NYT touts religion again: this time it’s Judaism

July 3, 2023 • 9:15 am

Every Sunday we get a paean to Christianity by Tish Harrison Warren, and yesterday we read Conservative Rabbi David Wolpe touting the advantages of Judaism—and of religion in general.  Wolpe isn’t as irritating as the  smarmy Warren, who provides only bromides. Wolpe seems like a nice and caring guy, and I’m sure he’s brought solace to many in his rabbinical duties. He’s also had his own tribulations: two surgeries for a brain tumor as well as lymphoma.  But can’t the NYT occasionally produce columns in praise of atheism and humanism? After all, there’s no good evidence for a God, and yet that viewpoint is resolutely ignored by the paper, which publishes piece after piece by people who think not only that there is a God, but a specific kind of God, like the Christian one (e.g., Warren).

According to Wikipedia, Wolpe is infamous among conservative Jews for questioning the historicity of the Old Testament:

On Passover 2001, Wolpe told his congregation that “the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way it happened, if it happened at all.” Casting doubt on the historicity of the Exodus during the holiday that commemorates it brought condemnation from congregants and several rabbis (especially Orthodox Rabbis). The ensuing theological debate included whole issues of Jewish newspapers such as The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles and editorials in The Jerusalem Post, as well as an article in the Los Angeles Times. Critics asserted that Wolpe was attacking Jewish oral history, the significance of Passover and even the First Commandment. Orthodox Rabbi Ari Hier wrote that “Rabbi Wolpe has chosen Aristotle over Maimonides, theories and scientific method over facts”. Wolpe, on the other hand, was defended by Reform Rabbi Steven Leder from the Wilshire Boulevard Temple, who argued that “defending a rabbi in the 21st century for saying the Exodus story isn’t factual is like defending him for saying the earth isn’t flat. It’s neither new nor shocking to most of us that the earth is round or that the Torah isn’t a history book dictated to Moses by God on Mount Sinai.”

Wolpe asserted that he was arguing that the historicity of the events should not matter, since he believes faith is not determined by the same criteria as empirical truth. Wolpe argues that his views are based on the fact that no archeological digs have produced evidence of the Jews wandering the Sinai Desert for forty years, and that excavations in Israel consistently show settlement patterns at variance with the Biblical account of a sudden influx of Jews from Egypt.

In March 2010, Wolpe expounded on his views saying that it was possible that a small group of people left Egypt, came to Canaan, and influenced the native Canaanites with their traditions. This opinion is, in fact, shared by the majority of historians and biblical scholars. He added that the controversy of 2001 stemmed from the fact that Conservative Jewish congregations have been slow to accept and embrace biblical criticism. Conservative rabbis, on the other hand, are taught biblical criticism in rabbinical school.

It’s to Wolpe’s credit that he accepts the historical and archaeological evidence against the Exodus. As he says below, he thinks that religion isn’t really about “a set of beliefs to one assents.” He’s wrong, of course. Maybe that’s true for Wolpe, but why would there have been a controversy about the Exodus if some people didn’t adhere to the Old Testament claims? But I’m getting ahead of myself.  I’ll just add that you may know Wolpe from  his several debates about religion with Christopher Hitchens. Here’s one about the existence of God. (Note: it’s 90 minutes long.)

Click on the headline below to read, and you can find the piece archived here

This column seems to serve as Wolpe’s swan song: his retirement thoughts on the human condition and how it’s ameliorated by religion, which to him serves as a kind of social glue. (Wolpe’s statements are indented.)

For over a quarter century now, I have listened to people’s stories, sat by their bedsides as life slipped away, buried their parents, spouses and sometimes their children. Marriages have ended in my office, as have engagements.

I have watched families as they say cruel, cutting things to one another or, just as devastating, refuse to say anything at all. I have seen the iron claw of grief scrape out the insides of mourners, grip their windpipes, blind their eyes so that they cannot accept the mercy of people or of God.

After 26 years in the rabbinate, as I approach retirement, I have come to several realizations. All of us are wounded and broken in one way or another; those who do not recognize it in themselves or in others are more likely to cause damage than those who realize and try to rise through the brokenness.

