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Updating my Religion

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The secular world is full of holes. We have secularized badly.

These words come near the beginning of Alain de Botton’s recent TED Talk called Atheism 2.0, and preface what could, I suppose, be categorized as an atheist’s best attempt to affirm the positives of religion and attempt to incorporate these positives into a more well-rounded and satisfying secular worldview.  For de Botton, while it is transparently obvious that supernatural beliefs are false, it is equally obvious that religion confers many benefits upon its adherents—benefits which are inaccessible, or at least less easily attainable, to those who reject religion.

When a friend sent this lecture to me yesterday, I was expecting to find the usual “religion is useful because it gives people a sense of meaning and purpose,” or ” it provides some measure of social control,” etc.  I had come across a few reviews of de Botton’s book, Religion for Atheists, and based on what I had read, I didn’t think his talk would have much that was interesting to offer.  Yet, while these familiar, more general ideas may have been whirring around in the background of de Botton’s talk, they did not constitute the bulk of what de Botton found praiseworthy about religion.

Instead, he talked about how religion provides “guidance, morality, and consolation”—advice about how to live well, and assistance in times of distress.  He lamented how once it had been the task of education to teach people how and why to live in a certain way, but now universities are houses of cold rationalism, strictly in the business of transmitting information in the training up of more cold rationalists.  He talked about how we are creatures who need repetition and order to learn and grow and develop, and how the liturgies of religion and their ordering of time do this for us.  He talked about how we are not just brains but whole people.  Not bad, all around.

And yet, despite its irenic tone, the talk left a rather unpleasant taste in my mouth.  I’m not the first to notice this, of course (Terry Eagleton makes the point well, here), but de Botton’s is a rather patronizing and condescending project as whole.  There is something breathtakingly arrogant about saying, in effect, “you know, in the past people believed all kinds of weird and crazy stuff about an unseen world and it seemed to have some rather interesting and useful effects upon how they ordered their lives, the virtues they promoted, etc, and it seemed to address some rather significant existential concerns, and we, of course, know that this is all silly nonsense, but, hey, we can still raid the cupboards of their clunky old worldviews for the few useful bits that remain—self-help techniques, personal consolation, organizational strategies, and community-building ideas, etc.”  And boy, their cathedrals and artwork sure are nice.

I think there is something remarkably shortsighted (not to mention historically, philosophically, and psychologically naive) about failing to ask deep enough questions about the possible relationship between the methods and practices of religion and the content that informs them.  Is it really as simple as just extracting insights about liturgy, rhythm, and how human formation takes place from the theological convictions—convictions about the nature of God and evil and human beings—that produced them?  Can tourism coordinators really “tap into” the psychology of religious pilgrimage without the deep, theological understanding of time and place and the nature of God’s work in the world that motivates pilgrims in the first place?  Can we really embrace religion’s ability to provide consolation and assistance without bothering to ask the big and difficult existential questions about why it is that we might need to be consoled?

There is also something remarkably shortsighted, naive, etc, about failing to ask deep enough questions about the quote at the top of this post.  Is there a connection to our “secularizing badly” and the cognitive content that has informed this process?  Does our inability to live with the implications of a cold materialism have anything to say to us?  Does secular dissatisfaction and the numerous attempts in popular discourse to clumsily sacralize a world without God world point to anything about what it means to be human?  About the nature of our world?   If so, what might this be?  We need to ask these questions, and others no doubt, about the connection between the things we believe and the effects they have “out there” in the world.

Beliefs and practices are not free-floating entities that can be simply plucked out of the sky and redeployed in whatever configuration we might prefer.  There is a profound historical, psychological, and existential connection between the two—a connection that we would do well to pay more careful attention to as we are updating our religions and our irreligions.

