Columns Martin Marty: Sightings Opinion

Why religious studies are needed

Detail from the entrance gate at the Mount Carmel Center (Branch Davidian compound), outside of Waco, Texas | Photo Credit: Lorie Shaull/Flickr (cc)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sightings is sponsored by the Martin Marty Center for the Public Understanding of Religion at the University of Chicago Divinity School. Sign up to get Sightings in your inbox twice per week (on Mondays and Thursdays). You can also follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

(RNS) — Academics possess a wealth of expertise that can be of use for the common good and there are many occasions when people in government and media fail to realize that.

One such instance was brought to our attention recently by RNS’ own Cathy Lynn Grossman.

If you were of age in 1993, you don’t need to be reminded who the Branch Davidians were and what the Federal Bureau of Investigation did to them on April 19th of that year.

For newcomers to the scene, these “Davidians” were well-known for their extremist activities in Waco, Texas. They were a typical “cult” during a decade in which intense and isolated religious groups were a threat to their neighbors, the relatives of their members and the public at large. In that April incident, the FBI, urged by public opinion, set out to discipline them and prevent them from creating public disturbances. Yet, create a disturbance they did.

The FBI, being bigger than the Davidians, and representing governmental authority, lost patience with efforts to drive these cultists back, or out, or down, without much effect. So the Bureau put to work an armored vehicle, which devastated the Davidians’ buildings, and followed up by shooting tear gas at the members. Everything that could go wrong, did, and when the incident was over, the FBI had killed 75 members of the cult. Of course, citizens were shocked, some bewildered, some awed, some cheering. What all had in common was some degree of ignorance with respect to the cult and little awareness of ways to understand them, deal differently with them and counter them as creatively as possible.

What did get noticed was that the FBI, other agencies and the public at large were unaware of knowledge and tools for understanding that might have helped produce a more positive outcome. Instead, they approached the group with understandable befuddlement, ignorance and often prejudice about and against cults and the people in them.

Most in the public simply scorned all “cultists,” and life went on. But some experts came out of the shadows and showed that they had light to shine, light which sometimes might prevent alarming and disruptive incidents from taking place. And what most of these experts had to offer was knowledge of and experience with religion in its many meanings and manifestations in 1993 — just as their successors do in 2017. Most publicized, according to Grossman, was the American Academy of Religion, which “revisited” the Waco disaster last month at Harvard Divinity School during its annual meeting in Boston.

It would be absurd to argue that all citizens should devote their years to studying cults and other complex — or even simple! — features of religion. But the AAR is setting up mechanisms and establishing links with, in this case, the FBI, to head off the worst and understand the best in a world where, in regard to religion, some misuse their freedom and are hazards instead of healers.

As Steven Weitzman of the University of Pennsylvania summarized, the “FBI has been a major player, and sometimes a major disrupter in American religious life.” Now he sees some scholars trying to change the culture “for the good of all and the future of religiously motivated dissent” at a time when much violence is promoted by people who make religious claims.

About the author

Martin E. Marty

"Marty" is one of the most prominent interpreters of religion and culture today. Author of more than 50 books, he is also a speaker, columnist, pastor, and teacher, having been a professor of religious history for 35 years at the University of Chicago.

58 Comments

Click here to post a comment

  • Religious ed? All you need to know in less than 30 seconds:

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    A constant cycle of reincarnation until enlightenment is reached and belief that various beings (angels?, tinkerbells? etc) exist that we, as mortals, cannot comprehend makes for a no on Sikhism.

    Added details available upon written request.

    A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

    e.g. Taoism

    “The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

    Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother’s womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. “

  • There is great ignorance about religions in this country from religious people themselves and from non-religious people. Personally I think a class on the World’s Great Religions should be required in ALL high schools. In order to understand world affairs a person needs to have a basic understanding of the world’s religions because for better and worse they have played a part in world affairs. It is possible to teach such a class without promoting any one as better or worse than any other.

  • Last week, untypically, I spent part of each of four days in a secondary school talking to 135 pupils over 6 groups about Humanism.

    I was invited to do so by those responsible for RE (Religious Education) within the school which is a main-stream UK 11-18 school – the children were 12-13 years old and studying Humanism within the normal scholastic process.

    I know a lady from a reform Judaism congregation, a Sikh education officer, c Catholic and a couple of Anglicans who make similar visits. I suspect that the one thing that unites us is thinking that our information/explanations create a less divisive society, with the hope that such an effect will minimise the power of extremists who misuse people in the pursuit of their agendae. We may, or we may not, be correct in our expectation.

    We probably also expect that exposure to our thoughts and actions may influence those pupils’ lives for the better. Again, we may, or may not, be right.

  • Hello? This is exactly what they teach in ‘religious studies’ as distinct from theology. I remember undergraduate days. No one on the faculty, as far as I knew, was a religious believer of any kind. But in the philosophy dept they thought religious claims, though false, were worth serious critical attention, that the Ontological Argument was clever and worth working through, etc. Over in the Religious Studies dept they didn’t think philosophical arguments for or, for that matter, against the the the existence of God were of any more interest than reading entrails and made a point of continually expressing their contempt for religion in order to prove that they weren’t theologians. They regarded themselves as social scientists, though they did their social science from the armchair, interpreters of Freud, Marx, and Feuerbach, and political activists.

