Up@dawn 2.0

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Quiz Feb18

Religion for Atheists - Wisdom without doctrine; Community

1. What's the premise of this book?

2. What two needs was religion invented to serve, according to deB?

3. What objection does deB expect from militant atheists?

4. What might atheists learn from a Catholic Mass?

5. What is superbia?

6. What human tendencies does deB say must be purged and exorcised if communities are to function?

The School of Life


  • Do you agree that it's "boring and unproductive" to ask about the truth of religion?
  • "...it must be possible to balance a rejection of religious faith with a selective reverence for rituals and concepts." But some atheists flatly reject the very idea of "reverence" too. Can't we just like some of the hymns, and the excuse for earthly communion?
  • Do you agree that secular society has not helped solve our "central needs"? 12
  • Have you had a crisis of faithlessness? 13 What triggered it?
  • Can you really "engage with religion without having to subscribe to its supernatural content"?
  • "We have grown frightened of the word morality." We who? "We don't go on pilgrimages." I do. Do you? What about the rest of deB's "we" statements on 14?
  • Is there anything wrong with treating religion as a buffet, taking (eg) Buddhist compassion but leaving the afterlife?
  • Do you have to be a militant atheist to think religion on the whole less salutary than deB suggests?
  • What have you learned from visiting different churches?
  • Is Christianity's gift for getting people to "kneel down and abase themselves" wholly admirable? What do you think of Sen. Cruz's statement that no one should be president who doesn't begin each day on his/her knees?
  • Are you "going a little out of [your] mind" behind a "well-defended facade"?
  • Would a Feast of Fools be a healthy way to relieve the pressures of adult life? Or would it be, for some at least, infantilizing and ridiculous?

Strange Gods: A Secular History Of Conversion, by by SUSAN JACOBY

Offers an examination of relgious conversion as an expression of secular social forces, as it has played out in different historical periods and cultural environments, looking at both forced conversion and true religious choice since the Enlightenment.



Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.
—Paul, Colossians 2:8

AUGUSTINE, a teenager studying in Carthage in the 370s, begins to ponder what he will one day consider the inevitable shortcomings of human philosophy ungrounded in the word of God. This process begins, as Augustine will later recount in his Confessions, when he reads Cicero’sHortensius, written around 45 b.c.e. The young scholar, unacquainted with either Jewish or Christian Scripture, takes away the (surely unintended) lesson from the pagan Cicero that only faith—a faith that places the supernatural above the natural—can satisfy the longing for wisdom.

“But, O Light of my heart,” Augustine wrote to his god in Confessions (c. 397), “you know that at that time, although Paul’s words were not known to me, the only thing that pleased me in Cicero’s book was his advice not simply to admire one or another of the schools of philosophy, but to love wisdom itself, whatever it might be. . . . These were the words which excited me and set me burning with fire, and the only check to this blaze of enthusiasm was that they made no mention of the name of Christ.”

The only check? To me, this passage from Confessions has always sounded like the many rewritings of personal history intended to conform the past to the author’s current beliefs and status in life—which in Augustine’s case meant being an influential bishop of an ascendant church that would tolerate no dissent grounded in other religious or secular philosophies. By the time he writes Confessions, Augustine seems a trifle embarrassed about having been so impressed, as a young man, by a pagan writer. So he finds a way to absolve himself of the sin of attraction to small-“c” catholic, often secular intellectual interests by limiting Cicero to his assigned role as one step in a fourth-century boy’s journey toward capital-“C” Catholicism. It is the adult Augustine who must reconcile his enthusiasm for Cicero with the absence of the name of Christ; there is no reason why this should have bothered the pagan adolescent Augustine at all. Nevertheless, no passage in the writings of the fathers of the church, or in any personal accounts of the intellectual and emotional process of conversion, explains more lucidly (albeit indirectly) why the triumph of Christianity inevitably begins with that other seeker on the road to Damascus. It is Paul, after all, not Jesus or the authors of the Gospels, who merits a mention in Augustine’s explanation of how his journey toward the one true faith was set in motion by a pagan.

