Opposing Fundamentalist Asantaists

Earlier today I read a witty bit of satire on the blog de-conversion, in a post entitled “Salvaging Santa.” But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the approach to Santa depicted in that post – and the approach to faith it was intended to parody – is in fact one that I’d advocate and view positively.

I think it is the fact that some people still approach the Bible or other aspects of traditional religion differently than they approach Santa that is at the heart of the problem – and its solution.

Most people find that they can indeed embrace both science and Santa. Many of the “new atheists” criticize liberal Christians for saying that their religion is not about fact-claims, and is neither against science’s conclusions nor subjectable to scientific verification. Yet many of those same individuals are, I imagine, able to incorporate Santa into the lives of their families. The assumption that Christian faith and Christmas celebration involving Santa are fundamentally different is not necessarily correct – although I can already hear conservative believers and atheists lining up together (as usual) to disagree with me.

Including Santa in Christmas celebration is a way of symbolizing generosity and the “magic” of “the most wonderful time of the year.” But most of us can see that it is a combination of individual, family, community and cultural effort that enables us to have that special feeling at this time of year. One can find places in the world where December 25th is just another day – nothing special, no special feeling. We create that feeling through tradition, ritual, and music – and of course gift-giving and having at least one day off work. But should we allow the fact that one can study Christmas scientifically, sociologically, historically and musicologically – and find no actual literal magic therein – lead us to give up “believing in” and more importantly practicingChristmas? Or is such a conclusion unnecessary, and Christmas – including Santa – something that might be worth preserving even though it can be subjected to the same rationalistic analysis as faith traditions – and seem to come up short in many of the same ways when thus analysed?

For at least many liberal Christians, even many of those who continue to pray as though expecting some outside source to intervene and change things, in fact are reconciled in practice to the fact that, if “miracles” are to occur, it will be through human beings acting and not some inexplicable occurrence. Some of us even consider humans caring for others in some ways “more” of a miracle, but that’s another story.

Of course, as with God, so too with Santa there is a danger that we will use him for ideological or commercialistic ends.

What do you think? While some view similarities between Santa and figures from this or that faith tradition as reasons to reject religion, and others try to emphasize that their central figure is not really like Santa, it seems to me that the similarities in fact do clue us in to what religion is all about – and why it can be worth hanging on to.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12963476276106907984 Sabio Lantz

    Wow, no comments yet????This is an amazing coming-out story, it seems. I remember in another post when you (James) gave a telling reply to a question about why not give up Christianity all the way since you obviously don't believe it in any of the common ways. You said something like: "I would have to re-invent the wheel in coming up with rich imagery and stories to color my world". This post seems to say the same in yet another way. I agree with a whole lot of what you say. Yes, we can do Santa for our kids, perhaps, but never for ourselves once we stop believing. That is why old folks stop having Christmas — no kids to enjoy the magic. That is why Grandparents want the grandkids over.For how do you turn on the magic once it is gone — only vicariously, by watching those who really believe.Do you think part of your church going pleasure would disappear if you weren't surrounded by people who still really believe?

  • Antonio Jerez

    James,sorry to spoil the Christmas party but being one of those damned "new atheists" I just couldn´t refrain from commenting on this topic. No, I can´t agree with you that "what religion is all about" is about creating a feelgood atmosphere and harmony among humans. Yes, by the lax standards you use even a religion based on Santa Claus is obviously true. If Santa exists or not is irrelevant. By your standards I feel that almost anything goes. The extraterrestial cults waiting for the spaceships coming or the mormons searching for those hidden golden plates needent worry. Those religions are obviously just as "true" as Christianity as long as they create a feelgood atmosphere and harmony among humans. Basically I think the problem boils down to the fact that James definition of religion is more about what James thinks religion should be all about and not about what religions actually are.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12617299120618867829 Angie Van De Merwe

