Atheism Can’t Be Practiced

In a conversation with several other Christians, someone mentioned some atheists who are declaring themselves de-baptized. They have a hokey ceremony incorporating a hair-dryer, and witnesses, and a celebrant: the whole nine yards. 

It can’t be done, of course, any more than pigs could fly. Once baptized, always baptized.

A young Evangelical in the company responded, “You gotta wonder: if they are really atheists, *why do they care*?” We all exploded in laughter. Someone else said, “It just goes to show you that despite what they say about baptism being meaningless superstition, in their hearts they don’t really believe it is.”

You can’t rebel against something you know does not exist.

As you can’t rebel against something you know does not exist, neither can you seek or serve something you believe does not exist.

Atheism involves the denial that there is an absolute Good, or an absolute Truth. But as they proceed from one moment to the next of their lives, atheists contradict that denial by trying to be good, and trying to understand. They care whether or not they are good, and whether or not they are right.

They have no really viable alternative to this, for there isn’t any other way to stay alive than by trying to be sagacious and prudent. So atheists show forth in their lives the opposite of what they say with their lips; and this is enough to demonstrate that what they say with their lips, they do not believe in their hearts. A true atheist would never give either theism or atheism a moment’s thought.

In his heart, and in his life, every man acts as if theism is true; or else, he dies. Atheism, then, is just a pose, rather like pretending you take pleasure from modern art.

About these ads

128 thoughts on “Atheism Can’t Be Practiced

  1. Trouble is, atheists often don’t know exactly what it is that they’re denying. They typically attack theistic-personalist caricatures of God, rather than the God of classical theism, who is Truth itself, Goodness itself, etc. The only answer to consistent, fully rational atheism is suicide.

    In fact, most people are unfamiliar with the classical theist notion of God. I recall a discussion I had once with an atheist friend, who was formerly a young-Earth creationist. I mentioned in my argument that God is Truth itself. To which he replied something to the effect of “That’s not what the word ‘God’ means.” Ignoring the obvious problems with this response, what troubled me was that he was probably right. The average man on the street, or even the average Christian, probably wouldn’t understand God that way. If the classical theist picture was the primary image of God in the public consciousness, its truth would be a lot more self-evident.

  2. It may have been Auguste Comte who said that, once we were fully into the Positive Age, there would be no atheists because the theistic question would never arise. I suspect that this is false, since something like the God hypothesis would seem to arise naturally in the human mind, and so would always have to be refuted by atheistic education. I rather doubt that the de-baptizers have a subliminal respect for the power of baptism. I take non-believers at their word when the say that the don’t believe. But I suspect that in many cases de-baptism is a stick in the eye of pious parents.

  3. Atheism is a derivative position. It would still be a derivative position if some global atheist state succeeded in killing off every believer of every kind on the planet. It is unsurprising that, occupying a derivative position, atheists deeply resent believers. Of course, atheists only exist today in Christian or in Westernized societies, so atheist resentment is never directed against Buddhism, for example, or Fire Worship; it is only ever directed against Christianity.

  4. Atheists often say that their view is a mere “lack of belief” in God/s. But, it seems to me that this is a shifty way to present materialism/naturalism/physicalism as “basic” and minimalist.
    This whole “mere” business is nothing of the kind. To my lights, the only group who is comfortable with being identified as atheist are the scientismists.

    Case in point, I recently had a talk with a friend from college. I asked him, “Do you believe in God?” He answered, “It all depends on what you mean by God.” It wasn’t long before I realized that his understanding of God was far from the “classical” theism mentioned in John Koo’s post. My friend was uncomfortable with a personal creator, but he was equally uncomfortable with matter/energy representing the totality of reality.

    I think when all is said and done, there are really only two world views- the traditional and the anti-traditional. The first and (normal one in my opinion) is that Reality only makes sense from the top down. The other view sees Reality from the bottom up. The anti-traditional perspective strikes me as the more superstitious and illogical one.

    • How about a form of atheism that does not believe in scientism i.e. a form of scepticism, basically saying the world is not rational?

      Optimistic, rationalistic science is in itself a religious idea, it basically means God has a blueprint for the world and we can learn about it. Terms like “laws of nature” are religious, they suppose a law-giver.

      The sceptical atheist does not believe in laws of nature or a rationally knowable universe, nor does he believe that science is about truth, or truth is even a very meaningful term. He merely believes that sometimes we are lucky to be able to form models, hypotheses that are capable of predicting some observations about the world, which enables us to make predictions and manipulate nature (technology) but this is all there is in science. These models are not “truth”, they merely have “truth content” so far as they are capable of prediction. Newton did not discover laws, he created models, that were quite useful for predicting some things, and then later on their limitations were found.

      This view would be called operationalism or operationalist fallibilism, and is also fairly well compatible with other anti-rationalist worldviews such as Mahayana Buddhism.

      This is also compatible with the more skeptical forms of political conservatism (Burke, Oakeshott, Kekes) and the phronesis subset of the Aristotelean tradition.

      It is also compatible with a form of traditionalism that sees tradition as accumulated trial-error experience and thus phronesis, not rationalism.

      Truth is a religious concept. It means a piece of information (statement, proposition) corresponds 1 : 1 to a piece of reality. But how can information correspond 1 : 1 to for example matter? How can the letter string “stone” correspond with a phyical stone? It can only do so if some other kind of information is fundamental to physical reality, and this information we call truth or a true statement corresponds to that information. In other words, true information is one that corresponds with the information behind physical reality which information is Gods’ blueprint for creation. Outside theism, truth is a much less meaningful concept, because we cannot match stones with information. What we can do is match predictions about stones with observations about stones, which both are information.

      Frankly, the No. 1 reason I cannot believe in God is because I cannot believe in Reason or a rational universe. To me religion is not irrational, it is in fact too rational, too rationalistic. Religious thinkers like Ed Feser think logic is real, causality is real etc. when they are nothing more but fragile, limited human attempts to somehow deal with the universe we are thrown in.

      You must first believe in God in order to believe in Reason, otherwise why should the universe make sense to us? Hence I have no reason to believe in Reason.

      So this is the third position: when the world does not need to make sense.

      • Thanks, Shenpen, for a courageous, thoughtful contribution. I think you’ve pretty much nailed it: if one believes in Reason, one implicitly presupposes God. The question you raise is whether the alternative you propose – not believing in Reason at all – is really tenable. I would say that it is not.

        You suggest that behavior can be reasonable, as being informed by models that work well enough, so far as they go. No one could disagree with that, I suppose. It is Pragmatism. Operationally, we are all American Pragmatists; and Pragmatism is both insightful and rather obviously veracious, taken as an explanation of how we actually proceed to form our views.

        But while Pragmatism works well as psychology, it does not work as an epistemology. In Kwagunt, Creek and Canyon, to which I linked elsewhere in this thread, I explain how we couldn’t successfully operate in the way that Pragmatism describes unless there really was a Truth out there, to which our models could more or less faithfully approximate. If reality is not rational, then no rational model can be about reality. And a model that has *nothing to do with reality* is not a model at all; it is but a jumble of irrelevancies, that mean nothing, and can have no consequences one way or another when carried into action. Indeed, if reality is not rational, then the whole notion of consequence – i.e., of causality – falls apart, as Hume and al-Ghazali so clearly saw.

        Thus if reality is not rational, one can have an impression that one’s behavior is rationally ordered, but this impression must be false. If reality is not rational, then that little bit of reality that is our phenomenal experience is nowise rational, either.

        But, on the other hand, if our phenomenal experience is anywise rational, then the whole of reality is rational; for it would not be possible to obtain a bit of rationality, phenomenal or otherwise, from something irrational.

        One interesting question you raise is how there can be correspondence between our information about the world and the world itself. How can our propositions about a stone have anything to do with the stone?

        Notice first that in order to be the particular thing that it is, the stone must have the form of that particular thing. It must have certain formal properties (whether or not we are able to measure them with perfect accuracy, or even specify them): mass, density, chemical composition, and so forth. And not only those, but also the formal properties that have to do with its position in the history of the world: its location vis-à-vis Julius Caesar and Shenpen, its momentum, and so forth. To be just the stone that it is, the matter of the stone must possess all these forms; must be informed by these forms.

        To the extent that we can apprehend these formal characteristics of the stone, specify and distinguish them from each other, we can then think and talk about them: can reason about the stone, and understand it. Not perfectly, of course, but at least in part.

        Now if it were not actually possible thus to think about things, then we would never think. But we do think. So it is possible. And, therefore, our propositions can truly pertain to reality.

        This being the case, the question then naturally arises: is the uncanny correspondence of the forms of our phenomenal intuitions about reality with the forms of reality itself (exemplified in the spookily mathematical structure of reality) an indication that these two sorts of form are actually one, or perhaps are two different aspects – the subjective and the objective – of one sort of form? John Wheeler and AN Whitehead certainly thought so. So too did Aquinas, and Plato.

        You write:

        You must first believe in God in order to believe in Reason, otherwise why should the universe make sense to us? Hence I have no reason to believe in Reason.

        But while I agree that you must implicitly believe in God in order to believe in Reason, I think it is not quite right that you must *first* believe in God in order to believe in Reason. One can infer the existence of God from one’s experience of the world’s intelligibility. One can go the other direction, too, of course, but I think almost no one does. People start with this undeniable experience that their intentions can be ordered to reality, and that things *behave themselves.* They infer the Logos.

        The bottom line is that if you think reality is unintelligible, then you must think also that neither you nor anyone else can have anything intelligent to say about it, whatsoever. It seems clear to me, Shenpen, that you say lots of intelligent things. I doubt therefore whether you really believe in practice – believe Pragmatically – that reality is unintelligible. I doubt therefore that you have evaded the necessity of presupposing the existence of God.

  5. I think the point that atheists are just as obsessed with God as theists has some validity. “De-baptizing” is just a particularly vivid illustration of this. That’s why I don’t really have much patience with atheism, it doesn’t go far enough.

    But this is silly:

    Atheism involves the denial that there is an absolute Good, or an absolute Truth. But as they proceed from one moment to the next of their lives, atheists contradict that denial by trying to be good, and trying to understand. They care whether or not they are good, and whether or not they are right.

    They have no really viable alternative to this, for there isn’t any other way to stay alive than by trying to be sagacious and prudent.

    The notion that theists have some monopoly on goodness or truth is just laughable question-begging. You can have a personal vision of the good that is not connected to the (assumed to be non-existent) Good with a capital G. You can follow relative good or relative truth rather than some Absolute. You can be a personal or global utilitarian concerned with maximizing pleasure. Etc.

    What you are really saying is that you can’t imagine how a person who doesn’t believe in God manages their values and life. Given that you can’t even imagine someone liking modern art, I guess that isn’t surprising. But a lack of imagination is not a proof.

    • Thanks, a.morphous. I can see how that argument must seem silly to you. After all, you are managing your life well enough with reference only to a proximate good, a good that you (and perhaps only you) apprehend, even if no one else does. Why propose some transcendent, ineffable and unachievable Good, when we can satisfy ourselves with just noticing that some things hurt us and others feel pretty OK? Isn’t it an unnecessary stretch to propose anything further? What in any case could we use as a basis for that stretch, apart from our private apprehensions of goodness, truth and beauty?

      It seemed that way to me, too, for quite some time. But it won’t do.

      Notice in the first place that the proposition that, “It is good to seek one’s own pleasure” presupposes that there is such a thing as goodness. If there is no such thing as goodness out there in reality, but only in our minds, then all we can truthfully say about it is to report of our own experience that it is pleasant to feel pleasant. Notice that this is not to say anything at all: “x = x” is devoid of information.

      This is a clue to an extremely important and basic truth, overlooked because it is so very basic: signal per se supervenes upon God. Unless there is an absolutely true state of affairs to which propositions can approximate – this being such as could be either adequately comprehended or therefore established only by Omniscience – then no proposition can be at all true, and no signal in communications can therefore be possible; rather, then, all is noise.

      The same sort of analysis goes for causal order.

      None of this is new. It’s all right there in Lucretius.

      In the second place, and more immediately problematic for any appeal to rationality in our social discourse, if my private apprehensions of goodness and truth are not reports of what is at least an approximation to what is *really* good or true in any absolute sense, then strictly speaking they are *not at all veridical.* They are then, rather, only “the stuff I want and like to believe are good and true.” While I could then still feel that some things were good and others not, my inability to propose that such feelings were veridical would mean that I could mount no argument that my merely private predilections should carry any moral or aesthetic weight. I could not then, for example, argue that it would be in any way wrong for another fellow who wanted my things to kill me and take them. I could argue then only that it would be wrong and bad for me if he were to do such a thing; I could not argue that it would be wrong and bad for him, or for anyone else. Such arguments can be mounted only under the presupposition that there is an absolute standard of good and evil out there. And only God can supply absolutes.

      NB that none of this is to argue that theists have “some monopoly on goodness or truth.” I never argued that, nor would I. I have known too many upright atheists ever to credit such a notion. Atheists can certainly be good and truthful. It’s just that they can’t consistently argue that they really *are* good or truthful. All they can argue is that they are doing what they feel like doing.

      PS: If you’re interested, I go into this a bit more in a post called Kwagunt: Creek & Canyon.

      PPS: Atheism doesn’t go far enough? How does one go further, and to what?

      • Exactly Kristor. No one seriously denies that atheists can do good things, but they have no basis for answering why anyone should be good at all that isn’t a) arbitrary, b) subjective to the point of meaninglessness or c) reliant on scientifically unprovable axioms that require just as much faith as a belief in God.

      • Kristor, thanks for a meaty reply. I really appreciate the opportunity to engage seriously on serious questions with people who think differently than I do.

        Your stance seems to involve the following propositions. We probably agree on the first and diverge to varying extents on the rest:

        – all living things have at least a local good. Ameobas, antelopes, anteaters, and anthropoids all have some things that are good for them, and others bad.

        – there is an abstraction called “goodness’ that somehow includes all of these local goods and is just as real or more so (for some meaning of “real”).

        – this goodness is somehow metaphysically fundamental

        – this goodness should be personified (as God)

        – the Christian conception of God is the right one.

        You seem to be reifying (or deifying) abstractions to me. From the observable facts of goodness and truth you get Goodness and Truth and an Omniscient Being in Charge of it All.

        The postmodern position (which seems to be where I find myself) is not so much that these don’t exist, but that whether or not they exist they are unknowable and our attempts to orient ourselves to them are inevitably fragmentary, transitory, and unsatisfying. But, that’s what we are stuck with and have to work with. That is, even if you can logically prove the reality of The Good, as the Greeks liked to do, that doesn’t mean I have to accept your particular notions of the good. And indeed, people’s ideas of the good not only differ, but often radically in conflict.

        This is a clue to an extremely important and basic truth, overlooked because it is so very basic: signal per se supervenes upon God. Unless there is an absolutely true state of affairs to which propositions can approximate – this being such as could be either adequately comprehended or therefore established only by Omniscience – then no proposition can be at all true…

        This strikes me as a very weird train of thought. Let’s suppose for the moment that we agree on the first part – that there is some absolutely true state of affairs. There’s no particular reason that that implies an omniscient intelligence that comprehends all of it, let alone that we have any kind of access to it.

        PPS: Atheism doesn’t go far enough? How does one go further, and to what?

        Most militant atheists (of the Dawkins variety) are basically modernists, that is to say, about a century behind the times. They seek to overthrow god and replace him with reason, or humanity, or science, or something like that. Postmodernism is basically the acknowledgement that modernism has failed – god might be as dead as ever, but nothing is going to replace him, and we need to learn to cope with the fragmentary and decentered world we actually live in.

      • a.morphous: The first of the propositions you list is all that is needed to make my argument. No need to worry about abstractions or their reifications. Nor am I getting anywhere close to trying to show that the Christian concept of God is true. All that I am arguing is that atheism is not tenable as a philosophical basis for life as it is actually lived.

        It makes no sense to talk of a local good that is not somehow and to some degree absolutely good. Take for example survival. If survival is not somehow absolutely good – i.e., really and truly good, in general – then we can’t really say of it that it is a good at all.

        Or take pleasant feelings, such as satiety. If satiety were not absolutely good, it would make no sense to call it good. We might then justifiably say of our satiety, “I like this.” But we could not justifiably call it good, unless it was in fact absolutely good, really and truly good in general, as compared with hunger.

        The reason this assertion can be hard to accept is that the goodness of satiety and survival seem so obvious to us, as to be given directly and inherently, in and by satiety and survival themselves. And so they are; but this could not be so, if it were not for the fact that, prior to any particular instance of satiety or survival, there was such a thing as goodness in the first place.

        Take by comparison redness. We could not say of a red ball that it was in fact red unless there was indeed such a thing as redness in the first place. Only if it were first possible for a ball to be red could a ball be red.

        So likewise with goodness.

        Redness and goodness, then, and the other universals, are prior to any of their particular instantiations in actualities.

        Now, this is not to say that redness or goodness, or any of the other universals, exist on their own somehow, abstract from actualities. They do not; if we were to treat the properties of things as themselves things, we would open ourselves to an infinite regress, by disregarding the categorical difference between properties and actualities (many infinite regresses are generated by such categorical blunders). It is only to say that, prior to any particular instance of redness, there must be redness: redness must exist as a possible property of actualities.

        Note then that if it is *ever* possible for things to be red, it must have been possible for things to be red *from all eternity.* The possibility of redness, then, exists eternally. As a property, it cannot exist on its own, but only as a property of some actuality; so since it exists eternally, it must exist as somehow a property of an eternal actuality, which is what we have always called God (God is what we have called the eternal actuality, and vice versa).

        If there be no eternal actuality, in whom the possible properties of actualities are eternally present, then there is no way for redness to be possible for our ball. So there has to be such an actuality.

        [NB that this is not to say that God is red. Redness, like evil, is present in him, not as an aspect of his manifest Nature, but as logically entailed by aspects of his manifest Nature, and therefore implicit in them – “implicit” meaning in this case, rather literally, “capable of explication in actuality,” or “possible.” The possibility of redness is implicit in the actuality of non-redness; for to say that the ball is red is to say that it is not any of the other colors; so that all of the colors are implicit in each. So likewise with all other properties. Notice that this is a demonstration of Divine Simplicity.]

        You write:

        Let’s suppose [that] there is some absolutely true state of affairs. There’s no particular reason that that implies an omniscient intelligence that comprehends all of it, let alone that we have any kind of access to it.

        If there were no omniscient knower, then there could be nowhere any points of view that were not relative. In that case, there would be nowhere any complete understanding of things, to which our understanding might approximate. I.e., there would be no fundamental Truth, with which our propositions might more or less agree. That being so, none of our propositions could be true. But some of our propositions are true. Indeed, some of them are absolutely true, necessarily true. So there is an omniscient knower.