It is impossible to consider Augustine, the second most important convert in the theological firmament of the early Christian era, without giving Paul his due. But let us leave Saul—he was still Saul then—as he awakes from a blow on his head to hear a voice from the heavens calling him to rebirth in Christ. Saul did not have any established new religion to convert to, but Augustine was converting to a faith with financial and political influence, as well as a spiritual message for the inhabitants of a decaying empire. Augustine’s journey from paganism to Christianity was a philosophical and spiritual struggle lasting many years, but it also exemplified the many worldly, secular influences on conversion in his and every subsequent era. These include mixed marriages; political instability that creates the perception and the reality of personal insecurity; and economic conditions that provide a space for new kinds of fortunes and the possibility of financial support for new religious institutions.

Augustine told us all about his struggle, within its social context, in Confessions—which turned out to be a best-seller for the ages. This was a new sort of book, even if it was a highly selective recounting of experience (like all memoirs) rather than a “tell-all” autobiography in the modern sense. Its enduring appeal, after a long break during the Middle Ages, lies not in its literary polish, intellectuality, or prayerfulness—though the memoir is infused with these qualities—but in its preoccupation with the individual’s relationship to and responsibility for sin and evil. As much as Augustine’s explorations constitute an individual journey—and have been received as such by generations of readers—the journey unfolds in an upwardly mobile, religiously divided family that was representative of many other people finding and shaping new ways to make a living; new forms of secular education; and new institutions of worship in a crumbling Roman civilization.

After a lengthy quest venturing into regions as wild as those of any modern religious cults, Augustine told the story of his spiritual odyssey when he was in his forties. His subsequent works, including The City of God, are among the theological pillars of Christianity, butConfes­sions is the only one of his books read widely by anyone but theologically minded intellectuals (or intellectual theologians). In the fourth and early fifth centuries, Christian intellectuals with both a pagan and a religious education, like the friends and mentors Augustine discusses in the book, provided the first audience for Confessions. That audience would probably not have existed a century earlier, because literacy—a secular prerequisite for a serious education in both paganism and Christianity—had expanded among members of the empire’s bourgeois class by the time Augustine was born. The Christian intellectuals who became Augustine’s first audience may have been more interested than modern readers in the theological framework of the autobiography (though they, too, must have been curious about the distinguished bishop’s sex life). ButConfessions has also been read avidly, since the Renaissance, by successive generations of humanist scholars (religious and secular); Enlightenment skeptics; nineteenth-century Romantics; psychotherapists; and legions of the prurient, whether religious believers or nonbelievers. Everyone, it seems, loves the tale of a great sinner turned into a great saint.

In my view, Augustine was neither a world-class sinner nor a saint, but his drama of sin and repentance remains a real page-turner.
Also by Susan Jacoby
Disbelieve it or not, ancient history suggests that atheism is as natural to humans as religion -
People in the ancient world did not always believe in the gods, a new study suggests – casting doubt on the idea that religious belief is a “default setting” for humans. Early societies were far more capable than many since of containing atheism within the spectrum of what they considered normal Tim Whitmarsh Despite being written out of large parts of history, atheists thrived in the polytheistic societies of the ancient world – raising considerable doubts about whether humans really are “wired” for religion – a new study suggests. The claim is the central proposition of a new book by Tim Whitmarsh, Professor of Greek Culture and a Fellow of St John’s College, University of Cambridge. In it, he suggests that atheism – which is typically seen as a modern phenomenon – was not just common in ancient Greece and pre-Christian Rome, but probably flourished more in those societies than in most civilisations since... continues
Carl Sagan on the meaning of life-
In the past few decades, the United States and the Soviet Union have accomplished something that — unless we destroy ourselves first — will be remembered a thousand years from now: the first close-up exploration of dozens of other worlds. Together we have found much out there that is magnificent, instructive and of practical value. But we have found no trace, no hint of life. The Earth is an anomaly. In all the solar system, it is, so far as we know, the only inhabited planet.

We humans are one among millions of separate species who live in a world burgeoning, overflowing with life. And yet, most species that ever were are no more. After flourishing for one hundred fifty million years, the dinosaurs became extinct. Every last one. No species is guaranteed its tenure on this planet. And humans, the first beings to devise the means for their own destruction, have been here for only several million years.

We are rare and precious because we are alive, because we can think. We are privileged to influence and perhaps control our future. We have an obligation to fight for life on Earth — not just for ourselves but for all those, humans and others, who came before us and to whom we are beholden, and for all those who, if we are wise enough, will come after. There is no cause more urgent than to survive to eliminate on a global basis the growing threats of nuclear war, environmental catastrophe, economic collapse and mass starvation. These problems were created by humans and can only be solved by humans. No social convention, no political system, no economic hypothesis, no religious dogma is more important.

