Franklin Graham goes the Full Olasky

Bruce Watson of AOL asks “What Would the Rapture Do to Real Estate Prices?

In New York City, for example, a 49% drop would reduce the city’s population to 1910 levels. In the short run, this would cause property values to plummet in the city, but the effects would quickly spread beyond mortgages and rents. …

This is assuming a post-Rapture world in which the political and economic systems would remain relatively stable — admittedly, a somewhat unrealistic expectation. … However, even if everything else stays the same, one thing is clear: The Rapture would have an apocalyptic effect on real estate.

And in one loosely written column, Watson has already spent more time on post-Rapture world-building than Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins spent in the whole of a 16-volume series.

Speaking of the Rapture …

The photo here looks like it might have been taken immediately following some mass vanishing event, but actually it’s from a huge tea party rally planned for South Carolina last week. Well, it was planned to be huge. They expected 2,000 people and wound up with 30. That’s not a rally. That’s barely enough for a soccer game.

Speaking of disappointing and woefully inadequate numbers …

Robert Parham says “‘Let the Churches Do It’ Is a Deceptive Myth.” He quotes Franklin Graham, among others, as a promoter of this deceptive myth. Graham said:

A hundred years ago, the safety net, the social safety net, in the country, was provided by the church. If you didn’t have a job, you’d go to your local church and ask the pastor if he knew somebody that could hire him. If you were hungry, you went to the local church and told them, ‘I can’t feed my family.’ And the church would help you. That’s not being done. The government took that. And took it away from the church.

That’s got all the hallmarks of Marvin Olasky’s bogus mythmaking:

  • Laughably false and easily disproved claims about the Golden Age of the past? Check.
  • Attempt to spin the church’s abandoning its responsibility as a case of government usurpation? Check.
  • Ridiculously inflated claims about the scale, capacity and expertise of faith-based assistance? Check.
  • Deliberate exclusion of the opinions of those actually providing that assistance, both today and “a hundred years ago”? Check.
  • Fundamental confusion that imagines all duties and obligations as mutually exclusive? Check.

Yep. Graham is five for five. That’s the Full Olasky right there.

Parham then turns to Wayne Flynt to explain what this would mean, for example, for Alabama:

When Flynt started making speeches about a just tax system in Alabama, he was accused of wanting government to solve all the problems.

“When people insisted that I was a socialist, that I wanted government to solve all the problems, I would offer this alternative,” said Flynt. “OK, I accept your argument. There are 10,000 communities of faith – Muslim, Jewish, Baptist, Baha’i, Buddhist, Shintoist – in Alabama… Let’s divide 10,000 communities of faith into the 740,000 [poor] people.”

He asked, “How many does your church get?”

The retired Auburn history professor pointed out that most of those faith communities had about 100 members. That meant that each faith community would get between 50 and 100 poor people to look after.

The “deceptive myth” Parham is addressing was most influentially promoted in a deceptive, mythmaking book by Olasky called The Tragedy of American Compassion. It’s a profoundly misled and misleading work that follows the basic outline above, portraying America before the Roosevelts as a paradise in which generous churches sufficiently cared for the poor with generosity and tough love and no one ever went hungry except lazy people who deserved it. For a useful counterpoint, see Norris Magnuson’s Salvation in the Slums: Evangelical Social Work 1865-1920. Magnuson covers the very same ground, but he provides an honest assessment of the actual scope of the poverty and deprivation of the time — most of which remained beyond the reach of the laudable, but vastly inadequate work being done by the churches.

More importantly, Magnuson cites the same primary sources as Olasky, but he does so in full and in context. That illuminates how selective and misleading Olasky’s use of those sources is. The devout believers Olasky cites to support his claim that the government has no role in helping the poor are nearly all revealed, in Magnuson’s book, to have been advocating and pleading for the larger government role that Olasky is arguing against.

Olasky is a partisan ideologue, but that’s precisely why I don’t think his mendacious book is evidence that he is lying. I think it’s a sad case study in what happens if one is, primarily, a partisan ideologue and the way that can blind one to anything one doesn’t wish to see. The tragedy of The Tragedy of American Compassion isn’t that Marvin Olasky is telling lies, it’s that he’s repeating lies he sincerely believes. (Call them “deceptive myths” if you’d prefer to be more euphemistically polite.) That and he’s trapped in an either-or framework of mutually exclusive responsibilities which prevents him from imagining that both the state and the church are responsible for those in need and that these mutual responsibilities are complementary, not competitive.

Anyway, speaking of Marvin Olasky …

The Randian Calvinist editor of World magazine belatedly weighs in on the controversy surrounding Rob Bell’s Love Wins, dubbing Bell an example of the “self-hating evangelical“:

Among the self-haters are those who display virulent opposition to the existence of churches that are not emergent, or don’t meet in a house, or are not radically redistributionist, or are not something other than standard.

Yes, “radically redistributionist.” He really talks like that. He really thinks like that.

And that’s what keeps him from realizing that what he describes here as “self-hatred” is actually pity and sadness for what people like him have become and the shame they’ve thereby brought to our evangelical family. I don’t hate myself, or my evangelical faith or heritage. What I hate is the selfish stupidity that people like Olasky foster in themselves and in their followers by using slogans like “radically redistributionist” as though they were quoting Jesus. I’ve seen how this weird devotion of theirs to an ideology of unbridled greed is a choice that makes smart people dumb, kind people cruel, good people bad.

And to paraphrase Dean Wormer, stupid and cruel is no way to go through life, son.

To be embarrassed by the enthusiastically stupid and cruel members of our evangelical family who have become our most vocal representatives doesn’t make me a “self-hating evangelical.” If Stephen Prothero is right, it puts me in the same camp as the Rev. Billy Graham. The iconic preacher and longtime friend of Jesus and Johnny Cash is now 92 and, Prothero notes, is suffering the indignity of having his eldest son going on TV and dragging the family name through the mud by spouting off the Full Olasky. “Franklin Graham is embarrassing his father“:

If you want to see how American evangelicalism has lost its way, you need look no farther than Billy Graham and his son Franklin. Billy Graham was a powerful preacher of the gospel. Franklin Graham is a political hack.

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  • P J Evans

    I remember a few years back, on the train, listening to a young woman talking about how her church’s high school youth group took sandwiches to the local emergency shelter after an earthquake left a lot of people without livable homes. She was complaining because, after three days of peanut-butter sandwiches, some of the sheltered were asking for some other kind of sandwich, which she apparently thought was uppity. (I don’t think she’s ever had to live on just peanut-butter sandwiches for even one day.)

  • http://www.nightphoenix.com Amaranth

    On the subject of the LB kids series, I saw something rather depressing today. As I was checking out of the library, I saw a teenager and his mother bringing a whole stack of that drivel to the counter. I’m not the type to make offhand comments to strangers (like, ever), but *man*, was I tempted. :P

    BTW yeah, our library carries the whole stinking series. And no Rob Bell. *le sigh*

  • Matri

    But that’s so easy to spot, when the anti-Christ preaches all that stuff you’ve always known was evil.

    The
    anti-Christ, like facism, would come to America carrying a cross and
    wrapped in the flag, and do a bang-up business. It’s so easy to seduce
    people when you tell them what they want to hear.

    You know, the AntiChrist is supposed to lead them astray, right? Since we’re already “astray” it’s a waste of the Anti’s time & effort to preach to the choir. The most efficient use the Anti’s time is best spent on the Christians, as per the so-called scriptures.

    And the case can easily be made for every Fox News Talking Head, since they all easily fit the profile.

    Hmm…

  • Roland

    Has anyone else noticed that the degree of true altruism exhibited by these various charitable people has no relationship whatever to how religious they are? The only effect religious conviction seems to have is that people who might otherwise do something useful are persuaded that proselytising is worth doing in place of (say) feeding or accommodating needy people. This would suggest that the only effect of religion as religion is to delude good people into doing useless or harmful things, while all the other religious people, good or bad, do good or bad things as indicated by their character, independent of their religion.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    The only effect religious conviction seems to have is that people who might otherwise do something useful are persuaded that proselytising is worth doing in place of (say) feeding or accommodating needy people. This would suggest that the only effect of religion as religion is to delude good people into doing useless or harmful things

    Well, that’s a great big generalisation. Thanks for judging the effect of my religion on me, though.

  • Roland

    Well, that’s a great big generalisation. Thanks for judging the effect of my religion on me, though.

    Sorry – I expressed myself badly. I meant to refer only to the effect of religion on people’s ostensibly charitable works. “This would suggest that the only effect of religion as religion is to delude good people into doing useless or harmful things” would have been better expressed as: the only important difference between good, irreligious people doing charitable works and good, religious people as recounted in this thread seems to be that the good religious people can be deluded into doing useless or harmful things by their religion whereas the irreligious people can’t.
    As others have pointed out the relationship between religion and ethical behaviour seems to be very complicated. I have no idea what your religion is or what effect it has on you; I intended only to comment on the examples we had been given.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    good religious people can be deluded into doing useless or harmful things by their religion whereas the irreligious people can’t

    Irreligious people can be deluded into doing useless or harmful things by irreligious persuason, as can religious people. Everyone believes something; often many different things; spiritual beliefs form only a subset of the beliefs someone may or may not hold. I continue to reject your assertion that religion gives people a unique pathway to negative actions from good intentions.

  • Roland

    religion gives people a unique pathway to negative actions from good intentions

    Well I tried not to assert that for the world in general. I said I was referring only to examples I had read in this thread. I would be delighted to hear about religious people who have done good things simply because their religion told them to.

  • Roland

    religion gives people a unique pathway to negative actions from good intentions

    Well I tried not to assert that for the world in general. I said I was referring only to examples I had read in this thread. I would be delighted to hear about religious people who have done good things simply because their religion told them to.