This is what binds together a faith community. No religious tradition, certainly not my own, looks at an individual and says: “There. You are perfect.” It is humility and sadness and striving that raises us, doing good that proves the tractability of the world and its openness to improvement, and faith that allows us to continue through the shared valleys.

Well, I’ve never been a member of a “faith community,” even a Jewish one, but it seems to me that what binds a faith community together is a desire to belong to a tribe which whose members care for each other. That, plus the factors that make a tribe a tribe: shared beliefs.  Jews can never be members of a Christian faith community because they don’t think the Messiah ever came back. Nor can Muslims be members of either community because they think the Qur’an is the final and correct faith, and Muhammad is the prophet.  And that brings us to Wolpe’s misguided claim about religion not being about a “set of beliefs”:

I have had a privileged view of the human condition, and the essential place of religion on that hard road. Sometimes it seems, for those outside of faith communities, that religion is simply about a set of beliefs to which one assents. But I know that from the inside it is about relationships and shared vision. Where else do people sing together week after week? Where else does the past come alive to remind us how much has been learned before the sliver of time we are granted in this world?

Yes, religion is about the solace of being a member of a community. But, for most, it’s also about shared beliefs, something I discuss in Faith versus Fact.  Does a Christian community have any meaning if the members don’t accept the fact that Jesus came to earth as God/son of God, was crucified, and thereby gave us the possibility of eternal life?  Are Muslims not a community because they all accept the tenets of the Qur’an, dictated to Mohamed by an angel? In fact, Islam is not just a religion, but a way of life—a way of life based on shared beliefs about empirical circumstances. And so it goes for many religions: without accepting at least the existence of a divine being, most religions—and all Abrahamic religions—center largely on “a set of beliefs to one assents.”

Now as a heterodox rabbi Wolpe may indeed reject a conventional god. As he says in the debate below, he defines his god as something quite nebulous:

“God is the source of everything that exists, and God is someone, something, with whom a human being can have a relationship, and that you can live your life in alignment with a godly purpose. That any definition that is greater than that is in some ways to traduce God.”

But he has no right to pronounce on what religion is about for everyone else! And there’s ample evidence that he’s wrong.

In some ways, Wolpe’s claims are a final defense against the increasing secularization of America, which he mentions twice. Pushing back against that, he sees religion as, without question, a net good:

I know the percentage of those who not only call themselves religious but also find themselves in religious communities declines each year. The cost of this ebbing of social cohesion is multifaceted. At the most basic, it tears away at the social fabric. Many charities rely solely on religious institutions. People in churches and synagogues and mosques reliably contribute more to charities — religious and nonreligious — than their secular counterparts do. The disunity that plagues us in each political cycle is also partly because of a loss of shared moral purpose which people once found each week in the pews.

If lack of religion “tears away at the social fabric,” especially because religions promote charities, then you’d expect that atheistic countries would have a badly torn social fabric.  The evidence is against that—at least the evidence from Scandinavia, where government has simply taken over the care of sick people, old people, disabled people, and poor people. There is no lack of charity in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, or other countries. (And virtually every European country has government-provided health care.)

Of course Wolpe doesn’t mention the bad things that religion does—things that Hitchens eloquently mentions in the debate above. Why are Jews demonized by many in the U.S., something mentioned by Wolpe in this article? It’s because they’ve inherited the legacy of being “Christ killers.” Why do Muslims and Jews battle each other to the death? Religion. Why did Hindus and Muslims kill each other during India’s partition in 1947, and continue to do so today? Religion, of course.  Now you can say that without religion people would find other reasons to kill each other and form tribes. That may be true, but religion is perhaps the greatest cause of tribalism in the history of the world, and I’m pretty sure that, had it never arisen, the world would be a better place.

