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34580Re: Sacred Texts ? Nonspatial events ?

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  • albiaicehouse
    Oct 4, 2007
      Hmmmm.

      So the rational system of scientific analysis eventually produces
      results that conflict with the daily assumptions that have built up
      over centuries...and the mind that is flexible and seemingly
      anti-rational has the easiest time adjusting.

      Mastering the unique views of aspects of the universe and adopting new
      and sometimes unconventional theories should be a natural for writers.
      That's what they explore every time they sit down to create and convey.

      albi


      --- In ticket2write@yahoogroups.com, "rabagas" <fratranquille@...> wrote:
      >
      > It's definitely an interesting concept. And here's a new twist.
      > My thin crust- pizza- loving, Offenbach- hating friend, who is a
      > logician and philospher of science was telling me about a recent
      > experiment in France that seems to throw everything cock-a-hoop.
      >
      > It seems that some atomic physicists sent photons simultaneously in
      > different directions throw a cyclotron. At some point, they pulsed
      > one of the photons which , as might be expected, exhibited a
      > reaction. What was unexpected was that at the same instant the
      > photon traveling in the opposite direction and distant from the
      > first photon exhbited the identical reaction.
      >
      > So now they're talking about events in nospace or nonspatial events
      > or that occur regardless of space.Events are " vectors" . It was one
      > event, supposedly. My friend says that we're just changing the
      > metaphor from a spatial one to a non-spatial one. Call me a Luddite,
      > but I have trouble with this one. If there's one thing I'm convinced
      > of, it's that when I'm here, I'm not there.And when I'm there, I'm
      > not here.I'm willing to believe this occurred. But explaining the
      > causality, the "ho"w this happens is not satisfied by simply
      > saying "we're changing the metaphor." That, to me simply begs the
      > question. It certainly makes stories about identical twins
      > communicating more believeable, but offers no explanation of how it
      > occurs. Shades of Dumas pere's Corsican Brothers.
      >
      > Rabagas
      >
      >
      >
      >
      > In ticket2write@yahoogroups.com, albiaicehouse <no_reply@> wrote:
      > >
      > > Frank,
      > >
      > > Synchronicity!
      > >
      > > Now there is a concept.
      > >
      > > Are such synchronous events a coincidence bound to happen in a
      > > statistical universe? Or are they evidence of a rational system
      > > acting in dimensions we do not presently understand or even
      > perceive?
      > >
      > > Either way, such events are entertaining and tantalizing, aren't
      > they?
      > >
      > > albi
      > >
      > > --- In ticket2write@yahoogroups.com, "rabagas" <fratranquille@>
      > wrote:
      > > >
      > > > Dear Albi,
      > > >
      > > > I agree with most of your points. The difference between science
      > and
      > > > religion is that while both make statements about reality,
      > > > scientific statements are subject to being tested, verified, or
      > > > refuted.. Religion insists that the statemnts it makes are
      > > > irrefutable, and not subject to testing, and are to be taken on
      > > > faith. It doesn't see its statements as metaphors or poetic
      > truths,
      > > > but insists that its statements are
      > > > true period.
      > > >
      > > > Incidentally, my friend who I referred to as saying Offenbach
      > was
      > > > not true, was on the phone with me last night. I made no mention
      > > > of the Offenbach remarks. Somehow we got talking about food, and
      > > > Pizza in particular. He likes thin-crusted Pizza and not the
      > thick
      > > > Chicago style pizza. "It's not true pizza." So we had the same
      > > > argument about Pizza that we had about Offenbach years before.
      > And
      > > > then I told him I'd referred to our Offenbach conversation in
      > this
      > > > email exchange earlier in the day.. How's that for
      > synchronicity !!!
      > > >
      > > > Frank
      > > >
      > > >
      > > >
      > > >
      > > > In ticket2write@yahoogroups.com, albiaicehouse <no_reply@>
      > wrote:
      > > > >
      > > > > Rabagas,
      > > > >
      > > > > I agree that the domain of religion is often stretched to the
      > > > point of
      > > > > silly. I guess "ridiculous" is a better term, because it
      > isn't
      > > > very
      > > > > "silly" when adherents blow up or murder by grizzly means
      > those
      > > > they
      > > > > consider to be non-believers.
      > > > >
      > > > > In former times, this tendency of religion to answer large
      > > > questions
      > > > > stretched imaginations more than limited them. Also, it gave
      > > > > structure to a seemingly inexplicable world.
      > > > >
      > > > > Now, I agree these aspects of religion can be vestigial at
      > best and
      > > > > retarding in progress at worst.
      > > > >
      > > > > However, science doesn't seem to know where to stop either.
      > Look
      > > > at
      > > > > theories regarding hominid bones in the last five decades. The
      > > > > absence of data wasn't enough to hinder the blind speculation
      > that
      > > > was
      > > > > repackaged and sold as science, was it?
      > > > >
      > > > > Perhaps one day, we will drop our anger at expansive religion
      > and
      > > > look
      > > > > at it as a necessary stage of human development, similar to
      > the
      > > > way we
      > > > > consider the utilization of fire.
      > > > >
      > > > > I know that the tendency of monks to write things down is
      > > > responsible
      > > > > for the meager things we know of historical Celtic society.
      > > > >
      > > > > By the way, I didn't really know that a music could be "not
      > > > true". I
      > > > > don't know Offenbach, so I'll have to check out music by that
      > > > > composer. But have you checked into the possibility that
      > Offenbach
      > > > > was reacting to the style of a formerly popular style of
      > > > composition?
      > > > > That principal alone can explain a lot about music and other
      > > > popular
      > > > > styles.
      > > > >
      > > > > albi
      > > > >
      > > > > --- In ticket2write@yahoogroups.com, "rabagas"
      > <fratranquille@>
      > > > wrote:
      > > > > >
      > > > > > Dear Albi,
      > > > > >
      > > > > > By way of reply, let me tell you an anecdote which is not a
      > > > fable.
      > > > > > I like Offenbach, and I was discussing Offenbach with a
      > friend
      > > > of
      > > > > > mine who loves music, and is by profession a Professor of
      > Logic
      > > > and
      > > > > > philosophy at a Public Ivy up in Massachusetts. We've been
      > > > friends
      > > > > > since childhood and my friend is argumentative, but very
      > bright.
