parable. Ross sees the exchange as saying something significant about the atheist mindset – and I largely agree with everything he says, except his definition of “fundamentalist” doesn’t seem to extend much past Pat Robertson. It certainly makes me want to take Jerry Coyne’s arguments less seriously. Someone this opposed to religion ought to have a modicum of education about it. The Dish, if you recall, had a long thread on this subject in August. No one was as dumb as Coyne.”

I responded by quoting a number of theologians, including Aquinas and Augustine, who took the Genesis story literally, even though some church fathers noted that it had a metaphorical interpretation as well as a literal one. And of course about 40% of all Americans are Genesis adherents. In response to Sullivan’s insults about my dumbness, and his assumption that I hadn’t read Genesis, I called him a “mush-brained metaphorizer.”

My anger at Sullivan, inflamed by his insults, has since cooled. We’re on the same side on many issues, particularly “wokeness”, and his columns are very often rational and perspicacious. Still, he occasionally drags his faith into his column (now The Weekly Dish, a subscriber-only site to which I do subscribe). And when he mentions faith in a positive way, it now conflicts all the more jarringly with his avowed adherence to rationality and science.

That led to my second interaction, when he wrote this:

. . . I don’t know whether liberalism can survive without some general faith in an objective reality and a transcendent divinity. That’s why I suspect a reinvention and reboot for Christianity is an urgent task.

Well, I couldn’t let that stand, so I wrote what I thought was a good “reader’s dissent”, pointing out that the happiest, most well-off, and liberal democracies of the world were the least religious. Sadly, he didn’t publish my gem, so I put it on this site. So be it.

But I always wonder what the man really believes about his faith, and I’d love to debate him on the dissonance between his Catholicism and his constant banging on about the need to be rational and adhere to the facts. In his column this week, he makes a telling statement in the midst of criticizing Trumpian Christianists (more on them in a second) for their refusal to face facts about the election. He indicts not only the Right, embodied by the unhinged Eric Metaxas, but also the Woke Left, represented by Ibram X. Kendi, as ignoring evidence. If you’re a member, click on the screenshot below:

Toward the end of what is a readable and incisive essay, Sullivan makes the statements below below while discussing the refusal of “Christianists” to accept the election results, claiming instead that Biden’s victory is the result of a widespread conspiracy. (The emphasis below is mine.)

The right is not unique in conspiratorial delusion, of course. The refusal of many on the left to accept Tump’s legitimate victory in 2016 was real and widespread. Both Hillary Clinton and John Lewis declared Trump an illegitimate president. Remember the Diebold machines of 2004? Not far from the Dominion stuff today. And the intensity of the belief on the left in an unfalsifiable “white supremacist” America has a pseudo-religious fervor to it. The refusal of Metaxas to allow any Republican to remain neutral or skeptical is mirrored by Ibram X. Kendi’s Manichean fanaticism on the far left.

But the long-established network of evangelical churches and pastors, and the unique power of an actual religion to overwhelm reason, gives the right an edge when it comes to total suspension of disbelief. Christianists are not empiricists or skeptics. They’re believers. This time around, it’s belief in a “multi-layered, multi-dimensional” conspiracy involving hundreds of people in several states, rejected by almost every court. You can fact-check that as easily as you can fact-check the Resurrection.

But what else does that mean except that there’s as little evidence for the Resurrection as there is for Republicans’ election conspiracy theories? In other words, no evidence! I’m forced to conclude, then, that Sullivan, as a Catholic, rejects Jesus’s literal Resurrection. Maybe he thinks it’s some kind of metaphor. My conclusion is strengthened in the next bit when he once again touts empiricism (my emphasis):

To survive, liberal democracy must have some level of moderation, some acceptance of the legitimacy of the other side, and room for compromise. It has to be based in empiricism, shared truth, deliberation and doubt. Fundamentalist religion has none of those qualities. It’s all or nothing.

One can conclude that Sullivan indeed equates belief in the Resurrection with fundamentalism, but of course that’s not the case: if anything, Jesus’s revival is a critical tenet of mainstream Catholic (or other Christian) faith, fundamentalist or not. It’s a linchpin of the Christian story of sin and salvation. Note also that he avers here that liberal democracy must be based on empiricism and shared truth, while earlier he said that liberal democracy, to survive, also has to have some faith in a “transcendent divinity”, and requires a “rebooted Christianity.” I’m here to tell Sullivan that basing democracy on empiricism automatically rules out basing it on any Abrahamic religion, including a “transcendent divinity” theistic or not.

