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Bernard Marx On November - 22 - 2009


Any good debate begins with a provocation, and here’s mine. It is a matter of utmost urgency that we destroy all of the current religions. Break them down, once and for all. Beat them until they are as insignificant as the ancient Norse gods are today.

Now bear with me here, because I’m not about to retread the ground already so well trodden by Hitchens et al. No, I want to consider the issue from a different perspective.

Perhaps, I should pause here to point out that I am not anti-spiritual. I am not an ardent rationalist. My experiences of transcendence (a sheer awe at the unknown and a feeling that I am part of something much larger than myself but can never fully comprehend) and my encounters with the sublime (in nature and art for example), sometimes leave me breathless – unable to fathom how, HOW this is all possible (if indeed it is). But anyway, I digress.

So what about religion? Well, my starting point is this. They have no metaphysical truth. They are clearly attempts by humans to make sense of the world around them, to cope with the dreadful knowledge that we all must die, and to try to establish a social system whereby we act according to some agreed upon norms and codes of behaviour. If you don’t agree with me then you might want to consider stopping here because this is my unshakable premise.

For many years these religions have served a purpose. For some it has been a source of comfort and created a bond that has strengthened community and clarified social obligations. For others it has been a source of brute political force, the life-blood of kings and tyrants. For others still, it has been a vestibule to the numinous and the mystical. But the religions have had their moment. It is now time they were destroyed.

All the major religions were created in a different world. Theirs was an infinite world; a world that bears no resemblance to the finite blue sphere upon which we all etch out our lives today. This is the problem. The gods, the codes of conduct, the moral precepts of the religions represent those times, not ours. We need new codes of conduct, we need new moral precepts and yes, we need a new god.

One of the primary fears expounded by religious apologists is that if we break down the religions what will we be left with? A world of pure rationalism? A world devoid of meaning and morality? I argue no. Spirituality, the power from which all religion draws its strength, is innate in us. We cannot help but feel it (some more than others). Unfortunately the religions have monopolised this feeling. They have captured it and distorted it so that we too often now think through prisms from the ancient world. Now is time to break down the religions so that our spirituality can be released. So it can fly free and attach itself to a new world. What will this bring?

I cannot say, but I can introduce you to my God. Try, if you will, to imagine a world in which this god reigns supreme. My God is a little blue planet, one among an incomprehensible number of other planets. Slowly yet inexorably it makes its journey around a sun – also just one among an incomprehensible number of others. This is a god I can see, I can feel, I can smell, I can touch, I can taste. The numinous radiates from its every surface, from the peaks of its mountains to the depths of its oceans. On it I find all that I need for life. It is the creator, the nurturer and the destroyer. It gives us birth and it WILL give us death. But in the intervening period, we can come to learn that we are part of something much larger than ourselves. We are part of a community of life, a sub-community of humans. But most of all we are part of our God.

What would the world be like if this was our god?

Any thoughts are welcomed.

Categories: Philosophy & Religion

252 Responses so far.

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  1. Beachchick says:

    I steer clear of the atheist v theist debates. Theism can’t be argued rationally. The atheist will win every time.

    With that said, strong atheists can be as dogmatic and hostile as fundamentalists. Frankly, I understand the hostility; fundamentalists have turned me off all religion, but I think it is important to remember that not every theist is a cruel bigoted freak.

    • Khirad says:

      Summed it up the most succinctly I’ve seen it done in a while.

      Me, I’m usually tempted to drone on. But, it can suffice to be left at that.

    • KQuark says:

      I think of it the same way and call it the arrogance of certainty. Anyone who is certain they are “right” in their beliefs scares me to death because they are the ones who justify bad acts based on their self righteous attitudes.

      • KevenSeven says:

        Wow, has this thread still got any life?

        I object to people telling me that they know the mind of God. As if that were possible. Oh, excuse me, I’m a humble Christian on a mission from God, oh, and I’m here to tell you how to run your life.

        I like Dawkin’s attitude: Science can tell us what the world is. And we can use philosophy to discuss how we conduct our lives. Not really terribly complex.

      • Bernard Marx says:

        Yep, I totally agree with the “arrogance of certainty” idea. That’s one of things that scares me about religion, but it can apply equally to any belief system.

  2. Mogamboguru says:

    REM -- Losing my religion:

  3. FeloniousMonk says:

    24 November 2009
    On Topic Cartoon

    ” title=”Cagle.com” rel=”nofollow”>Email this Cartoon
  4. FeloniousMonk says:

    OK, You want the truth? We’re all the artificial virtual creations of a self created AI program. Now deal with that one with your Gods and Science and figure out where reality is. I, personally, am an errant piece of code whose sole purpose is to tickle other code into action.

    • choicelady says:

      Hi Felonious -- I imagine you’re right! No matter how much we, even those of us in the faith world, would LOVE to have a Guiding Hand, we are products of evolution, cells, and maybe microchips. The best part though is that all of coalesced into sentient beings that can reach beyond self. That “tickling other codes into action” is consciousness and thus morality. Or, in the case of C Street and their ilk, not.

      We have choices, and we have the capacity to think beyond self for the greater good. God is probably that awareness of self and others -- the transcendent moment when we connect for something that moves the species along in positive ways.

      Reality can be small or huge. That’s also a choice we can make. I live better when it’s huge -- when I know I share the code (or microchip or whatever) with others who deserve what I deserve. That Golden Rule thing is simply no more or less than that.

  5. AdLib says:

    What seems totally bewildering to me is that discussing politics or religion might lead to conflicts.

    Now if we were debating “Cats or Dogs, which is better?” I could understand but things as fluffy as politics and religion? Oh well, you learn new things every day.

    K7 and Kalima, I think you’ve both made your points with each other. Personalization on disagreements is a debate that has no winners…let’s move on past that.


    • KevenSeven says:

      I still say: cats.

      Actually, if one examines this thread, one finds a lot of people seem to see indictments of organizations (churches) with an attack on their personal beliefs.

      I’m a Democrat and a liberal. My party fucks me over on a regular basis. I’m OK with people criticizing my party when my party is wrong on something.

      It is attacks on my liberalism that I don’t stand for.

      • KQuark says:

        You don’t respect their beliefs which is obvious from your moral certitude. Even science has shown that anything is possible and takes no sides in the supreme being argument.

