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18,000 young people, mainly of college students, gathered in Nashville, Tenn., for the four-day Passion '06 conference in January 2006.

A few of the 18,000 young people, mainly college students, who gathered in Nashville, Tenn., for the four-day Passion '06 conference in January 2006. (AP)

If you’re twenty-something, you know it. If you’re not, think about it: It takes some courage to be stepping into the world right now. Scarce jobs. School loans. War and terror and the climate itself in trouble.

What’s the rock, the hope, the inspiration you cling to? For some it’s God. For some it’s not.

Today’s twenty-something Americans grew up in a time of religious fundamentalist ascendancy and atheist pushback, evangelical power politics and the anti-religion rebukes of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.

Now they’re making their own decisions, their own way, on the moral life, the spiritual life.

Two guests today. One, from Notre Dame, has polled thousands of young Americans on their spiritual and religious lives now. One, from Harvard, says humanism is the way — be “good without God.”

This hour, On Point: Looking for goodness, for grounding, for God. We’re looking at young America’s search for meaning.

You can join the conversation. Tell us what you think — here on this page, on Twitter, and on Facebook.


Joining us from South Bend, Indiana, is Christian Smith, professor of sociology and director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at the University of Notre Dame. He’s co-principal investigator in the National Study of Youth and Religion, a longitudinal study started in 2001. His previous findings were published in “Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers.” His new book is “Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults.”

Read an excerpt from “Souls in Transition.”

With us from New York is Greg Epstein, Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University. His new book is “Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe.”

Read an excerpt from “Good Without God.”

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  • Expanded Consciousness

    God, I hope they are turning anywhere but to religion.

    Religion needs to continue to die off.

    Really people, it is time to put the fairytales away and grow up.

  • Gerald Fnord

    I agree that it is time for us to put away childish things—mining from them whatever is still useful, though, e.g. the beautiful and resonant turn-of-phrase ‘put away childish things’.

    But if you want religion to die off, work to whatever you think makes people richer, happier, and (most importantly) less afraid for their basic survival. It’s not a coincidence that religion is closest to dead in Continental Western Europe, whose middle-class citizens have, in my experience, the ease and relative calm I associate in the U.S. with rich people—never worrying about starving, being exposed to the cold, or being humiliated in order not to experience these, will do that to one.

  • John

    As a former born-again Christian and now an atheist, I see both positives and negatives to the youth turning to religion. Certainly, it can provide much-needed guidance and support for young people as they face the challenges of growing up. I don’t know that there is currently a better system established to provide this support.

    However, I feel that the effect of religion can go too far. There are many examples of this, which I’m not going to list exhaustively. For example, doesn’t everyone know someone who home schools their children or otherwise shelters them in an effort to prevent them from becoming too worldly? And there are plenty of young people who have been raised to show strong opposition towards–or hate, as some might say–those with different beliefs from them.

    In short, my opinion is that there is a point where religion goes beyond helping young people to grown and survives, to the point where it inhibits them from later becoming a fully-functional member of our society.

  • Glenn

    I too hope that young people do not turn to superstition. To me, spirituality means an appreciation for the connectedness of all things, and does not involve pointless belief in supernatural nonsense. I also don’t see how magical thinking and irrational belief result in “meaning,” or translate into doing good works. Meaning and goodness result from our humanity, and that’s what I hope we all strive to discover, young and old alike.

  • Larry

    In many ways religions have not done much to show the world “a better way”. This is not a flaw in the “message” but in the messenger. I am a Christian. When I strip off the veneer of religion, I see Jesus the way he was meant to be seen. The way he meant us to see Him. There is nothing in the “world” that can match that. There is a revival in the Christian church toward discipleship in Jesus. Getting us back to our roots. I pray that this movement will continue and that religion will once again be a better messenger.

  • Ellen Dibble

    My particular church recently asked for inputs on what worship means to each. Maybe they mean how can we get you to spend an hour in the pew.
    To me, worship is a step aside, a moment of shared perspective. It is in some senses escape from “smaller” things, the distractions and concerns. Someone above said a safer, secure populace would not “need” religion.
    Perspective could also be achieved by drugs, by escapist maneuvers, total obsession, speed.
    Or by comedy. Laugh and you get beyond it all.

  • Ellen Dibble

    I didn’t mean that entertainment can step in for religion. It more numbs than unites. Or does it?

  • Todd

    “Once people stop believing in God, the problem is not that they will believe nothing; rather, the problem is that they will believe anything.”
    — G.K. Chesterton

  • Ed Helmrich

    The John Paul II generation of young people are very traditional and devout.

  • Clinton

    As a 24 year old, who was raised with some religion I know I have become completely uninterested in religion, because of how divisive it is in our current political system. Frankly, religion has become a cliche in my mind.

  • Adam

    I was raised Southern Batist but during February I felt that my denomination was no longer representative of who I am. I started attending Catholic Mass with my boyfriend and came to feel more comfortable with the Catholic Church and its doctrine.

  • Kristie Thompson

    I grew up in a nonpracticing Christian household, My Grandmother who was a sunday school teacher taught me Frueds teachings, to understand the reasons behind peoples actions and to read religious texts before choosing what to practice and to apply those teachings to everyday life.

    By the age of 10 I had read the Bible, Koran, and the Torah as well as Rumi, Marcus Aurielis Meditations and several other religious texts.

    At the age of 11 I chose to become a practicing Voodoian, at age 16 a practicing Goddess Worshiper under the Hindu religions and then I became a Zen Buddhist at the age of 18. Needless to say I am extremely spiritual person but a warrior against Organized Religion and Religious Dogma.

    I am a Humanist, I speak only the truth, I try to do good without God and find those like Richard Dawkins arguments interesting. One does not have to be an atheist to believe in reason and one does not have to be religious to be spiritual.

  • Sherrie N

    When is any religion going to be honest: books are books, not facts and there is no proof which, if any, of the religious books are factually correct?

    We need community, there may be beings and powers greater than people-see: http://www.kurzweilai.net/news/frame.html?main=/news/news_single.html?id%3D11316

    Simple truth: we are one race, the human race and to date we share one home only, Earth–we need to find new and better ways to live in our home.

    I prefer the word person to human, people to human beings and community to humanism. In the Judeo-Christian Bible, look at both “creation” stories–the powerful character assigns work–naming- to the first man. Also, prohibition of the “fruit” was control and the second person, woman, was faulted rather than the truth–both shared in the challenge to the power. Honesty matters. Always.

    If our academics have real courage it is time to reorganize our economics as much as it is necessary to fuss over “religion”(which takes time and money and the leaders generally know one particular book best–not the true evidence of real intelligence, rather closer to brainwashing). If you do not acept this, look into neuroscience. We do not have all the answers. It helps to ask the right questions

  • Tammy

    I love the song that was played during the last break. Who is the artist?

  • Ellen Dibble

    Someone complained about the white, exclusivist (sort of) bent to my Protestant denomination. The moral challenge of this age, as I see it, is incorporating all people into one humanist sense of responsibility.
    But a church is about people who share something, about finding a spiritual “home,” so is that exclusivist and backward tilting, sort of racist but by another name?
    Morally, churches would offer better direction if they found common ground without putting others in spiritual hell.

  • Jenny Howland

    Professor Christian Smith has data only from the 1970s. Perfect, that is when I grew up–in the heat of the battle between traditional religion and the humanistic cults. I have been exposed to both, having been raised Catholic and having spent over a decade in Los Angeles. Eventually, I was disappointed by both, and became an Evangelical Christian, choosing to focus on a relationship with God as a person, a live spirit, and scripture so that could discover Him myself. I think that humanism longs for relationship and community. But without God, it can turn very ugly–The Landmark Forum, Scientology. Reality for many young Christians today is the relationship with God, not an institution, which is how it is meant to be. I hope your guest finds this.

  • Danielle

    As a young adult recently out of school, I’ve found my religion to be a relief from the stressful day-to-day problems of finding a job, paying the rent, etc., in this economy. Every week, I get the opportunity to step out of these daily worries and focus on the bigger picture. I feel the most important element of the bigger picture that my religion (Judaism) teaches is helping others through social justice, and this is something we should never forget no matter what our circumstances are.

  • Ed Helmrich

    The challenge of the young generation is that they don’t know much about what they call traditional religion, it hasn’t been taught to them. But some are re-discovering it.

  • https://home.comcast.net/~anamchara/ Jacki Willard

    A man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death. Albert Einstein

  • Erin

    This spring I went into toxic shock after having a baby. Almost died. Many people prayed for me to survive and even pushed their religion on me. But I felt more like, where was god? If there was god, why did this happen to me. God seemed like a waste. What kept me going were the friends and family that gathered ’round me.

  • Sarah McVey

    Of course anyone can be good, or moral. Religion does not make anyone good. However, the question is what is the person’s motive for their morality? I am 26 and am wholly devoted to God. I have been loved, blessed, and ministered to; therefore, I love, try to bless others, and minister to others the best I can. I feel that the most effective morality is the kind that comes directly as a response to God. It is unselfish and marked by love. My husband (27) recently returned from a trip to Bolivia. While there, he helped pass out gifts to poverty stricken children. He didn’t do this because it was the right thing to do; he did this because Jesus reached out to the needy, and my husband answers that by reaching out as well. Purpose is the whole point.

  • BHA

    While I sympathize with the last caller’s issues, if she really thinks there is a deity that watches over 6 BILLION people and their every need and desire, deciding which prayers to grant and which to ignore, I hope she does not have more children.

    As the speaker said, we, and our friends/family support are what get us through our trials and tribulations. To hope that there is a God that will keep HER next child from having a genetic issue is likely as not going to turn out badly.

    There are WAY too many injustices in this world that happen equally to the religious and non religious to believe someone/thing is directing our daily lives.

    Yes, I would put myself in the Secular Humanist category.

  • ‘ris

    Why should we continue to look towards religion for moral guidance? How do you reconcile that the catholic church teaches poverty, but has more wealth then most nations? What do you do when you tithe 10% to your church so your pastor can drive a Ferrari?

    We don’t need religion to be good people. If anything the hypocrisy that runs rampant though religious systems shows people that religion is not the answer.

    You have to live by your own convictions and do what you think is right to help other people live full and happy lives. Because there is no afterlife, this is all we get.

  • Zinovy Vayman

    Harvard Humanist Chaplain:

    “Jobs can be taken from us…
    Money can be taken away…
    Dignity cannot be taken away…”

    It is utterly wrong, Mr Epstein!
    I keep my job, I keep my money,
    but dignity is taken from me in a world beyond Harvard.
    Dignity is denied to the multitudes of people including

  • Jason

    Many young students in and just out of college are looking for structure, guidance, and belonging – things that our very fractured secular society simply does not offer. The madness of relativism, as one young person joining our congregation told me, is a disorienting and depressing. Where nothing has meaning, how can anything have value, they said. While I don’t entirely agree that such reasons are the best to come to God, I think it is telling of what is going on in the heads of some 20-somethings.

  • Beth

    I am listening to Catherine from SC, and my heart breaks that she thinks that there is something wrong with her. A genotype isn’t right or wrong, it simply is what it is. The same thing goes for sick and dying parents, family strife, joblessness, and all of the other things that normally drive people to seek religion (and all of which I have personally experienced, lest anyone think that I am a Pollyanna).

    While I understand that people tend to seek comfort and solace in religion, I actually find more comfort and solace in the notion that life just is what it is, and there’s not necessarily any sort of “plan.” It means I’m not being singled out, punished, or anything of the sort. Crappy things happen, and there is very little that any of us can control about the world around us other than the ways in which we respond to it. To embrace that is not helplessness or despair, but the first step towards self-reflection, self-knowing, and the sort of empathy that secular humanism is all about.

  • Ed Helmrich

    This is why John Paul II reached out to young people, and now Pope Benedict it doing the same thing. Humanism and faith aren’t in conflict at all. It could be said that humanism is a subset of religion.

  • http://www.nsuu.org Fred Mills

    I work as the Director of Education at a Unitarian Universalist Church north of Boston and I find it fascinating that all religion is painted with a broad brush I would describe my congregation as mainly humanist but accepting the value of the enquiring mind. Personally I don’t understand the need to be right trumping the need to learn question and grow. Religion and thoughful discourse are not mutually exclusive

  • Candace Hudgins

    Dear Tom, I’m 52 now and the thoughts of the twenty year old that just called in are still with me since I was her age. I have a daughter who in her late 20′s who is doing her own searching, and I say to the youth out there, now is the time, don’t get caught up in the rut of middle age and the rat race, seek your spirituality and your own enlightenment, and your own joy. The world will be better for you and everyone around you.

  • Ed Helmrich

    No kidding.

  • John

    I find the Zen approach that says reality is shaped by what we practice and develop from the inside to be very freeing. We don’t need to look outside, to a divine being or divine plan to find peace with what is. We can find peace by giving up the doctrines, beliefs and perspectives that our Western society and it’s religions force on us from birth.

    Peace is possible without beliefs.

  • Lilee

    The show opened with stats stating that the young lose their religion and then come back in later years. One thing I think isn’t said is that religion for most people is an affiliation of convenience. They return to religion because it gives them an umbrella to marry under, to be thought of as “good” when they bring their children in the church and to carry a kind of convention that won’t be criticized to the bus stop. After the kids marry and that umbrella is less needed (until the burial) and the affiliation has fewer uses and is less convenient, they leave. (Don’t attend.)

    My experience is that people don’t think much about their religion. I find this especially so of Catholics–who I am mostly surrounded by living in Boston–who call themselves Catholic but adhere to hardly any aspect of it–from birth control to living together. There is nothing “Catholic” about them at all except that they call themselves that.

  • Sharman

    I’m a 29 year old mother of two. My ex-husband left us when my daughter was only 1 and my son’s father passed away in an accident 3 months ago. I am struggling with my faith. I was taught that if you are a good person and if you try to do the right thing God will walk with you and protect you. I always considered myself to have a good head on my shoulders but yet I ended up in this situation. I look around at all of the sorrow in the world and I feel guilty for complaining when others have it worst than me. This only makes me feel worst about my situation it’s a constant back and forth. I question everything and I want answers but I can’t find them anywhere

  • Ellen Dibble

    When religion (to ‘tris above) is misbehaving, it needs direction, I say. I have a democratic view of religion. A lot of religions are misbehaving. This is our problem. We can’t be too shy, because I think religion is important, functional religions.
    The pope talking about cafeteria religion, do-as-you-like, believe-as-you-like, relativist belief? Hmm.

  • Marc

    To start with, you shouldn’t believe in something because you want to. Similarly, you don’t discount the truth of something because it’s caused problems. I would find it tremendously comforting to believe in Christianity, Buddhism or pretty much anything that said there was more than this life. But I can’t. Similarly, that religion has been the source of persecution and other problems is not a good reason for disbelief.

    However, I find humanism is completely lacking in help with the fundamental problems of people. For the woman with genetic problems, the only advice for her was to acknowledge the pain and seek support from others. That’s both obvious and not terribly useful. However, I realize that that may be what humanism or atheism has to offer.

  • Stormwalker03

    On Point should NOT be a place for Tom Ashbrook to be a Televangelist! This is PUBLIC Radio and if he wants to do a show on Religion and Faith, then he should do one on ALL Religions and Paths of Faith, not just his own!! This is infuriating that he has turned On Point REPEATEDLY into a Christian forum! He denegrates other Religions and Faiths by this omission!

    I for one love Public Radio and am NOT Christian by anyone’s stretch of the imagination! I am fully AFRONTED by Tom Ashbrook!!

  • Virginia Crowe

    It is entirely unnecessary to have “religion” to have ethics, morals and values. I am deeply offended when others declare you cannot have morals if you don’t “have God.” Some values are simply universal to having a civilization. I was raised without religion and often find I have much better ethics and morals, not to mention more compassino for others, than those around me who supposedly adhere to Christian values.

  • Richard

    I am young parent who defines himself as an agnostic. I want to belive in people, but have a real hard time with all the superstitions and absolutes of most major religons.

    Yet now with my childern I feel a responsibility to teach them about religion, but dont want to scare them. What are some good “neutral” resources for early childhood religious education?

  • Kristofer DeBerry

    I’m 32. What is the purpose of religion today? Do we still need it? Are we all sheep needing led? Do the percentages you gave at the start of the show correspond with that personality type, sheep vs. shepard?

  • Megan

    As a person in her 20s I truly can say that things aren’t really easy at the moment. Growing up in this transitional period without solid foundations in religion I think leads many of us feeling as though there is nothing to grasp on to when the world is racing around us at a speed that is forever increasing. My friends and I classify ourselves as spiritual people, but, for myself I don’t feel it is enough to keep me from worrying about things… building up my 401(k), whether or not I’m climbing the “ladder” in the right way, am I doing what I truly should be doing with my life? These questions I feel were all answered in the past with the faith that everything will be okay because God has a plan. What are we to do now? I have great friends and family but no one has been able to help me get out of this what I feel is a quarter life crisis. How do you stop yourself enough to own your feelings in this humanistic approach when the world doesn’t stop racing around us? How does one take the time to develop a zen-like approach when working overtime has suddenly become the norm in this economy? I feel like if I stop I will flounder.

  • http://witchchild.livejournal.com Soli

    What is getting to me about this conversation is its presumption that religion and morality automatically default to Christianity. I’ve been a polytheist for over a decade, which brings with it a rather different mind set and ethos. When bad things happen, I know it’s not because my Gods hate me or “let” it happen, but it still happened and my spirituality comforts me when that happens.

  • http://www.vincemarotte.com Vince

    Good. We all want good. We all want to live a life that is free of pain, whether it be physical, mental, relational, cognitive or spiritual.

    The reality we live in is limiting. The fact is that a reality of only good is not possible…so pain will always exist.

    Some pain we see as worse…genocide, cancer or starvation, and some pain we see as tolerable; headache, heartbreak and the like.

    the fact remains that that pain will always be here in this reality regardless of a belief in God. Which leads me to conclude that how we feel about pain, pleasure, good and evil, isn’t a place to begin nor base a belief/disbelief in a god. Because pain and good is just an Axiom of our real existence.

