: I think my expectations are screwed
Contains swears. Read or don't read, accordingly.
1. I bumped into Minister Jon. It wasn't random: Meg was at the church's board meeting so me and the kids went to Video To Go to pick up some DVDs; Minister Jon had been at the church's board meeting and had just offered his resignation and needed to take a walk and chill out, so he walked to Video to Go to stare blankly at some DVDs. Bump. He was more glad to see me than you'd think - turns out that I'm friendly, I like him as a person, and I don't give a shit who's on whose side.
Minister Jon said that Unitarian Universalists have been struggling with that very problem for 500 years and as far as he's concerned, fuck it, the problem's still winning.
2(sub). I'll say it again, for context: Mitt Romney's an ass. He's the Mormon governor of MA. He's opposed to our state's supreme court's decision to legalize same-sex marriages, on the grounds (among others) that it might someday lead to legalized polygamy. Now, Mitt's great-greats fled to Mexico to avoid prosecution for their marriages, same as some of my great-greats. Others of mine went to jail. That bastard Mitt should oughta show some solidarity and some respect for his people.
2. My dad, before he died, was really excited about MA's legalization of same-sex marriages. Know why? Because he figured it might someday lead to legalized polygamy.
"What would they do?" he said, speaking of the LDS church. "Here they've spent all this money opposing gay marriage. Would they spend the same opposing polygamy? The Sacred Order of Celestial Marriage, and they'd spend millions and millions to prevent its restoration upon the earth? What a wonder that would be!"
He went on in such manner, saying things that of you all maybe Brand Robins only would understand. Brand, if you're curious, go ahead and ask, or if I have any LDS lurkers, feel free too.
3. Joseph Smith was a type we have since come to know and recognize here in America. Good looking, religiously fervent, charismatic, gathering devoted people around himself; it starts out socially and religiously conservative, rejecting the decadence and relativism of mainline US Protestantism, but over not many years the doctrines and the in-group sex become very weird. He was just David Koresh, a hundred and fifty years earlier. That shouldn't shock anyone.
4. The FBI caught Warren Jeffs. This is a fantastic good thing; that guy's a monster. That guy's a rapist of underage cousins. There's a bit of a thread on MetaFilter about it, with two points of view emerging.
Point of view 1: I hope they throw away the key on this guy, because polygamy is all about raping your underage cousins.
Point of view 2: I hope they throw away the key on this guy, but for raping his underage cousins, not for polygamy, which surely doesn't require that, right?
I subscribe to point of view 2. The way I figure it, legalizing polygamy would allow Jeff's wives and kids (in principle) to participate in our civil society in a way that would be to their entire advantage. They'd still lie to DSS, of course, but at least DSS could show up, y'know? Like prostitutes, like drug addicts - let's use our tax money to help them and give them better options, not to pay cops to chase them further underground. I'm a liberal.
Plus I happen to know that some of us are hippies, pagans and weirdos with non-standard relationships that we could nevertheless legitimize, at no great cost to any of us. That'd be just fine, so let's do that, okay?
5. Why anyone would do Minister Jon's job I have no earthly idea. For the three-quarters-time salary that All Souls can pay? Putting up with every single small-group politic there is? Shit man.
I said this to my folks, months ago. "Yeah, Jon's in a terrible spot. He can't call on God's righteous fury to back him up [picturing in my head a coat and a gun, of course], he doesn't get teenage brides, I don't know why he puts up with it."
They were, let's say, taken aback. My mom burst out laughing - she's a meaner, funnier person than my dad, she's where I got it from - but my dad just stared at me with his mouth open. He was so startled he didn't even get angry or hurt. "I can't believe you would say something so ... so bad," he said.
This was not, happily, my last conversation with my dad. My last conversation with my dad was about how fireflies are so beautiful they take your breath away, and how there aren't any in Utah.
1. On 2006-08-31, Vincent wrote:
Minister Jon never said the words "fuck it." He's too much a minister for that, at least in public. They were in his face, though.
You know, we over in Europe hear about US all day. We know not only more about US than the rest of Europe, we know all of a us much about US and very often almost nothing about Europe, except the spot we ourselves come from.
But they never teach us about this stuff in Pulp Fiction. I truly understand less about this than internal religious blabber among shia muslims. It's incomprehensible. And I'm kind of raised as a christian (in bleak, Swedish way of course, it's like we actually *believe* in the *existence* of God. But some like to be christians anyway.)
But I love to read about this stuff, though. It's like really meaty science fiction.
Her first character approximated her own beliefs-- and her initiatiory conflict questioned the entire premise of Dogs' training. She won and gained a relationship trait with (the game equivalent of) Joseph Smith, himself.
Her 2nd character was her idea of a "god talks to me" non-Unitarian.
A suicide bomber on meth, basically.
So my dad went back into the Journal of Discourses and spent a while reading about the Great and Abominable Church of Satan, Babylon Mother of Harlots. I forget which early prophets he read; I never was any good at early prophets, but he cared about them quite a lot.
Know what those guys, the founders of polygamy as an LDS institution, thought? They thought that monogamy was the Great and Abominable Church of Satan, Babylon Mother of Harlots. That is, the culture of monogamy, the US-at-the-time's increasingly formal rejection of polygamy as legitimate.
I guess the thinking was that if men can marry only one woman, all the other women become harlots? Like I say, I never was any good at early prophets - but lo and behold, that's what those guys seemed to think, as represented by the JoD, according to my dad. (Personally, I think they'd've said just about ANYTHING, if there were teenage brides in it for them.)
"So hold on," my dad said. "If the US constitution had defined marriage as between one man and one woman all along, the gospel could not have been restored here, at least not fully, Celestial Marriage being a significant part of the full restoration of the gospel. And now the church is spending millions and millions of dollars supporting constitutional amendments defining marriage as between one man and one woman. Does that make ...
"... the church ...
"... the Great and Abominable Church of Satan, Babylon Mother of Harlots?"
I was like, "well dad, that's an interesting position you've worked yourself into. What are you going to do about that?"
And he was like, "I don't know! I don't know what I CAN do!"
It makes me feel really fond of him to remember this. He had such good spirits about it. I think he did that kind of thing recreationally, or maybe as a discipline; he'd paint himself into impossible theological corners, relishing the challenge of researching, studying, praying his way out of them. It was one of his lifelong pastimes.
Roger: > not having any kind of spiritual authority to call upon in any way
Can you expand a bit on what you mean here, Vincent?
Actually I guess I mean something kind of like tenure. Jon serves at the whim of his congregation - if he offends any given outspoken one of them, that one has the social and economic power to bring Jon totally to heel.
Now, on one hand, awesome. It is that way because of the UUs' admirable rejection of the abusable power imbalance between clergy and congregation that exists everywhere else. Yay UUs; the church I grew up in was absolutely rife with petty tyrants and bastards rising to positions of power, by sucking up to those higher still, and nothing that a mere congregation could do about it. The alternative to the UU arrangement ranges from ugly to horrific, that I've seen.
But on the other hand, what on earth is left for a minister then? You do your job on eggshells and with one hand tied back. If ministers have any role at all, it has to be - HAS TO BE - a role of authority with regard to their congregation's conscience. Jon's not allowed that; in preventing him from being a tyrant, they've made him an appendix.
Me personally? I'm like, so be it. Find a way without a minister. But they don't want that either, so round and round it goes...
Not everywhere, Vincent. Rabbis are hired by their synagogues, at least in Conservative and Reform congregations. (I think Orthodox do it that way too, but I'm not sure about Hasidim; some of them get a charismatic-leader thing going.)
And it gets ugly sometimes. I know of a rabbi who's suing his congregation....
Reading a post like this, I'm reminded that my decision to leave seminary was probably a good thing.
I come out of a Christian tradition that has the congregation hire the pastor. Being considerably more conservative than the UU's, there's a little more respect for the office and the person in it. Still, people who are upset with the pastor always have the potential to push the pastor out if they can get a sizeable minority of the congregation behind them.
Even if they can't do it bureaucratically, they can make the pastor's life hell. That will lead to a resignation sooner or later.
Personally, I ended up leaving seminary after an internship cut short by individuals in the congregation who decided that they wanted me out. Though I could have gotten another intership, finished seminary, and so on, I realized I would probably be a happier human being if I moved on to something else.
Oddly enough, what I moved on to was a graduate program in sociology in which I spent a lot of time studying certain religious groups.
Point 4: From a secular p.o.v option #2 is clearly correct. It's difficult to see a rational argument for outlawing polygamy between consenting adults.
Here's the interesting thing to me: I work at a convention bureau, and we're bidding for a Parliament of World Religions to be held in our city. We're treating it as super-important, so I'm guessing it's going to involve a lot of delegates and a lot of money.
So we'll have this huge collection of people whose jobs are only credible if backed by the authority of God meeting together - but who can't possibly be treating each other as credible for that very reason. What do they even have to say to each other?
Jim: My Dad was one such pastor. Got totally run out on a rail, and totally by a vocal minority. By means of manipulating his peculiar convictions regarding the weight placed on Deacon borad decisions. Ugly stuff. In fact, it turned out this sweet li'l country church had a loooong history of ousting pastors over trivial reasons on about a 30year average. So we felt pretty good about beating the odds at 9 years.
Well, OK, I didn't feel good. My fifteen-year-old world was crumbling around me as I learned that the sweet, kind, upright folks I admired were a nest of backstabbing powermongers. But, y'know, it's kind of nice in retrospect.
Vincent: A very, very nice last conversation. Far better than mine with MY dad, which was heated, theological, and bitter.
I don't really know why I mention any of this, except I guess empathy and venting.
Of course, I'm of mind to agree with him in many ways. My position on gay marriage is one of the things that leads me into head-butting fights with other members of the church.
Although, I have to say that outside of Utah I've seen a lot fewer petty bastard-suckups in power than inside Utah. The difference in the church as an organization at the local level between, say, Provo and Toronto is pretty amazing.
The family of a pastor has it really bad when something like that is going on. I've talked to other people with similar experiences. Interestingly, my "Internship That Ended Badly" was also at a sweet, country church with a history of kicking out pastors after a surprisingly short time.
As it happens, I do some work for an organization who's sole purpose is to get different Christian denominations to work together as well as doing a certain amount of interfaith work. I think that they've got piles of common experiences to talk about as the human experience of religious leadership is surprisingly similar (and despite this thread does not always suck...).
Also, for what it's worth, a surprising number of religious groups do actually recognize on some level the religious authority of other faiths. Roman Catholicism, for example, does more of that than I'd expected. Islam, despite some violently intolerant examples of the faith regards Christians and Jews as "People of the Book" and so on...
Oh and I'm looking forward to meeting you face to face totally regardless, and we we can talk about religion or not at all, as we feel like at the time. I can imagine us going "so, Mormonism," and "yep," and leaving it at that.
When I met Jake Norwood, we complained to each other about some very safe, very mutual frustrations with the church - particularly, its emphasis on missions as a rite of passage, not a calling (in the non-technical, non-LDS sense). That was ten minutes of us agreeing with each other, and then we mostly talked about food, which was just right.
Vincent, I love the story about your father trying to puzzle out of his ethical quandry. Perversely, it reminds me of gaming. It sounds like something that might have come up during a roleplay session.
Actually - what it really reminds me of is you. If a theological question like that came up in Dogs (or, I dunno, some other random game), and it had real implications for your character, you'd just sit there with your big doofus "I'm thinking about something really hard" smile on your face relishing it. And then you'd say, "Wow," and laugh.
I'm not an expert on Roman Catholic views, but Vatican II did encourage some level of respect for other religions and the Roman Catholic church has encouraged dialog with other religions. I'm not suggesting that they encourage religious pluralism. They don't, but they are more involved in interfaith dialogs than many churches in my area.
Brand and Vincent:
For what it's worth, my observation has been that the more power the religious group has in society as a whole, the more messed up things can get inside the group. By contrast, when you're part of a small group of outsiders, people tend to sublimate their ambitions for the sake of the group a little more.
In my hometown, a large percentage of people came from either my denomination or the denomination we split from in the late 1800's. There was still some tension left about that when I was growing up (1970's-1980's).
Amusingly, once outside Western Michigan, people from both groups find that they have a lot more in common than that which divides them.
It's not exactly the same, but it sounds similar to me (but I may be missing a lot...).
I'm sorry to hear of your loss, Vincent.
I don't post often here, but the religious element of the this conversation made me think of an interesting parallel. How Vincent's dad has helped produce a child who spends much of his life thinking deeply about, and struggling with, ethical and philosophical problems of a certain type, and the answers he has found have led others (like me) to flock to his altar, to take his wisdom and apply it towards improving some aspect of their lives.
I'm not being irreverent here, not am I taking what I've written above too literally. But, Vincent, whether or not your father knew anything at all about gaming, I'm sure he must have been very proud of you.
Joel: Not only am I Catholic, but my best friend is in grad school for Religious Studies. So my answer isn't as awesome as my friend's would be, but I feel sufficiently geeky to take on this question...
Karl Rahner, a famous Catholic theologian, came up with the theory of the "anonymous Christian" - which basically postulates that non-Catholics who live lives of virtue will still be saved after death. This was basically an attempt to reconcile the concept of a loving god with the fact that there are a hell of a lot more non-Christians than Christians (let alone Catholic Christians).
Of course, one could raise the point that to refer to, say, a Buddhist monk as an anonymous Christian smacks of hubris. But Rahner himself said that he hopes that that Buddhist monk would in turn think of him as an "anonymous Buddhist".
This is, of course, a radical oversimplification. There's a really good article here with some good information on Rahner and his theories: http://www.innerexplorations.com/chtheomortext/kr.htm
One of my colleagues at National Journal, Jonathan Rauch, is a gay man in a longtime committed relationship who is also strongly opposed to polygamy. The full article got reprinted on Reason magazine's website (http://www.reason.com/rauch/040306.shtml since marginalia are disabled), but in a nutshell:
Other things being equal (and, to a good first approximation, they are), when one man marries two women, some other man marries no woman. When one man marries three women, two other men don't marry. When one man marries four women, three other men don't marry. ....For the individuals affected, losing the opportunity to marry is a grave, even devastating, deprivation. (Just ask a gay American.) But the effects are still worse at the social level...
Such [permanently frustrated unmarriageable] men are ripe for recruitment by gangs, and in groups they "exhibit even more exaggerated risky and violent behavior." The result is "a significant increase in societal, and possibly intersocietal, violence."