  • ako

    I haven’t really noticed that.  Religion seems to have a rather mixed and complicated effect on people that’s hard to completely understand from the outside.  There are a lot of religious people who say their religion inspired them to do good, some of whom are doing things I also consider good.  It’s possible to simultaneously discount everything they say about their experience by going “Well, you’re just naturally inclined to do good things because of your character!” but barring substantial evidence, I don’t see a reason to.  And it’s possible to believe that and  simultaneously decide that all of the people who care more about proselytizing than the actual flesh-and-blood humans right in front of them would, if not for religion, start caring about genuine tangible good, but that doesn’t seem terribly logically consistent.  If it’s all innate character for everyone else, why assume  the proselytizing folk wouldn’t all become dogmatic Communists or Randroids, or otherwise fixated on some unproven idea at the expense of actual humans?  And if religion can change people to the point of diverting their good attentions towards single-minded soulwinning, why can’t it change people to the point of inspiring them to do better?

  • Anonymous

    I have to disagree with your theory.  In my own experience, many the preachy conversion types wouldn’t have volunteered at all if they weren’t religious.  The people I knew who acted so righteous and holier-than-thou because they deigned to give a guy a sandwich wrapped in a religious tract wouldn’t have bothered to do anything at all if they didn’t get the prestige and bragging rights to do it.

  • Anonymous

    No, I haven’t noticed that at all. In fact, research indicates that religiosity and altruism are strongly correlated, particularly religious beliefs supporting altruism. So are you saying that altruism causes religious belief? Or are you just indulging in wishful thinking?

  • Lori

    The correlation between religiosity and altruism is at best quite modest and it’s unclear what causes even that slight connection. I’ve never seen any reputable, properly conducted research that indicates that being religious increases altruism. It’s much more likely that some other factor (or factors) causes both increased religiosity and increased altruism. The most resent research I’ve seen (within the last 3-4 years) seems to be focusing on the strength of biological vs environmental factors, so the nature vs nurture debate rages on. 

    Based on both personal observation and my reading of research on religiosity my guess is that religion, like fame, simple tends to make most people more of what they already were. If a person is altruistic and religious they’ll tend to find a religion that emphasizes charity and become more giving. If the person is a selfish asshat and religious s/he will gravitate toward the health & wealth side of religion and become more of a selfish ass. If the person is rigid and controlling and basically uninterested in charity s/he will most likely gravitate toward a religious community that focuses on using charity as a manipulative evangelism tool. 

  • Izzy

    Right.

    It’s my experience that people who want to be dicks *will* be dicks, regardless of their religion or lack thereof. As you say, religions which have nasty elements to their core doctrine will often attract said dicks, as will non-religious philosophies. 
    Interestingly, I’ve met a lot of otherwise-good people who at least nominally subscribe to horrible faiths–which is not to say that being otherwise-good is an excuse–whereas my experience of folks who dig vile non-religious philosophies is that they’re pretty vile. I’ve met Mormons and Catholics who were lovely people; I’ve never met an Objectivist I didn’t want to punch.

    Something to do with being raised in a belief system versus being converted, maybe? Or that with religious faith, there’s often a lot of different things to focus on, whereas with Rand and Pick-Up-Artist-Guy and whatever, the core suck is all there is? 

  • Lori

    Something to do with being raised in a belief system versus being converted, maybe?  

    This is my first guess. I’ve known a lot of people who simply are whatever religion they were raised in and who don’t actually give a lot of thought to the details. It’s pretty easy to glide over a lot when you don’t have  to convert. If they’ve mostly attended congregations that don’t emphasize the more vile aspects you never really have to think about them. 

    Or that with religious faith, there’s often a lot of different things to focus on, whereas with Rand and Pick-Up-Artist-Guy and whatever, the core suck is all there is. 

    This is no doubt a factor though. You can’t just focus on the non-vile aspects when there really aren’t any non-vile aspects. 

    There’s also the fact that if you have a serious issue with some part of a non-religious philosophy there’s probably no reason to even try to stay. It’s not like the fate of your eternal soul depends on it. Non-religious philosophies also tend to be less intertwined with people’s family and social lives so changing your mind can be less of a big deal. I do wonder if that’s changing though, with people having more of their social lives and identities tied to online communities and groups, many of which in some way form around non-religious philosophies. 

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    So…Catholicism is a horrible faith?

  • Roland

    Well some Catholic doctrines (the virgin birth and the resurrection for example) have no evidence to support them and seem to me to be very likely to be untrue, and when the pope speaks ex cathedra he is infallible. Those are 2 aspects of Catholicism as I understand it which seem to me to undermine rational enquiry, and which I would therefore class as undesirable. Depends on what you mean by “horrible faith”.

  • cjmr

    I find it interesting that the first two doctrines you call out (the virgin birth and the resurrection) are not just Catholic doctrines, they are fairly universally Christian–the immaculate conception of Mary, the perpetual virginity of Mary, and her bodily ascension into Heaven are examples of primarily Catholic beliefs that are not universally Christian. 

    The first and third items on my list, BTW, represent the only two times that a Pope has spoken ex cathedra in the last 200 years.  Speaking ex cathedra is not something that is done in a vacuum, in modern times it happens after the item of doctrine that is being spoken on has been studied and debated by theologians for decades.

  • hapax

     I am trying very hard to think of ANYONE who, inspired by the teaching of the Immaculate Conception, murdered, oppressed, reviled, or otherwise abused zirself or others.

    Coming up blank here.

    Which is not to say that the mindset that considers this doctrine to be important often does so because of certain, shall we say, priorities that are on the whole probably not conducive to the greatest human health and happiness.

    But that’s not the fault of the teaching itself.

  • Roland

    Yes I agree with everything you said. I still think that, in Catholicism, the requirement to believe the doctrines I mentioned as well as the ones you added, and the fact that it’s possible for any speech whatever, no matter how carefully studied and debated, to be classed as infallible, undermine rational thinking. I think rational thinking demands that we accept or reject propositions depending on the evidence, and that nothing is infallible. I also think rational thinking is desirable. On that argument, Catholic faith is undesirable. Of course other faiths which have the same characteristics are undesirable by the same argument, but Catholicism was mentioned specifically.

  • Izzy

    This, for the record?

    Totally not what I meant.

  • Roland

    This, for the record?

    Totally not what I meant.

    I know many people find aspects of Catholic and other faiths great and beautiful. But you didn’t explain what was wrong with my argument.

    Catholicism as it’s practiced by laypeople or priests who reject the claims that natural urges are bad and wrong, or that I shouldn’t decide what to do with my own body, is fine and great.

    I sometimes act on an urge which I consider natural to engage in sexual behaviour with other men. Are there versions of Catholicism which do not consider that to be bad or wrong? Are there versions of Catholicism which permit women to have unrestricted access to abortion or contraception – i.e. control over their own bodies? I’m having trouble identifying of the kinds of Catholics you mean – can you give some examples?

  • Izzy

    No, I didn’t. Because I don’t really care that much: I don’t think taking a few specific things on faith is destructive to rationality overall, but ultimately? Not Christian, not interested in arguing the point, just wanted to clarify that you weren’t speaking for me.

    As for your second point: I know Catholics who are personally and politically pro-choice and pro-gay-rights. I assume that their version of Catholicism is okay with that. There’s an argument that their membership in the church gives weight to the official version, regardless of what they believe; there’s also an argument that change can come from the inside and you have to pick your battles. I can see the merits of both. Either way, as I said in my post to Lori, believing in some parts of the religion doesn’t necessarily imply believing in the vile bits.

  • Roland

    No, I didn’t. Because I don’t really care that much: I don’t think taking a few specific things on faith is destructive to rationality overall, but ultimately? Not Christian, not interested in arguing the point, just wanted to clarify that you weren’t speaking for me.

    Fair enough.

    I know Catholics who are personally and politically pro-choice and pro-gay-rights. I assume that their version of Catholicism is okay with that.

    But don’t you get excommunicated if you have or participate in an abortion? I’m having trouble in understanding how, as a Catholic, it would be possible to support something which, if you did it yourself, would result in your expulsion from the church, and therefore your becoming not a Catholic. This would include a Catholic woman having an abortion, a doctor or nurse performing one, or a relative or friend paying for one. I can’t see how a religious philosophy which would support a woman’s choice to have an abortion can be called Catholic. Unless by “support” you mean “speak in favour of but not do yourself”, which is not what I think of as support.

  • Izzy

    That’s something I don’t know personally, although Amaryllis’s second link seems to say that either it’s not the case except for very high-visibility cases where the bishops etc get involved or the people affiliated are taking quite a large and rather awesome risk.

    I’d think it would be quite possible for laypeople, at least, to have or pay for an abortion and simply not tell the church authorities, while still considering themselves part of the church as a whole. (I mean, I love my grandparents, I consider myself part of their family, but there’s no way I’m telling them everything I do.) Or, as you say, to be in favor of any individual woman’s right to choose but to choose, themselves, not to abort a pregnancy. Which is also a valid choice. 

  • Roland

    I’d think it would be quite possible for laypeople, at least, to have or pay for an abortion and simply not tell the church authorities, while still considering themselves part of the church as a whole

    For such people continued communicant status would require them to be dishonest.

  • Izzy

    So what?

    Again, going back to the family example, I’ve been dishonest plenty of times to relatives and even–when I was younger and it mattered–parents. Doesn’t mean I consider myself any less part of the family; just means I think there are parts of the family that don’t need to know what’s going on with me, because they’ve got the wrong idea about it.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Unless by “support” you mean “speak in favour of but not do yourself”, which is not what I think of as support.

    What would you call it, then? I’m in favour of legalising same-sex marriage but as I’m not gay I’ll never be in one. If I don’t support it, what is it that I do?

    And what about someone who believes there should be access to abortion, but never has one–either because he’s a man, or she never has an unwanted pregnancy, or she does but chooses not to have an abortion. What do you call that?

  • Roland

    Unless by “support” you mean “speak in favour of but not do yourself”, which is not what I think of as support.

    What would you call it, then? I’m in favour of legalising same-sex marriage but as I’m not gay I’ll never be in one. If I don’t support it, what is it that I do?

    And what about someone who believes there should be access to abortion, but never has one–either because he’s a man, or she never has an unwanted pregnancy, or she does but chooses not to have an abortion. What do you call that?

    I tried to make clear that “do” in this case means (for an abortion) have one yourself, or perform one on someone else, or otherwise bring about (e.g. by paying for). I believe that any of these actions can get you excommunicated from the RCC. One could probably think of a similar list of things for a same-sex marriage. Sorry if that wasn’t clear. 