        Nellie was correct. Just because Atheism is the belief in no God does not mean it’s not a dogma unto itself. It’s just the null belief system. I mean some Atheists are organized, have ministers and churches in this country so it’s even an organized religion to spread the word.

        It’s like saying Anarchism is not a political philosophy.

        Of course an Atheist can do any moral act a religious person could. That’s not a profound statement that a truism most reasonable adults come to on their own. However, Hitchens has proved the opposite of the corollary you put forth before, you can be an Atheist and still rationalize BAD ACTS as well like justifying the Iraq War. Just because he used anti-religion as part of his justification is no reason to think he was rationalizing a bad act based on his belief system.

        • KevenSeven says:

          Oh, bull.

          I don’t respect people’s beliefs?

          Where do you get off?

          What I don not respect is people telling me that God wants me to do this or not do that.

          What I do not respect is the willingness of people who claim religious faith telling me that I have no morals for being an atheist.

          I do not respect these people telling me that they have the right to restrict the way I or other free-born Americans live? I will not have people tell me that they know the mind of God and that I should do this or not do that.

          How do you feel about all these people of faith denying same sex marriage? Do you “respect” their right to impose their ignorant bigotry on their fellow citizens?

          While we are chatting, do you “respect” the wish of the extreme Zionist to create a Greater Israel, at the cost of the local Palestinians? God told them they should do that, after all.

          Or do you “respect” the aspirations of Islamic extremists to re-create the Caliphate? I better go visit Spain, before you “respect” it over to the Islamists who want a Caliphate.

          C’mon. In for a penny, in for a pound.

          Your final paragraph is gibberish. First, Hitchens never suggested for a minute that atheists were incapable of evil. I don’t know from where you get the idea that he said otherwise.

          There are morally acceptable arguments to justify our invasion of Iraq. They are just insufficient. Saddam was indeed a threat to the US. There are countless threats to the US. The question is: does the threat rise to the level of the action that we took? I emphatically say no. And Hitchens’ arguments on this are first on my list of my complaints with him. He is not my brother, I will not have you demand that I justify his every utterance.

          • KQuark says:

            Classic. I love how you are willing to bend your morals now to justify the war in Iraq. Utter rationalization just to defend your post and Hitchens.

            “Saddam was indeed a threat to the US.” LOL ROFL Something that could have come from the mouth of Dick Cheney himself. He was a contained threat and no threat to the US. He had no WMD, was not planning an attack against the US and had control of the militants in his country. Completely different than the Afghan situation for example.

            I don’t recall anyone here saying you had no morals or say you can’t believe what you want. Get off the cross.

    • KevenSeven says:


      You got mail.

  6. KevenSeven says:

    This is an interesting debate that just went down in England:


    It is in five parts. It can be frustrating to find them in the right sequence.

    Two Atheist, Stephen Fry (actor) and Christopher Hitchens (polemicist) up against two Catholics. It is amazing how poorly the two Catholics hold up, especially as one of them is a politician of some rank.

    • kesmarn says:

      With all due respect, I think it was the atheists who held up rather poorly in this debate. To resort to the tired old argument of hauling out a laundry list of “bad things” the Church is responsible for is rather weak. After all, it could just as validly be argued that England itself should be abolished, since it participated in the slave trade, treated women badly, tortured its citizens, had corrupt leadership, etc., etc. The only difference being that England has never apologized for anything.

      But the bigger point is that there are parts of the human psyche that include the rational mind, but go beyond it as well. Religion (in its healthy forms) takes in rationality and that part of the human spirit that can only be called mystical. Otherwise, it would be inaccessible to those very essential citizens known as “children and fools”!
      And if we don’t include children and fools in our lives, we’re all the poorer for it! :o)

      • KevenSeven says:

        I assure you that Hitchens has only contempt for the CofE. And I think that goes for Fry as well.

        This was a debate. The question was posed. It would have been stupid and off topic to discuss the other religions.

        I disagree utterly that it is weak to remind the Church of all the crimes it committed in the past, and I think you’re falling into exactly the same hole the MP did. You say and she said “don’t blame the Church for doing evil things like torturing Jews and promoting the slave trade and supporting Fascism in Europe, they were only existing in their time”.

        To which Stephen Fry demands “Then what are you for???”

        Most religions, but the Catholic Church in particular(in which I was indoctrinated) claim to a moral authority. The Catholic Church claims to have the final word from God. The Pope is infallible. How is that not horseshit if the Catholic Church was rabidly anti-semetic, on an official level, until 1964?

        No. Your point is bogus. The fact that the Church has a long and storied history of horrific crimes, including the very recent protection of rapists in their ranks, including the assertion by Mr. Ratzinger that the use of condoms in Africa is morally wrong, just a sin against God, the fact that the Pole made a saint of a man who tortured people to death for the crime of owning a bible in English, is a severe indictment.

        If the Church does not know that torture and slavery are wrong, regardless of when they did not know this, then what freaking good are they? Why should anyone give a good goddam what they say today with such a wretched track record?

        • kesmarn says:

          Keven, you misread my comment. I didn’t say “Church of England.” I said “England.” As in the State. If you re-read my remarks in that light, they will seem less “stupid.”

          What I’m saying is that governments have also committed atrocities against humanity, yet we seldom argue against any form of government anywhere, the way we (some of us) do against religion. There are governments that are better and some that are worse. Same with religions. We’re all imperfect humans. To use the overworked phrase: “It’s better not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
          And I guess I will let this be the last word I have to say on this, as the reality of having to go out and buy all that stuff for Thanksgiving dinner rolls in upon me! Now…hmmm…the question is: whom to thank…. ? Just kidding!

          • KevenSeven says:

            Oh, and you mis-read my comment. I did not say that yours was stupid, I said that it would have been stupid to bring the CofE into the debate under discussion.

            And it is a fallacy to bring in governments to compare to religion. That is why it is a REALLY good idea to separate church and state.

            • kesmarn says:

              I can safely say we agree on two things, at least: it IS a really good idea to separate church and state.

              And cats rule.

              As for comparing government to religion, we’ll save that for another day. My feeling is that it’s totally fair, since they’re both man made. Faith is not man made; but religion is.

            • kesmarn says:

              Ah…our concept of God is where we really differ. The guy you describe is a cartoon. The Being that inspires faith in believers is a whole different entity.

