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July 27, 2006
Added Review of The Psychological Roots of Religious Belief (2006) by Kenneth Krause to the Psychology of Religion page in the Modern Documents section of the Secular Web Library.
According to M. D. Faber's The Psychological Roots of Religious Belief, although we are born free of religious inclinations, widespread belief in a personal God has its roots in our early childhood development. In infancy, for instance, a child relies on his or her seemingly omnipotent caregiver (a "proto-deity") to supplicate cries ("proto-prayer") for nourishment and care. The child is consequently primed to map this process onto a religious narrative complete with its Parent-God. By promoting a religious narrative early on, religious institutions lay the groundwork for religious belief by exploiting an essentially subconscious process before a child has fully developed the ability to reason. None of us are quite "wired for God," however; the existence of nonbelievers testifies to the possibility of accepting alternative narratives by the time one is exposed to religious ones. Despite reservations about some of the author's contentions, Krause uses Faber's analysis to offer his own recommendations for ensuring that one's children enjoy the rewards of a rational life.
Hector Avalos' Fighting Words adds organization, scholarly research, and coherent theory to the phenomenon of religiously inspired violence. Analyzing religious violence in terms of "scarce resource theory," Avalos argues that sacred spaces and authoritative scriptures constitute scarce resources accessible to, controlled by, or interpreted by only a few. Competition for these resources, or for group privilege and salvation, inevitably leads to violence which is only that much more tragic because of the unverifiability of the very existence of such resources. Failure to recognize the authority of, or correctly interpret or observe, a particular sacred text creates the potential for bloodshed; and Judaism, Christianity, and Islam's soteriological justifications for violence only exacerbate its realization. Rather than merely explaining the root causes of religious violence, Avalos encourages us to assist religionists in modifying their traditions to thwart the maintenance and creation of unverifiable scarcities, or otherwise seek the elimination of their violent traditions.
July 25, 2006
David Eller's Natural Atheism is no ordinary freethought handbook. Its chapter on church-state separation reviews most of the appropriate legislation and case law, concluding that freedom from religion is protected by the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion. As an unapologetic rationalist, Eller insists that any deviation from reason--including faith--merely masquerades as thinking. Advocating the relativity of moral systems to specific social contexts, Eller nevertheless thinks that reason can ground moral systems by encouraging socially beneficial behavior on the basis of intersubjectivity. And while he thinks that no religious source truly values toleration, he is ambiguous about the extent to which freethinkers should tolerate religion for social convenience at the expense of truth.
July 24, 2006
Susan Jacoby's Freethinkers paints a broad picture of American secularism, beginning with the US Constitution's break with all precedent in failing to make even a passing reference to a deity, then outlining the importance of Enlightenment values--particularly the concept of natural rights--in propelling the abolition of slavery. Though Jacoby surveys a cast of nineteenth-century secularist heroes, she does not sufficiently emphasize the battles taken up by late nineteenth-century freethought organizations. But she does enjoin us to educate ourselves and ensure that the public never overlooks the harm that religion has caused, offering no compromises for the sake of political correctness.
July 18, 2006
Those who advocate displaying the decalogue in classrooms, courtrooms, and public parks assert that the Ten Commandments are a declaration of fundamental principles that are the cornerstones of a fair and just society. But a careful study of the Bible indicates that there are many questions that would need to be answered before it could be decided which version and which interpretation--if any--should be displayed. (Reprinted with permission from The American Rationalist, May-June 1997, this article is apropos today given the numerous attempts to post the Decalogue in public places and the various court battles that have ensued.)
July 17, 2006
Added Objection Dismissed on Appeal (2006) by James Hannam to the Arguments for the Existence of God: Reviews/Critiques page, as well as the John D. Woodbridge and Lee Strobel sections of the Christian Apologetics and Apologists page, of the Modern Documents section of the Secular Web Library.
Though Kyle J. Gerkin's critique of Lee Strobel's The Case for Faith has a great deal to recommend it, and probably even represents the conventional wisdom in skeptical circles, his reply to objection #7 contains a number of factual errors. While earlier historians would have agreed with many of Gerkin's points, current research in the history of science and religion that has yet to percolate into the public consciousness casts doubt upon much of what he says. In this essay Hannam outlines Gerkin's various errors of fact, distinguishing his own views from the relatively uncontroversial conclusions of historians.
