Bad Religion, 2.

Our next question is that of “truth.” Vardy discusses the assault of the popular atheists on the notion of religious truth, namely that it is both lightweight and dangerous, a “virus” to use Dawkins’ term. Vardy disagrees, obviously, championing the idea of knowledge beyond the empirical realm. In doing so, he rubbishes Ayer’s view that the unverifiable is worthless. Kant suggested that though we are confined to the phenomenal world, this does not preclude the existence of the noumenal. On occasion, Vardy argues, the noumenal can make itself known to us through something other than the normal senses, perhaps through aesthetic experience. This is a perfectly reasonable thing to believe.

Vardy raises the realist and anti-realist ideas of truth. Religious truth claims tend to be realist, i.e. they correspond to what is believed to be reality: “The Qur’an was dictated by an angel” is true because it is what really happened. Of course, such truths cannot be proved and will often contradict other realist truths: “The Qur’an was not dictated by an angel” is true because it didn’t happen, says the Christian.

Such competing truth claims will not go away. Because of this, “good” religions ought, as a starter, to spread their truth claims “by persuasion rather than coercion [and with an] openness to other perspectives” (p.31). The honesty and humility evident in St. Paul’s dark glass would be an emblem of a “good” religion in Vardy’s scheme.

A move to anti-realism might seem to be a useful way to settle competing truth claims: truths are true within their own communities. Within Islam, the statement about the divine origin of the Qur’an is true; within Christianity it is not. Vardy, admits, however, that only academic audiences are likely to be happy with such an approach. It is too postmodern, and postmodernism has not been kind to religion. If Dawkins wants to eradicate the virus of religion, an insistence on anti-realism might be the way to go.

As Vardy wants to eradicate bad religion, not religion itself, how are we to solve the truth problem then? And it is a problem, as the doctrine that “error has no rights,” to take one example, led to the torture and murder of heretics. One solution would be to ignore truth altogether. A feature of “good” religion cannot be, says Vardy, that it has the “truth” as that is a claim that will also be made by demonstrably “bad” religions. In other words, whether or not a religion is good or bad cannot be judged by whether it is true or not.

Next: the Euthyphro Dilemma.

Part One.

Comments

  1. I think people, especially those who are in leadership positions of religious organizations rely a lot on the alleged existence of truth in that organization as a way of both legitimizing control over the organization and guiding the actions of the group as a whole. I’ve noticed in my own wards, for example, this near obsession with talking about our ‘possession of the truth’ but never much conversation beyond that. Pointing out that ‘we have the truth’ often seems to be the end toward which religious activity is geared. I think it’s right that a mere profession of having the truth can’t be the sole factor that goes into determining a religions ‘goodness’ but I also think it plays a part. I think that’s where the whole ‘by their fruits’ thing comes in. Professing to have the truth does little if the actions of the ‘professor’ don’t match up with what feels right. Bah! I’m not positive where I’m going with this, so I’ll cut it off and see what the response is… Thanks!

  2. Excellent stuff. By the way, wasn’t all of this already covered in John Locke’s A Letter Concerning Toleration (1689)?

  3. Also, as Mormons we are lucky in that we have a handbook of sorts to keeping ours a “good religion”: D&C 121. Unfortunately, though it is often quoted (or small portions of it), I wonder whether we take it very seriously.

  4. I haven’t yet read Vardy, Ronan, but aesthetic experiences are necessarily mediated through the senses. If you are positioning them as alternatives that would be false.

  5. Whether the Quran has actually been dictated by an angel or not is not all that relevant to the question of whether a religion is good or bad. The question is which power claims follow from that knowledge claim.

    If the Quaran has been dictated by an angel, what does that actually mean? Does that mean that every statement in the Quran is true and none can be false?

    If it is supposed to be the former then we can test the truth of particular statements and need no longer worry about angels.

    If it is the latter then we cannot be compelled to act according the Quran without questioning it first.

    In this and analogous cases, it turns out that the metaphysical claims are really irrelevant. Whether they are true or not, mortals need to take responsibility for their actions and that requires rational reflection.

  6. For me I really like the phrase “focus on what is right, not who is right”. I don’t see the truth of who’s religion is bestest as being nearly as important as focusing on truth itself.