Wolpe paints the Old Testament, even if it be fictitious, as a source of solace:

I still believe the synagogue is a refuge for the bereaved and provides a road map for the seeker. I have been moved by how powerful the teachings of tradition prove to be in people’s lives, helping them sort out grievances from griefs, focusing on what matters, giving poignancy to celebrations. The stories of the Torah, read year after year, wear grooves in our souls, so that patterns of life that might escape us become clear. Sibling rivalries and their costs are clear in the story of Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers. The consequences of kindness emanate from the book of Ruth. We share unanswerable questions with Job and passion with the Song of Songs. The Torah acts as a spur and a salve.

But so do many other nonreligious works! If the Torah is more efficacious than these works, it’s because people believe those stories, something Wolpe says they don’t do. Otherwise, sibling rivalries, kindness, and questioning can be found in gazillions of nonreligious works of fiction and nonfiction. And, as reader Leo (who sent me this link) noted, “I guess he wants us to ignore the Bible stories about slavery, war, genocide, etc.”

In his last paragraph, Wolpe again claims that religion is a bulwark against creeping secularism and the social damage it apparently causes:

Religion may be on the decline in this country and in the West, but if you wish to see the full panoply of a human life, moments of ecstatic joy and deepest sorrow, the summit of hopes and the connections of community, they exist concentrated in one place: your local house of worship.

Well, they also exist concentrated in a better place: your local library.

30 thoughts on “NYT touts religion again: this time it’s Judaism

  1. I recently learned about The Fetzer Institute.


    “Fetzer has been a major underwriter for Krista Tippett’s Peabody Award-winning spirituality podcast On Being” (or also “On Being Project” [see Facebook].

    The Fetzer Institute has funded other things like :


    “… research examining how stress, social support, compassionate love, and religiousness and spirituality affect health and healing with studies through the National Institutes of Health”

    (not necessarily bad because of religion, but notable IMHO).


    “To extend the reach of its work, the Fetzer Institute partners with co-funders who share a similar vision. These include the John Templeton Foundation […]”


  2. I guess one thing supernatural religions do that naturalism can’t is tame reality: make it safe for us humans by positing a creator and a purpose. The Times is paternalistically giving readers a bit of existential reassurance on Sundays. Naturalists see this as a cop out enabled by the epistemic irresponsibility of using other ways of knowing to underwrite the supernatural. What is to be done? Maybe make the case that there are existential upsides to living in what science shows to be a wild universe that doesn’t have us, or anything else, in mind. Quite the astonishing situation to be in.

  3. There’s an inherent contradiction between insisting that religion is superior to secularism when it comes to living in a loving, positive way and claiming that religion isn’t about particular beliefs, but living in a loving, positive way. What’s being worshipped isn’t God, but the idea of God. And yes, those ideas are essentially secular, not divine. They’re grounded in the human condition.

    “God is the source of everything that exists, and God is someone, something, with whom a human being can have a relationship, and that you can live your life in alignment with a godly purpose. That any definition that is greater than that is in some ways to traduce God.”

    This is actually clearer than most liberal definitions (i.e. consider those built on God being “ineffable”) but it wouldn’t be difficult to tweak this and make the “godly purpose” a good-ly purpose. To his credit, I expect the rabbi would be okay with this if it aligned with his (God’s) values. But to his discredit, I think he’d have a harder time recognizing this. Too many people seem to think the Something Bigger Than Yourself must be a Someone.

  4. What keeps a “faith community” together seems to be several things. Indeed, members typically have a shared set of beliefs, including empirical beliefs. This is why there was such a furor over Wolpe’s claim that the Old Testament stories are not literally true. He challenged shared empirical claims about the world.

    But I also think that there is another sort of “community” that holds the Jewish people together, and that is a shared sense of history and of belonging to a Jewish culture or nation. This seems to be what binds even (the many, many) atheist Jews to Judaism. Jews can soundly reject the empirical claims of the religion yet, nonetheless, identify and be accepted as Jews.

    1. Good point. But I’ve always maintained that Judaism is the only religion that has an atheistic secular version whose members still consider themselves Jews. I don’t know of any secular Catholics or Muslims, for example.

