Goodenough Gismo

  • Gismo39
    This is the classic children's book, Goodenough Gismo, by Richmond I. Kelsey, published in 1948. Nearly unavailable in libraries and the collector's market, it is posted here with love as an "orphan work" so that it may be seen and appreciated -- and perhaps even republished, as it deserves to be. After you read this book, it won't surprise you to learn that Richmond Irwin Kelsey (1905-1987) was an accomplished artist, or that as Dick Kelsey, he was one of the great Disney art directors, breaking your heart with "Pinocchio," "Dumbo," and "Bambi."

  • 74%How Addicted to Blogging Are You?

  • Google

Blogs I love and/or learn from

« Teachers Gone Wild! | Main | Line of the Day »



We could go even farther and say that everything is fiction. Language can give only rough outlines of events and ideas, memory is selective and imperfect.

Anything anyone says or writes is largely fiction, but even fiction contains truth (although the word "truth" itself is partly fictional).

So people can get something of value from the bible, even though it obviously is not a perfectly accurate record. Even if someone had videotaped Jesus' entire life, we still would only know his words and actions, not what was inside his mind.

Christianity is one religion out of millions, the one that survived because it had aggressive PR, and it happens to be the traditional religion of America.

So I think Christianity (and it really is a different religion for each Christian) is OK. It is the American religion, and I just wish people would stop worrying about whether the bible, or the Da Vinci code, is "true." What American Christians practice hardly resembles what Jesus taught. It's the American religion, with shopping and baseball included in its rituals.


Realpc- my Mom always says ~there's a little bit of truth in everything you say~.

I thought Dan Brown Stole the idea from English writers and a book called The Holy Grail. That hardly makes The da Vinci code a product of his own mind.


the word "truth" itself is partly fictional

It's the American religion, with shopping and baseball included in its rituals.

LOL! Real, it's past time you had your own blog!

I had a marvelous experience going to see "The Passion of the Christ" before its public opening with a Pentecostal minister friend. Her church and one other had rented a movie theatre, and the members of the congregations -- many of them survivors of abuse and addiction who had been saved in every sense -- ate popcorn as they cried through their Savior's agony. It may have been my single most American experience. If I'd written an account of it (I didn't have a blog then!) I'd have called it "Popcorn Communion,"

It is absurd, when you think about it, people fighting over their different fantasies/ interpretations of Jesus, all of them getting something profound from the undeniable (IMO) but highly mythologized fact of his existence.

As you say, it's good. But when you say I just wish people would stop worrying about whether the bible, or the Da Vinci code, is "true," remember it's certain Christians themselves who are most obsessed with it. (And probably certain "sophisticates" who are most obsessed with debunking it. The people in that movie theater would not have felt so safe -- and they needed to feel safe -- if they could not have been so sure.)


Karen -- stolen, shmolen, he's a painfully awful writer. I'm ashamed to have contributed my dollar to his bestsellerdom.

But at the same time, I feel as if I ought to keep reading for a while to give him a chance. The book must have something besides the transgressive thrill of putting together Jesus and sex.


I had a marvelous experience going to see "The Passion of the Christ" before its public opening with a Pentecostal minister friend. Her church and one other had rented a movie theatre, and the members of the congregations -- many of them survivors of abuse and addiction who had been saved in every sense -- ate popcorn as they cried through their Savior's agony. It may have been my single most American experience.

Oh this isn't surprising. After all, one needs to feed the body even more desperately than one needs to feed the soul.


" The people in that movie theater would not have felt so safe -- and they needed to feel safe -- if they could not have been so sure."

Yes you're right, Christians need to believe it's "true." Believing it's true makes it true.

That's why I can't be a Christian, because I would just be pretending to have perfect faith, in order to get the benefits. And of course you can't get the benefits by pretending to believe.

I liked Sheldrake's explanation of why he's a Christian, but I can't remember it exactly. He said something like: he was born a Christian and it's the religion of England, and it's as good as any other. I thought maybe I could be Jewish for similar reasons -- but I'm not sure polytheism and Judaism are compatible.


but I'm not sure polytheism and Judaism are compatible.

To put it mildly!

Same reason I can't be a Christian -- at least, not that kind of a Christian. I'd be lying or faking if I said I literally believed in heaven and hell, the virgin birth or the bodily resurrection, or even that Jesus died to remove my sins from me. I think it's a brilliant and efficacious spiritual idea, one that obviously helps millions of people. But I wasn't raised with that kind of guilt. I lack a sense of sin. Regret, remorse, a sense of stupidity and willful inadequacy, sure. But it's not the same somehow.


A few Gospels were picked out of many. Bingo, a religion was born. A fictional religion, in the same sense that second- or third- hand accounts of happenings that may or may not have occurred fifty years ago are fiction.

May I just point out, since no one else seems obliged to, that this is just baloney? That whole "the gospels were selected based purely on politics" hoke is exactly the kind of fiction that Dan Brown comes up with. In the face of that can we simply no longer recognize a distinction between fact and fiction? History matters.

The canonical gospels were so chosen because they were the earliest written, largely harmonize with each other (especially compared to the "other" gospels!), and contain either first- or second-hand information. Arbitrary it isn't.

Whatever "inconsistencies" in insignificant details are found between the gospels are exactly what one finds in varying first-hand eyewitness accounts of the same events. This is absolutely commonplace to historians.

Sorry to have to be pedantic and all, and crash this little mooshy-gooshy "anything goes" party, but this sheer ignorance being passed off as wisdom just blows me away. How can you think it doesn't matter who Jesus was, and that there's no way for us to find out?


"How can you think it doesn't matter who Jesus was, and that there's no way for us to find out?"

Maybe we could get a time machine.


Realpc- ther really is no such thing as perfect Faith inasmuch as no human is perfect.

