Re: [KC-Midtown-FreeThinkers] Dear Religion

From: Fred
Sent on: Friday, August 17, 2012 5:02 PM

I'd just prefer talking to one person at a time rather than talking to 10.  And it's easier to take the time for this when I've already carved out the time to go to a group.

You're asking what I believe and why.  Can you understand that any sound bites I give here will not satisfy?  I believe in the God revealed in Jesus Christ, as we can know him through the Bible, pretty standard stuff.  I'm a science journalist, and I've written a book about God and modern cosmology, so the problem is knowing where to begin.  

Let me try to sum it up this way:  There are really only two steps between an atheist like you and me. The first one I took (partly, if not mostly, for scientific reasons) from believing that the universe is purposeless to believing that the universe is purposeful.  That's a personal interpretation of cosmology and biology, but not a far-fetched one considering the fine-tuning of the nature's laws and constants that make possible life and mind.  Also, there's the uncontestable, observable fact that the universe took this fascinating trajectory from hydrogen to humans.

The second step (which is one I've chosen for myself and I'm not trying to foist it upon anyone else) is to commit myself to the best I can find, among all philosophical systems and all claims of revelation I know, about what that purpose is.  After spending some decades making the comparisons and certainly being influenced by life's experiences, I've found that in Jesus Christ.  He’s the one my mind resonates with when, in the sermon on the mount, he asks that our "law-keeping" come from the heart, not from a desire to make an outward show.  The one who admits that meeting God's standards is impossible.  The only claim where it's not finite us or our merit system reaching the Infinite, but the Infinite reaching us.  This is the only "religions" system  I've seen that makes sense.

I continue to question all aspects of those two acts of "faith."  I examine several of them every day, it seems.  The one thing I've come to know is that, from all the facts I have at hand, Jesus is the best I can find to fill in that second step.  



On Thu, Aug 16, 2012 at 5:21 PM, Zach Price <[address removed]> wrote:
I cannot possibly imagine why it would be necessary to be face to face to discuss this topic.  You have to simply believe me that seeing the sincerity on your face will not further compel me to accept flawed logic or wishful thinking in the absence of evidence.  I think this topic is well suited for electronic discussion.  If there is some type of "education" that we are lacking that can ultimately justify your beliefs...well, that's what we are looking for.  Is that not the purpose of this conversation?  At no point did I ever claim people like you were a menace to society.  On the broad spectrum of dangerous religious beliefs, yours seem to be relatively mild.  What I did say, is that people like you provide cover to those that would be considered more dangerous.  As much as I would love to continue to watch your forever moving goal-post carry you through these conversations, it would be beneficial to simply specify exactly what it is that you believe and why.  As it is now, you just seem to be adjusting your idea of “God” on a case by case basis, anything it takes to ensure your fundamental belief stays intact.  You can quote the Bible all day and you can cover as many interpretations of its content as you would like, we still haven’t been presented any compelling reason to think that we should take these books seriously on its metaphysical claims.  It is the metaphysical claims, after all that really matter to the religious.  If someone simply wants to ignore those and acknowledge that there are some note-worthy and sound ethical points to be found within the text, I have no problem agreeing with that.  That same point can be made about just about any work of fiction that has ever existed.  Again, why don’t you just provide us with what exactly it is you believe and why.  I can’t stress enough that in the absence of a reason to take the metaphysical claims of the bible seriously, to use the bible itself as evidence of the claims made within, is circular and with this group, you are going to have to do better than that.

On Wed, Aug 15, 2012 at 6:22 PM, Fred <[address removed]> wrote:
You raise a number of good points, Zach, some of which I have problems with, too, and some which I'd have to sit down with you for a while and give another side you haven't heard to begin to possibly persuade you that the problem isn't quite as bad as you think it is.  Next time you see me, maybe we can talk.