  • ako

    Does your list of things that a person has to do to count as real support include things like voting pro-choice, arguing for the pro-choice position, or donating money in ways that don’t directly and specifically go to funding abortions?  Because I’ve never had an abortion, performed one (or any medical procedure that requires skills more advanced than what’s taught in a basic first aid class), or directly paid for one (although it’s entirely possible that money I’ve given to organizations supporting reproductive health has ended up being spent on abortions), and I’m wondering if you’d conclude that means I don’t count as supporting access to abortions.  If so, something is wrong with your definition.

    I’m also wondering what your list for same-sex marriage is going to look like.  Because I’ve never married another woman, performed a marriage ceremony for any couple of any gender combination, or paid for one.  I’ve rallied, I’ve spoken to people, I’ve voted, I’ve donated, I’ve debated the point, and I once played steel drums at a same-sex wedding.  Do you have a rule for what counts, or are you going to ask the Catholic Church to invent one for you?

  • Roland

    Do you have a rule for what counts, or are you going to ask the Catholic Church to invent one for you?

    No – I guess I’m getting myself tied up a bit here. People sometimes say they support something, but when given an opportunity to do something about it they don’t – or they even do something unsupportive instead. I’m thinking about Martin Luther King’s “white moderates” here as an example. “Given an opportunity” is the key.

  • ako

    This is one of those complicated situations where, if you’re going to criticize other people’s behavior, you really need to know what you’re talking about.  The way you’ve been expressing your idea is rather unclear, and you’ve tripped over some important factual points, so I’d advise doing more research on the subject.  If you can work out what the people you’re looking at are trying to express their support for (which can be very different from what someone looking at religion from the outside sees at first glance – I’m an atheist and I know I tend to have a certain degree of not getting it when it comes to things other people find important and valuable about religion), get a reasonably clear idea of what constitutes support or harm for what they’re actually trying to side with, and then work out whether or not the contradictions are still there, then you can probably do a much better job answering the question.  There may still be contradictions, and if there are, you’ll probably be be better able to identify and discuss them.

  • Roland

    This is one of those complicated situations where, if you’re going to criticize other people’s behavior, you really need to know what you’re talking about.  The way you’ve been expressing your idea is rather unclear, and you’ve tripped over some important factual points, so I’d advise doing more research on the subject.

    The two original points I made were:

    1: Usefulness of charitable actions as described in this thread seems to be unrelated to religion, except where otherwise good people have been misled into merely proselytising by their faith.

    2: Roman Catholic faith demands acceptance of certain doctrines irrespective of evidence. I think this inhibits rational thought and is therefore undesirable.

    This seems clear to me. I brought up other points about same-sex sex and access to abortion and I think I would need longer to explain what I’m talking about re “support” but I imagine you’re bored with this already and I’m not sure it’s all that relevant. The factual point I tripped up on was excommunication – but that mistake didn’t affect the force of the argument I didn’t think, and anyway doesn’t have anything to do with my original points.

  • hapax

    2: Roman Catholic faith demands acceptance of certain doctrines irrespective of evidence.

    What evidence* is there AGAINST the Immaculate Conception?  Truly, I am curious to know.

    (For what it’s worth, although I consider myself a Catholic Christian, I am not a Roman Catholic.  Nor do I accept the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, nor does it play any role whatsoever in my understanding of the nature of the Divine or Creation.  I think that it posits some interesting things about those natures, but I am at a loss as to how empirical “evidence” could be detected either way. 

    I am beginning to suspect that anyone who argues otherwise doesn’t know what the doctrine actually states, so here’s a quick link.)

    *well, there’s traditio et scriptura, arguably, but I don’t think somehow that’s what you mean

  • Anonymous

    More’n half the time I see people talking about the Immaculate Conception, they mean that of Jesus, not that of Mary.

  • hapax

    Well, yes, but the Virgin Birth is a teaching widespread in Christianity, hardly specific to Roman Catholicism.

    As for me, in regards to the Virgin Birth … I stand with St. Paul*. :-)

    *who never ever mentions it at all.

  • Anonymous

    I suspect a lot of Romans, upon hearing Jesus was supposed to be the son of a god, instantly thought Jupiter or maybe Mars.

  • Roland

    What evidence is there AGAINST the Immaculate Conception?  Truly, I am curious to know.

    Well I understand the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception to be that Mary, mother of Jesus, was born without original sin. Thanks for the link – it confirmed my understanding. There is certainly no test we can perform on Mary to find out whether she was born with or without original sin, so this claim is not amenable to evidence either way. However the RCC demands of its members that they accept this doctrine, irrespective of this lack of evidence. Doesn’t this establish my point?

  • Mark Z.

    “Your point”, in your own words, was this: Roman Catholic faith demands acceptance of certain doctrines irrespective of evidence. I think this inhibits rational thought and is therefore undesirable.

    I don’t see how demanding acceptance of a doctrine that is neither confirmed nor denied by evidence, and probably can’t be, “inhibits rational thought”. Rational thought has nothing to say about this situation. Original Sin is a pretty theoretical belief to begin with; the absence of it from one specific person who’s been dead for thousands of years is surely undetectable by any means other than mystical intuition.

  • Roland

    I don’t see how demanding acceptance of a doctrine that is neither confirmed nor denied by evidence, and probably can’t be, “inhibits rational thought”.

    I don’t agree with you. I don’t think it’s rational to accept a doctrine unless it’s positively supported by evidence. I think we agree that the truth of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is not amenable to evidence. I think that implies that accepting it is irrational.

  • Anonymous

    So are you a fideist or an atheist? Either way, can we not have this discussion again?

  • Roland

    So are you a fideist or an atheist? Either way, can we not have this discussion again?

    Sorry, I don’t understand the question. I’m also not sure how to search here for “fideist” so I can find the previous discussion I think you’re referring to. Can you help?

  • hf

    “Fideist” means someone who answers yes to a variation on my second hypothetical question. A fideist believes that belief has good results. Or so I understand.

  • Anonymous

    Having Googled ‘fideism’ to clarify my understanding of the term, I discover I was wrong about what it meant. I withdraw the question; I take it you’re an atheist?

    The Discussion. Theism v atheism. Which is where it looks like you want this thread to go, and I don’t want to go there.

  • Roland

    Having Googled ‘fideism’ to clarify my understanding of the term, I discover I was wrong about what it meant. I withdraw the question; I take it you’re an atheist?

    Thanks for clarifying. On the atheism question – why do you want to know? Would it make a difference to my argument if I was or wasn’t? I don’t mean to be difficult, I’m interested to know.

    The Discussion. Theism v atheism. Which is where it looks like you want this thread to go, and I don’t want to go there.

    Well I think I’m trying to go in the direction of talking about the effects of religious faith in the world (since the OP was partly about churches’ role in helping deprived people). I think it’s hard to do that without talking about the truth value of religious doctrines, because belief in the doctrines I’ve mentioned indicates to me irrational thought, which seems a likely precursor to irrational action, which I think is harmful. But if the crowd here think this is a tiresome or unproductive debate I’m quite happy not to have it. I have enjoyed myself so far and read lots of interesting posts, so thank you all.

  • Anonymous

    I’m trying to go in the direction of talking about the effects of religious faith in the world

    Which is a conversation worth having.

    I think it’s hard to do that without talking about the truth value of religious doctrines

    I disagree.

  • Roland

    “I’m trying to go in the direction of talking about the effects of religious faith in the world”

    Which is a conversation worth having.

    OK great

    “I think it’s hard to do that without talking about the truth value of religious doctrines”I disagree.

    OK well we can try to avoid talking about that then. But I’m tired out now! I’ve had to think quite a lot today :-) I am off out to the pub. Goodnight all and thank you for a most stimulating debate. I will pick up tomorrow if there’s anything to pick up.

  • hapax

    I think that implies that accepting it is irrational.

    Why?  Seriously, why?

    The word “irrational” means “without reason.”  I can think of plenty of good reasons for either accepting or denying the doctrine that have nothing to do with material evidence.

    Maybe I find it aesthetically satisfying.  Maybe it serves as an effective metaphor for my understanding of human nature.  Maybe Sister Mary Margaret told me so, and she’s been pretty spot on so far, including that time she suggested I take up acrylics and that other time she warned me against Jon Pederson.

    Maybe I had a vision of the Blessed Virgin which confirmed the truth of the teaching.

    What’s wrong with those “reasons”?

    And what is unique to Roman Catholic beliefs, absent from all other religious and philosophical traditions, that makes it a “horrible faith”?

  • Roland

    Maybe I find it aesthetically satisfying.  Maybe it serves as an effective metaphor for my understanding of human nature.  Maybe Sister Mary Margaret told me so, and she’s been pretty spot on so far, including that time she suggested I take up acrylics and that other time she warned me against Jon Pederson.

    Maybe I had a vision of the Blessed Virgin which confirmed the truth of the teaching.

    What’s wrong with those “reasons”?

    None of these reasons seem to me to provide adequate justification for believing a proposition about the physical world to be true. Perhaps the Immaculate Conception isn’t a proposition about the physical world, but the resurrection is, I would suggest. I find Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro aesthetically satisfying and it serves as an effective metaphor for (part of) my understanding of human nature, but that doesn’t mean I believe the events described in it actually took place. Isn’t Sister Mary Margaret’s testimony, given she’s been a reliable source in the past, a reason to investigate the doctrines she suggests rather than accepting them based on her word alone? Otherwise that’s just an argument from authority, isn’t it? And I think if I was visited by a vision from the Blessed Virgin I would want to definitively rule out hallucination or trickery before I used it as a source for my beliefs. But you have mentioned experiences which you have described with the word “Divine”; I can’t say I’ve had such experiences.

    And what is unique to Roman Catholic beliefs, absent from all other religious and philosophical traditions, that makes it a “horrible faith”?

    Nothing particularly. Sergeant P brought it up so I’ve been concentrating on it. I think it’s useful in this sort of discussion to be as specific as possible. And I didn’t say that Roman Catholicism was a horrible faith. I said it demands irrational beliefs and that I thought that was undesirable. I’m not sure “horrible” is a useful term here, which is why I made my argument in different terms.