        For more on this, see my post Atheism is Acosmism.

      • amorphous, you get so barraged with questions here that you are often unable to respond to them all. And most of the time your responses are not to my satisfaction anyways. I am tempted to assail you with questions right now, but I hate to interrupt you & Kristor while you have some rapport going.. I wish you’d provide an email address or blog address of your own.

      • Take for example survival. If survival is not somehow absolutely good – i.e., really and truly good, in general – then we can’t really say of it that it is a good at all.

        You have it backwards. Survival is metaphysically prior; that is the essence of Darwinism (interpreted broadly), and has the power of tautology. Stuff happens, some stuff is better suited to persistence than other stuff. Evolution is a competition among replicators for survival; we happen to be the winners, and goodness (that is, the ability of minds to sense other things in the world and put values on them) is one of the mechanisms we have developed along the way.

        Redness and goodness, then, and the other universals, are prior to any of their particular instantiations in actualities.

        Redness is a particularly poor example of a universal, since it isn’t one. Our perception of red is entirely contingent upon our evolutionary history and particular biological mechanisms (namely, we have visual receptors tuned to a particular range of the spectrum). Other species can lack this receptor and have ones tuned to wavelengths we can’t see. So no, there is no metaphysical essence of “red”, there is just wavelengths of light, neural responses to it, and rough agreement about what to call things that trigger the receptor to a sufficient degree.

        It is only to say that, prior to any particular instance of redness, there must be redness: redness must exist as a possible property of actualities.

        Sorry but this strikes me as blither. We know how redness works, it doesn’t require any metaphysical nonsense. Here, I’ll help you out – how about circularity as a universal? That is a concept that actually might be universal; that is, if we make contact with intelligent termites from Arcturus, it is quite unlikely that they will share our notion of red, but quite likely that they will have a concept of circle that is very like ours. The existence of that sort of universal is indeed a challenge to any constructivist theory of mind.

        Whether they would have a notion of the good is an open question, let alone whether it is anything like our own. Or IOW, whether goodness is a real Platonic universal like circle-ness appears to be is hardly obvious. Even here on earth people have very many competing concepts of the good, with no obvious way to settle the matter. Your good is not my good, to put it mildly. You folks here seem to believe you have a handle on the universal Good, even though you spend most of your energy complaining that hardly anybody else seems to share it.

        Hm, I suddenly understand why you people persist in the (ridiculous) belief that the motive for same-sex marriage is to destroy the institution of marriage. You can’t acknowledge that gay couples might simply be pursuing a different version of the good than you recognize. So, given that lack of imagination, you infer they really must be up to some form of destructive evil.

      • Survival is metaphysically prior; that is the essence of Darwinism (interpreted broadly), and has the power of tautology. Stuff happens, some stuff is better suited to persistence than other stuff.

        “Stuff happens” is indeed tautological. Notice that this means it carries no information. It implies nothing; it means nothing. Likewise for “some stuff keeps happening and other stuff doesn’t,” which is just a different way of saying “some things survive.”

        … goodness (that is, the ability of minds to sense other things in the world and put values on them) is one of the mechanisms we have developed …

        You make my argument. You are saying that according to a naturalist metaphysics, there is no such thing as goodness out there, really – for in the final analysis, it’s just stuff happening, and that’s all there is to say about it – but rather only this *feeling* of goodness we have.

        Consider that this doctrine obliges you to agree that if a man were to decide that it was good to wipe out humanity, and he were to succeed in wiping out humanity, then under the only standard of goodness that there is – i.e., what survived – he would be right.

        Our perception of red is entirely contingent upon our evolutionary history and particular biological mechanisms (namely, we have visual receptors tuned to a particular range of the spectrum).

        Well, sure. But that is not at all relevant to the argument. If the proper wavelengths weren’t out there, we wouldn’t be able to perceive those wavelengths. Whatever we then did perceive, and whatever term we used to refer to it, we would not be perceiving or referring to those wavelengths. Likewise, if good isn’t really out there, but is all in our minds as some sort of heuristic illusion randomly cooked up by stuff happening, then whatever we are referring to when we use the word “good,” we are not referring to *goodness itself.*

        Even here on earth people have very many competing concepts of the good, with no obvious way to settle the matter. Your good is not my good, to put it mildly.

        Again, this is irrelevant to the argument. People disagree about the good, but everyone agrees *that there is such a thing,* and that it is important to understand and pursue it (this being why they so ardently discuss their disagreements on the subject). Oh, I suppose eliminative materialists don’t agree that there is such a thing as goodness. But then, since by their own lights they and their arguments don’t actually exist, I suppose it is accurate after all to say that everyone agrees that there is such a thing as goodness.

        And that is the main thing; it is the thing that the post is about. It is natural, and to be expected, that we should disagree with each other about things, including goodness. After all, we are not omniscient, and we err.

        You folks here seem to believe you have a handle on the universal Good, even though you spend most of your energy complaining that hardly anybody else seems to share it.

        Well, but everyone complains this way; indeed, in saying this, you yourself are making just such a complaint. And why shouldn’t you, or we, engage in such complaints? They are the matter of the constant and ubiquitous human discourse upon morality.

        You can’t acknowledge that gay couples might simply be pursuing a different version of the good than you recognize.

        On the contrary, folks of an orthospherean persuasion are more likely to argue that no one does anything except under a conviction that he is doing good, and that often, unfortunately, such convictions are mistaken. We would argue that gay couples are suffering a moral disorder – as all humans do, of one sort or another – which queers their moral calculus. I don’t doubt that their intentions are good. But that a man has good intentions does not mean that he is not doing Hell’s work. And if you intend something that you understand as good but which is actually Hell’s work, you are less culpable than if you understood what you were doing, but your work is still Hell’s, and your effect upon history is the same as if you had intended to do Hell’s work; for you are in fact doing Hell’s work.

      • “Tautological” was not quite the right term. The point is that survival doesn’t need anything else underneath it, like goodness, to be the foundation of reality. That which persists (or more precisely, which can replicate itself over time) tends to do so, due to nothing but the logic of variation and differential fitness. Nothing else required.

        You make my argument.

        ?

        … if a man were to decide that it was good to wipe out humanity, and he were to succeed in wiping out humanity, then under the only standard of goodness that there is – i.e., what survived – he would be right.

        You speak as if that’s a hypothetical. In fact groups of humans have always been prone to wiping out other groups humans with competing moralities. The winners get to act as if their system is the correct one. White Europeans, for instance, got to wipe out the Native Americans (mostly) and replace their system of governance and right with their own. That’s how the world works.

        People disagree about the good, but everyone agrees *that there is such a thing,* and that it is important to understand and pursue it

        It’s perfectly possible to entertain the idea of “goodness” as some kind of Platonic ideal, like circularity. That is, any intelligent agent presumably has to make choices, and thus has to have some sort of values and some notion of the good. And if you abstract out from all those particular goods into some generalized notion of good, which may be universal due to the inherent logic of existence, well, that might make sense.

        But that doesn’t mean:
        – that this abstraction is “prior”, whatever that means, to any particular good thing or to the universe as a whole.
        – that this abstract notion is of any use whatsoever in arbitrating between the conflicting ideas of good held by actual people.

        … folks of an orthospherean persuasion are more likely to argue that no one does anything except under a conviction that he is doing good

        Well, I shouldn’t lump you all together but the opinion that gays are acting to deliberately subvert the institution of marriage is certainly a common one around here.

      • a.morphous, it is odd indeed that you are having trouble seeing that you are making my argument. You say things like:

        … groups of humans have always been prone to wiping out other groups humans with competing moralities. The winners get to act as if their system is the correct one. … That’s how the world works.

        But then you don’t seem to be able to see that this statement is tantamount to saying, “there is no absolute standard of goodness in the world.”

        You write:

        … if you abstract out from all those particular goods into some generalized notion of good, which may be universal due to the inherent logic of existence, well, that might make sense. But that doesn’t mean … that this abstraction is “prior”, whatever that means, to any particular good thing or to the universe as a whole.

        Notice what you have said here. You have said that a “universal due to the inherent logic of existence” – this being what is called, in the business, a metaphysical principle (the Law of Noncontradiction is another), which no actuality whatsoever can conceivably contravene – “is not necessarily prior to any particular thing.” Do you see that you have contradicted yourself? Metaphysical principles are prior to any particular thing *by definition.*

        Now, I can understand that you might not have meant to go that far. You might have meant only that we can generalize from this or that set of experiences to general notions about reality, but really it is only the concrete experiences that we can count on. I.e., you might have meant to proceed toward general principles empirically, from the bottom up.

        But if such a procedure lays any claim to having actually discovered any such principle – if, that is to say, natural history *ever* proceeds to science – then ipso facto it will have claimed in effect that it has learned of a principle that is at work in being as such (at least in our cosmos), and so in every act of being (in our cosmos), so that no event can contravene it.

        … the opinion that gays are acting to deliberately subvert the institution of marriage is certainly a common one around here.

        I doubt that most homosexuals pursuing sodomitical “marriage” intend to destroy anything. Some perhaps do. But even if there were a homosexual activist who was militating for sodomitical “marriage” so as to undermine the institution of marriage, we can be sure that he would not be spending his time on the project unless he thought it a worthy thing to do – i.e., a good thing, by his own lights, as promoting the liberty of citizens, or sexual honesty, or some other good.

      • Dear Kristor, this is a reply to http://orthosphere.org/2013/10/22/atheism-cant-be-practiced/#comment-26003 but I apparently cannot nest more comments there, the Reply link does not appear.

        Thanks, this is very interesting!

        Basically there are two ways to approach rationality or Reason. One is that it is some kind of a non-verbal,intuitive insight.

        (I am actually a very visual type so this would appeal to me. I don’t really think in words, jus translate to words. Might have something to do with being 2.5-lingual. Translating from intuitive forms to a language is way faster and easier than translating between two languages. It’s way easier for me to write this in English than to translate someone else’s thoughts to English.)

        But usually this is not what we mean under rationality or Reason, but more like grasping things in words, sentences, verbally, or alternatively with mathemathical symbols, or other kinds of symbols like those of formal logic or of a programming language. As they are basically languages, just more precise than our everyday verbal languages, I will now discuss them all under one category.

        So my point it, the problem is especially with this kind of, verbal (or mathemathical, so symbolic) rationality. The problem is with language, the problem is with rationality expressed in a language, the problem is Reason in the sense of thinking in words.

        If you would say that reality is rational in some kind of a non-verbal way (A Platonic glimpse at Forms maybe?) and would agree that translating it to any language (spoken or mathemathical etc.) is always only a very poor way of communicating it, I would find that idea interesting to explore and I am convincable on that front.

        But if the Reason you believe in is really thinking in a language, thinking in words, making statements in words and logical connections between them, then that I cannot accept, it was demonstrated often what a poor tool verbal Reason is. Just two examples:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_semantics

        Or something older, more traditional: Chapter 2 in this PDF file: http://www.colorado.edu/ReligiousStudies/rlst2610/files/2610%20S'08%20Week%2015%20Nagarjuna.pdf
        with explanation: http://bahai-library.com/winters_nagarjuna&chapter=4#RTFToC16 which basically demonstrates that even a simple statement like “this object is moving” is problematic.

        I think it is crucially important! The reality of verbal Reason, rationality expressed through language, or the way the post-moderns put it “texts” is really a losing fight. But if you can salvage some kind of non-verbal, “glimpse” kind of rationality, yes I do think theism could be founded on that.

        As for your Kwagunt article, I think this part is fairly simple. Pain, falling, or kicking a stone are sensory perceptions and actions. Survival depends on doing actions that result in the healthy kinds of sensory perceptions (I should formulate it better, anyway I mean that we feel, we perceive being hurt, hungry, bleeding etc.). Verbal logic is really just a predictional tool there. We just agree in some symbols. It doesn’t matter whether you tell me to “don’t pet a tiger” or you tell me to “kw wkw y kwkwkw”, if both statements result not petting a tiger and not being eaten by it then job well done. If you don’t even say anything, just drag me from the path leading to the tigers lair, that does the job just as well. And if you would tell me something entirely bogus such as “a fire-breathing dragon lives that way” but it still results in not going there and not getting eaten that does the job, too. This really says nothing about the validity of verbal reasoning.

        It’s an entirely different thing to say that a dumb animal who has no capacities of verbal logic nevertheless has an acute sense of actual reality through sensory organs or for example pain, but it is entirely different to say that our verbal reasoning is valid too.

        Of course sensory perception or pain is about actual reality, evolution pretty much ensured that. Verbal reasoning is an entirely different thing. There is no question whether we can sense or see reality, of course we can or else we are dead pretty quickly. The question is whether we can talk about reality – whether our verbal reasoning and communication is closely tied to reality or not.

        This much about rationality. Now a few comments about other ideas in your Kwagunt article:

        I think the Sehnsucht that drove Lewis towards religion was a desire for the childhood home, the safety, belonging and at-homeness we felt at our parents when we were children. There is just no way of feeling the same way as our adult home, we know how precarious that is. As children, we thought our parents live forever and they and the home are the safest of safe havens. Of course we would like that back… the parent-child parallels used in religious texts a very tell-tale. God = Heavenly Father. Died = went to Abraham’s bosom. It is about being 8 years old again and having mother and father hug us… I am not trying to ridicule it, it is a very fundamentally human feeling, I feel it too.

        Having said that, I don’t believe the whole of religious experience and religious desires or the holy or the numinous can be explained with this kind of childhood longing. Only that Sehnsucht part that Lewis felt can be. Because this Sehnsucht is clearly not the totality of the religious experience.

        I think the larger part of the numinous is basically reducing our own egos. It is very healthy for us to not be the center of our own universes, not be ego-centric (not the same thing as not being selfish), not have too much self-importance, don’t think that everything happens to us, without ous or against us. This is the same thing that Chesterton wrote in Orthodoxy: too much self-importance equals madness.

        Anyway, the most obvious way to reduce our ego is deal with things bigger, better, nicer, more important than ourselves. This can be something imagined, hence the religious imagination (Everybody believes most of what the large numbers of religions of the world believe in is imagined, there difference is merely whether there are exceptions or not. We would easily agree that Pallas Athene is a product of the imagination, for example.)

        Or for example it can be the beauty of nature, the catharsis provided by great works of music and other arts and so on. Things that are just wonderful enough to overwhelm us and thus suspend for a time all that self-centered thining about ourselves, thus we feel uplifted, purifed and free. Purified, cleansed = not thinking about ourselves anymore, the sense of self temporarily set aside.

        Or consider love and marriage. How comes we are unable to fall in love with a truly ugly woman, yet we can still cherish and love our wife even when she is 70 years old and wrinkled and no one would call her attractive anymore? I believe that in the beginning beauty and desire is needed in order to shock and overwhelm us and thus overcome our self-centeredness, our ego. We would not be able to see an unattractive person as more important than ourselves. But once that is done and a true alliance is formed, the warm experience of both of us keeping our ego down and considering the other person more important than ourselves keeps it going even when we grow both wrinkled and ugly.

      • Shenpen: very interesting thoughts. I have some thoughts in response.

        First, I totally agree with you that removing the focus of attention from the self and toward something larger, something transcendent, is both important and salutary, as leading both to health and prosperity on the one hand, and salvation on the other. I don’t however think it depends so much on reducing the ego, as on correcting our apprehension of its relative importance. Paradoxically, the mystical ascent results in a tremendous expansion of the ego, and translation to a nobler state. Eckhart called it spatiosissimus.

        Regarding your notion that sehnsucht is our nostalgia for the safety and security of very early childhood, two things. First, Lewis felt it most strongly as a very little boy, in his nursery. So did I. Second, even if sehnsucht is nostalgia for something we have actually experienced, that would not mean it was not true nostalgia for our true supernatural homeland. Compare sehnsucht with our feelings of sublimity in music. If such sublimity is not simply illusory, then it is a veridical taste of the Logos. If our experiences of value and beauty are not just false, then they are what it feels like to participate in the Good. The sehnsucht that a boy feels for his lost innocence and safety, then, is true nostalgia for a true participation in virtue and salvation, however partial or incomplete it might have been.

        Re Pallas Athene, I’m not so sure that she is a mere creation of the imagination. In fact, I doubt sometimes that there is any such thing as a mere creation of the imagination. More about that in some later post, perhaps. For now, just this: in a coherent, intelligible cosmos, nothing at all can fail to signify, or to purpose, or therefore to propose.

        As for your distinction between the rationality of language and that of concrete actuality, I would say that the intelligibility and orderliness of Nature requires the latter rather than the former, and that the rationality of language supervenes upon the rationality of concrete actuality. If concrete actuality were not rational and ordered, then neither could language – every real instance of which, after all, is a set of concretely actual events – be either rational or ordered.

        Gödel demonstrated in formal language that it is an inescapable principle of formal language that no such language can demonstrate all the truths it is capable of expressing. No formal language is adequate even to itself. No formal language can therefore possibly be adequate to concrete reality, which implicitly expresses all truths.

        No finite actual event – linguistic or otherwise – can adequately comprehend concrete actuality, for it is not possible to be finite except by leaving out some things that one might otherwise have expressed. Being involves choosing.

        I explore that notion a bit in my post Nature Cannot Explain Itself.

    • There is a difference between the decency of Christians and the decency of atheists. The decency of atheists is borrowed from the decency of Christians. When atheists are being decent, they are imitating and espousing conventions and usages established by a full millennium of Western European Christianity. Decent Christians, by contrast, are never imitating atheist decency; they are following a tradition that is properly theirs.

    • Hi a.morphous, I hope you don’t mind a Jewish response to your post. The word “good” gets clear meaning when one makes it clear, good for whom. In the Old Testament, God makes it clear that following His commandments would be good for the Israelites, and the prophets, particularly Isaiah, extend this to other nations. Those things taught in the Old Testament are good for any tribe/nation/group that follows them. Generalizing, I would say that what is good in a religious sense is simply what benefits the religious community in the long run. So anything that causes a culture to decay and disappear is bad. And this is the problem with modern thinking, the idea that what is good is just subject to fashion. This thinking leads to values that will destroy the culture. This takes a long time, and during this time, traditionalists of all kinds, Christian, Jewish, or whatever, have to suffer as a minority in societies that are committing cultural suicide. Only once the dominant culture becomes very weak can it be replaced by something reasonable.

      As far as theists having a monopoly on goodness, of course not. But virtually all goodness is found in religion, whether theistic or not, because religion preserves those traditions that have stood the test of time.

      • Not at all, I’m from a Jewish background myself.

        This isn’t exactly what you are writing about, but I can’t help observing that the Christian God (the more sophisticated version anyway) is an uncomfortable mix of the Jewish God (personal, local, commanding, and good for the Jews) and the more abstract Greek idea of God (the embodiment of Goodness in some sense that transcends local particularities, and thus good for everybody everywhere). These conceptions don’t really fit together and Christianity has been papering over the disjunction for quite awhile.