It's hard to be a Christian(in a Christian way) because there is a constant pull between disappointment of others when you try to defend your beliefs and dissapointment of self in front of the Lord when you don't. It's so much easier to have a Nomadic soul, i'm thinking- and yet, there is something in me that won't graze the landscape of Spiritually w/no care of sin. I need to feed from the hand of Christ and in doing so- i'm left vulnerable- as any herbivore will attest. Mostly the vulnerability is inside myself, not waiting in the bushes to pounce when my head is down. That's even scarier, to me.

Even though Icepick thinks dittoheads are booorriiing- i'm w/Micah. There is more rhyme and reason in the Bible than pure human ego. It breathes of the Holy Spirit.


realpc: Did you really hear nothing of what I said?

By parity of argument, perhaps we should forget all of history unless we have a time machine so we can see it ourselves. "History is bunk," as at least one other (fictional) great pragmatist once said. Is that really what you're about?


We know more about recent history, less about ancient history. For one thing, in ancient times there was no attempt to be accurate and objective. If an authority figure made a statement it was assumed to be true, especially if it was written down.

Blind faith in authority has not died out, but is less common than it used to be. For many centuries the authority of the bible was trusted, largely because it was written, in "black and white." The authorities said it was true, generation after generation, and it was written. And that was enough, until science came along.

Educated people became scientific, wanted evidence to back up the claims of experts and authorities. Schools teach us to think for ourselves (supposedly), rather than trust the teacher.

Of course it goes too far (doesn't everything) and now there are people who do not understand the power of faith, the need for tradition, or that there are levels of reality science has not dreamed of.

We should not ignore history, but we should not blindly trust every word that was ever recorded in writing. The Old and New Testaments are largely public relations. There were no corporations back then competing for customers, but there were religious sects competing for worshippers.


I think people could do well to remember the difference between *fiction* and mythology.

Ack, mine was Level II: Lustful, although the Heretic score was right below that. Then again, hanging out with Cleopatra and Helen of Troy wouldn't be so bad ....


They got me just going to Purgatory. Either I'm on the straight and narrow, or I'm a liar.

Or could I be both . . . ?

Tom Strong

To paraphrase Life of Pi - it's all fiction, what matters most is who's got the best story.


Wow...amazing, I actually find myself agreeing (in part) with RealPC ;)

The biggest difficulty with the "biblical accuracy" discussion is that "true believers" will attempt to discredit any evidence that does not support the divinity of the bible, and ignore what they can't explain away.

The truth is, most surviving copies that contain any significant portion of the bible date to at least 250 years after Christ's purported crucifixion. Evidence suggests at least some of it was not written by the apostles themselves, but by unknown scribes in later years working from oral traditions. There were many more books than just those selected for the new testament, but the Church decided through decades of argument and even warfare which ones to include or exclude. We know of some of those leftovers still today, but it's almost certain that many were destroyed as heresy. The only reason today's bible is accepted as the official one is that its validity has been grandfathered into our culture's psyche without the option for appeal.

This is one of the reasons I consider myself agnostic - anyone using such a flawed and inaccurate source as their sole means of understanding "life, the universe, and everything" needs to have their heads examined. This is true of any of the holy books of all religions in the world.

Having said that, many of these books do contain useful advice and wisdom that can help people with their lives. You just have to look at it one step removed, and be prepared to discard the (plentiful) chunks of them that are rubbish.


Okay, so anything suitably "ancient" enough is treated with maximal skepticism. History is written by the victors, so that means we treat Thucydides like it may as well have been entirely made up for all we know (or care).

Or, we can be a cheery antirealist/postmodernist like Tom. Still, if we're concerned over who's got the "best story," the Bible's is pretty darn interesting. If a little inconvenient to a lot of people. After all, good news isn't received as such to one who doesn't first believe the "bad news."

sleipner: The truth is, most surviving copies that contain any significant portion of the bible date to at least 250 years after Christ's purported crucifixion.

The truth is, most surviving copies that contain any significant portion of Aristotle's writings date to more than a millenium after they were written. All I'll say about the rest of that commentary is it's no better than any other "version" of church history I'm reading here. All just more self-satisfied ignorance passing itself off as wisdom. I refer you once again to the historical facts that I cited in my first comment. Try Wikipedia, too.

Of course, if one just doesn't find the possible truth of the gospel accounts of any intrinsic interest, one can make up any story one likes; viz: sleipner's. Or Dan Brown's.


In another exchange, when the Gospel of Judas came out, I remember saying that the synoptic gospels had the better story. If Judas isn't "in on it," and actually acts from evil motives -- yet serves a Good purpose unbeknownst to himself -- that's the better story, IMO.

Micah, do you believe the Bible is divinely inspired with an admixture of 1st-century culture and politics, or that every word of it is God's?

Tom Strong

Or, we can be a cheery antirealist/postmodernist like Tom.

Kudos. That's not a bad insight into me, based on one little comment. Though I'd prefer "cheery postrealist/antimodernist."

In any case, "cheery" is the most important, and least convenient, of the three.


In another reversal of allegiances, I will stand with Micah. I think he is rightly reacting against the cavalier attitude towards truth that is evident throughout many of the comments. Let me primarily appeal to the sovereign, namely amba, in the hopes that if I may gain the assent of the queen, her subjects may follow ;)

There is a virtuous form of postmodernism and there is a vicious form of postmodernism. Ali Eteraz's pragmatic postmodernism and Jack Whelan's take, I would consider virtuous. Real's, not so much ;) (Note the emoticon -- this is a friendly jab.) The virtuous form of postmodernism recognizes the difficulty in acquiring certainity and the importance of self-criticism, but it does not deny the existence of truth nor does it deny the importance of seeking it. May I bring to your mind your recoil before the truthiness of James Frey, the faux southerness of George Allen, and your dismay towards the limp moral relativism of universism. In other words, what we need is flexibility, subtletly, nuance, and skepticism; but we should not abandon the notion of truth itself. We should not embrace the vicious sort of postmodernism wherein all religions are equal and all things are just as good as any other.

