Why you should read more about religion

by on September 5, 2017 at 2:00 am in Books, History, Religion | Permalink

So many religious facts have a very long half-life for their relevance.  Say you learn about how the four Gospels differ — that’s still relevant for understanding Christian divisions or Christian theology today.  Reading about the Reformation?  The chance of that still being relevant is much higher than if you were reading about purely secular divisions in internal German or Swiss politics in those same centuries.

Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, or Muslims?  Facts from many centuries ago still might matter.  And the odds are that people a few centuries from now still ought to read about the origins of Mormonism.

In few other areas do past facts stand such a high chance of remaining relevant for so long.

As an empirical matter, “rationalists” tend not to read so much about religion, but that is precisely the unreasonable thing to do.

If you’d like to see a potential counter, here is some poll evidence that many people don’t care so much about the divisions of the Reformation any more.  It still matters a great deal whether you are in Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, or “mixed” Europe.

I am indebted to a conversation with Bryan Caplan for the main point, though he is not liable for my formulation.

1 Pope-less in Seattle September 5, 2017 at 2:28 am

“If you’d like to see a potential counter, here is some poll evidence that many people don’t care so much about the divisions of the Reformation any more.”

Perhaps the only real division was always whether or not you believe the Pope is an authority or not.

Like in politics, there’s a lot of blue-dog catholics and red-cat protestants.

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2 lambdaphagy September 5, 2017 at 3:25 am

Protestants and the Orthodox both reject Papal supremacy, but Catholics tend to regard the Orthodox as “basically Catholic” (because Sacraments) while wondering if most mainline Protestants are even Christian anymore (because mainline Protestantism). To Protestants, Catholics are an idol-worshipping cult; to the Orthodox, Protestants on a delay-timer.

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3 dearieme September 5, 2017 at 6:31 am

“To Protestants, Catholics are an idol-worshipping cult”: and cannibals and polytheists. Bloody near pagans in fact. It’s heart-warming to find there’s something I can agree with Protestants about.

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4 prior_test3 September 5, 2017 at 6:53 am

All Christians are polytheists in the eyes of true monotheists like Jews and Muslims.

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5 Joe C September 7, 2017 at 8:51 am

While the concept of the Trinity can be hard to square with monotheism, Islam’s monotheism, with its emphasis on earthly triumph through violence and robbery against the innocent, its bizarre concept of the arbitrary laws of the universe, its idol worship of the Kaaba, and its persecution of whomever it perceives of as heretics and unbelievers, all as part of the official credo of its religion–as opposed to the excesses of other religions, which go against their own tenets–is a very different kind of monotheism than that of the Jews and, yes, the Christians.

6 JonFraz September 7, 2017 at 2:48 pm

You have a somewhat cartoonish view of Islam, albeit one supported by the more extremist sects of the faith.

7 Joe C September 7, 2017 at 9:48 pm

Not cartoonish at all–though I agree that the rise of the Salafist interpretation of Islam definitely colors my view, but then, it should color everyone’s–but strictly based on the teachings of the original documents and promulgated by the major schools of Islamic thought today, Not that there are not many other interpretations. If the whole Islamic world followed the teachings of, say, the Ahmadiyya movement, the earth would be a paradise. Sadly, that is not the case, at all. There’s no point in kidding ourselves.

8 Scott Mauldin September 5, 2017 at 9:41 am

>Perhaps the only real division was always whether or not you believe the Pope is an authority or not.

I think rather that that opinion was just the symptom of a larger Platonic/Aristotelian conception of the spirit, and whether the spiritual is wholly separate from the material world or rather that temporal people, structures, items, and rituals can serve as conduits to the divine. From that distinction, most other Catholic/Protestant distinctions follow pretty clearly.

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9 P Burgos September 5, 2017 at 11:22 am

My experience has been that protestants don’t convert to Roman Catholicism, but do convert to Orthodox churches.

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10 Student September 5, 2017 at 11:31 am

In your experience maybe. Take a field trip to a local RCIA meeting at a Catholic Church near you (they are probably going on now until Easter Sunday). You will see plenty of protestants converting or considering converting.

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11 Careless September 5, 2017 at 12:07 pm

Of course, it’s mostly the other way around. 42% of Catholics leave that church compared with 26% of Protestants.

12 derek September 5, 2017 at 2:51 am

The Catholic hegemony had many characteristics.
Education was a means of winnowing out the few smart ones who would be taught in the thought and methods of domination, the rest would learn very little and kept stupid and poor.
The whole of religious thought was a justification for the elites to maintain their power and influence.
A patina of righteousness and goodness was maintained to keep the ingrates quiet.
It was ok to screw your niece, but there were tough men willing to enforce the hegemony.
Where there was a government outside the church, the ability to produce on demand a large crowd of raucous supporters made the sharing of power inevitable.

This whole thing fell apart starting in the 60’s. The revolutionary fervour moved to the communists, and in many places the church simply changed their words a bit; the structures of power and influence were useful to the new thinkers. In other places the church was dismantled as a societal structure.

Islam as a political force is very similar, and they saw what happened in Christendom. They saw the influences that tore it apart. They have vigorously worked to prevent the same thing from happening to them, and in many places have replaced the bishop or priest in the roles that they filled.

Yes it is worth learning about religious thought and practice. Secularists in rejecting religion are wishing away an influence that has driven much of history. The First Amendment wasn’t a desire to encourage religion, but a recognition of the impossibility of controlling or forcing those of a religious bent to do something they don’t believe in.

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13 Guy Makiavelli September 5, 2017 at 3:05 am

Reading about the Reformation? The chance of that still being relevant is much higher than if you were reading about purely secular divisions in internal German or Swiss politics in those same centuries.

“Relevant” for TC seems to mean relevant in the sense of understanding why those unenlightened religious people act the way they do.

Really, religion should be studied because it is the only way to understand a way of life that is not centered around pursuit of individual prestige, comfort, and entertainment.

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14 It takes a village September 5, 2017 at 5:57 am

Progressivism also centers around the pursuit of collective prestige, comfort, and entertainment.

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15 The Other Jim September 5, 2017 at 8:09 am

It’s great that your read their brochure. But you should visit Venezuela.

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16 Willitts September 5, 2017 at 9:01 am

“Progressivism,” the latest of many euphemisms for totalitarian rule, and an opiate for the masses of willing dupes.

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17 dearieme September 5, 2017 at 9:21 am

“Willitts” the latest of many euphemisms for a bald man with a small penis. See I can play the game too.

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18 Ray Lopez September 5, 2017 at 7:57 am

Yawn. Another fly-by-night university atheist going straight to ell where they will burn forever…sorry no offense.

Read Francis Fukuyama’s “The Origins of Political Order” to see the importance of religion in state building.

Bonus trivia: the Catholic Church, via the apocalyptic Christianity taught by Matthew’s gospel, is the source of the modern Western impersonal state, with an emphasis on a nuclear family and interpersonal relationships, as far back as the medieval ages. So says not Fukuyama, in their excellent synthesis but a source quoted by them. Compare and contrast to the Islamic states and the religion-less ancient Chinese and Indian empires.

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19 athEIst September 5, 2017 at 8:39 am

So says not Fukuyama, in their excellent synthesis but a source quoted by them.

So, Ray, you’re not using the o-so-gender-neutral plural to avoid the sexist his and him in the singular which this sentence would seem to require?

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20 prior_test3 September 5, 2017 at 3:14 am

‘do past facts stand such a high chance of remaining relevant’

The Gospel stories are now facts? Really? Or are Smith’s forgeries the relevant fact, and not the travels of the Nephites?

‘As an empirical matter, “rationalists” tend not to read so much about religion’

A fairly common East German attitude towards religion is to remain uncaring in general, as they rank needing to learn about religion with the same importance as learning about Lenin and his disciples. That is, they consider it pretty much a waste of time, regardless of its historical import.

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21 dearieme September 5, 2017 at 6:33 am

“The Gospel stories are now facts?” Of course not but their existence is a fact.

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22 prior_test3 September 5, 2017 at 6:55 am

Not to mention the divergences between Gospels, as noted above. That is why there is a second example included – what is to be considered relevant, the fiction or the fact that the fiction exists?

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23 Roy LC September 5, 2017 at 10:51 am

Divergence is a pretty big word to use for the differences between the canonical gospels, they just aren’t that much. Even John is only contradictory if you decide that the other gospels say something different than how they were widely interpreted for a millennia and a half plus.

And modern “critical” scholarship is less than 10% of church history, and often not relevant to many actual Christians.

It is like Islam scholars who claim that paradise offers raisins not virgins. The sort of wild conjecture that could only matter if the text actually was divine.

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24 Careless September 5, 2017 at 12:17 pm

“The Gospel stories are now facts?” Of course not but their existence is a fact.

their existence is a current fact. a “past fact” must mean something other than their existence, and presumably their content.

