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"who gets to judge that intelligence/sense/conscience?"

Everyone gets to judge everyone else and argue for and against their beliefs if that's what they want to do. We just don't get to force other people to agree with us.


"Ratzinger for all his philosophizing is most explicitly not taking about the same God you are. If he was there'd be a whole lot less of a problem with these things. "

I'm not sure what you mean. He's talking about elements of theology that go way back, at least to pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite. It's called the via negativa, the way of approaching a conception of God by defining not-God. It doesn't really touch on the Christian elements of the faith. It's more related to the idea of A God rather than a specific God with specific characteristics. When you're doing theology and/or philosophy, you have to break things down and work up again piece by piece. A specifically Christian apologia isn't the point in the intro although he offers that later in the book.


>>I would never call the ancient Egyptians, or Hindus or any other culturally evolved religion "wrong."

Perhaps not, but you called Scientologists 'idiots'. You have made a choice, based on your beliefs as to what is acceptable and what is not when it comes to irrationality. You accept that Scientology is an invented religion, but so is Mormonism, and time gives it a patina of acceptability. Religions work like that. Personally I consider Christianity most irrational, at least as irrational as Scientology. Its irrational nature is understandable historically and so I suspect will Scientology be in some hundreds of years if it's still around. But irrationality is irrationality.

And my point, as you must surely understand, is that no-one (to my knowledge) worships Ancient Egyptian gods today, so somewhere, somehow, millennia of belief by smart, philosophizing, thinking, moral, well-intentioned people fell out of fashion. You may not consider their religion wrong, but you don't consider it right either, because you don't worship Horus or Set or Bast. If you consider yourself a Christian, you have chosen a system of belief above others. So, not wrong, those people, but less right than you?

I'm not attempting to be semantic here - I ask this question again and again of people who hold religious faith: why that faith? How do you know that's the right one?

If the answer is 'because I have faith' or 'I had an epiphany' then the discussion ends and I retire content. That's an unassailable position, and the correct one to take. But it cannot, simply cannot be defended with any amount of rational argument.

You say:

>>Everyone gets to judge everyone else and argue for and against their beliefs if that's what they want to do. We just don't get to force other people to agree with us.

Well, you may offer that, but Joseph Ratzinger does not take that position. Nor indeed do most flavours of Christianity.


Have you read Ratzinger's theological works? Or Augustine's? Or Aquinas's? Or even the catechism? The things I've been saying are fundamental Christian theology, but theology only goes so far. Christianity is based on revelation and epiphany, both historical and personal. It can't be reasoned to, nor can any other faith. You're right that most people don't understand it that way. Most people don't take an interest in theology. But don't say that Ratzinger doesn't understand his own writing. That isn't to say that he doesn't believe Christianity is "better" and "truer" than other religions, or that what it represents isn't in fact ultimate truth -- but that's what belief is -- choosing one way of understanding over competing ways -- which goes back to the main point of the piece, that belief is an act of will.


This might help somewhat. Here's a discussion of Augustine by James J. O'Donnell:

"For a rhetorician as polished as Augustine to admit failure in a matter of rhetoric is a striking thing (more than a rhetorical device here), and not without significance, as most experienced readers of Augustine will always have felt. For all the clarity and definition that Augustine can give to his writing elsewhere, it cannot be without significance that at the center of his concerns lies this finally unsayable Other, who eludes all his attempts to define and delimit. My theme in this essay is that Augustine's elusive God needs to be taken seriously, for all His elusiveness, in order to do justice to the things that Augustine says about other things, particularly those things that seem to use moderns in one way or another perplexing or rebarbative.. . .

"But I find it equally important, time after time in reading Augustine, to remind myself that nothing Augustine writes is intelligible apart from his own experience of God, not only in the pages of scripture, but also in his own life. If we take the trouble to think our way into Augustine's most fundamental religious awe, we will often see a consistency and a clarity in his thought that would otherwise elude us."

I think the italicized section (my itals)goes a long way toward explaining how faith and reason interact at a high level of theological discourse.


Here's a pretty good overview of Ratzinger's theology, which references his debt to Augustine.


Well, two things:

>>"But I find it equally important, time after time in reading Augustine, to remind myself that nothing Augustine writes is intelligible apart from his own experience of God, not only in the pages of scripture, but also in his own life. If we take the trouble to think our way into Augustine's most fundamental religious awe, we will often see a consistency and a clarity in his thought that would otherwise elude us."

Fair enough. But why does that not apply also to someone who thinks they've been abducted by aliens? Or do you think it does? If we take the trouble to think our way into anybody's belief system, accepting the rules of that system as O'Donnell surely implies, then we can make sense of it. But, in my opinion, that's exactly where the problem lies.

To say that Augustine's awe is understandable on its own terms is quite meaningless as a piece of reasoning. Faith and reason can't interact. Faith always trumps reason. I can level the best reasoned argument you'll ever hear and all you need to say is 'That may be so, but I have Faith!' and my argument is dead in its tracks.


>>But don't say that Ratzinger doesn't understand his own writing.