    You clearly need to get into Religious Studies. Just make sure you don’t stray into theology or philosophy of religion by accident.

  • But would definitely have to be taught above the age of accountability, say 18 years of age or in college curriculum as it already is if your studying to become a religious teacher such as a minister. Prior to that age the parents give you your religious walking papers “to do and not to do” list. I couldn’t read books on religion except their book, couldn’t dance, listen to certain music, no country music for me, no opera, don’t hang around that boy or girl with all the questions,..the baptist even managed to close a coffee house across from the church because of pot smoking, free love making hippies back in the 60’s…so in a way I had religious education most of my life and taught to hate you, isolate you, even do away with you to glory my god. So what else is there to learn? I’m in the Lord’s army.

  • Added details as requested:

    Just some of my education package:

    From the studies of Armstrong, Rushdie, Hirsi
    Ali, Richardson and Bayhaqi————–

    The Five Steps To Deprogram 1400 Years of Islamic
    Myths:

    ( –The Steps take less than two minutes to finish-
    simply amazing, two minutes to bring peace and rationality to over one billion
    lost souls- Priceless!!!)

    Are you ready?

    Using “The 77 Branches of Islamic “faith” a
    collection compiled by Imam Bayhaqi as a starting point. In it, he explains the
    essential virtues that reflect true “faith” (iman) through related
    Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings.” i.e. a nice summary of the Koran
    and Islamic beliefs.

    The First Five of the 77 Branches:

    “1. Belief in Allah”

    aka as God, Yahweh, Zeus, Jehovah, Mother Nature,
    etc. should be added to your self-cleansing neurons.

    “2. To believe that everything other than Allah
    was non-existent. Thereafter, Allah Most High created these things and
    subsequently they came into existence.”

    Evolution and the Big Bang or the “Gib
    Gnab” (when the universe starts to recycle) are more plausible and the
    “akas” for Allah should be included if you continue to be a
    “creationist”.

    “3. To believe in the existence of
    angels.”

    A major item for neuron cleansing. Angels/de-vils
    are the mythical creations of ancient civilizations, e.g. Hitt-ites, to
    explain/define natural events, contacts with their gods, big birds, sudden
    winds, protectors during the dark nights, etc. No “pretty/ug-ly wingy
    thingies” ever visited or talked to Mohammed, Jesus, Mary or Joseph or Joe
    Smith. Today we would classify angels as f–airies and “tin–ker be-lls”.
    Modern de-vils are classified as the de-mons of the de-mented.

    “4. To believe that all the heavenly books that
    were sent to the different prophets are true. However, apart from the Quran,
    all other books are not valid anymore.”

    Another major item to delete. There are no books
    written in the spirit state of Heaven (if there is one) just as there are no
    angels to write/publish/distribute them. The Koran, OT, NT etc. are simply
    books written by humans for humans.

    Prophets were invented by ancient scribes typically
    to keep the un-educated masses in line. Today we call them for-tune tellers.

    Prophecies are also invali-dated by the
    natural/God/Allah gifts of Free Will and Future.

    “5. To believe that all the prophets are true.
    However, we are commanded to follow the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings
    be upon him) alone.”

    Mohammed spent thirty days “fasting” (the Ramadan legend) in a hot cave before his first contact with Allah aka God etc. via a “pretty wingy thingy”. Common sense demands a neuron deletion of #5. #5 is also the major source of Islamic vi-olence i.e. turning Mohammed’s “fast, hunger-driven” hallucinations into horrible reality for
    unbelievers.

  • About the sound of those beating angel wings:

    AND THE INFAMOUS ANGELIC/SATANIC CONS CONTINUE
    TO WREAK STUPIDITY UPON THE WORLD

    Joe Smith had his Moroni and Satan/Perdition/Lucifer. (As does M. Romney)

    “Latter-day Saints like M. Romney also believe that Michael the Archangel was Adam (the first man) when he was mortal, and Gabriel lived on the earth as Noah.”

    Jehovah Witnesses have their Jesus /Michael the archangel, the first angelic being created by God and of course Satan and his demons.

    Mohammed had his Gabriel (this “tinkerbell” got around) and of course the jinn.

    Jesus and his family had/has Michael, Gabriel, and Satan, the latter being a modernday demon of the demented. (As do BO and his family)(As do Biden and Ryan)

    The Abraham-Moses myths had their Angel of Death and other “no-namers” to
    do their dirty work or other assorted duties.

    Contemporary biblical and religious scholars have relegated these “pretty
    wingie/ugly/horn-blowing thingies” to the myth pile. We should do the same
    to include deleting all references to them in our religious operating manuals.
    Doing this will eliminate the prophet/profit/prophecy status of these founders
    and put them where they belong as simple humans just like the rest of us.

    Some added references to “tinkerbells”.

    newadvent.org/cathen/07049c.htm

    “The belief in guardian angels can be traced throughout all
    antiquity; pagans, like Menander and Plutarch (cf. Euseb., “Praep.
    Evang.”, xii), and Neo-Platonists, like Plotinus, held it. It was also the
    belief of the Babylonians and As-syrians, as their monuments testify, for a figure
    of a guardian angel now in the British Museum once decorated an As-syrian
    palace, and might well serve for a modern representation; while Nabopolassar,
    father of Nebuchadnezzar the Great, says: “He (Marduk) sent a tutelary
    deity (cherub) of grace to go at my side; in everything that I did, he made my
    work to succeed.”