Crime rates, according to the authors [ Valerie M. Hudson and Andrea M. den Boer], tend to be higher in polygynous societies. Worse, "high-sex-ratio societies are governable only by authoritarian regimes capable of suppressing violence at home and exporting it abroad through colonization or war."...
Hudson and den Boer suggest that societies become inherently unstable when sex ratios reach something like 120 males to 100 females: in other words, when one-sixth of men are surplus goods on the marriage market. The United States as a whole would reach that ratio if, for example, 5 percent of men took two wives, 3 percent took three wives, and 2 percent took four wives....
.... polygamy is, structurally and socially, the opposite of same-sex marriage, not its equivalent. Same-sex marriage stabilizes individuals, couples, communities, and society by extending marriage to many who now lack it. Polygamy destabilizes individuals, couples, communities, and society by withdrawing marriage from many who now have it.
Thanks, Anna. I've a lot of curiosity on the subject (of Catholicism in particular, and ecumenical movements in general, so, uh, two subjects), especially since those Infamous College Years, where I made (among others) actual Catholic friends and learned they weren't the Whore of Babylon. :)
I grew up as a Unitarian-Universalist. I even went to a UU summer camp for two years. By the time I got to be, oh, 16 or 17, I lost whatever interest I had in going to church (and I never had much to begin with) and I haven't been to a UU service since.
As I got close to finishing my undergrad degree, my father quit his job--as a UU minister. I was born while he was finishing up his seminary, so he'd been a minister for my entire life up to that point. It was strange when he quit, but he explained it this way (and I'm paraphrasing here): "I've had this job where I sell faith and hope to people, and I just can't do it anymore." He also said, "It's the job of the priest to stand in the temple and tell the people to follow the laws of the temple. It's the job of the prophet to stand outside of the temple and tell the people to follow the laws of God and forget about the laws of the temple. I don't want to tell people to follow the laws of the temple anymore." (Or something like that.)
Ron, your "groovy" comment is spot-on. My dad's talked about that, too. He got involved with the UU church when he and my mom where marching for civil rights in the '60s. But just after he got into the church, it got less into hardass social equality work and more into groovy encounter sessions and stuff. (My dad did his seminary in northern California, by the way, Ron.)
My mom went to Starr King and is now a UU minister in MA. It's crazy. Any other job, she would have walked a year ago, and nobody would have blammed her, given the crappy treatment she was getting.
As a teen, I had amazing and important social and spiritual experiences in the youth groups, creating meaningful ritual with lots of other kids in organic and awesome ways. As an adult, I'm wondering what the heck is up with everyone being so egotistical and stuck in their own timid and familiar patterns. I don't get it. And it makes me sad.
I've had the best spiritual experiences outside of organizations. In small groups with my women's circle, in semi-anarchic to structured yet free rituals in pagan and eclectic circles. As I've gotten more involved in the behind the scenes of making certain spiritually focussed events go, I've had less satisfaction due to getting caught up in politics. But at the same time, other folks who were attending got a lot out of them. It's like a wierd sacrifice one makes to let somebody get the good stuff.
And, Sydney, thanks for the cogent summary of that position. It is a compelling argument against polygamy. It doesn't seem to rule out polyandry, group marriage, or more radical deconstructions of marriage, such as the acknowledgement of alternative household/family/economic union units. But then, I've lived in semi or fully communal situations for more of my life than not, so I tend to think in that direction. : )
An issue with multiple partners in marriage is the same as in creating a commune--it reduces the amount the same group of people has to consume in order to live. If I live with 10 people we all can share the same stove, refrigerator and stereo. If we lived separately, we'd each have to purchase these things individually. It is good for the group members, but they are contributing less to the overall commercial economy. Group arrangements are simply more complex emotionally and legally, and our laws are not set up to handle the legal ramifications. But also it is not as suited to supporting the functioning of our capitalistic economy which may be an underlying reason behind opposition to it.
Emily, I suppose you could have a society where polyandrous and polygynous families balance out -- where there are as many women with multiple husbands as men with multiple wives, or even multiple spouses of each gender in one family -- but it's a purely theoretical construct. Every time and place in human history we've actually seen polygamy, to my knowledge, it's been one man, many women, and tightly linked with authoritarian power structures that put low-status women in positions of near-slavery (often with more abuse at the hands of senior wives than of the husband himself, e.g. Sarah and Hagar) and that relegate low-status men to cannon fodder or criminality.
And even as a theoretical proposition, I am really dubious about polygamy being compatible with equality: Sure, some multiple-spouse marriages may manage it, but in my personal experience (my marriage, marriages of people I know), it's hard enough to establish truly mutual cooperation and respect between two people. Start adding a third spouse, a fourth, a fifth, and you make consensus decisionmaking harder and the emergence of a leader more likely -- and be that leader the senior wife or senior husband, I don't want every intimate matter of my life managed like that.
Which ties back to the whole Universalist Unitarian "burn a question mark on your lawn" discussion thus:
People, a lot of these funky cool social ideas have been tried before, and they FAILED. Traditions and institutions do not endure merely because they are self-reinforcing power structures (though they need to be, to exist): A lot of them endure because they work, in the sense of contributing to human happiness and survival. We humans have tried polygamy; the societies that went monogamous generally survived a lot better and did better by their members. We tried polytheism; societies that adopted monotheism generally have done a lot better. We tried communal ownership of property (the Incas went fairly far in this direction, I understand, long before the Russians); capitalist societies generally seem to have done a lot better, again not just in competition with other societies but in providing for their own people. Yes, I'm not blind to the rampant oppression, injustice, and human misery in the monotheistic, monogamous, and capitalistic society in which I live, but compared to most of human history, it's doing pretty well: "it's the worst possible society, except for all of the alternatives."
Americans, above all others, are prone to say "The lessons of the past are irrelevant! The imperfections of the present are intolerable! The future is a blank slate!" The downside of this is the whole unhappy history of communes, both in the 19th century and in the 20th, or of religious "cities on a hill," from 17th century Puritan Massachusetts to 19th century Mormons in Utah to 20th century Branch Dravidians in Texas.
I know very little about contemporary paganism, but I've studied ancient paganism, and in most of its forms it did precious little to protect the rights of women (e.g. temple prostitution in the ancient Middle East, the seclusion of upper-class women in classical Athens), or to solidify social bonds between rich and poor or between one region or another. If people want to draw on the tremendously powerful symbolic language of historical paganism to say something about the contemporary world, more power to them -- I think our society needs to recapture the language of myth, which is part of the reason I roleplay at all -- but there is danger in inventing new myths, not only opportunity.
I belong to a religious community -- Episcopalianism, aka Anglicanism -- that seriously believes in the "apostolic succession" of new bishops being consecrated by existing bishops, who were in turn consecrated by earlier bishops, all the way back to Jesus Christ. The Episcopal (i.e. "bishop-ly") church also offers a useful framework: "scripture, tradition, and reason." It's critical to return to the sources of one's faith and culture; it's critical to respect the tradition of all the generations that have gone before you trying to figure out the same problems; it's critical to apply your own power to think things out from scratch. Drop any one of these three and you're in trouble: Disregard the sources (the Bible, the Buddha, whatever), and you deny yourself the ability to stand on the shoulders of giants; disregard the tradition, and you end up repeating the mistakes of a history you didn't learn from; disregard your own reason, and you end up mindlessly repeating the patterns of the past in changed conditions where they don't apply.
There's a terrible temptation among liberal minded, highly educated, highly creative people -- like most gamers I know -- to say, "tradition, feh, all oppressive rot, who needs it."
"my observation has been that the more power the religious group has in society as a whole, the more messed up things can get inside the group. By contrast, when you're part of a small group of outsiders, people tend to sublimate their ambitions for the sake of the group a little more."
- strike "religious", and that statement goes for any group.
have you played the Colorado City Branch town in DitV? I played it two or three times before realizing it was based on the real-world Jeffs.
Emily, I suppose you could have a society where polyandrous and polygynous families balance out -- where there are as many women with multiple husbands as men with multiple wives, or even multiple spouses of each gender in one family -- but it's a purely theoretical construct. Every time and place in human history we've actually seen polygamy, to my knowledge, it's been one man, many women, and tightly linked with authoritarian power structures that put low-status women in positions of near-slavery...
The theoretical construct, where we unlink polygamy from those authoritarian power structures, is precisely the one under discussion. Arguing against the way it's been done before is not arguing the point.
...And then two paragraphs later you invoke Jesus Christ as the institutional author of an oppressive authoritarian power structure all his own.
It really sounds like you're reciting apologetics at us, not arguing with us honestly and on our terms. Knock it off.
Note to self: Do not attempt to explain passionately felt, theologically convoluted arguments when sleep-deprived and irritable.
My apologies, Vincent -- and to anyone else who looked at that and thought "what the hell?" It's partly a delayed, slow-burn reaction to the religious-beliefs "open house" thread, which explains some of the out-of-left-field-ness.
I'll take some time and try to reformulate the relevant thoughts in a less ranting manner. Until then, an awkward silence followed by "anyway, as we were saying...." is probably in order.
Just a small thing about polyandry being 'theoretical': back in my undergrad days in anthropology, I read accounts of real life polyandrous societies--i.e. one woman, many husbands, where one man-many woman marriages were neither supported nor encouraged.
Hypothesis offered for what supported this structure: resource management. Resources were few (i.e. only a little land to be had), so centralizing land in the hands of a wife with multiple laborers (i.e. husbands) worked fairly well. I'll make no claims about this, but will note this does seem to touch a little on Emily's talk about commune's using fewer resources.
I will suggest that there is nothing in commune structures that are innately anti-capitalist, that don't contribute to it. It's a strange comparison, but one that bears considering: many immigrants live in arrangements that are structurally related to 'communes' as Emily used the term. Those people, far from not contributing to capitalism, often play a defining role within it.
Thanks, Sydney. I very much agree with your "drop any one of these three and you're in trouble" point. Buddha said, "but don't just take my word for it", but presumably he expected that people would read his words first, etc.
Re polyandry: it has been practiced in Tibet for just those reasons.
Ian wrote: I will suggest that there is nothing in commune structures that are innately anti-capitalist, that don't contribute to it. It's a strange comparison, but one that bears considering: many immigrants live in arrangements that are structurally related to 'communes' as Emily used the term. Those people, far from not contributing to capitalism, often play a defining role within it.
(hi Ian!)It is true. Though they are often the ones more exploited, or reaping the least benefit from it. Shared resources is associated with being lower on the totem pole in this country. The higher in status you are, the more resources you use for fewer people. I just read a blurb about the "jet set", literally about owners of private jets and where they spend their money: an average of $30,000/yr on alcohol, ave of $160,000 on hotels and resorts, the list goes on like that. Millions on art. Contrast that with migrant or immigrant workers being paid sub-minimum wage living 10 in a 2 bedroom apartment.
The nuclear family is a new phenomenon, pretty much unsustainable at any time prior to recent history, and even currently, outside of the developed world. Communes are really just hearkening back to the social organization still being practiced by extended families living together. Witness the recent trend of more young adults living with their family for longer (so called slackers and others). It just make financial sense to not have to support separate dwellings and all the related expenses.
But there is a group financial structure that is protected: the corporation. This is how those with high status and high financial class do group their resources. Corporations have elaborate and strong protections and great tax benefits. For this reason, many people in (very) non-standard household situations form limited liability corporations. It is a way to take part in those benefits and protections that is recognized by the state. Nothing to do with the reproductive unit, but instead the economic one.
For this reason, many people in (very) non-standard household situations form limited liability corporations. It is a way to take part in those benefits and protections that is recognized by the state. Nothing to do with the reproductive unit, but instead the economic one.
This is VERY true. In fact its one of the fastest growing areas in the Financial Planning world right now, although one largely flying under the radar.
Standard defaults set by Federal or State law for health benefits, custody, asset ownership, tax payment, inheritance etc. assume a nuclear familiy, which in most state laws assume married couple of opposite genders.
People in non-standard relationships...even long term couples who simply aren't "married" under the law (living in non common-law states) run into these issues.
A big one is that a spouse automatically takes possession tax free all of the joint assets when the other spouses passes away. Not true if you're in a non standard relationship. But there are many fun and interesting ways to structure property ownership to get around these laws.
Which of course begs the question...what's the purpose of having a law structured a certain way when all its takes is a smart lawyer to completely legally circumvent it anyway...why not just change the law and eliminate the extra hoops?
Answer: Its all part of the Full Employment for Attorney's and CPA's Act which, while not a real law, is responsible for most of the sillyness.
But I didn't mention those guys because I know much less about their sex life!
That statement (of Brand's) struck me when it flew by. . .Now that's it's resurrected, I'll comment on it.
If we're just talking about "religiously fervent, charismatic, gathering devoted people around himself; it starts out socially and religiously conservative, rejecting the decadence and relativism of mainline," I can see that applying to all those on Brand's list (though I'd probably quibble about Christ or Siddartha being "conservative," but hey, it IS true that they rejected the decadence of their day). But "over not many years the doctrines and the in-group sex become very weird". . .? Speaking of the two guys that I DO know a little something about, well, I can see reading between the lines (as I know some do) and speculating that Mary and Martha, Mary Magdalene, etc. indicate Christ being a wacky Koreshian sex cultist. Though it's just that, speculation. But I'm not sure where you would even get anything near "the in-group sex becom[ing] very weird" in the case of Moses. I mean, if you want to say something about charasmatic and fervent people inspiring movements that evolve into entrenched (and often oppressed) power structures, then fine, great. But it strikes me that with the Smith-Koresh comparison Vincent's talking about something more specific.
Hmm. I might be selling this to the wrong crowd, but I'm going to argue that not all charismatic religious leaders have rampant in-group sex with their followers/believers.
It's the sort of argument that's impossible to prove. And of course all of the examples everybody hears about ARE the cases where there's rampant in-group creepy sex. But I'm going to go out on a limb and venture that sometimes, people who start religious movements stay true to the ideals of the movement and refrain from screwing every follower they can get their hands on.
Fair enough, as far as I know Moses didn't have any wacky group-sex that he participated in. I was mostly thinking about the issue where he married a foreign woman, but that was okay because she was a good foreign woman -- where as the guys that married the bad foreign women were executed without a trial and their executioner's decendants were given eternal, unrevokable priesthood.
Then, of course, came the whole Cannaite slaughter. But that was Joshua, and we sing songs about how cool it was when he massacared Jericho.
But you're right that there is no kinky group sex that I know of. That'd wait a couple generations for the kings. (David, Solomon, etc.)