    I find that when humans most need to take responsibility for their actions, they are seldom rational or reflective.

  7. MikeInWeHo says:

    “This is a perfectly reasonable thing to believe.”
    Not sure I’d be so blithe about that assertion. From the perspective of the non-believer, it’s radical. You’re opening the door to Shirley Mclaine’s past lives and absolutely everything else.

  8. Capozaino says:

    Does this discussion conjure up images of the “Less Effective/More Effective” role plays in the Missionary Guide on Building Relationships of Trust for anybody but me?

    Less Effective: You are not like me. I have the truth and you don’t, so you should change to be more like me. Otherwise, enjoy hell.
    More Effective: You are like me. We both have some truth, and should look for more of it.

  9. Mike,
    It is reasonable to believe that there is a noumenal reality. It is also reasonable to believe that this reality can be experienced through non-empirical means. This of course does not mean that all such experiences are reasonable.

  10. MikeInWeHo says:

    Fair enough, Ronan. I believe there is a noumenal reality and I am reasonable, so therefore your point has been proven for all the world. Nonetheless I still think it’s problematic from a secular perspective. How on earth can one distinguish between reasonable and unreasonable non-empirical experiences??

    I have patients who hear voices telling them to kill themselves. There is no doubt that this experience is more real to them than any spiritual experience I have ever had.

  11. 10 – that experience for many is real. I have no doubt that evil spirits are real. Telling them there is no voice probably won’t help. Instead, telling them not to listen to it and giving them the tools to prevent that voice from entering their thoughts in the future is probably helpful.
    It would actually seem true religion (as LDS would define it) would provide a valuable answer here that would not be appreciated by many who wanted to stick to hard evidences.

  12. Latter-day Guy says:

    10, 11, You might also consider the possibility that they are not possessed, but schizophrenic, c. Perhaps prescribed medication would be even more effective than “telling them not to listen to it.”

  13. 12 – prescribed medication in the experience of my family members has caused them to injure themselves more often. And in each case, departing from the meds combined with some dramatic personal changes made the difference. Now that might get someone in a huffy who claims I’m against all medification. But following your statement killed my grandfather and nearly killed my wife and sister.

    My point was, pretending it’s not real because it seems super natural doesn’t help.

  14. “medification”?

    My sense is that people hearing voices need the type of medical attention they are going to receive from MikeinWeHo as a major focus of their treatment, regardless of their religious background.

  15. I would like to back up Mike and Hellmut on this one. As far as we know, everything we experience is part of the natural world. Even if something hasn’t been quantified or empirically researched, if it interacts with us, it is part of the natural world. I agree with Ronan that this notion doesn’t preclude a noumenal reality. However, there is absolutely no evidence of such a supernatural reality. Believing in such a world would be entirely unreasonable. Aesthetics, visions, voices, and emotions are all features of our physical nature and the interactions we have with the natural, measurable world around us. There is nothing supernatural to it. It is presumptuous and inaccurate to classify things about which we are still learning as supernatural.
    Because we can currently empirically and reasonably research many things in the natural world, including religious claims, the accuracy of moral and historical claims can be determined. for example, science cannot positively prove that an angel dictated the Quaran, but based on the figurative nature of religious documents and no verified instance of angels in the history of the universe, the reasonable conclusion would be to reject the story’s claim.

  16. typo? never make a mistake?

    I never said a person shouldn’t have medication. I value the contributions of medicine, but there are a lot of caveats there. I’m also a bit unimpressed (alarmed really) the more I see friends and loved ones go through the trial and error process and I stand as a witness on the sidelines to what happens in their lives. It’s never so easy as popping a pill or even just announcing that you’ll experiment with dosages or drug types. So far in my circle, I’ve seen more lives shattered on medicine than not. So at least in my sphere, prescribed medicine was expressly less effective than making other changes in their life.

    But the fact remains, each of us should be able to make our own decisions. And not be pressured one way or another.

  17. MikeInWeHo says:

    “Medification” !!! I love that!
    Anyway, thanks for helping illustrate my concern with your comment #11, c. I can point to some solid clues that their voices are due to a problem in the brain, but I can’t prove that conclusively. So yes, the voices could be demons. Humanity seems hard-wired to attribute the unexplainable to supernatural causes, with often poor outcomes.