    Catholic monks and Dark Age theologians also did their share of
    hallucinating:

    “TUBUAS-A member of the group of angels who were removed from
    the ranks of officially recognized celestial hierarchy in 745 by a council in
    Rome under Pope Zachary. He was joined by Uriel, Adimus, Sabaoth, Simiel, andRaguel.”

    And tinker- bells go way, way back:

    “In Zoroastrianism there are different angel like creatures.
    For example each person has a guardian angel called Fravashi. They patronize
    human being and other creatures and also manifest god’s energy. Also, the
    Amesha Spentas have often been regarded as angels, but they don’t convey
    messages, but are rather emanations of Ahura Mazda (“Wise Lord”, God);
    they appear in an abstract fashion in the religious thought of Zarathustra and
    then later (during the Achaemenid period of Zoroastrianism) became
    personalized, associated with an aspect of the divine creation (fire, plants,
    water…).”

    “The beginnings of the biblical belief in angels must be
    sought in very early folklore. The gods of the Hittites and Canaanites had
    their supernatural messengers, and parallels to the Old Testament stories of
    angels are found in Near Eastern literature. ”

    “The ‘Magic Papyri’ contain many spells to secure just such
    help and protection of angels. From magic traditions arose the concept of the
    guardian angel. ”

    For added information see the review at:
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angel

    “The prophet Ezekiel described an incredible vision of
    cherubim angels in Ezekiel chapter 10 of the Torah and the Bible, mentioning
    that the angels’ wings were “completely full of eyes” (verse 12) and “under
    their wings was what looked like human hands” (verse 21). The angels each used
    their wings and something “like a wheel intersecting a wheel” (verse 10) that
    “sparkled like topaz” (verse 9) to move around.”

    For a rather extensive review of angel wings, see
    http://angels.about.com/od/AngelBasics/a/Angels-Wings-And-Things.htm

  • The difference between your experience and what I was talking about is how each person presents their position. I was talking about a class where all are taught with no emphasis on any religion/philosophy being better or worse, just presenting the history, the basic elements of the teachings. OR are each individual in your situation trying to convince the kids that their position is better than the others?

    If a person tries to convince a group that their position is better than others they often (though not always) do so by spreading outright lies and misinformation to denigrate the others. If that happens I think it would just leave the students confused, not enlightened! AND I think enlightenment is what I am talking about, being well informed, without the lies and misinformation so people can make a responsible decision that is right for them.

  • One of the aims of the local SACRE is
    “To promote effective teaching and learning in religious education which allows pupils to explore what religious belief involves, promotes enquiry, independent thinking, discussion, collaboration, creativity and reflective thinking and enables pupils to develop positive values and beliefs by which to live their lives” This should inform the way RE is taught in many of the county’s schools.

    I can’t agree with you when you day “so people can make a responsible decision that is right for them.”

    How can (for example) believing that the earth is less than ten thousand years old and that Eve caused the “Fall” be right for anyone – other than in a culturally “true” but known-to-be-false way?

    I haven’t attended any of the talks from others so can’t comment from knowledge but some, at least, are probably more interested in promoting the validity of their religion in a non-combative way than seeking converts – though some of the (Christian?) speakers may be hoping to find pew-fodder.

    As for me – I tend to ensure that the pupils understand what atheism and humanism are (so far they have done so ) and then major around “the scientific method”. I don’t think that saying prayer is irrational, or going into detail about why the Bethlehem story is impossible, is helpful – but I will go there if specifically challenged to do so – though I do tend to encourage the pupils to realise how self-centred is the “Golden Rule” and offer a better (in Humanist terms) alternative.

  • JUST because you object to something, doesn’t mean it should not be studied. For instance, would you say that because Naziism is evil and its beliefs were erroneous that it had no effect in history? Just because YOU don’t agree with religion doesn’t mean that people are not motivated by religious beliefs, however true or untrue these beliefs may be. Slavery is evil, does that mean we shouldn’t study anything about slavery? But slavery was an absolute reality and fact throughout much of human history. Religion is a fact that has greatly influenced humanity, even if this influence has not always been positive. I object to war, would I be correct to say that we should never learn anything about war? In a nutshell, religion DOES affect people’s attitudes and perceptions, and it doesn’t discount religion as a *subject* to know about just because its claims may not be correct. There are many realities in this world that we might object to, but these things are real. Religious doctrine may not be real, but religion itself IS real.

  • You seem to presume that the literalistic fundamentalist way of understanding the Bible is the only valid way to understand it, and that is why it is untrue. Allegory and symbolic understandings are very much used in religious history. The literal way of understanding is not the only way ever used, even within the Bible itself. For instance, Paul used the very Greek word “allegory” to explain how Hagar symbolically represented the Law and Sarah the promise in Galatians 4:22-26. This is certainly NOT what that story originally meant in a literal way, but it does show that even Biblical writers could take a less literal interpretation of other Biblical texts. Perhaps Adam and Eve never lived, but could you not say the story conveys much truth about the human situation and experience? For instance, the forbidden fruit? 2 Peter 3:8 states, “But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.” This would open up less literal ways of understanding how old the earth is. I am not saying per se that your atheism is wrong, but I do question your Fundamentalism in reverse in implying that your way is the only way to think. You are just as sure as the most rabid Fundamentalist that only you are right and no one else. Religious beliefs can neither be proven, nor disproven as you claim they can be. Perhaps certain literalistic understandings of the Bible can be disproven, but the Bible can be interpreted more flexibly. There is not ONE way to understand it, contrary both to Fundamentalists as well as many Atheists.