For they are plainly not (think radical islam or even Giant- Spagetti monsterism). When I previously spoke of the importance of taking a position seriously, I was being elliptical. I did not mean embrace a position fanatically and without criticism. Quite the opposite. I meant that if a view had a flaw, a contradiction, a problem then that flaw should be taken seriously. Thus, if your religion tells you God is merciful, but kill all the infidels -- or that God is all love but if you don't believe in Jesus you're doomed, that's a real problem with your religion and should not just be shoved under the rug.

Now all this, I'm sure, is a bit too bracing for some, but I do believe that we need to throw in some happy-happy into it as well. It's just that I think there are some principles that, you know, you really don't want to let go --such as the notion of truth. The happy-happy is as follows. If God exists, he is truly good in a deep and meaningful sense.

[An assumption that I will not here justify. But I could -- I'm ready for your polytheism RealPC ;) In passing I note that, Plato and Plotinus believed that the Good stood behind the many gods.] Ergo, no infinite punishments for finite misdeeds and as long as you lead a decent life, atheist or whatever, you'll be fine. God's friendly. However, that doesn't mean that all religions are all equally true, it just means that God, assuming existence, won't singe you if you have wrong theological beliefs -- even if you deny his/her/its very existence. (He's not so egomaniacal to do that.) 'Sall good. In this manner, we get the laid-back nature of postmodernism without throwing objectivity out the window.

Now to confront the particular matter at hand. I think what Sleipner outlined is one legitimate and sound academic perspective on the matter -- a la Bart Ehrman, who, while an atheist (a former fundamentalist) and who considers that the gospels were mythologized, views the canonical gospels as the most reliable sources for his recontruction of the historical Jesus. While I may personally be more of a gnostic at heart, sad to say, I think historically the canonical ones are the most reliable. But I think we have to realize that Sleipner's views are probably at the skeptical edge of Biblical scholarship. Meaning, there are other responsible scholars which don't go nearly as far as Ehrman does.

So I think the general notion that both the Da Vinci code and the Bible are equally fictional is, well, BS. As does Ehrman. But there is enough truth to it to be a nice little atheist way of harassing fundamentalist Christians, so I enjoy it on that level -- I'm a bad man; I know. ;)

Finally, as a side note, Real, for all your claims to postmodern Taoism you make pretty absolutist claims yourself it seems to me. As in (slightly paraphrasing from Jack Whelan's site), alternative science has "mountains and mountains of evidence" while materialist science "has absolutely no idea how DNA works" [with regards to traits] and "isn't making any progress" [with regards to cancer and psychiatric research] [italics mine]. I went to Sheldrake's site, and he was much more modest that that, and said several times that this is what he believed but he couldn't prove it. Seems to me that you're being more zealous than him.

And if you think all religions are equal, how about political philosophies? I mean progressivism is just as good as any other philosophy, no? ;)

In addition, I think you're getting your science wrong in places. Science does have models for things Sheldrake are interested in, and he says as much. He just doesn't think they cut the mustard. So would you tone done the rhetoric a bit -- and in fairness, somehow I think you should also study the detailed theories of mainstream science for balance. IOW, I think you've gone a little too far in your enthusiasm for alternative science. From the little I know of it -- and I don't have any philosophical objections to it -- I'm not a radical atheist (or even an atheist) -- I just think you're overstating your case. I could be more detailed but I think you're being unfair in many places.


Sheldrake says he has no proof for his hypothesis of formative causation, it's just a theory (and in my opinion a very good one). But he has tons of evidence for ESP.

I have studied mainstream science, and I keep having to say I have a PhD in cognitive science. I am not trying to prove that I'm smart -- but I keep getting accused of being unscientific. It is NOT unscientific to notice that materialist science has run up against some walls. It is NOT unscientific to think Sheldrake's theory, and some other alternative theories, make a lot of sense. Science is not supposed to be dogmatic. Scientists are supposed to be logical, they're supposed to look at evidence even if it contradicts their favorite theory.

I consider myself a scientist. Logic and seeking truth are my priimary goals. At the same time, I acknowledge that truth and understanding are ultimately beyond logic and language.


See, when pressed, you behave! ;)

I agree with your recent statements, but it seems that you start out crazy until someone reins you in -- like Micah did with history. (imho)

I recognize your background in science, realpc. But you made a comment that science didn't understand why all cells have the same DNA and are yet different. From my impression, it has to do with differing levels of gene expression that are traced to a different distribution of chemicals in the egg cell that cause cells to develop differently (i.e. the standard theory of morphogenesis). From this comment, it seemed to me that you weren't up on your molecular biology. So I'm not doubting your intelligence, I'm just not sure if you're up-to-date on the science, especially in disciplines outside your field.

Furthermore, you claimed that we didn't understand gravity. That depends on what you mean by understand. But the wildly successful theory of general relativity based on the curvature of space-time seems like a pretty good step along the way -- especially since Newton's theory was pretty darn good too.

Also, just because we haven't made progress with cancer and mental illness might just mean that the problems are extraordinarily complex, they're not easy to solve -- rather than that the current theories must be wrong.

Personally, I think it would be cool if something like Sheldrake's were true. I think modern science's view of man as soulless free-will-less machine is pretty depressing, and I hope that in my lifetime we will have a revolution in science just as large as the quantum revolution.

And, at first glance, I like Sheldrake's idea for democratizing the funding of science to promote alternative research. But at the same time, I sort of detect a strain of fundamentalism about you.

