We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
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Thursday, June 19. 2008
This is a re-post from the archives:
Michael Shermer, in The American Scientist, has written a thoughtful piece entitled "The Soul of Science" about how he claims that he finds fully-satisfying non-transcendent meaning and purpose in his life. My title above is a bit tongue-in-cheek, and I have not dropped the dime to the Spanish Inquisition - lost their phone number. Nor do I have any argument with anyone who feels simply that "Life is to Live" - I think that is an entirely wholesome, if willfully unreflective, approach to the miracle of existence. We all have to map our own way of being in the world; that's the burden and blessing of freedom.
You can easily tell from his earnest writing that Mr. Shermer is a very good, decent, likeable, thoughtful fellow. But there is something in his piece, an undercurrent of trying too hard, or protesting too much, that makes me wonder whether Mr. Shermer is resisting something in himself. I am not a religious man, nor - God forbid - a "spiritual" man. But, like most people, I have a feeling about, or interest in a transcendent force. Call it what you will. And I do find an unaccountable joy in singing hymns about Jesus which causes me to imagine that something "out there" is connecting with something "in here."
Some of us Maggie's crew had dinner with The Analyst, Dr. Bliss, last month in Cambridge. She expounded on the theme that "everyone worships something," whether they know it or not. She feels that self-worship - the idolatry of "self-fulfillment" and "self-importance" and "self-realization" is the pop alternative to a deity. At which point Bird Dog tends to crudely interject about his yet-unwritten book entitled "I'm An A-hole, You're an A-hole" - the theoretical counterpoint to that best-seller of the 70s I'm OK, You're OK. I have doubts about whether Bird Dog's title will sell books, but I get his point.
Shermer puts everything in a science frame:
Despite his welcome humility about it, I guess Shermer "worships" science, or genetics, more or less, since that is how he decides to frame his experience of reality.
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I find it interesting that in many of the conversations I read on the internet discussing this sort of thing, that the general assumption is that one must be worshiping something, and that if one is an agnostic, atheist or apostate(in my case), then one must necessarily be worshiping one's self, or Mammon, or worse. I recall a conversation in which a Baptist lady, upon being asked about Buddhists, said something akin to the affect of "nice folks, it's too bad they don't know they're worshiping the devil".
I wonder if there's been some sort of drift or slight-of-mind in the language.... It seems that people are including under the heading of "worship" the general goings on of one's life, but that if these goings on include a religion, then all the rest of one's selfish life is therefore also a component of a (to mangle a phrase) a "worship-ful life". Remove the component of religious practice, and the rest of one's goings on, like trips to the dry-cleaner's, &c., are part of a cult of "self-worship" and such. In addition to thinking that this maligns a large group of people who're simply going about their daily lives, I also think it's unfair to the concept of worship.
If by "worship" one includes everything in secular life that isn't religious practice or which isn't actively done under the conscious goal of adhering to religious principles, isn't this a poverty? It used to be that "worship" was considered an act: to worship Baal literally meant to bow down before the status and physically prostrate oneself; to account a game of tennis played by someone who doesn't have a religion as a component of a self-worshiping regime sets the bar for what it means to worship something awfully low. To my mind, worship that cheap isn't worthy of being called such.
I agree whole heartedly. We have become enslaved by the dialectic mindset. If you don't X, then you must Y, or rather -X.
Although I also see this a bit differently. I grew up with Baptists. You know the old saw, drunk on Saturday, church on Sunday. So the act of "worship" was the absolver, and freed you for all kinds of non-Baptist behavior. I think most people kept their morals for 7 days a week anyway.
I am pretty much a non-believer, at the same time, try every day to be a moral and upstanding person. I therefore pay attention to what the little devil on my shoulder says, and try to do the opposite. I don't think there is any "self-worship" going on, but self examination and determination are at my every day core.
It would seem that I am never free to go against my "beliefs" one day and ardently adhere to them on a special other day. But then, as you mention, if this is "worship" that sets the bar really low.
I really just can't stand being told what I believe. I don't believe nuttin'. Except maybe belief in the USA.