Bottom line: I'd defend your right to believe in no God and even to say that people like me are a menace to society.  Belief is worth nothing without the freedom to refute it.  (Which is why I hate it when some Christian apologists speak of "irrefutable evidence.")  But I'd also encourage more education for all of us in all the matters you raise to get to the bottom of the issues.


On Wed, Aug 15, 2012 at 5:28 PM, Zach Price <[address removed]> wrote:

I think Dawkins has that idea in common with Thomas Jefferson, at the very least (Jefferson Bible).  The problem still is that we know people can be motivated without invoking the supernatural, even if we do not have a good handle on how to structure (or introduce and reinforce) such motivations.  All I can do is stress that I would more or less concede your point if religion was merely people, somewhat loosely, using the new testament only to motivate them to help others.  The problem is, that may be your personal beliefs, but it is not the majority view and having the majority view be such, does not seem like a reasonable expectation.  My profession is safety and when you investigate accident or injuries, you always seek to drill down to identify the root causes to keep the incident from reoccurring.  The logic is basic and is just as applicable, in my eyes, to religion.  When bad things are committed in the name of religion, it is always people saying “well, that’s not what I believe” and “that’s not real ______(insert any religion here)”.  The root cause is faith.  Teaching willful ignorance as if it was a virtue that one should strive for clearly has serious consequences.  We recognize and acknowledge this fact in almost any part of life….except religion.  For no real reason at all, religion has declared itself exempt to criticism and logic.  The fact is that Christianity, by the very virtue of its origination, includes the old testament as well.  The more moderate take great pleasure in speaking only about the good in the New Testament and doing back-flips to explain why the old testament is just something in the background that no one takes seriously anymore.  Clearly they do and if, in any capacity, you say it’s ok to take the moderate approach with a lack of evidence, then there really is nothing you can say about the more orthodox that make the same claim about the parts that any civilized human would consider atrocious.  Is the argument that it’s ok to believe based on faith, only if the outcome is not hurting anyone?  Well the fundamentalist would argue that killing abortion doctors and preventing homosexuals from marrying are better for society.   In my opinion, the baby almost has to go with the bath-water.  Once it is acceptable to turn off reason, then drawing the line in the sand becomes impossible.  There really is nothing that can be considered “objective”, if it declares itself separate from and somehow above logic and reason.  I acknowledge that religion in general, and Jesus specifically, may motivate some to do good that may not otherwise do so.  I would argue that the overt justification of what we would consider evil acts is so great, that it more than negates the positive.  We can do better and insisting on keeping the bath-water only distracts our progress by causing people to try and find a solution that will work with that bath-water (i.e. the wishful thinking that everyone can have their own beliefs, based on ancient books and that we can somehow manage to get along).


Also, we have met on a couple of occasions and I’m sure there will be more meetings in the future.  I’ll be sure and say hello.

On Wed, Aug 15, 2012 at 1:00 PM, Fred <[address removed]> wrote:

Hi Zach,   


Don’t think I’ve met you before.  Howdy.

You write:  “We need to be honest with ourselves about human nature and how closely we still are to the apes that lived day to day in a constant struggle for survival.… there is a limit to how much our true nature can be overcome by our very recent acquisition of reason and logic.

I think you express the problem very well.  And I think Richard Dawkins has the beginnings of a solution.  In an article for Free Inquiry he titled “Atheists for Jesus,” he identified the same problem: 

 Inline image 1

“The theory of natural selection itself seems calculated to foster selfishness at the expense of public good; violence, callous indifference to suffering, short-term greed at the expense of long-term foresight.”


But then he goes on to talk about a few exceptional people who are “kind, generous, helpful, compassionate, nice.… the sort of superniceness I am talking about in humans goes too far.  It is a misfiring, even a perversion of the Darwinian take on niceness.  But if it is a perversion, it’s the kind of perversion we need to encourage and spread.”