      1. I agree with you that only Judaism has an atheistic, secular version (at least it seems that way). Reconstructionist Judaism and the Society for Humanistic Judaism represent organized versions. I, too, am not aware of any organized groups of secular Catholics or Muslims. Individual secular members exist, I suspect, but Judaism has not only many atheist individuals but also has many organized secular groups. There’s a very wide range of beliefs among Jews and a correspondingly wide range of organized Jewish groups. I had no idea about this until just a few years ago when, during the COVID epidemic, I had a chance to take an online course on the history of Judaism in America. Super interesting. I had no idea about any of this at the time.

      2. See my reply just below to Mr. Gilinsky’s comment for why I believe Judaism possesses this unique trait.

    2. In addition to what Jerry said, there’s also the fact that being Jewish is also ethnic and genetic. I’m sure there’s some other religion somewhere in the world that is also an ethnicity and has a strict enough gene pool within which to trace, but I’m not aware of it, and certainly it’s not among the major ones. Jews have Jewish bloodlines that they can trace back centuries, assuming they aren’t Jews by conversion (conversion is rare because Jews do not proselytize). I did some genetic testing a few years ago and was able to see the synagogue in which many of my ancestors worshiped and the cemetery in which they were buried back in the 17th and 18th centuries. And it was fascinating to follow some of my bloodline’s travels through the centuries, as they were let into and eventually kicked out of country after country. Of course, some of those bloodlines run cold at the Holocaust, or under Stalinism, or various other pogroms and purges before. It took my family many years to put all of this together from the information we got from the genetic testing, but we thankfully have a few historians in the family, and Facebook groups apparently helped out a lot as well (I wasn’t part of this research, not being a historian nor having a Facebook account).

      While all of the Jews I know are atheist or at least secular, for every Jew I know it’s a bit of a “miracle” that they exist at all when one considers just how many of their ancestors were killed off in various purges throughout history. So we all share ethnic, cultural, historical, and genetic ties, as well as a cultural touchstone of “gee wiz, it’s amazing that we’re even alive and how many of our ancestors were killed in waves of antisemitism across oceans and continents throughout history.”

      I guess it’s this kind of stuff that makes me and my family still celebrate Passover, Rosh Hashanah, and Chanukah. We certainly don’t do any of the religious stuff besides some perfunctory odds and ends like lighting the Chanukiah and saying the prayer(s) while doing it, but we get together, make way too much food, eat way too much food, and then eat way too much for the next few days because of all the leftovers. Because, as we always say, “better to make too much food than too little!” Oh, and we do put together all of the main parts of a Passover Seder, but a real Seder is supposed to take like five or six hours. I’m known for my famous “five-minute Seder,” which is really more like 20 minutes. It’s fun for the kids and it’s a nice bonding experience every year.

  5. Although I am personally an atheist, it is not clear to me that eliminating organized religion would be a net positive for society. I do think that churches serve an important role as “mediating institutions.” Perhaps as churches fade away, some other mediating institutions will arise to take their place.

    One of the most vital insights of modern social thought is the importance of mediating institutions–churches, schools, fraternal organizations, professional associations, and even clubs–for a free society. Not only are they effective, sometimes crucial, in providing services of all sorts, they are, as Tocqueville pointed out, a bulwark of freedom against the encroaching power of the state. The recognition of the consequence of these associations is especially significant for Americans because we have been particularly adept at forming them. As Tocqueville observed more than a hundred years ago, Americans “carried to the highest perfection the art of pursuing in common the object of their common desires.”


    1. This is definitely a role that organized religions play, and it can be a positive one in society, but it can be pernicious when it becomes politicized. We’re seeing plenty of that on the political right these days.

    2. Churches and religion have largely faded away in northern Europe and Scandinavia, but no other mediating institutions have arisen to take their place. We don’t need religion substitutes, at least in these countries. And remember, in Iceland Zero Percent of the people under 25 believe in God. Do they have religion substitutes? I don’t think so.

      You are making the Little People’s argument: you do just fine without religion, but other people need it.

