2020-06-14

Teach and Delight

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by Neil Godfrey

Some videos (each one only a few minutes long) that readers have alerted me to . . .

  • A series on the Jesus myth theory by “Truth Surge”: I’ve watched a few and those were very sound and informative. The first one of the series is
Mrs Betty Bowers, “America’s Best Christian”

 

 

 


2020-06-01

Religion – What Is It?

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by Neil Godfrey

three serious studies …. more to come

 

Scott Atran: In Gods We Trust

 

Science and Religion: Four Fundamental Differences (2013-05-23)

Fantasy and Religion: One Fundamental Difference (Or, Why God’s Word Will Never Fail) (2013-05-26)

Scott Atran

 

Neil Van Leeuwen: Religious credence is not factual belief

Religious Credence is Not Factual Belief: 1 (2015-08-29)

Religious Credence is Not Factual Belief: 2 (2015-08-29)

Neil Van Leeuwen

Pascal Boyer: Religion Explained

 

Is Religion Somehow In Our Genetic Makeup? (2015-09-25)

Studying Religious Beliefs Without Understanding How Humans Work (2015-09-26)

Is Religion for the Gullible? (2016-02-04)

Religion: It’s More Than We Often Think (2016-08-23)

Was Religion Invented to Explain Things — or to Compound Mystery? . . . Or. . . ? (2016-08-24)

Where Religious Beliefs Come From (2016-08-28)

Religion Explained: How to Make a Good Religious Concept (2016-09-04)

Why We Connect Moral Judgments to God(s) (2018-04-28)

Religion Explained – Why Rituals (Explaining the origin of the Lord’s Supper) (2018-09-13)

Atheists Do Not Understand Religion (2018-09-26)

Atheist Hostility to Jesus Mythicism … making sense of it (2018-10-06)

Towards Understanding Religious Fundamentalism and Extremism (and atheist in-fighting, too?) (2018-10-09)

Pascal Boyer

2020-04-25

Liberals, the new “Jews” (with a sidestep into religious debates)

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by Neil Godfrey

I wanted to understand the mind of the Trump supporter a little better so I read The  MAGA  Doctrine by  Charlie  Kirk (Donald Trump highly recommended it in a Tweet). In the Preface Kirk tells us that the book is a kind of manifesto of what Trump supporters think he is all about:

I’ve seen President Trump speak in front of high school students, my fellow young conservative activists eager to hear him — and afterward, I often hear students ask me, is there a key book or manifesto I can study to really understand the philosophy behind this burgeoning movement? . . . . Now there is. I would not presume to speak for the president, but I will try as best I can to explain the old ideas underlying the fresh thinking he brings to a country that desperately needs it.

Before I finished it an eerie recollection of another book kept intruding into my mind, one that I read many years ago as a historical document behind another disruptive right-wing movement. That was Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler. No, of course neither Kirk nor Trump are Nazis or advocating the extermination of Jews and war to find living space for Germans. As someone else has pointed out, Trump is something of the polar opposite of a Nazi in that he enables the Business world to rule government (Nazis controlled every aspect of life including Business). So what was it that brought Mein Kampf to my mind?

Mein Kampf blamed Germany’s woes on the betrayal of evil-minded or simply immoral Jews (that’s my recollection, at least). MAGA Doctrine had a parallel theme. All USA’s woes (and some of them imaginary) can be blamed on a betrayal of traitorous, immoral “liberals”.

Just as Mein Kampf, as I recall it, failed to understand clearly the way German society worked by replacing clear-headed analysis with imagined conspiracies and betrayals and selfish anti-German motives of Jews and those who let Jews have their way, so Kirk shows no evidence of a clear-headed, informed awareness of either US or world history. Everything, all history and current affairs, are seen through the perspective of a “betrayal of liberals”.

Simply replace Jews with “liberals” and we have a book with a very similar theme.

Liberals appear by definition to be unpatriotic, hypocritical, stupid, sinister. And they lie with their “corrupt media”. It is impossible to reconcile the way Kirk portrays their policies with reality as anyone who has seriously studied them and their philosophy would know.

Ignorance pervades the book. Karl Marx — and by extension, all “socialists”, and by extension, many “liberals” — is even said to be opposed to any form of fair exchange of goods.

There can be no honest debate or discussion with a mind that is convinced from the outset that the opponent is a hostile subversive who wants to undermine all that you believe is good.

There can only by mud-slinging and misrepresentation from the MAGA side.

