Conversations: The Preposterous


Helena
Clearly, it is time we all learned to meet our emotional needs without embracing the preposterous. We must find ways to invoke the power of ritual and to mark those transitions in every human life that demand profundity—birth, marriage, death—without lying to ourselves about the nature of reality.

Galene
What does that mean in practice?

Sappho
I feel we should recognise that, for instance, the practice of raising children to believe that they are Christian, Muslim, or Jewish should be recognised as the ludicrous obscenity that it is. And only then will we stand a chance of healing the deepest and most dangerous fractures in our world.

Galene
That’s all very well and good, but I have no doubt that the acceptance—so to speak—of Christ coincided with some very positive changes in some people’s lives. Perhaps they now love other people in a way that they never imagined possible. They may even experience feelings of bliss while praying—say. Continue reading

Conversations: Eradicating Religion


Helena
I would argue that one of the greatest challenges facing civilization in the twenty first century is for human beings to learn to speak about their deepest personal concerns—about ethics, spiritual experience, and the inevitability of human suffering—in ways that are not flagrantly irrational.

Sappho
Absolutely. We desperately need a public discourse that encourages critical thinking and intellectual honesty! Unfortunately, it is probably true to say that nothing stands in the way of this project more than the respect we accord religious faith.

Zoe
Surely, you would be the first to admit that the prospects for eradicating religion in our time do not seem good? Continue reading

Tradition Tradition


Perchik: You have wit, even some intelligence!

Hodel: Thank you.

Perchik: Perhaps, but what good is your brain? Without curiosity, it is a rusty tool! Good day, Hodel!

Hodel: We have an old custom here! A boy talks respectfully to a girl. But that is too traditional for an advanced thinker like you!

Perchik: Our traditions! Nothing must change! Everything is perfect as it is!

Hodel: We like our ways.

Perchik: Our ways are changing in other places. In the city, boys and girls can be affectionate without a matchmaker’s permission? They hold hands together. They even dance together.

– Jewison. N. (Producer, Director). (1971). Fiddler on the Roof [Motion Picture]. United States: The Mirisch Production Company

Conversations: Interfaith Dialogue


Helena
It is a truism that devout religious people tend to view questions of public policy and global conflict in terms of their affiliation with their religion.

Sappho
That is exactly why it seems profoundly unlikely that we will heal the divisions in our world through inter-faith dialogue. Devout Muslims are as convinced as Christians are that their religion is perfect and that any deviation leads directly to hell.

Galene
However, it should be noted that representatives of the major religions occasionally meet and agree that there should be peace on earth, or that compassion is the common thread that unites all the world’s faiths.

Sappho
True, but there is no escaping the fact that a person’s religious beliefs uniquely determine what he thinks peace is good for, as well as what he means by a term like “compassion.” For instance, there are millions—maybe hundreds of millions—of Muslims who would be willing to die before they would allow a Christian, Jewish or Hindu version of compassion to gain a foothold on the Arabian Peninsula.

Helena
How can interfaith dialogue, even at the highest level, reconcile worldviews that are fundamentally incompatible and, in principle, immune to revision? The truth is, it really matters what billions of human beings believe and why they believe it.

(Based on: Harris. S. 2006. Letter To A Christian Nation p. 27-28)

Does a Sponge Think?


Matthew Harrison Brady: We must not abandon faith! Faith is the most important thing!

Henry Drummond: Then why did God plague us with the capacity to think? Mr. Brady, why do you deny the one faculty of man that raises him above the other creatures of the earth? The power of his brain to reason. What other merit have we? The elephant is larger; the horse is swifter and stronger; the butterfly is far more beautiful; the mosquito is more prolific. Even the simple sponge is more durable. But does a sponge think?

Matthew Harrison Brady: I don’t know. I’m a man, not a sponge!

Henry Drummond: But do you think a sponge thinks?

Matthew Harrison Brady: If the Lord wishes a sponge to think, it thinks!

Henry Drummond: Do you think a man should have the same privilege as a sponge?

Matthew Harrison Brady: Of course!

Henry Drummond: Then this man wishes to have the same privilege of a sponge, he wishes to think!

– Kramer. S. (Producer, Director). (1960). Inherit the Wind [Motion Picture]. United States: United Artists

Failed Creation


(Chapter XV)

‘I sickened as I read. ‘Hateful day when I received life!’ I exclaimed in agony. ‘Accursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust? […] my form is a filthy type of yours, more horrid even from the very resemblance.’

– Mary Shelley, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818)

Conversations: Religions and War


Galene
Billions of people share the belief that the creator of the universe wrote (or dictated) one of our books. There are many books that pretend to divine authorship, and they make incompatible claims about how we all must live. Why should this pose a problem?

Sappho
Competing religious doctrines have shattered our world into separate moral communities, and these divisions have become a continual source of human conflict.

Helena
And in response to this situation, many sensible people advocate something called religious tolerance. While religious tolerance is surely better than religious war, tolerance is not without its problems. Our fear of provoking religious hatred has rendered us unwilling to criticize ideas that are increasingly maladaptive and patently ridiculous.

Sappho
It has also obliged us to lie to ourselves—repeatedly and at the highest levels of discourse—about the compatibility between religious faith and scientific rationality. Our competing religious certainties are impeding the emergence of a viable civilization. Religious faith—faith that there is a God who cares what name He is called, faith that Jesus is coming back to earth, faith that Muslim martyrs go straight to Paradise—is on the wrong side of an escalating war of ideas.

Helena
Worse still, religion raises the stakes of human conflict much higher than tribalism, racism, or politics ever can, as it is the only form of in-group/out-group thinking that casts the differences between people in terms of eternal rewards and punishments. One of the enduring pathologies of human culture is the tendency to raise children to fear and demonize other human beings on the basis of religious faith. Consequently, faith inspires violence. Continue reading

Ahead of Existentialism


‘Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay
To mould Me man? Did I solicit thee
From darkness to promote me?’

– John Milton, Paradise Lost (1674) Book X, 743-5