    I am not so sure that myth is serving a good purpose, when it is not based on the real world. It results in literalization from those that are morally simplistic. I just read where there are those in Africa that still believe that Scripture is absolute. Since the Scripture commnends killing witches, there have been many tragic results to such belief. Children maimed or dead because they were accused of witchcraft…such lunacy and superstition.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    I think the comments so far are coming from several different angles, none exactly the same as my own, and none exactly the same as any other, which thus has the makings of a great conversation!My first question is to ask whether, if there weren't Christians who pick some details in the Bible and insist they be treated as literally true, would anyone find a liberal version of Christianity in any way objectionable? If there were "Santa literalists" who never outgrew that type of understanding, would we not in all likelihood find Santa treated scathingly by skeptics?As for whether my churchgoing pleasure would be spoiled if there weren't people around who "really believed" (by which I assume you mean believed at least some traditional doctrines to be literally true), on the one hand my instinct is to say "No." When I find myself wanting to have a serious discussion about what we should believe or do today, and someone quotes a Bible verse as though that will settle the matter, it doesn't usually give me a warm fuzzy feeling (and sometimes fills me instead with a feeling of frustration).On the other hand, part of the joy of Christmas is indeed the "literal" view of the season's "magic" we see on the faces of children, and when there is age-appropriate "literalism" in a Christian context, it can indeed seem wonderful. But there is always the troubling wondering whether the child in question will grow out of that simplistic view of things when the time is right for them to do so.And so my second question is addressed mainly to myself, but I'd welcome input from others. Why have we become adept at guiding children from Santa literalism to adolescent rejection all the way to becoming parents and discovering the process is worth repeating, and yet remain so ill-prepared to guide religious believers to make similar age- or maturity-appropriate transitions when it comes to their faith?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12617299120618867829 Angie Van De Merwe

    A liberal religious view is fine, but not a politicized one. Otherwise, you mix what should be separate; government and religion.As to the second question, I would find it hard to not be direct with questions, as it would "feel" dishonest to me and would lack integrity…no matter how I understood the "science" of moral/faith/intellectual development. In this sense, I would be better at counselling those who were seeking help out of delusional religious commitments. Then I would "feel" that I was really helping them to resolve the issues of conflict within themselves, so that they could live more fruitful and peaceful lives.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12617299120618867829 Angie Van De Merwe

    But also, it would be important to maintain a separation of Church and State for the sake of liberty, which is of upmost importance to me.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12963476276106907984 Sabio Lantz

    For me, the the Santa – Jesus analogy falls apart because we don't find real Santa denominations trying to take over governments or trying to legalize their morals. Santa is from the get-go all about fun, Yahweh (even when manifest as Yeshua) is all about judgment.So that is why turning on the cute kid images don't work. The cute baby Jesus grows up packed with lots of other hidden agendas. Santa just gets fat.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09084163253921154263 Oliver

    Interestingly enough, there is a historical person behind Santa, something which I do explain to my children. (And just yesterday, I got a good laugh out of a conversation with an adult who believed the original St. Nicolaus to have been Dutch.) So even in that aspect, the analogy doesn't break down as my first reaction had been. To that extent, it would be possible to follow Santa in a similar way to following Jesus. Hm, I would presume that the image of Santa has been changed a whole lot more from the original than Jesus but then, who knows! ;-)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12963476276106907984 Sabio Lantz

    Smiling — that is good Oliver. Indeed, when you learn about the "real" Santa and compare to the new Santas, the contrast is startling. So I guess that part of the analogy is appropriate. But imagine the gross miscommunication when the "Real Santa" believers go around saying "Ho, ho, ho" to "Commercial Santa" believers. The complaint could be, the "Real S" guys are reinforcing the "Commercial S" world no matter how sophisticated their historical-academic image is within their minds.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10060430253113856206 Jer

    My first question is to ask whether, if there weren't Christians who pick some details in the Bible and insist they be treated as literally true, would anyone find a liberal version of Christianity in any way objectionable?Ah, something I can formulate an answer to :)For me, it isn't the fact that they "take it literally" that makes me uneasy with fundamentalism (not just fundamentalist Christianity – all forms of fundamentalism – be it Christian or Muslim or Jew or Hindu or even fundamentalist Odinists if such people were to exist). It's the fact that the folks who "take it literally" feel the need to impose that belief as the one and only belief on all of the rest of us. They want to set public policy by what their Holy Book says because their Holy Book is "God's Word". If all fundamentalists were like the Amish and kept their religion to themselves in exchange for the rest of the world leaving them alone I wouldn't have a single qualm with the fundamentalists, let alone with the more liberal elements of the various faiths. (Who I only have qualms with because they don't seem to be actively working to clean their own houses and get the fundamentalists to shape up – if anything the fundamentalists of the various religious movements seem to have all of the power and the liberal elements are running around apologizing for their bad actions and saying "Not all Christians/Muslims/Jews/Hindus are as crazy as these people, but what are you gonna do amiright?")But then if you believe that the book is literally true, you really don't have a choice do you? You HAVE to do what (you think) it tells you because it IS the Word of God after all and it tells you what is going to happen to you if you don't take it seriously. So barring fundamentalists who believe that the book is telling them to start their own communities separate from the world (i.e. the Amish) you're always going to have this problem with any faith system.Why have we become adept at guiding children from Santa literalism to adolescent rejection all the way to becoming parents and discovering the process is worth repeating, and yet remain so ill-prepared to guide religious believers to make similar age- or maturity-appropriate transitions when it comes to their faith?This is an easy one – because adults do not believe in Santa Claus and so can manage that transition for their children pretty easily. Most believers DO hold that at least some if not all tenets of their faith are literally true and so there's no one to manage that transition. Every believer has to travel that own path for themselves whether they keep the faith they were handed as a child or whether they journey down their own path of discovery there's no one to make the transition easy for them.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Thanks, Jer! Two related thoughts in reply. First, as I've emphasized time and again, there are few or no real, total, consistent Biblical literalists. So those who claim to have no choice are deceived or dishonest. They say it is essential to take the days in Genesis 1 literally but will not take the dome literally no matter how many Hebrew scholars you cite to show that the word doesn't mean 'atmosphere.'And so presumably we can help people transition from simplistic incoherent kindergarten faith to adolescent skepticism and then mature ability to appreciate myth and story as such. If it doesn't happen, it is because families and communities make a conscious effort to resist maturity. And so perhaps the best we can do is help people see that they really are choosing (and picking) and help them grow and understand a bit more.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12617299120618867829 Angie Van De Merwe