Maybe I'm all wrong, but just look at how often you like to say "definitely, absolutely, they are all completely" etc. I don't find an interest in alternative science distateful. What bothers me is just how -- well downright dismissive and arrogant you can be about atheists, liberals, and mainstream science. (BTW, even IF SOME of the aforementioned groups have a tendency toward arrogance -- two wrongs don't make a right.)

I don't say this to be mean, but seriously just note how strong many of your comments are.

And, to me at least, many of your comments seem glib. For instance, about ancient history; while it's true that way back when we had a different sense of history -- but that's not true universally. We had some ancient cultures who were meticulous chroniclers. It seems to me that you make overbroad statements a lot. And when you make overbroad statments, your conclusions are thereby greatly weakened.

So again, I'm not questioning your intelligence or your education -- it's just seems that you're not very detail-oriented. And that would be okay if you didn't make such sweeping generalizations -- especially about people. I just find it kinda mean, and a bit immature, to be so nasty, arrogant, and dismissive towards liberals, etc.

You once glibly proclaimed that everyone was part of a tribe. But you also claimed that YOU could never be part of an ideology. What makes you so special? (I know you'll say that you're not special, but just note what you're saying.)

My approach would be to say that while there are tribal impulses we shouldn't dismiss people by just lumping them in a tribe.

And ironically enough (since I'm the supposed defender of arrogance/confidence on this blog), maybe it's more your (at least perceived) arrogance that gets to me the most. Like, all those materialist scientists have no idea what they're doing. And all those liberals just think they're God. Ugh. And these people over there -- what they believe is ALL JUST mythology. Who gave you the infallible view into what is ALL just mythology and what is ABSOLUTELY the case? I know I'm exaggerating (a bit), but I hope you see what I mean.

BTW, I'm really trying to be helpful and friendly here. And feel free to point out my faults as well. It's what friends are supposed to do.


Oh and a side note to amba:

Another problem with the strong form of postmodernism is that it's deeply homogenizing. By erasing all differences, we lose all nuance, flexibility, and complexity. We just get a scary blob where Mussolini is as good as Gandhi. All people have their gifts right? And who's to say one person is better than another? ;)



I am a believer in natural law, as you know. I do not think all ideas are equivalent, or that everyone has the power to create their own reality. No human has yet been able to flap arms and fly, and there are principles of the way things work that can be proven from experience (like "the single-minded pursuit of pleasure leads to pain").

I'm interested in the "sin" question. I think it is possible to acknowledge remorsefully that one has done, and been, wrong without that total sense of abject unworthiness. I tend to think the sense of sin is a self-fulfilling prophecy -- that if taught you're bad in childhood you will proceed to be bad, and then grovel in self-loathing and need redemption. (In other words, Christianity creates its own customers?!) Yet I don't think people are naturally and spontaneously good, either. We can go either way. The "good" question is another interesting one because it sometimes seems to imply complete selflessness, yet Jesus said "Love thy neighbor as thyself," not "instead of" theyself.


To answer our hostess's interesting question: I hold that the Bible is divinely inspired, not dictated word for word. So, naturally, much of the construction and style are products of their times as much as their authors (and no less than we ourselves are of ours).

Interestingly, a couple of weeks ago the pastor of the evangelical church of which I'm a member preached a message on the Bible as the foundation of what our church professes. He said the same thing as I just did, yet also called the Bible the "very words of God," more or less. I don't understand this view, that the Bible was not divinely dictated and yet all consists of His very words verbatim; seems to me to be in direct contradiction. The Bible contains the historical and theological information God wanted people to have. It does what it's supposed to.

After all, it's not as if we arbitrarily chose to believe every word the Bible says, and thereby came to faith in the gospel message. That doesn't make any sense. As Christians, we've been reached by the gospel, and see the rest of the Bible, just like we form the rest of our worldview, in light of that. Given that principle, I'm not shaken to the core at being told that the Bible contains "errors" that are of no spiritual significance, like who was ruler of Babylon at such and such a time. Almost everyone in my church tradition says we have to hold to absolute "inerrancy," supposedly because if we don't then we have no reason to trust the central message itself, but I don't understand that view, either. To me, the argument is an out-and-out non sequitur, but to suggest otherwise, people at my church would look at you well-nigh aghast. Most people just want the bottom line without having to do any scholarly or bookish heavy lifting, so they just take the whole thing en bloc. Same as in any walk of life. Nothing wrong with that, per se, if that's what it takes to maintain faith in the gospel, but it's not strictly necessary, it seems to me.

And just to make this comment even longer, on the topic of "stories" again someone else mentioned how bleak the picture presented to us by the materialist metaphysic is. This is something I thought about mentioning before; see, I don't see how anyone would even be interested in that picture of existence, independently of any other consideration.

Michael Reynolds

It matters what is true, and I see no reason to believe much of anything in the New Testament beyond the corroborated historical details. Was there a guy named Jesus? Who knows? Did he raise the dead -- including himself -- and heal lepers and cause evil spirits to inhabit herds of pigs? Nah.

More to the point, the central gospel story -- god's son dies to appease god's rage over the actions of god's own creations -- is ludicrous and morally offensive. The god of the OT is a capricious despot, the god of the NT is mentally ill.

There are certainly some fine sentiments in parts of the bible, but the same could be said of all sorts of books, most of which manage to acheive greater consistency and offer more convincing characters. Compare the many fine and noble sentiments in Shakespeare to the bible, then compare the literay skill and invention. Maybe we should be praying to Will.



Good stuff. You seem like an ambivablog sort of guy. I think people who believe in errancy don't really have enough personal experience with the divine. I think if you actually feel the presence of God, then you know that God is real (to an extent at least), and who cares about doctrinal monkeybusiness.

However, my beef with Christianity is that it claims that if you don't accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior, tough luck. I just wish every Christian who believed that would go on national TV and proclaim that they believe all the jews are going to hell. I really want them to answer that question. None of this divine mystery monkeybusiness. I just want their faces to turn red and realize, "Oh sh*t, we've made a big error here haven't we?"

