Review: Letter to a Christian Nation

I just finished reading the book, Letter to a Christian Nation, by Sam Harris. In the Note to the Reader section, Harris is clear about the purpose of his book.

“While
this book is intended for people of all faiths, it has been written in
the form of a letter to a Christian. In it, I respond to many of the
arguments that Christians put forward in defense of their religious
beliefs. The primary purpose of this book is to arm secularists in our
society, who believe that religion should be kept out of public policy,
against their opponents on the Christian Right. Consequently, the
“Christian” I address throughout is a Christian in a narrow sense of
the term. Such a person believes, at a minimum, that the Bible is the
inspired word of God and that only those who accept the divinity of
Jesus Christ will experience salvation after death.”

The
overall tone of the writing is confrontational. For Harris, it is a
“war of ideas” and he is “set out to demolish the intellectual and
moral pretensions of Christianity in its most committed form.” Harris
is akin to an MMA fighter challenging people of all faiths to an
intellectual smackdown inside a ring where the rules are bound by
intellectual honesty. Now that’s ballsy. I applaud him for that.

Whenever Harris mentions God, he is not talking about the transcendent experience of God. He is not talking about the God that Father Thomas Keating talks about. He is not talking about Spirit or the Absolute nature of reality. He is referring to a mythic God
– a God that “is located not on this earth but in a heavenly paradise
not of this world, entrance to which is gained by living according to
the covenants and rules given by this God to his peoples.”

Since
I’m still technically a Christian (i.e. Catholic by virtue of birth), I
picked up the book and started reading the book with some expectation
that I would be offended with what Harris has to say. However, I soon
found out that I’m in agreement with most of his arguments
especially when it comes to the infallibility of the Bible, divinity of
Jesus, creation and evolution, intelligent design, moral intuitions and
even his stance on controversial topics like stem cell research.

“The naive idea of souls in a Petri dish is intellectually indefensible. It is also morally
indefensible, given that it now stands in the way of some of the most
promising research in the history of medicine. Your beliefs about the
human soul, are at this very moment, prolonging the scarcely endurable
misery of tens of millions of human beings.”

The only
reservation I have with Harris’s approach, is that, in his passion to
wage intellectual war against the mythic membership, he fails to
address the stages of moral development
of people. Consequently, the stages of moral development applies to
everyone, including Atheists. Thus, there are pre-conventional Muslims,
conventional Muslims, post-conventional Muslims; pre-conventional
Christians, conventional Christians, post-conventional Christians;
pre-conventional Atheists, conventional Atheists, post-conventional
Atheists. Meaning: Atheism is not immune to the extreme forms of
fanaticism that Harris is ranting about. Although religion is indeed a
big factor in stages of moral development, religion is not the root of
all evil. Individual and social intelligences come into play along the
way. Religion is a by-product of human (and collective) development,
not a root cause. But I agree with Harris that religion is a source
great suffering in the world; pre-conventional and conventional
religions to be exact.

Since Harris is arguing about faith,
let’s use James Fowler’s stages of faith as reference (so that people
of faith would be able to relate). In James Fowler’s stages of faith, Harris is doing battle with Stage 2 (“Mythic literal”) and Stage 3 (“Synthetic-Conventional”)–devout religious people–and then wielding his intellectual sword on Stage 4 (“Individuative-Reflective”) and Stage 5 (“Conjunctive Faith”)
whenever he turns his attention on religious moderates/liberals. While
Harris, in my opinion, is coming mostly from a Stage 5 (with his
“faith” anchored on science). It’s possible that Harris has had
glimpses of Stage 6 with his Dzogchen practice. But that remains to be seen.

(NOTE: I think Harris addresses Stage 6 (“Universalizing Faith”)
in his book, “The End of Faith,” in a chapter about consciousness. I’ll
talk more about that later when I get the chance to review that book.
Let me just say at this point that Fowler’s use of Mother Teresa as
example of a person with Stage 6 faith is highly objectionable it would
make Christopher Hitchens puke, especially after the revelation of Mother Teresa’s crisis of faith.)