    Accepting non-empirical “proof” to support any claim of noumenal reality is intrinsically problematic and will often lead to bad medicine, bad law, and yes bad religion. This is why I conclude that my spiritual experiences and beliefs are ultimately only personal.

  18. Mike,
    Also, the question to ask is whether said claims lead to harm. For some reason I am happier accepting a voice which led someone to devote their lives to the poor than a voice that told them to kill themselves.

  19. Attributing cognitive phenomena to ‘deamons’ or other ‘spirits’ does those with mental troubles a huge disservice. My career has exclusively been spent mental health centers and in special education. It is tragic when parents and clients choose to blame conditions on phantoms and seek out phantom treatments.

  20. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 18 Fair enough, Ronan.
    Psychosis in the pursuit of justice is no vice.

    Atheists assert that following the still, small voice leads to injustice much more often than not (war, racism, etc). Believers see just the opposite outcome (hospitals constructed, schools established, etc). So which is it? On average over time, do our inner voices lead humanity down a better path or toward destruction? I’m not sure, but these days I lean toward standing on the empirical.

  21. I like Mike’s last sentence. I would simply argue that truth is based on natural evidence. Religion has no say about, nor gives greater access to truth. In fact, religion can often hinder people’s acceptance of natural evidence. Prayer and scriptures can surely lead people to do good things. So can rolling a die. Therein lies the harm of having a very low standard of evidence for truth. I would argue that most incorrect conclusions arrived at through non-empirical means are harmless. But we can still work on eliminating unnecessary harm caused by adherence to irrationality.

    Here is an attempt to quantify such harm: http://whatstheharm.net/

  22. re 20: Well, Mike, it seems appropriate to answer in the words of Bad Religion:

    and from somewhere in our black,
    subconscious minds when we’re asleep,
    comes a haunting swelling mass of voices,
    resonating, its screams of forgotten victims and the cries of innocence,
    and the desperate plea for recognition and recompense

    tiny voices, echoes of our heritage,
    our long and sallow faces turn the other way,
    tiny voices, harbored deep within
    as we outwardly deny that they have something to say,
    and if we don’t confront them they will never go away (“Tiny Voices”, Stranger Than Fiction (Sony 1994).)

    Inner voices, tiny voices, it’s all the same. . . . BUT, even if the tiny voices deep within are haunting us with echoes of our heritage, please don’t forget that there is an inner logic and we’re taught to stay far from it:

    there is an inner logic,
    and we’re taught to stay far from it
    it is simple and elegant,
    but it’s cruel and antithetic
    and there’s no effort to reveal it (“Inner Logic”, Stranger Than Fiction (Sony 1994).)

    So there’s that.

  23. “Atheists assert that following the still, small voice leads to injustice much more often than not (war, racism, etc). ”
    I agree with your characterization of atheists because there is no denying that that IS the dominant voice in atheism. But I wish it weren’t. I think atheism could get us to war and racism, eugenics and hierarchies of supremacy just as easily as the “still, small voice.” I wish our rallying cry was more along the lines of “because we find no Truth in the Supernatural.” Not exactly a rousing paean but more honest, I think.
    Although what I DO find rousing, is hearing “medify,” spoken in the lovely cadence of the Rev Jesse Jackson, “You may seek to medify our voices but you can not silencify our voices!”

  24. Oh John. It could be I am just avoiding all of the work I have to do but I am having a really fun time rewriting Bad Religion lyrics for the YM. So far my favorite is “do what you must/say what you can/break all the freaking rules/and go to the Celestial Kingdom with Superman/yeah hey!”
    a close second is “I had a friend who kept a CTR ring in his pocket/he used to touch it when the wind was blowing high/I guess it made him feel like he could buck the System…”
    In the words of Morrissey, “stop me oh ho ho, stop me…”

  25. I truly never thought of doing that. I already thought the lyrics were perfectly fine for the YM. It’s just that so few actually liked that kind of music back then (when I was a young man).

  26. Sorry- did I sound condescending? I like to bowdlerize ALL music. I knew that I wanted to marry my (now) husband and adopt his son when I heard our then three year old singing, “I’m going back to Compton cuz I gots to get my scoot on…” Because the discerning father wants to teach his son the good doctor Dre, but steer clear of sticky topics like “looting,” right? Although, respectfully, I disagree with your assessment that any YM program on the planet would welcome Bad Religion.