      > > > He
      > > > > > doesn't like Offenbach, and ventured the opinion that the
      > music
      > > > was
      > > > > > superficially pretty but "not true." My response was: Music
      > is
      > > > > > neither true nor false, it's pleasant or unpleasant,
      > harmonious
      > > > or
      > > > > > inharmonious,interesting or uninteresting,aesthetically
      > pleasing
      > > > or
      > > > > > unpleasing, etc. My friend replied: Uh-oh you are too
      > bright to
      > > > > > fall for that one. I've used it on people who should know
      > better
      > > > a
      > > > > > number of times.(He loves to put people on. ) Truth, in a
      > > > logical
      > > > > > sense, has nothing to do with the way we experience music.We
      > > > respond
      > > > > > to rhythm, to tone, to harmony, etc. And that seems to be
      > your
      > > > take
      > > > > > on religion. If that is your position (correct me if I'm
      > wrong)
      > > > I
      > > > > > really don't disagree with you. But it doesn't correlate
      > > > with "truth"
      > > > > > in any logical or factual sense.Unfortunately, the religious
      > > > make
      > > > > > claims that they contend are both factually and logically
      > > > true.And
      > > > > > that is where I part company with them. If they tell me a
      > > > Gregorian
      > > > > > chant is beautiful, I'll agree. Or a Catholic mass, or a
      > gothic
      > > > > > cathedral, or The Sistine Chapel, I won't argue that. But if
      > > > they
      > > > > > tell me the world was made in 7 days, and that Eve came from
      > > > Adam's
      > > > > > rib, and that the whole universe is 6-10 thousand years old,
      > > > sorry, I
      > > > > > don't agree at all.
      > > > > >
      > > > > > Rabagas
      > > > > >
      > > > > >
      > > > > >
      > > > > >
      > > > > > In ticket2write@yahoogroups.com, albiaicehouse <no_reply@>
      > > > wrote:
      > > > > > >
      > > > > > > Rabagas,
      > > > > > >
      > > > > > > While an exploration of the world from the rational
      > > > perspective is
      > > > > > > powerful, will, no doubt, be responsible for a great deal
      > of
      > > > > > progress
      > > > > > > in the world, and may go on for infinity given the
      > apparent
      > > > > > infinite
      > > > > > > nature of the universe dimensionally and in an ever more
      > micro
      > > > > > scale,
      > > > > > > the rational perspective is not the only system with which
      > to
      > > > enjoy
      > > > > > > the universe and can be proven itself to be a house of
      > cards.
      > > > > > >
      > > > > > > Rational thought does not create any of the wonderful
      > theories
      > > > that
      > > > > > > it, itself, claims to have "proven". Rational thought
      > only
      > > > can be
      > > > > > > used to reject theories which can be shown to produce one
      > or
      > > > more
      > > > > > > seemingly irresolvable conflicts either within observable
      > fact
      > > > or
      > > > > > > within other theories that have not yet been proven to have
      > > > > > > irresolvable conflicts. Rational thought is dependent on
      > > > recursive
      > > > > > > comparison to itself or to observation.
      > > > > > >
      > > > > > > And observation, while western science likes to assume
      > > > otherwise,
      > > > > > is
      > > > > > > never objective. Observation is always subjective.
      > > > > > >
      > > > > > > Now to circle this back to the topic of writing, most
      > writers
      > > > are
      > > > > > > always trying to express the never before expressed. They
      > find
      > > > > > > similes, metaphors and allusions important tools to show
      > > > > > similarity,
      > > > > > > convergence, or just plain otherwise inexpressible
      > thoughts
      > > > and
      > > > > > emotions.
      > > > > > >
      > > > > > > Take off your green eye shade. Put down your sharp
      > pencil.
      > > > Rub
      > > > > > the
      > > > > > > back of your neck, and take in the creative, magic, and
      > > > emotively
      > > > > > > based world for awhile, as this irrational world may
      > satisfy
      > > > parts
      > > > > > of
      > > > > > > your soul that have been looking for something.
      > > > > > >
      > > > > > > albi
      > > > > > >
      > > > > > > --- In ticket2write@yahoogroups.com, "rabagas"
      > > > <fratranquille@>
      > > > > > wrote:
      > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > Dear Albi,
      > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > Thanks for the kind words, but the article is not mine,
      > it's
      > > > > > simply
      > > > > > > > one I clipped while web surfing on the Arts and Letters
      > > > Daily.
      > > > > > If I
      > > > > > > > find something interesting I clip it and post it in
      > clubs I
      > > > > > belong to
      > > > > > > > in the hope of getting some discussion going. The
      > > > professional
      > > > > > > > quality of the grammar, etc. are not mine.
      > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > Having said that, I think you raise some interesting
      > points.
      > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > Just briefly looking at your two points:
      > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > Does the law of non-contradiction apply to sacred texts
      > or
      > > > at
      > > > > > least
      > > > > > > > throw their truth
      > > > > > > > in question? We live in a world where rational logic
      > (which
      > > > is
      > > > > > > > based on the law of non-contradiction) seems to apply.
      > At
      > > > least
      > > > > > we
      > > > > > > > like to think it does. So if we are suddenly confronted
      > with
      > > > a
      > > > > > text
      > > > > > > > that
      > > > > > > > claims to be "true" we expect that it will not be
      > > > contradictory,
      > > > > > or
      > > > > > > > if there is a contradiction, it's only apparent and can
      > be
      > > > > > explained
      > > > > > > > away like some of the initial paradoxes in relativity
      > > > theory.But
      > > > > > if
      > > > > > > > no amount of rationalization or puzzling will get rid of
      > it,
      > > > > > then we
      > > > > > > > are unlikely to believe in its truth. That says
      > something
      > > > about
      > > > > > us.
      > > > > > > > Of course, there are people who like mystification who
      > revel
      > > > in
      > > > > > > > contradictions and paradoxes without wanting to explain
      > > > them. In
      > > > > > > > fact they may see no need to explain them and
      > essentially
      > > > either
      > > > > > > > discard reason, or in a more sinister way, use reason to
      > > > defend
      > > > > > the
      > > > > > > > unreasonable.
      > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > Your second point:Is reason an inherently biased
      > approach
      > > > > > against
      > > > > > > > metaphorical expressions of truth ?
      > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > Absolutely. Arguing by metaphor or analogy is a very
      > > > insidious
      > > > > > way
      > > > > > > > of debate. A metaphor, to my mind, although it may be
      > > > beautiful
      > > > > > and
      > > > > > > > poetic, and sometimes even convincing, basically is a
      > way of
      > > > > > begging
      > > > > > > > the question.We are trying to talk about X, and a
      > metaphor
      > > > or
      > > > > > > > analogy says, in effect: let's talk about Y. A metaphor
      > is
      > > > not
      > > > > > > > subject to analysis, it is a conclusion or solution,
      > offered
      > > > > > instead
      > > > > > > > of an argument. I have a friend who employs this method
      > of
      > > > > > argument
      > > > > > > > constantly, and it's very maddening trying to argue with
      > him
      > > > > > because
      > > > > > > > if you tear one apart, he'll retreat to another, ad
      > > > > > infinitum.And
      > > > > > > > while he's very clever and inventive at finding
      > analogies,
      > > > he
      > > > > > > > manages to avoid subjecting his ideas to rational
      > analysis
      > > > which
      > > > > > > > they would rarely (in my opinion) withstand. He just
      > won't
      > > > hold
      > > > > > > > still long enough for the light of reason to shine in
      > his
      > > > murky
      > > > > > > > mindset.
