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A few months ago Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris tossed out a couple… - Elf M. Sternberg
A few months ago Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris tossed out a couple of wonderful broadsides against religion with their books The God Delusion and Letter to a Christian Nation, both of which basically took the reader to task for demanding that others remain silent when they mouth delusionary claims about their beliefs and their gods.

There were a lot of dismissive reviews of the books, the most common of which went something like this: "Dawkins and Harris are attack a kind of religion that is unsophisticated and immature and not really religion as it is practiced. They are not generally appreciative of the deep mysteries of belief, like questions about the ground of being, the experience of the numinous, and so on. Dawkins and Harris provide no comfort to those who remain confronted with the very question of existince itself."

There has been a lot of hand-wringing on the naturalist side of the aisle. Mostly because the response is this: What does that mean, anyway? 'Ground of being,' 'Experience of the numinous'? Aside from being strong evidence that the human brain has some pretty weird pathways wired into it, how can we claim that trying to universalize these emotional experiences into something fundamental to the fabric of the universe is unfounded.

The other problem is that most of these people are lying. Dawkins and Harris are attacking the most common form of religion there is, the one practiced daily by most of America and, I bet, most of the world. For the naturalists, though, there's been a rather difficult question: what is the dividing line that separates the theologians who diss Harris and Dawkins for their 'lack of sophistication', and the people who simply hate Harris and Dawkins for daring to confront them at all?

It's animism.

The gulf between Bishop Shelby Spong and Ted Haggard is wide, but the hard line between them is the animist line. Haggard believes that the universe is inhabited with a spirit that pays attention to him and will act in its interests, whatever they happen to be. Spong doesn't.

Rejecting universal animism is a pretty clever strategy: it allows the proponent to declaim all interest in questions that science might answer and instead allows the proponent to argue in favor of a fundamental reality that can only be described in terms of personal experiences. It completely withdraws from the God in the Gaps argument by claiming there are no gaps that we can see.

It allows the "sophisticated" argumentors to tell the less sophisticated, "Don't worry, we've got them atheists on the run," when in fact all they've done is deploy the word salad to obscure the fact that underlying everything is an epistemology of evasion, violations of the razor, and a lack of anything approaching knowledge. They're engaging in the Courtier's Reply, which is meant to bamboozle both the secularists and the animists. The theology in which they engage is an esoteric, academic pursuit far, far removed from the daily practice of religion as practiced by their animist power base.

The unsophisticated animists reward the theologians for their duty as gatekeepers (while the smarter among them set up their own set of gatekeepers to make sure that the non-animists don't start to proclaim too loudly their belief that their god isn't really active or interested in the world) and this defense-in-depth of vacuous reasoning and poor excuses for the profound lack of universality among religions (and theologies) persists.

Current Mood: amused amused
Current Music: Alizee, Mon maquis

6 comments or Leave a comment
trinsf From: trinsf Date: May 13th, 2007 06:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
Gosh, Elf, as a theologian, I have never heard or used the word animism in this way. It simply doesn't mean that, theologically. I am thus, well, stumped. Is there some other writer in particular who is using animism to mean, "the universe is inhabited with a spirit that pays attention to him and will act in its interests", or is this a concept you've come up with for this writing?

While I can see using it in the broadest sense to convey the belief that the universe itself is ensouled, I do not believe that it can be stretched to mean that the universe is bound to act in the interests of human beings. If anything, I think animism conveys a sense of the *noncentrality* and peripheral place of human beings. That is, within an animistic context, human beings are just one kind of ensouled being, so the whole of creation is not "focused" at them as some sort of ultimate expression of consciousness and spiritual worth.

Or, to quote Inigo, "I do not think that word means what you think it means."
nbarnes From: nbarnes Date: May 13th, 2007 09:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
Dawkins and Harris are attack a kind of religion that is unsophisticated and immature and not really religion as it is practiced.

Except, of course, that it pretty much is how it's practiced in huge swaths of the US. *grumble* You know it, I know it, Dawkins and Harris know it, but it's very convenient for some people to pretend that every US Christian is a laid-back Episcopalian.
gromm From: gromm Date: May 14th, 2007 03:18 am (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, I was about to say. That struck a pretty strong chord with me. By and large, religion is practiced by sheeple who *don't* think about their religion. They go to the church they go to because that's the church they went to as little kids, where their parents went, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Their pastors don't teach them about the nature of God or philosophy or theology. They talk about the evils of the modern world. How reading Harry Potter is satan worship, how homosexuality is going to cause the end of the world, and who you should vote for in the next primaries.
tagryn From: tagryn Date: May 14th, 2007 03:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
"it's very convenient for some people to pretend that every US Christian is a laid-back Episcopalian."

But how do we know that isn't the case? The American Religious Identification Survey has Catholics, Methodists, Lutherans, and Presbyterians making up 4 of the top 5 Christian denominations. Baptists (#2) and Pentecostals (#8) are closer to the stereotype of the rabid fundamentalist, but that's only 24% of the total Christian population (and outnumbered nearly 2-to-1 by the above groups). It looks like a case of the squeaky wheel getting the grease, rather than what's actually happening out there.
_candide_ From: _candide_ Date: May 20th, 2007 02:14 am (UTC) (Link)
Spot on, Elf. Spot on.

At best, the various rules and ceremonies of all human religions exist to give the "animists" something to do, keeping the morons out of the way of the sages as they teach the full tenets to the few people who have a hope of learning them. At worst, it's the sham you described.

But, either way, Elf, you're right: The vaaaaast majority of people in every religion practice a trivialized, simplified, infantile version that is little more than a primitive superstition.
From: (Anonymous) Date: November 16th, 2007 09:05 am (UTC) (Link)

Two new studies show why some people are more

Two new studies show why some people are more attractive for members of the opposite sex than others.

The University of Florida, Florida State University found that physically attractive people almost instantly attract the attention of the interlocutor, sobesednitsy with them, literally, it is difficult to make eye. This conclusion was reached by a series of psychological experiments, which were determined by the people who believe in sending the first seconds after the acquaintance. Here, a curious feature: single, unmarried experimental preferred to look at the guys, beauty opposite sex, and family, people most often by representatives of their sex.

The authors believe that this feature developed a behavior as a result of the evolution: a man trying to find a decent pair to acquire offspring. If this is resolved, he wondered potential rivals. Detailed information about this magazine will be published Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

In turn, a joint study of the Rockefeller University, Rockefeller University and Duke University, Duke University in North Carolina revealed that women are perceived differently by men smell. During experiments studied the perception of women one of the ingredients of male pheromone-androstenona smell, which is contained in urine or sweat.

The results were startling: women are part of this repugnant odor, and the other part is very attractive, resembling the smell of vanilla, and the third group have not felt any smell. The authors argue that the reason is that the differences in the receptor responsible for the olfactory system, from different people are different.

It has long been proven that mammals (including human) odor is one way of attracting the attention of representatives of the opposite sex. A detailed article about the journal Nature will publish.
6 comments or Leave a comment