If what I believe is some kind of "worship" then I worship freedom, responsibility, duty, honor, kindness, generosity, strength, honesty, and above all opportunity.
Phil, you're a smart man. I think you know what to believe, your father taught you well.It is refreshing to know that I'm not the only one who got the bejesus kicked out of him. We are not the dealer in this game, we play the cards we are delt the best way we can. I like the way you play yours,freedom. responsibilty, duty honor, kindness generosity, strenth, and honesty. Thank your father when you see him!!
Re: "... like most people, I have a feeling about, or interest in a transcendent force. Call it what you will." Most, yes. All, no. I know I don't share this interest in religious, or metaphysical, or super-natural subjects that most find (some of them) so riveting, and I don't believe I'm "fooling myself." So I think it's unwarranted to read into Mr. Shermer's similar disinterest that he is "trying too hard, or protesting too much." He is not you, and the workings of his mind may be profoundly different from yours. He may very well not "worship" anything.
ok, speaking of "worship", i am afraid that the dylanologist is off gallivanting in europe somewhere and may not get around to posting the free ad today. just in case, i will direct folks to one of dylan's funnier songs, i shall be free, off the 1963 freewheelin bob dylan... for those that so enjoy their weekly dylan fix.
Well, I took me a woman late last night,
I's three-fourths drunk, she looked uptight.
She took off her wheel, took off her bell,
Took off her wig, said, "How do I smell?"
I hot-footed it . . . bare-naked . . .
Out the window!
Well, sometimes I might get drunk,
Walk like a duck and stomp like a skunk.
Don't hurt me none, don't hurt my pride
'Cause I got my little lady right by my side.
Proud as can be)
I's out there paintin' on the old woodshed
When a can a black paint it fell on my head.
I went down to scrub and rub
But I had to sit in back of the tub.
(Cost a quarter
And I had to get out quick . . .
Someone wanted to come in and take a sauna)
Well, my telephone rang it would not stop,
It's President Kennedy callin' me up.
He said, "My friend, Bob, what do we need to make the country grow?"
I said, "My friend, John, Brigitte Bardot,
(Put 'em all in the same room with Ernest Borgnine!)
Well, I got a woman sleeps on a cot,
She yells and hollers and squeals a lot.
Licks my face and tickles my ear,
Bends me over and buys me beer.
(She's a honeymooner
A June crooner
A spoon feeder
And a natural leader)
Oh, there ain't no use in me workin' so heavy,
I got a woman who works on the levee.
Pumping that water up to her neck,
Every week she sends me a monthly check.
(She's a humdinger
For a thing-a-muh jigger)
Late one day in the middle of the week,
Eyes were closed I was half asleep.
I chased me a woman up the hill,
Right in the middle of an air raid drill.
It was Little Bo Peep!
(I jumped a fallout shelter
I jumped a bean stalk
I jumped a ferris wheel)
Now, the man on the stand he wants my vote,
He's a-runnin' for office on the ballot note.
He's out there preachin' in front of the steeple,
Tellin' me he loves all kinds-a people.
(He's eatin' bagels
He's eatin' pizza
He's eatin' chitlins
He's eatin' bullsh*t!)
Oh, set me down on a television floor,
I'll flip the channel to number four.
Out of the shower comes a grown-up man
With a bottle of hair oil in his hand.
(It's that greasy kid stuff.
What I want to know, Mr. Football Man, is
What do you do about Willy Mays and Yul Brynner,
Charles de Gaulle
And Robert Louis Stevenson?)
Well, the funniest woman I ever seen
Was the great-granddaughter of Mr. Clean.
She takes about fifteen baths a day,
Wants me to grow a cigar on my face.
(She's a little bit heavy!)
Well, ask me why I'm drunk alla time,
It levels my head and eases my mind.
I just walk along and stroll and sing,
I see better days and I do better things.
(I catch dinosaurs
I make love to Elizabeth Taylor . . .
Catch hell from Richard Burton!)