My point is that if Christians were honest with themselves, the core points of their doctrine are pretty scary. And if realized just how crazy they were, hopefully they would drop the crazier ones. Once you claim that a "good" God is going to let people be roasted or excluded or somehow made second class citizens for all eternity with no second chance because of the "holiness" and "justice" of God, you've hit a reductio ad absurdum. If you're gonna be a Christian, I say go the universal salvation route.


Well, you know the philosopher in me just likes to make strong cases and strong distinctions. It just seemed that there was an orgy of postmodernism going on, and I wanted to give it a thorough smack-down :) I wanted to keep it from going off the cliff.

As for sin, I agree with your analysis of it being a self-fulfilling prophecy. My analysis of human nature is as follows: the core of the human is wholly good, even divine, but that the core is surrounded by a whole lot of other stuff. Moral education is necessary so that people can contact the divine within themselves, so that they can nurture that spark of goodness and that self-control to check their more destructive impulses. Laws give us that extra incentive for self-control. In other words, in practical terms, humans are a mixed-bag and can go either way, but their fundamental nature is good and can be expanded.

This to me sounds like a very sensible approach. Be aware of the negative tendencies of humans, and take them seriously, but also believe that humans can become better people through moral education and self-discipline. The self-fulfilling prophecy also plays a role.

I don't believe in complete selflessness either. I believe in enlightened self-interest. It seems a bit ridiculous for everyone to be taking care of each other and neglecting themselves. I believe in the overflow model. I'd imagine God to be like this too. Just this overflowing river of da good stuff.

Make sure that you as an individual are happy and thriving and then try to expand that happiness outward.

If the individual is not happy, it's hard to see how they can spread happiness to others.

Also recognize that helping others can also improve one's own happiness. I'm a big believer in synergy. If helping someone else is making you completely miserable, maybe you're not doing the right thing. It's a bit of an intuition call though. And it's important to distinguish crass pleasure from deep happiness. I allow for the intuition to calculate the best course in a given situation -- in the hope that my higher self, or whatever, will balance the competing values. In the end, I sort of think that if you're in tune with higher reality -- or whatever (you're such a flake, eusto) -- not only will you do the right thing, you will experience great joy in doing that right thing -- at least over time.


BTW, sorry if I went overboard. Just try to harvest any usefulness out of my remarks if you can -- if any usefulness is actually there, that is ;)


I'm the one who made the "materialism is depressing" comment. The reason that materialism is taken seriously is, well, it could be true. It's certainly got more evidence for it than the religious stuff (virgin birth, resurrection, etc.). But I would much rather live in a materialist universe than one ran by the traditional Christian God. I'm risk averse, and would rather just die like a fly than take the chance of roasting like toast.


It matters what is true

Oh this is just so great. We have a "modernist" team which includes an atheist (Michael), a hard-nosed flake (me), and an evangelical Christrian (Micah); while on the "postmodernist" side we have a "?" (Real), an atheist (Tom), and a soft-nosed flake (amba) -- I'm messing with you, amba, and arbitrarily assigning you to a "team";)

Stand tall, o ye modernists, for we have "the truth" on our side. The other folks don't even believe in truth. ;)

More to the point, the central gospel story -- god's son dies to appease god's rage over the actions of god's own creations -- is ludicrous and morally offensive.

Hell . . . frickin . . . yeah, dude! (Uh oh, we may be dividing the modernist camp. Scary stuff.)



We're closer than we appear to be.

The "through a glass darkly" text might apply to the Bible as well. Our reception of the truth, or what God wants us to get, is not perfect now and it was not perfect then. It's miraculous enough that as many rays get through as do get through.

The hardest thing for people is to live in trust and yet in uncertainty. They need to create an absolute authority who is right for all time. For Orthodox Jews it's Moses and the prophets -- God spoke directly to them, he doesn't speak to us so clearly anymore, so we just have to study what God said to them. The past -- all of it -- is equated with the Divine or the Golden Age.


If helping someone else is making you completely miserable, maybe you're not doing the right thing. It's a bit of an intuition call though.

Eusto -- discerning right from wrong choices is always an intuition call, unless you subscribe to a very rigid set of rules (in which case you're almost certain to break them). It's like navigation -- you have to sense "which way the wind is blowing" and water currents and hidden hazards. We're all "at sea." I think of instinct, nature, as the wind -- some people are just driven ahead of it, and some, the more skillful spiritual sailors, close-haul their soul -- er, sail -- and sail almost directly into the wind, doing what does NOT come naturally. Most of us have a skill level somewhere in between.

As someone whose own selfish desires have had to be sacrificed (reluctantly -- in fact kicking and screaming and rebelling) to the care of someone who is no saint himself yet whom, unaccountably, if you want to put it in God-language, God unmistakably loves -- I am often torn between the Victorian notion of virtue (particularly for women: the spinster daughter who stays home and cares for her widowed father, e.g.) and the modern imperative of authenticity and self-fulfillment. Have I sold myself out or have I done what was wanted of me? I truly don't know the answer and these two world views duke it out in me daily. I try to find a third "story."


And the sin thing -- when I say I regret having an abortion, kind pro-life Catholics try to help me feel better by telling me God forgives me. But I don't feel guilt. I feel regret. Guilt can be forgiven. Regret is forever.


Yeah, I sort of sensed you might be having such a struggle. Christian philosophers generally feel that you're at your most virtuous when you're doing something you DON'T want to do. Pagans (love them pagans) generally feel that the virtuous person should enjoy virtue. I just kind of hope that after one has sailed against the wind for a while, you start liking virtue.