. . .

Then I noticed something else on the web, this time by someone accusing others with alternative views of Jesus of being hell-bent on attacking and destroying Christianity. I guess it’s the same with some biblical scholars, too. Some of them find it necessary to personally attack those (especially outsiders) who explore different perspectives on Christian origins so that the mainstream assumptions are called into question. The idea that others with radically different perspectives (and questions) might be seeking to be as intellectually honest as they can is something they seem not to be able to accept. (Yes, I’m thinking primarily of those who suggest it is legitimate to at least question the historicity fo Jesus just as some scholars have questioned the historicity of “biblical Israel”.) Such critics are assumed from the outset to be sinister, motivated by destructive and harmful wishes against the most precious beliefs humanity possesses.

And so the world turns.


2020-02-05

Religious Belief: “A Moment of Rest” from Reality

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by Neil Godfrey

Religions can fuel humane ideals, transform and support individuals performing good deeds, and stimulate creative urges and artistic expressions. At the same time, throughout history people have initiated unspeakable human suffering in the name of religion. Religion per se, then, is neutral. Religions can heal or poison individuals, depending upon specific psychological make-up and group influence. . . . . 

* Winnicott [link is to pdf] saw the foundations of religious feeling as present in the normal emotional development process of the child, of which he understood the “transitional object” — the blanket that the “Peanuts” cartoon character Linus carries everywhere is an example of a transitional object — to be a universal element. (p. 128)

If the child’s development is normal, he or she eventually develops an acceptance of the “not-me” world, the indifference of the universe, and, accordingly, to logical thinking. However, people also need “moments of rest,” if you will, during which they do not need to differentiate between what is real and what is illusion, in which logical thinking need not be maintained, and it is in these moments that the relation to the transitional object* echoes throughout a lifetime. At moments of “rest,” then, a Christian might know that it is biologically impossible for a woman to have a baby without the semen of a man, but also believe in the virgin birth. Rationally, we might know that no one really sees angels, but we may behave as if they exist. In other words, the function of the transitional object remains available to us for the rest of our lives, in support of the religious beliefs given to the growing child by family members and other adults in the child’s environment. The need for what I am calling “moments of rest” varies from individual to individual, and from social subgroup to subgroup. Some people declare that they do not require such religious moments of rest, but perhaps they refer to the same function by different names. For example, they may “play” the game of linking magical and real in astrology, or paint abstract paintings that represent a mixture of illusion and reality. 

Volkan, Vamik. 2004. Blind Trust: Large Groups and Their Leaders in Times of Crisis and Terror. Charlottesville, Va: Pitchstone Publishing. pp. 124, 129 (my highlighting)


2020-01-24

Dangerous Charisma, Cults and Trump

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by Neil Godfrey

Hypotheses:

“in times of crisis, individuals regress to a state of delegated omnipotence and demand a leader (who will rescue them, take care of them)”

and that

“individuals susceptible to (the hypnotic attraction of) charismatic leadership have themselves fragmented or weak ego structures.”

Jerrold Post believes the above hypotheses find support in clinical studies of persons who join charismatic religious groups, those with narcissistic personality disorders, and “psychodynamic observations of group phenomena”. Post and Doucette in Dangerous Charisma

describe the consequences of the wounded self on adult personality development and emphasize how narcissistically wounded individuals are attracted to charismatic leader-follower relationships, both as leaders and as followers.

As I read Dangerous Charisma I was regularly reminded of the time I joined a religious cult years ago and the stories that were regularly shared among members of “how God called us into his church”: certainly most, if not all, of the personal narratives involved tales of some kind of crisis each of us experienced and how “God rescued us” through leading us to encounter his “end-time Apostle”. After I left the cult I attended several other churches for a time and found the same sorts of experiences being “witnessed” even among less extreme fundamentalists or evangelical type Christians. Another perception that hit me, disturbingly, after having left the cult was seeing many of the same vulnerabilities, errors in thinking and willingness to rationalize the irrational and unprovable in society generally. Indeed, Post and Doucette make the point that the model they describe can work for good as well as evil: in times of crisis many turned to the charismatic Churchill, but that after the crisis was over the need for that sort of leader also passed and he was voted out. Other positive instances of such relationships involved Martin Luther King Jr and Mahatma Gandhi. But we all know there are weeds in the garden as well as fruit.