            • KevenSeven says:

              That is three things we agree on: That religion is man made.

              Frankly, I am pretty sure that God is man made as well.

              Now for the fourth thing we can agree on: That Man (or Woman) needs some sort of faith.

              But why have faith in some naked bearded fat dude up in the sky?

          • KevenSeven says:

            Ah, fair point, I was rushing thru. My bad.

            But it is an invalid comparison. Truly. The Germany of today is not responsible for the holocaust. That was the Germany of half a century ago. The Germans have acknowledged their crimes and teach the children of the shame of it. Better than America handles the genocide of the Natives or slavery, I would say. Governments come and go.

            The Church (cue ponderous music) is eternal. It is forever and infallible.

            And we do nothing BUT argue against forms of government, have you been in a cave the last whatever number of years?

            Communism, socialism, dictatorship, fascism, NAZIsm, totalitarianism, cleptocracies, autocracies, plutocracy (to go back a few millennia); we have debated the extent of human freedom and social responsibilities for a few centuries or so.

            And the debate I cited was not that the Church should be abolished.

            The debate was “Resolved: The Catholic Church is a force for good in the world.” I think the pro side did not acquit themselves at all well, and considering the way the vote moved from the start of the debate to the end of the debate, I cannot see how that can be challenged.

            What ya cooking?

            • kesmarn says:

              Oops. I forgot to add that I meant to clarify my awkwardly worded comment, namely: “we seldom argue against any form of government anywhere.” What that was supposed to mean was that people seldom make the statement: “It would be better if no government existed in any place.” Whereas there are a number who would be fine with saying: “It would be better if no religion existed in any place.” Which seems odd to me since both are human inventions (I mean the formal thing known as “religion”, not faith in God) and are equally frail.

              So, even though my cave has a wonderful internet connection, I do occasionally venture forth to take note of the fact that, yes, people do criticise governments all the time. But 99% of the time with the notion of switching them to a different form of government. There are very few pure, genuine anarchists running around any more.

            • kesmarn says:

              Hah! I’ve had that feeling myself, on occasion.

            • KevenSeven says:

              More’s the pity, about the anarchists, that is.

            • kesmarn says:

              Heh! Every time I resolve that I’ve said the last word, somehow one more word comes forth!
              I might just add, though, that the Catholic Church of today is not the Catholic Church of the Inquisition, or even the more recent child abuse scandals. Just as the Germany of today is not the Germany of yesterday.
              As for what I’m cookin’ (a much jollier topic), here goes: of course, the obligatory turkey (stuffing will include wild rice, mushrooms, currants, pecans, celery, onion and seasoned bread cubes), potatoes (plebian, mashed, what can I say? I love them), cranberry sauce (made with real cranberries…not canned) green beans almondine, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie (with from scratch crust and my own combo of ginger/clove/cinnamon/nutmeg in the filling) with real whipped cream and coffee that is a blend of Colombian and Costa Rican. Come on over. We’ll have Monsignor O’Hara do the blessing. Hahahahahaha. No. Seriously, we’ll do a wild Wiccan dance around the table before we dine.
              Or not……

            • Khirad says:

              Forgive my snark in the midst of a serious point, but it kinda does (though of course not with any real power):


            • KevenSeven says:

              Oh, and the Germany of today does not include a Nazi party.

              Just sayin’.

            • KevenSeven says:

              There is an American Cardinal at the Vatican that US police have been wanting to question for decades.

              He deliberately moved rapist priests from one parish to another, without telling anyone, naturally, that he was sending a preditor among them.

              He works for the Vatican, and the Vatican is not going to extradite him to the US.

              Plus the Church currently condemns the use of condoms in Africa. Today. In the middle of an AIDS epidemic. Condoms being a sin against god, after all. Better that people die of AIDS than use a condom.

              We are joining another family for dinner, and I am making beans with a balsmic finish, stuffing, much as you described, and a gravy from Julia Child. MMMMMMM. Many sticks of butter!

        • choicelady says:

          I think most of our member denominations (Protestant) have NO such lofty belief in their own moral superiority. Faith is a constant quest, a journey, not a destination. The one time I addressed a group using very evangelical language (thinking “Beam me out, Scotty!) it turned out the discussion was about advocating for GLBTQ equality! Oy!

          Faith is, or should be, the process of expanding one’s horizons, learning to be inclusive, checking your prejudices, moving toward greater compassion for all people and their travails and pain. I’ve lost the thread of who said this above, but I do agree -- and that’s where our members are. Faith as a quest. Life as a search for moral good for ALL people, not just one’s own, narrow self.

          Churches, old and new, that pretend to have all the answers largely don’t even know the questions. It all comes from fear -- we are lost in a world increasingly not in our control. Global capitalism strips so many of us of authority over our lives that it is NO surprise conservative religion comes in to fill that void. It offers certainty, even if that absolutism actually strips us of even more self-control. It’s security. And, from my observations, people who are “born again” do so because they NEED to be. Their own decisions have so often been bad that rules enhance their survival. For those of us who don’t need this, it seems so childish and wrong, but think how many people screw up their lives. Rigid religion is the safe harbor from themselves and an uncertain world. It’s really sad -- until they start imposing their views on us. Then it’s another form of evil. Sigh.

          • KevenSeven says:

            All that is fine. I know of no one who objects to your finding fulfillment in faith.

            I know lots of people who object to efforts to teach creationism in public schools. And the intrusion of religion into the question of a woman’s control of her fertility. And the obnoxious and bullshit assertion that America is a “Judeao/Christian Nation”.

            I object to “Christians” telling me that God objects to same sex marriage. Tough shit. Let the gays explain it to God when they get there.

            I appreciate that you are what would losely be called a “liberal Christian”. Obviously I am not bitching at you.

    • nellie says:

      I recommend a BBC series called The Atheism Tapes. Some very interesting conversations with atheists from different fields by interviewer Jonathan Miller. Miller doesn’t hold up too well against the one religious guest he interviews — Denys Turner.

