Friday, July 24, 2009

Episode 47 Anything Goes

How do you argue with someone who does not appreciate the value of reason and evidence? If personal feelings are allowed to trump logic, if myth is elevated to the same status as science—then anything goes. The new age “integral movement” and the postmodern “emerging church” movement both claim to offer a more open, affirming (and trendy) spirituality. But is there any substance behind the style? Also on this episode: A young atheist wants advice on speaking to religious relatives; plus a new gospel of doubt.

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13 comments:

Brooks said...

I really enjoyed this week's episode. The Christians at my parents' church are fundamentalists but they actually enjoyed Rob Belle's Nooma videos although they made sure to include disclaimers in their bible study classes that they don't condone all of his beliefs. When Julia Sweeney was talking in her show about liberal Christianity, she brought up the author Karen Armstrong. I recently read Armstrong's book The Bible-A Biography and it was actually really interesting and helped put things into perspective about the bible.

One thing interesting I learned was that biblical literalism and fundamentalist Christianity is actually a modern invention that didn't exist before the 19th century. The concept of interpreting scriptures through symbolism and allegory dates back to Philo the Platonist and the ancient Jewish Greeks who thought reading the Hebrew Bible literally was barbaric and it only made sense to them through allegories and they applied Platonic philosophy to their readings.

I forgot which famous Jew it was Armstrong cited said that the central message of the Torah was the Golden Rule and everything else was commentary. As an atheist that used to be a fundamentalist, I don't agree with everything liberal Christians believe and I think it's basically a fancy roundabout way of saying they're cherry picking the nice parts they like while discarding the inconvenient parts, but the Karen Armstrong book The Bible-A Biography might help explain where their beliefs are coming from and how they approach scripture a little better.

Patrick said...

Hey, I'm still listening to the episode, but I wanted to chime in and direct you to Daniel T Willingham's article about learning styles. Short summary: they don't exist.

Skepoet said...

As a person who is a former Theravadan Buddhist and current skeptic, I actually find your discussion of integral psychology interesting. "Western" Buddhist and psuedo-Hindus who love him. Sadly, Wilbur and Sam Harris actually share a few arguments about Jainism and Buddhism (which I find totally historically naive). In fact, Robert Wright, in his Evolution of God, has a much less new age presentation of the same teleological idea that Wilbur has.
I point this out because integral ideas pop up in people we often think of as "allies" in the secular movement basically because they have unquestioned teleological assumptions.

On learning styles, while they are generally accepted in applied educational psychology, there is a lot of evidence that the concept is such an oversimplification that is practically useless. There is literature on both sides and while I find Willingham's argument persuasive, its hardly the end of discussion on the matter.

Skepoet said...

In regards to your commenter,"Learning styles" and multiple intelligences are ENTIRELY different concept. "Multiple" Intelligence is a semantic largely. Intelligence is a concept that is defined normatively. To say it is anything else is to reify it, by that I mean, confuse an abstract with an "real" thing. Learning Styles, however, is about cognitive development and thus is something that is objective--that is describing processes-as opposed to intelligence (which, like I said, is a normative category).

Skepoet said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Skepoet said...

Last comment on the episode: Please stop being sloppy with the term "post-modern." This has bothered me about skeptics for years because post-modern has become a hueristic for "new ideas that seem relativistic." What Alan Sokal debunked was a specific kind of post-modern thought called "post-structuralism" which was more like ancient Skepticism in its relativism than most other philosophy. All thinkers who are after the "modern" period, which is everyone who doesn't believe that say language is objectively perfectable, or who aren't say logical positivists, are "post-modern." All it means is "after the modern." Which is philosophy is ANYTHING after Nietzsche, including people like Quine, Wittgenstein, Popper, and Kuhn.

The critique of meta-narratives does apply to myths, but when Christians and even post-structuralists abuse this logic, miss that science isn't about a narrative arch. It does have one narrative, it produces all sorts of mini-narratives. If we are going to have a object to post-modernity, please be more specific. The term isn't generally used by people who embrace it and it refers to so much that its almost meaninglessly nonspecific.

Nicole said...

While listening to the segemtn about emergent churches, a thought occured to me. Most atheist go through a slow separation from thier beliefs that usually goes something like this:

The realization that their religion can not be correct, followed by searching other religions, followed by a deistic approach to god, finally atheism.

