Saturday, 22 September 2012

Religion and the 100 Year Starship

It being an apparently slow news week, LiveScience has been goading its readership on with several topics of interest to those concerned with science and religion. One particular article was inspired for the oddness of the question it posed. A cooperative piece with asked “Should Humanity Take Religion on Interstellar Space Voyage?”

My initial answer was that this is a moot question, because religion will come along simply by virtue of involving people who, statistically, are going to be religious. Not to mention the fact that it's already there. This strange speculation was the fruit of a panel at the 100 Year Starship 2012 Symposium recently held in Houston, Texas, involving scientists, artists and theologians on the possibilities and challenges of interstellar travel. On a multigenerational ship with in excess of 10,000 passengers, the inclusion of religious people would be inevitable.

The theologians and ministers involved in the panel varied in their points of view, with perhaps the most provocative coming from Rev. Alvin Carpenter, minister of First Southern Baptist Church of West Sacramento. "The only way humanity can survive is if they leave behind the Earth-based religions," he said. "When you bring a religion on a starship, you bring the toxicity that we have seen on Earth..."

Carpenter's own website features his full address, which probably more than anything else expresses some of his apparent regrets about being a Southern Baptist minister (an affirmation of his 40 years in ministry inevitably prefaces some despairing comment about its futility). He even categorically states that “The goal of religion is to convert and impose,” which is quite far removed from a more sober and analytical conclusion like that proffered by William James way back in 1902 in The Varieties of Religious Experience: “a man's religion might thus be identified with his attitude, whatever it might be, toward what he felt to be the primal truth.” It automatically invites the rejoinder “Maybe that's the goal of your religion...”

However, Carpenter introduces his piece with an open challenge to demonstrate why religion should be included on an interstellar space voyage. Since I cannot resist such things, I will use the venue of a blog of Scientific Romanticism to respond.

In his argument for why religion should not be introduced to space, as though there was an option, Carpenter misses the forest for the trees. His arguments are practically out of the New Atheist playbook and suffer the same faults. In fact, such cliched strawmen issuing from the mouth of an ordained minister excuses speculation that he was being deliberately disingenuous.

He cites, for example, the historic antagonism between science and religion as though this were actually true. Rice University sociologist Dr. Elaine Ecklund's survey of the religious views held by professional scientists, published in her 2010 book Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think, found that 36% of scientists were theists, 30% were agnostic and 34% were atheist with 12% still considering themselves “spiritual.” That amounts to 78% of practising scientists either holding to some form of spirituality and/or not believing that spirituality is an inherent contradiction to science. As social phenomena, science and religion apparently are quite compatible and even if we reduced our contingent of astronauts to scientists, we run a statistical chance of still having a third of them being theists.

Carpenter also consistently expresses a subtext of religious violence as though this were a legitimate concern. In their 2004, 3-volume treatise Encyclopedia of Wars, Charles Philips and Alan Axelford document the history 1763 violent conflicts and find that only 123 have a significant “religious component.” That is less than 7% of known wars throughout the entirety of recorded history. The greater majority of wars are caused by conflict over political power, territory and resources. If there is to be a bloodbath on our starship, it will more likely be over allocation of resources and chains of political authority than anything instigated by the contingent from the Vatican Observatory.

He also brings up the spectre of birth control, which is a bizarre complaint given the nature of an intergalactic colonial mission. I imagine it would have something to do with the need to carefully regulate population growth on a multigenerational ship during the voyage itself. Here Carpenter misses out on the scope of the project. The problem of population control is not going to come from your average, nominally disobedient Catholic willing to sign an agreement to have only one child. It is going to come from the third and fourth generations who find themselves unwillingly born into a situation of mandatory abortions, forced sterilizations and restricted sexuality. And Big Brother forbid that you're born with the non-breeding dead-weight of homosexuality. Speaking of which...

Carpenter expresses concern over social toleration, using homosexuality as an example, in apparent ignorance that liberal Protestant denominations have traditionally been on the forefront of the gay rights movement. The United Church of Canada had been marrying same-sex couples for decades before it was legalized by the government of Canada. This objection highlights what appears to be his overarching concern, as well as the deepest flaw in his argument. The problem is the kind of cultural intolerance that would make our interstellar society fall apart. His solution is to use the exact same thinking that created the problem of cultural intolerance to begin with.