  • Cornelius

    Having read the bible, I have a difficult time seeing how anyone derives their morality from the stories contained in it. As a former fundamentalist christian I find my humanist morality to be much superior to that contained in christianity. It requires that I live in the present and treat others without respect to either of us having an “afterlife.”

    I find religion to be very much like fascism – both provides the adherent with a rigid framework in which to live and act and neither burdens us with having to think about what is right and just.

  • Ellen Dibble

    I’d be interested in a poll as to how many spiritual leaders “believe” that the planetary tipping point is past in terms of global warming, and facing responsibility with a blind eye is the only answer.
    I would split out interpersonal responsbility and planetary responsibility. How not to be overwhelmed. Religion 101.

  • http://www.nsuu.org Fred Mills

    Ellen Dibble I think there is a big difference between moral relativism and a strong personal faith that a person works hard to develop and uses as a personal moral compass

  • Downey Meyer

    Do public professions of devotions to moral behavior equal moral behavior? I am not surprised that “the devoted” claim that they will act in accordance with their moral code, but do they actually act ethically any more often than the godless?

  • Minnie

    Those who cannot imagine an ethical, moral, lawful existence without religion worry me.

    As someone who grew up completely secular in an industrialized Asian country, I have never personally felt a need to look for an external, supernatural/spiritual source of comfort, strength and guidance.

  • Virginia

    @ Richard — I have found that the Unitarium Universalist is the best place for those who want a spiritual community, but not the dogma of most Christian churches. UU is all about supporting each other on their spiritual journey, no matter where it might lead you. You are not required to believe in any particular “religion”. I’ve been attending for more than a year and have never found myself feeling uncomfortable during a service because I didn’t agree with what was being said. UU celebrates the best of all religions and lets you decide what works for you. Plus, they have a strong focus on social justice and caring for others.

  • Glenn

    Todd provided the quote:
    “Once people stop believing in God, the problem is not that they will believe nothing; rather, the problem is that they will believe anything.”
    — G.K. Chesterton

    I think G.K. Chesterton must have grown up in a very different world than I did. I see the most devout believers today flying planes into buildings to get their reward of virgins in heaven, while others gleefully anticipate the End Times. Deep belief can take the place rational thought, and this scares me silly.

  • Christina


    Tom was SO right: you sound like a truly BEAUTIFUL person! And, you brought so much honesty AND poetry to what you were saying! And, in doing THAT, you opened up your situation for others to see and understand, thus LEADING us directly to a place of compassion!!! By leading us there, you gave US a gift!!!

    The gift I want to give you is this: a CONFIDENT RE-ASSURANCE that there are EXTRAORDINARY medical advances ALL the time! I have metastatic cancer, and the medicines I take have stopped working twice — each time there was a new medicine available!!! There is SO much interest in genetics and genetic medicine nowadays that I am SURE there will be something for you in your future!!! Sign up for medical trials; and keep speaking out, because awareness breeds interest, and interest breeds results!!!

    My VERY best wishes to you and your family! -Christina

  • wilson Samuel

    As a Born-Again Christian (I converted in my early adulthood) who was raised in India, I can certainly say that, Bible is the moral compass I use (NOT THE CHURCH DOCTRINE, which changes from church to church), I guess everywhere it becomes a huge problem whenever:

    1. Focus on anyone but Christ
    2. Focus on the Church than the Christ
    3. Focus on Mixing Religion and Politics
    4. Focus on Mixing their own interpretation over the Christ’s teachings.

    As far as Bible is concerned, I would dare to say that, its the text which I really find totally amazing and has been useful to me across all the sects of life (my favorite ones are Proverbs, Esc and the Letters of St. Paul).

    God Bless You All.

  • David

    Arguing in regard to the factual accuracy of religion, or this religion or philosophy VS. another, tends to add to the confusion. Let’s ask ourselves what’s the point of the discussion or argument? Are we searching for divisiveness, to make others believe the way we do, or are we looking for true understanding? If we’re after understanding then a new perspective is needed.

    I find it very helpful see the question from the viewpoint that all religions, including humanism and atheism, are essentially a method, or a tool toward realizing a rich, fulfilling, and happy life. Telling another that their tool doesn’t make sense, when it works for them takes the whole conversation in a direction that just cases strife, and in my opinion misses the point.

    Religion is not, and has never been in it’s essence, about factual accuracy, it’s about spiritual efficacy. Does the method have the potential for producing a happy, fullfilling and rich life in one’s self and does that happiness produced by that religion help others?

    God or no God, life in it’s essence is ineffable, so we need fairy tales, philosophies, poetry, etc, to point toward that ineffable essence that can never truly be described, but can be experienced. We need methods, however odd they may seem to us, to produce an outlook on life that makes life rich and ecstatic, for oneself and others.

    I like the quote, “If you want to take religion seriously, don’t take it literally.”

  • Jennifer Howland

    I cannot imagine your situation. My family had a lot of loss, and I found myself depressed by it often before I realized that they were gone, and I could choose life or death. We don’t need to choose life or death literally, although–tragically– I had family members who did. We must choose to believe God, stand on His promises and push through using everything in our relationship with Him that He has given us. I can’t tell you anything more than to reach out every day–faith is not by sight, which is why the rewards on the other side are miraculous. Don’t do it in silence. Don’t do it alone. In the name of Jesus, you will be all right. Choose Jesus, always. In as far as I am your Christian sister in Spirit and family, know that you are loved.

  • wilson samuel

    @ Glenn,

    The issue is not the God Glenn, but which god. Thats the crux of the matter.

    Chesterten, was a Christian (although I doubt his version of Christianity and today’s christianity is the same) and I believe he was a Bible reader and a Bible believer who wasnt using the selected quotes from the Bible for some selfish gains. Its more like the version of CS Lewis’ Christ and Bible than the christianity of the European Dark ages.

  • Ben

    Humanism relies on religion for concepts of good and evil.Without religious precepts good and evil would have no meaning, one could then argue that what constitutes good is what is convenient and what constitutes evil is what is inconvenient. Rather than achieving a loving and compaasionate society as humanists strive for, we would achieve an intolerant permissive society. The luxury of humanisn can only exist when counter balanced by the presence of religion, as that presence diminishes disorder and greater permissiveness arises with an inevitability attested to by history

  • Casey

    To Sharman, above. I sympathize with your struggle. Something similar happened to me, and I asked questions similar to yours. I actually found more peace in accepting the fact that the god that was supposed to protect me does not exist, as it does not exist for all of the people who are suffering out there. What got me through were the people who let me lean on them time and again, some of whom are religous. I also took from this the lesson that it is my responsibility to provide the same comfort and to give the same empathy to other human beings, whenever I am able to do so. I don’t consider myself part of any “ism,” but my understanding is that this is in line with humanism.

  • Mark S.

    I don’t know where this quote came from, but I really like it:

    “Science created airplanes and skyscrapers, but faith brought them together.”

    Says it all.

  • OldHeathen

    The closest I have been able to come to defining my spiritual life has been Agnostic theism, I use the Christian frame work because I was raised Presbyterian,

    God is something I hope for, however I have never been able to get through the ‘ I really don’t know ‘ part. I think this world would be a better place if people looked to the way Jesus said to live, rather then the so called reward promised just for acknowledgment.

  • Peter

    Agnostics and atheists maintain faith in invisible things just as the religious do: the authority of time over all else, random change driving evolution with no obvious source for the randomization. If there is a God He has perfectly hidden Himself, as you would expect. We should at least be open-minded.

  • Dave

    I agree with Minnie that people who see religion as a necessary precursor to morality are frightening. I’ll go a step further and say that people who see religion as a necessary precursor to a meaningful life depress me.
    Isn’t it enough that we are alive? Isn’t it enough that we are surrounded by a wondrous and beautiful planet and cosmos? Aren’t our daily interactions with friends and family sufficiently rewarding?
    I don’t get it.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Ben must be in the throes of spiritual evaluation. How he thinks anything will leave us with an “intolerant permissive” society I don’t know. The brain boggles. Either we have tolerant and permissive or we have intolerant and nonpermissive, I thought. Also, I thought humanism was if anything more stringent than religion, not a “luxury” by any stretch. One is far less sheep than shepherd without a specific group of fellow spiritual travelers. Once the religious were the flock, and we were supposed to feel comforted by being led, told this and that. Right now the world is changing at such a pace that doctrine can be used as an anchor (there was a Speaking of Faith rebroadcast on this on NPR last Sunday, Yaroslav Pelikan “and the Need for Creeds”) but for instance the dietary rules for centuries BC in Israel don’t match the needed guidelines of today, though Jews would feel connected and comforted by honoring an age-old custom. Ditto for much of Christianity: there is much to save, much to honor, to savor, much to set aside. “Time makes ancient good uncouth,” as the old hymn goes (Once to Every Man and Nation Comes the Moment to Decide… for the Good or Evil Side).

  • millard-fillmore

    If we are to go by facts, then how can anyone deny the fact of religion playing a major motivational role in the lives and actions of Martin Luther King, Jr., Desmond Tutu and Gandhi?

    How do people commenting here define “religion”, since it is such a loaded term and means different things to different people? Do they mean what’s written in the books, or the actions of practitioners (Recipe vs. a cook following a recipe)?

    Similarly, for “God”? Do they assume that all religions have the same concept of God as they do or their religion does?

    Getting a common definition of words is a pre-requisite to any communication or discussion about those words, otherwise it’s all talking past one another with no common meeting ground.

    With which religion is a commenter here most familiar with and most knowledgeable about?

    Can that commenter simply extrapolate his/her personal knowledge of ONE religion (Christianity, most likely) to all religions of the world, without any knowledge of those other religions, which differ from Christianity even if there may be some parallels? Is that intellectually honest?

    Just as it’s incorrect to say that those who are not religious cannot have morals, the flip side of it is also incorrect – that one doesn’t need religion to be moral. It’s a personal decision and each person should be free to make that choice regarding the source of his/her morality. The best one can do is talk about oneself and one’s experience.

    And, finally, is it OK to have different yardsticks for different religions for the same acts? An obvious example is {Christianity, Scientology, Buddhism, Hindooism – OK to criticize and/or ridicule} and {Islam – taboo to criticize and ridicule out of fear of being labeled an Islamophobe}. If so, then why?

  • millard-fillmore

    “I agree with Minnie that people who see religion as a necessary precursor to morality are frightening. I’ll go a step further and say that people who see religion as a necessary precursor to a meaningful life depress me.
    Isn’t it enough that we are alive? Isn’t it enough that we are surrounded by a wondrous and beautiful planet and cosmos? Aren’t our daily interactions with friends and family sufficiently rewarding?
    I don’t get it.”

    Ah yes. Worrying about other people’s behavior re: religion is an exercise in futility – as long as it doesn’t hurt you. That’s some “religion” you have chosen for yourself Dave – chaining you to depression instead of freeing you and making you happy!!

    Is it (atheism/non-religion) the flip side of Abrahamic credo where one cannot accept someone who is not like oneself, and one feels this overwhelming desire to “convert” others to one’s credo instead of accepting others in all their diversity??

  • millard-fillmore

    David wrote:
    “Arguing in regard to the factual accuracy of religion, or this religion or philosophy VS. another, tends to add to the confusion. Let’s ask ourselves what’s the point of the discussion or argument? Are we searching for divisiveness, to make others believe the way we do, or are we looking for true understanding? If we’re after understanding then a new perspective is needed.

    I find it very helpful see the question from the viewpoint that all religions, including humanism and atheism, are essentially a method, or a tool toward realizing a rich, fulfilling, and happy life. Telling another that their tool doesn’t make sense, when it works for them takes the whole conversation in a direction that just cases strife, and in my opinion misses the point.”

    Bingo!! Someone gets it. :)

  • Ellen Dibble

    Millard-Fillmore, in college I took many “comparative religion” classes, classes in different religious traditions. That was long ago, but it was a great foundation for understanding people around the world, if not much help in getting any career (I wasn’t interested in being a religious leader — I mean I thought that was presumptuous in the extreme; you can’t study for that — or not most of what that entails).
    Anyway, the person teaching Chinese and Indian subcontinent traditions was the most enlightening, and I’m not sure Islam was even taught. The history and traditions are obscure to me, the literature, the politics — as I understand it, in medieval Spain, Maimonides, a Jew, was supported in his Jewish philosophy and writing by the ruling Muslims. As far as I know, Islam, as a confident religion, one not under siege, is tolerant and full of potential for humanity. Salman Rushdie did not exactly bring out the highlights, as I understand it, with his Satanic Verses. That plus bin Laden. Hmmm.
    But considering medieval Christians in Europe, with their sense of entitlement and their Crusades against those of other faiths, I have to remember we call that “Dark Ages,” not our great jihad.

  • David

    Great Topic, I’m 60 and been thinking about life for awhile. If your really take some time and think about the Universe and try to comprehend its size and where and how it all came about, it helped me reflect onto myself. How wonderful it is to have a life, walk upon a planet and experience a brief stay. What more could one ask for.
    Another experience / eye opener for me was to cheat death when I was 55. Your mind really starts to look at life in a complete other way. I fine myself looking inward to an inter spirit if you will. A type of Humanism, its working for me.

  • http://www.kahalbraira.org Jon Levine

    Humanists assert that people provide solutions to most of our own problems, including deciding what is right and wrong. It is great that authors like Greg are able to present these ideas. Another Humanist Rabbi, Adam Chalom, will be in town as scholar in residence in November.

  • http://www.onpointradio.org Pien

    @ Tammy

    The song that you liked was “Lay’Em Down” by the Christian rock band “Need To Breathe.”

    The other songs we played were “Are We There Yet?” by Ingrid Michaelson, and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” by U2.

    Glad you liked the music.

    - Pien, On Point Producer

  • Ellen Dibble

    I’m going to be close to sacriligious and call to mind what seems to me a “humanist” religious moment I chanced to see on PBS Connecticut, a broadcast from Cortona in Tucany Italy with Andre Rieu. The evocation of new ritual might be this: all the instruments had been CARRIED up the hill (to what looked like a Roman colisseum).
    At first I was seeing a gorgeous montage of young women to music about love, the transcendence and yearning. Each young face, sitting at a cafe, or chatting, illuminated by feelings that to someone my age seem so distant. I felt I had dug to China and gotten there, so I watched more.
    Next there was one clip of shared music after another. of course Schiller’s Ode to Joy, in German, Freude, schoene gotterfunken (joy, lovely divine spark)tochter aus Elysium, (the child from Paradise); From La Traviata, Libiamo, let’s drink, from Bizet — I can’t recall exactly. But everyone in the colisseum was on their feet, swaying or dancing a bit and singing, with the shine to the eyes that little children can bring to a moment, the feeling of sharing a moment of awe — throughout. There were a huge number of people about 20, the age we’re thinking of today. Well, well, well.
    Of course there was Verdi’s song of the slaves from Nabucco, with the ineffable sadness, like raw silk, like angel hair, over everyone. Music can do what creed cannot. I don’t think Islam has such music. But we can share.

  • Mark

    I was looking forward to this broadcast but I found myself frustrated with the lack of insight from Mr. Smith and some of the callers who were brought on the air. In a sense, I’m not surprised with the outcome but I am somewhat embarassed by the lack of insight within my own generation. I thought that many of the questions and abstractions from Mr. Smith’s study were flawed and consequently, his statistics next to meaningless. I think Mr. Epstein made some valuable remarks but I would much rather have seen someone like Carl Sagan or Sam Harris have the podium. It’s a shame more young people haven’t thought for themselves, exposed their worldview to new ideas, and at the end of the road (that never really ends of course!)…come to the inevitable realization that any God of the monotheistic traditions is far too small and petty to live up to “his” name.

  • http://twitter.com/blendahtom blendahtom

    I really dug the show today..especially the tone taken on both sides… I was hoping to see some more depth to the secular humanism view and where it ultimately leads to. i.e .

    Man is the source of all meaning and purpose and essentially we are the result of big cosmic explosion. Basically we don’t have a purpose or meaning so in essence we just come up w/ our own. We are the source of our own purpose and meaning..

    But how can Man who is just product of chance.. a finite being be the source of purpose and meaning? ..

    He can’t…

  • Steven

    Religion points (usually) inward, basically drawing walls and barriers up to keep “negative external influences” away from the core values of an engineered sense of morality that is the basis of said religion. There is some redeeming qualities to this kind of societal structure but there are as many downfalls to this as well.

    I believe children should remain innocent and free of such form of idealized protectionism and allow to have an open mind to the world around them. As long as there is responsible guidance from their parents (staying within boundaries of common/local/societal law and adhering to the philosophies of basic human dignity and decency), these children should be raised in an environment with some exposures of everyday life. It is when they are an adult or have the ability to form their own opinions and are able to be responsible for their own actions that they should be allowed “independant religious freedom” devoid of persecution from anyone who do not share the same religious beliefs.

    I believe such an open society promotes a more healthy and diverse population of beliefs and custom, as well as allow children an opportunity for a more balanced and responsible growth.

  • Brett

    It is interesting/disappointing to me that in any discussions of this kind there is a very predictable Christian view, and some of the comments within the thread of this forum are no different. I find the pervasive perspectives of any practitioners of Abrahamic religions to have some similar elements (however remote) of condescension, arrogance, and very deliberate moral judgement toward others.

    No matter how civil, kind, thoughtful or crass the comment coming from a person who participates in some form of organized religion, those various components of complacency percolate in some way.

    For some, organized religion can supply much needed social functions while also providing a feeling of being connected to others of the same belief. This, I suppose, can be comforting. Others perhaps seek out a spiritual path in more abstract and personal ways, while still others find no compelling need to seek out a spiritual view of life at all. Many who grapple with the examination/quest for an essential spiritual truth may alternate among all of the aforementioned paths.
    I was christened as a Roman Catholic, confirmed as a Lutheran, practiced Buddhism in my early twenties, and studied many other religions in a comparative/academic way in my early thirties, as well as pursued various spiritual paths. I find no confusion or contradiction in my search-nonsearch for spiritual meaning. Perhaps it is the questions that are important and not the answers, I can’t say; I wish to leave that up to the individual, though.