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25 Sam the Sham September 5, 2017 at 10:07 am

In other words, East Germany values ignorance? I can buy that.

I rank learning about Lenin pretty high. As Carlos Santana said, those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it…

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26 gab September 6, 2017 at 12:44 am

I don’t know if you did that on purpose, but I like it! And an “Oye como va” to you.

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27 Ally September 5, 2017 at 4:25 am

Professor Cowen,

Let’s start with the ‘big four’ World religions: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Where would you recommend one start if one wants to read ABOUT one of these religions in particular (as opposed to reading the literature OF a religion)?

What about Judaism? The number of adherents may not be large, but it has clearly had a significant influence on the World, particularly Middle-Eastern and European/North American cultures.

What evidence is there that “rationalists” tend not to read so much about religion, compared to “non-rationalists”? For that matter, who counts as a “rationalist”?

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28 Man who knows his scriptural limitations September 5, 2017 at 4:58 am

The Masks of God by Joseph Campbell

Religion Explained by Pascal Boyer

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29 Anonymous September 5, 2017 at 5:07 am
30 Axa September 5, 2017 at 9:59 am

Martin Luther said something about reading the Bible by yourself.

Why reading an academic book is better than original source?

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31 Ricardo September 5, 2017 at 11:06 am

The problem with this is that the Bible is a heavily edited compilation of books and stories and few people have the language skills to read it in the texts’ original languages and wind up relying on translations.

Someone who is interested in how religion has influenced the histories and cultures of different countries would almost certainly benefit more from reading scholarship on the topic. Otherwise, what does one make of a passage like this: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.”

Is this meant to be taken literally and, if so, how can we make sense of people like Martin Luther King and his followers who were sincere Christians but who openly advocated civil disobedience? Or is this a “Straussian” passage that St. Paul put in the Bible to try to portray Christians as good, loyal citizens who were not interested in trying to undermine the Roman authorities? Christians have debated these sorts of questions for centuries and the debates and interpretations almost certainly tell us more about modern Christian societies and how people in them think than we could learn by simply reading the original quote.

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32 Jon Rowe September 5, 2017 at 12:52 pm

There are some fidesitic Protestants who DO take Romans 13 literally, and try to put it together with other passages like Acts. 5:29. which is the prooftext for civil disobedience. Submission to government is absolute; revolt is categorically forbidden. All revolutions without exception are sinful. Obedience is contingent on “man” (i.e., government) not making you disobey God. If that happens obey God not man but submit yourself to the civil legitimacy of the tyranny and die a martyr. This is what Calvin taught in his Institutes. And today John MacArthur, Gregg Frazer and a few others hold this view.

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33 Careless September 5, 2017 at 1:04 pm

Meh, everything after Acts is fanfic

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34 Ricardo September 5, 2017 at 2:12 pm

OK, what about the Book of Matthew? How should we understand a passage such as, “These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”? Or all the infamous stuff near the end that most ancient historians agree is unlikely to be a historically accurate account of Jesus’ trial before Pontius Pilate? Biblical scholars who have studied the history of ancient Judaism in Roman Palestine have some interesting things to say about passages like these but these passages are certain be to be confusing (if not jarring) to someone who is merely trying to learn something about what Christianity actually means to people today.

35 y81 September 5, 2017 at 5:37 pm

We should understand the passage from Matthew as, among other things, (i) a source of tension within the early church, which recruited non-Jewish converts and (ii) evidence of the integrity of the Gospel writers and their early copyists, who preserved words of Jesus which generated, as I said, tension with the church’s program. There may be other lessons to be drawn.

As to the trial scenes, as historians, we should consider them as primary source evidence, or very close thereto, of actual Jewish and Roman jurisprudential practice in first-century Palestine. They are probably less reliable as historical evidence of the events they describe than the Verrine orations, but more reliable than the Talmud, which was written long after the Jewish courts had ceased to exist. Again, there may be other lessons one could learn.

36 Ally September 5, 2017 at 11:33 am

What Ricardo said.

I have already read the Bible in it’s entirety, however I cannot read either ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, nor Greek, but rely on translations into modern English.

Also, I wouldn’t necessarily say that it would be ‘better’ to read a book about Christianity rather than the Bible itself, I see it more as supplementary reading. The Bible is probably a great starting point for understanding what Christianity is all about and the core of Christian beliefs, but for one thing it’s story ends almost 2000 years ago. Reading the Bible can’t furnish someone with the knowledge of why there are so many different Christian sects nowadays, or what the differences in their beliefs and practices are, how they came about, etc.

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37 Joël September 5, 2017 at 11:46 am

I agree with Axa. I’ll add that reading the original sources is much more in the spirit of Tyler’s post. These are the texts that have a lasting influence over millenniums. Even important commentaries (say Aquinas’s commentary of various part of the old and new testament) tend to fade in influence after just a few centuries
(the Talmud may be an exception for Jews, perhaps the Hadith for Muslims, but in a sense they are now more basic religious texts than commentaries).

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38 Aretino September 5, 2017 at 4:34 pm

But much of the thought of Aquinas and Augustine is still quite influential, even if we no longer know that they are the source of ideas we take for granted.

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39 Joe September 5, 2017 at 12:37 pm

You’re supposed to pray for help understanding the Bible before you read it.

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40 Mark B September 5, 2017 at 12:48 pm

It is a secular source, and so blind to some of the bigger points, but Prothero’s God is Not One is a good starter. Think of it as an introduction to the larger narratives and strains of each religious family.

I’m not qualified to talk beyond that for Islam and the East. I’m also biased, but I’d suggest picking up Luther’s Small Catechism, and pair it with a couple other “practical Luther” items of manageable size. “A Simple Way to Pray” and “The Freedom of a Christian”. In about 100 pages you’d have a good mental reading of lay Christianity from a slightly protestant perspective, but more Catholic than many Catholics today. You could pick up the Westminster Shorter Catechism to get the Reformed Protestant. I’d also say the Catechism of the Catholic Church, but it functions a bit differently than those two. It is more topical reference work than basic practice and explanation. If you are adventurous you could pick up Calvin’s Institutes. There are some “modern” works, but like the former mainline, they really won’t be around in about 20 years, which breaks the original premise. If you are going to be a Christian in America in the future, you aren’t going to be some weak tea version. The “confessional” strains with deep spiritual resources are reasserting themselves.

You might think that the catechisms wouldn’t qualify for your question, but they are more about the religion than of it. (Augustine’s Confessions, or The Seven Story Mountain, or The Hammer of God would be of them.) One of the distinctions we make is between the faith which believes and the faith which is believed. Those catechisms are works of the faith which is believed. They are definitional.

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41 Axa September 5, 2017 at 2:17 pm

This is a good recommendation. The Catholic Catechism tries to put in a single book all the beliefs of the church. Almost like a life’s manual.

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42 shrikanthk September 5, 2017 at 2:45 pm

“Let’s start with the ‘big four’ World religions: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Where would you recommend one start if one wants to read ABOUT one of these religions in particular”

Hinduism – I’d recommend Gavin Flood’s Introduction to Hinduism

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43 Rick Hull September 6, 2017 at 5:06 pm

Check out *The Source* by James Michener if you want to read about Judaism

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44 SamChevre September 7, 2017 at 12:49 pm

For Christianity:

Diarmaid MacCulloch, Christianity: the First 3000 Years

A good overview of the history, and how the theology developed from both Jewish and Greek sources in that history. A history, not an apologetic. It passes my test, which is “gets the Anabaptist history right”; that’s a small movement whose history I know well, and so is a good test for throughness and bias both. Quite readable: I’d put it in the same category as William Manchester for it’s scholarly/readable balance. It’s a book about Christianity broadly defined, not a Christian book.

For an apologetic, I’d recommend:
N T Wright, Simply Christian
Very engaging, keeps what I think of as the key points central. Definitely a Christian book, not just a book about Christianity.

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45 Hadur September 5, 2017 at 4:41 am

By this argument, we should ignore both politics and religion and devote ourselves entirely to the study of geology and physics, because the laws of geology and physics will remain relevant for an extremely long time.

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46 Guy Makiavell September 5, 2017 at 4:58 am

Now I get it … this is a Straussian post designed to call attention to the ephemerality of the discussions of transgender bathrooms, Google gender equality, etc.

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47 Man who knows his scriptural limitations September 5, 2017 at 5:03 am

Engel v. Vitale, Abington v. Schempp, Stone v. Graham, Wallace v. Jaffree, Lee v. Weisman, and Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe will remain relevant for an extremely long time.

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48 Careless September 5, 2017 at 1:13 pm

Why? They seem to have little impact on anything

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49 Roy LC September 5, 2017 at 11:03 am

As a geologist, I would point out that few books date like a geology book, Linus Pauling’s general chemistry is still a better text book 50 years later than almost any on offer. A geology book from twenty years ago is often painfully wrong, and those from the 1960s and 70s are, aside from the chemistry portions, so fundamentally wrong that you need advanced education to extract anything still valid from them.