  • It can’t be a “responsible decision” if they deny reality, now can it! AND I stressed “responsible decision”!

  • When I talk about the Golden Rule I mention that the first use of it came from Pittacus, an early Greek Philosopher AND that it has appeared in many of the world’s religions. Confucius called it the Ethic of Reciprocity and worded it as do not do to others what you would take unkindly from them.

    I do agree that the Christian wording can lead to self-centerdness IF a person expects to get something back, something in return for what they did!

  • And all summarized as follows:

    Putting the kibosh on all religion in less than ten seconds: Priceless !!!

    As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of
    Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism,
    Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    There was no Gabriel i.e.Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    A constant cycle of reincarnation until enlightenment is reached and belief that various beings (angels?, tinkerbells? etc.) exist that we, as mortals, cannot comprehend makes for a no on Sikhism.

    Added
    details available upon written request (also scroll down the page).

    A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a
    religion.

    e.g.
    Taoism

    “The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth
    century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its
    later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today
    (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

    Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his
    mother’s womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. “

  • Just as real as Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. And you can study them if you want but why waste your time?

  • Don’t you get my point that even if you are most correct that religious doctrine is false, that religion HAS been a force throughout history? Every culture in the world has a religion, therefore understanding their religions can help us understand their culture. Hitler certainly was wrong about eugenics, but how could you deny the effect that this belief has had on History, such as the Holocaust? Just because you might reject slavery, doesn’t mean it wasn’t practiced in many cultures, and therefore is something we can study about in order to understand cultures. Slavery is even practiced to this day. The Parthenon in Athens, Greece was inspired by the belief in Athena, so understanding that belief, even though false, could help us understand the Parthenon.

  • You negate the power of faith, the Power of Myth, and the purposes of faith and the purposes of Myth. Religion has and will continue to serve many purposes whether or not their is fact or fantasy behind their basic tenets of faith!

    All the world’s religions and secular philosophies contain great truths that can help us become better people or help us become worse people. Some think the Bible should be banned, that it is an EVIL book. Books aren’t evil. There is great wisdom in the Bible for those that read it thoughtfully and critically just as there is in the sacred texts of the other world religions AND in the writings of our worlds great philosophers and thinkers.

  • And where do you think the authors of the bible got their ideas?

    Many OT, NT and koran thumpers are actually thumping the rules and codes of the ancients like King Hammurabi and the Egyptians who wrote the Book of the Dead and who did NOT need revelations from angels or mountain voices to develop needed rules of conduct for us ho-inids.

    “I have not laid violent hands on an orphan.

    I have not done what the God abominates . . .

    I have not killed; I have not turned anyone over to a killer.

    I have not caused anyone’s suffering . . .

    I have not copulated (illicitly); I have not been unchaste.

    I have not increased nor diminished the measure, I have not diminished the
    palm; I have not encroached upon the fields.

    I have not added to the balance weights; I have not tempered with the plumb bob
    of the balance.

    I have not taken milk from a child’s mouth; I have not driven small cattle from
    their herbage…

    I have not stopped (the flow of) water in its seasons; I have not built a dam
    against flowing water.

    I have not quenched a fire in its time . . .

    “The Book of the Dead was written circa 1800 BCE. 2 The Schofield Reference Bible estimates that the Hebrew Exodus from Egypt and the provision of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai occurred in 1491 BCE., some three centuries later. Many religious liberals, historians, and secularists have concluded that the Hebrew Scripture’s Ten Commandments were based on this earlier document, rather than vice-versa.”

    Then there is this:

    origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482

    Torah For Modern Minds

    “Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.”

    The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called ”Etz
    Hayim” (”Tree of Life” in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that
    incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and
    the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it
    represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious
    mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine document.”

  • Do you mind if I probe your attitude a bit? What is your view of idolatry? Most of the available theology indicates idolatry to be something that Satan brought in. Given that you do not want to interpret all sentences in a literal manner, do you even think that the word “idolatry” is well-defined?

    (PS: I am an idolator. Hence the question.)

    (PPS: You need not be politically correct. Recall that Immanuel Kant openly said HInduism’s idols are grotesque. Some of us to handle hard questions from serious thinkers.)

  • You don’t find the belief in Satan throughout the OT. For instance, in 2 Samuel, David was incited by God to have a census, whereas in the Chronicles version, Satan incites him. A belief in Satan is something the Jews got at a later time from the Persians.

  • One difference between the Hebrew Bible and the Egyptian Book of the Dead is that the latter is far more preoccupied by what happens after death.

  • Please be aware that your position has many ramifications.

    For example, there is a controversy about Christian yoga. Christian yoga delinks yoga from some concepts of Hinduism, and relinks yoga to a God who has intentionality. I speculate that, given your position, you see no reason to make this delinking/relinking move.

    Or take the last 8 paragraphs of [Ref 1], which express our reservations about the US Commission of International Religious Freedom. I speculate that, given your position, you may support us against the US Commission of International Religious Freedom.

