Monday, July 24, 2006

Return of the Me

Home again, home again, jiggity jog.

I've been quite isolated during the past week, but I have a couple of observations to record:

1. Stupid Bush vetoed federal funds for stem cell research. This lunacy would anger me anyway, but as it happens my sister has juvenile diabetes, one of the diseases that stem cell advancements might eventually cure, making the veto that much more personal. Adding insult to injury, of course, is the fact that Bush unabashedly acknowledges the role of his religious convictions in this decision of public policy, allowing a convenient segue to ...

2. I read Sam Harris's book The End of Faith while I was gone. Wow. I'll be frank: If you don't enjoy philosophy this book is probably not for you. I, on the other hand, adore philosophy in all its circle jerking glory, so the sections of Harris's book addressing, for example, issues of epistemology delighted me.

Most important, though, are Harris's points about the dangers of religious faith, particularly when mixed with government. The main problem he identifies is that religious faith is inherently, indeed by definition, at odds with reason; however, this species of irrationality has achieved a status in the culture such that it is immune to critique or challenge. Thus religionists get away with all sorts of bizarre perversions of public policy ... Bush.

Harris presents an entire excellent chapter on Islam and religious war. He also discusses at length the phenomenon of consciousness and the experience of "selflessness" through meditation in an attempt to show that belief in an omniscient god is by no means necessary to "spirituality."

I have to say that even if you are not inclined toward Harris's subject matter, his prose boasts a beauty everyone can appreciate. He is really a lovely writer. He is direct in his criticisms, though. Take for example:

It is time we admitted, from kings and presidents on down, that there is no evidence that any of our books was authored by the Creator of the universe. The Bible, it seems certain, was the work of sand-strewn men and women who thought the earth was flat and for whom the wheelbarrow would have been a breathtaking example of emerging technology. To rely on such a document as the basis for our worldview--however heroic the efforts of redactors--is to repudiate two thousand years of civilizing insights that the human mind has only just begun to inscribe upon itself through secular politics and scientific culture. We will see that the greatest problem confronting civilization is not merely religious extremism: rather, it is the larger set of cultural and intellectual accomodations we have made to faith itself. Religious moderates are, in large part, responsible for the religious conflict in our world, because their beliefs provide the context in which scriptural literalism and religious violence can never be adequately opposed. (45)

Finally ...

3. I go back to work next week. SIGH.


At 4:24 PM, Blogger CP said...

I was thinking of starting the Sam Harris book. Now, I think you have me a bit more interested than I originally was.

Please, the whole stem cell thing really chaps my ass. Especially because I work in the health care industry and I know what a monumental blow this was to my patients with various types of cancers and MS. This saddens me to no end, especially since it was voted IN by Congress and then vetoed by that animal we call President.



At 4:47 PM, Anonymous Bug said...

Welcome back lady! I was just getting ready to send the posse out to look for ya *chuckle*

Bush...grrr. I'm not even going to start on that.

I'ma see if I can snag a copy of the book, it sounds like something that's right up my alley...thanks for the heads up :o)

At 6:15 PM, Blogger Mr. Fabulous said...

I am pissed off beyond belief about the veto as well. Grrrrr.

At 8:50 PM, Blogger Tense Teacher said...

Back to work already? Yuck.

At 9:54 PM, Blogger Michelle said...

So as a moderate (or perhaps liberal) Christian, I am responsible for war because I am not literal? That is a heavy burden to bear.

The Bible says that there will always be wars...not to fight a religious jihad of sorts, or even to become involved in government in a religious way (Render unto Ceasar what is Ceasar's...).

Sometimes it feels like there is a verbal war against Christians in general. And yeah, it goes the other way. I wish that Christianity and politics had not become so woven together in this country.

Anyway, peace and fair tax...

At 10:22 AM, Blogger Shell said...

Yes, michelle, I know what you mean.

I'm already losing some of what I read, but I think Harris's point was that religious moderates are (forgive me) essentially dishonest, because they ignore the violence and misogyny and tribalism of which the Bible is full and create a sanitized version that ends up allowing literalism protection under their umbrella of sacredness. He's criticizing the fact that no one is allowed to publicly criticize religion without being slapped for not being "tolerant"; his argument is that some things don't deserve tolerance.

It is a clever book. He discusses how believers contradict their general defense of faith--the sort of Kierkegaardian position that faith by definition exists outside of evidence--when they get excited about anything they think might constitute evidence, like the Shroud of Turin, claims to have found the Ark, Mary's face in a tortilla, etc.

He points out that they're trying to have it both ways: either evidence is important and meaningful or it is not. He claims that it is the epitome of unreason to say that evidence is great when it supports your position but unnecessary and irrelevant when it does not.

Thanks for the great comment! Fair tax indeed!

At 2:16 PM, Blogger Michelle said...

I like the point about evidence. I think that Christians can look rather ridiculous when we do these things. Consistancy is important. I really hate it when Christians advocate war, etc. in the name of God. God has some rather poor representatives, IMHO.

I wish, if politics HAD to be intertwined with religion, that people would look more to the teachings of Jesus and his mandates to feed the poor, love your enemy as yourself, etc. This is not what I see happening today.

As far as tolerance goes, the church needs to have more of it itself. When I speak up about the Lebonese people, for example, I do not much care for what some of my fellow believers have to say. For example, my church is having a day of prayer for Israel...Augh! This would be all well and good if other peoples were included...

My older son, who is agnostic, set out to prove that the old testement God was the antithesis of Ghandi for an assignment. He did a pretty job of it. However, what he was really trying to prove was that his teachers were close-minded, and he definitely proved his thesis. The paper was critiqued based on his ideas, while some grammatical errors went unnoticed. He received a D, and even the English teacher who regraded it when he challenged the grade chose to leave commentary on her own personal beliefs rather than correct some faulty logic and spelling.

This sort of thing makes my job as a parent (teaching son to be open-minded towards Christianity) that much more difficult.

I can certainly see why people are so frustrated. I am.

(Sorry for such a long comment....two more weeks until school starts and I don't have so much time on my hands...) :-)

At 6:34 PM, Blogger Shell said...

Don't apologize! I'm loving your comments.

At 9:01 PM, Anonymous Tense Teacher said...

I enjoy reading intelligent debates between intelligent people who can agree on some points, but also agree to disagree on others. Most of the time in blog-land, "debates" turn into name-calling, defensive tirades.

Thank you both for being mature. I really enjoyed reading this give and take.

At 10:41 PM, Blogger Shell said...

Thanks, tense. I've gotten a few nasty comments on some of my more feminist posts, but for the most part my blogging experience has been very positive.

(No doubt I just jinxed myself and the trolls are nigh...)


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