Excerpts From Thou Art That (2001)
Metaphors only seem to describe the outer world of time and place. Their real universe is the spiritual realm of the inner life. The Kingdom of God is within you.
The problem, as we have noted many times, is that these metaphors, which concern that which cannot in any other way be told, are misread prosaically as referring to tangible facts and historical occurrences. The denotation—that is, the reference in time and space: a particular Virgin Birth, the End of the World—is taken as the message, and the connotation, the rich aura of the metaphor in which its spiritual significance may be detected, is ignored altogether. The result is that we are left with the particular “ethnic” inflection of the metaphor, the historical vesture, rather than the living spiritual core.
Inevitably, therefore, the popular understanding is focused on the rituals and legends of the local system, and the sense of the symbols is reduced to the concrete goals of a particular political system of socialization. When the language of metaphor is misunderstood and its surface structures become brittle, it evokes merely the current time-and-place-bound order of things and its spiritual signal, if transmitted at all, becomes ever fainter.
It has puzzled me greatly that the emphasis in the professional exegesis of the entire Judeo-Christian-Islamic mythology has been on the denotative rather than on the connotative meaning of the metaphoric imagery that is its active language. The Virgin Birth, as I have mentioned, has been presented as an historical fact, fashioned into a concrete article of faith over which theologians have argued for hundreds of years, often with grave and disruptive consequences. Practically every mythology in the world has used this “elementary” or co-natural idea of a virgin birth to refer to a spiritual rather than an historical reality. The same, as I have suggested, is true of the metaphor of the Promised Land, which in its denotation plots nothing but a piece of earthly geography to be taken by force. Its connotation—that is, its real meaning—however, is of a spiritual place in the heart that can only be entered by contemplation.
From Valerie Tarico
The world has watched in horror while members of ISIS justify the next mass murder or icy execution with words from the Quran, followed by shouts of Allahu Akbar—God is the greatest! If beliefs have any power whatsoever to drive behavior—and as a psychologist I think they do—there can be little doubt that the Quran’s many endorsements of violence play a role in how exactly ISIS has chosen to pursue religious and political dominion.
At the same time, it should be equally clear a sacred text filled with violence is insufficient to trigger mass brutality unless other conditions are present as well. Culture, empathy, education and empowerment—and other factors that scholars understand only in part—appear to have a protective influence, safeguarding even most fundamentalists against the worst teachings of their own tradition. We know this in part because the Bible contains commandments and stories that are as horrific as those being used to justify butchery in Iraq and Syria.
The following 30 violent exhortations are a mix, drawn from Jewish, Christian, and Muslim scriptures. The generic word God is used for all deity names, and names of places or people have been replaced with generic terms. How well do you know your Torah, Bible, or Quran and Hadith? Can you tell which is which? Give it a try and then check the key at the bottom.
From Valerie Tarico
Most British people think religion causes more harm than good according to a surveycommissioned by the Huffington Post. Surprisingly, even among those who describe themselves as “very religious” 20 percent say that religion is harmful to society. For that we can probably thank the internet, which broadcasts everything from Isis beheadings, to stories about Catholic hospitals denying care to miscarrying women, to lists of wild and weird religious beliefs, to articles about psychological harms from Bible-believing Christianity.
In 2010, sociologist Phil Zuckerman published Society Without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us About Contentment. Zuckerman lined up evidence that the least religious societies also tend to be the most peaceful, prosperous and equitable, with public policies that help people to flourish while decreasing both desperation and economic gluttony.
We can debate whether prosperity and peace lead people to be less religious or vice versa. Indeed evidence supports the view that religion thrives on existential anxiety. But even if this is the case, there’s good reason to suspect that the connection between religion and malfunctioning societies goes both ways. It may be hard to measure whether net-net religion does more harm than good, but here are six ways we know that religions make peaceful prosperity harder to achieve.
It’s more difficult for religions to control their believers’ access to information…
While the burgeoning atheist movement loves throwing conferences and selling books, a huge chunk–possibly most–of its resources go toward the Internet. This isn’t borne out of laziness or a hostility to wearing pants so much as a belief that the Internet is uniquely positioned as the perfect tool for sharing arguments against religion with believers who are experiencing doubts. It’s searchable, it allows back-and-forth debate, and it makes proving your arguments through links much easier. Above all else, it’s private. An online search on atheism is much easier to hide than, say, a copy of The God Delusion on your nightstand.