42 Comments Post a comment
  1. Thanks for your reflections Ryan. Like you, I also feel that my/our religion needs less updating than contemporary secular (and religious!) perceptions about religion. The collective spiritual wisdom of the Christian tradition hasn’t ever been perfect, but it isn’t as “holey” as the current incarnation of secularism. Still, I find it encouraging that there are atheists out there that are giving voice to some of the benefits of the gospel. As Jesus told the first disciples, “he who is not against us is for us.” Paul echoes a similar sentiment in Phil. 1:15-18. You’ve interpreted de Botton’s thoughts epistemologically, but I think Paul’s words in particular can help us shed some moral and spiritual light on de Botton’s updating of religion. In particular, it seems to me that while epistemologically-oriented folks like you and I are trained to perceive the truth of the matter in terms of rational critique, Paul’s perspective seems to allow him to focus more on the common ground him and his “opponents” share in situations like this. Thus he advocates approaching such “opponents” in love – which I take to mean striving for unity and reconciliation, rather than a critical focus on difference, which often leads to further division. I don’t think Paul’s approach goes against critical epistemology as much as it retrains us to pursue a hermeneutics of charity in which a critical assessment of error receives a more gospel-centric (evangelical) focus. Speaking personally, this is much more of an ideal than it is an attainment, but I do think the gospel has something important to say about the way we conduct epistemology, and the way it is interrelated to morality and spirituality. Perhaps this is one area where we ourselves, despite our critical assessment of secularism, remain indebted to “the pattern of this world”? I’d love to hear your thoughts…

    January 30, 2012
    • Yes, I like that—”a hermeneutics of charity.” This undoubtedly ought to be our approach as followers of Jesus. I couldn’t agree more that the gospel has something important to say about how we approach epistemological questions.

      Re: Paul, I wonder what his opponents would think of his approach. I think Paul is conciliatory in the passage you cite due, in large part, to the fact that, whatever the personal motives involved, the message of Christ is being preached. The content, in other words, is the same, even if the motives behind preaching it are not. In other letters—I’m thinking particularly of Galatians—Paul gets pretty worked up at those who are distorting the message of the gospel. He has some pretty strong words for the “Judaizers,” for example, or anyone else who preaches any other gospel than the one Paul first preached (Galatians 1:8). Paul could get pretty worked up about epistemology.

      Maybe it boils down to context. At times, Paul sought to establish common ground with those he was interacting with (Acts 17:16-31), at times he really seemed to go for the jugular in exposing error (Galatians 1:6-10). It’s not always easy to know which approach to take in our context, although I tend always to lean toward the former. I do, however, think it is important to insist, in conversations with/about atheism/agnosticism, that a consistent standard be applied—that the same questions/demands that are made of religion (specifically with respect to the motivations behind belief and the consequences of belief) are applied to its opponents as well.

      Perhaps this just represents my own bias, but I think that a gospel-motivated approach to questions like the ones brought up by this talk might just include pushing for more clarity and coherence in how we conceptualize and live in the world.

      January 30, 2012
      • I think you are right, Ryan – it does boil down to context. But a key thing to notice about all the contexts that have been cited (at least, as far as I understand them) is that Paul’s critical faculties and judgment are aroused by misperceptions of the gospel by those “within” or by those attempting to distort or corrupt the gospel, whereas his charitable responses to error are directed more towards those “without”. I am reminded of JH Yoder’s statement vis-a-vis his polemic against Karl Barth’s version of pacifism, to the effect that the closer in ideology two parties are, the more vehement their disagreement will (and should) be, just because so many of the peripheral issues are already agreed upon. Perhaps where there is little common ground, building common ground should be the focus, while where common ground is already established, there is a foundation for “iron sharpening iron.” But then what does this have to say about how we handle criticism within the church (1 Cor. 5:11-12)? Thanks for your engagement.

        February 1, 2012
      • Yes, good point, Kerby. I think we see this general pattern throughout Paul’s letters (and Jesus in the Gospels, for that matter), and it is a good approach for us to take as well. As you say in your reference to 1 Cor, there are still questions that remain, but I think it is still very useful as a general rule or starting point.