And he asks:  “How can we do it?  How shall we take the minority of supernice humans whom we all know, and increase their number, perhaps until they even become a majority in the population?”  He mentions cases where religion spread like an epidemic, but of course he doesn’t want the supernatural element.  Maybe we just need to find the right person to be worthy of our “strong tendency to learn from and copy admired role models.”  He considers Ghandi, Mother Theresa (who he can’t stand) and settles on Jesus:


“The best I can offer is what I hope may be a catchy slogan: ‘Atheists for Jesus” would grace a T-shirt. … Perhaps the oxymoronic impact of ‘Atheists for Jesus’ might be just what is needed to kick-start the meme of superniceness ....”


And Dawkins closes by speculating whether a humble Jesus would actually wear such a shirt, or if “modesty would compel him to turn his T-shirt around to read ‘Jesus for Atheists.’”


I think Dawkins is onto something.  And yet, I also think that you’re onto something when you say:  “It seems to me that simple instruction is not enough.”


The world needs more than more rules to keep.  I agree with those of you who have said that there are plenty of other good rule books out there:  I think the Humanist Manifesto is a pretty good one, for example. 


But we’ve had no shortage of good rules coming at us for the past 4000 years or so.  The problem is how to get enough of us to keep them, or even better, to be super nice, as Dawkins says, to “go the extra mile,” as Jesus says, so “nice” that we actually work for one another to solve the problems of the world’s hunger, poverty, war, illiteracy, disease, etc., now within our technological grasp … and we’re back to the same problem we started with in my first or second email.  The technologies are now here to solve the problems … but our resolve, our will to take the necessary actions, hasn’t caught up with our technological capabilities. 


When you say “the intangible has had the upper hand for some time now,”  you’re actually agreeing with the mid-1st-century Jewish/Christian leader James, who said that “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”  (James 2:17, repeated for emphasis in 2:26, NIV). 


So the question becomes, what would motivate us to take the necessary action?  One of the reasons I’ve chosen to follow Jesus is because I find him and his gospel motivating.  I’m not saying that others can't find other things motivating, and (without apologizing for the fact that this is that I find most motivating) I would encourage people to get motivated in whatever way results in action.


I actually have rational, even scientific reasons for thinking that Jesus, when understood as presented in the Bible and not on Bott radio, is motivating: 


Two psychologists, David DeSteno and Piercarlo Valdesolo, did a long series of experiments to find out what causes people to treat each other nicely or not so nicely.  We’ve always known about kin altruism, when we do nice things for our relatives, and reciprocal altruism - you do this for me or my kin and I’ll do that for you. 

But they found only one motivating factor that caused people to make sacrificial actions on behalf of others, even when they couldn’t possibly pay them back:  and that motivating factor was … gratitude.  It didn’t have to be gratitude toward the person who now needed help; just being in a grateful state of mind caused people to choose to sacrificially lend others a hand, when they wouldn’t have otherwise.  Apparently we’re wired in such a way that when we feel grateful for what someone has done sacrificially for us, it becomes easier for us to make sacrifices of our own time and desires in the interest of others.


My point?  The message of the cross, when internalized, seems to me to be the ideal message for motivating gratitude in us, causing people to act sacrificially on behalf of others, even when they can’t pay you back or they aren’t related to you.  The natural response to understanding that we can’t earn our way to God, but He has taken action to bring us to Him, is gratitude.

This is also the message that best fits the “grander and more incomprehensible” kind of God that Richard Dawkins says is the only kind he would consider.  The idea of a God too great to reach doesn’t negate the idea of a God who’s great enough to reach us.  

We have evolved to be religious, to seek our creator, to seek the purpose behind it all - and theologians have been only too happy to make up all kinds of stories to try to fill those needs.  But of all the “religions,” all the systems of duties and rules and sacrifices to try to reach the infinite, one claim of revelation stands out for turning that around and saying it’s not what we finite ones do to reach the infinite, it’s what the infinite has done to reach us.  This is not unreasonable, and this is the message of grace.