    The dividing lines of the morality question is about the family and society. In that frame, abortion, and homosexuality are the issues that are the issues for the conservative, while taking care of the poor is the issue for the liberal. The Constitution upholds the laws that protect our liberties. The family, as far as I know, is not defined in the Constitution. And the states have for a long time determined whether they will accept or reject abortion or homosexual rights.The questions irregardless of one's religious commitment or lack thereof, is what is going to be the most productive climate for a society? Do such liberties bring about a greater sense of responsible behavior, social value, and integrity?If one is asking these questions, then abortion is questionable, and homosexual marriage should be allowed. The institution of marriage is a commitment that upholds responsible behavior, social value and integrity. Abortion, on the other hand, is questionable because of defining "social value", and life. Some would think that it is responsible behavior to have the child, even though the child and mother will be dependent on government welfare programs, etc. Others think that taking an "after the morning pill" is nothing more than an IUD or other birth control methods.The poor and our responsiblity toward these is the question that divides us over how to meet the needs, and if we are responsible to meet the need and how far does that responsiblity go. How do we act responsibly toward the poor? Should we demand others to act in the ways we deem necessary to meet these needs, by legislating our convictions?

  • Anonymous

    James, when you say, "And so presumably we can help people transition …" the issue of course is who is "we?"By all means, do what you can, but a handful of scholarly types discussing the finer points of the historical Jesus is unlikely to have any large impact. For people to de-Santa and have a more nuanced version of faith, it would require them to, well, be more nuanced, which is not natural to many humans. It would require them to reverse (or revise) long-cherished dreams, to admit that their parents and pastors and friends misled them, purposefully or not. Few people want to go down that road. It's so much simpler to just be certain and ignore the doubters. pf

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12617299120618867829 Angie Van De Merwe

    annonymous,what helps really depends on what the individual values most, and the values of character that one cherishes. those that love myth are idealists. and those that love history love to understand the real world of politics.when one talks of texts that are partially historical and partly not, then whether the individual would embrace delving into the finer points of scholarship trying to understand the polical and social factors that determined what was written, is dependent on many factors.those that would prefer to understand that myth is a way to come to terms with the world apart from the real world, either transmit the myth in mentoring those that are "behind" them and others will choose to re-interpret the myth within in a more realistic way, using a scientific worldview, and still others choose to move on and formulate a personal way to take responsiblity for their own life, where the myth served to salve the realities and complexities of life and find their work in other realms.i don't think there is one way that individuals develop beyond 'mythology' and come to terms with their life in this world.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09084163253921154263 Oliver

    One of Jer's statements caused some more musings on my part:Every believer has to travel that own path for themselves …Doesn't that go in both and all directions? Even those who emphasize a personal relationship with God state that "God doesn't have any grandchildren". Otoh, the influence of family, community and other value-transmitting traditions is acknowledged by most if not all. So, can I conclude that faith is a gradual thing on the collective-individual slide? To that extent, nobody travels that path alone (unless you're a hermit or similar recluse – and even those presumably grew up in a family with values of one or the other persuasion). And I've definitely benefitted from not being alone but traveling down (or up?) that path with many fellow humans, including not least some of you bloggers and commenters. So: thanks to you all for stimulating discussions and shared experiences!