The only laws of geology that don’t change frequently are Steno’s Three Laws: Original horizontality, superposition, and cross cutting relationship. While these are pretty awesome, the first has exceptions, a lot of them, and the second two are very much subject to interpretation, sort of like scripture.

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50 Anonymous September 5, 2017 at 5:03 am

I too note the heavy use of the word “fact.” It seems at odds with “by faith alone” Protestantism.

I think many religions discover truths, but a smaller set acknowledge that these truths may not be theirs alone.

☪ ☮ e ✡ – ı ☯ s ✝

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51 Josh September 5, 2017 at 5:17 am

That must have been the smuggest conversation of the milenium.

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52 Lurker September 5, 2017 at 5:44 am

Can I fast forward to the part where religions are gone?

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53 Nigel September 5, 2017 at 6:08 am
54 The Other Jim September 5, 2017 at 8:11 am

You mean, the UK where the most popular newborn boy’s name is Mohammed?

Yeah, no religion there, I’m sure.

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55 dearieme September 5, 2017 at 1:07 pm

Mohammed means “Cuckold” in Arabic.

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56 Brett Dunbar September 6, 2017 at 7:51 pm

The ONS stats for 2015 (the most recent available) show Oliver as the most common boy’s name. Combined the various versions of Muhammad are in second, they had been first in 2014.

The UK has a relatively large Muslim population, about 4.4% and they do tend to be much more observant than the general population.

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57 Sam the Sham September 5, 2017 at 9:42 am

Religion will never disappear. The most religious people I know are atheists and progressives-if we’re using the term religious in the sense of a blind, emotional devotion to an ideology in spite of reason and facts. (Smart atheists exist, but the vocal atheists tend to be solidly mediocre minds dogmatically following talking points and misunderstanding what science is and isn’t)

If we’re not using religious in that sense, then atheists are still on the losing end of demographics and message-acceptance. Most people don’t find nihilism, hedonism, and consumerism to be good sources of meaning, and something that provides meaning will fill the void that atheists create. I have few praises for Islam but it does provide meaning.

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58 Hua Wei September 5, 2017 at 10:00 am

“Most people don’t find nihilism, hedonism, and consumerism to be good sources of meaning”
If they can’t find anything better and need to resort to vooddo is their fault, not science’s.

“I have few praises for Islam but it does provide meaning.”
And beheadings, but it seems to be a low price to pay for an ego massage (“I am special, Allah has a plan for me”). The people who opt for it probably wouldn’t ever normal lives anyway. They would have plenty of excuses to adopt extremist political or religious positions even if Islam have never existed. Enforcing secularism as much as possible takes space from them. The whole “religions are special, need tax protection and deserve societal deference even if they praise genocides, inquisitions and assure you wine is blood” is what plays into Islam’s hands.

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59 Sam the Sham September 5, 2017 at 11:38 am

Was there an argument in there?

Are you arguing against having meaning in one’s life? Or do you think that Science!(tm) has anything at all to say about meaning? Science says about what Is, not what Ought To Be. Science doesn’t tell me not to rob orphans, Islam does. Science doesn’t tell me to stand up and fight for my country, Islam does. This goes back to what I said about people not understanding what Science!(tm) does and what it’s good at. We could know the position of every quark in the galaxy, understand the properties of dark matter and dimensional travel, and not be one step closer to understanding what is Good. I think Islam is a garbage religion, but it at least acknowledges Good and Evil.

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60 Hua Wei September 5, 2017 at 2:05 pm

“I think Islam is a garbage religion, but it at least acknowledges Good and Evil.”

Oh, yeah, the good beheadings and the nice genocides. I guess it gives “meaning” to some Islamists and more than a few non-Islamists, too. To each, his own.

61 Sam the Sham September 5, 2017 at 7:06 pm

Hua Wei, if you think that there’s anything wrong with beheadings or genocide, then you believe in what you describe as ‘voodoo’. Show me a molecule of Mercy or a solution of Compassion. Grind up the universe and pass it through the finest sieve, and let me know if you discover an atom of Beauty, Cruelty, or Hope. They’re not material, but the ideas of Truth and Love are far more real than the moon and sun overhead.

If you think that Good and Evil exist, you have room to criticize Islam, but not as ‘voodoo’. You’re conceding that something outside the physical exists. Morality is something that only applies to creatures with free will, and free will is a frankly supernatural force.

If you do not think that good and evil exist, what do you care about Islam beheading nonbelievers? It’s just biological determinism. Heck, you know you’re only thinking that you’re thinking. It is much more intelligent to deny that you actually exist than to concede there may be more to reality than the physical. And it’s much more ethical too, not that ethics actually exist! Atheists have never committed atrocities, not that atrocities actually exist either.

62 Anonymous September 5, 2017 at 10:36 am

Ah, the “X is just religion” get out of jail free card. There are endless variations, but they all reject reason for empty assertion. Example:

https://twitter.com/phirephoenix/status/904251717998469120

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63 FUBAR007 September 5, 2017 at 10:50 am

Sam the Sham: Most people don’t find nihilism, hedonism, and consumerism to be good sources of meaning, and something that provides meaning will fill the void that atheists create.

Religion doesn’t provide meaning. It provides external validation of the illusion that meaning exists independently of humanity. That meaning can be deduced from the order of the universe.

The truth, though, is that meaning is a concept invented by humans. It’s inductive, not deductive. We impart meaning to existence, not the other way around. The reality is we live in an amoral, indifferent universe. Rocks don’t have meaning. Galaxies don’t have meaning. Atoms don’t have meaning. They–and we–just exist.

TL;DR: gods didn’t invent humanity; humanity invented gods.

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64 Sam the Sham September 5, 2017 at 11:25 am

This is a mostly internally consistent worldview. There is no meaning, stuff just is. If I can rob you and get away with it then hurray for me and too bad so sad for you. If global warming eradicates all life from the earth then so what? I’m not in love with my wife, it’s just dopamine flooding my brain. No love, no morality, no purpose, no striving, no thought, just deterministic ugly bags of mostly water thinking that they think.

It’s consistent and mostly logically consistent (until you start saying people SHOULD believe this, or that it is the Truth). Just don’t be surprised if you don’t find a lot of people buying what you’re selling.

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65 Anonymous September 5, 2017 at 11:36 am

The thing about secular humanists is that they are comfortable being human, and having human impulses like love, generosity, self-sacrifice. For deeply engrained reasons they are comfortable valuing those above hate, greed, and avarice.

Cue sociobiology.

66 Sam the Sham September 5, 2017 at 12:28 pm

But there’s no real *reason* for me to not steal when I can get away with it, other than it makes me feel good to not steal. And it makes me feel good to not commit adultery. And it makes me feel good to not covet. And it makes me feel good to turn the other cheek.

And other than it personally offends me when the Duke or Prime Minister or Beloved Leader drafts my son into forced labor, indulges in prima nocte with my daughter, and steals my cattle, there’s no reason for the government not to do that either. And what does it one person’s offense matter compared to the Greater Good(tm)?

I get the lesson of the common goods econ game. *IF* everyone cooperated, everyone would be wealthier, but it’s always in a single person’s interest to cheat.

67 Anonymous September 5, 2017 at 1:17 pm

If doing good feels good, I don’t see a dilemma. Nor even a useful complaint.

The more interesting question is what to do with sociopathic outliers, especially those with genetically linked disregard for good.

68 FUBAR007 September 5, 2017 at 2:45 pm

Sam the Sham: There is no meaning…

There is meaning. It’s just entirely man-made.

I’m not in love with my wife, it’s just dopamine flooding my brain. No love, no morality, no purpose, no striving, no thought, just deterministic ugly bags of mostly water thinking that they think.

You are in love with your wife. That’s the meaning you impart to the “dopamine flooding your brain.”

Love, morality, purpose, striving, thought–they all exist, but they’re human concepts. We invented them. We define them. They come from us.

Just don’t be surprised if you don’t find a lot of people buying what you’re selling.

Reality is what it is independent of whether you, I, or anyone else believe in it.

I get the lesson of the common goods econ game. *IF* everyone cooperated, everyone would be wealthier, but it’s always in a single person’s interest to cheat.

It’s in a single person’s short-term interest to cheat, but against their long-term interest to cheat.

69 Harun September 5, 2017 at 12:41 pm

What is interesting is that while we may now understand this, it still might be true that having imaginary orders are still very useful, be they religious, economical, or socially.

The dollar is a green piece of paper or tiny electrons.

Yes, we imagine it to hold real value.

Should we get rid of this imaginary construct? No! Its really useful!

I suspect religion is sometimes very useful as well.