        February 1, 2012
  2. jc #

    I have not watched the TED talk but if the aspects of religion that de Botton likes are something that exist in many world religions. Christianity, Islam, etc. have some exclusive claims on truth but still provide “guidance, morality, and consolation” for their followers. If whatever aspects de Botton likes about religion seem to work well in the contexts of these different religions then perhaps they are independent on the content of belief and could be used for an Atheists.

    Also, I think one can appreciate Cathedrals and Art of a belief system you don’t agree with. As a firm capitalist I was still struck by some of these monuments of communism

    January 30, 2012
    • I just don’t think that things like guidance, morality, and consolation can be so easily extracted from the belief-systems that produced them. In each case, there are very specific assumptions about the way the world really is that produce very specific beliefs about what we are to do, how we are to act, and wherein any hope might lie. I don’t see how these can simply be lifted out and incorporated into a worldview that is predicated on a rejection of these assumptions without descending into incoherence.

      Re: cathedrals and art, I suppose I inserted that bit somewhat sarcastically simply because some version of this is what one invariably hears from atheists/agnostics expressing faint praise for religion. “They made some nice cultural artifacts, despite their crazy beliefs,” or something like that. But of course as you say, one does not need to share the beliefs that informed the production of an artifact to appreciate the artifact itself.

      January 30, 2012
    • Just noticed the link in your previous comment, jc (hyperlinks don’t show up very clearly in comments, for whatever reason). Those are some very striking images indeed!

      January 31, 2012
      • jc #

        I finally got around to listening to the podcast. Some the ideas completely baffled me. His idea of the need for more secular sermons that tell us how to live with populist rhetoric(in his words people who know how to speak well). I do not know his biography but this seems like an idea that one would have if you hadn’t grown up in the church and had to sit through sermons Sunday morning, evening and on Wednesdays. No thanks.

        His idea that art should be more didactic is interesting. Maybe we don’t have that as much with paintings but I think we have more of it music and cinema. I don’t necessarily think religion has a corner on conveying moral lessons through art so it is not something atheism particularly needs to steal.

        Forgiveness and taking baths? I don’t normally associate the two or want to.

        February 1, 2012
      • Ha! Yes, perhaps those who have sat through many a tedious sermon would be reticent to accept his advocacy for “secular sermons.” And I agree with what you say about art, cinema, etc. This is hardly the province of religion alone.

        Whatever one makes of his specific suggestions, though, I think his appreciation that people are formed by a variety of “inputs” and that these inputs need to be thought through carefully is good and worthy of affirmation.

        February 2, 2012
  3. Ken #

    I have enjoyed Alain de Botton’s book, Architecture of Happiness. It is not a straightforward work. I have not enjoyed his other works as much, but I have noticed that they are not straightforward either. I think the words in his books are to literature what installations are in a contemporary museum of art to art. They are quite intelligent but do not have fixed reference points. They are floating cultural critiques. At least, that is how they seem to me.

    Re: “For de Botton, while it is transparently obvious that supernatural beliefs are false”

    In a world in which everything is natural, the supernatural does not exist. It is false in that sense. It is transparently obvious. The natural is too large for the supernatural to fit in. Nothing is supernatural.

    I live in that world too. To the extent that I am religious, that religion is natural, not supernatural. It is a good world.

    January 30, 2012
    • I have not read any of de Botton’s books, so my comments should probably be few. I don’t doubt that his “floating cultural critiques” are intelligent and interesting, but, for me, it seems too easy to just criticize from no fixed address. One invariably finds oneself borrowing values and assumptions from a variety of sources, often without acknowledging them.

      The natural is too large for the supernatural to fit in. Nothing is supernatural.

      And yet, some see the largeness of the natural and come to the opposite conclusion. Perhaps the lesson to learn would be to acknowledge that both conclusions drawn from the same data are not as “transparently obvious” as we may prefer to think, to admit that there are good reasons that could lead to both conclusions, and to recognize that, in the end, these questions boil down to some version of, “to what (or whom) will we commit?”