        As for the rest, you have the causality backwards. Modernity changes the conditions of life so that old rules of good and bad don’t work, or at least, are more difficult to apply. And modernity didn’t happen because people suddenly decided en masse to be less moral, it happened because of technological and economic and political changes. Feudal values melted into air (in the words of Marx) and the current confusion of values is the result.

      • a.morphous, I agree that the Christian God is a mix of the Jewish God and Greek ideas, but I do think the Christian idea works. It’s important to understand “God is Good” is more axiomatic for Christians than for Jews. When you understand that this is axiomatic for Christians, it makes sense that Christians define Goodness in terms of God.

        As for the rest, what you say is typically modernist and is wrong. Modernist/Liberal culture is nothing new, but has been repeated throughout history in decaying civilizations. Most aspects of Modernist culture can be found in the decline of the Roman Empire and much of it was condemned by the prophets in the Bible when Israel decayed morally. The technological and economic changes are irrelevant and the political changes only reflect the religious/moral changes. If you read the philosophies from decaying Rome or from the Hellenistic period, you will find much that you will recognize.

  6. I would quibble with the premise of this post a little bit. With Christianity (and other religions) the reality of a God to obey is automatic; it is part of the religious belief system itself. This is a great advantage for the religious; that a God they are to obey is provided to them.

    In the above article it is stated “Atheism involves the denial that there is an absolute Good, or an absolute Truth.” I would not agree with this. Atheism states that there is no literal supernatural God that creates or imposes absolute Truth as a declaration or act of will. Atheism however does not rule out alternative sources or mechanisms for creating absolute Truth. An atheist can believe in the reality of objective absolute truth that arises from something other than a literal supernatural God; evolution being the most obvious mechanism by which absolute truth can spontaneously emerge that is consistent with atheism.

    I have written an article at my new website, Secular Patriarchy, that I think fits with the subject matter here quite well:

    What the Superior Power means to me as an Atheist
    http://secularpatriarchy.wordpress.com/2013/09/23/what-the-superior-power-means-to-me-as-an-atheist/

    • I’m afraid I haven’t time to read your post right now. I’ll try to look at it later. But I don’t see how “absolute” truth can be “created” by evolution or any other mechanism. For a truth to be absolute, as I understand it, it must be true always, everywhere, and under all possible circumstances. Since a created truth was not true before it was created, it can’t be absolute. The problem seems to be worse if the mechanism is evolution, given its principle of random mutation, since any truth it generates is not only limited in duration, but also contingent by definition. Would you be willing to call the moral precepts you are defending “binding” truths, or perhaps even “absolutely binding” truths. I think a defense using this language would also ultimately fail, but your position would be harder to overthrow.

    • I have read Jesse’s post, and recommend it as a particularly sane, coherent explication of a sane, coherent approach to virtuous living as an atheist. He reminds me of the Stoics. The gist of it (correct me if I err in this, Jesse) is that the Order of Being that rules and guides us – or ought to, were we wise – is quite independent of us, and imposes itself upon us ineluctably; not as a brutal dictator, but as the simple fact of the matter, of the way things just are. He is not afraid to call that Order of Being – or Logos, as the Greeks and Hebrews call it – by the term, “God.” And he finds it sensible to speak of his God as a person (although he is careful to prescind from any assertion that the Logos is in fact a person).

      In all that, Jesse agrees with theism (apart from his prescinsion). Where he parts company is in thinking that the Logos arose as a by-product of evolution. Theism argues, per contra, that evolution – considered in the broadest sense of that term, as being that which has come to pass – arose as a by-product of the Logos, and that the logical order we apprehend in the world derives from the logical order of its creator, the Logos.

      The first problem with Jesse’s notion is, as Dr. Smith points out, that an order that is in any way derivate from contingent events cannot be supreme, or therefore indefeasible. Of any order delivered to me by mere happenstance, I may say without fault, “I, too, am happenstantial, just like the events that generated the order that imposes its influence upon me; so there is nothing inherently evil about my decision to disregard that happenstantial order in favor of my own.” And the same would go for any creature, of any sort.

      But where Jesse’s notion gets really problematic is that, because evolution ain’t over yet, it puts the Logos under my contingent willful thumb. If the Logos is a product of evolution, then by golly it is in part a product of whatever the hell I happen to decide is best for me; all the more so, if what I decide happens to work out well for me and my descendents. If I decide that the genocide of, say, the Norwegians is right, and I manage to succeed in such a genocide, then it will have turned out in fact that, lo, the genocide of Norwegians is indeed right. Anything at all may be substituted for “genocide of Norwegians.”

      If the Order of Being derives its order from me, even a little tiny bit, then it ain’t the boss of me, but vice versa. In which case, it isn’t either Supreme or God.

      Thus if Jesse is right, there can be no such thing as absolutely binding truths, moral or otherwise. And this is just to say that there can be no truths at all, of any sort whatsoever. If nothing is absolutely true, then there can be no approximation to any absolute truth: no partial or incomplete truths. This point pertains also to the objection of a.morphous above, that it is perfectly possible to live a good life in the light of partial or private truths. It is, to be sure; but only because those partial or private truths are parts or privations of the real deal, Truth himself with a capital T.

      Jesse is separated from theism, and from a turn to the love and knowledge of God, by only the thinnest of membranes. I wonder, Jesse: what is holding you back? What is the scandal that you have not been able to surmount?

    • Evolution cannot generate permanency, which is required by the definition of absolute, objective truth; evolution only produces adaptation, through mutation, or change. What evolution gives rise to, when the attempt is made to reabsorb it into morality, is relativism, positionalism, or pure egocentrism. Or Sartre’s “Existentialism.” Or the “Living Constitution.” Absolute Truth, like metaphysical Being, is the matrix within whose horizons it is possible to say that this statement is true or false, good or evil, or beautiful or ugly; that which is eternal cannot iteratively and spontaneously emerge, but it must be prior to such events.

    • I am claiming that absolute truth regarding human beings and human affairs, in particular regarding family matters and relations between men and women, is a true concrete reality that “must be obeyed” in order to be moral at the individual level and “must be obeyed” at the societal level for society to maintain itself (or for society to rebuild as is the current need considering the societal breakdown that has already accumulated). What this absolute truth is is a byproduct of the inherited inborn nature of human beings, in particular the differential and complementary nature of males and female. What the nature of human males and females is in the first place is the result of evolution so the ultimate foundational source of absolute truth regarding human relations and the human family is evolution.

      The most important element of evolution derived absolute truth is that it is not up to the individual will because evolution is a force far beyond the individual will and the individual will itself is a by product of evolution. We care because we evolved to care, we think because evolution gave us brains to think, we desire companionship with the opposite sex because companionship with the opposite sex helps us pass on our genes, we like views of the water and high elevation scenes because in such environments we have access to resources and protection from predators that help us to survive. Even religion itself can be seen as an evolutionary adaptation that helps people cooperate together in groups.

      Not only is evolution above and beyond the individual, evolution is also above and beyond any organized collection of individuals because evolution is greater than any country and all the citizens of the country will themselves be products of evolution anyways.

      Evolution derived moral rules and absolute truths are not infinite, they are local to a particular population over a particular period of time but this is not important because the scope of evolution derived absolute truth is vast enough to overwhelm the petty particulars of any specific time and place. The scope of evolution derived absolute truth for instance spans the entire human race for a period of say 100,000 to 500,000 years. This is plenty enough breadth and stability to treat evolution derived moral rules as “absolute truth” for all practical purposes.

      So evolution in the secular atheist sense functions pretty much exactly like God in the religious context. So as a practical matter atheists can mimic the religious moral understanding of things simply by thinking “evolution” while saying “God” since evolution and God are functionally equivalent to each other anyways. This is what I am advising atheists to do since the religious understanding of morality is far more advanced and far more functional than what the average atheist will be able to come up with on their own.

      Responding to Kristor’s query, what is preventing me from “going over the line” to actual religious belief? I guess I could say the atheist view of the world makes a lot more sense to me than the religious claim that there is an actual literal God up there in the sky that created things and is directing things. Spontaneous emergence of order which then establishes moral rules as a by product seems more plausible to me, seems to fit better with my life experience and what I see in the world around me. I think what the underlying truth probably really is regarding my lack of religious belief is that I simply lack the “God gene” and that my brain “doesn’t work that way” in terms of perceiving the world and the nature of things. In other words, God created me as an atheist. Since I am an atheist by God’s design I figure I can best serve God’s will by acting in my atheist capacity to try to teach His Truth about the nature of things, particularly regarding family matters, to my fellow atheists and others who are not connected to organized religious teachings or organized religious communities. So that is what I am doing with the new TWRA (Traditional Women’s Rights Activist) group I have found and become a part of (my website Secular Patriarchy being part of the TWRA group as a whole).

      • There’s no reason that we should get hung up on the word absolute. Many propositions about gender relations are completely true, but since they could have been untrue, they are not absolutely true.

        Your identification of evolution and God will work up to a point, but there are nevertheless several sharp differences because one is a personal relationship and the other is an impersonal relationship. For instance, I could conceivably feel something like gratitude toward evolution for producing a beautiful flower, but I do not believe that I could feel guilt for failing to feel such gratitude. Or I might be in a sense punished by evolution for failing to act in ways fitted to genetic survival, but in such as case I would never feel that evolution was angry with me, or that it was disappointed by what I had done. And if I was so punished by evolution, I might suffer horribly, but I would not suffer shame. It’s just a dumb, brute force, and this would seem to place it beneath me in the scale of being. This doesn’t mean that it isn’t immensely powerful, or that it isn’t immensely important in shaping the world that I inhabit, but I could no more worship evolution than I could worship gravity.

        I think you are right to say some people find the proposition of God inherently less plausible than others, but I wouldn’t place too much confidence in the idea of a God gene. Mental genotypes express themselves in different ways, depending on environment. The big division in the world is between people who think about these matters and people who don’t.

        Good luck evangelizing the atheist community on the hard facts of human sexual relations. Anything that leads to stronger and more fecund pair bonding is to be applauded.

  7. Here in the UK it seems that absolutely the majority are basic, practical atheists in that God talk of any description is meaningless rather than debatable or wrong. That’s partly a product of state schools effectively failing to teach any sort of religion over the last 40 years or so (I am talking in general terms and with a necessarily broad brush). This has combined with a PC attitude that essentially allows the hearer of any worldview different from his own to screen it out and attribute it merely to personal choice. The underlying truth or falsity of such views are beyond discussion.

    Within the churches, again my experience over the years has been that whenever I have tried to explain the traditional/orthodox understanding of God to individuals or groups it has either come as something of a revelation (we believe *that*? Wow!) or, more usually is met with blank incomprehension.

  8. So atheists show forth in their lives the opposite of what they say with their lips; and this is enough to demonstrate that what they say with their lips, they do not believe in their hearts.

    Few things are more exhilarating than that moment in life when one suddenly realizes that his intellect is free, and manifests it by rebelling against the rightful authority that protects him and gave him birth. Which is to say I’d like to second T. Bertonneau’s first comment. Atheism has always seemed to me like an intellectual temper-tantrum thrown by an ungrateful child in the face of overly strict parents. And yet, to make his way in the world, he will be forever relying on the very patrimony he rejects. (This might be changing, as it seems a new chaos is upon us. I’m thinking particularly of the state of our sexual ethics.)

    Regarding evolution as a substitute for God: “God created me as an atheist.” No offense to its author, but this struck me at once as one of the more amusingly self-refuting statements I’ve ever read. In a post I won’t punish anyone by asking him to read, I once wrote of Richard Dawkins and his ilk that “I have concluded that a significant number of scientists are in fact religious fanatics…They are not fanatics in the sense that they actually believe in a recognized religion, but in their inability to leave the subject alone. Some of them do believe, like Francis Collins, but you may also have noticed that the more egregious violators, like Richard Dawkins, consider religious belief such an inferior way of occupying the mind that he can’t stop talking about it.” I’m not saying this is true of Mr. Powell (knowing nothing about him), but why the need to find in evolution a substitute for God, and “absolute truths” about human nature in a theory based on natural contingencies, unless the God gene is hard at work?

    Atheism, then, is just a pose, rather like pretending you take pleasure from modern art.

    That one made me smile, Kristor.

  9. You can’t rebel against something you know does not exist.

    Well, an atheist doesn’t believe that God exists — but the idea of God exists; religion exists; the church that still claims him as a member because he was baptized exists. The “de-baptism” ceremony, while silly (most likely intentionally so), is probably not superstitious, not a sign that the participants still secretly believe in Christianity. It’s just a symbolic act of rejection, like burning a flag.

    Atheism involves the denial that there is an absolute Good, or an absolute Truth.

    No it doesn’t. I certainly never made any such denials during my 11 years as an atheist. Atheism involves the denial that there is a personal God. “Something is true; something is good” simply is not the same proposition as “there is a God.” I know you probably think that goodness and truth are dependent on the existence of God, and that to deny the latter is to deny the former — but that is simply a metaphysical assumption, and most atheists I know don’t share it.

    • … an atheist doesn’t believe that God exists — but the idea of God exists; [the “de-baptism” ceremony, while silly is just a symbolic act of rejection, like burning a flag].

      Sure. But one doesn’t burn a flag of a country one doesn’t believe exists, or matters. No one is burning the flags of Babylon. The interesting thing is that, while the Church is far more vibrant and present in history these days than Babylon, it is not exerting any compulsions upon atheists to act in any given way. It is leaving them to their own devices. Their rite of de-baptism is a protest against a power that is not doing anything to them. It is not, i.e., as though they are protesting against the Obama Administration, or the like. It is more like they are protesting against an old lady sitting quietly on her porch. They would not be doing this unless they suspected in their hearts that the old lady is actually *terribly important.*

      I know you probably think that goodness and truth are dependent on the existence of God, and that to deny the latter is to deny the former — but that is simply a metaphysical assumption, and most atheists I know don’t share it.

      That a man doesn’t understand the implications of his beliefs does not mean those implications are not implicit in his beliefs. And the denial of absolute goodness and truth implicit in the denial of the existence of God is, not assumed, but entailed. To those who don’t understand the entailment, it might seem groundless, and thus a mere assumption. But they are wrong.

      • It is not, i.e., as though they are protesting against the Obama Administration, or the like. It is more like they are protesting against an old lady sitting quietly on her porch.

        Well, the church might not have that much power in society at large, but it probably was a major power in the lives of these individual atheists. They were baptized and raised in a religion — and, depending on how devout they formerly were, that religion may have dominated their lives and controlled a great many things. Of course this was internalized, psychological control, not literal physical coercion — but that’s just the point. To break free from actual oppression, you have to fight against your oppressor. To break free from internalized, psychological control — something which has been a central part of your life, but which you want to walk away from — you perform symbolic actions, like the “de-baptism” described — actions by which say, to yourself more than to anyone else, “I’m not part of this anymore. This doesn’t control me anymore. It’s over.”

        Rebelling against a random old lady sitting on her porch doesn’t make any sense — but rebelling against your own parents, well, that’s a perfectly normal thing to do. From other people’s point of view, of course, they may just be nice people sitting quietly on their porch, but from the point of view of the child they are the most powerful people in the world, exerting far more influence over the child’s life than some abstraction like “the Obama administration.” From the point of view of its own members (and former members), a church can be like that, too.

        That a man doesn’t understand the implications of his beliefs does not mean those implications are not implicit in his beliefs.

        Yes, but my point is that atheists can, and often do, practice the beliefs which the actually hold — as opposed to the beliefs which, in your (philosophically controversial) opinion, they ought to hold if they are to be logically consistent. You could accuse them of being illogical, of being inconsistent, of failing to think out the implications of their beliefs — but not of being unable to practice what they profess.

      • No; they are failing to practice what they profess. They are like a man who insists that he professes Christianity, but rejects the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, and the Resurrection. Sure, such a man may be living out his creed in good faith; but he is not living out Christianity. Likewise, an atheist who believes in absolute good and truth may profess those beliefs honestly, and may live as if they are true – indeed, my main point in the original post was that it is not practically possible to live a human life in any other way – but in doing so, he is not professing atheism, properly so called. He is, rather, deeply confused.

        As to your psychological description of the de-baptizers, I am sure you are right that something like that is indeed going on. But notice that what you are describing is, precisely, *people who think the old lady on the porch is crucially important,* even as they aver with all their might that she is just an old lady on a porch. They are like men who, pointing to their father, scream with all their might, “that man is *not* my father, and I DON’T CARE ABOUT HIM!” They may be honest, but … they have some work to do, in therapy perhaps; for they are deeply confused.

      • Wm Jas, “… an atheist doesn’t believe that God exists — but the idea of God exists; [the “de-baptism” ceremony, while silly is just a symbolic act of rejection, like burning a flag].”

        Kristor, “Sure. But one doesn’t burn a flag of a country one doesn’t believe exists, or matters. No one is burning the flags of Babylon. ”

        The problem is the atheists in the West largely know of and oppose Abrahamic theism, and therefore their atheism is another version of it. The other side of the coin. Hence the de-baptisizing nonsense.

        As more and more Westerners familiarize themselves with Eastern philosophies and traditions, which is happening at an ever increasing rate, they will gradually come to understand other ways of perceiving existence that do not fit firmly within the dualistic atheistic/theistic model as is currently the case with the West’s Abrahamic approach to both.

      • Om Shanti Om, here is a Buddhist commentary on Atheism:

        ——————————————————————————
        The Buddha has condemned godlessness by which He meant the denial of worship and renunciation, the denial of moral and social obligations, and the denial of a religious life. He recognized most emphatically the existence of moral and spiritual values. He acclaimed the supremacy of the moral law. Only in one sense can Buddhism be described as atheistic, namely, in so far as it denies the existence of an eternal omnipotent God or God-head who is the creator and ordainer of the world. The word ‘atheism’, however, frequently carries a number of disparaging overtones or implications which are in no way applicable to the Buddha’s Teaching. Those who use the word ‘atheism’, often associate it with a materialistic doctrine that knows nothing higher than this world of the senses and the slight happiness it can bestow. Buddhism advocates nothing of that sort.

        There is no justification for the branding Buddhist as atheists, nihilists, pagans, heathens or communists just because they do not believe in a Creator God. The Buddhist concept of God is different from that of other religions. Differences in belief do not justify name-calling and slanderous words.
        ——————————————————————————
        http://www.middlesexdesign.com/gwc/is_buddhism_atheistic.htm

        This Buddhist seems to understand the core of Atheism better than Christians do. The reason that Atheists hate God is because they hate the morality that He stands for. They won’t like Eastern religions any better when they discover that Eastern religions also support morality.

