Sunday, October 6, 2013

Three of these things belong together

♫ Three of these things belong together. Three of these things are kinda the same. One of these things does not belong here. Now it's time to play our game. 

1. "The difference between science and religion is the difference between a genuine openness to fruits of human inquiry in the 21st century, and a premature closure to such inquiry as a matter of principle."
—Sam Harris

2. "Religion is about turning untested belief into unshakable truth through the power of institutions and the passage of time."
—Richard Dawkins

3. "This imperviousness to reason is, I think, the property that we should most fear in religion."
—Daniel Dennett

4. "For me, this is an important key. If one has the answers to all the questions—that is the proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself."
—Jorge Mario Bergoglio

Well, can you spot the one that doesn't belong?

Yes. You're right. Three of these statements are made by people who studied science (neuroscience, evolutionary biology, and cognitive science) their whole lives, but not religion. The statement that doesn't belong is the last one which is by a religious, who studied religion his whole life.

Here is Bergoglio, the religion scholar, again:
"Exegetes and theologians help the church to mature in her own judgment. Even the other sciences and their development help the church in its growth in understanding. There are ecclesiastical rules and precepts that were once effective, but now they have lost value or meaning. The view of the church’s teaching as a monolith to defend without nuance or different understandings is wrong."

But I wouldn't jump to any conclusions. Bergoglio might be wrong in his description of religion and the others right. Most likely they did learn about religion as children.


Big Myk said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Big Myk said...

I'm embarrassed by all the typos in my last comment. Here it is again.

In another historic interview -- this time with Eugenio Scalfari, an Italian intellectual and co-founder of the newspaper La Repubblica -- Pope Francis made this surprising statement: "Proselytism is solemn nonsense, it makes no sense. We need to get to know each other, listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us. Sometimes after a meeting I want to arrange another one because new ideas are born and I discover new needs. This is important: to get to know people, listen, expand the circle of ideas." The entire interview can be found here.

We live in interesting times. The atheists want to proselytize, and the Pope wants to improve his knowledge about the world and expand his circle of ideas.

Scalfari ends the article with the following: “This is Pope Francis. If the Church becomes like him and becomes what he wants it to be, it will be an epochal change.”

Big Myk said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James R said...

That's an intriguing article. Thanks for the link.

What's interesting to me is not so much what the Pope is saying. Those same ideas have been said by countless others for centuries—among the laity, the clergy, theologians, and the leaders of religion. Even we have been promoting many of these ideas since our adolescence—so they can't be all that unique or profound. I take that back, they are profound, but they can be understood.

What I do find interesting is that someone like Eugenio Scalfari would claim this may be an epochal change. I agree, and for two reasons.

One is the times in which we live. I'm somewhat surprised how the world changed (or, perhaps, didn't change) to view religion in such a narrow way. I suppose it involved the recent rise of fundamentalism, and, of course, 9/11. I think that one event, now that we can add some perspective, fueled a single focus toward religion. The New Atheism movement was particularly inspired by 9/11.

Secondly, despite the fact that anyone willing to study religion would notice that it is not all about belief or dogma or miracles or damnation or proselytizing, few take that step, or care to. But what the Pope says is reported and commented upon (as we are doing) as if he were a celebrity. Many will be surprised by default. I must admit it is rare, at least in my lifetime, to have a Pope express in his own very personal, and, in my mind, intriguingly unique way, many of the same notions we learned early in college and have explored or wrestled with ever since.

So, it may open some minds. It may be epochal. At the very least, the New Atheists, can never again, in good conscience of their beliefs, continue to use the expression, "Does a bear shit in the woods? Is the Pope Catholic?" (or even religious) without reflection or a sense of irony.

Big Myk said...

I agree that it's interesting how the world's view of religion has changed. Part of it may be that religion itself has changed.

I concede that I live in a very narrow space in the world, but when I was growing up, I viewed religion as this very progressive thing.

After all, the civil rights movement was mostly led by clergy. People like the Berrigan brothers and Sr. McCallister were in the forefront of the peace movement. Then there was the human rights activist, Archbishop Óscar Romero. The sanctuary movement provided safe haven in churches for Central American refugees who were barred from admission to the US by restrictive immigration policies.

And then you add the great thinkers, like Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Karl Rahner, Thomas Merton, Hans Kung, Edward Schillebeeckx.

It always seemed to me that, given the greatest commandment, of course Christianity would be progressive and humanitarian. A nun once told us in Sunday school, "You don't have to like anybody; but you must love everyone." From the beginning I felt I understood what that meant.

But something happened. One day I woke up and the church was this crabbed, boring and reactionary institution. My kids, for example never experienced the excitement I felt as a kid about religion and its possibilities. Perhaps with Pope Francis, we will regain what we lost.

James R said...

It's not our imagination that religion, or rather people's conception of religion, has changed. There are words and concepts in language that tend to be narrowly focused, like gravy, or appendicitis. Religion might be the least tangible or agreed upon term in all of language. Like 'humor' everyone's view is different. Unlike 'humor' people can't even agree on its broad conceptual meaning.

I ran across a couple of lines from Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion where he believes he is arguing against religion:
“There is something infantile in the presumption that somebody else has a responsibility to give your life meaning and point… The truly adult view, by contrast, is that our life is as meaningful, as full and as wonderful as we choose to make it.”

I and many others including, I suppose, Bergoglio would find that a ringing endorsement, if not an elegant definition, of religion. The only thing missing in his perceptive lines is that while it is our responsibility to give life meaning, we do that despite our knowledge that we are not responsible for our life. We take responsibility even in the face of uncertainty. While both Dawkins and the Pope would agree with that, one would call it religion, the other atheism.

As the New Atheists and the new Pope show, the term religion has totally opposite meanings for some. For some it is questioning, with no monolith rules; for some it is but a recipe of rules. Again, the humorous point of the post was to show that often the misconception is rooted on how much one knows or has studied religion.

Big Myk said...

Bergoglio: But now let me ask you a question: you, a secular non-believer in God, what do you believe in? You are a writer and a man of thought. You believe in something, you must have a dominant value. Don't answer me with words like honesty, seeking, the vision of the common good, all important principles and values but that is not what I am asking. I am asking what you think is the essence of the world, indeed the universe. You must ask yourself, of course, like everyone else, who we are, where we come from, where we are going. Even children ask themselves these questions. And you?

Scalfari: I believe in Being, that is in the tissue from which forms, bodies arise.

Bergoglio: And I believe in God, not in a Catholic God, there is no Catholic God, there is God and I believe in Jesus Christ, his incarnation. Jesus is my teacher and my pastor, but God, the Father, Abba, is the light and the Creator. This is my Being. Do you think we are very far apart?"

James R said...

Only an atheist can ever reach God.

Big Myk said...

Meanwhile, the tax collectors and the harlots are going into the kingdom of God before the chief priests and the elders of the people.