The hard truth seems to be this: We live in a vast and awesome universe in which, daily, suns are made and worlds destroyed, where humanity clings to an obscure clod of rock. The significance of our lives and our fragile realm derives from our own wisdom and courage. We are the custodians of life’s meaning. We would prefer it to be otherwise, of course, but there is no compelling evidence for a cosmic Parent who will care for us and save us from ourselves. It is up to us.


  1. DQ?
    If there were to be a "church for atheists," what should its central tenants be, and what should be discussed and done at such a "church?"

  2. Discussion Question - "Is there anything wrong with treating religion as a buffet, taking (eg) Buddhist compassion but leaving the afterlife?"

    I don't see why it should be an issue, but I'm sure it would offend someone... Personally, I believe we should just believe whatever we want to and find no real need in labeling my (or anyone else's for that matter) beliefs, even though I will be giving a generalized label for the group presentation we will be having. Labels are created in order to give a generalized idea to a group of individuals, when I believe our spiritual (or lack of) experience should be unique to our self, even though I know religion plays a role in guiding us in the direction of our beliefs at times, as well. However, that is why I like the 'buffet' idea, because then we are able to generate our own way of thinking, instead of having to stay 'within the boundaries' of our labeled practices.

    Supplementary Discussion Question -
    In regards to the 'Community' chapter in the text we have covered for this lecture, how do you personally feel about breaking the boundaries of what we now see as a community today? For instance, the text describes the scenario of how individuals are gathered in a communal restaurant, but no one is really interacting with one another. How would you feel about having dinner with strangers, or rather if a stranger tried having dinner with you? Would you become uncomfortable or welcoming in such a situation?

  3. Quiz Question:
    What is the Agape Restaurant?

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Before Mass was a big ordeal, with service and all, Mass was originally just a meal where Christians would talk, pray and renew their commitments to Christ, along with one another. The word agape (means 'love' in Greek). A feasts regularly held by Christian communities.

      But the Agape Restaurant would be the most profound insights of the Eucharist. Open door, modest entrance fee and a designed interior. Groups and ethnicities would be broken up, family members and couples would all be separated. A signaling of ones allegiance to the sport of community and friendship. (43)

  4. Is there anything wrong with treating religion as a buffet, taking (eg) Buddhist compassion but leaving the afterlife?

    I don't think so... no one ever said you can only follow one religion. Although many religions tend to guide people in that direction. I think getting stuck in one particular religion can be quit dangerous, but if you allow yourself to look at religions like buffets you can probably learn a lot of stuff. Compare and contrast.

    1. I completely agree! As a non-theist, I reflect upon how my values and morality directly run parallel to beliefs that are across the world's culture and religious spectrum. I feel that even though I do not take patronage under one banner of faith or faith as a whole, I still reaffirm my beliefs against those that I come into contact with in the world.

  5. "Do you agree that it's "boring and unproductive" to ask about the truth of religion?"

    Not at all. I reject this wholeheartedly. The idea that a question that is deeply concerned with the very nature of our existence could be thought of as being "boring and unproductive" is, at best, laughable in my opinion. To think that way, it seems to me, would invalidate one of the very core pursuits of philosophy and humanity in general.

  6. DQ

    Are there places other than a church (synagogue, temple, etc.) in which we might find ways to fill the needs that de Botton claims religion was created to fulfill?

  7. DQ

    If you come from a churchgoing background, but do not participate anymore, is there anything that you miss about the experience? Do you feel the need for a secular version of this, or do you disagree that there is a need to be filled at all?

  8. "Is Christianity's gift for getting people to "kneel down and abase themselves" wholly admirable?..." Response:

    I think that humility is an admirable trait and that some religious people will claim that their humility comes from their faith.

    However, I do not agree with Sen. Cruz's statement. I don't really care if the President believes in any god or religion, as long as they don't let that belief influence their rationality or their decisions (I feel biased, but I would think that an atheist or agnostic president would be better at making rational decisions).

    What is most important in humility is not bowing down to a higher power, but recognizing the humanity of other people who are different from oneself.

  9. Nick, Caroline, Ben, Lee, Elizabeth discussed reverence being a part of any method of need for a community. It would seem respect is more of an appealing term in use rather reverence.