In recent months, this sense that the Internet is the key for atheist outreach has started to move from “hunch” to actual, evidence-based theory. Earlier this year, Allen Downey of the Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts examined the spike in people declaring they had no religion that started in the ’90s and found that while there are many factors contributing to it–dropping familial pressure, increased levels of college education–increased Internet usage was likely a huge part of it, accounting for up to 25 percent of the decline in religious belief. While cautioning that correlation does not mean causation, Downey did go on to point out that since so many other factors were controlled for, it’s a safe bet to conclude that the access to varied thought and debate the Internet provides is persuading people to drop their religions.
During the last 40 years that I have been writing essays, as well as being ordained in the Presbyterian and Congregational churches, many have asked me “do you pray?” My answer has always been “not in the orthodox sense to a “cosmic bellhop, just waiting for me to ring”… but as “meditations” and “reflections”, yes. My morning meditations are on this MYSTERY beyond comprehension, this planet earth… the Cosmos, the Mystery of creation… and finally the Mystery of you… and me. The “ETERNAL LIGHT” as the source behind the creation.
Eternal light… to whose mind the past and the future meet in our eternal now… we seem to be the creatures of shifting time… to whom the past is soon forgotten… and from whom the future seems veiled……..
This day seems to be but a gleam of light between two nights of dark… between two mysteries which are yet ONE… we still sense, and we feel that we are more than we seem… that somehow in some way we are connected with and are a part of the eternal source…
Religiosity in the United States is in the midst of what might be called ‘The Great Decline.’ Previous declines in religion pale in comparison. Over the past fifteen years, the drop in religiosity has been twice as great as the decline of the 1960s and 1970s.
Last year brought a continuation of this decline. 2013 was a new low for the level of religiosity in the country.
How do we track this massive change in American religion? We start with information from rigorous, scientific surveys on worship service attendance, membership in congregations, prayer, and feelings toward religion. We then use a computer algorithm to track over 400 survey results over the past 60 years. The result is one measure that charts changes to religiosity through the years. (You can see all the details of the algorithm here).
From Sam Harris
AUDIO TRANSCRIPT [Note: This is a verbatim transcript of a spoken podcast. However, I have added notes like this one to clarify controversial points.—SH]
The question I’ve now received in many forms goes something like this: Why is it that you never criticize Israel? Why is it that you never criticize Judaism? Why is it that you always take the side of the Israelis over that of the Palestinians?
Now, this is an incredibly boring and depressing question for a variety of reasons. The first, is that I have criticized both Israel and Judaism. What seems to have upset many people is that I’ve kept some sense of proportion. There are something like 15 million Jews on earth at this moment; there are a hundred times as many Muslims. I’ve debated rabbis who, when I have assumed that they believe in a God that can hear our prayers, they stop me mid-sentence and say, “Why would you think that I believe in a God who can hear prayers?” So there are rabbis—conservative rabbis—who believe in a God so elastic as to exclude every concrete claim about Him—and therefore, nearly every concrete demand upon human behavior. And there are millions of Jews, literally millions among the few million who exist, for whom Judaism is very important, and yet they are atheists. They don’t believe in God at all. This is actually a position you can hold in Judaism, but it’s a total non sequitur in Islam or Christianity.
From Brandon Fibbs
From Brandon Fibbs
“Dear Believer, have you ever stopped to consider why you believe what you believe? Have you ever thought about why you chose the religion you chose?…”
From The Hidden Brain
Walking Santa, Talking Christ
Two in five Americans say they regularly attend religious services. Upward of 90 percent of all Americans believe in God, pollsters, and more than 70 percent have absolutely no doubt that God exists. The patron saint of Christmas, Americans insist, is the emaciated hero on the Cross, not the obese fellow in the overstuffed costume.
Two in five Americans say they regularly attend religious services. Upward of 90 percent of all Americans believe in God, pollstersreport, and more than 70 percent have absolutely no doubt that God exists. The patron saint of Christmas, Americans insist, is the emaciated hero on the Cross, not the obese fellow in the overstuffed costume.
From The Daily Beast
Obama is the Antichrist, Republicans are heretics, and compromise is unholy. Politics can’t explain how the right acts.
America has long been the incubator of many spiritual creeds going back to the Great Awakening and even earlier. Only one of them, Mormonism, has taken root and flourished as a true religion sprung from our own native ground. Today, however, we have a new faith growing from this nation’s soil: the Tea Party. Despite its secular trappings and “taxed enough already” motto, it is a religious movement, one grounded in the traditions of American spiritual revival. This religiosity explains the Tea Party’s political zealotry.