  • TB

    Jer said " …I wouldn't have a single qualm with the fundamentalists, let alone with the more liberal elements of the various faiths. (Who I only have qualms with because they don't seem to be actively working to clean their own houses and get the fundamentalists to shape up…"I think that's a bit broad brush. After all, it was religious people who sued the Dover school board in order to protect science education.And, I think you kind of miss one of the qualities of fundamentalists: They tend not to listen to anyone who isn't their brand of fundamentalist.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09084163253921154263 Oliver

    TB, you mean like Smeagol when accused by Gollum simply clasping his hands over his ears and repeating, "Not listening! Not listening!"?!?Whatever a fundamentalist's facade might look like (fun-de-mentalist?), never underestimate the potential cruelty of their inner dialogue … like everybody else's, I presume. (Or is this only valid for certain personality types?)

  • TB

    OliverI'm not sure what you mean. I was pointing out to Jer the fallacy of assuming that the liberal religious have influence with fundamentalists and therefore also hold some responsibility for them.I certainly don't think that means we should stop talking, nor do I discount how dangerous some fundamentalists can be.But I also know that when you're dealing with people whose very nature is almost defined as being resistant to change then the strategy for diffusing that danger will need to be more nuanced than simply a direct approach. That kind of change will take generations.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05472098969204011008 dave

    Oh ye of English faith! Or of course that of a number of other countries, but here the Kirk long regarded Christmas as a very English and pagan festival, or worse. It was pretty much an ordinary working day when I was growing up, and Hogmanay was the big celebration with not dissimilar traditions. However, at that transition time Christmas was coming in "for the children", complete with Coca-Cola red Santa's, and it has largely eclipsed the old tradition of visiting friends and neighbours to bring in the New Year. Times change, and commerce has succeeded. Still, there are many megaliths around here which were apparently orientated to herald the turn of the year around 5 thousand years ago, and at whichever date it remains a very natural and welcome celebration. A guid New Year to ane and aw!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09084163253921154263 Oliver

    TB,Sorry for being too cryptic.Something in your first comment sparked Gollum’s schizzophrenia scene from “The Two Towers” in my mind. I don’t want to deduce from my own experience to everybody else’s; it’s just that, having gone through a YEC phase in my early twenties after having grown up with dinosaurs, Wegener and Darwin (and now having returned to my evolutionist roots again), I wondered to what extent everybody is having inner dialogues which are characterized by doubt and accusations against dearly held worldviews.What the makers of the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy have managed to do is make Gollum a popular figure, something which definitely isn’t the case with the book. One finds it easier to identify with him having witnessed some of the inner struggle he is going through.I wasn’t necessarily picking on fundamentalists’ internal doubts (whether they’re aware of them or not). Presumably, they exist for most, if not all persuasions (at least judging from conversations I’ve had, also with humanists, agnostics and atheists). Maybe, it is the development of an art which alludes to one’s own doubts, at the same time encouraging your conversation partner to listen to their inner dialogue (Jungian psychology might be helpful here, or Ignatian exercises, depending on your preferences). My hope is that such awareness raising of doubt would result in increased humility. And be another piece of the puzzle which shows us the bigger picture of that change which, as you so rightly suppose, takes by the very nature of itself generations.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    I've often thought that the inner dialogue Oliver mentioned (which may be a universal phenomenon of human consciousness) is exactly what many religions teach us to cultivate. The dialogue partner is thought of as an 'other' in some systems of thought. But the conversations seem to cover much the same ground. And many (whether religious or not) have found 'answers' in the process of such inner dialogues that seemed not to come from themselves.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12963476276106907984 Sabio Lantz

    Bingo ! I TOTALLY agree, James!I think that the "'answers' in the process of such inner dialogues that seemed not to come from themselves. is due to a fundamental misunderstanding of the self — of who we are. That goes both ways, for both hyper-rationalist and the spiritualist.

  • TB

    OliverAh, got it now. Yes, I agree. For me that inner dialogue is an invaluable learning tool. And yet, I sense that many avoid having any meaningful discussions of this sort. Fear of where it may lead? No trust in their own judgement?Perhaps the way to approach these people is not to challenge the system they've attached themselves to but to cultivate that inner dialogue.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09084163253921154263 Oliver