  27. Wes Brown says:

    Since we’ve meandered into discussing the actual band, I think it is appropriate to point out that Greg Graffin just released a new book, Anarchy Evolution: Faith, Science, and Bad Religion in a World Without God. You’ve got to love a punk band that requires a thesarus for listening. NOFX was always more my type, though.

  28. I think they’d be better off welcoming Bad Religion than Dr. Dre.

  29. Wes, there’s interviews online with Greg Graffin about the work he did on his PhD — I think they also relate to what he has done in his book.

  30. It is also reasonable to believe that this reality can be experienced through non-empirical means.

    No, it is not. Experience is essentially an empirical category.

    If you have an example of a non-empirical experience, I would like to hear it. Take your stab at fame.

  31. Hellmut, our experiences may be empirical, but our interpretation of them is not. Humans are rather adept at ignoring facts and experiences that don’t agree with the models we create for the world around us. This is a story about why people don’t accept evidence-based medicine. Subjective experiences feel more truthful than evidence, even though we’re all very good at deceiving ourselves.

  32. jkimballcook says:

    “Whether [metaphysical claims] are true or not, mortals need to take responsibility for their actions and that requires rational reflection.”

    This was very well said. In other words, we can’t blame our choices on God.

    It is also, in my view, a very “Mormon” idea given the prominent place of free agency in our beliefs, and especially given the recently re-emphasized doctrine of “moral” agency, as opposed to “free” agency. See, e.g., Bednar.

  33. jkimballcook says:

    “our experiences may be empirical, but our interpretation of them is not.”

    Another way of saying this is that the sensory input we receive is empirical, but the way that we experience the empirical world is not, right?

    So “experience,” if it is defined as what we perceive, is only empirical and cannot be otherwise. But if it is defined to include not only what we perceive, but how we subjectively “experience” the things that we perceive, then it can include experience that is not empirical.

    It seems like this might be an argument over semantics more than substance. I could be wrong.

  34. Thank you, Kristine. I agree with you about interpretation but personal experiences rely on our senses and are therefore of an empirical nature.

    Any experience we have involves what we see, hear, feel, smell, or touch. That even applies to the products of our imagination such as dreams and visions.

    There is no such thing as an extra-empirical experience.

  35. Mormon theology, by the way, does not claim extra-empirical revelations either. The explanations about revelatory experience are empirical.

    Joseph Smith reportedly saw God and Jesus. He heard them. Smith felt pressured. All his senses were engaged.

    Even the explanations of the Holy Ghost are empirical. You feel the Holy Ghost.

  36. Capozaino says:

    I’m not sure I feel the Holy Ghost in the same way that I feel a piece of sandpaper. It seems to me that one of these is less capable of being verified through current means of observation and experimentation. Does it still qualify as empirical?

  37. Is it possible that getting wrapped up in mentally reaffirming the literal truth of abstract things like religious truth claims or personal spiritual experiences can crowd out opportunities (or even numb the ability) to experience and observe actual real life things through the senses you mentioned?

  38. Hellmut, I would agree with you if the human mind were a perfect recorder, but it’s not. We don’t remember things perfectly, even moments after things happen sometimes. Human memory is notoriously unreliable, and for that reason I don’t think we can call our experiences empirical. To me, empirical implies independently verifiable, which I don’t think describes human experiences.

    jkimballcook, I’d say it’s more than just a semantic argument–if people are fundamentally experiencing different things, even in identical settings, establishing truth is a nearly impossible task.

  39. I mean, can it mentally crowd out full interaction with the literal bona fide actual world? Could this get into the age old question of why many religious artists have difficulty producing great work? Can we get so busy constantly reassembling the mental pieces of our religious world that we don’t have the energy or perspective to reach sophisticated or novel conclusions about real life?

  40. Because we can currently empirically and reasonably research many things in the natural world, including religious claims, the accuracy of moral and historical claims can be determined.

    I would simply argue that truth is based on natural evidence.

    No, it is not. Experience is essentially an empirical category.