Back in the 80s, I used to threaten to write DOS for Idiots, but I never did, because I figured nobody would buy a book with a title like that. Now look. It's a franchise. BD should submit his manuscript and see.
I have frequently made the claim that we all worship something whether we acknowledge it or not. I will say that though I am going to disagree with the earlier comments in the thread, they are graciously worded, and I hope to do as well in response.
Much of the conflict comes from oversimplification of what the other is saying and believing. There are indeed Christians who will be simply dismissive that all those others are worshiping the devil. If, ultimately, that is true, then even Christians are offering a good deal of their worship to the devil as well. None of us has quite got the exact focus on God as He is.
Similarly, I have come to believe that the atheists and agnostics who get into arguments are not representative of their group. I linked some months ago to an NRO article on six different types of atheists by Michael Novak. (url)http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=MTVmYWIyYTI3MDNkMjQxNWJkZjBjNDQyNDI2YThiNmQ=(/url)
Notable among the types are those who simply have little interest in religious questions or little taste for religious ideas. They are clearly quite different from the usual antagonistic online atheist whose emotional leakage reveals that some unattractive personal issue or need to demean others is in play.
The oversimplified version that all those nonChristians must be worshiping some simple god like self or Mammon is a pernicious misunderstanding by Christians. I think the gods that we all worship are more subtle and complicated than that - including the poor approximation of YHWH that I myself worship.
jappy comes near to what I am saying when he lists important virtues that he believes in strongly. My immediate followup is to wonder why he believes them so strongly. Training, yes; culture, yes; but under stress such things break down, and we are left holding a belief for reasons that are initially unclear to us. It is that belief under pressure, that core that hangs in even after reason has undermined its usefulness, that points to who our god is. The simple and facile explanations of this are not gods in themselves - they are not even very satisfying on their own. But they point the direction.
I eventually concluded that there is no neutral place, that to act with purpose in the world at all ultimately requires a decision to embrace some belief. It is seldom easily developed or articulated, which is why most of us pick something that looks like the closest well-thought out approximation to our own direction. It would be a bit much if every human were required to make (or discover) an entire philosophy of being from scratch.
But I assert that you do have a philosophy of being, whether thought-out or not, and that this functions like a religion in every important way.
Bravo AVI! "The Gods we worship write their names on our faces". Uh...I forgot who wrote that poem; it was in the back of a (Reform) prayer book. I have plenty of athiest friends, and I am sure they fall into all of the categories of athiest in the article you referenced. Happy athiests are so only to the degree that they acknowledge the need for reverence- and not the small reverence of self-worship, nor the false reverence of altruism- but the reverence for some kind of Ultimate Reality. They choose not to name it- though as the poem goes, it writes its name on their faces. I choose to name it- I want Something to which I may direct my gratitude. Great post! Made me downright sappy!
"...nor the false reverence of altruism."
That phrase contradicts itself. It is not altruism if it's false.
Regarding those uppity atheists....
My experience with 9 of 10 "antagonistic online atheist" folks is that they're chafing under the smug arrogance of many religious who assume that if there's something good and right in people's philosophical introspections, that this denotes worship, even at the subconscious level, as if one requires religion to decide some things are virtuous.
The fact of the matter is that many religious people have very explicitly been taught that it's only because of their religion that the virtues are known as such and that without which we're nothing but apes. This certainty really chaps folks who think it's possible to be good people and act virtuously simply by recognizing that some things are virtuous and acting accordingly (or to be bad people by failing to do so), rather than seeing humanity as inherently fallen except for those with the right membership-card.
As an apostate (with a strong, albeit ironic, penchant for religious thought), I for one certainly do. But regardless of what one thinks of "an eye for an eye" (I side with Gandhi's famous saying on that one), no matter how often someone steps on your toes, "an eye for a stubbed toe", although awfully tempting after the thousandth sore toe, just isn't a proper response.
But if you're coming from their vantage point, it is an understandable one.