There is one very simple, unassailable argument in favour of allowing religious people to serve on a multigenerational interstellar mission. It is an argument that he apparently did not consider in the least, nor any of the associated issues surrounding it. Indeed, I would not be surprised if, as an American and a Southern Baptist, it probably never crossed his mind. That argument is the simple rule of employment equity.

To deny a qualified person equal opportunity for a professional placement because of their religious views is discrimination. That Carpenter would extend this discrimination to all theists instead of just limiting it to Jews does not make it any less morally and legally repugnant. It is bigotry, and even worse, it is the kind of bigotry endemic to the society in which Carpenter is a part. His view can only be voiced from a position of cultural narrowness, if not ignorance.

If one is looking to model a system of multicultural toleration and cooperation, one does not look to the United States of America. Without denigrating my American readers, one simply cannot look to the United States as an exemplary ideal of racial, ethnic and religious harmony. Once could certainly do worse... say, any number of war-torn African or Eastern European republics... but a society that has yet to accomplish basic tasks like providing universal healthcare or same-sex marriage is not going to be the society from which we take our queues for how to engender harmony on a starship.

One might attempt to argue that it is the activity of religious people withholding these things from the United States, to which I would reply in the first place that this is dishonest and insulting to the best that America has produced. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. springs to mind automatically. Carpenter does not seem to consider the potential beneficent role to be played by an MLK or Archbishop Desmond Tutu in defusing some would-be Lenin or Robespierre. On the second place, the accusation abrogates America's responsibility for its own cultural ethos. There are other cultures every bit as steeped in religion that do not have these same problems. In Canada, universal healthcare was achieved by the efforts of a Baptist minister and political leader named Tommy Douglas.

We can speculate for some time on why a country that formed by a violent revolution involving the deportation and/or murder of people with the “wrong” political views has consistently denigrated multiculturalism as mere “political correctness.” Suffice it to say that Carpenter's solution that anybody with the “wrong” opinions should be barred from an interstellar space voyage is pretty consistent with this view. Let us look instead at societies where multiculturalism is actually valued.

As one example, I would offer the one I know best. Calgary, Alberta, Canada is widely regarded as the most conservative major city in the country. It is the seat of both Canada's oil industry and its current Conservative Party government, which is a “Manchurian” element of American-style Republicanism and Fundamentalist Christianity. Nevertheless, in spite of this, it is the third most multicultural city in Canada (which as a nation has the highest per capita immigration in the world) and in its last civic election voted a Muslim as its mayor. Mayor Naheed Nenshi not only made international headlines for being Muslim, but also for being Calgary's first mayor to act as grand marshal for a Pride Day parade. The only religious conflict I've been involved with to speak of was when a Buddhist monestary was using political connections with the city to purchase land out from under the Muslim family who owned the coffee shop my Lutheran pastor went to. I was personally involved in a series of city planning sessions concerning the role of religious communities in the downtown core. Churches, mosques, temples and synagogues were invited as de facto pro-social, community-building agents in the inner city. Why? Because there are lots of us here. Christians comprise 65.8% of Calgary's population, followed by Muslims, Buddhists and Sikhs. In a society with true multicultural values, providing adequate social infrastructure to diverse groups is a deliberate effort. If this interstellar space mission was being organized by Canadians, not only would it include religious people, but we would make sure that there was accurate representative sampling and special entitlements for minorities to help preserve their culture and practices.

If it was being organized by the Japanese, this wouldn't even be a question. Not exactly renowned for its ethnic diversity, Japan nevertheless provides us with a curious model for religious harmony. In fact, the situation is so interesting that many observers have noted that Western definitions of what constitute religious adherence simply have no meaning in the Japanese context. You have a population where people have Christian weddings and Buddhist burials, and where 83% of the population practices Shinto but do not consider themselves to be “religious believers.” One could pull out any number of examples, and the main thing they would have in common is some manner of collectivism.

Collectivism is the soil for the growth of multiculturalism. The necessity of the whole society working towards the greater good of the society fosters a practical, pragmatic ethos of making sure that everyone can get along despite their differences. This ethos was elegantly articulated by Canada's constitutional monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, in a citizenship speech in 1973: "Canada asks no citizens to deny their forebears, to forsake their inheritance - only that each should accept and value the cultural freedom of others as he enjoys his own. It is a gentle invitation, this call to citizenship and I urge those who have accepted the invitation to participate fully in the building of the Canadian society and to demonstrate the real meaning of the brotherhood of man." Or even more succinctly, in a 1971 citizenship speech: "Canadian unity is not uniformity."