You know, the kind of deluded, overly optimistic naive youngin' view, that God will make all things right if you try hard enough and have enough faith ;)

In any case, I wish you the best of luck. As I see it, either we'll drop like flies so it doesn't matter too too much what we do. Or we get reincarnation and we thus get second chances. So in both cases, no permanent regrets. Either it doesn't matter, or we'll get a second chance. And if you believe in the immortality of the soul, via lots of reincarnations leading to buddhahood, then if this life isn't so hot -- well don't worry, it will all be smooth in the end.

So my advice -- not that I know what I'm talking about -- would be to shut out the different mental models of victorianism and self-affirmation, hand over the reins to the Buddha within, and lead from the heart. See if your heart has a middle path available. I figure, why not trust in God -- as long as it doesn't become ridiculous -- what could it hurt?

(If you're gonna drop like a fly , so what if you're deluding yourself?)


"Die like a fly," "roast like toast" -- you're The Greatest!


Michael- please stick w/food. You're so much better at describing duck then at gaging God's rage.

The thing is, God created man w/free will. God didn't want us to automatically love him, He wanted to be loved freely. Adam, great male head-of-the-household that he was, got tempted and sinned(and blamed Eve). Sin smacks love around and let's us all down. We fall from Grace. Especially when the payoff seems like the greatest gift. We're outta sync.

So, God wasn't raging against His children, His children were raising Cain w/him. Why He decided to give us a second chance is beyond me, but love does that. And God does that; and God is love.

God didn't sacrifice His son as if in a game of chess- He sacrificed Himself for the good fo all(baaahaaa). Hatred for the truth of Christ by man made it twisted and ludicrous. It wasn't a ~morally offensive~ act, it was an act of selflessness, Michael.

Amba, i used my trusty thesaurus to look up both regret and guilt, since i am on of those well-intentioned proLife Catholic girls of whom you speak... :^). Here's my take: guilt is actually a weaker word than regret, eh? Regret lingers. Guilt is criminal. Regret is lamentation. Lamentation is yearning for the lost.

You seem to live in parallel worlds- the one that could have been that you lament and the one you have now- which i believe you wouldn't be doing if you didn't really want to. You may be kicking and screaming, but you are there. Not because it's expected, or the right thing, but out of love.

michael Reynolds

The notion that a son has to be tortured and killed before forgiveness can be granted is flatly insane. My children misbehave (sin) all the time. I forgive them all the time. I never feel the need for human sacrifice.


So, you are saying that God tortured and killed His son?

It didn't happen that way. He was killed by a mob. Does it make sense that it was to unfold in this manner? Not to me, either- but, i don't doubt it. People are tortured and killed every stinkin'day since- for a lot less.

Have you seen ~Narnia~? It was hatred that killed Aslan, and jelousy and about every other deadly sin written. The death was celebrated. Crucifixtion was the game of the day, back then- not only the Son died so painfully, although probably not enjoyed as much.

I remember when Tom took heat for pacifistic values toward even a demon like Zarquarwi. It is the inherent value of a human that is mourned, not necessarily the person. I admire that concept even if i have trouble duplicating it.

It's a different world since 33 AD. Maybe sons were killed by their father's back then, out of love- i don't know. Daughters of today are killed out of shame, i know that.


It's very striking to me that Gandhi and Martin Luther King, too, were killed. The truly nonviolent attract the greatest violence -- the greatest envy and fear. Love is the greatest threat.


"The truly nonviolent attract the greatest violence"

amba, that is not true. The number of violent people who have been killed is probably much greater than the number of pacifists who have been killed. It's just more memorable when non-violent leaders are assassinated, because we don't expect it.


I don't know about that, real.

If you count the everyday victims and the bullying of innocents and(of course) abortion...


I'm risk averse, and would rather just die like a fly than take the chance of roasting like toast.

Exsqueeze me??? I'd shut up by now, but for all the patent nonsense still flying around. 1) If you're simply "risk averse," you should go directly to Pascal's Wager, do not pass go, do not collect $200. But that by itself never convinces anybody, so I'm almost certain that can't be the issue you're trying to address. 2) Are you really trying to say that what's true is brought about by what you believe? I really don't think you are, but if you were you'd have no reason to fear anybody getting "roasted like toast," so I can make no sense whatever of your comment.

On Michael trying to reductio the Christian theist picture, first off: the story you tell flat-out misrepresents the actual story entirely. What you describe is not what any Christians believe, so you're attacking a strawman. But such may well be expected if you're attempting to project your own present ethics-on-a-purely-human-scale standards onto the purported situation. So no wonder it doesn't make sense.

More generally, here's the dilemma the atheist finds himself in: To be completely self-consistent from the ground up, the atheist must conceive of ethical standards as essentially emanating from humanity, as a contingent factor in the universe. If there had been no sentient beings like us, there wouldn't be any such thing, so ethical standards are not transcendent and prior to our "discovery" of them. The atheist cannot logically use those kinds of standards, no matter how irresistibly self-presenting they may seem to him, to judge "what a good God would do" or some such, because you don't believe in any such thing in the first place. The two pictures of reality, atheist-materialist and Christian theist, are incommensurable with each other, so each is bought "wholesale" by its adherents, and not by dint of any particular argument. Particular arguments are not the reason anyone switches camps, either. That's why there's so much question begging on both sides. Usually it's perceived more readily from the theistic side, but the atheist must indulge in it as well.

Here's another way to look at it: "We do not want a religion that is right where we are right, we want a religion that is right where we are wrong." -G.K. Chesterton. What if you found a spiritual belief system that you already found completely palatable and could find no reason at all in yourself to resist adhering to? Would not that be a pretty good indication that the belief system in question was man-made and supervened entirely on human interests? It is equally true that something you find "abhorrent" can not on those grounds be considered likely to be true, but neither does the reverse hold. There's just no argument possible from one to the other. All we can do is present our stories and leave it there.