    Even in Eastern religions, although there may not be the overt condescension/arrogance/moral judgement, there are still dogmatic opinions and complacency. In New Age/Pagan religions there also seem to be those remnants of smugness. (I find New Age religions to be particularly interesting because they borrow heavily from an amalgam of Christianity, Eastern, and Native American religions, often without admitting or realizing such.) The Unitarian-Universalist view is an interesting one; the nicest people really, but they say they honor all religions. Hardly. They ignore all other religions, which is different. If they did honor all, they would have an Orthodox Jewish ceremony one week and a Fundamentalist Baptist the next, a Muslim the next.

    In making a lifelong study of religion I can see a clear pattern of basic tenants of good intentions which simultaneously also wish to define one true right way and one true wrong way of approaching life, and I also see mythological underpinnings (which is not necessarily to say a lie or fanciful, supernatural explanation–although these can be a part of religious belief–but a metaphorical/allegorical view). I also see how one religion borrows heavily from other earlier religions in its development. The latter point is most interesting because often the newer religion will condemn the very tradition of the older religion it chooses to adopt.

    Also, we all have grown weary, I believe, of the atheist who, either through displaying a great hypocrisy or through wanting to redefine the atheistic perspective as being something other than what it is, presumes to “know.”

    (**As an aside, I found this discussion–both on the radio show and in this forum–to want a single, unified definition of the “humanist.” There are different forms and definitions of humanism. For example, Secular Humanism is different than Spiritual Humanism. Catholics often use the term “humanist” as a euphemism for an agnostic, pagan or even an atheist if they are feeling charitable.)

    I suppose the answer, if there are any answers, is that people will pursue a sense of spirituality in all sorts of ways, whether within the context of organized religion or within the context of individual abstraction. Within a consensus view, one seems to have little merit over another and should be treated with deference if not reverence.

    Oh, and please do not treat me as someone who is destined to damnation or as someone risking a kind of permanent disability because I may believe something different than you…

  • Louise

    More and more people are accepting Jesus and rejecting socialism, new-age thinking, homosexuality, and Barack Obama. Sorry liberals, your time is up and your failed beliefs and ideologies are being flushed down the toilet.

  • Emily Crow

    First of all, I have very much enjoyed and been interested in all the posts thus far. However, I find some of the comments about religious people being “sheep” troubling. My personal belief is that every belief system requires a leap of faith. Yes, you cannot prove there is a God. But, you cannot disprove it either. I choose to put my faith in a personal God because I believe Christianity offers the best explanation for why the world is the way it is.Far from living in some “fairytale” land, I am comfortable with the leap of faith I have chosen to make. People are free to disagree, but I think it is important to not insult people’s intelligence simply because they have faith. Tim Keller has published some wonderful books addressing the need for God if anyone is interested. http://www.redeemer.com.

  • Ellen Dibble

    I might be the offending one referring to sheep and shepherds here and there. Maybe not.
    Emily, how defensive people get when trying to discuss religion. “I think it important to not insult people’s intelligence simply because they have faith.”
    Not the least because that simply drives people away and apart.
    Try that out with people selecting say a spouse: “Well, since you didn’t choose this person, therefore you are bad and stupid, etc., etc. We two are the highest and best.”
    No, what is best for you might not be best for me, and anyway, there is no sharing there!
    The language of pastor and flock is inherent in Christianity so I use it. I paste that image, peaceful and pastoral, over what we know of wahabi Islam, however, where children are taught to recite the Koran, taught to be UNquestioning — well, where that brings me to is that I too was “taught” to be unquestioning, brainwashed that brainwashing was bad. Somebody said “history is little packets of prejudice that we pass to the next generation,” something like that. “Judge not that ye not be judged.” Unpack that. I would be cautious about any religious group that has mostly secure people. I think up top somebody said that secure societies don’t need/have religion. I’d say secure people can have ruthless religions, with a might-makes-right attitude (think of the Spaniards conquering South America).
    I don’t think any culture has managed to encode values and meaning without great stories (myths etc) to encapsulate those meanings. We tell them for the lasting underlying meaning, not for the scientific truth.
    I am reading in the paper today that 57 percent of Republicans don’t “believe” in global warming, which begins to get dangerous, IMHO.

  • Bubba

    So I guess my question to both sides is – on the issue of religion, is Obama a believer in fairy tales or a manipulative opportunist?

  • http://www.nsuu.org Fred Mills


    It is so sad to me that you feel you have to advance the ‘Divided America’ concept that has been so harmful to our country over the last decade. Liberals are not at war with conservatives. I can’t help believing that we are a much stronger nation when we engage in civil discourse and understand that a vibrant democracy requires a reasoned public debate. The us and them approach is fundamentally disrespectful of our founders

  • Emily

    One last comment in response to Loise and Fred…I completely agree, Fred, that liberals and conservatives are not at war (despite what many media outlets say.) And socialism is a political/economic system (I defer to political science people for a more accurate definition), not a belief system. I believe you can be a Christian socialist, a Republican atheist, or any other combination of your choosing. Personally, I am an evangelical Christian who happens to vote Democratic. People can come to different conclusions and act on them–that’s the beauty of America.

    My best wishes to everyone who has participated in this discussion today.

  • Coree

    As a 24 year old college graduate living at home with my mother, and unable to find a job in my field, I have done a lot of soul searching, feeling helpless, useless, and wondering what the point of it all is. I was raised Catholic, and never really found any connection with that religion. In college myself and many of my friends experimented with different types of spirituality. Many traveled to India and brought back what they experienced there….I was still left empty.

    I am applying to law school, but in the mean time I work as a nursing assistant at Children’s Hospital- and have to say that in my 24 years of life if there is anything that has brought me close to true spirituality it has been working with extremely sick children. When I find myself upset and wondering where my life is going, I pour myself into my work.

    Since my employment prospects in this economy are not looking promising, I have found happiness in volunteering and working to help others. I know that it sounds cliche and cheesy, but I honestly would be a very lost person if I hadn’t found this mindset. In the world that we live in today, it wouldn’t hurt if more young people felt this way.

  • http://www.ted.com/ Michael

    Being in my mid 20′s i was religious until i hit the age of reason. Started watching the history channel and watched throughout history as people and leaders used it for power, wealth and control. Not to mention Hell was started from dante inferno poem.


    I choose to believe in myself and if need to depend on something it be my friends and family than a fairy tale.

    I respect what your humanist guest is trying to do but i see all religions as a thing of the past, we should take the good parts of it and discard the rest least in our political sphere. If a church wishes to take a political stand and spend money on ads and lobbying than it should have to pay taxes on its income/donations.

    It be fine and dandy for someone to believe what they like but the problem is many of the deeply religious right often times are train to force it on others and deny other people beliefs,or hate, fear, hurt people that don’t follow it even going so far to tell people they are going to hell if they think otherwise.

    Just as some muslim see no problem throwing acid in girls faces, the same went for some christians saw no problem in lyncing blacks, bombing churchs, and only up to 20 years ago beating or killing gays. Can you honestly believe a god would let someone like that in heaven. If their was a god there be a lot of people going to hell, or what about the deeply racist you really think gods going to let them in as well because there were devote Christians? But than we have wars were both sides claim god is on there side will the men killing innocents in the name of god go to heaven? does it only matter if his belief is strong enough? what about the congo, WW2 and many other times in history were many died why does not god intervene? But if that does not merit him helping why did he intervene in the old testament(turning a whole city to salt?

    I bet if your other guest ask those deeply moral and religious people if it were moral to kill a abortion doctor i bet the answer would be a resounding yes compare to the non-religious ones.

    I much prefer that they teach in a “objective” way all “forms” of religion in schools and history of each and when a child reaches adulthood they can choose which one they like or not like to be based on knowledge and information.

    As to our founders did not Jefferson re-write the bible taking out all the miracles in them and with Washington being a deist.

    As for the bible and many other religious books they have far too many counter-diction in them, preach both intolerance as well as love and often interpreted by people with a agenda other than per say spreading the word of Jesus.

    I recommend Dan Dennett A secular, scientific rebuttal to Rick Warren

    at T.E.D He gives some very good points and not quite as hardcore as Richard D.

    as for the religious ones you can find Rick W. speak as well.


  • Charles S.Merroth

    Misunderstanding of religion and the role it serves in life is one great failures of our time. No one would be more critical of our practice of religion today than Jesus Christ himself. He did not call for honor and worship but he left us a message to live by and described the kingdom that would result.
    Body, mind and spirit are the components of each person. The spirit leads and must be nurtured from birth; that is nurtured with the teachings of, let us call him God. God is love!
    At 80 years of age and look at the comments here, it is obvious that much time and effort are lost on the wrong track . We do have a spiritual dimension and it is the the guiding force for every thing we do and each direction we take. The strength to guide and follow have to come from somewhere, usually parents who have been guided in the past hopefully by love, historically known as God. And yes, the spiritual dimension is eternal, today and foreever.
    Enjoy life as such and don’t worry about the details. Thank you.

  • Sharon Fidler

    To Catherine,
    I was diagnosed with a dominant genetic disease of which I knew nothing, after having two children. Since then I have learned that one of the two has the disease and the other does not.
    Every word of your suffering was an exact expression of what I have felt. And I have searched and searched for help and answers. In particular, your words about feeling that every part of you has something wrong with it, every cell contains something not right, spoke my pain; no counselor, religious person, therapist, doctor has ever understood this sorrow. But they have been kind.
    I wish I could talk to you. Things are not so bad now. I have battled the disease as well as the spiritual pain. I continue the journey.
    I am having a very hard time finding words, but I hope you are surrounded by love and full of courage. Love your precious child and find joy.

  • http://? Chip

    Every human’s experience, conscious and unconscious, of the self and beyond-self is similarly neurobiological constituted and constrained. Human experience cannot exist beyond its biology and its commonality. Philosophy in the Flesh: the Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought by Lakoff and Johnson and Mirrors in the Brians: How Our Minds Share Actions, Emotions, and Experience by Rizzolatti, Sinigaglia, and Anderson among others, offer insights into this perspective. Our individual, neurobiologically-determined, and uniquely subjective experience, combined with the parallel subjectivities of others, creates our objectively held ideas of what is good, evil, spiritual, beautiful, endless and ending. This is our ‘Humanism’ and my subjective experience is that it is good and meaningful.

  • Nate S

    Interesting observation. I see a lot of people doing good things who are believers in God, Atheists, Agnostics, or Humanists. Almosts without exception the most hateful and intolerant people I have ever met justify their actions with religion and a mandate from God. From my perspective you do NOT need a belief in God to have a true moral compass to do good but if you really want to create division, hatred, and contemp in society introduce God and religion. It is a perfect breeding ground for hatred, intolerance, and the real “evil” doings of people.

  • Nate S

    Louise would seem to be the PERFECT illustration of what I just wrote previously. I get teh strong indication that there is probably a set of Bibles stuck on either side of her head acting as blinders…

    I have no sympathy, empathy, and very little respect for someone who claims a “righteous high ground” by standing on the backs of and attemtpting to repress those who have a different point of view…

    Keep stirring the pot of hatred and intolerance Louise, should we really expect anything different from someone like you?

  • Collin McCoy

    Still working our way out of the dark ages…

    divine right monoarchy…
    civil rights battles…
    a. race
    b. sexual preferance
    religion…has fostered all these ideas

    Richard dawkins said “we all disbleive in most of the gods people have believed in…(zeus, ra, etc.) there is just one left…”

  • Louise

    Nate s, I don’t want your sympathy or empathy. You just can’t tolerate the fact that someone else doesn’t agree with your opinions which quite frankly, I find to be beyond reason. Keep simmering in your own pot of hate and loathing. That’s just where you belong.

  • Nate S

    Whatever you do… DON’T take off those Biblical blinders!!!

  • Annie

    Being “religious” doesn’t mean we have to be exclusive. While I identify with the religon I was raised with and continue to go to church on Sundays, I go to Jewish services, I attend Baha’i devotionals, and read much on Buddhism. I’m not looking for “the one, true” religion: I’m looking to enhance my spirituality and the way I experience the divine. We cannot limit ourselves to one line of thinking and must be open to other view points. We must look to what unites us as fellow humans while learning from each other’s cultures if we want to truly find a deeper sense of spirituality, or even just meaning to life.

  • Charlie Mc

    My heart and prayer goes out to Catherine and Sharman. Our experiences in life help us to form our attempted conception of God, religion etc… For example, it is difficult to conceive of a loving God the Father, if our own father fell woefully short of exhibiting anything but pain to his family. Another way of conceiving of God is to view the life of Jesus up to and especially concluding with the love he expressed in his crucifixion and death. The first words recorded in the Gospels (Mark 1:16) were:
    “The present moment is the right time,
    the Kingdom of God is WITHIN you.
    Change the way you think about reality;
    believe THIS Good News.”
    I don’t mean to preach to anybody, but interiority and prayer helped me more than anything in past trials. God bless all in pain.

  • Putney Swope

    Coree you sound like a good candidate for nursing school.
    There are too many lawyers if you ask me.
    There is a huge shortage of good nurses and at your age this might be a good choice.

  • Janice Hoeschler

    God is LOVE. I am Catholic and I love the truths and teachings of the Catholic church. I love the two most important teachings: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. What a better and happier world this would be if we all die that! Thank you, Janice Hoeschler

  • Cory

    It appears as though on point has changed the forum to preclude comments being made before the broadcast of the show. This, of course, is their right. I am a third shift working schlub who liked to comment on the upcoming shows and listen to them the following night. This new “wrinkle” will make it unlikely that I will comment on future shows, as my comments will now be “a day late and a dollar short”. I have appreciated participating and have found the forum stimulating and liberating.

    So farewell Putney, Millard, Mr. Fnord, michael, Alex, and yes… even you Louise. Keep fighting the good fight, my fellow commie pinko lefties

  • Ellen Dibble

    Cory, I hope you find a way to participate. I’ll miss your “voice.” By the way, I deduce two things about the closing of comments overnight. (1) The staff who moderate are probably not on duty in the middle of the night, so theoretically we could have an “In the Night Kitchen” brawl while they are asleep. (2) Preemptive comments could have a big deterrent effect on the cooperation of guests OnPoint is trying to attract. There can be attacks on why they were invited, attacks on who they are, what they say… And if not much is posted by the producers by way of introductory material, we can launch discussions “onpoints” way off the intended target. Still, I always read the overnight comments when we had them.

  • Brett

    To respect a religion to the extent that a person of a particular religion would want one to respect it would be to disregard one’s own beliefs or forego the expression of one’s own beliefs. If, for example, one is talking to a devout Catholic about his/her own beliefs and says, “I respect your view; however, in my view Jesus is not the son of God, he didn’t die for the sins of humanity, he was not resurrected, and he will not return, but he was a great man whose words we can all live by.” In polite society, the good Catholic would say nothing but consider that the non-Catholic knows not of what he/she speaks, would feel pity, would want to pray for the “nonbeliever.” And the Catholic would probably then distance himself/herself from the “nonbeliever” in future or approach the nonbeliever with a combination of superiority and pity. I have also known many Christians who feel they are bound by their religion to impose their beliefs on others (that phenomenon is very apparent in many comments on this blog). They of course feel they are “sharing” something important, even essential, to good living.

    If someone is devoted to a particular religion and is unsure about certain aspects of that religion, he/she is not exploring/searching, he/she is doubting; that religion doesn’t mind so much, as long as it is fleeting, or, at worst, temporary; even the most accepting religion wants the doubter to eventually come around to a point where doubt is removed. Otherwise, the doubter will NOT be fully accepted by that religion.

    All cultural exchanges with regard to religion, where a person studies the religious customs/beliefs of another community or society in another part of the country or world are academic if not for the purposes of adopting that set of beliefs or rituals/practices. This is where my interest lies, for sociological/anthropological purposes.

    I believe the best we can hope for is true tolerance toward others’ beliefs if not of our own kind. It is an ideal, something to which we could aspire, anyway. It is the definition of liberalism (in its general sense). It is difficult to have tolerance toward others when they are not tolerant toward you, however. There’s a kind of paradox in all of this, though, as the best religious practices are done privately, without imposing on others, yet the very definition of religion is to congregate and commune with others and to encourage those not part of that communion to participate…maybe the answer is for people of religion to aspire toward spirituality without religion…naw…that’ll never happen…

  • Ellen Dibble

    Brett, what I overwhelmingly learned through the study of religions is how they interweave the way languages do. Spanish has “Mira” (Look!) and we have admire, mirror, mirage. It goes back to Latin. Any word, anywhere, has a lineage going back maybe to runes and beyond. So in studying different traditions, there is syncretism, the blending of what is valuable to one into another. Much of Christianity became as easy to take on when it was taking root because it absorbed important traditions already in place. The Virgin Mary has such a lineage. I found huge underpinnings in Taoism and Confucianism for different aspects of Christianity. I think they sprang up separately, because of universal facts about meaningful life, not because they were carried along the Silk Road. But in any case, it gave deep validation to my own (Christian) tradition to see that. It enhanced my experience of my own tradition.
    Try finding a particular church that grooves with that kind of attitude. It is best to be quiet about it. They can find out for themselves. Also, if one has an unusual set of experiences, it might be tough to find a church that would align as closely as church members like. Sometimes a light touch is best. The 80-year-old in this forum who said something like “don’t sweat the details; enjoy life” or the guy who said … I’ve gone all senior-momenty. Oh, the guy who said that an individual wrestling throughout life with his or her ethical awareness is not doing religious relativism, is forging something plenty tough.
    Brett, “religions” per se might be pretty dismissive each of the other, but individual members can be exceedingly respectful and find much to gain from listening to each other, honoring each other.