    As you can, a lot of the memes or cultural commons of the West depend on a literal reading of sentences. Please take your time

    Ref 1
    http://www.hipkapi.com/2015/05/11/us-commission-for-international-religious-freedom/

  • My mother believed the world was made in six consecutive periods of twenty-four hours – my father (an evangelical-wing – 1950s – CofE vicar) took the view that his God could have done so but he wasn’t going to the stake over whether He did. That was when I was twelve and I never discussed religion with either of them again!

    We have family in the USA who are young-earth creationists.

    My problem with the allegory/subtlety/context approach to Christianity is that it basically amounts to pick-and-mix religion. In some ways I have more respect for those who believe unquestioningly (although I don’t doubt that they are wrong) than those who can justify their lifestyle by ignoring the difficult bits of the Bible. Surely once the Sermon on the Mount becomes inapplicable, out-of-context allegory the religion has ceased to become Christianity has it not?

    As to being able to disprove religious beliefs – surely what you are saying is that you will choose which religious beliefs are valid based, at least in part, on their non-disprovability(?) and reject those that are clearly wrong. More pick-and-mix. Interpret the Bible flexibly enough and you can’t disprove anything – but does what you are left with have anything to do with “the Christ”.

  • So you prove my guess that you DO presume that the literalistic approach is the only valid way to interpret the Bible. If this were the case, then why would Jesus have spoken in Parables? Why would Paul have used allegory in his interpretation of Sarah and Hagar? And many literalists DO reject the Sermon on the Mount, since many of them reject “Love your Enemies” and believe it is certainly OK for Christians to go to War. Literalists DO pick and choose, so I really wouldn’t have any more respect for them than those who take a more historical, contextual, academic approach to interpretation. Many of them reject the 2000 verses in the Bible which speak of Justice for the poor and the oppressed. Science, according to many Scientists I have spoken with DOESN’T rule out a belief in God, or even a Creator of sorts. It DOES rule out the literal interpretation of the Bible’s Creation account, however. But it must be pointed that one disprovable part of the Bible’s creation story is the belief in the “Firmament” or that the earth was flat and covered by a solid dome which was called the Firmament or Hebrew Raqia. The Bible is not a science textbook, but it does show a lot of literary value.

  • Now I am beginning to understand what you are asking. I DO suppose that the opposition to idol worship fuels much of the opposition that both Protestants AND Muslims express towards Hinduism. Islam is VERY much against idol worship, which often goes to the extreme of opposing photography and movies. There are many Muslims in India, so this view can be a source of tension in India. Oftentimes, Protestants have also accused Catholics of being idol worshipers as well. You might not believe it, but I did read something a LONG time ago about how people in India felt about Christian missionising in India. It did make me feel very much against Missionary activity in other countries. However, recently, I have thought that it might be OK just to publicize one’s religion, which would then attract those who are seeking what we have to offer. It wouldn’t involve trying to change anyone’s mind at all, just finding people who already agree with us.

  • So What? Does where the information came from negate the mythical nature of the information OR the fact that many believe that information? You should read Joseph Campbells books about the power of Myth.

  • “Myths in politics are dangerous. In an important speech at Yale University during the Cold War, John Kennedy said:

    “For the great enemy of truth is very often not the lie — deliberate, contrived, and dishonest — but the myth — persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the clichés of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”

    He was speaking of the myths on both sides that perpetuated a Cold War in a dangerous way.”

  • Ah yes, the power of Santa Claus, guardian angels, angels in general, the Abominable Snowman, the Yeti, El Chupacabras, Loch Ness monster, Atlantis et al. What a waste of time and money!!

  • “So you prove my guess that you DO presume that the literalistic approach is the only valid way to interpret the Bible.”
    No – I accept that there are as many ways to interpret the Bible as there are people who read it (or bits of it). I have a sneaking regard (whilst disagreeing with them) for those whose faith is such that they can ignore the errors, inconsistencies and contradictions therein. I question whether any of the countless interpretations are ”valid” or indeed helpful to modern humanity.

    “If this were the case, then why would Jesus have spoken in Parables?”
    We don’t actually know that he (and there probably was an itinerant preacher around whom the stories were focussed) actually said any of the things which the chosen texts claim.

    “Why would Paul have used allegory in his interpretation of Sarah and Hagar? And many literalists DO reject the Sermon on the Mount, since many of them reject “Love your Enemies” and believe it is certainly OK for Christians to go to War. Literalists DO pick and choose, so I really wouldn’t have any more respect for them than those who take a more historical, contextual, academic approach to interpretation. Many of them reject the 2000 verses in the Bible which speak of Justice for the poor and the oppressed. “
    All Christians pick-and-mix – it is impossible not to do so. It is unsurprising that the bits they pick to accept and those they ignore often seem to be those that support their incumbent biases and prejudices.

    “Science, according to many Scientists I have spoken with DOESN’T rule out a belief in God, or even a Creator of sorts.”
    It depends on how one chooses to define “god(s)”. I, if pushed, identify as an agnostic atheist – I can’t disprove the existence of a disinterested and uninvolved “super-entity” which some might claim as a “god”. I do think that the Abrahamic God – as offered – is rationally implausible until reduced to the level of an insignificant and irrelevant “being”.