      1. I agree, that churches and religion have largely faded away in Northern Europe and Scandinavia. I am an atheist and have been so much of my life including early childhood as my father was too and he would have “ nothing to do with all that mumbo jumbo” however strangely he was very anti jewishness and all that it entailed and this was something I could never understand and despite me asking he never adequately explained his phobia. The best I discovered was that it was something to do his WWII experiences in the UK RN but what it was he took to his cremation.
        My experiences of working in Scandinavia and in particular Norway shows that a lot of really interesting churches have survived the demise of organised religion and are are carefully preserved. The old wooden churches there are really interesting and I can understand the need to preserve them. The same is true of many old religious structures globally and and as someone who has visited many and finds the architectural and construction skill of these buildings despite their original purposes very interesting I hope this preservation will continue even after the complete end of all organised religion.

      2. “We don’t need religion substitutes, at least in these countries.”

        I am glad to see the clause tacked on here. I would be more convinced of the “joys of the irreligious society” thesis if we didn’t always cherry-pick Scandinavia. Add the Soviet Union, much of the rest of the Warsaw Pact, Maoist China, Cambodia, North Korea, and Revolutionary France and the conclusions one might draw shift just a bit.

        I wonder to what degree small, relatively homogeneous societies might have an advantage in terms of stability and social cohesion—be they religious or not.

        1. “I wonder to what degree small, relatively homogeneous societies…”

          You said it before I could. Yeah, it’s much easier to attain and keep social cohesion without any other unifying force when your country is small and relatively homogeneous. And let us note that Iceland is a country with a population smaller than that of Aurora, Colorado, which is the 52nd most populous city in the United States.

          We’re also seeing what happens when you introduce a new religious and cultural element that completely clashes with that homogeneous population in Sweden, where young Muslim men from the Middle East are clashing with the wider population’s culture. And one wonders (with great trepidation) what the pushback would look like if Sweden was united by religion rather than a blase sense of social cohesion. Then again, if Sweden was religious, it might not have permitted Muslims to immigrate in such large numbers in the first place, which can be seen as either a good or bad thing: good for some parts of Sweden, but bad for the legitimate refugees (i.e. war refugees, rather than economic refugees) who needed assistance.

          The world isn’t nearly so black-and-white as “religion bad in all things at all times” versus “religion good in all things at all times.” The world is far too complicated for such reductionist views.

    3. Well, that Acton Institute certainly sounds like an, ahem, interesting organization:

      “The Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty is an ecumenical, nonprofit research organization that promotes the benefits of free enterprise to religious communities, business people, students and educators.”

      So they’re pushing the modern twin deities of god and The Market. I’ll go out on a limb and opine that for many modern Americans, The Market is the more powerful of the two.

      At the bottom of the page Lysander linked, the Acton Institute promotes a philosophy of “retromedievalism.”

      “A retromedieval world is one that has consciously turned back the welfare and regulatory state from impinging drastically upon, or even in totalitarian fashion, swallowing up society in the corrosive belly of the brackish public whale represented by its self-serving bureaucrats.”

      Yes, let’s go back to the time of monarchs and serfs – life was so much better then.

      1. It was only a few days ago that most of the commentators here agreed that citing a source does not imply alignment with the source.

        I confess that I Googled “mediating institutions” and picked a quote that expressed its meaning as I understood it.

        Are you claiming that I want to go back to the time of monarchs and serfs because I cited the Acton Institute?

  6. “Does a Christian community have any meaning if the members don’t accept the fact that Jesus came to earth as God/son of God, was crucified, and thereby gave us the possibility of eternal life?” Well, the Unitarians’ basic doctrine is that there might be one God at most, or maybe not, but the primary issue is the Committee on bringing a hot-dish. The Unitarians think their community has some kind of meaning, and they even joke about it.
    There are Jewish jokes of this kind, like the one about the boy who told his rabbi that he
    could no longer daven, because he no longer believed there was a God. The rabbi
    replies: “God, Shmod, the important thing is, three times a day you daven.