And
therein lies the rub. Harris’s polemics may be highly reasonable and
rational, but people at stage 2 and stage 3 of faith will not hear his
reasoning. It would simply fall on their deaf ears. Yes, he will anger
them. Yes, he will offend them. In return, they will defend their
dogmas to the end. Only people who are ready to step out of stage 3
will hear his plea. In short, Sam Harris will not convert suicide
bombers and devout Christian missionaries. And I think he knows that.

Which brings us to the more relevant target audience of Harris’s writings: people at stage 4 and stage 5 of faith.
These are the stages of faith which bear the qualities of religious
tolerance and religious liberalism. This is where I find Harris’s
approach refreshing and deserving of a higher level of intellectual
discourse.

“It accomplishes nothing to merely declare
that ‘we all worship the same God.’ We do not all worship the same God,
and nothing attests to this fact more eloquently than our history of
religious bloodshed.”


“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. It has also obliged us to lie to
ourselves–repeatedly and at the highest level of discourse–about the
compatibility between religious faith and scientific rationality. Our
competing religious certainties are impeding the emergence of a viable,
global civilization.”

For Harris, religious faith and
scientific rationality are not compatible. There’s no middle ground.
He’s not aiming for integration of science and religion. He wants to
end religion in favor of science and reason.

“…one side is really going to win this argument, and the other side is really going to lose.”

“The
conflict between science and religion is reducible to a simple fact of
human cognition and discourse: either a person has good reasons for
what he believes, or he does not.”

On initial reading,
we might think that Harris is reducing morality and spiritual
experiences to the domain of science. But upon further reading, Harris
also said:

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

People who are familiar with Spiral Dynamics might even suspect that Harris is predominantly exhibiting an Orange vMEME. I don’t think so. I think Harris is even arguing beyond the Green vMEME
(i.e. moral relativism, post-modernity, religious liberalism). At a
minimum, I think Harris is coming from a poorly articulated Yellow vMEME
perspective, at least in this book (i.e. no emphasis on stages of moral
development, his idealism is an “emergence of a viable, global
civilization”). However, I also think Harris expresses a Turquoise vMEME in his book, The End of Faith, when he argues for experiential spirituality and consciousness. But I will hold that thought until I finish reading that book.

(Note to integral geeks: Check out Julian Walker’s take on Sam Harris. See Sam Harris: Orange Meanie or Teal Secular Humanist?)

In the meantime, I highly recommend the book, Letters to a Christian Nation,
to people of all faiths. That is, people who are able to suspend their
faith for a while and be tolerant enough not to get offended when their
faith is subjected to critical analysis. That would be some people at
stage 3 (exiting) and people at stage 4 and stage 5 in James Fowler’s stages of faith.

To
all religious moderates and religious liberals out there: How would you
respond to Sam Harris’s challenge of intellectual honesty? I also leave
you with a question: What is your position regarding stem cell research?

That’s all for now. Up next on the Gospel of the New Atheists: The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason.

Comments (8)

  1. MD wrote::

    Hey Rommel,

    I have no use for any Wilberian, SD-esque commentary on Harris, since I believe such perspectives useless, tiresome, tautological, and besides the real, genuine point of the Bible, which is *knowing it*, and knowing it beyond well, as profound literature.

    Instead, I comment because in your obviously passionate exploration of Harris and the Atheist Gang, you might consider picking up a copy of Douglas Wilson’s short book, Letter from a Christian Citizen. Wilson wrote it as a direct response, by a learned Christian, to Harris.

    I have only read small parts of the book; but I did follow Wilson’s logical dismembering of Christopher Hitchens in a dialogue at ChristianityToday.com. If Wilson does anything with Harris’ polemic as he did so successfully with Hitchens, Harris’ “argument” will be shown its logical shortcomings.