    “ It DOES rule out the literal interpretation of the Bible’s Creation account, however. But it must be pointed that one disprovable part of the Bible’s creation story is the belief in the “Firmament” or that the earth was flat and covered by a solid dome which was called the Firmament or Hebrew Raqia. The Bible is not a science textbook, but it does show a lot of literary value.”
    It is not a textbook of any sort.
    I have no problem with it being read as literature, it’s the use of it as a guide to modern living, as a substitute for thought, a replacement for morality and a guidebook for divisive hatred of those who are (however mildly) not-like-us which I abhor.

  • One thing I have noticed while following the science surrounding Nutrition is that science can be cited to support many different kinds of conclusions, just like the Bible. Scientific studies don’t always produce clear and consistent conclusions anymore than we get from the Bible. Not even every book in the Bible mentions God. The Hebrew version of Esther never mentions God. The Hebrew Bible mentions an afterlife a lot less than other literature of the time, such as The Egyptian Book of The Dead. The Book of Ecclesiastes practically denies an afterlife when it states the Dead know nothing.

  • I’m unsure as to why you consider your post relevant.

    Science and the Bible are both imperfect – true.

    Science and the Bible are therefore equally valid – untrue.

    Science, the scientific process, is an attempt to understand our universe through experimentation, exploration, determination and analysis of data. Its process seeks to minimise our natural preferences and biases.
    Religion is an attempt to understand our universe despite the data – it flaunts its ignorance and substitutes unsupported belief and preconceived expectation for data-led logic. It tends to disparage enquiry into that which it can’t answer – “it will all be revealed once we’re dead” “God is much cleverer than you so don’t try to understand what he knows to be best”

    Nutrition is highly complex and, in some areas, our understanding is poor – that is not a reason to abandon the quest – merely an exposure of the need to pursue the subject further. Science says “we may not know but we’ll try to find out”. Human nature (and academic funding) being what it is some will seek to profit from incomplete understanding.
    There are some truths that science has unearthed.
    Ingest more calories than you use and you will put on weight.
    Too much dairy produce/red meat/alcohol is probably bad for you.
    Five or more portions of fruit and veg daily has beneficial health consequences for pretty much everyone.
    etc. etc.

  • Maybe my point is that neither using the Bible nor Science as infallible authorities eliminates all ambiguity. It is very difficult to definitively prove anything either way. We cannot know every historical context and language nuance of the Bible to completely understand what it really means, nor can we scientifically control for every variable. Nutritional science, for instance, doesn’t, for instance, offer clear and consistent evidence as to how plant based a diet has to be for someone to be healthy. We can’t just look at cultures and know the answer, because we can’t possibly control for all the variables that could explain various outcomes.

  • That just acknowledges that we are all different. What works for me won’t work for others. People are at different stages of their life and spiritual journeys.

    I have friends that are very active in their church, I don’t agree with their politics, they are Republicans! BUT they are basically good, decent, responsible citizens, AND their church is an important part of their lives. They respect me though they know I am an Atheist and reject their beliefs. I wouldn’t want to take their church away from them.

    NO single path will work for everyone!

  • YES BUT Myths in general are valuable. They can teach us things that history books and science texts can’t. You would benefit from learning about them.

  • Even in the act of publicizing one’s religion, there is a need to talk about difference. Maybe the following example will make the notion of difference clear.

    Take the various orders of monks in the Catholic denomination, e.g. the Franciscans, the Dominicans, the Benedictines, and so on. Let us also accept the hypothesis of S N Balagangadhara, that different orders of monks employ different techniques of making a monk repent that he is a sinner lower than a worm.

    There is some technical rivalry between the Franciscans, the Dominicans, the Benedictines, and so on, as to which technique is a better way of making a monk repent that he is a sinner lower than a worm.

    Despite the technical rivalry, the Franciscans recognize the Dominicans, the Benedictines, and so on as fellow Catholics and not as Protestants. Ditto the Dominicans, the Benedictines and so on.

    So even in the act of publicizing one’s religion there is a need to talk about difference. What would be the nature of your religion’s difference from the various Indian traditions? Would it be like the Franciscan-Dominican-Benedictine difference? Or the Franciscan-Protestant difference?

    You will appreciate that this discussion is about concepts. Therefore there is no need to feel bad about how some missionaries behaved in other countries. That’s not important when we seek to understand concepts.

  • Religious studies should be a compulsory credit in high school. Not to promote any religion or no-religion but to create awareness and tolerance for each others practices and beliefs.

  • I, and maybe no-one else, have a problem with basing my life on something whose meaning is uncertain – and cannot be verified independently.

    Science, whilst imperfect has the basic test of “does it work?” Book based religion doesn’t even seem to be capable of understanding the question (because it doesn’t have “work” that is verifiable), let alone answering it.

  • “NO single path will work for everyone” is not the same as any path can work for someone.

    There are, I think, some things that are morally wrong. Abusing the trust of others is one of them.

  • You are right and I didn’t claim that any path will work for someone. I said each person has to find the path that works for them!

    There are many things that are morally wrong. BUT are there things that are morally wrong in all situations? Or does the circumstances determine if something is morally wrong?

    For example: We say it is wrong to kill YET we allow soldiers and police officers to kill in the line of duty and some states still allow the death penalty and some allow euthanasia. So there are some situations where killing is allowed, and not considered a moral wrong.