      > > > > > > > I simply don't think there is any "truth" that cannot be
      > > > > > expressed
      > > > > > > > logically, and subjected to traditional logical forms.If
      > it
      > > > > > cannot
      > > > > > > > be expressed logically, it simply isn't true. You
      > cannot
      > > > build
      > > > > > a
      > > > > > > > logical system or world view based on metaphors. They
      > may be
      > > > > > useful
      > > > > > > > in filling gaps, but they are useful only when reason or
      > > > science
      > > > > > > > cannot offer a solution. Primitive peoples need to
      > explain
      > > > why
      > > > > > the
      > > > > > > > Sun comes up regularly, so they speak of Apollo in his
      > > > chariot.
      > > > > > But
      > > > > > > > once they understand astronomy, Apollo in his chariot
      > > > > > > > is no longer filling the gap in knowledge, he is, if
      > taken
      > > > > > > > literally, impeding it. There is no way of judging the
      > truth
      > > > of
      > > > > > a
      > > > > > > > metaphor.
      > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > But that pretty much sums up where religion is: It
      > demands
      > > > > > belief
      > > > > > > > regardless of whether it is self contradictory or not,
      > and
      > > > tries
      > > > > > to
      > > > > > > > convince by means that are simply not logical, without
      > > > openly
      > > > > > > > admitting that it is illogical.
      > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > Rabagas
      > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > In ticket2write@yahoogroups.com, albiaicehouse
      > <no_reply@>
      > > > > > wrote:
      > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > Rabagas,
      > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > I have almost always held off on commenting on your
      > work
      > > > > > because I
      > > > > > > > > find everything you post here so smooth, logical, and
      > > > > > > > comprehensive.
      > > > > > > > > You must have an awesome editor, as well, because I
      > can
      > > > > > remember
      > > > > > > > > finding nary an error of syntax, grammar, punctuation,
      > > > etc.
      > > > > > Not
      > > > > > > > that
      > > > > > > > > I'm well known for finding these contraventions of
      > > > convention,
      > > > > > > > however.
      > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > But let me wade into the fray by suggesting some
      > things
      > > > you
      > > > > > could
      > > > > > > > add
      > > > > > > > > to this piece. I hope this is your original work and
      > not a
      > > > > > > > > translation, so that potentially you could benefit
      > from
      > > > these
      > > > > > > > suggestions.
      > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > 1) Does contradiction really detract from the
      > sacredness
      > > > of
      > > > > > > > texts?
      > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > Even today's rational ethicists have difficulty
      > developing
      > > > > > simple
      > > > > > > > > precepts that build a system that is internally
      > consistent
      > > > or
      > > > > > that
      > > > > > > > > adheres to say the legal system or widespread majority
      > > > > > opinions in
      > > > > > > > > society.
      > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > Then there is the question: is lack of contradiction a
      > > > > > necessary
      > > > > > > > and
      > > > > > > > > sufficient characteristic of sacredness or an
      > indication
      > > > of
      > > > > > > > whether a
      > > > > > > > > text is the word of God? Atheists, at least the ones
      > that
      > > > > > write,
      > > > > > > > tend
      > > > > > > > > to be drawn to the camp of rationality, which is based
      > on
      > > > the
      > > > > > > > precept
      > > > > > > > > that contradiction is either wrong or the result of
      > > > incomplete
      > > > > > > > > analysis. But this does not make rationality correct
      > or
      > > > mean
      > > > > > that
      > > > > > > > it
      > > > > > > > > is a good system by which to run one's life.
      > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > If a person starts with the assumption that
      > contradiction
      > > > is
      > > > > > > > something
      > > > > > > > > to be avoided or is incorrect, is it any surprise that
      > one
      > > > > > rejects
      > > > > > > > any
      > > > > > > > > other system that accepts contradiction?
      > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > By the way, the practitioners of Zen believe
      > > > simultaneously
      > > > > > holding
      > > > > > > > > contradictory thoughts is certainly a characteristic
      > of a
      > > > > > higher
      > > > > > > > > consciousness, while these practitioners claim to be
      > > > adherents
      > > > > > of a
      > > > > > > > > system that is not sacred or religious.
      > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > 2) Are the literal words and directions given in
      > sacred
      > > > texts
      > > > > > the
      > > > > > > > > items to be judged, or is it the metaphors and
      > allusions.
      > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > When I read the new testament, I tend to focus on the
      > > > parables
      > > > > > of
      > > > > > > > > Jesus. These parables purport to explain how God
      > feels
      > > > about
      > > > > > > > humans,
      > > > > > > > > how humans should feel about and approach God, and how
      > > > humans
      > > > > > > > should
      > > > > > > > > treat other humans. The actual story in each parable
      > has
      > > > > > extremely
      > > > > > > > > limited value or direct meaning. But the symbolism is
      > far
      > > > > > greater
      > > > > > > > > than the sum of the parts.
      > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > I find similar intangible impressions in other texts
      > > > > > considered
      > > > > > > > sacred
      > > > > > > > > by adherents of other religions.
      > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > Rationality is by definition poorly equipped to assess
      > > > > > metaphors
      > > > > > > > and
      > > > > > > > > allusions.
      > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > When I say to the woman I love, "I have thought of you
      > > > more
      > > > > > times
      > > > > > > > than
      > > > > > > > > there are grains of sand in the oceans." A
      > rationalist
      > > > would
      > > > > > > > compute
      > > > > > > > > a reasonable estimate of the range of the later number
      > > > (using
      > > > > > the
      > > > > > > > > average depth of soil over bedrock, the planar area of
      > the
      > > > > > surface
      > > > > > > > > water on the globe, the average size of sand grains,
      > the
      > > > > > average
      > > > > > > > > density to which such grains settle, etc.), but would
      > > > never
      > > > > > > > understand
      > > > > > > > > that this is an expression attempting to describe
      > > > something
      > > > > > for
      > > > > > > > which
      > > > > > > > > no mere definite words are adequate.
      > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > So if atheists do not adopt rationality as a framework
      > for
      > > > > > > > evaluating
      > > > > > > > > whether sacred texts are informed by God, then they
      > have
      > > > no
      > > > > > basis
      > > > > > > > to
      > > > > > > > > accumulate evidence against the thesis that the texts
      > are
      > > > so
      > > > > > > > informed.
      > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > And if atheists adopt rationality as a framework for
      > this
      > > > > > > > evaluation,
      > > > > > > > > then they by definition they have adopted a tool that
      > is
      > > > biased
      > > > > > > > > against the metaphor and allusions that are felt my
      > many
      > > > > > religious
      > > > > > > > > scholars to be the core message and proof of divinity
      > > > within
      > > > > > such
      > > > > > > > texts.
      > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > _______________________
      > > > > > > > > Now let me say that I didn't post the above in order
      > to
      > > > get
      > > > > > into a
      > > > > > > > > huge, or any, debate on these message boards. I just
      > > > thought
      > > > > > you
      > > > > > > > > might be able to add to future articles on this topic.
      > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > Thank you for posting the thought provoking, carefully
      > > > > > constructed
      > > > > > > > and
      > > > > > > > > well researched article.
      > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > albi
      > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > --- In ticket2write@yahoogroups.com, "rabagas"
      > > > > > <fratranquille@>
      > > > > > > > wrote:
      > > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > > From the issue dated September 21, 2007
      > > > > > > > > > CRITIC AT LARGE
      > > > > > > > > > Are Sacred Texts Sacred? the Challenge for Atheists
      > > > > > > > > > advertisement
      > > > > > > > > > Article tools By CARLIN ROMANO
      > > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > > In a Nation essay this year about the wave of
      > successful
      > > > > > books
      > > > > > > > > > vaunting atheism, critic Daniel Lazare wrote the
      > > > following:
      > > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > > For a long time, religion had been doing quite
      > nicely as
      > > > a
      > > > > > kind
      > > > > > > > of
      > > > > > > > > > minor entertainment. Christmas and Easter were quite
      > > > > > unthinkable
      > > > > > > > > > without it, not to mention Hanukkah and Passover.
      > But
      > > > then
      > > > > > > > certain
      > > > > > > > > > enthusiasts took things too far by crashing
      > airliners
      > > > into
      > > > > > > > office
      > > > > > > > > > towers in the name of Allah, launching a global
      > crusade
      > > > to
      > > > > > rid
      > > > > > > > the
      > > > > > > > > > world of evil, and declaring the jury still out on
      > > > Darwinian
      > > > > > > > > > evolution. As a consequence, religion now looks
      > nearly
      > > > as
      > > > > > bad as
      > > > > > > > > > royalism did in the late 18th century.
      > > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > > That might sound predictably snide coming from the
      > > > wontedly
      > > > > > > > secular
      > > > > > > > > > Nation, but listen to a middle-of-the-road piece of
      > > > > > journalism,
      > > > > > > > an
      > > > > > > > > > Associated Press article this May by religion writer
      > > > Rachel
      > > > > > > > Zoll. In
      > > > > > > > > > the article, headlined "Angry Atheists Are Hot
      > Authors,"
      > > > > > Zoll
      > > > > > > > > > describes the success of such books as "a sign of
      > > > widespread
      > > > > > > > > > resentment among nonbelievers over the influence of
      > > > religion
      > > > > > in
      > > > > > > > the
      > > > > > > > > > world."
      > > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > > She quotes from Christopher Hitchens, whose God Is
      > Not
      > > > > > Great:
      > > > > > > > How
      > > > > > > > > > Religion Poisons Everything rocketed to No. 1 on the
      > New
      > > > > > York
      > > > > > > > Times
      > > > > > > > > > best-seller list in its first week out of the
      > > > block. "There
      > > > > > is
      > > > > > > > > > something like a change in the zeitgeist," Hitchens
      > told
      > > > > > Zoll,
      > > > > > > > > > positing "a lot of people, in this country in
      > > > particular,
      > > > > > who
      > > > > > > > are
      > > > > > > > > > fed up with endless lectures by bogus clerics and
      > > > endless
      > > > > > > > bullying."
      > > > > > > > > > Zoll writes that atheists like Hitchens are tired of
      > > > > > > > > > believers "using fairy tales posing as divine
      > scripture
      > > > to
      > > > > > > > justify
      > > > > > > > > > their lust for power."
      > > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > > Atheism is on a roll, if not a holy roll, in the
      > book
      > > > world.
      > > > > > > > Last
      > > > > > > > > > year philosopher Daniel Dennett published Breaking
      > the
      > > > Spell
      > > > > > > > > > (Viking), British scientist Richard Dawkins followed
      > > > with
      > > > > > The
      > > > > > > > God
      > > > > > > > > > Delusion (Houghton Mifflin), and writer Sam Harris,
      > > > > > described by
      > > > > > > > > > Zoll as "a little-known graduate student" until his
      > > > > > successes,
      > > > > > > > has
      > > > > > > > > > been grabbing middlebrow readers with his The End of
      > > > Faith
      > > > > > > > (Norton,
      > > > > > > > > > 2004) and Letter to a Christian Nation (Knopf, 2006).
      > > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > > This fall's second wave comes at the culture under
      > the
      > > > > > banner of
      > > > > > > > > > secularism, even under the gentler light of irony.
      > > > Canadian
      > > > > > > > > > philosopher Charles Taylor, in his massive A Secular
      > Age
      > > > > > > > (Harvard
      > > > > > > > > > University Press), seeks to understand what that
      > title
      > > > means
      > > > > > for
      > > > > > > > us —
      > > > > > > > > > he's so ecumenical and thoughtful in his struggle
      > to
      > > > > > understand
      > > > > > > > > > what he dubs "secularity" that you might not realize
      > > > he's a
      > > > > > > > > > believing Catholic. Columbia University's Mark
      > Lilla, in
      > > > The
      > > > > > > > > > Stillborn God (Knopf), offers a rich intellectual
      > > > etiology
      > > > > > of
      > > > > > > > how
      > > > > > > > > > religion and politics realigned themselves
      > > > within "political
      > > > > > > > > > theology" to usher in our putatively secular
      > modernity.
      > > > From
      > > > > > > > France,
      > > > > > > > > > Olivier Roy's Secularism Confronts Islam (Columbia
      > > > > > University
      > > > > > > > Press)
      > > > > > > > > > acknowledges the hostility to Islam marked by its
      > title,
      > > > > > while
      > > > > > > > > > arguing against it.
      > > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > > Atheism now flourishes even in the form of the gift
      > > > book,
      > > > > > the
      > > > > > > > kind
      > > > > > > > > > stackable by the register, as in Joan Konner's
      > > > collection of
      > > > > > > > > > quotations, The Atheist's Bible (Ecco/HarperCollins,
      > > > 2007).
      > > > > > > > Polls
      > > > > > > > > > show that 98 percent of Americans believe in God.
      > But if
      > > > > > atheism
      > > > > > > > is
      > > > > > > > > > going mass in some small way, an easily portable
      > gift
      > > > text
      > > > > > is
      > > > > > > > just
      > > > > > > > > > as important as a sacred one.
      > > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > > For almost everyone involved in the believer/atheist
      > > > debate,
      > > > > > > > atheism
      > > > > > > > > > consists in denying the existence of God, then
      > > > > > philosophically
      > > > > > > > > > evaluating the consequences in the spirit (if not
      > > > according
      > > > > > to
      > > > > > > > the
      > > > > > > > > > exact program) of a contemporary Nietzsche or Grand
      > > > > > Inquisitor.
      > > > > > > > Yet,
      > > > > > > > > > to a literary critic's eye, many of these books
      > ignore,
      > > > for
      > > > > > the
      > > > > > > > most
      > > > > > > > > > part, a crucial question: What should the atheist's
      > > > position
      > > > > > be
      > > > > > > > > > on "sacred texts"?
      > > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > > Think of it as another "death of the author" problem.
      > > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > > The first difficulty for atheists is glaringly
      > apparent.