      • Quoting Franklin:

        The Buddha has condemned godlessness by which He meant the denial of worship and renunciation, the denial of moral and social obligations, and the denial of a religious life. He recognized most emphatically the existence of moral and spiritual values. He acclaimed the supremacy of the moral law. Only in one sense can Buddhism be described as atheistic, namely, in so far as it denies the existence of an eternal omnipotent God or God-head who is the creator and ordainer of the world. The word ‘atheism’, however, frequently carries a number of disparaging overtones or implications which are in no way applicable to the Buddha’s Teaching. Those who use the word ‘atheism’, often associate it with a materialistic doctrine that knows nothing higher than this world of the senses and the slight happiness it can bestow. Buddhism advocates nothing of that sort.

        There is no justification for the branding Buddhist as atheists, nihilists, pagans, heathens or communists just because they do not believe in a Creator God. The Buddhist concept of God is different from that of other religions. Differences in belief do not justify name-calling and slanderous words.
        ——————————————————————————
        http://www.middlesexdesign.com/gwc/is_buddhism_atheistic.htm

        This Buddhist seems to understand the core of Atheism better than Christians do. The reason that Atheists hate God is because they hate the morality that He stands for. They won’t like Eastern religions any better when they discover that Eastern religions also support morality.

        Well Franklin, that was sort of my point. That morals, ethics, and even a spiritual practice do not require the belief in a personal deity. This is precisely the appeal of Buddhism to Westeners who, lacking evidence for the existence of a personal deity, do not believe in one. Yet they too appreciate the moral and ethical framework that Buddhism has. And they also gain from the meditation practices and even rituals.

        I don’t know any practicing Western Buddhist or even pop-culture neo-Buddhist enthusiast who thinks Buddhism advocates a “materialistic doctrine that knows nothing higher than this world of the senses and the slight happiness it can bestow.”

        Not even the New Atheist pretty boy and public relations front man Sam Harris (who practices Buddhist meditation) thinks this.

      • Om Shanti writes:

        … morals, ethics, and even a spiritual practice do not require the belief in a personal deity

        With this I heartily agree. A man needn’t believe in God in order to be righteous, or even pious. But – and this was the main point of the OP – to the extent that a man is pious or righteous in action, *and is not faking it,* he is not in practice an atheist.

    • For some people, it does indeed seem to be difficult. To me it seems crystal clear. Perhaps that leads me at times to express myself in ways that seem cryptic, and I’m sure this often leads to greater confusion in the reader.

      • It would be helpful if you started by defining theism. Your definition seems to be belief in absolutes, truth with a capital T. To many, theism means a belief in a personal God, not an abstraction, but a Person, and usually a specific one. Most Buddhists and Jains, and some ancient Greeks, Hindus, and Chinese would argue that there is an absolute reality, but it is neither a person nor personal. Are they atheists? They aren’t into de-baptizing.

      • Your definition [of theism] seems to be belief in absolutes, truth with a capital T.

        No. Read the post more carefully. I am not saying that theism is belief in absolutes; that’s your prejudice, nothing more. I am saying that you can’t consistently believe in absolutes unless you are not an atheist; so that if you do believe in absolutes, you are not really an atheist, despite what you might think.

        I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life. John 14:6.

      • I enjoy reading these discussions. I am not a professor, and I learn a lot from you all. What I’ve gathered from this dialogue is that Kristor is essentially saying, “My metaphysics are better than your metaphysics.” I would have to agree, especially in the case of ethics and meta ethics. Anything is better than atheist metaphysics, really- since atheism is not a statement of something, but rather a statement of nothing. Nothing can be learned from studying/practicing “atheism” that cannot be learned from observing a toddler throwing a tantrum. Atheists (often admittedly) resort to various outside philosophies, fashions, and traditions to define their values. What Kristor seems to be saying is that those atheists who “live in the name of atheism” are just positively clueless about their predicament—from where he stands. Makes perfect sense: Atheism cannot be practiced, because atheism is not a thing, it is a not-thing!

        When we added the other religions/philosophies into the mix- Buddhism & Hinduism, I saw that the discussion shifted to (or should have shifted to) arguing over metaphysics. In the same way that I believe the theist worldview is superior to the secular worldview because theism permits a higher level of reasoning that secular though proscribes, I believe that western/theist metaphysics are superior to eastern philosophies and traditions, especially when it comes to prescribing ethical behavior.

        Thank you for the interesting discussion!

  10. “Most Buddhists and Jains, and some ancient Greeks, Hindus, and Chinese would argue that there is an absolute reality, but it is neither a person nor personal.”

    Seems awfully vague. Unless the nature of the absolute reality can be described, I doubt it will help much.

    • Kristor,

      You would be easier to read if you stated your definitions. You still haven’t provided your definition of theism. Without a definition of theism, you don’t have a definition of atheism. Without that definition, it is hard to maintain that atheism can’t be practiced.

      Here is a working philosophy of atheism, which, unfortunately, has been practiced rather consistently by the tyrants of the Twentieth Century, not that I would accuse a.morphous or even most atheists of holding this philosophy:

      “Everyone in this life fares according to the management of the creature, and prospers according to his genius, conquering according to his strength, and that whatever evolves from that is not a crime.”

      William,

      Yes, different faith traditions describe absolute reality differently, some believe it can’t be described, and some assert that all descriptions really saying the same thing.

      Kristor and a.morphous have been discussing the color red and a universal idea of redness. We can all agree that red light has a wavelength of about 650 nm. We can agree that red is a typical color of a sunset or of a certain part of a rainbow. I know of no way of proving that Kristor and a.morphous actually perceive red in the same way or that the human or divine perception of redness (as opposed to an impersonal 650 nm) is a universal. I am inclined to believe that Kristor and a.morphous do perceive red in the same way, but I don’t see how it can be proved. It is merely a working hypothesis.

      • For the purposes of the argument advanced in the post, all that is needed is the definition of theism offered by the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy: belief in the existence of God. If there is no such thing as God, however he be construed, then there can be no absolutes, or therefore any approximations thereto: no goodness, properly so called, whether complete or partial – no, nor redness either. If there is a God, then – depending in part on how he is construed – there may be absolutes. Some forms of theism will not, of course, suffice to establish absolutes. For example, a belief in only local gods such as Zeus or Adonis, who are not in any sense ultimate, or derived from any ultimate, or participant in any ultimate, cannot suffice to ground morality, or therefore practicality.

        What matters then, when it comes to grounding absolutes, is an ultimacy that actually exists: an ultimate *Being.* Personhood is not necessary to that grounding; but I would argue on separate grounds that whatever else a properly ultimate being might be, he has to have a personal aspect in order to be satisfactorily ultimate. Were he not, then merely human persons would be superior to him in respect to personhood. Any such inferiority of perfection in him, in respect to any other being, would fatally vitiate his ultimacy.

        The definition of atheism you provide is an explicit statement that there is no absolute right or wrong. It is at least consistent. Whether its author, or any other person, could carry it into consistent practice is another question entirely. I doubt it.

      • Kristor, “For the purposes of the argument advanced in the post, all that is needed is the definition of theism offered by the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy: belief in the existence of God. If there is no such thing as God, however he be construed, then there can be no absolutes, or therefore any approximations thereto: no goodness, properly so called, whether complete or partial – no, nor redness either.”

        I don’t know why you would assume that. Sankhya philosophy, for example, has clear absolutes about the nature of existence, minus the concept of God, after having thoroughly analyzed the possibility of God and opting to leave that factor out due to lack of empirical data. Same with Jain and Buddhist philosophies, more or less.

      • Well, the Oxford definition moves the discussion forward a few inches, from theos (as in theism) to God. But without then defining God, my question still remains. One really needs to get down to specifics if you want to avoid being misunderstood. Dawkins at least gets down to specifics. I asked if Confucians were atheists, and you didn’t answer that question. Given the huge impact of Confucius on history, this is a question that deserves consideration. Confucianism is widely practiced, but appears to have at its core little that Richard Dawkins would rail against. The Chinese government does not recognize Confucianism as an official “religion.” Confucian temples are dedicated to mortals. Its texts do not claim divine inspiration in the Western sense. It reveres sage emperors of a local but golden past. It is practical and this worldly. Its rites are not designed to bend nature to our will or to obtain forgiveness. The Analects do not use the personal terms for God popular in pre-Confucian China, yet Confucianism is highly ethical and on occasion appeals to an impersonal heaven. I cannot tell whether the Confucian reference to heaven satisfies your requirements for theism (“however [God] may be construed”) or ultimacy (I am guessing not), but Confucianism is self-consistent, practical, and so well-grounded in morality that I would be very happy to have a Confucian gentleman as a neighbor.

        I didn’t propose a general definition of atheism, merely a “working philosophy” of one variety of atheism that is widely practiced. (This does not describe our friend a.morphous.) How widely is it practiced? Martha Stout argues in the Sociopath Next Door that 4% of the population operates without guilt, remorse, or a sense of conscience. While that number may seem shockingly high, a review of the leaders of the countries represented in the U.N. or of world history suggests that number may be low. Your odds of having a sociopath in your neighborhood are surprisingly high. You doubt that such a philosophy can be consistently practiced, but how often is Christianity consistently practiced?

      • Well, the Oxford definition moves the discussion forward a few inches, from theos (as in theism) to God. But without then defining God, my question still remains. One really needs to get down to specifics if you want to avoid being misunderstood.

        Why?

        What is confusing about “to have absolutes, you need an ultimate actuality”?

        Understand, Leo: in this post, I am not reaching for a definition of God, or an understanding of God. No very particular doctrine of God is relied upon to make the argument of this post. All it is arguing is that one can’t live as if the goods one sought were not in fact really and truly good; and that one cannot believe in such real and true goods except insofar as one implicitly believes that there is such a thing as goodness per se; and that goodness per se could not subsist in any merely creaturely act unless it first and eternally subsisted in an ultimate being.

        As for Confucius, his Way of Heaven is the Tao, albeit expressed in his thought more particularly as relevant to political and social affairs, than in the thought of the Taoist sages. “Tao” was the word chosen by the Jesuit missionaries to China for St. John’s “Logos” when they prepared a translation of the Bible into Mandarin for their Chinese proselytes.

        You doubt that such a philosophy can be consistently practiced, but how often is Christianity consistently practiced?

        There is all the difference between a philosophy that can be carried into practice, but rarely is, such as Christianity, and a practice that cannot be carried into practice as a matter of definition, such as atheism.

      • Kristor,

        Remember that according to Stout, 4% of the population doesn’t care about goodness. They aren’t appealing to it. They don’t base their life on it. They don’t believe in it. They aren’t worrying about goodness subsisting in ultimate reality or in an ultimate being because they don’t care about it.

        I wouldn’t cross the street to hear an atheist take cheap shots at Christianity. But by the same token, I don’t think you are being fair to atheists. You begin by an eye-catching title: Atheism can’t be practiced. Trying to follow your arguments (I confess I find it difficult because of your preference for the abstract over the specific. Is Confucius a theist? I take it your answer is yes since the Jesuits translated Logos as Tao, but I can’t be sure. K.C. Yang in Religion in Chinese Society takes issue with that assessment), I think what you mean is that atheism can’t be practiced with intellectual integrity.

        Now it may well be that many an atheist in the dark night of his soul doubts his own doubts and really believes there is or at least might be a God. And I believe that ultimately (Phil. 2:10-11) atheists will be convinced that there is a God. Until that time I think it is a failure of imagination or charity to believe that a.morphous (or Richard Dawkins for that matter) lacks either intelligence or intellectual integrity. I believe a.morphous is wrong, but he holds up his side of the argument well. Your argument may be that a.morphous is really a theist of sorts since he has some organizing principles in his life, but he doesn’t consider himself to be a theist, at least the way I read him.

        Ultimately, I believe your arguments are self-consistent, but circular. Sunday I attended our local mosque. It was the day of the open mosque. To my Muslim friends Allah cannot incarnate, and for Allah to be incarnate would in the Muslim view be impossible and unthinkable. To others, God would be defective if He could not be incarnate. It all starts with your conception of God (“whatever you conceive Him to be”) and everything else follows. If you start with different visions or premises you reach different conclusions, but that does not mean your neighbor with a different set of premises lacks intellectual integrity or consistency or can’t practice his belief or non-belief. He may be, of course, a hypocrite, but that is not necessarily so, and therefore it is unwise to assume it is so.

      • Is Confucius a theist?

        I think he is; it seems to me that his sort of talk about the Way of Heaven is tantamount to theism, but I can see how others might disagree with that. But either way, that just isn’t germane to the argument I make. To repeat:

        Understand, Leo: in this post, I am not reaching for a definition of God, or an understanding of God. No very particular doctrine of God is relied upon to make the argument of this post.

        Worrying about what I mean, *precisely,* by “God” is a red herring. If you find you can’t stop yourself from such worry, then re-read the post, and for “God” substitute “ultimate Being.”

        You write:

        I think what you mean is that atheism can’t be practiced with intellectual integrity.

        No. Integrity has nothing to do with the argument. I mean that atheism cannot be carried into actual practice, any more than the denial of free human agency can be carried into actual practice: one can’t actually live as if these beliefs are true, no matter how honest one’s convictions that one can, and does. To repeat:

        … one can’t live as if the goods one sought were not in fact really and truly good; and that one cannot believe in such real and true goods except insofar as one implicitly believes that there is such a thing as goodness per se; and that goodness per se could not subsist in any merely creaturely act unless it first and eternally subsisted in an ultimate being.

        As for sociopaths, they don’t work as a counterexample. Like most people, they don’t go about worrying over questions of moral philosophy like we are now doing. They just live their lives. But notice that while they reject any notion of the good other than their own, they don’t reject goodness per se. If they did, then they would be totally indifferent to whether they did what they liked to do, or what they don’t like to do. And they are not indifferent in that way: they prefer to do what they prefer to do, like everyone else. So they are still motivated by a vision of the Good. It’s just that they understand goodness as perfectly coterminous with their own personal desires.

        A philosophically rigorous sociopath would have to conclude from the fact of his own preferences to theism.

        Not many people, whether or not pathological, are philosophically rigorous, of course. That’s why so many “atheists” care whether their kids do their homework, and would never consider stealing. A thoroughly rigorous atheist could not even be an effective sociopath, because he could not even think that he really had preferences.

      • Kristor, “What is confusing about “to have absolutes, you need an ultimate actuality”? ”

        Nothing. But the first term you used was “god”. Now you’ve switched over to “ultimate actuality” which does not necessitate a personal god. Hence my mention of Sankhya and other South Asian philosophies.

      • Understand, Leo: in this post, I am not reaching for a definition of God, or an understanding of God. No very particular doctrine of God is relied upon to make the argument of this post.

        Om Shanti Om: I know, or at least I’m pretty sure, that you are not Leo. But my statement to him, just quoted, is apposite to your comment.

      • I just googled “logos”:

        Lo·gos: the Word of God, or principle of divine reason and creative order, identified in the Gospel of John with the second person of the Trinity incarnate in Jesus Christ.

        This is NOT Tao. Really, there are certain Asian philosophical concepts that just cannot be translated into English and other languages. If one is truly interested in Asian philosophies (and not just culturally misappropriating some “cool terms” for the sake of converting Asian people to Christianity), then it is a must to learn the languages and cultures of the philosophies you are interested in.

      • Yeah, well, likewise, with respect to the term “Logos.” If all you know about the concept of the Logos is what you just found out by looking it up in the dictionary, you don’t know enough about it to infer the conclusion you have drawn. The Logos is a lot more like the Tao than you might think; spookily so, in fact. The Jesuits were not being tendentious with their translation; they were being honest, and accurate. Nor were they alone, in the China of those days, in thinking that “Tao” was a fit translation of “Logos.”

        You might want to check out Hieromonk Damascene’s Christ the Eternal Tao for more on this – a lot more.

      • First “atheism” is not a “practice” so it cannot be “practiced”. Are there any atheists out there who say, “I practice atheism”? Doubt it. It is simply a lack of belief in a god.

        There are however many atheists who do practice meditation. Meditation is a practice. It is not a belief, nor a lack of belief, but rather a practice.

        Regarding “logos” and the concept of “Christ the Eternal Tao”, I see it as cultural misappropriation.

        Buddha can also be considered the Eternal Tao, as can Durga, and Shiva, and Krishna, and so many. That’s fine. But those particular personalities were not called The Tao by Taoists.

        In India foreign Christian Missionaries are using this technique of cultural misappropriation such as “prasad” and “kirtan” and other aspects of traditional Hindu culture, but they are Christianizing them, in order to convert the masses to their alien religion.

        The missionaries even have a term for it which I’m forgetting right now but it might be “acculturation” or something like that.

        Apparantly theres a lot of controversy over these techniques amongst Christians themselves because some of them believe they can get “too deep” into local native cultures and somehow “lose Christian culture”.

        Needless to say these culture co-opting techniques are not going without critique amongst their Hindu targets either.

      • First “atheism” is not a “practice” so it cannot be “practiced”. Are there any atheists out there who say, “I practice atheism”? Doubt it. It is simply a lack of belief in a god.

        No proposition, nor any assemblage of propositions, is a practice. Yet it is possible to act as if propositions are true, or false. E.g., it is possible to act as though the Pythagorean Theorem is true. And to do this is to carry the Theorem into practice. When this happens, the Theorem can inform and shape action. Ideas have consequences; or can, anyway. If an idea does not have consequences for life as lived – i.e., if its truth or falsity could not make a difference to life as lived – that is an indication that it might not be meaningful, however meaningful it might sound.

        Any set of propositions that includes “ought” statements is an explicit proposal for the shaping of behavior, and ought therefore in principle to be capable of carriage into practice. As a.morphous has so amply shown, atheism rules out moral obligations, properly so-called. It admits to no absolutely binding moral obligations, instead insisting that whatever happens is ipso facto moral and right. Anyone then who styles himself an atheist and shapes his behavior according to convictions of any moral obligations is not in fact an atheist, whatever he might think, and no matter how honestly he might think it; for in so doing, he is carrying the contradiction of atheism into practice. He is acting as if he believes “atheism is false” to be true.

        [Note to Leo: notice, here: the argument I am making in the post, and in this thread, is, “If a man behaves as if he believes x is good and y evil to do, then he is not an atheist, whatever he might think.” I am not even considering what sort of theist he might be; I am, rather, insisting only that he is not an atheist.]

        I’m sure there are tendentious cultural appropriators on all sides. And I would agree that it is important not to lose sight of distinctions. The idea of the Tao and the idea of the Logos are not *identical,* after all. But they are indeed eerily alike, and this likeness seems to point to some deep root that both ideas share. It is not so great a stretch to suppose that there is such a root, in the Original Religion of Man, the Cult of Adam – which is just what Christianity has always claimed to be. I’m pretty sure Taoism makes the same claim.

      • “I’m sure there are tendentious cultural appropriators on all sides.”

