Spark: Does Religion Empower Women?

WaPo’s On Faith asks its panelists Does religion empower women? This is one of the few On Faiths that I’ll probably read each response to. I’m looking forward to the Christian/Catholic answer, which I’ve found generally centers around “having kids is empowering!!1!” There is some wonderful evidence for non-child-based empowerment which I’ve yet to hear a priest mention when trying to keep women in their flock.


  1. Amber

    If having kids is empowering, why do women need religion to tell them that? Isn’t it up to each individual woman to determine what empowers her?

  2. I agree that each of us should find what empowers us, but in a culture where women are devalued, external empowerment becomes appealing. The mainstream Catholic media perpetuates the “you want empowerment? guess what! you’ve already got it!” line, telling women that they are “called” to find fulfilling lives as wives, mothers, or nuns. Although women who look for fulfillment elsewhere are rarely denigrated, women who don’t find fulfillment in those limited and traditional avenues can start to feel that there’s something wrong with them.

    There has been some (recent) fascinating research about women in the middle ages who gained power in the Church and how they managed it (hint: they didn’t have kids). There is also interesting research about the connection between food and holy women—essentially, finding empowerment from the mundane rubric they were given.

    These are, however, very rarely mentioned by mainstream Catholics. Perhaps mysticism has fallen by the wayside (or they’re trying not to freak people out: “you can have kids or…starve yourself!”), but these are the stories that, before I reconciled myself to leaving Catholicism, inspired me.

  3. It’s much the same thing in Mormonism, but even more intensely. A woman’s “godly” calling is to be a mother on earth to prepare for an eternity of motherhood to an entire world/galaxy/universe. Of course, she’ll get to share in the spiritual child birthing responsibilities blessings with her sister wives to her one eternal god-husband.


    And if you do anything else, like have a (horror) job, or send your kids to (HORROR of horrors) daycare, then you’re not righteous/faithful/godly/etc.

    When I look at my mum’s life it really makes me sad. She does enjoy a lot of things about being a mother, but she is told that her identity needs to be mother first, before anything else, and I think that is really detrimental. She sees herself as personally successful as a direct function of the Mormonness of her children, so when they leave the church (me and my brother), she feels like an utter failure because that was her 1 job as a woman – raise faithful children. What is so sad is that she stopped everything she loved to be the perfect Mormon wife – her dancing, her painting and art, her schooling to become a vet. She gave it all up, willingly, but has never, after 26 years and 5 children, gone back to it.

    Unlike in Catholicism, women who are seen as “feminist” and who don’t stick to the traditional role of mother, homemaker, husband-pleaser, are openly denigrated by the church leadership, by fellow members, and by their own internal guilt.

  4. In Christianity, (at least my understanding of it) being a woman is absolutely no different than being a man – both have equal standing in God’s eyes. From reading at least the Bible, and other historical accounts of ancient cultures, it appears that it is human culture that says otherwise – that a woman’s value is associated with her ability to bear children or be a good wife, etc. From the Old Testament onward, there are clear verses that demonstrate how very highly God values women, his final and probably greatest creation.

    Warning – The following reasoning assumes a Christian biblical worldview and are all backed up by abundantly clear Bible verses:

    Are you kidding me? The role of being a wife and having children is where my worth comes from as a woman? Since when does what you do or what role you play in this life have anything REMOTELY to do with your worth?

    For God sake–what incredible and debilitating nonsense. You’re worth comes from your identity. What is your identity? You are a daughter of the living God, a princess on earth among people. You are a direct descendant of the highest royalty that ever existed. Whether or not you have children, or get married has absolutely nothing to do with the fact of your true identity.

    You are what you are – regardless of how you dress or what you do or what you look like – you are a child of God. Dearly loved and thought about every day of your life. There is no one greater than you in the entire universe except for God himself. Even the angels take great interest in you. For God made you for a purpose, and they wait to see what the sons and daughters of God do when they embrace who they really are. What they do while they are here will never be forgotten.

    It may be hard to see this, but your worth does not come from what you will do, but simply for who you already are. You can rest from trying to generate self-worth though any action on your part. But because of your very noble nature, you will do great things nonetheless.

    Epictitus said it best (my paraphrase):
    “If any one of you were a close friend of Caesar, none of us would be able to stand your arrogance. Why then, do you consider it so small a thing to be a child of God himself??”

    You are more important that you can possibly imagine. Every decision you make here and now has eternal consequences – because you are immortal.

    … that’s my best shot on a very solid biblical Christian perspective of women. Basically, you can’t possibly be any more important unless you were God himself.

    Have any of you read C.S. Lewis’ space triology? specifically Paralandra, or his work The Business of Heaven? Each depict the woman in her glory when she fully realizes who she really is – as he said himself – a creature we would all be tempted to worship.

    Good God! Stop looking at organized religion for answers on self worth – They are by and large institutions of people with dubious motives – instead, look at the Bible.

    Side note: my wife is now a junior executive, and we both have no doubt that God is calling her there. My goal as a soul-mate to my wife is to help her attain her dreams in whatever she loves to do or what God has given her to do as best as I can. Why would I not? I love her. We both work for the benefit of each other to do what we are called to do or dream of one day doing.

  5. I tell you the truth, if I didn’t believe God thought this way, and had ample proof to back this up biblically and from God’s own personal discussions and actions with me on the topic, I wouldn’t be a Christian. It is true. Too amazing to be true, perhaps, but true nevertheless.

  6. Jonathan, I think that the fact that you and your wife truly espouse the best parts of Christianity is wonderful, and if more did, there would be far fewer problems in the world.