I was thinking, in general, less specifically of the kinky group sex and more of the "violating rules both of their time and of ours." When you look at a lot of religious figures straight in the face, without appology or faith to explain their actions, it isn't so pink a picture as we like to paint most of the time.
Thanks for pointing out the corporate route. I think what bothers me is that route is most available to those already privileged, to those able to afford the 'smart lawyers' to find the work arounds for them or with the educuational know-how to find it themselves. Do you (or anyone else here) know of any people or groups who have explored using this option as a workable path for helping out those already living in communal situations as a result of poverty?
Ok, Brand, I'm totally with you on all that stuff, Moses-wise. Jesus would seem to me to be a different case, though maybe that's a natural bias. Regarding my initial reaction, I guess Vincent's statement had led me on a different path. A kinky, group-sex-laden path.
On another note, Emily, I'll second Ian's question. This is something I've been thinking about a lot lately, for both theoretical and practical reasons.
Ian and Joel: The closest I can find is Haley House in Boston, which seems to be an example of what you are looking for. Haley House is an intentional community with a residential program for low income people in which tenants are involved in managing their houseing. They run a cafe, soup kitchen and pantry and work education programs. This models seems similar to religious service missions, perhaps with a greater emphasis on empowering the participants.
Sydney, one obvious problem with Rauch's argument is that a pretty large proportion of the US adult population is already unmarried -- as much as 40% by some accounts, up from about 10% in 1960. So whatever the sort of effects we're supposed to be seeing, we should already be seeing them.
But the issue is not unmarried: it's unmarriageable. There's a big difference between being single well into your 30s, or 40s, or forever, and being able to date around and find romantic and/or sexual partners, and living in a society where there are significantly more single men than single women (or vice versa) and every man knows that there's a good chance that, when the music stops, he's going to be left alone for the rest of his life.
Polygamy, in practice, is likely to be a way for high-status individuals to accumulate two or three or more mates, sucking those individuals out of the dating/mating/marriage pool. It may allow for all sorts of other, better things as well, but it's hard to imagine a society of people so pure that the wealthy and powerful don't end up with more spouses, on average, than ordinary people.
Now, I've been carefully using gender-neutral language so far. But let's not kid ourselves. Vincent argued that "The theoretical construct, where we unlink polygamy from those authoritarian power structures, is precisely the one under discussion." But, to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, you undertake sweeping social change with the society you have, not with the society you'd like to have. Granted, the United States and Western Europe (where I reckon almost everyone on this board comes from) have gone dramatically farther towards equality between the sexes than any prior civilization I've ever heard of. But I'll laugh out loud at the first person who tries to argue contemporary Western civilization isn't still pervasively sexist.
Which means that if you legalize polygamy in the United States any time in the next 20 years, what you're going to see is a significant number of rich, powerful men marrying two or three or four wives, a much smaller number of middle-class and poor men (probably from certain cultural subgroups) marrying multiple wives, and a negligible number of women of whatever social status marrying multiple husbands. That in turn will mean an increase in the number of middle-class and low-status men who are single by necessity for prolonged periods -- as in, no dates, no longterm relationships, no sex except with prostitutes, for years and years of their lives.
I don't see how this is in any way good for either the women involved as co-wives or the men who are denied partners. I don't see how this is in any way good for society as a whole. It may not be Boxer Rebellion-bad -- apparently a lot of the rebels were lower-class single men denied a chance to marry by widespread female infanticide in 19th century China -- or al-Qaeda-bad -- suicide bombers are mostly single men, often drawn from the large pool of 20-something Arab men who are unemployed virgins living at home. But it'll be bad enough.
Crucial caveat: Specific individuals are no doubt able to enter into polyamorous relationships that are stable, egalitarian, loving, and beneficial for all individuals. I'm sure there some people who fit that description reading this post. Good for you; be happy. I'm not coming for you with my six-shooter, my Bible, and my long embroided coat. I just don't think society as a whole is ready for it, anywhere near. Go look up some of the legal workarounds that Ralph (Valamir) mentioned above, because it's not wise to change US law to recognize the functional polygamies if in the process you give Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, and Dick Cheney (remember how rich he is!) a chance to play King Solomon.
I value nothing in this world more highly than individual human freedom. (I'd make a strong argument that God values nothing more highly, either, given that He apparently is willing to allow humans to be horrifically evil to one another as the price of allowing humans to be free). But the only way to protect everyone's freedom is to limit it: my freedom of speech doesn't include the freedom to shout you down, my freedom of association doesn't include the freedom to join a country club that does not admit blacks or Jews, my freedom of action does not include the freedom to whack you upside the head just 'cause I feel like it, my economic freedom does not include the freedom to dump all my factory's pollutants in your garden because it's cheaper than disposing it properly, my reproductive freedom does not include the freedom to marry ten women, even if they're not my underage cousins.
II. The Religion Thing
And this is where I get back on my high horse about "scripture, tradition, and reason":
There's a dangerous tendency among a small cadre I'd call the "internet intelligentsia" to think their own capacity to reason is sufficient to solve any problem, personal or societal, and nothing from the past (scripture or tradition) is relevant. Here you get a lot of self-proclaimed Libertarians and victims of what I'd call "Robert Heinlein disease": Sure, we can legalize heroin, privatize law enforcement, and conduct free love orgies with our own reversed-gender clones -- we're smart enough to avoid any bad consequences!
There's a much more dangerous tendency, among a much larger group of people dating back to at least the Reformation, to think that all that matters from the past is the original scripture, and that their own reason is sufficient to interpret it without reference to the traditions of how past generations interpreted it.
Thus you get all sorts of Christian fundamentalist groups haring off after literal interpretations of Bible verses taken out of context. (Salafist Islam, whose extreme forms include Saudi Wahabism and al-Qaeda, returns directly to the Koran with a very similar disregard for centuries of Islamic jurisprudence and scholarship). Mormonism is to some degree an outgrowth of this kind of radical Protestantism, but since it brings in its own, hitherto unknown scriptures with which I'm not personally familiar, it's really beyond me to classify it.
The other major form of reason+scripture without tradition, ironically, is radically individualistic syncretism. Here I'm talking about all the people in the "what's your religion?" open-house thread who say something to the effect of, "well, I went to church/temple/whatever a few times, but I don't adhere to any organized religion, but I consider myself spiritual, and I've come up with my own belief system based on a mix of Christianity, Hinduism, paganism, etc." My reaction to this is similar to my reaction when I hear someone say "well, I took a few chemistry classes, but I consider myself a chemist, and I draw on different manuals I found on the internet to mix up plastic explosives in my bathtub."
Religious belief is serious business. Reengineering basic social norms, like monogamous marriage, is serious business. Human beings have struggled with these issues for thousands of years. And you don't get to say, "well, it's my business what I believe and how I live." It's not. It affects everyone around you. Setting aside whether or not you have an immortal soul (and one of my friends once told me, wonderingly, "you're the first self-proclaimed Christian I've met who seriously worried he was going to Hell"), what you believe affects how you live your life, which affects whether you're happy or miserable, and whether you make other people happy or miserable.
If your avowed beliefs don't affect how you live -- then, guess what, you really believe something else that you haven't articulated: Common examples are "I take what I want," "I'm a bad person who must suffer," "anyone dumb enough to love me should be punished," and "the more stuff I have the better a person I must be."
BIG WARNING: And if your avowed beliefs include casually mixing and matching mythologies and rituals from different sources you don't particularly understand, you're playing with fire. Those symbols and processes have lasted this long because they have tremendous psychological power. Please go look at Meg Baker's discussion of ritual "containment" in the specific context of roleplaying games (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=16661.0) and learn how to put on some metaphorical gloves and eye protection before you hurt yourself or someone else. (Vincent, could you please link that?)
If you look at stable, functional societies -- ones that preserve everyone's freedom over a long time, rather than giving a few individuals the freedom to screw over everyone else -- they tend to have strong mechanisms in place to enforce traditions. Great Britain has its constitutional monarchy, House of Lords, and unwritten constitution; the United States has its almost-impossible-to-amend Constitution and its unelected, appointed-for-life Supreme Court justices. Apparently irrational traditions often make a lot of sense.
A last, personal note:
The Episcopal Church of the United States -- which I clearly gave the wrong impression about in my prior post -- is a good example of this apparently irrational yet practically functional traditionalism. On the authoritarian side, new priests have to be consecrated by bishops, and new bishops have to be consecrated by the laying-on-of-hands by prior bishops ("apostolic succession"). But any Anglican tradition bishop anywhere can consecrate priests and bishops for anywhere else -- the first Episcopal bishop of the independent US was consecrated in Scotland because no English bishop would lay hands on a rebel colonial -- and the members of congregations have the right to "call" (hire) and, in dire circumstances, dismiss their priest(s), as well as to send elected delegates to the church's national legislature. This is frankly mind-numbing even to a lifelong Episcopalian like me, and you can see from recent headlines about the consecration of gay bishops that it's hardly prevented dissension and strife within the church, but on the whole it keeps us on a middle course.
Actually, there are examples of societies that have used polygamy as their standard model of marriage, and thrived. I'm not sure that we can point at polygamy as the cause for the downfall of the Incas. Unless it was jealousy, rather than gold that drove the Spaniards? :-)
I'd also humbly submit that the second wife of Bill Gates would have a better shot at quality of life than my first wife - leaving aside any preconceptions she had about marriage as a couple being an essential part of happiness.
There is also evidence that polygamous societies have tended to result in more faithful marriage, whereas monogamous societies tend to have relatively large levels of unfaithfulness.
I think the most important point is that we have the society we have. Most people (myself included) would be pretty unhappy if they were expected to share their partner with someone else. Some large societies have made this work, but they did it with people brought up in their societies, not with your average modern American/European.
Sydney, the fact that some symbols and traditions survive doesn't show that they have tremendous psychological power, it shows that they have the power to perpetuate themselves. That's all.
This is a longstanding, dare I say it traditional, complaint of atheists: our symbols and traditions just can't compete with the ruthless and violent ideological opportunism of religion. Religion is cynical where atheism is idealistic; accordingly, religion rules the world.
So try being an idealist for a minute, let's see what happens. Pretend that magically people will marry mostly for love (and thus, across class boundaries), and that men and women will marry one another in close-enough balance, whatever the available arrangements are. With me? I know it's impossible, just pretend. Do you still have an objection to polygamy? Don't write another 20-paragrapher, just tell me whether you do and what it is.
Vincent, that last one was only 18 paragraphs! I just counted!
If everyone involved loves everyone else and knows exactly what he or she is getting into? And nobody's going to power-trip over anyone else because A joined the family before B or because B is younger and prettier than A? And everyone is able to pay adequate emotional attention to everyone else? No problem.
I just don't think most people are up to that. God knows I'm not.
And yes, power-tripping and jealousy and intrigue can all occur in a marriage of two, I know -- but every person you add increases the potential for problems exponentially, if only misunderstanding and distraction among well-intentioned and loving people.
This thing you said -- the fact that some symbols and traditions survive doesn't show that they have tremendous psychological power, it shows that they have the power to perpetuate themselves. That's all. -- I totally disagree with. I'm not saying the symbols and traditions are necessarily benign. But if they didn't have any psychological power, how would they have "the power to perpetuate themselves"?
Compulsion and inertia alone can't explain people actively converting to Christianity, or Islam, in the face of Roman Imperial or Chinese Communist oppression; compulsion and inertia can't explain people deciding they are not merely subjects of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor or the British Crown but actually Czech or American patriots who need to fight for independence. These ideas mean something to people.
They have some positive value in individuals' lives -- and, I'd argue, in the history of the world as well. Darwinian logic suggests that phenomena, like religious belief, that show up over and over, often independently, in every human culture I've ever heard of must have some survival value.
Sydney, you're trying to convince me of things, aren't you? You've stated your position and it's not enough to have stated it clearly, you want me to adopt it. I just figured that out.
Well, okay. I'm not going to do that, because I think your position is morally bankrupt. Polygamy is bad because it's hard and unlikely? Episcopalianism is good because it's old? Religion is good because everyone's doing it? You're making these moral judgements based on amoral circumstances and logistics - at least, so far that's all you've done. It's hollow, heartless.
If you want me to change my mind, you're going to have to talk to me about conscience and ideals. That probably meanst that you're going to have to stop screwing around and tell me about Jesus. I might be wrong about that, but you're sure as hell going to have to tell me about something better than how stupid people are.
Vincent, Dogs in the Vineyard is the most sincere and thoughtful struggle with faith, conscience, ideals, and practicality that I've ever seen in all of gaming: I think you already respect the power and importance of religion, for good and ill. This discussion so far has magnified our very real differences and minimized our very real common ground.
So I don't think I need to convert you to my position, let alone to my religion. Now, I would like to advance out of "moral bankruptcy," so at your invitation, I'll stop talking in historical and sociological terms and enter where angels fear to tread, but my Christianity may not look entirely idealistic to you, Vincent, I'm afraid:
Lord, I believe: Help thou my unbelief! (Mark 9:24)
I believe that the world is screwed up, that people hurt and fail each other all the time, and that I fall short of the person that I should be, every day.
I believe that I cannot perfect the world, or myself; that if I demand perfection, I will become a monster of frustration, fury, and self-hatred; but that I can offer forgiveness, and a second chance, and a third, and a fourth, "seventy times seven" and more. (Matthew 18:21-22).
I believe, like my brothers and sisters of every faith I have ever heard of, that though evil and entropy wrack the world around me, they will not win in the end.
I believe that there is something essentially and fundamentally good in the world, in people, and in myself; that this good is the source of all that exists, rather than some evil demiurge, amoral forces, or blind chance; and that this good endures.
I hope for the resurrection of my body; but whether I have a soul or not, whether I have an afterlife or not, whether I am bound for heaven or hell or nothingness, is secondary to my faith that something good endures forever: what I pray in my desperation and despair when I lie awake at night is simply, "Lord -- exist!"
I believe -- unlike my animist brothers and sisters, as I understand them -- that this essential and fundamental good is a person, not an impersonal force; and -- unlike my polytheist brothers and sisters, as I understand them --that this person, God, is a unity, not a multitude.
I believe, unlike my Muslim and Jewish brothers and sisters, that God did not only create the world, but chose to inhabit it; that God does not only observe history, but entered into it; that God did not only give us life, but became one of us.
I believe, in spite of all our evil-doing and in spite of all our failures to do good, that to be a human being is something so profoundly holy that God himself (herself) was not ashamed to become human, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, called the Christ.