    1. A very good long time friend of mine, a widow now of an RCAF Lt Col once stationed as a “wife” in some really remote part of Canada once explained that location dictated that the only community available was that of the Station Church and as an atheist she found this difficult. She said she overcame her complete aversion to all that the basis of this community stood for vis a vis religion whilst retaining her secularism and made this quite clear to all. She was fully accepted on these terms and bridge nights etc were wonderful and as was the community care for each other. She says she never received or felt that there was any ulterior motive apart from friendship and community.
      I am not sure what this says about the RCAF dependents in difficult circumstances but according to my friend it worked for her. That she was the wife of the Unit C.O. may however had some bearing!

  7. Re: the claim that he US is increasing secular; there’s good evidence to demonstrate that it’s -au contraire- increasingly “religious”. The vacuum left by the eviction of traditional religion(s) is and will be filled by fantastical ideologies and pseudo science.

    And while the majority of Americans may not be religious, the vast majority still believe in “God”.

    JUNE 17, 2022
    “WASHINGTON, D.C. — The vast majority of U.S. adults believe in God, but the 81% who do so is down six percentage points from 2017 and is the lowest in Gallup’s trend. Between 1944 and 2011, more than 90% of Americans believed in God.”

    Humans are built to revere something, anything. This is particularly true of those who are poor, who struggle, who suffer.

    I am an American, an agnostic, who works (part of the year) in South Africa. Our organization targets the intersection of disenfranchised women/children and iconic animals at the edge of extinction.

    Faith, particularly the Christian faith is of enormous importance to the people I work with, often, their only “hope” in light of a corrupt government, increasing unemployment, the legacy of colonialism and a world changing too rapidly to accommodate meaningful adjustment within a lifetime.

    Religion can still be very dangerous, Christianity far less so than it used to be. Still, I can’t image advocating on behalf of atheism or even agnosticism to the people I work with. They are better off believing, many are.

    2019: (unclear how granular this study was/still is)
    “People who follow a religion through active participation in congregations tend to be happier, according to a new study.”

    Some of the best and most fierce voices on behalf of a moral-west have been Christians, and devout ones; the father of emancipation, William Wilberforce (a Brit), made his moral argument with Christian values, and Dr. King (my favorite American) did the same on behalf of desegregation.

    “William Wilberforce (1759-1833) was a truly inspiring man. An evangelical Christian, he was the key voice that led to the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, which then led to its ultimate abolition worldwide. Abolishing slavery was, according to Wilberforce’s critics, impractical, idealistic and fantastically uneconomic. But Wilberforce was convinced that slavery was an evil that needed to be eradicated, and was finally fulfilled a mere three days before his death.”

    Another such figure is Father Damien of Molokai. I hiked down some of the steepest sea cliffs in the world (on the island of Molokai) to visit what was used to be called a “Leper colony”. Damien lived and died there, among the sick, the suffering and the outcast.

    “Damien, known for his compassion, provided spiritual, physical, and emotional comfort to those suffering from the debilitating incurable disease. He served as both pastor and physician to the colony and undertook many projects to better the conditions there. He improved water and food supplies and housing and founded two orphanages, receiving help from other priests for only 6 of his 16 years on Molokai. In 1884 he contracted leprosy and refused to leave for treatment. He succumbed to the painful, deforming disease five years later. He was originally buried at the colony, as he requested, but his remains were transferred to Leuven in 1936. His right hand was returned to his original grave in 1995.”

    And recently, (and I don’t understand why, not clearly), the beloved and great environmentalist and renowned writer Paul Kingsnorth became a Christian. He writes beautifully about the earth/community here:

    It seems to me that this “type” of deep sacrificial love comes primarily from those who have faith. But hey, I could be wrong.

    Most importantly, why do we have to be atheist? Why do we have to be Christian? Why do we have to be anything?

      1. I would add that in dealing with corrupt government, increasing unemployment, or the legacy of colonialism, the supposed hope provided by Faith is a form of coping that’s very close to complacency. “Well, things are bad, but I hope Jesus will send me to heaven.” When people are encouraged to put aside faith and begin asking how they can change their world for the better, they start to improve their lives. Religion is always popular among the poor and downtrodden…and their oppressors, because it doesn’t offer concrete solutions to lifting people out of poverty.