Enough. The rest of the article is good, describing a group of hardcore Republican Christians, whom he calls “Christianists” to parallel “Islamists”, as both groups see no distinction between their faith and politics. Trumpian Christianists apparently see Trump, with all his flaws, as God’s own second saviour to redeem both ourselves and our country.

To Sullivan, the existence of Christianists explains the plethora of Republican loons who still won’t accept the election results. But I’m not as sure as he that this group will pose a real threat to America after Biden is sworn in.

Two quotes:

In a manner very hard to understand from the outside, American evangelical Christianity has both deepened its fusion of church and state in the last few years, and incorporated Donald Trump into its sacred schematic. Christianists now believe that Trump has been selected by God to save them from persecution and the republic from collapse. They are not in denial about Trump’s personal iniquities, but they see them as perfectly consistent with God’s use of terribly flawed human beings, throughout the Old Testament and the New, to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven.

This belief is now held with the same, unwavering fundamentalist certainty as a Biblical text. And white evangelical Christianists are the most critical constituency in Republican politics. If you ask yourself how on earth so many people have become convinced that the 2020 election was rigged, with no solid evidence, and are now prepared to tear the country apart to overturn an election result, you’ve got to take this into account. This faction, fused with Trump, is the heart and soul of the GOP. You have no future in Republican politics if you cross them. That’s why 19 Republican attorneys general, Ted Cruz, and now 106 Congressional Republicans have backed a bonkers lawsuit to try to get the Supreme Court to overturn the result.

Biden’s victory was not God’s will. Therefore it couldn’t have happened.

Below: Sullivan’s fears, which may well be exaggerated. I certainly hope they are:

And Trump is at the center of [Christianists’] belief system now, which includes all his lies. The relationship of many with him is that of evangelicals and their pastor: a male, patriarchal figure who cannot be questioned and must be obeyed. Trump’s political genius has been in sniffing out this need to believe, and filling it, all the time, tweet by tweet, lie by lie, con by con. No wonder Trump Trutherism is now a litmus test for the Christianist faith. . .

. . . Not only is it all or nothing, but the mandate to believe it, and act on it, is from God himself. When this psychological formation encounters politics, it cannot relent, it cannot change its mind, it cannot simply move on. And a core element of our politics right now — and part of the unprecedented resilience of Trump’s support — is this total suspension of judgment by a quarter of all Americans. When that certainty of faith met a malignant narcissist who cannot admit error, a force was created that continues to cut a ferocious swathe through our culture and our democratic institutions.

And if God Almighty calls for the overturning of a democratic election by force or violence? Then let the walls of Jericho come tumbling down.

I still predict little or no right-wing violence after January 20, but I’m not going to bet on it. The GOP, with 100+ of its Congresspeople joining the crazy Texas lawsuit trying to overturn the election, has become a swarming beehive of of truthers, conspiracy theorists, and, of course, gun nuts.

67 thoughts on “Andrew Sullivan implies that the Resurrection probably didn’t happen, and then describes “Christianism” as a big threat to America

  1. I suspect that Sullivan isn’t a believer in the Christian god in the same way of how most people who believe in the Christian god.

    I think that Sullivan believes in some sort of metaphysical order of morality and reality which he identifes as being expressed through the myths of Christianity, but not in Christianity as it’s usually defined.

    He seems to assume a Very Sophisticated philosophical position which isn’t how most people approach religion. He thinks that people need myths to be guided morally and cognitively towards the Supreme Good and the real, and sees the Christian myths as the best ones for those purposes.

    I think that’s why he scoffs at atheism but he’s perceptive about the threat of fundamentalism.

    Ultimately his position is a sophisticated version of the “little people” argument: people need god to be moral and tethered to reality and atheists are being assholes by denying them the pleasure to indulge into those edifying myths.

      1. It is, though the description is unrecognizable as “Catholicism,” at least as Sullivan’s fellow practicing Roman Catholics (especially, the clergy) construe it.