    Unfortunately, there is also an insidiously dark side to all religions, Christianity not excepted. There are passages in the Bible that are absolutely disgusting and justify all sorts of immoral and evil behaviour. Your interpretation of the Bible probably (and this is just conjecture on my part) either is that those passages aren’t of God, or they are overridden by some more important principle. Whatever the case, I’d have to say that your morality is you, and not God, and certainly not the Bible.

    It is biblical, for example, to not let women speak in church, they must not cut their hair, they can be stoned for being a victim of a crime, and so on, and so on. Yes, there may be passages that are more equal, but overall, it is (in my opinion) a rather sexist collection of stories and supposed history. It can (and is) interpreted to mean any number of things, and while I think your view is really great, I have little faith or trust in the fact that your interpretation is somehow *more* correct or *more* godly than any one elses’. Organised Christin religions don’t exist in a vacuum – they get their doctrines and teachings from culture, yes, but also from the Bible, as filtered through their culture. Even you have filtered your understanding of the Bible through your culture, worldview, etc. From what you’ve said, that understanding is much, much nicer and loving that most, but it is still just your interpretation.

    I think it is a fallacy to believe that there is any one correct interpretation (what God intended) of the Bible that any one human or group of humans can possibly glean from it. If God does exist and is some omnipotent and omniscient being, then s/he/it obviously posses mental powers/comprehension of he universe far beyond any human. That being the case, whatever s/he/it may or may not have said to humans cannot possibly have been interpreted in a pure form and written down in human language uncorrupted. And even if the Bible was somehow (magically) error-free and perfectly just what God meant, we still wouldn’t be able to interpret or understand it exactly the way God does. Every person filters information through their culture, their worldview, and their individual physiological, mental, and emotional limitations.

    For all these reasons, I don’t trust any one person’s interpretation of the Bible or of what/who God is to be more inherently correct than any one else’s. I may say that yours is certainly nicer to women, and all people perhaps, but it is not necessarily (or at all) universally true. You say that your own personal experiences with God have confirmed your view to be the correct one, and I respect that very much. However, the same is said of just about everyone who has a difference of opinion, and believe me, I once was one of those people. My interpretation was really the right one, because I really knew what God was telling me, and the other people simply weren’t understanding him correctly. My understanding of the Bible would have conflicted in places with yours, Jonathon, and and I would have been convinced that I was right for the exact same reasons you give.

    I suppose what I’m trying to say is what xJane said in one sentence. “If only this is what religion was like”. Unfortunately, it is, by and large, not like this, for all the reasons I gave.

  7. Craig,

    Beautifully worded! Rarely have I seen such excellent thinking on this topic, maybe because the average Christian is afraid to ask these questions. Even if you hadn’t said it, I would have thought that your statements come from real experiences and frustrations with faith.

    Of course I can’t give you satisfying answers to these questions. Expect not to find them instantly. I can only give you the things I’m learning along the way… I’ve only been a Christian for 20 years and only know very little. What I am about to say presupposes a Christian worldview, so please take it as such, as I do not have the ability to prove God exists here or anywhere outside the constructs of my wordview.

    Most of the examples you gave are good criticisms, but have great answers that are very satisfactory. However, to be honest, there are some you didn’t mention that do not have good answers at all – so your general point stands.

    I have been reading the Bible and studying it – sometimes in the original language, for a long time now. I have to tell you that the small picture of God that I have portrayed in my first comment is representative of so much of it, you wouldn’t believe it. For every negative and confusing passage about God, I can give you about a thousand (not exaggerating) that are the opposite and are as amazing or more than what I mentioned in my first comment. I have to conclude that the few problem passages are there because I don’t understand something correctly – possibly the original language is unclear or something else – but by and large, the picture of God that is presented is utterly amazing and beautiful and quite internally consistant.

    However, you’re response to that statement is predictable and very appropriate: That is great, but it is all still only my complex interpretation. This is a very important and good point. So important, that it is in fact the very crux of the problematic issue of finding spiritual truth.

    How can we, who are imperfect and a little selfish, whose concepts of reality are colored by our likewise imperfect culture (religious or otherwise) find spiritual truth?

    You can’t do it like cultural, people-run religious institutions do – by simply having a book to follow and a pastor/priest to answer all your questions about it. Sometimes you don’t even have a book to follow, and most of the time your pastor is corrupt or confused himself/herself.

    Do you understand a loved one by reading books about them? Well, maybe at first if some existed, but what kind of relationship would that be if that were the only way to know about them? God is not a concept – he/she is a person, an intelligent being (according to the Bible). If that is the case, the Bible was meant to be stories about his/her history, not your only source for truth about him/her. If that is all we had, of course people would misunderstand things all the time – interpret them according to what they want to hear, or with the colored glasses of our cultural wordview.

    But what if you could talk to God, spend time with Him/Her just like you do a significant other? If you are confused, why not just ask? When dealing with a human person, who would you say would know the most about them? People who have read their histories in books, or people that actually were their closest friends/lovers? The latter of course – you get the info from the source – not only do you get to hear what they think, but you watch them act – and actions are more proof of a truth about them than their own words are.

    The spiritual life is about a love relationship between two real people. Getting to know God is like falling in love with someone – you don’t really know them that well initially, but as time goes on, you get to know them better and better. You are only human, and will never fully understand any other person, be it God or otherwise, but you will diligently spend your whole life learning because you love people and love God. God, as well as human beings, are too complex and beautiful to ever fully comprehend.

    Finding truth about any person, especially about God, is a process with a lot against you. But good Lord – what in life is more important than relationships? And what relationship is more important then the one with your Creator? We are built for relationships, whether the desire is from evolution or by God’s design, it is hard to disagree that it is not an integral part of who we are.

