The God of Shadow and Vapor

In April, I wrote a piece chastising Madeline Bunting for her willful invocation of the Courtier's Reply, in which she attacks atheists for criticizing the beliefs actually held and practiced by billions of people, rather than the beliefs of a tiny minority of theologians and pundits like herself.But let it not be said that we shy from a challenge. In this post, I'll take up the issue of religion as it is held by Bunting and others of like mind.Here's how she defines her own … [Read more...]

Moving Beyond Awe

The nineteenth-century German theologian Rudolf Otto, in his book The Idea of the Holy, popularized the term "numinous", an adjective describing the sense of mystery and wonder that purportedly stems from the presence of a deity. According to Otto, the sense of the numinous had two main characteristics: the mysterium tremendum, the sense of fear and trembling that comes from the presence of that which is wholly other, and the mysterium fascinas, the sense of fascination and curiosity that such … [Read more...]

Mystery Does Not Equal God

By Sarah BraaschWhen I was about seven years old I almost died. It wasn't the only time I almost died, but it was one of my most colorful near death experiences. I had acquired some sort of flu bug or food poisoning or I don't know what, but my mother, in her either infinite ignorance or indifference, failed to procure anything in the way of medical attention for her ailing child. In all fairness, at first, I attempted to minimize my illness in order to be able to participate in a planned trip … [Read more...]

Thoughtful Iconoclasts: A Response to Madeleine Bunting

I last mentioned Guardian columnist and Templeton Foundation fellow Madeleine Bunting in 2007, in "On Being Uncontroversial". She's recently written another column attacking atheism, alleging that the New Atheists are drowning out, in her words, "real debates" about religion and faith.Personally, I don't see the basis of her complaint. I think we've been provoking some very good debates - about the proper role of religion in society, how much influence it should have, whether and to what … [Read more...]

Book Review: The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality

(Editor's Note: The following review was solicited and is written in accordance with this site's policy for such reviews.)Summary: A quiet, thoughtful, non-polemical book. At times Comte-Sponville comes close to conceding more than he should, but his positive evocation of atheism is a much-needed effort and may be appealing to theists grappling with the first stirrings of deconversion.Andre Comte-Sponville's The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality is a unique book. Though written by an … [Read more...]

De-Mystification

Inspired by a good post on Spanish Inquisitor, as well as a similarly good post by Greta Christina (the atheistic stars have aligned!), I had some thoughts about the role of mysticism in religion, especially as it relates to sex.Freethinkers should be working to disseminate accurate information about sex, of course - information on how to choose a sexual partner, how to use birth control effectively, how to get an abortion if need be, how to be respectful and responsible toward one's partners, … [Read more...]

Further Thoughts on John Haught

Since the comment thread for my post "On Amateur Atheism" has sparked a lively debate, I looked around on the internet earlier today for some further explanation of John Haught's views. I found them in this Salon interview, and I'd like to offer some further comments on the theology outlined therein.One of Haught's major points regarding modern atheists that they rely too much on scientific inquiry to learn about the world:Therefore, since there's no scientific evidence for the divine, we … [Read more...]

Book Review: The End of Faith/Letter to a Christian Nation

The End of FaithSummary: An incendiary polemic against unjustified belief. Many strong points, strongly made - but what on earth is that endorsement of psychic powers doing in there?With the 2004 publication of his book The End of Faith, Sam Harris has probably become one of the best-known and most influential atheists in public discourse today. In this review, I will briefly summarize this book and then offer some remarks.Chapter 1, "Reason in Exile," talks about the pervasiveness of … [Read more...]


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