Likewise, when Amba says she doesn't "feel" sinful, that can't count as any indication that she really isn't. That "argument" can't support its counterfactual antecedent, because it's not the case that if she did feel sinful, that would indicate that she really was.

My point here is just to urge maximal self-consistency is one's "story." If the Christian story really is (and not just that you think it is) just so much nonsense, then one's arguments against it will make no more sense than what's being argued against.


real --

perhaps I mis-phrased my point, which is really a question: Why do the violent feel so compelled to destroy the nonviolent? Why do the latter pose such a threat and challenge to the former? Something about the nonviolent threatens the violent's whole view of the world, which they are desperately attached to even though it's highly likely to get them killed.


Micah: you've nailed the problem that "just because something is sweet to me doesn't mean it's good for me," but conversely, "just because something is abhorrent or nonsensical to me, that doesn't make it right."

How to put this: one problem that I have with some aspects of religious teachings is that they are archaic; they are cast in the mold of the needs of a different time. (Obviously, some are timeless, but who decides which ones? Does the individual do the best s/he can, or submit to a consecrated all-too-human authority who may himself be driven by a lust for power?) That makes them in some ways alien and irrelevant to me, living now. A lot of religion treats that anachronistic alienness and irrelevance as a sign of divinity. Old and strange is equated with sacred and wise. "Don't question" is the message. I understand that we lie to and flatter ourselves. But why should I trust my own conscience either less OR more than some authority who's as human as I am?

I'm not objecting to the need for submission and "emptying." I'm objecting to the indiscriminateness with which tradition is revered, not distinguishing the human and temporal elements from the eternal ones because we're not qualified to do so. Therefore, swallow it all. (Obviously people don't -- or there would be no Reformations.)

I am reminded of the Catholic arguments against artificial birth control, which presume that human will in profound matters is by definition wrong and to be mistrusted. That is, my assessment that I am not yet ready, financially or psychologically, to be a parent is never a legitimate or God-given factor. As long as what happens is involuntary, it's from God. The only thing the human will can legitimately or virtuously do is submit.

Our judgment is terribly flawed. Yet don't we have to thank God that we have it at all?


Yes, I think conscience and compassion come from a higher dimension. I don't believe they are just the bottom-up products of social evolution.



I don't know if what you're saying is true -- that pacifists inspire more rage than non-pacifists. Many leaders have been assassinated, and most of them were not pacifists.

There have not been many pacifist leaders, so the sample size is way to small to generalize. I mean, can you think of any other than King and Ghandi?

And we can't assume it was their non-violent ideology that got them killed, since they had controversial beliefs. King was probably killed for the same reason as Lincoln, and Lincoln was hardly a pacifist.


Micah - the argument you seem to be making is, religion must be true because it tells us to do things we don't want to do.

Perhaps a more accurate way of putting it is that they are a product of the time that created them, and the things they told us to do made sense then, but may not any more due to cultural shifts. Such as the "don't eat pork" thing - we can now cook it enough to not get trichinosis. Many other examples exist, of course the "literalists" usually ignore the inconvenient ones and move the (mostly mistranlated) anti-homosexual ones to #1 on the hit list.

Of course some things are true to most human societies, such as no murder, but even then you get into questions of self-defense, warfare, execution of criminals, euthanasia, and abortion. If the "no murder" clause is so absolute, why then was Abraham supposed to murder his kid? Why did Moses have all the first born children of Egypt murdered? Why is the old testament full of wars? What about the Crusades?

I personally do not believe there is any absolute universal morality - morality must be seen in the context of the species and society. For example, many races have no problem with women's breasts being bare all the time. Other cultures stone women to death for showing their ankle. Some practice clitorectomy to prevent the woman from enjoying sex, some practice polygamy, in some subcultures "swinging" between different couples is acceptable, and a few centuries ago Droit du Seigneur was a common practice.

Going even further, many animal species (and some human) practice cannibalism, sometimes even of their own children. Various radical or nonstandard sexual practices are frequent, including free sex, polygamy, and homosexual behavior (documented in over 400 differnet species).

Further yet, if we speculate about unknown species from cultures on other planets, perhaps there is an intelligent species somewhere that suicides to reproduce, does that mean they go to Catholic hell? I won't go further with this one, but I'm sure you catch my drift.

Of course you'd probably try to say that all those other cultures are wrong, and that the Bible tells us the way we're supposed to be. But even within the Bible there exist many significant behavioral and cultural clashes. Solomon and his 500 wives, for example. Who today would offer to sacrifice their only son to appease an angry god? How many burnt offerings have you made to the Lord recently? I'm no biblical scholar, but if I researched it I'm sure I could come up with a few hundred examples.

Finally, I think my biggest problem with all religions is that there are so many of them, and despite their (significant, in many cases historically or mythologically traceable) overlaps, they still disagree markedly on many issues they consider to be core aspects of their beliefs and practice, yet they almost all tell you that they alone are the Truth, and they alone will earn you Eternal Life (or reincarnation higher on the Wheel, an afterlife in Valhalla, etc.)

I see little difference in validity between believing in Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, the Norse pantheon, or Druidism (or any of the thousands of other sects out there). Basically they are all attempts made by men to explain that which they didn't understand, mostly created centuries prior to any true capability of systematically investigating those inexplicable phenomena. The biggest unanswerable question (and one that still exists today...which along with tradition and ignorance are the biggest reasons why religion hasn't died out yet) is what happens after death, which produces their major cash product, afterlife insurance.

Some notable recent exceptions to the archaism of religion are Mormonism and Scientology, both of which were created by men who wanted (and got) money and power from them (L. Ron Hubbard even blatantly stated that the best way to become rich is to create your own religion). Both of these (though extremely nutty) are at least slightly more attuned to the world of today, hence their popularity. That plus they were designed as self-propagating vehicles, plagiarizing and improving on many of the evangelical tricks and traditions of earlier faiths.