Two types of personality are described:

The mirror-hungry personality

This is the cult leader, whether religious (Herbert W. Armstrong) or political (Donald J. Trump)

The first personality pattern resulting from “the injured self” is the mirror-hungry personality. These individuals, whose basic psychological constellation is the grandiose self, hunger for confirming and admiring responses to counteract their inner sense of worthlessness and lack of self-esteem. To nourish their famished self, they are compelled to display themselves in order to evoke the attention of others. No matter how positive the response, they cannot be satisfied, but continue seeking new audiences from whom to elicit the attention and recognition they crave.

The ideal-hungry personality

This is the follower who is nourished by the above leader and who in turn nourishes that same leader:

The second personality type resulting from “the wounded self” is the ideal-hungry personality. These individuals can experience themselves as worthwhile only so long as they can relate to individuals whom they can admire for their prestige, power, beauty, intelligence, or moral stature. They forever search for such idealized figures. Again, the inner void cannot be filled. Inevitably, the ideal-hungry individual finds that their god is merely human, that their hero has feet of clay. Disappointed by discovery of defects in their previously idealized object, they cast him aside and searches for a new hero, to whom they attach themself in the hope that they will not be disappointed again.

The wounded self can arise from social, economic, personality crises. Job and economic and health insecurities, fears of one’s neighbours and newcomers and of conspiracies of powerful forces in government.

Post and Doucette emphasize that this model does not tell the whole story of Trump or political movements arising from the dynamics of the two types feeding off each other, but it does offer some insight into “charismatic leader-follower relationships.”

The charismatic leader as the mirror-hungry personality

The mirror-hungry leader requires a continuing flow of admiration from his audience in order to nourish his famished self. Central to his ability to elicit that admiration is his ability to convey a sense of grandeur, omnipotence, and strength. These individuals who have had feelings of grandiose omnipotence awakened within them are particularly attractive to individuals seeking idealized sources of strength. They convey a sense of conviction and certainty to those who are consumed by doubt and uncertainty. This mask of certainty is no mere pose. In truth, so profound is the inner doubt that a wall of dogmatic certainty is necessary to ward it off. For them, preserving grandiose feelings of strength and omniscience does not allow acknowledgment of weakness and doubt.

The leaders love the adulation of the crowds and can often speak for hours basking in their admiration; and the crowds love to be there, feeding and feeding off them.

The Language of Splitting is the Rhetoric of Absolutism

Central to the rhetoric is the “us-them”, the “me-not me”, the “good versus evil”, “strength versus weakness”, you are “with us or against us”. There’s nothing new here:

Maximilien Robespierre: “There are but two kinds of men, the kind that is corrupt and the kind that is virtuous.”

Hitler dwelt on the themes of strength and weakness, purity and impurity, the chosen (Germans) and the not chosen (Jews). The world is divided and one must conquer the other or be conquered.

We see this mindset in leaders who are convinced, and whose followers are also convinced, they are called on a religious mission. Followers often see the power of God behind them and the entire world of Satan is their opposition. Continue reading “Dangerous Charisma, Cults and Trump”


2019-10-23

When You Don’t Need Anger Anymore

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by Neil Godfrey

Words of wisdom for anyone who thinks “once a fundamentalist always a fundamentalist”, or that former cult members continue to be motivated by reactionary anger – spoken by one who escaped the ignorance of a cult upbringing, Tara Westover:

Anger has a role to play. Anger is a mechanism our brains use to get us — it’s a self-defence mechanism — your brain tells you to be angry so you get yourself out of situations that will do you harm.

Once you’re away, once you’re safe, you don’t need anger anymore. You can let it go and live a better life without it.

That’s from around the 40 minute mark of a broadcast interview with Tara Westover on ABC – Conversations. That’s the Australian ABC. The summary on the webpage:

Tara grew up in rural Idaho, in the shade of the Rocky Mountains.

Her family was ruled by her father, a radical Mormon survivalist who thought the End of Days was upon them.

His distrust of government meant Tara had no birth certificate and was home-schooled, which really meant she worked in her father’s junkyard.

When she became a teenager, her brother became violently abusive towards her.

Tara taught herself in secret and was admitted to Brigham Young University in Utah.

From there she went to Cambridge and Harvard, and had to educate herself about the wider world.

The interview was enlightening, so refreshing to listen to someone who has thought about her experiences in a constructive way. I’ll have to read her book, too.

