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Yet another study of religious belief

Let's Talk Religion

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Apr 28, 2012, 10:28pm Top


Basic idea:
“Our findings suggest that activating the ‘analytic’ cognitive system in the brain can undermine the ‘intuitive’ support for religious belief, at least temporarily,” study co-author Ara Norenzayan explained.

Naturally, believers object on these grounds:

“Almost all of the questions … related to religion as a literalist folk tradition,” he notes. “This is how it manifests in most cultures, but that barely touches on religion as articulated by its leading intellectuals: for Christianity, say, philosophers such as Thomas Aquinas, David Hume, Immanuel Kant and George Berkeley. "

Apr 29, 2012, 7:23pm Top

Those who would claim religion and reason are compatible must contend with two simple facts.

1. Our reason can only work when we care more about the truth than we do our own desires for what the truth should be.

2. To many of the religious the continuation of their faith is their fervent desire.

Can't have it both ways.

Apr 29, 2012, 8:18pm Top

"Religion articulated by its leading intellectuals" is theology. Not necessarily the same as religion. In fact, as they are practiced, often quite far removed.

Edited: Apr 29, 2012, 8:37pm Top

Is it surprising to read David Hume listed as a leading religious intellectual?

And I never have been able to get at what Berkeley is talking about. I probably suffer from an analytic cognitive deficiency.

Edited: Apr 29, 2012, 9:43pm Top

Has anyone read How God Changes Your Brain. The reviews seem good. DubiousDisciple wrote a good review. I had seen the book in a store and considered getting it.

Apr 30, 2012, 8:11am Top

My own basis for agnosticism was the stance "If I can't understand it, it must not be." I'm not qualified to say whether this is a universal; however, I now call this position hubris.

God is beyond our understanding; which is not to say we can't understand partially.

I came to faith kicking and fighting it. And it was the intuitive side of the brain that allowed for the breakthrough. Beyond the first glimmers of that larger world concept, reason has not been abandonned.

I find the metaphor presented in the Indiana Jones third movie very apt, when he is directed to step out into the void and finds himself unexpectedly on solid ground.

Apr 30, 2012, 11:01am Top

#6: God is beyond our understanding; which is not to say we can't understand partially.

Everything non-trivial is beyond our complete understanding; we can't even comprehend simple problems like chess. The question of God is not really one of comprehension, but of evidence; why should I believe in the Judeo-Christian God instead of Vishnu or Thoth or no god at all?

Apr 30, 2012, 3:54pm Top

>2 MarkBeronte: Very well put MarkBeronte. It gets to the root of the argument.

Apr 30, 2012, 4:20pm Top

Those who claim reason as the prime directive need to be aware that:

"Reason" is not a specific term. It is about as specific as "religion." Anytime someone says "reason" I want to know WHOSE concept of reason they are referring to--Wittgenstein? Kant? Hegel? Locke? Foucault?

Reason is always tempered by culture, and personal biases. German intellectuals (i.e. the "reasonable" ones) overwhelmingly supported WWI. More modern "reasonable" people supported the war in Iraq (Yes, I am referring to Hitchens.)

Reason has not produced a coherent body of work. It can produce consistent arguments within disciplines, but anyone who has not engaged in a departmental battle in a university has never really been a in a fight.

Apr 30, 2012, 4:26pm Top

>2 MarkBeronte: and 8:

As a theologian and a Christian, my fervent desire is the search for truth.

Apr 30, 2012, 4:57pm Top

>10 nathanielcampbell:

Since Jesus refrained from answering that question, I'm not sure that it's knowable.

Apr 30, 2012, 4:59pm Top

"Truth! Truth! Truth!" crieth the Lord of the Abyss of Hallucinations.

Edited: May 1, 2012, 10:10am Top

>11 BruceCoulson:: That's an interesting interpretation of John 18:37-38, i.e an argument from silence--for the text does not say that Jesus refrained from answering Pilate's question. Traditionally (as far as I know), if there were an answer to Pilate's question, it was what Jesus had already said in verse 38 ("For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice." RSV) To that needs to be appended, of course, John 14:6 ("I am the way, the truth, and the life.")