  • Brett

    You have a comparative, academic background toward religion that also looks at the significance beyond the spiritual (most folks who go to church do not do so with that sociological/anthropological view or desire toward that broad view). I have no desire to “join” any organized religion. My spirituality is very individual, and I have a different concept of what the energy of God is. It is not in alignment with any organized religion. I don’t want to have to ‘be quiet about it’ as you say to get along with those who may disagree with me.

    As much as you approach your ideas from an intelligent perspective, your last comment in particular has a self-righteous tone toward being pro-religion. You are instructing me on how to participate in religion. This is precisely what I am talking about: people of religious perspectives are presumptuous.

  • Ellen Dibble

    I didn’t mean to suggest that anyone “should” participate in an organized religion. Personally, I didn’t even try until I was in my mid-40s, and I’m not sure it’s “working out” for my church. I notice they did not send out their annual fishing-for money letter, and last year they had a minimum contribution that made them seem like a country club to me. It’s possible I have no place with them, and I keep thinking the kaleidoscope will twist until where I fit in will be evident. Maybe not. It’s not a position that offers me much confidence as a spiritual being so your comments are, well, hurtful. Nothing new to me in this sphere, the spiritual. What matters is what sustains me, at root, however. I would rather the tradition that is part of my “language” be part of my reality, not just a hypothesis, so I keep trying.

  • Brett

    my comment is not meant to be hurtful, only to define more completely my position and your tone (as it appeared you have been saying something pro-religion and, in your last comment not really catching my perspective). You are supposedly someone who earns money at writing; you can not see my criticism of tone, that perhaps you could be perceived a certain way because of how you’ve phrased aspects of your previous comment? Language can so get in the way of conveying what spirituality means for us as individuals. I believe it was millard-fillmore? I can’t remember and don’t feel like going back through all of the comments, but someone said we have to define many terms before we can have a reasonable discussion about spirituality…this is so true.

    My spirituality is very much intact, something that has rituals I practice daily; it, however, is not dependent on communion with other people. I personally consider that my volunteerism with AIDS patients over the years, my volunteerism with people who have developmental disabilities, my work history of being a MH counselor and someone who worked with people who have autism, and my communion with others who have done the same is only part of my spiritual experience in two ways: in retrospect and in my private moments of reflection toward those activities, and in my discussion with others wherein we share our experiences. I do those activities because I can, there is a need, and least important: a consensus view says they are good things. It is the after-the-fact part when I consider they are in alignment with my view of how I wish to help the world, and that is part of my spirituality.

    The rest of my spiritual experiences are surrounded by nature, meditation, yoga, etc. This is not done as communion with other people (although the nature part can be shared at times, but often detracts from the experience with the wrong person). Anyway (and I am reluctant to give you advice), you seem to present a kind of contradiction. You say don’t sweat the small stuff to be part of a religious experience, or search for the right situation without bringing too much of yourself to bear (I know, sorry for the paraphrase, and feel free to say if aI am not getting what you have said). On the other hand, you sound weary of that approach. I understand the weary part. THe small things do matter to people; we can not give up a piece of our sense of selves to pursue religious fulfillment, because ultimately we are left unfulfilled. We can not continue to go from church to church in search of religious fulfillment if over time those searches leave us unfulfilled. There is something to be said for at some point not trying the same thing over and over expecting a different outcome. I am respectful of different religions and the need some people have for them, but I m nor going to lose myself and my own spirituality in the process. And no matter how much even the most liberal religions espouse “honor” toward other religious/spiritual views (that word “honor” is tricky because it can simply mean respect, but it can also mean to the point of adhering to a standard of conduct, which for religions means not disagreeing with them in the presence of their institutions if one wants respect himself/herself) honor can not always bring about agreement. This is what I meant about UU. I am not fully respectful of Catholicism if I don’t believe any of their beliefs or like the way they treat people who don’t believe what they do, no can I? Otherwise I am being patronizing or condescending. Patronization and condescension do not make “honor” or respect either, do they?

  • Ellen Dibble

    Brett, your last post encapsulates a lot of the difficulties of talking about religion and participating in religion. Every bit you say resonates with me. I do care a lot about organized religion (all varieties) because it can have a huge bad impact and because it can have a huge good impact. At a point in my life when I was between jobs I had time to connect with a church. It was a ways away, and at the time I had a car. I could teach Sunday school for a few years. Then I got cancer, health premiums went up, my new job became 24/7. Now I don’t have the time, and I don’t have a car. But I know the people, the general direction of the congregation. I am happy to be a sort of satellite member. They had a year of self-redefinition; one was required to show up and state what you expected of the church. This was disastrous. I was sick at the time, and trying to make the time for these grilling sessions was awful for me. Nor did they really want my perspective, in any form. It seems what most need from church membership is not what I need. That’s okay. I can make myself scarce, see where I can actually contribute. I have thought maybe others have similar difficulties. There is an underlying feeling of common purpose that could be found in many civic and cultural shared moments. Should I want my participation to be part of fortifying what it can mean to be Christian in the modern world? To try for that? I am probably as well qualified for that attempt as anyone. I saw how Obama had to back out of his church. I am more alone than he is, and my church has no preacher with hair on fire. Maybe I should ask more of organized religion than I do. Someday.
    Sorry for any misunderstanding.

  • Ellen Dibble

    My job is transcribing court tapes. Millions of pages of lawyers arguing, millions of pages of stories of the unfortunate and criminal. I would love to be writing for children, by the way. But I don’t write for a living.

  • http://www.ethicalstl.org Kate Lovelady

    I lead an Ethical Society in St. Louis. Ethical Societies are communities for humanists and others who want the social and ethical aspects of religions without supernaturalism. Our Sunday School teaches children compassion and that they can make a difference, and about the major religions of the world so that they understand the diversity of what people believe. I’ve performed marriages for many twenty-somethings who want a meaningful ceremony focused on their values and their community, not on traditional religious notions that they don’t connect with. Some of these young people join the Ethical Society; some come back when they have kids. Most never come back, because they aren’t interested in institutions. Which I understand, but I worry that if younger people don’t support institutions, those institutions won’t be there when they want them later, such as when they have kids or later become divorced or widowed and need a supportive community of like values. I urge any humanists reading this to consider looking into or even starting communities in your area. There are a couple dozen Ethical Societies around the nation, a similar number of Humanist groups, and humanist-friendly UU, Jewish, Buddhist and other groups.

  • Ellen Dibble

    One more point about organized religion. Brett, you mention the things you do for other people (well, pretty much everything you do is for other people), and I’m thinking, you know what, you have better chances doing good going it alone.
    It’s more than a hunch. After I had cancer, when my business was growing but had a lull, I spent a few years volunteering in afterschool and summer programs at a public housing project in town, the children were mostly black and brown, Hispanics, with multigenerational families going back to Puerto Rico. Now, my church has programs for housing recovering drug addicts and for feeding the hungry and providing worship space for actually some of those Puerto Ricans; so I knew I was in sync with the church, but I didn’t tell them. I didn’t think of it, actually.
    And during those years I visited a Baptist church in Brooklyn where Gardner Taylor was preaching, getting on the bus at 5:00 AM, and getting a huge dose of black American religion. I did that twice. Now my church has spent a few years discussing interchurch relations that might mitigate racism, cross-fertilize more than at present. There have been hours and hours of group brainstorming, trying this and that.
    My sense is, if you know what to do, just do it. It will take more time to bring the church along with you than to simply get it done. Does one need permission to act in accord with one’s conscience? They might not object (it’s not as if they could, really), but then they’d rather if you have a free Sunday that you spend the time with them.
    Similarly with all those little children. Nowadays, they’d like my “mission” to be formally integrated into what the church itself is doing. At the time, they didn’t have that requirement.
    I feel sure you’d get further using your own conscience and time, so: kudos.

  • Robert Riversong

    It’s a shame that the discussion presented the available options as 1) being theistic or deistic and participating in organized (institutional) religion, 2) being atheistic (and in some sense ungrounded), or 3) being atheistic but grounded in a humanist ethic and community. There is a much deeper, broader, more inclusive, and far simpler option that gets lost in the debate.

    History – both ancient and current – informs us of the dangers of organized religion, for it is the nature of all human institutions to become corrupt, self-serving, and destructive of their original intent. That there has been much good threshed from the chaff of religion – including ethics, art, community and spirituality – does not negate its great danger, which includes exclusivity, divisiveness, hatred, and self-righteousness.

    The alternative, too often, for independent thinkers who strive for meaning or moral foundation, is the reactive one of abandonment of religion (and its ostensible god-source) and the recourse to what Western culture has long posited as its antithesis: logic, reason, science and materialism. European existentialism was one of many such intellectual reactions.

    But finding purely rational alternatives to be lacking the spiritual and ethical depth of religion, some have begun a modern movement toward ethical humanism: the belief (it IS a belief system) that it’s possible to be “good without god” and to recreate what has been missed from religion – ritual and community. This has been accomplished with some success, and it’s true that it’s no less possible to live an ethical life with a godless religion as with a god-centered one. But make no mistake about the religiosity of Humanism as a ritual community sharing an atheistic belief system.

    That as perceptive a social critic as journalist (and Doctor of Divinity) Chris Hedges sees atheism as the new fundamentalism reveals what Western culture has long denied: that rationality, science and technology has become the dominant world religion, proselytized no less aggressively than any other. In fact, it has been in opposition to that dominant religion that modern religious fundamentalisms have reacted. That Greg Epstein is an ordained humanist rabbi and an institutional chaplain makes evident the religious structure of ethical humanism.

    “Secular” Humanism is an attempt to moderate the fundamentalism of rational atheistic culture with an ethics based on the (universal religious tradition of the) Golden Rule. But the Golden Rule is as misunderstood today – by both religious and secular – as Humanism’s attempt at ethics is misguided and ultimately futile. The “do unto others” rule was not originally meant as a commandment to encourage people to willfully do good so that others might be inclined to the same in return – in other words, it was not a rationale for self-interested ethical behavior.

    The pre-religious Golden Rule was a recognition of a law of the Universe no less inviolable than the force of gravity – reciprocity – but not the simple contractual reciprocity that we understand today as the social contract: I will constrain my will so that you don’t constrain my welfare. Reciprocity as a Universal law was a corollary of what we now dismiss as “animism” – the recognition of the sacredness of all creation: every living creature as well as every rock, wind and drop of water.

    The futility of Humanism as a foundation of ethical behavior is that it relies on either selfishness (I will be good so that others will be good to me) or will power. As we know both from human history and our personal stories, will power is a very limited commodity and will inevitably waver when confronted either with ambiguity or force (I deliberately used the term “commodity” because the will can, and is, often purchased). Even a humanist ethics based on the “sacredness” of the person necessarily limits its scope to the human world and, for instance, would support the widespread use of antibiotics that kill trillions of living creatures that form the base of the pyramid of life in order to save – or simply improve the health of – a limited number of human creatures at the top of the food chain.

    Without an unambiguous corner stone, any ethical edifice becomes a relativistic one: this war is wrong but that one is right (“just war” theory); it’s not OK to kill for political or economic reasons but it’s OK to kill in self-defense; it’s wrong to kill the innocent but OK to execute the guilty. Or, perhaps more significantly today: it’s wrong to undermine human well-being, autonomy, security and dignity but tolerable to “sustainably” undermine the rest of the web-of-life in order to preserve humanity’s prerogative.

    What we have lost sight of is that such a cornerstone is not, and cannot be, God; for the gods of all historical and modern traditions, including the three great monotheisms, are transcendent ones – whether on Mount Olympus or heaven, they are not immanent in the material world, the world that Humanism claims as the one and only. When divinity is immanent in all the things of the material world, including all living beings, then weak and variable human will is not necessary for ethical behavior. If all things, all creatures, all places and all people are expressions of a common sacredness, it requires inordinate willpower to harm them. It also becomes plain to see that the Universal rule of reciprocity makes it impossible to harm anything else, since there is no “other” – only other facets of the same sacred reality. To do harm is, literally, to injure oneself.

    And, if all things and all beings are sacred, then humanity does not reside at the pinnacle of the web-of-life but rather in the most vulnerable and least important place at the top of a great pyramid of sacred entities. The authentic humility which comes from this understanding mitigates not only selfishness and arrogance but also the illusion of personal sovereignty and autonomy (the very basis of Humanism).

    The most destructive human behaviors, such as substance addiction and all its consequent harm to self and other, become transformed only when the addict surrenders the will (or rather, the illusion of autonomy) to a higher order of meaning and being (and it matters not what that is called). In truth, all of modern humanity is addicted to comfort, security and autonomy, and no rational ethics can prevent us from taking what feeds our illusions, our “fix”. That “fix” can be self-righteous religiosity (fundamentalism) or the rational (and hence relativistic) ethics that it stands against. For most of global culture, the “fix” is reason, science and technology (which has “fixed” the world into catastrophe, which it still believes it can fix with more of the same).

    Only when we re-sacralize the world and return to a humble place amidst the reciprocity of a holographic Universe will we live rightly on the earth without need of religion, ethics or belief. Like all the strands of the web-of-life, we will simply know our place, our purpose and our connectedness to the whole of the community, and need no artificial approximations of what was always our birthright.

  • Robert Riversong


    It’s ironic that even some of those who advocate for organized religion, whether sacred or secular, acknowledge that there is both good and bad in such institutions. “Take the good and leave the rest” is the oft-offered advice.

    This misunderstanding of what consitutes the “good” in a culture (the core of ethics) is what keeps us trapped in our insitutionalized responses to humanity’s longings and needs.

    Religion (theistic or humanist) offers, like modern medicine, a “cure” that has some unwanted side effects. In truth, the long history of institutional religion (and other cultural/political/economic institutions) reveals far greater harm than help, just as a recent meta-study of allopathic medicine in America reveals that doctor and hospital treatment results in more injury and death than any other cause.

    In indigenous (animistic) societies, “medicine” has no “side effects”. Medicine is whatever restores health or wholeness. If it merely treats some symptoms (such as our existential loneliness and meaninglessness) but causes harm in the process, it is a drug. We moderns are addicted to a wide variety of “drugs”, including our various cultural institutions and belief systems. That they also do some harm is not a “side effect” or a symptom of misuse – it is intrinsic to the nature of a drug.

    When Hippocrates admonished “do no harm”, he meant to practice authentic medicine: to heal (make whole) without negative effect. Authentic spirituality, similarly, can be identified by what does no harm. Any tradition, ancient or modern, that has “side effects” is neither authentic nor wholesome.

  • Lety Murphy

    It seems as though life was a realty check for the first caller, I am not insensitive to the experiences or issues she was facing, but I can completely understand because the first part of my life has been very rough. I am now 28 and I have not been practicing any faith/religion since I was 23 years old. I guess recognition of religion comes at a time when life experiences become tough. I had my frist child when I was 16, got married when I was 18, had a very bad marriage,poor, was a single mom of two children at 23, but after I stopped practicing religion at the age of 23, life started to get better. I do practice Humanity (because I can now place a label on it)and try to be the best person I can too as many people I can and that gives me a greater purpose and meaning on earth.

    I find it unfair that those who experience life’s difficulties suddenly reflect upon their life, I find it selfish because we should all be embracing principles of goodness and kindness, religion should not be the only venue of faith.

  • Brett

    ‘My sense is, if you know what to do, just do it.’ -Ellen Dibble

    You’ve put your finger directly on the Zen part of how I live my life; I guess I think about the social/spiritual/humanistic aspects of what I’m doing only before and after the act, but I just stay in the moment when I’m in action.

    I woke up this morning with a very strong reaction to weed pollens and have been a bit under the weather; I even had a gardening job to finish but I bailed on it and left most of the work to my assistant. The good news is that I was able to come back to your comments (I found myself thinking about how the communication was going this morning when I was driving over to the site to give my worker instructions). Anyway, I have a much better sense of where you’re coming from and also sense your sincere attempt to get my perspective. So, thanks for the follow through!

    I can relate to your trials and tribulations with involvement in church. I have had several opportunities to do some partnering with local churches and have decided not to (I do have some experience with developing volunteer programs, etc.) I believe that churches are good intentioned but often get bogged down in the political aspects of volunteerism and the over-concern about how the altruistic elements of potential activities can benefit them in some direct, self-serving way, and I have been very turned off by that.

    I attend services at a few local churches sporadically for various reasons (I live in a very small community and sometimes appear at functions simply to socialize and get a different perspective). The Baptist church is a hoot. It’s very fire and brimstone, and the sermons are all about people not getting into the ‘kingdom of God’ [translation: going hell!] if they are not “born again” by being baptized into their faith and accepting ‘Jesus Christ as your personal saviour.’ There is a huge water tank up by the altar and they have full-on, full body baptisms as part of their service. There is also a portion of the sermons devoted to hawking the importance of increasing one’s tithe contribution. The preacher buzzed all around me the first time I went, but since goes out of his way to ignore me because he knows I have no interest in joining his congregation and giving any money beyond the collection plate.

    The local Episcopal church is pretty cool. The church building itself is historic (built in 1798). I go to the Christmas Eve service there because of the building, the choir (they are amazing) and the pastor who is very progressive. His sermons are more like literary essays on ethics, etc. Interestingly, when he became pastor four years ago, half of the congregation left because of his “progressive” views on women being empowered and gays being accepted as respected members of the community. I went to the local Catholic church once…enough said (haha!)

    Anyway, thanks again for staying with me long enough to promote better understanding!

  • Ellen Dibble

    I am wondering if Lety’s life “started to get better” after she stopped “practicing religion” at 23 BECAUSE she stopped or for other reasons. I’m thinking could the straitjacket of certain religions have interfered with her zeroing in on her own inner guide, the conscience that feels liberated. It could disable someone to be “doing good” child-fashion because of instructions. I wonder.
    I want to point out that at least under Bush, the idea was that churches should carry as much of the burden of welfare as possible. I believe government money was going to churches for the many programs for the poor and so forth, the idea being that local control and administration is better than that from D.C.
    Riversong’s comments seem at core to be: Religion should be healing. I think the word “religion” actually means that which binds, the ligature or link among people. Perhaps the link was better, more real, more sacred, before the linkage was organized; perhaps the link functions just as well among people now without any organized infrastructure, below the radar so to speak. But if all religion was like that, then how could the federal government be asking faith-based organizations for help, for instance.