These are the necessary values to engender in an interstellar, multigenerational space mission. They are not values that can be engendered by discriminatory hiring practices before we've even gotten off the ground. Carpenter, speaking from a highly individualist society, demonizes others with bigoted rhetoric that ultimately demands an unachievable homogeneity. He speaks of religion as a toxic element while wanting to export a putrid ideology of fascism, bigotry and ethnic purity. He sees people who are different as the problem, and much like the New Atheists from which he borrowed his script, sees the solution in silencing them. He has failed in the grossest way to develop the ethos of multiculturalism and collective good that he sees as necessary for the success of such a monumental project.

Contrary to Carpenter's views, this project must necessarily include religious people as the exemplification of multicultural and collective values. Employment equity, religious toleration and fair representation will be best thing we can bring into space with us. Indeed, it will be the only way we can get into space. If we cannot accomplish this, then we are in no position to make the attempt.

Update (23/09/2012): While providing actual numbers for the matter of religion's relationship to war and science, I was remiss in doing so concerning homosexuality.

I mentioned the United Church of Canada as an example of how liberal Protestantism has been supportive of gay rights. The 32nd General Council in 1988 allowed for openly gay people to become ordained ministers, and the 34th General Council in 1992 decided that there was sufficient need for a set of standardized liturgical resources for same-sex marriages (i.e.: wedding ceremony materials). The United Church was one of the bodies testifying to the government of Canada to legalize gay marriage, and part of their testimony was supplying the government with the data on how many same-sex marriages they had performed (gay marriage was legalized in Canada in 2005). [source]

A Barna Group study in 2009 surveyed 9,232 American adults and found that 70% of homosexuals identified as Christian and 58% identify as having made "a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in your life today." 60% identified as having a faith that was "very important" to them but only 27% identified as "born-again Christians." Coupled with data on specific beliefs, it suggests the unsurprising fact that the majority of those gay people having a significant Christian belief system would tend towards more liberal, inclusive churches. [source]

Therefore it should be noted that a prohibition on theists serving on our starship on the grounds of the "inassimilability" of religion and homosexuality will actually bar the majority of gay people from service anyways.


Alvin Carpenter said...

Rev. Dr. Alvin Carpenter

Hello Cory: I think you read a lot more in my paper than is actually there. All I have done is state the obvious in this matter. Out of the thousands of different religions which one(s) are you going to take to the stars in a multigenerational interstellar starship? Islam (all branches) Christianity (all 34,000 branches), scientology, Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, snake handlers, fundamentalists of all kinds, Pentecostal, faith healers, those that practice Sharia law, those who kill those who leave their religion, Orthodox Jews with their Holiness Code, Reformed Jews, Reconstructionist Jews, Bahai, Wicca, Pagan, on and on…who will go and who is worthy to go? There are hundreds of different Baptist groups all because of church fights and divisions. Religions are intolerant and divisive that is why there is no single “Church” and there is no one that speaks for all of Christianity. This divisive nature would bring ruin to a small sampling of humanity in a starship. One person at the 100 year starship symposium mentioned setting up church authority and tithing aboard the ship. How would that go over with the other religions on board? I believe that anyone who loves their religion more than humanity is not worthy of their religion. My religion barely functions on earth and I believe it would be destructive in a starship. I do not speak for all of Christianity, no one does, but I am willing to face its dark side. Perhaps before we can reach for the stars we have to come to a place we can believe without religion. Thanks Cory for the chance to respond. Best to you and keep up the good work.
Rev. Dr. Alvin Carpenter

Cory Gross said...

Thank you for responding, Dr. Carpenter!

You say that you're merely stating the obvious, but part of my point was that what might seem obvious to you in your cultural context is not really a problem from a cultural context in which multiculturalism is valued and navigated in a constructive way. This inability to simply look at how other cultures actually do deal with this exact issue right here on this planet betrays the preemptive failure of your inadvertently anti-multicultural prescription.