    It is interesting that so much reverence is given to empiricism when in reality empiricism requires no less faith than any religious belief.

    One of the main concepts of Quantum Mechanics (as I understand it) is that the very act of observing alters the outcome. — Looking at something (even an electron) causes it to act differently than it would if it were not observed.

    Then there’s the idea of solipsism – that noone can prove that anything exists outside of their own mind. I cannot definitively prove that any of you (or this blog, or my hands typing – exist) It might all be a creation of my mind – whatever that is.

    So empiricism requires a faith in two things 1) that anything actually exists and 2) humanity’s ability to correctly draw conclusions based on observation and data. That the data and observations are “natural” and not altered by the act of observation.

    I.E. “science” (who or whatever that is . . . ) is no more capable of defining “truth” than religion, without a measure of undue trust.

  41. No, Kristina, verification is not a property of empirical observation. Verification involves logic and inference, which are rational, not empirical, categories.

    You also do not need to have a perfect record to have an empirical experience. Recording is a bureaucratic procedure that adds a lot of value but it has nothing to do with the observation itself.

    In the context of western philosophy, empirical means that you can see, touch, hear, smell, or taste something. If you are thinking about anything beyond the five senses, you need to look for another concept.

  42. I’m not sure I feel the Holy Ghost in the same way that I feel a piece of sandpaper. It seems to me that one of these is less capable of being verified through current means of observation and experimentation. Does it still qualify as empirical?

    What qualifies as empirical, Capozaino, is the burning in the bosom, for example. Calling it the Holy Ghost is an attribution.

    But those who claim to feel the Holy Ghost refer to an empirical experience.

  43. So empiricism requires a faith in two things 1) that anything actually exists and 2) humanity’s ability to correctly draw conclusions based on observation and data.

    I like that remark. You are right that we cannot prove the existence of anything beyond our own mind.

    Pascal’s wager applies. If the world does not exist, it makes no difference what we believe and do. If the world exists, our actions make a lot of difference. Therefore, we must act as if the world exists.

    It’s the safe bet.

    You are wrong about needing faith that human can correctly draw conclusions. That is a matter of logic, which empowers to proof whether our conclusions are correct.

    Unfortunately, logic itself hangs in the air. Gottlieb Frege tried to prove that logic is a self-contained system but ultimately failed, which shook rationalism to the core of its foundations and resulted in the mathematical methodology dispute between Bertrand Russell and L.E.J. Brewer.

  44. What would someone call the “burning of the bosom” if they didn’t attribute it to the Holy Ghost? How does an atheist describe that sense of affirmation that comes over a person that they’re doing the right thing? Is it a function of Good Religion to give it a name and an identity?

  45. Capozaino says:

    Based on the 40., bad religion claims to have the truth, while good religion recognizes that it has truthiness. I hope that filters through to the next fast meeting: “I know the church is truthy.”

  46. “I know that the Church is True, and that it is getting Truer all the time.”

  47. Mommie Dearest says:

    This is not the day when I can wrap my brain around everybody’s version of their truth presented here. The one thought which keeps rising to the surface of the soup in my mind is that, in the temple, there is a distinction made between religion and God. Which I find to be both truthy and true.

  48. Wes Brown says:

    I think this discussion has been really good and can’t wait for Ronan’s next installment. Defining truth or reality is a rare topic in a church where the lyrics of ‘Oh Say, What is Truth?’ provide little insight and people usually accept the phrase of, “I know it’s true” as the final word.
    It is important to note that any philosophy accepts certain premises. This doesn’t mean that all methods are equal in discerning realities in the universe. Religions are notorious for failing to accept reality. This is highlighted by people of any faith rejecting 99% of the other faiths. Mormons are atheistic toward the thousands of other gods in the world. Yet everyone’s criteria for accepting other gods (feelings, scriptures, authority) are essentially the same. Any adherence to dogma, whether religions or not can be harmful to people as it rejects any new relevant information.
    While the harms of this type of behavior should be discussed more, I don’t think the majority of atheists worry too much about religions hurting the world. They don’t accept gods or religion because they think it is superfluous. There is no moral action that requires a person to be religious. Think of the thousands of gods in the world. Mormons are not usually mad at them, nor do they care enough to logically disagree with them. They simply consider them irrelevant, unnecessary, and ultimately not even there.