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70 Student September 5, 2017 at 10:26 am

There will be no such time. Humans are inherently faith-based creatures. We dont have perfect information. In the absence of perfect information, humans rely on shortcuts, which is belief systems. For example, you seem to believe there is not God. There is neither evidence for or against such a thing. To date, there is no proven material way everything can come from nothing. There are some ideas and there are imperfect data but as of yet, there is no fact. Yet, you have a belief about what is going on. That is the same faith-based shortcut all religions come from. If there were perfect information, we be a lot like the God you seem to dis-BELIEVE in, now wouldnt we.

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71 Anonymous September 5, 2017 at 10:43 am

Agnostic here. I don’t expect to know the origins of the universe, or what I will “experience” after I die. Faith is an opt-in system to provide “answers” that are entirely optional.

We can operate on a mundane, day to day, morality without such things.

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72 Student September 5, 2017 at 10:58 am

Its both and opt-in and opt-out system. Opt-out is also a faith based decision.

Personally, based on the imperfect information I have, I find no fault at all in Jesus’s teachings. I have chosen to accept them.

I, like Aquinas or Augustine (and many others) see no contradiction between science and Christianity. Just because some other person does, isn’t the fault of Christianity.

Does anyone know what will happen to them after they die… nope. And if you really take a close look at Christian teachings, one would realize that saying that do is close to blasphemy. Life and sanctity is a lifelong journey. Much like and asymptote.

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73 Anonymous September 5, 2017 at 11:05 am

I am not getting how leaving something at “unknown” is a faith, of any kind.

It’s like saying vacuum is a substance.

74 Thiago Ribeiro September 5, 2017 at 11:05 am

“I find no fault at all in Jesus’s teachings. I have chosen to accept them.”
Which standards do you use to judge Jesus/God’s teachings?

75 Student September 5, 2017 at 11:17 am

Christs. And self-reflection.

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits.

76 Student September 5, 2017 at 11:19 am

Choosing to leave something as an unknown is a choice, no? Do you go to Mass, do you study Christianity?

Not knowing is one thing but choosing to throw up your hands and say, it’s unknown is another IMO.

77 Anonymous September 5, 2017 at 11:28 am

Sure, leaving unknowable things unknown is a choice. It is better than filling a hole with substandard material IMO, but it is still an empty hole.

It is not a faith.

78 Thiago Ribeiro September 5, 2017 at 11:34 am

Islamists seem pretty satisfied with their religion’s fruits, satisfied enough to kill for it as Christians and Jews of yore used to. Same for Daoists, Buddhists (the Dalai Lama seems pretty content). Richard Dawkins seems to be doing well, too. Mexico seems to be doing worse than their northern neighbours, maybe they got the inferior brand of Christianity. Norway, as standards of living go, seems to be doing better than America, maybe they got the really fruitful religion. Shintoist/Buddhist Japan doesn’t do bad, either.

79 Student September 5, 2017 at 11:42 am

They might be satisfied with it because it gives them self-justification for waging war for personal gain. But clearly, based on their actions, their fruit, one can quite easily see they are wrong and following falsity.

Also, Jesus never promised earthly wealth for being a Christian. Therein is the big mistake of prosperity theology (ala Joel Osteen and all the word of faith types). If anything, he promised the opposite. Pick up your cross and follow me conveys a burden not a reward here on earth.

80 Alan M September 5, 2017 at 11:52 am

“Does anyone know what will happen to them after they die”

You suffer brain-death from lack of oxygen, followed by organic decay. Unless you mean with regards to some sort of non-existent ethereal soul, but that’s on you.

81 Student September 5, 2017 at 11:59 am

Yes, I am speaking of the soul or the essence of ones being. Their consciousness. That thing which no one can really even define let alone explain or model mathematically. What is it that makes you, you? It seems as though you see the essence of a person being some chemical formula or algorithm. That’s pure speculation as well. It’s faith all the same. Apparently only faith in an extra material uncaused cause is foolish though. You’re unverifiable faith is somehow exempt from being an irrational faith I see.

82 Thiago Ribeiro September 5, 2017 at 12:02 pm

“But clearly, based on their actions, their fruit, one can quite easily see they are wrong and following falsity.”
I do not see why. They have the kind of society Christian Europe prided itself at having, even the restrictions concerning Jews are strikingly alike. Pretending Christanity is essentially different from Islam is pretending late Rome was never Christian, Medieval Europe was not Christian, Modern Europe was not Chrisrian.
As far as they know, Muslims are waging as much of a defensive war as Jews fought against the Philistines and against early Christians, Christians waged against Muslins in the Holy Land, German Protestans fought against Catholics and so on. Again, for them, those are as sweet fruits as Moses’ killing his subjects for gathering wood on the Sabbath or for adoring idols or for trying to contact the dead.

“Also, Jesus never promised earthly wealth for being a Christian.”
I am not talking about individual wealth. So Christianity has nothing to do with stablishing a good society, where people don’t suffer uselessly and are not preyed upon by the strong ones? I would rather take whatever makes Norway Norway than what makes Central America Central America. That-s what moral is, the rest is just empty ritual and self-justificarion. As ritual goes, Haiti’s Voodoo at least is colorful.

83 Student September 5, 2017 at 12:12 pm

You really don’t see why? Come on… I don’t believe that. If you wouldn’t want done to you what you are doing to someone else, then it’s a bad thing to do and a belief system underlying it cannot right (at least based on Jesus’ teachings).

Christianity is about seeing others as an extension of one’s self. A society founded on that would be a good place to be by default… but that’s not really the goal as I understand it. It’s an outcome of it though for sure.

84 Thiago Ribeiro September 5, 2017 at 12:33 pm

“Christianity is about seeing others as an extension of one’s self. A society founded on that would be a good place to be by default… but that’s not really the goal as I understand it. It’s an outcome of it though for sure.”
Have they created such societies yet? I mean, churches have had institutional power for centuries. Maybe Christian Rome? Bizantium? It is hard to believe it was an improvement over Saudi Arabia. Latin America with Carholicism as official rwligion for centuries? It is hard to believe it was an improvement over caliph Harun al-Rashid or Moses by the way.
“If you wouldn’t want done to you what you are doing to someone else, then it’s a bad thing to do and a belief system underlying it cannot right (at least based on Jesus’ teachings).”

Such a system (or offering the other cheek) would not last a second in real world. Christian Rome woukd be out of business in sedonds, so woukd the Crusade kingdoms, American colonization, American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, nuking the Japanese, etc. It is a good story to tell children, but no one take sit seriously when it is time to guide a society. Moses at elast meant what he said, so did bin Laden. And we keep at the same point: why using Christ’s standards to evaluate Christ’s standards? We can as well use Moses’ standards to evaluate Moses’ standards and he woukd have passes with flying colors, same for Mohammed and Confuncius.
Prophet Bandarra showed that only after Brazil defeats Gog and Magog and unites mankind against the serpent at Megiddo “the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together.”

85 Student September 5, 2017 at 12:43 pm

Christianity isn’t about setting up a society even though it was misused that way many many many times. Did not Jesus tell Pontus Pilot himself that is kingdom is not of this world. Also, no where does Christianity teach that self defense is not appropriate. We’re not even Jesus and those in his inner circle armed in the Garden at the beginning of his final days?

It seems like you are being purposefully difficult.

86 Thiago Ribeiro September 5, 2017 at 1:14 pm

I am pointing the obvious, you can’t use one standard to evaluate itself. Everything is shaped like itself. Mose’s standards of killing people for gathring wood us as true to itslf as Christ’s of offering the other cheek. An if a religion is not a set of rules of social behavior, it is little more than self-congratulating Voodoo, propiciatory rituals. I would rather have moral teachings. If I wanted ritual and noise, I would visit Afro-Brazilian cults, but I favor civization instead.

Truth is, Islam and Judaism are not different from historical Christianity (which is different from Obama’s Christianity, which is a modernist heresy). Conquer, convert and kill the recalcitrant, be they Jews, natives, Romans or Barbarians. “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”

Actually, only when the Hidden One comes back to lead us against Gog and Magog, there will be real peace. Afterwards, “every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain”.

87 msgkings September 5, 2017 at 1:15 pm

@Student: one can find no fault with Jesus’ teachings (which are presented to us by a book written by men) without believing in the supernatural parts of Christianity. The teachings are not predicated on the divinity of the teacher, except of course for the teachings that are strictly about the supernatural. But Anonymous is right here, choosing not to accept Christianity is a choice, but it is not its own ‘faith’.

88 Sam the Sham September 5, 2017 at 1:21 pm

“It seems like you are being purposefully difficult.”

This is most vocal atheists. People who don’t understand what religion is in the slightest tend to be reductionist, because thinking is hard and thinking different beliefs are different requires thinking. Thinking Islam is like Christianity (historically, philosophically, currently, etc) is like thinking Christianity is like Atheism or that Capitalism is like Communism. They’re both economic systems, after all!

