Tag Archives: religion

Let’s Talk About the Real Issue: Defining Personhood

Bernie Sanders went to Liberty University. Hoo-ray for discourse. Students there asked him, after he had said he and they would disagree on abortion, why he is concerned about the lives of the poor but not the lives of the unborn.  (NPR has the story here).

His (wholly unshocking) Democratic answer was that he doesn’t believe the government should interfere in a women’s private medical decisions.

This doesn’t answer the students’ question. The question neither side will agree to talk about directly is when does life start? As a die-hard abortion-is-allowed person, if you tell me a mother killed her 8 month old in-the-womb child, I’d be horrified and call it ending a life. If a mother aborts a 12 week old fetus, it is a medical procedure.

What does this sound like to a pro-lifer? I can imagine it sounds like “A pregnant woman can decide to kill a baby when she wants to.” So Sanders answer is bewildering if not horrific.

For pro-lifers, I guess, life starts at conception. For pro-choicers, it is somewhere else. But there is a line over which once you cross, a fetus is a life.

As I understand it, Roe v. Wade was ALWAYS a compromise about this question. And, as a society, we have to find a workable compromise.

Sanders and other pro-choicers might undercut some of the fervor of “they are killing unborn babies” if they would just shoot straight. “It’s not a baby yet. We need a set of rules for society and law about when it is a baby. If your religion has a different set of rules, fine. Freedom of religion. But where we disagree is not about protecting the unborn baby, which we ALL support, but about WHO gets to decide what is an unborn baby. You want it to be decided by religion. But that is not workable in our democracy. If you are going to live in this democracy, you have to come to terms with a legal basis for this decision and not try to use religion to force your definition on all of us.”

Would this convince pro-lifers? Probably not. But at the very least, it is more honest and doesn’t leave pro-choicers in the weird position of seeming like we are saying that baby-killing is a medical decision.

At best, reasonable pro-lifers could maybe be brought into a conversation about when we are going to say personhood begins. And if they want to talk about this, maybe we can also talk about where it should not go (corporations as political citizens).

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Filed under Politics, Power, Activism, social theory, sociology

Everyone is Obsessed with Atheists

Friend posted this link to a Chronicle of HE article about a study of atheists.

Author of blog post Tom Bartlett headlines his review with this headline:

“Do Atheists Really Believe in God?”

My response:
“Do Psychologists Really Believe in Skin Test?”

Meh. I think author’s question about whether any imagined external force, God, Squirrel, Bad Luck makes one “anxious’ is the right one. id they bother trying to figure out if one is an atheist, what they think the statement “I dare God to kill my children” means?

Like, right now, I am thinking about this, I am aetheist, and I am thinking “what a shitty thing to happen” and I am aware that there is some external mechanism or cause of the badness. I mean, if God does something bad, it is usually through an agent- a flood, a burning topiary, or a bearded guy. It is not like he shows up like Zeus and bangs some chick for no reason.

So, really, maybe the statement reminds us of how there are unknowns out there and it is frightening to think about them. So belief in God is really a fear of the unknown. And so the title could have been “Belief in God is fear of the unknown.”

So, interesting study. But like 99.9% of social science, what to make of it depends on interpretation.

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Filed under psychology, Research, sociology

Elaine Pagels and Book of Revelations

Elaine Pagels, the noted  Biblical scholar and author, came to BU this week. I was super excited as I find the early history of Christianity fascinating.  How did such a marginalized sect become so dominant?  I had heard Pagels a few times on the usual suspects: Fresh Air, Bill Moyer’s, and so on.  Add to that the intoxicating aroma of fire and brimstone and I had high hopes for a mind-blowing lecture.

I was not alone!  Trout Hall was packed to the gills.  Curious students?  Nervous Christians?  Wild-eyed present day prophets?  All there!

The lecture was a bit of a flop.  She presented three interesting questions, in this order (which is also the order of interest to me):

  1. What is Revelations about?
  2. How did it make it into the canonical Bible?
  3. What explains its enduring popularity?