  • Robert Riversong

    Ellen Dibble: “I think the word “religion” actually means that which binds…Perhaps the link was better, more real, more sacred, before the linkage was organized…”

    Yes, “religion” means to bind back. Of course, there was no need to bind back until we alienated ourselves from the Source. That alienation, as exemplified in the abandonment of the Garden of Eden (not expulsion, as it was precipitated by a conscious choice to break the law), was a gradual and increasingly willful separation from the Web-of-Life, necessitating an objectification of the “Other”.

    When we, then, attempted to bind back to the lost Source, it could be only to an “Other”, a distant and transcendent God. Christianity tried to overcome the spiritual hollowness of a transcendent God by splitting the One into Three: with one being personal and immanent and another being an all-embracing Spirit. Of course, accepting the One as also Three required, quite literally, an act of faith.

    All attempts to “reform” religion, from Protestantism to Unitarianism and Universalism as well as Humanism, have been efforts to repair the failure of religious institutions with yet other institutions of faith, each permutation being another “fix” of what did not previously fix our alienation. Ultimately, there is no difference between believing in God or in human reason, for they both rely on faith in the supernatural.

    Both cutting-edge science and ancient shamanic traditions understand that the heart is the primary organ of communication and the transmitter of wholeness or healing. Only by getting out of our heads (faith, reason) and back into our hearts will we restore the original connection to Source.

    When we let go of faith and return to the deep cellular knowledge that we are all one, when we atone for our “original sin” of abandoning the Garden (Web-of-Life) and once again know that we are at-one with the Universe, there will be no alienation and we can live purposefully serving the community of life.

  • Brett

    Robert Riversong,
    Interesting comments. I can not disagree necessarily, but I am a practical person and, being that as a human know the fallacy of belief itself, would consider how your perspective can fit in to day to day life. Occasionally, for example, I inadvertently kill worms/micro-organizms in my attempt to plant a tree. If I were dying of a bacterial infection, I would take an antibiotic, and so on.

    Your basic ideas of interconnectedness (I don’t think that is even a recognized word, but you get what I mean) are what I would consider sublime.

    I will say that the quote from Hippocrates would need to also be considered with others of his: ‘Extreme remedies are very appropriate for extreme diseases.’ ‘Science is the father of knowledge, but opinion breeds ignorance.’ ‘Prayer is indeed good, but while calling on the gods man should himself lend a hand.’ ‘What medicines do not heal the lance will; what the lance does not heal, fire will.’ with respect to the one you quote, the complete quote is: ‘Make a habit of two things: to help, or at least to do no harm.’ Modern-day physicians would view the meaning as “first, do no harm” of their Hippocratic Oath as what would be considered ‘least intrusive,’ which has a protocol. So, from a practical standpoint, if someone comes in complaining of chest pain, the first step would NOT be to open up the chest with a scapel, for example. Hippocrates, I believe, wasn’t quite saying what you attribute as ‘to heal (make whole) without negative impact.’ At least how that would fit into the practical world. His ‘…to help, or at least to do no harm’ does not mean to only help if no harm comes forth as a result. If one is not going to help, then do not harm. A practical example is: a person falls to the floor and has no heartbeat/is not breathing. Sometimes, in the course of administering CPR, the administer can break a person’s rib (of course not intentionally). Getting the heart beating again is more precious than an uncracked rib. It is unfortunate that we find ourselves in these dilemmas from time to time, but to not act because of some perceived greater order WOULD BE unethical and life would have no reason for existence. To exist simply to exist? I am not saying humans are/should be supreme by these statements, just that life can have meaning even if imposed or contrived.

  • Brett

    ‘I want to point out that at least under Bush, the idea was that churches should carry as much of the burden of welfare as possible…’ -Ellen Dibble

    I think Bush was trying to simply cut social/human services, so to make that idea popular he spoke of the need for help from the private sector in terms of individual help from benevolent benefactors and ‘faith-based’ organizations as one of an array of ‘private citizen initiatives.’ It really was another variation on his father’s ‘thousand points of light.’ In reality, a kind of ‘let them eat cake.’

    I have worked in human services for (well, Methuselah would have been proud). When Bush’s cuts came in, many services were cut and some were essential. I truly believe churches are good intentioned, but they do not replace clinical services for the mentally ill or homeless, for example. Churches are good at giving someone clothes or a hot meal, not so good at providing counseling for someone who is decompensating in a brief psychotic break from schizophrenia. Bush’s approach actually set back everything I and many of my colleagues worked for so long to change: the idea that people with MH issues are medically sick not lost souls from lack of religion; they also don’t need pity or charity–that approach does not extend dignity. Churches have a role but not in lieu of mental health organizations.

  • Robert Riversong


    The contortions you undergo to try to explain Hippocrates create more confusion than clarity. As perhaps the first “scientific” healer to separate medicine from religious superstition, Hippocrates understood disease to be a symptom of imbalance (in the four “humors”) and medicine as a method to restore balance, or wholeness. That his methodology was “primitive” and sometimes counterproductive does not diminish the value of his core theory.

    The aphorism “First, do no harm” (primum non nocere), did not originate with Hippocrates, but it is the basis for the notion of nonmaleficence, which means that it may be better to do nothing than to do something that risks causing more harm than good. In common parlance, the term would be “forebearance”.

    You exhibit a similar confusion about the meaning and value of life: that “contrived or imposed” meaning is meaningful and that life “exist[s] simply to exist”, which you state as a question but is, in fact, the premise of your suggested ethics.

    When you say that “to not act [to save a human life] because of some perceived greater order WOULD BE unethical”, you most certainly place a single human life above the “greater order” of the Universe and the Web-of-Life and, in so doing, turn ethics on its head. The premise for that belief is that mere biological life is valuable in itself and should be protected at all costs (even to the “greater order”).

    Your statements also betray the death-denying nature of our alienated culture. In all pre-religious (indigenous) cultures, life-and-death was merely a truth of the cyclical nature of Nature. Death was as important as birth, both being necessary to the cycle and to the Web-of-Life, since nothing lives but by the death of others. When every moment of life is filled with purpose and meaning, death is not feared but welcomed and honored (“it’s a good day to die”).

    Our culture undertakes “heroic measures” to postpone or prolong life unnaturally, and equate “quality of life” (at least at its end) with a pain-free existence (palliative care), as if pain – rather than a meaningless extension in time – is the enemy of life. This results in a “medicine” which – ironically – is the leading cause of pain and death in America.

    We will know that we’ve recovered true meaning in life only when we can fully embrace death. But another great deficit of Humanism is its unwillingness to acknowledge that Life continues after the death of the ego (in what form it doesn’t matter), resulting in the absurd and life-denying mission of prolonging bodily life for its own sake or refusing death because one’s work in this body is not yet done. Believing that “this is all there is” is a setup for failure and incompleteness when death comes to greet us. Interestingly, religion (according to studies) does nothing to reduce the fear of dying, and sometimes the most fearful are the most religious (the “opiate” of the masses?).

  • Ellen Dibble

    I thought Christianity was founded upon a man sacrificing his life, an act in some way validating both suffering and death itself, for all ages. By this act, humanity was healed. I supposed this was understanding was a descendant of people’s understanding of sacrifices of various sorts from long long before. To re-heal yourself with this god or that, offer it something, placate it with something, with a life, with a giving up, a tribulation, a death. It is magical thinking, but it is both about the role of pain and suffering (physical or emotional) and about the possibility of resolution, which has rung true among people for a long, long time.
    I would agree in this economy a huge amount of profit can be drained from anybody’s estate who is willing to subsist hooked up to many machines while profiteers stand by. In fact, just being sick can be to the financial benefit of various institutions. It warps the whole ethical infrastructure somewhat.

  • Robert Riversong

    Brett (sorry for the misspelling above),

    Ah… now I see the “faith” that so confuses you: mental health.

    At least what Hippocrates and other early healers (particularly in the Eastern and shamanic traditions) tied to treat was the whole person. Separating the “elements” of humanity into so many parts and treating each individually is the scientific paradigm. Health, in the sense of wholeness, can never come through analysis and dissection.

    If you’re active in the mental health field then you must know that there is now a new diagnostic category (Code V62.89) in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-Fourth Edition (APA, 1994) for “spiritual emergency”, which can mimic (and is often confused with) schizophrenia. When the human spirit, so suppressed in our materialistic culture, attempts to emerge it requires a wise elder facilitator, not a mental health professional, to integrate the emergence into the soul of the person.

    While I would in no way dignify Bush’s hypocritical “faith-based initiatives”, it is never-the-less true that there is more possibility for authentic healing in a religious community than in a psychiatrist’s office. You seem to equate charity with pity and exhibit the hubris of the “helping professions” in your denigration of the power of such simple attentions as the “works of mercy” within a loving community.

    More alcoholics have been healed in pseudo-religious AA meetings than in all detox clinics combined. Faith healing is now incorporated into many nursing programs as hands-on or energy healing (an authentic form of medicine as it has no negative side effects). Dr. Larry Dossey has brought to public attention the hundreds of scientific studies documenting the power of prayer (focused positive intention) in healing. The Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR) program has proven that focused intention can even alter the past (a necessary outcome of quantum theory).

    The best healing offered today is through a revival of the ancient arts of plant medicine, including naturopathy, homeopathy, Chinese herbalism, and plant spirit medicine such as flower essences. Practitioners are relearning the ancient skill of communicating directly through the heart with plants for guidance (the HeartMath Institute is documenting the heart’s function in psychophysiological coherence, or health).

    Science, for all its purported benefits, is both a symptom and a cause of our culture’s alienation and lack of coherence, or wholeness. A spiritually-based paradigm offers the potential for cultural recovery from the dismemberment that over-reliance on the rational mind has created. All that is required for personal and cultural healing is “re-membering” what the analytical mind and human ego has torn apart.

  • Robert Riversong

    Ellen Dibble: “I thought Christianity was founded upon a man sacrificing his life, an act in some way validating both suffering and death itself, for all ages. By this act, humanity was healed.”

    Of course, what we call “Christianity”, which almost certainly would be abhorrent to Jesus the man, has gone through many permutations as the worldly needs of its leaders and institutions changed, and many original texts have been expunged in favor of a very few “orthodox” gospels, written generations after the life of its prophet.

    It’s quite true that the myth of a savior of virgin birth who was crucified and then rose from the death after three days was common in the Middle East long before Jesus and was undoubtedly grafted onto his story just as much of pre-Christian mythology and ritual has been co-opted by the Church to encourage conversions.

    But if the life of Jesus had meaning, it was in his wanderings (apparently to the far east), his teachings and his example of authentic healing community. He was a rebbe (teacher) and a rebel who non-violently challenged the authority of the Roman empire in his own land. “Turn the other cheek”, “give him also your shirt”, and “whomever shall force you to go a mile, go with him two” were all exhortations to defiance of Roman law and taboos.

    As for his suffering and death, though the later mythology suggests Jesus willingly sacrificed his life for his God, even the accepted gospels tell of his failure in faith: Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?). The subsequent mythology co-opted Isaiah’s much earlier prophesy that “he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

    And yet, it is clear through historical hindsight that nothing in humanity was healed by the alleged sacrifice, that the march of Christian soldiers left far more misery than healing in its wake. So, in fact, suffering and death were not redeemed but intensified. The thing that will redeem death is a full embrace of the universal sanctity of life, which entails an equal embrace of death. And suffering will be redeemed only when we abandon the supremacy of the ego (who’s will shall always be frustrated, which is the definition of suffering) and surrender to the greater Mystery of Life – for there is no suffering but in the resistance to life, no resistance but through the will, and no will but from the ego (the isolated identity apart from the Matrix).

  • justanother

    I can relate to the caller having genetic issue, and feel so vulnerable and helpless.

    When I was younger, I faced despair, I almost turned religious. But it is seeking diverse knowledge and information changes my view of self value. Gradually self value evolved into all life value, all life and organism are all connected.

    Human most times are contradictory. When we behave certain way exactly equivalent to animal behavior, we call it “survival instinct”. But the same time, we put ourselves above any life on earth because GOD created us.

    But if one can delve more into the core of being human, not putting self worth based on religious view and societal view, which putting human above all other life on earth and believe all things evolved around human only. I believe this would really bring one down to earth. Understanding and reconnecting with nature with humble attitude, one can really find peace without struggling too much with self inflated value like conquering the world, do something remarkable only to human point of view. I don’t see any animal cheer when human landed on moon. :-)

  • Chris

    “Really people, it is time to put the fairytales away and grow up.”

    Amen! Though I would be referring to the fairytale that the universe created itself out of nothing. Then, with no outside help, random molecules formed organic life and something as complex as a human body.

    Yes, it is time to put such fairytales away.

  • Expanded Consciousness

    OK, Chris.

    Theoretical cosmology does not postulate that the universe created itself out of nothing.

    You must be right, though. A very old man with a white beard who hangs out in the sky is looking down upon you right now – thinking of you, helping you, guiding your life. Awwww. So sweet. Makes you feel just like a … little boy marveling at the fairytale he is being told.

    Here is the only formula you need to be man enough to face:

    God did not create Man.

    Man created God.

  • Robert Riversong

    Here one sees an ethical dysfunction within secular humanism. A commentator, who does not have the courage to stand behind his words but has the audacity to use the pseudonym “Expanded Consciousness”, contributes little more than adolescent condescension toward another who makes a salient and important counterpoint to an earlier mocking comment by the same anomymous “Expanded Consciousness”.

    In point of fact, scientific cosmology does not bother itself with what came before the Big Bang because, by definition, the Universe is not teleological (does not bend to a purpose – which would imply a purposer or an inherently purposeful Universe).

    And yet all of modern science was initially motivated by a deeply spiritual quest for understanding and, very often, an acceptance of what surpasses understanding.

    “The most beautiful and most profound experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their primitive forms – this knowledge, this feeling is at the center of true religiousness.”

    - Albert Einstein

  • Expanded Consciousness

    Haha! “Salient and important counterpoint.” ‘Complexity’ means that God exists is only irresponsible and fallacious reasoning and a not salient nor an important point. (Might as well be saying … Life is complex! The Easter Bunny causes and creates everything! I believe it on faith. You can’t prove me wrong! I have a salient and important point! Long live the bunny! Let’s kill those non-believers and inferior people who worship a different bunny rabbit!)

    You are not exhibiting bravery to sign your posts “Robert Riversong.” What am I supposed to do with that salient and important information? Blacklist you? That kind of persecution is what religion has always been all about. And you wish you had my name … why? Thought so.

    “Adolescent condescension?” A God micromanaging your life is what religion is all about. I didn’t make-up the story.

    Science is motivated by truth.

    Religion is all about by lies (dressed up all pretty as ‘faith’).

    Modern cosmology does not start with big bang. Do your homework (cf. Multiverse, String Theory, etc).

  • Ellen Dibble

    Robert, you keep saying things that seem to concur with people, and then you seem to challenge them on points where you concur. (Do you postulate to begin with that people will disagree with you? Um, sounds like an academic adolescent…) You don’t give a clear idea of where say a 20-year-old who wanted to ground themselves the way you do would find coalition, yet you complain when someone uses a fine self-description like Expanded Consciousness. What is wrong with saying we created god in our own image, sort of. It doesn’t preempt the possibility that there is a great deal that we don’t know, many dimensions’ worth. I won’t say humans are doing the best they can. We can undoubtedly do better. I doubt you’d be bothering your brain about these things if you didn’t agree.

  • Brett

    I would have gotten back to you sooner, but in addition to working with people who are classically mentally ill, i.e., they have severe forms of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder to the point of not sustaining competency, etc., I teach music and had an evening of music lessons.

    I never called Hippocrates “primitive” although he was a product of his time; and, not unlike Freud, needs to be viewed in historical context rather than as sacrosanct. In Hippocrates’ time “purging” was the main form of treatment; so, a person was either drained of blood, made to vomit or dehydrated. Mostly, that was about it. I didn’t go through ‘contortion’ in my quick explanation of one aspect of Hippocrates’ ideas, actually, it was fairly straight forward, using practical examples. You have not backed your ideas up in a real world context, so your sentiments are academic, at best, and presented as absolute, as if you understand the nature of the universe, inferring nothing beyond which needs to be grappled with. I also didn’t say “first, do no harm” originated with Hippocrates. You professed to quote him. And part of the quote is contained in the Hippocratic Oath (and is taken from his quote; hence, it’s name). Forebearance is not a medical term but a legal one within this context. The concept of ‘least intrusive’ (and in MH ‘least restrictive’) is, however. You are splitting hairs, anyway. My criticism in that regard was toward your ‘to heal (make whole) without negative impact’ statement. Interestingly, in your response to my criticism, you modified what you said. I can only go by what you wrote not what you think you meant. You also responded, positing: ‘That his methodology was “primitive” and sometimes counterproductive [but it] does not diminish the value of his core theory’ as if I was denying the importance of his core theory, which I was not. I added those other quotes to prove that he was human, fallible, contradictory , and that for every axiom there is an equal and opposite axiom.

    The ‘life exists to exist’ posed as a question was meant in case you might pigeonhole me with that, which you did anyway, and you read that completely incorrectly. In fact, you misinterpreted the whole concept of what I was saying. The lives of humans have no meaning in terms of the universe, yet within the context of their own lives and the lives of the people around them they certainly do, albeit they and their loved ones have imposed/contrived/infused a meaning. This was what I meant. You wrote: ‘The premise for that belief is that mere biological life is valuable in itself and should be protected at all costs…’ as a characterization of what I meant, which is a straw man approach set to paint my position as a sensational absolute. I don’t believe in absolutes. In that paragraph, you sound as though saving someone’s life is immoral. All I was asking you for was to apply your interesting and not disagreeable ideas in the real world, which you have not.