        Not really. The rural villages into which many foreign missionaries go are filled with people who are not co-opting the cultures of those missionaries. Indeed, they know little if anything about them, and many are not at all interested. Rather it is the missionaries who fly all over the world to infiltrate, co-opt and convert those cultures.

        “And I would agree that it is important not to lose sight of distinctions.”

        Not just to not lose sight, but to pro-actively defend and maintain those distinctions, otherwise if the missionaries had their way, the entire world would be One World Religion, One World Culture, and One World Government, all based of course on the beliefs of those missionaries.

        “The idea of the Tao and the idea of the Logos are not *identical,* after all. But they are indeed eerily alike”.. . travel the world enough and you will find similarities within all cultures and religions, we are all human after all and sharing the same planet. But there is a danger in your line of reasoning.

        “and this likeness seems to point to some deep root that both ideas share. It is not so great a stretch to suppose that there is such a root, in the Original Religion of Man, the Cult of Adam – which is just what Christianity has always claimed to be. I’m pretty sure Taoism makes the same claim. ”

        And that right there is the danger. Where on earth did the classical Taoist philosophers claim to be of “The Cult of Adam”?

        Our planet is large. It has many cultures, religions, traditions and practices. They evolved in their own specific environments with their own sages, yogis, seers, and philosophers. Not everything relates back to the Abrahamic faiths and not everyone wants it to.

        This is a tactic of missionaries – to convince unique traditions that they are nothing more than recycled expressions of desert dwelling Middle Easterners from long ago. Never mind that South and East Asian traditions pre-dated that story.

      • There is danger in One World Religion only if the various religions out there are all more or less false. If there is a true religion, it cannot be dangerous; on the contrary, in it must lie the only true safety. It is hardly surprising then that men who are convinced that their religion is true, and is thus the only hope of salvation, and who are called by that religion to spread the word of the truth to all nations, saving as many as will listen, should go out preaching into all lands. It is an act of love, howsoever errant or clumsy it may often be. Missionaries do not coerce. They merely speak. Those who find their speech repugnant or foolish are free to ignore it. Many do; some don’t. What’s the problem?

        Where on earth did the classical Taoist philosophers claim to be of “The Cult of Adam”?

        They didn’t make the claim in exactly those terms, of course. But they do claim – do they not? – to speak the Truth. As the origin of all things, the Truth cannot fail to be the Origin of religion, and thus its Original.

        Not everything relates back to the Abrahamic faiths and not everyone wants it to.

        Christianity claims that the faith of Abraham relates back to Christianity.

        Not everyone wants to recognize the Truth, of course. Men are Fallen, and err. But the Truth recognizes them, willy nilly.

        This is a tactic of missionaries – to convince unique traditions that they are nothing more than recycled expressions of desert dwelling Middle Easterners from long ago. Never mind that South and East Asian traditions pre-dated that story.

        The Middle East wasn’t a desert back then but fertile and abundant, well watered and forested; the desert dates from the Mohammedan conquests. Agriculture, civilization, cities, writing, liturgy, law, astronomy – and the first religious developments of the shamanism of our hunter-gatherer ancestors – were all first developed in the Levant. So far as we now know; there are some indications they might have developed first in Northern Europe along the Atlantic coast, and spread from there via maritime trade routes to the Black Sea basin, and thence to Anatolia, the Near East in general, and thence overland to Asia. Scythia – from Hungary to Mongolia – seems to have been more important as a cultural crossroads and seedbed from the very beginning than we had long thought.

      • “There is danger in One World Religion only if the various religions out there are all more or less false. If there is a true religion”

        Religions are truth claims.

        ” It is hardly surprising then that men who are convinced that their religion is true, and is thus the only hope of salvation, and who are called by that religion to spread the word of the truth to all nations, saving as many as will listen, should go out preaching into all lands.”

        True. And its why Buddhism is the fastest growing religion in the USA.

        “It is an act of love, howsoever errant or clumsy it may often be.”

        The boddhisattva’s intent is foundational. Delivery, secondary.

        “Missionaries do not coerce. They merely speak. Those who find their speech repugnant or foolish are free to ignore it. Many do; some don’t. What’s the problem?”

        There is no problem with the religious demographic shift in the USA.

        “They didn’t make the claim in exactly those terms, of course. But they do claim – do they not? – to speak the Truth. ”

        What sage, yogi, philosopher or religionist does not claim to speak the truth? That doesn’t mean Taoists believe in Jesus or have any interest in him.

        “Christianity claims that the faith of Abraham relates back to Christianity.”

        No surprise there. Christianity claims many things.

        “the shamanism of our hunter-gatherer ancestors – were all first developed in the Levant.”

        Your ancestors. Not mine.

      • Even if Buddhism is the fastest growing religion in the United States, which I doubt, this would be a matter of large percentage increases in a very small population. Some of these are, no doubt, Asian immigrants who practice some form of traditional Buddhism, but a lot are American Buddhists. American Buddhists are people who meditate on the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson (their minds sometimes wandering to Oprah Winfrey) while in the lotus position and periodically toking on a marijuana cigarette. Now there is a case of cultural appropriation!

        Your complaint about missionaries reminded me of a conversation I had this summer with an Indian student. She told me that Hinduism was, in fact, a trinitarian religion, and that the relation of Shiva, Krishna, and Vishnu was “exactly the same” as that of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I don’t think she was exactly right, but what she said was interesting. And I didn’t take it as cultural appropriation, but rather as an attempt at intercultural communication using an analogy. Like the Jesuits analogy between the Logos and the Tao, it was a pretty good analogy

      • Wait, what? You’re not descended from hunter-gatherers, like the rest of humanity?

        I didn’t claim that Asians are genetic descendents of the ancient peoples of the Near East. I contested your claim that the Asian religious traditions pre-dated those of the “Cradle of Civilization.”

        Your statement that “religions are all truth claims” is not responsive to mine that “there is danger in one world religion only if all the religions out there are more or less false.”

        I take it that when you say, “The boddhisattva’s intent is foundational. Delivery, secondary,” you agree with my statement that missionary activity “is an act of love, howsoever errant or clumsy it may often be.” What then is your problem with missionary activity as such (understanding, of course, that we might both agree that the clumsiness or errors of such activities are regrettable; for one thing, they would tend to vitiate the mission’s evangelical efficacy)?

        When you say that “There is no problem with the religious demographic shift in the USA,” I take it as an implicit agreement that there is no problem with the rapid conversion to Christianity now occurring in Africa and China.

        I never suggested that Taoists believe in Jesus. I suggested only that there is an eerily perfect analogy between the concept of the Logos and that of the Tao; so that likening the two is not objectionable, or necessarily tendentious.

      • Kristor, I’m new here so please forgive me if I am misinterpreting your comments in this thread. I am not familiar with you, this blog or your personal stance on the Missionary Industrial Complex. The equating of logos with The Tao sent my orientalist and missionary acculturation radars off.

        Sure, there are some similarities between between many, if not all of the world’s religions, philosophies and traditions. There are also a great many differences. I’ve been subject to foreign Christian missionaries in my own land trying to convince us that because there are some things in a few of our traditions that kind of/sort of look and sound like a few things in theirs, that we should reject ours and take solely to theirs. That tactic may have worked at one time but as the people of the world are gaining more and more access to information and knowledge about a wide variety of things, its not resulting in the end game that the missionaries hoped it would.

        JMSmith, “Even if Buddhism is the fastest growing religion in the United States, which I doubt”

        It is the fastest growing organized religion. The fastest growing non-organized “belief group” are the loose conglomerate of atheists, agnostics, and the “spiritual but not religious” crowd.

        “American Buddhists are people who meditate on the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson (their minds sometimes wandering to Oprah Winfrey) while in the lotus position and periodically toking on a marijuana cigarette. Now there is a case of cultural appropriation!”

        That would be the agnostic and “spiritual but not religious” crowd.
        That’s not who I’m referring to when I say “the fastest growing organized religion in the US is Buddhism”. When I say that, I am referring to Americans who are aligned with a particular sangha and who are practicing the tenents of Buddhism as it is taught by that sangha.

        “Your complaint about missionaries reminded me of a conversation I had this summer with an Indian student. She told me that Hinduism was, in fact, a trinitarian religion, and that the relation of Shiva, Krishna, and Vishnu was “exactly the same” as that of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I don’t think she was exactly right, but what she said was interesting.”

        What she said was neither interesting nor correct but rather common ABCD (American Born Confused Desi) Hindu drivel, which is not exclusive to NRIs but found even amongst Desis living in India itself.
        Many Indians are confused and are not learned in their own traditions and philosophies, unfortunately.

        ” And I didn’t take it as cultural appropriation, but rather as an attempt at intercultural communication using an analogy. Like the Jesuits analogy between the Logos and the Tao, it was a pretty good analogy”

        Only if the ideas are actually analogous with each other.

        I suggest two books as reading material for both of you. One is titled “Breaking India” and the other is titled “Being Different”. Both are written by American author Rajiv Malhotra.

        These books discuss in detail all that we have been discussing here, and more.

      • Om Shanti, I sympathize with your antipathy toward Christian missionaries in your homeland. It testifies to the health of your culture. I feel the same way about liberal and atheist missionaries in the Anglosphere, who grotesquely misunderstand and misrepresent the Christianity they critique (as well as most everything else).

      • The Indian student I talked to last summer was an Indian native, and seemed to be a believing Hindu. Of course this does’t mean she’s a profound theologian, and her analogy between the concept of an avatar and the persons of the Triune God was far from perfect, but it did give us a means to communicate across a religious divide. We were not denying that a divide exists, but we also trying not to make any larger than it needed to be. I would approach a discussion of the Logos and the Tao in much the same way. To identify the Tao as the Logos, whether in its Stoic or Christian form, would clearly be wrong; but a person who understands what kind of a thing the Tao is would have a much easier time understanding what kind of thing the Logos is than a person who does not. A motorboat is not identical to an automobile, but it is analogous; and a person who had never seen a motorboat, but had seen an automobile, could be made to understand a good deal about motorboats if they were told that it was like a car that moves over the water.

        So long as a missionary goes away when I say, “I’ve heard enough, please leave me alone,” I have no problem with missionaries. In fact, why aren’t Hindus over here, trying to convert me? If Hindus believe they have an important truth, why don’t they share it? And I don’t mean share it by writing books. I’ve been pestered by Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Hare Krishnas, and even a few Buddhists; but so long as they go away when I’ve had my fill, I don’t mind. It’s the non-proselyting religions that offend me. Are they selfishly keeping it all to themselves? Do they think I am unworthy? Or, in their heart of hearts, do they know its just a cultural tradition?

        I do worry about alien religions making inroads into Christianity, but if they do, whose fault is that? Obviously it is the fault of Christian churches (and families) that have done a poor job of transmitting Christian doctrine. If these missionaries resort to lies (as Kristor righty points out Atheists do), we should prepare our children to hear these lies. The Atheists have been telling the same lies, and have invented no new ones, since around 1700.

      • According to recent surveys, the fastest-growing religion in America is Mormonism. There is also an overall decline in church attendance, affiliation, and belief in God. While Protestants are still the largest group, the largest single denomination is Catholicism.

        At about 0.7% of the total, Buddhists are a tiny fraction of the population, so any change in that number may be large in percentages but small in number. As noted by JMSmith, these figures are affected by immigration.

        Data sources:
        http://publicreligion.org/2012/05/study-shows-that-mormons-are-the-fastest-growing-religious-group-in-the-u-s/
        http://www.rcms2010.org
        http://www.pewforum.org/2012/10/09/nones-on-the-rise/
        http://www.rcms2010.org/press_release/ACP%2020120501.pdf

      • JMSmith, you ask why Hindus are not over here trying to convert you and yet you mentioned being pestered by Hare Krishnas. They are Hindus.

        As for the rest, well, we have our programs that we advertise and anyone is welcome to come. We don’t go knocking on doors but during the course of just living our lives, working and meeting all kinds of people, we do in fact teach them about our traditions and invite them to participate if they are interested. Not a small number of people (relatively speaking) have actually formally converted to one sect or another of Hinduism, due in no small part to the influence of myself or a family member or friend of mine.

        OK, in the sense of providing a sort of orientating generalization to bridge a conceptual divide between people of two different cultures and religions, then Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva being compared to Father, Son, Holy Ghost MIGHT suffice. But I personally do not think the two are analogous and I wouldn’t use the analogy.

        As far as atheists, well, the over whelming majority don’t make a big deal out of their lack of belief in God like the public relations sector of the “New Atheists” such as Sam Harris (who practices a form of Buddhist meditation, by the way) or Richard Dawkins.

        They are just regular folk who, lacking evidence for any personal deity, do not believe in one. Just like we, lacking evidence to any human form of life on Mars, don’t “believe” there is any, BUT are willing to change our minds if evidence does one day indicate there is indeed human life on Mars.

        In that sense atheism is not a belief or a practice or even a religion (like some claim). Its just the state of mind when there is absence of evidence of a personal deity.

        WMLewis, I read recently that for the first time in the history of the United States, Protestant Christianity is a minority religion. I will try to find that report again for you. Maybe if you googled a bit you might find it.

      • Om Shanti Om,

        Yes, Protestant believers (all denominations) dropped to less than 50% recently. Every aspect of the people who founded and built this country is under attack. Our traditional values have been reviled and replaced; we are being supplanted by a new non-white population; our religion is disparaged and excluded from the public square; and whiteness itself is vilified.

        These topics, and what to do about them, were grist for the mill at the late, great Lawrence Auster’s site, View From the Right. Any traditionalist who has not read his works should start now; those of us who have can always benefit from re-reading his wise words.

      • Quoting WMLewis,
        “Yes, Protestant believers (all denominations) dropped to less than 50% recently. Every aspect of the people who founded and built this country is under attack. Our traditional values have been reviled and replaced; we are being supplanted by a new non-white population; our religion is disparaged and excluded from the public square; and whiteness itself is vilified.

        These topics, and what to do about them, were grist for the mill at the late, great Lawrence Auster’s site, View From the Right. Any traditionalist who has not read his works should start now; those of us who have can always benefit from re-reading his wise words.”

        I object to traditional Americans being characterized as solely Protestant Christians. Indeed, the traditional, (and often white), Americans I meet with are comprised of seriously practicing Buddhists and Hindus.

      • Om Shanti, Mr. Lewis did not say that Protestants are the only sort of traditional Americans.

        That said, Hinduism and Buddhism are certainly not traditional aspects of American culture. Yet this is not to say that they are not traditional cultures in their own rights, nor is it to say that, as such, they are inimical to traditional American culture. There are indeed many points of agreement between most traditional cultures; almost all of them are inimical to liberal culture. They are thus natural allies in the war against liberalism.

      • This is just wordplay exploiting ambiguities in the words American and traditional. If became an Indian citizen and continued to practice traditional Christianity, I suppose I could claim to be “traditional” and “Indian,” but it would be ridiculous to call me a “traditional Indian.” Hindus and Buddhists have been a tiny minority in the United States until very recently, and it is mere paltering with the truth to deny that the United States has traditionally (as in historically and by its traditions) been a Protestant country. Those days are over or fast drawing to a close, but the past is what it was.

        As for the white Americans you have met who are now practicing Buddhists or Hindus, they can be “traditional” only in the abstract or theoretical sense of anti-modern. It is unlikely that their parents were Buddhists or Hindus, very unlikely that their grandparents were, and almost unthinkable that their great-grandparents were. So much for filial piety and grateful reception of that which is handed down! They can do as they see fit, of course. We don’t kill apostates. But we do try to use words by their proper meanings.

      • Om Shanti Om wrote:

        I object to traditional Americans being characterized as solely Protestant Christians. Indeed, the traditional, (and often white), Americans I meet with are comprised of seriously practicing Buddhists and Hindus.

        Traditionally, America was a Christian nation, and the dominant form was Protestantism. “Objecting” to this is akin to objecting to the observation that America was founded by whites.

        As noted by others, neither Buddhism nor Hinduism are in any sense American traditions, and while both Hinduism and Buddhism have elements that we can respect, any white American who converts to either is breaking with his traditions and those of his people. Regardless of however “traditional” such people may be in other regards, they have broken with their own heritage, and as such, cannot be good Americans in the fullest sense, i.e., fully identifying with, and able to give an account of, their country, because they are alienated from the Christian principles that are at the core of the founding principles of the country.

        While I mean no ill will to you or your coreligionists, in all honesty, neither Hindus nor Buddhists belong in America. While neither group is as harmful or incompatible as Moslems, it is also true that friction between different groups is inevitable. (As you yourself have made clear by your comments, Hindu and Buddhist immigrants are also exceedingly unlike to identify with our culture and history, which is, in and of itself, reason enough to exclude such.) We have had plenty enough conflict between different Christian denominations; we ought not increase the potential for more conflict by increasing diversity of any sort, religious, ethnic, cultural, or otherwise.

        Of course, all this is mere pixels on a display. We are almost certainly beyond the point of no return with the damage the diversity-mongers have inflicted upon this nation. I fear that one day, there will be second American Civil War that will make the first one look like nothing more than a little friendly rivalry in comparison.

      • “Traditionally, America was a Christian nation, and the dominant form was Protestantism. “Objecting” to this is akin to objecting to the observation that America was founded by whites.”

        – I don’t “object” to the fact that up until very recently the majority of Americans religiously identified as Protestant Christians.

        “As noted by others, neither Buddhism nor Hinduism are in any sense American traditions, and while both Hinduism and Buddhism have elements that we can respect, any white American who converts to either is breaking with his traditions and those of his people. Regardless of however “traditional” such people may be in other regards, they have broken with their own heritage, and as such, cannot be good Americans in the fullest sense, i.e., fully identifying with, and able to give an account of, their country, because they are alienated from the Christian principles that are at the core of the founding principles of the country.”

        – They are practicing freedom of religious choice.

        “While I mean no ill will to you or your coreligionists”

        – None taken.

        “in all honesty, neither Hindus nor Buddhists belong in America.”

        – They are here. And ever increasing amongst the white middle class demographic, as well as others.

        ” While neither group is as harmful or incompatible as Moslems”

        – Not as harmful but certainly Islam is more compatible doctrinely with Christianity than either Buddhism or Hinduism. Islam was born out of Judaism, as was Christianity, and shares the same Old Testament prophets and patriarchs. The belief in Jesus, albeit it differently than the Christian belief of him, is a core tenant in Islam and one cannot be a Muslim without it.

        “it is also true that friction between different groups is inevitable. (As you yourself have made clear by your comments, Hindu and Buddhist immigrants are also exceedingly unlike to identify with our culture and history, which is, in and of itself, reason enough to exclude such.) ”

        – I disagree that friction is inevitable. Mutual respect and discussion of similarities and differences is possible and is in fact part of the philosophy and debate cultures of Hinduism and Buddhism.