 


2019-07-01

Definition of a Christ Mythicist

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by Neil Godfrey

A commenter suggested I post what I would consider an appropriate lede for a Wikipedia mythicism article. Here it is:

A Christ mythicist is one who believes the literal truth of the myth of Jesus Christ as set out in the epistles and gospels of the New Testament, or who believes that those myths, even if they have only limited or no historical foundation, nonetheless contain symbolic or spiritual value for those of the Christian faith.

 


2019-06-09

How Should Christians Spend Their Time?

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by Tim Widowfield

Eucharist
Christus mit der Eucharistie

We sold our house in Iowa last summer. After working on it for months, getting it into shape, we decided it was ready to put on the market. Surprisingly, it sold in a single day. A couple came to look at the house the evening it was listed, and they immediately put down an offer. Joy and panic ensued.

Over the decades, like all good Americans, we had accumulated a vast amount of junk. Well, not all of it was actual junk, but we tend to hang onto objects just for the sake of hanging onto them. In the month between selling and vacating that house, I drove back and forth between Amana and Cedar Rapids over and over.

Some stuff we donated. Other stuff we threw away. The rest went into storage.

On those late afternoon trips, heading back to the RV park, I usually listened to audiobooks or lectures. But once, I had wrongly estimated the remaining time and was left with silence. While searching through the FM radio dial for something worth listening to, I came upon two radio stations.

The first was a protestant evangelical station. The minister was telling his audience that Christians should spend as much time as possible every day reading the Bible. It is the word of God, he explained, and you can’t make any better use of your time than being in the presence of the word of God.

I flipped to a frequency nearby, which turned out to be a Catholic station. We apparently have a significant population of Roman Catholics in the area, enough to warrant a station devoted to Catholicism. I’ve driven all over the Midwest, and I can’t recall ever stumbling upon a Catholic station until I lived in Cedar Rapids.

The speaker on the Catholic channel said that if Christians could manage it, they should spend a part of every day in the presence of Christ, that is to say, taking the Eucharist. Imagine living every day in the body of Christ, partaking of his love and sacrifice to humankind. What could be better?

It struck me that I had accidentally found — minutes apart — an explanation of the greatest divide between the two branches of Christianity. One focuses on the “Word of God,” while the other focuses on the “Body of Christ.” For Protestants, the Bible tells them the good news that Christ died for them. But for Catholics, the Bible is a supporting pillar of the faith, but neither the end goal nor the vehicle to salvation. Continue reading “How Should Christians Spend Their Time?”


2019-05-13

Sam Harris still appealing to the equally bigoted

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by Neil Godfrey

I haven’t the patience to sit through any more of Sam Harris’s ignorance and special pleading so I’m glad PZ Myers has done the “honours” or at least has cited some one else who has done the (surely painful!) work:

Sam Harris’ very special pleading

(Who IS this Sam Harris fellow, anyway? Why does he even have a platform alongside names I can understand being of some note, like Richard Dawkins?)


2019-05-01

Christians Condemned for Doing Good if they Feel Good Doing It

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by Neil Godfrey

A recent post by Jim West (The Church has Fetishized Poverty) reminds me of my bad old days when I believed in Christian “righteousness”. It comes from someone who would deplore any association with cultism or even fundamentalism (I think) but it drills hard into a believer’s guilt feelings in a way to stop them doing genuine good in the world, and it rips scripture out of context to justify its agenda. The post begins:

People: the church should give all its money to the poor.

Jesus: nah. Use that expensive ointment on me.

People: but the poor, the poor, the poor….

Jesus: shut up. If she wants to use her money for me, it’s cool.

You have probably identified what’s wrong from the outset. Jesus is about to die and excuses great expense on him for that reason. In normal circumstances, of course, Jesus said something quite different:

Mark 10

17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’[d]

20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Would Jim West accuse Jesus of “fetishizing the poor”? It appears so.

But here comes the killer: Continue reading “Christians Condemned for Doing Good if they Feel Good Doing It”


2019-04-16

Life After Faith Can Be Hard

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by Neil Godfrey

I concluded my previous post with “Why do I need the middle man (or god or spirit or totem pole)? Is there not a more efficient and honest way?” That sounds flippant, perhaps. In reality life after years of relying on the crutch of faith can be very difficult at first. One no longer has a pole that enables getting over the impossible bar. Self-doubts can come back at the most inconvenient moments.