    James, Sabio, TB,Now we're talking! Thanks for more stimulations.So what level of human identity should be used for best communicative effects with fundamentalist Asantaists? According to some understanding of who we are, what it means to be human, there is the domain of individual consciousness, the domain of individual unconscious (or subconscious), and the domain of collective unconscious. [As an aside: I've always wanted to explore what happened to the collective conscious which I would place somewhere at the level of synchronic culture.] My tendency would be to steer such conversations to the areas of the unconscious, be that through poetry, proverbs, cryptic allusions etc – but not so much through questions or open criticism (which usually evoke a defensive response, guided by the conscious but immensely influenced by the unconscious). Also, talking to the collective sphere, even in individual discussions, tends to have a less argumentative effect in my experience. Any further thoughts on that?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12617299120618867829 Angie Van De Merwe

    I WHOLEHEARTEDLY DISAGREE!!!This is telling those under oppression to just "grin and bear it", ….don't worry, "God is in control"…the SYSTEM IS THE PROBLEM AND WE WILL NEVER BE RID OF SYSTEMS UNLESS WE AGREE TO A TYPE OF GOVERNEMNT THAT OUR FOUNDERS DESIRED.The problem with systems thinking or any group thinking is that it devalues the individual. There is no sacred or secular, that is a false distinction or dichotomy, I think…but there cannot be anyone demanding any particular kind of consciousness….as that would be intrustion upon an individual's personhood…we must let other decide for themselves what and how and when and where about their lives and STOP being so patraonizing and parental…this does not negate the need for friendship…or common human decency when it comes to treating another with the same right we desire for ourselves…Lying to oneself is not "healthy psychologoically", although it may get you by, it is not reality…it reminds me of the serenity prayer…the helpless, hopeless and disempowered are to accept the "fate of the godds" submit and DIE…this is what fundamenatlists like to do die for their faith….sickness is what I call it..you cannot love someone is you want them to die, can you? I thought that Christian faith was about being valued…but is is a dysfuntional family worse than any…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09084163253921154263 Oliver

    To be honest, I don't quite get what Angie's beef is but that may be just an impression of deja vu.To give you an example:While living in rural Tanzania (altogether nine years), I befriended a Pentecostal pastor who was writing a Masters thesis on the role of women in Gogo society (that's the name of their language group!). For the final write-up, he used our computer. As he needed word processing support, I had agreed to help him one morning with the final layout. He arrived early but being a pastor, he received one call after another. That went on for two hours or so. When he finished the umpteenth call, I started to tell him a story: "In times of old, Hyena was invited to a wedding in a neighbouring village. When he was just about to go, he received another invitation to a wedding in a different village …" My pastor friend immediately replied, "I guess I need to decide", and switched off his phone. We finished the layout by lunchtime (a late lunch, though ;-)I didn't even have to finish the story how Hyena tried to set one foot on the road to the one village and the other on the road to the other until it finally tore him in two. Now, I would suggest that this wasn't patronising but using culturally appropriate means (without either artificially separating the sacred and the secular or devaluing the individual). However, it took me years of observation and gaining understanding before I was able to do that.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10425001168670801073 Weekend Fisher

    Hi thereI'm a stray commenter, referred by a link at Ancient Hebrew Poetry. By way of introduction I should mention I'm more conservative than you all. I can see that you all have certain views of "the other" (e.g. relatively conservative people like me). Those views of "the other" include that we are closed-minded and unwilling to listen (the Gollum quote), childish and immature (courtesy of Dr. McGrath), and intrusive about what others should believe (various quotes). And yet here we have a group of liberals which has already determined that "the other" (people like me) have nothing worthwhile to say, and should be viewed as immature, and can only be taken seriously if we come to agree with you. There's also some suggestion that the "enlightened" people (i.e., people who believe like you do) should guide poor benighted souls (i.e., people who take seriously anything at all in any religion) so that we come to share your beliefs. There is a definite view here that we all should believe like you do; after all, it's the only "reasonable" and "mature" alternative. Nothing patronizing or condescending or intrusive about what others believe here, is there? Yet here, the "others" are considered intrusive and patronizing. The inconsisntencies are a puzzle I can't work out, though maybe that's just because I take a number of things seriously in varous religions, which of course has a pre-determined meaning in this comment thread: it demonstrates my lack of maturity (per Dr. McGrath). My question is this: Under the circumstances, how does someone like me become human enough in your eyes that we can have a conversation? Take care & God blessAnne / WF

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12617299120618867829 Angie Van De Merwe