You ask, presumably rhetorically, which religions we should bring with us. The answer is obvious: we have no choice but to bring along every religion held by every person who is a member of this crew. Your question actually doesn't go far enough. You can ask it of everything: Which ethnicities should we bring with us into space? Which nationalities? Which sexual orientations? Which political views? You can even ask which atheists should we bring. Discriminatory hiring practices against theists does not resolve the problem that there are different types of atheists out there too. I don't imagine that the Objectivists and the Communists are going to get along very well. Nihilists might not be of much use when trying to build a society. New Atheists and the type of atheists who believe in any sort of Spiritualist, New Age belief except God probably wouldn't do well with each other either, if you could even get the New Atheists to stop arguing amongst themselves about who is not atheist enough. You worry about religious violence when you have guys like the late Christopher Hitchens who supported the War on Iraq and the use of torture on the people illegally detained by America (FYI, as a Christian pacifist I have yet to have a debate about religious violence with an atheist who was actually a pacifist themselves... The argument about religious violence is simply farcical). Does your prohibition on religions include atheist religions like Samkhya Hinduism, Atheist Buddhism, and Jainism?

You ask who is worthy to go, to which I reply with the obvious: anybody who is qualified, regardless of their religious beliefs, gender, orientation, ethnicity, etc. It is the same as who is “worthy” to join the police force or attend a university. In fact, police forces and universities here in Canada deliberately recruit and provide specialized opportunities for members of minorities that are statistically underrepresented in their membership. I'm also going to go off on a limb and submit that there is going to be a certain degree of self-selection in the application process for this mission. The prospect of having to deal with Amish astronauts or violently Islamist soil scientists is unlikely.


Cory Gross said...


You speak to the unremitting division caused by the evil ideology of all religion, but that is a view composed entirely within the context of the American culture wars. It does not so much articulate an argument against allowing religious people to serve on this starship as it does provide an example of why we shouldn't look to the United States as a model for how to organize this intergalactic civilization. I received my undergraduate degree at the University of Calgary, which has 30,000 students. The Multifaith Chaplaincy is operated under the auspices of the UofC Students' Union Wellness Centre (along with the counselling and health services) and includes Catholic, Lutheran, United Church of Canada, Reformed, Presbyterian, Buddhist, Jewish and Muslim Chaplains. Those faiths not represented (usually by virtue of them not having an organizational structure capable of authorizing a chaplain, i.e.: Pagans) have tended towards forming their own sanctioned SU clubs. It's been a few years since I got my BA, but so far as I know there have been no outbreaks of mass interreligious violence on campus. If you were really concerned about violence on this space ship, I think you would be better served by banning sports, since outbreaks of sports-related violence are far more predictable.

Incidentally, the “Faith and Spirituality Centre” facility is provided by the SU Wellness Centre but the individual chaplains are funded by their denominations. A similar model could be utilized on our hypothetical spaceship, and sustained by the actual adherents to each religion. As a Lutheran, I have no objections to having a Buddhist temple space, a Muslim prayer room with proper washing facilities, and a Kosher mess-hall because I'm, y'know, not a bigot. In a multicultural society, provision should be made to support the charter freedoms of each member of this society insofar as they do not infringe upon the charter rights of any other person. That's just basic Civics 101. At least, it is in Canada.

No society is perfect, but I brought up the example of my own city and country (and now my alma mater) for the express purpose of providing a model where multiculturalism is by-in-large working. You claim to be courageous enough to face Christianity's slobbering, villainous, cartoonishly hyperbolic “dark side,” but that's not the normative experience of Christianity in the Western world (the statistical norm for Christianity in the non-Western world is being viciously persecuted, usually by atheists). That's not even normative of theism in general. The norm is people of diverse ethnic and political traditions quietly going about their business in mutual toleration, enjoying their freedoms of association, religion and freedom of expression within the rubrics of the law. You claim not to be speaking for all of Christianity, but you apparently feel free enough to tar with a very large brush. I would agree that you certainly do not represent me or anybody in my acquaintance.


Cory Gross said...


Your willingness to face this “dark side” is not particularly original or courageous. Your talking points were cribbed almost verbatim from the running memes of New Atheism (not to mention throwing in the tired cliche of "spiritual but not religious"... Claiming to "believe without religion" is just obfuscating the fact that you are religious, merely using the term "religion" to denigrate other people's beliefs). We've all heard them. They're nothing new. What would be original and courageous is actually facing up to the good that religion has provided for the world. I know that is not a very popular meme and it certainly doesn't get you any media attention, but it gives the personal satisfaction of intellectual integrity. Hence my appeal to actual statistics concerning the relationship between science and religion as well as warfare and religion. When we're facing this or that, what is the actual evidence? What is actually happening?

