Why Can't All Theists Be Like This?

Even though I disagree with him on just about everything, I have a great deal of respect for Andrew Sullivan. He's religious, conservative, and Republican - 3 things I normally can not stand. However he manages to be all 3 without being at the same time hard-headed, bigoted, or unwilling to listen to opposing views - a true rarity amongst his brethren. If all theists displayed the type of eloquence and willingness to accept that different people have different views and that doesn't necessarily mean anyone who disagrees is an idiot the world would be a much better place. Take a look, a very interesting read from a differing perspective on the science vs religion debate:


Views: 32

Comment by alexander hill on May 18, 2009 at 11:52am
Nice find - excellent article.
Comment by Dave G on May 18, 2009 at 12:21pm
It is Republicans like Andrew Sullivan that I would wish to have leave the Republican party and found a new one, so that perhaps there could be a conservative party in the US which is not indelibly tainted by the Religious Right.
Comment by Gaytor on May 18, 2009 at 1:09pm
I'm liking the article and the overall point, but I'm scratching my head. If we don't understand "god" today, then who or why do we worship? Should we worship? Should it just be a consistent study of religion until we can see the bigger picture? Is he saying that our picture of god as a societal whole will always be a Monet, or that one day we'll find the right filter and either up close or from afar the picture will become beautiful?
It's an interesting philosophical exercise and I respect it more than most viewpoints, but it still just looks like a distraction from the continued failures of religion to explain anything. It's a much more tolerable and honest stance though. Baby steps
Comment by SabreNation on May 18, 2009 at 2:22pm
Very good points Gaytor. I certainly don't agree with him either, I posted this more as a spark to discussion and as a refreshing break from the "my bronze age book says you're wrong and I'm right so burn in hell vile sinner!!!" we usually get from the other side.

As for what the point is, I think it's regarding the constant breaking down and rebuilding of religion based on the science of the age and a need for the same to happen once again if religion is to survive the current onslaught of science and freethought. Religion has a constant need to destroy and rebuild in order to remain relevant in the face of new science and changes of ethical/moral belief, in those times there is often a sudden spike in fundamentalism from the irrational ones who refuse to accept the change. That's what we're seeing now with the sudden large spike in Christian and Muslim Fundamentalist thinking around the world.

Just how that's supposed to be an argument in favor of religion I haven't quite deciphered yet but he's sparked my interest in this book and I may give it a look once it's released. I'm always willing to hear the views from the other side of the wall if they're put together in a thoughtful, rational manner.
Comment by Misty: Baytheist Living! on May 18, 2009 at 2:35pm
He just seems like another one of those otherwise intelligent men who really, really want to believe in the continuation of existence in some form or another. With our still growing understanding of physics and technology, religion is the only hope he has to cling to.
Comment by Serotonin Wraith on May 18, 2009 at 3:44pm
It's true that religion has to change with the times in order to survive - just like Andrew demonstrates when he seeks an open dialogue with people of other faiths or none instead of killing them as the Bible instructs. Christianity nowadays (at least this watered down version) seems to be the act of ignoring the Bible while still claiming to follow it. Change indeed.
Comment by Walter on May 19, 2009 at 12:22am
This article made a lot of sense to me. I have heard of this book before and plan to get a copy when it hits the shelves. I am also intrigued by some of the replies to this post.

First, Gaytor commented "it still just looks like a distraction from the continued failures of religion to explain anything." Religions are full of stories that explain what happens when we die, where the world came from and how to find hope in the face of despair. Perhaps he means a failure to prove any of these explanations. Most religious people are not primarily interested in what can be proven. They are more concerned with what can guide their life through the mystery and ambiguity of life. Perhaps their beliefs aren’t perfectly correct, but do they need to be? If a belief puts people’s minds at ease and allows them to live fully it may be better than logical uncertainty.

