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.
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 →
By 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 →
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 →
Nature 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 →
“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 →
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 →
In my previous post I wrote about a New Testament passage in which Paul’s god displays breathtakingly diabolical inventiveness in addition to his usual jealous cruelty. I noted that skeptics make a sport of cataloging the Bible’s many atrocities and warped moral teachings.
But is it fair to dismiss the entire thing as worthless? Wouldn’t that demonstrate the same knee-jerk prejudice that many of the faithful show towards critics of religion?
Good ideas are where you find them, and recognizing one isn’t an endorsement of everything that surrounds it.
We’ve all heard of the Golden Rule (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” Matthew 7:12, Luke 6:31). It is the Bible’s most profound moral statement, an idea that has appeared in numerous cultures and was stated both by religious and secular thinkers long before the time of the Jesus. The parable of the Good Samaritan is a working out of this ethic. It is a deeply radical story, one of the best teaching tales I know of from the ancient world. Continue reading →
Detail of “The Damned Cast into Hell” by Luca Signorelli [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Skeptics have long made a sport of quoting the Bible’s most hate-filled passages. Everyone has their favorites. A few of mine are Numbers 31 (in which the Israelites slaughter the Midianites, and Moses is angry because they spared the women), Deuteronomy 13 (God demands that you stone your children to death if they worship other gods), and Genesis 22 (Abraham passes a test of faith by demonstrating that he’ll sacrifice his own son when God tells him to).
There are many, many more. But a lot of people mistakenly think that God mellows out in the New Testament when Jesus starts talking about love and forgiveness. Continue reading →
There’s a time to suggest politely, “While I don’t find Mr. Lewis’s logic entirely persuasive…,” and there’s a time to point out that this is what passes for a reasoned argument from a man who, fifty years after his death, remains one of the most respected Christian intellectuals out there. Continue reading →