This plethora of religions have varying levels of applicability to today's society, depending on their origin, history, and age, but most have long lost much relevance other than as occasionally appropriate moral and personal guides stated in anachronistic parables.


Amba: Absolutely, question both yourself as well as what you're told is definitely the way to go, I would say. Combine that with a recognition that there is such a thing as objective truth even on things beyond our direct apprehension, and Bob's your uncle. That's reasoned faith. Seek and ye shall find.


Sleipner: I explicitly stated that I was not making that argument. Please read my comment again.

As to the difference between all those pesky religions? Well, that brings us straight around full circle to my original point: is there a historical fact of the matter, and is there a record thereof, with a documentation similar to that of other historical facts we accept? I think you'll find the "Judeo-Christian" tradition is the only one rooted in history at all. As to what I mean by "rooted in history," simply compare it with that of other religions, and the difference is apparent for all to see. I'll leave it at that.


Michah- Jewish faith is also ~rooted in history~- else there would be no Christ or Christianity.

Sleip- hhmmmmm, who KNEW there was such a thing as Catholic hell?

Tom Strong

Okay, I was going to stay out of this, but I can't resist.


First of all I should say that, despite my cheeky remarks made earlier, I mostly agree with your criticism of the main post. I don't think Christianity is the result of a few random Gospels thrown together, and like amba, I don't think the Gnostic gospels tell a better story. And you argue with verve and grace, characteristics that blogs could always use more of.

That said, I think you're over-reaching in your last few posts - in part, I'm guessing, because MR, sleipner and eusto are overreaching as well. Certainly, MR's characterization of the Christ story is a grotesque rendering, and you're right to call it a strawman.

But that said, they all are making a point within their generalizations that you're brushing off. That point is this: Christianity (and to be fair, the other Abrahamic religions) itself is not itself "maximally self-consistent," especially when it comes to ethics. Michael's grotesquerie is a case in point: while the Christian story is usually told as "For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son...," at the end of the story there is still no explanation for why such drastic measures were necessary. When I or other people ask those questions, people like Karen say "Well, God wanted to give us free will."

Sorry, but I find that unconvincing. For one thing, as amba correctly points out, just because we have free will doesn't necessitate that we had to have such poor judgment. But responses like Karen's (who I'm not trying to pick on, it's just that you've said that many times here) always have the intention of getting God off the hook - in other words, trying fitfully to reconcile God's supposed omnipotence with his supposed benevolence, in the face of a Creation that is beautiful but morally difficult.

My all-too human (and Jewish?) instinct is to ask why God should get off the hook. Why God should be exempt from moral impulses that I feel very, very strongly. If I were to create a world - by observing it, of course - and sought to lead my creation towards moral transcendence, I simply would not do it as God does it in the Bible (On the other hand, if I simply wanted to tell a ripping good story, I might. But I digress).

Which leads to my second objection. You write above:

The atheist cannot logically use those kinds of standards, no matter how irresistibly self-presenting they may seem to him, to judge "what a good God would do" or some such, because you don't believe in any such thing in the first place.

On the level of winning a logic contest, you're right - as soon as I start to judge God using my own moral standards, I have ceased, in that moment, to be an atheist. But in my opinion, that is an impoverished way to approach major, potentially life-changing questions like this one. If I'm going to give the Christian a fair hearing, as so many Christians argue, I must do so as one who believes in God. And so when I go to read the Bible, I put away my atheism, and try to read it as a believer might. Though he might say he doesn't, I wouldn't be surprised if Michael does the same thing.

But once I put away my atheism and become, however briefly, a theist - at that point I am not just able, I am obliged to gauge Christianity using the only God-given tool I have for doing so - my own moral conscience. And my own moral conscience tells me that Christianity, while rigorous in some ways, is sometimes wrong when I am right. I can question myself at that point - ask "am I really right?" - but if I'm really listening to my moral conscience rather than the more ambiguous parts of my soul, I have to put a whole lot of stock in it. Because to do otherwise strikes me as a form of cultural relativism, even if the other "culture" in this case is the Biblical Yahweh.

I also think you're overblowing the historical evidence for Christianity. While it's fair to say that there's as much evidence for the Resurrection as, say, the execution of Socrates, it is also fair to say that extraordinary events require extraordinary evidence. And because it is so rooted in our history, Christianity seems to beg for a lot of historical inquiry compared to say, Buddhism. It's claims depend on being both extraordinary and historical.

By the way, I'm not really trying to pick on you, either. I'm giving your argument attention because you're a good arguer - and because you're the new kid here. I've had plenty of arguments with everyone else.


Tom, thanks for your input. Glad to hear more from you. The only thing I have in response is pretty terse and pithy (for a change!): if it sounds strange to try to "get God off the hook," that's only because it's equally untoward to put "God in the dock [witness stand]," as the name of a C.S. Lewis essay, and book, has it.


Oh, I'm sorry, one more thing—There's the Humean objection you bring up, of extraordinary events needing extraordinary evidence. After reading the chapter "On Miracles" from Hume's An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, from which that originates, I found his argument to be perfectly circular and do nothing so much as exclude, a priori, the possibility of miracles being successfully attested to at all, and therefore excluding the possibility of miracles, period. It's a roundabout way of saying, "Hmm, I've never seen anything like that; I'd have to see it myself, or else it can't have happened." Hume's metaphysics, as such, is more or less an direct döppelganger to his empiricist epistemology, so it fits in with his overall scheme of thought, but I don't see any reason to buy the argument against miracles unless one is a full-blown Humean in other respects, too.

Okay, I must split this popsicle stand and pack; catching a plane tomorrow...

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

New on FacTotem, my Natural History Blog

Jacques' Story: Escape From the Gulag

The AmbivAbortion Rant

Debating Intelligent Design


  • Listed on Blogwise

Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 08/2004