      More about the series here:

    • whatsthatsound says:

      Debates like this are pretty useless to me, because they tend to do the exact thing organized religion itself does: codify and generalize what can only be innate experiences of spirituality. The question “Is the Catholic Church a force for good?” would need to be considered in respect to the times that individuals turned to it as their bedrock in times of great distress or drew upon it to perform an act of charity or forgiveness. People who have had experiences such as these (my mother comes to mind) would have no problem answering the question for themselves, and yet they wouldn’t know where to begin in terms of countering indictments about the Inquisition, etc.
      Perhaps it would be better to ask Hitchens how his atheism has led him to be a better person, and have him debate a simple person like my mom, who would talk about how her faith has sustained her throughout her life. Such a debate would be more revealing than shows like this, that only serve to preach to the converted on either side.

      • KevenSeven says:

        1) the question is indeed about the “Church” and its dogmas. The fact that lots of nice people believe things and are nice is immaterial. I think your mother did not need a church and its dogmas to be a good person. I think it is innate in her.

        BTW, does your mother think homosexuality is morally wrong? How does she stand on abortion? Contraception? Does she agree with Mr Ratzinger that it is more morally wrong to use condoms to fight AIDs in Africa than to accept them as a necessity in that fight?

        2) tossing out charity as a defense means that you must defend Hamas and Hezbollah, as both of those organizations do enormous charitable work.

        3)Hitchens would very gently and politely demolish your mother in any debate. You can find him going up against a dozen or more real thinkers on the subject. He has toured for going on three years debating theologians. The finest minds in the business. Plus Al Sharpton. He does not flinch from the debate.

        Don’t get me wrong. Hitchens pisses the living hell out of me on many things. But not this, and not a great many other things.

        • whatsthatsound says:

          I think you have missed my point. If a “debate”, as it were, were to ever occur between Hitchens and my mom, I would hope that it would not be about who would “demolish” the other. Personally, I think we have had more than enough demolishment in this world.
          What I was getting at would be perhaps the opposite of a debate, but rather a meeting of minds. If my mother and Chris Hitchens were able to share ways in which their personal stands and beliefs have made them better people, then perhaps they could BOTH move past the need to generalize and diminish each other.
          Personally, I would be very interested to see Hitchens show his human side. He never smiles, he is always sarcastic, his body language and eye contact is almost always shifty and defensive. Has atheism ever warmed his heart? I’d like to know how. Maybe I would change my mind about both him and what he believes.

          And saying my mom would be the same without religion is completely inaccurate. She has lost both her husband and her son in tragic circumstances. She would have given up on life long ago without the belief that she will be rejoined with them in the afterlife. You may not believe in it, but she does, and that is part of what makes her what she is. What can atheism offer her? “The protoplasm specimens that were your husband and son are no longer electrically functioning and so communication with them is now impossible. Please contemplate the vastness of this universe and try to feel better.”?

          • KevenSeven says:

            Oh, Gebus. Why did I let you insert your mother into this debate?

            Your mother is a saint. OK? I think she is just wonderful.

            After she has published a dozen books and thousands of columns, and partook in thousands of debates and lectures, then perhaps we can compare them.

            Oh, Gebus, I want my kitty.

            • whatsthatsound says:

              hee hee!

              I’l be sure to tell her that KevenSeven has conferred sainthood upon her (as oxymoronic a distinction as ever was).

              And you get extra credit for not only missing, but being completely oblivious to my point!

            • KevenSeven says:

              Hey, I appreciate it.

              And I don’t think that Hitchens and Dawkins say that people are stupid or evil for believing.

              Remember: The anti-gay rights movement in this nation wraps itself in piety as an excuse for their hatred.

            • whatsthatsound says:

              No worries, K7. I wasn’t intending to debate anyone at first, just state an opinion. I understand your point, and was only intending to make the point that individual experiences of spirituality and faith tend to get overlooked amidst the kind of blanket statements of condemnation that people like Hitchens and Dawkins make. Those two, in particular, “cherry pick” information, which is precisely what they accuse theists of doing.

            • KevenSeven says:

              I really would prefer to not get these debates personal. I should not have gone ahead at the first when you brought your mother into the discussion. The only thing I could say is that your mum is a real nice person and move on. How could I maintain my side of the debate without looking like a monster in relation to your mum?

              And I am perfectly happy that you mum has faith. Honestly. Especially considering the trials she has been thru. I just don’t want people imposing their beliefs on me.

            • whatsthatsound says:

              Consider it dropped. I could have used anyone else, or a hypothetical person as an example. Perhaps that would have been the wiser choice. I’m still up for that if you are.

            • KevenSeven says:

              I am really very uncomfortable having a debate that features your mother. Really.

              I’d appreciate it if we could just drop it. Would that be OK?

          • KQuark says:

            Godspeed to your mom. She sounds like a wonderful lady.

            Perception is reality for many people of faith. I personally don’t need a traditional belief system even though I have been through more than most but I do need family and friends as support along with understanding a little about how I fit in the universe. It’s about attitude, if a person has faith when they discover they have cancer and they survive cancer I’m not going to deny the positive effect it had on their psyche. We already know that people who are motivated survive better than depressed people for example.

            I do believe arguing against organized religion and personal faith as much as we would like to separate them are forever intertwined.

            • whatsthatsound says:

              Thanks, KQ.
              From what I have seen from my time at RichardDawkins.net, the arguments do tend to be macrocosmic. Whenever someone interjects with a personal story, a “touched by God” story, it is diminished, perhaps ridiculed, and labeled as not meriting discussion because it doesn’t count as evidence. But then that leaves us with only half the story of religion, the bad half!
              Personally, I would like to see the human race move beyond all pyramidal structures, of which organized religion is only one example. But as long as they exist, we have to consider them both in terms of what they do on a large scale and how they serve individuals. For example, you could supplant religion with the automobile industry and say it has been a very bad thing for the environment. You could also point to the thousands of times that an automobile was the difference between life and death for someone rushing their child to the ER. We have to be like Jonie Mitchell and look at these things from “both sides now”.

            • Khirad says:

              Bernard Marx: exactly.

            • Bernard Marx says:

              All good observations. In many ways, this is my point -- many people are touched by ‘god’ (whatever that may be to them). This is not often a bad thing. BUT when this feeling of being touched by ‘god’ is channeled through organized religion it can easily become distorted -- so that a feeling that should be of no harm can become dangerous. Some of the most pious ‘religious’ people are guilty of the most heinous crimes because their spiritual feelings become tied to dogma and static, unyeilding belief systems. Liberating this feeling from the structures of religion may just be a good thing in my opinion.