If you'll permit me to opine out on a limb, where the more militant atheists utterly fail is that they provide no alternative. Regardless of whether you think that Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism or what-have-you is true, one must acknowledge that the average person is very well served by living a life that accords with his or her religion (even if folks in religious authority instigate a jihad, inquisition, etc.), and the only serious alternative yet proposed has been replacement of civil society by the state, which, in spite of its continuing partisans, has been such an utter, miserable, wretched failure that only its own adherents (who cling to it with religious fervor) can abide its stench. If the more militant atheists were to say "hey, X isn't true, but Y is", that would be much friendlier and more socially productive than saying "only an idiot could believe in X".
You're right that most ethical and religious thought boils down to some metaphysical system, but not all do. Different schools of Buddhism, for example, pull away from the Hindu metaphysics at their roots and build on epistemology instead.
Interesting book review - of a naturalistic examination of self, that discards supernatural claims/phenomena as immaterial to one's being and ethics:
Killer last line, AVI.
I want to comment on each comment as they are all so good, but I think I'll wander off into the land of "What-ifs" and try out a new thought.
What if a family of deaf-mutes lived a secluded, solitary life in the Smoky Mountains. What if they had no books and knew very little of the outside world. Would they, by instinct or thought, create a philosophy of being? And would they go to 'Hell' if they found no god to worship?
From our knowledge of how quickly a full language develops from a pidgin or other oversimplified language (the first generation of native speakers embellishes the language to its needs and creates a fully-expressive language in a decade - when they are still children), I will hazard a guess that your posited family in the mountains will develop some practical theory of meaning. Whether that involves rituals or special hats is irrelevant. Whether they would go to hell is entirely unknown to me. I always suspect when people ask such questions that they are really asking me whether I think they will go to hell.
JimDesu - those with smug arrogance are certainly out there, but I think people seek them as rationalizations. They aren't anywhere near as common as TV would have you believe. Similarly, I have never met any Christian who has stated that nonbelievers are incapable of acting in a moral fashion. I think the shoe is mostly on the other foot - people resent the merest suggestion that others think their beliefs or conduct not up to snuff in some way.
I realize that gets us into a "who started it" argument which is likely pointless, but I will assert my side of it nonetheless: the data is overwhelming in my favor. Christians frequently make general comments about the behavior of the big bad world and how it needs Christ. I have never in my life heard one make a live comment about another person that their lack of belief made them a bad person. I hear more than weekly the opposite - how bad such-and-such is and how their Christianity is part of it. I have lived a lot of weeks, BTW, being 55.
I exempt from the above the baiting questions where someone is trying to pin a Christian down into a statement they find unacceptable, such as "So you are saying that I must be going to hell..." Those are forced and theoretical statements, not volunteered by the Christian. People don't like in theory what Christians believe, so they go out of their way to turn it into a personal insult. That way they can avoid having to think about it.
Sound arrogant? Sure. But I never claimed to be a good person, just an observant one.
Not arrogant at all! Most folks are nice, decent people regardless of their background. Where one is dealing with any class of people, I strongly believe that two sayings apply:
1) "no man knows the smell of his own shite",
2) "one 'whoops' cancels out ten 'atta-boys'".
There are regions of this country where your observation is flatly incorrect, but in most of the country you're spot on. The issue boils down to one of perception and what one happens to be sensitive to -- for example, to me personally hangings have nothing intrinsically to do with race-relations (for other people the meme is intrinsically linked to Jim Crow).
As I said after our last disagreement, clearly there is more we would agree on.
There is clearly enough evidence that we as a human race emerged from a more simplistic primal form of thinking regarding our existence in this wonderdance we call life. The varied levels and mastery of our individual lives seem at first glance to be primarily dependent upon where we are born, the mind-set of that culture, and the degree we can gather the "fire within" to overcome apathy and defeatism. It comes down to accessing enough desire to grow that leads to asking the questions that lead to developing a philosophy to live by. This progression of thought becomes very "spiritual" when repeated improvement follows superior thinking about how to live successfully day-to-day. This magic of improved thought creating an improved life is the basis of all religion. It comes down to the common denominator: We are all in spiritual transition and must come to terms with this ever changing playing field.