I don’t criticize science for not talking about Good and Evil. It’s not what that tool is designed to do. I will complement Islam for acknowledging them, even if it is wrong and confused about a great many things. And I think that “Do as you will be done by” is one tool among many for determining right and wrong. Perception/Conscience is another, although just as a person can be colorblind and not properly perceive all color, so they can not properly perceive all morality.

The ones expounding Scientism are telling me to deny something I perceive directly every day. Which is not very scientific, if you ask me.

89 Student September 5, 2017 at 1:24 pm

I think that’s fair… but if he wasnt who he said he was, then he was a madman. It’s kind of hard to say well he had some good ideas aside from his claims that he is the son of god who came to suffer martrydom for all of mankind.

I suppose you could make the case that he never said those things and it was all made up by his followers after the fact, but the evidence is for the most part, not in agreement with that.

90 msgkings September 5, 2017 at 1:30 pm

@Student: yes I’ve heard the ‘madman or liar’ argument. Just as I do not think you are a madman for your faith, I do not think Jesus was for his, even if I do not agree with it. Faith is a choice, and no more a sign of madness than being in love or caring about your kids or your country or your baseball team. Irrational doesn’t = madness.

91 msgkings September 5, 2017 at 1:33 pm

@Sam the Sham: not all atheists are pushing ‘Scientism’. Obviously many are vocal, pushy, angry jerks about it. But many just say ‘I don’t believe in the supernatural’. They do not deny you your own experience, they live and let live.

92 Thiago Ribeiro September 5, 2017 at 1:50 pm

“but if he wasnt who he said he was, then he was a madman.”
Not really, He never claimed to be God, He claimed to be God’s envoy, like Moses and Muhammed. If He had claimed to be God, the Jews would not have had to pay witnesses to say He said he was to tear down the Temple and all that, He would already have commited blasphemy under their laws. The simple fact He lived as much as He did shows He never claimed to be God. He Himself mentioned the real God, His Father, many times. He Himself quoted the scriptures: “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one”. There are not three gods. At end times, the real God will send the Messiah, the Hidden One, to Rio de Janeiro. Then, he will lead Brazil against Gog and Magog and unite mankind against the Serpent at Megiddo and rule for one thousand years.

93 Student September 5, 2017 at 2:19 pm

Thiago,

Come on, have you ever sat down and read the Gospels? They have many different purposes and many contradictions… I don’t deny that.

But as a body they most certainly make the claim that Jesus is lord and Devine.

I won’t go through them because there are literally dozens of places one could point to.

To me, some big one. Jesus tells his disciples to baptize (that is wash clean) in the name the father, the son, and the holy spirt (the trinity).

He calls himself the bread of life in John 6. There he is literally calling himself manna but a manna that leads eternal life.

In John 10 (check out v 30-36), he says he and the father are one. And the Jewish authorities were going to stone him for blasphemy (calling himself god).

Jesus calls himself I Am at least 8 times. Now what is I Am? It is the name god gave himself when Moses asked who he was.

Also take a quick look at Mark 14. Here is a passage about his trial.

“Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”

62 “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

63 The high priest tore his clothes. “Why do we need any more witnesses?” he asked. 64 “You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?”

Notice he doesn’t respond with yes, he says, “I Am”. He is calling himself god. And what he is charged with by the Jewish authorities is blasphemy (punishable by death). They basically end the trial there because he pleads guilty to the charge.

Now the whole temple thing is how they got the Romans (Pilot) on board.

Pilot doesn’t care anything but Roman authority. So the temple charge is to label him a political threat. But that wasn’t what the Jewish authorities were upset about.

To claim he didn’t call himself God is pure nonsense.

94 Sam the Sham September 5, 2017 at 2:58 pm

msgkings: Oh, I know. I’m married to an atheist. It’s a live-and-let-live thing, and so long as she believes that life has meaning, that good and evil exists, that lying is bad, etc… I think there’s some contradictions in her philosophy, but the important things are still there. People can believe in astrology and other nonsense.

Most of the vocal atheists on the internet tend to be ‘scientismists’, which bothers me for how it treats both science and religion with disrespect, by confusing the two. Richard Dawkins is a good case in point. Sam Harris has some pretty big blind spots (he has an interesting speech going over scientific morality, which starts with happiness being the universal good. I think many people would contest his major premise – is death better than misery?) Many of them can be pretty smart, but aggravatingly stupid when it comes to philosophy, just as I’m pretty smart when it comes to geology, but pretty stupid when it comes to programming.

The atheists that are pure materialists I cannot contradict at all. They tend to be pretty quiet about it, because there’s little point evangelizing the Bad News. I think there are two coherent conclusions one can arrive at about the nature of reality, and that is one of them. The other is a spiritualist point of view which will demand morality, free will, and a God. With one the fundamental unit of reality is the atom, and the other it is Will. I don’t know which conclusion is more terrifying, but I think those are the ones that don’t contradict themselves.

95 Thiago Ribeiro September 5, 2017 at 3:06 pm

Jesus clearly taught that the Father and the Son are separated beings. Even Calvin taught that the Son was forsaken by the Father. Christ was invested of power by the real God and made wonders – such as as Moses and Isaiah did.

“Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish His work.”
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than He that sent him.”
There is only one God, not three. He sent His prophets and will, at end times, send the Hidden One to defeat Gog and Magog and crush the Serpent with His heel. The Hidden One will drink butter and honey, refuse the evil, and choose the good. ISAIAH 7:15 There still good and evil, then we know His time is not come yet.
“Pilot doesn’t care anything but Roman authority. So the temple charge is to label him a political threat.”
Rome did not care about the Temple per si, claiming to be God and gathering a following would be reason enough to be labeled a threat both for Pax Romana and would be blasphemy enough to provoke Rome’s allies. Yet, they needed the Temple thing.
“Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?”
“’I am’” said Jesus, “and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.””
Daniel 8:17 makes clear Son of Man is a form of treatment. Daniel itself was addresed in such a way, yet he was not a god, only a prophet as Prophet Bandarra was many centuries later.
“And what he is charged with by the Jewish authorities is blasphemy (punishable by death)”
“Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth.”
A king from the lineage of David, servant of God, intended to do the will of Him, not God Himself.
Now, “we see through a glass, darkly”; only after the Hidden One crushes the Serpent’s head with His heel, “we will see face to face”.

96 Sam the Sham September 5, 2017 at 3:14 pm

To keep it on topic, it’s worth studying philosophies to see what comes out of them. A philosophy underlies Islam which produces very stable, but not very advanced societies. Materialists tend to become repressive, brutal nihilists or become hedonists. I’m an insider to Christianity – I’d say it produces revelation and prosperity and materialists as an insider, but I’m sure purely outsiders will say something else. I say purely outsiders because a lot of people are too close to a thing to see it properly – I can tell it’s a skyscraper when I’m on its top floor, and I can tell it’s a skyscraper when I’m a mile away, but being only in the lobby with one foot out the door clouds my vision.

None of this says any of them are true or good. It’s possible following the True Ideology is not a happy path.

97 Thiago Ribeiro September 5, 2017 at 3:53 pm

If Trinitarian “Christianity” per si could bring real prosperity, Central America and Eastern Europe would not be what they are. Not to mention Zimbabwe: Mugabe is a devout Catholic, who made his first wife convert to marry him. Only when the Hidden One comes, we will see systematic justice and shared prosperity.

98 Student September 5, 2017 at 4:15 pm

We are quite off topic but it’s kind entertaining and I am off today with little to do…

The son of man references are confusing. It’s confusing because the nature of Jesus is confusing and wasn’t well defined until well into the 4th century. It’s referred to as a mystery for a reason after all. The Catholic understanding is that of a trinity where Jesus is both fully human and fully divine at the same time. The son of man references cut right to the crux of the matter actually.

If you line of thinking is correct… then what are we to make of matt 12:8, Luke 6:5, mark 2:28?

Ex, “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: so that the Son of man is lord even of the sabbath.”

Lord of the Sabbath is not a mere man, no?

And My god, why have you foresaken me… clearly confusing until one recalls that psalms were often referred to by their first line…

See psalm 22 which opens with, “my god, my god, why have you foresaken me?…

Accounts very similar suffering, and closes…

“It shall be told to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it”.

This was a very purposeful thing to say to a Jewish audience well steeped in the OT (particularly the psalms).

99 Thiago Ribeiro September 5, 2017 at 5:08 pm

“Lord of the Sabbath is not a mere man, no?”