  49. Wes, Some of the athiests I know are focused on how bad religion is..how much damage it ahs done, how awful it is…in a Dawkins like fixation. The others used to feel that way and either stopped talking about it as much or no longer feel that way.

    All of these people used to be Mormon and IMO there is a mourning process when you leave the church. Part of mourning is anger…and since everyone mourns differently, some people camp out in the anger phase. Some people build a summer home there and move right in for keeps. I hope most of those I know will move on..but right now they seem intent on magnifying any negative thing about any religion.

    The people who have moved on are really more agnostic now. They don’t care..they are too busy living their wonderful lives.

  50. Ronan, I am afraid that you misunderstand noumenon. Noumenal is not an alternative to empirical.

    Noumenal refers to the “thing itself,” which exists nonetheless beyond the limits of our observation.

    For example, a rabbit is a thing itself. Our senses capture aspects of the rabbit but can merely create a representation of the rabbit, not the thing itself.

    Our senses cannot capture the rabbit itself. They can only capture it as a phenomenon, not the noumenon as it really exists regardless of our observation.

    In other words, rather than being alternative experiences, one empirical, the other noumenal, our experience always falls short of capturing the thing itself, be it God or the rabbit.

    The distinction between empirically observable phenomenon and noumenon is about the limits of our experience, not alternative ways to truth.

  51. Wes Brown says:

    britt,
    Sure, some atheists are very actively involved in rooting out what they see as a negative aspect of society. This doesn’t have to be motivated by, nor result in anger. My experience with those without faith has led me to dismiss the caricature of the Angry Atheist. People that research and discuss these topics should be commended for their efforts, regardless of religious affiliation. I don’t think Mormon proselytizing is done out of anger at the rest of the world. I also think most people promoting humanism and naturalism do it out of concern for individuals and society. Your last sentence implies that people who are active in these worldviews do not live wonderful lives and that caring less makes one happier. You make it sound like moving from a position of positive atheism to apathetic agnosticism is a progressive step forward. This is simply untrue for many people. Cognitive dissonance and change in social structure is hard for most people at first, but the process can also be very rewarding and enriching.

  52. [I apologise to Hellmut for my snarky, unprofessional comment.]

  53. You are wrong about needing faith that human can correctly draw conclusions. That is a matter of logic, which empowers to proof whether our conclusions are correct.

    I’m not questioning our ability to draw conclusions (or implying that one needs faith in our ability to draw conclusions) I was questioning our ability to observe something and infer that what we are observing is the natural state of that thing. That if unobserved the thing would act the same way.

    Pascal’s wager applies. If the world does not exist, it makes no difference what we believe and do. If the world exists, our actions make a lot of difference. Therefore, we must act as if the world exists.

    Absolutely.

  54. <There is no moral action that requires a person to be religious.

    Without a doubt. Thats because morality and religiosity are two different paradigms. Kirkegaard points out the difference in a very descriptive manner when he talks about the sacrifice of Isaac. Isaac’s sacrifice – or Abraham’s willingness to do so – was not a moral choice. In a morality worldview it would have been reprehensible. Yet we are still taught to see his faith as a good religious choice. We often want to judge religious decisions according to moral statutes, but it can’t necessarily be done.

    Of course I think this brings us right back to the Good v. Bad Religion discussion. I think the discussion itself is meant to judge religion according to a moral worldview. Thats not to say its not a valuable discussion, but in the end I don’t know that morality can capture God’s mind; since morality’s claims begin and end with birth and death.

  55. Wes,
    My last sentance is meant sincerely…when I said they stop caring adn live wonderful lives…I do mean their lives are wonderful. I mean they stop focusing on mormonism.

    When I say anger I really mean it. One bil, after leaving the church and becoming athiest sent multiple emails to only the nieces and nephews with anti mormon literature. He sent book after book to one sil who eventually left the church, her husband and son (yes there were other problems there). None of the books were about how great athiesm is, or science or anything like that. (I like those kinds of books). They were antimormon-old school.

    Another young man I know (and a group fo friends of his) are all ex mormon. He frequently posts on facebook links to awful religious people, sensational mormon “facts” , out of context BY quotes (which crack me up because if you leave them IN context they are bad enough!), calling my testimony (even though I haven’t really said much to him in that way since my mission) BS. He has admited he has a lot of anger toward the church (as has bil above and another sil-who dealt with it more subtlly).