I didn't. What I said was that Ratzinger does not, quite explicitly as the Pope of the Catholic Church, adopt the position of not inflicting his beliefs on anyone else. It is an imperative of Christianity to do so. I would be not nearly so critical of organized religion if it just left people to find their own way to the belief of their choice, on their own terms. But they don't. They proselytize and evangelize and uproot existing belief to be supplanted with their own.

Which comes back to what I keep asking: how do they know that their religion is better?

And to answer your first question, I have not read Ratzinger, but I am familiar with the Catholic faith (thank you for the link to the precis of Ratzinger's theology, but I must say that nothing really surprised me there; basically, Ratzinger is a man of great faith and a relatively conservative Catholic thinker).

I have read some Augustine and some Aquinas. I have also read some Crowley, some Castaneda, some Kant, Ruskin, Goethe, Davies, Dawkins, Harris, Marx, Russell and Tenzin Gyatso. I'm not an expert on any of them either, but I am familiar with their ideas.


I think I must have misunderstood what you meant by forcing opinions on others. If you just mean evangelizing, then what is the difference between that and campaigning for a political candidate or trying to sell a particular brand of life insurance? No one is required to vote for one or buy the other. If someone advertises their religion to you, are they forcing you to accept it? (I don't like evangelization, by the way, but I don't think in a reasonably free society it's anything to complain about.)

That the Pope is Catholic is indisputable, of course. I thought you were saying that his view of God looked more complex than it was, or that he was saying something he didn't mean, and I do believe he is sincere and knows what he's talking about. He's been a theology professor and has held a very high position in the theological hierarchy at the Vatican before becoming pope. That doesn't mean all Catholics or anyone else completely agrees with him on everything. There's always variety within any social group -- conservative forces pulling back and progressive forces pushing forward. That's the way cultures evolve and adapt to changing circumstances yet still retain a cultural identity.

Finally, the reductio-ad-absurdum arguments you use aren't very convincing. Anyone can believe anything and say it's true because he or she believes it, but that is one person's opinion. Augustine's religious beliefs were built up over many years of studying and trying out various philosophical positions. For instance, he had a very strong belief in Manichaeism for a time, but reasoned himself out of it. Faith and reason really do work together. They both fuel and temper each other, the same way intuition and reason do. In fact, if you think of faith or belief as relatives of intuition, they become a little more understandable. If you're tempted to believe that aliens have abducted you -- if your intuition tells you that this is what's happened -- your reason can tell you that's unlikely or can offer counter-explanations, act as devil's advocate. If your reason doesn't succeed, other people's reason might -- peer pressure is a strong conservative force and people do test their ideas against what is acceptable to others. A religious experience becomes part of the fabric of a culture when it's been shared across time and across cultural divides. It works the same way as language does. I can call my computer a "zonk," but no one will know what I mean and eventually the word will drop out of existence. But if I come up with a word that resonates with a lot of people and they all begin using it to communicate, then it becomes validated.

(And that's about all the religion I can stand for now.)


>>Finally, the reductio-ad-absurdum arguments you use aren't very convincing.

Really? Not very convincing for you, maybe, but I am curious as to how lightly you dismiss them. These are fundamental questions about how and why we come to believe what we believe, and isn't that important? You are prepared to tolerate irrational belief if it suits you, but not if it doesn't. You've made a decision about whose belief is more worthy, your previous protestations about not having done so notwithstanding. That in itself deserves deep consideration.

I've spent some time with a person who was 'abducted by aliens'. He really believed it. Despite any evidence anyone could provide to the contrary, despite much rational argument, and despite enormous societal pressure (he lost his job, or a series of jobs actually, his wife, and eventually any rapport with his children). There was no logic involved in his belief. It happened to him, so he knew it was real. His 'reason' didn't come into play. Now you might be tempted here to say that he was mentally unstable, and perhaps he was, but I can tell you this: aside from his conviction that he had been abducted, you wouldn't have been able to pick him as anything other than a normal guy. You can do all you want to write him off as aberrant, but in my opinion, this is just a different flavour of irrational belief. If his belief had been accepted, as are many other kinds of irrational beliefs, he would, in my opinion, still be a functioning member of society (in fact, I believe this is exactly why people like this form groups to talk about their experiences - they need that confirmation that their experience was OK to have).

Personally, I believe that there is quite enough evidence to suggest that the Christian God is a concoction of myth, historical re-invention and wistful thinking if you are willing to be brave enough to examine what we know about how and why people believe what they do (I'm not being condescending towards you here, so please don't take this the wrong way - this is exactly how I gave up my faith).

Your idea that religious experience is validated by the number of its adherents, time, and cultural cross-pollination does not explain why I shouldn't adopt the pantheon of Ancient Egyptian gods who surely win hands-down on that score, being both older, more enduring and (for its time) at least as widely accepted as Christianity.

I don't mind if we don't continue the discussion, it's entirely up to you. Personally I find these ideas crucial to understanding who and what we are. But I do understand that it takes time to carry on these kinds of conversations. It's just a shame we can't do it somewhere in a bar with some wine and friends and a warm fire.

Cheers Gail, your mind is sterling and you think. That's all I ask of anyone in a discussion.

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