  • hapax

    None of these reasons seem to me to provide adequate justification for
    believing a proposition about the physical world to be true.

    Then I suggest that you not believe it.

    But I would request the same courtesy of you, that you not judge the adequacy of my justifications for believing what I believe, nor characterizing it as “irrational” and “undesirable.”

    And if this is going to devolve into the “is religious faith in general a force for good or a force for bad?” discussion, I’m going to respectfully withdraw, until somebody comes up with a control population of a human society that does not accept any axioms without material proof.

  • Roland
    None of these reasons seem to me to provide adequate justification for believing a proposition about the physical world to be true.

    Then I suggest that you not believe it.

    But I would request the same courtesy of you, that you not judge the adequacy of my justifications for believing what I believe, nor characterizing it as “irrational” and “undesirable.”

    All right, I won’t believe it. But you did ask “what’s wrong with these reasons?” and I gave an answer. You might not like it, but you did ask. And I didn’t say that your beliefs were irrational or undesirable.

    Of course you can’t police what people believe and I’m sure I’m in good company here when I say the attempt shouldn’t be made. But I think religious beliefs should be questioned because it seems to me they are often used as justifications for actions, and you can and should police what people do. And religious beliefs seem to have special protection from questioning in a way that political beliefs or sporting beliefs (to take the two usual examples) do not.

    Of course the beliefs of people on this board are none of my or anybody else’s business really. But there are people whose religious beliefs bring about actions which affect me and people I care about – politicians, people more closely connected with me. This discussion has helped me feel more confident about challenging those beliefs in a less safe environment, so thank you all for that.

  • hapax

    Otherwise that’s just an argument from authority, isn’t it?

    Okay, I’m cranky, and I’m indulging in serious work-avoidance here, but I’m going to bite at this one.

    (Roland, I understand that you’re off for the night, and you don’t owe me any answers anyhow, so I’ll open it up for general discussion)

    What on earth is inherently wrong with an argument from authority?

    Anyone who says they don’t use it is *lying*.  The vast majority of what we know comes from authority.  Nobody has the time, resources, or expertise to verify personally the huge number of “facts’ we think we know, from the configuration of electron shells to the population of Minsk.  95% of my job as a reference librarian comes from answering questions by appeals to authority;  my patrons accept *my* authority because they have learned that I (or my profession, to be accurate) is a generally trustworthy source of information, and I earn that trust with my experience and expertise in learning to differentiate between different authorities.

    And this isn’t just trivial matters.  When it comes to my spending the public tax money on materials, I put a lot of faith in authoritative reviews.  When it comes to an expensive purchase like a major appliance or an automobile, I trust Consumer Reports to give me accurate repair records.  When it comes to major ethical quandaries, I am going to consult Scripture, tradition, and those religious authorities who have given me valuable guidance in the past.  When life or death medical decisions are on the line, I’m going to listen to my surgeon before Some Guy On The Internet.

    I’m not saying that it should be the only tool in our arsenal, of course.  In all of the cases above, I have to do the hard work of learning which authorities are more trustworthy in which contexts (I don’t go to my priest about that funny noise in my car, nor to my mechanic about the implications of Lenten observances on the Daily Office).  And if a certain trusted authority gives information which contradicts with other authorities or my own experience, I have to make choices about what to accept — and the costs and benefits of resolving the contradiction.

    Because make no mistake, the costs of rejecting an argument from authority can be HUGE.  Not only are there the costs of trying to conduct my own research on the subject under dispute (I don’t even know how how I’d begin to go about proving the Theory of Gravity) but the consequences of rejecting that authority could theoretically damage my livelihood and my relationships (I doubt that anyone would be burned at the stake for denying the existence of gravity in this day and age, but it might make it difficult to get a job teaching high school physics). 

    And what would I gain?  What’s at stake?  Will accepting the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception “because the Church says so” make me a better or worse person?  How about accepting the Theory of Gravity “because scientists say so”?  (Note that I say “accepting” — I doubt that very many people actually understand how gravity actually works (and I am not one of them), and use it more or less as a magic one word answer to the questions like “Why do things fall down?” and “what keeps the moon orbiting the earth?”;  and I daresay most Roman Catholics who profess the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception have a very similar understanding thereof) Does either directly make me more or less likely to feed the poor?  Get my oil changed regularly? Vote for sensible foreign policies? 

    How would you even begin to answer those last few questions, without appealing to authority?

  • Toniocorelone

    Hapax, you seem to be using “authority” in the knowledge sense. While I can’t speak for Roland, I use the term “argument from authority” in a much more limited sense, where people in positions of power claim to possess knowledge. Such as the President claiming to have classified information that guides his decisions but cannot share with the voters. The status that many believers accord to scripture is another example. One of my frustrations with creationists is that they treat scientists as though they’re authoritarian usurpers. I’ve tried to explain to others that issues such as the planetary designation of Pluto and the health risks of eating eggs aren’t matters of self-appointed white-coated gods making decisions for mere mortals. With all the examples you cited, one can hypothetically do the work for one’s self to prove the authority correct, even if it wasn’t practical to do so. The two examples I cited involve people deliberately withholding information or claiming that the information is forever inaccessible, so both amount to “Because I said so.”

  • Tonio

    That was me as “toniocorelone”. I’ll add one additional point – the professional climate change “skeptics” in the pay of the oil companies rely heavily on the misperception of the scientific community as a self-appointed Olympus or Asgard. They present themselves as rebels defying an authority that is out only to protect itself and squelch dissent that might threaten its own power. Their target audience seems to perceive all knowledge as something that’s decided and not something that’s found through investigation.

  • Roland

    What on earth is inherently wrong with an argument from authority?

    I was using it in what you might call a formal sense. I understand an argument from authority to be:

    Person A has quality X
    Person A asserts B
    Therefore B

    This argument is fallacious. In your suggested argument about the Immaculate Conception, person A was Sister Mary Margaret, quality X is “has been right in the past” and B is “Mary was born free of original sin”. It is not true that Mary was born free of original sin just because SMM says so.

    And I think that the examples you quote of people using arguments from authority are not actually using arguments from authority. Let’s take the car purchase as an example. An argument from authority would be:

    P1: Consumer Reports has a history of giving good advice
    P2: Consumer Reports says “Car X is a good car”
    C: Car X is a good car

    This conclusion doesn’t follow from the premises. But in the following argument:

    P1: Consumer Reports has a history of giving good adviceP2: Consumer Reports says “Car X is a good car”P3: I haven’t got the time to investigate this stuff myself and I need a carC: I should buy Car Xthe conclusion does follow from the premises because a history of good advice is a good reason for making the purchase. Of course the car might turn out to be a crock – because the first argument is invalid. I don’t think the second argument is an argument from authority in the formal sense I described above, and I think the distinction is an important one.

  • Amaryllis

    I’m having trouble identifying of the kinds of Catholics you mean – can you give some examples?

    Just passing through, and I should probably resist the urge to post, because I won’t have time to discuss* but you might try
    Dignity

    and

    Catholics for Choice

    No, they aren’t the “official” Church, but as some of us keep saying, there’s more to the church than the Pope and the bishops.

    *Is it true that “Disqus” is pronounce “Discuss” and not “Discus”? Huh.  (Also, if you mistype “Disqus” Spellchecker thinks you mean “Squidgy.” And maybe it’s right.

  • hapax

     Whoops, posted before I read your reply.  Should have known you’d be on this!

  • hapax

     

    I sometimes act on an urge which I consider natural to engage in sexual
    behaviour with other men. Are there versions of Catholicism which do not
    consider that to be bad or wrong?

    Catholics for Equality

    Are there versions of Catholicism
    which permit women to have unrestricted access to abortion or
    contraception – i.e. control over their own bodies?

    Catholics for Choice

    It literally took me longer to type these links than it took to find these organizations.  I’m sure that there are many more.

  • Roland

    Thanks for the links, hapax and Amaryllis. I can see that there are people who are members of the Catholic church who support gay rights and freedom for women to choose abortion. But if any of these people had an abortion or funded one, and this was found out by the authorities in the church, they would be excommunicated. Would they still consider themselves members of the church? If so, then the definition of who is Catholic is entirely independent of these authorities. If not, then the Catholic faith is anti-women. Which is it?

  • Izzy

    Disclaimer: not Catholic, have picked things up from Mom and friends, but don’t talk thaat much with friends about this and Mom’s experience was largely pre-Vatican II.

    You’re trying to create a binary where there isn’t one, it seems.

    I’d think some of the people in question might stop considering themselves members of the church at that point. Others would probably believe that they were still members, and believe that the authorities in question are blinded/corrupt/otherwise wrong, but that the fundamental structure is valid. “I am X, really, but X has been taken over by this horrible faction” is a stance that’s gotten a fair amount of play over the years in a number of contexts.

  • Izzy

    Forgot to add: If we instituted the draft again, for instance, and I ran off to Canada–this is a gender-egalitarian draft–I’d still think of myself as American. I’d just think that the current authorities were not acting in line with what I consider to be the fundamental ideals of the country.

  • Roland

    You’re trying to create a binary where there isn’t one, it seems.

    Is it possible to divide humanity into two classes – those who are Catholic, and those who are not? If not, then what does “Catholic” mean?

    Others would probably believe that they were still members, and believe that the authorities in question are blinded/corrupt/otherwise wrong, but that the fundamental structure is valid.

    What is the fundamental structure? I guess that’s another way of asking: What does “Catholic” mean?

  • cjmr

    What is the fundamental structure? I guess that’s another way of asking: What does “Catholic” mean?

    That could be the subject of any number of dissertations for a seriously large number of seminary students and we still wouldn’t be any closer to an answer after reading them all.

  • Roland

    That could be the subject of any number of dissertations for a seriously large number of seminary students and we still wouldn’t be any closer to an answer after reading them all.

    Well then what does the word “Catholic” mean? What have we been talking about?

  • cjmr

    ‘Catholic’ means a different thing to me than it means to Amaryllis, than it means to Izzy, than it means to cjmr’s husband (who sometimes comments here), than it means to my mother-in-law, than it means to my local parish priest, than it means to the Pope.

