Their Father Taught Them Well

Some of us wonder what makes people, appearing to be drunk on religious faith, to kill others in the name of their religion. We wonder how someone starts out their day thinking, “This is the day the Lord hath made, I will rejoice and be glad and in it—and kill infidels.”

It’s easy for Western Christians, particularly Christian Right blowhards here in the United States, to point to Muslims, at least those who terrorize others in the name of Islam, and say there is something inherently wrong with that religious tradition, that its unique Quranic theology endorses, indeed, encourages, violence against both non-Muslims and against those Muslims who deviate from a certain fundamentalist form of Islam. Even decidedly non-Christians like Bill Maher, commenting on the terrorist attacks in Paris, says of Islam:

When there are that many bad apples, there’s something wrong with the orchard.

Yes. There is something wrong. There is something wrong with the orchard of Islam. And what is wrong is in the soil.

But the ground from which the Islamic orchard blossomed also produced Judaism, with its murderous excesses chronicled in the Old Testament. And it also produced Christianity, with its murderous excesses recorded in secular history books. The soil in which the roots of these three monotheistic religious orchards have thrived—remember: Islam embraces the Bible, too, calling the Quran “a confirmation of” and “a fuller explanation of the Book”—has been poisoned by the same toxic idea, an idea found first in the Book of Genesis:

The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.

Every warrior for Yahweh, every soldier for Christ, every jihadist for Allah, could point to the idea found in that passage and, with a certain state of mind, find a justification for killing the wicked, the faithless, and the infidel in the name of God.

Or they could turn to another episode in Genesis where God destroyed two populated cities, Sodom and Gomorrah, because of their imputed sin and wickedness.

The Massacre of the Innocents - Nicolas PoussinOr they could turn to the Book of Exodus and learn how God punished the Egyptians for the sins of their leader. Their punishment, among other things, was the killing of innocents, the firstborn sons of all Egyptians, of their slaves, even of their cattle.

Or they could turn to the Book of Numbers and learn of the slaughter of the Midianites, whose alleged sins amounted to their women having sex with the men of Israel, which then caused those men to worship the “false God” of the Midianites, which then meant the men were disloyal to the One True God. Moses ordered the death of every Midianite—man, woman, and child—and confiscated their wealth.

After that orgy of inspired violence and murder and plunder—there is plenty more, of course—it is rather easy for a zealous and disturbed mind to find a book-based justification for killing in the name of God, or Allah. All that is required is to determine just who are the wicked, the faithless, and the infidels.

Unfortunately for the world today, there are a few groups of armed extremists who have so determined, and thus are endeavoring to carry on a tradition recorded on the pages of an ancient book, the same book that conservative American Christians proudly tote to church with them every Sunday, a book that both Christians and Muslims believe is the Word of God.



  1. Troy

     /  January 16, 2015



  2. ansonburlingame

     /  January 16, 2015


    Once again, you challenge my thinking in this blog and I attempt to respond about religion.

    First, your historical points are valid, in my view. The god in the Old Testament was a judgmental god in many cases, a punishing god when writers of Old Testament religion interpreted events with their human minds and then leapt to theology to make sense of what they observed or “heard about”. It is sort of like people in Joplin saying the our tornado was an act of god’s punishment for sins in Joplin!! I of course consider such “stuff” as very wrong as I don’t believe gods direct the weather, etc.

    I have read the Quran, at least most of it. I stopped reading it once I reached the conclusion that it was just another “Old Testament”, created by Arabs instead of Jews.

    I understand your concerns. You don’t want religion of any sort to address political issues, geopolitical issues in the case of radical Islam. I agree as any religion should address individual human concerns, how to live an individual “good life”, not a macroscopic national life if you will. Practice your own interpretations of God’s Will but never try to impose such views of your own on others. On that point we agree I believe.

    But how to do so is a question for the human race, historically and today and in the future.

    One of the rallying cries against the Soviet Union and Mao’s China was fighting against “God-less communists” for example. Today our rallying cry from some is a fight against some that pervert, in our view only, Allah’s direction to his followers thus creating another form of religious warfare.

    Wrong approach in my view and you and I can agree on that, I hope. Our resistance, fighting against, communists and now radical Islamists should be framed as another geopolitical conflict. What are the secular issues at stake, issues related to national ideals based more on political philosophy rather than “God says do this”, issues of human rights based on knowledge gained by human beings over millenia, etc. Slavery for example was all over the world and accepted as “normal” until ……. It is now easy to argue against slavery based on human ideas, not just something magically created by some god, at least in my view.