I wonder if the emergent churches are similar step, but on a societal level.

From what you said, the emergent churches almost teach deism rather than any specific dogma. Deism was my last gasp of believing in god, before I finally let go. Perhaps this is the last gasp for many of the members of these churches. Only time will tell

Anonymous said...

I've been through telling highly religious family members (two in their late 80's) about my atheism over the last few years, and appreciate your thoughtful discussion.

I agree that not burning bridges is paramount, but silence and dishonesty will rot those bridges over time.

IMHO, it's best to tell them where you're at in the most positive, non-judgmental way possible. Ignore the dumb, hurtful things they say for the next year or so; it's a big adjustment for them. Stay honest and stay nice, even when it's hard.

Eventually, they will come to accept you on some level, and your honest relationship will survive through the years.

Daniel said...

AS I have only recently discovered this blog and the podcasts I must begin by stating "I love your work".

Strangely I found this site while looking up Deism - While I am not religious I have what I refer to as 'my own arrangements with god', the logical "next step" was to see if there was an established religion that fit my ideology.

Having been brought up in a household that was all but devoid of religion it is interesting to compare my own experiences with those you describe in the podcast. I know my parents were shocked when, at about 14, I elected to read the bible for my own information - 15 years later I still haven't 'caught' religion but still keep my ideology outlined above (basically, god triggered the 'big bang' and then decided on a hands off approach - allowing each to pursue their own ideology and sort of 'good intentions' approach to morality.

Basically the idea of a 'soul' keeps me warm at night, possibly due to my personal dislike of sleep - an eternal sleep is not at all appealing, convincing myself that when I'm worm food I'll mystically 'wake up' as some ethereal being is much more appealing than sleep. I doubt this qualifies as 'deism' - but it's certainly not atheism. Perhaps it's atheism with a night light?

Any way, I digress. I love your work and I'll certainly be listening to more of your podcasts.

Cheers

mabell said...

I'd like to respond to the atheist girl whose grandfather keeps "comforting" her with talk of heaven. One of the really great perks of Christianity is the superpower of offering gifts like prayer and the comfort of heaven to third parties (such as yourself). This power comes in very handy in helpless situations like the illness or death of a loved one. A naturalist has nothing to offer in these situations, unless you are a licensed therapist or a poet. All you can do is put your hands in your pockets and occasionally kick the ground.

Your grandfather feels empowered by his beliefs. You don't want to break his heart by destroying his belief that you too will go to heaven. So the comforting gifts will keep coming. However, you have a gift to offer in return. It's the gift of not calling him a superstitious idiot. And that is
the greatest gift of all.

Tommy Holland said...

Thanks for including my "Gospel of Doubt" this week.

My blog:
Tommy Holland's Vision

stephy said...

I haven't listened to this yet but I am already excited to.

Heather Ann said...

I actually found this pretty disappointing. I'm an ex-Christian, and a lot of my still-Christian friends are in the emergent scene. We don't say "bummer, dude" and we aren't stoned hippes who just want things that feel good. You were respectful of the age of 14 year old atheist, but not the 16-30 year old emergents. It definitely took on a "kids these days" kind of tone.

We were all raised evangelical, with "it's a relationship, not a religion" constantly being stated at our churches. Why then would it be surprising that we grew up to value the relationship and the story and the themes and the atmosphere over the formalized aspects of church? This is largely what I see the emergent church doing. It's trying to stop being a little sub-culture that secular people find baffling. Church is stuffy and boring, but emergent church can be interactive. In fact, they actually get involved with their communities rather than isolating themselves. I know emergent churches that move into the poorest neighbourhoods (all church staff actually MOVING there), and serving their community as a way of "doing church". Without proselytising.

As for the idea that emergents avoid things that feel bad, I think it's actually the opposite. They seek them out, and seek to incorporate them. They actually talk about poverty and social justice and racism, topics that the churches we grew up in were silent on, and that recognition is part of what draws people to the emergent church.

They're actually open to other stories and to letting go of springs of that trampoline, so why would we have a problem with them? If anything, they're my friends who are FOR separation of church and state and FOR gay rights and FOR multi-culturalism. I have no quarrel with them.