      January 31, 2012
    • Ken #

      Re: “And yet, some see the largeness of the natural and come to the opposite conclusion.”

      Only in religion. I think the opposite “conclusion” is really an opposite starting point. The Darwinian view is a material view, but I it began historically with scientific observation and reason while religion generally has not. Science seeks to solve problems, to give us power in a physical way over the environment and other people. I don’t think religion seeks that in general, even while many pastors use it to gratify their own thirst for power.

      From the Darwinian view, in one way or another, religion either helped humanity survive, or it was meaningless. Ironically, from that view, the same is true of science. We have no basis within the Darwinian view to believe that either reveals any kind of ultimate truth. The power of the Darwinian view, perhaps, is in what it produces in science. But, in my opinion, the Darwinian view is itself capable of supporting a religious view of life. That may be its ultimate value to humanity after we have used science coupled with older religious views to destroy most of life on the planet. The Darwinian view is not theistic, but it is not wholly incompatible with Judaim or Christianity (just mostly.) At the same time, it can get along without them. It is a grand view; grander, I think, than theism. It is at least as powerful and meaningful for life as any other myth ever invented. In it is the garden of Eden. I will risk commitment to that.

      January 31, 2012
      • Re: “And yet, some see the largeness of the natural and come to the opposite conclusion.”
        Only in religion. I think the opposite “conclusion” is really an opposite starting point. The Darwinian view is a material view, but I it began historically with scientific observation and reason while religion generally has not.

        Are you suggesting that only people who are already religious would come to the conclusion that there is a dimension beyond the natural world of observation? It would seem hard to account for the phenomenon of conversion, and the possibility that wonder as a response to the world might play some role in this, if this were true. People change their minds, after all (in both directions). It’s not just the already “religious” or the irrational or the unscientific who come to the conclusion that there is more to the story than the material.

        Obviously I have difficulties sharing your assessment of which view of the world is “grander.” I continue to think that your interpretation of the Darwinian story borrows values and assumptions that the story itself cannot provide, but we have been down this road many times before, and I suppose we will have to be content agreeing to disagree about this.

        February 1, 2012
    • Ken #

      Re: “I continue to think that your interpretation of the Darwinian story borrows values and assumptions that the story itself cannot provide”

      It is better to avoid the ad hominem road. It leads nowhere.

      The thing of value that the Darwinian myth has received has not been borrowed. It has no debt to pay. The thing of value has been given, as it was given in Haran to Abraham. In the case of the Darwinian myth, by analogy, the promise and the gift are there in the interconnectedness of everything, in the wholeness of it all. This gift is for all, atheist and theist alike. There would be no life, and no myth without it.

      February 1, 2012
      • It is better to avoid the ad hominem road. It leads nowhere.

        How does questioning the consistency of your presentation of the Darwinian worldview represent an attack on you as a person?

        All I meant by “borrowing value” is that within your worldview (as expressed on this blog) there are quite clearly evaluative judgments at work at every turn. This is good, that is not, this ought to be celebrated/affirmed, this ought not to be celebrated/affirmed, this is evil/ugly, this is beautiful/praiseworthy, etc, etc. These judgments and the values that stand behind them cannot simply be read off nature. I am certainly not the first person to point out the impossibility of deriving anything like a normative “ought” from an “is.” These values come from elsewhere. That is all that I meant.

        February 1, 2012
    • Ken #

      If we stick with ideas, or attempt to clarify differences in ideas, then the discussion, and any conflict, is strictly ideational. It is when the focus shifts from ideas to “your interpretation” or “your presentation” or “your worldview” that ideational conflict crosses over the ad hominem line.

      Re: “These judgments and the values that stand behind them cannot simply be read off nature.”