    1. Most importantly, why do we have to be atheist? Why do we have to be Christian? Why do we have to be anything?

      We do not have to be anything, in the sense that we do not have to label ourselves. For example, one does not have to be an agnostic. However, words sometimes describe what people are. For example, a person who possesses US citizenship might be described as ‘American’. That is an empirical reality. The word ‘atheist’ is sometimes used to refer to people who do not have religious beliefs. It is of course also used to refer to people who contend that God does not exist. That position, unless the word God is made concrete, I think is vacuous nonsense. In that sense, I am not even an atheist. Similarly, the agnostic position is vacuous nonsense to me. I talk about knowledge when things are reified.

      That a source exists is an implicit premise in the rabbi’s definition below:

      God is the source of everything that exists, and God is someone, something, with whom a human being can have a relationship, and that you can live your life in alignment with a godly purpose. That any definition that is greater than that is in some ways to traduce God.

      God is the source of all. God is nature. God is what is good in this world. God is a cream cracker.

  8. “The cost of this ebbing of social cohesion is multifaceted. At the most basic, it tears away at the social fabric.”

    People have been complaining about the social fabric tearing for millennia. They usually have a reason for the apparent tearing – notably lack of respect (by the young) for things (including the aristocracy, previous political ideas, gods, and religion) respected by the old. Yet if the social tearing was continuous we would surely be worse and worse off and approaching the end of the world. Yet poverty and hunger have been significantly reduced, slavery (mostly) outlawed, housing improved, sanitation widely available, and people (mostly) live in peaceful times.

    So no, I’m not swayed by this advert for communal worship.

  9. I’m agnostic, but believe quite strongly that we have a creator. I’m not imagining a white guy with a beard sitting on a cloud, but I am picturing a teenage girl loading “simEarth” in her parent’s basement. In short I think we’re probably in a simulation.

    I hope everybody is agnostic to a degree, including hardline atheists. Especially atheists in fact, as I think the atheist mind is more attuned to reason.

    It obviously can’t be simulations (turtles) all the way down, and a base reality exists somewhere, but how did something come from nothing? Who knows. It’s a fascinating question, probably unanswerable, and I’m certainly not implying a creator at that point.

    Apologies for that waffle. More in line with the subject at hand, humans do seem to need “religion”. I read an interesting short book on the topic last year (regards the psychology behind the emergence of religion) and note that Philip Goff points out that the same motivations that drove people to “cancel” Galileo also exist in humans today. It wasn’t Christianity as such. Religion is a product of human nature.

    My point is that human’s need something to worship and I worry a lot more about what we’re going to worship when the legacy religions are taken apart…we’re seeing a lot of it now. I’d be very surprised if the kind of post-religion utopia Sam Harris promotes develops naturally. It seems to be more about the worship of the self today. Human’s, I believe, are fundamentally selfish and without some oversight (government/religion) are not likely to behave particularly well.

    1. “…how did something come from nothing?”

      Who said there was ever “nothing?” This is one of those questions that always peeves me. We don’t understand 99.9999% of how our own brains work. Surely we can accept the fact that we don’t understand a nigh-infinite amount about the universe and what lies beyond it. Time is not necessarily linear, and the universe and what was and/or is beyond it is probably infinite/eternal. We didn’t get something from nothing. It all just is.

      Regarding “the simulation”: What makes you believe this? What scientific evidence is available for any of who, what, where, why, when, and how? If there’s no data, isn’t this just as flimsy as religious beliefs?

    2. It obviously can’t be simulations (turtles) all the way down, and a base reality exists somewhere, but how did something come from nothing? Who knows. It’s a fascinating question, probably unanswerable, and I’m certainly not implying a creator at that point.

      Why should a ‘base’ exist somewhere? How do you know? The question of how something came from nothing contains the implicit premise that something did come out of nothing, else ‘how’ would be vacuous. What does the question mean? In particular, what does ‘nothing’ mean? Is it a realizable physical state? Are you putting words together to form grammatically correct but nonsensical questions?

      There are many words (e.g., ‘cause’, ‘inside’, ‘outside’, ‘nothing’) that make sense in everyday situations that might not make sense in other contexts.

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