I can think of plenty of examples, from the Church preserving the scholarship of Western civilization through the Dark Ages and inventing the whole idea of a “university” to underwriting the Renaissance to the abolition of slavery in the British Empire and the abolition of segregation in the United States to the creation of children's hospitals to the establishment of universal healthcare in Canada to my own girlfriend going to Africa to help build schools and hospitals for AIDS orphans. I personally always include a component of our Christian responsibility to love others, especially those most different from ourselves, in every lay sermon I preach. I know that you already utilized the New Atheist talking point that there is no good thing a Christian can do that an atheist can't. I would have two responses to that. The first is that if we're talking strictly about donations of time and money to charitable organizations, then according to statistics, atheists could do that but Christians actually do do that. The second is that if you have spent 40 years standing before an altar praying for the beneficent action of a loving God and not noticed that you're doing something good that atheists cannot, then you need to pay more attention. If you have been getting up before that altar and not praying for the good of others, then no wonder you despair of your ministry.

The thing is, don't project that onto the rest of us. Sure, face Christianity’s “dark side,” but if you do so without being equally honest about Christianity's “light side,” then you're being dishonest. Not just dishonest, but libellous. When you say that the goal of religion – as a whole category, for all people through all of history – is about coercion and imposition, you are bearing false witness against your neighbour. And if you use that strawman slandering as the root of an argument for discriminatory hiring practices against theists, then you have become an example of the very bigotry and intolerance that you complain about. That is a far more dangerous problem than a few hijabs and Bible study groups on a starship.

What I would suggest is that you first practice the multiculturalism you claim to believe in. Get beyond your narrow Southern Baptist, Californian, American perspective. Look at how the civilized world acts when faced with the nitty-gritty reality of ethnic, religious, political and sexual diversity. Come back to the subject once you've taken a good, long, serious look at the realities of religion and human community.

Alvin Carpenter said...

Good Morning Cory: Your response kinds of makes my point. You are angry at what I have said because you believe I have in some way insulted your religious sensibilities. If I have, I apologize. My point is, as obviously affirmed by your response, religion divides and often divides in angry fashion. Also, I reiterate, all it takes is one charismatic fundamentalist with a bible or Koran in his/her hand to destroy the ship. If you bring the Roman Catholics on board how long will it be before they set up a Pope, Archbishop, Bishop, priests and how long before you will be kneeling before them kissing their rings and genuflecting? How long before Islamists insist their women live out their lives in complete subornation to men? Religionists have NEVER got along hear on earth, that is why there are thousands of them and more every day, what makes you think it will be any different in space. My comments have caused a huge uproar among believers! What I have said is unacceptable to them so they are determined to make me pay…that is my point. Religions are intolerant and divisive. That thought is not original to me…read the papers, nothing has changed…we are not getting better. That said, I believe we can get better but we only get better when we face the dark side of our religions and stop pretending it does not exist. I could have avoided all the personal attacks had I wrote a paper on how good my religion is/was and they (Christians) should go to the stars. I did not. I spoke the truth and for that, as we all know, always incur trouble. BTW, I do not understand why anyone would think it is not possible to have faith without religion. What does adhering to the doctrines, creeds, systems of religion have to do with believing in God?
Rev. Dr. Alvin Carpenter

Cory Gross said...

My proving your point is a fallacious assertion. You can't go around polemically condemning a strawman version of religion as irrational, violent and coercive, using those polemics to argue in favour of discriminatory hiring practices on some hypothetical starship, and then accuse religious people of proving the point that religion is divisive when they feel insulted. You're the one being divisive with your polemic, slanderous and bigoted rhetoric. Your average Western religious person, the statistical majority of the quietly devout and charitable people of good conscience, have every right to be offended by the aspersions you've cast on their character.

Such as it is, I was less offended as a religious person than as a multiculturalist. I will go down with the starship to create an environment where everyone has the inalienable right to practice their charter freedoms so long as it does not take away the charter freedoms of others. Sure, let the Catholics genuflect all they want, and let the Muslims wear a hijab if they want. What is the big deal? So long as they continue to work within the rubrics of the law and fulfil their duties to the community, who cares what they do in their temples? And if they have different beliefs and opinions about things that happen in a society, that is called democracy. In my personal life, I support the movement towards establishing a system of proportional representation in Canada, which more fairly reflects the actual political views of our diverse peoples. Yes there are a lot of views out there and I don't by any means agree with all of them – I already expressed mine about our governing Conservative Party – but it is more important that everyone has the right to representation proportional to the actual influence of their views. I believe in that because that is what is fair.


Cory Gross said...