    1. As I understand it, Sullivan is an observant Catholic. If so, when he takes communion at mass, he is dogmatically required to believe the delusion that the wafer and wine are the actual body and blood of Jesus. This does not seem to me to be at all like Sophisticated Theology.

      1. That’s something for vegetarian and vegan Catholics to ponder…! Though if Jimmy Jesus is donating the flesh and blood willingly, I guess that puts them in the same awkward position that Arthur Dent was in at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe.

  2. Sullivan, being British born and bred, assumes that a not-actually-believing-it way of being religious is the norm. He thus has a hard time understanding that most Christians over most of Christendom did indeed take Genesis and most of the Bible pretty much literally.

    Of course this not-actually-believing-it is entirely right about British Christians nowadays. Everything is apophatic metaphor. One of the problems this leads to is that educated Brits don’t realise that most followers of Islam do actually believe their religion.

      1. That’s cherry picking.

        He was just one Christian among millions. When he said that, there was quite a lot of noise about it in the British press with a lot of people ridiculing him for not believing what Christianity said about Jesus.

        I was a Christian at the time and I’m pretty sure I believed in the Virgin Birth and the resurrection (I’m a bit hazy on that because this was around the time I started to transition to atheism and I can’t remember the exact time line). The thing is that we didn’t take it too seriously. Our ancestors found out that taking religion too seriously results in people getting executed or murdered, often in gruesome ways. We don’t want any of that.

  3. Sullivan looks for any excuse to make people think he is correct. That nonsense about liberals being as bad in 2016 as the Trumpanzees are now is laughable. He tries to torture us with his bending over backwards and forwards about his religious views.His writings are execrable.

    1. Yes, that part really bothered me too. I wonder if he offers that (perhaps falsely) as evidence that he’s fair to both sides or that he really believes this because in 2016 he was still a card-carrying political conservative. He certainly isn’t looking closely at the comparison or is deliberately ignoring it.

    2. I’d also agree. Sullivan’s

      “..The refusal of many on the left to accept Tump’s legitimate victory in 2016 was real..”

      is just bullshit as far as claiming some kind of tit-for-tat with what has been going on for a long time with Drumpfists denying legitimacy of Biden’s potential, and now real, win.

      Those really mean illegitimate in some legal sense, however silly that is.

      Obviously there are going to be a nutty lot of leftists who might say and mean anything by ‘illegitimate’. The Dems worth taking seriously, if that word was used, certainly did not seem to mean it legally. They meant `fairly won’. All legal tries to dump Drumpf related to things like the attempt to force Ukraine to help create some false slanders of Biden, or blatant interference with Mueller, and happened after the soon-to-be Mass Murderer had become president.

      There really does seem to be a badly educated bunch of top level people of different political stripes who are pretty hopeless in vocabulary. The really shining example of the opposite down there seems to be a guy educated in Canada, namely Montreal–I speak of Pinker of course whose eloquence never seems to have errors even in speaking quickly with groups around him mostly bloviating loudly and ignorantly.

    3. I remember 2016 (unfortunately). Hilary Clinton conceded the election by the morning of the day after.

      There was some talk of how the Electoral College might be used to get rid of somebody who was manifestly not qualified to be POTUS, but nobody took it seriously.

      There might have been some talk about how Russia might have interfered with the election but nobody suggested overturning the result because of it (and by the way, it was later confirmed that Russia did interfere with the election).

      Sullivan’s statement about 2016 is pure gaslighting.

  4. When that certainty of faith met a malignant narcissist who cannot admit error, a force was created that continues to cut a ferocious swathe through our culture and our democratic institutions.

    Egon gave us a very important safety tip: “Never cross the streams.”

  5. Didn’t Sullivan admit he voted for Trump? He also knows he is a Catholic, fundamentalist or not. Anyway, seems to me he makes my point that there is really no difference between a Trump republican and a Christian fundamentalist. If you have the mental and genetic makeup for the religion then you also have it for Trump. Trump figured this out about 5 or 6 years ago when he decided to run. The danger of what the cult will do depends on what Trump will do. Personally I think he is too much the coward to carry on after he is kicked out of the house. In his attempt to avoid prison and becoming poor there is no telling.

    1. I don’t think Sullivan has backed a Republican for president since George W. Bush (and then only during Dubya’s first run for the White House in 2000).