      They are readings of nature, by nature, not off nature, in the Darwinian frame or myth. That is why in the Darwinian frame we can say nothing of metaphysics, for example. That sounds inconsistent within a nonDarwinian frame, such as metaphysics, but phenomenologically descriptive and consistent with life within the Darwinian frame. The Darwinian frame understands itself as nature reading itself. It can be nothing else within its own frame. Outside of that frame, then it can be seen as inconsistent because it does not play by the rules of other frames or myths. Similarly, within the non supernatural frame from which de Botton writes, “it is transparently obvious that supernatural beliefs are false.” In the Darwinian frame, the supernatural just does not exist, or, if it does, it has no bearing on life. The grandeur of the Darwinian view Darwin himself stated, “endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, are being evolved.”

      February 1, 2012
      • If we stick with ideas, or attempt to clarify differences in ideas, then the discussion, and any conflict, is strictly ideational.

        That’s precisely what I am doing and what I have done, to the best of my knowledge, throughout the history of this blog. There are many different understandings of Darwin out there. I’m simply making it clear which version/articulation I am referring to—the one you are presenting here. Who else’s should I refer to? Yours is the one I am interacting with.

        It is when the focus shifts from ideas to “your interpretation” or “your presentation” or “your worldview” that ideational conflict crosses over the ad hominem line.

        No, this is not correct. An ad hominem attack is an attack on someone as a person. I have not done this. I have never said anything negative whatsoever about you as a person. I have always kept conversation here about ideas. There is no way to avoid referring to specific views held by specific people—that’s the point of dialogue. Every time you disagree with me on this blog it is my view, my interpretation of (often) the Christian story that you are disagreeing with. This is not ad hominem, it is conversation between two people who hold views about the world.

        Re: the Darwinian view, to say that there is nothing outside of the “Darwinian frame” is a metaphysical claim. It may say nothing about metaphysics, but it relies on metaphysics just the same. This is true for all worldviews, whatever rules they claim to be playing by. In my view, to attribute beauty or value or to make a normative claim of any kind is to wander into metaphysics.

        February 1, 2012
    • Ken #

      The use of “you” language is confrontational in a personal way that can be avoided.

      Re: “It may say nothing about metaphysics, but it relies on metaphysics just the same. This is true for all worldviews, whatever rules they claim to be playing by. In my view, to attribute beauty or value or to make a normative claim of any kind is to wander into metaphysics.”

      That position is not maintained within the Darwinian frame.

      February 2, 2012
      • The use of “you” language is confrontational in a personal way that can be avoided.

        While this is preferable to the accusation of using an ad hominem argument, I am still confused. How is describing as “yours” a view that you have set forth and advocated confrontational in a personal way? I will repeat what I said above:

        There is no way to avoid referring to specific views held by specific people—that’s the point of dialogue. Every time you disagree with me on this blog it is my view, my interpretation of (often) the Christian story that you are disagreeing with. This is not ad hominem, it is conversation between two people who hold views about the world.

        Re: Darwin, I am aware that my position is not maintained within some conceptions of the Darwinian frame. I am arguing that it ought to be. Or for my view to be demonstrated as incorrect.

        February 2, 2012
  4. Paul Johnston #

    Just finished watching the deBotton sermon. :)

    Like you I would appreciate some explanation regarding the connection between the precepts of secularism and the statements,”The secular world is full of holes. We have secularized badly.”

    Conversely I would be interested in hearing Mr. deBotton explain how such an “absurdly false” premise as religion could be so accurate in it’s understandings of education and art; the rhythms of culture, consolation, forgiveness and more…..just lucky I guess…..

    For what it’s worth, in previous dialogues with atheists I have suggested that while religion has much to repent of regarding it’s politic, surely our crimes pale in comparison to the monsterous and openly atheistic regimes of National Socialism in Germany and the Communist regime in the former Soviet Union. I have been told more than once that that this was not a failure of atheism per se but rather the misguided attempt to marry atheism with the religeous impulse.