    For some people it’s an almost-fundamentalist adherence to every jot and tittle of every document that has ever come out of the Vatican.  To other people it’s the cultural milieu in which they were raise and they attend Mass for the beauty of the liturgy, despite the fact that they don’t really believe in God or Jesus at all.

    I can’t define ‘Catholic’ with regards to anyone other than myself.

  • hapax

    Well then what does the word “Catholic” mean? What have we been talking about?

    “Catholic”, as any dictionary will tell you, means “universal, whole, general.”

    Many Catholic Christians (who aren’t all Roman Catholic, not by a long chalk, and I wish people would stop using it that way) think that means “members of the Church Universal.”

    “Roman Catholic” can mean any number of things along the spectrum of “a member in good standing of the Roman Catholic Church who regularly participates in the Sacraments and fully accepts  and supports all teachings and practices of the current institutional heirarchy” to “person who lives in or was raised in or otherwise identifies with a certain cultural milieu associated with the Roman Catholic Church but may not necessarily agree with or even think much about the official doctrine or prescriptions.”

    A single person may fall into several different places along that spectrum during zir lifetime, or even at the same time depending on context. (One simple example;  I know any number of people who have been excommunicated [that is, barred from participating in certain sacramental rituals, which is indeed quite a serious matter] in one diocese, but free to participate in others. They, and the Roman Catholic Church authorities still consider themselves to be fully “Catholic”.  Indeed, if you think about it, what is the SENSE of excommunicating someone who isn’t a member of the Church?)

    Normally it isn’t necessary to be quite so precise in defining exactly what is mean by “Catholic”, since there is a vague generally-understood meaning, but when you start throwing around accusations of being “horrible people”, it would probably be a smart idea to be more precise in your terms. 

  • Roland

    “Catholic”, as any dictionary will tell you, means “universal, whole, general.”

    Yes you’re right. I am referring to Roman Catholics. That’s normally a distinction I like to preserve, so thanks for pointing it out.

    … but when you start throwing around accusations of being “horrible people …”

    I didn’t do this. I was responding to Sgt Pepper’s Bleeding Heart, who asked “so Catholicism [by which in this context I understand Roman Catholicism, but happy to be corrected] is a horrible faith?”. I offered an argument which said certain aspects of Roman Catholic faith seem to undermine rational thinking, that rational thinking was desirable and therefore that Roman Catholic faith was undesirable. Amaryllis (at least I think it was Amaryllis but I can’t find the comment now – will correct if necessary) made a valid counterargument to this by saying that some people believe irrational things but they can still function rationally in the rest of their lives, which would imply that Roman Catholic faith doesn’t undermine rational thinking. I think that’s an interesting argument to have, and for it leads down the avenue of talking about what people who identify as Roman Catholics do, and whether their identification as Roman Catholic changes their behaviour – in other words a discussion about rational actions. I never said anyone was horrible and I didn’t mean to.

    “Roman Catholic” can mean any number of things along the spectrum of “a member in good standing of the Roman Catholic Church who regularly participates in the Sacraments and fully accepts  and supports all teachings and practices of the current institutional heirarchy” to “person who lives in or was raised in or otherwise identifies with a certain cultural milieu associated with the Roman Catholic Church but may not necessarily agree with or even think much about the official doctrine or prescriptions.”

    This is useful I think. I’ve started thinking about this sort of thing in terms of what people do. I guess identifying as a Roman Catholic can bring with it certain actions which one could interpret as supportive of the church; financial contribution is an obvious one, and I guess there’s a spectrum of supportive action from donating megabucks through to writing nice things about it on the internet, or speaking or even keeping quiet out of support for the church.

  • ako

    I guess that’s another way of asking: What does “Catholic” mean?

    In whose eyes? Yours?  Mine?  The Catholic Church’s views?  Secular authorities?  Because you’ll get a lot of different answers.

    For instance, I don’t consider myself Catholic, and I’m fairly sure you wouldn’t (I’m an atheist, the only times I set foot in a Catholic church are when I’m going to someone else’s baptism, wedding, or funeral, and when I’m touring famous historical buildings, and I’m a lesbian and I’m not sorry).  However, by formal church rules and in the eyes of some governments, I’d be considered Catholic because I was baptized.  They’d simply consider me a bad Catholic.

    Do you go by how a person categorizes themselves, in which case Catholics for Choice would definitely be Catholics?  Do you go by church rules, in which case Catholics for Choice would still be considered Catholic?  Do you go by perfect adherence to everything the church wants you to think and do, by which standard no one is Catholic?

    Personally, I’m willing to consider anyone who identifies as Catholic and practices something with a recognizable connection to what’s taught by the Catholic church as Catholic.  And despite the tenor of the recent leadership, the Holy Trinity hasn’t been redefined as “No abortions, no gay sex, and no birth control.”  All of that stuff involving mass and sacraments and saints and everything is still in there.

  • ako

    I guess that’s another way of asking: What does “Catholic” mean?

    In whose eyes? Yours?  Mine?  The Catholic Church’s views?  Secular authorities?  Because you’ll get a lot of different answers.

    For instance, I don’t consider myself Catholic, and I’m fairly sure you wouldn’t (I’m an atheist, the only times I set foot in a Catholic church are when I’m going to someone else’s baptism, wedding, or funeral, and when I’m touring famous historical buildings, and I’m a lesbian and I’m not sorry).  However, by formal church rules and in the eyes of some governments, I’d be considered Catholic because I was baptized.  They’d simply consider me a bad Catholic.

    Do you go by how a person categorizes themselves, in which case Catholics for Choice would definitely be Catholics?  Do you go by church rules, in which case Catholics for Choice would still be considered Catholic?  Do you go by perfect adherence to everything the church wants you to think and do, by which standard no one is Catholic?

    Personally, I’m willing to consider anyone who identifies as Catholic and practices something with a recognizable connection to what’s taught by the Catholic church as Catholic.  And despite the tenor of the recent leadership, the Holy Trinity hasn’t been redefined as “No abortions, no gay sex, and no birth control.”  All of that stuff involving mass and sacraments and saints and everything is still in there.

  • Izzy

    Oh, jeez. I vaguely remember the Nicene Creed? from various relatives’ weddings and stuff: I think “the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting,” plus Jesus and God. As an outside observer, I’d say that was the core of the faith, but I’d go with cmjr or Amaryllis’s or any actual Catholic’s opinion over mine.

    That said? As cmjr says, depends on who you ask. (For example, my mom’s side: Mom does not call herself a Catholic: she doesn’t believe in God and she doesn’t go to Mass or anything. But I don’t think she formally renounced anything, so…my aunt and her local priest might well consider her a lapsed Catholic, and I’m fairly sure my grandparents did when they were living.) But…what does “American” mean? What does “liberal” mean? What does “feminist” mean?

    There are certain areas where it’s better to just go with self-definition, *maybe* add a disclaimer that “X official body does not consider Y a member” if absolutely necessary–like if Y is saying that he/she speaks as an X–but otherwise? Definitions are fluid, and it seems like there should be a good reason if you’re going to try and make them solid.

  • cjmr

    Excommunicated =/= kicked out of the Catholic Church. 

    Excommunicated == no longer able to receive the Eucharist.

  • Roland

    Excommunicated =/= kicked out of the Catholic Church.  

    Excommunicated == no longer able to receive the Eucharist.

    What is the difference?

  • cjmr

    The only way for a baptized Catholic to become not a Catholic anymore (according to the Church) is to formally renounce Catholicism.  An excommunicated Catholic can do just about anything a Catholic ‘in good standing’ can do, except receive the Eucharist.

  • Anonymous

    The only way for a baptized Catholic to become not a Catholic anymore
     (according to the Church) is to formally renounce Catholicism.

    Yeah, but what if we don’t want to play their game? I’m a cradle Catholic. I’m an atheist. I don’t want the church to count me as a Catholic, but I don’t want to figure out what ‘formally renounce Catholicism’ means, let alone how to do it, because that implies that the control of my religious identity is theirs, not mine.

  • ako

    The Catholic Church has suspended the only mechanism I know of to formally renounce Catholicism anyway. (According to rumor, too many people were actually using it.)

  • Anonymous

    I wish that surprised me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Marshall-Pease/1324310862 Marshall Pease

    And why doesn’t the government or somebody do something about those AARP membership cards that keep coming in the mail? I don’t want to be counted as an Old Person! 

  • Roland

    This, for the record?

    Totally not what I meant.

    I know many people find aspects of Catholic and other faiths great and beautiful. But you didn’t explain what was wrong with my argument.

    Catholicism as it’s practiced by laypeople or priests who reject the claims that natural urges are bad and wrong, or that I shouldn’t decide what to do with my own body, is fine and great.

    I sometimes act on an urge which I consider natural to engage in sexual behaviour with other men. Are there versions of Catholicism which do not consider that to be bad or wrong? Are there versions of Catholicism which permit women to have unrestricted access to abortion or contraception – i.e. control over their own bodies? I’m having trouble identifying of the kinds of Catholics you mean – can you give some examples?

  • Izzy

    Until and unless the official doctrine on women and sexuality changes: yes, I find the official version of the faith horrible. All the more so because so much of the rest is great and beautiful, and elements of it do appeal to me….but the church’s stance on those things is repugnant, and that taints the rest of the religion-as-an-institution for me.

    Catholicism as it’s practiced by laypeople or priests who reject the claims that natural urges are bad and wrong, or that I shouldn’t decide what to do with my own body, is fine and great.

  • ako

    I agree.  I think the institution of the Catholic Church is doing appalling things to the world, spurred on by their leadership at the highest level.  People who practice the Catholic faith are a huge and varied group, most of whom don’t deserve to be judged by the worst aspects of the leadership.

  • Izzy

    Pretty much, yeah. I feel the same way about the LDS church.

    If an organization has a pretty wide set of tenets and philosophies–A, M, and Q–*and* a defined leadership, *and* a pretty large population…to what extent are people who believe A and M but not Q obliged to leave or publicly disagree with leadership? To stop financially supporting that organization?

    I’ve taken different positions on that one at different times, and I honestly don’t know.

  • Izzy

    Pretty much, yeah. I feel the same way about the LDS church.