The strength of the lecture were her clear explanation of the content of Revelations.  She had several images from Western art from the 15th century to now.  She explained that Revelations was anti-Roman propaganda meant to counter Roman propaganda.  Babylon, in Revelations the source of worldly, political, profane, hedonistic power and society, is a stand in for Rome and is then shown to be an ally or pawn of monstrous, dark forces.    I am not a religion scholar, but I thought this point was already well-established.

As to the other two questions, she did not get very far in exploring or answering them.  All right, that is excusable.  She did say it was a work in progress. She went to Q&A after about 50 minutes or so.  She did not really engage in dialogue with anyone and her response was usually a variation of  “I’ll look into that.”  Disappointing.

You would think someone as visible as she is, writing on such touchy topics as religion and original texts would be used to lots of challenging questions from the folks who take the Bible VERY seriously.  The man asking a question before me really got into his rambling groove.  The long beard and switching between Hebrew (I think) and English added to his modern-day Ezekiel quality.  To me, and most, it was incomprehensible.  I think he was saying that that Ctaholic church is the “whore of Babylon.”  In fact, it is the Catholic Church literally, that the author of Revelations is doing the future and not his own times.  Anyway, the whole audience went from polite indulgence to awkward silence.  I almost asked him to wrap up after five minutes of this before Pagels cut him off.  She needed to step in earlier and politely dispatch him.  Take a page from Obama v Republicans!

The upside of his ramble was it gave me time to formulate my own suggestion to her about the staying power of Revelations.  Caveat: I am not a religion scholar and this is all off the top of my head.  Take it or leave it, but I won’t be doing more witht his than what I write here.

Premise 1: Revelations is full of multi-valent symbolims.  This is part of its appeal.  The reader can see many possibilities in any one image.

Premise 2: Revelations is about the tension between socio-political struggles of this world and how to understand them from a religious worldview.

My assertion: For any present day reader, Revelations DOES NOT MAKE SENSE.  I mean, it can not cohere in its entirety.  It offers the illusion of total allegory with the first two premises.  But it can never really deliver.  So, it’s very nonsensical essence is part of its enduring popularity.

Furthermore, there is a deep resonance with the ultimate incoherence of the text and the inability of interpreting it to reach a final resolution because the socio-political struggles of the messy world of human affairs also never really resolve.  I heard someone quoting some British politician recently who said that all political careers end in failure.  The point: there is never any enduring permanent victory for any side or actor in any of the many struggles that define our wordly existence.

Revelations can not make sense in terms of a final conclusion.  The real world also can not make sense.

But the multi-valent imagery and symbolism invites the reader to try to wrangle coherence out of Revelations, and by extension the real world.  The result is that the act of reading becomes an act of heroic interpretation.   The heroic interpretation then becomes a binding moment.  The reader becomes their own prophet, becomes one who sees the implications of the future in the present.

Revelations is popular because it doesn’t make sense.

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Filed under higher education, religion, Scholars, sociology

I Don’t Believe in God, But I Believe in Church

Creative Commons License
I Don’t Believe in God, But I Believe in Church by Jordi Comas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at netsweweave.wordpress.com.

This is the sermon I gave at UUCSV in February 2009.   A few people asked me for copies.  If you want to use or cite, please reference me.  Maybe this will finally be the nudge I need to figure out how to use CC licenses.

This includes readings used which were essential for the sermon.

Call to Worship:

From Tennyson’s “Ulysses”

Come, my friends,

‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.

Push off, and sitting well in order smite

The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds

To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths

Of all the western stars, until I die.

It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:

It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,

And see the great Achilles, whom we knew

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and though

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

 

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Evolution and Creation beliefs in the UK.

Interactive map of the UK: evolution and creation | World news | guardian.co.uk

I was hoping to embed map, but no such luck.  I wonder how godless the rest of EU is?

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