  6. My local police are warning about Cult 45 shooting guns in the air to protest. On top of that some of them are planning to protest by shopping without masks.
    These people are dangerously delusional.

  7. … his [Sullivan’s] columns are very often rational and perspicacious.

    Quite right, though theological coherency has never been the old boy’s métier.

    His bothsidesism can get a bit tiresome, too.

  8. William Jennings Bryan and the rest of the religious circus who met their match in Clarence Darrow during the Scopes trial certainly saw nothing obviously metaphorical about the Genesis story; that was why the trial was staged in the first place, eh? If Sullivan ever had any first-hand contact with members of the rapidly burgeoning evangelical movement at their megachurches, he’d change his thinking on this point *fast*. And it’s this movement that is now bleeding the membership of the mainstream churches in the US at an accelerating rate.

    And some of the advocacy involved on behalf of Genesis literalism has quite a thick veneer of pseudo-scholarship. If you have a strong enough stomach, you’ll find the argumentation at

    sort of, um, interesting. Try telling *this* guy that it’s all metaphorical…

  9. I must agree with Sullivan in his analysis of the Christianist threat to democracy. Its members are being told by their pastors that God wanted Trump to win and if he is denied a second term it is due to fraud and a deep state conspiracy. No amount of evidence, logic or reason can convince them otherwise. They are not even interested in listening to an opposing view. They can no more be convinced that Biden fairly won than they can be convinced that their religious beliefs are based on no evidence. In other words, their belief in Trump’s win and supposedly what he stands for has become as much as part of their identity as their religion. They look upon Biden becoming president with the same horror as if a drug crazed band of atheists attacked their church and burned it down.

    With this worldview it would not all be surprising if they should resort to violence to protect what they believe is the “real” America that is slipping away. In their minds, they are patriots following God’s will. After all, it was due to divine guidance that the country was founded. They represent the worst of what religion can produce. Egged on by Trump and far-righters that realize how easily they can be manipulated, they are poised to act, just waiting for the signal from Trump. The period from now to perhaps a year or more after Biden’s inauguration will be one where American democracy will be most greatly tested. America is so divided that Biden’s smoothing words will not be the balm that brings it back together.

    1. That craven congressional Republicans have failed to take a stand against this — have, to the contrary, joined in it, as 126 members of the House Republican caucus joined in the risible petition dismissed by SCOTUS yesterday — is the greatest act of collective cowardice in modern American political history.

      If in some corner of the multiverse there is an anti-Profile in Courage Award, congressional Republicans should be its recipient.

  10. I think those of us who were raised Roman Catholic need to gang up on Sullivan and testify that we were taught that the Bible stories were literally true. My parents, family elders, and indeed school teachers all said so. I went to Catholic schools from first through twelfth grade. My elementary school teachers were Franciscan sisters, and my high school teachers were Benedictine monks. Contra Sully, all of these worthy teachers had brains. The monks especially taught me to think rationally and scientifically–except when I attempted to point the laser of rational thinking back at Catholic doctrine, at which point I was told that was a no-no and that I had to just accept the doctrine as a “mystery.” For the record, my refusal to accept the doctrine was the main reason I left the Catholic church in my early twenties, and I’ve never looked back.

    1. When a religious doctrine is described as a “mystery,” I refer to this as the universal cop-out. To the true believer it explains everything while explaining nothing. No evidence is every required. Still, it has been a generally successful ploy to keep the faithful from becoming too curious. It would seem that the claim Trump won the election is another mystery that the Christianists swallow whole.

  11. “Congresspeople … has become a swarming beehive of of truthers, conspiracy theorists, and, of course, gun nuts.”

    Although many simply mouth the words and do not believe. They are politicians after all.

  12. “I still predict little or no right-wing violence after January 20, but I’m not going to bet on it.”

    Too bad as I would try to take your money! 😉 Trump hasn’t yet called for violence as he is still in the phase where he pretends to contest the supposed rampant voter fraud. This helps build up the idea in his base that there’s actual voter fraud and that he’s using every legal avenue to get it investigated and judged in order to regain what is rightfully his. He’s counting on them not looking closely at this process and, of course, they don’t. In this phase, every loss in court is just further proof of the Deep State.