    I think Mr. deBotton is right about one thing, I don’t think he’ll find many friends in either the theistic or atheistic camps.

    January 31, 2012
    • Yes, I have many of the same questions, Paul.

      Of course, I think we must acknowledge that there are things of value, goodness, beauty produced by those whose views on the nature of truth might differ from yours or mine. Certainly when it comes to art and some of the material products of culture, I can enthusiastically appreciate these while at the same time acknowledging that my theology has some differences from that of, say, medieval Catholicism. As has already been discussed on this thread, we can appreciate the beauty of certain cultural artifacts (Muslim, communist, etc) without subscribing to the worldview that informed their production.

      But when it comes to some of the deeper existential questions that face all human beings, I don’t think it is so easy to bracket the worldview assumptions and values that produce this or that answer or response.

      January 31, 2012
      • Paul Johnston #

        Ryan forgive me, I have read and reread your last paragraph here and I do not understand what it means. Could you break it down for me? Thanks.

        February 2, 2012
      • What, you’re saying that I’m not always 100% transparent and clear?! :)

        I think I was just attempting to make a distinction between the material artifacts produced by this or that view of the world and immaterial things like “guidance, morality, and consolation.” I am thinking that there is a more intrinsic connection between cause and effect in the latter case. I can enthusiastically appreciate the aesthetics of a mosque, for example, without embracing Muslim theology. When it comes to Muslim understandings of “guidance, morality, and consolation,” on the other hand, I think I would have to embrace the theology in order to embrace the answers offered.

        The same is true for Christianity and every other view of the world. To console someone who is suffering with something like, “our suffering has dignity and meaning because of the one who has suffered for us” would make little sense and would, I assume, have little value or meaning to someone who does not embrace a Christian worldview.

        Does this clarify things at all?

        February 2, 2012
  5. Ken #

    Avoiding “you” language in negative situations is part of what communications experts recommend. I have also studied this in connection with learning counseling techniques. They say that it is important to avoid “you” language in negative situations, such as when disagreeing, to protect the reader’s ego, to avoid implying blame. Passive verbs and impersonal expressions work better.

    Sometimes the use of “you” language in negative situations can turn ideational conflict into interpersonal conflict.

    This is a tendency of humans.

    My impression is that we are now back on the more interesting and safer road of ideational conflict.

    What I see in nature writing, including Origin of the Species, is an inability to demonstrate within the Darwinian frame that it is incorrect to say that the Darwinian frame relies on metaphysics. I think the Darwinian frame cannot process the word “incorrect.” This follows from the Parmenidean tendency in Darwinian thought, the notion that we cannot step into the same river twice, which is to say, the reference points for metaphysical claims vanish like the river we saw just a moment ago. Personally, even while I enjoy being carried along through life by the Darwinian stream, sometimes I dream of eternity where I can step into the beautiful rivers in my memory again and again.

    February 2, 2012
    • James #

      Interesting comment- “I think the Darwinian frame cannot process the word “incorrect.”” It brought to mind the de Bottom’s conviction that “it is transparently obvious that supernatural beliefs are false.” I think that, even though I am a Christian, I am far more agnostic than de Bottom and company.

      February 2, 2012
      • Ken #

        de Bottom is, I assume, a typo. A funny one.

        The PCUSA seminary I attended also asserted that supernatural beliefs are false and that the Bible is fiction. No agnosticism there either, for sure. Students laughed at anyone who professed supernatural beliefs, including belief in resurrection.

        February 2, 2012
      • James #

        Spelling has never been my strong suit :)

        February 2, 2012
  6. Ken #

    Ryan, Paul and James,

    If supernatural beliefs are false, is belief in God impossible? Meaningless?

    In seminary, the answer was no, because, like de Botton, many people believed it made sense to speak of God in connection with morality. In their case, the morality that mattered and that made God-talk meaningful (even while belief in God as a supernatural being was to them impossible, as it is to de Botton) was generally either that of radical feminism or socialism. For me, the answer is a tentative or qualified no, if I think of God as nature. A few people in seminary held that some supernatural belief is essential. They were ridiculed. Not by me.