I believe that God's incarnation as Jesus Christ, fully human and fully divine, shared and hallowed every essential aspect of our human life: to be carried in the womb, to be born in blood and pain, to breathe, to eat, to drink, to sleep, to piss and shit, to rejoice at a wedding (John 2:1-10), to weep at the death of a friend (John 11:33-35), to feel fear at the prospect of dying himself (Matthew 26:39), to break bread and drink wine with his friends and say farewell (John 13; Matthew 26; Mark 14; Luke 22), to be betrayed by a loved one, and to suffer, as we suffer, pain and death -- and then to rise again, triumphant, the good enduring in spite of everything the world can throw at it, in the promise that we will rise as well.
I believe that every single human soul -- yours, mine, anyone's -- is so precious that God was willing to die in order to save it.
I struggle to treat everyone I meet as God would have me treat them: as beings of infinite worth, destined for eternal life, free to do good or evil, but always worthy of forgiveness and always capable of redemption.
I try to remember that every time I look into another person's eyes -- even when I look into the mirror -- that what looks back at me is something sacred.
Sydney: Awesome. Yes. I don't know what you're worried about, that's plenty idealistic.
Personally, I don't find "so precious that God was willing to die" or "destined for eternal life" compelling, but "profoundly holy" and "of infinite worth" and "worthy of forgiveness" totally work for me.
So now, on that shared basis, I'll take your point that legalizing polygamy would (almost certainly) be a complete disaster. When I'm king of the world, we'll all be wicked happy for checks and balances, no doubt about it. I'm not wise, I'm just some guy with a blog. I'm also in favor of legalizing pot, legalizing prostitution, and instituting a federal maximum wage (set at, oh, let's say 20 times the minimum wage). Clearly, what do I know.
But I AM going to press you on symbols and traditions. When you say that certain of them have psychological power, and handling them naively is playing with fire, do you really mean that they have spiritual power, and handling them naively is dangerous for your soul?
Historically, there are numerous examples that deny you the authority to make the claim you are making about bathtub chemists re: religion. Sikhism, as just one small example. Simply put, what you call a "blasphemous, dangerous bathtub experiment" is someone else's next major religion.
And, spiritually, the question I have to ask is: why do you assume you have the authority to tell God how he must speak to people, or any authority at all to tell anyone else how God chooses to speak to them (which is more or less the same thing)?
I believe the above sheds light on some pretty fundamental problems with the basic idea about traditional views and practices and new views and practices you have put forth. How do you believe your claim holds up in light them, if at all?
FWIW, polygamy as an option among many is fine by me. Polygamy as institutionalized oppression of women is not.
Same with prostitution, by the way.
Pot should be legal anyway, since alcohol is.
Overall--under conditions of self-determination, those options should be available. That requires both the law and cultural norms to be in the right place.
As for maximum wage... let's just slap a 90% flat tax on all earnings above 20 times minimum wage. (I've been saying that for a while, but I'm also a German leftie Social Democrat.) Because some people earning too much money undermines the condition of self-determination for the rest of us.
This series of comments is important and probably unintentionally hilarious. Sydney's saying really interesting things about the nature of religious belief, and although I think he's off-base, I'm fascinated. Raven's got some interesting feedback. And then some of us (me included!) think pot is OK!
If we're going to state our personal beliefs, I think marriage shouldn't be a legal institution at all, but a cultural/religious/ritual one. You should be able to register people with the government that will have the same rights as spouses now: basically, registering your living unit. As far as "marriage," though: I find it bizarre that it is a legal entity, as it is rooted in religion and ritual.
And as far as my personal beliefs about marriage, I obviously like it. I'm married. I'm very open about what that should mean, though, and I think that a group of people who love and care for each other is probably a lot more healthy than just two people, but I don't think our (and by "our," I mean modern America) shared culture is ready for the sort of melting-pot-of-touching culture that would fit our psychology better.
because it's not wise to change US law to recognize the functional polygamies if in the process you give Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, and Dick Cheney (remember how rich he is!) a chance to play King Solomon.
Sydney, we don't live in King Solomon's time. Outside of extreme right-wing religious communities, women are no longer possessions. Women are people, autonomous individuals, with the right to employ lawyers and sue for divorce. Donald Trump's first two wives divorced him for sleeping around. What makes you think they'd put up with additional wives? How many potential divorce settlements can a rich man afford to take on?
Avram: Do you really want to give Donald Trump the legal right to try to prove you wrong, with real people's happiness at stake?
Clinton: As far as "marriage," though: I find it bizarre that it is a legal entity, as it is rooted in religion and ritual.
In every culture I know of, including ours, marriage has major economic implications: it may involve dowry and/or brideprice, and it inherently changes who inherits what when someone dies, even if no children are born (unless you have an elaborate, ironclad pre-nuptial). In many cultures, elite marriages also have major political implications: my tribe is now allied to your tribe, my kingdom to your kingdom. It's unsurprising that the state regulates it.
Smoking pot is bad for you. I know, so is drinking alcohol, and because it's much more prevalent in our culture it does much more damage. But we have thousands of years of tradition -- there I go again! -- that make a decent stab at regulating how you use alocohol, and that give consumption of alcohol (e.g. at the Eucharist) social context and significance: If you're of European descent, you probably don't have the same cultural apparatus helping you out with marijuana (obviously, I can't speak for other cultures). I'm not really eager to spend the next few thousand years doing trial-and-error with people's health on how to incorporate any additional recreational narcotics into the society I live in, so I'd rather ban any of them I can on a precautionary basis. But frankly I wouldn't get too worked up if marijuana got legalized, since it's not that bad for you.
Rev. Daegmorgan: what you call a "blasphemous, dangerous bathtub experiment" is someone else's next major religion. And, spiritually, the question I have to ask is: why do you assume you have the authority to tell God how he must speak to people, or any authority at all to tell anyone else how God chooses to speak to them (which is more or less the same thing)?
First, in self-defense: I never mentioned "blasphemy." The concept's not really relevant to what we're discussing, anyway.
I didn't say the word "dangerous" either, but it's so strongly implicit in what I did say that I'll grant you that one. Better yet, I'll go ahead and use it now myself: Yes, I do indeed think that mixing and matching your own religion on the fly is inherently dangerous. (Why I'll go into in my answer to Vincent below).
And I am certainly not telling God how He (She?) to do anything: That would truly be blasphemous.
I am definitely warning other people to be careful when they think about God -- especially if they think God is speaking to them: Both modern psychology and ancient demonology would tell you there are other voices it could be. But even if you're not schizophrenic or possessed, the bloody and unhappy history of people starting or trying to start new religions should make you cautious.
I do not presume any "authority" to warn people in the sense of being able to command people to do one thing or the other. I do claim some "authority" in the sense of "knowing what the hell I am talking about": I've read a great deal about the subject and have spoken to people more informed than myself. To get back on my favorite high horse again, I belong to a tradition -- in general, the 4,000-year Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition; in specific, the 200-year U.S. Anglican tradition, i.e. Episcopalianism -- that gives me the benefit of what smarter and holier people than I have thought about this for generations, as well as the cautionary tales of the stupid or evil done in my own tradition.
We accept the value of institutional knowledge in the sciences, history, even inside one company's IT department where you don't want to lose the one guy who's been here since the server was installed five years ago: Why do so many people reject the value of tradition in spiritual matters? It's not as if the nature of God, the universe, and good and evil is simpler or easier to figure out for yourself than how to reboot the network.
I can't speak about the Sikhs one way or another, except to note that they've been around for centuries. Darwinian logic suggests that, if their religion was horrifically flawed in such a way that it led to appalling human misery or social breakdown, people would have stopped cherishing it and adhering to it long ago. If someone tries to create the "next major religion" tomorrow, I'm going to be awfully skeptical -- and I think the lethal experience of the Branch Dravidians and Heavens' Gate groups argues such skepticism is not only a reasonable precaution but a moral imperative.
I can speak about early Christianity, and it's important to emphasize how firmly Jesus of Nazareth rooted His teachings in longstanding Judaic tradition. He observed Passover and worshipped at the Temple; His social criticism (the cleaning of the temple, being willing to heal and feed people on the Sabbath) and His ethical commandments fit squarely into the prophetic tradition -- even "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is a pre-Christian Judaic axiom; even his self-proclamation as "Son of Man" arises out of a centuries-long Messianistic tradition. The Gospels certainly quote Jesus criticizing the Mosaic law permitting divorce ("what God has joined together, let no man put asunder" - Matthew 19:6) and mandating the death penalty for adultery ("let he who is without sin amongst you cast the first stone" - John 8:1-11), but they also cite Him repeatedly stating that He has come to fulfill prophecy, not to invent something new and utterly alien to tradition.
Vincent: But I AM going to press you on symbols and traditions. When you say that certain of them have psychological power, and handling them naively is playing with fire, do you really mean that they have spiritual power, and handling them naively is dangerous for your soul?
I'm not particularly concerned that God will punish people for blasphemy or heresy or idolatry, if that's what you mean; I figure all of us humans are fallible enough that our ideas about God must make Him (Her) alternately laugh and weep, and while some religions are closer to the truth than others, none of us has it entirely right by any means.
What I am concerned about is that people will screw up their lives -- principally by damaging their personal psychological health and their relationships with others. I wouldn't make a strong distinction between "psychological" and "spiritual" here, or between mental health and the health of your soul: A spiritual belief that is sincerely and strongly held must by definition influence thought and behavior, which makes it a psychological reality as well.
Jungian archetype theory, as I understand it, operates on the same principle of profound and wary respect for these symbols. My own recently concluded The Shadow of Yesterday campaign deliberately played with archetypes I'd tentatively call the Devouring Mother, the Tyrannical Father, the Martyred Daughter, and the Wandering Man (see http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=19794.0) -- but we all were fairly well aware of what we were doing, and we confined acting out these archetypes to the game itself, respecting Meg Baker's warnings about proper intentionality and containment in ritual (see http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=16661.0). If we had been trying to create our own religion, even -- especially! -- if we were doing it half-seriously, we'd have needed much stronger safety precautions and would have had much more trouble containing these disturbing ideas to one specified compartment of our lives.
Almost any religious idea, taken out of context (or, sometimes, in context) and without heeding the warnings of tradition and history, can lead to destructive behavior: There were Christian heresies that argued if God could forgive anything, the way to prove His forgiveness was to commit horrible acts; there were Christian orthodoxies that argued if God was one and author of the laws of the universe, the way to respect that unity and sovereignity was to make citizens utterly subject to rulers, wives utterly subject to husbands, and execute anyone who disobeyed. Other religious traditions have elements advocating human sacrifice (ancient Greeks, Pre-Columbian Americans), ritual prostitution by women willing or unwilling, and ritual self-mutilation. This is not a toolkit of ideas that anyone can just grab stuff out of at whim without serious reflection and serious study.
What I am asking for is humility about our own "new" ideas -- which are all too often old, bad ideas revived -- and respect for the thoughts and experiences of those who have gone before us.
[quote]As for maximum wage... let's just slap a 90% flat tax on all earnings above 20 times minimum wage[/quote]
I love that this has been brought up a couple times now, because it demonstrates how artistically minded people on this list are.
Artistically minded in the sense that one just assumes that all of the really big things that get done will continue to get done simply because someone loves it and is passionate enough to do it regardless of profit. That's how an artist thinks. After all we all still design our games and consider making enough profit to help with a car payment or two to be successful.
Practically speaking however, for most people things get done because someone is looking to make a killing and get rich.
Many of us on this list also are engaged in various technology based vocations. The internet we use daily, the blogosphere we're communicating on now, the fancy cell phone that plays MP3s...all got invented, produced, and implemented because SOMEBODY wanted to make major bank.
Same can be said for most every medical advance of the last 100 years.
Cap the bank innovators stand to make and watch innovation slow dramatically. Not stop...there will always be artists doing it for love...but without the "hit it big" lottery we'd still be communicating on use.net and BBSs and carrying cell phones the size of a cinder block.
This is why for the past decade+ socially minded Canada has suffered a significant brain drain as its best and brightest, hoping to get rich or die trying, move to America.
Not every innovation leads to riches. And not every innovator hits it big. But its the CHANCE that drives so much of it. Eliminate the chance by putting a guarenteed cap in place...and kill innovation. And...since we're a consumer driven economy fueled by innovation...kill the economy as well.
Just splashing some reality into the lefty love fest, I now return you to your regularly scheduled programming ;-)
The culture you live in would be bizarre and alien to someone from 100 years ago, so the idea that only traditions with hundreds of years of backing are okay is pretty strange. You presumably drive a car (or at least interact with cars), an object of immense power surrounded by a set of rituals that are less than a hundred years old. You presumably do not view your wife as your subordinate property, but rather as a coequal, a violent violation of hundreds of years of tradition that has only come to full fruition in the past 4 or 5 decades. You are having an argument on a computer network, a method of communication which is barely two decades old, and which presents radically different challenges and opportunities than any preceding method of communication. For that matter, you are having the argument on a blog, a conceptual institution that is only a few years old, and which operates by radically different rules than any preceding computer network based communication system. Somehow, you seem (and so do the rest of us) to be doing all this without inflicting particularly great harm to yourself or others.
Now, it may be that all of this is radically unsustainable, and that people in a thousand years will still look back at the global civilization of the 21st century and shake their heads in wonder at the strange ways of that bizarre moment in time, but you are living in it. This is your culture. So trying to claim that you predominantly live by traditions that are hundreds of years old is a bit bizarre. And the traditions you need to make living in this culture make sense need to be judged carefully and on case by case basis. The criteria for judging is the same whether the practices are 6 months old or 10 thousand years old.
The New Testament tells us that those who are filled with the spirit can drink poison and handle snakes, but I think a cult operating off of that holy text will kill you just as surely as the one that explains that the Lectroid Aliens can make you immune to poison if meditate on the letter K. You have to judge by what makes sense and what works, not by how old it is.
Sydney, you're treating your own tradition as the only tradition; please stop. You're invoking "Darwinian logic" without reflection; please stop.
Meg's religion has an older and more distinguished tradition than yours does, with a stronger history of doing good in the world. Mainline Christians burned Unitarians at the stake 500 years ago. (And I'd rather follow the burned than the burners, I'd a thousand times rather. Your people are bullies and have always been.)
Your own tradition is a product of massive picking and choosing. Every single holiday you celebrate was a pagan holiday first, picky-chosen into Christianity by some human beings who liked some ideas and didn't like others. Your entire theology came piecemeal from other sources.