    Weekend Fisher,We all have biases. And we tend to form our groups along those biases. It is important in our society to listen, even to criticism, without taking it personally, so that we can grow more in our thinking and recognize our biases as such.Those, like you, who take religion seriously, are seen today as a "danger" because of the threat of those like you, who will "kill" others for their faith, proving faith's validity, and absolute claims and granting them rewards from God.In the "civil" West, we like and encourage diversity, and our nation prohibits discrimination based on "differences" alone. Therefore, we are in a quandary of how to, on the one hand embrace difference, while on the other hand, maintaining safety for diverse views, when some views are so absolute and divisive, there is little to bridge differences. How do we tolerate the intolerant? And yet, where is our toleration the demise of our national interests and securities?I certainly don't know, but I plan on thinking through these things and come to some resolution, so that I can defend my position and commit to those values…a apart from indoctrination.It seems you have investigated and come to that resolution within yourself.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Hello Anne! Thank you for commenting! I will only speak for myself (others can chime in if they are so inclined). When I speak of maturity in religion, I have in mind the work of theorists like Fowler and Piaget. When I link conservatism and immaturity, I have in mind a certain kind of conservatism, and it isn't an 'other' because it represents an approach to Christianity (and participation in a community of likeminded individuals) that characterized me in an earlier period in my life.If a certain stage in typical human faith development can be described as 'conservative', there is a sort of 'liberalism' that is likewise immature, the adolescent phase of rebellion against authority and questioning everything. Both stages are part of a healthy development – and both are problematic if we stagnate at them.There are mature conservatives and liberals with whom I'd agree on some things and disagree on others, but what makes our interaction mature, in my opinion, is that we've gotten past the stage where disagreeing with one another's views means (or is assumed to mean) dehumanizing the dialogue partner.I'd love input on how other terminology might prevent potential misunderstanding. I'm also extremely interested in how faith communities and other forums for interaction can help people at various stages of maturity both within those stages and in the transitions from one to another.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12617299120618867829 Angie Van De Merwe

    Intellectual development comes to a place where there is a commitment of rationale based on reasoned understanding, or reasoned faith, as one has come to the point where faith is understood a symoblization of the 'ideal" of God..The religious who think that there really is a God believe that this commitment has to be based on faith, as we cannot know God any other way. But, the religious agnostic understands that faith is not in God, as understood but in one's life commitment to the values that uphold what one deems to be important to one's tradition, because God is beyond the realm of being understood.The difference lies in whether one understand their faith through their doctrine, theology or their lifestyle. Both the religious that believe in a real God and those that don't, but believe that faith is most important will commit their life to those beliefs.But, those who come to a point where reason is too important to give into faith, because of its irrationality based on the realities and complexities of life, and not the ideals of faith, are not capable of giving their life to faith, but to values that are important. These will understand the importance of civil government and the discussion that that entails..So, the "crossroads" in one's development is at the point where rationale breaks down and one must determine how and what is of most importance….reason or faith. Both need one another, but how that is "put together" will differ from individual to individual, as long as there is a free society to develop difference.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10425001168670801073 Weekend Fisher

    Hi allThank you for interacting with me. After the previous discussion, I am pleasantly surprised to find you speaking civilly to "my kind." Angie – all the best on your quest. Just to add one more level of complication to it: if the "tolerant" people declare themselves the only reasonable ones and therefore the Reasonable Judges Over The Unreasonable Faithful, and then become intolerant of anything, they've done nothing but set themselves up as the New Inquisition. Dr. McG – I wonder very much if you are able to imagine how you sound from the other side of the aisle. Here's a quick trick that I recommend for people who are interested in finding out how they sound to the other side: take your own writings, swap your "in" group and your "out" group, and then read it and see if you would find it objectionable if someone in your "out" group had said it. Just a suggestion. The first suitable example I found in one of your previous comments — if you were to make the substitutions in question — you would have ended up with something like, "When I find myself wanting to have a serious conversation about what we should believe or do today, and someone dismisses my view out of hand because I quote a Bible verse, it doesn't usually give me a warm fuzzy feeling (and sometimes fills me instead with a feeling of frustration). … When there is age-appropriate "skepticism" in a Christian context, it can indeed seem delightful for those rebellious teens or pre-teens. But there is always the troubling wondering whether the child in question will grow out of that simplistic view of things when the time is right for them to do so". (I know there are different options for how to mirror what you said from the other side of the aisle; this is meant as an example of how the method works, nothing more.) The "view-swapping" is really just an exercise in "do unto others …" but I should stop there since it does involve a Bible verse, which will not at all give you a warm-fuzzy feeling, but may make lead people here to wonder instead if I have matured enough to have age-appropriate thoughts. ;) Angie – I know it is common to find people who set faith and reason as natural opposites; you find almost all people in the anti-religious camp doing that, and (depending on the group) even some people in the religious camp doing that. However, you also find significant numbers of people in religious camps (again, depending on the group) who believe that certain matters of faith can be known rationally from historical/biographical means. I'm not saying you can wrap up the whole discussion there; you get into questions of different personalities, different perceptions, different lenses through which people remember and understand what they see, etc. But myself, I'm firmly in the camp that faith means "trust", and is only acceptable if that trust is rationally warranted. When you paint faith and reason as opposites, you are discussing a view that is alien to me, though I have met people who hold it. Take care & God blessAnne / WF