    I’m not in any way saying ALL athiests are angry.

    I am saying that IMO those who have left the church go through mourning. Anger is a part of mourning. For some people it is a longer and stronger part of mourning.

  56. B.Russ,
    Great clarification. The muddy part of the discussion is where the theoretical tire meets the human road. Most people justify their morals through religious beliefs and uphold their religion by citing moral aspects of it. It is hard to distinguish the two during discussion and often results in one person doing an end-run around logic with an appeal to the ignorance of God’s ways.

  57. Just wanted to say that I thoroughly enjoyed this thread and the comments.

    I find myself in the “MikeInWeHo” and “Wes Brown” camp. It’s clear to me there are aspect of Bad Religion in the current church. I applaud, however, when incremental improvements lead us toward fixing those things. Personally, I think Pres. Uchtdorf does the most in this regard.

  58. What would someone call the “burning of the bosom” if they didn’t attribute it to the Holy Ghost? How does an atheist describe that sense of affirmation that comes over a person that they’re doing the right thing?

    Some psychologists are studying it under the name “elevation”. If you search for “emotion elevation”, you can find some interesting research about what triggers this feeling. Jonathan Haidt suggests that the feeling of elevation is the opposite of disgust.

    So, as you can see, there’s no discomfort in accommodating the “burning in the bosom” feeling within the framework of naturalism. It has even become the subject of scientific research.

  59. One bil, after leaving the church and becoming athiest sent multiple emails to only the nieces and nephews with anti mormon literature. blah, blah, blah…

    That proves absolutely nothing. I can also show you a long list of no-longer-believing folks who have received hate mail, shunning, and other nastiness from LDS family members. You might be tempted to jump to the conclusion that Mormon proselyting is motivated by hate and anger at the rest of the world, but (like Wes @51) I wouldn’t jump to such an assumption. Please show others the same courtesy.

  60. A discussion about Hellmut’s status at BCC, and my evident pettiness, has been enjoined at Main Street Plaza. Readers are invited to join that particular conversation over there. All I will say here is that I am dismayed that people, especially people who know me and claim to be my friends, would believe I would ban someone for disagreeing with me. Hellmut’s status here — and I have defended him behind the scenes for years — has nothing to do with Kant.

    http://latterdaymainstreet.com/2010/12/02/making-opponents-case/

    As to the discussion about Kant.

    This series of posts is a review of Peter Vardy’s Good and Bad Religion. At this stage, I am just attempting a summary of the book. My own personal views will follow.

    The discussion on this thread seems to have concentrated on the epistemology of truth. That is a little strange, as the point of Vardy’s argument is that “truth” has little or nothing to do with “good” or “bad” religion. But as I have been accused of not understanding Kant, I will attempt another summary of Vardy’s argument on p.22 of his book.

    I said:

    “On occasion, Vardy argues, the noumenal can make itself known to us through something other than the normal senses, perhaps through aesthetic experience. This is a perfectly reasonable thing to believe.”

    The complaint is that the aesthetic experience is only made known to us through the senses and thus the above statement is not accurate. This is a fair criticism and Hellmut is right to point it out. Precision is important, so I’ll have another go.

    Vardy says that Kant claims the noumenal world “cannot be accessed by human beings because they can never escape their own limited perspective and must remain subjective observers.” However, we can come close to understanding noumenal truth through “aesthetic experience…beyond the limitations of human reason and science.” Vardy says that if we accept this point, “it is illegitimate” to claim that reason alone, tested empirically, is the only way to measure truth claims. “Not everyone will accept this,” he states.

    That, I believe to be a fair summary of Vardy’s summary of Kant. It is more accurately expressed than the original; further complaints, I think, should be directed to Vardy, and not to me. I have not expressed my feelings on the matter.

    And anyway, to go back to a previous point, this is all rather irrelevant to the book. Hellmut claims we are giddily promoting subjective truth claims. I am doing no such thing — I am saying that Vardy is saying that truth has no bearing on goodness. This is all a massive threadjack.