    This phase ends in early January when both houses of Congress meet to ratify the Electoral College count. This is when his GOP sycophants will speechify, basically summarizing the first phase for the cameras. Some of the wilder ones may announce the second phase, the rising up of the disenfranchised voters, though I suspect they will not call for violence explicitly. They will leave the call to violence to Trump which he will undoubtedly signal using dog-whistle tweets once Congress ratifies the EC vote.

    Trump has turned down every opportunity to go quietly. I don’t see him changing. He’s committed to taking it all the way. His reaction to the pandemic tells us he doesn’t care if his words cause people to die.

    1. It is very possible that Trump is just following the business model as he continues to ask for donations and has raised tons of money from the cult to fight this conspiracy election. Once it’s all over and he is gone the bank account will be a lot bigger. The con goes on.

    2. Yes, on the Kübler-Ross grief paradigm, we are about to see a shift from “Denial” to “Anger.” By the time Joe Biden’s inauguration rolls around on January 20th, we may also see “Bargaining” (especially when it comes to issuing blanket pardons to the copious number of guilty, including, foremost among them, himself) and even “Depression” (on inauguration day itself). With Trump, what we will never see is “Acceptance.”

  13. I don’t think Sullivan is admitting that the Resurrection probably didn’t happen. He’s admitting that it’s a matter of faith, and comparing conspiracy-theories to such faith. What the two “faiths” have in common is that they’re impossible to disprove. In the case of the conspiracy, impossible because making evidence disappear is what conspirators do: so turning up zero evidence is exactly what the theory predicts.

    Note also that here he avers that liberal democracy must be based on empiricism and shared truth, while earlier he said that liberal democracy, to survive, also has to have some faith in a “transcendent divinity”

    On that point, you’ve got him fair and square.

    1. What the two “faiths” have in common is that they’re impossible to disprove. In the case of the conspiracy, impossible because making evidence disappear is what conspirators do …

      In the case of Catholicism, that’s called “The Ascension.” 🙂

    2. I agree; what Sullivan is giving us is just another instantiation of Tertullian’s ‘Prorsus credibile est, quia ineptum est’, though the original point of that comment seems to be quite different (more along the lines of ‘You just couldn’t make this stuff up’). But it does seem strange that he’s want to draw a parallel between his own apparently deeply held belief and something he regards, correctly, as a grotesque irrational fantasy…

  14. Andrew Sullivan has always been a mushy thinker. He dresses up the obvious using fancy words but, at the bottom, he cannot accept that his faith in God is the fantasy that it is. So, he twists and turns like a snake on speed to conform the facts to his irrational beliefs. His ideas can be safely ignored; although he does serve as a useful laboratory specimen to study what is wrong with people who think they can reconcile faith and science.

    1. Yes, that is a good idea. Nothing in our history to show that won’t work. Texas has no shortage of idiots.

    2. I guess my first reaction is “good riddance”. But then I fear an American Taliban of gun-toting delusional zealots who will try and create their own “end times”.

    3. Hard to say, and it won’t happen, but it might be good for Canada to have a buffer state of more-or-less sane science accepters, many religious sceptics, etc. etc. to the north, and another country of dickbrains hopefully all further south, who will be competing with Afganistan for the world’s worst place to live by the next century. Of course since allah is actually the true god, he might not want to let the Afghans lose that contest.

      1. “…dickbrains hopefully all further south”

        I used to see things this way but that was before the dickbrains took over my state, Wisconsin, and we got on the road to becoming the Mississippi of the north. And other “buffer states” would include the Dakotas, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Ohio, Michigan. All are home to some of the least sane right wing nuts.

        Oh… and the Edit capability is still working for me.

  15. Resurrection. I see three problems: 1) the problem of the body, who would like to be spirit? 2) the problem of information recording, which in a sense is human memory and consciousness 3) the problem of information lost in time (most people who lived on earth are no longer alive)

    What the so-called “resurrection” meant for people who lived 2,000 years ago is best asked at the source. Unfortunately, the source has so far remained silent.
    It is definitely not worth asking religious businessmen from the USA (not only from the USA, in fact) or priests of power from this country,
    who use religious people only instrumentally.

    Sometimes I think to myself that, since there were death factories on earth during World War II, it would be good if science (probably science on the verge of “magic”, a specific application of Clarke’s anecdotal law) could build life factories .