I think what we need to do is distinguish truth as an objective reality apprehended through human reason and Truth as an apprehension of that person identified as Truth. The former is the realm of scientific and philosophical disciplines and epistemologies; the latter is the realm of faith.

As a man of faith, I am confirmed by grace in a knowledge (neither complete nor comprehensive, but relational and absolutely dependent) of the latter realm. As a theologian, I am compelled to use the epistemological tools of the former to understand, as much as possible, that relationship.

Fundamental to the relationship between those two realm is harmony, not conflict; synthesis, not antithesis. But now I'm going to start repeating what I've amply said elsewhere concerning the compatibility of reason and faith, etc.; so I'll leave off here.

May 1, 2012, 12:45am Top

#6: My own basis for agnosticism was the stance "If I can't understand it, it must not be." I'm not qualified to say whether this is a universal; however, I now call this position hubris.

Doesn't sound like any form of agnosticism I've ever heard of. See, the odd thing about the above is that the elaborate stories constructed by religions are one big exercise in hubris. If any book exists under a different name than "the Bible," then it's either heretical or superflous. Religionists have the hubris to think they have the inside track on life, the universe and everything.

May 1, 2012, 5:06am Top

#9: German intellectuals (i.e. the "reasonable" ones) overwhelmingly supported WWI.

So did German Christians. Both groups used reason to justify why this war was A-OK.

May 1, 2012, 5:08am Top

May 1, 2012, 9:50am Top

ref 13

...that person identified as Truth...

I'm only one sample point from the space of unbelievers, but I suspect many others as well will share my puzzlement as to how a person can be identified as Truth, let alone why that would be "a good thing"

I suppose a common vocabulary is some sort of prerequisite to a coherent exchange of ideas.

May 1, 2012, 10:15am Top

>17 modalursine:: I agree that, on its face, Jesus' statement "I am the way, the truth, and the life" is, at minimum, puzzling. This is why in post 13 I distinguished two realms, or if we want to use the vocabulary of linguistics, "semantic fields", for "truth".

The first, you will have seen, is the one most likely to make sense to you and pretty much everybody else, as it's the standard, quotidian (if you will) definition of truth: "an objective reality apprehended through human reason (and observation)". {Note: I edited that slightly from what I originally wrote in 13 as I realized I had made an error in my original attempt at a working definition.}

It is the second realm, where the person of Jesus Christ, the Word of God incarnate, is identifiable (and I'm using that in its more strictly logical capacity) with Truth, that marks the Christian revelation as something much more difficult to comprehend. This, I think, is why Pilate responded by asking, "What is truth?" The Governor was as puzzled as you are by this new and quite off-putting idea that a person could be the Truth.

I feel like I want to say more at the moment, but I'm not quite sure what that "more" is (and I really need to sign off from LT for a few hours to get my students' papers graded).

May 1, 2012, 11:20am Top

If God is the creator of everything, and there is nothing without Him, then it is proper to say he is reality - he is what is - he is truth.

Thus, if Jesus is identified as God Incarnate, his claim makes sense.

Edited: May 1, 2012, 11:55am Top

"The Truth" (al-Haqq) is a name of Allah, and when the medieval mystic Mansur al-Hallaj said, "I am the Truth," he was accused of impiety and blasphemous arrogance. To his hearers, it was as if one of today's evangelists were to baldly declare: "I am God."

The later sympathizers of Hallaj understood him to be declaring his ecstatic union with the Godhead, so that Allah spoke through him to exhibit the assimilation of the merely human into the overwhelming divine.

Yet another way to interpret Hallaj would be to suppose that he declared the Feuerbachian recognition: that the esteem which people give to God is only the alienated image of ideals which originate in the unfathomable human spirit. Which, if you're conventionally devout, really is impiety and blasphemous arrogance, I suppose.

