Up@dawn 2.0

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Essay Three: Religio Philosophi

In this essay Daniel Garber explores Pascal's hucksterish wager, and how it appeals to him to a degree. Garber is "one so made that he can not believe"; however, he genuinely wants to believe. He sees the benefit of redemption as a particularly persuasive reason for being a person of faith. While he doesn't share the faith of the religious, he tries to experience the world as if he did. He can "visit it, explore it as a tourist, participate in some of it's pleasures but never live there." This essay really hit home for me. There was a time when i missed God, like he was a real person that had moved away. i wanted to hold onto some part of that world where everything was explained and would turn out alright in the end. For an atheist trying to answer the question that was posed at the beginning of the class "can one be good without god?' ;Is it more beneficial to have been a person of faith in one's youth, if only to better understand how genuine faith constucts a persons moral framework?
Factual Q: What is the title of Pascal's work that includes his infamous wager?
A: Pensées


  1. Where's the rest of group #3?

    "Is it more beneficial to have been a person of faith in one's youth, if only to better understand how genuine faith constucts a persons moral framework?"

    I don't know. I'm not sure that I was ever really a person of faith, back when I "went forward" and professed J.C. as my lord & savior (whatever I thought that meant at age 7)... but I think I was always a "good person," or good enough. And I probably have more sympathy for faith than a card-carrying atheist should. Would I have a deeper understanding if I'd really experienced churchgoing as a spiritually meaningful form of life, back in the day?

    Anybody care to comment?

  2. I think it's enormously beneficial personally. I've been a Christian, and then a Muslim, and now self-identifying as a Muslim with some very unorthodox beliefs. And I find at each step of my journey that having really been steeped in the understanding and emotions and experiences has given me an enormous appreciation, patience, and understanding of people... even when they hold beliefs that I abandoned long ago. The infamous 'walking a mile in their shoes'

    I actually sort of liked this essay. I'll leave alone the stuff towards the very end about 'reason and evidence being over-rated' since that's a horse I've hammered well into glue by now. Instead I want to drop an interesting tidbit of Islamic knowledge that may prove useful to the class in some bizzare trivia contest someday:

    Islam, just like Judaism and Christianity, has had to deal with the question of "If faith is placed by God into our hearts, can you really hold people accountable when it's not their choice whether to believe or not?" And for centuries, the answer in Islam was this (and still is in many understandings) formulated by early theologians:

    There are 4 kinds of unbelievers:
    1 - The unbeliever who has never had Islam explained
    2 - The unbeliever who has heard Islam but was pre-conditioned to reject it: Whether from culture, upbringing, or deep belief in another religion.
    3 - The unbeliever who heard Islam, was not pre-conditioned to reject it, but who never found belief in their heart despite being honestly open to the possibility.
    4 - The person who hears Islam, genuinely believes that it is the true message, but chooses to ignore it for some form of pleasure or worldly gain/comfort or other motivation.

    According to the majority view of theologians in the 8th and 9th centuries, only that last 4th kind of unbeliever is in any danger of hell, the others will see heaven.

    Someone should tell Al-Qaeda, huh? :)

  3. If 3 out of 4 will unbelievers will see heaven (and that 4th one was always going to hell anyway), that sounds like a rather convenient excuse to kill them all and let God sort them out. I suppose that is something of an improvement on Christianity, where all unbelievers seem to be damned (depending on who is doing the interpreting- Go Rob Bell!)

  4. Now you're not even trying to make a cogent argument my friend, you're just trying to be stridently anti-religious regardless of the argument you're presented with.

  5. Ah, I love the smell of stridency in the morning :-)

    And no, I wasn't trying to make an argument, I was just commenting on Islamic and Christian doctrines. Your tidbit was just for our consideration and comment, no? There is no argument to be made, unless some theologian has presented evidence for the existence of heaven or hell that I have missed. Or should I be impressed that some factions of Islam only think 1 out of 4 unbelievers will burn for all eternity? Forgive my math, but that's still one too many.

    And yes, I am anti-religious. So what? You are certainly pro-religious, are you not?

  6. "Is it more beneficial to have been a person of faith in one's youth, if only to better understand how genuine faith constucts a persons moral framework?"

    This is a rather pragmatic question, framed in the context of our resignation to the continuing presence of religious faith in our world.

    From that view, I can see how it would be helpful to have a shared frame of reference. I know that coming from a christian background gives me insight into the motivations of a majority of American Christians. However, I don't have to be immersed in every specific creed to recognize that they all rest on the same poor evidenciary ground.

    On the other hand, I envy people who didn't have a religious upbringing. It doesn't seem to have hindered Sam Harris's ability to speak out against the harm of religion.

  7. "I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them" --Quran 8:12

    "Fighting is prescribed for you, and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But Allah knoweth, and ye know not." --Quran 2:216

    "The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His messenger and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned; this shall be as a disgrace for them in this world, and in the hereafter they shall have a grievous chastisement"--Quran 5:33

    "Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him.'" --Bukhari 84:57

    "Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones." --Psalms 137:9

    "If a man is caught in the act of raping a young woman who is not engaged, he must pay fifty pieces of silver to her father. Then he must marry the young woman because he violated her, and he will never be allowed to divorce her." --Deuteronomy 22:28-29

    "So that he will not give to any of them of the flesh of his children whom he shall eat: because he hath nothing left him in the siege, and in the straitness, wherewith thine enemies shall distress thee in all thy gates. Deuteronomy 28:55

    Sometimes it's best to let the "holy" books speak for themselves. Just as J. M. Hecht described the prose in the Book of Job: the poetry in the above passages is "arresting."

    There is certainly more than a few that believe these writings literally. So, my question is: why would a morally decent person want to give give credence to any medieval mindset? Why not make up a new god and start a new tradition of peace, understanding, equality, and tolerance for ALL. Maybe write a book with absolutely NO violence in it (or anything that could be interpreted as violence.) Surely, any almighty god dictating a book to a guy in a cave or on top of a mountain could, at least, have a bit of foresight.

    E.g., A. C. Grayling's "The Good Book" would be a good start. Someone please tell me why this is not a good idea.

    We, as a modern society, should up the bar for what we should consider respectable and praiseworthy because, so far, religion has demonstrated over and over that it is neither.

  8. Those are the bits the reformers will be wanting to snip, in the "Jefferson Qu'ran"...

    I think the Grayling "Bible" is a terrific idea. I just wish he'd had footnotes!

  9. And of course, most Muslims, at least around here, would explain that all of those verses have specific historical and social contexts, various meanings, and many more interpretations. The same way Christians defend such texts in their books.

    The problem with letting the books "speak for themselves" is that books don't mean anything other than what we take them to mean. Maybe for my mid-term I'll do a presentation on this, last summer studying linguistics, neuroscience, and the written word was sort of my thing. Suffice to say, not only are people who want to take holy books "literally" wrong, but there is not even any such thing as a "literal" way to take a book at all.

  10. "Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him.'" --Bukhari 84:57

    Would you care to take time to explain with linguistics, neuroscience, and your interpretation of the written word exactly what it is you take from this passage and how it is a positive contribution to Islam?