    “Charlie” was unrelenting in his attack on religious people, all religions, in my view. Had I lived in France I would not have read his “newspaper”. Anyone can cherry pick religious history to find despicable things, despicable by “modern standards” if you will, as ALL religions have created geopolitical events that have slaughtered, imprisoned, tortured and demeaned human beings throughout history. Radical Islam continues down that path today, using Old Testament-like punishment and law to run societies. But Christians by and large have stopped doing that for some time now.

    I admire your personal research, particularly your intense reading of political philosophy, but not religion, to make your points. In this case however, you have once again targeted American religious zealots in an attempt to …….. Are those dots to mean we are no better than a radical Islamist blowing things up? If so, I strongly disagree. Even the most radical Christian in America does not blow things up or tries to slaughter women and child. Our wars are not an attempt to gain religious advantage either. Our wars, right or wrong are attempts to control geopolitical events, actions by governments or large groups, transnational groups, of “zealots” using force on occassion.

    Bottom line, for me at least, is I agree that religion can do great harm and has done so historically for a long time. But that does not make religion bad for all, either. The vast majority of people with deep Christian faith that I know and have encountered throughout my life are trying to be “good people” and not trying to impose their faith on me or mine.

    Only a few, at least in America, are radical, calling for the use of violence to get their religious views and actually call for physical force to do so, as radical Islamists routinely do today around the world. In that sense “we are better than they are” in my view, as a nation, but not necessarily as individuals in all cases.

    On the other hand, I join with you to politically oppose some “people of faith” that try to use government power, force in some cases under the law, to promote stricly religious views. Any politician trying to tell me to vote for him or his ideas based on “god’s will” (note the use of capitalization throught this too long comment) gets strong and negative reaction from me.

    But I don’t write blogs attacking people of faith as well.

    Having said all of the above, I would suggest leaving religion out of policy discussions about “us versus them” in a geopolitical situation, which our War on Terror certainly is, no matter what Obama, etc., chooses to call it.



    • Anson,

      I think we are in substantial agreement on this issue and on issues related to the intersection of religious belief and politics.

      Of course I know that Christianity has been tamed by modernity and that even “American religious zealots” aren’t in the same category as Islamist extremists like ISIL. The days of significant Christian militarism have passed, thankfully. We are generally talking about a spectrum of zealotry here. Christian fundamentalists are every bit as serious about their religious doctrine as the most committed jihadist. But in the West, the Enlightenment served to significantly secularize our societies to a large degree and helped sublimate the zealotry of conservative, reactionary Christians.

      Having said that, I understand that people, on both sides of the ideological spectrum, have faith and hold well-intentioned religious views. And I know those views influence certain decisions they make as politicians. The best politicians, though, are those who understand that America is a secular country and was founded on secular principles of governance, and that certain religious beliefs must be subordinated to that secular reality. Catholic Democratic politicians are notorious for announcing their fealty to Catholic doctrine on the issue of abortion but then voting to give women the right to choose. That is how it should work, not having Catholic politicians insisting that their views of abortion, based on their interpretation of the Bible or the doctrines of the Church, should be forced on all women. Thus, I only attack those whose faith leads them to force others to live by their moral prescriptions.

      As for the outrageous stuff, you wrote,

      It is sort of like people in Joplin saying the our tornado was an act of god’s punishment for sins in Joplin!!

      I am sure there were people around here who said that, or at least thought it. But people who say such things (and here is a site that explicitly says tornadoes are used as divine judgment) have a reason to say them, at least if they believe the God of the Old Testament. That God said, in Deuteronomy 28:

      But if you disobey the Lord your God and do not faithfully keep all his commands and laws that I am giving you today, all these evil things will happen to you:

      The Lord will curse your towns and your fields.

      The Lord will curse your grain crops and the food you prepare from them.

      The Lord will curse you by giving you only a few children, poor crops, and few cattle and sheep.

      The Lord will curse everything you do.