Neither is he who makes the dead live again: “When Elisha came into the house, behold the lad was dead and laid on his bed. So he entered and shut the door behind them both and prayed to the Lord. And he went up and lay on the child, and put his mouth on his mouth and his eyes on his eyes and his hands on his hands, and he stretched himself on him; and the flesh of the child became warm. Then he returned and walked in the house once back and forth, and went up and stretched himself on him; and the lad sneezed seven times and the lad opened his eyes. He called Gehazi and said, ‘Call this Shunammite.’ So he called her. And when she came in to him, he said, ‘Take up your son.’ Then she went in and fell at his feet and bowed herself to the ground, and she took up her son and went out. ”

The one true God can do everything.

“‘And My god, why have you foresaken me…’ clearly confusing until one recalls that psalms were often referred to by their first line…

See psalm 22 which opens with, “my god, my god, why have you foresaken me?…

Accounts very similar suffering, and closes…

‘It shall be told to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it’.”
So it was like a theatre play… I don’t think God – or His envoys – lie.

“But of that day and hour knoweth no one, not even the angels of heaven, neither the Son, but the Father only.”
Only the true, one God knows when He will send the Hidden One and smash the impious.

100 Student September 5, 2017 at 5:56 pm

Well Thiago,

That was is the most difficult of all, well played. I am curious though, if one is to base his position on this alone… (despite the fact he calls himself the alpha and omega, says that he is the word made flesh, that. He was of that which created the world, that he is lord of the sabbath, that everything of the father is in him and him in the father and that he would send the paraclete on his behalf)…

Would u best call yourself an Arian, Nestorian or Agnoete?

101 Thiago Ribeiro September 5, 2017 at 9:39 pm

I am mostly a Brazilian, a real Christian and a follower of Prophet Bandarra who waits for the Hidden One, the real Messiah, who will take butter and honey and separate good from evil. For it is written, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than He that sent him.”

102 Mr. Econotarian September 5, 2017 at 4:16 pm

“Humans are inherently faith-based creatures.”

But it is clear that spirituality is highly heritable, thus a likely target for CRISPR CAS9 germ line editing by rationalist parents…

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103 Evans_KY September 5, 2017 at 6:39 am

To understand the motivations of others. Evolution, climate change, authoritarians, immigration, abortion/war, elections, LGBT. Outside of urban and college centers, many are still heavily influenced by the 3-4 hours spent in their place of worship. So often I find their beliefs diverge from biblical texts and veer towards an almost cultish perspective. https://arkencounter.com/. Consider the Nashville Amendment or The Benedict Option. http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/nashville-statement-evangelical-sexuality/. We must ask ourselves, Why? A smart rationalist is informed.

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104 prior_test3 September 5, 2017 at 7:04 am

You might enjoy Fred of Slacktivist, if you are unaware of him – http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/

And by total coincidence, his latest post sheds some light on one flaw of Prof. Cowen’s viewpoint – ‘We’ve had 500 years to test this theory of How to Read a Text and it hasn’t panned out. It turns out that texts and readers do not exist in vacuums, objectively and indifferently encountering one another uninfluenced by culture, history, context, tradition, economics or politics.’ In other words, a reader of a religious text in 1717 just might end up having a considerably different set of ‘truths’ than a reader in 2017, even when both our reading the same KJV text. The half life involved is our current opinion of what people in the past believed – which does not mean that the people of that time would agree with our current interpretation of what we believe they believed.

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105 Roy LC September 5, 2017 at 11:11 am

3-4 hours??? Silly protestants with their cult of personality pastors. With Papists it is 45 minutes if you pick the right Mass.

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106 JonFraz September 7, 2017 at 3:01 pm

The Eastern Orthodox liturgy averages about an hour and half, depending on sermon length and how many people come up for communion

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107 Gwen T September 5, 2017 at 7:12 am

“As an empirical matter, “rationalists” tend not to read so much about religion, but that is precisely the unreasonable thing to do.”

Is that true? Eliezer Yudkowsky uses Buddist analogies to describe rational virtue. Scott Alexander has a Judaism fanfic. Robin Hanson has argued that religion is good for humanity and that emulated humans will be more religious than today. Ozy prays even though they’re an atheist.

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108 rayward September 5, 2017 at 7:13 am

I assume Cowen’s point is that if one is interested in learning about human behavior, religion should be at or near the top of the list given religion’s influence on billions of people. That should come naturally for an economist, since economics is the study of human behavior. Critics of religion say religion is irrational, so it would be irrational to study it. But isn’t it irrational to ignore one of the strongest influences on human behavior? In any case, I’m a Christian so that’s the religion I study. And it’s a fascinating historical subject. Yes, historical. With a little help from New Testament scholars, one can see the historical development and evolution of Christianity, especially during the first three to four hundred years, or what New Testament scholars refer to as Christianities not Christianity. Here’s but one interesting development: differences in belief were so great and of such importance and created such divisions, that Emperor Constantine called the First Council of Nicaea to resolve the most significant disagreement (the nature of Jesus), from which we have the Nicene Creed. Read the Nicene Creed and you should be able to see how it resolved this issue. As for the organization of the Church, read the Gospel of Matthew, which contains details on how the Church would be organized. Yes, “the” Church. Of course, since the Reformation there isn’t “the” Church; actually, there never really was a single belief, but a single authority (the Papacy) to dictate beliefs and practices, the Papacy having been included in the Gospel Of Matthew (with Peter appointed the first Pope). After the Reformation, and the formal split between Catholics and Protestants, the divisions have multiplied, especially among Protestants, from formal divisions (Baptists, Methodists, etc.) to informal divisions (today’s independent evangelical churches) led by highly charismatic leaders. Where this “evolution” leads is anyone’s guess. Maybe Constantine’s heir will call another Council of Nicaea to resolve all of the divisions. For those interested in studying Christianity as a historical subject as opposed to a theological subject, read any books written by Dale Martin or Bart Ehrman. Ehrman is prolific, having written more books than there are books in the New Testament (there are 27 books in the New Testament, which as Ehrman says is a miracle – 27 is three to the third power, or the sign of the Trinity!). Ehrman also has a blog.

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109 megamike September 5, 2017 at 8:26 am

The operation of the Church is entirely set up for the sinner; which creates much misunderstanding among the smug
Flannery O’Connor

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110 Team-taker September 5, 2017 at 8:40 am

The operation of the Court is entirely set up for the criminal; which creates much misunderstanding among the smug Sandra Day O’Connor

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111 josh September 5, 2017 at 9:08 am

that was good.

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112 Willitts September 5, 2017 at 8:36 am

I think Tyler has lost contrast on the word “relevance” and therefor makes a distinction that is otherwise unremarkable.

Religion is a form of philosophy that guides thoughts and actions. By their nature, these are durable. The same could be said of socialism, populism, Zen, protectionism, enlightenment, renaissance, classical liberalism, etc.

The political and social squabbles contemporaneous to the advent of any religion or -ism will always fade with time. Even royal dynasties don’t outlast philosophies. This is why freedom of speech and religion are so powerful.

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113 Shining the Mirror September 5, 2017 at 8:39 am

Protestantism is to Christianity what the Warren Court is to the Bill of Rights.

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114 Thomas September 5, 2017 at 9:03 am

“And the odds are that people a few centuries from now still ought to read about the origins of Mormonism.”

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115 Cpt Obvious September 5, 2017 at 9:21 am

Scientology?

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116 Rock Lobster September 5, 2017 at 9:22 am

They’re actually doing a “book club” reading of Augustine’s Confessions over at Slate Star Codex. Seems to me they talk about religion a lot there.

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117 Brian Donohue September 5, 2017 at 9:53 am

It would appear that rationalism can take you pretty far, but not as far as hoped for.

That seems to be the trajectory of SSC. Perhaps it’s just my own trajectory though.

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118 Thiago Ribeiro September 5, 2017 at 9:25 am

“If you’d like to see a potential counter, here is some poll evidence that many people don’t care so much about the divisions of the Reformation any more.”

Zuch is life in America, the only god Americans care about is the Almighty Dollar!

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119 Ryan T September 5, 2017 at 9:51 am

“As an empirical matter, “rationalists” tend not to read so much about religion, but that is precisely the unreasonable thing to do.”

Is this true? And relative to what?

I’m not an expert, but the last time I looked into this, I remember that atheists (which is not necessarily the same as rationalists) are more likely than religious believers to read about religion. In other words, they’re further more likely to have read a lot about Christianity than a Christian.

Is the intended statement more like people read less about religion relative to history, social sciences, or literature?

A reading list would also be welcome. The only one I can recall seeing on this site is “Twelve Apostles.”

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120 Axa September 5, 2017 at 9:57 am

The funny fact with Swiss Reformation is that a lot of voting by citizens or council meeting were involved in the adoption of Protestantism and the following Counter-Reform.

“Pure secular divisions”, or Democracy, is way older than the Reformation.

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121 joshua September 5, 2017 at 10:07 am

Sounds like you might be interested in Jordan Peterson’s lectures on the psychological significance of the Old Testament stories

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122 Mark Thorson September 5, 2017 at 10:12 am

Religion is a contagious form of mental illness.

