A new way to look at “Religion gives people comfort, so don’t take it away”

You may have heard this one. It’s not an argument that religion is true, it’s an argument that it’s useful. It’s invoked to discourage skeptics, and it rests partly on the maddening assumption that critiquing an idea is equivalent to forcibly ripping it out of someone’s hands. It usually leads to heated discussions about whether or not religion truly makes believers happy, or whether its comfort outweighs the guilt and fear that are often part of religiosity.

But there’s another major problem with this argument. Continue reading

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Evangelicals are data mining for the glory of god

dollar signAfter posting earlier today about new reports about the growth of “dark money” in the 2012 campaign (meaning 501c4 organizations that don’t have to report their donors), I ran across this article at Truthout, which shows how some evangelical Christian groups are playing the game:

In audio obtained from a Family Council fundraiser in Anchorage, Alaska, Truthout has learned that a number of right-wing religious groups, including Focus on the Family, have been working with the Koch brothers to target voters across the country using their multimillion-dollar voter database known as Themis. Continue reading

Campaign 2012: Follow the dark money

dollar signBy now we’re all thoroughly sick of the most expensive campaign in U.S. history. Regardless of your ideological affiliation, I assume that I don’t have to convince you that if you know who a candidate’s key donors are, you pretty well know whose agenda will be a priority, and who will be shielded from unfavorable policies. Here’s a reminder of just how difficult it is to follow the money: Continue reading

The peace of wild things and the curse of imagination

I’m thinking tonight about a poem by Wendell Berry called “The Peace of Wild Things.” He writes how “When despair for the world grows in me” he goes into nature, where “I come into the peace of wild things / who do not tax their lives with forethought / of grief.” Brilliant line. Taxing our lives with forethought of grief is exactly what we do. Why do we do this to ourselves? Because of imagination. Continue reading

An autumn walk in the woods: life, death, and kitschy art

leves on groundNature is life and death equally. What is living is dying, and what is dead becomes new life. Recently on a walk through some river-bottom woods I found the “dying” part on full display. Granted, falling leaves and brown grass represent plant dormancy, not death, but certainly there’s an element of death to it. The trees grow bright with dying foliage, and the ground is littered with the carcasses of the fallen. How’s that for a cheery autumn stroll? Continue reading

Napoleon on religion and inequality

“There is only one way to encourage morality, and that is to re-establish religion. Society cannot exist without some being richer than others, and this inequality cannot exist without religion. When one man is dying of hunger next door to another who is stuffing himself with food, the poor man simply cannot accept the disparity unless some authority tells him, ‘God wishes it so…in heaven things will be different.’”

—Napoleon Bonaparte, quoted in John Merriman, A History of Modern Europe from the French Revolution to the Present, Second Edition (2004), p. 522.

Is it an accident that conservative politics keeps such close company with religion? Continue reading

Why? Because we’re human. This is what we do.

Today I watched a man ride a balloon up to 128,000 feet — and jump out. The picture above is a still from the video shown on the BBC. As of this writing, we’re still awaiting official confirmation that Felix Baumgartner broke the sound barrier with his body. [Update: Yes he did.]

The media refer to Baumgartner as a daredevil, and he certainly is that. You could call his jump a stunt, call it foolhardy, call him an adrenaline junkie — and maybe all those things are true. But while watching the broadcast I couldn’t help but think, This is who we are. This is what we do. Continue reading