      If you do evil and reject the Lord, he will bring on you disaster, confusion, and trouble in everything you do, until you are quickly and completely destroyed. He will send disease after disease on you until there is not one of you left in the land that you are about to occupy. The Lord will strike you with infectious diseases, with swelling and fever; he will send drought and scorching winds to destroy your crops. These disasters will be with you until you die. No rain will fall, and your ground will become as hard as iron. Instead of rain, the Lord will send down duststorms and sandstorms until you are destroyed.

      You can see that people who think bad things happen because God is mad about something have good reason to believe that, if they happen to believe the Bible is the Word of God.



      • ansonburlingame

         /  January 21, 2015


        We ARE in agreement and what you wrote above reconfirms it, in my view. I only quibble when you write “…….certain religious beliefs must be subordinated to that secular reality”.

        In the minds of the “faithful” there is no higher authority than “God” (gods or no gods for some). I suppose an atheist believes secular authority is the highest level of authority in human existence but many atheists argue their own logic is the highest authority I suppose. Absent any secular authority, that of course leads to anarchy.

        Our American society has attempted to keep that argument separate however. Our citizens can believe in whatever they desire to believe in, in terms of compliance with some authority in their personal conduct. But such people must as well comply with the law of the land in their conduct also.

        I can think of no better example than the everlasting debate over abortion in America for now a quarter of a century. Some, many believe it to be God’s Will that any embryo that I create during sexual intercourse is inviolate and attempt to construct secular law to protect at all cost that biological embryo. Thank you for that view, I would say and then proceed to make up my own mind, follow the current law and do what I believe is best for me, the woman and the embryo.

        While we would never discuss such a personal matter, you would support my efforts in that regard as well it seems. Even you would say, I hope, that government intrusion into such very personal matters is unwarrented. So again, we agree.



      • Anson,

        When I talk about subordinating certain religious beliefs, I am talking about politicians, good ones, subordinating them to the secular-based rights enshrined in our constitutional government. Take blasphemy. Most religious believers entertain some notion of the possibility of blasphemy against God and most wouldn’t dream of doing such a thing and wouldn’t want others to do so either. But that religious desire should not prevail over the free speech and religious liberty rights in the First Amendment.

        The good thing about 21st century America is that there isn’t a single national politician I know of who would advocate making blasphemy against Christ or against the Christian god a federal crime (even though blasphemy laws are still on the books of some states and the Supreme Court ruled on the matter as late as 1952). That’s not true in some Muslim societies. The Hadith has been used as a basis for laws against blaspheming the Prophet and Allah. My point, one with which I am sure you agree, was that such religious ideas should not trump secular principles of governance.



  3. Always good points, but we would be wise to make a differentiation here: there is a marked difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Especially when it comes to advocating violence against the “unfaithful”. I think you’d be hard pressed to find any such suggestion from Jesus. I would amend your point that “book-based justification for killing in the name of God”: it’s not “Biblical” — it’s Old Testament. There were a number of reasons for 16th century radical reformer Pilgram Marpeck to suggest a major shelving of the Old Testament in favor of the New. Jesus was simply not into the slaughter of infidels. Not surprisingly, a number of hyper fundamentalist churches preach more sermons based on Old Testament writings than on New. Weird. That’s sort of like ordering your new F-Type with a carburetor rather than a supercharger. More contemporary theological thought on the matter might come from Dr. David Black or the late Dr. John Kiwiet, one of my Systematic Theology profs a million years ago when I was at SWBTS. This will sound politically incorrect, I’m sure — and possibly unforgivable for a cranky old Liberal like me — but I think much of the Old testament is poison. That’s right: poison.


    • Generalist,

      I appreciate your remarks, my friend. Let’s talk. I know this is lengthy, but I find it fascinating to discuss:

      1. I’m not sure I share your understanding of what “biblical” entails. For most Christians, the Bible is both the Old and New Testaments. I know in all the churches I attended, in the two churches I preached in, people walked in with a Bible in their hands that they regarded, in its entirety, as the Word of God. It’s not so easy to dismiss the fact that hundreds of millions of Christians consider the Old Testament as an expression of God’s mind.

      2. You wrote, “Jesus was simply not into the slaughter of infidels.” Well, that gets complicated. Sure, the Jesus of the New Testament that Thomas Jefferson managed to rescue, the “ethical” Jesus, sounds very different from jihadist nuts seeking revenge for offending Allah. But there is another Jesus lurking there. I will give you two examples:

      a) In the book of Revelation (chapter 2), Jesus says to the church in Thyatira:

      Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.

      Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, ‘I will not impose any other burden on you, except to hold on to what you have until I come.’

      To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations— that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’ —just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give that one the morning star. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

      Now, I will leave it to you to interpret the state of mind of someone, a “loving” Jesus, who says he will murder the children of a false prophet because “she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.”

      b) Jesus was telling his disciples (Luke 17) about what it would be like when judgment, and the Kingdom of God, comes:

      As it was in the time of Noah so shall it be in the days of the Son of Man. Everybody kept on eating and drinking, and men and women married, up to the very day Noah went into the boat and the flood came and killed them all. It will be as it was in the time of Lot. Everybody kept on eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. On the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and killed them all.  That is how it will be on the day the Son of Man is revealed.

      I think it is fairly obvious that Jesus did not have anything negative to say about both the deliberate killing, by God, of all the people on Earth during the flood, nor the fiery murder of the folks in Sodom. In fact, he, rather approvingly, if you ask me, said such killing would usher in the Kingdom of God.

      c) The next example I offer for your consideration is what Jesus said in Matthew 10. He was sending off his disciples on a mission trip with instructions on how to conduct themselves as they spread his message to the Jews:

      If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

      And we all know what happened to those unfortunate folks in Sodom and Gomorrah: God killed them. I remind you that Jesus is telling his disciples that those who reject his message—who, as we know it today, reject Christianity—will suffer and die a horrible death at the hands of God.

      d) Finally, I offer you this passage from Matthew 10:

      Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

      “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.

      “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’

      “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

      Now, there are a few things I want to point out about this passage:

      ◊ All that Jesus said here is based on fear. Pure, unadulterated fear. “…be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Isn’t that the same emotion that jihadist terrorists hope to create in the minds of those both in their camp and outside it?

      ◊ God is absolutely in charge of every event, even the smallest one. Not one sparrow “will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.” Therefore, he is in effect responsible for all that happens, including the choices that one might make, for or against any religious claim.

      ◊ Jesus will “disown” you if you “disown” him, as if your knowledge of what is at stake is on a par with his, a being who, as Christian theology teaches, has existed eternally.

      ◊ Jesus not only says he “did not come to bring peace, but a sword,” but he strikes at the most basic of our human relationships: the family. “…a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.” Not exactly a “family values” guy, is he?

      ◊ Jesus, himself soon to be martyred, seems to endorse martyrdom for his followers: “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Think about what that means. And if you are tempted to interpret it merely as a metaphoric “cross,” then take a look at Revelation 20:4:

      Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.

      To end this (finally!), I would submit to you that the “good God” Jesus we find in the New Testament is not so easy to differentiate from the “bad God” Yahweh we find in the Old. And that is why some people think the New Testament is, in some respects but not all, just as terrifying as the Old. And there are some of us who think it might be worse—more poisonous—when one considers the doctrine of hell, which says that unbelievers are to be tormented forever and ever and ever and ever, a punishment that even mean ol’ Yahweh in the Old Testament didn’t think of, or, whose cruelty had relatively admirable limits.



      • Fair enough. I suppose I have done my own editing over the years — of what seems consistent and inconsistent in Jesus’ teachings — sort of like Jefferson and Mitchell. You point is far more valid than mine. I seem to get stuck in the “Sermon on the Mount” and shy away from ideas I attribute to later editors and nuts like John. I stand corrected, but still connect to a simpler, quieter Jesus.


  4. Since my days of being a Humanist (I subsequently left that organization), I have been an admirer of one Joseph Hoffman, a Harvard and Oxford religious scholar. He has a great blog, “The New Oxonian,” of which I am a follower and even offered comments a few times.

    That said, a recent blog post by Joe provides a terrific insight into morality and religion that I believe addresses some of the issues you raise here. In any case, you can find it here and then make up your own mind.

    If nothing else, Joe is an excellent writer and, unlike many scholars, is relatively easy to read and understand.



    • Herb,

      Thanks so much for the link to Hoffmann. Enjoyed that, my friend. I especially liked this:

      To assume that the rules that held together ancient desert and agricultural groups are adequate to address the dilemmas and problems of the last two millennia is an assumption that critical examination does not support.