    Monday, October 1, 2007 at 2:09 pm #
  2. ~C4Chaos wrote::

    “I have no use for any Wilberian, SD-esque commentary on Harris, since I believe such perspectives useless, tiresome, tautological, and besides the real, genuine point of the Bible, which is *knowing it*, and knowing it beyond well, as profound literature.”

    um, if you’ll notice, my links are directly to the ideas “referenced” by Wilber and not by Wilber. e.g. Stages of Moral Development from Kohlberg, James Fowler’s Stages of Faith, and my links are to Spiral Dynamics to the Cowan camp.

    we can take Wilber’s persona outside of the discussion and focus on the ideas. if you can point me to any idea which you think is better than Wilber’s approach, i’m all for it.

    thanks for the link to the “Letter from a Christian Citizen,” will read up on it soon as i get the chance.

    in the meantime, i would like to hear your response to Sam Harris and the New Atheists, sans any Wilberesque ideas. if you have any original ideas, that would be a lot better! 🙂

    ~C

    Monday, October 1, 2007 at 2:53 pm #
  3. MD wrote::

    um, well, Wilberian, not Wilber. The use of SD, Kohlberg, and Fowler are each very common to Wilberian thought. You know that, I know that. A closer read of what I wrote will show I didn’t bring up “Wilber’s personna” anywhere. But you are kidding yourself if you claim that your post isn’t a Wilberian tact.

    My better approach? Well, I’ll expand on what I already said, and you ignore: Read the Bible, over and over again; know it very well — as literature (for me, The Bible comprises the most profound poetry of the soul). That does most of the work. The rest can be filled in with reading informed commentary about its stories, and talking about it with others. And living one’s life contemplatively, which includes deliberation upon what the ideas and metaphors raised in the anthology we call The Bible might actually refer to and signify.

    Sam Harris and the rest of the Atheiest Gang can be correct or not about whatever they are talking about. It really doesn’t matter. As I have written elsewhere, I don’t think religious faith depends upon magical thinking. If I’m not mistaken, Harris and others claim it does. Since they cannot prove their contention, but merely state their opinion (over and over again doesn’t not truth make), I honestly don’t see why intelligent people give a rip about their views on religion. I think it is just that people want to argue, for its own sake.

    Tuesday, October 2, 2007 at 9:32 am #
  4. ~C4Chaos wrote::

    “But you are kidding yourself if you claim that your post isn’t a Wilberian tact.”

    ok fine. if that’s what you want to call it. but i think your reasoning is flawed if you always put a Wilberian umbrella on top of those other ideas. those ideas stand with or without Wilber. it just so happens that i encountered those ideas while reading Wilber. if that is your line of reasoning then can we call Wilber’s ideas, Gebserian? can’t i invoke Gebser’s ideas and not be labeled Wilberian?

    now, if i used AQAL and AQAL jargons then yeah, that is Wilberian. but i didn’t even dare invoke those jargons, at least not on this post. in other post, i will. and you can call that Wilberian all you like. but not on this post.

    but we’re getting out of topic here and this is turning into a lemon-eating debate. that’s not my intention for this post.

    “My better approach? Well, I’ll expand on what I already said, and you ignore: Read the Bible, over and over again; know it very well — as literature (for me, The Bible comprises the most profound poetry of the soul). That does most of the work.”

    are you kidding me? oh, please! you sound like a Christian evangelist 🙂 ok. i’ll bite.

    just to let you know where i’m coming from, i got my education from elementary to high school in a Catholic school. i’ve read the Bible many times cover to cover. i’ve read the Bible in two languages, English (King James) and in my native tongue (Filipino). here’s a not-so news to you. most Catholics don’t read the Bible as “literature.” heck, most Catholics don’t even read the Bible. the Bible is interpreted for them by their ministers, priests, preachers, etc. but i get your point.