That is what actual multiculturalism looks like. Real multiculturalism enshrines the charter rights and freedoms of citizens so long as those do not take away the charter rights and freedoms of others. They dissipate extremism through inclusivity, allowing and providing the infrastructure for the practice and involvement of diverse peoples in our society. They legally protect minorities and they ensure fair, equitable and accountable political representation. What you are talking about is fascism before its even gotten off the ground. You cannot engender a society of mutual cooperation and toleration by beginning with the premise that all religious people are inherently, latently dangerous and therefore should be discriminated against by barring them from qualified positions on this starship. You say that have

To be honest, I've been trying to determine if what you've been saying actually qualifies as a form of hate speech under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Criminal Code of Canada (as it technically is calling for discrimination on the basis of religion). At the very least, it is significant that despite all of my arguments and the actual data I've brought forward concerning how much violence religion actually is responsible for, the number of theistic scientists and so on, you have merely repeated the same thought-terminating cliches found in New Atheist literature. Vox Day just posted this last summer on how New Atheist celebrities are starting to drop the argument that religion is the main cause of violence because it is not supported by factual evidence. You say that “religionists” have never gotten along here on earth. I provided you with two specific examples in which they do, right here and now: Canada and Japan. My predominately Christian city voted in a Muslim mayor who grandmarshals Gay Pride parades (as well as attends a week-long festival we have here in summer called “Globalfest” which expressly celebrates ethnic diversity). Your assertion is simply, factually wrong. You have ignored this, and my appeal to look beyond the narrow scope of your own culture to examine working models of multiculturalism. You appear to have simply hunkered down into your foxhole in the American culture wars and that's where you want to stick it out.


Cory Gross said...


Now on the tangent of faith without religion, William James in his aforementioned circumscription of the topic in The Varieties of Religious Experience began by eliminating the trappings of public religiousity: “At the outset we are struck by one great partition which divides the religious field. On the one side of it lies institutional, on the other personal religion. As M. P. Sabatier says, one branch of religion keeps the divinity, another keeps man most in view. Worship and sacrifice, procedures for working on the dispositions of the deity, theology and ceremony and ecclesiastical organization, are the essentials of religion in the institutional branch. Were we to limit our view to it, we should have to define religion as an external art, the art of winning the favor of the gods. In the more personal branch of religion it is on the contrary the inner dispositions of man himself which form the center of interest, his conscience, his deserts, his helplessness, his incompleteness. And although the favor of the God, as forfeited or gained, is still an essential feature of the story, and theology plays a vital part therein, yet the acts to which this sort of religion prompts are personal not ritual acts, the individual transacts the business by himself alone, and the ecclesiastical organization, with its priests and sacraments and other go-betweens, sinks to an altogether secondary place. The relation goes direct from heart to heart, from soul to soul, between man and his maker.”

James goes with the personal branch because he is a psychologist, not a sociologist. I personally feel it is both, because psychological artifacts manifest themselves in public ways, and vice versa. Contrary to the “spiritual but not religious” crowd, you can't have one without the other because they are the subjective and objective flipsides of the same experience. Nevertheless, James continues: “Religion, therefore... shall mean for us the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine. Since the relation may be either moral, physical, or ritual, it is evident that out of religion in the sense in which we take it, theologies, philosophies, and ecclesiastical organizations may secondarily grow.”


Cory Gross said...


He continues: “But, still, a chance of controversy comes up over the word "divine," if we take the definition in too narrow a sense. There are systems of thought which the world usually calls religious, and yet which do not positively assume a God. Buddhism is in this case. Popularly, of course, the Buddha himself stands in place of a God; but in strictness the Buddhistic system is atheistic. Modern transcendental idealism, Emersonianism, for instance, also seems to let God evaporate into abstract Ideality. Not a deity in concreto, not a superhuman person, but the immanent divinity in things, the essentially spiritual structure of the universe, is the object of the transcendentalist cult... We must therefore, from the experiential point of view, call these godless or quasi-godless creeds "religions"; and accordingly when in our definition of religion we speak of the individual's relation to "what he considers the divine," we must interpret the term "divine" very broadly, as denoting any object that is godlike, whether it be a concrete deity or not... gods are conceived to be first things in the way of being and power. They overarch and envelop, and from them there is no escape. What relates to them is the first and last word in the way of truth. Whatever then were most primal and enveloping and deeply true might at this rate be treated as godlike, and a man's religion might thus be identified with his attitude, whatever it might be, toward what he felt to be the primal truth. ”

Though over 100 years old, I still consider this the fairest and most reasonable definition of the subject. It looks at religion as the primarily psychological phenomena of how people orient themselves to whatever it is they believe to be most transcendentally true about the nature of reality. The most manifestly unfair and unreasonable definition of religion is that which uses it as a slander word for the beliefs and practices of other people. “I'm spiritual but you're religious.” At the time that James wrote, the terminology used for the same effect was that we “civilized” people were religious while those “primitive” people were merely superstitious.