  61. Thanks for the info Jonathan, that was a sincere question so I appreciate the answer. Its a thoroughly Mormon belief that what we call the Spirit is a universal experience identified in various ways depending on an individual’s cultural background.

    Whatever the purpose or source that feeling, its manifestation can serve as an important link to an individual’s deepest moral compass – an accumulation of their observations about what is good in a way that is very difficult to put into words.

    Whether that is a purely self contained system that happens for each person independently, or is – in addition – also a connection to a greater spiritual truth is very interesting to me.

    Anyway, I feel like (perhaps a bit ignorantly – much of the discussion here is very humbling in its informed sophistication and fascinating to me for that reason) one of religions great contributions to my life has been the vocabulary it gives me to identify such experiences, allowing them to be discussed and explored.

    That feels a mark of what I would call Good Religion, however ignorant I may be in wading into this discussion!

    Its a privilege to come hear and read your fascinating observations and informed thoughts, thanks for existing people.

  62. Capozaino says:

    60., thanks for the clarification and sorry for the threadjack.

    I suppose that if “good” is limited to earthly benefit, Vardy is probably right that truth has no bearing on goodness. You can believe all the lies you want to believe and still be a net benefit. I’m not sure that actively trying to convince other people to believe in the same lies necessarily harms them, as long as you are earnest in your own belief.

    But, if “good” includes things like salvation and exaltation, then truth seems desirable, at least. Teaching the correct prerequisites to attain salvation and exaltation (i.e., truth) may not be necessary to be good religion, but probably are necessary to be the best religion.

  63. Micah, I think that a religious vocabulary is a double-edged sword.

    On the one hand, it helps us to conceptualize our awe or wonder inspiring experiences. A religious vocabulary can help us make sense of our experiences and benefit from the wealth of thought and practice that is stored in our religious heritage. These experiences are essentially human, and human beings have been wrestling with them for as long as we’ve been human. That’s Good Religion.

    On the other hand, our religious vocabulary comes with a lot of baggage that often prevents us from experiencing wonder or awe without blinding filters and constricting conceptual frameworks. Our religious heritage can give us the illusion that we understand and prevent us from thinking and feeling and wrestling for ourselves. That’s Bad Religion.

    For example, naming an experience the “Holy Spirit” guides us to think and feel about the experience a certain way. This may be help us to relate to our experience, or it may be a traditions-of-their-fathers idea that stultifies us. The phrase “Holy Spirit” prevent us from getting closer to the thing-in-itself.

    As I understand and use the terms, the “Holy Spirit” is a noumenon, a mental object, which stands in opposition to the phenomenon, the sensations presented by the thing-in-itself. (I believe Kant used these terms differently.)

  64. Its possible that the steps toward a total literal understanding of the resource that the Holy Spirit connects us to are so numerous that removing the awe implied in religious vocabulary – and replacing it with more clinical terms like “elevation” might move us incrementally closer to understanding the underlying processes of the physical experience / sensations behind that feeling, while at the same time losing the point of the potentially instructive feelings themselves. So, you could end up knowing a tiny bit more about the sensation and in the process set yourself back thousands of years worth of collective human pondering and wisdom as to the purpose of feeling at all.

    A philosophical and religious shorthand is useful in one sense, for introspection and beauty. A more detached and value – free vocabulary is important for reaching a physical understanding of concrete processes.

    But is a detached, value free vocabulary useful in understanding beauty?

    I guess it is if you’re specifically looking at the physical process invoked by perceiving something as beautiful.

  65. I’m actually not advocating for a value-free, technical vocabulary. Poetry and myth have their place. If anything, I’m advocating for tossing out vocabularies altogether, at least occasionally.

  66. Shorthand certainly has its limitations. Especially if it leads to a lack of investigation, or misplaced assumptions about what others mean when they use similar (or differing) language.

    Thanks for the insight, its probably a good idea to step back and discuss the more specific components of even hard to pin down emotions or concepts, because the person I’m talking to might very well volunteer different answers than mine while in response to the same sacred crossword puzzle.

    Anyway, I got alot out this thread – even if it did drift off the specifics of its beginning. I’m probably repeating the beginnings of conversations other people here had along time ago, which is a danger whenever you show up late to a party. I can’t help it though, because I really really like the tone of BCC.

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