    • Kalima says:

      The last word kev?

      I’m pleased to inform you that it didn’t sting one bit.

      • KevenSeven says:

        “Why do you need to think it is all about you?”


        You are not the only person reading this thread, and I cannot sting you because your mind is closed.

        • Kalima says:

          Ok kev, I have been accused of a lot of things during my lifetime but having a “closed mind” hasn’t been one of them, especially from a stranger.

          This conversation is now closed for me, it has become quite tiresome.

  7. KQuark says:

    BernardMarx cheers again. What wonderful thoughts and subject. One of the best parts of this thread is that we can discuss this subject as progressive and liberal minded folks without all the demagoguery, self righteous indignation or calls to orthodoxy that you would see from religious conservatives. Proof that the best belief systems are those that are open to the beliefs of others while freely expressing and maintaining our personal beliefs.


    • AuntieChrist says:

      Heh… Religionists.

      One would think that we’ve become used to the lunacy of their convictions and their callousness by now. They’re like the rarely seen buzzard in the Pogo comic strip of the 50’s and 60’s. In one such strip, on the day a small gathering of friends gathered together around a coffin to bid adieu to a friend, the buzzard approached from a distance and said, “I’d like to see something nice in a casket.”

      Much to the shock of Albert the alligator and everyone else.

      I’m kind of out of it… sorry…

      I forgot where I was going with my point.

      unless it’s been made.

      ever in and out of consciousness,

      Auntie Christ

      • Bernard Marx says:


      • KQuark says:

        Hey AC I knew you would have to chime in on this subject sooner or latter. :-)

        • AuntieChrist says:

          alas, if only…

          I feel as though I’d been beaten, abducted, beaten again, tossed into a car, thrown from the speeding automobile with the police in pursuit, and then run over by the pursuing police cars and rolled into a ditch.

          Then beaten again.

          At least I’m covered medically -- though it took such an event to almost kill me one time for the state to intervene on my behalf. I’m sorry that I can’t be chiming in as often as I would like, as I need to take frequent breaks from time to time -- sometimes without me even knowing. 😉

          • KQuark says:

            I literally can’t think of a witty retort. I just hope you feel better.

          • Kalima says:

            Sorry to hear this AC, feel better soon.

            I feel the beaten and beaten again, then hit by a speeding London double decker bus myself for the last 3 weeks and can sympathize in part with you.

            Please take care.

    • choicelady says:

      He really articulated something extraordinary and beautiful. Yes. Imagine.

      • KQuark says:

        One of the beauties of employing artistic expression to describe feelings and beliefs is because things like music go beyond words and enhances the human experience. Even though I’m not a classical religious person I still love the feeling I get from listening to some gospel music or music from other faiths. But I do prefer the songs that reference religion to induce thought like “Imagine” of course, “One of Us”, “Natural Blues” and “Losing My Religion” for example. However I do think using pop or rock music to express Christian beliefs is part of the indoctrination process especially for the young.

        • AlphaBitch says:

          Hi KQuark:

          Given your love of music, and given your health issues, one of the most moving, beautiful, yet “religous/spiritual” pieces I have ever heard is the Beth Nielsen Chapman version of “Be Still My Soul”, an old hymn. Beth suffered from the cancer bug herself, and word is that when she awakened at night, unable to sleep, she would sit and play this at the piano. I cannot hear it without tearing up and finding that way to quiet my own restless soul. It was recorded specifically for an album done by some friends, Hands Across the Water, to raise money for the tsunami victims in Banda Aceh. Try and find it, and let it speak to you. I have no idea who you are, don’t tune in long enough to learn where people live, but I do remember seeing something about your struggle and I am aware of the power of music to you. Hope you can find this, and hope it speaks to you as well. Accept no substitutes -- it’s a beautiful song, but there is something special in Beth’s voice, a need coming from within at the time. -- AB

        • whatsthatsound says:

          Dating myself here, but I’m a fan of “Jesus Christ Superstar”! I don’t like the movie, as I think the casting was pretty atrocious. But great songs, and a really unique approach.

          • KQuark says:

            I don’t want to date myself either but I saw it in a matinee on Broadway when I was in high school. It’s one of my favorite Broadway performances. The understudy who played Jesus was brilliant.

            I can’t believe at the tender age or 14-15 my cousin and I would just pop on the bus in NJ and crash the city that young. I saw about ten Broadway shows back then when the matinees were really cheap. Then we’d go in some Irish bar and get sloshed or worse. I can’t imagine a parent even letting their kids go in NYC alone now.

            • Kalima says:

              I always date myself, everyone else is just too busy. :)

            • PatsyT says:

              Jesus Christ Superstar
              was about a movement and a feeling
              I was there
              Not like the so called “movement” of today.
              I feel the serious Christans at the time were welcoming and positive.
              and today……..

            • whatsthatsound says:


          • Questinia says:

            So are the one of you getting serious?

            • whatsthatsound says:

              I’re considering living together. I’re considering that we(?) don’t have much choice about this.

            • Questinia says:

              Then you one can make all the goo goo cross-eyes you one want.

            • Kalima says:

              I’m beginning to feel like chopped “Leberwurst.”

    • Bernard Marx says:

      Thanks a lot. It’s been a great discussion and it’s really important that we can discuss all these difficult and heart-felt questions in a way that is neither conformist nor disrespectful.

      I agree with you 100% that the best belief systems are those that remain open to people of differing opinions and beliefs.


  8. Questinia says:

    Religion may have been human kind’s first stab at the sciences.

    Eschatological epistomology and epistomological eschatology.

    • nellie says:

      Excellent insight. An attempt to explain the world around us.

    • KQuark says:

      Nice to see your insightful contributions as always Q.

      At first religion was the only mechanism that answered questions any sentient being would ask.

      Why are we here?
      Where did we come from?
      What is my purpose?
      How do I fit in the universe?
      What happens to that caveman dude who was just killed by a lion?

      Science answers many of these questions better now but we obviously don’t know near enough answers as a species.

      • Bernard Marx says:

        No and I think it never will. But the mystery of life is fine by me, it keeps us searching for answers -- progressing.

      • Questinia says:

        Hiya KQ!

        Religion also structures our anxiety, our grief, our uncertainty, our confusion. All the attendant emotions to the things you’ve listed.

