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Re: [KC-Midtown-FreeThinkers] Dear Religion

From: Fred
Sent on: Wednesday, August 15, 2012 1:00 PM

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






This email message originally included an attachment.

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