    It is easy to have a belief in a vacuum. It is also easy to broad brush modern medicine as inherently evil, or even my particular field. If you knew me, you would be amused to know that I have fought against modern approaches in my field as doing more harm than good. First, I am neither a psychiatrist nor a psychologist, but I am a counselor and work very closely with people who can not live on their own and maintain any semblance of a safe, balanced, healthy, or meaningful life, and there has to be some consensus view of what that means. If a person can not clothe, feed or shelter himself and the underlying reason is because he/she has auditory/visual hallucinations, and whose whole sense of reality is deluded to the point of putting him/her in danger, then it is my job to support that person, to help that person get those basic necessities and find some peace with his/her internal and external world. You sound as though you have not seen the alternative. There is nothing moral, ethical, or in line with the ‘web-of-life’ to see a person suffer the consequences of not having any intervention on his/her behalf with respect to severe mental illness. I am a strong advocate for person-centered planning (which at least attempts a wholistic approach). I also, as a part of treating the whole person, strongly support good diet, plenty of rest and exercise, and spiritual pursuits, as a part of treatment. I also strongly support the concept of a patient’s right to refuse treatment.

    You cite the DSM IV as some kind of argument by using what you think is my own technology against me. You clearly don’t understand the history of how that manual came about and how it is kept in place as a tool by established power structures within the medical community (the makers and maintainers of that manual are like the special interest groups in Congress; I could do a whole blog on that). So, in this sense, you contradict yourself: you can not pigeonhole me as being part of a self-serving, corrupt discipline and conversely extol the virtues of that discipline when convenient. Although I am not a proponent of medication, necessarily; but, if you truly, genuinely believe that severe bipolar disorder or schizophrenia can be ameliorated to the point of ridding a person of hallucinations and delusions, or “cured” purely by shamanic intervention, or that balancing ‘humors’ would have enough of a desired effect, than you clearly are an armchair pseudo-intellectual.

    Likewise, you cite AA. It is true that AA has helped many people, but it has also hurt or not helped as many. Those data have been skewed to not reveal that fact because whatever cases that are not successful are not counted. Interestingly, any center that treats drug and alcohol addiction can NOT get federal/state/local funding unless it participates in a twelve-step program based on AA. AA, as a treatment, is financially and politically entrenched into the system. Medicaid also has a stranglehold, but the alternative is to treat people without any funding. I could go on but you get the idea.

    I do agree with you on palliative care, but to say it is ‘ironically the leading cause of pain and death in America’ is way too much of a simplistic statement. Yes, many people die of overdosing from medications prescribed in the care of terminal illness; many people also have a tendency to manage chronic pain through narcotic medication rather than using alternative pain management techniques. This has to do with the patient’s wishes in many cases as anything. If a patient with terminal illness is in severe pain, and wants pain medication, are you suggesting the doctor deny the medication so that the person can be in a more natural state based on your perceived way of the universe or based on the traditions of indigenous peoples? I have great respect for Native American views of life cycles, but can we hold that up as an optimum approach to life and death within the context of our society? In which case, where do we send elderly folks who can no longer be supported at home?

    Philosophically, you seem in the realm of fatalism, defeatism and pessimism, although you touch on many views. They seem more a pastiche of philosophical theories than any genuine extended study, though. I also found that within the context of almost every one of your arguments, you contradicted yourself. So much so, trying to figure out what you really believe seemed like some kind of intellectual shell game. You defended western medicine and condemned western medicine, and on both sides you merely presented absolutist views, hence contradictions that can not be reconciled. You did the same with religion, humanism, quantum physics, and so on.

    So much of what you cite has some merit, but you present them in such an elevated and inconsistent manner that it seems you’re parroting things you’ve read on the internet. You also characterize my position so falsely and exaggeratedly from my actual words or intent, that I can only think that you are young and only trying on concepts for size. This isn’t bad, but at least recognize your limitations. This is what an intelligent person does.

  • roger

    religious belief is a mental disease called delusion. eventually the world will wake up to this fact, given another 800 years and a continuous thinning of the herd.

  • millard-fillmore

    “Science is motivated by truth.”


    1. Does science happen in a vacuum?

    2. Is it conducted by superhuman people each and every one of whom has sworn allegiance to pure perusal of truth and nothing but the perusal of the truth, with no regard for petty politics, ideologies, their personal egos, ambitions and agendas?

    3. Have scientists never twisted or cherry-picked facts to suit their paymasters? Modern history is littered with numerous incidents, be it CFCs (Du Pont) or greenhouse gases (oil companies).

    4. Is that truth acknowledged or discussed by the scientists and those who write their checks?

    5. Why do people have such a naive view of how science works while ignoring facts (As an example, how many times have pharmaceutical companies been fined for fudging data – done by scientists, I suppose – regarding trials of their drugs, or side-effects of drugs?)?

    Because they want to believe in something good and positive, and since they’ve already dismissed religion, science has taken its place. Place a PhD next to a name, dress up a person in a white coat, use scientific terms (di-hydrogen monoxide) and you’ve got people dropping all their resistance and eating out of your hands, even if you feed them baloney.

  • millard-fillmore


    So much of the discussion and comments – with a few exceptions – seems to happen in the context of the Semitic/Abrahamic religion – Christianity – including the reactions and antipathy to it, either in the form of “atheism” or “anti-theism” – and it seems like whenever people use ‘religion’, they are referring to Christianity, but somehow extrapolate it to mean all religions. So disappointing.

  • millard-fillmore

    Oh, and this “rivalry” between science and religion seems to be unique to Christianity and its history. Why assume other religions have a similar rivalry or antipathy towards science, or are incompatible with what science – however imperfectly done – discovers?

  • Expanded Consciousness

    Roger – Amen, Brother! From your lips to God’s ears … or something like that.

    millard-fillmore – Why are you making a God out of science and then dismantling it? Talk about making a strawman argument.

    I’m referring to all religions, not just Judeo-Christian ones. If you All religion are defined by lying to themselves and calling it faith.

    Why this need to create a being overseeing everything and doing humanlike acts (having consciousness, intentionality, control over things, the ability to create, a plan). Might as well get a pet rock, name it and talk to it. In space there is space and matter. Space isn’t trying to be like the humanoid creatures that evolved on the planet Earth.

  • Robert Riversong

    Some common behaviors that characterize modern “faith-based” approaches to life, whether founded on religious faith or scientific faith are:

    1) an inability to comprehend a radically different understanding of life, such that contradictions are perceived where none exist

    2) extreme defensiveness when challenged, resulting in a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing

    3) an inability to recognize the narrowness or weakness of one’s own perspective and the consequent projection of those limitations onto the worldviews of others

    This last is, of course, the history of the “civilized” incursion into indigenous cultures and the labeling of those millennial-old sustainable lifestyles as “primitive”. What we are beginning to realize, to the contrary, is that modern faiths – both secular and religious – are primitive in comparison to the natural spirituality of earth-based peoples. Moderns are so blindered by their assumed intelligence that they cannot comprehend straightforward wisdom when they encounter it, but must lash out at its messengers with a vehemence that betrays only their own lack of substance.

  • millard-fillmore

    I’m not making science into god – it has already been made so by others. I’m just challenging your assertion that “science is motivated by truth”, when there are facts to the contrary.

    BTW, not all religions have the same concept of god as you described above. And that’s the problem with so many comments here – their frame of reference seems to be Christianity and its concepts related to god/religion etc., and without doing their homework, they seem to extrapolate it to all religions. Intellectual laziness.

  • millard-fillmore

    “Why this need to create a being overseeing everything and doing humanlike acts (having consciousness, intentionality, control over things, the ability to create, a plan).”

    Why assume that all religions have the same concepts as you do (described above), or that all religions even acknowledge a god? There are religions and philosophies in this world other than the Abrahamic/Semitic faiths/Christianity.

  • Expanded Consciousness

    In any debate, you should define your terms. Define religion.

  • Brett

    ‘The best healing offered today is through a revival of the ancient arts of plant medicine, including naturopathy, homeopathy, Chinese herbalism, and plant spirit medicine such as flower essences.’

    This would be true if not held up to double-blind study or analysis of any kind beyond what is anecdotal. Further evidence of conflict, contradiction and pretension posing as wisdom is the lack of recognition that the “best” healing today (and always) comes from the human body if left to its own devices. That is optimum. As far as an intervention by utilizing a plant, lack of titration control from herbals is a huge problem. Plant spirit is interesting metaphorically, and the placebo effect can not be discounted, but otherwise it is in the realm of elves, water nymphs, trolls and fairies. All of the above “medicinal” approaches have one major flaw (in addition to many smaller ones): there is little understanding/regard for chemical interaction/allergic response by so-called healers. Practitioners have a tendency to completely dismiss/misunderstand the nature of these factors. There is also a major fallacy that all that is natural is considered safe and only helpful, and synthetic ingredients are always harmful. Aside from actual natural alternatives to synthetics that have known beneficial ingredients, which is now understood because of science (in ancient times it was ascribed to magic/religious phenomena, etc.), other applications of herbal medicines either do not work, benefits/claims are fabricated or exaggerated, the “patient” would have gotten better anyway, and so on. And not unlike religion, something does not exist simply because one believes it does. That would be junkyard philosophy, existentialism for teenagers.

  • Expanded Consciousness

    ‘I’m not making science into god – it has already been made so by others. I’m just challenging your assertion that “science is motivated by truth”, when there are facts to the contrary.’

    The difference is there will be other scientists along to fix the distortions of past scientists, whereas in religion there will be other puppets along to repeat the same lies that have been told over and over and over again.

    Something that is static and unchanging and unchangeable is dead. These religions are dead. Don’t you want to get back into life and start living again? Open your eyes. It’s worth it.

  • Putney Swope

    After reading a fair amount of the comments here I have to say this has been a very interesting discussion.
    Personally I don’t believe in God or religion myself but I find it is best to respect peoples beliefs and leave it at that. The one constant theme for me is the historical aspect of religion as a tool to justify oppression of the “other”.

    I recommend “God on Trial” which is a 2008 BBC/WGBH Boston television play written by Frank Cottrell Boyce that takes place in Auschwitz.

    The Jewish prisoners put God on trial in absentia for abandoning the Jewish people. The question is if God has broken his covenant with the Jewish people by allowing the Nazis to commit genocide.


    It is a very interesting play that deals with a lot of what is being discussed here.

  • millard-fillmore

    “The difference is there will be other scientists along to fix the distortions of past scientists..”

    First, you were talking about science and not religion when you wrote that “science is the pursuit of truth”.

    Second, thanks for accepting that you were wrong in writing that, since if a scientist makes distortions (your words), then logically, s/he is not pursuing truth.

    Third, how do you account for the harm done till the time such lies of unscrupulous scientists are discovered? Or does science get a free pass? In that case, it is the modern religion.

    “Something that is static and unchanging and unchangeable is dead. These religions are dead.”

    What do you mean by “those religions are dead”? There are millions of people who practice Buddhism presently and it continues to attract new people to this day. I could mention other religions too, which remain vibrant and living.

    “Don’t you want to get back into life and start living again? Open your eyes. It’s worth it.”

    This sounds very similar to what a devout Christian would say to a “non-believer”. Looks like you were too quick to take up your high-sounding moniker of “expanded consciousness” – false advertising? While you mistake your immature condescension and ignorance for some kind of expanded consciousness, just make sure that it doesn’t expand to the extent that it disappears into thin air.

    Seems like you haven’t been reading the previous comments carefully and continue to reflect in your thinking, the Abrahamic credo of “my way is the only right way” as well as looking for “converts” to your way, instead of adopting a “live and let live” policy.

    As long as you remain caught up in your Christianity frame-of-reference (and that frame of reference exists even if you call yourself an atheist, since it is a knee-jerk reaction to Christianity), I doubt that you’ll have any kind of expanded consciousness. Calling oneself a “rationalist” or an “atheist” doesn’t change the underlying insecure behavior, which continues to borrow from Christianity in denigrating ways that are different from your way, as well as in seeking converts (evangelism) to your way. All you’ve done is re-named your outer garb from Christianity to a more politically correct and more fashionable one (atheist/rational), while on the inside, the same insecure thinking prevails.

  • Brett

    all of this talk about Christianity being a reference point may have a lot of truth to it, and I’m sure many who are atheist are holding that believe as a reaction to Christianity, Judaism, or Islamism. But to the extent that you’ve used that potential cause of even a belief in science, the reasoning becomes a bit simplistic. Based on the support of your reasoning then one who condemns murder must also be a murderer because murder is a reference point and the same insecure thinking is employed for the murderer and the condemnation of murder. That doesn’t really work very well. If that reasoning stands then one could make the various foundations interchangeable: if one is a scientist then one is Christian, or if one is Jewish then one is an Islamist. In the bigger picture perhaps these things become more closely related than not, and the fervor with which people embrace science or atheism makes those beliefs become dogmatic, creating an hypocrisy that rivals the same rigid standards and lack of examination present in Abrahamic religions. With a modicum of cleverness, however, one could extrapolate that out to interpret any belief/the nature of belief itself based on your reasoning that the same insecure behavior drives belief. Accept for other religions you allude to or even mention, such as Buddhism, which seem to be exempt from such insecure thinking because there is no worship of the Abrahamic/ Atheistic/Scientific view of an external god. Based on your own paradigm of logic, one could easily argue that your view of Buddhism being different than other religions is blind to the fact, however, that you hold that assumption based on a reference point [insecure thought] of Christianity or even science, or even belief itself. You started with an interesting idea; then, without applying any restraint, you’ve created a kind of cognitive dissonance in maintaining that idea on one hand and dismissing it when convenient.

  • Charlie Mc

    Tom: Please, Enough!!

  • Ellen Dibble

    I like Millard-Fillmore’s point that even Riversong seems to be “seeking converts” and asserting in monotheistic fashion “my way is the right way.” Yet Riversong does create enough “cognitive dissonance” to quote Brett to make it tough to see “the light,” to use a Christian expression.
    Millard-Fillmore, I agree it is too bad most posts in this forum derive from a Christian modus operandi, and if you wanted me to be less “intellectually lazy” and expound other traditions, I won’t apologize. To me a tradition is a lens that one wears for many years, applying it to every decision, every feeling, not as an act of faith, but as a matter of culture. It is quite a feat to be able to doff that pair of lenses/spectacles and know that one has been applying that bit of warp. It is a feat of another order to presume to represent the lens of another tradition.
    It seems that Robert Riversong sees wisdom in those who have no such lens, the primitives who respond to nature and nature alone. I would just suggest that man created religion about the same time he acquired consciousness, or imagination, the ability to postulate a greater point of view than his own, so to speak. If I can look down from the mountain and plan to conquer this and that, or if I can look down from the mountain and figure out what is a better way to behave and pass that along, then — THEN — there can be (in my humble opinion, saith such sage) there must be an even Greater One with greater perspective and power. It is a statement of humility and a way of aligning oneself with reality. I mean align oneself with a broader view of reality — in such a way one can share that and use that pragmatically.
    The primitives were at least as afraid in the face of reality as we are. Find one ancient culture/group that has no superstitions and overarching tales of wonder and awe, or cave paintings tinged with delusional vision…
    I am not the scholar to approach such things, but I don’t think humans get to “pure” rationalism without sacrificing a lot of the depth of shared meaning religions have been able to make available.
    If Buddhists, Taoists, Hindus etc were weighing in here, it would be interesting. I agree.

  • C McCoy – Credit to M. Green

    Dear friends,

    Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s law. I have learned a great deal from this group and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate. I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God’s Laws and how to follow them:

    1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not to Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?

    2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

    4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord (Lev. 1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

    5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states that he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

    6. A friend of mine feels that, even though eating shellfish is an abomination (Lev. 11:10), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this? Are there “degrees” of abomination?

    7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle-room here?

    8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?

    9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

    10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev. 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them (Lev.24:10-16)? Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws (Lev. 20:14)?

    I know you people have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I am confident you can help.

    Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging.

  • C. McCoy

    Beware of people who creat god in thier own image….

    Unfortunatly Religion frequently becomes about self love, justification of prejudice and hate…

  • Expanded Consciousness

    Hahaha, C McCoy. Look at how many laws we have had to pass to dismantle religion. How much science has dismantled religion. How much philosophy, theory and intellectual thought has dismantled religion. Yet, weak minds continue to resuscitate this monster out of their own selfish desire to remain children soothed by their fairytales and filled with this ‘permission to violence’ which is religion.

    Alas, let religion die!!!

  • Ellen Dibble

    Where do you get that religion is soothing? “My hope of heaven and fear of hell” — I quote most of the 19th century, I believe. “Fear of God” is the dominant motivator, I think, at least in Western religious traditions.
    Got any ideas how to eviscerate religion of the oofensive elements without losing it altogether? Oh, sorry. You would rather destroy it and wait like a trapper at a gopher hole hoping nothing, no offspring growing up underground, jump up nearby to take its place.

  • millard-fillmore

    “But to the extent that you’ve used that potential cause of even a belief in science, the reasoning becomes a bit simplistic. Based on the support of your reasoning then one who condemns murder must also be a murderer because murder is a reference point and the same insecure thinking is employed for the murderer and the condemnation of murder.”

    But why should the logic that I employ with respect to Christianity and the reaction to it, be extended to murder? I don’t see any reason to do that. I didn’t claim that my reasoning specific to the discussion, extends to any and all aspects of life.

    And I’m not against science – I know that it has answered many questions and benefited humans, and it has definitely helped me understand the world better. What I question is the blind faith in science and trumpeting it as perfect while ignoring facts, and ignoring that science is conducted by humans, who are not infallible. My argument was also against what EC mentioned – that “science is motivated by truth” – as if that’s the paramount – and only – consideration. The scientists who conducted the Tuskegee experiments were also motivated by truth – yet, no one in their right minds will applaud their unethical behavior or call it a model for scientific research.