        “We have had plenty enough conflict between different Christian denominations”

        – I suggest its because of the nature of Christianity’s belief system. You can however choose to replace that volatile “my way or the high way” tradition with, again, mutual respect, civil debate, and the sharing, even celebration of, similarities and differences.

        “we ought not increase the potential for more conflict by increasing diversity of any sort, religious, ethnic, cultural, or otherwise.”

        – Diversity is increasing and will continue to do so. Along with it, mutual respect for similarities and differences, not conflict, will also increase, as a culture of mutual respect and co-operation is modelled by those already practicing it.

        “Of course, all this is mere pixels on a display. We are almost certainly beyond the point of no return with the damage the diversity-mongers have inflicted upon this nation. I fear that one day, there will be second American Civil War that will make the first one look like nothing more than a little friendly rivalry in comparison.”

        – My culture, practice and outlook is much more positive in nature.

      • I seem to recall a small lapse in the observance of mutual respect and religious tolerance in your religious tradition, round about 1946-1948. I’m well aware that the hostility was mutual, that a great many Muslims were unharmed, and that a great many remain in India, but the suggestion that Hinduism is uniquely tolerant and accommodating deserves nothing but a loud belly-laugh. By all means, let’s show mutual respect, but this needn’t include respect for the whopper that Hinduism is a model of tolerance we would all do well to follow.

      • JMSmith, I didn’t claim that “Hinduism is a model of tolerance” though the argument can certainly be made that it is.

        Almost every persecuted religious group in the general vacinity of India and even beyond (such as Jews), take asylum in Hindustan because of our respect for religious freedom. From Jews to Parsees to Bahais to Tibetan Buddhists and more, India is the place they migrated to, and still seek to migrate to, in order to escape religious persecution in their own homelands.

        The reason for this is the basic respect for religious freedom and freedom of thought in general that has been cultivated for multiple millenia in Hindu philosophy.

        The partition of India and the subsequent carnage was not based on any religious argument “you refer to your Supreme Being as “Allah” instead of “Ishwar” or “Brahman” or anything like that. Indeed, India has a long history of melding Islamic traditions with local Hindu ones and there are many holy places and shrines that are revered equally by Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims alike. Hinduism absorbs aspects of foreign traditions into its own rather than rejecting all of them outright.

        The partition of India and its subsequent carnage was due to politics.

      • Om Shanti Om seems so willing to tolerate everything. Except Christian missionaries, of course. Never tolerate the intolerant, I guess? Multi-culturalism is great, except for that one darn culture.

      • “Om Shanti Om seems so willing to tolerate everything.”

        Not at all. I am not a proponent of “tolerance” and if you peruse through my comments you will see that I have never used the term. It was however used by another commenter in response to my comment about “mutual respect”, which I am a proponent of.

        “Except Christian missionaries, of course. Never tolerate the intolerant, I guess?”

        Mutual respect solves that problem. While there are aspects of Christianity I do not agree with philosophically, and I have absolutely no desire to convert to it as I am perfectly satisfied in my own tradition, I respect the right of people to choose whatever religion they wish. As long as the same respect is extended to me, there is no problem. Hence “mutual” respect, not one-sided respect or a begrudging tolerance.

        I hosted a dear Christian friend in my home last lent and I went out of my way as her host to make sure she had the foods she needed to eat to stay healthy while not stocking my fridge with the foods she was fasting from. I also guided her to a local Orthodox church where she could commune with similar Lent observers.

        She reciprocated by facilitating my own particular fast and worship rituals during a Hindu holiday that I observed while staying in her home.

        This is mutual respect, not mere “tolerance”.

        And this is found throughout South Asia.

        “Multi-culturalism is great, except for that one darn culture.”

        Multi-culturalism is great, as long as it is accompanied by MUTUAL respect.

      • First, I can assure everyone that I am not Om Shanti Om, though I think he is making some good points. The various points at which one can or can’t hit “reply” in this now long discussion might make this thread a bit hard to follow.

        We shouldn’t assume that people are rational or that the human equation is purely a mathematical problem reducible to a few axioms. Modern economic theory recognizes that people and consumers are not rational. In the famous phrase, the markets can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent. Markets may not even be predictably irrational. If I could consistently predict them, I could quit my day job.

        I am not denying the possibility that Confucians might agree with Kristor that they are theists, but if distinguished and scholarly Confucians think Confucius was not a theist, who am I to say they don’t really understand Confucianism? Is it really being fair to modern Confucians to insist that they really are theists if they say they are not? Confucianism, moreover, isn’t the same as Taoism (Daoism).

        Seeking one’s own desires is a circular description of human behavior if personal desires are defined as what one seeks. It may be true, but doesn’t get us very far in understanding motivations and predicting behavior. Kristor has defined theists (and all people) as seeking what they desire or desiring what they seek so that atheists are defined as those who do not seek or believe in what they desire, so that atheism can only be a pose. I don’t think that is really fair to all atheists. Atheists have their own definition of theism. They sometimes define theism as belief in the irrational, the mythical, and the primitive. That isn’t being fair to theists. It is a battle over definitions and which side can make their definition stick.

        When discussing de-baptizing (performed as an insult and as mockery of a rite), Kristor asks if they are really atheists, *why do they care*?” Good question. If there really are no practicing atheists (and there can be none the way he has defined things), why does he care?

        Franklin and I are in agreement that the real issue with atheists (and sociopaths) is that they often hate the morality that God stands for. Similarly, they will hate much of what the Eastern Sages stand for. With that we can get down to specific, observable, and concrete behaviors.

      • I must say that I very much appreciate such interlocutors as Leo and a.morphous for sharpening my polemic. In the process I often learn interesting new things.

        Leo asserts that Confucius is not a theist, and it does indeed seem not unlikely to me that he did not think of himself as such, and nor to be sure do many eminent scholars of Confucianism. But that is rather beside the point. For the purposes of this argument, anyone who believes in an Order of Being – a Logos, a Tao of Heaven, a Torah, karma, or anything of the sort – including scientific naturalists who believe in Natural Law – is a theist, whether he likes it or not, and whether or not he realizes it.

        Why? First, if an order of being is to affect or influence anything, it must actually exist. Second, to function as an order of being, in general and everywhere, it must be the ultimate actual existence.

        If you want an order of being, you need a God to provide it. How you want to continue from that point in your characterization of God is a different question.

        Alright then: to prosecute a life one must ever act toward a good in view of an order of reality. And this one cannot do except under the presupposition that there is indeed actually such a good, and that there is really such an order of reality, under which that good is in fact good.

        And as we have seen, such a presupposition cannot be entertained except under the implicit presupposition that there exists an actual ultimate being, in virtue of which the order of being is ordained.

        Leo asks why I care that atheists assert their atheism, if I truly believe that they are implicit theists whether they realize it or not. Two reasons. First, because errors of thought deprave social order. Second, because I would prefer that they enjoy everlasting life.

      • Kristor, I really think it all comes down to language and semantics.

        The Asian traditions really are distinct from the Abrahamic faiths, at least the way those traditions are translated and presented in the West.

        So a certain thing is meant by “theist” in the West whereas Confucius would not have even been exposed to that particular concept and what it has come to mean in the West.

        He also would not have been an “atheist” in the Western sense either.

        This is where I come up against a sort of conceptual wall many times when I try to explain the various Asian philosophies to Western people with absolutely no background in that way of thinking.

        Certain terms cannot be translated accurately. Moreover philosophical concepts are not always capable of crossing cultures. It takes a stepping over into an entirely different way of thinking, which many Western people are capable of doing, and indeed are doing. They will of course usually learn the Asian language of the particular tradition they are attempting to understand. The language itself gives insight into the ideas being expressed.

      • I’m not sure how many more ways I can find to express the notion that, so far as the argument I advance in the post – and again throughout this thread – is concerned, the definition of “theos” does not really matter, so long as it is ultimate and actual. I’ve said it about eight times.

        I have not argued that Confucius believed in YHWH or that Lao-Tse believed in Jesus, simpliciter, only that there are intriguing analogies between the Logos and the Tao. There are likewise many similarities between the Supra-Personal Godhead and Brahman. Many, many scholars of comparative religion, both occidental and oriental, have noticed these similarities. Why, there is quite a thick book on the shelf right behind me by a Japanese scholar entitled, Sufism and Taoism.

        But all that is neither here nor there. Be those intriguing parallels as they may, they are simply *irrelevant to the argument of the post.*

      • But that is rather beside the point. For the purposes of this argument, anyone who believes in an Order of Being – a Logos, a Tao of Heaven, a Torah, karma, or anything of the sort – including scientific naturalists who believe in Natural Law – is a theist, whether he likes it or not, and whether or not he realizes it.

        Yes, if you redefine “theism” to mean something different than everybody else, then almost everybody is a theist. Existentialists believe in an order of being, but one that is under construction and we are obliged to be part of that construction. Postmodernists believe in an order of being, but it eludes language. Atheists are theists because they acknowledge the laws of physics. Etc. So all of these are theists, and we can go home and stop arguing.

        It might be useful to ask who is not a theist under your definition. A very dedicated and thorough nihilist? Outside of The Big Lebowski, I’ve never encountered any of these. Or to be more precise, there are plenty of people without principles, but few if any who make a principle out of having no principles, for obvious reasons.

      • You’re making my argument again:

        It might be useful to ask who is not a theist under your definition. A very dedicated and thorough nihilist? Outside of The Big Lebowski, I’ve never encountered any of these.

        Exactly. You can’t live life as if atheism were true. This is another way of saying that when push comes to shove, you can’t really believe it. Those who profess atheism either do so in bad faith, or have not learned what theism is, or are sloppy thinkers.

      • Replying to Om Shanti Om:

        Me: “As noted by others, neither Buddhism nor Hinduism are in any sense American traditions… any white American who converts to either is breaking with his traditions and those of his people.”
        OSO: “They are practicing freedom of religious choice.”

        This sounds like an advocation of radical personal autonomy, an integral part of the liberalism/leftism that is destroying the West. The First Amendment’s prohibition on the establishment of an official religion was designed to keep the Federal government out of the religious affairs of the citizens, but the Founding Fathers never imagined in their wildest dreams the “anything goes” atmosphere now found in America, and they certainly did not intend it.

        In any case, some religious tradition will be normative in a society. Until recently, it was Protestant Christianity in America; now, it is atheistic secularism. We are not better off for this, and should, through some chance, America be transmogrified into a majority Hindu or Buddhist nation, this would spell nothing less than the destruction of America as it had been and, until very recently, was.

        Also, religious freedom ought not be absolute. At the very least, atheism and Islam should be banned, due to their utter incompatibility with our civilization. Nations that want to maintain their traditions and identities are justified in banning the practice of any incompatible religion. At the very least, minority religions should be kept from growing, and since most such growth is from immigration (at least at the outset), restricting immigration from incompatible cultures is the most sensible way to maintain that identity.

        Me: “in all honesty, neither Hindus nor Buddhists belong in America.”
        OSO: “They are here. And ever increasing amongst the white middle class demographic, as well as others.”

        Yes, I am aware of that. I was speaking in “oughts”, not “is”-s.

        Me: ”While neither group is as harmful or incompatible as Moslems”
        OSO: “Not as harmful but certainly Islam is more compatible doctrinely with Christianity than either Buddhism or Hinduism.”

        Yes and no. Islam is virulently hostile to non-Islam, so any doctrinal similarities are irrelevant. As for Jesus, Islam denies His divinity—a significant point, I’m sure you’ll agree.

        Me: “it is also true that friction between different groups is inevitable.”
        OSO: “I disagree that friction is inevitable.”

        That’s not what the history of the world teaches us. “Diversity is our strength” is a chillingly Orwellian slogan that, like “war is peace,” turns the world on its head.

        Me: “we ought not increase the potential for more conflict by increasing diversity of any sort, religious, ethnic, cultural, or otherwise.”
        OSO: “Diversity is increasing and will continue to do so.”

        Yes, and it will continue to harm America, and threatens to turns us into another Brazil, or an ungovernable, Balkanized mess. You can understand why I don’t want this for my country, right?

        OSO: “Along with [diversity], mutual respect for similarities and differences, not conflict, will also increase, as a culture of mutual respect and co-operation is modelled by those already practicing it.”

        Unlikely. Multi-ethnic/multi-religious states, when they inevitably fall apart, fracture upon ethnic and religious lines. See Yugoslavia, the USSR, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the Ottoman Empire for just a few examples.

        Me: “Of course, all this is mere pixels on a display. We are almost certainly beyond the point of no return with the damage the diversity-mongers have inflicted upon this nation. I fear that one day, there will be second American Civil War that will make the first one look like nothing more than a little friendly rivalry in comparison.”
        OSO: “My culture, practice and outlook is much more positive in nature.”

        That’s very nice for you, but the reality of America is the people who are in it. There are groups in America, particularly those called the Scotch-Irish, who love a good war and are fearsome fighters. If they are ever awakened from their stupor and realize what has been stolen from them, they might react with more than an “aw, shucks, I guess we just let these foreigners keep the land they occupy, land that our forefathers fought and died for.”

        This is part of why I despise the liberal program so: I fear it will lead to not just war but genocide—and it was both foreseeable and preventable.

      • “But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”
        -Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782

        You folks sure seem to like making up your own facts.

      • WMLewis, thanks for the long reply.

        As regards the Scotch-Irish itching to fight, well, peaceful, non-violent peoples see no reason to. Besides, not a small percentage of the “white Hindus” and “white Buddhists” come from that ethno-stock and they are learning the concept of ahimsa.

        I’m not a “liberal”, not into “diversity” or “religious tolerance”

        I think this is a much better idea;
        http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rajiv-malhotra/hypocrisy-of-tolerance_b_792239.html

      • A brief history on this western idea of “religious tolerance”

        “Religious tolerance was advocated in Europe after centuries of wars between opposing denominations of Christianity, each claiming to be “the one true church” and persecuting followers of “false religions.” Tolerance was a political “deal” arranged between enemies to quell the violence (a kind of cease-fire) without yielding any ground. Since it was not based on genuine respect for difference, it inevitably broke down.”

        Excerpted from the link posted in the comment above.

      • Mr. Formless,

        Jefferson was a great yet deeply flawed man. As the most liberal of the Founding Fathers, he was, in many ways, the odd man out. His bowdlerized Bible speaks volumes to the unorthodoxy of his beliefs when it comes to religion. One cannot take his idiosyncratic views on religion to be representative of the Founding Fathers as a whole.

        Om Shanti Om,

        Though “peaceful, non-violent peoples see no reason to” fight, they will be amongst those slaughtered when violence does come. I would like to think that I am both optimistic and realistic—hoping for the best, but prepared for, and fearing, the worst.

        While you may profess to be a non-liberal, many of us are recovering liberals (including me), and have yet to be fully cured of our false beliefs. Your implicit support for diversity—a core liberal value—is another reason why you sound that way.

        In any case, religious freedom is not an absolute. Freedom of conscience/religious choice must be ordered and constrained in order for society at large to function. No society can contain a large minority of those with different beliefs and expect stability; even those of the same faith but different sects find it difficult to coexist. See the religious wars not only in Europe, but also the ongoing Shia/Sunni split in Islam, and the violent Buddhist factional warfare in Japan for just three examples.

    • Don’t know much about Greeks and Chinese, but Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism are anything about vague. These traditions developed very detailed, very diverse, and very debated (amongst themselves and other traditions in their area) philosophies, complete with elaborate rituals and cognitive practices.

      Those traditions are extremely content rich and deep.

      And there is a personal divinity concept in some of them. There is also the concept of personal and non-personal side by side.

      3 pages in an English language public school “world religions” class can’t touch the surface.

      • “In a conversation with several other Christians, someone mentioned some atheists who are declaring themselves de-baptized. They have a hokey ceremony incorporating a hair-dryer, and witnesses, and a celebrant: the whole nine yards. ”

        Western Atheists are realizing that religion provided much, if not most, of human development leaps. That includes the psychological and social aspects of human development.

        While a blind belief in a deity that cannot be falsified is probably an anti-intellectual way of going through life, engaging with the Great Mystery is the basis of philosophy.

      • Both “blind belief” and “falsification” are loaded phrases. The first is often used to denigrate religious belief; the second is appropriate for science but not necessarily for philosophy.

        I think many Christians have belief (“confidence in the truth or existence of something not immediately susceptible to rigorous proof”) that is not blind. Reason and logic can play a significant role in faith.

        Falsification is important for science, but I don’t see that it’s an issue for philosophy, and if it is, it is of a different nature than that for science.

        In short, while the scientific paradigm is a powerful tool, it is not always the appropriate tool. Science can tell us much about the sounds we hear, but it cannot tell us anything about why Mozart’s music is beautiful, while rap is cacophonous.

        I also take issue with the “anti-intellectual” epithet. While it is true for all too many people today, it is not an appropriate way to describe many Christians’ approach to Christianity. Contrary to the anti-religious propaganda one hears these days, Christians have a long history of intellectual achievement, including philosophical writings about the religion. In the modern day, many Christians study the Bible and read great religious works, engaging their brains towards deeper faith.

      • “Though “peaceful, non-violent peoples see no reason to” fight, they will be amongst those slaughtered when violence does come.”

        What do you mean “when violence does come?” Violence is here and has always been here.

        “While you may profess to be a non-liberal, many of us are recovering liberals (including me), and have yet to be fully cured of our false beliefs. Your implicit support for diversity—a core liberal value—is another reason why you sound that way.”

        Hinduism has always nurtured liberty of thought.

        I am an orthodox Hindu. I fall out of any western created dichotomous binary such as left/right, conservative/liberal, and I reject all labels thereof.

        No society can contain a large minority of those with different beliefs and expect stability”

        I completely disagree, because I grew up in such a stable society.

      • Interesting thoughts.

        OSO: “What do you mean “when violence does come?” Violence is here and has always been here.”

        I mean that when violence erupts, the pacifists, unless they are willing to defend themselves, will be killed.

        OSO: “Hinduism has always nurtured liberty of thought.”

        Liberty of thought has a long history in the West as well. That’s not the issue. The issue is suicidal liberalism.

        OSO: “I am an orthodox Hindu. I fall out of any western created dichotomous binary such as left/right, conservative/liberal, and I reject all labels thereof.”

        I’ve seen this sort of idea before. While it is possible that certain orthodox Hindu positions are what we might label “conservative,” and other positions might be called “liberal,” I still believe that overall, it is both possible and useful to use these labels as a convenient shorthand.

        I disagree with the notion that the dichotomy is necessarily a Western creation; East Asia, for example, has the binary distinction of yin and yang. Instead, I would say that Western traditions of observation and classification have a strong tendency towards making binary divisions, with the caveat that not all phenomena are best cleft in two.