    you’re talking about it as literature and using a more sophisticated interpretation (i would say coming from high moral/psychological development? but then you might accuse me of Wilberian again, anyway). well we can do this with virtually all religious literature! but as literature, i don’t find the Bible that impressive. it’s more like a historical account of myths in that era of Western civilization. what i find humorous is that, Filipinos don’t have anything to do with that era in that part of the world! what do we care about the war between Jews, Christians, and Muslims? we’re in South East Asia fer Chrissakes, but our major religions come from the West (Islam and Christianity). no wonder our culture has an identity crisis. thanks to the literature of the Bible and thirst for conquest of “civilized” nations.

    as literature i find the Tao Te Ching, Dhamapadda, The Prophet (by Khalil Gibran) more impressive. you don’t have so sift through a lot of cultural bullshit to get the moral and spiritual lessons. unless one is reading the Bible in the form of Lectio Divina, then one won’t get too far with its mystical teachings. reading it as literature can be inspiring and sometimes even liberating (at least some parts of it). but in general, people don’t read it as literature. it’s an infallible book inspired by God. it is the word of God. and that caused (and still causing) a lot of human suffering in the world. don’t take my word for it. go to your local Church and ask your priests and congregation. then ask them what’s their position on stem cell research, and why. btw, what’s your position on stem cell research?

    “As I have written elsewhere, I don’t think religious faith depends upon magical thinking. If I’m not mistaken, Harris and others claim it does. Since they cannot prove their contention, but merely state their opinion (over and over again doesn’t not truth make), I honestly don’t see why intelligent people give a rip about their views on religion. I think it is just that people want to argue, for its own sake.”

    you sound like you haven’t read Sam Harris’ book at all. i suggest that you read The End of Faith, over and over again. not as literature but as a philosophical treatise and a scientific proposal.

    i give a rip about Sam Harris views on religion because unlike other Atheists (e.g. Dawkins, Hitchens) Harris doesn’t claim that reason is the apex of cognition. his position is more complex than what you might be ascribing to him. here’s a key quote from the first chapter of The End of Faith:

    “As we will see in the last chapter of this book, there is little doubt that a certain range of human experience can be appropriately described as “spiritual” or “mystical”–experiences of meaningfulness, selflessness, and heightened emotion that surpass our narrow identities as “selves” and escape our current understanding of the mind and brain. But nothing about these experiences justifies arrogant and exclusionary claims about the unique sanctity of any text. There is no reason that our ability to sustain ourselves emotionally and spiritually cannot evolve with technology, politics, and the rest of culture. Indeed it must evolve, if we are to have any future at all.”

    Harris is referring to the last chapter of The End of Faith, called “Experiments in Consciousness.” without Harris obviously specifying it, his bestseller is an attempt at integrating science and spirituality at the expense of religion. now would you call that attempt Wilberian too?

    ~C

    Tuesday, October 2, 2007 at 11:34 am #
  5. MD wrote::

    Wilberian is what any honest person would call an analysis that has all the empirical earmarks of something Ken Wilber would write, as written by yourself, someone who has said he is your mentor. If Gebser was your mentor, then maybe “Gebserian”. But let’s be real and honest. You have no reason to be defensive. “Wilberian” is a term to classify a certain type of analysis. Nothing more, nothing less. And you are right, this is diverting. But it also dead-on as far as the kind of analysis you are attempting.

    Yeah, I’m well aware that Catholics have a hard time with reading the Bible as literature, as itself. Last winter, in my liberal studies at UChicago adult ed, we did three Bible books, as literature, and discussed amongst the 15 of us. To a person, the Catholics (which were more than half the group) indicated that their upbringing with the Bible did not treat the book in the way we did in the class. Most of them indicated they preferred the literature route. I personally think it is the most honest way to handle the Bible. And, as it happens, it is the easiest way to ignore the “cultural b.s.” you mention. Read the Bible, as the words sit on the page, and think about it. It is so easy that, for many people, it is hard. Lectio divina, sure. I prefer, and use, “literature of the soul”.