      I think that is a little understated, to tell you the truth. In any case, I say the same thing about American politics. We are a radically different society, a radically different people, from the one in the 1700s. Thus, some of the things that made sense in the 18th century, like that old rugged individualism and the notions that go with it, don’t make much sense now. We mostly live in cities and are, or are almost, totally dependent on others for our survival. Thus our political thinking should reflect that reality and, as it has since the New Deal, acknowledge a robust collectivism.



  5. ansonburlingame

     /  January 17, 2015


    The Hoffman link was excellent and pertinent to this discussion, for sure. Religion is a distilation of human morality spread over at least three millenia and it remains in flux for the future seems to be the essence of Hoffman’s conclusions in that one blog. I agree but also “wonder”. Is there “ultimate” truth and can human minds find it morally, politically or scientifically.

    In both morality and science, ultimate truth is sought by thinking humans. Most religious folks believe we have found exactly that, ultimate truth as written in now ancient texts. What was written 2000 years ago, in Christianity, or 1500 years ago in Islam is just that, stone cold and ultimate truth to believers.

    There can be no better example than the fundamental belief in creation as written in the Bible. Yet science debunks such thinking today. While I cannot speak for Muslims, I suspect at least the majority of professed Christians “feel” that we as humans have evolved, not just scooped up as mud in God’s Hand (or Allah’s for Muslims) and suddenly “created”.

    In America political arguments are fought over that matter. No sure how many heads actually roll in a Muslim country for those that support science of creation (evolution) rather than theology drawn from an ancient book.

    But theology aside, a basic instinct for a thinking human is to find “the ultimate truth” in morals and science, maybe even politics.. Science at least today, maybe beginning with men of science like Gallileo several centuries ago (a milli-second in “time”) have challenged theoloy constructed for the masses. I wonder if Marx was the first writer to broadly challenge such theology, calling it the opium of the masses. Plato I know always left unknowns ultimately up; to the mind of gods, as did Einstein it seems. But both pushed the horizon of the unknown as well, like Columbus if you will and none of them felt that they were acting against the “will of god’s” in doing so, I suspect.



  6. As I understand Hoffman, the three “great” religions have their roots in the common ground of the OT narrative and he maintains that this history, including the NT, is worthy of study mainly for context in trying to deal with issues of morality in the modern world. This makes sense. After all, it has only been some 6,000 years since humanity became something other than tribes of hunter-gatherers and began, through the invention of agriculture and writing, exploring moral behavior in the context of possessions, land ownership, and machines. That 6,000 years is only about 3% of the time homo sapiens has been a species, so we are floundering in very new territory.

    He goes to considerable effort to make a point I consider obvious, that believing that some unseen power sets rules and answers prayers, absent any evidence, is just plain irrational. And yet, we have not progressed morally to a point where we have any structure of logic that is strong enough to displace the old rules. I am reminded of the Southern judge who forfeited his post over the establishment of a ten-commandments monument in the capital. That’s pretty nutty when you consider that not one in a hundred (or probably many more) could recite all ten from memory, even if they made any kind of comprehensive sense. And it’s even more significant that the most memorable one, “thou shalt not kill”, is likely the one most breeched by the most passionate fanatics.

    What Hoffman omits in his essay is the critical role in traditional religion played by priests. Therein lies its corrupt heart, and if there is any area of historical religion that needs study and wide dissemination, it is that. Perhaps that is where we should begin. But, this is a change that will not come easily – human beings are all too vulnerable to the facile answers that rote religion provides.


    • Jim,

      As to your last point, I believe Hoffmann does address the issue of priests, albeit indirectly. Recall his closing Remarks —

      “C.S. Lewis reached into Buddhism when he wrote, ‘The gods must be, as it were, disinfected of belief; the last taint of the sacrifice, and of the urgent practical interest, the selfish prayer, must be washed away from them, before that other divinity can come to light in the imagination.’ (Allegory of Love, p. 82). The formulation in Buddhism is more severe: ‘The gods must die so that humanity might live.'”

      Ergo, no gods, no priests. The dogma in Abrahamic religions are so entrenched in the psyche of so many billions of people — that’s billions, with a “B”, that it will take a long, long time for them to stop relying on magic and myth as a source of morality. And that means education, specifically in the area of critical thinking.

      I don’t have the stats but it seems to me that the more educated the society, the less importance religion plays in that society. The lack of education, then, is as much a problem as the dominance that irrational gods have on their adherents.