Second, Misty sees the author as, "one of those otherwise intelligent men who really, really want to believe in the continuation of existence in some form or another. With our still growing understanding of physics and technology, religion is the only hope he has to cling to." I hear the Obama comment about people clinging to guns and God. While this may be true, does it need to sound like a failure? People like the story that when they die they will meet their family and friends again. A believer doesn’t need to cling desperately to imagine the self continuing on. All my memories involve me, so if I cease to exist when I die, I can’t honestly imagine what that is like anyway. Is there a tangible benefit to believing that there is no immortal soul?

Finally, Serotonin comments "Christianity nowadays (at least this watered down version) seems to be the act of ignoring the Bible while still claiming to follow it." Do we attempt to ignore or to follow poetry? If one sees the Bible as the infallible and literal word of God, as modern evangelical Christians do, then it must be rigidly followed. However, there are many past and modern Christian believers that do not see the bible so narrowly. Don’t forget that at its best, the bible contains, and has inspired some beautiful, poetic songs about the nuanced dramas of life.
Comment by Misty: Baytheist Living! on May 19, 2009 at 8:50am
Great response!

I'd like to comment on a few things you said, if you don't mind.

Hmm.. Sounds like splitting hairs to me. Religion is for the most part based on a god of gaps theory. As science explains things like evolution, the sun rising and crop failures, there is less and less of a need to place your guidance on an explanation that has been PROVED incorrect about everything else. In fact it sounds like poor decision making skills to me.

I have no idea how your Obama comment even ties in with any of this, except for the clinging part, but um.. nice quote. To answer your question: "Is there a tangible benefit to believing that there is no immortal soul?" I will give a resounding YES. While your approach seems to be a peaceful touch of faith and security, you've probably not grown up secretly gay in a house of fundamentalists that reinforce the "fact" that all fags are going to burn in a pit of fire for eternity. You have probably never stared at the ceiling night after night caught in an agonizing loop of "have I been good enough? Am I sure I'm going to heaven? What if I've ever doubted? What if even asking this is doubt? Maybe I am really going to hell.."- Take a look, there are plenty of testaments to the severe damage that the belief in an immortal soul does to those that have been conditioned to believe in it, but for one reason or enough failed to fit the perfect profile of a believer. When most former theists finally do admit their atheism, the first thing I hear from a lot of them is the sense of relief they felt and their ability to finally cast off a miserable existence of fear and doubt. Even for those that didn't have such traumatizing experiences say that life is much sweeter now that they know it is fleeting and unique. You know, it's pretty sad, but the fact of it is, your argument would be a good one if it wasn't for the dogma of religion and their rapist attitude. Subtract the threat of eternal suffering from the equation and what you say makes sense. Too bad the majority of all religions don't teach that way and their religious texts don't support that ideal, in fact they propagate the opposite.

No, we do not attempt to ignore or follow poetry, but we also don't judge the actions of others or ourselves on how they measure up to "The Raven."
I see the Bible as an amazing work of art, but it is just that. Art. I'd no more admire the Mona Lisa and insist she is a real person with thoughts, emotions and conversation abilities than I would read the Bible and think it is true. LOTS of books inspire, dream-weave and word smith, but they are not considered sacred. There are plenty of beautiful stories that you can base the goodness of morality off of without having to negate the mass murder, infanticide, threats and intolerance of the Bible. If you want to pick something beautiful to be inspired by or model your choices after, you can just not be a hypocrite and get one that you agree with entirely instead of pick and scrap.

The end result is that in the face of religion, you have to decide on truth or fiction. Picking and choosing the best while leaving behind the worst is a little like fantasy football drafts. It's fun, but it isn't real. In the end, it's the hypocrisy that defines this idea.
Comment by Serotonin Wraith on May 19, 2009 at 9:00am
I totally understand you can get good feelings out of religious texts if they're treated as poetry or whatever, and we do that with all kinds of books - but it's inconsistent to call yourself a Christian, and not a Buddhist or Jew or Mormon or Ravenist or Dylan Thomasist if you're doing the same thing with all of them. It's like thinking being good makes you a Christian - as Bertrand Russell wrote, if that were the case we'd have Buddhist Christians, Muslim Christians, atheist Christians. Obviously the label should mean more than that.


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