Religious dissent has always been a good idea, with a tradition going back to the morning after the first religion was first founded.
What I am concerned about is that people will screw up their lives -- principally by damaging their personal psychological health and their relationships with others.
My personal experience and an informal mental survey of my friends and acquaintances strongly suggests that traditional religion will screw you up way worse than either nontraditional religion or nonreligion.
While I fear this could be seen as ganging-up on Sydney (which I do NOT want to do), I too have a point I'd like to press a bit on: the idea that certain, uh, culture's/civilization's have survived and/or thrived BECAUSE of, say, Christianity or Islam (or monogamy, and etc.) I'd say the evidence is pretty much against that notion (just as it is against what most people mean when they say Social Darwinism). While Jared Diamond may have gone a bit far in ???Guns, Germs and Steel???, I'd say the geographical and resource issues faced by a society are certainly CRUCIAL determinants, more fundamental than cultural phenomena. In saying that I wouldn't want to reduce the role of such things to an absolute minimum (clearly, if nothing else, opportunity has to be seized to have an impact, and whether or not that happens might well be traceable to aspects of a culture), but to my marginally educated eye I see a significant overstatement of their impact, especially in terms of contributing to simple survival/success.
I was going to say, perhaps not as much in terms of human happiness, but then I remembered some recent research into the nature of "happiness" ("The Futility of Happiness"?) which might well argue the case that it's even more true there. But my core point to press on is simply the exaltation of particular social constructs as key causes of success. Not so, it seems to me; at the very least "key" needs to removed, and probably replaced with "at best secondary or even tertiary."
On the issue of church politics, let me offer a bit of ???politics is always local??? perspective. Looking back on my childhood through mid 20???s church-going experience, I was lucky - our little Episcopalian congregation was the *little* Episcopalian church. Politics was what happened at the *big* church. Those who wanted that - went there. Those who got sick of it there ??? had somewhere else to go. And there were enough generous, wealthy folks in the community as a whole that political (or other) competition over money was never a real issue.
All that going for me, and still I have little use for organized religion. The rabid church-hating beast I might have become if I???d been raised certain flavors of, say, Catholic . . . shudder.
Hey! I love the fact that you are so passionate about this stuff. Religion gets into you. As a long-time Baptist (yes, really; of course, not now), I have those pathways engraved in my head, and I love reading what you're writing, even if, of course, I think it's not correct.
Tangents first: you know The Shadow of Yesterday should include you making your own religion at some point, right? The game is about the complete destruction of tradition in order to make a new way.
Ok. Here's what I've really got to say that I doubt I'll be able to articulate. We regard tradition in many fields, like science or our local IT department, well because it's proven. I regard the scientific method as a good thing because I know that I will be able to have better experiments with it. I regard Joe the IT guy as someone I don't want to lose because I can verify that he is willing and able to fix my network at 2am.
Neither you, nor I, nor anyone else, will ever have a verifiable religious experience. Religion is personal. I am not arguing for or against the existence of God or the truth of religions here, by the way: that question is, and always has been, irrelevant. What I do argue is that the nature of your religious experience is not observable in a replicable fashion by anyone. The only true observer of your own religious experience is you.
We treat religion differently, because it is different. Tradition is fine, if that's what your religious experience calls for, but to say it's necessary or even prudent indicates that the religious experience of my forefathers is in some way connected to mine: it is not, except by shared cultural values taught to me. Again, this does not preclude the existence of a God; it does preclude that only I am aware of my relationship with the divine.
(Regarding "hearing voices"? You know and I know "hearing the literal voice of God" is not what I'm talking about when I talk about "God speaking to you". Let's try "God revealing himself to you" instead, maybe that will involve fewer connotations of mental health.)
I think your response is far too rooted in the "now". The reason I brought up Sikhism was because four centuries ago it was a dangerous bathtub experiment. It was decried and disavowed by people saying the very same things about it you are saying here about any mixed religious practice.
Looking at it now and saying, "Well, see, it has four centuries of tradition behind it!" misses the point a bit. Yeah, it does. But it didn't four centuries ago. Four centuries ago it was one guy who had to sneak into the temples of his two faiths to worship because he was a heretic to them both for daring to mix their incompatible (really!) beliefs.
He was the guy you're deriding for abandoning tradition and striking out on his own: the dangerous heretic stirring up social boundaries.
Seriously, Sikhism combined HINDUISM and ISLAM: you can't get more functionally incompatible social worldviews than that. These two religions have an on-going history of bloody violence between them, based on their societal differences, and yet here's a mixed religion born from both of them. A bit borrowed here, a bit there.
As Vincent points out, the same is true of Christianity. Everything starts from something else. Every tradition is, at some point, a dangerous bathtub experiment: Paganism, Sikhism, Christianity (and its various branches), Buddhism, etc.
Yes, we need to be careful what path we take when striking out in new directions. True. But that's true of everything we do, so it isn't an argument for the superiority of tradition. No one is saying tradition isn't useful, but no one should be saying change isn't useful as well.
I, personally, happen to think God is much, much bigger than any singular tradition of man, and any singular tradition can not hope to encompass the entirety of understanding such a thing/being for every person. Instead, each person has to meet God on their own terms, and learn to hear what He's saying in the way He's saying it to them specifically.
Sometimes, tradition allows Him to do that. Sometimes, it doesn't. Sometimes He mixes things up a bit because He can and has to for you.
After all, it swings both ways: tradition gets in the way of growth as often as it provides a stable, traveled path forward. History proves this time and again (we can all say Copernicus, right?).
And as for Jesus and tradition, To use Jesus or Christianity to advocate continuing tradition, social stability, and caution, is a bit...well, odd in the light of history.
First, I think you do Jesus a disservice: he was a revolutionary. He defied the existing social order and condemned it on many occassions, arguing for sweeping changes to the existing culture and its practices.
That hardly sounds like the traditionalist you've argued he is. He shook things up, the whole culture, the whole society on a foundational level, with new ideas and practices that flew in the face of long-standing tradition. He rocked the boat hard.
The same goes for the young Christian faith.
And hey, I think it is great you're advocating the cultural/social benefits of tradition, because tradition is kind of sneered at sometimes without good reason! I also think you are overstating your case by rejecting change out of hand, without considering the equally manifold benefits thereof.
Vincent said: Personally, I don't find "so precious that God was willing to die" or "destined for eternal life" compelling, but "profoundly holy" and "of infinite worth" and "worthy of forgiveness" totally work for me.
Vincent, I think you'd be interested in Eastern Christianity - which is of a much more mystical bent than Western Christianity. Western Christianity (Roman Catholics especially) were corrupted by Roman ideas of legalism as well as Teutonic Feudalistic ideas. Eastern Christianity, mostly due to it's lack of proximity to Rome, almost completely escaped this influence.
The idea that Christ had to die to save us from sin is based on feudalistic notions that the severity of a crime is based on the dignity of the person offended. Killing a noble is much worse than killing a peasant. So if you extrapolate that to God, whose dignity is infinite, then there's no way humans as finite beings can expiate the crime of sin. Hence, it becomes neccessary for Christ to step in to save mankind. So the Western idea of "Christ died for our sins" is basically a holdover from the Feudal era!
Eastern Christianity sees Christ's death completely differently. They see Christ's death as the ultimate witness to the life of love. His only mission on earth was to live the ultimate life of love here on earth, and his death on the cross was the culmination of that. Christ's death, therefore, becomes part of an educative model of salvation - making it possible for humans to achieve divinity in the fullness of time.
So it's not that Christianity is inherently cynical. It's just that Western society's ideals tend to choke out idealism. But I'd venture that the Eastern model of "Christian salvation" is pretty damn idealistic.
Gordon said about ganging up, so it's time for me to make clear: I would be shocked, dismayed, and baffled to find out that Sydney's and my friendship is at stake here. Me and Sydney, we've taken our families to the zoo together; a little internet argument isn't going to touch that. We were always going to argue about religion someday, and here someday is.
Sydney, I figure that if I cross any lines you'll email me, right? I know that I'll email you if anything you say really bothers me that bad.
And, uh, sorry about the bullies crack. That's on my conscience.
I like how this thread got renewed for a second season, with the topic shifting a little bit, bringing in new characters and stuff. Except I'm like, uh, is it okay to respond to stuff from 18 posts ago?
I like what Clinton says in his second to last post, which might also be his first post. Human beings are probably totally capable, as a whole entire species, of embracing a communal marriage system, like we're all married and groovy and stuff, but there's a whole lot of cultural rewiring that would need to be done.
I think it was two gencons ago I was talking to Em about pollies and I said for me it's hard enough just managing one intimate relationship. If I had to divide my time up, I feel like I'd lose something somewhere. Two people would only get fifty percent of me, y'know?
My last conversation with my Dad went something like this.
Dad: "I'm off to work. We should go out to eat tonight."
Me: "Okay, sounds good."
What's the point of existence?
It's the fundamental question of reality.
And the religious debates always ensue. And the theists come out of the woodwork, and the agnostics/atheists try to wash their fears away, since no answer to the question can be objectively tested or verified, and the question is therefore irrelevant.
So we keep on living without an answer, because we don't want to rape our minds by believing in something untestable, unfalsifiable, illogical. We'd prefer a big question mark, right? As opposed to clinging to tradition, which is probably wrong?
What makes us think we can stand in a position to judge the rest of the universe? We are but a speck on the hide of a malevolent colossus that cares nothing for us or our struggles. Our logic cannot pierce his hide.
Forgive the melodrama. It's late. Thinking of death does strange things to the brain.
Vincent: You're invoking "Darwinian logic" without reflection; please stop.
I plead guilty to using shorthand, but I protest my innocence about being lacking in reflection. In brief, when I say "Darwinian logic" in a sociological context, I mean, "just as Darwin's theory of natural selection states that maladapted species will go extinct without descendants, my study of human history suggests that profoundly disfunctional social behaviors will either be abandoned or lead to the extinction of their parent culture, and that even morally repugnant practices, if they persist over multiple generations, usually have or originally had some survival value." If you really want to get into this, we can, but I think it'll drag this discussion even further from any kind of coherence.
Clinton: We regard tradition in many fields, like science or our local IT department, well because it's proven. ...Neither you, nor I, nor anyone else, will ever have a verifiable religious experience. Religion is personal.
Clinton, do you see that there are the aspects of religious experience that I do have cause to consider verifiable and thus more than merely "personal," namely the impact of religious beliefs (or any belief) on individual and group behavior? Judging whether a behavior of this kind is functional or not is obviously subjective, but not much more so than a paleontologist trying to figure out why an organism went extinct based on a few fossilized bones.
Vincent again: My personal experience and an informal mental survey of my friends and acquaintances strongly suggests that traditional religion will screw you up way worse than either nontraditional religion or nonreligion.
Your friends and acquaintances are by definition a self-selected sample who have a greater than average tendency to share your own outlook and experiences, so if we're talking about verifiable aspects of religious experience, that's not an adequate population to draw conclusions from.
Likewise, as you'd expect, my friends and acquaintances include a lot of people who not only benefit from traditional, organized religion but came to Episcopalianism in adulthood as a conscious choice: roughly half of these people defected from another denomination they were unhappy with (usually Catholicism) and roughly half were nonreligious and profoundly dissatisfied with it. Interestingly, conversion or return to the church seems to correlate strongly with having young children. But I attend an Episcopal church that has its own parish school, so my anecdotal experience means jack, just like yours.
That's why I keep talking in the sweeping, impersonal sociological and historical terms you find "hollow" and "heartless."
Finally, Vincent, I'm just not worried about you in the same way I'm worried about the "bathtub chemists" with their homebrewed theologies. Yes, I'd personally be very happy if you came to accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior (again, since you were Mormon), but ??? besides having no expectation that'll happen ??? your own writings about your break with Mormonism show me that you have what Meg's ritual essay called "intentionality": You really know what you're rejecting, and you've seriously thought about it. Ironically, you're far better grounded in religious tradition that somebody who goes to church a lot and wears a "WWJD" bracelet but couldn't recite the Lord's Prayer from memory or retell a parable from the Gospel.
2. Yes, I do drive a car; yes, I do celebrate Christmas.
Charles: The culture you live in would be bizarre and alien to someone from 100 years ago, so the idea that only traditions with hundreds of years of backing are okay is pretty strange. You presumably drive a car... the traditions you need to make living in this culture make sense need to be judged carefully and on case by case basis.
Raven: hey, I think it is great you're advocating the cultural/social benefits of tradition, because tradition is kind of sneered at sometimes without good reason! I also think you are overstating your case by rejecting change out of hand???
Raven, thank you. As with Vincent, I think the context of this discussion has magnified our differences and obscured our common ground.
Raven and Charles, both of you surely realize, when you're not being rhetorical, that I'm not "rejecting change out of hand" or "trying to claim that you predominantly live by traditions that are hundreds of years old"? Remember what I said in my first post (#45) that pissed people off: "scripture, tradition, and reason???.It's critical to return to the sources of one's faith and culture; it's critical to respect the tradition of all the generations that have gone before you trying to figure out the same problems; it's critical to apply your own power to think things out from scratch. Drop any one of these three and you're in trouble."
The shift towards equality for women is arguably the most important advance in human freedom in history. I probably would have been awfully nervous about it in 1960, but as I was born in 1973 I'm spared that. The rector of my (Episcopal) parish is a woman, and I love her, trust her, and have confessed to her things I have told few other people. Her two assistants are both women, the Presiding Bishop-elect (yes, she was elected) of the Episcopal Church is a woman, and I admire them all.
I would also stand with them in supporting the ordination of homosexuals as bishops, which is an issue over which the US Episcopal Church has suffered threats of secession from its own congregations and threats of expulsion from our sister Anglican churches abroad ??? but I also value the institution of the world Anglican communion, and the tradition of our unity, enough to be willing to compromise on that principle, for now.
To make it clear: I do not claim to be an idealist; and while revolutions are sometimes necessary, I'm probably not the man to make them.
Vincent: Sydney, you're treating your own tradition as the only tradition; please stop???. Your own tradition is a product of massive picking and choosing. Every single holiday you celebrate was a pagan holiday first, picky-chosen into Christianity by some human beings who liked some ideas and didn't like others. Your entire theology came piecemeal from other sources.