        Me: “No society can contain a large minority of those with different beliefs and expect stability”
        OSO: “I completely disagree, because I grew up in such a stable society.”

        Would this be the stability that obtained before or after the violent split of Pakistan from India? The stability that includes Islamic attacks? The stability of mob counter-attacks by Hindus? I’m sorry, but I don’t see India as particularly stable, though it would probably be stable if Gandhi, instead of being a touchy-feely liberal idealist, had had the wisdom to expel the Moslems when Pakistan expelled the Hindus. (There is an outstanding analysis of this at View From the Right.)

      • You: “I mean that when violence erupts, the pacifists, unless they are willing to defend themselves, will be killed.”

        Me: Who said anything about “pacifism”?
        You brought up “There are groups in America, particularly those called the Scotch-Irish, who love a good war and are fearsome fighters. If they are ever awakened from their stupor and realize what has been stolen from them, they might react with more than an “aw, shucks…..”

        I merely suggested that there are other ways of dealing with difference, and pointed out that many neo-Hindus and neo-Buddhists, are in fact Scotch-Irish Americans who are being educated and trained in the ideas of exchange, dialogue and character refinement. Basically being civilized into ladies and gentleman rather than brutes.

        You: “The issue is suicidal liberalism.”

        Me: If by that you mean the lack of family stability in so called “Western Civilization” than I agree that your idea of “liberalism” is indeed “suicidal”.

        You: “I disagree with the notion that the dichotomy is necessarily a Western creation”

        Me: Never said it was. I was specifically speaking as to your designation of me as a “liberal” (still don’t exactly know what that means to you, as far as I know it has to do with politics?) because I stand firm in my very Hindu orthodox tradition of difference and dialogue.

        You: Would this be the stability that obtained before or after the violent split of Pakistan from India?”

        Me: Before AND after. My family was not touched by that because we lived in one of the millions of similar villages throughout South Asia in which people of literally dozens of religious backgrounds share the same space, language and general culture (though the sub-cultures are different). I already gave an example of how I facilitated the Lent observances of my orthodox Christian friend, and she my Hindu observances. I have had similar experiences thousands of times amongst Muslims, Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs and wide variety of different types of sectarian Hindus. I also have the same experiences here in the States.

        If there is any “universalism” at all, it is that the common man and common wishes to live peacefully and raise their children in peace. It is politicians and those who stand to make a lot of money or gain a lot of power who incite violence in the name of religious difference. Unfortunately, some common men and common women, due to lacking, ironically, common sense, often listen to the zealous speeches given by such politicians, money-mongers and mono (only one way or the high way) theist religious zealots.

        You: “it would probably be stable if Gandhi, instead of being a touchy-feely liberal idealist, had had the wisdom to expel the Moslems when Pakistan expelled the Hindus. ”

        Me: India “expelled” many Muslims at the time of Partition. The Great Migration went both ways. Again, I’m not a fan of Gandhi’s but it was not his fault that India was divided and blood was shed.

        You: “There is an outstanding analysis of this at View From the Right.”

        Me: Does it talk about the bomb the Brits set off?

        To sum up. I’m here to show that there is a different way of being. And more and more people understand it.

  11. “I think many Christians have belief (“confidence in the truth or existence of something not immediately susceptible to rigorous proof”) that is not blind. Reason and logic can play a significant role in faith.”

    – The reason and logic is applied AFTER they make their initial illogical leap.

    “Falsification is important for science, but I don’t see that it’s an issue for philosophy, and if it is, it is of a different nature than that for science.”

    – Christianity is not “philosophy”. For philosophy Christians borrow from the “pagan” Greeks.

    ” Science can tell us much about the sounds we hear, but it cannot tell us anything about why Mozart’s music is beautiful, while rap is cacophonous.”

    – Actually it can and has. There are have been several musical effects studies, some even done on fetuses in the womb.

    “I also take issue with the “anti-intellectual” epithet. While it is true for all too many people today, it is not an appropriate way to describe many Christians’ approach to Christianity. Contrary to the anti-religious propaganda one hears these days, Christians have a long history of intellectual achievement, including philosophical writings about the religion. In the modern day, many Christians study the Bible and read great religious works, engaging their brains towards deeper faith.”

    – That’s all well and good. But you’re missing the point. To accept a model of possibility, a metaphysical paradigm, as a blueprint for living life, and to adopt its ethics, rituals and spiritual practices into one’s daily life, is one thing. Its also one thing to seek out others who are doing the same for “fellowship”. But to assume that this model is or should be “universal” and to attempt a One World Order through by seeking the dissolution of the world’s cultures, religions and wisdom traditions, so as to subsumed under One World Religion – i.e. yours, i.e, Christianity, is both anti-intellectual and highly irrational.

    Christians do not approach all of this as a model of possibility, a metaphysical paradigm. They approach it as a “belief system” in things that cannot at all be falsified but need to be accepted solely on “faith” and accepted by the entire world.

    It makes no sense whatsoever.

    • Perhaps this is one of those East-versus-West things, but I can’t imagine why I would adopt a “model of possibility” unless I had some reason to think that it was probably correct. Insofar as it contradicted other “models of possibility,” I would have to presume that these other “models of possibility” were incorrect, and that those who adhered to them were in these respects mistaken. My effort to entertain beliefs that are probably correct would indicate that I believe that it is better to entertain correct beliefs than incorrect beliefs, and so reason would demand make some effort to enlighten those who adhere to “models of possibility” that I believe is probably false.

      This does not strike me as anti-intellectual or irrational, since I am (1) attempting to ground my beliefs in reasons, (2) attempting to avoid believing contradictory propositions, (3) acting in a way consistent with the belief that true beliefs are superior to false beliefs. I could, of course, be mistaken in my judgment of the reasons for the initial belief, in which case I would be wrong, but I would not be irrational. What would be irrational would be to (1) entertain a belief that I had no reason to think probably true, (2) allowing that contradictory propositions could both be correct, (3) valuing true beliefs for myself but not for my fellow men.

      Missionaries may be wrong, and they may certainly be an importunate nuisance, but they are not “irrational.” If anything, they may be too rational.

      • You can’t seriously be making this argument. Considering the probability of an ordered universe and believing in a talking bush, a man living inside a whale’s stomach, a talking snake, a virgin birth, a resurrection from the dead, and all other manner of irrationalities are two entirely different things altogether.

        Just because someone can quote the original Greek or Hebrew and give eloquent sounding lectures about such things does not make belief in them “rational”. Even less rational is building some sort of “universalism” around the concept that the world’s entire populace should believe them too.

        “Missionaries may be wrong, and they may certainly be an importunate nuisance, but they are not “irrational.” If anything, they may be too rational.”

        They are anything but. See above.

      • I am seriously making the argument that I actually made, which did not mention talking bushes, whale’s stomachs, talking snakes, virgin births, resurrections from the dead or quotations in Greek or Hebrew. My argument was that some of the marks of a reasonable man are that he (a) professes only those beliefs that he has reason to believe are true, (b) does not simultaneously profess contradictory beliefs, and (c) attempts to increase the proportion of true beliefs in the world. I allowed, with respect to (a), that his reasons for professing the beliefs that he does profess may be faulty, but that (b) and (c) are nevertheless reasonable given that he does, in fact, have the beliefs that he has.

        Let’s say that I form a belief that my car has been stolen, my reasons being that the car is missing, the garage door is open, and all other explanations (such as that my wife borrowed it) seem less probable than theft. I could be wrong. For some improbable reason my wife may have borrowed the car. My belief is wrong, but rational. And it would not be irrational for me to call the police?

        A comment thread is not the place for me to walk you through elementary Christian hermeneutics, however your inability to imagine how anyone might believe a story like that of the talking bush (actually the bush burns and God talks) makes me wonder if you are not more of an old-fashioned rationalist than a Hindu. You guys do use figurative language, don’t you?

    • Om Shanti, you write:

      To accept a model of possibility, a metaphysical paradigm, as a blueprint for living life, and to adopt its ethics, rituals and spiritual practices into one’s daily life, is one thing. Its also one thing to seek out others who are doing the same for “fellowship”. But to assume that this model is or should be “universal” and to attempt a One World Order through by seeking the dissolution of the world’s cultures, religions and wisdom traditions, so as to subsumed under One World Religion – i.e., yours, i.e., Christianity, is both anti-intellectual and highly irrational.
      Christians do not approach all of this as a model of possibility, a metaphysical paradigm. They approach it as a “belief system” in things that cannot at all be falsified but need to be accepted solely on “faith” and accepted by the entire world.

      To this I would say three things.

      First, I advise you to read up a bit more on Christianity before criticizing it. Your criticisms are right out of the puerile lexicon employed by high school sophomores who never attended Sunday School, and have learned about Christianity only from their atheist French teacher, who is in the same boat. I don’t want to get into the details, because I haven’t the time, but you’re publicly tilting at windmills. You aren’t criticizing Christianity at all, but rather only a risible caricature thereof. Thus you have not really grappled with the thing as it is.

      By “reading up” on Christianity, I don’t mean reading her critics. I mean reading her ablest exponents. You could start with Mere Christianity, by CS Lewis (Anglican); or a book I am now reading, The Radiance of Being by Stratford Caldecott (Roman Catholic); or The Beauty of the Infinite, by David Bentley Hart (Orthodox).

      Second, I think you have a decision to make. Either it is perfectly OK for people to travel to other nations and evangelize them using the terms and categories familiar to them, or not. If the former, then Christian missionary activity in India is OK, and you ought to leave off whingeing about it. If the latter, then it is wrong for Buddhists and Hindus to come to the West and talk about their beliefs, and you ought to stop discussing Oriental religions with Westerners.

      You are happy with Buddhist and Hindu conversion of Westerners, but you are incensed with Christian conversions of Indians. You see the problem, no?

      You have emphasized the religious tolerance of Hinduism, as you have actually experienced it. And I have no doubt that your experiences are indeed compelling; for one thing, I know for sure that you and your religion are made perfectly welcome in the West. But I should like to point out that there is a curious asymmetry, between the tolerance of Hindus and that of Christians for those of other faiths. To wit, that in India, Christians are actively persecuted by Hindus – suffering rape, torture, vandalism, kidnapping, arson, and murder on account of their Christianity – while in the West, Hindus are allowed to practice and promote their faith without let or hindrance, and indeed with great solicitude.

      Now you could argue that this asymmetry is due only to the fact that India has a healthier traditional culture than the West, and its cultural immune system is therefore more efficacious. With that diagnosis I would completely agree. But then it would ill become you to complain about the situation that now obtains, as if Hindus had it hard over here, when the reality is that it is the Christians that have it hard – in India, and here.

      Finally, this: if religions are, as you now say, no more than models of possibility, so that they do not, as you said a couple days ago, make any truth claims, then yes, it is silly for Christians to argue that they have been delivered of the Truth, that ought by virtue of its truthfulness to be received of all men – and it is likewise equally silly for you to disagree with Christians on that score, or any other. If all we have to go on is models of possibility, and no one has a handle on the Truth, then any model of possibility is just as good as any other, and your notions are just as baseless as the notions of those who disagree with you, so that you can have no possible grounds for disagreement with them, or any reason for thinking they are wrong, and you are right, about anything. Indeed, if all we have to go on is models of possibility, and no one has a handle on the Truth, then “all we have to go on is models of possibility, and no one has a handle on the Truth” is not itself True, but only a model of possibility.

      That won’t do; surely you see this? Only if there is a Truth out there that we can apprehend can we have anything to talk about in the first place; for only then could there be such a thing as error, that ought prudentially to be avoided, if possible, by all men. And if there is a Truth out there, then one religion or another has got the closest, best grasp of it, and that religion ought to be pursued by all men who seek to live rightly.

      • “I think you have a decision to make. Either it is perfectly OK for people to travel to other nations and evangelize them using the terms and categories familiar to them, or not. If the former, then Christian missionary activity in India is OK, and you ought to leave off whingeing about it. If the latter, then it is wrong for Buddhists and Hindus to come to the West and talk about their beliefs, and you ought to stop discussing Oriental religions with Westerners.

        You are happy with Buddhist and Hindu conversion of Westerners, but you are incensed with Christian conversions of Indians. You see the problem, no? ”

        Teaching about one’s own tradition, as an exchange of ideas with other traditions, and a willingness to guide an individual if they feel your particular tradition is one that they would like to practice, is fine.

        See this article about mutual respect.

        http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rajiv-malhotra/hypocrisy-of-tolerance_b_792239.html

      • If “mutual respect” means agreeing that all religions are equally valid paths to God and equally true (their equal truth being the necessary basis of their equal validity), as the author of the article suggests, then it cannot be done. You can say the words, but you can’t put them into effect, because it is impossible to enact a falsehood and honestly mean it as anything but a joke. “All religions are equally true” is one of those notions that sounds good but is shown to be false by the argument from retortion: If all religions are true, then the religion that insists that it is the only true religion is true, and therefore not all religions are true.

        Christianity insists that Jesus is God. Other religions insist that he is not. They can’t all be right. To ask then of a Christian that he agree that other religions are true is to ask him to repudiate his own religion, and assert its falsity. The same goes for a Hindu. To ask of a Hindu that he agree that Christianity is true is to ask him to repudiate his Hinduism, and assert its falsity.

        One ought not ask a believer to do such a thing unless one is absolutely convinced that his belief is false. Such a request, taken under such a conviction, is an act of love.

    • JMSmith, Hindus and other traditions have their fantastical stories also. Our approach to them is quite different. We don’t presume that the entire world should believe in these fantastical stories yet suffer in burning hell forever if they don’t.

      Therein lies a huge difference.

  12. Kristor wrote: “Only if there is a Truth out there that we can apprehend can we have anything to talk about in the first place; for only then could there be such a thing as error, that ought prudentially to be avoided, if possible, by all men. And if there is a Truth out there, then one religion or another has got the closest, best grasp of it, and that religion ought to be pursued by all men who seek to live rightly.”

    All truisms, no doubt. This is the easy part. Difficult part is knowing that truth is not easy to get at and accepting the difference between beliefs and truths.

    Let us ask ourselves this: is Nicene creed truth or belief?

    If you say it is the truth, how do you know for sure?

    As much as science admits empirical evidence and validation of its findings, it never claims them to be infallible truths. Such is the difficulty of establishing universal truths. It is easier to say that a universal claim is false than to prove it to be true.

    Why then is it so difficult for religious people to admit that?

    Kristor wrote: “If all we have to go on is models of possibility, and no one has a handle on the Truth, then any model of possibility is just as good as any other …”

    Good try, but no so. There are shades of gray in our knowledge. Even though I have never been to the Sun, I have much greater acceptance of our understanding of how Sun generates its heat than the claim that there are unicorns in Ecuador.

    • Thanks, Rohit. You ask how I might know that the Nicene Creed is true. I answer that I can know by reference to Revelation, and by consulting my intuition – that same inner light by which we understand the truths of mathematics, metaphysics, and logic – and by demonstrating that nothing in the Creed is contrary to reason or experience, and by seeing how the philosophy expressed in the Creed accounts for reality more adequately than other philosophies.

      It is indeed difficult to establish universal truths. But one can get good at it. Euclid is a good start on the training.

      Be careful not to confuse universal truths, which are a priori and necessarily true, with the empirical discoveries of natural history, which are a posteriori, contingent, and might have been otherwise. It is the latter sorts of truth that are difficult to establish as universal for our cosmos; indeed, it may not be possible to establish them even as universal for our cosmos, because, e.g., all it takes is one unicorn on some planet or other for unicorns to be real.

      That is why the conclusions of the empirical science of a posteriori accidents of history are tentative, while those of the intuitive sciences of a priori necessities – logic, mathematics, music and metaphysics – are not.

      I don’t see religious people having a problem with admitting that science is tentative. Or theology, for that matter, which is faith *seeking understanding.*

      There are of course shades of gray in our knowledge. No one but a fool would deny it. Certainly the Church does not. We know only in part. We don’t yet see Reality as he is, face to Face. We see him only in a glass, darkly.

      But if, as I said, all we have to go on is models of possibility, and no one has any handle on Truth, then seeing Truth face to Face is a nonsensical notion. In that case, no one can have even partial knowledge. In order to have a shade of gray in your knowledge – to err, or to know in part – it has to be possible for you to have real, true knowledge in the first place. If true knowledge is not possible, then no knowledge is possible.

  13. Thanks for your response Kristor.

    Historical parts of Nicene creed are empirical, human, observations are they not? They are not a priori, necessary truths. Even if one grants the truthfulness of these historical aspects of Nicene creed, one still has to make a leap of faith from “resurrection” to “son of God”. This is, again, not a priori necessary truths but a faith-based inductive argument. Ultimately, it is a possible model, nothing more.

    I was saying that religious people are unwilling to accept the tentativeness of their beliefs and only view their beliefs as absolute (necessary) truths. Scientists do not have a problem with this – they are happy to concede that their model may not be the reality.

    That we have mere models of reality and not direct descriptions of reality is not a tragedy. Collective human knowledge is progressing bringing us ever closer to reality. Scientific realism is good enough. Ultimate reality will likely remain elusive, forever ensconced in the domain of metaphysics. We do not have to shun metaphysics either. Just need to have the willingness to say that it is a model too.

    • The historical particularities of the Christian revelation are indeed historical and particular. They are contingent; like the rest of the created order, they might have turned out differently. But these particularities of the faith are not among the a priori principles elucidated in the Creed. And notice that when I answered your question about how I know that the Creed is true, I did not refer to any a priori principles. I referred to Revelation, intuition, the lack of disagreement between the Creed and other indubitable truths on the one hand and experience on the other, and the adequacy of the Creedal philosophy to reality as I encounter it.

      Certain clauses of the Creed are amenable to metaphysical demonstration – mostly implicit in its first sentence. The rest, not so much.

      Religious belief can’t be tentative, like scientific belief, or it won’t be religious in the first place. You can’t worship something you view as, at best, a model. Worshipping a model would be idolatry; would be worshipping a straw man. All our theological models are straw, as St. Thomas Aquinas – the greatest font of theological models in history – himself insisted. As he wrote in one of his poems, “Humbly I adore thee, Verity unseen.”

      Religious people are, in my experience, among the very most willing of all people to question their *understanding* of reality. They don’t generally doubt that there is really something there to worship, and that is worthy of worship – this in rather the same way that scientists don’t generally doubt that there is a real world, and that it is intelligible to them – but they are the first to admit that their understanding is tentative. When I talked about seeing now through a glass darkly, I was quoting St. Paul.

      I do not suggest that it is tragic that our knowledge is finite, and tentative. I argued that if there is no Truth out there that is anywise accessible to us, then we can’t be either wrong or right – we can’t even have models. To have a model, you need to model some other thing than the model. A model must refer, or it isn’t a model at all. If models are all there is, then there are no models either, but just wind blowing past moist mucous membrane.