    [For obvious reasons my entry does science fiction character.
    A game of imagination rooted in the desire to make better use of the time we call our lives and to make amends for the countless victims that mark human history. Such a fantasy.]

    1. “I see three problems”

      Maybe I missed it, but additionally the lack of evidence for blood starting to flow again after 30 or 40 hours of dead stop in any mammal at normal temperatures seems to be pretty good evidence against resurrection.

      If you accept the supernatural, that’s already by definition of the word ‘supernatural’ a proof that no evidence is possible.

  16. Trump supporters and Republicans are and have been radicalized by an always on election campaign built on outrage. Republicans must crank it up to keep the outrage stoked.

    The radicalization of the right continues unhindered. The difference between now and the Oklahoma bombing is the right was considerably less radicalized. Considering many of the tweets and postings I’ve seen by the right I believe the FBI will have their hands full trying to separate the truly dangerous from the online blowhards.

    I don’t see it getting better better with Biden in office. To the contrary I expect Republicans to do the exact same thing they did to Obama except dialed up to eleven.

    This is going to lead to several major problems for America:

    Further polarization and political sabotage and blocking of important legislation. Nothing will get done and trust in government and democracy will weaken.

    Greater loss of confidence in the election system and democracy for both sides as Republicans will push ahead with more voter disenfranchising. Republicans have demonstrated they no longer care about democracy and their supporters have not the wit or will to understand their leaders are the problem not the Democrats.

    More right wing terrorism which will paradoxically further cause the right to support law and order authoritarianists. The right will ignore any evidence the terrorists are part of the right. They will either find ways to blame the left or say it’s false flag operations.

    There is a very real danger a future Republican president will be authoritarian but not an obviously terrible human being and not incompetent and lazy. I believe if Trump had been the least bit effective with Covid-19 the election could have gone the other way.

  17. Does Sullivan think that the Roman Catholic Church is not evangelical and therefore to be put in counterpoise with Protestant Fundamentalism? It always has been! And the more powerful, the more brutal. ‘We really have to baptize these savages before they die.’ ‘Domini, Domini, Domini: you’re all Catholics now.’

      1. Etcumspiri 220 — Dominic Vobiscum’s home address.

        Just a wee spot of altar-boy humor from my grade school days.

        1. Good one.

          For reasons hard to fathom (maybe I inadvertently exuded the atheist vapour even before knowing what the word meant), they never asked me to be an altar boy.

          One of the greatest badges of honour for me was when they had one of those phoney ‘retreats’ at the high school run by the priests: It was really a ‘recruitment for the priesthood’ scam. But when a (very brief!) private interview with me as a 15-year-old happened, Father Whatever immediately said I was a hopeless case. The hopelessness has now continued for 64 more years I’m happy to brag.

        2. Though this altar boy remembers that as being Dominic’s phone number, in accordance with the ancient convention of using words rather than numbers to remember the phone exchanges. Thus, I remember my family’s phone number from those olden days: Flanders 8-3023, and I along with many others who grew up in Chicago in the ’60s will also never forget carpet cleaner Bouschelle’s phone number from the jingle of their television commercials: Hudson 3-2700.

          1. WHitney 3 was the exchange in my neighborhood growing up. In those days it was one phone per family (which made it awkward trying have a conversation with a girlfriend) and, early on, there were still “party lines,” where you had to share a line with a neighbor.

            Probably the most famous exchange ever was “BUtterfield 8,” the one for New York’s Upper East Side, which provided the title for John O’Hara’s novel and the movie adapted from it staring Liz Taylor.

  18. I think we tend to underestimate the extent to which believers really believe.

    Nine years ago, the atheist philosopher Julian Baggini carried out an informal survey concerning the actual beliefs of practising Christians. He had reason to think that because many of them were intelligent, sophisticated people, they would interpret Christian dogmas and doctrines metaphorically, not literally.

    He was mistaken. As he put it, the vast majority of churchgoing Christians “believe that Jesus is divine, not simply an exceptional human being; that his resurrection was a real, bodily one; that he performed miracles no human being ever could; that he needed to die on the cross so that our sins could be forgiven; and that Jesus is the only way to eternal life”.

    The full article is here:

    1. They know — these intelligent, sophisticated ones — what they’re supposed to believe, or at least what they’re supposed to say they believe. But do they really believe believe?