      • Interesting point about C. S. Lewis’ insight into the matter of priests – I hadn’t interpreted it that way. However, I am not sanguine about religion getting cozy with rationality, nor do I think education can solve the problem. It has to be part of the solution for sure, but there is something sinister and vulnerable in the human psyche that makes it vulnerable to priestly exploitation, and that includes TV preachers. Maybe humanity will outgrow needing the “god part of the brain”, providing we don’t off ourselves first.

        Thanks for the insight.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Jim,

          Sinister and vulnerable, indeed.

          “Priestly exploitation” is, of course, based on fear and such exploitation isn’t limited to the domain of religion, unfortunately. It seems to me that all forms of exploitation and manipulation are, in some way or another, based on fear. We see it in politics all the time. The problem is that there is, sometimes, good reason to fear. Global warming comes to mind. One can legitimately fear a future of rising temperatures, even though this fear, like others, can be exploited.

          Related to that, since global warming and its remedies run counter to the right’s inordinate fondness for Big Energy companies, the right has had to introduce an illegitimate fear into the mix: lefties are merely exploiting a natural phenomenon in order to socialize the economy! Once again we need science to come to the rescue and sort out fact from fiction. But then when science does render its judgment, the right rejects science and accuses the scientists of exploitation!

          The reactionary mind is a wonder to behold.



  7. ansonburlingame

     /  January 19, 2015

    Jim and Herb,

    “…religion getting cozy with rationality” is the point or at least a major one. At least since the Enlightenment, science has pushed the boundaries of rationality, ever expanding the “known world”. In the last 100 years the acceleration of the advancement of rational, logical, knowledge has been amazing. I wrote sometime ago my own amazement at how far science, particularly physics, has come since I studied quantum mechanics some 50 years ago. I never took courses in astronomy but advances there, into cosomology, have been astounding as well. A recent documentary detailing the quest for the Higgs Boson of late is an example. Seemingly they have found a new particle with a mass of about 125 GeV, a giga-electron volt. It was news to me that mass could be measured in such a unit, much less “found” in the large accelerator in Europe.

    In my view “good” religion does not try to discount the discoveries of science. If Moses was alive today and provided the basic education in physics and chemistry today I suspect he would not agree with the Book of Genisis as written by himself milinia ago. But he would still wonder how it all came together for “what” and still maintain his belief in a power that started it all happening, somehow.

    The human journey has no ulitmate destinagion in my view. I “started” from something and goes on until ……… When our sun ultimately becomes a red giant, buring earth to just another lump of ……,; well, what happens next becomes the question. Thinking in such a manner makes one wonder why humans create conditions to advance our own destruction. To believe that “god(s)” have a plan for us to do so is ……, as well.



    • My own opinion, for what it’s worth, Anson, is that the whole OT thing as it applies to all three religions derives from the rise of abstract thought, as I mentioned in the comment above. The abilities to write, plan and contemplate mortality naturally generate a need to find meaning and purpose in life, but I see absolutely no evidence that meaning is necessary to existence.

      I think it probable that abstract thought and religion are natural products of social evolution and nothing more. Then again, I’m willing to respect the notions of others so long as they don’t plan to militantly convert me too. Those in Mitt Romney’s religion, for instance, see as an ultimate objective each ruling a planet for fun in the afterlife. If that prospect makes them happy, I’m OK with it. They are generally an orderly lot (not mentioning their formative years, of course).


  8. ansonburlingame

     /  January 20, 2015

    Jim and others,

    To say “……I see absolutely no evidence that meaning is necessary to existence.” ignores the beauty of life, at least in my view, at least life beyond just surviving from one day, hour or minute to the next.

    Take love for example, or art. Such things stir emotions in most humans that makes life worth the effort to just survive. In fact most humans that are sheltered, not starving and not under some immediate threat of destruction seek all sorts of “meanings” and enrich their own lives and the lives of others in doing so.

    A rock has no “meaning” and could care less whether it sits on a mountain top for millenia or speeds through space as an asteroid. Not so with any human being, even the insane unless they are completely comatose and “unthinking” in any way.

    Human nature demands some form of meaning, in many cases even after death. And in politics one side seeks to provide for the opportunity for “meaning”, the pursuit of happiness as Jefferson wrote it, far beyond basic and minimal survival. How far to go in such attempts is a significant dividing line between liberals and conservatives it seems. Is it the responsibility of government to provide “meaning” in anyone’s life?