The mark of a national political party in a democracy is its pluralistic quality, i.e. the ability to be inclusive enough to appeal to the broadest number of voters who may have differing interests on a variety of issues. While it may stand for certain basic principles, a party is often flexible in applying them, as are its representatives in fulfilling them. Despite the heated rhetoric of elections and the bombast of elected representatives, they generally seek consensus with the minority in order to achieve their legislative goals.
There’s little doubt, outside circles filled with self-delusional reactionaries, that religion is probably the most important force in continuing the oppression of women worldwide. Around the world, various abuses from coerced marriage to domestic violence to restricting reproductive rights are all excused under the banner of religion. More to the point, women’s rights have advanced more quickly in societies that put religion on the backburner, or like the United States, have strict laws separating church and state. But even in the U.S., the main result of the growing power of the religious right is the rollback of reproductive rights and other protections for women’s equality.
Former president Jimmy Carter, who is probably the country’s most prominent liberal Christian, is willing to set aside his enthusiasm for faith to admit this.While doing press promoting his new book A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power, Carter told the Guardian that “women are treated more equally in some countries that are atheistic or where governments are strictly separated from religion.”
Last week, Pew Research Center published the results of a survey conducted among 40,080 people in 40 countries between 2011 and 2013. The survey asked a simple question: is belief in God essential to morality? While clear majorities say it is necessary, the U.S. continues to be an outlier.
In 22 of the 40 countries surveyed, the majority says it is necessary to believe in God in order to be a moral person. “This position is highly prevalent, if not universal, in Africa and the Middle East,” says the report. No surprise there, but Asian and Latin countries such as Indonesia (99%), Malaysia (89%), the Philippines (99%), El Salvador (93%), and Brazil (86%) all fell in the highest percentile of respondents believing belief in a god (small G) is central to having good values.
>Interestingly, clear majorities in all highly developed countries do not think belief in god to be necessary for morality, with one exception only: the U.S.A.
Only 15 percent of the French population answered in the affirmative. Spain: 19%. Australia: 23%. Britain: 20%. Italy: 27%. Canada: 31%. Germany 33%. Israel: 37%.
So what of the U.S.? A comparatively eye-popping 53 percent of Americans essentially believe atheists and agnostics are living in sin. Despite the fact that a research analyst at the Federal Bureau of Prisons determined that atheists are thoroughly under-represented in the places where rapists, thieves and murders invariably end up: prisons. While atheists make upward of 15 percent of the U.S. population, they only make up 0.2 percent of the prison population.
From Godless in Dixie
I don’t typically share highly personal stuff on this blog because my life is intertwined with many others, and they would not want their personal matters to be put on public display. But earlier this week a reader asked me a question which I think deserves a post of its own because it’s about a matter I know many people are facing every day. People who grew up in relatively secularized cultures won’t identify with this issue but anyone raised to be religious will know it all too well. If you were raised to be a devout Christian and later left the faith, you will get why this question touches a nerve. The reader asked:
After you changed, did you ever feel desperation?
My answer likely went in a different direction than he intended because for me, there have been several stages of stress, loss, and pain associated with my leaving the faith, and they started long before I finally let go of those beliefs which had so characterized my life up until that point. I can think of a couple of particular seasons in which I seriously questioned my faith, and those questions never really left me. I posted about that struggle yesterday, and if you haven’t read that yet, please stop and go read that now. It gives you a peek into the mind and heart of a young man sincerely wrestling with his own rationality, trying to reconcile it with his faith. I can still feel the angst from those days emanating from the words on the screen, and for various reasons this still feels so fresh to me. The fallout from that struggle continues for me today.
Most of all, however, I want to draw your attention to the fact that I wrote the journal entry linked above a good six years before I began to honestly face my own questions. If you read the brutally honest things I say you may find yourself asking “Why on earth did you cling to your faith so long after this? How could you? With no satisfying answers forthcoming?” The simple truth is that the cost of leaving my faith was too high for me to allow myself to go down that mental path. Again, I must acknowledge that anyone reading this who has never lived in a highly religious environment (I’m looking at you, Europe, Canada, and the “blue states” within the U.S.) will scratch their heads and wonder what the fuss is about. But anyone from a context similar to mine will “get it” immediately.