        • KevenSeven says:

          All that can be managed without a religious framework.

          And if that is all religion is for, then where does God fit in?

        • KQuark says:

          Exactamundo and that’s why when the Roman Catholic church literally had control of people’s thoughts and emotions in the early middle ages, Western Civ stalled.

    • choicelady says:

      I believe you are correct. Nice insight.

      But I have one question. Bernard -- what have you got against ancient Norse gods? You just never know when one might come in handy!

      • Bernard Marx says:

        :) Yes, I’d better be careful, Thor might strike me down with his hammer!

        • choicelady says:

          I hope NOT! But that is why contemporary faith is so much cooler -- waaaay fewer thumping old guys with hammers. Old beliefs are largely tribal emerging from tribal societies where dog-eat-dog was essential. You needed a Big Guy (hammer or whatever) on your side. Moving along with scientific understanding to come to a belief in the oneness of the universe and everyone IN it, makes a much more hopeful view of life and its meanings. Every now and then, of course, having the Big Guy with the hammer on your side is appealing, but that would just mean there was someone else with a different Big Guy and Big Hammer. It’s exhausting. That’s the problem with Bush, The “Family”, and all the furiously aggressive conservatives -- they’re still afraid to let Hammer Guy go. It bespeaks very little confidence in justice and goodness. Or much basic good sense, IMHO.

  9. whatsthatsound says:

    Here’s a great fantasy:
    All the heads of all the major religions come together in a forum and say, “Although our aim is to involve mankind in its spiritual nature, as humans we have often fallen short of this, often with tragic consequences that no God could love. We begin by proclaiming that EVERY time ANY one of our adherents has harmed another or restricted the rights of another or made war against or practiced exclusion against another, either our religion failed us or we failed our religion. No exceptions.”

    THAT might jump start the evolution of religion that some of us are considering on this post.

    • KQuark says:

      What an eloquent way to express a “golden rule” for religious organizations.

      • Questinia says:

        What is this little love fest you’re having there with wts?

        I may even be in the mood not to give you a headache :)

        • KQuark says:

          I got love enough for everyone.

          (no one read the line below except for Q)

          But you know you’re my favorite. 😉

          • Questinia says:

            And you’re the Kollider of my Quark!

            • KQuark says:

              😆 speaking of colliders they are starting the LHC back up for another try. But I’m sure you know this already.

            • PepeLepew says:

              My daughter *loves* the Large Hadron Collider. She’s fascinated with the “God particle.” The best quote I heard about the LHC was from a friend who said she thought it was “spooky.”

    • choicelady says:

      Whatsthatsound -- that is very much what the progressive faiths are working to do. I deal daily with leaders from all major religions (and, since we represent Swedenborgians, some minor ones) that are trying to do precisely that. The issue Bernard raises about declaring one another heretics is really the province of the religious conservatives, not the progressives. Most of the “mainstream” churches today embrace knowledge and insights, practices and rituals from across the spectrum. A friend, a Methodist minister, once said to a large audience that if you think of us, then the world, then the solar system, then the galaxy, the the universe -- it’s kinda hard to think God is a Methodist. Few clergy and laity today think they have the exclusive march on “truth”.

      There are rock-ribbed believers everywhere. Just look at the tin-foil-hat folks…and the guys who built the H-bomb. Rigidity is not confined to religion. NO one would call Dick Cheney religious. But he is a true believer in the superiority and right to hegemony of the US corporate elite (i.e., himself), so…

      • Suzanne525 says:

        In 2000, I went to the planetarium in NYC. After seeing the “known” universe, what stood out for me was the enormity (is that a word?) of the universe and that we couldn’t possibly be the only populated planet. “God” couldn’t have made just our little earth for special us.

        • FeloniousMonk says:

          Suzanne, it’s one of the great conceits of the western religious culture that we are the only place where God in all his glory would chose to create life. And if you tell them that if this is the best he can do then you have real questions about him, they get real puffy and loud.

      • AlphaBitch says:

        Sad truth being, Dick Cheney labeled himself as a Methodist. My husband and I went to the Conference and asked he be excommunicated. When they didn’t make him leave, WE did. I mainly left because my beloved, open minded and open hearted ministers left and we realized our hearts went with them. But I feel no further from God than when I started the journey. And as I said below, there are times I feel even closer than when I sat in a pew.

        Good on all of us. As the song “More Love” says, “Let’s lay down the weapons, that hold us apart; be still for just a minute, try to open our hearts -- to more love.”

      • whatsthatsound says:

        I agree. Most of the people I grew up with are progressive Catholics. They are helpers, not hurters. They volunteer, donate, etc, through programs my former parish has set up. Here in Tokyo, the churches allow AA and AlAnon meetings to congregate. Religion does GREAT things!

        But I would like to hold it to a higher standard than politics, technology, etc. Those things have other purposes. Religion has, ostensibly, one and one alone: to teach us to be better people. If it has a grade of say, B minus (I think I’m being generous) in that regard, then the need to pick up the slack is pretty obvious, I feel. Religion needs its own “Stimulus Package”.

        • Kalima says:

          I seem to come from this same background of RC’s. My grandparents, although devout in their religious beliefs shared with me their personal beliefs that we were all equal regardless of our religious beliefs or the colour of our skin. Growing up this shaped my own life after witnessing their kindness first hand as a child to people in our neighbourhood who were suffering, didn’t have enough to eat or couldn’t afford new clothes for their children.

          I remain grateful for their guidance in a time when there were not so many who felt the same and yet it was something as easy as breathing for them, something that they could do without thinking, they have a huge part of my heart.

    • Kalima says:

      I love your fantasy, I’ve always had one of my own about leaders of different countries. I suggest that before another country gets involved in or starts a war anywhere, they gather in a large place away from the general population, chose their weapon of choice and fight it out between themselves if they can’t reach a solution through diplomacy before sending our innocent men and women to far and remote places to be killed or maimed for a cause that has no merit in the real world.

    • Bernard Marx says:

      A great fantasy. The only problem is they’d probably be declared heretics by some of the more pious individuals

      • Questinia says:

        I agree. Part of religious ethnography is the tearing down of anything that may appear to be a departure from the ritualistically known.

  10. KevenSeven says:


    Your God grows my tomatoes and lettuce and fruit.

    Praise to your God!

    Keep them coming.