      Maybe, though I’ve got my doubts.

      1. I think we have to just take people at their word: if they say they believe the cracker is Jesus then they really believe it.

        And maybe they believe it even more after having said it out loud. Embodied cognition has a lousy reputation in social psychology because of some bad experiments and fakery. But the basic idea that saying or acting out something can lead to a change in one’s thoughts or feelings about that thing is a pretty solid idea.

        Sort of the observer effect in psychology: asking someone a question about their beliefs (like Baggini’s survey) can change or reinforce those beliefs if the person responds by saying what they think they should say.

        1. But the basic idea that saying or acting out something can lead to a change in one’s thoughts or feelings about that thing is a pretty solid idea.

          Yeah, or as old Uncle Kurt put it in Mother Night, the only novel of his that he ever acknowledged had an ostensible moral: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”

        2. “We must be careful what we pretend to be.” Those are words to live by.

          That seems like that’s the danger of living with chronic cognitive dissonance: the corrosive effects can be hard to recognize until the transformation is complete.

          There’s a neat parallel idea in evolutionary biology called genetic assimilation, where populations fake it (by developing an advantageous phenotype through developmental plasticity) until they make it (via selection for alleles that encode the advantageous phenotype).

        3. Yes, that might well be it. I suppose it’s also possible that some people are so embedded in a particular social milieu (in this case, a Christian one), that they cannot back out of any of its expected norms without a devastating loss of face (even if it’s only in their own eyes).

  19. Sullivan’s take is interesting, although I don’t have intuitions on the Trump phenomenon at all, so I can’t compare his thoughts to my own and say “Yes, hits the nail on the head!” or “No, I think it’s something totally different.” The whole things continues to just not register, intuitively, with me. Some of my loved ones are huge Trump fans and I view it the way I do when my loved ones rave about Phish. I will never in a million years understand what titillates and thrills people about listening to songs with a 30 minute guitar rift, but undeniably, it does something for some people. It’s one of those things that getting outside of your ‘bubble’ and talking with those who love it doesn’t seem to bridge, though – it’s just a “you get it or you don’t” situation.

    Regarding the “election legitimacy questioning”… I think this goes back a few cycles (chads, birth certificate, Russiagate) and the ante has been upped slowly over time. My hope is that people are simply in a semi-bonkers mind state right now because of Covid (I know some of my deeper meditations have taken on an incredibly dark tone recently, and I suspect it’s because some part of me is feeling that after almost a year of Covid, and/or, I’m picking it up from the surrounding zeitgeist – I suspect there are bad headspaces all around.) It’s more comforting to think the seeming sudden collapse in the democratic process is the result of extraordinary and unusual circumstances vs. what we can expect in any given November moving forward.

    1. Jesus, don’t let BJ hear you badmouthing Phish. I mean, I like ’em, too, though I’m not the fanatic he is. (BTW, those guitar things or “riffs,” man, not like tectonic fault lines or somethin’.) 🙂

      1. Not badmouthing, just feeling utter confusion as to why people devoted their lives to following a band around the country when they play songs that never frigging end.

  20. Sullivan says: “The right is not unique in conspiratorial delusion, of course. The refusal of many on the left to accept Trump’s legitimate victory in 2016 was real and widespread.” Sadly, this is another wildly false equivalency. Has Sullivan been paying any attention whatsoever to the reactions of the Trump supporters? In my lifetime (I’m 67), we have never had millions of people refuse to accept the results of an election because they accept insane stories such as the late Hugo Chavez having sabotaged the election to help Biden, or North Koreans having brought in shiploads of Biden ballots, or a hundred other ridiculous conspiracy theories, all of which have been promptly and soundly rejected by Republican-appointed judges, including judges appointed by Trump himself. Moreover, we have never had legions of disgruntled voters threaten election officials, nor have we had the losing side (INCLUDING THE ARIZONA REPUBLICAN PARTY) asking supporters if they are ready to fight and die to help the losing presidential candidate remain in office (

    Let’s contrast this with how the Democrats responded when Hillary Clinton lost an equally close election in 2016. Recall that U.S. intelligence agencies and the Mueller Report found real, convincing evidence (rather than conspiratorial fantasies) that the Russians had interfered with the election in support of Trump. So, how long did Clinton wait to concede the election after the Associated Press called the election for Donald Trump? 10 minutes ( How many lawsuits did the Democrats file challenging the election results? None. How many recounts did the Democrats request? None. How many state governors and legislators did the Democrats call to try to get them to invalidate the election results in their states? None. Sorry, Mr. Sullivan, but some whining by the Democrats following the loss of the 2016 election (myself included), is not even remotely close to the ongoing seditious activities of the GOP in response to Trump’s loss.