In short, your beliefs are your religion.

Jzyehoshua said...

If nobody minds my intrusion, I would like to suggest this idea we should select based on lack of religion not only violates the principle of religious freedom set forth (by our very religious founding fathers) but also seems quite similar to the Nazi concept of Eugenics, picking and choosing who should live and die. Evolutionists like to joke around with terms like "forced sterilization" relating to demographics with they disagree with, not realizing how similar it sounds to the same atheistic German community who created the Documentary Hypothesis and Nazi principles. Friedrich Nietzsche, who helped start Germany's noble tradition, was quick to critique the Bible, God, and Jesus, and was turning this into an art, right before he died of insanity prophesying the coming of World War II. In his madness letters, he ordered the European powers to take action against Germany, warned of anti-semitism and torture of Jews by German doctors, and called for the imprisonment of German leaders, almost 50 years to the day before WWII. German atheism's greatest advocate ironically became one of the most noteworthy prophets in recent history, in much the same way that God punished Babylon's Nebuchadezzar by driving him insane, and King Saul by making him insane and prophesy.

Alvin Carpenter said...

Corey: You sure have an interesting way of arguing against intolerance...

Cory Gross said...

I'm not even sure what exactly that is supposed to mean. That it's intolerant of me to be arguing against intolerance?

Jzyehoshua said...

"My point is, as obviously affirmed by your response, religion divides and often divides in angry fashion."

I think the misunderstanding stems from this basic presumption, that religion alone "divides in angry fashion". But really, anything major that divides people "often divides in angry fashion". As Cory Gross mentioned, there are incidences of violence because of sports events. Sports, politics, religion, love affairs, scientific theories - you pick anything important, any major belief that people care about, and there will be contention and violence as a result. See for example the bickering among scientists over their most treasured theories, and how some have even stooped to fraud to prop up said theories, e.g. Peking Man.

Just because there is violence related to important issues does not make said issues wrong. It simply shows that anything people care about deeply will involve differing viewpoints and thus dissent and violence because the nature of people themselves is violent.

Furthermore, religion like politics, science, and anything viewed as a position of authority or power, will have evil people seeking to usurp it to further their own agendas. People will try to skew even dictionaries and encyclopedias to propagate their own points of view to empower their agendas. Religion is not evil, but it is used by evil people as a means to power because it is viewed as authoritative, and can be used for purposes of power - just like science and politics can.

Jzyehoshua said...

The disagreement stems, in other words, from people feeling strongly about the issue. Since it relates to their eternal destinies and place in the universe, that somewhat makes sense that they'd feel so passionately about it. Logically, other beliefs on politics, sports, love, and science all provoke similar reactions because people feel strongly about the topics.

And again, the other major problem is that religion has been used as a form of populace control, just like government, science, and sports can be as well. As a means of power and controlling people, there will be those who seek to use it for despicable ends.

None of this makes religion itself wrong. Wars have been fought for many reasons, and even in atheistic countries like China, we can see that those with no belief in God still persecute others and commit mass murder, torture, and imprisonment of innocent people.

The solution is not the destruction of religion, which frankly is impossible since religion is just belief about why we exist, and you can't stop that without making people into robots. Atheism and agnosticism are religions also, they are worldviews about why we exist, whether God exists, what our purpose is, etc., however much atheists might quibble over the definition of 'religion' to try and make their religion seem superior to the others.

Rather, the solution is for people to engage in constructive dialogue with one another to better understand why others believe as they do, and respect one another's beliefs and rights despite their disagreements. As Apologist Michael Horner points out about religious differences and intolerance:

"Do all religions lead to God? Many people think this is the case, because they assume that all religions are essentially the same when you get right down to it. But this just isn’t true. If you let each religion speak for itself, you find religions around the world differ greatly on the basic concepts-God, truth, reality, the basic human dilemma and the solution to that dilemma. They differ so much that many of their statements contradict one another. For example, God cannot be both personal, as Christians, Jews and Muslims believe, and impersonal, as Buddhists and Hindus believe. Those are contradictory statements. According to the rules of logic, contradictory statements cannot all be true. Therefore, all religions cannot possibly be true. It is a logical impossibility. And if they are not all true, then not all of them can lead to God.