  11. KQuark says:

    While I know your proposition is rhetorical I would not be for destroying religion because I believe in free speech, the right to organize and I don’t believe in restricting anyone’s right to believe what they wish. But I do say we should take tax exempt status away from all parts of religion that are not directly associated with charity work or donations.

    • choicelady says:

      KQuark -- actually, the tax laws do what you recommend. Only those actions by a church or other faith/religious non-profits are exempt from taxes. Churches -- even those Megaliths by the Freeway -- have to pay tax on their “jazzercise” classes, etc. And like every other non-profit, they cannot indulge in partisan politics. They can, like every non-profit, engage in NON partisan activity up to 5% of their income, but after that, they’re supposed to create a NON-exempt separate advocacy organization or cease and desist from their advocacy actions.

      You may not be surprised to learn that only the progressive denominations seem to adhere to that standard. But it IS the law, and with this administration, it’s being much more carefully enforced for all faith groups, not just against those of us who are radical/progressive. We are very careful not to endorse candidates, to use a c-4 advocacy structure for our OWN advocacy, and to obey those laws. And -- we don’t even think we’re going to heaven because of it! Anyway, heaven and hell are most probably psychological experiences in one’s own life here on earth, not somewhere you go after death.

      We always sigh when some rabid, drooling RW preacher trots out some freaking verse to prove how he is holy and we’re cursed. If you recall the HuffPo piece on conservatives cutting out all the liberal Bible passages (an amazing article) it just proved my own point that the RW won’t be happy until the reduce the Bible to something you could mail on a postcard. And all of it would be about homosexuality and the absolutely non-existent passages about abortion. Makes life very simple when you’re simple minded, yes?

      So we continue the work of what is the time=honored social gospel. We have an obligation not just to care for the poor but to eradicate the need for that care. Justice goes waaay beyond charity (too many of us still stop there) to altering the world so charity is barely required.

      But real faith does not discriminate, hate, point fingers, isolate, and remove responsibility just ’cause you sit in pews. It is an immersion in bringing about a transfored world through our own efforts so that no one -- NO one -- goes without or is excluded. That’s the work I do on behalf of 6.5 MILLION members who belong to the denominations we serve by providing education on issues and whom I mobilize to stand for that justice. We have both a c-3 (donations are tax deductible) and c-4 (they aren’t) to do this work. So we’re right there with you!

      • KQuark says:

        I’m a little confused. For example, I thought all donations to the Catholic Church were tax exempt for contributors and for the church whether it goes to real charity or paying for a new religious trinket.

        • choicelady says:

          Essentially yes, but the church itself has to pay taxes on those activities NOT deemed in keeping with faith and charity. And even Catholic churches sometimes do -- though it’s more likely to be evangelicals who cross that line. The problem with their using c-3 money for advocacy is that 5% of the Catholic Church’s money is a LOT of money. They and the Mormons did nothing illegal in opposing marriage equality on the ballot (non-partisan, under 5%) -- but when we all call for them to be taxed, you automatically include the progressives in that sweep, and we have very LITTLE money. (Guilt generates a lot more income than justice advocacy. Always a tiny bit sorry we gave that up ages ago. “Vote for health care with a robust public option or you’re going to hell.” Has a nice ring to it. Too bad we don’t believe that. Sigh.)

          So all I’m saying is that the laws DO exist, and the left and right pretty much do stay within the confines of what guides every non-profit. So don’t throw us out with the RWers! We’re your best allies!

          • nellie says:

            Thank you so much for these posts. I learn so much on this site. The people here have such diverse experiences, and so much knowledge.

          • KQuark says:

            Thanks for clearing it up for me. Receiving money “keeping with faith” sounds like a huge loophole to me.

            • Kalima says:

              KQ you are aware that Stupak lives in the infamous C-Street house and that the senior members there were responsible for the birth of the amendment on abortion rather than a few Catholic Bishops who have always been vocal about their opposition to abortion, right?

            • Kalima says:

              Thank you for taking the time to reply choicelady. Although I resent any Church involvement in matters of the State, this pointing solely at the Catholics as responsible for this obnoxious amendment was quite unfair. The RC Church has never been shy about their opposition to abortion, therefore are often solely blamed for influencing political decisions.

              Remember when Bush came to power, he was mollycoddling with your religious right, making promises to gain their votes, a huge mistake for the rest of you to have to bear with for 8 years.

            • choicelady says:

              Kalima -- I DID know that, and I was not surprised. C Street -- the “Family” are the MOST pernicious people ever. You’re right about the majority of Catholic bishops NOT being behind his amendment.

    • KevenSeven says:

      What has it to do with free speech?

      Bernard is proposing to persuade everybody that the only real God is the Earth we live on.

      • KQuark says:

        I’m answering the rhetorical question in the title.

        It implies restricting a person’s right to believe what they want to believe.

        • Bernard Marx says:

          Admittedly I was being provocative with the title. I don’t advocate restricting anyone’s rights and never would.

          • KQuark says:

            I know that’s not what you were saying. I probably should have been more clear that it was not a direct response to your post. I was attempting to answering the question rhetorically because there are religious and anti-religious people that would like to control people’s beliefs in draconian ways.

  12. choicelady says:

    OK -- I work for a large progressive faith advocacy group. Progressive Protestant denominations. What I find so frustrating today is the way in which the religious right has reduced religion AND faith to a bundle of rules -- mostly applied to YOU, not to themselves. We have a saying that religion is for people who are afraid of hell. Faith is for those who’ve been there. But most of our members and allies do organize themselves into “religions” -- Methodist, Episcopalian, UCC, etc. -- more out of neighborhoods of like minds than theological disputes. There is a social nature to churches (or any other faith organization)but you won’t find our folks in hot debate over which end of the egg to open.

    Faith is simply a sense that you’re not the center of the universe (nor probably is your little blue planet) but that you are one with the universe and therefore with all other people, no exceptions. Religions at their very best provide guiding insights into how to be and do your best by all humankind, nature, and the world. At their worst, back to the damned rule book.