    A lot of people have a lot of different opinions about my wife. So what! Why should that stop me from my quest to love and know her personally and make my own conclusions? I KNOW her better then them all, and even if I didn’t – I would find out for myself and spend the rest of my life trying– because I love her. If I were to read about her in books, I would have a better understanding of what they are saying becuase I KNOW her personally. After I’ve known her personally and watched her and talked to her for years, decades even, when I read about her, wouldn’t I understand even better what I am reading? I don’t spend time constructing logical arguments to determine if my wife loves ice cream, I ask her, and then I watch her eat it.

    So it is with God. The Bible was never intended to be the only source of the truth of God. God is the source of truth about God. The Bible matches up to the person becuase the people who wrote it were also in personal realationships with God too. Since you know the person (God) you can recognize Him/Her when other people are talking about the same person. The ways they describe God will be familar to your experience.

    Also, I think there is something alluring about mystery in a relationship. Just because I don’t know every darn thing about my wife dosen’t mean it’s not possible to love her. It is an element that draws me closer to her. I am drawn to mystery and beauty. I want discover more about the mystery and be drentched in her beauty as often as I can.

    Why is God different? He/She is mysterous, and so very beautiful – it brings tears to my eyes to remember our conversations and our time spent together.

    Spiritual truth is learned over time – slowly, through an intimate relationship with God. It is learned, forgotten, and relearned anew, just like a relationship with my wife. God is not a specimen to be studied under a microscope in a controlled enviornment, nor is my wife. That is approaching the problem with a wrong paradigm in mind. If you can’t control the subject of observation in order to get repeatable behavior, such an endeavor won’t work. Think of learning about a person by being in a relationship, love being the fuel that drives you, not a quest to conquer by intellectual understanding. Its unpredictable and chaotic, but it is the only way that will garner the most accurate truth.

    Tell me if you can – what is more imporant in life than relationships? Isn’t it worth any cost to love and know others regardless of varying options about them? Why live your life on the basis of other people’s confusion? Mabye we can take other people’s word for some things, such as my car is drivable for long distances according to my mechanic, but for heaven sakes, I’m not going to rely only on other people to learn about my wife and then tell me the truth they discovered about her- I want to find out for myself. I have a brain and the ability to reason, why can’t I do this? How much more is this true about God?

    So I say again, you can find spiritual truth. It is not easy, and it is not instant. It takes a lifetime. It is found in a thousand intimate moments thoughout your lifetime in a relationship with God himself. You will often be wrong, but over time you will be more and more right. With the same assurance and authority that I tell you something true about my wife, I can tell you what I did about God in my first message. I have been granted the authority because of the reality of the relationship. I have the authority to tell people truth about my wife because I know her very well. I can tell truth about God too – not because I only read a book and am a good Hebrew scholar or have a grasp of the ancient mind or a mastery of exegesis (I am not good at any of these things), but because I am in a relationship with Him for long enough to have learned those truths, forgotten them, and relearned them again until they were ingrained within me.

    [UPDATE: I fixed the formatting issues -xJane]

  8. Again, this view is nice, but it still (as you admitted) just your interpretation.

    Here’s the thing. What the supposed “real” doctrines of the Bible are or aren’t actually is immaterial. What matters is what people think they are. That is what is actually real. I don’t believe in God, in scripture, or in prayer (what I assume you mean when you say speaking to/with God). I believe there are neurochemical, biological, and psychological explanations for whatever you or I feel or have felt when having a “religious” or “spiritual” experience. I don’t for a second believe that there is some other power that causes them to happen, who then expects us to interpret what those feelings/neurotransmitters mean.

    I believe in science, because in the end, that is the only think that makes sense and is relatively objective. It is the only think that even approaches universals in truth or reality. Your experience is 100% subjective, and the conclusions you have drawn are also 100% subjective. They may be useful for your life, but that is the limit of their usefulness. They are absolutely useless to me or anyone else. Were I to follow your outlined path for acquiring spiritual truth, I know that I would come up with conclusions opposing and contradictory to yours. My god experience would tell me that in one way or another you were wrong, and that I had the *real* truth.

    In my opinion, god is a delusion invented by prehistoric humans to explain the inexplicable. Much of what the concept was meant to explain away, is now, through science, explicable, while some of it still is not (yet).

    Furthermore, your perception of the Bible seems to me to contradict historical fact as to how and why the Bible was assembled into it’s current forms. There are many Bibles, all of which contradict with each other, sometimes quite spectacularly, and all of which were made by men (rarely women).

    Your metaphor about understanding your wife, and therefore God, seems to be comparing apples to something that isn’t even fruit. You have direct, physical contact and experiences with her. You can see her, you can look at her actions and measure them against her words, and make useful judgments. None of that is possible with god(s). They exist in our imaginations only – until there is evidence to the contrary. What you attribute to God is easily explained by other, less mystical, and less complicated means – genetics, neurochemistry, psychology, sociology, etc. These are much simpler and measurable explanations that are far more reasonable than attributing intentions, words, books, or a man’s actions to an unobservable, unquantifiable being/essence/force/concept.

    There is no logical explanation or reason to believe in gods. There are many emotional reasons, but I believe I’ve given sufficient evidence why it is unreasonable to put stock in illogical and overly complicated explanations when there are simple and logical ones.

    If God really did exist, why did s/he/it make it impossible to reasonable believe that? And if s/he/it does exist, it is still pointless to believe in his/her/its existence because it has no measurable, observable, logical impact on anything. You obviously disagree, but you can’t give any reason why I ought to agree with you.