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10425001168670801073 Weekend Fisher

    (previous comment) "but may make lead people here to wonder instead if I have matured enough to have age-appropriate thoughts."… or whether I have learned to proof-read after editing. :)Take care & God blessAnne / WF

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Anne, I'm afraid your illustration left me confused. But I'm not sure why it matters whether or not my comments offend you. Sometimes I've been offended and, once I got over the initial reaction of defensiveness and hurt, I learned alot from it. So instead, how about if you tell me where you disagree with me and why, and then we can talk about it? :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12617299120618867829 Angie Van De Merwe

    Anne,I didn't think I posed a faith versus reason, except in the first example where people like yourself take by faith that God exists and that he has written or inspired men to write sacred texts to support or warrant faith. These investigate the text to find the historical or factual support to base faith upon.But, the agnostic doesn't begin with faith in a God that exists, but ascertains that men bound within their contexts do describe, understand and attempt to explain all that is, and part of the explaining is "God". But, these instead of investigating texts, as first and foremost the warrant for faith, go to the disciplines to warrant faith in whatever the discipline describes. These warrant faith in the real world, apart from God's direct intervention, but could be taken as "God's order" in the world, as understood by men.Still others do not find that God is practical at all, because of the realities of suffering, and death and the immediacy of the real problems in the world. These are realists. These believe that reason replaces faith in living one's life as one sees rational, on the basis of values, and law. And yes, we all must be diligent to not be blind to balancing power, allowing differences and speaking how we see it…and understand it. I see that these commitments could be seen as progrssive developmentally.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09084163253921154263 Oliver

    Thanks, Anne, for propelling forward the issue of “communication at eye level” (my paraphrase).And thanks, James and Angie, for responding kindly and civilly.Looks like that sometimes a more direct approach (like outing yourself as “more conservative than you all”) is more effective than all the “poetry, proverbs, cryptic allusions etc”. Maybe I need to be as courageous as my colleague David Ker of Lingamish fame who doesn’t seem to have a problem with introducing himself in public as a missionary with an evangelical Bible translation organisation. One the other hand, burnt children avoid the fire, as a German proverb goes (ah, proverbs again!). Too many doors slammed into my face. Too many conversation partners who I cared about putting me into a box which subsequently drove the cart of our conversation into a rut.Bloggersations being what they are it’s easier to adopt a ‘persona’ than in a face-to-face conversation. Still, until you’ve formed a relationship, tendencies are that you will regard (however subconsciously that may be) your conversation partner more as It than as Thou. As ‘the other’, the stranger becomes familiar, it’s easier to have a deeper relationship and better understanding. Yet, ‘the other’ will always retain a measure of strangeness, of unfamiliarity. Which is, in a Barthian sense, the divine reflection in the other.I’m sorry, Anne, that my Gollum analogy offended you. Let me repeat that I didn’t mean to denigrate any conversation partner with it but rather point to the common human quandary of doubt (whether liberal, conservative, African, Western, evangelical, agnostic or else) which some will only, if at all, express in their own inner dialogue. I had hoped to promote more transparency and humility with that analogy, obviously failing. With regard to dealing with facades, please refer to my literary hero, Adrian Plass who’s definitely more successful with analogies than I can ever hope to be.Yours for open, respectful and equal communication,Oliver

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10425001168670801073 Weekend Fisher