    What do we think of as God? Ummmm… Pretty sure it’s not an old, judgmental guy with a beard (OK -- except on takeoff and landing at which point that’s precisely what I DO want, but that’s MY problem.) Human consciousness? Love? Empathy? Intelligence? Who knows? When Christians anyway give thanks to God, it’s because we lack the verbal acuity to express it another way. Sensing “another” is not even supersitition, it’s back to the belief that “God” is transcendent consciousness of the possibility of good. For Christians (I distinguish us from the Old Testamentarians of Pat Robertson and “The Family” stripe) Christ’s teachings are elusive, difficult, and push us eternally toward courage, boldness, total compassion, awareness of absolute equality among all people. If you want to know what most of us think and why, you’ve GOT to read “Lamb” by Christopher Moore. It’s bawdy, incredibly funny, and marvelously right -- supposedly the “lost gospel” by Jesus’ boyhood chum, Biff. It’s a tale of growth, supreme devotion to good, and perfect love. It’s also an incredibly good read. And it’s amazingly good theology for faith progressives.

    In my state, we are equal in number to the religious right -- you just don’t know that because polls determine who’s “religious” by whether you go to church every Sunday. Yeah. Right. But who is faithful, questing, seeking, caring, loving, and putting social justice ahead of anything else -- whole ‘nother ball game.

    So -- don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. We have had a huge impact on pushing the boundaries of justice on every major social issue including science matters. We’re not superstitious or stupid or bigoted or timid -- we’re bold, we’re with you, we’re here, and we are worth knowing. Just don’t be looking for us on the 700 Club. We’ll be fighting for health care, GLBTQ equality, women’s rights, and every other good issue. See you on the barricades and everywhere else you turn up. Just don’t ask me to fly…

    • Bernard Marx says:

      Thanks for an excellent post. Yes, I think the religious right have really discredited religion in America, but are they the exception or the rule? Would the majority of religious people you describe find other ways to socially and spiritually connect if the churches weren’t there monopolising the ‘spiritual’?

      • choicelady says:

        Bernard -- we’re about evenly divided. What you see in the MSM is the vigorously hateful folks that make good news. It is just not all that interesting to cover people of faith NOT beating the whomp out of each other. News gravitates to extremism, but it’s been IN the news so long, they forget that ultra conservative crazies are actually the minority. Lakoff noted that it took them 20 years to get to Reagan and then another 28 to get to self-destruct mode. Sarah Palin’s witch-hunting mentor is part of a miniscule minority -- but you’d think he was mainstream, wouldn’t you? You didn’t see much about the 500 interfaith clergy who were at Lieberman’s house in CT last Sunday pressing him to vote for cloture. It got a little play -- but not BIG play like the witch hunter. Speakers for good (and Sen. L. DID vote their way!) just don’t get heard. But we’re here, and we ARE at least equal in numbers.

        • Bernard Marx says:

          You’re right. The media doesn’t help with its need to sensationalize everything and its fondness for the extreme over the normal.

    • kesmarn says:

      This is a wonderful, fabulous, amazing comment, choicelady! Whatever organization you’re working for had better be falling on its collective knees in gratitude for having such an articulate spokesperson working on its behalf. May you be active in progressive circles for many years to come!

      • choicelady says:

        kesmarn -- I love -- LOVE -- my job! But mostly I love the people with whom I work -- their minds are totally open, and there are a kajillion of them. I travel my state training our members on how to speak out on often thorny issues, and they DO it. We speak truth to power and do so with the voice George Lakoff says is indispensible. “Moral values R us.” We don’t push religion on anyone -- theology is not our concern -- but we do come from our grounding in faith and morals that look to the common good. If you feel puzzled you don’t know us, it’s largely because the MSM think we’re boring. I once asked an editor of a major newspaper if he’d print stuff if I whomped Jerry Falwell across the chops, and he said, “It’d be a start.” Well -- that’s not us. MSM like blood and divisiveness, and that’s what we’re trying to STOP. But we’re here, we’re outspoken where it counts, and we’re growing by the day. And we don’t want to save your immortal soul ’cause we’re not too clear about our own. We do believe in justice, and we do care about a harmonious, self-sufficient, inclusive society. So that’s what we work from and for. And BTW -- C Street HATES us. Hah!

        • kesmarn says:

          Hah, indeed! Is it possible that one day the C Street boys, despite all their “Lord, Lord!”speech will one day hear the words: “I never knew you”? I leave that decision in more capable hands than mine!

          The one tone that comes through loud and clear in your comments, though, is the classic hallmark of the genuine Christian: joy. Which, as C.S. Lewis noted, can be the thing we are surprised by, when we pursue the “Godquest.”

          I have to respectfully disagree with an earlier poster who said that the primary purpose of religion is to teach correct behavior (I’m paraphrasing). I think that would be the field of ethics, which can exist independent of religion. I think the primary purpose of religion is to develop a frame-work for working through that universal quest for Truth/Love/Meaning/God that seems to be motivated by some mysterious inner/outer urging. We seem to need some sort of community (at least at times) to help us through this task. It’s pretty daunting to do this alone.

          For me, this has always represented life’s greatest, finest and, inevitably (:o)), last big adventure.

    • KQuark says:

      You exemplify why we should never look down on people of faith. People who turn faith into deeds exemplifies why we should never paint any group with a broad brush. I may not have the same faith you have but that’s beside the point for sure.

      “religion is for people who are afraid of hell. Faith is for those who

  13. KQuark says:

    Excellent thought provoking piece.

    Like you I would rather worship, Gaia, Sol and the universe instead of the false gods people worship. I believe spirituality is just the unknown forces around us living in the unseen folded dimensions. But I believe this knowing I am probably wrong.

    The biggest problem I have with organized religion is the certainty people have with their beliefs. They are so certain of their beliefs they would kill other human beings for it, force their beliefs on you if they could or try to turn a whole nation into a religious state. Who knows? One belief system may be more correct than another but I sincerely doubt it. For this reason I am 100% tolerant of other people’s beliefs but no one else has a right to tell me if my beliefs are right or wrong.

    • Bernard Marx says:

      Yep, it’s the certainty that I find scary. Two people with opposing certainties are bound to clash. Certainty and ignorance (e.g. Palin) are also pretty damn scary.

  14. FrankenPC says:

    Religion is the mass marketing and the consequential privatization of spirituality.

    You are right. All of them must go. If someone believes in something, they don’t need to pay cash to believe in it. More importantly, they don’t need someone to interpret their own spiritual views.

    Not buying (literally) into religion does not mean heresy. That’s the big lie.

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