  • It isn’t true that the Bible cannot be verified independently AT ALL. Of course, we cannot independently verify EVERYTHING in it. But you can look at Archaeology and independent Historical writings of that time and verify some things in it. For Tacitus verifies the crucifixion of Christ. AND Tacitus was very much against Christ, so he had no interest in verifying Christ’s existence. And even some ideas can be verified scientifically. Here are two Nutritional videos about the Daniel.fast.https://nutritionfacts.org/video/tightening-the-bible-belt/ and https://nutritionfacts.org/video/biblical-daniel-fast-put-to-the-test/ Daniel 1:8-16 goes like this, “8 But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way. 9 Now God had caused the official to show favor and compassion to Daniel, 10 but the official told Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your[a] food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men your age? The king would then have my head because of you.”

    11 Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, 12 “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.” 14 So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days.

    15 At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. 16 So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.”
    Here, even in the Bible, they actually TESTED something. And Daniel got healthier eating all plants than the ones who ate the meat. And the modern day test corroborated the results of this Daniel Fast, by showing that eating an all plant diet improved bio markers. By the way, the speaker in those videos is Jewish, not Christian. After King David, we can independently verify the existence of many Israelite kings, but Biblical history is hard to verify before that. But just because we can’t verify something, doesn’t necessarily mean it didn’t happen. We just can’t prove it happened. And the supernatural aspects can’t be scientifically verified.

  • I cannot accept that, as you seem to be suggesting, that a path is right because it works for someone.

    Jim Jones’s path worked for him, David Koresh’s path worked for him, Mother Teresa’a path worked for her and Charles Manson’s path worked for him. In my world “right” is just not that flexible.

  • “It isn’t true that the Bible cannot be verified independently AT ALL.”

    I haven’t said that have I, but in fact very, very little of it can be verified independently.

    “Of course, we cannot independently verify EVERYTHING in it.”

    Actually virtually none of it.

    “But you can look at Archaeology and independent Historical writings of that time and verify some things in it. For Tacitus verifies the crucifixion of Christ. AND Tacitus was very much against Christ, so he had no interest in verifying Christ’s existence. “

    Archaeology supports the existence of some towns etc. mentioned in the Bible, but often disproves the Biblical use of that existence. There is, for example, evidence that the Israelites occupied Jericho but at a time when it was undefended and without walls. Several of the towns named in the story of the exodus are given names that they did not have at the time, and some were yet to be founded.
    Tacitus’s belief in the crucifixion was written some 80 years later – it may well be accurate about a crucifixion – it is no evidence for the deity of the man crucified.

    “And even some ideas can be verified scientifically.
    Here are two Nutritional videos about the Daniel.fast.https://nutritionfacts.org/video/ti…and https://nutritionfacts.org/… Daniel 1:8-16 goes like this, “8 But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way. 9 Now God had caused the official to show favor and compassion to Daniel, 10 but the official told Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your[a] food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men your age? The king would then have my head because of you.”
    11 Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, 12 “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.” 14 So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days.
    15 At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. 16 So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.”

    Here, even in the Bible, they actually TESTED something. And Daniel got healthier eating all plants than the ones who ate the meat. And the modern day test corroborated the results of this Daniel Fast, by showing that eating an all plant diet improved bio markers. By the way, the speaker in those videos is Jewish, not Christian.”

    This demonstrates a possible nutritional fact – it is not evidence for a deity.

    “After King David, we can independently verify the existence of many Israelite kings, but Biblical history is hard to verify before that. But just because we can’t verify something, doesn’t necessarily mean it didn’t happen. We just can’t prove it happened.”

    I can’t verify that great grandfather invented television 150 years ago – does that mean it didn’t happen. If I claim that I have a 6” tall unicorn sitting on my shoulder dictating this response directly in to my brain would you concede that it might be true? I suspect that you would conclude from the absence of either evidence for my claim, or of any rational need for my claim to be true, that the claim was very probably inaccurate (however sincerely held) and that you could, with impunity, live your life disregarding my hypotheses.
    When people make extraordinary claims the requirement for proof is on them – not on as sceptic for refutation.

    “ And the supernatural aspects can’t be scientifically verified.”

    Which is obvious – but one would expect that any effects of the supernatural that impacted on the natural could be detected. After all, if they can’t be detected the question as to whether or not they exist is nothing but intellectual fluff.
    We don’t seem to be able to detect, with certainty, any such impact(s).

  • “When people make extraordinary claims the requirement for proof is on them – not on as sceptic for refutation,” presumes I am making extraordinary claims. All I am saying is that people have a right to believe whatever they might think in their own conscience. You don’t respect other people’s consciences. YOUR claim is that no one should have ANY right whatsoever to be religious at all. You make the claim people should NOT have any freedom to follow any religion because you claim that there is complete disproof of any religion of any kind. You are SO sure that you are right. UNLIKE you, I DO believe in YOUR right not to believe. You completely have no respect for other people’s consciences or intelligence if they dare disagree with your view. I RESPECT your right not to follow any religion at all. You have shown absolutely no respect for other people’s right to follow any religion they might choose. You don’t have to respect them if they don’t respect other people’s right to believe as they choose.

  • Nonsense – we all have the right to believe whatever we choose.