    And that is why religion and god has no useful meaning to me. And why I think that all humanity would be better off without it, especially women, gays, and other minorities.

  9. Craig – awesome discussion! It seems many of your criticisms in this post revolve around an atheist wordview, so I would say most of your criticisms are probably spot-on. I can’t argue across world views. What constitutes as proof is different, therefore logic and reason can’t work.

    I was only speaking within the framework that God exists, else my logic falls apart – I thought you were asking questions within that framework. If you weren’t then I apologize! That was a lot of writing to wade through just to waste your time. I’m glad for the questions you raised though – they do help me think about what I believe, which is exactly why I am here.

  10. You needn’t apologise. It was an interesting discussion.

    The main reason I don’t argue from a theistic viewpoint (besides not believing it) is because I think the reasoning tends to be circular rather than linear, as is usually the case with non-science based, subjective reasoning.

  11. Well… now you have me interested– purely in a non-debate information sharing kind of way…

    Within a theist worldview, how is a belief in God circular reasoning?

  12. In order to even have a theistic worldview you have to assume there is a god-figure. Then you test that assumption with the kinds of tests you gave. The “evidences” you get only suggest there is a god-figure if you’ve already made that assumption. There is no way to refute that, or any way to prove it either.

    In science, however, you may have an assumption or hypothesis, but if the results disprove the hypothesis, you can make a new one, and test again, and over and over. It doesn’t require an assumption that never can be challenged else it become meaningless, like a theistic worldview does.

    Basically, you believe in God, and therefore your experiences are from God, and they’re from God because you believe in him/her/it, etc. There’s no way to attack the problem from the outside and still get the same result.

    Whereas, I believe in x. I do some test and I get result y. That may or may not mean that x means y. It may tell me that x is false and that z–> y. That is not possible with theism. There is no way to test either the existence of God or the veracity of whether s/he/it has caused something unless you make an assumption that you cannot challenge, as I was unable to in our discussion.

    You claim that your version (the true version) of Christianity is unsexist. I state that there is logically no such thing as a true version of any religion, the bible, god, etc. You claim that you have authority to make that claim, and therefore it is real and substantive. I again give reasons why that claim is useless and cannot be applied to anything or by anyone else but you, as it is inherently subjective. We are arguing from two different worldviews, but yours in unverifiable, untestable, and relies on an unchallengeable assumption, whereas mine does not.

    Does that make sense?

  13. I really sympathize with Jonathan’s explanation about how to “know” the Divine. I will never deny the deep feeling of peace that I get from a deep breath in the woods, a sunset, the sea, a hike, sex, and meditation. These are very real experiences to me. If the Divine exists, the Divine is in these things (like in Eli Stone: “[Of course you believe in God]: You believe in right & wrong, you believe in justice, in fairness…and you believe in love. All those things, they’re God, Eli! And that? *gestures to the setting sun* That’s god, too.”).

    Unfortunately, it seems that the Divine is the Ultimate Rorschach: we see in it what we want, what we are, what we aspire to be, or what we fear. I would submit, Jonathan, that you look at the Divine and see a loving, respectful, beautiful being because you are a loving, respectful, beautiful being. I see a strong female essence that is profoundly welcoming because I want to be strong and welcoming. Others see a vengeful and angry God because they fear vengeance and anger; perhaps because it consumes them (and this might be reinforcing: they see it because they fear it, they fear it because they are told that’s what God is, and so on).

    Without an argument to start from, it can be hard to critique an argument. But the theist argument generally goes (please feel free to present another): the Bible tells me that God exists; I believe the Bible because God wrote it; therefore, God exists. Perhaps your argument is more along the lines of: I have been in the presence of God and so God exists. This is not a circular proof, it is an assertion. If everyone admitted that their “proofs” were “assertions”, I think we’d all get along much better. There is no logical need to “believe” an assertion.

    Now some theologians offer much better reasoned arguments (some of which boil back down to the above). Most notably Aquinas, who famously presented five. Personally, I’ve always found them to have logical holes, but have never taken the time to pick them apart. Perhaps I shall dig out my copy of the Summa and have at it 🙂

  14. Great comment xJane.

    Yeah, there is a marked difference between circular reasoning and an assertion. Either way, I can’t really argue from either viewpoint though, as neither make sense to me, logically. Perhaps that’s a flaw I have.

  15. lisa


    It sounds like you are putting science / reason in the spot of authority, but yet this authority is not able to be verified by its own definition as it requires of anything else.

    Would this indicate that you have an experiential belief in “science/reason” as your God? (Sort of like “Christian way” you’ve been criticizing?) Okay, no. : ) no?

    I’m not saying it’s entirely circular… but I think you have a few logical fallacies strewn in there. You are not a neutral observer anymore than Jon. Neutrality is a myth.

    Interesting conversation. btw.

  16. Lisa, what I think you’re saying is that religion and science/reason are somehow equal/comparable. Is that correct?

    Science and reason are necessarily on the point of authority because of evidence. Religion has no evidence. There is no real logic or reality to it. All religions are entirely invented non-reality based claims that are non-verifiable. The only way any of us knows how to get information about anything is through science, trial and error, evidence, hypotheses, etc. The only way you know exactly how to cook a pot of rice is because either you learnt how to through trial and error, or you learnt it from someone else who already did know. Actual, reality-based knowledge. That is science. Everything is science – science just means knowledge.

    I don’t necessarily disagree that true neutrality is a myth, but trying to compare my acceptance of science to someone’s belief in a religion is comparing apples to something that isn’t even fruit.

    Please point out specific logical fallacies for us to address.