    Actually, the Bible has caused no human suffering in the world; people have. And people always will. Of course people use the Bible as justification of bad things. How one indicts the book instead of the people makes no sense to me. The book just sits there. Rather helpless, actually.

    It is worth pointing out that Protestants, and Lutherans especially, have less problem with the Bible as Literature, philosophically speaking. “Personal relationship” with God and the Bible, and all that.

    But all that aside, I think you might consider finding a class to read one or two books of the the Bible as literature. Doing so is more of an endeavor than it sounds, at least in my experience. A good teacher/moderator is essential. It is rather tricky tackling, for example, the question, “who and what is the character of God?” and only using the text in the hunt, nothing else. The character of God is different in Genesis than in Job; discuss, and that sort of thing.

    “but in general, people don’t read it as literature.”

    thank you for the obvious; it is so obvious, that is why I advocate people reading it as literature. Try putting 2 and 2 together here; you will save yourself some typing.

    Stem cell research? My only opinion on it is that the no government money ought go to its research. Private money, I’m fine with. From what I understand, anyway, cord blood is likely going to prove the more potent and beneficial avenue, anyway.

    now would you call that attempt Wilberian too?

    No; but I wouldn’t call it important, either. After all, where in the Bible, anywhere, are the words “spiritual” or “mystical”? How are these relevant to a discussion of the Bible?

    I would question Harris’ exposure to legitimate reading of the Bible, as literature. I question this is most everyone who discusses the Bible positively or negatively.

    But there is a tradition of people doing just that (legitimate and sustainable reading of the Bible), I’m finding, as I attempt in my research to recover what I view as a lost tradition of genuine experience of the question, “what is God?” Pay attention to my blog over the next decade, and I hope this will be clear.

    Till then, have fun with Wilber.

    harmonic,
    md

    Tuesday, October 2, 2007 at 1:16 pm #
  6. ~C4Chaos wrote::

    “Yeah, I’m well aware that Catholics have a hard time with reading the Bible as literature, as itself…”

    thanks for your astute observation. but we don’t have to limit the discussion to Catholics. i merely used them as example because i’m more familiar with them due to my upbringing. but the same holds for majority of Muslims, Protestants, Pentecostals, Evangelicals, and even Buddhists.

    “Read the Bible, as the words sit on the page, and think about it. It is so easy that, for many people, it is hard. “

    it is hard because not everyone is at the same level of psychological development (damn, there goes Wilberian again). and not everyone is familiar with “literature.” in my experience, reading philosophical books and other religious text gave me the necessary context to treat the Bible as literature. a lot of people don’t have that luxury. a lot of people don’t have that interest. if they read the bible “as the words sit on the page” then the interpretation would be literal, and not as literature.

    “Actually, the Bible has caused no human suffering in the world; people have. And people always will. Of course people use the Bible as justification of bad things. How one indicts the book instead of the people makes no sense to me. The book just sits there. Rather helpless, actually.”

    thanks for stating the obvious. that’s the general theme of my analysis and the book The End of Faith. that’s why the title of that book is not The End of the Bible. it’s another thing to argue about causality. you can say that people have caused suffering but from another perspective we can say that ignorance is the root cause. the literal interpretation of the text in the Bible (and any holy text) feeds and perpetrates this ignorance. a gun will just sit there rather helplessly, until someone loads a bullet in it. points it at someone and then pulls the trigger.

    “It is worth pointing out that Protestants, and Lutherans especially, have less problem with the Bible as Literature, philosophically speaking. “Personal relationship” with God and the Bible, and all that.”

    you’re generalizing here and making it sound that Protestants and Lutherans are more privy to your “Bible as literature argument.” i have relatives and friends who are Protestants and their interpretation is quite literal. i often had arguments with Protestants who diss the Catholic faith because in their view, we worship the images of Mary, Jesus, and the saints. what’s their justification? um the Old Testament of course. so no, i don’t think they read the Bible as literature.