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123 msgkings September 5, 2017 at 1:37 pm

Nope. If you believe that you have to say the same thing about rooting for the Green Bay Packers, or loving your country.

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124 Careless September 5, 2017 at 3:24 pm

Perhaps, if people commonly killed others and/or got themselves killed over the Packers

Patriotism, that’s closer, but less contagious and more inborn (while specific forms of patriotism, say flag worship, would qualify)

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125 msgkings September 5, 2017 at 3:32 pm

No, now you are just arguing over the intensity of the illness. Mark’s snark (heh) was about how believing in a religion makes you mentally ill. Presumably because he’s an atheist and like many of the jerkier versions boil religion down to dumb people believing impossible things. And that makes them insane. Well, it’s pretty insane to care deeply about how many points Brett Favre puts up and to wear blocks of cheese on your head while doing so. Just because some theists get violent (and let’s be honest, many of them would be violent anyway motivated by different ideologies) and sports fans rarely do (although soccer hooligans anyone?) doesn’t disprove my point: Mark was being snarky, and he’s just plain wrong.

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126 steve September 5, 2017 at 10:23 am

That’s because religion is relatively impermeable to fact and reason. It just tends to repeat the same slogans/propaganda over and over. The story about the parting of the Red Sea is about as plausible as the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary, but religions just keep doubling down on that nonsense. Once upon a time it was heresy to question it. Now it is just politically incorrect, and almost no one is willing to call it bullshit.

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127 Student September 5, 2017 at 10:45 am

This comment is a good example of why people should study religion or why those that haven’t don’t understand it. Pride and selfishness is the root causes of religious wrong doing not the teachings themselves. Take Christianity as an example. If Christians followed their teachings fully, the sins of Christianity would never have been committed. So, if Christians studied Christianity more, they would probably be better Christians.

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128 Anonymous September 5, 2017 at 11:02 am
129 Student September 5, 2017 at 11:12 am

He was part of a Mis-informed sect questioning him acting as Christ would want him to. I fail to see how this reflects poorly on anything besides Christians that don’t understand Christianity.

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130 Anonymous September 5, 2017 at 11:18 am

Well, you say “all” Christians have to do is act Christian, but here we are 2017 years, 9 months, 5 days later ..

(calendar inaccuracies aside)

131 Student September 5, 2017 at 11:25 am

Look there is a lot to it. But at the same time, it’s pretty simple. The problem is it’s easier said than done. The fact that humans have a hard time doing it doesn’t render it wrong.

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets..”

As Jesus himself said, that pretty much sums it up.

132 msgkings September 5, 2017 at 1:39 pm

@Student: precisely. I am a huge believer in the Golden Rule, as are most secular humanists. And if Jesus says that’s all that really matters, then why does the supernatural stuff matter?

133 Student September 5, 2017 at 2:31 pm

That is a summation of morality. But that isn’t the whole point. He was more than a moral teacher. I think you could just as easily turn that question around…

If Jesus was just a moral teacher, why then mix in all this unbelievable stuff?

134 msgkings September 5, 2017 at 2:35 pm

Uh, well, yes that is my question. Why do we ‘need’ the unbelievable stuff? You say he was more than a moral teacher, but that’s where your faith and mine diverge.

135 Careless September 5, 2017 at 3:26 pm

Of course, Jesus is on the record as beating the crap out of the money changers, so…

136 Student September 5, 2017 at 3:47 pm

Seriously you seem to have very little knowledge about what you are commenting about. No where are beatings described and only in the synoptic is there even reference to a weapon (which was a homemade whip btw and among armed guards?). Come on.

What happened he is pretty clear if you actually take the time to study it.

He drove out the money changers for two probable reasons.

1.) He was making reference to Jeremiah Chapter 7 (take a quick look at that).

2.) He was trying to cause a scene knowing full well what would happen next.

Matthew 21:12–17, Mark 11:15–19, and Luke 19:45–48 and John 2:13–16.

Go take a look and quit spouting of something you once heard.

137 Student September 5, 2017 at 3:49 pm

Here is Jeremiah:

7 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Stand at the gate of the Lord’s house and there proclaim this message:

“‘Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the Lord. 3 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. 4 Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” 5 If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, 6 if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, 7 then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. 8 But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.

Note that this is exactly what he was doing in the NT

138 Student September 5, 2017 at 3:51 pm

Most likely what happened is that he cracked the whip and drove the cattle into a frenzy

139 Student September 5, 2017 at 10:47 am

Thomas Aquinas, Augustine of Hippo, Georges Lemaître, on and on ad nauseum.

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140 josh September 5, 2017 at 11:09 am

You are so brave.

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141 msgkings September 5, 2017 at 1:39 pm

LOL

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142 Joël September 5, 2017 at 11:52 am

It is politically incorrect to criticize religions? Where do you live?
Most academics criticize Christianity at breakfast lunch and dinner.

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143 steve September 6, 2017 at 9:24 am

The comment included two factual claims by religion. These claims were not nit-picks. The first is central to Judaism, the second is not only central to Catholicism, it is the only unequivocally “infallible” claim of the Church – more certain than the claim that Jesus of Nazareth really came from Bethlehem and was a descendant of King David (which is also central for Protestants).
Note that no one attempted to defend these claims. They tacitly admitted they were bullshit, but nonetheless expressed outrage and tacitly doubled down on them, This is standard practice of religions. I don’t think much good will come of willfully swallowing bullshit, It is toxic.

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144 JonFraz September 7, 2017 at 3:08 pm

The Immaculate Conception of Mary is a purely theological doctrine. It may well be BS if you don’t share the the RC’s view of original sin and the metaphysical underpinnings concerning the human soul, but it’s nothing that can be factually disproven. The RC also teaches that Mary was conceived, physically, in the same manner as you me, and everyone else (i.e., her parents had sex)

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145 Sarah September 5, 2017 at 10:57 am

Do you have any recommendations for reading about the history of Quakerism?

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146 Val September 5, 2017 at 11:01 am

I teach residents in a large psychiatry graduate medical education program. Those residents who have seriously studied religion have a far deeper understanding of human behavior than the rest. Those with bachelor’s in psychology prior to medical school are some of the worst. Modern psychology touches the surface of human behavior and the human experience, but only religion goes to the core. “What is man, that thou are mindful of him?” Or to quote a more recent version, “D’où Venons Nous,Que Sommes Nous, Où Allons Nous”? There is nothing in ‘rationalism’ or the study of ‘biases’ that even comes close to the heart of a human being.

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147 Anonymous September 5, 2017 at 11:15 am

As someone raised with church and Sunday school, I can see that. The sermons give you something that government schools are precluded from teaching.

I would be a much poorer agnostic without that background.

I suspect many Pastors feel the same way.

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148 msgkings September 5, 2017 at 1:41 pm

I simply cannot find the faith to believe in the basics of Jesus’ divinity, but I believe the core message of religions to be extremely beneficial to mankind, both collectively and individually. If you want to also believe in Jesus as your redeemer, fine by me.

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149 Hua Wei September 5, 2017 at 11:17 am

Any voodoo does (Shinto, Islam, Voodoo itself…) or is there a particular brand of voodoo that makes people better psychiatrists? Is it better to believe Mohammed flew on a winged mule or something like that or is it better to believe that the dead “saints” went for a walk after Christ’s execution?

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150 Anonymous September 5, 2017 at 11:23 am

The special effects are less important than the moral dilemmas presented and dissected.

The Talmudic stuff is good. Brainy.

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151 msgkings September 5, 2017 at 1:42 pm

+1

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152 Thiago Ribeiro September 5, 2017 at 3:58 pm

It is the paper where I clean my feet. It is man-made inventions that detract from the Truth.

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153 Harun September 5, 2017 at 12:47 pm

Its possible there is a “best” voodoo out there.

In the USA, it appears to be Mormonism.

Imagine you were being paid on the basis of a society’s “success.” Like a Sim City situation, and you were forced to choose a religion for your society.

I’m pretty sure you’d choose Mormonism as the religion and not say, Islam.

I personally like Taoism – more libertarian.

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154 Thiago Ribeiro September 5, 2017 at 4:17 pm

Mormorism may be the best option from a money point of view. Although Shintoism and Korean Protestantism+Buddhism are doing well, too. Communism+Confucianism may be good to overcome extreme poverty.

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155 Aretino September 5, 2017 at 4:40 pm

“Those residents who have seriously studied religion have a far deeper understanding of human behavior than the rest. ”

G K Chesterton invented the character Father Brown, who used his deep understanding of human nature (derived from religion) as a way to solve crimes.

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156 RPLong September 5, 2017 at 11:07 am

Sure, read more about religion if you live in a vacuum or an evenly rotating economy.

