Conversations: Civilization


Helena
It is important to realize that the distinction between science and religion is not a matter of excluding our ethical intuitions and spiritual experiences from our conversation about the world; it is a matter of our being honest about what we can reasonably conclude on their basis.

Xanthippe
However, there are good reasons to believe that people like Jesus and the Buddha weren’t talking nonsense when they spoke about our capacity as human beings to transform our lives in rare and beautiful ways.

Sappho
But any genuine exploration of ethics or the contemplative life demands the same standards of reasonableness and self-criticism that animate all intellectual discourse. Continue reading

Why Facts do not Matter


Social scientists have some intriguing explanations for why people persist in misjudgements despite strong contrary evidence. In fact, studies conducted over the past 30 years show that attempts to refute false information often backfire and lead people to hold on to their misperceptions even more strongly.

A 2015 behavioural science article examined the puzzle of why nearly one-third of U.S. parents believe that childhood vaccines cause autism, despite overwhelming medical evidence that there’s no such link. In such cases, the study noted, “arguing the facts doesn’t help — in fact, it makes the situation worse.” The reason is that people tend to accept arguments that confirm their views and discount facts that challenge what they believe.[1] Continue reading

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

On First Principles


“I was trying to get a program going about fundamentalist Islam, or not even fundamentalist actually beyond… where it’s extreme radical Islam, so-called you know, basically people who support ISIS, of which there are some in the UK. Although, they’re hard to interview because it’s actually a crime to Glorify Terrorism is what it’s called. And so they have to talk very gingerly around the subject.

But if you get into a debate with someone who is sincerely committed to ISIS’ brand of Sunni Islam, where they’re saying “Actually, yes, sex slaves are okay,” they’ll say “Slaves isn’t quite the right term but we approve of that.” And then they say, “By what authority do you challenge what we believe?” 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