The impious blasphemer Aleister Crowley wrote at the conclusion of his Little Essays Towards Truth an encouragement to attain to the mystical state of Sammasamadhi, promising:
Then shall ye understand what is Truth, for ye shall understand your Selves, and YE ARE TRUTH!

May 1, 2012, 1:20pm Top

In John 18:38 we read:

"Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find in him no fault at all."

1. Pilate did not ask, but said "What is truth?" and then he left.

2. The Truth was standing in front of Pilate

We need to be open to the truth and aware of it: sometimes it is right in front of us, and we walk away.

Edited: May 1, 2012, 1:39pm Top

> 21 1. Pilate did not ask, but said "What is truth?" and then he left.

Um, that question mark means he asked. That is right in front of you, even if you want it to be different to make your point. I just checked the NASB, NRSV, KJV, and YLT (the 'net is handy that way), and they all print it as a question, with an interrogative mark. The NRSV uses the word "asked him," presumably to avoid the sort of confusion you're exhibiting here.

If I say to you, "Who left the light on?" I am asking a question.

Edited: May 1, 2012, 2:55pm Top

(22) Look at it again:

"And when he had said this, he went out again..."

When he had SAID this, he WENT OUT again.

Pilate didn't wait for an answer.

Sometimes questions are rhetorical, can have a question mark, but the person does not really want an answer.

Addendum: from Wikipedia...

Depending on the context, a rhetorical question may be punctuated by a question mark (?), full stop (.), or exclamation mark (!),6 but it is generally best to use a question mark for any question, rhetorical or not.7

May 1, 2012, 4:16pm Top

> 23

I get what you're trying to do with that text, but yours remains a tendentious reading. It's ironic that you think it's self-evident.

The more hermeneutically conservative (and, I'd hazard, more common) reading is simply that Pilate found Jesus innocent, and yet the gears of the juridical/penal process would continue to turn regardless of the Prefect's conscience, i.e. what he found to be "truth." So, yes, a rhetorical question, but not a direct antiphonal repetition of John 14:6. Certainly, the author of John expects the believing reader to have the answer "Jesus!" to Pilate's question, rhetorical or not. There's no reason to attribute such a sentiment to Pilate himself, however. It doesn't persuade anyone not already convinced, and it makes you look like a sloppy reader.

May 1, 2012, 4:27pm Top

"...What I have written I have written." John 19:22

I've explained why I believe what I believe and shown you the Scriptural basis for it. :)

You are free to believe as you wish.

May 1, 2012, 4:37pm Top

If you read John carefully you see there are many touches such as Pilate's What is Truth moment. I think fuzzi's reading is actually dead on here. From a literary point of view, if you read through the whole gospel in one sitting, as if it were a coherent narrative, instead of picking verses at a time, by the time you get to the scene with Pilate, it is easy to see him muttering, "what is truth?" then walking away. It is one of the small touches that John adds, touches that set John apart, not only from the Synoptic Gospel writers, but from most literature of his day.

From John's point of view, the irony of the situation plays well into his narrative. Irony and surprise are two of his tools, using them almost as much as Mark.

Edited: May 1, 2012, 9:20pm Top

My interpretation of the Jesus/Pilate exchange, pointing perhaps to the irony that Arctic mentions.

Jesus is talking about the truth of God and the hope of salvation, the truth of ultimate life. Pilate is asking about the immediate question of Jesus' guilt or innocence as to the charges that he is an insurrectionist.

The rhetorical question from Pilate, "What is the truth?", is Pilate's conclusion that the guilt or innocence does not matter. Only the wishes of the crowd matter in the determination whether Jesus is to die.

The rhetorical question "What is the truth?" means what the hell does it matter?

I don't think Pilate is being shown as asking anything more profound that "why am I taking time to be bothered with the matter at all?"

May 1, 2012, 9:54pm Top

Thinking about it a bit more. It might be that "What is truth?" is a response to Jesus' statement that those from the truth listen to me.

Pilate replies "What is truth?" and turns to show Jesus that the crowd that wants him crucified is the truth.

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