Chance had me listening to a radio interview with a psychologist who had a fundamentalist background and who had written a book, a “guide for former fundamentalists and others leaving their religion.” Everyone is different so my own experiences of psychological recovery would be relevant to only a few others, but Marlene Winell’s book covers a wide range of insights and exercises or pathways for people damaged by their religious experiences to recover and enter “normal life” as healthy, “normal” individuals. I especially appreciated her various suggestions relating to seeing oneself as a child, lovable, accepted no matter what, as a pathway to overcoming self-loathing and maintaining a positive and healthy self-acceptance.

No doubt there are many other books that are on the same topic and that others have found very helpful in their recoveries. But Winell’s Leaving the Fold was the one that helped me and to which I often returned to keep on an even keel.

Feel free to add other books that you or others you know have found especially helpful in psychological, emotional recovery after religious indoctrination and negative pressures.

(Ed Babanski has a book by the same title, Leaving the Fold, but I think that has a slightly different emphasis. It is a collection of various types of testimonies of former fundamentalists who have found different directions after their life of faith.)

 

 

 


The Faith Trick

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by Neil Godfrey

It was all a psychological trick. I was simply going a long roundabout route to accepting and loving and forgiving myself.

Writing about the “tongues trick” reminded me of another “awakening” I had towards the end of my religious life.

I had been thinking a lot about the New Testament instructions that tell us how good works are the “natural” consequence of faith in what Christ did for us on the cross, yet at the same time we are not saved by works. Works are the fruit of our salvation (or “promise” of salvation if that’s what a particular church taught), not its cause.

But I had to admit to myself that often I was wanting to do “the right thing” because, I believed, it was required of me and if I failed to do it I would be condemned. (Of course I could repent and be forgiven but that led to an endless cycle of always doing “the right thing” for mixed motives, partly to avoid judgment. But that’s not what the “good works are the fruit of being saved” message was about.

God’s grace was supposed to transform us, change our nature, so that we wanted to good works entirely as a result of his grace. There was no more judgment or fear to be involved. No stick, no carrot. Only a boost of energy to want to do the right thing “naturally” because of God’s grace. Like a child running off and just being “naturally good” for a little while after being given a big hug and an ice-cream.

So I prayed again, and came to understand that the one who loved and accepted me was the greatest being in the universe, etc, and that such a being “totally accepted me”. That’s grace, forgiveness, acceptance.

Filled with such an awareness I could not help but be awed into humility and totally thankful. Gratitude was so strong it spawned tears of joy and humility.

With such an awareness, with that sort of deep faith in Christ, my inner being, my thoughts and desires, were all changed. I was at peace. Joyful. I wanted only to do good and life a life of good works. All fear of judgment and need for “effort” was gone. The “fruits of the spirit” really were “fruits”, results, the outcome, the “works of/from faith”.

Then it hit me. It was not Jesus or God or the Holy Spirit that was responsible for any of my changed “born again” life. It was all me. It was my belief in being accepted and forgiven that was the cause of my “new” and “transformed” person.

Okay, my faith was in Christ, but it dawned on me that I could have exactly the same faith relationship with a totem pole if I had a different set of holy books or teachings, and the results would be exactly the same.

It was all a psychological trick. I was simply going a long roundabout route to accepting and loving and forgiving myself. And that’s where my newfound confidence and peace and joy was coming from. Also where my desire to simply be kind to others, with no need to dwell on wrongs, was coming from.

So I began to think. Why do I need the middle man (or god or spirit or totem pole)? Is there not a more efficient and honest way?

 

 

 


The Tongues Trick

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by Neil Godfrey

Edward Babinski has an interesting post on the miracle of speaking in tongues on his Scrivenings blog. He used to be a tongues speaker and his description of “how it’s done” particularly interested me. It confirmed my interpretation of my own single experience with glossolalia. I was never part of a church that sanctioned tongues speaking, certainly not in church services. The Worldwide Church of God cult of which I was a member for too many years taught tongues speaking was from the devil. Nonetheless, there was a time when during intense fasting and prayer I did find myself speaking in tongues and it pulled me up with a start. I don’t recall now if I consciously decided I’d give it a try or if it somehow subconsciously came upon me in my “intense” state at the time. What surprised me how easy it was. I really could speak in what sounded very much like another language. (None of Ed Babinski’s beginner steps for me!) I wasn’t just babbling a few syllables repetitively but it really sounded as if I was speaking in sentences with “meaningful” phrases, intonation, the lot.

I knew then that it was nothing but something I could do if I just set my mind to it and “stepped out” with “my tongue”. It was very obvious to me that there was no spiritual possession involved. I realized probably anyone could be taught to do it.