    Science is not my god. I have no god, nor (I assert) does anyone else. God(s) do not exist. There is no point in believing something totally unbounded by reality, where there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever, where no affect can objectively be seen in the real world. That is my view of god/religion. I know that billions of other humans disagree. But the point is, science is no more my god that it is yours or anyone else’s. There is a categorical difference between gods and religion – things that cannot be proven, tested, or experienced because they don’t exist (if they did exist, they would be subject to scientific tests, as the existence of god is a scientific hypothesis), and science, reality, reason, knowledge, logic, which exist, which we all have experience with, regardless of our religions beliefs or lack thereof.

    Did that address your concerns?

  17. Thanks for your opinions.

    What I’m saying is that you posit science as a way to know truth, say as Christians do. It’s a funny modern irony to claim authority this way-the same way. We all realize science cannot attempt to prove many things most people assume, believe, and take for granted each day. It’s not so cut and dry. Lots of people put belief in knowledge, and knowledge changes all the time. It’s still religion. It still has fanatics. Science can easily skews the results to make its presuppositions fits. Ever take a statistics class? What do polls do, I mean, of course, what do they REALY do, or are they meant to do? (you get the idea)

    I just question your assertions of truth. You assume you are privy to it. Science is very flawed. Your religion of science is just as arbitrary, I posit, as Christianity. So, I would just throw out there… what guides your ethics? And why. If there is no God, are you not just borrowing someone else’s ethics? Are not ethics are rather arbitrary, or mere fantasy, (it would seem logical) without being inherently imbued?

  18. We all realize science cannot attempt to prove many things most people assume, believe, and take for granted each day.

    Pray, give me some examples of these things that people assume or take for granted, and why that means that science is like religion.

    I think it is fundamentally flawed to see science as type of religion. I think that science does indeed attempt to investigate (not prove) everything. We may not have the answers to everything yet, and we may not ever, but the point is we don’t just make up answers in science – we investigate, test, hypothesise, test again, etc. Just because we’ve not got the answer to something yet doesn’t mean it is unknowable or uninvestigatable through science.

    Just because scientists make mistakes or people misrepresent or misinterpret data doesn’t make it religion. That has to do with humanity’s propensity for error, not science.

    I don’t believe that there is anything that you actually know that you don’t know through science, or your direct observations, which is what science is based on.

    I do indeed say that science investigates truth, or put another way, reality. To me, truth and reality are one and the same thing. Religion tries to give answers about what is true, but doesn’t base it on reality, on what we can observe and experience. It is based on really old books written by men (rarely women), or on things that people claim, but have absolutely no evidence for. Faith is just that – belief in something that you cannot prove, for which you have no evidence. To me that has nothing to do with truth, because very, very often, religions reject that which is reality when it conflicts with what they claim, even though they have no evidence, and what evidence we have wholly contradicts their claims (take for example young earth creationism – it is not true, it simply cannot logically be, and is at odds with science).

    So the truth that I am privy to is simply reality. It is what I observe and experience, coupled with the observations and experiences of millions if not billions of others.

    It has naught to do with gods or religion, faith or salvation.

    The reason science changes is not because it is like a religion (which rarely change much, and when so, do so over great lengths of time), but what changes is the guess we make about reality. We make a guess, and then see if reality backs us up. Sometimes right away we know we were wrong, other times it takes longer to amass enough information as well as be able to interpret it correctly so that we know whether our guess, our hypothesis or theory is correct or not. I fail to see how this therefore means that science is arbitrary or like religion. It is absolutely the opposite of arbitrary. It relies on facts and reality, absolutely unlike religion. In no way does it make sense to say that science is equally arbitrary as Christianity. That simply seems absurd to me.

    Our scientific understanding is flawed and imperfect, this is true, but not because reality is changing, but because we have an imperfect intellect and a limited capacity for understanding. It takes time.

    If you had read the previous posts you’d see what guides my ethics, and the ethics of many atheists: humanism, which is based partly on evolutionary morality. Ethics are not totally arbitrary, because they are based in our biology, even our genes. However, I do ascribe to a certain type of cultural moral relativism, simply because complex ethics are most often culturally conditioned and have nothing to do with gods or anything objective. Even the part of ethics and morality that are biologically driven are there because those behavioural genes gave us an survival advantage over those humans and pre-humans that did not have those genes and did not survive. So we have the genetic component of ethics added to the cultural, or subjective element, and together that gives us our varying and often contradictory ethical systems. I am not borrowing any one else’s ethics, but I have my own, which are driven by my genetic make-up, as well as the experiences that I’ve had so far in my life that have shaped the way I think and perceive, and judge.

    Gods are not necessary for ethics, for I don’t believe that even your ethics are based on what you think they are. Very, very few people, Christians especially, actually base their morality on the Bible or on their religion (and thank goodness for that!). A good book for you to read to understand these ideas more would be The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. I’m not saying you should be an atheist by any means, but it is, I think, false to say that science or atheism is in any way analogous to religion, or that we require any sort of religion or god to have ethical systems that aren’t entirely fantastic or uselessly arbitrary.

  19. lisa

    Hi Craig-

    I guess I should tell you upfront that I am no enemy of science. I think it’s very useful. It’s fantastic for inquiry and disovery. Unlike most people (most Christians fall into this category as well) I don’t believe in a divide between faith a reason. This divide shoves belief into a top bracket (into “the mind” and opinion) where it cannot be discussed, but scientists may often have their own agendas they promote as well many times.