  • Jen Jovin

    I just listened to this podcast this morning on my way to work, and I just have to say THANK YOU! As a former Catholic, now atheist, I appreciate serious, thoughtful conversation about what it means to be a nonreligious person today and how to shed some positive light on what has historically been a social stigma in the United States. I like what I hear about the humanists; Greg Epstein’s definition of the movement encapsulated what I have been thinking for a long time.
    I am also very grateful to On Point for bringing my generation into social consciousness. I’m 26 and I often feel like people my age are waiting for the time when our thoughts/actions will be taken seriously by the greater society. It seems the time has come and I thank you for that.
    Thank you for such thought-provoking programming!

  • millard-fillmore

    “Based on your own paradigm of logic, one could easily argue that your view of Buddhism being different than other religions is blind to the fact, however, that you hold that assumption based on a reference point [insecure thought] of Christianity or even science, or even belief itself. You started with an interesting idea; then, without applying any restraint, you’ve created a kind of cognitive dissonance in maintaining that idea on one hand and dismissing it when convenient.”

    Brett, sorry, you lost me there. Seems like you’re ascribing and/or extrapolating thoughts to me which I didn’t state or imply.

  • millard-fillmore

    Brett, additionally, I didn’t make or initiate any condescending comments along the lines of

    “Don’t you want to get back into life and start living again? Open your eyes. It’s worth it.”

    That’s the end of a conversation when someone makes assumptions about other person’s views, and comes up with such stupid comments – and not only that, considers such comments as the pinnacle of wisdom or ‘expanded consciousness’. *rolling my eyes*

  • millard-fillmore

    “Unfortunatly [sic] Religion frequently becomes about self love, justification of prejudice and hate…”

    Yes, along with ideology (left/right) and political affiliation (Republican/Democrat) – seems like we humans have a knack of finding new ways to justify our prejudices and hate in one form or another. We may claim that we love diversity, but our actions certainly don’t show that to be true, more so when so many careers are based on perpetuation of that divisiveness.

  • Expanded Consciousness

    Yes, of course, people are both soothed by religion and enjoy having their darker side validated and sadism released. If they aren’t soothed by being God’s children, then why don’t they give up the notion?

    Yes, I’d rather have religion die then be purged of it’s negative aspects, because it is founded on negative aspects: lies.

    Again, new scientists come along and correct the faulty work of bad scientists. Religion is rigid. There is no comparison.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Expanded C, during the Cold War, both in the Soviet Union and in communist China, religion was seen exactly as you state, as a bunch of lies used by inferior peoples to manipulate the masses. Those governments had their own idols. In China there was Mao Tse Tung and his Little Red Book. In the USSR, you mainly got in trouble for putting anything or anyone above the Party.
    It so happened that I knew a Chinese couple whose parents had grown up during some rather black days in the ’70s and ’80s (one set had been entertainers, then educators). Anyway, they were glad to debate politics, but when it came to religion, they just laughed at Americans. All China, apparently, laughed at all Americans. One legacy of communism was that none of them would ever fall prey to such imbecile ideas. I pulled out my illustrated children’s collections of Bible stories, and traced for them the best I could how western religions grew and what role they play in our culture. I didn’t mean to tell them this is correct or better, just this is part of the emotional and intellectual fabric of this culture. Next thing I knew, they had joined a Christian church made up of Chinese immigrants, like within weeks.

  • Expanded Consciousness

    Dear Ellen,

    What’s your argument then? That human’s need to worship something and if they aren’t worshiping religion they will worship a far worse evil?

    That’s a limiting view of human capacity, in my opinion.

    Human’s should aspire to more.

  • millard-fillmore

    “Again, new scientists come along and correct the faulty work of bad scientists. Religion is rigid. There is no comparison.”


    Of course there’s no comparison, because science and religion are different and have different purposes – it’s like comparing apples to oranges. And I’m not the one comparing science to religion, you are. I don’t believe in this either/or dichotomy and an urge to pick one over the other to the exclusion of the other, that you seem to espouse.

    BTW, if religion were rigid, how do you explain Martin Luther and his Protestant Reformation? How do you explain that some denominations have started appointing women as priests? Or openly gay priests as bishops? Or the birth of Unitarian Universalist movement? Or liberation theology? (Someone more familiar with that aspect of different denominations of Christian churches and Christian history can speak about it – I only have a cursory knowledge of such issues, since I’m not a Christian.)
    (Oh, and the above should not be seen as a support of “everything that a religion does or says is 100% correct” – that’s not my position at all.)

    All these don’t indicate a rigid or dead religion – to be specific, Christianity – to me, but something that is vibrant and evolving. I could offer similar examples from other religions, but don’t want to spoon-feed you – that’s what google is for. :)

  • Ellen Dibble

    Expanded C, I think the humanism set forth by Epstein is a step in the right direction. I suppose his students will point him in the right direction. I have seen New Age and Wiccans try to start out in new and better directions, flat out rejecting what seems tainted beyond redemption in the traditions they grew up with. In many ways I agree, that “tainted beyond redemption” applies, at least from the point of view of a lot of people. It’s like they need a divorce, a divorce from a failed faith. But then they want another marriage, or fall into one in spite of themselves.
    I think it’s up to the generation coming of age what they want to preserve, what they want to reform, where to “protest” and where to revitalize. My choice (from the perspective of globalization and the internet’s general adulteration of all pure perspectives — or enrichment, depending on your perspective) — my choice would be more open and affirming attitudes on all sides, so no one is threatened by the ways and beliefs of one another. Greater familiarity (the internet, google, jetting around more for living with, serving, shared enterprises, etc., rather than tourism and military reasons), that would help bring my wish toward fruition.

  • justanother

    Why not start it now to discuss more about Buddhists, Taoist. Those are more of philosophical approach, internal enlightenment than worshipping. At least they started out with those intent. Later being wrongly practiced into a mix of superstition and at some regions, a cult.

    But there are still plenty of Buddhists and Taoists today are still practicing those pure spiritual intents, and never impose their philosophy by force, instead by peaceful teaching to better oneself before expecting others.

    These years, I gradually understand the scope of Christian, Islam and Judaism religions are deeply engraved in their culture itself, then I am finally able to grasp the notion that some people really believe there won’t be moral value if without their religion, which I thought it was absurd. According to that belief, I suppose lots of Asian cultures and civilizations are tainted and operated without any morality for thousand of years, and they still exist today, did anybody ask those question?

    There are plenty of moral value can be found in eastern philosophies without a mention of god. And those are not just basic morals like ten commandments, they require constant practice and meditation into internal and external observation of themselves and other walks of life and nature around them.

    Buddhism, Taoism and other eastern beliefs look at all life, nature and universe as one entity. Their perspectives are totally different from Christian, Islam and Judaism or others. This is where I found a lot less arrogance in eastern philosophies which I think they hold much higher moral grounds.

  • Putney Swope

    C McCoy – Credit to M. Green, that was, is a great post and very revealing into the problems with fundamentalism of any religion but the old testament is good example of how if one takes these things in a literal sense how absurd it is.

    George Carlin has some great monologues on religion.

  • Brett

    ‘I don’t think humans get to “pure” rationalism without sacrificing a lot of the depth of shared meaning religions have been able to make available.’ -Ellen Dibble

    As much as I enjoyed your comment, Ellen, I particularly liked this part. As you can ascertain, I am not part of any organized religion, and happily so. But I am holding to my spiritual self as important to what it means for me to be human. Some can use reason as a spirituality in and of itself, some can keep that juxtaposed with a kind of oneness that is within, around, and beyond. I choose to go toward the latter. I believe we need myth (or perhaps abstraction, symbolism, metaphor and allegory), as evidenced by our need for art, music, literature, poetry, etc.; we also need ritual, as evidenced by the structured way we approach ceremony, e.g., weddings, funerals, holiday dinners. As humans, we ritualize most everything we do; we HAVE to live with rituals; and, as I’ve stated before, the creation and participation of these rituals imbues our lives with meaning, one of many ways to give definition to our lives and the world and universe. Imagination itself is so intrinsic to human nature.

    There clearly has been a need for religion–however disingenuously it may have been often practiced throughout history–and its more abstract spiritual aspects; otherwise, humans wouldn’t have created so much importance around it. I suspect it was science, humanism and even atheism that also sought to pursue the same desire to explain that which seems unexplainable, that which flows within us and outside of us and our connection with and separation from that phenomenon. Maybe it is how those various beliefs/disciplines/views very concretely diverged from each other as they progressed that obscures the connectedness of them all. As an example, I see Buddhism in its abstract, as a complementary, inverted force to Christianity. The basic idea of Buddhism is using the internal self as a starting point to radiate outward; the essence is within the self. Christianity is looking toward the outward most energy in an effort to get it to radiate toward self; the essence is outside of the self. Heaven is some place off in the distance to strive for in a journey to find a highest state of being; Nirvana is the highest state of being sought within the most internal aspects of one’s own being.

    Maybe the way the various journeys present themselves–the elements that make them appear very different–and the differences in the minutiae of those journeys when compared is what bogs us down…ah, there’s the rub!

    C McCoy–I was going to instruct you on some things, like, yes, God told me you can play football, but only if you wear gloves, but I don’t want to sway you. I could be a false profit, after all, or it may have been Satan talking to me and NOT God!! I mean, Muhammad once told the Jews (back in the beginning when everybody was doing what Rodney KIng suggests) that God had spoken to him and informed him to be cool around Jews and allow their priestesses to practice and guide the Jewish people, that Muhammad’s people should be loving it and everything. Then, later, Muhammad regretfully informed the Jews that when he had said God spoke to him about the total coolness of Jews, he was mistaken; actually, it wasn’t God but Satan who had previously “misinformed” him, he said. Well, you can imagine Muhammad’s embarrassment. Fortunately, a little raping, killing and pillaging managed to get Muhammad out of the doldrums…anyway, I digress; to be on the safe side, don’t play football and don’t wear gloves, I mean, the tag may say 100% cotton, but who knows? I will say, that laughter is the best medicine, and both God AND Satan told me that, so it must be true…oh, and a Rabbi friend of mine once said, ‘a little humor [the funny kind, not necessarily blood, phlegm and bile] couldn’t hurt!’

  • Brett

    ‘But why should the logic that I employ with respect to Christianity and the reaction to it, be extended to murder? I don’t see any reason to do that. I didn’t claim that my reasoning specific to the discussion, extends to any and all aspects of life.’ -millard-fillmore

    Are you saying religion gets its own logic/reasoning? That the same logic you used for Christianity and employed against Christianity has no basis really or can not and should be applied to anything else, at your convenience but not for the convenience of others.

    Also (and I am not inclined to defend ALL science), you cite the Tuskegee experiments to find fault with science, or as a way to say science does not seek truth. Do individual examples negate a whole every time? Sorry, I was trying to ascertain some logic in your statements. Seems there is a kind of throw the baby out with the bath water logic going on, on the one hand, and a strong pull back on the other. I was challenging your basic idea that no matter what most people say about their beliefs, they are looking at them through a lens of Abrahamic religions. I was also challenging your assumption that Buddhism is somehow a significantly different lens. I would guess, for example, that you have not grown up being Buddhist from a very, very young age? So how can someone who potentially has the same lens as others criticize the starting point or pretend to know what those who haven’t grown up looking through the same lens would see or say? Your own words say something about atheists still thinking of Christianity as a center and, therefore, that is the basis for atheistic thought, or humanistic thought, etc., having a kind of reason to rail against religion. Hypocrisy of logic is what I thought you were getting at, as a challenge to what others think. Did you not mean that? I was challenging the logic you’ve seemed to employ to draw your conclusions, as you’ve challenged others’ beliefs… what WAS your point, then?

    Additionally, in your 1:00pm comment: how can I be responsible for someone else’s comments? And, isn’t it just a tad hypocritical to be presumptuous about someone else’s views, then find fault in them for the same approach? (Your complaint with others, not me.)

    I can only make some attempt to ascertain what you mean by your words. If that seems presumptuous to you, then I apologize. It is reasonable, though, to make assumptions about someone’s opinions based on their words. I do see you employing the same logic. Anyway, you are thought-provoking, and I have asked for clarification, in case I have read too much into your thinking.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Look for my last post to vanish. It’s “awaiting moderation,” I suppose because of the S word.
    Brett, I couldn’t follow the post you are Millard-Fillmore are discussing either. It reminded me of the philosophy of Kant, my trying to read it, that is. Be like me: I go with trying to be like Christ (where’s the little winking face), and tell things with little stories.
    Actually, though, thank you for sorting out your own rather obscure differences; I eventually understand somewhat.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Actually, I’ll repost my offensive post, taking out that word:

    Justanother, when I was a young person, the Beatles went to an ashram in the Himalayas, I believe more or less on the same basis you set forth. In fact, many of the antiwar protestors at the time (the last several years of the Vietnam War) felt betrayed by the values in their country (the USA) that had led to such a war. They also thought that manipulating consciousness with drugs was not only not bad/immoral; they thought drugs were the way to “shed the s—” of all the concepts that were polluting our minds. There was total revolt against everything. Eastern religions were The Way, The Truth, and the Light (to borrow from the Gospels). Since that time, we have yoga from the Hindu tradition, with meditation and its scientifically verifiable benefits, and we have Eastern practices available far and wide, both in the healing arts and in more spiritual ways. They overlap. Plenty of Christians practice meditation, and Jews. The one does not supplant the other.
    Taoism, which means “the way,” is a sort of orthopedic concept, that one can have correct alighnment moment to moment. You know when you’ve gone off the road, out of your lane, if you are a Taoist. That’s a huge oversimplification, but you see it trusts the individual to have capacity for moral decision-making. I’m not sure why we aren’t all Taoists in that sense, however, using our inner lights as best we can.
    In China, the alternative way long ago to Taoism was Confucianism, which was more or less tradition incarnate, worship of the ancestors. It was for social order, obligation, obedience, all the sorts of values one would expect in a society that was pretty dense, crowded, even then.
    That’s my memories from many decades ago. I think the Taoist monk was Wu Wei who wrote the seminal documents. I suppose it was quite revolutionary in a society based on obedience to one’s elders: Do what you think is best, what feels right. I don’t believe it ever became institutionalized into an organized religion. It didn’t really have to.
    Now maybe some Taoists or Confucians or Hindu meditators will weigh in and correct me.

  • Brett

    Oops! I was afraid all of that Kant would come back to haunt me one day!

  • justanother

    Ellen Dibble, very interesting post, here’s what I copied off of Wikipedia:

    ***Taoism (Daoism) is a philosophy and later also developed into a religion based on the texts the Tao Te Ching (Dào Dé Jīng; ascribed to Laozi) and the Zhuangzi (partly ascribed to Zhuangzi). The character Tao 道 (Dao) literally means “path” or “way”. However in Daoism it refers more often to a meta-physical term that describes a force that encompasses the entire universe but which cannot be described nor felt. All major Chinese philosophical schools have investigated the correct Way to go about a moral life, but in Taoism it takes on the most abstract meanings, leading this school to be named after it. It advocated nonaction (wu wei), the strength of softness, spontaneity, and relativism. Although it serves as a rival to Confucianism, a school of active morality, this rivalry is compromised and given perspective by the idiom “practise Confucianism on the outside, Taoism on the inside.” But its main motto is: “If one must rule, rule young” Most of Taoism’s focus is on what is perceived to be the undeniable fact that human attempts to make the world better, actually make the world worse. Therefore it is better to strive for harmony.***

    I found some of Taoism philosophy so true up till this day, especially with troubles going on right now, global warming, wars, GMO foods…..one can go on and on.

  • justanother

    Taoism view of natural environment, advanced thinking for about 2500 years ago, but no one seriously listened.

    ***The Tao Te Jing says: ‘Humanity follows the Earth, the Earth follows Heaven, Heaven follows the Tao, and the Tao follows what is natural.’ Taoists therefore obey the Earth. The Earth respects Heaven, Heaven abides by the Tao, and the Tao follows the natural course of everything. Humans should help everything grow according to its own way. Therefore human beings should cultivate the way of no-action and let nature be itself.

    Biodiversity: Taoism has a unique sense of value in that it judges affluence by the number of different species. If all things in the universe grow well, then a society is a community of affluence. If not, this kingdom is on the decline. This view encourages both government and people to take good care of nature****

  • Ellen Dibble

    Justanother, thanks for those posts. I have to laugh about wu wei, which is not a philosophy but a principle (nonaction, you say, the strength of softness, spontaneity, relativism). It sounds like the “yin” or feminine principle in yin/yang. It sounds a little like Gandhi’s nonviolence (satyagraha or something like that). I am trying to imagine what Chinese people or government was doing 2500 years ago to interfere with the natural course of things and be leading to a society in decline.
    The idea of being Confucian on the outside and Taoist on the inside rings true. The professional and public self, the political self, conforms to the Rules. The inner self has its own domain.
    I think my class called Laotzi Lao Tze or Lao Tsu and read from the Tao Te Ching.
    There are certainly parallels today in religions to the sort of bipolarity Confucianism/Taoism presented in China. Traditionalists and literalists would represent the Confucians. Taoists would be the new shoots springing up in theology/religion, who are probably seen by the former as “confusionists” propagating who-knows-what unreliable hogwash.

  • Ellen Dibble

    I meant that wu wei is apparently not a philosopher (or writer). I’d say wu wei (the principle) is indeed sort of a philosophy. If anyone is still reading, I didn’t mean to be confusing there.

  • Expanded Consciousness

    Happy Halloween!

    Do all you religious people believe in Halloween ghosts and goblins?

    If not, why not?

    Because you are just conformists believing whatever the group believes?

  • Brett

    What you elaborate on is a great point, that what Confucianists/Taoists perhaps went through could have been similar to what might be a dichotomy of spirit for many who have had to reconcile traditions and reforms during today’s transitional times in many religions. I suppose some people make the transition well, others don’t, and others perhaps are better at keeping their inner selves and outer conduct compartmentalized. I think religions have to do a great balancing act for followers. Churches, for example, have to progress with society and keep up with the demands of the community to stay vibrant, vital, and viable. Yet they lose people in the process, or at least can create a lot of internal conflict in the process. This is true through the Abrahamic lens and true of other religions. Some forms of Buddhism, for example, are currently having to grapple with transition.