    Hi allI really don't mean to hijack a comments thread. It was on a whim that I decided to comment here. But I will respond to those who've responded to me, & hope I'm not overstaying my welcome. ——-Dr McG – I don't think it matters at all if your comments are offensive to me, though perhaps it should matter whether your earlier comments used demeaning language. I much appreciate the change in tone in these later comments; thank you. That's also a kind invitation to tell you where I disagree with you, but we've hardly met; if we were to start a conversation I'd rather start with: "Hi. I'm Anne. I'm a programmer by trade, which is most people's next question but usually a conversation-killer. I promise I can talk about things other than computers, if the need arises. ;) In my free time I enjoy spending time with my family, writing, reading, and music." — Might even get into views and aspirations someday, once we got past preliminaries. I would rather have started that way than how we actually met; I chanced over here following a link and was curious. In reading the comments thread, my sense of irony got the better of me and I commented. ——-Hi AngieI know we haven't really discussed my beliefs, so you can't have known you were off the mark in my case when you say, "people like yourself take by faith that God exists and that he has written or inspired men to write sacred texts to support or warrant faith." My starting point is fairly far from there, actually. I think it's a better starting point to view the texts of various faiths as — a historian-friend of mine has a useful phrase here — "historical artifacts". I.e., we can use them as windows to the past, and that way we can gain some insights into lots of interesting people / places / events. All of that is necessarily of interest to me in looking for what is true. For instance, so many people have found things worth considering in Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and a few other major players that I would think anyone seriously interested in truth would review all of those with an open mind. Other people are, as you say, more driven by "practicality" — they'll stick with "what works" or "where they are" (whether it's a certain religion, atheism, agnosticism, whatever) until/unless they get a chance to do more researching. ——–Oliver – I'm a huge Tolkien fan myself, and think Jackson did well with the movies. (Though I think the first was truer to Tolkien's vision than the 2nd and 3rd … argh, I will not get started. I can go on for awhile about Tolkien.) I think it was actually your Gollum/Smeagol comment that tipped my irony-meter far enough that I had to comment on this thread. The sheer number of people who seemed comfortable with the consensus that The Others are impervious to voices on the outside (and dangerous! let's not forget that The Others are dangerous!), while making it fairly clear that they would not be exactly receptive to listening to one of those people … (I mean, why would you listen to someone who was immature, simplistic, and dangerous? Really. You'd have to be out of your mind.) No, Those People really existed to be corrected not heard; the only question was whether they were open to correction from current prevailing voices, who are the voice of reason, of course. The Others might remain unconvinced; they might possibly be as irredeemable as Tolkien's orcs. Take care & God blessAnne / WF

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09084163253921154263 Oliver

    Anne, we really need to find another location for discussing Tolkien etc!Just briefly: I wouldn't say that previous commenters perceived others in general or even fundamentalists in general to be dangerous. Imho, it is those who are prepared to use force to implement their ideals who are dangerous. And that's regardless of political or religious spectrum. Again, I was propagating an intensification of the inner dialogue (which helps us even to understand Gollum/Smeagol better) and building relationships along the lines of Buber's concept of Thou rather than It.Be seeing you,Oliver

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12617299120618867829 Angie Van De Merwe

    Anne,Thank you for your kind comments, too.You said in your previous comment, "but may make lead people here to wonder instead if I have matured enough to have age-appropriate thoughts."I don't think that your view is necessarily immature. But, if it has not been evaluated, then it is. Those raised in conservative Christian homes, or those that come to faith in a conservative circle, must address how they see the social changes that have happened in society. Unless one is a separated sect, like the Amish, then certainly people of faith will come in contact with other views. One must address how one sees these views, as life is not the perfect "ideal" as held in certain Christian circles.The institutions that support or define society should always be supported, but how do these change, or how are these held "freely" in a free society? We must as a nation, hold our "beliefs", but we must also allow others to hold theirs. This is mandantory if we value liberty. Liberty is of ultimate value in a society, because it supports the "common good", in my opinion. Everyone will come to the table or be invited to the table to make their contributions in business transactions. These transactions benefit business, and the people involved, which in turn benfits the society the business serves.Beliefs are privately held and publically acknowledged by what we commit our lives to. These values will vary from one person to another, even in believing circles.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Hi Anne. I'm James. Sorry for the delay in responding to your introduction. I teach religion at Butler University in Indianapolis, having previously taught at seminaries and church-affiliated institutions in Romania and on the East Coast of the US. My hobbies include science fiction, learning languages, and music. My favorite composers are Kurt Atterberg and Erich Wolfgang Korngold. I play the keyboard in my church praise team. Blogs often become sites for ongoing conversations, but I know that new readers find their way here regularly. I probably should have one of those 'about' tabs in which I introduce myself for the benefit of newcomers.On the other hand, I feel like a lot of who I am is displayed publicly for anyone to see, so that sometimes when I meet someone for the first time (e.g. bibliobloggers at the SBL annual meeting) there is a feeling of having been 'pre-introduced.' And often if I mention something in the Sunday school class I teach, the pastor will say "Yeah, I saw when you mentioned that on your blog."Anyway, I think I'll post a general introduction at some point and add a link to it in the sidebar. Thank you, Anne, for emphasizing the importance of introducing ourselves. When we view each other as persons, usually the interactions we have will be far more meaningful and valuable!


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