I'm with you up to "piecemeal": Christian theology is a pretty straight derivative of Judaism with a strong infusion of Hellenism ??? and the Hellenic stuff is often what we moderns find problematic, e.g. the tendency to disparage the physical world. The holidays and symbolism grab from all over, yes, but much of that was done on purpose by fervently Christian clergy as a conscious way of reaching out to new converts; almost all of it was ultimately processed through the institutions of the church and, over time, forged into a reasonably coherent whole.
And let me clear up a common misperception ??? that being Christian somehow means you have to think every pagan myth is a big lie, and that any pagan motifs incorporated into Christian practice constitute corruption. Absolutely not!
To paraphrase C.S. Lewis (and now I've just labelled exactly where I stand in the politics of the Anglican communion, at least for certain readers), it's the atheists who are compelled to believe that the 99-plus percent of human beings throughout history who believed in gods of some kind were simply deluding themselves. Christians are able to look at myths like the death and rebirth of the fertility-god or the sun-god, or the cosmic compassion of the mother-goddess, and say, "Yes! That's the right track! Just keep going further ??? you'll see that this road leads to Christ, and these gods turn out to be echoes of one God!" (Not all pagan myths, and not all pagan gods: Some are horrific, which is why I'd prefer people be Biblically literate Christians, or Jews or Muslims, and then read and appreciate the pagan myths from that perspective, rather than try to reinvent pagan traditions by themselves and out of context).
C.S. Lewis called some of the pagan stories "happy dreams," and many of the Church Fathers of the first few centuries A.D. actively argued to the Greek-influenced world that their mythology and philosophy prefigured Christianity and found their logical conclusion in Jesus of Nazareth. There is an active tradition in the Church of translating pagan deities into (obviously, fictional) saints, and of appropriating pagan holidays and symbolism for Christian ritual. What Christianity has to offer over classical paganism, which was often morally ambiguous and severely fragmented into local subcults, is its emphatic emphasis on a universal morality ??? of which the institution of the universal Church, and its codified traditions (there I go again!), are the admittedly flawed instrument on earth.
Which brings me to???
3. Yes, my people are bullies.
Vincent: Meg's religion has an older and more distinguished tradition than yours does, with a stronger history of doing good in the world. Mainline Christians burned Unitarians at the stake 500 years ago. (And I'd rather follow the burned than the burners, I'd a thousand times rather. Your people are bullies and have always been.)
It's absolutely true that Christians have committed horrific atrocities, and not just the cynical ones, but the sincere believers. It's absolutely true that my denomination in particular, Anglicanism aka Episcopalianism, was founded as part of a fairly cynical political power ploy by the English monarchy, starting with Henry VIII's divorces and seizure of monastic property. (I'm not familiar enough to say whether it's older or younger than Unitarianism). It's absolutely true that my church has frequently been the self-satisfied, spiritually hollow instrument of the powerful and propertied in both England and America. I'd also argue that the Episcopal Church of the USA today is liberal and afflicting-the-comfortable to a fault, in that the harm its principled stands do to the church as a community outweigh the good they do for society as a whole, but at least we're trying now.
But "mainline Christians" have done tremendous good for the world, too, like keeping some scraps of literacy and Greco-Roman civilization alive through the Dark Ages, and trying to enforce some kind of ethical standards on the warlords of the time (the "Truce of God," the code of chivalry). Our brothers in the Muslim community of scholars preserved vast amounts of Greco-Roman knowledge until we European Christians finally got ready to rediscover it in the Renaissance. I can go on, of course.
You want to try to tabulate good and evil, to weigh every crusade and jihad against every sermon for peace and every cleric counselling the local baron to show restraint? To balance those burned at the stake against those healed or fed, often by the same Dominican friars? To weigh the books burned against those lovingly copied and preserved? To deduct the indulgences and donations wrenched from the poor against the alms given to them in God's name? To decide when a priest's support for the king was supporting oppression, and when it was supporting the only bastion of security for the common people against perpetually warring feudal lords? Well, you can try. Based on my own studies, and my own obvious biases, I personally think that religion in general, and Christianity in particular, have done more good in the world than evil. I may be wrong.
But the net profit or loss to date is not as important as what we can learn from the past, both to avoid and to embrace. Remember, "scripture, tradition, and reason": without the past as a starting point we're lost, endlessly reinventing wheels as we spin in place, but we have to move on ??? and make what will become tradition for the next generation to refine.
Jim Zoetewey, whom I don't even know, said something wise way back in post #33: the more power the religious group has in society as a whole, the more messed up things can get inside the group. I'd refine that to "the more unchecked power any sub-group has within a group, the more that sub-group is prone to abuse that power." Tiny institutions, like the Heaven's Gate cult or, yes, a polygamous family, can have an utter monopoly of power over the lives of their few members in a way that leads to terrible human suffering; this isn't just a problem of big institutions, by any means.
So, Vincent, I suspect that the reason Unitarians have never burned anyone at the stake is that they've never been the official religion of a government: They've never had unchecked power, they've never had power to execute anyone, they've never had political power intertwined with their religious beliefs so tightly that anyone who dissented in religion seemed a threat to the stability of the government. The best thing that ever happened to the Anglican/Episcopal Church in America was disestablishment, after the Revolution, when the new "United States" decided they wouldn't have an official religion the way the British Crown did.
4. Christ died to save me. I'm not quite sure how that works; I just know it does.
Remember, "scripture, tradition, and reason" again: I don't have to explain everything by reason alone.
"Wundergeek" (and I'd rather call you by your real name): The idea that Christ had to die to save us from sin is based on feudalistic notions that the severity of a crime is based on the dignity of the person offended???.
That's one theological explanation of why Christ's death is important. There are also theologians who talk about Christ, being both human and God, dying and rising again to blaze a trail through death to the other side in a way we humans could not do for ourselves. There are theologians who talk about God hallowing death, and making it sacred, by experiencing it Himself. There are Eastern Orthodox Christians, as you said, and others beside, who see God's death on the cross for us as the ultimate expression of how much He loves us and values us. There are probably still other explanations I'm forgetting about at the moment.
Don't confuse one explanation for the belief itself. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis again, I know that I need to sleep to survive; there are lots of scientific theories why sleep is biologically essential, but if all of them were proven definitively wrong tomorrow morning, I'd still go to bed tomorrow night. And if it's really true that God thought so highly of humanity that He became human, suffered death like a human, and then overcame death on our behalf, that is literally the best good news ("gospel") in human history.
5. A question for Vincent.
Vincent: Personally, I don't find "so precious that God was willing to die" or "destined for eternal life" compelling, but "profoundly holy" and "of infinite worth" and "worthy of forgiveness" totally work for me.
Sincere question, not rhetorical: How does an atheist assign "infinite worth" to a human being? If you assume no soul, no God, and the heat death of the universe, humans are awfully finite.
I'm not using the word "infinity" figuratively here, but literally. As a human being, my capacity for goodness (and everything about me) and my worth ??? say, in terms of the happiness I can provide others ??? is limited too. The only way I get to infinite worth is if I, or something substantively derived from me (e.g. my soul), endures forever. Thus:
(finite but non-negative goodness of an individual human) * (eternal life) = infinite worth
I'm not saying that atheism can't provide an equally plausible equation with the same result, just that I can't see how. If you meant "infinite worth" figurativelly, that's fine; if you mean "infinite" literally, that's great, I just need to see the steps you use to get there from your premises.
Or maybe you meant what human beings are worth is inherently subjective, like whether vanilla is better than chocolate, and you personally and subjectively choose to assign infinite worth to an individual human being. That's okay, I guess, but I fundamentally disagree. If "Christ died for me" doesn't work for you, try this version:
"Good" is not an arbitrary or subjective designation, but an objective reality.
Good is not merely a reality, but the underlying force that created and sustains all reality.
Good is not merely a blind force, but sentient and capable of caring.
Good doesn't only care, it cares about you, Vincent, specifically. (And you, Meg, and you, Raven, and me, and each of us, as individuals).
Good cares about you so much that it would sacrifice anything and everything for you.
In fact, it already did.
It's a lot less elegant as a formulation, but maybe it's clearer in this particular context.
Cool. With the focus on the use of "reason", we're mainly understanding each other, though I suspect we still have some differences in viewpoint on the issue.
(I'd also love to discuss classical paganism and morality with you, but this just isn't the place.)
But if Vincent would indulge me, regarding the infinite worth of a man:
Man, even if he is gone at death, even if the soul is illusion, is infinite in his works. In his effect upon the world. Even if you are just one drop in the ocean, you are one drop in the ocean. Even after you return to the sky, you have eternally changed the ocean.
Worth can only be measured relative to the present moment, because that is all we have and all we ever have (we can include the expectation of future moments, and even the reasonable expectation of future moments, but not the future moments themselves). Worth can only be measured relative to our local area (just as evolution of all forms cares only about local conditions - I was going to say local optima, but I think local optima is too strong, evolution concerns only survival, which is rarely survival of that which is best, just that which is good enough for this moment here and now). What is here and now matters. What we do here and now matters. If believing in an eternal soul somehow helps you to do right in the here and now, then all to the good. Certainly belief in an eternal soul has helped a lot of people believe that what they did was doing right in their here and now (and believing that you do good in the here and now is the best you can do, knowledge being also contingent and local). That is how I conceive the universe (or my little corner of it). Infinite worth in the here and now really just means unmatchably large worth in the here and now, uncountable, unexceedable, not matched by adding together lots of little worths, no matter how many. No number of children enjoying the cat being tortured makes the cat's suffering acceptable. No utilitarian addition for some things.
I believe that I know what reason is, I believe that I know what tradition is, but honestly, I have no idea what scripture is. Obviously, to a Christian it is the Bible, new and old testaments. To a Muslim the Koran. To a Jew the Pentatuch (although I don't think this holds up for Reform Jews (the overwhelming majority of US Jews, and probably the plurality world wide, since many Israeli Jews are secular), at least, not where I'm going with the idea of scripture). Presumably the Haddith or the Talmud are tradition (as are church practice), but perhaps they become scriptural to some. But what are they, scriptures? What makes them other than tradition (its not just that they are written down)? Obviously, one's own scripture is different than tradition because scripture is True, but is that the key thing, not that it is true, but that you hold it to be true.
First principles, established practice, and reason, is that what scripture, tradition, and reason are? I can see then the argument to try to always act on at least two of them (although most of the time we probably only act based on one of them). Oh, also, I think they could be described as gut, habit and thought.
Before getting that you merely mean well established first principles, I was having a very hard time seeing what your scripture had to say about using computers or cars. Seeing scripture merely as the established first principles derived from you holy text, I can see a little more what you mean. You certainly aren't guided by long established tradition, so you must be guided by first principles and reason (at your better moments). Still, I disagree, I think we are mostly being guided here by very young traditions, some only a few years old, plus, we hope, reason. Sometimes, as in Vincent's "touch base" comment (#88), by first principles.
Really? I was led to believe that the ringleaders were largely concerned with unfair taxes, rather than anything else?
C.S. Lewis called some of the pagan stories "happy dreams,"
I'm not sure whether anyone with pagan beliefs would find a patronising "you are on the right track, just keep going and you'll get to what I believe" more or less annoying than a "I think all of you are deluded actually".
About worth, and belief
I always struggle with this: That the morality I have been brought up with judges "good" based on my actions. But a supposedly "good" god rewards or punishes solely on "belief". I suspect we'd all think a guy who tortures kids for fun but devoutly believes in god and redemption to be more evil than a guy who spends his life working to help others, but isn't sure about whether he has a soul. However from what I understand most christians believe god would put the "evil" guy in heaven, and the "good" guy in hell?
Wundergeek's mention of the anonymous christian is what I feel a god that was good by my standards would do, but seems to be at best a minority view.
Oh - and this is a relevant, interesting link : http://www.philosophersnet.com/games/god.htm
I also hate that this blog has like 12 hours of frantic awesome activity, then 12 hours while I post one comment, and then another 12 hours of excited discussion.
You should all move to England. For the good of your souls!
Crikey Charles, that's a very heavy hammer for this argument. None of the participants are as nihilistic as Arnold. Rather this:
...From weathered outcrop
To hill-top temple, from appearing waters to
Conspicuous fountains, from a wild to a formal vineyard,
Are ingenious but short steps that a child's wish
To receive more attention than his brothers, whether
By pleasing or teasing, can easily take.
Watch, then, the band of rivals as they climb up and down
Their steep stone gennels in twos and threes, at times
Arm in arm, but never, thank God, in step; or engaged
On the shady side of a square at midday in
Voluble discourse, knowing each other too well to think
There are any important secrets, unable
To conceive a god whose temper-tantrums are moral
And not to be pacified by a clever line
Or a good lay...
As an atheist, human existences have infinite worth to me because I don't think of the meaning and value to be experienced in the universe as finite* and I believe that every bit of that meaning and value comes from human beings.
You're looking backward, from "times eternal life" to "times finite life" and finding that wanting (quite rightly, from where you stand). To those of us who never believed in eternal life, though, that calculation is invalid. Instead, it becomes more of an "all gold comes from supernovas" situation, where human existence has infinite worth compared to anything else because nothing else has worth. (Oddly, this dovetails with the ontological argument for the existence of God: I can conceive of a value which might be greater than the value of a human existence, but it is imaginary [to me, though not to you] and so it is not greater at all).
I don't know how that compares to Vincent's take, though.
* That is, while perhaps in your calculus of finite but positive times eternal life it is finite, since no human could possibly ever exhaust the range of human meaning, it is infinite for all I believe.
I am curious to hear your opinions on something Vincent mentioned in passing: Evolution is not about what's "good," it's about what survives. Humans survive, but that's been disasterous for many other species. Herpes survives, but we'd rather it didn't. It's been argued that advanced hunter-gatherer societies had a higher standard of living than early agricultural societies. But since agricultural societies had far higher population densities, they outcompeted hunter-gatherers. (Whether hunter-gatherers really were better off doesn't matter as long as we agree that agriculture would have outcompeted them either way). This would be a case where a cultural factor had greater fitness to survive, but that property had nothing to do with its effect on human happiness.
Value is a measure of scarcity. Sydney, reflect a little, it's clear that even God understands this. If there were infinite people or each person's lifetime were infinite, would humanity still have its value to God? Would God have bothered incarnating?
As the scope of humanity approaches zero, (value of humanity)/(scope of humanity) approaches infinite. Comparing one human life vs. the universe, (value of one human life)/(scope of one human life) is, for all possible human purposes, infinite.