    Not trying to argue; just offering another perspective to consider.



    • Anson,

      I should have said simply “purpose”, not meaning and purpose. The word “meaning” can also mean “purpose”, so my usage was redundant and confusing. Thanks for giving me a chance to correct it.



    • Anson, here’s another point of view and something to think about: “Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.” ― Joseph Campbell

      Liked by 1 person

  9. ansonburlingame

     /  January 21, 2015


    “Meaning”, “purpose”, or other words that point towards aspirations of human beings is in fact the point of this particular discussion. Such intangibles, things that are not quantifiable or subject to accurate measurement (how much do you love your wife for example), are very much a part of human existence it seems to me. Mazlov’s hierarchy of needs is a good example as all of those “things”, layer upon layer if your will, make up various aspects of human existence.

    In order to “exist”, all humans must have food (which includes water), air to breathe (or at least oxygen in the air) and some form of temperature and pressure control to sustain life as earth’s temperature and presure in various areas varies on earth are outside of the limits for human existence. That is the bottom layer of Mazlov’s triangle it seems to me. But just imagine life without other layers as well. Think of it as a man in solitary confinement (maybe a super max prison) for life where all he receives is the “basics”.

    In politics our fundamental disagreement seems to me to be the various human aspirations that we the people demand of government for all citizens. As only a trivial example, I find it hard to believe that government should be involved in “cell phones” yet some people, at least in America say they vote for some politicians so they can “keep their cell phones”, etc.

    No thinking America would argue that any citizen be denied the “PURSUIT of happiness”. But no government can provide happiness for all citizens, either. Where to draw that line, the limits of any “safety net” is what we argue about all the time, I suppose.

    I will never forget a statement made by a liberal in some blog several years ago, maybe six or so years. “We need it no matter what it costs”. I consider that to be an irrational statement that lacks any perception of discrimmination between real needs and wants.



  10. henrygmorgan

     /  January 21, 2015

    Duane: I recall several years ago when Congressman Westmoreland of Georgia was a guest on the Colbert Report. He had recently introduced a bill that required all state institutions to have a copy of the Ten Commandments displayed because “they were the foundation of our Constitution and laws.” Colbert asked him to name the Commandments. He could not name a single one. He did offer “Doesn’t one them have something to do with killing?” I wonder how he would have done with the Constitution? Bud


    • Ha! Thanks, Bud. All of which reminds me how much I will miss Colbert doing his brilliantly conceived, flawlessly executed, show. I hope he takes at least a little of that magic to CBS late night.


  11. Jim and Anson,

    Sorry to be so tardy to the conversation, but I just want interject something about life’s “meaning” and “purpose” that you guys were discussing. Those are some of the attributes of Existentialism, which is the idea that life is absurd but we are free to make of it what we choose.

    The evolution of Existentialism goes back to Kierkegaard and Nietzsche and then moves up through Heidegger and John Paul Sartre. Sartre is probably best known for his book, Being and Nothingness, where he talks about “essence” and “existence.”

    If you want to wade through all of this heavy philosophical school of thought, check out as a good starting point. Once you see all the ramifications of this train of thought, you’ll want to go out a kick the dog. But if you can sort some of it out, it should come close to answering your questions about meaning and purpose.

    Good luck.



    • @Herb,

      Thanks for the link to existentialism. I was aware of that philosophy. Strangely enough, one of my English courses at USNA included readings in philosophy and also a story by Sarte – I still recall I didn’t like it. (Interesting, that someone thought student naval officers ought to be exposed to philosophy – there was obviously a liberal in that woodpile somewhere.)

      I’m not inclined to delve much more deeply into philosophy at this point in my life. It seems to me that these guys don’t really have any great insight into the great mystery of life’s purpose, or the lack of one, and existentialism seems to be just the recognition that “what you see is what you get”. It does occur to me, however, that a core attribute of self-awareness is the need to have purpose even if one has to make it up. This would explain why people adopt professional athletic teams to become fans of. 🙂


    • Herb,

      During my transition from evangelical Christianity to where I am now, I read quite a bit about existentialism. It actually made the transition a little easier in that I could see some value in the idea of impregnating life with unique meaning using one’s own personal choices. I’ve since pretty much given up on the idea of a meaningful, libertarian free will,so I haven’t thought much about existentialism lately. Always found the ideas interesting, though. 



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