    That does not mean that anyone has to respect a belief when there is no good reason for the belief – particularly when that belief results in harm, emotional, physical, financial, etc. to those who are in contact with the believer. Taking an extreme case (the correct response, as I understand it, to a philosophical dilemma) – Paedophiles apparently believe that their victims love them and want the treatment they receive – neither of us would think that belief worthy of respect. That means that we all have to decide which beliefs we will(can) respect and which we can’t.
    Anyone can tithe to a church if it only hurts them – but if it stops children being adequately fed or receiving a decent education it isn’t only hurting the tither. Should one respect a personal belief that causes damage to other human beings?

    “You make the claim people should NOT have any freedom to follow any religion because you claim that there is complete disproof of any religion of any kind” – and where did you find this alleged claim? What is this all-encompassing disproof that I’ve apparently stumbled upon.?

    “You have shown absolutely no respect for other people’s right to follow any religion they might choose.”

    I question whether such a right exists. If, as some do, a religion requires that its followers kill apostates you really think that their right to follow that religion should be respected. Are you seriously suggesting that I respect the actions of Jim Jones or the followers of ISIS?

  • Don’t you know that under communism, many people were killed by atheistic regimes? Religions were brutally suppressed by such regimes. Should that mean we shouldn’t allow anyone to be atheists? Atrocities are committed by either religious or anti religious people when they become SO sure they are right. You are very sure you are right. I am not completely sure I am right, but I have found what is right for me.

  • So – you don’t reference the statement you claim I made – is that an admission that you made it up?

    You haven’t addressed the question as to whether you think that we should all respect the rights of Jim Jones and ISIS to pursue their religious beliefs – does that mean the answer is yes?

    Atheism is the absence of belief in god(s) – that’s all. How do you propose to stop people realising that there is no good rational reason to believe in god(s)?

    You have found what you believe to be right for you. That is a belief about belief. Doesn’t mean you’re wrong, just makes it unlikely that you’re right unless you have a strong evidence based case or can demonstrate a situational need that only your belief can satisfy. If you have such evidence or compelling reason I should like to hear it.

  • Of course they worked for those folks. Do you think they would have followed any other path!

    NOTE I also said that they could make A RESPONSIBLE DECISION that is right for them. You can’t just pick a part of a quote and ignore the whole sentence! That makes you look like you have a problem.

    Now we can argue about what is meant by RESPONSIBLE DECISION! Responsible to whom, only themselves, to their families, to their followers, to their community, to their country?

  • “Of course they worked for those folks. Do you think they would have followed any other path!”

    No – I accept the evidence that decisions are made unconsciously based on a person’s unique mix of nature and nurture. That’s why very few experimental neuroscientists think that the old idea of free will represents reality.

    As to your use of “responsible” – I don’t think it relevant . Partly because your context doesn’t allow an accurate assumption as to how you meant it to be taken and partly because, since we take decisions based on our unconscious mental awareness, it is a factor of the unconscious mind’s balance (which means that it is their interpretation rather than ours that counts) and/or amounts to an after-the-event justification.

  • Well you and those ‘experimental neuoroscientists” are simply wrong. All of us have the ability and we do make conscious and conscientious decisions all the time. Many can attest to that fact, otherwise we’d be at the mercy of our whims and our EGO, as a certain president seems to be!

    There isn’t anything more important in this life than what we consider to be “responsible” or “irresponsible” choices. Part of growing, learning, education, maturing is about learning to make “responsible” choices.

    It doesn’t surprise me one bit that you discredit such decisions.

  • And your qualifications and/or experience as an experimental neuroscientist amount to ……?

    Many people throughout history knew that the sun went round the earth, They knew lots and lots of people who also knew that the sun went round the earth and, in any case, any fool could trace the sun’s path across the sky during the day and the next day there it was back at the start again.
    Duh!!
    Anyone thinking the earth went round the sun was obviously wrong, and probably both stupid and dangerous as well.

    Except….

    The earth goes round the sun.

    I understand that you dislike the idea that we are not making decisions based on “free will” but on the then balance of nature and nurture – I dislike it as well.

    But the evidence is so clear that those working in the field have largely moved on.

    Now; you can accept the evidence and move forward or you can reject it. Doesn’t affect the evidence, or the conclusion drawn from it by people trained to do so, whichever you do.

    If you want to learn more try reading “Free Will” by Sam Harris and “Incognito” by David Eagleman (or watch the BBC4 TV series “Brain”).

    PS “It doesn’t surprise me one bit that you discredit such decisions.”

    You are (wilfully?) wrong.

    I don’t discredit such decisions – the evidence does. I merely, and reluctantly, accept the discrediting based on the detail as to how it was arrived at provided in it’s support. Until you have read and understood the relevant work I question whether your knowledge-absent opinion is of any value.

    As to the “certain president” – his behaviour seems to match that of narcissistic individuals who are incapable of empathy, possess no genuine emotions other than rage, are pathological liars, have no regard for the consequences of their actions and act entirely on impulse. Such people are often found to have a deficient region in the brain called the amygdala, it is caused by a heritable genetic variation and cannot be corrected. Approximately 1% of the general population is affected; this rises to 30-40% in particular restricted populations such as convicted mass-murderers/rapists and politicians (both local and national).
    The usual term for this condition is psychopathy.

ADVERTISEMENTs