    “But all that aside, I think you might consider finding a class to read one or two books of the the Bible as literature. Doing so is more of an endeavor than it sounds, at least in my experience. A good teacher/moderator is essential. It is rather tricky tackling, for example, the question, “who and what is the character of God?” and only using the text in the hunt, nothing else. The character of God is different in Genesis than in Job; discuss, and that sort of thing.”

    i would love to. in a sense, this is what is being done in Theology classes. what i prefer is that they teach that in the Church as part of the mass or service. my question is: how come they are not doing that? why do preachers and seminary graduates perpetrate the mythic belief in God and literal interpretation of the Bible? the answer, i think, is a complex combination of human development, political motives, economics, and plain old self-interests.

    “thank you for the obvious; it is so obvious, that is why I advocate people reading it as literature. Try putting 2 and 2 together here; you will save yourself some typing.”

    i find your general tone to be condescending. you have a right to be condescending of course if that’s your style of argument. so don’t take offense if i reflect your tone. i can play that game too. but i’m afraid we’ll both make an ass of ourselves.

    “Stem cell research? My only opinion on it is that the no government money ought go to its research. Private money, I’m fine with. From what I understand, anyway, cord blood is likely going to prove the more potent and beneficial avenue, anyway.”

    can you elaborate why? i’m just interested with your reasoning on this. right now, i interpret it as, it should be okay to fund obesity research and military weapons but not promising medical cures like stem cell research.

    but let me guess, Big bio-tech companies stand to make money from government subsidies of embryonic stem cell research. that’s a good point. the downside is, if private money is used for research then Big bio-tech companies would own everything, thanks to intellectual property rights and patenting. take this Senate testimony as a case in point.

    “Whenever federal funds are used to support a new discovery by contractors and grantees, the government has a non-exclusive, royalty-free right to use the patented technology by or on behalf of the government. This would allow the government laboratories and contractors the right to use the patented technology for further research.”

    “When research is funded entirely by the private sector, the government has no statutory license, and it is strictly a private matter whether, and under what terms, new intellectual property is made available to others for commercial or research purposes.”

    and that’s where ethical and economic issues should be discussed further. and yes, cord blood looks promising. but there is a big debate about private (cord blood) banking too.

    “where in the Bible, anywhere, are the words “spiritual” or “mystical”? How are these relevant to a discussion of the Bible?”

    because the Bible is the context of spirituality and mysticism for a lot of people. and because the whole discussion is about religious faith and not just the Bible.

    the Bible “as literature” is still a minority view. as another obvious example, take this quote from a Pew Research on Religion in America:

    “On matters of faith, fully 62% of white evangelicals say the Bible is the actual word of God, to be taken literally. In contrast, only 35% of the public ­ including just 24% of Catholics and 17% of white mainline Protestants ­ share this literal view of the scriptures, with most believing that although the Bible is God’s word, not everything in it is literally true.”

    note that while the majority doesn’t take everything literally, most (Catholics, Evangelicals, and Protestants) still believe that the Bible is the word of God. so good luck in convincing them to read the Bible as literature.

    “But there is a tradition of people doing just that (legitimate and sustainable reading of the Bible), I’m finding, as I attempt in my research to recover what I view as a lost tradition of genuine experience of the question, “what is God?””

    good luck. keep us in the loop.

    someday i would like to see an empirical study of people who did a sustained reading of the Bible as compared to say people who did a sustained reading of, say, Tao Te Ching, then compare which of the two groups had a more profound moral and psychological transformation. having read both, i would put my bet on the Tao Te Ching because it’s a lot shorter and, for lack of a better phrase, less cultural b.s. 🙂

    “Till then, have fun with Wilber.”

    i will. till then, have fun with Paglia.

    take care and stay lucid,
    ~C

    Tuesday, October 2, 2007 at 4:35 pm #
  7. md wrote::

    thanks for your astute observation. but we don’t have to limit the discussion to Catholics. i merely used them as example because i’m more familiar with them due to my upbringing. but the same holds for majority of Muslims, Protestants, Pentecostals, Evangelicals, and even Buddhists.