This assumes a non-zero value to one human life. I feel comfortable including that assumption in my calculation here because Sydney included it in his, independent of eternality. However, I'll say without reservation that it's an assumption, not a fact, and that it's the assumption that makes me not a nihilist.
Vincent: If there were infinite people or each person's lifetime were infinite, would humanity still have its value to God? Would God have bothered incarnating?
Yes, of course.
It doesn't matter if there is only one human being in the entire history of the cosmos, or only two, or only a thousand trillion, or an infinite number (which is possible, I suppose, if we're wrong about the eventual heat death and consequent finite duration of the universe). The number doesn't matter, because the value of a human being is infinite in any case, and one x infinity and infinity x infinity are both infinite. So in any and all cases, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is necessary, and I believe God would have thought it well worth living and dying and living again - for one person or for infinite people.
Vincent, your equation is interesting, but I think we're defining "value" in incompatible ways -- yours is relative, mine is absolute. Human souls are not rare books: Rarity and value have nothing to do with each other.
Sydney, you're screwing around then. Why did you present your original value x eternal = infinitevalue equation when you could just've said value = infinitevalue and been done?
Now, don't answer; it's stupid to argue about the value of human life using algebra. Algebra must be a metaphor, it's got no choice in the matter. We must both mean something other than times and divided by.
Christ died to save me. I'm not quite sure how that works; I just know it does.
I'm a big student of belief so I appreciate the candour and sincerity of statements like this.
I get the feeling that regardless of the nature of event, it's the belief about it that is important to people.
That's how we have Cthulhu worshipping chaos magicians who are fully aware of the fictional nature of the Big C.
Given that fact and fiction are basically indistinguishable - any reporting of fact is basically a fiction of some kind, as seen by a certain observer, I think that lessons from fiction can be just as valuable.
I'll get to everyone else later today, but I can't resist answering Vincent, though, even though he's right that that my math isn't up to the task:
Rarity is irrelevant to absolute value: A copy of a mass market paperback collection of Shakespeare's sonnets is a much more common item than the sole surviving copy of a self-published book by someone who consistently rhymes "sighs of love" with "dove above," but the Shakespeare book is still of far greater value.
Likewise, a human being who almost never kisses his or her children is of less value (all else being equal) than a human being who hugs and kisses his or her children, even though parents who show some kind of affection are far more common. It's only when you introduce eternal life into the equation that you get to multiply by infinity and discover that either person has infinite worth in God's eyes.
But Our Lord said this all much better than I can -- you just have to think seriously about what the old familiar parable really means:
If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. -- Matthew 18:12-13.
Wow, I don't think there is any good way to respond coherently to all that is going on, so I won't bother to try.
First, Darwin: Darwin cuts both ways on the tradition thing. It is just as easy to make the argument that we are living in times so different that tradition does not serve us, that it maladapted and clinging to it will kill us. What the meteor was for the dinosaurs, modernity might be for tradition. I'm not endorsing that view, but just pointing out how poor an ally Darwin is.
Second, happy stories: see, I had the exact opposite response of C.S. Lewis. Devout, but then saw the Christian story as just one happy story--not even the most powerful one for me. Blame Jung for that.
Third, 'infinite value'--what does that even mean? I hear infinite anything and unless we're talking mathematical formulas, I'm tuning out. I think the idea that anything is infinitely valuable destroys our ability to make good value judgments. It destroys the scales. It also shifts us away from the person to this infinitely valuable soul. I want this person, here, now. If you want to take value out of the context of the relative, I don't think you are really talking about values anymore. You may use the term, but it takes on an entirely new meaning.
It's Kierkegaard (who I love and respect in his way): God says to kill your only child, what do you do? We can go on and on whether you are nuts or not, but the question is raw. You can only say you're nuts if you don't abandon the relative value system. If you step into that infinite valuation, all bets are off. All tradition is off. Especially if you have a robust tradition, it will tell you all sorts of different things you could do, that great men and women have done. Still, it's your choice.
Any statement of faith, to my mind, comes down to this. If you are swayed by apologetics, you are either easily swayed (have not found your belief) or you realize that the source of your belief lies elsewhere than you thought. The reasons themselves are irrelevant. Tradition, reason (church and science for dramatic effect), all come after the fact, to make those nigh unbearable moments livable, to wall them up so they do not burn away your capacity to live in the world with others.
Maybe Jesus follows the sheep that has wandered off because it is only that scared and bedraggled sheep that can get him, the only sheep not guarded by tradition. What is it Leonard Cohen sang? "...only drowning men can see him"
"I always struggle with this: That the morality I have been brought up with judges "good" based on my actions. But a supposedly "good" god rewards or punishes solely on "belief". I suspect we'd all think a guy who tortures kids for fun but devoutly believes in god and redemption to be more evil than a guy who spends his life working to help others, but isn't sure about whether he has a soul. However from what I understand most christians believe god would put the "evil" guy in heaven, and the "good" guy in hell?"
None of the christians I know (or am). More relevant for the argument, the tradition I belong to (Roman C) certainly wouldn't, nor would any of the christian traditions I'm aware of.
Also Tris: "Wundergeek's mention of the anonymous christian is what I feel a god that was good by my standards would do, but seems to be at best a minority view."
Not really, no. Or at least, not in my experience. Most people I know who believe in God/god/Gods/gods tend to agree that God knows that a devout asshole is still an asshole, and that nice people are still nice people, even if they think God is a quaint historical artifact from when we were just half a step removed from monkeys.
Obviously this suffers from Syndey's self-selected group problem noted above, but I strongly suspect that anyone who has applied reason to their beliefs as Sydney prescribes would come to the same general idea.
That's actually shocking to me. Not in that your beliefs are by their nature shocking - indeed, I wish all the christians I had talked to believed this. But shocking because it's so not the view most christian's I've talked to have expressed.
They believe that salvation is only through knowing christ - indeed, this is why christ has to die, because mankind is incapable of reaching salvation without accepting the sacrifice of christ. Therefore, if you don't accept this, no matter how good your deeds, the future is hellfire and damnation.
So I hit this huge problem - Presumably Christ had to sacrifice himself. But the reason given that he has to do so means god must have a different *alien* sense of morality to mine.
So I guess my next question is - if this isn't the case, why did Christ have to sacrifice himself?
Tris, you're wrestling with questions that have occupied theologians for millenia. You're not going to get an answer to that question on a blog.
Its true. The only way to heaven is through Christ. Period. The bible is pretty clear on that. So if you're a Christian its the starting point of the whole religion...but is it the ending point.
Throughout the bible there are alot of ways Christ is described:
The Way, The Truth, The Light
The Lamb, The Son of God, The Son of Man
The Word, The Messiah, a bunch more
All of those are in the bible too. So is the bible telling us that while there is only 1 way to heaven...through Christ...that there are many ways to perceive and define Christ? Possibly. Then there's that whole Tower of Babel story which is one of the most powerful and important stories in the bible that has unfortuneately been largely relagated to children's books. That has some very interesting things to say about different roads to the same place.
Welcome to Theology. Its why religion is based on Faith, cuz reason will only take you so far.
You do realize that the heat death only happens in one or two cosmologies, right? Painting all modern physical theory with the brush of "heat death" is a little ... uh ... broad.
I had a long post about tradition, and the breaking of it, which was lost. Suffice it to say that I agree with Sydney that breaking tradition is a stupid thing to do, but I think that it's something that we do and are, in fact, required to do as storytellers, artists, Americans, and humans in general. I'm happy to expound on that point if people want me to.
P.S. As a last bit: Sydney, you do realize that when Vincent says "if human lives were infinite, God wouldn't have needed Jesus to die for us" he means "if we were angels, we would not need Christ to know God" which is, I believe, generally held as true (God never provided a messiah to the angels -- no need.) At least, that's what I read him as meaning.
Tris: It's not that inclusivist Christians are all that rare. It's just that the assholes get all the publicity, and usually make a hell of a lot more noise. Thing is, with somewhere around a billion Christians in the world, there's no real way to pidgeon-hole Christianity into any one category. There's so damn many of us that there is rarely a official Christian viewpoint on anything. Hell, Christians can't even agree on what Christ's death *means* - although we do agree it happened.
The viewpoint of other religions as "anonymous Christians" is not a minority viewpoint, although I think in some cases it's a generational thing. Especially for us Catholics who have been born since Vatican II, and for the most part without ever being taught in school that non-Christians have a one-way ticket to hell.
Wow, this really exploded... Can't quite take it all in, but one thought...
On marriage - I definitely am in the camp that civil marriage and religious marriage should be two different things (that can be tied together by individuals). Civil marriage is mostly a contract, and most everything should be governable by existing contract law. However, there are a load of shortcut legal agreements that also come along for the ride, redefining civil marriage as purely a contract issue would drop out a lot of useful freebies (things like inheritance, power of attorney). So I would like to see some kind of civil union thing exist that is available to any group of adults (see, some worry about opening up the gates to child marriage, however, contract law already recognizes that minors can't be held to contracts in the same way, in fact, remove the government recognition of marriage the way it's recognized now, and those states that say it's ok to have sex with a minor as long as you're married can't hold that up anymore), that provides all the freebies that civil marriage currently grants (perhaps with a review and trimming of any that really don't apply - for example, I'd almost be in favor of property division upon break-up not being so automatic, but instead be required to be explicitly called out in the contract - it'd make divorce court a lot more streamlined).
I'm also inclined to make pot legal...
So, Vincent, I suspect that the reason Unitarians have never burned anyone at the stake is that they've never been the official religion of a government:
That's close to true... Except, for a handfull of years, there actually was a Unitarian king in Transylvania. And guess what his legacy is - the first proclamation of religious freedom. Of course as soon as the Catholics got into power again (after the king died), the author of that proclamation was quickly tossed in a cell to die (after laws were passed that severely restricted religious innovation).
There's also been another time when Unitarians have actually had some governmental power. If I'm getting my dates right, from 1825 to 1835 in Massachusetts, if the majority of a town's population were Unitarian, the Unitarians got possession of the meeting house (church and town meeting hall) and collected the taxes.
The Unitarian Universalist principles of faith say darn little about God. It's not about adherance to a creed, it's about how we are in relationship to each other and to the Divine as we encounter it. In light of that, it should not be surprising that UUs are at the forefront of the fight for marriage rights, as part of civil rights.
I also feel weirdly compelled to mention that UUs have been resonsible for horrible things. For example, a UU was responsible for helping found the KKK.
woah! I'm not saying that the Christians I've talked to are assholes - they are some of my good friends. But they do sincerely believe that I can end poverty, find a way to world peace, make everyone love each other so this all because I care so much for my fellow man, and I'll go to hell.
Religion based on faith - yep, from what I've seen it has to be. And then another problem: If a guy does some stuff I don't agree with, and says "I'm good" should I believe him?
What if he has a gun? Still no? Still shouldn't let him do things against what I think is right and call him right cos he says so?
Ok, I THINK these comments are still relevant and non-redundant. it's getting hard to tell. I've had to do a lot of reconstruction after working a long time at 3 in the morning then forgetting to tell the site I'm a human. :P
Oh well. It was pretty long and possibly less than coherent. I'll just think of it as nature's little revision process.
there's a positive side (or, perhaps, positive counterpoint) to the Matthew Arnold poem that Charles shared. I'll paraphrase C.S. Lewis (Since he seems to be in vogue here, to my delight): The insigificance of the speck called man against the vast backdrop of the infinite universe is an illusion created by man him(her)self. The vast and terrible majesty of the cosmos is conferred on it BY man. It is man's greatness that makes other things great. Pascal was terrified at the vastness of the void, but it is man's significance and value that inspires even Pascal's terror.
Also, Charles, "Well-established first principles" goes a long way for me in understanding what "Scripture" means in the context of this discussion. Thanks.
Anna, The idea that Christ had to die to save us from sin is based on feudalistic notions that the severity of a crime is based on the dignity of the person offended. . .So the Western idea of "Christ died for our sins" is basically a holdover from the Feudal era!
Eastern Christianity sees Christ's death completely differently. They see Christ's death as the ultimate witness to the life of love. His only mission on earth was to live the ultimate life of love here on earth, and his death on the cross was the culmination of that. Christ's death, therefore, becomes part of an educative model of salvation - making it possible for humans to achieve divinity in the fullness of time.
Wow. This is like a bolt of lightning to my brain. I think I've heard something like it somewhere, but still. . .seeing these two concepts in contrast are amazing in the first case because I wasn't aware of that historic context for the concept of Jesus' death that I grew up with as just a given, and in the second case because I had no idea there was a church tradition which takes a position so similar to my own recent (and still growing) understanding of what Jesus means to me.
Sydney, your Lewis-inspired point of "it works, even if I don't know how" is well taken. But the thing is, I see a moral quality in a statement like "I know Jesus saves me, whether it's a substitutionary atonement, or appeasing an angry God, or just pure love, or what." If we choose, say, "appeasing an angry God," then we can do all kinds of damage in our inner lives or outer behavior. Inner-wise, we can get all caught up in this God's mad at us" thing, and even though we trust in Jesus' payment to stave him off, still live lives of fear and self-loathing. I've seen it in tons of people, I mean, it's that self-selected group thing again, yeah, but it's the group I've got, and it's real. And outer-action-wise, it's even worse: maybe we start to really identify with Angry God, and why SHOULDN'T he be angry with all those unbelievers and heretics still defying him, and BY GUM we're angry too, and the next thing you know there's Jews and Muslims up in thumbscrews.
So these moral distinctions matter, and we're not just quibbling over how sleep works. It's important to how people live their lives, which I think is YOUR point: playing with ideological fire is dangerous. I agree.
One of the pastors at my eccentric, non-denominational, street-youth-oriented church started a Bible study recently. He started out running the various historic Creeds by us, then pointed out, "These are all about mechanics. It's like a plumbing schematic. There's nothing in here about love, about what God values.
Here's where I think Lewis' "dunno how it works" principle is more applicable: in the mechanics, not the morality. Thus, "I know Jesus loved me enough to die for me, but I don't know whether that means I'm 'saved,' or if it was just an example or what." Similarly, Jesus' divinity: "I know Jesus was like God, but I don't know if that means he's God incarnate, or sent by God, or if he just showed God's love by living it perfectly."
To Blankshield and Anna, on inclusivity and the prevalance thereof:
Bearing in mind once more the "self-selected group" caveat, I'd have to say as a kid growing up Conservative Baptist, my experience is the opposite. Exclusivist Christianity seems pretty prevalent from where I'm standing. And it's not just Baptists, it's the whole "Evangelical" movement. It could be that Evangelicals aren't as great a portion of the Christian populace as I thought, but I'd always had the impression that, in the U.S. anyway, they wrre pretty numerous and dominant.