Some people might question this, saying it is intolerant to think only one religion has things right. But this response shows a misunderstanding of what intolerance really is. Intolerance comes from the word “tolerate.” To tolerate means to allow something, such as a belief, to exist even though we don’t like it or agree with it. Tolerance does not mean never disagreeing with anybody. The word implies disagreement. True tolerance means allowing differing views to coexist without necessarily agreeing with them or claiming that all views are true. Therefore, we can hold that one view is true or better than other views without being intolerant. If we were truly intolerant, we would seek to silence other points of view. But merely engaging in persuasive conversation with someone you disagree with is not intolerance. We show more respect for each other when we take our religious claims seriously than when we clothe them in a patronizing cloak of relativism."

Jzyehoshua said...

Christianity as seen in the New Testament is the epitomy of perfect teaching against violence, that we are to turn the other cheek, love our enemies, do good to those who do evil to us, pray for persecutors, and forgive so that God will forgive us. Despite this, Catholicism for centuries construed Christianity as an excuse for war, slaughter of innocents, and conquest. However, the last two millennia have also seen peaceful Christian groups like the early New Testament Church, the Quakers, the Anabaptists, the Amish, the Waldenses, the Arians, etc. People tend to forget that many of the groups being persecuted by Catholicism the last 17 centuries were peaceful Christians.

If Satan is real, it would make sense that he'd try to infiltrate the Christian church with "tares", evil people, fake Christians, to make Christianity look bad. Jesus predicted as much in his parable about the tares:

Matthew 13:27 So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares?
28 He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?
29 But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.
30 Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.

Jesus said that the majority of Christians would be fakes:

Matthew 7:22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

Matthew 7:14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

Jesus predicted there would be many false Christian leaders, as did John:

Matthew 24:4 And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you.
5 For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.

1 John 4:1 Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.

Jzyehoshua said...

There are numerous peaceful Christians being persecuted around the world all the time as seen from the Voice of the Martyrs website, but the media doesn't mention this. The media loves to mention any negative action towards a homosexual or abortion doctor, but would never dream of mentioning violence towards peaceful Christians - although I suppose one could argue it's so commonplace as to not be newsworthy.

Jzyehoshua said...

Oh, and one more thing - I saw Dr. Carpenter's website repeated the Richard Dawkins unfounded assertion that the Bible is racist, homophobic, etc. Well, I addressed that on Richard Dawkins' forum back in 2008 before his forum shut down. I would argue those who thusly accuse the Bible are guilty of negligent research and incompetent reading comprehension skills, as the accusations are in large part easily debunked.

A few points not made there on the issue of racism that I would make now:

(1) the Bible specifically states dark skin occurs because of the sun and we should not discriminate based on it:

Song 1:6 Look not upon me, because I am black, because the sun hath looked upon me: my mother's children were angry with me; they made me the keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept.

(2) The Bible shows ancient Israel to be unique in contrast to any other ancient civilization concerning slavery, in that it declared a death penalty for those enslaving others, (Exodus 21:16) ordered slaves abused in losing so much as a tooth be freed, (Exodus 21:27) and ordered those fleeing slavery be given safe haven. (Deuteronomy 23:15)

(3) The entire book of Philemon was written by Paul calling for the owner to free his slave Onesimus and treat him as a Christian brother. Paul offered to pay any debt the slave owed, spoke of his assurance the slaveowner would do not only this but more, and reminded the slaveowner Philemon that Philemon owed his own salvation to Paul's preaching.

Concerning homosexuality, as I pointed out 4 years ago, the Bible condemns all sins as worthy of death, and states all are guilty accordingly. This is basic doctrine of salvation stuff seen from Romans chapter 3. Yes, it states homosexuals are guilty. It also states this is true of every other person who's walked the Earth not named "God" and says all need to repent and have their natures changed to stop sinning. Yes, the Bible does clearly state death penalties for such sins. But it also clearly states that human beings have no right to exact these penalties of one another unless sinless themselves. (John 8:7) That's why we are told "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord." (Romans 12:19) Rather than singling out homosexuals, the entire human race is declared guilty, and told God alone should judge. Humans are told to forgive others lest God not forgive them. (Matthew 6:12-15)