      > > > > > Unlike
      > > > > > > > the
      > > > > > > > > > situation with God, atheists can't deny the
      > existence of
      > > > > > sacred
      > > > > > > > > > texts, at least as texts. There's indisputably
      > something
      > > > on
      > > > > > hand
      > > > > > > > to
      > > > > > > > > > deal with. They can only deny to such texts the
      > quality
      > > > of
      > > > > > > > > > sacredness. That behooves atheists, then, to have a
      > > > clear
      > > > > > > > definition
      > > > > > > > > > of the sacred — object of veneration, say,
      > or "something
      > > > > > related
      > > > > > > > to
      > > > > > > > > > the holy," or "something set apart from the non-
      > holy,"
      > > > > > > > or "something
      > > > > > > > > > worthy of extreme respect" — and also a clear
      > definition
      > > > of
      > > > > > text
      > > > > > > > or
      > > > > > > > > > book. Many atheists who have a relatively clear idea
      > of
      > > > what
      > > > > > > > they
      > > > > > > > > > mean by "God" when they reject His, Her, or Its
      > > > existence,
      > > > > > > > possess
      > > > > > > > > > little knowledge of the sacred texts that animate
      > > > religions.
      > > > > > > > Indeed,
      > > > > > > > > > Jacques Berlinerblau, in his book The Secular Bible:
      > Why
      > > > > > > > > > Nonbelievers Must Take Religion Seriously (Cambridge
      > > > > > University
      > > > > > > > > > Press, 2005), opens his study by declaring, "In all
      > but
      > > > > > > > exceptional
      > > > > > > > > > cases, today's secularists are biblically
      > illiterate."
      > > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > > Exploring what these books are as texts, then — take
      > the
      > > > Old
      > > > > > > > > > Testament, New Testament, and Koran as
      > representative —
      > > > is
      > > > > > the
      > > > > > > > first
      > > > > > > > > > step toward pondering the atheist's proper behavior
      > in
      > > > > > regard to
      > > > > > > > > > them. Happily, one can get help from non-sacred
      > texts,
      > > > since
      > > > > > > > > > critical scholarship on sacred texts, which includes
      > > > what
      > > > > > was
      > > > > > > > once
      > > > > > > > > > widely known as biblical criticism, continues apace.
      > > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > > For instance, Scribal Culture and the Making of the
      > > > Hebrew
      > > > > > Bible
      > > > > > > > > > (Harvard University Press, 2007), by Karel van der
      > > > Toorn,
      > > > > > > > president
      > > > > > > > > > of the University of Amsterdam, insists on the Bible
      > as
      > > > the
      > > > > > > > product
      > > > > > > > > > of a professional, scribal elite, specifically the
      > > > scribal
      > > > > > > > workshop
      > > > > > > > > > of the Second Temple in the period 500-200 BC.
      > Another
      > > > > > recent
      > > > > > > > study,
      > > > > > > > > > The Voice, the Word, the Books: The Sacred Scripture
      > of
      > > > the
      > > > > > > > Jews,
      > > > > > > > > > Christians, and Muslims (Princeton University Press,
      > > > 2007),
      > > > > > by
      > > > > > > > F.E.
      > > > > > > > > > Peters, professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic
      > studies
      > > > at
      > > > > > New
      > > > > > > > York
      > > > > > > > > > University, similarly looks at what Peters calls
      > > > the "human
      > > > > > > > > > fingerprints" all over these texts.
      > > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > > Van der Toorn is no sentimentalist. "Both the
      > production
      > > > and
      > > > > > the
      > > > > > > > > > promotion of the Hebrew Bible were the work of the
      > > > scribes,"
      > > > > > he
      > > > > > > > > > states. "Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the other prophets
      > did
      > > > not
      > > > > > write
      > > > > > > > the
      > > > > > > > > > books that the superscriptions attribute to them."
      > > > Indeed,
      > > > > > van
      > > > > > > > der
      > > > > > > > > > Toorn's analysis of the data leads him to conclude
      > > > that "the
      > > > > > > > modern
      > > > > > > > > > concept of books is unsuited to describe the written
      > > > > > production
      > > > > > > > from
      > > > > > > > > > the ancient Near East. ... To define the Bible as a
      > > > > > collection
      > > > > > > > of
      > > > > > > > > > books, as implied in the Greek designation biblia,
      > is an
      > > > > > > > > > anachronism. The Bible is a repository of
      > tradition." It
      > > > is,
      > > > > > he
      > > > > > > > > > states, "the result of a series of scribal
      > > > interventions;
      > > > > > > > previous
      > > > > > > > > > textual stages have not been preserved, with a few
      > > > > > exceptions
      > > > > > > > known
      > > > > > > > > > mainly through the discoveries of Qumran."
      > > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > > Peters, who examines three sacred texts in his book,
      > > > > > describes a
      > > > > > > > > > long process at whose end "are now three books or,
      > > > rather
      > > > > > more
      > > > > > > > > > precisely, three collections of books or pieces. An
      > > > > > impartial
      > > > > > > > > > observer, if such ever existed, might call them
      > edited
      > > > > > books,
      > > > > > > > which
      > > > > > > > > > makes believers uneasy since the term 'edited' calls
      > > > > > attention,
      > > > > > > > > > undue attention, it would seem, to the fact that if
      > all
      > > > > > these
      > > > > > > > words
      > > > > > > > > > had a Divine Author, they also had some very human
      > > > editors
      > > > > > whose
      > > > > > > > > > errant thumbprints are all over Scripture."
      > > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > > Peters brings this disenchantment of the sacred even
      > to
      > > > what
      > > > > > he
      > > > > > > > > > calls the "human fingerprints" on the Koran, which
      > > > Muslims
      > > > > > > > believe
      > > > > > > > > > is "totally and simultaneously true." Among the
      > > > fingerprints
      > > > > > are
      > > > > > > > the
      > > > > > > > > > traces of those "anonymous editors who, we are told
      > by
      > > > > > Muslim
      > > > > > > > > > tradition, collected the scattered records of
      > Muhammad's
      > > > > > > > > > revelations, added the headings now prefaced to each
      > > > sura,
      > > > > > and
      > > > > > > > then
      > > > > > > > > > arranged the suras in the order they now appear.
      > Apart
      > > > from
      > > > > > an
      > > > > > > > > > opening sura which is a prayer, that order appears
      > to
      > > > be, to
      > > > > > the
      > > > > > > > > > historians' considerable chagrin, roughly that of
      > > > descending
      > > > > > > > length.
      > > > > > > > > > As all concede, it is certainly not the order in
      > which
      > > > the
      > > > > > > > > > revelations were made public in Mecca or Medina."
      > > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > > Peters adds that "once the suras are reordered, even
      > in
      > > > the
      > > > > > most
      > > > > > > > > > approximate chronological terms, immediately a new
      > > > problem
      > > > > > > > arises.
      > > > > > > > > > On the face of it, many, if not most, of the suras
      > > > appear to
      > > > > > be
      > > > > > > > > > composites — rhyme and assonance schemes are broken
      > off;
      > > > > > there
      > > > > > > > are
      > > > > > > > > > syntactical anomalies and abrupt changes of style
      > and
      > > > > > subject;
      > > > > > > > that
      > > > > > > > > > is, periscopes from different times and settings
      > have
      > > > been
      > > > > > > > stitched
      > > > > > > > > > together to form a single and quite artificial sura
      > > > unit."
      > > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > > Such lack of credence in the God-authored notion of
      > > > sacred
      > > > > > texts
      > > > > > > > is
      > > > > > > > > > widespread not only among scholars, but even in
      > casual
      > > > book-
      > > > > > > > > > reviewing culture. Here, turning to the New
      > Testament,
      > > > > > consider
      > > > > > > > the
      > > > > > > > > > beginning of a review on Powells.com of another
      > recent
      > > > book,
      > > > > > > > titled
      > > > > > > > > > Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the
      > Bible
      > > > and
      > > > > > Why
      > > > > > > > > > (HarperSanFrancisco, 2005), by Bart D. Ehrman.
      > > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > > "Those who call the King James Version of the Bible
      > the
      > > > > > unerring
      > > > > > > > > > word of God," writes reviewer Doug Brown, "have a
      > slight
      > > > > > > > problem.
      > > > > > > > > > The New Testament of the KJV (as the King James
      > Version
      > > > is
      > > > > > > > usually
      > > > > > > > > > referred) was translated into English from a version
      > of
      > > > the
      > > > > > > > Greek
      > > > > > > > > > New Testament that had been collected from 12th-
      > century
      > > > > > copies
      > > > > > > > by
      > > > > > > > > > Erasmus. Where Erasmus couldn't find Greek
      > manuscripts,
      > > > he
      > > > > > > > > > translated to Greek from the Latin Vulgate (which
      > itself
      > > > had
      > > > > > > > been
      > > > > > > > > > translated from Greek back in the fourth century).
      > Here
      > > > the
      > > > > > > > problem
      > > > > > > > > > splits into two problems. First, Jesus spoke
      > Aramaic —
      > > > his
      > > > > > > > actual
      > > > > > > > > > words, never recorded, were only rendered in Greek
      > in
      > > > the
      > > > > > > > original
      > > > > > > > > > gospels. Thus, the KJV consists of Jesus's words
      > twice
      > > > > > refracted
      > > > > > > > > > through the prism of translation. Second, Erasmus's
      > > > Greek
      > > > > > New
      > > > > > > > > > Testament was based on handwritten copies of copies
      > of
      > > > > > copies of
      > > > > > > > > > copies, etc., going back over a millennium, and
      > today is
      > > > > > > > considered
      > > > > > > > > > one of the poorer Greek New Testaments."
      > > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > > Consider this just one example of a "sacred text"
      > > > treated
      > > > > > almost
      > > > > > > > as
      > > > > > > > > > a farcical text in regard to its having a single,
      > > > coherent,
      > > > > > > > > > intentional, shaping, authorial, divine mind behind
      > it.
      > > > Is
      > > > > > the
      > > > > > > > > > Bible, in one counting, the 66 books of the
      > Protestant
      > > > > > Bible,
      > > > > > > > the 73
      > > > > > > > > > books of the Roman Catholic Bible, or the 77 books
      > of
      > > > the
      > > > > > > > Eastern
      > > > > > > > > > Orthodox Bible?
      > > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > > After a litany of examples of intercopy
      > disagreements,
      > > > > > scribal
      > > > > > > > > > clarifications, arbitrary decisions on what is
      > canonical
      > > > and
      > > > > > > > what is
      > > > > > > > > > apocryphal, and putative scribal addenda such as the
      > > > > > > > controversial
      > > > > > > > > > last twelve verses of Mark (16:9-20) with their
      > > > references
      > > > > > to
      > > > > > > > snake
      > > > > > > > > > handling and speaking in tongues, it is difficult to
      > > > think
      > > > > > of
      > > > > > > > such
      > > > > > > > > > texts as sacred as opposed to much-handled —
      > > > compilations
      > > > > > over
      > > > > > > > time
      > > > > > > > > > by committee. If you'd been told recently that the
      > > > seventh
      > > > > > and
      > > > > > > > final
      > > > > > > > > > volume of the Harry Potter series had gone through
      > > > changes
      > > > > > at
      > > > > > > > the
      > > > > > > > > > hands of 10 copyists and editors, not to mention
      > been
      > > > > > translated
      > > > > > > > > > through several languages before reaching English,
      > would
      > > > you
      > > > > > > > feel
      > > > > > > > > > confident it was J.K. Rowling's sacred conclusion to
      > her
      > > > > > tale?
      > > > > > > > > > Writes Brown, "In many respects, the Bible was the
      > > > world's
      > > > > > first
      > > > > > > > > > Wikipedia article."
      > > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > > Religious true believers naturally possess arguments
      > > > against
      > > > > > > > some of
      > > > > > > > > > these considerations and against the overarching
      > > > conclusion
      > > > > > that
      > > > > > > > so-
      > > > > > > > > > called sacred texts are not sacred. They might want
      > to
      > > > argue
      > > > > > > > that
      > > > > > > > > > sacred texts are the handiwork of God; directly
      > > > dictated, as
      > > > > > in
      > > > > > > > the
      > > > > > > > > > Koran; communicated more indirectly, as in the Old
      > and
      > > > New
      > > > > > > > > > Testaments; or, as one modern hermeneutic strategy
      > > > holds,
      > > > > > > > > > inelegantly played out through generations of
      > editors
      > > > and
      > > > > > > > copyists
      > > > > > > > > > in a messy process, like Darwinian evolution itself,
      > but
      > > > > > with
      > > > > > > > God
      > > > > > > > > > the entity whose flick of a finger started the ball
      > > > rolling.
      > > > > > > > None of
      > > > > > > > > > those conclusions, however, are the conclusions of
      > an
      > > > > > atheist.
      > > > > > > > If it
      > > > > > > > > > is the proper behavior of atheists in the face of
      > sacred
      > > > > > texts
      > > > > > > > that
      > > > > > > > > > interests us, we must work from the conclusion that
      > such
      > > > > > texts
      > > > > > > > are
      > > > > > > > > > not sacred in the sense of being "authorized" and
      > fact-
      > > > > > checked
      > > > > > > > by
      > > > > > > > > > God.
      > > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > > The next question is thus whether sacred texts are
      > > > sacred in
      > > > > > any
      > > > > > > > > > other sense than that they're God's handiwork. I say
      > > > they
      > > > > > are.
      > > > > > > > > > Sacred means not only related to God, but also set
      > apart
      > > > in
      > > > > > a
      > > > > > > > > > particular way, worthy of uncommon respect, not open
      > to
      > > > easy
      > > > > > > > > > violation. Here comes the twist on "Are Sacred Texts
      > > > > > Sacred?"
      > > > > > > > How
      > > > > > > > > > atheists react to sacred texts, I submit, properly
      > > > belongs
      > > > > > as
      > > > > > > > much
      > > > > > > > > > to the history of etiquette as to that of philosophy
      > or
      > > > > > > > theology.
      > > > > > > > > > Let me explain.
      > > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > > Much of the believer/atheist debate, about God or
      > sacred
      > > > > > texts,
      > > > > > > > > > takes place on printed pages, not at marriage
      > receptions
      > > > or
      > > > > > in
      > > > > > > > > > doctors' offices or during water-cooler
      > conversations.
      > > > We
      > > > > > tend
      > > > > > > > to be
      > > > > > > > > > friction-averse in the latter settings. When we
      > think,
      > > > as
      > > > > > > > > > intellectuals, of how atheists and believers should
      > > > behave,
      > > > > > or
      > > > > > > > do
      > > > > > > > > > behave, we often invoke the printed-page model of no-
      > > > holds-
      > > > > > > > barred
      > > > > > > > > > assertion of truth and belief, of argument and
      > > > > > counterargument,
      > > > > > > > > > regardless of whether the heavens fall. But there's
      > no
      > > > > > obvious
      > > > > > > > > > reason why the punch-counterpunch paradigm of the
      > page
      > > > > > should
      > > > > > > > > > dominate our discussion of sacred texts.
      > > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > > Not all secularly inclined intellectuals agree.
      > > > > > Berlinerblau,
      > > > > > > > for
      > > > > > > > > > instance, says the goal of his book is "to outline a
      > > > > > coherent
      > > > > > > > > > nontheological, nonapologetic paradigm for the study
      > of
      > > > > > ancient
      > > > > > > > > > Scriptures," while making plain that "the peculiar
      > way
      > > > in
      > > > > > which
      > > > > > > > the
      > > > > > > > > > Bible was composed in antiquity makes it far too
      > > > > > contradictory
      > > > > > > > and
      > > > > > > > > > incoherent a source for public-policy decisions in
      > > > > > modernity."
      > > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > > He seems to feel that such a goal requires an
      > enormously
      > > > > > > > aggressive
      > > > > > > > > > critical spirit and focus on truth in sacred texts.
      > He
      > > > > > writes
      > > > > > > > > > that "the secular study of the Hebrew Bible (or any
      > > > sacred
      > > > > > text)
      > > > > > > > is
      > > > > > > > > > animated by a spirit of critique. The motto of our
      > > > > > enterprise
      > > > > > > > might
      > > > > > > > > > just as well be 'criticize and be damned!' We are
      > bound
      > > > by
      > > > > > honor
      > > > > > > > to
      > > > > > > > > > cast aspersions on the integrity and historical
      > > > reliability
      > > > > > of
      > > > > > > > holy
      > > > > > > > > > documents. A scholarly exegete reads such work in
      > heckle
      > > > > > mode.
      > > > > > > > He or
      > > > > > > > > > she cannot accept that the Bible is the infallible
      > word
      > > > of
      > > > > > God
      > > > > > > > as
      > > > > > > > > > mediated by mortals (as the secularly religious and
      > most
      > > > > > > > biblical
      > > > > > > > > > scholars often contend), nor the distortion of the
      > word
      > > > of
      > > > > > God
      > > > > > > > (as
      > > > > > > > > > some radical theologians have charged). The
      > objective
      > > > > > existence
      > > > > > > > of
      > > > > > > > > > God — as opposed to the subjective perception of
      > Him —
      > > > is
      > > > > > not a
      > > > > > > > > > legitimate variable in scholarly analysis. The
      > Hebrew
      > > > > > Bible/Old
      > > > > > > > > > Testament is a human product tout court."
      > > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > > This strikes me, the bravura virtues of
      > Berlinerblau's
      > > > style
      > > > > > > > aside,
      > > > > > > > > > as machoism pretending to be scholarly integrity.
      > Why
      > > > can't
      > > > > > > > atheists
      > > > > > > > > > see sacred texts as sacred to them — to those
      > believers
      > > > over
      > > > > > > > there —
      > > > > > > > > > and behave respectfully when not provoked? It is
      > simply
      > > > not
      > > > > > > > true, in
      > > > > > > > > > a normal, etiquette-infused vision of life, that we
      > > > think
      > > > > > truth
      > > > > > > > must
      > > > > > > > > > be stated at every time and in every context. We
      > tell
      > > > > > Grandma
      > > > > > > > that
      > > > > > > > > > she's looking well when she's looking terrible. We
      > tell
      > > > > > Grandpa
      > > > > > > > that
      > > > > > > > > > he's going to be fine when we haven't the faintest
      > idea
      > > > how
      > > > > > > > things
      > > > > > > > > > will turn out for him. We lie to people in small
      > ways
      > > > every
      > > > > > day
      > > > > > > > to
      > > > > > > > > > make interactions gentler and less tense, and to be
      > kind
      > > > to
      > > > > > > > others.
      > > > > > > > > > Indeed, in a wonderful against-the-grain
      > philosophical
      > > > book
      > > > > > some
      > > > > > > > > > years ago titled The Varnished Truth (University of
      > > > Chicago
      > > > > > > > Press,
      > > > > > > > > > 1993), philosopher David Nyberg argued that white
      > lies
      > > > are
      > > > > > > > > > the "glue" that hold the civilized world together.
      > Why
      > > > > > shouldn't
      > > > > > > > a
      > > > > > > > > > similar gentleness and desire to avoid hurtful
      > comments
      > > > > > inform
      > > > > > > > > > atheists when they write about books that many hold
      > > > sacred?
      > > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > > The most familiar rebuke to this rears its head
      > > > regularly in
      > > > > > the
      > > > > > > > > > most scathing, sarcastic, and popular of the atheist
      > > > wave,
      > > > > > > > Hitchens'
      > > > > > > > > > God Is Not Great. It is that believers in the God-
      > given
      > > > > > > > authority of
      > > > > > > > > > sacred texts are "ultimately incapable" of leaving
      > > > > > nonbelievers
      > > > > > > > > > alone. Religion, writes Hitchens, "does not, and in
      > the
      > > > long
      > > > > > run
      > > > > > > > > > cannot, be content with its own marvelous claims and
      > > > sublime
      > > > > > > > > > assurances. It must seek to interfere with the lives
      > of
      > > > > > > > > > nonbelievers, or heretics, or adherents of other
      > faiths.
      > > > It
      > > > > > may
      > > > > > > > > > speak about the bliss of the next world, but it
      > wants
      > > > power
      > > > > > in
      > > > > > > > this
      > > > > > > > > > one. This is only to be expected. It is, after all,
      > > > wholly
      > > > > > man-
      > > > > > > > made."
      > > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > > The cosmopolitan atheist of today — the well-
      > educated
      > > > > > secularist
      > > > > > > > > > steeped in the histories of various faiths, as well
      > as
      > > > the
      > > > > > > > carnage
      > > > > > > > > > they've produced back then and now — can't easily
      > toss
      > > > off
      > > > > > > > > > Hitchens's point. Polite respect ends when believers
      > > > insist
      > > > > > on
      > > > > > > > > > sacred texts as God's authorization of those
      > believers
      > > > to
      > > > > > > > regulate,
      > > > > > > > > > suppress, or punish the behavior of nonbelievers. In
      > > > such
      > > > > > > > > > situations, the atheist's politeness goes out the
      > window
      > > > > > because
      > > > > > > > the
      > > > > > > > > > believer has thrown his politeness out the window
      > first.