    Sure, whatever. I spoke to my experience only, in a class where we read the Bible as literature.

    it is hard because not everyone is at the same level of psychological development (damn, there goes Wilberian again). and not everyone is familiar with “literature.” in my experience, reading philosophical books and other religious text gave me the necessary context to treat the Bible as literature. a lot of people don’t have that luxury. a lot of people don’t have that interest. if they read the bible “as the words sit on the page” then the interpretation would be literal, and not as literature.

    Wait, like you’d know people’s level of psychological development? How, exactly? Or are you just guessing? And, when, exactly, have you demonstrated that you treat the Bible as literature? Sounds to me awfully convenient that you say that now, parasiting right onto my argument as if it is yours, all along. And “a lot of people don’t have that luxury”, and you’d know that, how? In fact, I question how you know anything psychological, about anyone. I don’t recall you demonstrating training in, well, psychology. Did I miss something?

    you’re generalizing here and making it sound that Protestants and Lutherans are more privy to your “Bible as literature argument.” i have relatives and friends who are Protestants and their interpretation is quite literal. i often had arguments with Protestants who diss the Catholic faith because in their view, we worship the images of Mary, Jesus, and the saints. what’s their justification? um the Old Testament of course. so no, i don’t think they read the Bible as literature.

    Protestants, by virtue of Martin Luther’s persuasion, are more prone to reading the Bible on their own, and not merely trusting the perspective of their priest/pastor. That is the first step towards treating the Bible as sacred literature. Read my words again; I didn’t claim anything other than “have less of a problem with, philosophically speaking”.

    i would love to. in a sense, this is what is being done in Theology classes. what i prefer is that they teach that in the Church as part of the mass or service. my question is: how come they are not doing that? why do preachers and seminary graduates perpetrate the mythic belief in God and literal interpretation of the Bible? the answer, i think, is a complex combination of human development, political motives, economics, and plain old self-interests.

    In theology classes? I haven’t been to any, so, unlike you, I won’t pronounce upon that which I don’t know. I keep my opinions limited; it would be nice, and more intellectually honest, if you did the same. of course that wouldn’t be “entertaining”, would it.

    i find your general tone to be condescending. you have a right to be condescending of course if that’s your style of argument. so don’t take offense if i reflect your tone. i can play that game too. but i’m afraid we’ll both make an ass of ourselves.

    Not condescension; irritation, that you don’t read closer what I write. Nothing more, nothing less.

    can you elaborate why? i’m just interested with your reasoning on this. right now, i interpret it as, it should be okay to fund obesity research and military weapons but not promising medical cures like stem cell research.

    but let me guess, Big bio-tech companies stand to make money from government subsidies of embryonic stem cell research. that’s a good point. the downside is, if private money is used for research then Big bio-tech companies would own everything, thanks to intellectual property rights and patenting. take this Senate testimony as a case in point.

    Your guess is wrong: my view is libertarian. The federal government should only fund that which benefits all citizens, equally. Such items are called “public goods” and they include national defense, borders, disease prevention. I’m a limited federal government guy. Stem cell research is not a public good; hence no federal funding. It is funny, and telling, that you write here “that’s a good point”: you literally are complimenting yourself.

    because the Bible is the context of spirituality and mysticism for a lot of people. and because the whole discussion is about religious faith and not just the Bible.

    Be that as it may, still, neither term is talked about in the Bible. It is crucial to ascertain what this anthology does and does not say before lumping it in with other sociological data; Harris doesn’t do this, and it pollutes his entire argument.