Your description, Anna, does jive with what I know of my post-Vatican II Catholic friends, though.
Tris, I'm not sure whether anyone with pagan beliefs would find a patronising "you are on the right track, just keep going and you'll get to what I believe" more or less annoying than a "I think all of you are deluded actually".
I'd say Lewis has at least as much right to say it as anyone, since that's exactly where he came from. He felt that pagan myths prepared him for Christianity, and continued to love them as a Christian. Also, while I've no doubt many a pagan (like, say, "all of them") would dissent strongly, and possibly be offended, but a suggestion that their faith is just training wheels for Christianity. And who can blame 'em? If they agreed with the proposition, they'd BE Christians. But hey, how many of themfeel that Christians are either deluded, or only part right, and could do with expanding their frame of reference to include Pagan ideas? Sure, Pagans are pretty non-proseletyzing, and probably more likely to be "hey, whatever works for you" than Christians are. But all's fair in thinking other people are wrong. :)
Hmm, I hadn't heard about the founding of the KKK...
Another interesting, not very shining light, several years ago, I was doing some significant religion research for gaming. I picked up a book on the 10 great world religions, which had a preface that could be paraphrased as: "This is an unbiased look at the world's great religions, however, in the end, we will show Christianity is the best religion." So much for unbiased... Later on, I found out the book was written by a Unitarian (and was supposed to be the first, or one of the first, books on religion published in the US).
Well that's the thing Tris...for every Christian who sincerely believes that you can find other Christians who sincerely believe something else.
It is a fairly universal (as much as anything with the label Christianity on it can be universal) belief that you can't get to heaven except through Christ. Good works alone are insufficient.
But what does "through Christ" mean? It doesn't necessarily have to look like what fundamentalist evangelical protestants says it looks like. They're just a very vocal (although fastest growing in the U.S.) brand of Christianity.
And the bible doesn't say with precision what happens if you don't get to heaven through Christ. There is no "believe in me or burn in hell" verse...that's just interpretation. Depending on which theology you subscribe to you you could wind up in hell, in purgatory, or nowhere...waiting for the rapture and the second coming.
Christianity is not some giant monolithic thing. There's variations among people calling themselves Christian that dwarfs any Shiite vs. Sunni difference. The bloodiest most destructive war in European History was fought Christian vs. Christian over differences in doctrine.
So be very much aware that nothing your friends say about what it means to be a Christian, no matter how fervently they believe it, necessarily applies to anyone else who considers themselves to be a Christian. Christianity's got more flavors than Baskin-Robbins.
Man, there is way too much here for me to process it properly and give it the attention it deserves while I'm at work.
Tris, I don't know your friends, so can't speak to their beliefs. I will, however, strongly second the comments about post-Vatican II RC beliefs - I'm a post V-II'er myself. Also the stuff about blanket-statementing christians being about as useful and accurate as blanket-statmenting americans or europeans is very very true.
I will confess that I find the idea of a sincere belief in 'good people going to hell if they don't believe as I believe' is as foreign and mind-boggling to me as... a sincere belief that we all descended from clams and Xenu is out to get us. I just don't get it.
Over here in the UK, we're pretty much not all that religious anymore. [And I'd say that goes for any of the religions.]
And a true story: I was at a humanist funeral for a good friend in December -- it certainly wasn't any less heartfelt or meaningful to me, or anyone else there, and there was no invocation of anything religious or otherworldy at all.
John was born, he lived, he died. And we celebrated that and remembered him.
Now, in a way that seemed to me to be a very human tradition of respecting your friends and what they mean to you. It didn't need any spiritual element and it had none.
Gregor: I'm sorry about your friend. I'll pray for both of you. As I told my atheist uncle said when he was dying of cancer, "It can't hurt."
Joel: we can get all caught up in this God's mad at us" thing...
I agree, and the "Jesus died to make God stop being so angry" argument is one of my least favorite explanations for why the cross matters -- but given how badly we fuck up His creation, each other, and ourselves, I gotta admit God has every right to be mad as hell.
GB Steve: we have Cthulhu worshipping chaos magicians who are fully aware of the fictional nature of the Big C....
We do? Hoo boy.
Attention, anyone who is worshipping Cthulhu, whether with self-knowing irony or otherwise: STOP. Even pretending to be that fucked up is a good way to fuck yourself up, in the same way that looking at pornographic cartoons trains you to look at real women as sex objects.
When I talked earlier about do-it-yourself mix-and-match religion as being as stupid and dangerous as brewing explosives in your bathtub, I was condemning much better ideas than worshipping a demoniac, smelly slime-being that wants to destroy humanity and, by the way, was made up for a short story: That's in the "brewing explosives in your bathtub and then taking a bath in it while smoking, and not just smoking tobacco either" category of stupid.
Everyone else: I see that I'm going to have to explain salvation, damnation, and "justification through faith" -- which makes the whole multiplying infinities thing look simple and straightfoward. This may be completely beyond my capabilities, and it's certainly more than I can manage when I'm this tired, so bear with me and I'll write something tomorrow.
In the meantime, can everyone please try to unlearn the ridiculous misconception that "belief" in this context refers to "conscious intellectual agreement with a particular set of statements"?
The phrase "leap of faith" is a much better way to think about this, if you strip away the cliche and take it literally: Yeah, you can say you "believe" X or Y in the comfort of your armchair or your front-row pew; but when you're standing at the edge of the chasm, and there's someone on the other side shouting, "You won't fall! I'll catch you! Just jump!" -- do you have enough faith in Him to make the leap?
And no, you don't have to know His name to trust Him enough to jump. Conversely, you can call him Jesus and be able to recite all four Gospels from memory and still find yourself hanging back on the wrong side of the abyss. All that matters, in the end, is that you come face to face with the essential, abiding Good and say, "Okay, whoever You are, get ready to catch me, 'cause here I come."
looking at pornographic cartoons trains you to look at real women as sex objects
That's absolute bullshit. And massively oversimplifying things.
Sydney, you seem like a nice guy, and I'm a big fan of the posts you make on the Forge, but with every comment you make here, I'm less convinced you understand what everyone else is talking about and what's going on in the world.
All that follows is (excessively snippy) side notes and retorts. If you have any interest in engaging with me, please don't do it over this stuff. I already wrote my big piece comment 93), and am still interested in your answer to my question there (not any of the here and now stuff, that is just profession of faith, not an argument or a question).
I repeat it here for your convenience:
What do you mean by Scripture?
Is it just well established first principles, or is it more?
Is it only well established first principles that correspond to what you think first principles should be (the ones that will help you jump across the chasm when God pulls out the infinite value trust game)?
That's my real question, the one I would be helped by your response to.
What follows is snark and witticism(or my best effort thereat) which you or others may find amusing, thought provoking, irritating or tedious. Like the professions of faith, they probably don't need or deserve an answer.
On Cthulhu worshiping Chaos magicians, the one somewhat Cthulhu worshiping somewhat Chaos magician I know (I think she worships Azathoth more than Cthulhu, but she does like tentacles...) definitely derives a good deal of strength and functionality from her practice. What you imagine that it will do to people is not necessarily what it will do to people. Your pronouncements are heavily trumped for me by her lived reality.
I see that I'm going to have to explain salvation, damnation, and "justification through faith" -- which makes the whole multiplying infinities thing look simple and straightforward.
If you are going to start talking about salvation and damnation and all that (particularly the part about the chasm and the leap of faith), kindly admit that your religion is basically a Hellenistic mystery cult that uses the old testament as a talisman. Judaism is not concerned with salvation in the hereafter. Judaism is concerned with the here and the now. Judaism is concerned with how you best live your life for the rewards it gives us all in the here and now. A religion that is overwhelmingly concerned with the fate of the immortal soul may be (and obviously is) an historical descendant of Judaism, but it is not an extension or a continuation of Judaism. Nothing wrong with being a follower of a Hellenistic mystery cult, but claiming your religion is an extension of Judaism with a topping of Hellenism, when it isn't, is irksome.
Please, God, no.
Do you really not understand that it isn't that we haven't heard the Good News yet, but rather that your multiplying by infinities still looks like algebra on crack, even though we get salvation and damnation and the entire sick system of punishment and reward that you imagine God to operate by. I am no Christian, I was not raised as one, but rather to distrust the religion, child to a parent proud to be an atheist from a long line of atheists, but do you think that means I haven't heard of salvation and damnation, that I have not contemplated the infinite soul. Do you think that Vincent, raised a devout Mormon is unfamiliar with salvation and damnation? Do you not realize that this is our culture you are trying to teach us?
Don't answer, please, as this truly is rhetorical. Instead, look again at my question
What is Scripture?
-if it pleases you to address anything I have written.
I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on breaking tradition (lost posts seem to be a woe of this thread, I lost several posts to forgetting to allow scripts from lumpley.com, or maybe from being witty with the human test (does "barely" normally work?), luckily they were all tedious and ranty, so the world does not mourn their loss).
I think professions of faith are the most interesting parts of this thread, so my interest doesn't extend to you trying to convince anyone why breaking tradition is either dumb or necessary, but I would love to hear what you believe.
Fletcher (and, incidentally, those who responded to my quoting Arnold),
I hope you know that I meant the Arnold poem as both an agreement and as a balm to your woes (although I recognize that a poem is small comfort to the utterly arbitrary and completely unexpected loss of your father), and that you did not take it as a retort of any sort.
People think Arnold is nihilistic?!?
I'm shocked -and saddened. Arnold looks into the raging, hollow world and, instead of saying "This is all nothing, this is all garbage" (the nihilist response), he says "let us be true to one another." And (no matter how amusing it may be) I don't think you should necessarily read "Ah love" to reduce the "us" to the romantic diad.
Arnold says (in Fletcher's words):
We are but a speck on the hide of a malevolent colossus that cares nothing for us or our struggles.
true, but then he adds (and/but/nonetheless/therefore):
"let us be true to one another."
It won't make the first statement false, but it is the best we can have, and so much better than nihilism. We can't change the colossus or make it care, or stop it from killing us with an unthinking flick of its tail, but we can care for each other and for each others struggles. To each other, we can each have infinite worth. That, to me, is what Arnold says.
Strike nihilistic, I should have said that nobody here is as pessimistic as Arnold. Suggesting love as the only source of comfort in the face of prevailing gloom might be redemptive, but the Sea of Faith is receding all the same.
Now nihilism, for real:
...I wonder if
Anyone looked at me, forty years back,
And thought, That'll be the life;
No God any more, or sweating in the dark;
About hell and that, or having to hide;
What you think of the priest. He
And his lot will all go down the long slide
Like free bloody birds. And immediately
Rather than words comes the thought of high windows:
The sun-comprehending glass,
And beyond it, the deep blue air, that shows
Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless.
"When I talked earlier about do-it-yourself mix-and-match religion as being as stupid and dangerous as brewing explosives in your bathtub, I was condemning much better ideas than worshipping a demoniac, smelly slime-being that wants to destroy humanity and, by the way, was made up for a short story"
Compare and contrast the origins of the Latter Day Saints church (made up by some guy in before 1850 in the heat of the spiritist movement in the US, then perpetuated as TRUTH)with the origins of the Church of All Worlds, (made up in 1962 by folks who were in part inspired by the science fiction novel 'Stranger in a Strange Land' by Robert Heinlein, and never once denied they were basing their beliefs on some guy's fiction, or tried to clain it was TRUE). Powerful fiction gets powerful reaction - what are the parables if not powerful fiction?
If you believe your cats are worthy of worship, and that inspires you to be a more compassionate, thoughtful, connected person, is that wrong? What if it's your stuffed toy cat?
Right on, Meg. As Charles has said, it's actions that count, actions in the Here and Now.
I don't care what people believe, I care how people act. If you believe the Creator of Everything incarnated as a human, lived a life, and was sacrificed, that's cool--as long as you treat people with respect and compassion. (Note: Fred Phelps and his family have these basic beliefs, but do not treat their fellow humans with anything close to respect and compassion.) If you believe Thor or Zeus or the Goddess of the Earth or Nyarlathotep or your ancestors or some spirit or diety you made up 5 minutes ago gives you power, and because of that you treat people with respect and compassion, then what do I care?
As a Pinko Secular Humanist, Christianity, in any form, is no less weird to me than putting your faith in Pan or Hermes or Satan or the Tao or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, as long as you act like a mensch and treat people with respect and compassion.
As I mentioned earlier, my parents were involved in the Civil Rights Movement in the '60s. My father once said to me, "I never marched or protested to change people's minds. That was never my goal, because you can't make people not be bigots. People will always be prejudiced against others, for whatever reason--religion, culture, skin color, gender. Some person will always decide they don't like their neighbor. I just wanted to make sure they couldn't legally do anything about it."
Do beliefs have power? Sure. But actions trump them everytime. Our actions give our beliefs meaning.
Sydney: Do you really want to give Donald Trump the legal right to try to prove you wrong, with real people's happiness at stake?
Sure. Thing is, Donald Trump already has the legal right to prove me wrong. If the Donald says to his wife "Honey, how about a take on a dozen or so mistresses, and we'll all live in a great big house, and maybe I have kids with them and support those kids as my own?" and his wife says "Yeah, sure," and he finds a dozen women willing to do it, there's no law stopping him.
Now, if he actually tried this, his actual wife would probably say no, just like his previous two wives divorced him for fooling around. And that isn't likely to change -- if his current wife won't put up with mistresses, she's not likely to put up with additional wives either.
From the Donald's perspective, the only thing that changes with legal polygamy is that those women have greater legal claim on his assets -- his risk increases, but without any actual gain for him.
I'm not sure whether anyone with pagan beliefs would find a patronising "you are on the right track, just keep going and you'll get to what I believe" more or less annoying than a "I think all of you are deluded actually".
I do find that argument patronising, as most pagans do (it's not the first time it's been heard over the years), but it wasn't really worth commenting on. Mostly, I find it silly.
It's not a very supportable or defensible argument. In the main, it is far too simplistic and easily disproven by the complexities of various pagan theologies and their differences from (the various) Christian theologies.
It also seems to be sharing a bed with the debunked idea of religious evolution (the idea that religion has progressed from more primitive forms -- ie: polytheism -- towards more advanced forms -- ie: monotheism).
So, it's all good. I'm not going to lose sleep over it because at least he's not trying to burn me at the stake or murder me for not converting.