July 12, 2006
Added Incest and the Situational Evolving Morality of God (2006) by D. Frederick Sparks to the Kiosk.
The Bible portrays God's moral judgments and punishments in many instances as arbitrary and inconsistent, holding people accountable for rules they may not be aware of. The Bible's treatment of incest is only one example of the Scripture's inconsistent and evolving moral judgments. Gay Christians and every other demographic should eschew wasting time reconciling their ideas about morality to such an arbitrary and inconsistent standard.
July 6, 2006
Does America, as George W. Bush has proclaimed, have a special mission, derived from God, to bring liberty and democracy to the world? How much influence does the Christian right have over U.S. foreign policy? And how should America deal with violent Islamist extremists? In The Mighty and the Almighty, Madeleine Albright, the former Secretary of State and bestselling author of Madam Secretary, offers a thoughtful and often surprising look at the role of religion in shaping America's approach to the world.
July 3, 2006
Added Adams's Open-Question Argument Against Ethical Naturalism (2006) by Stephen Sullivan to the Without God, What Grounds Right and Wrong? page in the Morality and Atheism index of the Modern Documents section of the Secular Web Library.
In Finite and Infinite Goods, Robert Merrihew Adams offers an interesting variation on G. E. Moore's famous open-question argument against ethical naturalism. In giving causal-explanatory reasoning the last word in ethical inquiry, he says, ethical naturalists negate a critical stance that permits us to raise evaluative questions about any ethical judgment, no matter how well-supported empirically. But Adams's version of the open-question argument is deeply confused. First, modern science shows that the relevant critical stance is quite compatible with giving causal-explanatory reasoning the last word. Second, ethical naturalists need not treat any ethical judgments as immune to criticism. Finally, if Adams's argument were sound, it would undermine his own case for a divine-command theory of ethics.
In 2 Kings 10:30 God commends Jehu for his destruction of the house of Ahab, while in Hosea 1:4 he apparently condemns him for it. This contradiction results from taking the phrase "the blood of Jezreel" in the latter passage as a reference to Jehu's massacre of some members of the house of Ahab in Jezreel. Jayawardena argues against this construction, interpreting "the blood of Jezreel" as a reference to the blood of the Israelites shed by enemy nations during the Jehu dynasty as a result of divine judgment against the idolatry of the nation, which Hosea declares is going to be avenged upon the house of Jehu. In addition to a commendation of Jehu, 2 Kings 10:30 contains an implied judgment of his house in the fourth generation for his idolatry.
This is a response to an article by Rabbi Gellman entitled, "Trying to Understand Angry Atheists: Why do nonbelievers seem to be threatened by the idea of God?" Parra contends that because clergy have a vested interest in invalidating affronts to their theology, Rabbi Gellman runs through every "tired assumption that every smug believer uses to convince himself that he is somehow morally superior to those who reject his faith."
July 2, 2006
Kevin Phillips, a former Republican strategist, has been a political and economic commentator for more than three decades. He is currently a regular contributor to the Los Angeles Times and National Public Radio, and also writes for Harper's Magazine and Time. Here he brings us an explosive examination of the axis of religion, politics, and borrowed money that threatens to destroy the nation.
July 1, 2006
"In a national survey, part of a broader project on multiculturalism and solidarity in American life, that we call the American Mosaic Project, we found that one group stood out from all others in terms of the level of rejection they received from the general public. That was atheists. And not by a small margin, either."
Book-of-the-Month: The Christian Right in American Politics (2003) by John Green, Mark Rozell, William Clyde Wilcox (Editors)
The Christian Right has been marshalling its forces and maneuvering its troops in an effort to reshape the landscape of American politics. It has fascinated social scientists and journalists as the first right-wing social movement in postwar America to achieve significant political and popular support, and it has repeatedly defied those who would step up to write its obituary. This rigorous analysis provides the clearest picture yet of the goals, tactics, and hopes of the Christian Right in America.
A whimsical look at universal disbelief, and some questions you may find useful to demonstrate that even the most ardent worshipers are skeptics too--because they doubt every magical system except their own.