    If an organization has a pretty wide set of tenets and philosophies–A, M, and Q–*and* a defined leadership, *and* a pretty large population…to what extent are people who believe A and M but not Q obliged to leave or publicly disagree with leadership? To stop financially supporting that organization?

    I’ve taken different positions on that one at different times, and I honestly don’t know.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    @fb27e0235c928605aea77f79fd1b55e1:disqus 

    Thanks for clarifying.

    Personally, I disagree with the official church position on some things, and I strongly disagree with the way the church uses its power to push secular authorities into actions that only have non-secular justifications, but I guess I don’t identify those things with the faith part of my religion enough to call it a horrible faith. 

    @5b3cf1ee73efbe5d2cabcf29c96d01f4:disqus 

    As I understand it, you’re saying that a belief that is not solely based in rational enquiry is horrible. Is that accurate? Because I love people in a way that’s not rational, and I don’t think that’s horrible. My friend thinks the Rolling Stones are better than the Beatles, which is clearly irrational but not horrible. All the time people are giving up their lives for another person, or a cause beyond their own life. That’s not rational, but it’s certainly not horrible.

  • Roland

    As I understand it, you’re saying that a belief that is not solely based in rational enquiry is horrible. Is that accurate? Because I love people in a way that’s not rational, and I don’t think that’s horrible.

    I’m not saying that – at least I’m not trying to. I said that I think Roman Catholic faith undermines rational thought and made an argument in support. I didn’t say (and don’t believe) that everything we do or should do is rational, and I certainly don’t think that love – which of all things seems to be the most irrational – tell me about it :-( – is a horrible thing. I didn’t say anything was horrible. But I think it’s desirable for people to act rationally when they can, and my argument suggests that Roman Catholic faith can prevent people from acting rationally. Does this harm people? I think yes. That’s a new argument and a new discussion – quite happy to have it as I think it’s very interesting.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    So…Catholicism is a horrible faith?

  • ako

    There’s actually a Chick tract on the subject of conversion versus helping people – Flight 144.  It features a missionary couple that spent fifty years in Africa, built four hospitals and five schools, and fed and clothes thousands of people, and a guy who just got out prison after having managed to convert his cellmate.  Because the missionaries believed God called them to help people lead better lives, and did things like tending to lepers instead of trying to win converts, they end up in Hell.

    So apparently, Jack Chick’s adherence to absolutely every word of the King James Bible doesn’t extent to this:
    Then shall the King
    say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit
    the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
    Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
    Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
    When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
    Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
    And
    the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you,
    Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren,
    ye have done it unto me.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    So apparently, Jack Chick’s adherence to absolutely every word of the King James Bible doesn’t extent to this: 

    He’s very fond of the next line, though.  The “Get ye accursed into the fire” one.  :-P

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    So apparently, Jack Chick’s adherence to absolutely every word of the King James Bible doesn’t extent to this: 

    He’s very fond of the next line, though.  The “Get ye accursed into the fire” one.  :-P

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    There’s actually a Chick tract on the subject of conversion versus helping people – Flight 144.  It features a missionary couple that spent fifty years in Africa, built four hospitals and five schools, and fed and clothes thousands of people, and a guy who just got out prison after having managed to convert his cellmate.  Because the missionaries believed God called them to help people lead better lives, and did things like tending to lepers instead of trying to win converts, they end up in Hell.

    Well, Jack Chick is a Real True Christian, and as we all know, only Real True Christians will be saved from Hell, and the only way to become a Real True Christian is to say The Magic Words.  That is the only deciding factor in God’s judgement, all other mortal issues are irrevelant. 

  • ako

    The really odd thing about the Chick Tract is that they were already Christians, and while it wasn’t established that they’d said the magic words, it wasn’t established that they hadn’t, either.  Giant Faceless God seemed mostly to be punishing them for feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and healing the lepers without ramming gospel down everyone’s throats.

  • Tonio

    Ako, one doesn’t have to have any particular religious stance to be appalled by Flight 144. It could serve as the textbook example of Poe’s Law. I’m trying to imagine the type of person who would believe that people who help others deserve to suffer for eternity. And by way of answer to Roland, what I came up with is that such a person is thoroughly brainwashed by authoritarianism, and that is the real problem, not religion. Any authority and any ideology should be questioned, not blindly rejected but not blindly accepted either. The idea that some people or some things should not be questioned is found in some religions but not all, and it’s not unique to religion.

  • ako

    It definitely doesn’t require a religious stance to be appalled by Flight 144.  It requires a specific and highly paradoxical religious stance to come up with something like that.  Jack Chick is apparently capable of simultaneously treating the Bible as the central authority in all factual questions and willfully ignoring a significant passage that directly contradicts what his tract claims.  (And people always go “Well, at least fundamentalists are following what the Bible actually says!”)

  • http://www.blogger.com/home?pli=1 Coleslaw

    I have a one word answer to people who go on about the beautiful times
    before social democracy came along and stole our charitable impulses:
    workhouses

    Anyone who want to espouse the overabundance of private charity to me has to go read Dickens first.

    You can’t really use workhouses as an argument against reliance on private charity. Workhouses were a government institution, set up by the Poor Laws of 1834. This link is to a middle school ( I guess) lesson on workhouses:http://www.woodlands-junior.kent.sch.uk/homework/victorians/workhouses.html

    Dickens actually depicted private charities as working to ameliorate the horrors of the workhouse. When Scrooge is asked to contribute to a fund to help the poor at Christmas, he asks, “Are there no prisons, no workhouses?” and indicated he thinks he already pays enough in taxes to support those institutions. The response is something like “Sadly enough, yes.”

    I agree with Fred that returning to a system of relying on private charities, including churches, for a social safety net would not work, but I don’t know that we can blame churches for workhouses, unless they lobbied extensively for the worst aspects of them.

  • Roland

    Sorry in the above comment “you” is meant as a general pronoun, not you personally, Izzy.

  • cjmr

    Side note:  It’s the kids’ bedtime, I’ll be back sometime tomorrow…

  • cjmr

    Side note:  It’s the kids’ bedtime, I’ll be back sometime tomorrow…

  • hf

    Possibly we’ve had people badmouthing religion unfairly.

    However, if you use AnnaSalaman’s Alternative Three to interpret the question, I literally can’t find any method of thinking that would tell you to believe in the Immaculate Conception and would not produce bad results elsewhere if applied consistently. Not unless ‘Be a good person and also believe every ex cathedra Roman Catholic dogma to have come out before May 2011,’ counts as a single method.

  • hapax

     I am racking my brian to think of ANY “method of thinking” which would produce good results if applied absolutely consistently.

    Not unless “be flexible according to context” counts as a single method.

  • hf

    It might, but I really meant “suboptimal”. I hold that (in the same counter-factual sense) one would get better results from consistently trying to evaluate any question of fact with the best approximation of scientific method you could use at the time.

  • hapax

    Not to beat a dead horse, but if your beloved gazes deep into your eyes, leans in close, and says in a husky voice, “You mean everything to me”, you reply, “Hmm, have any empirical evidence of that? And, what, precisely, is included under the heading of ‘everything?'”  I suggest that you might find the results… sub-optimal.

    Personally, I apply the same understanding of “context” when I am kneeling at an altar rail and the priest says, “The body of your Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for you.”

     YM, of course, MV.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Oh hapax, why can’t I like your comment twice?

  • Roland

    I am racking my brian to think of ANY “method of thinking” which would produce good results if applied absolutely consistently.

    Poor old Brian! (sorry couldn’t resist). Yes indeed. I think hf’s link is interesting but trying to use decision trees in everyday life would very soon turn us all into Buridan’s ass. And it’s not as if philosphers down the generations haven’t been addressing this question!

    Not unless “be flexible according to context” counts as a single method.

     

    Sounds like a pretty good jump-off point to me.

  • hf

    Where’s the “strawman” button?

    Personally, I apply the same understanding of “context” when I am
    kneeling at an altar rail and the priest says, “The body of your Lord
    Jesus Christ, which was given for you.”

    You apply a crude form of decision theory and decide that insisting on precision here has negative utility?

  • hapax

    I am baffled.  Why is consistently trying to evaluate any question of fact with the best
    approximation of scientific method you could use at the time
    a “strawman” when it comes to my beloved’s expressions of devotion and ritual communion with the Divine, but not when it comes to the teaching of the Immaculate Conception?

    What is the consistent empirical factor to be used in sorting these decisions?

  • hf

    …Seriously?

    The action you suggest does not even seem close to the best approximation of science you could use in your scenario. By assumption I’m already collecting empirical evidence of my beloved’s desires while doing something else. The reply you inexplicably put in my mouth (see strawman, textbook def.) would prevent collecting more evidence. And you seem to agree we would gain little if any knowledge in return for the loss, since we already know a great deal about what would happen.

    Now, how do we form beliefs about the real-world results of such actions?

  • hapax

    Okay.  Fair enough.

    Tell me how I should respond to “real world results” of accepting the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, if I use the best approximation of scientific method.

    Please be sure to excise all non-causal associations from your argument.

  • hapax

    And for all of those who are bored by back and forth, I’m signing off now because I am going to bed.

    Lack of response should not be interpreted as lack of respect to any answer that may be offered.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Not bored here, but confused. Maybe it’s cos it’s Sunday afternoon, but I’m a bona fide scientist with the testamur and lab coat and everything, but I had trouble following the argument about decision trees and scientific validation so I can’t figure out what empirical evidence to collect to see if it’s rational for me to pray about feeling sad that my dog died.

  • Roland

    Tell me how I should respond to “real world results” of accepting the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, if I use the best approximation of scientific method.

    I think there’s a possibly fruitful discussion to be had about this if you’re interested. Not the decision theory one (which I’m also sure could be interesting), but about the “real world results” (I guess meaning external, verifiable-in-principle-by-someone-else results) of belief. What are the real world results of accepting the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception?

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    How serious is it to be excommunicated to a member of the RCC?

     
    I’d say that would depend very much on the individual Catholic. Some might not care at all, some would be pissed off, some would feel very upset but might continue to live their Catholic faith aside from being unable to participate in communion, and others would be utterly devastated.
     
    It’s something I’ve wondered about myself actually–how would I feel if I was excommunicated. I don’t believe in transubstantiation so while there’s a valuable symbolic role for me in participation in the eucharist, exclusion from it wouldn’t make me feel deprived of the presence of Christ as it would to some people I know. Still, I imagine it would be tough to take on the chin. 