    I am not uncomfortable with your unbelief in God. Your passion surprises some though sometimes. I would expect apathy, or disregard of the topic perhaps, but that’s okay. Confusion about God is warranted and expected. It’s an odd issue. I’m strange too, b/c I don’t think doubt is not the opposite of faith. In fact, I think, atheism is the hardest to believe, I think Deism may be the easiest to believe. (You may know of former atheist Anthony Flew? Interesting book “There is a God” I already have “The God Delusion”. Not so good. “God is not Great” is a better recommendation, for your belief system I think, FYI. ; ) )

    Most people who don’t have a secret beef with God they nurse, or very wild imaginations, don’t think the irreducible complexity in nature, ethics, and everything else about humanity, didn’t just pop up. And they also don’t assign things to humanity illogically, ad hoc, like you do. But, of course, I give you that you are entitled to your beliefs and perspective. No worries. I encouraged you to continue to pursue inquiry of all kinds; you are a true and passionate student of the mind.

    What is hard to get over with regards to God is not what of all the bad and suffering in the world… (yes, hard to resolve!) but it’s the terrible conundrum of beauty, love, and goodness. It pops up for (I don’t think) really no reason, no EXTREMELY useful, or no for very logical good in total, (if we are very objective) but we all point toward it, long for it, idolize it. We all call it virtuous…maybe a bit too much to make sense. It’s just something to wonder about. For real, I mean, without quickly dismissing it, out of fear of where it could lead us. True engaged wonder. True inquiry. We have nothing to fear by this, yes?

    It’s those “why” questions science never realize too much about. Very unsatisfying answers in those regards, to me. Maybe for you, you remain very satisfied. That’s fine.

    If we could…I like to try something much different. If we wonder a little bit about our “higher experiences”… (let’s stop using icky “God” words for a bit). I don’t like to. Too loaded. I think we have some common ground. Now you may attribute “higher experiences” to things I do not, I say, “fine”.

    I would like to ask you, “What are some things you love (I do know Sushi…me too btw) and why do you love them?” This is no trick question. I’m just wondering, do we have common ground?

    In your longing for love, what do you hope for?

    In your times of alienation, what do you wish to “come back to”?

    Some of these questions get to thinking differently, not about science, I admit, but about life lived out, for the best (for us and those around us). I’m interested to hear your thoughts.

  20. lisa, it’s very true that in daily life, we take on “faith” certain things: that the scientist on the radio knows what he’s talking about when she tells us about bosons, that my friend isn’t lying when I ask what time it is, that my teacher knows what the legal opinion we just read means. And it is also true that we accept authority in our lives: especially as children, we believe that our parents know everything (see: Calvin). This is why we believe in Santa Claus, until we realize that it’s really just our parents. And then, some of us draw the same comparison to the Divine: I can verify the time to find out if my friend is lying. I can learn about bosons to find out if the physicist knows what she’s saying. I can form my own opinions about the law. And I can look around me to see that there is no evidence of the Divine.

    [I think, please don’t think I’m putting words in his mouth] This is what Craig is saying: we live in a world based upon faith in authority and in evidence. If my friend were lying to me, I would not, in the future, trust him. I took it on faith that he did not, but when I discovered evidence that he did, I changed my mind. This is not worship of science, or even of reason/evidence. This is simply common sense. Even religious families encourage children to discover the world for themselves (to some extent).

    So, when atheists say that there is no evidence for the Divine, or that the Divine cannot be proven, it’s not a substitution of reason for the Divine, merely an assertion of reality.

  21. lisa

    Interesting xJane. We are both grateful.

    (Still, excited to hear your insights to my questions, Craig.)

    well, I look around me and I do see evidence of the Divine. Perspective? Reality? I didn’t always see things this way. But now that I do, the world in like a book that makes sense. Each part is like a page with a message. Not every page is a happy page, and I have to do my part for goodness, but my part of the story plays in with the whole Story. I guess it’s just like having different eyes to see. Not everyone will agree what you see is “REALITY”.

    I see beauty in the world a great deal of the time in nature and in people. You and others could look at the same thing, and perhaps see ugliness, emptiness, or despair, or just dry facts on the top layer, or something else. I give you that.

    The absolute–weights and measures–proof is neither for nor against the divine… this is the age old argument, of course. I understand this. Sure, no problem.

    It may be a matter of experience. It may be a matter of opinion, xJane. But see, Craig obviously posits his way as superior and true reality. This imposition and true assertion denies other’s individual perceptions and experiences, as if they are separate from reality. Yet, these things make up and are integral with reality, including his (and your) own foundations of reality. So, too, there is no true neutral standpoint of judging “real” reality or someone else’s reality cross-worldview.

    Science has a knack for producing elitism… even extending to how individuals should experience their world, as if there is just one way. Many things philosophically speaking cannot be measured fully, truly.

    Radical positive transformation is most often the evidence people give for the divine. For alcoholics this is the benefit of relying on their “higher power”. It is very hard to see a life so fantastically changed and tell that person it didn’t happen because they gave all their worries and trust to their higher power. (Well, you can still think God didn’t do it, but you’d be a jerk to tell them, huh?) You think it happened for different reasons, but that is only a judgment of what you cannot see to be real, b/c you don’t believe the evidence as such, or dislike the evidence, don’t have the right type etc, not necessarily b/c it is not true or not real reality.

    Augustine, which most people who consider themselves properly educated and well-rounded, have read him, cited the survival of the church itself as proof of the divine. The concept of that happening in his time was indeed miraculous. Nothing in history should have made the church survive under that extent of mass killings and persecution. Most people today, say, “Who’s Augustine?” So, reference for this sort of thing gets a bit lost on people who know little of history and literature, I admit.

    I know that there are people who have to see something to know it’s there. But some of the best things in the world are things you can’t completely touch, or fully master. Truth, beauty, perfection, love, for a few examples.