  • Brett

    As much as, in my view and put very simply, it is better not to subscribe to organized religion, I recognize my perspective to be just that; I can not possess absolute truth. All I or anyone else can hold in our grasp is a perspective and not truth, simply because truth is a complex thing. It is a series of disparate concepts juxtaposed very delicately, from what I can gather and exceedingly elusive. In terms of what we matter as human beings, facts, in the end, can become quite trivial. With respect to religion/spirituality/science…..oiy!!!

    Anyway, it would be wise for a young person such as yourself to develop an idea that one is, after all, only very small and insignificant in a great universe. An expanded consciousness is, for one thing, one with a capacity for tolerance.

  • Expanded Consciousness

    “All I or anyone else can hold in our grasp is a perspective and not truth.”

    Exactly, Brett. And that is precisely what I do not like about religion. It is static and dead and not alive with further exploration.

    I do value freedom and others’ right to choose (more than mere ‘tolerate’ – an arrogant concept). Yet, that is when dealing with individuals. When dealing with the topic and the specter of religion over the great sweep of miserable human history, I am sick of it and won’t mince words.

    Enough already!

  • Brett

    ‘Yet, that is when dealing with individuals. When dealing with the topic and the specter of religion over the great sweep of miserable human history, I am sick of it and won’t mince words.’

    This would be an example of intolerance and a lack of awareness, toward self and others. Topics, religions, human history…you see, these things can not exist without individuals. Especially within the context of a discussion, is what is pertinent here. We are free to disagree with each other, even engage in heated discussion; and, even be free to misinterpret and ask for clarification, as I often do, but your last comment seemed of a nature designed to attack without threat. Purely.

  • Katherine

    To Sharon,
    I am the caller on the show referring to my genetic issues. I thank you for your very kind comments. I would love to talk with you to if we could somehow coordinate that!

    To another gentleman that left a comment regarding that I should not have children due to my overly simplistic views of God, I just would like to clarify something for you that maybe you misunderstood. I don’t believe that because I am a Christian God will somehow protect me from all the bad things. I am not sure of God’s character and I don’t know that he is “safe”, but I do believe in the comfort, hope and in equal measure heartache that the Psalms so beautifully write of. I have only one life to live and I like the humanist chaplain and every other human I want to make it count. My personal conclusion is that God exists and that Christ and the Cross are my only salvation. If you have another conviction then so be it. We are all looking to somehow alter this existence and we all have to make our own spiritual journey. Good luck to all!

  • Expanded Consciousness

    “This would be an example of intolerance and a lack of awareness, toward self and others.”

    I’m all too ‘aware’ of religion-madness. ‘Tolerance’ is allowing people to choose. ‘Tolerance’ is not softening one’s criticism down to meaninglessness.

    “Topics, religions, human history…you see, these things can not exist without individuals … but your last comment seemed of a nature designed to attack without threat. Purely.”

    Ha! Individuals. Religions do not exists without groups. The Halloween comment was quite ‘on point.’ The only reason that religious people believe in these ghosts and goblins and not in those ghosts and goblins is mindless conformity to the group. If only they were individuals and individualistic.

    ‘Attack without threat’? Religion is a curse on humanity. A destructive force. A threat to human survival. Perhaps the greatest threat to human survival, in that it unleashes irrational destructive forces in the mind. To perpetuate religion in modern times, as humans get technologically more advanced and in possession of greater and greater power (and, thus, potentially destructive power), is dire indeed.

    Look beneath the surface. Religions do not just predict the end of the world, they try to madden the collective and individuals’ minds and bring it about.

    A threat, indeed.

  • Ellen Dibble

    The literature that I read growing up in the ’50s pretty much had the non-God-fearing people all pirates, individuals outside of any sense of order. If people were not God-fearing, then they were up to no good. You could sort of tell by looking at someone if they were “god-fearing.” It didn’t matter if they knew they were “god-fearing.” It mattered that you the viewer, the participant, could tell it, could determine that. The god-fearing pirate appears in Pirates of Penzance, by the way, and I believe “saves” all the rest of the pirate crew. Or rather they admit they were raised to be noblemen (god-fearing) and fell from grace, and are glad to be restored.
    Oh, I know, “noble” does not equal “God-fearing” except in Gilbert & Sullivan, and there it is really a wonderful comic critique of the way religion can make a prince of a pauper, at least in the eyes of its adherents.
    Possibly this generation sees the pirates defined as god-fearing (jihad for example) and the noblemen as the atheists with no standards whatsoever. G&S would say it only takes a pretty girl to convert a lawless, useless wretch into whatever society needs. Of course they all (pretty girls and ex-pirates) called the preacher and got married. Happy ending.

  • Expanded Consciousness

    “atheists with no standards”


    I never met an atheist with no standards. Being a “non-believer” is by definition one who has standards (one who keeps their mind superior to and above religious muck).

    I wouldn’t frame it as a generational thing, as if it is going to fade and go out of style like the length of one’s pants.

  • Expanded Consciousness


    Fear, panic, fright.

    Intimidation, bullying, power exploitation.

    True sadism at the heart of religion.

    ‘You could sort of tell by looking at someone if they were “god-fearing.” It didn’t matter if they knew they were “god-fearing.” It mattered that you the viewer, the participant, could tell it, could determine that.’

    Scary! Throw them in the lake! If they drown they were innocent!

    Truth and innocence be damned! Doesn’t matter what they are on the inside. Just what a religious nut thinks is inside of you.

    Religion is psychotic!

  • Ellen Dibble

    EC, just for the record, I would never say atheists have no standards either. Far, far from it. I think you got the point I was making though. In a way, atheists are to fundamentalists (now) as pirates were to Anglicans (in 1900), and vice versa.
    The former can be seen as untamed, wild, wielding power in unpredictable ways; the latter hew to strict shared practices and views.
    The frame of reference today (generational or not) is much broader even than from the lofty perspective of the British Empire at its peak.
    Even now, during formative years most people have only one religion to tune to (still, though more cities make this ever less true); so this is shifting in a seismic way. I am thinking you might be one exemplifying this. And life would be far simpler with no religion than a dozen. The only wise ones seem to be those who have shed religion altogether. I don’t have to imagine that, actually. I have seen it.

  • Expanded Consciousness

    Crimes committed in God’s name.

    Crimes committed in no Gods’ name.

    The focus needs to be on crimes.

    It is really all about power.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Yep. And here is a quote from Pirates of Penzance. The pirates have captured (kidnapped) the major general (the father of the 25 maidens or whatever their number), and he is appealing for release to their sympathies, saying he is an orphan (not so, but anyway):
    The pirate king sings:
    Although our dark career
    Sometimes involves the crime of stealing
    We rather think that we’re not altogether void of feeling.
    Although we live by strife
    We’re always sorry to begin it
    For what, we ask, is life
    Without a touch of Poetry in it?

    The chorus sings:
    Hail, Poetry, thou heaven-born maid!
    Though gildest e’en the pirates’ trade!
    Hail, glowing found of sentiment!
    All Hail, Divine Emollient!

    The pirate king sings:
    You may go, for you’re at liberty.
    Our pirate rules protect you,
    And honorary members of our band
    We do elect you!

    Chorus: For he is an orphan boy, he is, hurrah for the orphan boy, etc.

    So there is Poetry being dragged through the G&S wittery along with Religion.
    None of it is to be taken seriously, EC, but the music takes it seriously, so to speak. It sneaks the totally disrespectfulness under the music. Therein it is much better than Saturday Night Live which does not sneak at all.

  • Expanded Consciousness


    “Although we live by strife
    We’re always sorry to begin it
    For what, we ask, is life
    Without a touch of Poetry in it?”


    Although the world has churches
    I’m eternally perturbed by it.
    For what, I ask, is life
    Without a little Reality in it?

  • justanother

    People always say religion is not the problem, it is human that created these problems. Very true, indeed, then why we still practicing those religions if they don’t do us any good at the end of our days. It is time to question & examine ourselves without any religions intervention.

    To me, religions are creation of human primitive needs for survival. Than they evolved into mega size community power.

    I often ask myself a very basic question. Why do we need to “worship” god even if god created us. I can’t even get pass this thought of worship. If something created us, I show tremendous respect and make peace and harmony, but I won’t be the creator’s slave. Like nature, if we don’t respect and balance is off, we suffer from the consequence. Life will be eliminated through the process of balancing itself. And those eliminated life are very random, not because those dead people sin more than others alive.

    To me, the most arrogant part of religions is putting themselves above any other non believers and all other life. Some of them don’t believe animals have souls, if human really buy into this bulls, we are in deep trouble.

  • justanother

    Sorry it is late, lots of grammatical errors from last post.

  • Ellen Dibble

    If religion can be examined without attacking, then good. I was watching a Catholic Sunday service on TV today, expecting the “I am the representative of God,” the sort of pompous strutting, the careful creation of the impression that all power and glory is in the hands of the lord’s vicar on earth. I know it is hard to take. I absorbed from my father somehow that I needed to feel reverence for other people’s faiths, no matter what, never to prejudge what people worship, no matter how ridiculous it might seem to an outsider.
    Reverence for the faith, the people with faith. He exemplified this; he didn’t have to say it. It is a pragmatic stance, though, in that any other stance creates deep and emotional rifts, discord, even war.
    I like to see faith the way I heard an aging Baptist minister express it. I wouldn’t be here without it. He gestured. I know. I’d fall apart. It is the glue. I know because when I feel bad, I need others to hold me together; it is why old people who lose people close to them can fall apart and die. People can impart that self-cohesiveness to one another.
    I think children hear a lot of things as literal where they are not. We play on this vulnerability by Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. One grows into an understanding of the way metaphors stand in for realities we cannot know with the conscious brain. Indeed we could be way off, but there are certainly apperceptions, perceptions that exceed or precede perception of the usual sort.
    Here I am reading the horoscope, for instance, which apparently back in the days of Zoroaster was considered as scientific as anything else, and who knows, maybe once people knew how to “do” this. I always look first (every few months maybe) to see how my father’s day will be, my father who has been dead 30-some years. He has five stars; listen and show up. Ehh. (Apparently I believe a person’s spirit continues unimpeded but out of reach, or might, or sort of does.) Mine is skewed. Various people I care about but can’t ask: various vague advice and predictions.
    I’m not laughing at it, nor condemning it. Nice try I think.

  • Ellen Dibble

    I meant to assert today I could see the Catholic service as possessing a new humility. This is probably what psychospeak would call “transference,” and nobody really talked this powerful and in many ways arrogant religion (even to its lowest levels) to give up their posture of great authority. But that’s my opinion; they seemed like they had been called on the carpet by their Greater Power, whatever that is, and were aware the whole religion is as constantly up for Judgment as any meager individual. Maybe that was there all along.

  • justanother

    I have total respect for religious folks as well as non religious folks. But some very troubling fundamental ideas behind some religions really need to be crucially reexamined, because those ideas are toxic and cause life of others to suffer without feeling any wrong doing and guilt. I have no respect for those fundamentally wrong views toward a world all life living in.

    Being critical of some religious ideas does not diminish one’s respect of people choice of religions.

  • justanother

    And to be honest, if I believe in one religion, I would feel so much more responsible of examining my own belief throughout, instead of simplifying and concluded “just have faith” at the end of day, which I hear this a lot from a lot of lazy religious people.

  • Ellen Dibble

    If one lived in a one-religion society, maybe there would be more urgency to reforming it. I don’t know. Nowadays there are many churches in a single town; parents do not by default offspring to stay within the fold. So reform probably depends more nowadays on folks like you. The hard-core traditionalists will stay inside. Any dissent, criticism, and that person need not stay. So where does the change come in?
    Several people here have said religion is like dry bones, rigid. It makes sense to me.
    But if you have any ideas How to stir things up, wow. If you were to start reforming religion with the most egregious, I’d say try wahabi Islam, but I get all sorts of lazy and say I don’t know enough, it’s not my problem, let them sort it out (or get blasted by some American drone, I suppose).

  • Chris Hearn

    Expanded Consciousness-

    “Theoretical cosmology does not postulate that the universe created itself out of nothing.”

    So the universe was created by some Being?

    The universe is not eternal and could not have created itself.

  • justanother

    Does who is the creator really matter? There are accidental creator and a well planned creator. And you know, creator is capable of abandoning projects too. We should care and nurture things around us, so our basic survival need for generations to come is met and respected.

  • Expanded Consciousness


    Existence always was and always will be (in one form or another). It did not begin and will not end (human concepts).

    ‘Nothing (nothingness) does, in fact, NOT exist.

    With this assumption we can easily say that the universe did not begin from nothing, nor will it collapse into nothing. The universe, then, has always existed and will always exist.

    There’s no doubt that the universe is constantly changing. In fact, we’ve created time to measure that change.

    Meanwhile, the universe changes states on a changing but fluid rate. Our ability to model the universe using math has enabled us to predict future states based on current observations of change, and postulate past states by rolling back .

    Human beings are biased to see beginnings and endings because we interact with each other’s consciousness, and that consciousness (awareness) appears to begin at some point after conception, and end at some point near death.

    But if you think about it, this consciousness interaction is the only thing that appears to begin and end. Our mass doesn’t magically disappear when we die. Our form degrades and we become part of the earth again. But we don’t “end.”

    We don’t “begin” either. We are an extension of our parents (mostly mother.) We are her, and she is her mother.

    The universe did not begin, nor will it end. Nothing begins or ends; all is perpetual and forever, but human bias gets in the way of seeing this. We project our beginnings and endings onto almost everything…including our natural environment.

    “Beginning” and “ending” are simply labels on a time line that contain a range of identifiable states. But since the time line has no beginning and no ending, it doesn’t serve much purpose to ascribe such labels.’


    Saying that if something exists then it must have been created, is wrong.

    ‘That’s human bias speaking, and it’s wrong. If everything has to be created to exist, then nothing would exist since something cannot be created by nothing by your own definition.

    Nothing does not exist, which means something must have always existed–if it has always existed then it was not created. It’s the only possible logical truth.’

  • http://european-americanblog.blogspot.com/ European-American Blog

    The tacitly accepted premise that ‘goodness’ is linked to ‘believing in something’ is causing a lot of confusion. A person can be ‘good’ and believe in nothing other than their own sense of morality, justice and equality.

    Societies might be better off if the two concepts were uncoupled from each other.

  • Chris Hearn

    Expanded Consciousness-

    Again, science has shown that the universe is not eternal. Christianity teaches this as well.

    “If everything has to be created to exist, then nothing would exist since something cannot be created by nothing by your own definition.”

    I never said that everything that exists had to have been created. Something has had to have always existed- as difficult a concept for us to understand or grasp.

    God is the one Being who has always existed.


  • Expanded Consciousness

    Chris -

    “Science has shown that the universe it not eternal.”

    Science has postulated that this universe is not eternal. Science has not postulated that existence is not eternal (multiverse).

    “God is the one Being who has always existed.”

    I do not see the reason to invent a God. A being with human-like qualities of intentionality and decision-making capacity. A single existence-boss that controls, plans, and decides all – even micromanages every individual’s life and destiny.

    ‘The God argument is a logical fallacy. The God argument is saying that the universe cannot exist independent of God, while saying that God can exist independent of anything else. That’s the fallacy. Not that our observable universe may have come into existence from some other somethingness.’

    The universe constantly transforms states. It is something that has always happened and will always happen.’

  • Chris Hearn

    Expanded Consciousness-

    “Science has not postulated that existence is not eternal (multiverse).”

    True. But when you get into multiverse (many universe) theories, you are leaving the realm of “test in a laboratory” science and entering more into the realm of philosophy.

    Even if there were other universes, one could legitimately ask, “How did those begin?” In any case, the multiverse theory is pure speculation.

    I don’t see any reason to invent a God either. : ) God exists on His own and He is the one who created us and the universe. God has always existed, not the universe.

    God gives all people free will. He does not micromanage every individual’s life and destiny. For example, you can choose to believe in God or not. God has given you, and all people, that ability. He has also given people the ability to make various moral choices every day. We are responsible for our actions.

    For more on creation, please see-


    Your statement that the universe will always happen also goes against science and Christianity. The universe, as we currently know it, will come to an end.

  • Expanded Consciousness

    ‘But when you get into multiverse (many universe) theories, you are leaving the realm of “test in a laboratory” science and entering more into the realm of philosophy.

    I don’t see any reason to invent a God either. : ) God exists on His own and He is the one who created us and the universe. God has always existed, not the universe.’

    Got the lab test for those statements?


    You seem well acquainted with the inner workings and methods of functioning of ‘God.’

    No speculation there.





    In that case, I believe the letter ‘Q’ on the keyboard controls the whole universe.

    And that is that.

    And you can’t convince me otherwise.

  • Expanded Consciousness

    “The audio for this program is currently unavailable due to technical reasons. We apologize for the inconvenience.”

    God has removed the archived audio.

    Yes he has.

    And you can’t prove me otherwise.

  • Expanded Consciousness

    100 years from now we will have more science.

    100 years from now some people will still (unfortunately) be repeating the same religious claptrap. The same stale lines and circular logical fallacies. Like watching the same sitcom episode over and over.

    One is alive.

    One is dead.

  • Julie

    Check out the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. This will give you an alternate view to suffering, and the life path to eliminate it (achieving Nirvana).

Sep 1, 2014
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Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Jarvis Jones (95) recovers a fumble by Carolina Panthers quarterback Derek Anderson (3) in the second quarter of the NFL preseason football game on Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014 in Pittsburgh. (AP)

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Aug 29, 2014
Ukrainian forces guard a checkpoint in the town of Mariupol, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. Ukraine's president Petro Poroshenko called an emergency meeting of the nation's security council and canceled a foreign trip Thursday, declaring that "Russian forces have entered Ukraine," as concerns grew about the opening of a new front in the conflict.  (AP)

War moves over Syria, Ukraine. Burger King moves to Canada. Nine-year-olds and Uzis. Our weekly news roundtable goes behind the headlines.

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