If you live in a world subject to scarcity, then dedicate a small amount of your time to the wikipedia entries and then go learn more about pretty much anything else. The great thing about religion is that if you have a question, you can ask pretty much any person of faith because they’ll be excited to fill in your knowledge gaps as they come up.

But dedicating more of your scarce time to learning about religion? Nah.

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157 jseliger September 5, 2017 at 11:08 am

Maybe the “facts” will remain but not be very relevant to most people’s lives (or improve their lives), while something like node.js may be very relevant for a short period of time.

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158 chuck martel September 5, 2017 at 11:16 am

In the US reformations are still taking place. Currently the holiest personages are orthodontists and federal judges. The Sabbath is devoted to the most important religion, NFL football, so the obsolete sects are relegated to an hour or so around breakfast of that day.

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159 Thiago Ribeiro September 5, 2017 at 11:19 am

It is not real football. As the name says, real football is actual played with one’s foot.

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160 msgkings September 5, 2017 at 1:43 pm

Good luck playing NFL football without feet.

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161 Thiago Ribeiro September 5, 2017 at 2:29 pm

One must kick the ball with the feet to it be football. A gay on a wheelchair or with a woodleg could play your “football.”

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162 msgkings September 5, 2017 at 2:37 pm

Wow, nice homophobia there Thiago. And couldn’t someone with a “woodleg” play your football too?

163 Thiago Ribeiro September 5, 2017 at 3:11 pm

No, it couldn’t because real football demands flexibility, agility and strenght.

164 msgkings September 5, 2017 at 3:22 pm

So does the NFL. So what are we arguing about exactly?

165 Thiago Ribeiro September 5, 2017 at 3:59 pm

You don’t need feet flexibility to run like an idiot carring a ball. One needs it to kick the ball the right way.

166 msgkings September 5, 2017 at 4:04 pm

OK so you concede strength and agility. So all you are saying is the difference between soccer and football is ‘feet flexibility’. I mean, ok. Football of course has plenty of players who kick the ball with their foot (punters, kickers). But even those who run carrying the ball need to be pretty flexible to avoid tackles and so forth. So what are we arguing about exactly?

167 Thiago Ribeiro September 5, 2017 at 4:13 pm

If you are not kicking the ball with your feet, it is not football. It may be handball or racquetball, though.

168 msgkings September 5, 2017 at 4:41 pm

OK so we agree that the NFL is football, because there’s kicking the ball with your feet. Also the acronym stands for National FOOTBALL League, so of course it’s football. Thanks for agreeing!

169 Thiago Ribeiro September 5, 2017 at 5:09 pm

The ball must be kicked around the field, not just once in a while.

170 msgkings September 5, 2017 at 5:28 pm

So we agree! Thanks so much.

171 Sam the Sham September 5, 2017 at 6:44 pm

This made my day.

172 Thiago Ribeiro September 5, 2017 at 9:34 pm

In your “footbal”, the ball is mostly carried at hands and passed through hands. It is unnatural.

173 Douglas Scheinberg September 5, 2017 at 11:24 am

Shouldn’t you study math then? Ancient Greek math, with a few twists, is still taught in high schools today.

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174 Student September 5, 2017 at 11:53 am

Philosophy (thinking rationally), Mathematics (the language of nature), religion (the language of the existential).

We will always study them all for they are the afterglow of the divine. They are what distinguishes us from all other known life. And IMO, they come from an extra-material source.

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175 msgkings September 5, 2017 at 1:46 pm

I’m so close to believing this. Personally I think I’m ok with the idea of a supernatural cause to the universe(s?). The current science on that is pretty hard to distinguish from supernatural anyway (like Musk’s computer simulation belief)

But after that, I just can’t believe. Whatever/whomever created everything I do not believe cares about us, that’s anthropomorphism to me.

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176 Joël September 5, 2017 at 11:54 am

Yes, you should. You can study both, and many other things too.

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177 Careless September 5, 2017 at 8:10 pm

He’s writing about what people should read more about.

Most of us spend quite a lot of time working on math in our academic careers.

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178 Li Zhi September 5, 2017 at 11:53 am

The “core” belief at a Roman Catholic University where my wife works seems to be that Protestants are fine as neighbors, some of my friends are Protestant, but I’d never want my kid to marry one. Echos of Bosnia.

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179 shrikanthk September 5, 2017 at 1:12 pm

Yes, Religion has implications on real world behavior even long after some of the original theological distinctions have become blurred.

Here’s an example from Hinduism (particularly in Southern India). So there were two theologians circa 800-1100 AD in the Deccan named Sankara and Ramanuja.

Sankara was a monist denying the distinction of God from man, and positing a view that the world is unreal and the only reality is the universal spirit, which we need to realize. While Ramanuja was a theist who acknowledged a personal God, the “fallen” state of man who can at best seek refuge in God and redeem himself. Unlike Sankara, he acknowledged the world as very real, and man as fundamentally flawed and laid less emphasis on self-actualization.

This manifests even in modern practice of religion by the followers of the two teachers 1000 years after their death. While Sankara Mutts tend to emphasize ascetism and celibacy, the Mutts of Ramanuja tradition are OK with pontiffs having families / kids. I presume this difference in stance on celibacy stems from the former’s aversion to worldliness and the latter’s embrace of reality.

Also in caste networks, there is also a tendency to stereotype the communities following Sankara as more amoral, non judgmental, while those of Ramanuja as more strongly judgmental and given to devotion / extreme theism.

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180 rayward September 5, 2017 at 1:44 pm

Cowen: “If you’d like to see a potential counter, here is some poll evidence that many people don’t care so much about the divisions of the Reformation any more.” Yes, ignorance is bliss. From the poll evidence: “Views on sola fide are tied to levels of knowledge about it. Among U.S. Protestants, knowing that only Protestantism traditionally teaches that salvation comes through faith alone is closely linked with believing that salvation comes through faith alone. Among Protestants who know that only Protestantism traditionally teaches that salvation comes through faith alone, about three-quarters (77%) embrace the concept of sola fide. But among the much larger share of Protestants who are not aware that sola fide is solely a Protestant teaching, far fewer (35%) believe that faith is all that is needed to get into heaven.” A little historical context might help. St. Paul taught (in his Epistles) that we are justified solely by faith in Jesus as Savior without regard to Works. For Paul, “Works” meant works of Jewish Law. That Paul, who never met Jesus and was not accepted among the closest Disciples of Jesus (Peter, James, and John) and who took the faith to (heaven forbid!) Gentiles, is it any wonder that Paul would teach that we are justified solely by faith. Luther, like Paul, chafed at his exclusion from the leadership of the Catholic Church, and, like Paul, Luther taught that we are justified solely by faith in Jesus as Savior without regard to the rules, rituals, and offices recognized by the Church (similar to the Works of Jewish Law that Peter, James, and John believed should be observed by followers of Jesus). Would it surprise readers that white evangelical Protestants who belong to independent evangelical churches believe that salvation comes through faith alone, a belief that is taught by the charismatic leaders of such independent churches?

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181 Diogo Gugisch September 5, 2017 at 2:43 pm

Of course, the possibility of an afterlife, especially of one conditioned by our time on Earth, should also be considered.

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182 Boonton September 5, 2017 at 3:22 pm

Perhaps, or perhaps not. Today, for example, few people care about religious based arguments for monarchy or demanding that interest be outlawed based on prohibitions against usury. 1,000 years ago a reasonably informed student of Christian religion might have assumed these would remain ‘important’ facts in regards to religion….yet how many pro-lifers today who think the Bible is 90% teaching against abortion and homosexuality could provide even a rudimentary theological justification for getting rid of Kings and allowing banks to pay interest?

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183 Moishe Pipik September 5, 2017 at 4:54 pm

As a Jew, I study Jewish writings from all time periods every day, from early to modern.

I spend an hour each morning devoted to study. Even though I am a perfectly rational Electrical Engineer by trade, I find it immensely satisfying.

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184 Xander September 5, 2017 at 10:17 pm

Not sure ‘rationalists’ can really be called out for not studying religion; one of the earlier archtypes after all (of an internet rationalist at least) is the ‘annoying atheist’ who does study and indeed talk a lot about religion (albeit with preformed intent). And of course latter day rationalism can demonstrate a lot of knowledge about religion (eg http://unsongbook.com/). This doesn’t mean that there’s an understanding of various current movements/schisms (though why you would study religion for this I’m not sure – these schisms aren’t literally due to something that happened 400 years ago, but due to this plus the 400 years of silliness in between between the two+ outgroups), or some deep understanding of human nature (though again, philosophy seems the better bet here, and religion is only useful insofar as it is philosophical…). Even permanence seems to be a very contestable claim – how many heresies from 100AD are relevant today? Not sure if trolling to be honest given TCs previous comments about rationalists; until they become Cowenists perhaps 😉

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