    I think we are all on a quest for truth, and bettering ourselves. We all have a lot more in common than we do of the things that separate us. Yes, I happen to think truth is a Being, not an “thing” you land on, and “find”. I don’t really think it’s “objective truth” or “absolute truth” in a typical sense for some of the why questions.

    Instead of a bunch of data and beakers and scales, isn’t it more like a journey to find all the things you need to know; a path to that will lead to surprising places, and the teachers will be people you least suspect?

  22. lisa—you’re absolutely correct that reality is in the ey of the beholder. Seeing a perfect rose one day might impress upon me the beauty of the world at large one day and the next depress me because of the shallowness of what is accepted as “beauty”.

    I don’t read Craig as being any less insistent upon his version of reality than anyone else, but perhaps I’m wrong. Each of us experiences the world and crafts our own reality from it. The dinner I just ate was “okay” to me but “great” to my husband. These are, I suppose, competing versions of reality and neither of us will be able to change the other’s mind. There may be no “neutral standpoint”, but that doesn’t mean we can’t discuss our experiences and both come away richer for it.

    I’m not sure that science produces elitism any more than any other discipline (talk to any theologian, philosopher, or historian—or their armchair varieties). I’m not certain that science & religion are so at odds, I just think they describe vastly different matters. Just as philosophical logic is ill-suited to maths, mathematical logic is ill-suited to philosophy. Religion and science are similarly compatible but separate. I think a scientific approach to the Divine is idiotic—and a religious approach to science is criminal.

    So we’re left with experiences. My experience of the Church of my parents is one of oppression, violence, and hatred. I’ve met wonderful people whose experience of that same religion is uplifting, peaceful, and holy. I’m baffled by that, but I respect it. My experience of atheism has been a community of disaffected ex-religionists who, in community, find solace, comfort, and safety away from the violence that religion has done to us.

    Personally, I think it’s irresponsible of AA to preach God as a way to get over addiction. That’s not getting over addiction, that’s replacing a physically damaging addiction with a mentally damaging one.

    I agree that there probably isn’t an “absolute truth” or definite answer to life, the universe, and everything (unless it’s 42), but I also think that you can touch truth, beauty, and perfection to know it exists. Sometimes, knowing that Justice is out there is the only thing that gives me hope. But I don’t pray to her, or worship her. I find it difficult to believe that any god needs my worship and adoration, or cares enough about my puny human problems to intercede & change the universe so that I’m happy. I think meditation/prayer are useful tools for me to get a grip on my own psyche and that ritual serves a need for routine. Just about every other aspect of religion (besides community) seems inherently dangerous, disingenuous, and, for want of a better word, evil.

  23. lisa

    I just loved your post xJane. I totally agree with your “touch truth” sentence.

    I’m surprised that you say that your atheist friends are made up of people who are just people who been hurt by religion. I should say I’m not surprised, too. I’ve been hurt by Christians too, and churches. Not good ones, though. Problem ones. It is a broken world. Free choice = potential problems, but also opportunity to do good freely as well. It so sad when people fail the God they supposedly love. It does much damage, I agree very much.

    I guess to me it just seems like an emotional reason to not believe in God, not a very logical one, though the logical reason I guess get thought of later. I thought your group would be more thoughtful, coming from a more neutral spot. That’s so sad to hear, and my heart goes out to you and your friends. That totally sucks. If I had the chance I would love to speak to those who hurt you and tell them a few things.

    I’m so sorry those things happened. They did the opposite of Love. In a community of love, those things are fought against. I experience the best and closest, most beautiful friendship you could imagine. My family was screwed up, but now I get to experience true Love, and I can tell you it’s very life changing. It’s not based on a rejection of another group for bonding and solace though. I truly hope you can find healing for the evils done against you.

    Have you forgiven them?

  24. I guess I wouldn’t say that my atheist group is “just” people hurt by religion but that, having been hurt by religion, these people left it. My husband, as I often say, is the most a-theistic person I know, having been raised in an environment that never mentioned God. He’s also one of the most well-adjusted when it comes to religion. But he has no need of the atheist community like I do.

    The apology on behalf religionists who cause injury is something that I come across rather frequently and I respect the place from which it comes, but I have to say that I find it rather disingenuous, since I would bet money that the people who apologize participate in the same hurtful actions that those who should apologize do. And as a sister once told me, an apology means nothing if there is intent to do it again.

    Forgiveness is a very religious concept; one of many I’m trying to get out of my psyche. I can say that they acted in the way that they thought was right and that, when they stand before their God in the Court of their Heaven, they will have nothing to answer for. This does not make my wounds any shallower, but it helps me in my daily interactions with those who caused them.

    Religion as a thing of beauty can exist only in the mind of one of its adherents. As soon as it enters two minds, its beauty is destroyed and it seeks only to cause pain. Jesus once said that he is there, wherever two or more are gathered. I think the real Truth of religion is that the Divine is only there in the silence of our hearts—in Beauty, in Love, and in Truth. But never collectively.

  25. lisa

    Well, xJane you bring up an interesting point, and I also think a contradiction.

    You said, “I think the real Truth of religion is that the Divine is only there in the silence of our hearts—in Beauty, in Love, and in Truth. But never collectively.” You also spoke of Justice in a similar way earlier. I think you are speaking of ideals. Yes? I think that you understand these to be something that you consider to be real, not fictitious. Yes? Things to give hope, to aspire to, and these things actually point “off the map.” Really they are not just found within. For instance, if you extinguished human life and creation, in an instance, Beauty and Truth and Justice and Love would not cease to be real.

    Many people consider this to be spiritual language for that reason. If these things are beyond us, and infinite, perfection, and not fictitious, what are we really speaking of?