    If anyone actually wonders which side of the political aisle is fanatic enough and delusional enough to ever “steal” an election, one need only contrast the rational, patriotic behavior of the Democrats in 2016 with the irrational, despicable, unpatriotic behavior of the Republicans in 2020.

  21. Sullivan: “The refusal of many on the left to accept Tump’s legitimate victory in 2016 was real and widespread.”

    Oh, please. Objections to Trump in 2016 weren’t anything close to the rejection of Trump’s loss today. And how many said “Trump didn’t win in 2016” when they were expressing anger at the electoral college system?

  22. THAT, PCC, was a highly satisfying exchange. Go get him. Sulli has a few good points but they’re often obscured by his odious religious nonsense and often lack of objective facts (heard him talk about drugs for instance? Boy that’s a headache maker of ignorance….)

    The “Trump is Savior MAGAs” are a terrifying species. For a long time I thought they were a myth, and I still haven’t met one in the wild here in Manhattan.
    Well done – don’t let Sulli’s crap fly. Not on THIS website.
    David Anderson

  23. Whether Genesis was originally intended as a metaphor, or a contemporary creation myth based on the limited knowledge of the time it was composed seems to be a bit of a red herring. The equivalent of debating angels dancing on the head of the pin.

    The problem is not that people believed it then, but that they believe it now. As Joseph Campbell once wrote: there is no conflict between science and religion, only the science of the 6th Century BCE and the science of the 21st Century.

    What is true for anyone studying the roots and development of the Abrahamic religions (see Semitic Mythology: The Mythology of all Races by Stephen Herbert Langdon, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, by Donald A. MacKenzie, W.O.E Oesterly and Theodore H. Robinson, An Introduction to the Books of the Old Testament, W.W. Tarn) is that they were verifiably cultural and religious appropriations and outright plagiarisms of much earlier Babylonian myths and rituals.

    While Sullivan is right to tie/attack Christianism, election denialism, and evangelical idolization of Trump as a delusional by-product of these ancient historic pseudomorphosis, the problem is that these primitive systems of belief still possess the minds of modern humans living in the 21st Century.

    1. You are correct that it is a problem that these “primitive” beliefs still hold ground in the 21st Century. You are just wrong, however, in the assertion that “there is no conflict between science and religion”. Pick up a copy of our host’s book on the subject.

    2. As GBJames says, this site may not be the place to refer to counterfactuals. Jerry’s article is careful with pointing out the metaphorical level mistake, when it is the objective facts that reject claims of compatibility. How can a superstition proclaiming magic forces be compatible with a science that has never found one but instead universal laws rejecting such?!

      And I would add that it is worse than when Jerry wrote his book (but he may not agree with me). Modern cosmology characterizes the whole system. And since 2018 we are fairly certain that space is flat over sufficiently large volumes, meaning we have an observational constraint characterizing the system. It tells us the sum of all energy and the sum of all work must each be zero over such volumes – and that is what we see. You can no longer have omnipotent ‘gods’, not even millipotent, at best there could be some local micropotent or clusters of nanopotent magic domains (‘microgods’ or ‘nanogods’). And the entire universe is the result of a spontaneous (adiabatic, free) expansion process – you can’t even have any putative initial conditions as magic.

      FWIW, I don’t see why I should accept any association with the theological derived distinction between theism and atheism if nature is without magic. I’m not entertaining astrology – I’m not an “aastrologist” – and now I will not be entertaining religion – I’m not an “atheist”. Since I feel reasonably confident that I’m a secular observer on the other hand that is what I will call myself from here on.

  24. the overturning of a democratic election by force or violence

    The blatant disregard for US lives – mostly the pandemic, of course – and democracy reminds me how the President-Evangelical once characterized some *other* nations as “shithole countries”.

    I hope it will not be too bad until the nation is under a sane leadership once again.

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