      > > > Is
      > > > > > > > there
      > > > > > > > > > anything as impolite — a gentle word, to be sure —
      > as
      > > > > > forcing
      > > > > > > > one's
      > > > > > > > > > moral rules on another because they supposedly come
      > from
      > > > a
      > > > > > > > divine
      > > > > > > > > > being whose existence the other doesn't accept?
      > > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > > As a result, we get the predominant tones in which
      > > > atheists
      > > > > > have
      > > > > > > > > > assessed sacred texts over the centuries — anger,
      > > > > > disrespect,
      > > > > > > > > > contempt, sarcasm, insult, dismissal, even pity.
      > > > Consider
      > > > > > three
      > > > > > > > > > examples.
      > > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > > "The Bible," sighed Voltaire. "That is what fools
      > have
      > > > > > written,
      > > > > > > > what
      > > > > > > > > > imbeciles command, what rogues teach, and young
      > children
      > > > are
      > > > > > > > made to
      > > > > > > > > > learn by heart."
      > > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > > "As to the book called the Bible," thundered Thomas
      > > > > > Paine, "it
      > > > > > > > is
      > > > > > > > > > blasphemy to call it the word of God. It is a book
      > of
      > > > lies
      > > > > > and
      > > > > > > > > > contradictions, and a history of bad times and bad
      > men.
      > > > > > There
      > > > > > > > are
      > > > > > > > > > but a few good characters in the whole book."
      > > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > > And, as nasty wrapper, there is A.A. Milne's
      > point. "The
      > > > Old
      > > > > > > > > > Testament," he claimed, "is responsible for more
      > > > atheism,
      > > > > > > > > > agnosticism, disbelief — call it what you will —
      > than
      > > > any
      > > > > > book
      > > > > > > > ever
      > > > > > > > > > written: It has emptied more churches than all the
      > > > > > > > > > counterattractions of cinema, motor bicycle, and
      > golf
      > > > > > course."
      > > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > > Harsh stuff. Yet the very sophisticated
      > understanding of
      > > > > > history
      > > > > > > > and
      > > > > > > > > > society that often justifies the atheist's
      > snappishness
      > > > in
      > > > > > such
      > > > > > > > > > remarks — the elegant scholarship, for example, of
      > > > Taylor's
      > > > > > and
      > > > > > > > > > Lilla's books — should also lead him or her not to
      > stir
      > > > > > > > conflicts of
      > > > > > > > > > believer and unbeliever unnecessarily. Because
      > > > > > sophistication
      > > > > > > > > > implies an equal grasp of etiquette and tolerance as
      > a
      > > > > > bulwark
      > > > > > > > of
      > > > > > > > > > civilized, nonviolent life together on the part of
      > > > believers
      > > > > > and
      > > > > > > > > > nonbelievers. In that respect, Taylor, Lilla, and
      > Roy's
      > > > > > second
      > > > > > > > wave
      > > > > > > > > > of books — books as thoughtful as those of Dennett
      > and
      > > > > > Dawkins,
      > > > > > > > but
      > > > > > > > > > considerably less offensive — wisely pay little
      > direct
      > > > > > attention
      > > > > > > > to
      > > > > > > > > > sacred texts, focusing more on how believers have
      > > > behaved
      > > > > > than
      > > > > > > > on
      > > > > > > > > > their authorizing documents.
      > > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > > That's all to the good. In advanced, progressive,
      > > > tolerant
      > > > > > > > > > societies, we also don't go up to strangers and tell
      > > > them
      > > > > > that
      > > > > > > > > > they're ugly, that their children are repulsive,
      > that
      > > > their
      > > > > > > > clothes
      > > > > > > > > > don't match, that they need a bath, that the leisure
      > > > > > activity
      > > > > > > > > > they're engaged in is stupid and a waste of time. In
      > the
      > > > > > same
      > > > > > > > way,
      > > > > > > > > > atheists should not, unprovoked, go on and on about
      > how
      > > > > > sacred
      > > > > > > > texts
      > > > > > > > > > lack God's imprimatur. And believers should not
      > blithely
      > > > go
      > > > > > > > after
      > > > > > > > > > atheists. If this sounds like the credo of an
      > American —
      > > > an
      > > > > > odd
      > > > > > > > > > creature of history who might be an atheist or
      > believer —
      > > >
      > > > > > the
      > > > > > > > plea
      > > > > > > > > > is guilty. One can, of course, line up the
      > bolstering
      > > > high-
      > > > > > > > culture
      > > > > > > > > > quotations on this side too, against the belligerent
      > > > > > atheists.
      > > > > > > > > > Schopenhauer's proviso that politeness is "a tacit
      > > > agreement
      > > > > > > > that
      > > > > > > > > > people's miserable defects, whether moral or
      > > > intellectual,
      > > > > > shall
      > > > > > > > on
      > > > > > > > > > either side be ignored and not made the subject of
      > > > > > reproach."
      > > > > > > > Even
      > > > > > > > > > Eric Hoffer's lovely line that "rudeness is the weak
      > > > man's
      > > > > > > > imitation
      > > > > > > > > > of strength."
      > > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > > The simple answer, then, to how atheists should
      > respond
      > > > to
      > > > > > > > sacred
      > > > > > > > > > texts is: politely, if possible, employing all the
      > wry
      > > > > > ambiguity
      > > > > > > > > > book critics use when awkwardly trapped with the
      > author
      > > > or
      > > > > > > > admirer
      > > > > > > > > > of a book about which they have reservations. "It's
      > > > really
      > > > > > quite
      > > > > > > > > > amazing," one might say, or, "You know, I was just
      > > > reading
      > > > > > it
      > > > > > > > the
      > > > > > > > > > other day — it's as good as ever."
      > > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > > But when believers start to use sacred texts to
      > oppress,
      > > > the
      > > > > > > > atheist
      > > > > > > > > > must attack and reject the "divine" aspect of their
      > > > books,
      > > > > > out
      > > > > > > > of
      > > > > > > > > > self-defense and because it interferes with the
      > > > individual's
      > > > > > > > freedom
      > > > > > > > > > of conscience and behavior.
      > > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > > Some things, after all, are sacred.
      > > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > > Carlin Romano, critic at large for The Chronicle and
      > > > > > literary
      > > > > > > > critic
      > > > > > > > > > for The Philadelphia Inquirer, teaches philosophy
      > and
      > > > media
      > > > > > > > theory
      > > > > > > > > > at the University of Pennsylvania.
      > > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > > > -----------------------------------------------------
      > ----
      > > > ----
      > > > > > ----
      > > > > > > > ----
      > > > > > > > > > -----------
      > > > > > > > > > http://chronicle.com
      > > > > > > > > > Section: The Chronicle Review
      > > > > > > > > > Volume 54, Issue 4, Page B11
      > > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > > >
      > > > > > > >
      > > > > > >
      > > > > >
      > > > >
      > > >
      > >
      >
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