For the ancients, the gospel told them that the ancient sacrificial systems of the world were turned upside-down so that it’s not about our sacrifice to God, but his for us.  For us today, it tells us that the grand, incomprehensible one who set this universe on a trajectory from hydrogen to humans is, reasonably enough, more than just a little interested in the results.  In fact, it's a demonstration of love in the most personal and dramatic way possible, appealing to a fact we all recognize:  "Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends" (John 15:13).  Without this, the supreme being is beyond our comprehension, beyond relating to.  But with it, we have the gratitude that can motivate us to love our neighbor, not just in word, but in action.


P.S.  I realize I'm talking to atheists, who won't accept any of this - most of you won't even like Dawkins' suggestion of a role-model-without-the-supernatural Jesus, let alone the message of the cross).  But I did want to do you the courtesy of responding to your thoughtful remarks and explaining my beliefs, so you can address me and not a straw man.  

On Fri, Aug 10, 2012 at 4:01 PM, Zach Price <[address removed]> wrote:
 It seems to me that simple instruction is not enough.  Science has not solved these problems? To the best of my knowledge, either has religion.  I don't find it difficult to imagine the difference in progress that we could have realized if we half as many scientists as there re Christians and for half as long.  For now, I am going only briefly allude to the many areas where religious tenants are directly hindering the progress of science in very real, very obvious ways.  Why, in a general sense, we don't do what we should do all boils down to human nature, which science is learning more about every day.  In my very humble opinion, there is no realistic argument that can be made for religion being a primary vehicle to everyone getting along.  Religions justify the good, as well as the bad and even the good tends to come with allot of unnecessary baggage (Irrational guilt and fear, for example) and I think one can make a reasonable argument for the bad outweighing the good.  The intangible has had the upper hand for some time now and we really need to continue moving in the opposite direction.  I also wouldn't look at it as a lack of motivation on our part.  If a bear is trained to ride a tricycle in the circus and attacks someone, would we say he has no motivation for bike riding anymore?  We need to be honest with ourselves about human nature and how closely we still are to the apes that lived day to day in a constant struggle for survival.  We think that higher consciousness should mean that we are more civilized than the animals, and on just about every level we are, but there is a limit to how much our true nature can be overcome by our very recent acquisition of reason and logic.  To steal a bit from Hitch, If the tomb were found tomorrow, containing the body of Christ still in it....would you then loose all motivation to be good and help others?  I personally doubt that.  I think people have grown up with the association between being good and the bible and that becomes all they know.  Maybe people genuinely do fear loosing motivation if they were to lose faith.  There is certainly a large community of non-believers out there that are plenty capable of being good for it's own sake and I could only hope that fact may someday provide you with enough evidence to believe you are capable of the same thing.  I believe in you and my fellow humans far more than that.  The irony is this: if anything should be obvious, it is that this experiment with Christianity of thousands of year has not and cannot be reasonably expected to be the way to get to where I think we all want to be.

On Fri, Aug 10, 2012 at 12:36 AM, Fred <[address removed]> wrote:
Thanks for a reasoned response, Adam.  Not rude at all.  I gotta get to bed, but I'll look at that video soon and respond.  In the meantime, I'll agree that many religious people, especially wrongly educated Christians, are trained to use their religion to justify harm or ignorance.  I'm among their victims.

I'll also say there's a bunch of us Christians who don't debate what kind of chicken sandwich to eat.  But most importantly to begin to answer your question:  I've dedicated much of my life to understanding and communicating that body of knowledge we call science.  Science and technology give us the means to do some of the things that can solve the greatest needs of our time:  cure diseases, find better ways of food distribution, bring clean water, educate, maybe even eliminate poverty.  All these things are now within our grasp, and accumulated knowledge about the physical world has brought us to this place where we could now eliminate hunger and 95 percent of the third world's problems with disease, poverty, crime, etc.  So why haven't we done it?  Why aren't we doing it?  

We, as a species, lack the motivation.  Science gives us the technological solutions.  Jesus, who told me to love my neighbor as myself and even to love my enemies, gives me the motivation to implement them.