  • hf

    Tell me how I should respond to “real world results” of accepting the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception,

    This seems like a case where I really would ask my beloved, ‘What do you really want to ask? And can you help me to understand why it matters so strongly to you?’

  • hf

    The part about trees (well, the specific part at this
    link I gave earlier
    ) only has direct relevance for interpreting counter-factual statements. It thereby helps you figure out what the word “decision” could mean in certain complex cases.

    Decision theory in general would help you decide whether or not to pray
    if you already had clear expectations about what would happen if you did
    or didn’t. (If this leads to questions about the sort of person you,
    personally, would be if you didn’t pray, then the link would in fact
    help you nail down the question.)

    As for empirical evidence, presumably this means evidence about you.
    (Though I don’t know specifically what “pray” means in this context, and
    it could involve all sorts of other questions of fact.) Have you prayed
    in the past? Do the results suggest* that praying now would make you
    happier or produce some other result that you desire? What other results
    do you expect? Would it e.g. produce mental strain? (If so, why?)

    *Meaning roughly, if you assume the relevant answer do they seem to you
    much more likely to happen than if you assume the contrary.

  • hf

    Hey, that should have worked! I literally just pasted my comment again and removed all but the HTML!

  • hf

    Well, at least it’s consistently wrong. Does it post the following characters? <a

  • hf

    Well, fsck you too!

  • hf

    I do not <3 Disqus.

  • hf

    I do not sign.

  • hf

    Testing again:

    I do not sign.

  • hf

    b<a.

  • Roland

    I see I have made a mistake re excommunication. It doesn’t deprive you of membership of the RCC. Sorry about that and thanks to all who pointed it out. How serious is it to be excommunicated to a member of the RCC? If this is a derail then point it out and I’ll stop, but I think it’s important to the abortion argument.

  • ako

    Excommunication is generally considered extremely serious.  It’s all rather complicated.  This is a good general explanation of the topic:http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05678a.htm

  • Roland

    A note – I really can’t find the comment where Amaryllis made the point about irrational beliefs held by otherwise rational people I described above. Funny, I’m sure I remember it – how irrational (!). So apologies Amaryllis, but the point has been made in various ways by others so I won’t withdraw the argument.

  • hf

    at-sign hapax: Well again, I don’t know that I grok the question and I wish you’d help me to understand why it matters to you. But I’ll take a quick stab at answering what you asked.

    We’ve been talking about the rules of thought that would lead to accepting the claim in question. Now, with some untestable claims — like the one that says a particle sent off into empty space still exists — asking where this belief comes from leads back to testable claims and a rule of simplicity (loosely speaking) that forbids making a special exception for stuff you can’t observe.

    This gets complicated in various theoretical ways, but I think you can see that it works in practice. And if you think it doesn’t apply to situations involving love, well, how dumb do you think your Tyler Durton is? If your unconscious genuinely does not believe that your beloved continues to exist when you stop looking, that could lead to dangerously false beliefs about what will or won’t destroy your relationship. The same obviously goes for failing to update your beliefs about your beloved based on evidence such as past discussions, or past actions of theirs.

    So when I try to interpret your question, I do so by looking at rules of thought that lead to believing in the Immaculate Conception and asking if they involve any factual claims we might have evidence for. This leads to questions like, ‘Does assenting to anything the Roman Catholic hierarchy tells me tend to produce correct beliefs about matters of fact?’ And, ‘Would it tend to advance my happiness and the happiness of others if I verbally repeated anything the RCC authorities tell me to believe when people ask about my beliefs?’

  • hapax

    This gets complicated in various theoretical ways, but I think you can see that it works in practice.

    No, I don’t see that.  If you honestly tell me that you apply such decision trees and empirical research for all “testable claims”, including what to wear to work in the morning and whether to have Mexican or Chinese for lunch, well, I have no reason to doubt your truthfulness. 

    I marvel at the spare mental energy you must have to live a life of constant skepticism, though.

    But even the most rigorous materialistic scientists I know tend to reserve the scientific method for those contexts when they are actually, y’know, doing scientific research.

    Because most of life’s decisions, big and small, really don’t involve “testable claims” in any practical sense.  “Do I prefer enchiladas or hot and sour soup today?”  (I could buy both, but that’s a waste of food, and would probably be affected by which I ate first, etc. and I really don’t care that much.)

    “Will I be happier if I remain in this graduate school in New York or if I move back to North Carolina and take that library job?”  It’s not like I can clone myself, and follow both paths simultaneously, and survey myself for “happiness” after ten years, then time travel back to report the results to my present self.  What does “happiness” mean in this context, anyhow?  And will it still mean the same to my decade-older self?

    This is even more true when it comes to claims that are by definition not empirically testable.  I suppose that I could automatically reject any such claim, barring further evidence, but that seems to me that it would leave my life both more complicated and less rich.

    Because after-the-fact rationalizations are all very well, but they don’t correspond with how my actual experience of life.

    tl;dr — I’ve never reasoned myself into or out of a spiritual experience or aesthetic judgment or emotional reaction in my life, and I see very little likelihood or advantage in doing so in the future.

  • hf

    I don’t believe you addressed a single word of the comment you responded to.

    Again: ‘What do you really want to ask? And can you help me to understand why it matters so strongly to you?’

  • hapax

    I apologize for misunderstanding your post, hf.  But is this: 

    ‘What do you really want to ask? And can you help me to understand why it matters so strongly to you?’

    addressed to me?

    If so, I’m not sure of which question I asked needs clarification. 

    I thought that we were talking about the optimal ways to make decisions — whether to a certain scientific hypothesis accords with empirical evidence, whether to accept the truth-value of a philosophical proposition, whether to allow oneself to become vulnerable to an emotional relationship, whether taking this course of action or that one will lead to greater happiness for oneself and others, in matters both trivial and lifechanging. 

    I thought that you were arguing that the scientific method was the best recourse in all of these contexts; whereas I believe that it is appropriate only to the first category of decisions. 

    —>If I misunderstood you or mischaracterized your position I cannot apologize too deeply. (I’d blame it on the horrid Disqus interface, but I’ve gone off the rails too many times in other contexts to pull off that excuse.)<–

    My only excuse is that this matters strongly to me, because I have seen real people being very badly hurt by trying to follow this method in their personal lives, because I have seen horrible public policies justified by appeals to this argument, and because I care a great deal about the use of the scientific method in appropriate contexts, and I think it is perverted and corrupted by trying to apply it where it does not belong.

  • hf

    I thought that you were arguing that the scientific method was the best recourse in all of these contexts;

    Yes, in each case where it makes sense to ask the question at all. (Though “allow oneself to become vulnerable” could have a few different meanings and one of them leads to the answer, ‘Can you tell your unconscious what decision to make here? No? Well, shut up then.’)

    I also tried to show by examples what I mean by “scientific method”. This seems radically different from whatever you associate with the term. In particular, I have almost no clue what you could mean by “I have seen horrible public policies justified by appeals to this argument”. Possibly you mean you’ve seen people arguing that if a relevant probability (or rational degree of belief given the evidence) clearly equals some number less than 100% (or some other value such as 50%) it must equal 0%. But this seems as ludicrous, as trivially false according to the principles I’ve laid out, as this contrary claim which appears to say that 50 or 0.04 equals 100.

    You make decisions using the information you have, not the information you wish you had. Of course this leads to trouble, but chiefly due to the fact that humans have great difficulty consciously seeing the implications of some claim that Tyler Durden already has an opinion on. If you happen to be Harry Potter Evans-Verres from “Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality,” if you believe you can refute all your critics’ arguments, then to have any hope of getting to the truth you have to respond to criticisms they didn’t make. You need to ask yourself what the Sorting Hat would say actually follows from your usual rules of thought and the evidence of your memories. (Or, if you have the time and the ability to do so without hurting your other goals, you can try to make reality itself tell you what “follows” from certain observable conditions and the lack thereof.)

  • hapax

    hf, I’m not ignoring your long post below, because I think that you are making some very provocative and interesting claims.

    I’m not sure that we can have a fruitful discussion about it, though, because I suspect that not only do we have very different ways of looking at the world, but also we are using some key concepts (like “decision” and “scientific method” and even “question”) in quite irreconcilable ways.

    So I’ll try and take a different angle.  I *think* (and I may be missing your point) that a lot of what you are talking about is “decision making under ideal circumstances”, to “consider a spherical cow in a frictionless field.”

    Whereas I am talking about how people make real world decisions in the here-and-now.  They may justify their decisions after the fact to appealing to the sort of processes and evidence that you linked to, but people — well, I can only speak for myself, so I’ll say “I” — simply don’t make decisions that way.

    And not only that, I’d argue that I *shouldn’t*, except under certain artificially constrained circumstances (which is what scientific research usually involves). 

    In fact, I’d argue that under certain circumstances the objectively “wrong” answer is in fact more beneficial.  If I am a farmer trying to get my livestock home, it is more helpful and useful for me to “believe in” a flat earth, than to ponder navigating this terrestrial orb.  If I am an advocate for peaceful social change, it may be (as Fred Clark has argued elsewhere) to “believe in” the irresistibility of love and justice.

    Or are we still talking at cross-purposes?

  • hf

    Or are we still talking at cross-purposes?

    Less so. I would point out that you still had to reach a decision in some way. If you don’t know how you did it, that means you had Tyler Durden run the calculation (or do something that we could represent in principle using mathematical physics) and tell you what to do.

    So if you consistently get good results, then by definition either something unlikely happened or Tyler followed a set of rules likely to produce good results.

  • hf

    OK, Roland doesn’t seem to have mentioned Roman Catholicism until Sgt.Pepper’s asked about it. Before that R made some general statement about religion or faith that triggered Sgt.Pepper’s.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    OK, Roland doesn’t seem to have mentioned Roman Catholicism until Sgt.Pepper’s asked about it. Before that R made some general statement about religion or faith that triggered Sgt.Pepper’s.