    What do you think the answer is?

    February 3, 2012
    • Paul Johnston #

      Until the materialist can identify the first material substance, explaining either it’s pre-exisitence or the means by which an immaterial nothingness, made itself into somethingness, then a supernatural process, made manifest by a supernatural being, remains a plausible explanation.

      To ridicule the supernatural theory then, suggests to me, a triumph of prejudice over reason.

      February 3, 2012
      • Ken #

        Do you think that belief in God requires belief in the supernatural? Is it meaningless to say, “I believe in God, but not the supernatural?”

        February 3, 2012
    • If supernatural beliefs are false, is belief in God impossible? Meaningless?

      I suppose the first question would be, belief in which God? Clearly, many people find it meaningful to speak of some kind of God while rejecting the supernatural, whether it is a god of their own invention or preference, some hybrid of the various gods on offer out there, or whatever.

      I think it is meaningless to speak of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ—without believing in a dimension of reality beyond “the natural.”

      February 3, 2012
      • Ken #

        Thank you, Ryan.

        It is my inability to sustain such beliefs that makes me feel like I am an atheist, even while when reading the Bible, I love that God. It is that God, and no other, that I had in mind when I asked that question.

        February 3, 2012
    • James #

      I probably getting hung up on the epistemology behind the question. Seems to me the existence of anything is independent of what anyone believes. People believe false things all the time and persistently build their lives on very irrational beliefs [btw I don’t think belief in God is irrational]. Some of these, like astrology, are astonishingly resilient. That doesn’t answer your question but might show why I struggle with it.
      Given my assumptions, however- the answer to both your questions would be “no.” People can believe false statements and that doesn’t imply their conclsuions are meaningless.

      February 3, 2012
      • Ken #

        Thank you, James. Interesting. Such grace is kind.

        February 3, 2012
      • James’s comment made me want to clarify something from my previous comment. When I refer to belief in God without the supernatural as “meaningless” I have in mind something like meaninglessness on an “ontological” level. This is, of course, not the same thing as the experience of meaning. As James says, people can and do experience meaning through all kinds of beliefs—true, false, a bit of both, whatever. These beliefs are obviously meaningful to those holding them (why would we hold any belief if it didn’t mean something to us?). By “ontological” meaning, I am thinking of something like a correspondence between our beliefs and reality. In this sense, I think it is meaningless to speak of God without reference to something beyond “the natural.”

        February 3, 2012
  7. Paul Johnston #

    Ryan, regarding your explanation above…DOH! As soon as you made the distinction between the material and the immaterial, the lights went on!

    As always you give my understandings further substance. Thank you.

    February 3, 2012
  8. Paul Johnston #

    Yes, God is the transcendant. The precursor and creator of all. Intrinsically supernatural; beyond human definition and understanding.

    I would be inclined to view the statement, “I believe in God, but not the supernatural”, with suspicion. My present opinion is that such a statement speaks more about the ego of people who might make that claim, than it does the person of God.

    I am concerned that the belief in God apart from the supernatural is just another way of saying, “we are Gods, we are the supernatural”.

    A mankind that is certain of it’s own assessments and valuations regarding morality, scares me to death. It is the first principal of tyranny.

    February 3, 2012
    • Ken #

      Thank you, Paul.

      February 3, 2012
  9. Ken #

    Ryan, Paul, James,

    Is God supernatural as to immanence as well as to transcendence?

    February 3, 2012
    • Yes, I don’t see how it could be otherwise. Acts 17:28 comes to mind.

      February 4, 2012
  10. Paul Johnston #

    Yes, it cannot be otherwise.

    Jesus was both naturally immanent once in time and since sustained supernaturally through time, present in the Eucharist.

    February 4, 2012

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