    With regard to the Pew poll, to the extent there is a problem indicated by the results (I’m not sure there actually is, besides grist for the entrepreneurial atheists’ books), learning to treat the Bible as soul literature would be the best remedy. How to do this? Learn how to read poetry, for starters.

    someday i would like to see an empirical study of people who did a sustained reading of the Bible as compared to say people who did a sustained reading of, say, Tao Te Ching, then compare which of the two groups had a more profound moral and psychological transformation. having read both, i would put my bet on the Tao Te Ching because it’s a lot shorter and, for lack of a better phrase, less cultural b.s. 🙂

    See, this comprises the nut of your problem, in the entire way you look at this. You want tests, reliable indicators of “psychological transformation”, labels on this, that, and the other material you have no actual peer-reviewed training in (unless I missed something, please correct if so) and are willing to make grand assertions about the world based on what very well may be a house of cards — since you’ve bought wholesale the Wilberian approach, it forms the basis, demonstrably, for how you attempt to analyze the world.

    Whereas all I advocate is that people work on their reading skills. Which includes their poetry-reading skills. Which includes their capacity, entirely learned through effort, to concentrate on metaphors strung together that attempt to discuss the human unknowable (including the idea of “God”). Which includes developing self-restraint in making grand assertions about a text such as the Bible which the text itself says nothing about.

    You want to paint people and their thinking. I don’t care a rip for any of that presumptuous guesswork — yes, that is entirely what you and the Wilberians push — and I would rather people consider the possibility that their assumptions about the Bible, and all sacred literature of the soul, are wrong if they think ANYTHING besides close-reading and close re-reading and discussions with others doing this are what matters, at all.

    Anyone — anyone! — is capable of doing this sort of close reading. (no matter their psychocolor). Doing it well takes effort and intention, like anything else. But anyone can, and the fuel to do so comes in part from people like me and others saying, in effect, “yes, it’s tough but there’s much reward in doing this!”

    But, fuck dude, “testing for transformation” — that’s trying to bring exact measurement to the essentially unmeasurable. Do you realize that? And for what purpose, ultimately, besides temporal pleasure and small-self-gratification?

    Tuesday, October 2, 2007 at 8:41 pm #
  8. ~C4Chaos wrote::

    “Whereas all I advocate is that people work on their reading skills. Which includes their poetry-reading skills. Which includes their capacity, entirely learned through effort, to concentrate on metaphors strung together that attempt to discuss the human unknowable (including the idea of “God”).”

    great. let’s all be poets and literary experts and it would solve religious issues and intolerance in the world. we all know that that didn’t work for Rumi. yes, i’m being sarcastic, here. but let’s say we read any scripture as literature, there will still be no escape from interpretation and attributing our beliefs to the words we read. the devil (and God) is in the context. read Sam Harris’s End Notes about this wherein. (The End of Faith: End Note 15 on page 216-217.)

    “But, fuck dude, “testing for transformation” — that’s trying to bring exact measurement to the essentially unmeasurable. Do you realize that? And for what purpose, ultimately, besides temporal pleasure and small-self-gratification?”

    um, how do you know that transformation can’t be tested and measured? there are empirical ways of doing it. same way as we measure how one is ready and qualified to take his Ph.D. not as exact and precise as the numerical measurements in physics and mathematics. but just the same, we can measure transformation. or have you forgotten the Bible injunction? “you will know them by their fruits.”

    and no, i’m not rehashing Wilber. i’m rehashing Sam Harris’s arguments in his book, The End of Faith. i’ll post my review of that book soon. you can continue to comment from there if you like it.

    i recommend that you read that book and put up a review, and let’s compare notes. i’ll put a Wilberian context. and you put it any spin to it you like.

    thanks for your time.

    my apologies if i have irritated you in any way.

    ~C

    ps. friendly unsolicited advice: get over your personal grudge with Wilber (Wilberians alike) before it clouds your otherwise, sharp and discerning critical thought.

    Monday, October 8, 2007 at 12:41 pm #