On Thu, Aug 9, 2012 at 11:02 PM, Adam <[address removed]> wrote:
At the risk of being rude...
So... churches accomplish things advancing society like the things science does?  Eliminating Polio, exploring the universe, explaining why the air around purified radium is electrically charged, devising algorithms that are fundamental to programing computers long before such devices are even conceived?

I ask very seriously, aside from warm and comforting feelings, which I do know religion/faith provides, I don't see what a person gets out of them.  But I have seen from talking with you that you do get something I don't understand out of your beliefs (even though I grew up religious, there is something not registering) so... perhaps that is what you get that I am missing.

Now I do agree that in a historical context, religion served man.  When most of the world was unknown, it helped bridge the space between villages, and spread similar thought patterns.  But I personally don't see it as useful in that context any more, and it had a VERY high price even then. In truth I see it as detrimental to furthering the cause of "universal understanding" between modern cultures, as I say so very often though: "that is a whole other discussion."  (But that is also using "religion" as something a little synonymous with closed mindedness, as is brilliantly discussed by Neil deGrasse Tyson in his "naming rights" discussion, though I don't think many religious people agree with people who think religion looks that way from the outside.)

Anyway, I really only object to religion when it is used to justify harm or ignorance.  Shoot, I'm ok with voodoo, but ask "so... are you going to eat that chicken?"  But I would like to see specifics of claims.  (That is what science does, I know many who say "its not up to religion to be testable." *shrug*)

My two bits (and then some) I hope I don't appear to be jumping all over you, I just don't agree that modern humanity gets anything from religion.

On Thu, Aug 9, 2012 at 5:16 PM, Fred <[address removed]> wrote:
All right, get ready to jump all over me:

Dear Atheist,
While you were bogged down in the either-or fallacy, I was getting the most I could out of both science and religion.
Your Pal Christian


On Thu, Aug 9, 2012 at 3:11 PM, Marlys Kummer Doerflinger <[address removed]> wrote:

I agree.   This is perfect for a Facebook post.


From: [address removed] [mailto:[address removed]] On Behalf Of Joe Thomas
Sent: Thursday, August 09,[masked]:53 AM
To: [address removed]
Subject: Re: [KC-Midtown-FreeThinkers] Dear Religion


That is EPIC!! Beautiful 

On Aug 7, 2012, at 8:51 PM, cole morgan <[address removed]> wrote:


----- Forwarded Message -----
From: GREG GLADISH <[address removed]>
Sent: Tuesday, August 7,[masked]:49 PM
Subject: Dear Religion



Greg G






Please Note: If you hit "REPLY", your message will be sent to everyone on this mailing list ([address removed])
This message was sent by Fred ([address removed]) from KC Midtown FreeThinkers.
To learn more about Fred, visit his/her member profile

Please Note: If you hit "REPLY", your message will be sent to everyone on this mailing list ([address removed])
This message was sent by Zach Price ([address removed]) from KC Midtown FreeThinkers.
To learn more about Zach Price, visit his/her member profile

Please Note: If you hit "REPLY", your message will be sent to everyone on this mailing list ([address removed])
This message was sent by Fred ([address removed]) from KC Midtown FreeThinkers.
To learn more about Fred, visit his/her member profile
Set my mailing list to email me As they are sent | In one daily email | Don't send me mailing list messages

Meetup, PO Box 4668 #37895 New York, New York[masked] | [address removed]

Please Note: If you hit "REPLY", your message will be sent to everyone on this mailing list ([address removed])
This message was sent by Zach Price ([address removed]) from KC Midtown FreeThinkers.
To learn more about Zach Price, visit his/her member profile

This email message originally included an attachment.

People in this
Meetup are also in:

Sign up

Meetup members, Log in

By clicking "Sign up" or "Sign up using Facebook", you confirm that you accept our Terms of Service & Privacy Policy