    It was Izzy, actually, who made a reference to horrible faiths and also to Catholicism so I stuck my oar in. We cleared up what she meant quickly, but by that point Roland had also jumped in to say that, in his opinion, Catholicism is horrible because it includes belief in untestable things and therefore undermines rational thought.

    I’d like to point out that, by definition, faith requires belief in untestable things, so the logical conclusion of Roland’s argument is that he thinks all faith undermines rational thought and is horrible. I respectfully disagree.

    Sorry for inadvertantly turning the thread into this old chestnut, anyone who wasn’t in the mood for it.

  • Roland

    Roland had also jumped in to say that, in his opinion, Catholicism is horrible because it includes belief in untestable things and therefore undermines rational thought.

    I did not say anything was horrible. I’ve been very careful not to, for reasons I explained earlier, namely that I don’t find “horrible” a useful term here. I said “undesirable”, which may carry the same connotations for some, but not for me, because it is a word which carries a practical meaning; namely, to be discouraged. I do sincerely believe that people should be discouraged from believing irrational things, but calling them “horrible” doesn’t help and is probably not true anyway. And of course there is a huge debate to be had about what “rational” means, but “rational” does not mean “moral” and I’m not saying that irrational people are bad people.

    I did not say that Roman Catholic people, or people of any faith are horrible or undesirable either. People can be horrible (i.e. cause disgust or horror) because of what they do, sure, but not just because of what they believe.

    I’ve been really careful to try to maintain this stance because I think it’s honest. If I slip, please let me know.

  • Roland

    I’d like to point out that, by definition, faith requires belief in untestable things, so the logical conclusion of Roland’s argument is that he thinks all faith undermines rational thought and is horrible. I respectfully disagree.

    I don’t think all faith undermines rational thought. It’s because the word “faith” carries more than one meaning, and I feel these meanings are often unhelpfully conflated.

    I have a faith which I imagine most of us share which is that there is an external world independent of me, which I can get more or less accurate information about via my senses and which follows certain rules (like my being held down by gravity) which don’t arbitrarily change. The evidence of my senses seems to suggest that other people have a similar sort of experience to me. I don’t think anyone could live in the world if they were constantly sceptical about this sort of faith.

    But faith in the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception seems different to me. It doesn’t seem to refer to anything physical, there is no way to test it, and whether I believe it or not seems not to make any difference to my day-to-day life. Faith in the resurrection is different again, as it refers to a putative real historical event, namely a man dying then coming to life again some number of days later. The only evidence for this happening is a book which was written at least some decades after the events it describes.

    I think faith of the first kind is rational. I can’t prove the external world exists, but I can live as if it does and the results for me so far have been OK. But why shouldn’t I use the label “irrational” for the other beliefs I described? It isn’t pejorative – I’m not saying these beliefs are horrible or stupid. I’m just saying they don’t seem to be supported by any evidence and it doesn’t seem to make a difference to daily life whether one believes them or not.

  • hapax

    I think faith of the first kind is rational. I can’t prove the external
    world exists, but I can live as if it does and the results for me so far
    have been OK.

    Translation:

    The untestable faiths that  I accept are “rational.”
    The untestable faiths I don’t accept are “irrational.”

    But why shouldn’t I use the label “irrational” for the
    other beliefs I described? It isn’t pejorative – I’m not saying these
    beliefs are horrible or stupid.

    And the fact that other people find this label insulting just proves how irrational they are!  After all, why should they pay attention to the everyday connotation of the word? I didn’t call them Nazis, so no other insult counts.

    I’m just saying they don’t seem to be
    supported by any evidence and it doesn’t seem to make a difference to
    daily life whether one believes them or not.

    Any evidence that you find convincing doesn’t convince ME, so it doesn’t exist.  It doesn’t make any difference to MY daily life, so any testimony that it might be quite important to you, that it might be the central linchpin of your entire worldview, that you think if it were not true that you “would be the most pitiable of all persons”, is meaningless and irrelevant.

    Have we achieved BINGO yet?

  • Roland

    Translation:

    The untestable faiths that  I accept are “rational.”
    The untestable faiths I don’t accept are “irrational.”

    Please can you provide an argument in favour of this assertion? I tried to be careful to distinguish between the two kinds of faith I described, but if I failed, please can you explain why you think my distinction is wrong?

    Any evidence that you find convincing doesn’t convince ME, so it doesn’t exist.  It doesn’t make any difference to MY daily life, so any testimony that it might be quite important to you, that it might be the central linchpin of your entire worldview, that you think if it were not true that you “would be the most pitiable of all persons”, is meaningless and irrelevant.

    Well, then for some people it obviously does make a difference to daily life. I didn’t assert that it didn’t; I said that from where I was standing it seemed not to. I really honestly do believe that – I’m not just trying to wind you up.

    Have we achieved BINGO yet?

    I’m not sure I understand this.

  • hapax

    Roland, I am going to make one more effort to assume that you are truly arguing in good faith, not just being clueless.

    You are talking like someone protecting yourself from a libel suit, not someone interested in carrying on a civil conversation.  “It seems to me” and “I honestly believe that” placed in front of an assertion that is not only insulting but in direct contradiction to real live people telling you what their real life experiences are does not protect you from being condescending and rude, nor more than placing “alleged” in front of “pedophile axe-murderer.”

    Go back and read your comments in this thread keeping this in mind.  Then ask yourself if all of your carefully-drawn categories are merely distinctions without a difference.

  • Roland

    Then ask yourself if all of your carefully-drawn categories are merely distinctions without a difference.

    Well I don’t think they are, and you disagree.

    You are talking like someone protecting yourself from a libel suit, not someone interested in carrying on a civil conversation

    I’m trying to be precise about what I mean. I think you need to be in this sort of discussion. If this leads to a certain stilted quality in style, then so much the worse for style.

    an assertion that is not only insulting but in direct contradiction to real live people telling you what their real life experiences are

    I’m sorry I called your beliefs “irrational”. I can see that you find that insulting.

    And anyway I don’t have any problem with your beliefs. How could I? I don’t have the right to, and it doesn’t matter what anyone believes anyway. The problem I have is when people act on wrong beliefs in a way that affects others adversely, or try to convince others of them. You’ve never done this to me so I can’t complain.

    condescending and rude

    I have tried really hard not to be condescending and rude. I hope people who read my posts will at least agree I made the effort. I’m sorry I failed.

  • http://mmycomments.blogspot.com/ mmy

    I can see that you find that insulting.

    Flag on the play for misuse of the passive voice.  The problem isn’t that she finds that insulting it is that your comment WAS insulting.

  • Roland

    Flag on the play for misuse of the passive voice.  The problem isn’t that she finds that insulting it is that your comment WAS insulting.

    “I can see that you find that insulting” does not use the passive voice.

    I agree that my comment implied the insult was hapax’s fault. It was not, it was mine because I didn’t listen to her and other people who told me it was insulting. I’m sorry about this.

  • http://mmycomments.blogspot.com/ mmy

    Au contraire your sentence can indeed be considered an instance of the passive voice. The active would have been “I can see that I insulted you.” 

  • hapax

    Well, I think we both agree that bad behavior is the problem, not bad beliefs.

    I think we disagree about the level of correlation between the two.  I don’t know how to resolve this, because it’s hardly a testable proposition (well, except for a very limited subset of beliefs and behaviors, like “I believe that members of X group are not fully human” and oppression, violence, and genocide)

    I’d say that I don’t care what people believe, but it’s not true;  I care passionately, because what people believe is endlessly interesting to me.  I just (for the most part) wouldn’t characterize beliefs as right or wrong, good or bad, rational or irrational, sweet or sour or bacon-flavoured. 

    Note:  I do accept the distinction between objective and subjective beliefs.  Also, of course, people can be wrong, that is, in error about certain matters of fact which are colloquially called “beliefs”  — e.g., I can “believe” all day long that the earth is flat or the moon is made of green cheese, but I would in fact be professing something that is simply Not True.

    Of course, this is complicated by the occasions when holding to Not True assumptions, as I mentioned below, is nonetheless Mind-Bogglingly Useful…

     

  • Tonio

    I agree that Roland’s use of the “irrational” label is offensive. And Hapax makes a good point about holding incorrect “beliefs” about matters of fact.

    Still, I’ve often encountered the argument that beliefs in higher powers or afterlives belong in the “subjective” category. I’ve even read that any untestable proposition should be fair game for any belief that someone wants to hold about it. But with a proposition about higher powers or afterlives, there is an objective fact somewhere. An untestable proposition of fact is still true or false even if we cannot know which one.

    My own term for the objective/subjective divide are “facts versus values”. The answer to the question “Who was the greatest guitarist of all time” is unprovable because any answer amounts to personal opinion. In the global sense, yes, the real problem is bad behavior, not bad beliefs. In the personal sense, my goal is to strive for as high degree of accuracy as possible with any propositions of fact that I may hold. My approach is similar to a college exam where one has, say, 10 questions and one can choose to answer any five, and any wrong answer drags down my cumulative grade. I refuse to take positions on untestable propositions because I could hold a mistaken position and not know it.

  • hf

    Given limited time and no other evidence, you should trust a particular authority on a particular claim if you think they have a much greater chance of making that claim in cases when it holds true compared to cases when it does not.

  • cjmr

    *thanks hapax, et. al. for being eloquent on the topic at hand while I was off having a very busy day*

    *disappears to bathe evenstar*

  • Roland

    Sorry garbled formatting in the previous post. I hope it’s clear what’s meant.

  • Roland

    Bedtime! Will pick up again in the morning if anything needs it. Night night all.

  • Anonymous

    No mmy, I can’t see how it’s in the passive voice, both verbs are associated with and agent, Roland sees and hapax finds. Your correction has a different meaning (one that is more appropriate to an apology, I’d agree), it doesn’t merely recast the original in a different voice.

  • Brightie

     More like… “People’s souls will last eternally. Their bodies are just for right now. It is a greater good to deliver them from hell than from temporary difficulty. It would be irresponsible not to do everything we can to deliver them from hell while attracting the in by alleviating temporary difficulty. This saving business is our first and finest duty in the world. Let’s quietly ignore the fact that Jesus says it’s a service to him on the basis of which you will be judged to give a cup of water to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to visit the sick and imprisoned, with no mention of preaching to them while you do so…”


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