      Human knowledge can’t “progress ever closer to reality” unless there really is a reality out there, and it really is possible for us to get closer and closer to understanding it.

    • “That we have mere models of reality and not direct descriptions of reality is not a tragedy. Collective human knowledge is progressing bringing us ever closer to reality. Scientific realism is good enough. Ultimate reality will likely remain elusive, forever ensconced in the domain of metaphysics. We do not have to shun metaphysics either. Just need to have the willingness to say that it is a model too.”

      Excellent.

  14. Kristor: “If “mutual respect” means agreeing that all religions are equally valid paths to God and equally true (their equal truth being the necessary basis of their equal validity), as the author of the article suggests, then it cannot be done.”

    Myself: I’m not in 100% agreement with the author on all his points, nor in the way he worded them, but the general idea of recognizing that different models of transcendence evolved in different environments and cultures and that presently due to technology and greater access to them, we have a wider choice of traditions to choose from, and that while your tradition and mine may be very different, even at odds philosophically, I can respect your individual right to choose whatever model inspires, even if I do not respect all aspects of the model itself. The example I gave was how I facilitated my orthodox Christian friend in my home during her Lent fast.

    Unfortunately some Christians see this open-heartedness of Hindus as an indication that we are easy prey for conversion, so I often have to very strongly articulate my boundaries and let them know in no uncertain terms that I have absolutely no interest in converting to their religion.

    For me, mutual respect includes respect of boundaries. As long as my boundaries are not infringed upon I will not infringe upon the boundaries of others. If my boundaries are infringed upon, rather than react in a similarly aggressive manner, I will simply cease to interact with the individual.

    The Orthodox Christian friend who’s Lent I facilitated also facilitated my own religious observation in her home. Had she not, and instead tried to get me to give it up and convert to her religion, well, we simply would no longer be close friends, that’s all. But because we share mutual respect, we are able to live in a peaceful co-existence and enjoy a warm comraderie.

    I really don’t see what’s so hard to understand about this?

    Kristor: “Religious belief can’t be tentative, like scientific belief, or it won’t be religious in the first place. You can’t worship something you view as, at best, a model. Worshipping a model would be idolatry”

    Myself: In Hinduism we have no problem worshipping what you call “idols”. We’ve developed an entire art around it called “archana-puja”.

    By the way – I just want to throw this out there. A commenter above, or maybe more than one, brought up Gandhi as some sort of example of, what I don’t know. Heads up: Gandhi is not the idealized saint to Indians that Westerners seem to have adopted for themselves. He was propped up by the British Raj and its media circus precisely because of his non-aggression towards them. He sent the right message to Indians: do not become aggressors against us, your masters.

    God forbid news of men like Bose, who actually did more to rid India of the Brits than Gandhi did, make headlines around the world and incite the whole of South Asia and all of the “colonies” to do what they should have done from the get-go.

    Once they were made to quit India their attitude was “if we can’t have India then the Indians can’t either damnit” and they thus partitioned it.

    Rank and file Muslims and Hindus, as well as several other religionists, were living side by side more or less peacefully until the Brits came and started dividing and conquering for their own profit, as my ancestors attest to.

  15. Om Shanti: like I said:

    If “mutual respect” means agreeing that all religions are equally valid paths to God and equally true (their equal truth being the necessary basis of their equal validity), as the author of the article suggests, then it cannot be done.

    Notice the “if” with which I began that statement.

    You linked to that article as an exposition of what you meant by “mutual respect.” So I criticized the notion of mutual respect set forth in that article.

    Now you disavow the notion of mutual respect set forth in that article, and suggest instead that it consists only in respect of boundaries – mere politeness. Politeness is certainly easy to understand, and I have no problem with it.

    Let me then ask you: so long as Christian missionaries in India are polite, what problem do you have with them, that you do not have with similarly polite Hindu or Buddhist missionaries in the West?

    You say that you have no problem with idolatry in India. OK: if you want to worship gods and ancestors instead of the almighty God who created them, knock yourself out. I myself prefer to worship the God of the gods, as they do. It just makes more sense to me.

    • Kristor, this is Om Shanti.

      “Now you disavow the notion of mutual respect set forth in that article”

      Nothing doing.

      As far as that article, I agree with the gist. And the author himself gave as examples throughout his idea of mutual respect as a two way, not a one way, street. While general respect for human life and liberty is a core principle, I am under no obligation to respect someone’s religion. If however they engage with me as an equal, in an interfaith dialogue for example, I will respect at least their right to their personal religious choice, as long as the same is extended toward me. That’s called “sharing”. That is largely what Hindu and Buddhist missionaries in the West do and I have no problem with it. If from that dialogue people are interested to learn more about Buddhism or Hinduism, well they can be guided further.

      The Christian missionaries in India are a different matter altogether. They don’t come in with a view of interfaith dialogue and sharing on an equal footing. I would read Breaking India to gain an idea of how they go about things and what their particular agendas are.

      • Om Shanti, the author of the article you linked defines mutual respect as agreement that all religions are equally valid paths to God and equally true. Now, as I pointed out, this agreement cannot actually be performed, because it is logically impossible: e.g., “Jesus is God and Jesus is not God” is necessarily false because it breaks the Law of Noncontradiction. Either Jesus is God, or not. There is no middle ground. So, either Christianity is true, and the religions that disagree with Christianity about Jesus are not equally true, or vice versa. That’s just all there is to it.

        When I pointed this out, you wrote:

        I’m not in 100% agreement with the author on all his points, nor in the way he worded them, but the general idea of recognizing … that while your tradition and mine may be very different, even at odds philosophically, I can respect your individual right to choose whatever model inspires, even if I do not respect all aspects of the model itself. … For me, mutual respect includes respect of boundaries. As long as my boundaries are not infringed upon I will not infringe upon the boundaries of others. If my boundaries are infringed upon, rather than react in a similarly aggressive manner, I will simply cease to interact with the individual.

        So your definition of mutual respect differs from that of the author of the article you linked. Which is good, because your definition is coherent, and his is not!

        But then, when I point out that your definition differs from his, you say it doesn’t, at all, “nothing doing,” and proceed to reiterate your own definition of mutual respect as politeness, again disagreeing with the author of the article you linked.

        It sure looks to me like you disagree with that author!

        It sounds to me also as though you have no problem with Christian missionaries in India, so long as they are respectful. I am sure that Christians in India would be glad if there were more of that sort of respect coming their way, too. India is the most dangerous place in the world to be a Christian.

      • “India is the most dangerous place in the world to be a Christian.”

        What?! When were you in India? Christianity has been in India for almost 2,000 years and it has flourished there. Churches, Mosques, Mandirs, Gurudwars and other houses of worship can all be found within feet of one another and open-hearted Hindus frequent all of the above with great respect. India is the SAFEST place in the world for any religion whatsoever because if there is one thing that Indian culture promotes, its religious liberty and freedom of religious expression.

      • “So your definition of mutual respect differs from that of the author of the article you linked. Which is good, because your definition is coherent, and his is not!

        But then, when I point out that your definition differs from his, you say it doesn’t, at all, “nothing doing,” and proceed to reiterate your own definition of mutual respect as politeness, again disagreeing with the author of the article you linked. ”

        Well, my definition is not merely politeness. I attempted to illustrate thrice my definition through the example of my Christian friend spending some Lent days at home wherein I facilitated her fasting and directed her to a church nearby where she could commune with fellow Christians.

        That goes beyond mere politeness and speaks more to my respect for her as a sovreign individual, my respect for her as my friend, and my respect for her right to engage the mysteries of the universe in the way that inspires her. Am I interested in Christianity? Nope. Do I think its “the truth”? No way. Do I think its anywhere near equal to the depth in my own tradition? Impossible, because it arose out of an area that was not yet even civilized so philosophical depth is absent within the Bible. That being said, I understand how and why it evolved and its place in history and in her culture and hence I understand that at this point in her life it is probably a better cultural fit for her than my religion, but more than that, its her personal choice and inner inspiration.

        I don’t think the author of the article expects others to see all religions as the same or equal or even to entertain the beliefs of all religions simultaneously. Go back and reread the section where he discusses the Muslim caller how phoned in to the radio show. He didn’t ask that she believe in reincarnation, just that she respect that that is HIS belief. Her prompt hang up was evidence to her attitude of “respect for me but not for thee” when it comes to religious beliefs. This is extremely common amongst practicing Muslims and Christians. They claim “persecution for our beliefs” but they are seldom willing to accomodate others in our beliefs. Victim mentality to the max.

        That mentality is on full display in this video;

        Notice how the family quickly changes gears from “we will serve you water and do this and that” to “if you smite us, cut off our fingers or throw us in jail”.

        Why do you think that is? Because Christians like these perceive even a mere non-interest in their religion to be “persecution”. Why is that? Why is a simple non-interest or being satisfied with another religion some big “war on Christianity”?

        Moreover their claim that “we will love you” is a false one. Do you think for a minute that this family would be normal friends with me and come over for dinner on my dosa wednesdays or paratha fridays just to hang and chill with me in a neighborly fashion as I played some ragas on my grandmother’s 120 year old veena – AFTER I made it clear to them that while I respect their religious liberty I am not at all interested in their religion but perfectly content in my own?

        Seriously, what is up with this adversarial attitude and victim mentality of Christians?

      • Om Shanti, the reason that Christians feel persecuted is that they *are* persecuted. Indeed, Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world. More Christians were martyred in the 20th century than in any other. This century is shaping up to beat it.

        Precisely because of its reputation as an open, tolerant, syncretistic place, I was surprised and dismayed to learn the other day that India has lately been more dangerous for Christians than any other country. I would have thought Syria or Iraq, Sudan or Saudi Arabia, would top the list. But no: more Christians have been martyred or otherwise persecuted in India than anywhere else recently. The conclusion comes from John Allen, whose comprehensive survey of recent persecution of Christians (The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution) provides the details. Look it up. Allen has no axes to grind against India; he was surprised at the finding, too.

        Think of it this way, Om Shanti. America correctly views itself as more tolerant of immigrants and their foreign folkways than any other nation – *and* America suffers far more racial and ethnic violence than more homogeneous societies. The two phenomena are not contradictory: diversity doesn’t work very well, that’s all.

        See, it’s not that Christians take disinterest in Christianity as persecution. No; as the family in the video said, Christians really are having their fingers cut off on account of their faith. It’s ugly, but it’s real.

        I think the family on the video would indeed be very happy to chill with you and listen to you jam on your Grandma’s veena. Why wouldn’t they? I don’t see anything in the video that would lead to a different conclusion; they seem like really nice folks, who are prepared to sacrifice their lives (or, at least, say that they are) for yours. You ask why they have a victim mentality and feel persecuted, but I would turn the tables and ask why you feel so persecuted by Christians, when it is the Christians who are being killed and maimed all over the world. Your antipathy neglects the facts on the ground; it therefore smacks of irrational prejudice against an Other whom you fear and loathe.

        Perhaps this is because, like most critics of Christianity, you know almost nothing about it. When you say things such as “[Christianity] arose out of an area that was not yet even civilized so philosophical depth is absent within the Bible,” you betray a profound ignorance, not just of Christianity, and a fortiori of the Bible, but of history. Christianity arose from a civilization that, so far as we now know, was the first in the world: that of the Fertile Crescent. Its roots go back to Sumer. You really should study up on this stuff before you form your opinions.

        Finally, this: when it comes to the definition of mutual respect, you really need to make a hard choice between two options:

        • Mutual respect entails admitting the equal validity of all religions.
        • Mutual respect does not entail admitting the equal validity of all religions.

        You seem yourself to adhere to the latter notion; you respect other people’s right to form false religious opinions, and treat them with kindness. That doesn’t mean you don’t discuss their errors with them, for if it did you would never have disputed anything I have said on this site. But you do engage in such disputes, and that with great politeness and respect. Which is fine! That you do engage in such respectful dialogue shows that you do not adhere to the impossible first notion of mutual respect advocated by the author of the article you cited.

    • “You say that you have no problem with idolatry in India. OK: if you want to worship gods and ancestors instead of the almighty God who created them, knock yourself out. I myself prefer to worship the God of the gods, as they do. It just makes more sense to me.”

      What makes you think idol worship is confined to minor secondary gods and ancestors? Hindus generally don’t worship their ancestors in idol forms, by the way. Nor do we worship our ancestors as god or gods.

      I myself also worship the God of gods, but I use iconography in my worship of Her as well as other non-icongraphical means, such as internal prayer and meditation.

      • Well, if you are using icons as a way of worshipping the God of gods, then you are not practicing idolatry, because you are worshipping the very God instead of one or another of his images or participations or messengers.

  16. Sorry for the delay in getting back to this.

    Me: “I think many Christians have belief (“confidence in the truth or existence of something not immediately susceptible to rigorous proof”) that is not blind. Reason and logic can play a significant role in faith.”
    OSO: “The reason and logic is applied AFTER they make their initial illogical leap.”

    Not all religious conversion experiences involve an “illogical” leap. The English philosopher of religion Sir Antony Flew converted to deism from atheism due to his reading of Aristotle and following the logical consequences thereof. I myself was persuaded over time; there was no “leap.” Children raised in a faith simply accept, without leaps.

    More deeply, I deny that there is anything illogical about Christianity at all. Yes, there are elements—supernatural elements—that defy rational explanation, but as Alan Roebuck has argued elsewhere (you can find his articles here on the Orthosphere), that is precisely the kind of evidence that cannot be excluded a priori from a fair consideration of any religion’s claims.

    OSO: “Christianity is not “philosophy”. For philosophy Christians borrow from the “pagan” Greeks.”

    You reveal the shallowness of your knowledge about Christianity with comments like this. Kristor has commented on this as well, and far more ably than I.

    Me: ”Science can tell us much about the sounds we hear, but it cannot tell us anything about why Mozart’s music is beautiful, while rap is cacophonous.”
    OSO: “Actually it can and has. There are have been several musical effects studies, some even done on fetuses in the womb.”

    You’re confusing substance and observation. Scientific studies can show that one type of music has one effect, and another has another, but cannot tell us why. Beauty, like truth, is a value that supersedes mere explanation.

    For example, we know that murder is wrong; this is a human universal (though how murder is defined may vary). We cannot independently arrive at that truth through anything other than intuition—and yet that truth is universally recognized. However, science cannot tell why murder is wrong. Similarly, the music of Bach, Mozart, etc., can be (and has been) analyzed, and the results of listening to such music can be described, but without an appeal to an authority higher than science, we cannot say why it is beautiful.

    • “More deeply, I deny that there is anything illogical about Christianity at all. Yes, there are elements—supernatural elements—that defy rational explanation, but as Alan Roebuck has argued elsewhere (you can find his articles here on the Orthosphere), that is precisely the kind of evidence that cannot be excluded a priori from a fair consideration of any religion’s claims.”

      Its not the wild myths that I mean when I talk about Christianity’s irrationality. Its the way that Christians approach the mythological aspect of their religion that is irrational.

      There IS a place for the mythological and mystical in human evolution. In fact, I believe they are both advanced states of human evolution. But how they are approached is what makes or breaks logic.

      • Well, Rohit Kanji above summed it up thusly and I think its a good general gist of what I’m aiming at;
        “That we have mere models of reality and not direct descriptions of reality is not a tragedy. Collective human knowledge is progressing bringing us ever closer to reality. Scientific realism is good enough. Ultimate reality will likely remain elusive, forever ensconced in the domain of metaphysics. We do not have to shun metaphysics either. Just need to have the willingness to say that it is a model too.”

      • I think you have misstated your objection, OSO. Most Christians I know approach the mythological aspects of their religion precisely as mythology, which is to say as symbolic representations of truths that cannot be expressed literally. This practice goes back at least to St. Augustine, who recommended, very sensibly, that every Scripture passage that could not be read literally should be read figuratively. Your objection is not that Christians approach the mythological aspects of their religion in the wrong manner, but that they refuse to approach a couple of key events as mythological. The resurrection in particular they insist was an historical event, and they do this because it is very clearly represented as an historical event in the foundational documents of our faith. You will find the resurrection approached as mythology in some of the Gnostic gospels, and in eighteenth century German rationalism, but both of these are examples of what modern literary critics would call a “strong misreading” of the original documents. Gnosticism in particular appropriated Christian symbols, drained them of content by declaring them myths, and then refilled them with Gnostic content.

      • JMSmith,
        “I think you have misstated your objection, OSO. Most Christians I know approach the mythological aspects of their religion precisely as mythology, which is to say as symbolic representations of truths that cannot be expressed literally. This practice goes back at least to St. Augustine, who recommended, very sensibly, that every Scripture passage that could not be read literally should be read figuratively. Your objection is not that Christians approach the mythological aspects of their religion in the wrong manner, but that they refuse to approach a couple of key events as mythological.”

        Not so. I don’t see taking myths literally, whether all or a few of them, as a problem. The problem is in the assumption that the entire world should adopt those myths as their own.

        We have our own myths, that are similarly dear to our hearts and that we are quite satisfied with, whether we take all or a few of them literally as well.

  17. I’d like to mention a probable minor flaw in your saying. You say atheism is not believing in absolute good or absolute truth. You are very probably right. However it is entirely possible to not believe in ABSOLUTE good or ABSOLUTE truth because the point of atheism is that there is no one to tell us what is good and what is true. The bible has so many instances of murder but would your average christian kill someone because the there is murder in the Bible? I don’t believe in absolute good or absolute truth but I believe in friendliness, kindness and amiability. The fact is that truth and good, if absolute, cannot coexist. If you look hideous is it good for me to tell you so? It is the truth. I believe that depending on the context that I should decide and I think I would be acting kindly for my judgement either way. Is it good for a doctor to tell a child that it won’t hurt if that saves their life? Surely it is good for the doctor to save the child? But it is not the truth. Would you choose to be honest and cruel or peaceful and deceitful?

    Personally I am neither. I hope to never be completely honest or completely peaceful. I believe myself to be capable of managing my own moral principles.

    • Thanks, Lucy, for a courageous comment.

      While I agree that it can sometimes be difficult for us to see how to reconcile perfect truthfulness with perfect charity in this life, the very fact that we hope and try to do so is an indication that such a reconciliation must be possible in principle, even if not always in practice. Even if such a reconciliation were in fact impossible even in principle, that would not demonstrate that there exists no absolute goodness or truth.

      The gist of your comment seems to be that you manage to make your way through the world being pretty satisfactorily good and truthful, despite the fact that you disbelieve in absolutes. You might want to review my discussion with a.morphous above, in which I’m fairly sure I show that while it is possible to believe in relative or private goods without believeing in absolute goodness, such a combination of beliefs is incoherent. In order for there to be any private or relative goods, or truths, there must be some absolute goodness and truth, of which the private or relative truths are private or relative participations.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s