    To know of these things and then to box them down as only infinite, and not powerful enough to be both infinite and also personal, smacks as ironical.

    Beside that, I think people do share these ideals between others, not just in the silence of their hearts, but also within them as well. Part of loving someone can involve a deep shared love for these things and increased intimacy that grows between the two. My experience reflects the unity of community toward the divine, I believe, enacting the Trinity, in fact, if done properly.

    To forgive really only means to cancel a debt. I’m not sure I understand why you think it is religious. Do you think people should not forgive each other? people should not apologize or offer others forgiveness for wrongs? Maybe you could unpack that for me, I guess I don’t understand your take on that one. I think, “Why carry a grudge? It’s like carrying around poison, no? Forgiving never validates an offense, but it does release the victim from more pain.”

  26. I have no doubt that the feeling of peace and one-ness with the universe that I feel upon watching a sunrise or hiking is similar to your experience in a Church. What I’m saying is that religion (or belief in God) is not necessary to see beauty. Nor is the Divine’s existence necessary for concepts like Truth, Beauty, or Justice.

    If someone who has wronged me comes and apologizes, they are asking for me to soothe their egos. I have no interest in withholding that from them. That’s what forgiveness is—having someone tell you “it’s okay”. I have forgiven myself for the hateful things I’ve done &, where appropriate, expressed my apology to those I’ve hurt.

    My father is currently dying and many people have told me that I should “say what I have to say” while I still can. There are many things that he has done (and continues to do) that I disagree with. He knows that I do not agree with many things he does (these may not be overlapping sets of actions). Having a final conversation wherein I lay out every way he has wronged me so that he can know that I am hurt by it and ask for my forgiveness and get it is not something that I’m interested in. I have come to terms with the fact that he is an autonomous and moral being who acted as he thought was best in the situations that were presented to him. I can ask nothing more of anyone—I certainly ask no more of myself. I cannot find fault in that. Am I still hurt? Absolutely. But I do not hold it against him. He will not ask me for forgiveness because he does not believe there is anything to forgive. I would rather spend my last moments with him enjoying his presence (we’re currently reading a biography/travelogue that we both enjoy—I read it aloud to him, since he can’t hold a book) than picking fights that have no purpose. If he wants forgiveness, he has a priest. If he wants my forgiveness, he has only to ask. Forgiveness happens in the heart of the wrongdoer, no in the mind of the wronged..

  27. Hey guys! This topic seems to be heating up here at 30 responses!! Very cool…

    I’ve been terribly busy, but I finally got my code working that I’ve been tearing my hair out to fix. Now that it’s fixed, I can take a breather. 🙂

    Craig, I understand exactly what you are saying now when you are talking about circular logic. That may be the case with many people who believe in God, but in my case, its different like xJane guessed. Here’s how it happened:

    1. I heard about God (bible, parents, etc.). This was all very nice and not relevant to my life for the first 9 years of it.
    2. I met God entirely against my will – I was not looking for him, he showed up and started the relationship. When he showed up, we talked. We continue to talk the same way to this day.

    There was no beginning assumption to start from to explain the world around me. I didn’t care about any of this until that fateful day. From that point on, and backed up on nearly a daily basis, the fact the God is real and crazy about people was a stark reality to me. I never believed him because it explained the world around me, I believed him because I met him, a person, personally.

    xJane – I think you are absolutely right about the difference between a truth claim/assertion and “proof”. What I am saying (I’m pretty sure) is an assertion – you can either believe it or not. But when I am talking to a fellow Christian, we have standards for proving what is spiritually true and what is not.

    This may sound strange, but I’m not interested in going the next step to “proving” God exists to a non-theist. I think God is quite capable of doing that himself, as he did with me. All you’ll probably ever see me doing is just assert that he does, and tell stories about it from personal experience. Part of that personal experience includes knowing truth about him, which is where the authority to talk about him on his behalf comes in.

    Crossing the belief divide and using rational argument to prove one’s own worldview superior over another is the job of the apologists. There are some good apologists out there, and if belief systems where actually based entirely on logical and solid proof, this could be done, but none of them are. The reasoning behind a person’s choice in a belief system is far more complicated than just a few good logical arguments. So arguing across them really dosen’t work in my opinion unless someone is in doubt of their own and open to other explainations.

    Hopefully, that makes sense… Let me know if there’s some circular logic still in there. There may be…

  28. You’re right in that your experience is likely not the result of circular reasoning. Your reason for believing in God is really the only one I can really take seriously, as it isn’t based on a twisting of logic or circular reasoning.

    I agree completely that there is more to anyone’s belief system than logic, and for me the main reason I began to seriously question theism wasn’t necessarily because of logic, though it was in the end very helpful, it was because of emotional experiences that told me there was something fundamentally wrong with my belief in a god, which was fundamentally different from your experience, I’m sure.

    I respect your belief, and even more that you are content to leave it at your belief and not try to convert or force it on the unwilling.

    For that you have my respect.

  29. Lisa,

    I don’t say that my worldview is better than yours, or more “real”, but simply that religion and science are not equal, and that an objective reality is (as far as is possible) discoverable through observation and logic. I put provable evidence on the point of authority, for nothing else makes sense to me. I don’t see any way for religion(s) to be authoritative about what is real, because all religions contradict, all claim to be the 1 right way, and all have adherents that are equally and contradictorily convinced that their religion is right. By my perception, all religions are equally false, and the only thing that has stood up to the evidence we have all around us is the scientific method, which isn’t analagous to religion, but may well be a replacement in many ways, for religion, especially for the answers about the world religion originally was meant to explain, before we knew what was really going on.

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